Chapter One

There were two wedding invitations in my mailbox. That was when I realized I was getting old. It wasnt the way my back hurt when I got up at noon. Or my mutual funds maturing. Hell, it wasnt even the way that teenagers looked liked children. It was the fucking wedding invitations. Three this week.

I had to blame Prop 8 and DOMA a little. Most of my buddies from college had been married for years. They were just making it official. But half of them were terrified back in the summer of 08 when their significant others started eyeing wedding bands. Prop 8 was pretty much a relief. Not that they—in their queer activist twenties—would admit it. And now it was legal for real. Even the non-activist kids were signing up.

But it wasnt even the gaymos. It was the straight kids too. Not that I knew a lot of straight people. Still, my little cousin was marrying her boyfriend. And my old roommate was marrying his girlfriend. I couldnt even feign insult anymore at being sent invitations when I wasnt allowed the privilege of marriage. That trick had gotten me out of quite a few weddings.

I fucking hated weddings. Not for some sad, lonely reason. And not because of the expense or the pain in my ass that it was to attend. I just didnt like pretending I gave a fuck. I didnt mind dressing up. I didnt enjoy it, but I didnt mind it. I simply didnt want to bother filling out the damn R.S.V.P. and putting it in the mail. I didnt want to show up and smile and tell people they looked pretty or handsome or happy or lucky. I didnt begrudge my friends their happiness. But sitting there and watching a ceremony that I was supposed to be emotionally invested in was draining. I didnt do well with shit that was socially obligatory.

Maybe my uncle was right and I really was a cynical asshole.

The rest of my mail was crap. I tossed it all on the table inside my front door and hoped the invitations would miraculously fall and disappear. I stretched out on my couch, thanked myself for remembering the AC before I left the house earlier, and picked up the book I was reading.

I woke up to the obnoxious chirp of my cell phone and my cat kneading my stomach. Her claws went right through the cotton of my T-shirt and into my skin.

That hurts. Nickels seemed okay with it. I disentangled the cats claws and looked at my phone. I had three new deliveries in addition to the six already on my schedule. The last was a party, which was probably good, but also sucked. Damn social niceties. Even college boys had social standards. I hated playing into them.

I sorted through the fresh cut herbs stored in my pantry. I arranged a couple bunches in two low, flat boxes. They looked a little sparse so I added a few organic tomatoes into a corner of each box. They were passable. I pulled the basil back out, tucked a bag of white pills into one, light orange into the other. None of my other deliveries required me to keep up appearances.

As I was leaving, I glanced in the mirror by the door. My accidental nap had done terrible things to my hair. I set the boxes back on the kitchen table and went into the bathroom. It took five minutes of careful straight iron application to make my pompadour stand up the way it was supposed to. I smoothed the sides and part with paste. It would do. I went back out to the kitchen. Nickels was staring at the boxes like she knew I was abandoning her.

Im sorry, I said. She was unmoved. Ill be back later. She meowed. Yeah, I love you too.

I grabbed my keys and bag, glared at the wedding invitations, and took off. My first two deliveries were easy. Fab Forties. I turned off Folsom Boulevard and marveled at the way the trees dropped the temp a couple degrees. Wealth had its perks. Even nature helped with the imbalance. At the first house, I parked on the street. Visibility was one of my greatest services. Brant opened the door about two seconds after slight bells echoed through the house.

Honey, youre just in time. Im doing a lime cilantro vinaigrette, and it needs time for the flavors to fully absorb.

If he was bothering to tell me what he was cooking, that meant he had company. I glanced at the garage. No luxury sedan visible through the leaded glass. The husband wasnt home. That meant one of Brants walking friends.

Then youre lucky I brought lime leaves. Im almost out this week.

No. Brant looked shocked.

One of my customers decided they were divine in cocktails. She cleaned me out. But I saved some for you, I said.

Thats tragic. Why would anyone do that to a cocktail? Come inside. You have to see the new curtains.

As if I gave a fuck about curtains. The ones you were telling me about? I thought they wouldnt be here until next week.

Brant winked. He knew how painful this conversation was for me. Youll love them. He spun and led me through the house. We stopped on the way to the kitchen so I could admire the curtains in the white room. I didnt think people called them that anymore. Maybe people never called them that. But I had too many friends growing up with mothers who maintained a perfect room that no one was allowed in. White couches werent meant for dirty teenagers. Brant had chosen a rich cream for the curtains. Something warm enough to lighten the room without being too heavy for a Sacramento summer. I said appropriate things.

Have you met Janice? Shes Chucks baby sister, Brant said as we stepped into the kitchen. Janice, this is Cash.

Janice looked up at me from the breakfast nook. She took in my worn designer jeans, plain white T-shirt, and dirty Converse. She smiled at me. The smile was strained in the way that was reserved for the help. I guess I wasnt hiding my status well enough. What a shame.

Pleased to meet you. I gave her the smile she was expecting. The one that said I respect that your husbands bank account is bigger than mine.

Yes, she said.

Wasnt it my fucking honor.

