Jeremy’s hands remained balled in his pockets, the stiff plastic of his jacket making him shiver. The gray world couldn’t decide if it meant to rain today, offering indecisive drops as if testing the idea.
His laces were untied; he watched the flopping bits of frayed material slap against the pavement with each step. Staring at them became hypnotic, and he forgot the chill as he counted his steps. His thoughts drifted to his homework. Spelling, four times each. A math worksheet. Chapter questions in... science or social studies, he couldn’t remember.
At the street corner, he paused. His uncle’s apartment was home, until Mom could save enough for a deposit on their own place. Mom wouldn’t be off work until five. Wouldn’t be home until six, maybe later if the buses ran late. Jeremy drew his jacket in closer to his body. How slowly could he walk home?
A drop of water landed on his shoe, where the cloth and plastic fought to stay together. Another fell on his hand. He didn’t cross the street, but traced the toe of his sneaker along a crack in the pavement. Dark spots continued to cover the sidewalk until the pale surface was dalmatian-splotched with rain. Water trickled down from his collar and a shudder racked his body. He’d have to go home.
He forced his next step, his shoes leaden.
The sound of tires against wet asphalt forced his attention. A mini-van pulled up to the curb, headlights shining cheerfully. Jeremy took several steps back, ready to run if it was a weirdo. The automatic window came down, a lady’s head appearing behind it. She smiled, an apology creasing her brow. “Hey there. Aren’t you in David’s class?”
Jeremy nodded dumbly. David? David with all the friends, and new clothes every week. Rich David?
The lady turned around in her seat. “See, David? I told you.” She returned her mascara-lashed gaze to Jeremy. “Are you waiting for your ride, hon?”
Jeremy felt his lips part. He shook his head.
“This rain’s supposed to get awful bad,” she said. She pushed a button on her ceiling and the side door of the van rolled open to a mild beeping noise. David sat sprawled out in the middle row, the light of his handheld game casting soft light on his face in alternating blues and whites. He didn’t look up.
David’s mother tilted her head, her smile appearing again, but Jeremy recognized the concern in her features. He could almost read her thoughts. What was this boy doing standing alone on a street corner? “Come on,” she said. “You’ll be soaked in a minute if you don’t hurry.”
He hitched his backpack, hesitating a moment before entering the van. David shifted his outstretched leg, making it possible for Jeremy to sit. David’s mussed hair fell into his eyes as he played his game, wires hanging from his ears and connecting to the machine in his hands. The door began sliding shut on its own.
“Where to?” she asked, her voice almost peppy.
“Third and Collins,” he said as they came up to a light.
Wipers rubbed against glass, out of synch with the clicking of the turn signal. “You were going to walk all the way down to Third Street? In this rain?”
The question didn’t seem to need an answer.
“Well, anytime you’d like a ride you just come on over to my van. We live on Palm Island and I have to drive by Third, anyway.”
“Thanks,” Jeremy said. He watched as the street numbers counted down in odd sequence. “But, you can just drop me off at the library. It’s close enough.”
She shook her head. “Library’s closed on Mondays, hon. I don’t mind taking you home, I really don’t.”
“It’s just, I forgot my keys,” he lied, meeting her gaze in the rearview mirror.
Her brow creased. “And no one’s home?”
Her frown deepened. “Would your parents mind if you hung out with David for the afternoon? I’d hate to think of you out in this storm.”
He glanced at David. David shrugged without looking up.
Jeremy felt his shoulders relax. “No, they wouldn’t mind.”
Abruptly David flipped his game closed. He gave Jeremy an unreadable glance as he leaned his head back against the window. “Does your mom work late tomorrow?”
They passed Third Street and turned on to the bridge to Palm Island. David’s mom waved to the security officer in the guardhouse. A red and white striped bar lifted and they drove ahead, Spanish-style mansions rising on either side of the street.
“Hm?” Jeremy blinked over at David. “Oh. Tomorrow? Yeah, my mom works late every day.”
“You should come over.” David unbuckled as the car turned into a huge circle drive. “We can do homework and stuff.”
Jeremy nodded, his fists unclenching for the first time that afternoon. “Cool.”