The Bird lifted her fork, hovered it over the salad bowl — set the fork down. So what you’re saying, she said to Double-J, is there’s no hope.
“For the fencing team?” Nod. The waitress swept past, depositing their check on the table. “Dunno. ‘pends ‘pon whatcha mean. As a social club, place where Bark Bay’s geeks and freaks can hang out and feel safe every Tuesday afternoon — yeah, I can see Jacobs keep that going a few more years. But as a team, a group that competes against the Academy?” He rose from his chair, picked up the green and white slip the waitress had delivered, told The Bird how much she owed. “Next time Jacobs misses a practice, you can pretty much bet Annie’s family will sign her up with Dr. Schmidt. Shit, they’ll pay him to come to their house, give private lessons to their princess.” He retrieved his coat from the back of the chair, pulled his arms through the sleeves. “Rex, he’s not going anywhere, but he’s only got a year left. Kids like OK, Coy, they’ll keep showing up every now and then, but they’ll never compete.”
The short, stout senior at Bark Bay High School zipped the front of his black jacket up to his chin, then nodded at The Bird, who had finished putting on her own jacket. “Let’s get out of this dump.”
Three hours ago
“Kid.” Lefty always called him by that name. From the oil change bay in which he was standing, Double-J looked up at the space between the top of the bay’s front wall and the bottom of the Jeep, Lefty’s dirty face peering from behind the door leading to the garage’s front desk. “Somebody here, t’ see ya.”
“Tell him I’m busy.” Double-J looked down, reached for the filter he had placed on the workbench.
“John?” He froze at the soft, commanding female voice, then swore to himself. Dropping the wrench he had been carrying in his right hand, the cold metal clattering above the sounds of compressed air and hammering from other corners of the garage, he shouted he’d be there in a minute as he walked back to the rear of the bay, climbed the short ladder to the greasy concrete floor.
An elderly man (front-end alignment) was discussing his bill with Lefty at the front desk when Double-J pushed past the door from the garage. At the rear of the carpeted room, standing in front of a row of cushioned metal chairs, was a middle-aged woman with short black hair, wearing a floor-length green overcoat. She smiled, looking to Double-J like a loving parent who hadn’t seen her child in several months — which, upon reflection, seemed entirely appropriate to him, if somewhat uncomfortable.
He walked up to embrace her, knowing there was no avoidance. “Hi Mom,” his voice low enough to avoid being heard by the other occupants of the room. She kissed him audibly on his left cheek.
“So how much are you making an hour?” Oneida Barelli’s abrupt shift to her lawerly tone was a relief to her son.
“Enough to get by.” He glanced over at Lefty, still engaged with the customer.
Oneida stepped back. “That wasn’t my question.”
Double-J frowned, whispered his hourly wage. Oneida took another step back with horror in her eyes, as if her son had just vomitted. “That’s MINIMUM wage! Lefty — ” she looked over at the front counter, waited for the garage owner to raise his head — “how long has John been working for you?”
“He’s a student.” Lefty took a credit card that had been offered by the elderly customer. “State says I can pay him less, if’n I want. But I don’t, ‘n I won’t.”
“How magnanimous of you.” Oneida’s sarcasm seemed to drop the temperature of the already chilled room.