Tithe Page 5

A white cat, her belly swollen with kittens, had slunk in when Corny opened the door. Kaye dropped her hand to pet the little head.

"Motherfucker didn't show up this morning. I've been at work since midnight." Kaye could see that the patch on the back of his jacket was a devil's head. In his back pocket, the outline of his wallet was connected to a chain that ran to his front belt loop.

"Mom hates it when you drink out of the bottle," Janet said.

"So what?" Corny said. He took another deliberate swig. "You going to tell her about that? How about I tell her how you need your own Roman vomitorium, you fucking bulimic."

"Shut up, fuckfist." Janet picked up the phone in the kitchen and started punching in numbers. She walked toward her bedroom as she dialed.

Corny glanced at Kaye. She looked away from him and pulled the heavy, soft cat onto her lap. It purred like a hive of hornets.

"You're that girl that believes in faeries, right?" Corny said.

Kaye shrugged. "I'm Kaye."

"Want some soda? I didn't backwash into it." He wiped the side of his sleeve against his mouth.

Kaye shook her head. Something—like a small stone—bounced off her knee.

The windows were closed. Kaye looked at the ceiling, but there were no small parts hanging off the overhead light. Maybe something from a shelf. When she looked down at the floor near her feet, the only object she saw was an acorn. They were abundant outside this time of year, scattering from the nearby tree all over the lawn. She picked it up and looked toward the window again. Maybe it was open after all. The acorn was light in her hand, and she noticed a tiny strip of white sticking out from under the cap.

Corny was dampening a towel and wiping off his face. She didn't think he'd thrown the acorn—she'd been talking to him when she'd felt it hit.

Kaye pulled lightly on the acorn cap, and it came loose. Inside the nutshell, all the meat was gone, leaving an empty space where a slip of paper was coiled. Kaye removed it carefully and read the message written in a pinkish red ink: "Do not talk to the black knight anymore, tell no one your name, everything is danger. Gristle is gone. We need your help, meet you tomorrow night. LL&S"

What did it mean, Gristle is gone? Gone where? And the black knight? Could that be Roiben? She hadn't been talking to anyone else that fit that description. What did it mean, that everything was danger?

"Kaye," Janet said, leaning out of her bedroom, "you want to go to the mall?"

Kaye fumbled to tuck the acorn into one of her pockets.

"I suppose that you are expecting me to take you," Corny said. "Y'know, most people that go shopping actually have money."

"Shut up, geek," Janet said, and ushered Kaye into her bedroom.

Kaye sat down on Janet's bed. Janet's room was full of mismatched furniture: a wooden dresser with glass knobs, a white pressboard vanity, and a dented black metal daybed. The room was as messy as Kaye's, with clothes hanging out of open drawers and littering the floor, but the disarray seemed glamorous here. While Kaye's clothes were all T-shirts and retro attic finds, Janet had red skirts with feather fringe, and shirts that shimmered blue and gold like fish scales. Pots of eyeshadow, glittery barrettes, body sprays, and tubes of hair goo covered her vanity and the top of her dresser. On the walls, posters of bands competed with messages written in multicolor markers on the white walls. janet & kenny tlf was written in glitter on the back of Janet's door. She wasn't sure, but she thought she saw traces of some other name underneath Kenny's.

"What should I wear?" Janet held up a pink, fuzzy half-of-a-half sweater that came to just under her breasts. "Will I freeze?"

"You need a poodle miniskirt." Kaye sat on the bed and leaned back against the pillows. In the pocket of her jacket, the acorn still lay against the hot flesh of her palm, the tiny point indenting her thumb.

"What are you going to wear?"

"This." Kaye indicated her faded T-shirt and jeans with a sweep of her hand.

Janet sighed and made a face. "Do you know how many girls would die to be Asian and blond?"

Kaye shook her head morosely. What boys liked about Asian girls was weird. It was all mail-order brides and kung fu at the same time.

"How about you wear this?" Janet held up a shiny black shirt that had no back at all. It tied around the neck and waist like a bikini.

