James shows her the phone again and now the screen displays a street map with a small icon marking a spot on it. He says, “See? She’s sitting right there at work.”
Rose shakes her head, grinning. “That’s crazy! What about the kids?”
“Both teenagers,” James replies, pressing some more buttons and then showing it to her again. “They’re on Facebook, foursquare, all these social networking sites. I friended them both under a fake teenybopper ID and now they tell me where they are every fifteen minutes, practically, without even asking. They just tell everybody for no reason – going to the library, eating a sandwich, doing homework at Bob’s house. It’s nuts.”
“I don’t know much about those things,” Rose replies, and gets a strange look from James but he drops it pretty quickly.
He stands and leans against the computer desk, peering around the little office with a troubled expression looking odd on his smooth face. His cheeks have a little bit of a pudge and a hue to them that Rose isn’t used to seeing on her peers.
Her hands move to her forearms, rubbing them absently as if cold, though the sunlight hitting the blinds emanates dull heat. She leans against the wall, liking the rough feel of the painted drywall, and keeps her mouth shut, still watching him.
James says, “You must have left home pretty young.”
In the two days they’ve known each other, they’ve very rarely asked questions. All personal information tends to be volunteered among their brethren – so many of them have people looking for them, parents and cops and drug dealers and pimps and worse. Much, much worse.
Rose bobs away from the wall and wanders further into the room, peeking out the blinds for no reason in particular and then dropping into a large wicker chair that is meant to be more decorative than functional. It offers a few creaky complaints beneath her whispery weight, and she runs the back of her nails up and down along the slats of a vented closet door beside her.
She folds her arms and offers no eye contact, a conspicuous thing in the small room, and says, “I was fourteen. Just barely. I’d been fourteen for three days when I left.”
No time to really learn about the things other girls learn about. No carefree trips to the mall with her pals, no piling into Coldstone Creamery for candy bar ice cream sprinkles. Rose knows what she’s missed, knows it all too well and she doesn’t want pity or understanding or empathy or even any attention at all.
All of those things come with a price, she knows, for a girl on her own.
James says, “You don’t have to tell me anything, Rose. I’m just talking about these networking sites.”
She tilts her chin down, hiding her eyes behind her dark hair, a girl who has cried so much she can almost sniff the tears back into her eyes like snot. Almost. After a moment she has to somewhat angrily wipe a tear away, and then she looks up at him, moist and defiant.
“I know,” she tells him.
James only nods, looking down like a funeral director speaking to the bereaved.
Here is a moment when they typically try something, she thinks. Right when they have you in tears, right when you’re tired and shaking, right when they’ve shown you that they’re strong and you’re weak. I know what you need, they’ll tell you, and then start humping your leg like a dog.
Except it isn’t funny. It’s just as disgusting, but without being funny.
James shrugs and says, “Foursquare is a site that tracks your phone for you, posts on your profile when you walk into your favorite hotspots – certain restaurants, coffee shops, malls, that kind of thing. Ashley is the daughter here – she likes to go to Starbucks after school. And Colin is the boy – he’s thirteen, so he’s here when the bus drops him off at ten to four, like clockwork.”
“Wait, I thought you said something about Lindsey.”
“No, that was the first house I ever infiltrated.” James gestures at the house around them. “This is probably the twenty-fifth.”
“How old are you?” Rose blurts out.
“Eighteen in three weeks,” James replies. “I’ll probably get my own – SHIT!”
The last word drops to a hissing whisper and Rose’s blood freezes as a the square of slatted sunlight on the opposite wall darkens with the shifting shadows of a pair of figures walking past the windows behind her. The sound of male voices, speaking in low private tones, drifts through the glass.
A set of keys rattles, clear as day. The office is directly off the entryway, just eight or nine feet from the front door.
James moves quickly and decisively, yanking open the slatted closet door and tugging Rose out of the wicker chair, twirling her against his body like a dancer and collapsing into the cluttered darkness. Their ankles twist as they try to find level ground among the shoes and barbells and stacks of books on the closet floor.
The keys make jingling and thumping noises as they turn in the lock and then the front door creaks open. James takes advantage of the noise to pull the closet door closed behind them, shifting his shoulders so the coats and jackets on hangars settle around them, and Rose starts panicking, his body pressed against her.
“Hold still!” He whispers – an expert, homeless whisper just barely audible – as he half sits and half leans against the back wall of the closet, holding her as tightly to him as she can. “Hold still, damn it! Hold still! Shhhhhhh.”
Rose retreats into her own head, the way she has learned to when the world at large, one way or another, has its way with her. She lets the cold, soothing blankness spread through her body, noting that James keeps his hands on her forearms and nowhere else. Noting that yes, he’s a little aroused, but he probably can’t help it.
And she is calm by the time the stillness reaches her feet, and she realizes she’s barefoot.
Her whisper is every bit as focused as his was as she tilts her head back and tells James, “My sandals are by the table, and the back door is open.”