Astor stared at me and all I could do was start shaking. Actually shaking.
Shame is a crazy thing, man.
I shook aggressively. It was all I could do to not cry and, man, I was already in a dirty alley. Astor was staring down at me like I was a literal body of trash. Everything stunk. I could smell myself through a clogged nose, even with the bathroom cleanup I’d done.
All I had the energy to do was shake.
“So are you going to tell Noah, at least?” She pronounced everything; every syllable of every word was so lovingly crafted that they had real names and identities. And yet, some-fucking-how, her voice was so smooth and lazy. The words lived through her throat, retired in her mouth, and then re-entered the workforce out of boredom on exit. I laughed about it with Osh a lot, just the concentration it must take to learn that. He always made sure to tell me, as if it had to punctuate any joke about his girl, “Yeah, but you don’t know what her momma was like. Shit…you don’t know what her mother did to her.”
Looking at her, at the tiny orphan, she always seemed bigger than she really was. No matter what, Astor presented. She didn’t show up, she arrived. If I stood up, I’d just end up looking down, and it already hurt my neck to have to look down at Noah all the time, so I sat there. Sat there trying not to smell my soiled shirt or dirty pants.
“Nah. Noah’s…you know how Noah is. Shit, she’s like you. Bougie. I…don’t want her to know I’m…living like this.”
Astor sucked in an angry breath.
“Stop pitying yourself.” She turned and plopped down next to me, her thick hair cushioning her back against the dirty brick. Nothing surprised me more. We sat, ignoring the faint trickles of rain, ignoring the dirt seeping into her pretty black slacks until it was dark enough to hide. Dark enough to ignore the vile feeling building in my throat, in my skin, in my heart. I knew she wanted to know why I was out there, but it just hurt to even think about it.
“My momma left. She’s gone. I woke up and all our stuff was gone. She…I don’t know. She ain’t even leave no money. She took the fucking food.” Again, we sat in silence and listened to the rain. I could feel the smell of me crawling over Astor, attaching to her fancy fabric. The girl was always dressed, just always dressed.
Astor took my hand, slow but firm.
“Yes. Mothers disappear. The foster system is rancid so just let me think of something. Don’t go in.” And you know, I thought about her being abandoned, about her sleeping in alleyways years back, and I almost felt guilty, but it made me feel better, made the smell less intense.
I heard and felt myself swallow.
“Don’t tell Noah. She won’t understand it. She’ll break up with me. I can’t take it right now.” Astor didn’t say anything. But I knew she wouldn’t tell Noah.
Astor was the only person I knew who understood that fucking smell and how people reacted to it. And she was the only person I knew on the planet who wouldn’t react.
Osh and Noah be damned; Astor was everything.