His legs stretch out again, and that feeling from his touch is back. “I know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve been you, Shannon.”
I look up just as the tears stream down my face. “No one has been me, Mr. Alesci.” I growl his name the same way he did mine and it makes him smile. That just pisses me off more. “You have no idea who I am and what I’ve been through.”
“You don’t know me either.”
“Well, I know who you’re not. You’re not Shannon Drake. And I don’t give a flying fuck what that file says. That file isn’t Shannon Drake either.”
“Noted,” he says, ignoring my tears. “If you want to do the work and graduate on time, we meet every day for the rest of the semester.”
“I can’t,” I say, and then I really do start crying. I’m talking sobs. Everything that’s happened to me today—hell, the past nine months—comes pouring out in front of this man who has no right to be asking me these things.
“Why can’t you?” he asks, his voice gentler. Softer. “You’re smart. I can tell.” He reaches for a handkerchief in his suit coat pocket and hands it to me.
I take it and start wiping my face.
“Why can’t you, Shannon?”
I suddenly want to tell him everything. All the bullshit that’s happened to me. But once I let it out, it will never go back in. And I’m not ready for that. I’ll die if that happens.
“Bowman mentioned something about not having a ride. Do you need a ride?”
I picture Bowman driving me to Gilbert every day. All the pressing questions, all the explanations he’ll be probing me for. All the privacy he’ll be invading. “No, that’s not it. I have a ride.”
“Then what?” Alesci asks.
I sniff and get myself together. “Never mind,” I say, standing up and grabbing my backpack. “I’ll be here every day.”
I walk out. No, really, I run out. I run right past the front desk and burst through the doors like something is chasing me and if I stop, I will die.
It’s raining pretty good when I get outside and I’m grateful for it. No one can see my tears as I walk across the parking lot and head down the street towards Lincoln. There’s a bus stop there at the corner. And even though I lied to Bowman this morning about not having money, I have two dollars.
Jason, my brother-in-law, leaves me five dollars a day to eat and I still have two left over from lunch. He never buys groceries, just formula for little Olivia. She’s a good baby, I think. I don’t have any experience with babies, but she sleeps a lot. Any time someone asks about her, that’s the one thing Jason says. She’s a good sleeper.
Those are magic words in the baby world, I guess. New parents are supposed to long for sleep.
When Jill got pregnant we were living with Michael in Navy housing down in San Diego. She never married him, thank God, because it wasn’t his baby. It was Jason’s. Jason came over one night and they had this huge fight in front of the whole neighborhood. And if you’ve never seen Navy housing, it’s packed with families. Just people everywhere. Kids playing, soldiers hanging out in driveways, wives gossiping like crazy.
And let me tell you, the night Jason showed up at Michael’s house was one for the books. I bet that neighborhood is still talking about it.
Jill, to put it lightly, was drama. Nothing but drama. I’m so sick of drama, but that’s my life too. I can’t seem to escape it. And today is proof. I just bawled in front of a complete stranger over math.
But I was a quiet kind of drama. People knew I was heading in the wrong direction, but it wasn’t so obvious. Jill was obvious. So when our mom, who had us really close together and really late in life, died, it was Jill, at the tender age of eighteen, who took over.
I guess the social workers figured I was seventeen, so not worth their time. And Jill jumped through hoops to keep me at home. Our house and car were paid off, so we could get by with her job as a checker at the grocery store down the street.
But no one predicted that she’d sell the house, pack us up in the five-year-old family sedan, and take off for California. It was an adventure, she said. And even though I wanted to stay so bad, how could I? She sold our house. I didn’t have anywhere to go except with her.
Biggest mistake of my life, I realize now. Because she’s dead from drugs, I’m stuck living with her husband, and her baby will grow up with no mother.
I get to the bus stop and of course, it’s not the kind with a shelter over it. This is sunny California. Who needs protection from the rain here?
I’m soaked, anyway. Who cares?
So I just stand there, looking down Lincoln and praying for a bus.
A motorcycle roars up and stops right in front of me. I squint my eyes and then the rider flips the tinted visor up on his black helmet and Jesus Christ. It’s Alesci.
“Get on,” he says.
“What?” I look around, bewildered.
“Get on the bike, Shannon.”
He scoots forward and I have a moment where I think I might tell him where to shove his bike. But… I can be home taking a warm shower in five minutes if I do get on.
My leg swings over, and then he takes his helmet off, reaches around, and pushes it down on my head. The world dulls as the padding inside the helmet squishes against my hair, and I let out a long breath when he gives it some throttle and we take off, the wind whipping against my wet clothes and the rain stinging my bare arms like little bullets.
He slows when we get about half a mile down the road and then turns into a bank that looks like it closed down a decade ago. We come to a stop under the shelter they have over the drive-through, and then he cuts the engine and gets off the bike.
“What the fuck are we doing?” But I realize I’m talking to the visor of the helmet, and lift it off my head. “What are you doing?” I ask again.
“It’s not safe to ride in the rain, Shannon.” He says this like I’m a child and all the things need explaining. “Besides, I only have one helmet.”
“Oh,” I say, looking at the helmet in my hands. I thrust it towards him. “Thanks. I can wait it out here.”
He takes the helmet, but instead of putting it on and riding away, he sets it down on his seat and walks over to the little curb up against the bank building. He slides down the wall, stretching his legs out in front of him like he did under the table at school. That excited feeling he gave me comes back.
“What are you doing?” I ask, hugging my arms to my chest. I’m soaking wet and my shirt is white and plastered up against my skin. I’m one hundred percent certain my bra is showing through the fabric.
“Waiting with you. I’m not leaving you here alone.”
“Why not? I’m not helpless.”
But he ignores me and tabs something on his phone. He sets his phone down on the concrete and takes off his leather jacket. It’s black, and old-looking, like he’s been wearing it his whole life. He holds it out to me and asks, “You cold?”
I’m freezing. I’m so cold my teeth might start chattering. And besides, I don’t want him to be looking at my bra through my shirt. So I reach out and take the jacket and slip my arms inside.
It’s warm. And heavy.