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"So that's the scoop, Angel's history. Now I'm seeing this guy from Red Hot Mama's by the name of Cameron John. Cameron's his first name and John's his last. Can you believe it?"

"I had a science teacher like that once," I said. "So does Red Hot Mama's give out a sex manual for the chile packers-how to do it without touching anything?"

"Taylor, I swear. He does tomatillos, and I just boss people now, as you very well know. Anyway I can't wait till you meet him, to see what you think. I know Mama would take one look and keel over dead-he's about seven feet tall and black as the ace of spades. But, Taylor, he is so sweet. My biggest problem is I keep feeling like I don't deserve anybody to be that nice to me. He invited me over for dinner and made this great something or other with rice and peanuts and I don't know what all. He used to be a Rastafarian."

"A what?"

"Rastafarian. It's a type of religion. And he's got this dog, a Doberman pinscher? Named Mister T, only Cameron didn't name it that, somebody gave it to him. It's got pierced ears, Taylor, I swear to God, with all these little gold rings. I can't believe I actually went out with this guy I've gotten so brave hanging around you. Six months ago it would have scared the living daylights out of me just to have to walk by him on the street."

"Which, Cameron or Mister T?"

"Either one. And oh, I can't tell you, he was so good with Dwayne Ray. It just made me want to cry, or take a picture or something, to see this great big man playing with a little teeny pale white baby."

"So are you moving in with him, or what?" I tried my best to sound happy for her.

"What, me? No! Cameron's sweet as can be, but I'm real content with things the way they are now. To tell you the truth, I'm sure you're a lot easier to live with than him and Mister T."

"Oh. Well, I'm glad."

"Taylor, remember that time you were mad at me because you didn't want us to act like a family? That all we needed was a little dog named Spot? Well, don't get mad, but I told somebody that you and Turtle and Dwayne Ray were my family. Somebody at work said, 'Do you have family at home?' And I said, 'Sure,' without even thinking. I meant you all. Mainly I guess because we've been through hell and high water together. We know each other's good and bad sides, stuff nobody else knows."

It was hard for me to decide what to say.

"I don't mean till death do us part, or anything," she said. "But nothing on this earth's guaranteed, when you get right down to it, you know? I've been thinking about that. About how your kids aren't really yours, they're just these people that you try to keep an eye on, and hope you'll all grow up someday to like each other and still be in one piece. What I mean is, everything you ever get is really just on loan. Does that make sense?"

"Sure," I said. "Like library books. Sooner or later they've all got to go back into the night drop."

"Exactly. So what's the point worrying yourself sick about it. You'd just as well enjoy it while you've got it."

"I guess you could say we're family," I said. I watched Turtle climb over the armrests onto the last bench by the front door, which stood wide open to the street. She turned around and looked for me, and started making her way back.

There was silence on the other end of the line. "Lou Ann? You still there?" I asked.

"I can't stand the suspense, Taylor. Do you still have her?"

"Have who?"

"Turtle, for heaven's sake."

"Oh, sure. She's my legal daughter now."

"What!" Lou Ann shrieked. "You're kidding!"

"Nope. It's done, for all practical purposes. There's still some rigamarole in court for getting a birth certificate that takes about six months, but that's not too bad. It takes longer than that to make a kid from scratch, is how I look at it."

"I can't believe it. You found her mother? Or her aunt, or whatever it was?"

I looked down the hall. "I can't really talk here. We'll be home in two days at the outside, and I'll tell you everything then, okay? But it's going to take all night and a lot of junk food. Do you know what? I missed your salsa. The medium, though, not the firecracker style."

Lou Ann's breath came out like a slow leak in a tire. "Taylor, I was scared to death you'd come back without her."

We had cleared Oklahoma City and were out on the plain before sundown. It felt like old times, heading into the low western horizon. I let Turtle see the adoption certificate and she looked at it for a very long time, considering that there were no pictures on it.