His for Keeps(3)

By: Theodora Taylor

To me, he looked hungry in ways that had nothing to do with food, and I didn’t know who he was or why he was here but I recognized him for what he was from the minute I laid eyes on him: a coyote in human clothing.

“Hi,” I said tentatively. Just like I would have if I had run into an actual coyote in the woods behind my grandparents’ house.

He gave me a lazy coyote up and down look, before asking, “You one of Mike’s girls?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer his question, seeing as how I wasn’t supposed to be claiming Mike out in public. Also, I didn’t love hearing myself called “one of Mike’s girls.” So I didn’t say anything.

Which was answer enough for him. He leaned back, resting his knobby elbows on the steps behind him.

“Figures. He likes them from the wrong side of tracks—as long as mommy and daddy don’t find out.”

His voice was deeper than I would have expected it to be, coming from such a skinny body, and it rang with authority. Like he didn’t need me to confirm nothing, because he already knew everything he needed to know about me.

This time when he looked me up and down, I could see judgment in his eyes as they tracked over my dusty brown hair, my cut up clothes, and most of all, my light brown skin.

“So which wrong side of the tracks are you from?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Where did you get that black eye?”

The corners of his lips tugged up. “Alright, so you don’t want to tell me where you’re from. What do you think we should talk about while you’re pretending not to be waiting for Mike to get here then?”

“We don’t have to talk,” I pointed out.

“No, we don’t,” he agreed.

That got me a whole minute of silence. But eventually it became so uncomfortable, I had ask, “Is there a reason you’re sitting out here as opposed to going inside?”

He shrugged, his thin shoulders going up and down like two knobs underneath his thin t-shirt. “Putting together some thoughts, I guess.”

“Trying to figure out how you’re going to explain that black eye?” I asked him.

A sad smiled passed over his face. “Nobody in there’s going to ask, so I don’t have anything I’ve got to explain. Especially if I lay low until it fades.”

“Laying low ain’t too bad a deal,” I said after thinking on it for a few seconds. “At least you’ve got air conditioning.”

He let out a sound between a bark and a laugh. “Yeah, I guess that’s how I should look at it. I’m not hiding. I’m staying in the air conditioning.”

My eyes wandered to the violin case at his feet. Wondering about it. Wondering about him. Even as I said, “Well, you should probably go on and see about that A/C.”

“Yeah, I probably should,” he agreed. But he didn’t move. Instead, he followed my gaze to his violin.

Leaving me to grow more and more curious in the second silence, until I just had to ask, “So you play violin?”

“Sometimes. Come fall, I’ll be back performing the classical stuff with the Alabama Youth Symphony. But it’s been a long day.” A thin smile crosses his face. “Got in an argument with my dad in Tennessee, and decided to take the bus home. So tonight, it’s probably going to be a fiddle.”

That was a joke I sort of got. Violins and fiddles were basically the same instrument. You could call either the other, as long as you were playing the right song.

I also got that the part about the argument with his father was his way of explaining the black eye, which made my heart constrict with sympathy for him. But he didn’t seem like the kind of boy who would take well to sympathy, so I kept my voice casual as I said, “I should have brought my guitar. We could have played something sad and depressing together.”

Now his face lit with curiosity, and he tilted his head to reassess me, which put his eyes directly in line with the overhead light. I could now see they were an incredible blue, a blue so pretty, they caused my breath to unexpectedly catch. The boy might not have been much to look at, but his eyes packed one hell of a punch. That’s another thing I clearly remember thinking That Night.

“What kind of music do you like to play?” he asked.

“This is and that. Mostly stuff I make up,” I answered. A sip of my story, not the whole glass. I’d learned a long time ago that admitting I was basically a unicorn—a black girl who played and wrote country music—brought up more questions than it answered.

“Do you sing?”