Let me take that. Brant held out his hands. I gave him the box. He took it into the oversized pantry and unloaded a few items. The bag of pills went into a container of rice. He was lucky I knew to double bag for him. Janice didnt look up from her iPhone.

I took out my phone. It was the same generation as hers. Brant watched me punch in items arbitrarily until we reached the magic number. He handed me his credit card. I swiped it through the reader and handed the phone to him for a signature.

Youre a lifesaver. Brant winked at me. His stash must have been low. Boy was abusing the product. Id have to watch his intake. An overdose led to a lot of nasty questions.

I bet you say that to all the boys, I said.

Brant laughed. Janice scowled. Queers werent supposed to be so casually queer. Even when your brother was in the club. Though Chuck did very well at the whole gender conformity thing.

Only the dirty farm boys, Brant said. Janice, Id let you use Cash too, but her supplies are regulated. I cant have you cutting into my source of organics.

Janices curiosity won over her disdain. Is that really your name?

Only since infancy, I said. She looked skeptical. I think my mother was high when she named me.

Brant laughed. Everyone always did. It was a great joke. Except for the part where it was true.

Thanks for the produce, honey. We walked back to the front door.

Of course. Ill see you next week?

Brant nodded. Ill text you with my order.

The rest of my afternoon was easy. Peggy, the straight version of Brant plus twenty years, didnt have company. I gave her the box of produce and swiped her card.

Four of my deliveries were in the various apartment complexes around Sacramento State University. Most of my business at the college dropped off in May, but there were still a few stragglers. Plus, summer session kept the campus limping along.

One of my deliveries was in Land Park. It was another housewife, but she didnt bother hiding from her husband. No sweating, wasted produce there. The final kid was a City dropout. He enrolled in classes twice a year, collected financial aid, then dropped all the classes. The school or the government was going to catch on at some point, but until then he enjoyed Oxy and I enjoyed money.

The college boys having a party texted to up their order so I called Nate, my weekend help, and enlisted him. He agreed to meet at my place at nine, which left enough time for me to inhale a burrito and a beer. Not bad for a Friday.

I was two bites of salsa and a swig of beer in when there was a knock on my door. Nate wasnt the type to be early. I swung the door open and leaned against the jamb.

You ever heard of Natasha Lyonne? Shes that dyke chick on Orange is the New Black. Like hot, but in a real way. My fifteen-year-old neighbor pushed past me and went straight to the DVD shelf.

I have a pulse, tiger.

Whats that mean? Andy flipped her honey brown hair out of her face. She was rocking an Ellen Page post coming out cut. This week.

Shes hot. Yes, I know who she is. Does your mother know youre over here?

Andy traced her fingertips along the shelves and mouthed the alphabet. Nickels decided to grace us with her presence. She must have heard Andys voice. Hey, Nick, Nick, Nickie. Andy picked her up and continued with the alphabet. The cat started to purr. Moms working. I texted. But Im not staying.

I hope not. You havent been invited to stay. I almost managed arch, but then I remembered I didnt have quite enough class to be arch.

So Nicky, Lyonne, whatever, is in this cheerleading movie. Im totally into her right now.

Top shelf. But I’m a Cheerleader. Grab Girl, Interrupted too. Once you watch But I’m a Cheerleader, youre going to be madly in love with Clea Duvall. Trust me. Shes a freak show in Girl, Interrupted, but a hot freak show.

How do you have so many old movies?

If you keep making cracks about how old I am, you wont have access any more.

Andy looked up from her task. She managed to look confused and guilty all at once. I didnt…Im not saying…Sorry.

Im giving you shit.

I just mean, your collection is like better than Netflix sometimes.

Netflix has the worst lesbian movies. And they were all made the year you were born. And the lesbians are represented by thin metaphors instead of actual lesbians.

I think that was an insult. Pretty sure, actually. But you like Netflix so shut your face. Also, I like Netflix so shut your face. Im just saying, youve got better lesbian movies than they do. For her generation, that was a huge compliment. I think.

She tucked both DVDs under her arm. Nickels batted at them.

Your mom leave dinner?

Yeah. Shell be back at midnight. Ill be fine.

I nodded. But I’m a Cheerleader is R because of a sex scene, but its a homophobic rating. Andy tilted her head. Lesbian sex will destroy the children. Youll survive. But Girl, Interrupted has some tough spots. It takes place in a mental institution. If its too much, turn it off, kay?

Yeah. Fine. So much sincerity.

Theres a chick in there whos institutionalized cause shes a dyke. Keep an eye. I grinned.

Are you going to give me another history lecture? Andy sighed and set the cat down.

Always. Now, get out of here. I have to work tonight. Got to finish my dinner.

Thanks. She headed out the door. Ill text if I light the place on fire.

If you light the place on fire, call the fire department. Then text, I shouted. The door was already closed, but I could hear her laughing. Nickels climbed back in her bed. Oh, I see how it is. She closed her eyes.


