Something in the Way(4)

By: Jessica Hawkins

“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.”

I jutted my chin out. He sounded just like my dad, except when Dad said it, it was an order, not a suggestion. Dad made Tiffany’s business sound filthy, like I might go looking for it in the garbage cans out back.

“Look at that.” The cigarette sagged from between his lips as he glanced at my feet. “You dropped it again.”

I followed his eyes to where my bracelet had fallen in the dirt. Damn. I picked it up and tried again to get it back on.

“Come over here,” he said. “Let me do that.”

I breathed through my mouth. “What?”

“The clasp,” he said.

My heart skipped as he beckoned me. I took a few tentative steps and held out my arm, the chain dangling precariously. He moved the unlit cigarette from his mouth to behind his ear, then leaned forward and turned my forearm face-up. He could crush my wrist with one hand, I was sure of it. It took him several tries to even get the two ends between his huge fingers. He squinted, muttering under his breath. His callused palms brushed over the thin skin of my wrist until goosebumps traveled up my arm and my insides tightened up. The ends slipped from between his fingers over and over.

His knee brushed my ribs, and I flinched.

“Sorry,” he said.

I was pretty sure with a little more focus, I’d have better luck with the bracelet than he was having, but I didn’t want to stop him. An unfamiliar tingle made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It wasn’t as if I’d never had a crush. Like my friends, I blushed when a senior said hi in the hall. I got giddy when someone like Corbin Swenson, the most popular boy in school, acknowledged our table in the cafeteria. But the boys at school were just that—boys. Tiffany liked to tear out pictures of celebrities and tape them to her wall—Andrew Keegan, Luke Perry, Kurt Cobain—and this man was as wall-worthy as he was sweaty, dusty, and quiet.