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The boys nod, and Shelby puts Teddy on the phone. He’ll be the better coconspirator. “You have no idea where your sister is?” she asks Dorian. After this morning he’s her buddy.
“She might be at the park on the corner with Jessie and Maria. We saw her there and she said not to tell you.”
“Oh, great.” Shelby rushes to the door. “Stay here, and don’t you or Teddy go anywhere.”
She locks the door and races to the park. She spies a bunch of kids hanging out near the basketball hoops. There’s Miss I’ll Do Whatever I Want. Shelby could strangle Jasmine.
“Hey,” Shelby shouts. Jasmine glances up and instantly looks mortified. The last thing she wants is some bald lady confronting her friends. “Get over here!” Shelby tells her.
Jasmine says something to her friends and ambles resentfully toward Shelby.
“Hurry! Your mother’s on the phone.”
When she hears that, Jasmine runs home even faster than Shelby does. Before they go into the house, Shelby grabs her arm. “I told your mother you were locked in the bathroom. Stick with that story.”
Fortunately Dorian is still on the phone when they get into the house. Jasmine grabs the receiver out of his hand.
“Hi, Mami,” she says. “Everything’s okay. I just hate Shelby.”
Shelby retreats to the backyard, where the boys have gone to throw a tennis ball for the General. Blinkie whines to be held, and Shelby hoists him onto her lap.
Jasmine comes outside when she gets off the phone. “I had to say I hated you,” she says. “Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for me to have locked myself in the bathroom.”
“That’s just fine. Say whatever you want, just come home on time so your mother doesn’t kill me. I told her I would take care of you, so while I’m here, just do what I tell you.”
“Were you bald in high school?” Jasmine asks.
“No. I was pretty. I had long brown hair.”
“What happened to you?”
Shelby tries to explain her situation as best she can without the details. “I stopped caring about things.”
“Not everything. You care about your dogs.”
“Stop trying to psychoanalyze me,” Shelby says.
“Stop trying to tell me what to do.”
They both fall silent.
“I’ll come home on time tomorrow,” Jasmine says.
“It’s not because I care whether or not you do.”
“How late can I stay up?”
The schedule says ten o’clock.
“Midnight,” Shelby tells her.
You have to give the enemy some leeway.
“Fine,” Jasmine says.
The next morning is smoother. Everyone leaves for school. Dorian heads out with Teddy without mentioning the monster. Jasmine, wearing eyeliner and lipstick and big hoop earrings, has vowed to be home by three and asks if Shelby can help her with a science report.
Shelby finally takes a shower. It’s the best shower she’s ever had. She stands under the spray until the hot water is gone. She uses Maravelle’s green-tea-scented soap and Neutrogena body oil. After she’s dressed, Shelby clips the dogs’ leashes on and walks down the avenue. She saw a hardware store yesterday and now returns to buy a pair of work gloves and wire cutters. Ben calls her later in the day.
“Still hate kids?” he asks.
“Not as much,” Shelby admits.
“I bet they love you.”
“Only an idiot would love me,” Shelby blurts.
There’s silence on the other end of the line. Shelby has been pushing Ben away from the start of their relationship. All at once she realizes if she pushes too hard he may no longer be there.
“Ben,” she says. “I didn’t mean you.” When there’s no response, Shelby says, “Are you there?”
“I’m here,” he tells her, but she can’t help but wonder for how long.
After the kids are safely home, Shelby helps Jasmine with her ecology report, grateful that she herself is taking a bioecology class this semester and therefore knows more than she ever expected to about recycling. When they’re through, Shelby is so exhausted she falls asleep on the floor and doesn’t wake until past dinnertime. She was supposed to have made meatballs with tomato sauce. That’s what’s on the schedule. Instead she goes into the kitchen to look through the restaurant section of the local paper.
“How’s House of Chen?” she asks Jasmine.
“We don’t go there,” Jasmine tells her. “It’s too expensive.”
Shelby orders pork fried rice, spare ribs, orange-flavored beef, white rice, and General Tso’s chicken. She gets an order of egg rolls for the twins.
“I’m not going to like this,” Teddy assures her after the delivery guy drops off the food. Shelby has already dumped the fortune cookies in her backpack. No reason for these kids to think the future will be handed to them on slips of paper.
“Me either,” Dorian agrees.
“Good,” Jasmine says. “More for me.”
They all eat huge plates of food. After dinner, while Shelby is rinsing the silverware, Dorian comes up to stand beside her at the sink.
“The monster didn’t bark at me today,” he says.
“He’s a Great Pyrenees. His breed of dog was used in the mountains in France to rescue people. They would go through snowdrifts and find people who were lost in avalanches, just like Saint Bernards.”
“So they’re saints, too?” Dorian asks.
“Kind of.”
“I liked the food,” Dorian says.
Shelby knows there’s no point feeling this way about someone you’re only spending a few days with.
“Thanks, Dorian,” she says.
Dorian stays in the kitchen while Shelby washes the dishes.
“So maybe I’ll rescue him,” she says casually. “What do you think?”
“Good idea,” Dorian agrees. “I was thinking the same thing.”
When the boys are in bed and Jasmine is in her pajamas, lying on the couch with Blinkie and the General, Shelby borrows one of Maravelle’s jackets and slips it on. It’s black leather and fits her perfectly. She has the wire cutters and gloves. At the last minute, she grabs the container of leftover orange-flavored beef.
“I’ll be back before you know it,” she tells Jasmine. “Don’t open the door.”