There was just one little problem. She was the teeniest bit afraid of him.
She didn't like it; Jaine wasn't accustomed to backing down from anyone, but this guy made her uneasy. She didn't even know his name, because the two times they'd met hadn't been the "hello, my name is so-and-so" type of encounters. All she knew was that he was a rough-looking character, and he didn't seem to hold down a regular job. At best, he was a drunk, and drunks could be mean and destructive. At worst, he was involved in illegal stuff, which added dangerous to the list.
He was a big, muscular guy, with dark hair cut so short he almost looked like a skinhead. Every time she had seen him, he looked as if he hadn't shaved in two or three days. Add that to the bloodshot eyes and bad temper, and she came up with drunk. The fact that he was big and muscular only added to her uneasiness. This had seemed like such a safe neighborhood, but she didn't feel safe with him as her next-door neighbor.
Grumbling to herself, she got out of bed and pulled down the window shade. She had learned over the years not to cover her windows, because an alarm clock might not wake her up, but sunlight always did. Dawn was better than any clanging noise at getting her out of bed. Since she had, several times, found her clock knocked onto the floor, she assumed it had roused her enough to attack it, but not enough to completely wake her.
Her system now was sheer curtains over a shade; the sheers kept anyone from seeing inside unless a light was on, and she raised the shade only after she'd turned out the light for the night. If she was late to work today, it would be her neighbor's fault, for forcing her to rely on the clock instead of the sun.
She stumbled over BooBoo on the way back to bed. The cat jumped up with a startled yowl, and Jaine damn near had a heart attack. "Jesus! BooBoo, you scared the hell out of me." She wasn't used to having a pet in the house, and she was always forgetting to watch where she stepped. Why on earth her mother had wanted her to baby-sit the cat, instead of Shelley or Dave, was beyond her. They both had kids who could play with BooBoo and keep him entertained. Since school was out for summer vacation, that meant someone was home at both their houses almost all day, every day.
But, nooo. Jaine had to keep BooBoo. Never mind that she was single, was at work five days a week, and wasn't used to having a pet. If she did have a pet, it wouldn't be one like BooBoo, anyway. He'd been in a feline pout ever since he'd been neutered, and he took out his frustration on the furniture. In just one week, he had frayed the sofa to the point that she would have to have it reupholstered.
And BooBoo didn't like her. He liked her well enough when he was in his home, coming around to be petted, but he didn't like being in her home at all. Every time she tried to pet him now, he arched his back and hissed at her.
To top it off, Shelley was mad at her because Mom had chosen Jaine to baby-sit her precious BooBoo. After all, Shelley was the oldest, and obviously more settled. It didn't make sense that Jaine had been chosen over her. Jaine agreed with her, but that didn't soothe the hurt feelings.
No, what really topped it off was that David, who was a year younger than Shelley, was mad at her too. Not because of BooBoo; David was allergic to cats. No, what had him steamed was that Dad had stored his precious car in her garage -- which meant shecouldn't park in her own garage, since it was a single, and it was damned inconvenient. She wished David had the blasted car. She wished Dad had left it in his own garage, but he'd been afraid to leave it unattended for six weeks. She understood that, but she didn't understand why she'd been chosen to baby-sit both cat and car. Shelley didn't understand the cat, David didn't understand the car, and Jaine didn't understand any of it.
Copyright © 2000 by Linda Howington.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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