Dee Dee could feel the tension in the air; it was thick as dirty mop water. And uncomfortable, not to mention. She didn't like it, not one bit. She acknowledged, however, that the little girl would never be the first to break the awkward silence.
"So... you must be Kimbo," she began.
Kimbo only grunted in reply. She was seated as close as she could get to the edge of the dock, facing away from Dee Dee and toward the distant coast of California.
Dee Dee bit her bottom lip in contemplation. All her life, she had never felt so socially inadequate as she did now. If only there was some way to get this stubborn little girl to open up. "Lenny didn't tell me you were so pretty," she continued.
Kimbo didn't respond right away. Meanwhile, Dee Dee was beginning to wonder if she should call it quits. She had been kind enough. It wasn't on her if Kimbo did not want to cooperate. It wasn't until she sat up to leave, when the little girl finally spoke.
"I'm not pretty," Kimbo grumbled, in a voice so low it was difficult to hear over the tumbling waves. "And I don't like you. At all."
Dee Dee would never let it show, but her words stung. A lot, actually. She didn't like the way this conversation was turning. If she didn't take the wheel soon, Lenny would be very disappointed. "Well that's a shame, because I like you. How come?"
Kimbo whipped around in her seat to face her, glaring. It chilled Dee Dee to the bone. "Lenny."
"What about him?" Dee Dee prompted, cocking her head to one side.
"You're stealing him away from me."
"I'm not trying to."
Kimbo ignored her. Tears welled up in her gray eyes. "You want him all to yourself, don't you?" Sniffling, she turned away again.
Dee Dee wanted nothing more than to reach out and wrap that little girl in a warm hug, but decided against it, fearing her reaction. "No no no, sweetie-pie. That's not true. I know how much you mean to him. He talks about you all the time, and thinks of you as the little sister he's never had. So you see, I could never take him away from you. Even if I had the heart to try." Without thinking, she placed a gentle hand on Kimbo's shoulder. She didn't shrug it away, much to Dee Dee's surprise. "There's more than enough Lenny to go around for the two of us. Can't we at least share him?"
She fell silent once more, patiently waiting for Kimbo's response. This silence was not so uncomfortable as it had been just a few moments ago - a welcome improvement. Kimbo's sinewy muscles were loosening up under her hand. At long last, the little girl drew in a breath and turned to look into Dee Dee's smiling eyes.
"Do you really think I'm pretty?" she asked, wiping her eyes on a corner of her beach towel.
Dee Dee nodded. "I sure do. You have two of the prettiest eyes I've ever seen. I mean that. What color are they? Blue? Or green? Just like the ocean."
For the first time since they met, Kimbo smiled. It was the kind of smile that could light up a dark room. Infectious. A flush had crept up to her freckled cheeks.
"I... I think you're pretty too." Kimbo was peeking up at her through long eyelashes.
Dee Dee's heart was melting into a puddle. "Why thank you."
"And I really like your hair."
"Aww, you're sweet."
"Do you keep it braided like that all the time?"
"No, but I think I should." Dee Dee dug through her handbag and pulled out a bottle of cranberry red nail polish. "Where I work at the cafeteria, we're required to keep our hair done up if my boss deems it too long. Otherwise, she would have a cow." They shared a giggle. "Besides, my neck gets too warm in this climate, and I love braiding my hair. So, win-win."
"Win-win," Kimbo agreed. She watched as Dee Dee stroked the first coat of polish across her thumbnail. "What are you doing?"
"My nails. I gotta very important meeting with my superiors tonight. Then a dinner-date with Lenny." Dee Dee showed off her freshly painted red thumbnail to Kimbo. It shimmered in the sunshine. "What do you think?"
"Nailed it." Kimbo winked.
Dee Dee snorted. "Nice one. Say, have you ever had your nails done before?"
"I could do yours next if you want."
All the color drained from Kimbo's face. "Oh no no no no no no no. That's not for me."
Dee Dee did not miss the way the little girl was inching away from her. She giggled. "Why not? It's not gonna bite you or anything."
"I'm just not that kind of girl."
"Back home, I knew lots of girls like you who would love to get their nails done."
"Yeah? Well, I'm different."
Dee Dee cocked an eyebrow. "So you say. What's your favorite color?"
"I think I have that in here somewhere." Dee Dee nodded toward her handbag. "Are you sure you don't want me to do your nails?"
"Yep. Pretty sure."
"One nail?" One nail would be less intimidating than ten all at once, Dee Dee knew, and easier for the tomboy to hide.
Kimbo sighed. "M-maybe some other time. Besides, I bite my nails, so it wouldn't even look nice." She cleared her throat, embarrassed. Then she smiled sheepishly. "But... do you think you could show me how to braid my hair, like yours?"
"Of course. Why not tomorrow morning, at my place? I'll show you where it is." Glancing to the right, Dee Dee spotted Lenny approaching.
"Sounds great." Kimbo's voice was hushed. "Just don't tell Lenny about our secret."