It’s a long walk to campus, and a lot of traffic on the bike path, joggers and people with dogs. The bicyclists call out, “On your left!” as they pass – there’s some kind of system for where you’re supposed to walk and where you’re not.
Whatever the system is, they’re doing it wrong. James and Rose eventually abandon the path altogether, walking instead in the grass among the pine cones and the turds.
It’s getting breezy and the air starts smelling like rain, and the first of the leaves are already on the ground, still a little green at the stems. They move along in no particular hurry, pausing to pet dogs and point at ducks and occasionally dodge out of somebody’s way.
The crowd is distinctly suburban, like a half-assed Gap commercial going on all around her. Rose is surprised by how easily she blends into them, with just a single, nonsensical word down her sleeve. This is a part of town she would normally avoid – they can smell fear in places like this. It’s like a horror movie.
She normally hurries through an area like this, her arms crossed over her chest and she looks down while she walks. It’s not a chicken-or-the-egg thing, either. Sauntering around casually was the first thing she tried out on her own, and at first it worked.
But the time wears the normal off of you. You don’t shower regularly, no one does your hair. You’re scared all the time. You don’t sleep. Pretty soon no amount of casual sauntering will allow you to blend in with the civilized. They simply reject you, like a bad organ or a virus.
So she also knows that it’s not just the Aeropostale shirt she’s wearing. It’s James.
He wears their clothing. Not just in style, but literally – he walks into their houses and puts it on, and leaves it there later for someone to launder. He eats their food and access their computers and God knows what else, so they accept him. Like they smell their own urine on him or something.
Whatever it is, he’s used to it. He doesn’t merely walk among them, he walks like them as well. The way they manage to sort of look around at the tops of buildings and glance at their phones and wink at each other as they stroll along. Right there on the street, as if nothing bad ever happens there at all.
They stop on bench on the edge of campus and eat their bananas and cereal bars, and James springs for a Pepsi from the hot dog guy, with laundry money. Then they hike all the way across campus to the clusters of apartments on the other side, where James pauses in front of a massive old Victorian house, gets out his phone and makes a call.
They stand their on the sidewalk trying to find things to look at for thirty seconds, then James puts the phone away and says, “Okay, let’s go.”
They climb the steps to the porch, where a mountain bike with no seat is chained to a metal railing, and then they walk right in the front door of the house. James cracks up as they cross the entryway to a set of stairs. He says, “That front door is supposed to be locked, but it only is about two thirds of the time.”
Rose frowns at a door on the first landing as they pass it. As they mount the next flight she asks, “So, what were you going to do if it was locked? Kind of a long walk.”
James turns and lowers his voice. “I have a key. I just didn’t at first. Keep your voice down, the dude on the first floor is not too sharp, but he’s home.”
Rose concentrates on the next flight of steps and then at the top of them asks, “How’d you get the key?”
James points to the door’s hinges, shaking his head. “The hinges are on the outside. Can you believe that? They cut these old houses up into apartments, and they just don’t think it through or something. I don’t know. I just waited til they all went to work, then I came in here with a tool belt on, carrying a tool box. Took the door off it’s hinges, pulled it out of the deadbolt.”
He fishes a key ring out of his pocket. Rose gives him a flat smile until he looks up at her, and she says, “You some kind of janitor or something?”
“They’re numbered,” he tells her. “Look.”
She looks, and indeed they are numbered, little roman numerals up into the twenties. “What’d you use a Sharpie?”
He unlocks the door and leans inside, “Hey, Erica? Kara? You guys home?”
Then he walks on in, saying, “I spent less than a minute finding a spare key. Almost always there’s one in the kitchen junk drawer, this one was on a giant Hello Kitty key ring. I put the door back on, locked it, went down to get a copy made, came back and returned it.”