We took off for the summer before it was really even spring, before Florida thinned out to just the people who actually live there year round. I knew we werent staying in Miami all year since we never do, but I also didnt know we were leaving until Jimmy and Patrick came into the store.
I was working the afternoon alone while Mrs. C was out seeing some artsy-craftsy dealer about his overpriced knick-knacks that tourists shit their pants over. Jimmy and Patrick came in, and at first I thought they were customers, so I stubbed out my butt and stashed the Coke can I was tapping my ashes into and the book I was reading under the counter. When I saw it was just them, I took the ashtray back out and re-lit my cigarette but left the book where it was.
Working hard or hardly working? Jimmy said with that cocky grin he had all the time. Ever since hed turned eighteen, he walked around like he could do anything he wanted. Dad said what he needed was a good beating to set him straight, and I was starting to agree.
No. So tell me what you want.
Jimmy shifted his gaze to the back of the store where Mrs. C had her office. I dont think your little Country boss would like you smoking on the job.
Even though all of us Travelers called people who werent Travelers Country folk or Country people, the way Jimmy said Country it sounded like an insult.
Usually I snuck one or two cigarettes when Mrs. C was out and then sprayed air freshener since smoking wasnt allowed in the store. Shes not here, I told Jimmy, and wished I hadnt when he smirked and said, Well, then, Im gonna need a few things since were heading off.
And thats when I knew we were leavingnice that Mom and Dad hadnt bothered to tell me.
Jimmy swaggered to the mens section, fingering this shirt and touching that shirt. Patrick came to the counter and stared at me with those eyes of his that are so pale, theyre more white than blue. My insides twisted, and I wished for a second that he wasnt so damn good looking.
You go to school this week? he asked.
A few days.
I swear youre the only person I know who actually likes school.
Who says I like school?
I shrugged. Theres nothing better to do.
This was a lame excuse for why I kept going when every other Traveler quit right after they could read, write, and do simple mathafter theyd learned all that school could teach them that would be of any use in our world. But I kind of got off on some school stuff, like my paper on the Black Sox Baseball Scandal of 1919, which now I wouldnt be finishing. But if I told anyone thatPatrick, Jimmy, Ann, Mom, Dadtheyd think I was crazy. They already wondered about me.
You guys staying around longer? I asked Patrick.
He rested his forearms on the counter, leaned toward me, and smiled. Even though hed never had braces, had hardly ever been to the dentist unless something was really wrongnone of us hadhis teeth lined up perfectly. It wasnt the only thing about Patricks looks that was near perfect. There was his smooth skin that freckled just slightly in the summer, and his brown hair that fell onto his forehead whenever he broke a sweat.
Were going with you, he said.
Another minor detail Mom and Dad hadnt bothered to fill me in on. I swallowed and found there was a sudden lump in my throat. Not because we were traveling with the Murphys, but because of what that meant. It meant it wouldnt be that long before Patrick and I were married.
Hey, Pat, Jimmy called. Come here.
Patrick walked to where Jimmy was modeling one of the most expensive items in the storea blue Tommy Hilfiger jacket. He was checking himself out in the full-length mirror, thinking he was some kind of hot shit. I marched over and told him to take it off.
Whatre you gonna do if I dont? he said, loving every minute of torturing me.
Jimmy, stop being such an asshole.
Thats nice language, Bridget. Real nice.
Jimmy ripped the tag off the jacket and handed it to me. I cant believe I was so stupid as to just take it from him. What I should have done was tell him to shove it straight up his ass.
See ya later, he said. Patrick followed him out the door, not saying anything because he couldnt or else hed look like a loser in front of Jimmy. I couldnt blame him. On the way out, Jimmy grabbed a pair of sunglasses and a baseball hat. Total including the jacket: over $200.
After they left, my mind whirled as I tried to figure out what to do. I had just about $200 buried underneath the back wheel of the trailer, but there was no way I was spending my hard-earned money on Jimmys clothes. Squealing on Jimmy to Mom and Dad wasnt worth thinking about for more than a second, since being a snitch was worse than anything for a Traveler. I knew most Travelers would just walk out right then and there, forgetting all about Mrs. C and the store. But most Travelers wouldnt be working a Country job to begin with.
Mrs. C came back a lot earlier than she said she was going to, and I was still figuring things out. Besides knocking over the Coke can and spilling ashes on the floor as I tried to stash it under the counter, Id left the price tag to the jacket out. When she saw the tag, she thought Id sold it.
Oh, Bridget, you made such a great sale!
Her smile disappeared when I told her that I hadnt sold it. She took off her huge floppy straw hat that was practically bigger than she was and started fingering the edges of it as I told the story. I said that four Hispanic townies from South Beach came in and tried on some stuff, and one of them had the jacket on, and I was ringing him up and treating him just like any other customer because thats what Mrs. C had always taught me to dotreat anybody and everybody like the best customer. I knew making them Hispanic would get her on my side. I said he asked me to take the tag off so he could wear the jacket out. But then when I did, another one threw something at mea Coke can full of ashes, I thinkand they all ran out. Of course I tried to run after them, but I had the stuff flying in my eyes and by the time I
Mrs. C said she was just glad I was okay. I thought that would be that. Even though she complained about hard times and how the store wasnt doing so well since the Target moved in next door, she had to have plenty of cash from her husbands life insurance policy. I figured shed just dig into her funds or whatever and lick her wounds and no big deal. But she dialed 911, saying, You got a good look at them, right? We cant let people like that get away with this.
We waited around until this crater-faced pig, Officer Ligatari, showed up, and at first he bought my story just like Mrs. C. Then he asked for my address and phone number to file the report and when I told him I lived over at the trailer park, he freaked out. Up until then hed thought I was just a regular kid, which is what most people thought about me. All of us Travelers fit in wellwe had to in order to do what we did. We were good at being just like everybody elseexcept when it came to a few important things. Like how we made our money.
Officer Ligatari eyed me suspiciously. Trailer park? And you didnt know these townies? He didnt know I was a Traveler. If he knew about us, like some of the cops did, that would have been enough to cuff me right away. What he did know was that anybody living in a trailer park was no good.
I shook my head. Never saw them before in my life.
Were they smoking when they came in?
Mrs. C piped up. We dont allow smoking in the store.
Ligatari didnt take his eyes off me. Were they smoking when they came in the store, Bridget?
I hadnt had time for the air freshener and Id already started with the bit about the ashes. One was. I asked him to put it out.
And he didnt?
Why didnt you ask him to leave?
Because he was about to buy the jacket and we havent exactly been making many sales lately.
Ligatari nodded like he had it all figured out. Maybe, he said. But maybe they were friends of yours? Could that possibly be the case?
I told you I never saw them before. They were townies.
There was a moment when we were all silent. Ligatari was probably thinking I was some first-timer about to crack and dissolve into a pool of guilty tears, admitting everything. I wasnt sure what Mrs. C was thinking. Maybe she was wondering whether I did know them. Whether I had set it up.
But then she slung her arm around my shoulders and I got a whiff of the lavender perfume she always wore. Look, she told Ligatari, Bridget didnt know them. Now can you do anything based on the descriptions she gave you?
Of course he said he couldnt do much unless they happened to rip off another store in the neighborhood and got caught. Ligatari eyed me one more time. But I dont think thats going to happen in this case. I dont think this was a case of those boys just walking into this store at random.