The tattooed girl’s face is covered by blue patterns. People glance at her, then quickly look away. She’s disturbing, like a cannibal queen let loose in New York. Ever since Shelby stole the dogs she’s felt a weird connection to this girl, as if they were soul sisters. What would have happened if fairy-tale logic prevailed and they’d changed places that day? Then it would be Shelby out there begging in Union Square, and the tattooed girl would be lugging a tote bag filled with zoology textbooks.
Shelby glances over as the tattooed girl slips out, the bell above the door jingling. “Make it two sandwiches,” Shelby tells the deli guy.
She knows what it’s like when someone is compelled to show her pain. When Shelby shaved her head it was a public penance, there for the whole world to see. She now has straight, gold-brown hair reaching to her shoulders. Jasmine has told her she can’t believe how pretty Shelby has become. And yet when Shelby looks in the mirror she still sees the bald girl she was for so long.
Shelby waits for her sandwiches, pays, then goes looking for her doppelganger. The girl is in front of Barnes & Noble, hunkered down, eating the apple. Maravelle always says give a beggar what he wants and all you do is teach him to beg harder. But Maravelle believes in rules, and Shelby never has.
The tattooed girl was probably sixteen the first time Shelby saw her. She doesn’t look so young now. She’s probably lucky to still be alive. There are abscesses on her mouth and on her arms. She’s wearing light sneakers, even though it’s a chilly November evening, along with torn jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt. Shelby stops and hands her one of the sandwiches, wrapped in white paper.
“What the fuck is this supposed to be?” the girl says. The blue patterns are asymmetrical on either side of her face. It makes Shelby dizzy to look at her.
“Swiss on rye.” Shelby sees the uptown bus pulling away. She’ll have to wait for another and will probably be late to class.
The tattooed girl grabs the sandwich. “It better be good,” she says.
Shelby thinks about the girl’s comment all evening during her zoology class. It’s almost funny how entitled she was. Shelby goes up to her professor after class and apologizes for being late. She’s a better student than she ever would have imagined. “You are definitely a workaholic,” Maravelle says when they talk on the phone later that night. Shelby is in bed with the little dogs and Pablo is sprawled on the couch. Pablo is seriously in love with the couch. He doesn’t even want to get off when it’s time to eat. “My problem with Jasmine is that things come too easy to her. She gets As in nearly everything without even trying. She’s slacking off and this is the year she applies to college.”
Maravelle often complains about her daughter. Jasmine wears too much makeup, she pays no attention to her studies, she dresses like a slut. Frankly, Shelby doesn’t think a short skirt and boots equals slutdom, and one C does not a loser make. Maravelle is convinced that Jasmine has a secret boyfriend, one of the older guys from the park. Maravelle’s mother has come to live with her and help out with the kids, and that’s driving her crazy too. It’s a whole lot of people in a one-bedroom apartment. Maravelle and her mother both sleep in the living room now, Mrs. Diaz on the foldout couch and Maravelle on a blow-up mattress. This is one of the reasons Maravelle is going out to Long Island, to look at a house in Valley Stream. The other is Jasmine. “I’ve got to get her out of Queens. I don’t like the way guys in this neighborhood are looking at her.”
“Guys are going to look at her no matter where you are,” Shelby informs her friend. After all, Jasmine is gorgeous. “But maybe a move is a good idea.”
Jasmine has confided to Shelby that she does indeed have a boyfriend, but she’s made Shelby swear she won’t tell Maravelle. Now Shelby is riddled with guilt, keeping this secret from her friend. The boyfriend, Marcus Parris, is older, not in school. From what Shelby has heard, he has a bad attitude, and that is likely his best quality. He texts Jasmine half a dozen times a night to make sure she’s not cheating on him. Maravelle has her suspicions. She found a gold necklace he gave Jasmine for her birthday stuffed into a drawer.
“Maybe I should shave her head while she’s sleeping,” Maravelle says to Shelby. “Then she’ll look like you used to and all the boys will stay away.”
When Maravelle finds the house of her dreams, she insists that Shelby come to give her opinion. Shelby takes the Long Island Rail Road to Valley Stream, where Maravelle is waiting in her mother’s car. Mrs. Diaz and her two sisters, one in Puerto Rico, one in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, have offered to help Maravelle with a down payment.
“Miss Suburbia,” Shelby says with a little smirk. “What’s this?” she says of the car Maravelle is driving. “A Volvo?”
“That’s Ms. to you,” Maravelle says. “It’s a Subaru. The Volvo comes next.”
The house is in a nice neighborhood. It’s a brick colonial with wooden shutters and a manicured front lawn and a big backyard. There’s already a basketball hoop over the garage.
“Let me guess,” Shelby says. “The boys love it.”
“Love it to death. And my mother is overjoyed. There’s an apartment over the garage for her. We can live together without actually having to live together.”
They go up to the porch, and Maravelle takes out the key. “Ta da,” she says, unlocking the door.
“Don’t we have to meet the Realtor or something?”
“We don’t need a Realtor, baby. I bought it! Well, me and my mom and my aunties, but my name is on the deed.”
There is a big oak tree on the front lawn. It’s leafless now, but come next fall it will drop all its leaves and be a real pain in the ass. Shelby knows the downside of suburban life, but she doesn’t mention all the work that awaits Maravelle. Get out the rake, the lawn mower, the snow shovel, the grass seed. “Nice tree,” she says.
When they step inside, there’s still paper rolled out to protect the hardwood floors and ensure that potential buyers don’t scuff things up.
“Is it gorgeous or what?” Maravelle chirps.
It probably is to somebody and that somebody is Maravelle. Why should Shelby burst her bubble? There’s a gas fireplace and a good-size dining room. In the kitchen there are new appliances and white floor tiles that Shelby knows will be hell to clean when the boys stomp around in muddy sneakers.