Wren sat on a cracked plastic chair and patted the empty chair next to her. Charlie sat.
"Thanks," he said. "Chris, he's not so good at . . . you know . . ." He sighed. He held his left hand, bundled and useless, close to his rib cage and stared at the floor, where a dead cockroach lay beside a vending machine.
"Why don't I fill this out for you," she said, sounding crisp and professional. He suspected she'd put some of the pieces together, such as the fact that Chris wasn't going to find that insurance card. He suspected she'd brought him over here as a way to let Chris off the hook.
"So, you have a job here?" Charlie blurted.
"Not exactly," she said. "I did it for my community-
service hours." All Atlanta public school seniors had to complete seventy-five hours of community service. Charlie had fulfilled his through tutoring kids at his brother's middle school. "I finished in March, technically, but . . ."
"Working hard for free seemed like the best way to spend the first day of summer vacation?"
She looked at him strangely. He'd been trying to be funny. Had he sounded rude instead?
"They're always understaffed here," she said. "I like helping out. And it's better than fighting with . . . what's that thing you fought with?"
"A router. And, yes, working here is better. Better, smarteryou name it. I think it's cool that you help out just because."
"Oh. Um, thanks. What is a router?"
"It's a tool for making furniture. For cutting wood."
"And for cutting flesh?"
"Yeah, but only if you're a dumb-ass."
She smiled slightly, and they held each other's gaze. He still couldn't believe she was here, or that he was here. That they were here together.
Wren gave herself a shake and held the pen over the paper on the clipboard. "Right. Sooh my gosh, I don't know your last name. Crap. I am such a jerk. What's wrong with me?"
"Parker," he said. And nothing's wrong with you, not a single thing.
"Charlie Parker?" She sounded delighted. "Like the musician?"
"I don't knowwhich is to say no, I guess. Who's Charlie Parker?"
"Well, the other Charlie Parker"she gave him a half smile"was a famous jazz musician. Not that you should know who he is or anything. I just like jazz. Or, my dad does, and he's in charge of the stereo."
"I think my birth mom just liked the name Charles."
Charlie saw a subtle shift in Wren's expression, leading him to guess that "birth mom" wasn't a term she ran into often. She recovered swiftly. "And her last name was Parker."
"Still is, as far as I know." Except he didn't know and didn't want to know. "So. The other Charlie Parker. What instrument did he play?"
She opened her mouth, then shut it. Then she eyed him as if to say, Yes, I really am about to do this, before leaning close and singing a funny tune in a sweet, soft voice. "'Charlie Parker played be bop. Charlie Parker played alto saxophone. The music sounded like hip hop. Never leave your cat alone.'"
He grinned. She giggled. God, she was adorable.
"It's from a book my dad read me when I was little," she said.
"'Never leave your cat alone,' huh?"
"Words to live by."
Again, they gazed at each other. To Charlie, it felt like more than a coincidence that here they were, their thighs inches apart in their crappy plastic chairs, where, in any alternate universe, there was no way their paths would have collided like this.
She cleared her throat and sat up straight. Once more poising her pen above the clipboard, she said, "Your hand. Can I see?"
He tried not to wince as he unwrapped his left hand. Pamela, his foster mom, had pressed a worn towel against the wound, and it stuck to the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. The gash was deep but not too deep. He felt self-conscious about his fingernails, which were dark around the nail beds from years of staining wood.
Excerpted from The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle. Copyright © 2013 by Lauren Myracle. Excerpted by permission of Amulet Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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