"I don't believe in slavery," I tell the girl. "Besides, maybe he wants to stay with you."
"I don't think so."
"I think he's pretty attached to you."
We both look at the boy this time. He doesn't have the exuberance of most children his age. He hasn't been fidgeting or whining or trying to get away. He stares back at us with the endlessly patient gaze of a sheep waiting at the gate to be let out or let in.
"But he ain't mine. He's my mom's," she says.
"He doesn't belong to you or your mom."
I walk around to the driver's side of my car. They follow me.
"He's not a dog. He's a person. You can't own another person. Although another person can own you. You'll learn about that when you start dating."
"I already date."
"Okay, enough." I hold up my hands in a sign of defeat. "This is more information than I need. If you don't have any money, what else do you have?"
She opens up her grimy purse, pink with a jeweled kitten on it. I would have killed for a purse like that when I was her age although I never would have taken it outside the house for fear E.J. or some of the other guys would have made fun of me for being a sissy.
She pokes through the meager contents with the tips of her fingers, which are polished in chipped purple: a cracked pink plastic Barbie wallet, a lipstick, a comb, a piece of notebook paper folded into a small square, a lighter shaped like a pig, and a handful of what looks like ordinary gravel.
She gestures with her head toward the boy.
"Kenny collects rocks."
I take the lighter and flick it on. The flames come out the pig's nose.
"The lighter," I state.
"No way. I love that lighter. I just stole . . . I just bought it with my own money inside."
"No lighter, no ride."
It's her turn to size me up. She looks me over. I wonder what she thinks about my outfit, if she's being more generous than I was with hers. Ancient scuffed Frye harness boots, long bare legs, a camouflage miniskirt, olive drab tank top, cheap drugstore sunglasses, and a pink Stetson that Clay gave me two years ago as a Mother's Day gag gift that I was never supposed to wear: looks like she was dressed by a Vietnam vet with a penchant for banging middle-aged cowgirls.
Her gaze leaves me and runs over the car. jolly mount cab is written on both sides but about a month ago, someone blacked out jolly and cab on the driver's side door and added the word me.
It now reads mount me.
I don't have any idea who the vandal is. I'm sure it was nothing personal. I've even taken my time getting it fixed. I tell myself it's because I don't have the money, but part of the reason is simple admiration and encouragement for the creative thought process behind it.
When E.J. and I were in sixth grade and the Union Hall was still standing and hosting community events, a square dancing club called The Naughty Pines came to town to put on an exhibition. E.J. and I switched two letters and the next day the marquee read tonight only: the naughty penis.
We thought we were the two most brilliant people alive.
It was inevitable that we would be caught, since we bragged openly about what we had done. Eventually word spread throughout the school, and we were sent to the principal's office. I never did understand why our teachers were allowed to become involved, since the act didn't occur on school property or during school hours, but I guess they believed that, since I didn't have a mom to teach me right from wrong, they were responsible for disciplining me.
Apparently, I've passed the girl's inspection because she hands me the lighter and opens the back door.
My cell rings.
"Jolly Mount Cab," I answer.
"I need a cab to drive me from Harrisburg to Jolly Mount," a man's voice greets me. "There's not a single cab company here that will do it. One of the drivers I spoke to recommended you."
Excerpted from Sister Mine by Tawni O'Dell Copyright © 2007 by Tawni O'Dell. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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