Charisse passed the old men on the corner every afternoon. Sometimes in the morning, too. When she was a kid, she thought of them as an extra trio of grandfathers. She didn’t pay them more attention than any other neighbor: smiled and waved, wished them a good day, talked about school if they had a question, sometimes asked after their health — “Your cold better, Mister James?”
“Keep clear of those corner men,” her older sister had said to her a few weeks after her thirteenth birthday.
“By the diner?”
“What other old men you walk past every day?”
“What’s wrong with them?”
Her sister had stopped folding laundry to give her a look of disgust. “You’re not stupid, Char. I know you’ve noticed that they look at you now, that they talk after you differently now. Just listen to me and keep clear of them.”
She had noticed the change in them, had noticed it when she was twelve, had noticed that they felt less and less like grandfathers the older she got. Now, at fifteen, her sister was off in college but Charisse heard her voice every time she passed the diner, every time she felt one of the old men run his eyes over her. She wore her headphones so she didn’t have to listen to them, sometimes walked with a book or her phone, pretending to read or text her way past them. She didn’t want to be rude, but she didn’t want any politeness on her part to invite anything on theirs.
She left school the same time as always. She worked her tutoring job at the rec center the same as always. She stopped for a bottle of water at Mr. Jaber’s grocery before heading home the same as always.
Stepping out of the grocery and finding Mr. Timmons leaning against a car smiling at her wasn’t the same as always.
“Charisse, honey, I’ll drive you home.”
“I’m fine, Mr. Timmons. I like walking.” She put her water in her bag and took out her book.
He stood and took a step toward her. “You be a good girl now, Charisse. Get in the car.”
The second time her sister had talked to her about the old men had been just before she’d left for school.
“Those men are just waiting for a moment,” she said. “Don’t give them one.”
“They tried something with you?”
“They try something with every girl-child on this block. Just don’t let you be the one they catch.”
She heard her sister’s words as she watched Mr. Timmons gesture toward the car, saw the hardness in his face, his eyes that didn’t look at all like a grandfather’s. Maybe that was her imagination, maybe it was just the way the light hit him in that moment. She’d been waving and smiling at him her whole life. People didn’t just wake up and become monsters.
In her jacket pocket, she slipped her hand around her keys, arranging them between her fingers like claws. “It’s not me, Mr. Timmons,” she said. “I’m not the girl who’s getting in your car.”
Hmm … Heaven only knows where that came from! So far yesterday’s is my favorite. We’ll see what happens tomorrow …