Home > Walk Me Home(7)

Walk Me Home(7)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

“All towns have names.”

“How would you know? You’re twelve.”

Jen says nothing, and Carly knows she’s crossed a line. And then she knows she’s been crossing a line with Jen for days, being meaner than situations require. But she’s not sure she has the energy to fix it just yet. Or even knows how.

There’s a rough bench on a dirt lot near the sidewalk, made with a plank on two cut tree stumps. They hobble over to it and slide off their packs. Carly eases herself down and unties her shoes, pulling one off.

Jen flops on her back in the dirt and puts her feet up on the bench.

“You’re lucky you’re not a redhead,” Carly tells her sister.

“Don’t take your shoes off. Why is that lucky?”

“I have to take them off. My feet are all swollen.”

“You’ll never get them back on.”

“I can’t help it. They’re killing me.”

“Why is it unlucky to be a redhead?”

“Because they burn so easy. They have that fair skin. Can’t take any sun at all. Like my friend Marissa. You didn’t know her. She was from my high school.”

“Which one? New Mexico or California?”

“California. We can buy more sunscreen.”

“With what?”

“I’ll get somebody to give us some money. I always do.”

Jen has the back of one hand thrown across her eyes. Probably to shield them from the sun, but it makes her look dramatic. Like one of those old-time movie actresses depicting angst. Though angst was never Jen’s style.

“Carly,” she says. “I’m hungry. I don’t care if I burn to a crisp. I don’t care if I burn till I blister. Do not waste…like…four dollars on sunscreen. You know how much food we could buy for four dollars? You want more miles—I need more food.”

The holey soles of Jen’s sneakers keep calling Carly’s eyes back.

She squeezes her eyes closed, and when she opens them, there’s the thrift store. Right in front of her. As if she’s been trying to conjure something, and now it’s arrived, just as ordered.

She pushes her feet back into the shoes, but they barely squeeze in. It hurts. It would be easy to cry out, but she doesn’t. She can’t even bring herself to lace them up again. She’ll just have to be careful not to trip.

“Come on. Walk with me.”

“We’re resting!” Jen howls.

“No, I don’t mean that. I mean we’re going in that thrift store.”

“For what? We don’t have any money.”

“Just shut up and walk with me.”

“You go. I’m tired.”

“No. You have to come, too.”

Jen sighs deeply and rolls over, pulling to her feet. A couple in their twenties strolls by. Each has an ice-cream cone. Two scoops apiece. The woman smiles at them. Jen stares at the ice cream until it’s too far away to ogle.

They cross the street together to the thrift store. The window is hand-painted and says all proceeds go to benefit Saint Ignatius Hospital.

A bell jingles when Carly opens the door.

“How’re you girls doing today?” the woman asks.

She’s maybe forty, reading a paperback book. She looks Indian. Native. Native American, Carly should start saying. Indian might offend somebody. They’re getting close to Navajo country, the big reservation, but Carly doesn’t think they’re quite there yet. But at least they’re finally over the border into Arizona.

Carly never answers.

“Anything special in mind?”

Carly sees a birdcage hanging near the woman’s head, with two blue-and-green parakeets. They make a chirping racket, almost like singing.

“Shoes,” Carly says. “We were looking for some shoes for my sister.”

“Go all the way down that aisle and then left. They’re on the floor in the corner back there. All two dollars unless they got a tag says they’re more.”

“Thanks. Want us to leave our backpacks here?”

People don’t like for kids or teens to come in their stores with backpacks. They’ve learned that for sure.

“It’s fine. I’ll trust you. Let me know if you need help.”

Then Carly feels bad. The lady’s trust makes her feel extra bad.

Jen tugs at her sleeve as they walk down the aisle, but Carly knocks her hand away again. She shoots Jen a warning look. The shop is small. The woman won’t be able to see them once they’re back in the corner with the shoes. But she might hear.

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