“Eight and a half.”
“Christ. You look six.”
“Do not,” she sasses then wheezes out a cough and rears her boot back kicking me in the shin.
“Ow shit. What’d you attack me for?”
“Momma says you shouldn’t say bad words. Now you owe me a quarter.” Her wrist flicks, palm turned upward.
“I didn’t. Never mind. You don’t go around kicking people. Get your food,” I growl at her.
Her bottom lip trembles but she doesn’t shed any tears. Those doe eyes hold me captive, and I realize I’m acting like a jerk. Wylla Mae is sick and stuck with strangers. Who knows what happened with her mom or when Murder will come to collect her? I can see it in her gaze. Fear. Sadness. But there is something else there. A glimmer of hope. My heart constricts in my chest.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you don’t kick me. You don’t kick adults.”
“All right. I’m gonna take you upstairs to a room where you can watch Tv or whatever.”
“Okay.” Her hand trembles as she grabs the paper plate.
“Christ. Let me have it.” I take it from her before she drops it, and she grasps my free hand wrapping her clammy fingers around mine, squeezing tight. My heart squeezes tighter. What the hell am I doing?
Upstairs, I pace the small room. I crash here sometimes when I’ve had too much to drink or simply don’t want to make the ride home. It’s not much but serves me when I need to scratch an itch or pass out.
The space fits a full-sized bed, couch, small table, and a flat screen mounted on the wall over the dresser. Like I said it isn’t much.
Wylla Mae is sprawled out on my bed hugging her purple teddy bear. I turn on some channel that exclusively shows classic cartoons. She seems content and hasn’t even bothered to ask about her mother once. Not that I would have an answer for her. Hell, I don’t even know who her mom is.
“Hey.” I grab the remote control and press the button to turn the volume down on her show. “What’s your mom’s name?”
“You got a dad?” Her head moves side to side. “An aunt, uncle, cousin, grandma?” There’s gotta be someone else who can take her in until whatever is going on with her mom is settled.
“Just my mom.”
Great. Of course. “Okay.” I increase the volume on the Tv. I need a damn smoke. A tension headache throbs in my temples. Pulsing faster and harder with every passing second. My head is about split in two. I go over to the window and crack it then dig through the top drawer of the dresser for my emergency cigarettes stash. Bingo. At least one thing has gone my way tonight. Back at the window, I lean against the ledge. I light up my Marlboro and take a hard drag. Tobacco pulls through my lungs in a familiar burn that I’ve grown addicted to tasting.
“You shouldn’t be smoking in here.” Wylla Mae glares at me up on her knees in the center of the bed, lips jutted out and a hand on her hip. She looks ready to pop off like a little firecracker in her white tee with a sunflower ironed on the center and matching yellow sweatpants with a sunflower embroidered on the pocket. Little sassy assed brat is what she is. She looks like an angel till she opens that mouth. Kid was shy at first but now she won’t shut the hell up. She’s a damn motormouth.
“Why is that?”
“Because it’s bad for you. You could get cancer and die or worse.”
“What’s worse than death?”
“You’re exposing me to secondhand smoke and I’m just a kid.” She falls back on the covers and sighs with a hand to her forehead.
I chuckle, blowing my smoke out the window.
“Why are you laughing?”
“Are too,” she sasses.