Chapter Two

Nate showed up as I was rinsing my bottle. We counted out a full rainbow of pills and stuffed the small baggies into our messenger bags. Nate was good with numbers so I trusted him to keep track without taking notes. Parties were terrible for tracking inventory. His ability to rattle off numbers at the end of the night was one of his best qualities. That and nearly six feet of muscle. Very few people were dumb enough to argue with Nathan Xiao.

I followed Nate to a house off 65th. He knew the neighborhoods around the colleges better than I did. I had my dignity so I made it a point to not know college neighborhoods. We parked a block away from each other. Neither of us had ever articulated an escape plan, but we both had a vague understanding that we didnt want to be there if the cops broke up a party full of drunk twenty-year-olds. If we parked in opposite directions, it increased our chances of driving away.

A hipster kid opened the door. He would have been a prep-type in my day, but ten years of trends had done nothing good for his style. Too tight button-down, too tight jeans, haircut reminiscent of the Victorian era. I knew the kid. He was the one who had texted me an invite, but I could never remember his name. Something woefully nineties and forgettable. Pacey? Bailey? Television was never good for baby names.

Cash! Nate! You made it!

As if we were friends.

I shook his hand. Hey. He nodded and dismissed me.

Hey, Dawson. Nate shook his hand just hard enough to show who was stronger. You always have great whiskey. How could we pass it up?

I managed not to roll my eyes. This was Nates other talent. Talking to douchey guys in their own language.

The kid nearly jumped in excitement. We were just going to do a tasting. You want in?

Later, definitely. Got to unload our pockets first, you know? Nate nodded at his messenger bag.

Totally. Well, come on in.

Dawson melted away in the direction of his cheap whiskey tasting and we moved into the living room. I was constantly amazed that kids still had house parties. But they were good for business, and this one was packed. By unspoken agreement, Nate found a wall to post up on while I made my way to the back of the house. In the backyard, I found a keg and more drunk college kids. A girl approached as soon as she saw me.

Hey, youre Cash, right?

Thats me.

I heard you got Adderall. Her eyes shone. Youthful. Dumb. Yes, for her I definitely had Adderall.

We negotiated to a price twenty percent higher than I charged my regulars. She gave me some cash from her cleavage—I should have gone for thirty percent—and I gave her a bag of blue pills.

Parties were nice because I didnt have to be nearly as discreet. In fact, blatant tended to earn higher revenue. It made me more approachable. And at a party like this I didnt need to worry about cops. The kids were all so young that anyone older than twenty-five was as obvious as, well, me.

After I had done the backyard for an hour, Nate and I swapped. I wandered through the kitchen and was thankful I wasnt drinking. Nothing looked clean.

The wad of cash in my chest pocket had grown to a decent size. Id gone through about half of what I was carrying and overcharged nearly everyone. I didnt feel bad about upping the price at parties. Hell, they expected it. Plus, Nate was the party guy. His tolerance was higher. I was much better at peddling subpar organic produce with a side of OxyContin or Xanax. Housewives loved me.

I followed an intoxicated couple toward the front of the house. He tripped and she pushed him upright. He grabbed her ass. For balance, Im sure. Her heel caught on the perfectly restored hardwood and they stumbled into a wall.

Alcohol was not an attractive drug.

Across the living room, I caught sight of a woman who very much did not belong. She was my age, maybe a couple of years older. Her dark hair caught the glow of the dull lights placed throughout the room. She disappeared behind a group of wrestling boys, then reappeared in the mouth of the hallway leading to the back of the house. With a final glance around the room, she melted away. She was looking for someone. I wanted to be that someone.

I ducked into the hallway. She wasnt there. Not in the rooms off the hallway either. When I got to the backyard, Nate started to approach me, but I waved him off. She was sitting on the retaining wall holding up the long dead garden. Werent hipsters supposed to be into gardening?

She had her feet stretched out on the cracked patio. She was wearing boots and comfortably tight jeans. Her hair was long by my standards, cropped between her ears and chin.

You look as lost as I feel. I sat next to her.

That obvious, huh? She smiled and I was ready to send out one of those damn invitations myself. My baby sis and I were supposed to hang out tonight. She brought me here and ditched me. She tugged at the collar of her checked shirt, loosened her tie more. Which she has done one thousand million times. So, really, I should have seen it coming.

She sounds like a peach, I said.

Shes much more charming when shes not present. Trust me.

Im Cash Braddock. I held out my hand and she took it.

Laurel Collins.

About four seconds after the appropriate time to let go, I released her hand.

So, Cash, how did you end up at this sad affair?

Wingman meets third wheel. Ive been ditched and now I think I need better friends.

May I suggest friends who dont date twenty-year-olds?

I laughed. Noted. Any chance I could interest you in a drink? Somewhere legal where we dont get a lecture on home brewing. Also, somewhere no one would come up and ask me for drugs. That was more second date material.

Youre reading my mind here. Laurel stood. Do you need to tell your friend that youre leaving?

As tempted as I am to abandon him, yeah, I should probably give him a heads-up. You?

You know, I think this will be an excellent lesson for my sister. She can walk home.

I laughed. She was kind of a dick. I liked it.

Are you driving? I asked.

Yeah. Im a couple blocks away.

