"I'm wondering," Ines said. She had her legs crossed at the ankles, the tips of her loafers tapping the air with the music. "Should I thank you, or apologize for inflicting myself on you?"

"No apologies," I assured her.

"My problems almost got you killed, Tres."

"Technically speaking."

"And now I feel like I've been adopted. You and Erainya, George and Kelly, your other friends."

"It's an odd family," I admitted. "But our weirdness makes us strong. You'll fit right in."

She slapped my knee. "How can I thank you?"

"Feed Robert Johnson every day?"

"Guess again."

I smiled. Jem and Michael trotted over to us and plopped down on the grass, still counting their winnings. Jem appropriated my peppermint lemon and told me he was going to like this school.

The junior high band's waltz kept going. A daddy in a three-piece suit was now dancing with his little girl on his toes.

It looked like fun. "How about this dance?"

Ines smiled radiantly. "That's what you want as a thank-you?"

"It's one of the things on my wish list, yeah."

Michael let out a giggle, then caught himself. His mother looked at him, amazed. His ears turned bright red. She looked back at me and her eyes grew suspicious.

"What's the joke?" she demanded.

"You want to dance or not?"

"A dance. To this music."

I nodded. "Have to start somewhere."

She pointed her peppermint at me, daggerlike. "Someday, Tres Navarre, you'll regret saying that."

The hell of it was, I believed her immediately.

But when she stood and offered me her hand, I took it anyway.