I am thinking that my mother and Benjy knew we needed working papers all along. It was the secret smile, the grown-up joke they were both in on and weren’t sharing with Meeka and me. Christian tells us not to feel too bad, that we’re not missing out on much. “I had to wash the floor and clean toilets when I first got here. Then I got promoted to emptying merchandise and tagging all day like poor Mike over there. It’s a killer on your back,” he says to Meeka who is still sucking her teeth.
Christian doesn’t need to convince me. I still want to earn money but I am not in as much of a rush as Meeka is.
“Can I ask you something? Is that Bentley yours?” Christian juts his head in the direction of the parking lot.
“Yeah,” Meeka shrugs. “What’s your point?”
“So you don’t exactly need to work,” Christian says. But Meeka rolls her eyes and walks down one of the aisles. “Let me know when you’re ready,” she says to me, her new Doc Martens clomping away.
I am filling out the order form for my film roll but can feel Christian trying to make eye contact with me, wanting to know what makes a rich girl like Meeka want to work. I cannot tell him that she is an onion, just like the rest of us, with layers and layers of reasons for wanting things we ourselves don’t understand. So I just hand him the form with my film roll and shrug.
“Cowgirl, you ready yet?” Meeka calls from between the aisles.
My cheeks grow hot at hearing the affectionate appellation. I want this boy’s cool northeastern accent with the rough, compact sound at the ends of his words or Meeka’s sophisticated yet empowered West Indies accent. Anything but my awful twang that makes me think of Jeff Foxworthy and his embarrassing “You Might Be a Redneck” routine. So I decide to exaggerate my accent. It’s always better to make fun of yourself before anyone else gets the chance.
“Aw, I’m faster than green grass through a goose,” I say with forced bucked teeth.
Christian tilts his dark head to the side like he is seeing me for the first time. “I like you. You’re funny.”
He gives me a lazy grin and suddenly I’m fighting a storm of butterflies in my stomach.
“Thanks.” It is with great effort that I offer him a nervous smile.
When I tell Meeka that I’m leaving there’s an audible shake to my voice. My legs feel like wobbly logs of rubber as I make my way to the door.
“Hey, can I draw you sometime?” asks Christian.
I am leaning my Velcro head against the front door, waiting for Meeka to answer. But she doesn’t and nudges me instead. “What? You mean me?”
“Yeah, you,” he says and tilts his head again to the side. “I like your face. You’ve got great angles. Stop by sometime, okay?”
“What about work?” I ignore Meeka who is squeezing all the blood from my hand.
He picks up a sketchbook from behind the register’s counter and holds it up. “This is my work. As you can see, we’re very busy here,” he smiles and the butterflies inside me multiply.
“Maybe,” I say before Meeka and I solemnly exit the store. It is not until we are safely outside, far from Christian’s earshot that we let ourselves jump up and down and giggle. Only our hearts are dancing to different music: Meeka is thrilled that a boy seems to like me while I’m just giddy that a boy considers me funny. Annette mumbles, “Kids” and stamps out her umpteenth cigarette before trekking back inside.
“He’s adorable!” Meeka says as we practically skip our way to the Bentley.
“He’s okay,” I say, because Granny Pearl has already planted a seed in me; because I am tired of waiting to be liked; because I am wondering how adorable a boy can be if he prefers drawing me to Meeka; because it’s probable that I have the kind of face artists want to study for its weirdness, not its beauty; because I’m learning that when it comes to the heart, there are more opportunities for it to ache than to soar.