More than anything Anna wanted to dance.
She had ever since she was a little girl, growing up in San Diego. People always thought she was from California when she told them she grew up in San Diego; she let them think that, but really she grew up in a little two-room shack in San Diego, Texas, population 4,454. Used to be almost 6,000, but people kept dying and moving away, because there wasn’t anything to keep you in San Diego. Except drugs, and corruption.
Anna used to beg mama to take her to dance lessons in Alice (pop. 19,576), the biggest town around for miles and the only place that had a dance studio. They didn’t teach ballet there, but Anna didn’t care; she’d gladly learn tap, or jazz, at least until she could really learn how to dance, which of course meant learning ballet and joining a proper dance company. But mama would just laugh.
“Anna, what do you think, that Santa Claus is going to show up and buy you lessons? Mija, I clean houses for a living, and I barely can manage to keep us off government assistance. Stop with this nonsense and pay attention to your studies, so you can go to college. Maybe there you can take dance classes to your heart’s content while you earn a degree and do something with your life.”
But Anna didn’t want to hear about college, she just wanted to dance. So when mama died of complications of her diabetes, Anna decided she didn’t want to move in with her cousins at the ranch (nothing but nopal, rattlesnakes and her uncle the sex offender out there). So, she took the money her mama kept inside a sock in her dresser for emergencies, and she hopped on a bus to Austin. Austin had a ballet company, a real ballet company, and Anna just knew that if she could find a dance school willing to take her, that she’d end up there, dancing on the stage for all the rich viejos and viejas who lived in the capital.
But, like all the other hundreds of homeless kids who came to Austin each year, she ended up on the Drag begging for change. And that’s where she ran into Click.
Click was five years older than Anna (“Almost twenty, Anna,” he’d say) and handsome in a rugged, sort of James Dean kind of way. He dressed like James Dean, too; not like the other kids who hung out on the Drag, who were always clothed in a style somewhere between hipster and 80’s punk. No, Click had his own ways about him, and did his own thing, always. White t-shirts, rolled up with a pack of cigarettes in the sleeve, straight-leg jeans turned up at the cuffs (“Not skinny jeans, Anna – those are for kids who suck dick at the park for a dollar a pop”), combat boots (“In case I gotta’ kick some uppity college kid in the teeth”), and wavy dark hair that wasn’t quite slicked back, but close most days.
And almost iridescent hazel eyes, the color of mama’s topaz bracelet that she said used to belong to abuela. Click caught her stealing a Coke and a honey bun from a convenience store, and made her go up front to pay for it with money he gave her instead. He clucked his tongue at her and grinned as they walked out of the store. “You going to juvie for nicking a soda pop and a sticky bun? What the fuck is that all about? If you’re going to fuck with the man and risk goin’ ta’ jail, fer’ heaven’s sakes kid, do it fer’ sumthin’ worth stealing!” Click spoke like that, with his words kind of mushed up and clipped at the end. Said he was a Traveller, whatever that meant, and Anna didn’t understand it at the time. Click said it meant he wasn’t tied down to anyone, or anything, that he could go where he wanted, when he wanted, and not have to pay toll or tithe to no one.
Click started looking after Anna, that day, and he’d been watching over her since, teaching her how to survive on the street, how to avoid the dealers, johns, and chicken hawks who preyed on the teens and tweens that lived out here. More importantly, he gave her a safe place to sleep in the Vanagon he kept parked in various lots around downtown.
“Nobody fucks with you when you drive a Vanagon,” he told her. “Make you look like a citizen, it does. And cops don’t fuck with citizens, especially not white citizens, and I’m as white as the Black Irish I come from. Now, tell me if that’s not fucked all to hell!” Then he’d laugh, and Anna would laugh too, although she didn’t know what made an Irishman black, and it sure wasn’t funny that cops only messed with Mexicans and blacks. But Click’s laugh was infectious, and Anna couldn’t help but laugh right along with him.
Click never asked her for much, either, just some gas money to put in the van to move it from place to place. “When you live on Caravan, you pull yer’ weight. It’s the way of the road, and if you want to be a proper Traveller, you got to know the rules.” So, she learned that keeping the inside of the van clean was of utmost importance, as it was to keep herself clean as well. They kept no toilet inside the van, and used good solid china plates and cups to cook and eat on whenever they had a meal. Click didn’t believe in keeping pets (“‘Dey carry disease”), and preferred to work for a living rather than steal to survive (“Dere’s nothin’ wrong wit’ beggin’ a meal or a bit of cash, but you should work for a livin’ when yer’ able”).
