Balancing equations with Kailee again on Thursday didn’t surprise me. What did was balancing equations on a Friday afternoon.
But what caught me more off guard was the phone call I got at eleven o’clock on Friday night. “Abe?” she asked before I could say hello.
I chuckled. “That’s not my name.”
“It’s what I’m going to call you. How busy is the store?”
“Can I hang out with you?”
“You want to hang out in a convenient store?”
“I don’t have to.”
“You can, but I’m not all that entertaining.”
“I could bring my laptop and blog.”
“How are you going to blog if we’re picking up your trash treasure tomorrow?”
“I blog other stuff too, like good finds, sales, where to find the best fashion advice.”
“I’m not doing anything. You’re welcome to come if you want.”
And she was gone. Twenty minutes later she swung through the door, holding her pink laptop in her hands.
She alternated between blogging and playing YouTube videos for two hours before leaving. On her way out the door she said, “Call me when you’re ready to go. I’d planned on leaving bright and early, but I’m sure you’ll want a nap.”
Twelve hours later, I walked through a Goodwill the size of a Wal-Mart with Kailee. “Next weekend, I’m going to Dallas. You wanna come?”
Not really, but I didn’t want her driving to Dallas alone either. “Why are you going to Dallas?”
“There is a store that sells prom dresses for like twenty dollars. I’m going to slightly alter them and sell them in the comments on my blog.”
She shrugged. “For fun.”
“Cool. I’ll come.”
Kailee found a skirt and a top she liked and decided she needed a scarf and accessories. She took a stack of scarves, and she was pulling each scarf against the shirt one by one when her phone rang. She took it out, looked at it, frowned, and stared at it until it quit ringing. Then she checked her voicemail.
She shook her head. “Nothing. We should probably get out of here.”
“I’ll tell you in the car—oh cool!”
I followed her gaze to the back corner of the room where a naked male mannequin stood. Kailee clapped her hands. “I need that!”
“I thought we needed to go?”
“Oh, yeah, definitely. But I have to buy this stuff first, and I need that,” she said still pointing to the stupid mannequin.
“I thought you had one.”
“It’s a girl.” Kailee flagged down an employee. “How much is he?”
“Twenty dollars,” the man said.
“I’ll take it.”
“You’ll have to bring it to the front counter.” The man walked past us.
“Abe?” She bit her lip and smiled.
I rolled my eyes. “That’s not my name.” But it had grown on me. If I didn’t have a hunch I’d be lugging around a naked guy as tall as me for the rest of the day, I wouldn’t even complain.
I carried Kailee’s mannequin to the check-out line. She followed me with a stack of scarves, the skirt, and top.
It took ten minutes to get that damn mannequin in the back seat right.
“Now, why are we all of a sudden in a hurry?”
She looked at me. “The police called again. I’m scared. It’s the Austin police, and we’re here today.”
“If it’s about something your brother did, you’ll be okay.”
She nodded. “I hope Jackson’s not in trouble.”
“Maybe, you should talk to them. At least then you would know, and you wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.”
“I’m afraid if I talk to them, I’ll say too much. Accidentally tell on him, although I don’t know how. I have no idea what this is about.”
“I think the next time they call, you should take it. Find out what they’re looking for and tell them you don’t know anything. Or I can take it and tell them to leave you alone.”
She giggled. “I’m fine. Thanks, Abe.”
“Do you know where UT is?”
“Yep.” She backed out of the parking lot. “Why?”
“Yelp says the best gyro shop in Austin is behind UT.”
She gave me a mock scowl. “Gyros next time. Today you have to eat like a real Texan.”
What did that mean? Road kill? “Oh?”
“I thought Mexican food here is Tex-Mex and you have to go north of Texas for the real stuff.”
“Oh, please. They say that because they can’t handle the real stuff. You might find your share of Tex-Mex, but the only other place with real Mexican food in the U.S. is Cali.”
“Okay, I guess we’re doing Mexican food.” I smiled at her, and when she smiled back, it did something to me I couldn’t explain. The memory of her kissing me at her house that night flooded me, and I wished like hell I hadn’t pulled away.
“UT has the best fashion design school in Texas,” Kailee said as she cruised past the campus area.
“Is that where you want to go?” The biology program there was a good option for pre-med, too.
“No. I think it would be hard to get a job here. I read you need to do an internship to get a job after you graduate, and all the design companies are in Dallas. Well, most of them are in New York and L.A., but the ones in Texas are all in Dallas.”
“So where would you go to school?”
“I’d like to go to New School in New York, but I don’t have the grades. I think UNT might be a good option. They have a good program. It’s close enough to the metroplex I could get an internship and I could still come home on weekends to pack up meals for Jackson and Dad.”
I was glad she had realized she had a life outside of Caleb Miller, but I hated that she still made her plans around other people. She talked to her brother so much that she didn’t know why she was dodging cops for him, and her father didn’t know where his daughter was a week ago when I found her tagging my house. I saw a drunk girl and took her home. Someone else might not have reacted the same way. Kailee could have been hurt, and he would have never known.
We pulled up to a brown building with a massive umbrella-covered patio. “This place is awesome,” Kailee said as she hopped out of the car. I followed her to a rod iron table, and she pulled out a chair.
“Don’t we have to wait?”
She shook her head. “It’s open seating out here. One more reason this place is awesome. We talk a lot about me, but what about you? Are you in college?”
“I was in Maryland. I took an incomplete when we moved here. I’ll take some classes in the fall. I need to be home with Mirriam until she graduates.”
Kailee laughed. “I think Mirriam can take care of herself.”
“She does too. That’s the problem.”
The waiter walked up to the table, handed us a couple of menus, and took our drink order.
“What are you going to school for?” Kailee flipped open the menu.
“To be a doctor.”
“Oh wow. What kind?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Trauma, maybe.” Maybe a trauma doctor could have saved my dad, but I doubted it. There wasn’t much a doctor could have done with no equipment and a gun pointed at his head.
“I guess you have at least four years to figure it out.”
The waiter came back with chips and drinks and asked if we’re ready to order. Kailee ordered a taco salad with everything on the side.
“You can do better than that. I saw you pack away that fried chicken.”
“I’ll get fat.”
“Cheer season is over, remember?” I shrugged. “Unless you’re still trying to impress that white guy.”
She smiled wide. “Veggie floquities with extra guacamole.”
“Al pastor tacos,” I said.
“Abe, that’s pork.”
“I know. I can read.”
The waiter laughed, made a note, and left.
“I thought ya’ll don’t eat pork.” She took a drink of her water.
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not Muslim. Don’t you think I would have been more upset about the door if I were?”
She winced. “I’m really sorry about that.”
“You’re not the first eighteen year old to do something stupid.”
“Don’t talk to me like I’m a kid. You can’t be that much older than me.”
She was right, but Mirriam was a handful. I’d had to skip the whole stupid teen phase. Ommy would have never been able to control Mirriam on her own.