e was free, free, totally free of everyone and everything — except, of course, for Juliette, whose hand was clamped on his own. They were running, tearing as fast as they could down the sidewalk, through alleys, across yards, over fences, not stopping until they were sure that Dwayne and members of the psycho youth group might arrest them in the name of God.
Finally, it was dark. They were somewhere near the edge of town, standing on a cracked asphalt driveway next to a rusted metal fence. In the yard beside them sat a weathered chicken coop, clucking emanating from within. They stood there, breathing hard, still holding hands.
“I don’t think I can run anymore,” huffed Juliette. “I lost my shoes.”
Darrell looked in alarm at her feet, bare and filthy in her shredded stockings, bare blue-polished toenails hanging out from torn nylon.
She shrugged. “They were my grandmother’s. I couldn’t run in them. They were about three sizes too big.”
“How far are you going to get in bare feet?” he asked.
Really, that girl could be fun and outrageous and sexy as hell. Plus, she knew how to get something going. But losing your shoes, on purpose, when you were in the middle of a getaway? That was some foolish stuff.
“I didn’t know we needed to get far,” she said.
“What do you think I’m gonna do, show up at my Mom’s house, make myself at home, only to have Dwayne beating down the door five minutes later? Or getting the cops on my tail? Nuh-uh.”
“Oh,” she said. “I guess you’re right.”
“You know I’m right. And if I go to your Mom’s pad, that’s just as bad. Worse, cause your Mom probably won’t even want me there.”
“I don’t want to go back to my Mom’s place,” said Juliette.
“Well, where you wanna go?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “France?”
He snorted. “How we supposed to get to France? We got no money, no papers, you don’t even have any shoes. Be sensible, Julie.”
“I’ll call my boyfriend. Hugo. He’ll help us. His family has plenty of money. He’ll get us tickets and….”
Boyfriend? This was the first Darrell had heard of any boyfriend. He dropped Juiette’s hand and backed away, though his movement seemed to rouse one of the chickens in the house, who set to clucking so fiercely that an overhead light blazed on inside the shack of a house that belonged to the yard and the driveway, and a skinny white guy wearing only an undershirt and boxer shorts came out on his back porch, brandishing a rifle.
Darrell grabbed Juliette and yanked her down into the weeds.
“Who’s out there?” the white guy called.
Darrell and Juliette stared at each other, hardly daring to breath.
“If you’s bothering my chickens, I swear to God I’ll blow your fucking head off!”
Afraid Juliette might start laughing — she had that gleam in her eye — Darrell clamped his hand over her mouth.
Finally, the guy went back inside and, as quietly as they could, Darrell and Juliette picked themselves up and tiptoed back into the street. It was getting chilly; no one was out. At least they were wearing church clothes; that would help them move through town without anyone calling the cops. But there was still the matter of how she was going to walk without shoes.
“Come on,” Darrell said, crouching down. “I’ll piggy-back you.”
She felt good against his back, warm and soft and female. He felt himself start to grow excited, and to tamp that down forced his attention back on what she’d said before.
“You didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend,” he said.
She took a long moment to answer. “He’s my Paris boyfriend,” she said finally. “I don’t even like him anymore. In fact, I hate him.”
Darrell couldn’t help it: He laughed. “He’s your boyfriend but you hate him?”
“He’s far away,” she said. “But if I needed help, he’d be there for me. I think he would.”
“Listen,” Darrell said, setting her down. They were back near the main street now. He could practically see her family’s restaurant from here, see his Mom’s place, and the Go Go. They could be at any one of those spots within five minutes. Or they could disappear.
“Why don’t you go home now?” he said. “Thank you for busting me out of there, but you don’t need the kind of trouble I’m in.”
She took his hand. “I don’t want to go back. I want to stay with you.”
“Why?” he said, genuinely baffled.
“I don’t know, I….” She shook her head, definitively. “I don’t want to go back there. And….you’re the only person who’s been nice to me here. Come on, Darrell. You owe me.”
“Your shoes,” he said, looking helplessly at her feet, though he was confused about so much that seemed infinitely more frightening than her bare feet. “How can we get anywhere?”
“Use some imagination!” she cried, pushing his shoulder. “We’ll knock over the Goodwill bin down by the market. That’s not a problem. What we really need to decide is what we’re going to do.”
“Well,” he said, looking around as if the answer might appear to him from the gathering fog. “We could go see my brother DaShawn, down at the GoGo. He’ll help us.”
She seemed to think about this. “What else?”
“Or we could just head out of town and into the hills. There are cabins up there, empty cabins, and we can hide out till we think of what’s next.”