Me too. Do you know The Depot?

Little place next to Badlands? she asked.

Thats the one. Meet you there in twenty?

I look forward to it. Her mouth twitched like she was fighting a grin.

I watched her walk away. She had a fantastic walk. Like she knew where she was going. I wished I had that knowledge.

Nate was finishing a sale when I found him again. I hovered far enough away so his customers wouldnt feel crowded. When he was done, he turned to me.

Please tell me youre taking that chick out.

You dont mind?

Hell no. You need a life. And that woman is totally your type.

You know my type?

Gorgeous dykes. Youre simple like that. Even I could get a read on her. Shes got that whole chick who could kick your ass look.

Youre crazy.

Nate grinned. Let me guess, up close shes kinda buff, but tone not muscle. Strong jawline. Pretty eyes. Full lips—

No, just the bottom one, I interrupted.

He laughed. And she was annoyed by everyone at the party except you.

I dont like this game.

Get out of here, man. He pushed me toward the door.

Yeah, yeah Im going.

Ill follow you out. How much product you got left?

About half. You really dont mind?

You ask again, Ill punch you, he said.

We stopped by my car. I dug the remaining pills out of my bag and gave them to Nate. We bundled the cash we had made so far, and I stashed it in the locked compartment in the back of my SUV. No point carrying it around. He told me hed be by my place in the morning to count out and get paid.

Fifteen minutes later, I snagged parking on 20th Street. I realized I was nervous. Carrying a trunkful of drugs and illicit cash, smuggling pills across the border, selling product for a dirty cop, none of that scared me. But this was unfamiliar territory. What if she wasnt there? What if she was boring? What if she thought I was boring?

I pushed open the door to The Depot and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. This was the only quiet gay bar Id ever found. It was probably the only quiet gay bar in America. Maybe the world. That was its appeal. I felt movement to my right and turned in time to see Laurel push off the wall.

Hey. I managed not to grin. Had to be cool.

Hey. I dont think Ive ever been inside this place. Only walked past.

Yeah? Its never crowded.

Big plus.

We moved to the bar. Laurel leaned over and made eye contact with the bartender. He took his time making his way over. They didnt mind women here, but we werent their intended clientele.

What can I get you? he asked.

Anchor Steam for me. I looked at Laurel.

Any chance its on tap? she asked both of us.

Yep, the bartender said.

Two then.

IDs? He pulled glasses from under the bar while he waited.

I thumbed out my ID and some cash. Laurel took the ID and handed hers over with mine.

Getting IDd was obnoxious, but I knew Id be even more irritated the day they stopped asking. The bartender handed back our licenses and started to fill our glasses. Laurel handed my ID back.

Your names actually Cash?

Long story.

She nodded. I put some money on the bar and we grabbed our glasses.

Best seats are out back, I said. She nodded and followed me. Out back was actually caged in, but the air was fresher than in the bar and it was far enough from the pool tables to escape the noise. We settled on bar stools.

So you gonna share? Laurel asked.

What?

The long story.

Oh. That. She nodded. My mom was broke so this way she always had cash.

Laurel looked skeptical. Cant say she never did.

Oh, thats good. I think Ill add that to the cheap explanation.

Almost got a smile. And the real story?

My mother is an addict. She managed to stay sober until I was born, but as soon as she had me… I shrugged. Decision-making—like baby names—wasnt her strong suit.

Thats rough.

Not really. My uncle Clive, her brother, raised me. Last time I saw her, I was six years old. She wasnt really a parent. Kind of like a crazy aunt. My uncle is cool though.

He live in Sac?

Up the hill. He has a little organic farm. Well, I guess we both do. Im a partner.

Youre a farmer? She smiled and pushed her hair up out of her eyes. It stayed for half a second before falling back across her cheek. Swoon. I had to replay the conversation and remove my head from my ass before I answered.

Not really. He farms, I deliver his produce. Its very glamorous. What about you?

Am I a farmer?

I grinned. No. Although, yes, are you a farmer? And if not, then why? You got something against farmers?

I cant say Ive always been a fan of farmers, but I recently met this super hot farmer chick, and she is making me reevaluate my prejudice.

Christ, the girl was smooth. I used to be smooth.

Thats good. Youre so open-minded. Ive always appreciated that about you.

I do my best.

If not farming, then how do you disappoint your parents? I asked.

She scoffed. Please. Im so good at disappointing my parents. She took a long drink of Anchor Steam. Nodded in appreciation. Set the glass down. I was a double major. Criminal justice and English. And Ive now managed to avoid law school for about a decade.

Impressive.

Its a talent.

One of many. I was sure.

Sibs? Baby sis any good at being a disappointment?

She laughed. She makes me look like an amateur. Im the oldest of four. Ive been told they will mature. Im still waiting.

How old?

Four or five years between all of us. Youngest is eighteen. Shes at Sac State, obviously, but Im thinking studying hasnt been a priority.

I laughed. If sis was going to the parties I was invited to, then no, studying was not a priority. Except maybe the week before finals when I would sell out of Adderall.