"No way," Kaye said.

This time Janet just laughed.

They walked into the mall through the movie theater entrance. Boys and girls were gathered in packs on the steps, waiting for rides or having a cigarette before their movie started. Janet walked past them like a goddess, not looking at anybody, perfectly curled hair and glistening lipstick looking as though it was effortless for her. It made Kaye wonder where she'd learned this skill with beauty—as a kid Janet had had a perpetually woolly perm and unlaced sneakers.

Kaye caught her own reflection in a window and grimaced. Her T-shirt was a bit of thin, faded cloth that even sported a couple of holes from Laundromat abuse. Her jeans were hand-me-downs from her mother, and they hung low on her hipbones, forcing her to hitch them up occasionally when she felt like they were going to fall all the way off.

"Okay," Janet said. "Want to show me those skills you bragged about?"

Kaye grinned. One thing that they'd e-mailed about for a while was the audacity of the things they'd shoplifted. Kaye's all-time greatest heist had been her two rats. They might not have been expensive, but pocketing a squirming animal and then keeping it in your pocket was harder than it sounded.

She nodded. "Here are Kaye's Principles of Thieving, okay?"

Janet folded her arms. "Kidding, right?"

"Listen. No mom-and-pop stores. Just chains or megastores—they can afford it, and the people who work there don't give a shit. Oh, and no places where the employees are actually nice."

"I can't believe you have rules."

Kaye nodded solemnly. "Minimizing my karmic damage."

A few hours later they were sitting on the curb outside the Wiz divvying up their loot. It wasn't, strictly speaking, far enough from the mall to be entirely safe, but they were feeling untouchable. Kaye was trying a new, heavy stick of smoky eyeliner, smearing it thickly under her eyes. Janet was drinking a raspberry smoothie.

Kaye dug through her jeans for matches and lit a cigarette. Taking a deep breath of smoke, she leaned back and exhaled, letting the smoke whorl up and away. She reached up lazily to change the pattern. It shifted at the touch of her fingers, and she could see figures dancing in it—no, they weren't dancing, they were fighting. Swordsmen dueling in the rising smoke.

"How long are you going to be in town?" Janet asked.

Kaye dropped her hand. She'd forgotten where she was. "I figure at least a couple of months."

"It's weird, you know. Us being friends after all this time and you being so far away and all. I've been thinking about last night."

"Yeah?" Kaye asked warily.

"He was hitting on you, wasn't he?"

Kaye shrugged. There was no way to explain what really happened. She certainly couldn't have explained why she'd let him run his hand up her thigh, why she hadn't minded in the least until she'd suddenly remembered who they were and what was really happening. "A little, I guess. But I honestly fell. I guess I drank too much or something."

"How come you were up there in the first place?"

Kaye grinned easily now. "Just exploring. There was the most outrageously cool old carousel horse. Did you see it? The legs were gone but the rest of it was perfect—the paint wasn't even badly faded." She sighed wistfully. "Even if I had some way to bring that thing home, there is no way I could drag it from apartment to apartment."

Janet sighed. It was obvious this was the sort of reason she could easily believe.

Kaye took another drag on her cigarette, wondering why that made her angry. This time the tendrils of smoke reminded her of Roiben's hair, raw silver silk. Thinking about that made her feel even more restless and frustrated. She had to see him again.

"Earth to Kaye," Janet said. "What were you thinking about?"

"Robin," Kaye said. That was also something she imagined Janet would easily believe.

"He's for real? Honest?" Janet sucked hard on her smoothie, trying to draw out a chunk of frozen raspberry that was clogging the straw.

"Don't be a bitch," Kaye said without real heat.

"Sorry. It's just that it's so unlikely—meeting a guy in a rainstorm while you're walking home. I mean, what was he doing out there? I wouldn't have even talked to him."

"I guess he easily fits into the'stranger' category," Kaye said, smiling.

Janet frowned disapprovingly. "Doesn't he even have a car?"

