Jamal pushed the door open. He raised one arm to shield his eyes. Unlike the others, Karen appreciated natural light and kept her mismatched curtains tied back. The rest of the old church resided in shadow – windows covered against the light and against discovery (there was little law in this part of the city, but it didn’t pay to be careless).
Jamal’s eyes adjusted as he stepped in. “You decent?”
“Door wouldn’t be unbarred unless I was,” said Karen. Opposite Jamal, Karen leaned down, peering into the cracked piece of glass she used for a mirror.
“Big date?” Jamal leaned against the wall, crossed his arms.
“Didn’t know it mattered.” Karen didn’t turn as she spoke.
Jamal grunted and shrugged his shoulders. “Just worried. Don’t need you gettin’ pinched. Then we’d all be in trouble.”
“So nice to know you care.” Karen stood up, adjusted her bra.
“You going out with him again?”
Karen turned to look at Jamal. “He has a name,” she said.
Jamal shrugged his shoulders again, looked up at the ceiling.
“Yes,” she said. “David and I are going out. I figured it might be better than sitting around waiting for people to wake up here.”
Jamal opened his mouth, but said nothing.
He walked out of the room, mumbling to himself.
“What?” Karen called after him, but Jamal didn’t answer.
“So. What are you looking for out of this?” Keenan was still enjoying the façade of David Janson as he and Karen ate their meal. He had brought Karen to the basement apartment of a Mexican couple. They had turned their place into a cramped, but pleasant, “restaurante” – only three tables with soft music and candlelight. It was the nicest place Karen had been in more years than she could remember. The ambience and food made her forget her situation.
But Keenan’s inquiry brought Karen back. She looked up at him, joy slipping from her face as she spoke. “I’ve got questions. About my family. I think my brother is the only one that can help me find the answers. And I think he might be with our mother. If I could find him, I could find her. Which won’t be easy, because she didn’t want to be found. Otherwise, my father would have brought her back home years ago. That’s if she isn’t dead.”
“Well,” said Keenan. “That was more candid than you’ve been with me up to this point. But I wasn’t talking about that.”
“What else is there?” said Karen.
“That’s pretty insulting,” said Keenan. He took a sip of his wine, stared at Karen over the lip of the glass.
“Excuse me,” said Karen. “I need to use the ladies’ room.” She stood up and walked through the room and out the door to the narrow entranceway beyond. Keenan leaned forward in his chair, peered out the window to see if she was leaving. He counted to thirty, saw no shadow receding from the front door, returned to his meal.
A minute later, Karen returned and sat back down. “So,” she said. “What were you talking about?”
“What?” Keenan pulled a broad smile across his face.
“What were you getting at when you asked me what I was looking for?”
“If you don’t know, then it’s not worth having this conversation,” said Keenan.
Karen sat back in her chair, took a long look at her dinner partner. “Are you asking about us?”
“Like I said, it’s not worth discussing. I probably just read things wrong.” He refused to raise his eyes from his plate.
“David,” said Karen. “I didn’t think this was anything other than business.”
Keenan held his smile, looked into Karen’s eyes. “I thought we’d moved past business a long time ago.”
Karen stepped out of the makeshift bathroom on the second floor of the church. She was toweling off her hair, thinking about the rest of her evening with David (Keenan), and didn’t notice Jamal sitting in the hall until her foot ran into his boot.
Karen stepped over Jamal. “Why aren’t you down with everyone else?” she said.
“Wasn’t feelin’ it tonight,” said Jamal.
“Funny,” said Karen.
She closed the door to her room.
Jamal stretched one leg out and nudged the door open a crack. A sliver of light slipped into the black hallway. “You have a good time?” he said.
“Yes. Really good,” said Karen.
“Glad to hear it.”
“I didn’t know you cared.”
“What are you talking about?” The sound of his voice startled him, the darkness increasing the volume. He sat back up. “Why are you such a bitch sometime?”
“I guess it comes natural.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. All passive-aggressive an’ shit. You don’t need to be that way,” said Jamal.
“Well, how should I act?”
There was silence for a moment, and Karen wondered if she might have pushed Jamal away.
Then the door slid in another inch. Jamal peered through the crack. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” said Karen.
Jamal’s head slid through the door first, then the rest of him followed with a bit of effort.
“You could have opened the door a little more,” said Karen.
Jamal shrugged his shoulders.
“So. Why were you sitting out there?”
“I was waitin’ for you,” said Jamal.
Karen’s lips quivered, the hint of a smile formed. Then she dropped her robe.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Jamal. He was snuggled up close to Karen’s back, his arms around her, their fingers laced as he breathed in her perfume.
“I know,” said Karen.
“I didn’t know you were pregnant,” said Jamal.
Karen didn’t say anything.
Jamal shifted his weight. “I’m sor–”
Karen didn’t let him finish his thought. “Just hold me,” she said and pulled him closer.
“Just hold me.”