“I got the idea when the rest of the kids went back to school,” James explains politely, his hair pulled back in a short pony tail in a little nod toward hygeine, as he chops onions and green peppers next to the stove.
Rose, clad in jeans and a UCLA sweatshirt, lingers in the doorway to the patio, the sliding glass door oiled and maintained so well she can nervously move it back and forth with only her wrist. Behind her the late morning sunlight is blinding, and the suburban neighborhood chirps with perky music and baby talk, carried over the privacy fences by the pollen-scented breeze.
She doesn’t like the sun. Dark-haired and fair-skinned – it doesn’t do anything for her. She says, “Well that’s ironic.”
James is dressed like a rich kid at the mall – name brands and bright colors. His shoes are nice, too, but old and brown. Shoes are harder to come by, expensive and treasured and then quickly destroyed by use.
Rose steps out of her sandals and then back into them. She says, “This is the kind of kitchen makes me sort of sick.”
And James laughs. “The big, nice kind full of food?”
That’s what it is, all right. The kind of kitchen with stainless steel appliances and a big refrigerator that crushes the ice for you. Gleaming pans like showpieces, hanging from racks over the island stove.
James consults a cell phone on the counter next to him – something he does a lot – and then says, “Come on in and sit down, this will be another twenty minutes. You want some coffee or some juice or something?”
Rose cranes her neck to look out at the wide back yard. A woman two yards down sits on a garden stool with a blue bandana wrapped around her head, either pulling weeds or planting flowers, facing the other way. Rose leaves the door open and takes a seat primly in a breakfast nook beside it.
She says, “What did the kids going back to school have to do with it?”
“You said that’s when you got the idea.”
“Oh, sure.” James clears the cutting board into a skillet, where the onions and peppers crackle in the hot olive oil. “Okay, well, I had just gotten away from Kim and Brian.”
His eyes flick into contact with her own for just a moment as he mentions them. She doesn’t know much about them, but she knows their names bring a darkness to his face, and that some hurt deep inside him – the same one which enables her to trust him at all – is attached to them.
Having her own terrible names to associate with terrible things, Rose doesn’t ask him any questions about them. She only nods.
“They bought me some pretty nice clothes, so when I got on the bus I took it to this side of town, and I slept in the mulch along the library, and then I got up and found a McDonald’s. Cleaned up in the restroom, and tried to get someone to buy me breakfast.”
Rose winces – panhandling at an upper class McDonald’s is an easy way to meet the cops, something all the kids on the street learn pretty fast.
James lifts a package of sausages from the sink with the tips of his fingers, presses them through the shrink wrap to be sure they’ve thawed, and then opens it and dumps the links into the skillet.
“All they did was toss me out,” he tells her. “I was dressed nicely enough I just said I’d lost my phone and was on my way to school, played dumb. An old lady pulled up next to me in the parking lot and gave me some kind of breakfast wrap, made us both happy.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without old ladies,” Rose replies, surprising herself with a serious tone – it’s so true.
“Well, I ended up in a neighborhood just like this, just wandering along the streets because I looked surburban and no one would bother me. And it wasn’t long before I saw something amazing – a really hot girl, bending over.”
“I know, couldn’t help it. That’s really what I saw, but it wasn’t really gross. She was bending over along the path beside the front door of a really big house. I mean a mansion, by my standards. And what she was doing was dropping a key under a rock, with her back to me.”
“Of course she was.”
“I didn’t go inside that day. I kept right on going and she was already on the phone when she drove past me, really laying into someone on the other end. She had her window down, and state university stickers on the back window, and she smelled like peaches and cigarettes even while she drove down the street.”
“See, you’re being creepy again.” Rose tugs at the sleeves of her sweatshirt, and then moves a piece of her hair. She doesn’t like talking about attractive girls, or what makes them attractive, or what men want to do with them because of their attractiveness. She pulls her knees up onto the chair with her and clasps her hands around them.
“But you did go inside?” Rose wants to know.