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“Aren’t you supposed to go to bed soon?”
“You don’t know anything about taking care of kids. And you’ll probably get lung cancer.”
General Tso trots over to Jasmine, interested, but Jasmine shrinks from him.
“He’s not the one with one eye.” Shelby claps her hands. Blinkie follows the sound and hops over. “This is Mr. One Eye.”
“You’re weird and you have weird dogs,” Jasmine informs her.
“You’re rude.”
They don’t disagree with each other.
“You have to wake us up at six o’clock tomorrow,” Jasmine tells Shelby. She knows an incompetent when she sees one. She’s got a big grin on her face because she can foresee how miserable Shelby will be.
“Don’t you wake yourselves up?”
“And just so you know, you’re going to have a lot of trouble getting my brother to go to school.”
“Which one?” Shelby can’t tell the twins apart, except one is quieter. She and Jasmine go inside. Jasmine double-locks the door. One of the twins is sitting on a kitchen chair.
“That one.” Jasmine points. “Dorian.”
The kids trail off to the bedroom, and Shelby collapses on the couch. She doesn’t bother pulling it out into a bed as Maravelle told her to. She doesn’t bother to take off her clothes. She’s already realized that when the alarm rings in the morning, she had better be ready.
Shelby doesn’t exactly follow Maravelle’s instructions. She’s not Martha Stewart. She can’t remember the last time she made breakfast for anyone. So she improvises, substituting toast for French toast, pouring glasses of soda instead of orange juice. So far, no complaints.
“Now you’ve got to pack us a lunch,” Teddy says.
Shelby still hasn’t let the dogs out in the yard or had a cup of coffee. She tosses juice boxes, apples, and string cheese into three paper bags.
“Cookies,” Teddy reminds her.
Shelby finds the Chips Ahoy! and throws in some of those too.
“Five minutes,” she calls. “Then you’re out of here.”
She’s a drill sergeant in dirty clothes. She fills the kettle, desperate for coffee. She thinks about her own mother, and how she tried to do everything right despite how difficult Shelby was. She wishes she could tell Jasmine she’ll regret all of her attitude.
Jasmine exits the bedroom wearing her jacket and carrying her books.
“See you later!” she calls.
“Hey! Your lunch!” Shelby shouts.
When Jasmine comes to grab her lunch bag, Shelby notices that she’s wearing eye shadow, blush, and lipstick. That was on the list. No makeup.
“Wait a minute,” Shelby says.
She and Jasmine stare at each other. It’s like that moment in battle when you’re either going to start something up with an enemy soldier and have to kill him or look the other way and let him slink off into his foxhole.
“Okay,” Shelby says after a moment’s reflection. “Have a nice day.”
Jasmine flees from the apartment, waving good-bye as she runs out the door.
Shelby has won over one of the enemy. Maybe everything will be fine. She’ll get rid of the kids and have coffee and laze around, maybe even go back to sleep.
Teddy and Dorian have their backpacks and their jackets, but they haven’t left.
“He won’t go,” Teddy informs Shelby with certainty. He’s got a twinkle in his eye, as if he’ll enjoy the difficulties Shelby will soon face.
“Yeah, well, good-bye,” Shelby says to them both. “Be back here at three.”
She escorts the twins out the front door and closes it behind them, then, alone at last, she takes her dogs into the yard to do their business. When she returns, the kettle is whistling. Shelby pours water through a filter full of coffee, extra-strong, and splits a can of dog food between the General and Blinkie. Only the General isn’t there anymore.
“Hey, General,” Shelby shouts. “Breakfast!”
He’s in the front hall.
“What are you doing here?”
Usually he’s a chowhound, but now the General gazes at her, then barks at the closet. He has a soulful, meaningful bark.
Shelby opens the closet. There’s Dorian.
“You’re kidding me! Now you’ve missed the school bus.”
Shelby heads into the kitchen to have her coffee and think over what she’s supposed to do. She still hasn’t changed her clothes or taken a shower. Dorian trails into the kitchen, followed by the General.
“His food is in a bowl on the counter,” Shelby says.
Dorian gives the General his breakfast, then gets in a few tentative pets while the bulldog eats.
“I think he likes me,” Dorian says.
“Didn’t you hear your mother say I was in charge and you had to go to school? Now what am I supposed to do?”
Dorian takes a bowl of cereal for himself and sits at the table. He eats the cereal without milk.
Shelby can tell she’ll have to interrogate him. If she doesn’t do it carefully he’ll clam up for good.
“Do you like school?” Personally, Shelby had hated school, but Dorian nods yes.
“Is somebody bullying you?”
“Do you feel sick?” Shelby asks, even though he’s eating a huge bowl of Frosted Flakes that Maravelle had said was only for the weekend.
“Well, if you don’t want to tell me what the problem is, tell the General.”
The General is at Dorian’s feet, wagging his butt, hoping for a Frosted Flake or two. Dorian gazes into his eyes.
“To get to the bus we have to walk past a monster,” he tells the General.
Shelby pours another cup of coffee. Someone else would have told Dorian there were no monsters and insisted he stop being such a baby and get his ass to school. But Shelby gulps her coffee, then grabs her sweatshirt. “Come on,” she says. She isn’t like most people. She opens the silverware drawer and takes out a butcher knife.
“What are you going to do?” he asks.
Dorian is a skinny, serious boy who can eat a bowl of cereal in no time flat and is still young enough to tell his secrets to a dog.
“I’m going to kill the monster.”
They walk two blocks, then take a right. They’re nearly to the bus stop when Dorian hesitates.