Something in the Way(4)

By: Jessica Hawkins

“You get locked out?” he asked.

I stepped onto the lot. “My sister has the key.”

He nodded. I wasn’t sure what to make of him. Because he was older and bigger, he seemed unapproachable, but I wanted to talk to him anyway. He took a drag of his cigarette. “What’re you reading?”

I gave up trying to get the bracelet on. “The Grapes of Wrath.”

“The one with the farmers?”

“It’s about the Great Depression,” I said.

“Why’d you pick that?”

“Because it was next on the list.”

His forehead wrinkled. “The list?”

I walked a little closer to him, holding my unclasped bracelet in place. “Required summer reading.”

He stubbed out the cigarette he’d just lit. “You want to sit?”

The wall probably only came up to his waist, but for me, it was tall enough that I wasn’t going to embarrass myself by trying to get up. “I’ll stand.”

“So this list . . . you just go in order, one by one?” he asked. “What if you’re in the mood for something different?”

Was anyone ever in the mood for the Great Depression? This paperback had taken me longer to read than any other book so far and not just because it was almost five hundred pages. I hadn’t thought to tackle the list any other way. “I guess I could try something else.”

“You’re not enjoying it?”

My mouth went dry just thinking about all the lengthy descriptions—traveling across country, drought, dust. “There’s a lot of . . . information.”

“Put it down for a while. Try something else. Maybe something not on the list.”

“Can’t. School starts in six weeks, and there are more books after this.”

“You could always do what I did and watch the movie.”

I balked. “I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“That’s cheating.”

“Huh.” The ends of his grease-smudged jeans grazed the bottoms of his worn boots. Where did they carry pants long enough for so much leg? His t-shirt must’ve been through the wash hundreds of times, faded to the point I could barely make out a rainbow streak across it.

I squinted to read it. “What’s Pink Floyd?”

“What?” He glanced at me and then down, pulling the fabric taut with one hand. “It’s a band. You never heard of them?”

I shook my head as my cheeks warmed. I shouldn’t have asked. Tiffany knew all the latest bands, watched all the music videos, and I tried to keep up, but there were so many. Nirvana was the one Tiffany loved most. Why couldn’t he have been wearing a Nirvana shirt? I knew most of their songs—I’d heard them through the wall enough times. “I don’t listen to the radio much.”

“Me, neither. There’s some pretty bad stuff out there.”

I smiled a little. Tiffany was all about her CDs. Saying you didn’t like music was like admitting you weren’t cool. Everybody had something to say about the latest album or some underground band or the ‘song of the summer.’ “I play a little piano,” I said. “But I’ll probably stop.”

“How come?”

“I’m not any good. Anyway, my sister says piano’s for geeks.”

He studied me a few seconds and then nodded toward my parents’ house. “Was that your sister yesterday?”

Of course he wanted to know about Tiffany. It should’ve occurred to me earlier that she was the reason he’d talked to me, but for some reason it hadn’t. Even though I was pretty sure he was around Tiffany’s age, he seemed more mature.

I nodded. “Tiffany. She’ll probably go out with you.”

“Yeah? How do you know?”

“She goes out with lots of guys.”

His heavy black brows fell. “What do you know about who she goes out with?”

“She tells me.”

“Tells you what?”

“About who she likes and stuff.”

“And stuff.” With a grunt, he reached into his back pocket, took out another cigarette, and stuck it in his mouth without lighting it. “You should stay out of your sister’s business.”

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