Maravelle reports that Isaac Worth quickly said, “No. Because you’re not going to need an attorney again.”
Ever since, Maravelle has been on cloud nine, though she’s downplaying the situation. “I hardly know him,” she claims.
“Should we refer to him as your beau?” Shelby teases.
“How about your steady?” Jasmine suggests.
“Just a friend,” Maravelle insists. “Thank you very much.”
While the cookies are baking, Jasmine and Shelby take the dogs out for a walk. It is freezing on Tenth Avenue, with a wind rising off the cold, half-frozen river. They head across the West Side Highway. Shelby carries Blinkie while the other dogs enjoy what’s left of the snow. The black butterfly charm is in her pocket. Soon it will be spring, maybe tomorrow. As evening falls, the wet street glows as if sprinkled with diamonds. Shelby remembers the angel crouching down on the pavement on the night of the accident. She didn’t know who or what he was, but she let him cover her with his coat.
“Ben’s a great person,” Jasmine says as they trek along the riverside. “He just wasn’t right for you.” Jaz is much smarter than Shelby ever was at her age. “You have a different path.”
“Yeah.” Shelby laughs. “Alone.”
Jasmine laughs. “You’re not alone.”
Shelby hugs Jasmine, and then they take off running, the dogs leaping beside them, Blinkie in Shelby’s arms. Shelby never wanted to get involved with Maravelle and her kids. She wasn’t looking for friends. Tonight they will sit up till all hours and watch movies; they’ll finish the chocolate chip cookies and order Chinese food. If there’s a fortune, Shelby won’t read it. She can see the future without it: Jasmine will grow up. Maravelle will fall in love. As for herself, she’s still not sure she wants to know.
When Jaz and Maravelle have fallen asleep, Shelby locks herself into the tiny bathroom. She tugs off her T-shirt, then eases the tape away from the bandage, even though James told her not to fuss with it until the following day. When she sees what he’s done she feels tears stinging her eyes. Instead of Helene’s name, he’s inked a black butterfly. It’s the exact image of the charm from her bracelet, the one he held on to ever since that night. He’s telling her what happened isn’t something she has to pay for, for the rest of her life. And then she knows she trusted him on that night, and that maybe, possibly, she’ll trust him again.
Shelby is waiting outside when he gets off work on a Friday night. It’s late, nearly midnight. James is wearing a black coat and a knitted cap and is almost invisible in the dark. “You,” he says when he sees Shelby standing there.
“I didn’t get the tattoo I asked for.”
“Did you come to get your money back?” James grins since the tattoo was free. He starts to walk toward Broadway. Shelby keeps pace alongside him.
“You can buy me dinner if you want to apologize,” she tells him.
“Apologize?” He glances at her and frowns. “Helene’s name isn’t your story.”
“You know my story?”
James shrugs. “I know what it isn’t.”
They’re passing by a Chinese restaurant that doesn’t look half-bad. Shelby pauses to gaze at the menu posted in the window, then she realizes James has walked on. She has to dash to catch up with him. “What was wrong with that place?”
“I don’t eat Chinese food.” James keeps going.
“Nope. I lived behind a Chinese restaurant in Queens for a couple of years. I ate there every day. How about this place?”
It’s a bar that serves hamburgers. They go inside the dark tavern and get a booth. Shelby orders a cheeseburger and a glass of white wine. James asks for a Diet Coke and a salad.
“I’m a sober vegetarian,” he explains. “It sounds terrible, I know. Like I’m in a cult. But if you eat the crap they call meat in jail long enough you never want to see the stuff again. And if I drink, I let the monster out of the cage.”
“If I feel, I let my monster out,” Shelby says.
James leans forward. “I’d like to see that.”
While they’re waiting for their food they discuss the best death scenes in their favorite movies. Shelby thinks it’s the bloody death in Alien. She could watch that moment over and over again. James insists it’s Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
Then Shelby realizes there’s an even better one. “Actually, the best death scene is Bambi’s mother.”
James laughs. “Did you have to bring up Bambi?” He gulps some Diet Coke. “Did Ben get married that day?”
“I assume so. Why? Do you care?”
She’s no longer sure. By the time their meals arrive Shelby has realized there is something seriously wrong with her. She can’t eat and she’s ordered another glass of wine, which will make her more tipsy than she wants to be. “Don’t tell me you still want to make amends to Ben?” she says.
“No. I just want to thank him for being stupid,” James says. He has this way of looking at her that gives her chills. Shelby can’t even drink after that.
They leave together and wind up walking down East Seventh Street. This is where he lives. “Can you wait here?” James sounds unsure. Maybe he expects her to take off running. Maybe she should. He’s warned her that he has a monster inside him, but she has one too. She nods and waits on the stoop. She has a shivery feeling, as if she’s stepped into a dream from which she can’t wake. When James comes back outside he’s got a white German shepherd with him. It’s the sort of dog you would find in a dream.
“You didn’t say you had a dog.” Shelby sinks down to pet the shepherd, who is aloof but tolerant, just like the General. Her favorite type. She had always found dogs that dance around desperate for approval annoying. This is a real dog. Dignified, but willing to accept Shelby’s praise when she tells him what a good and gorgeous boy he is.
“His name is Coop,” James tells Shelby as they meander down the deserted street. “I found him near Cooper Union. He was dumped out of a car, half-dead, and there I was, so I figured it was fate.”
The trees look black and the sky is dotted with blue-black clouds. Shelby feels strangely happy walking along in the dim night. There are bats in the tower of a church overlooking a small park. There’s a sprinkling of gold-tinged stars in the sky. They’ve entered a moody, tattooed world, but they laugh as they talk about their worst days at school. For Shelby that day was when she forgot her homework and humiliated herself by crying in front of her entire fourth-grade class. She locked herself in a stall in the girls’ room and wouldn’t come out until the principal asked her mother to talk to her. For James, there are so many horrible incidents he has to list them. The day he was suspended for shooting rubber bands at Ben, of course, and the day his brother set off a cherry bomb in the gym and he took the blame, the day of their fourth-grade photo when the photographer tied him to the chair. There you go, you little shit, the photographer had told him. I was in the navy. See if you can get out of these knots.