Then, in an even lower voice, Magda asks, “Who was that man Pete and I saw you with today, Heather? The handsome one?”
“That was Cooper,” I say, since I’ve told Magda all about Cooper…as one does, naturally, discuss hotties over sloppy joes on one’s lunch break.
“That was Cooper?” Magda looks aghast. “Oh, honey, no wonder—”
“No wonder what?”
“Oh, never mind.” Magda pats me on the arm in a gesture that would have been comforting if I hadn’t, you know, been terrified of being poked by one her nails. “It will turn out all right. Maybe.”
“Uh, thanks.” I’m not at all sure what she was talking about…or that I wanted to know. I turn my attention to Roberta Pace’s roommate.
Lakeisha looks really, really sad. Her hair is done up in braids all over her head, and at the end of each braid is a brightly colored bead. The beads click together whenever Lakeisha moves her head.
“Lakeisha,” I say, gently. “I understand you have an appointment to speak to someone at counseling services. I’m here to walk you there. Are you ready to go?”
Lakeisha nods. But she doesn’t stand up. I glance at Magda.
“Maybe she wants a rest,” Magda says. “Does my little movie star want a rest?”
Lakeisha hesitates a moment. Then she says, “No, it’s okay. Let’s go.”
“You sure you don’t want a DoveBar?” Magda asks. Because DoveBars are, actually, the solution to nearly every problem in the universe.
But Lakeisha just shakes her head, causing her hair beads to rattle musically.
Which is surely how she stays so skinny. Refusing DoveBars when offered, I mean. I can’t remember ever turning down an offer of free ice cream. Especially a DoveBar.
Our walk out of the building is slow-paced and somber. They are letting students back into the building a few at a time, with the warning that they’ll have to use the stairs to get to their rooms. As one might expect in such a small community, word of another death has spread fast, and when the students see Lakeisha and me leaving the building together, there is a lot of whispering—“That’s the roommate,” I hear, and someone else responding, “Oh, poor thing.” Lakeisha either doesn’t hear it or chooses to ignore it. She walks with her head held high, but her gaze lowered.
We’re standing on the street corner, waiting for the crossing sign to change, when I finally get the courage to bring up what I want to know.
“Lakeisha,” I say. “Do you know if Roberta had a date last night?”
Lakeisha looks over at me like she’s seeing me for the first time. She’s a tiny little thing, all cheekbones and knees. The little bag of Gummi Bears Magda had pressed on her, and which she still carries, seems to be weighing her down.
She says, “Excuse me?” in a soft voice.
“Your roommate. Did she have a date last night?”
“I think so. I don’t really know,” Lakeisha replies, in an apologetic whisper that’s hard to hear above the sound of all the traffic. “I went out last night—I had dance rehearsal at eight. Bobby was asleep by the time I got back. It was real late, after midnight. And she was still asleep when I went down to breakfast this morning.”
Bobby. Had they been close, Lakeisha and her Ziggy-loving roommate? They must have been, if she’d called her Bobby. What am I doing, interrogating the poor girl this way, after she’s had such a shock?
Is Jordan right? About what he’d accused me the other day. Had I turned hard?
I guess so, since next thing I knew, I was trying again.
“The reason I ask, Lakeisha—” I feel like a total and complete heel. Maybe it’s all right, you know, if you feel like a jerk. Know what I mean? I mean, I’ve read that crazy people—sorry, I mean mentally disturbed people—never consider themselves mentally disturbed. So maybe real jerks never consider themselves jerks. So the fact that I feel like a jerk means that I couldn’t possibly be one…
I’ll have to remember to ask Sarah.
“The reason I ask is that the police”—slight lie, but oh well—“the police found a used condom under Roberta’s bed this morning. It was, uh, pretty fresh.”
This seems to clear a little of the fog out of Lakeisha’s head. She looks at me, and this time, I can tell she really sees me.
“Excuse me?” she asks, in a stronger voice.
“A condom. Under Roberta’s bed. It had to have been from last night.”
“No way,” Lakeisha says, firmly. “There is no way. Not Bobby. She’s never—” She breaks off and studies her Nikes. “No,” she says, again, and shakes her head with such force that the beads on the ends of her braids click like castanets.
“Well, someone had to have left that condom,” I say. “If it wasn’t Roberta, who—”
“Oh my God” Lakeisha suddenly interrupts, with actual excitement in her voice. “It had to be Todd!”
“Todd is the man. Bobby’s man. The new man. Bobby never had a man before.”
“Oh,” I say, somewhat taken aback by this information. “She was…um—”
“A virgin, yeah,” Lakeisha says, distractedly. She’s still trying to digest the information I’ve given her. “They must have—they must have done the deed after I left. He must have come over! She musta been so excited.”
Then Lakeisha’s excitement dies and she shakes her head again. “Then she had to go and do something so stupid—”
Okay. Now we were getting somewhere.
I slow down my pace, and Lakeisha slows hers as well, unconsciously. We are within two blocks of the counseling center.
“So elevator surfing wasn’t something your roommate did regularly?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.
“Bobby?” Lakeisha’s voice breaks. “Elevator surf? No! Never. Why would she go and do something so stupid? She’s a smart girl—was a smart girl,” she corrects herself. “Too smart for that, anyway. Besides,” she adds. “Bobby was afraid of heights. She never even wanted to look out the window, she thought we were up too high as it was.”
I knew it. I knew it. Someone had pushed her. It’s the only explanation.