hopping with Juliette was like shopping with a terrorist.
“How about this?” Cora asked, heart pounding, holding up what she thought was a sweet flowered shirt for inspection.
Juliette’s lip curled. “No.”
“Well, what are you looking for? Maybe we should start with that.”
In Paris, there had been stores everywhere, and Juliette shopped with her girlfriends all the time. Of course, in Paris, there had also been money. And somewhere to wear the stylish clothes you bought.
“What I’m looking for can’t be found at this disgusting mall.”
For once, Cora was relieved that Juliette was insisting on speaking French. At least the people all around them couldn’t understand the scathing things she was saying.
“Okay, suit yourself,” Cora said, heart sinking. “I’m not going to force you to buy new clothes for school. Just wear what you brought from France. Fine with me.”
She’d been trying to be nice, was all. She could remember coming to this mall with her mother when it was first built, picking out new jeans, new shirts, new boots before school started. Her mother had been generous, buying Cora whatever she wanted, telling her how pretty she looked in everything. And Cora….
Well, come to think of it, Cora hadn’t been very nice to her mother either. Or she’d been nice for as long as it took for her mom to put everything on the credit card, and then she’d turned sullen and critical again. What she wouldn’t give now to take one more shopping trip with her mother, to make up for all those nasty comments, those withering looks.
“I don’t even want to go to that stupid school,” said Juliette. “I told you, I don’t feel well. I want to go back to France.”
“Well, you’re not going back to France. This is your home now, you’re only 16 years old, and you are going to school.”
Cora started threading her way along the main passageway, back toward the car. She’d been feeling sorry for Juliette, having to deal with the fallout from her failed marriage and her even-more-failed family. And she’d wanted to at least enjoy this one simple please — shopping with her daughter, on a Saturday afternoon — to balance the disappointment of finding her father ill, the cafe shuttered, her brother disappeared, and even George Forrest, surely the most attractive man in Arkansas, turning up married. But she wasn’t going to beg.
“Do you really want me to go to school with these kids?” Juliette asked, close to her ear. “Look at them — they’re freaks!”
And Cora did have to admit, the youth of Hot Springs did not inspire faith in the future of America. Tattoos, piercings, huge baggy pants sagging down around the thighs, acne, baseball caps, chains, fuck this and motherfuckin’ that….. Cora felt her step quicken and her spirits fall even further.
Maybe there was something to what Juliette was saying. Maybe she shouldn’t go to school.
Could Cora home-school her? Without wanting to stick her own head in the oven?
They brushed close to a very large, very dark-skinned man dressed in a shiny black suit, trailed by a gangly teenage boy. Cora was about to mumble that she was sorry when the boy stopped short and cried, “Julie! Hey, what are you doin’ here?”
“Oh, hello,” Juliette said, looking embarrassed but speaking, Cora was amazed to hear, perfect unaccented English. “I’m shopping for school clothes.”
“Same here. Wow! But I thought you went to the college.”
Cora put out her hand to the man she assumed was the boy’s father.
“I’m Cora McAdams,” she said. “This is my daughter Juliette. We’re new in town. Well, we’ve just moved back….”
“McAdams,” the man said, engulfing her hand in his extra-large one. “Any relation to the cafe?”
“That’s my family’s. Was. But I aim to get it going again.”
“Dwayne Jones,” the man said, both his hands enclosing Cora’s now, shaking it for much longer than seemed necessary. “I’m the pastor at Divine Light Evangelical. You’ll have to come worship with us on Sunday.”
“Ah, well,” Cora said, feeling herself blush. “We’ll see. And is this your son?”
“No, this is my younger brother, Darrell.”
Darrell and Juliette had moved away from them and were talking intensely, heads bent close.
“How do you two know each other?” Cora asked.
They both looked up, guilt and alarm on their young faces. Cora had been merely curious before, but now she was suspicious.
“Juliette?” Cora asked. “Where did you meet Darrell?”
“Nowhere,” Juliette said breezily. Then, turning to Darrell, she said, “So I’ll see you tomorrow? At, what do you call it, the lunch period?” She giggled.
“Word.” Darrell smiled.
He was wearing saggy pants too, but at least he didn’t have a tattoo on his neck, and he had a sweet face, and a minister for a brother. How bad could he be? Not bad at all, if he was giving Juliette a reason to go to school.