Maravelle must have ESP because she’s waiting on the lawn when they arrive, no coat, no sweater, nothing, even though it’s chilly. There are empty boxes from the move stacked by the curb, ready for the trash pickup in the morning.
“You finally made it,” Maravelle says, her hand on her hip.
“We had to go shopping,” Shelby informs her.
“Why don’t you bring all that inside?” Maravelle tells Jasmine, and Jasmine, grateful not to be confronted, dashes into the house.
“You rewarded her for running away?”
“Yep. And now you owe me two hundred and twenty-four dollars.”
“Good luck collecting.” Maravelle hugs Shelby. “Thank God for you, crazy girl.”
“How do you do all this, Mimi? I was so worried I couldn’t sleep all night. Why does anyone become someone’s mother?”
“Sometimes I think I’m messing the whole thing up.” The shock of the evening has taken a toll.
“You’re not.” Shelby is very sure about this. “What Jasmine really wanted was a horse, so you should be thankful I just let her get pillows and vanilla candles. You could have a palomino in your backyard.”
“What would I ever do if something happened to her?” Maravelle says.
“Let’s order Chinese food,” Shelby suggests. It’s her answer to everything. She doesn’t want to think about any what-ifs. She just wants hot and sour soup, and then she wants to get back on the train and get the hell out of Long Island. “You can treat.”
The experience of Jasmine’s running away lingers. Shelby feels haunted by her own ragged emotions. Is this what love does to you? Makes you feel accountable for things you can’t control? All week she wakes in the middle of the night, worried about the future. She opens the closet door and looks at the jar of fortune cookies. She takes one, then quickly tosses it back in the jar.
One afternoon when a cold rain is falling, Shelby heads for the deli in Union Square. Since she quit work, she’s missed the place. There’s a chill in the air, so Shelby orders a container of chicken noodle soup.
“Make it two,” she decides at the last minute. Maybe that tattooed girl is out there; maybe she’s hungry and cold.
It’s the time of year when the trees are still bare. Shelby is wearing a heavy sweatshirt and boots. The brown paper deli bag is threatening to tear under the weight of the two containers of soup. The tattooed girl is indeed there, huddled beneath the overhang near the subway. She’s got on striped leggings and an army jacket. As Shelby approaches, she spies a little white cat perched on the girl’s shoulder, just sitting there, as if it weren’t raining. Shelby’s allergic to cats, she doesn’t even like them, she’s a dog person, but she feels something inside her that is like an electric shock.
“Hey, I brought you something,” Shelby says to the girl. She crouches down and takes out one of the containers of soup; the cardboard is burning hot. She places it on the cement while she fishes around in the bag for a plastic spoon. The air is foggy and gray. The cat is most likely drugged. That’s why it ignores the rain. It’s tiny and drenched.
“Is that a kitten?” Shelby asks.
The tattooed girl grabs the soup and opens it. Some hot liquid spills on her hands. “Shit. Why is this so hot?”
“Does that kitten belong to you?” Shelby feels the breaking thing inside her that always leads to trouble.
“Why don’t you kiss my ass, bitch?” the tattooed girl sneers. “One cup of soup doesn’t buy you anything.”
That’s it. Shelby grabs the kitten and runs. She runs so hard and so fast she nearly slips on the wet pavement. Her pulse is pumping and there’s a thud inside her ears. She hears the tattooed girl screaming at her, but she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care that she’ll be so allergic from having the cat tucked inside her sweatshirt she’ll have to get herself a bottle of Benadryl. There is nothing that could stop her, really. Not a bullet, not a police car, and certainly not a beggar girl.
Shelby runs to Seventh Avenue, to Penn Station. You rescue something and you’re responsible for it. But maybe that’s what love is. Maybe it’s like a hit-and-run accident; it smashes you before you can think. You do it no matter the cost and you keep on running. It’s dusk now, and the puddles are filled with neon. It’s only thirty minutes by train to Valley Stream. Don’t make a noise, Shelby whispers to the cat when the conductor comes around. Soon you’ll be sleeping on a velvet pillow. You’ll be looking at the rain from behind the window where there are blue silk curtains. You’ll be glad there was a thief like me.
It’s May and the world is green and lush, even in Valley Stream. There are daffodils in the gardens and birds in the willow trees. Shelby takes the train out for Sunday dinner, even though Maravelle’s mother, Alba Diaz, hates her. Shelby knows this because whenever she walks in the house Mrs. Diaz, an opinionated, no-nonsense widow in her fifties, hightails it into another room. She’ll come out for dinner, but she won’t speak. Not in English at any rate. Not when Shelby’s there.
“Come on, Abuela,” Jasmine always says to her grandmother on these occasions. “Shelby won’t bite you.”
“Oh, I’m not afraid of that,” Mrs. Diaz says, her glance burning through Shelby. “If anything I’ll bite her.”
Maybe she hates Shelby because she thinks Shelby is a bad influence, or maybe it’s because Shelby gave Jasmine the cat, Snowball. Mrs. Diaz hates cats as much as she does Shelby.
“Mami, please,” Maravelle always says. “Behave yourself.”
As for Shelby, she keeps her mouth shut until Mrs. Diaz retires to her room.
“Geez Louise,” Shelby says. “She is tough.”
“You have no idea,” Maravelle says. “I couldn’t go on a date so I did it behind her back. I went crazy wild.”
So of course Maravelle worries about the beautiful Jasmine, closing in on seventeen. That’s why Shelby has been summoned out to Long Island on a Saturday rather than for the usual Sunday dinner and why she can’t take the train back to the city until Maravelle returns from her first date in nearly ten years. Mrs. Diaz works evenings at the intake desk in the ER at the local hospital, and Maravelle doesn’t want the kids home alone. She found evidence of a romance. First there was the gold necklace, then gifts of perfume and cologne. Then she found a man’s sweatshirt in Jasmine’s bureau drawer. She’s afraid of what she’ll find next.