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“Fine,” Shelby says. “I’d like to press charges.”

Shelby and Mrs. Diaz stand on the sidewalk as the officer returns to his car to fill out some paperwork.

“I’ve seen that man parked out here before.” Mrs. Diaz shakes her head. “That’s why I try to come home around this time. Lucky for you,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Very lucky for me,” Shelby agrees.

The officer returns and has Shelby sign several documents, and then he asks her to come into the station to speak with the sergeant and give her sworn statement. Mrs. Diaz drives her there in a Subaru that is spotless inside and out. She waits in the parking lot while Shelby goes in to be questioned. Shelby is shaking and cold. Mrs. Diaz told her to give her address as Maravelle’s. That will be the address the stalker cannot approach without being immediately arrested. They’ll sit Maravelle down and tell her the whole story soon enough, but for now it is Shelby who must take care of this mess. She realizes she still has the broom in her hand. She’s been carrying it all this time, like a visiting witch. When the sergeant asks why she has her legal address in New York City and yet she wants the restraining order in Valley Stream, she says she is the maid. “I’m at that house a lot.” At least that much is true.

It’s dark when she comes out of the station. Mrs. Diaz flashes her headlights so Shelby can find her car. Shelby’s nose is puffy and swollen but the blood has stopped. All the same, Mrs. Diaz insists they stop at the ER.

“Totally unnecessary,” Shelby says.

Mrs. Diaz doesn’t listen. “Which one of us works at a hospital?”

Because Mrs. Diaz is a beloved employee, the triage nurse has Shelby examined in no time. She is given a prescription for painkillers and told to keep ice on her swollen nose.

“I told you I was fine,” Shelby tells Mrs. Diaz.

She intends to take the train back into the city, where her dogs are waiting for her, but Mrs. Diaz insists she spend the night. When they get to Maravelle’s house, Shelby phones her neighbor, the waiter who works nights, and asks him to take the dogs for a walk before he leaves. She’ll be back in the morning. Then she sits out on the porch, waiting for the kids to return from the basketball game. To Shelby’s surprise, Mrs. Diaz opens the screen door and brings out two tumblers of rum and water on a tray. Both glasses have plenty of ice. They sit side by side on the wicker couch.

“This is better for you than a Vicodin,” Mrs. Diaz says.

Maravelle’s date pulls up, and she gets out of the car and waves to them.

Mrs. Diaz looks displeased. “That man is not for her. He’s too old.”

“You should date him,” Shelby suggests.

Mrs. Diaz laughs. “I’d teach him a thing or two.”

“What are you two doing?” Maravelle asks as she comes up to the porch. “I’ve never even seen you talk to each other.” She looks more closely. “What happened to your face, Shelby?”

“That Marcus boy from Queens happened,” Mrs. Diaz says. “Only he’s a grown man.”

They tell her everything, including the part when he asked if Shelby was the cleaning lady. Maravelle embraces her friend. “This is the kind of thing you can never repay,” she says.

“I’ll think of something.” Shelby grins. There is still blood caked on her face, and Mrs. Diaz offers her a napkin.

It’s the end of the evening, and soon Jasmine and the boys are shambling down the street, goofing around, teasing one another. “Our team won,” they call when they notice everyone out on the porch. They stop horsing around when they see Shelby’s condition and race up the porch steps.

“What happened to you?” Jasmine says, upset. She kneels down beside Shelby to get a better look. “Oh my God! Is your nose broken?”

The grown-ups have decided there’s no reason to make Jasmine any more worried than she has been. The monster’s been sent away, fended off with a broom. Shelby wants Jasmine to enjoy her youth in a way she didn’t, so she says the first excuse that comes to mind. “I fell off a bike.”

“Shelby, you don’t ride a bike,” Teddy says, suspicious.

“Yes she does.” Maravelle has pinched Shelby’s drink and takes a sip before Shelby can grab it back.

“It’s something you never forget how to do,” Shelby adds.

“Apparently you do,” Teddy says, with a grin. “If that’s really what happened.”

“She fell headfirst.” Mrs. Diaz turns to Shelby. “You need to practice your riding. Get a helmet. I wouldn’t want to see you in the hospital.”

Dorian’s brow is furrowed. He’s got a What’s wrong with this picture? expression on his face. He knows his grandmother can’t stand Shelby, but there they are sitting side by side, both with drinks in their hands. “There’s nothing to worry about,” Shelby tells him, just as she insisted when she rescued the monster that turned out to be Pablo. Dorian understands that she’s taken care of the problem. He leans over to kiss her cheek before he and Teddy go inside. Jasmine has plopped herself down on the painted wooden porch floor. The night is inky, but through the dark the forsythia in the yard glows with a deep, yellow light. Up and down the street the neighbors are watching TV, putting their children to bed, saying good night. Maravelle runs her hand over her beautiful daughter’s head, then goes inside for the rum.

“Tell the truth,” Jasmine asks her grandmother once her mother has gone. “How come you’re out here with Shelby?”

“Oh, Shelby’s not so bad,” Mrs. Diaz says. She looks Shelby over, then nods. “I’ve changed my mind about her. We’re girlfriends now.”

Chapter 8

Shelby is a volunteer at the Humane Society on Fifty-Ninth Street. She began with dog walking, coaxing frightened creatures large and small out of their cages after their arrival, training suspicious pit bulls and overwrought dachshunds to walk calmly on a leash. She’s quickly progressed to being a member of the intake team for abandoned and abused dogs. She’s there on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights at the intake desk, ready with blankets and kibble. She is in charge of the initial exam before the new arrival goes to be seen by a vet tech. Are there wounds, worms, fleas? Is the dog friendly, frightened, aggressive? The adoptable puppies and dogs bring Shelby joy. They are bathed and fed and photographed for the newsletter and website. But then there are the old dogs, the ones who refuse to look up because they’ve been beaten or neglected. Every night it is a challenge not to bring another dog home.

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