Something in the Way(2)

By: Jessica Hawkins

She got out of the car, her Steve Madden platforms wobbling as she stepped over the curb into the dirt lot.

I slung my backpack over my shoulder and went to interrupt her conversation with the construction worker. “We’re not supposed to be over here.”

“Then why don’t you go inside?” she asked without looking at me. It wasn’t a suggestion.

The man looked down her top.

“And leave you out here alone?” I asked.

She’d rolled the waistband of her black denim skirt dangerously high. A short skirt and platforms didn’t seem like the kind of thing you wore around a construction site, but what did I know? Less than most sixteen-year-olds, Tiffany would say. Nineteen-year-olds, though—they knew a lot about a lot. Particularly how to dress around men.

“How long’s it take to build a house?” she asked him, sweeping her bangs aside. Realizing her mistake, she fixed them again. She spent at least ten minutes in the bathroom every morning plucking at them, fashioning them into a casual curl.

“Depends. We’re pretty quick.” He laughed into his fist. I looked behind us to see why. One of the workers had cocked an electric drill in front of his crotch. It spun around as he jutted his hips back and forth. It was stupid, but the other men on the site laughed.

I fingered the thin, gold bracelet around my wrist, a birthday gift from Dad. Tiffany and I didn’t always get along, but I didn’t want to leave her in a dangerous situation. These men were big and dirty. They were making me nervous. “I thought you were waiting for Brad’s call.”

Tiffany opened her mouth, probably to tell me to go away, but then shut it. “I have to go,” she told him, whirling around.

“Hey, wait,” he called after us.

We went up the brick and concrete walkway to the front door. My parents’ house wasn’t a mansion or anything, but my classmates gawked when they came over. With palm trees, a perfectly manicured lawn, and a three-car garage, our two-story home fit in with the upscale Newport Beach neighborhood. It curved gracefully at the end of the cul-de-sac and even had a pool, despite the beach being a ten-minute drive away.

“Why were you talking to him?” I asked Tiffany. “We’re not supposed to.”

“Are you going to tell Dad?”

He’d said to stay away, but when did Tiffany ever listen to him? Or anyone who knew better? If I brought it up, it’d only start a war at the dinner table. “No.”

“Good.” She unlocked the house. “Problem solved.”

The next day, Tiffany forgot to pick me up altogether. After an hour passed, I hoisted my book bag and wandered home. It was hot outside, but summer was supposed to be hot, so it felt good. Living miles from the beach, we got some breeze, and our neighborhood was safe, even by my dad’s standards.

I could’ve walked home with my eyes closed. I’d grown up here, had explored nooks and crannies with friends who’d come and gone, played baseball in the cul-de-sac, run away to the Reynolds’ treehouse when I’d gotten a B-minus on a math test. Aside from all that, though, had my eyes been closed, I would’ve known I was home by the telltale sounds of the construction site.

My heartrate kicked up as I approached the lot. At dinner the night before, Mom’d asked why my bracelet wasn’t on my wrist since I rarely took it off. The most likely explanation was that I’d lost it while fidgeting yesterday. Dad had warned me it was expensive when he’d given it to me.

I kept my eyes down, even though there was no reason for the men to notice me. Mom had told me years ago that one day I’d look like my older sister. That day hadn’t come yet. My limbs were too gangly, my dishwater-blonde hair wasn’t highlighted. I didn’t even have breasts. My mom had gotten hers at seventeen and kept assuring me they’d come.

Retracing my steps from where Tiffany had parked the day before to the dirt lot, I bent at the waist and searched for hints of gold.

“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.