Laurel told me a bit more about the family, one of her brothers hadnt escaped law school. She asked some questions about my uncles farm. She was easy to talk to. Easier to look at. Nathan was right. She was exactly my type. Dangerous.


Chapter Three

When I got home just after two, I noticed that the light out back was still on. I glanced out and found Andy sprawled on the bench on her side of the porch, the glow of her phone illuminated her face. She was asleep. The phone finished vibrating its message, then went dark. I let myself outside.

Andy, hey, Anderson. I shook her foot. Wake up, tiger.

Huh?

What are you doing out here? Your mom home yet?

Andy sat up and rubbed her face. She got stuck at the hospital. Its nice out. Fell asleep. She swiped her phone and grinned.

I sat next to her. Hot text date?

This is why I think youre old. What the hell is a text date? She tapped her phone, then locked it.

Sorry. Snapchat date.

She sighed. Yeah. Snapchat date. Thats a thing.

Youre an ass.

One of us has to talk to chicks. Youre not stepping up. Andy leaned her head back against the side of the house and closed her eyes. I cant help that women want me.

I did my best not to laugh at her. I will have you know that I just shut down a bar with a chick.

Uh-huh. Me too. I way just shut down a bar with a chick.

Do you have any idea what that means? I asked.

Of course. She opened her eyes. Its like you…shut down a bar…with a chick?

It means we were there so long, the bar shut down.

Wait. For real. You went on an actual date? With an actual chick? I nodded. Thats dope. She shoved my shoulder.

High praise.

Its late. Im going to bed. So should you. I stood.

Yeah, sure. She made no move.

At least go inside. I havent fixed the lock on the gate yet. The neighborhood was safe enough, but I didnt like her being out alone this late. Neither would her mother.

I thought you were going to last week?

Bought the lock. Havent installed it.

She perked up. Can we tomorrow? I can help.

Kid just wanted to wear my tool belt. Sure. If you go inside now.

Fine. Andy stood.

Good night.

Night.

I opened my door and waited until she was inside before heading in. I heard her locks click, then footsteps to the front door. She slid the deadbolt and hit the lights. Shed be asleep on the couch in two minutes.

 

v

 

I woke up to my phone vibrating. It was a text from Robin thanking me for making Andy go to bed the night before and inviting me to dinner. Another text from Henry telling me to call him. Who used phones to make calls any more? Boy was so twentieth century. And paranoid. He was a deputy sheriff. I doubted the sheriffs department was interested in investigating its own members. I hit call.

Cash. Hey.

Whats up? I rolled out of bed and pulled on yesterdays jeans.

Big bust last night. I collected evidence.

Yeah?

And Ive been doing a lot of paperwork. Needing to check evidence in and out. You know how it goes.

Meet me tonight? My place. I had no desire to see Henry, but he always delivered good shit.

I get off at eleven.

Cool. See you after?

Yep. He hung up. No phone etiquette. You gotta at least say good-bye. Let the other person know. Henry was a lost cause. I made a note to give Andy a talk about phone etiquette.

By the time Nate showed up at ten, I had managed to brush my teeth and put on a T-shirt. I opened the door to a cup of coffee. Which made Nate perfect in every way. We sat at the kitchen table and sorted out how much we had sold and for what price. I took some shorthand notes, then counted out his cut. He double-checked it.

Youre giving me too much. He started to count again.

No. You worked longer and covered me. Its fair.

But thats not what we agreed.

You complaining?

He laughed. Okay, no. I guess not.

Besides, I know summer is tight. I need to keep you around.

And I need to pay tuition. Nate was a grad student at Davis. He was studying something having to do with brain chemistry. Hed tried to explain it to me once, but I didnt do well beyond monosyllabic words. Thanks. Do you still want me to make deliveries in West Sac this weekend?

Yeah. What do you need?

We counted out the leftover pills from the night before and separated what he would need for the weekend. I added some hydrocodone to his mix and he was good to go. I was running low on Xanax. Nate didnt need it, so no big. Xanax was my territory.

Hey, how did it go with the chick last night? He grinned knowingly. Obnoxious.

Good.

Thats it? Good? She was smoking and you say it was good? He scoffed and went back to stowing baggies in the Thermos he used to hide drugs.

We talked until the bar closed. It was good.

You didnt get any? She was cruising you hard. Come on.

She was not. Get your head out of your ass. I started putting away the detritus of our negotiations. Pills in the pantry. High shelf above Andys head. That kid was too curious. Money in the empty flour tin. Id put it away properly later.

Cash, she watched you from the moment you walked outside. Shes got it bad.

You think? Man, I hoped he was right. Should I text her?

And Im the one with my head up my ass? Youre an idiot.

Whatever. I knew right then that I was going to text her later. But he didnt have to know that.

Nate shook his head. Good luck. Ill catch you later. He clapped his hand on my shoulder and headed out the door. I locked it behind him.

