"What'd he say?"
"He said he thought you'd take the job."
"No, that's not what I mean. What'd he say about me?"
"He said he thought you'd take the job," he repeats.
The girl crawls inside the car and motions for her brother to follow. Once he's seated beside her she makes him fasten his seat belt but doesn't put on her own.
"What'd he really say about me?" I ask him.
A brief silence.
"He said you're attractive, although he didn't use the word 'attractive,' but I think that was the point he was trying to make."
"Does that make you more eager to have me drive you?"
"I doubt I'd be interested in you in that way."
"Why not? Are you gay? Faithful? Celibate? Impotent?"
"Fair enough," I say.
I'm trying to figure him out. His manner of speaking sounds almost rehearsed. There's not the slightest trace of any kind of a regional accent in his voice; he enunciates too well, and he uses very little inflection. He talks rapidly but he's also fond of dramatic pauses. He's sort of a cross between Captain Kirk and the guy who did the English voice-overs for all the old Kung Fu movies.
My guess is he grew up talking one way and puts a lot of effort into not talking that way anymore.
"Where are you exactly?" I ask him.
"I'm here at this ridiculous, godforsaken excuse for an airport."
"International? You can't even fly to New York from here."
"That's true, but there's one flight to Canada."
"Can you pick me up or not?"
"Yeah. Sure. I can pick you up. You realize it's a two-hour drive?"
"Yes, I do. The other cab drivers enlightened me. Is it also true that there are no hotels in Jolly Mount?"
"The nearest motel would be in Centresburg, about thirty miles from here."
"What's your name, sir?"
"Why do you need to know?"
"Because I'm about to invest four hours of my life and sixty dollars worth of gas on the assumption that you're going to be there when I show up. The least you can do in return is tell me your name."
He doesn't answer.
"Fine. I'll just call you Sparky."
"Gerald," he says sharply. "Gerald Kozlowski."
He hangs up.
I click my phone shut happily. A fare from the airport. Big bucks.
Then I notice the two little ones in my back seat.
"Sorry, kids," I tell them while opening the door and motioning for them to get out. "There's been a change in plans. I can't take you to the mall after all."
Kenny does what he's told. The girl glares at me.
"Why the hell not?"
"It was a bad idea to begin with, now that I think about it. If I take you to the mall then you're going to be stranded at the mall. How will you get home?"
She gets out and slams the door. She doesn't answer my question.
"Where is home anyway?" I keep after her. "And what are you doing out by yourself in the middle of town on a Saturday morning?"
"It ain't none of your business where our home is and we can be wherever we want to be. It's a free country."
"So I've been told."
She joins Kenny and takes up a stance next to him with her hands jabbed back on her hips. I notice her gaze flicker toward a red Radio Flyer wagon parked next to the front door of the convenience store.
"Well, I guess you can't live too far away if you pulled Kenny in a wagon," I comment. "Where are your parents?"
All I get from her in reply is hostile silence and sharp elbows.
Kenny gives me the sheep stare.
"Who are your parents?"
"Can I at least know your name?"
She thinks about it.
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.
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