"Look, I'm only going to be in town for a couple of months, at most. The only thing that matters is that he is cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die beautiful." Kaye waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

That at least brought a scandalized gasp. "You slut," Janet crooned. "Do you even know if he likes you?"

Kaye ground out the stub of her cigarette on the rough cement, smearing ash in a roughly circular line. She didn't want to go over the list of things to recommend her to a faery knight; there wasn't a single thing she could think of to put on such a list.

"He'll like me," she said, hoping that the charm of speaking words aloud would make those words come true.

That night Kaye let Isaac and Armageddon run all over the bed while the CD player blasted Grace Slick singing "White Rabbit" over and over again. A grown-up, fucked-up Alice suited her. Then she put on Hole and listened to Courtney Love grate out, "I want to be the girl with the most cake… someday you will ache like I ache."

She cracked the window and lit a cigarette, careful to blow the smoke out onto the lawn.

The row of dolls watched her impassively from the bookshelf, their tea party propriety almost certainly offended. She caught both rats and put them up there with the dolls, to get to know one another. Then she turned back to the bed.

Pushing it up against the wall, she dragged the mattress onto the floor. It took up most of the space in the room, but at least her feet would be able to hang comfortably over the edge. And if she covered the boxspring with one of her mother's batik throws, it could almost be a couch.

Putting out her cigarette and lying back down, she watched the rats crawl over the laps of the dolls—heedless of velvet riding coats or gold lace princess gowns—to snuffle plastic hair, and nibble at delicate, porcelain fingers. Finally her eyes closed, and she drifted softly down into sleep.

Chapter 4

"All day and all night

my desire for you

unwinds like a poisonous snake."

—Samar Sen, "Love"

That Monday morning, Kaye woke up early, got dressed, and pretended to go to school.

She had been pretending for the better part of a week now, ever since her grandma had insisted she was going to march down to the school and find out what was taking them so long to enroll her. There was no way to tell her that the transcripts were never coming, so Kaye packed a peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich and an orange and went out to kill time.

When they had first moved to Philadelphia, she had transferred easily to a new school. But then they'd started moving around, living for six months in University City and another four in South Philly and then a couple of weeks in the Museum District. Each time, she either had to find a way to get to her old school or transfer to the new school. About a year back, the confusion had gotten the better of her, and she'd started working full-time at Chow Fat's instead. They needed the money and, aside from that, they needed the free food.

Kaye kicked a flattened soda can down the street ahead of her. Even she could see that she was going in no good direction, and not just literally. Her grandmother was right about her—she was turning into her mother—no, worse, because she didn't even have an ambition. Her only talents were shoplifting and a couple of cigarette-lighting tricks you needed a Zippo to perform.

She considered going to Red Bank and trying to find Sue and Liz's store. She had some money, but she still might be able to sneak on the train for the couple of stops. Her biggest problem was that Ellen hadn't said what they'd called the place.

It occurred to her that maybe Corny would know. He probably had another hour before the graveyard shift ended and the morning guy came in. If she bought him coffee, he might not mind her hanging around too much.

The Quick Check was mostly empty when she went in and filled two large paper cups with hazelnut coffee. She fixed hers with cinnamon and half-and-half, but she didn't know how he liked his, so she pocketed little packets of sugar and several creamers. The yawning woman didn't even look at Kaye as she rang her up.

Corny was sitting on the hood of his car, playing chess on a small, magnetic board.

"Hey," Kaye called. He looked up with a not-so-friendly expression on his face. She held out the coffee, and he just looked confused.

"Aren't you supposed to be in school?" he asked finally.

"Dropped out," she said. "I'm going to get my GED."

He raised his eyebrows.

"Do you want the coffee or not?"

A car pulled up in front of one of the pumps. He sighed, sliding off the hood of the car. "Put it by the board."

She pulled herself onto his car and carefully set down her cup, searching her pockets for the fixings. Then she uncapped hers and took a deep sip. The warmth of the liquid braced her against the cold, wet autumn morning.

Read Daily Updated Light Novel, Web Novel, Chinese Novel, Japanese And Korean Novel Online: NovelFull
Prev page Next page