Jasmine is suddenly interested. “Where are you going? Do you need me?”
In her pajamas, without any makeup, Jasmine looks like a little girl. She has Blinkie sitting on her lap as if he were a stuffed animal.
“Thanks, but this is a one-person job.”
She runs all the way.
There is the big dog, at the end of his chain, watching the street. He sees her and stares.
“Don’t make any noise,” Shelby tells him.
She begins to cut through the fence. She’s breathing too hard because she’s nervous. Maravelle will kill her if she ever finds out Shelby left Jasmine in charge so she could commit a felony or a misdemeanor or whatever breaking and entering to steal personal property is considered.
Shelby rolls the fence back. She’s seen it done on TV. Then she climbs through. The big dog looks at her, but doesn’t lunge. Shelby waves the container of orange-flavored beef, then pours some on the ground. The dog comes to devour the Chinese food. While he does, Shelby cuts his chain from the pole. He looks up at her, drooling. He has streaks of blood on his fur along with dirt and oil and lots of drool. He makes her think of a screwed-up piece of modern art.
“Pablo Picasso,” Shelby says. She grabs the end of his chain. “Let’s go, Pablo.”
Shelby crouches back through the fence, and the dog follows behind. She can feel his weight on the other end of the chain. As soon as they’re through, Shelby sprints off and the dog runs behind her. When they get to Maravelle’s, she takes him into the yard. There she bends over, hands on her knees, and tries to catch her breath.
Jasmine has heard something; she cracks open the back door to take a peek, then rushes out, Blinkie in her arms. “Oh my God! You’re crazy!” she cries out. “You can’t bring that thing here!”
General Tso races through the open door, barking.
“Grab him,” Shelby shouts, afraid the big dog will snap up the General in one bite, but it’s too late. The General runs up to the Great Pyrenees, yapping. The big dog leans down and sniffs him. The General gives off a few more soulful barks, then sniffs back.
“My mother will kill you,” Jasmine says.
“She won’t know. And stop staring at him. He’s been abused, that’s why he looks this way.”
They go inside, all of them.
“She will seriously kill you,” Jasmine says in a hushed voice.
Shelby grabs a bowl and fills it with kibble. The Great Pyrenees eats it up in a few gulps.
“Do you think he’ll attack Blinkie?” Jasmine asks.
“He seems pretty calm.”
Jasmine lets Blinkie down. The big dog stands back while Blinkie licks out the bowl.
“His name’s Pablo,” Shelby says.
“I think you’re the craziest person I ever met,” Jasmine announces.
“Thanks,” Shelby says.
“I didn’t mean it in a bad way.” Jasmine is studying Shelby. “I just think you’d be prettier if you weren’t bald.”
The next morning Shelby is in the kitchen having a cup of coffee when Dorian and Teddy come out of the bedroom. She’s got this schedule thing down now.
“Holy shit,” Teddy says. He’s definitely going to cause Maravelle grief someday. Shelby can tell from the grin on his face. He’s drawn to trouble.
Pablo is on the kitchen floor. He looks like a white mountain.
“You did it.” Dorian pats Shelby on the back. Both boys ignore their breakfasts even though Shelby has made microwave waffles, something they’re allowed only on weekends.
“Is he alive?” Teddy asks.
“Oh, yeah. He’s eaten a big bowl of kibble and been in the yard. You should see the size of his poops.”
Shelby had gotten up early to give the dog a bath out in the yard, using dishwashing soap and two buckets of warm water. Pablo is still dirty, but he definitely looks better without the blood. He’s damp and has the blankety smell of a wet dog. He’d been very patient about Shelby washing him. He’s a big, resigned creature. Pablo, she said to him as she toweled him off, how did you get such a good heart?
“Our mother hates dogs. She says they shed,” Teddy tells Shelby as he takes a few bites of his waffle. “And they shit.” He gives Shelby a look to see if he’ll get a rise out of her when he uses bad language. He doesn’t, so he shrugs. Then, as an afterthought, he asks Dorian, “Isn’t he the monster?”
This is Shelby’s last full day with the kids. Tomorrow Maravelle will be back. Shelby adds six cookies to each of their lunch bags and cans of orange soda, even though she’s supposed to stick with juice boxes. Jasmine comes out of the bathroom, dressed and ready for school. She’s wearing pale coral lipstick, but no eye makeup. Shelby guesses it’s a draw between them.
Jasmine grabs a waffle and heads off.
“Come right home after school,” Shelby calls to her.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. See you later. See you, Pablo,” she adds.
“I like Pablo,” Dorian tells Shelby when he stops at the counter to grab his lunch.
“He’s the strong silent type,” Shelby says.
Dorian gives Shelby a hug, which nearly undoes her. “Thanks for fixing him,” he says. “He looks good.”
Shelby decides to meet the bus after school. She doesn’t want to take any chances on a mix-up or a lost kid on her last afternoon in Queens. She stops at the deli for a café con leche and a bag of chips.
“Hey there,” the counterman she met on the street calls to her. “I guess you don’t mess around.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Shelby fits a takeaway cover onto her café con leche. But when she reaches into her jeans pocket for some money to pay, the counterman stops her.
“The coffee’s on me. You saved me a fortune in stale rolls. I used to give him two or three a day. You did a good thing.”
Shelby shakes hands with the counterman, then heads outside. It’s a good thing she’s leaving. She’s getting too attached. But for today she just plans to enjoy the fact that she rescued something. Across the street someone has already patched together the hole in the fence. No one would even notice there’s been any damage, except the new fencing is green. When Shelby spies the kids getting off the bus, she puts both arms over her head and waves. At that moment, standing on a corner in Queens, waiting for three kids who are racing toward her, she is exactly where she wants to be.