You would think letting someone off on a hate crime and then driving them home would at least earn you a smile. Wrong. She walked in the store and looked past me like I wasn’t even there. Why would I expect anything less? She couldn’t be seen talking to a raghead in public. Forget that I wasn’t Muslim.
She came up to the counter and dropped a package of green sour straws and a 44-ounce fountain drink in front of me. “What are you doing here?”
“Umm—I work here.”
I scanned her sour straws and the barcode on her drink as a guy walked through the door. He grabbed a bag of chips off the front display and stepped behind Kailee. He shifted the bag from one to the other and slapped her ass with his free hand. Her face tightened for the briefest second before she blew out a puff of air, leaned back, and smiled? I thought I was going to be sick. Rage shot through me, and I didn’t even know why.
“Get out of here before I break your arm,” I growled.
He threw a dollar at me and left. Kailee’s face turned hot crimson. “Why did you do that?”
“Why didn’t you?”
“That was not cool.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
She hit herself in the head. “That’s not what I mean. Now, he’ll feel sorry for me.”
I shrugged. “He should feel like a jackass.”
“Look, you don’t understand.”
“You’re right. I don’t. I thought you were hung up on that punk across the street from me.”
“So why let another guy touch you like that? And you kissed me last night. Or did you forget about that?”
“Umm—you didn’t let me kiss you. And I didn’t let him touch me.
“You didn’t stop him either.”
“What was I supposed to say?”
I shook my head. “What do you mean you can’t?”
“Look, they all do it. They trash me all the time. I play along with it, and it’s a joke. If I ever show that it bothers me, I’ll be a pathetic sympathy case.”
“There is nothing pathetic about standing up for yourself. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to watch that and pretend I don’t see it. The girl I met last night was brave enough to face me after spray painting my house metallic pink, when her friends ran away. You are way too cool to be treated like this and the moment you realize that, it will stop.” Or I could end it. Damn, why did I feel such a need to protect this girl?
“Hey, thanks for the pep talk, but if you really want to help me, you’ll tell your little sister to quit attacking me. Or at least wait until no one is around to do it.”
I didn’t see that one coming. “Mirriam attacked you?”
She gave me a grin full of teeth. “She told me I could be the first headless cheerleader on YouTube. Probably not. I’m sure they’ve already done that one, right?”
I wanted to laugh. I knew Mirriam threatening Kailee was no better than Kailee tagging the garage, but it was no worse either. I couldn’t help but smile. “I’ll talk to her.”
“You should. I don’t really see how I can make a big deal out of it with what you did for me. And because if I did, I’d have to admit to what I did, but people don’t like Muslims around here as it is. She can’t go around talking like that. It’s worse for ya’ll than it is for me.”
She grabbed her sour straws and drink from the counter. “I’m in here all the time. How come I’ve never seen you before?”
“I usually work late night. The white kid called in sick today.”
“Are you busy?”
“What?” I was at work. What did she mean was I busy?
She shrugged. “No one else is in here. Can I eat my sour straws here?”
“Yeah, but the next guy that walks through the door and slaps you on the ass leaves with a broken neck.”
“I’ll dart out the next time someone walks in. I’ve worked too hard to be where I am for you to make me a pity case.”
“And where exactly is that?”
She smiled wide and for the first time it hit her eyes. “Homecoming queen.”
“Take your sour straws and go home.”
“The girl I met last night was upset she hadn’t applied to college, not bragging about being homecoming queen.” Some days—lots of days—I wished we had stayed in Iraq. It would have been better for Mirriam. It probably would have been better for all of us. There was something wrong with a society that had a college-bound girl delaying school to follow some jarhead and giggling over a fake tiara.
She glared at me. “You can’t be homecoming queen and worried about college, too?”
“If you’d been more worried about college, you wouldn’t have missed the application deadline.”
“I told you—”
“Yeah, you were worried about following a football player. And you let guys treat you like that because it keeps your crown?”
“Goodbye, Abe.” She turned toward the door.
“That’s not my name,” I said to the back of her head, because she never looked back.