Something in the Way(3)By: Jessica Hawkins
“Hey,” one of the men said. His voice was so deep, it gave me goosebumps on the inside, if that was even possible. “I found it. Here.”
Slowly, I turned. The enormous hand in front of me had dirt under the nails and my delicate gold chain coiled in its deep valley.
“It looks valuable,” he said.
I squinted up, and up, and up at him. I had only two concepts of men—ones my father’s age, like my teachers, and the boys I went to school with. This one didn’t fit into either category. He was bigger than my dad, bigger, even, than our vice-principal, who was the tallest man I knew. I couldn’t quite see his eyes under his hardhat, so I looked at the rest of his face. Black scruff nearly hid the dent in his chin. His nose was strong and hard with a noticeable bump.
“It is,” I said.
He held it out. The sleeves of his charcoal-gray t-shirt had been ripped off at the seams. His arms were like the guns Dad displayed in his study—hard, defined, chillingly powerful. The more my father warned me off the weapons he kept locked behind glass, the more I just wanted to touch one to see how it’d feel.
I didn’t move an inch, my heart beating harder.
“It’s all right,” he said, nodding. “It’s safe.”
I opened my hand. He poured the bracelet into it, and I put it in my pocket.
He removed his hardhat. He’d rolled and knotted a red bandana around his head, but it didn’t seem to do much; he had a lot of thick, black hair that spilled over. Picking up his shirt, he wiped his temples, giving me a glimpse of his hard, rippled stomach, and a smattering of fine dark hair. He dropped the hem immediately, but I averted my eyes anyway.
“Sorry,” he said.
“For what?” I asked the pavement.
“If I made you uncomfortable.” He removed the bandana and used that on his face instead. Dirt smeared across his olive skin. He was making it worse. I could see his eyes better now, dark brown like soda pop, but against the sun, there were lighter flecks, gold as the chain in my pocket.
My stomach tightened. I was uncomfortable, but him knowing that made it worse.
He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket and hit it against his palm. “You should get the clasp checked,” he said before he walked away.
I made it all the way to the front door when I remembered I didn’t have my house keys. I could picture them on my desk between my phone and a stack of Sassy magazines. I hadn’t even thought to take them this morning. Why would I? Tiffany was supposed to be with me. Even the gate into the backyard was locked. Dad had been extra diligent about securing the house since construction had started.
I shuffled back down the walkway, sat on the curb, and took out my book. Somehow, I could sense the man watching me. I wanted to look back. I liked his dark eyes, and how he looked scary, but he’d done something nice for me. I read the same paragraph three times and still didn’t know what it said, so I gave in and glanced up. He sat on a brick wall that surrounded the lot, his hand cupped around a lighter as he lit the cigarette between his lips. He wasn’t looking at me.
I realized what was bothering me. I hadn’t thanked him for returning the bracelet, and that was rude. I closed my book and got up. This time, he did watch as I walked back along the street toward him.
“Thanks,” I said from the curb.
I put my book under one arm, took out the bracelet, and showed it to him. “You could’ve kept it. I wouldn’t’ve known.”
“What would I do with women’s jewelry?” he asked.
“Give it to your girlfriend.” I pretended to concentrate on getting the bracelet on so he wouldn’t see me blushing. The longer he was silent, the more uncomfortable I got. I had no idea how he’d taken the comment. Unable to help myself, I finally glanced up at him. “Or your mom. Or sister.”
“If I’d kept your bracelet, I would’ve taken it to a pawn shop.”
Heat soared up my chest, right to my cheeks. A porn shop? If he hadn’t seen me blushing before, he definitely did now. I’d never heard of a porn shop. Well, I knew what porn was. Boys at my school bragged about looking at it. My dad got Playboy in the mail. But what kind of things did a shop sell?