I took the cup of coffee Nate had brought into my study. While I waited for my laptop to boot, I glanced over our notes. The revenue from the party had been entirely cash. No one used their credit card to buy drugs at a party. I entered the numbers into a spreadsheet. It tracked the sales as produce, which kept Braddock Farms accountant happy. When everything was entered, I shredded the handwritten notes. It didnt matter than I was a low-level dealer. There was no need to be stupid about this sort of shit.

I went back to the kitchen and pulled the money out of the flour tin. I trusted Nate, but that didnt mean I had to be naïve. I moved half the shit out of my freezer and pulled out the box of taquitos from the back. I shoved the stack of cash underneath the taquitos. As I was replacing everything in the freezer, there was a knock on my back door.

Come in, I shouted. Only Robin or Andy used the back door.

Sounded like you were up. Can we fix the lock on the fence now? Andy rounded the corner into the kitchen.

Sure. Just a sec. I put the coffee pot together. Nickels followed Andy into the kitchen and meowed at her.

Nick, Nickels. Andy sat on the floor. Nickels head butted her.

I hit the button to grind the coffee and Nickels ran out of the room. Coffee grinding was rude. Andy waited not so patiently.

Your mom still sleeping? I asked.

Yeah. Figured Id let her. Andy got up off the floor.

How big of you.

I pushed aside the curtain under my sink and hauled out my toolbox. Andy leaned in past me and grabbed my tool belt. I tore into the lock packaging while she wrestled with the buckle on the belt. She stashed the screws I handed her in one of the tool belt pockets.

Andy followed me outside. And she only ran into one wall while adjusting the contents of her belt. I went to the gate. Andy huffed while I spaced out where I wanted to put the lock and marked the wood with a pencil. I handed Andy my drill.

So I just put the screws in?

Thats generally how they work.

Andy sighed disapprovingly and placed her first screw. I had one of those panic moments where I wondered if I should have given her safety goggles. But then I remembered that I didnt have safety goggles. And if I had goggles, Andy still wouldnt wear them. By the time I had figured all that out, Andy was done installing all four screws in the latch.

Now what?

Now we install the bolt on the other side. Again, I marked the placement. Andy fished the rest of the screws out of her belt and installed the bolt. When she was done, I swung the gate open and closed. The latch did its thing.

Thats it? Andy asked.

Too anticlimactic?

I guess. It just seemed like it would be more complicated.

Ill try and break something this week, okay? Maybe something involving a motor.

But you dont know anything about motors, Andy said.

Neither do you.

So whats the point?

I was kidding. Im not breaking something just so you can fix it.

Oh. Asshole. Andy handed back the drill.

Yep, that broke my heart.

I went back inside to put away my drill. Andy followed to put away the very necessary tool belt. I poured myself a cup of coffee. Andy stared at it longingly.

Would you like a cup of coffee?

Oh. Okay. I guess. If youre having one.

One day, I planned on not indulging her. One day.

We took our coffee outside. Andy told me about the three girls shed been flirting with. One lived on the East Coast, and Andy only knew her online, so she didnt count. But I didnt tell Andy that. The other two were from Sac. One went to McClatchy High with Andy. The other was a private school kid. I managed to gather absolutely no detail about any of the girls. Probably because I missed their names and that made it a bit hard to follow. Also, Andy wasnt great with specifics. One of them played water polo and another was into art and one of those two had big tits. I didnt bother reprimanding the use of tits because I was reasonably certain that Id taught her the word when she was far too young to talk about tits. Her mother was clearly a tolerant woman.

So what are you doing today? Andy asked when she realized I wasnt listening. Perceptive.

Drinking coffee. Then I might text the chick from last night and agonize for the rest of the day about why she isnt texting me back.

Agonize?

It means—

I know what it means. I just like it. Agonize. You always use random words.

I had no fucking clue if she was being sincere. Thanks?

So get on it.

On what?

Text her. Whats her name? Why wouldnt she text you back?

I cant just text her. Its only been like nine hours, I said.

Youre a pussy.

Dude. I glared.

What? You are.

No. Dont say pussy. Its degrading to women.

Andy laughed. Hard. Okay. I wont say pussy. Youre a pansy. Now text the chick.

Her name is Laurel. And Ill text when Im ready.

You know Im gonna steal your phone and do it if you dont, right?

You do and Ill tell your mom.

Tell me what? Robin asked from the doorway behind us. She opened the door and sat in the big Adirondack across from us.

The usual. Andy is a bad seed. And, I lowered my voice to a whisper, I think she might be a lesbian.

Robin laughed. Its good you told me. Ive got to nip that right in the bud.

Cash met a chick, Andy said.

Well done, Cash. Robin nodded at me.

But shes too much of a pansy to text her. Andy put way too much emphasis on pansy.

I decided to ignore Andy. Robin, you want some coffee?

Thanks. Ive already got some brewing.

Cool. Im just going to go top mine off. I went into my side of the duplex. As soon as I was in the kitchen, I pulled out my phone and texted Laurel.


Chapter Four

The restaurant was crowded as hell. Saturday night in the early days of summer. Not surprising. I leaned against a wall and tried to look cool while waiting. Not sure if I pulled off cool, but Laurel seemed happy to see me when she showed up. The host put us at a little table on the back corner of the patio. Just far enough away from the crowded interior that we could hear each other speak. She handed us menus and left.

