“I’m living in genteel poverty,” Christopher said, removing the joint from her hand.
“I don’t even think that such a thing exists. That’s a load of shit. You want to see the other side of the tracks, you ought to come over to my place.”
He smiled. He was intrigued by the disparity between them. Small tokens would go a long way with Jenny, he thought. If she wanted a necklace, he could simply walk into his mother’s bedroom, open the top drawer of her dresser, take out one of the four lacquered, multi-tiered jewelry boxes, and present her with one. Compared to a tropical parrot or a python, a girl like Jenny would be an easy, low-maintenance pet.
“This your mom?” he’d said, finding a photograph in her wallet and removing it for study.
Jenny had made a grab for the photo. “Give that back.”
He took a long drag from the joint, then stamped it out carefully in a china saucer that he was using as an ashtray. His eyes alighted on hers. “Let me guess,” he said, craftily. “Your father’s not around. You were an illegitimate child, born out of wedlock like half the Second Chance girls. Generational delinquency. The culture of poverty. You don’t even know who your father is. Am I right? Do you?”
“Fuck you. You’re detestable,” she said and began to gather up her clothes.
“The truth hurts I guess,” said Christopher, smiling to himself. He placed the remainder of the joint inside his leather portfolio, saving it for later.
Jenny, obviously offended by what he’d said, reached for her bag. A cache of cosmetics fell out on to the floor – lip gloss and mascara, blush and eyeliner. Christopher, pretending to ignore her impending departure, opened a lipstick and applied some to his lips, checking in the mirror to study the effect.
“Give me that,” she said, and snatched it away from him.
“Oh, calm down. I’m on your side,” he said, handing her her lipstick. “Why don’t you wear any of this? Is there some kind of rule they have against painted ladies? Did they make you give up makeup and start dressing like a prim little spinster nun over at the Second Chance Society?”
Jenny shrugged. He watched her appraising him, deciding whether to befriend him or turn against him. Her emotionalism excited him.
“My counselor at Second Chance encourages us to look natural,” she said. “No heavy make-up. We’re not supposed to invite. You know.”
“Male attention,” she said, collecting her stash of make-up and tucking it back into her bag. “It distracts us from our studies. We all. We all fucked up,” she stammered. “The girls at the Society were fast. And we. And I.” She didn’t continue her confession. He’d already discussed her early teenage pregnancy with her the first time they’d met, a week earlier.
“You were a teenage whore?” Christopher offered, helpfully.
Her expression darkened.
“I mean that in the nicest possible way, Jenny,” he assured her. “Not an insult. A compliment.” He’d had a thing for the Second Chance Society girls, ever since he’d first found out about them. Bad girls. Loose girls who, by the age of fourteen, had already racked up a prison record, lost a friend in crossfire, or given birth to a child. They were shining examples of deviance. Christopher admired them on principle.
“Jenny the Whore,” he said, in a sing-song voice. “X-rated Jenny.”
Her face changed, and he read it, first surprise and, there, the sting, he’d struck a nerve. Without saying another word, she’d begun to get dressed, her gestures fast, limbs slicing through the air, no longer relaxed and languid. Even a proud girl could be played. Even a cocky girl had strings to pull on, to make her jump and jerk.
“I was just kidding around,” he’d told her, touching her wrist.
Jenny whirled around, shaking her finger at him. “You listen to me you little fuck. I’m warning you not to disrespect me. Never underestimate me,” she said. “Do you hear? If you don’t treat me right, I swear to God, you’ll live to regret it.”
Her eyes had glowed and sparkled in a way that he’d liked. He liked her fuming, this plump small girl, full of pride, as hungry and hostile as a stray dog.
“You’re cute when you’re angry,” he said.