“Sorry,” Teddy says when the boys get back into the car. Dorian has obviously had a talk with him. “I know you’re helping me.”
“The story is about how much he loves his brother,” Shelby says. “That’s all it is.”
“He gets it,” Dorian says.
It’s pitch-dark when they reach the school. Shelby squints as the headlights pierce through the black night. Dorian directs her to pull over beside a field; he tells her to cut her lights.
They all get out and stand in the drifting darkness. The world beyond the field feels dangerous and broken. There is the scent of the woods nearby, swamp cabbage and loamy earth. The brothers kid around, punching each other and saying good-bye, then embrace in a bear hug. “Wait till I’m out of here,” Teddy says. “We’ll be back like we were.”
When Shelby goes to hug Teddy, he’s so tall she has to stand on tiptoes so she can whisper, “You can do this.”
Teddy grins at her. “I still don’t believe you were ever that bad.”
“I was a monster,” Shelby says.
“No,” Teddy says. “Not you.”
The journey home seems to take forever. Dorian switches on the radio to make sure Shelby stays awake. There’s a Bob Dylan station, and his nasal, heartbreaking voice suits the long, dark drive. When “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” plays, Shelby starts to cry. This is why she never wanted to have a heart. She wishes Teddy could have met James, that he could have seen how good a man a monster can become.
“It’s probably better not to cry and drive,” Dorian says.
“Right.” Shelby blows her nose on her sleeve, and they both laugh. “I did this in fourth grade and was embarrassed for the rest of the year.”
“I can see why.”
They laugh again, but they’re both exhausted. Shelby pulls off the highway in search of a diner. They order French fries and coffee, and then get back on the road again. They have to circle around Manhattan, which looks as if it’s made from silver and gold. On the Throgs Neck Bridge, Shelby should be panicking, but she stays in the middle lane, as Dorian suggested, and she does fine.
When they’re almost in Valley Stream, Dorian says, “I’ll tell my mother about today. You don’t have to.”
She’s so proud of him, and he’s not even her kid. “I don’t care what they say about twins. You’re you even when you’re without him,” she tells Dorian. “I’ll bet when you were little you let him do all the talking for you.”
Dorian shrugs. “He was better at it.”
“No. You’re better at it,” Shelby says. “You’re better at a lot of things, and you’re going to have to accept that.”
Dorian gazes out the window at the familiar streets. “You’re a pretty good driver.” He grins at Shelby. “You’re just going to have to accept that,” he tells her.
Shelby is drawn to the places she went to when she first moved to the city. She goes to Union Square on Greenmarket days, when farms truck in fresh vegetables and fruit and there are jars of honey and jams, along with brilliant flowers, the dew still on their leaves. Everything smells like mint. She does her shopping, a box of strawberries and some soft green lettuce, then gets a hot tea from the deli and finds herself a bit of space on a bench.
Today Shelby’s got Blinkie with her. He’s getting old and she hates to leave him alone for too long. He’s so small he fits in her tote bag. She thinks he may be shrinking, vanishing bit by bit. She wonders if Blinkie knows where he is, the park where she stole him on a hot summer day. She still looks for the tattooed girl whenever she’s in the area. It’s been so long since she’s spied her, Shelby assumes she’s vanished, but suddenly she sees her crossing the park, walking briskly. Shelby decides to follow her. She tosses her tea in a trash can and trails along behind the tattooed girl toward Broadway. She’s surprised to discover their destination is the Strand Book Store, open since 1927, home of over two million books, perhaps the best bookstore in the world. It’s one of James’s favorite places and has become one of Shelby’s as well.
The tattooed girl goes in and waves to someone, then heads downstairs, two steps at a time. Shelby follows as if she were in a dream. She’s always thought that if she didn’t end up as herself, she would have been the tattooed girl. She wants to see what her alternative fate might have been.
The basement of the Strand is filled with boxes of books delivered from the loading dock. “Geez, Shawna, how about being on time?” a young, handsome clerk with a ponytail calls to the tattooed girl.
“Screw you, Henry,” she shoots back. “Like you’re punctual.”
The girl grins and this Henry grins back. Up close the girl’s tribal tattoos are quite beautiful, yet Shelby can’t help but think of what Maravelle said to her when she looks at the blue swirls across the girl’s face. How is that going to look when you’re eighty years old?
The girl and Henry begin unpacking new shipments of books. It’s dusty and dark, but they’re talking the whole time until Blinkie barks. Then they both turn to look at Shelby.
“Did you say something?” Henry asks. He’s young, maybe twenty.
“I’m looking for the graphic novels,” Shelby blurts. She’s got Nevermore on the brain. Every time she reads it she discovers more about the way James thinks about the world and his place in it. She’s fallen in love not only with him but with his story.
“Did you just bark?” Shawna asks.
“Do you work here?” Shelby asks.
“No, I’m unpacking these boxes for free,” Shawna says. “I like to do crappy work for nothing.”
“Second floor,” Henry the clerk tells Shelby. He turns back to his co-worker. “Are you coming to Leah’s tonight?”
“Probably,” Shawna says. “I just hate going to Queens. It’s like going to Neverland when you’re the Red Queen.”
“Which one of us is the Queen?” the handsome clerk jokes.
He and Shawna both laugh. “Off with your head,” Shawna says. Shelby is motionless as she listens in. “Anything else?” Shawna asks coldly when she realizes Shelby’s still standing there. Really, the tattooed girl is a woman, likely in her early twenties, only a few years younger than Shelby, an employee of the Strand Book Store who’s got better things to do than talk to a stranger.