I didnt expect you to text me this morning. Laurel leaned back in her chair and grinned.

I smiled back. I wasnt planning on it, honestly. I was going to be cool and wait a couple of days.

So what changed your mind?

Shame.

Shame?

And fear, I said.

Shame and fear?

I have this neighbor. Fifteen-year-old. When I got home last night she was out back texting her girlfriends.

Girlfriends like girl friends? Or like girlfriends?

The second one. Im pretty sure shes dating like three other baby dykes.

Laurel laughed. Three? So you got shown up by a teenager?

Theres that, but no. I bragged a little that I had been on a date. This morning she threatened to text you if I didnt.

So that wasnt you who texted to say I was hot as fuck?

I had a moment of panic before I figured out she was screwing with me. I dont think she has figured out the passcode on my phone yet. Im sure she will soon enough.

So maybe we should come up with a codeword.

Totally. Like, if you think I sound weird, ask me something only adults would know.

Like who is president?

No, shes smart. But if you ask her what political party Al Gore belongs to, she wont know, I said.

She could Wikipedia that.

Damn, she was right. Good point. Ask about The Cranberries. She thinks music started about five years ago.

She doesnt know who The Cranberries are? Thats wrong. You have to educate her.

Im doing my best. I held up my hands in surrender.

Thats admirable. So. Very important question. She gave me a look that suggested she was serious.

Yes?

Favorite Cranberries song?

No way. You cant pick a favorite Cranberries song. Its like picking a favorite book. You need like a multi-tiered system.

Laurel laughed. Okay, books at the top of your multi-tiered system?

Im assuming you are talking like desert island scenario here.

She pursed her lips. Which was hot. No, top twentieth century poets.

Sylvia Plath and Ani DiFranco.

She nodded. Also hot. Playwrights?

Does it have to be twentieth century? Because Wilde, obviously.

Modernist? Literature, not art.

Djuna Barnes, but Ive only read Nightwood. Modernist for you, but art not literature.

I see your point about narrowing. Art is too broad. Laurel pushed her hair off her forehead again. Yep, just as enticing as it was the night before.

Painter, then, I said.

Picasso, but only because hes the only one I can think of right now. I had an art history class junior year. Did spectacularly bad. Lowest grade I got in college, but the professor was obsessed with Picasso and she was absolutely brilliant.

Are you a fan by default then?

Totally. Of course, I only have opinions on the pieces we discussed in class.

I laughed. I didnt know if it was the honesty or the self-deprecation, but it was working for her. Okay, Ill admit that I just like to say Djuna Barnes. Great mouthfeel. I had to read Nightwood like twenty times to get it and Im still not sure I do.

Im impressed you got through it. It was assigned in queer lit, but I couldnt bother to finish it.

Id tell you its worth it, but Im not really sure.

Except for the mouthfeel of saying Djuna Barnes, she said.

Well, yeah. Except for that.

The waitress arrived, but we had to send her packing. Christ, we hadnt even ordered drinks yet and had covered art, literature, and music. This chick was fantastic.

 

v

 

I walked home from the restaurant. It was later than Id planned, but Laurel didnt seem in any hurry so Id figured it was smart to follow her example. We hadnt talked about anything, really. Or anything of substance. No, that wasnt right either. We had talked about everything of substance except for ourselves. Maybe that was my fault. Id avoided anything that might force me to lie. Most of the time, I liked what I did. It suited me. But somehow I didnt want Laurel to think less of me. Maybe that was why I let her veer so sharply from anything personal that couldnt be found online.

Now, in the retrospect of twenty minutes, I realized how distant she had actually been when it came to herself. I knew what kind of beer she drank and that she wore vintage ties. I didnt know what made her get out of bed in the morning. I did know that she had eyes the color of the sky at dusk. There was a scar on her left hand that she traced when she was nervous. She liked to read. Maybe that was all I needed to know.

I knew I wanted to call her. I knew that was a terrifying thought.

When I got home, Henrys newest Mustang was parked out front. This one was electric blue. Very discreet. I wasnt sure if the flashy car or the fact that he got a new one every year was worse.

Henry was on my front porch. He was splayed on the stairs projecting an air of cool, but I knew he was pissed. He didnt like to be kept waiting, and he definitely didnt like to be kept waiting on the porch of a drug dealer. Not that he would ever say anything. He had a whole good guy thing going on. Perfect smile with perfect teeth, perfect mustache on his perfect face. Perfectly blond hair combed into place even after a twelve-hour shift in a sheriff car. He knew the perfect thing to say to charm anyone at anytime. Women loved him. Old ladies especially. Basically, a Boy Scout. The surface looked good, but underneath was a whole lot of fear that someone might notice that he was a petulant little boy.

Sorry to keep you waiting, man.

Hey, no worries. I just got here. It was nearly one. I was willing to bet that hed been waiting for twenty minutes. He took his time standing. Nope, nothing untoward going on here. Just a couple of high school buddies hanging out.