And Click did work for his living, although he called it busking, but to Anna it was the same thing. He’d haul an old electric guitar and a beat up old amp down to the Drag or to Sixth Street on Fridays and Saturdays, and play till the late hours, filling up the case with tips that would keep them in food all week. Or, he’d do card tricks for the college kids, and sometimes would charge college boys for showing them how to impress the girls with shuffles and passes, with easy picks and mind reader bits. But what nobody knew, except Anna, was that Click had magic… real magic.
She saw it once, when they were walking back to the van from a long night playing on Sixth Street. Anna had tagged along, because they had the van parked back in an alley, tucked away where it wouldn’t be noticed. Click said that she couldn’t stay in the van by herself, not because someone would break in (“It’s glamoured, won’t no one notice it no how”), but because it was a warm autumn night, and he knew she’d get bored and come looking for him, and this was no place for a pretty young girl to be roaming around alone at night.
So, she danced around and twirled her skirt, the bright peasant skirt he’d bought her for her birthday (“Because a proper dancer needs a proper dress to dance in, don’t she?”), and the college kids and tourists dropped coins and dollar bills and the occasional five or ten in the case, and the haul they brought in that night would last them for weeks. They had packed up and were walking back to the van, when a couple of street toughs braced them for the guitar, and amp, and their tips.
They were blocking the alleyway, two in front and three who dropped in behind them right after the first two popped out. It had been planned, and it was obvious they’d been watching them all night. Anna cowered behind Click, but he turned to her in the dark and his eyes flashed gold in the night, and he just set his case down and patted her on the arm, and pointed to the side of the alley. So she backed up against the wall between a dumpster and a light pole, and watched.
“Boys, you really don’t want to be doin’ this now, do ‘ya.” Click said it more as a statement than a question, but the typically Click-ish amusement about anything and everything that happened to them never left his voice.
Anna got a better look at the toughs. They wore bandannas over their faces, bright red cut up t-shirts and handkerchiefs with white paisleys. They were dressed in baggy jeans, new white court shoes, and gold jewelry. She doubted they’d paid for the jewelry with their part-time jobs working at McDonald’s. They didn’t have guns, not that she could see, but she thought she saw a glint of steel showing in the hands of one or two at least.
One of the thugs in front spoke. “Give us the money and the guitar. And the girl.”
Click chuckled. “One last chance, sonny. Then it gets ugly.”
The leader bristled at his words. “I ain’t ‘cher son! Just hand it over, and we take that little hunny you be hangin’ wit’, and you walk on home.”
Click clucked his tongue. “I got no home. Don’t you know a Traveller when you see one?” He turned and whispered, just low enough so the thugs couldn’t hear. “Cover yer’ eyes then, love, and we’ll be out of here momentarily.” Then he pulled something from his jeans, snapped, and it flew out in a flash in both directions, front and back, exploding in a bright blossom of colored light in the faces of the toughs.
“Aw, shit – I cain’t see!”
“He blinded us, man, what the fuck?”
“Damn flash bang or some shit. Who is this fool, be carryin’ shit like that in his pockets?”
Anna was blinded too, but Click snapped in front of her face, and suddenly she could see night clear as day. “Come on now, Anna, we have to move. They’ll only be blinded for a few minutes. Now run, back to the van, and I’ll be right behind you!” Anna ran.
When Click showed up at the van a few minutes later, he had five red bandannas tied to the handle of his guitar case. Anna looked concerned, so he smiled and patted her shoulder. “I didn’t hurt them at all. I just took these in case they show up again, since they probably know the van now. Not that they’d find it, but they might spot us at some point and try to cause trouble.” Anna never questioned him about why he took the bandannas, but she had an idea and decided not to press him on it. And he never offered to explain any further.
Click never touched her, or looked at her indecently, and treated her with the utmost respect at all times. But most importantly, he respected her dreams of being a dancer someday.
“You’ll make a right fine ballerina, that’s fer’ sure,” he’d say. And smile and wink, and cluck his tongue as he did so. “Right fine.”
And that’s why Anna didn’t want to tell him when the sprites started coming around, offering her a job dancing at the club down on SoCo…