Cool. Come inside. You want a beer?

Sure. That would be awesome.

If Id offered him Tang, he would have said it was awesome. I once saw him graciously accept a bologna sandwich from an elderly woman as payment for helping clear her yard. And he was a vegetarian. But then, Henry was polite. I had never mastered that skill. Or wanted to, for that matter.

We went into the kitchen. I opened two beer bottles and set them on the table. Henry proceeded to unpack an assortment of pills from his designer backpack. Elongated yellow pills. Round, white Tylenol #3. Thick beige circles mixed in with shockingly white pills.

Ambien, Codeine, Xanax, and—I know you dont usually have a market for it, but—Molly.

I pulled out a chair and dropped into it. You know I cant sell that. Cant was relative. Clive would be pissed, but Id lied about the business to him plenty of times. Which Henry was well aware of. He was also quite aware that ecstasy wasnt my territory.

I know you dont usually, but we busted a rave last night. Its so pretty. Look at it. You should have seen the kid I stripped them off. It looked like The Craft and Can’t Hardly Wait had an awkward child. Did you know the nineties are the new eighties?

Im aware. That was why I hated the party scene. Street drugs—and the people who consumed them—were so crass. But that doesnt mean I can sell Molly.

You can and you will. It was an order. Henry didnt have the weight to enforce it, though. Summer is starting. Ecstasy will be a big seller. I know its not our agreement, but Ill take a ten percent cut on my profit.

What if I sell them for half price? It was a bluff.

Your call. Your risk.

I had an unsettling feeling that he wasnt talking about my risk on the street. Fine. But dont pull this shit again. I dont care how many raves you bust.

Cash, man. You dont get it. Raves are cool again. Nineties, hello?

Heres the deal. Ill sell this batch, but never again. Or, I can not sell this batch and also never sell Molly. Nate could unload it in Yolo. Somewhere far enough away that no one would notice. Probably.

Henry sighed. Fine. Just this batch. But promise me one thing.

What?

If it goes well, be open to it in the future. Thats all I ask. He put his hands up in surrender.

If I wasnt so set on shielding Nate from Henry, I would make him take these meetings.

If it sells easy, Ill tell you. Not if it sold for a grand a pill.

Thats my boy. Henry leaned back and sipped his beer. You hear the reunion is coming up?

Reunion?

High school? That place we graduated from ten years ago.

Oh. That. I think I blocked out most of it. I drank my beer and pretended I was catching up with a buddy.

Come on. You had a great time in high school. The cheerleading squad was never the same when you were done with them. He raised a sculpted eyebrow.

I never slept with a cheerleader. Student body president, yes. Cheerleader, no.

Right. I forgot. Never touched em. Henry grinned.

I really didnt want to relive my teenage years. So you can see why I dont want to go meet the husbands of all the chicks who broke my heart.

Hey, I heard Amy Becker came out. So she wont have a husband.

She came out two weeks after graduation. We dated the entire summer before I went to college.

Oh.

Sorry. Youre lacking on the queer kid gossip.

Damn. I thought that was a good one. He turned the bottle in his hands. Jessie Chandler.

Ran into her at Faces. I thought back and tried to situate it in time. I was really into cuffed pants that summer. About eight years ago.

Skylar…umm…James?

Jamison. I went to her wedding last year, I said.

Fuck me. You win. No shit. What about you? Anything exciting happening?

I searched desperately for something to tell him that couldnt be used as leverage. Andy was off limits. So were my uncle and Nate. I went on a date tonight.

No.

Yes.

She hot?

Totally. Met her at a party. Followed her around until she agreed to leave with me.

Thats my boy. Never give up. So howd it go? Pretend I care about more than her bra size.

I mustered every ounce of the douche bag teen I had been. Her name is Laurel. Shes got a body that—actually, she doesnt. Not your type.

Too gay? he asked. I nodded. So shes got a body that would make you blow your wad? But mines safe?

I laughed because he expected it. Exactly. But I dont know. Shes kinda standoffish. Well see. You know?

Ahhh, classic Cash. There was no classic Cash. Let me guess. She doesnt know youre a drug dealer. And shes got some job that makes you clench when you think about telling her. Youre not going to call her.

I realized that I had no idea what Laurel did. Id avoided the subject for my sake. Its not like that. I just dont know if Im gonna call her. I almost believed it.

She didnt put out? Poor kid. Henry drained his beer. Im going to take off. Thanks for the beer.

No problem.

Let me know if the chick puts out.

Sure. Henry would be the first person Id call. Right, man. Ill see you later.

He left. I heard the door close. I waited until his car started up, then went to turn the lock. I could never quite place what I didnt like about Henry. He was fun. Charming when he wanted to be. Great for looking at girls with. Total dick, but I never felt threatened by it. It was more like, under the surface, he was a misogynist. Id never seen overt evidence. It was just that most women werent really people to him. Somehow my looking like a boy was enough to escape his misogyny though.

I rinsed out our bottles and tossed them in the recycling. Then I stashed the pills he had brought. At least he was good for free drugs.