(Page 2 of 3)
It doesn’t feel good, buying mushrooms from teenagers, but Evan is happy and the effects, they’re kicking in, the world glowing a little brighter, tugging a smile from my mouth, the gorgeous feeling of a warm breeze on my skin. I don’t mean to, but I like it, and I look over at Evan who is still exceptionally handsome, with his over tanned skin and full head of brown hair, and the lean slightly muscled frame of a boy. I remember to feel lucky and link my arm in his and we walk away from the Mission, from downtown, wandering the rows of single-story houses with quaint front porches, me wondering at the families inside, Evan studying the landscaping. He uses graphic software to render his clients’ yards majestic, specs so uniquely designed that every yard he tends is a new experience. It’s something Angelenos require, uniqueness, and he is good at his job, the best—everyone says so. I used to try to keep up, always pushing toward originality. But when I’d showed up to my sister’s Hemet barbecue wearing a Joan Jetson dress with a glittering solar system and circle skirt, my niece, the one who would run away the following winter (three weeks in a downtown Riverside squat), told me I looked like an alien, and I knew she was right. My sister never left Hemet, which feels like another planet to me now, with its track homes and cowboy culture, but I knew I’d gone too far, that LA was turning me weird.
We hear the thumping bass of music turned too high and Evan comes up behind me, bump grinding my backside.
“Cut it out,” I tell him, and he says, “House party!” and takes my hand, tugging me in the direction of the music.
“No,” I tell him.
“It’ll be fun. Come on.”
“It’ll be embarrassing. I’m too old.”
“We are not too old. Come on!”
I learned a long time ago not to come between Evan and the things he needs, which seem to pop up all around him. The things I need are harder to identify, lurking suspicions like the baby. I have an urge to call Gloria, to ask to speak to Abelyn, but I am not so high I can’t see this is a terrible idea, some form of harassment, and anyway, it’s three hours later in Boston, the middle of the night. I let Evan tug me through the front door of a stranger’s house, the porch littered with college kids. I want to laugh at their doughy unformed faces as they watch us pass into the house, which is nearly empty save a few kids on the couch watching a horror movie, the third in that lousy series in which teens are gratuitously murdered by Death himself (who apparently doesn’t like teens, given his gruesome and creative ways of killing them). It’s unfortunate that I’ve grown to hate movies, given my line of work.
At least I hate the movies that make money, and those are the only ones the agency represents. Most of the screenplays I represent are contrived and predictable from the start, but occasionally I get a good story, and I have to watch them hammer away at it until it is like gelatin sliding down your throat.
I’ve thought of leaving, even gave my notice in preparation for Abelyn. I’d had to ask for my job back, and of course they gave it to me with an abridged contract, contingent on performance, which means hustling, and I’m getting too old for the hustle.
We follow the noise out back, where there’s a keg and a Ping-Pong table, boys in flat-brimmed hats, a gaggle of girls in tank tops that I recognize immediately as sorority sisters, the way they cling to one another as if for warmth (which makes sense given their lack of clothing).
“Do you think anyone will get date raped tonight?” Evan whispers.
“That’s not funny.”
“Some surveys suggest that up to one-third of men would date rape someone if they thought they wouldn’t get caught.”
“I know, Evan. You’ve told me.” It’s a figure he picked up in college and has never updated. But perhaps it’s the sort of figure that never needs updating, the kind of danger that never goes away.
“I’ll get you a cup,” Evan says and I linger in the shadows, ask a stranger for a cigarette just to have something to do. He’s wearing flip-flops and I stare at his too long toenails as he rummages in his board shorts for a pack of Marlboro Reds, eww, but I take one anyway. He’s quick on the draw with his lighter and as I cough out a cloud of smoke he asks me, “Are you a student?”
“You’re precious,” I say to him, and then I reach out and pinch his cheek like he’s a baby, and I can’t believe I did that!
He gives me a surprised smile and he’s got dimples, which make him even more precious, and I tell him so again, “You’re precious,” and he says to me, “What’re you on?”
“I ate a mushroom.”
Evan is angry with me when he returns with my beer and I ask him for a mushroom for the boy. He mumbles, “They’re supposed to be for us.”
“He’s a sweet boy. Give him one.”
“Fine,” he says, clearly miffed, and hands the boy a mushroom.
“Thanks, dude,” the boy says and saunters off and I feel sad, no used, no sad.
My phone buzzes on my hip. Joel. “I have to take this,” I tell Evan.
“Call him in the morning,” Evan says and I don’t want to fight, not while we’re on vacation, not with another night in the hotel, the three-hour drive home on Sunday. It’s too late anyway. Joel is gone to voicemail.
The party is a bust, that boy stealing one of our mushrooms. We’re hungry again and find a pizza joint, eat slices of pesto over tabletop Ms. Pacman. The mushrooms—we took another on our walk over, and they’re hitting now and it’s getting late, kids tumbling in drunk, taking slices back with them to the bars before they close. It is unlikely there’s an after hours scene in this sleepy college town, but if we made friends? It is a thought, one we can’t discard too easily, not now that we are here, on vacation. We are having fun, are we not? The pizza is gone, Ms. Pacman dead. We debate about going back to the hotel, another swim, no the pool will be closed, the fun, it is here. So we walk. Toward the bars because there are only bars because this is a college town. We wonder about the families, their unkempt yards, no one landscapes here. We could move to this town, offer our services, live a small town family life if we had a baby.
It hadn’t made sense, the trouble we had conceiving, our babyless existence. Everyone said so. You are perfect and you’ll have a perfect family perfect kids a perfect life perfect. And it’s true, hop-skipping down the sidewalk in unison, past storefront mannequins in silken undergarment, as in love now as we were in college when we would share a burrito for dinner and have sex in the shower so we couldn’t hear the sorority sisters whisper-giggling in the hallway. We made promises: we’re going to love each other so hard for as long as we live. For a time it felt like a competition, not with others who we mostly ignored, but with one another. Until it stopped feeling like a game and just was.
We find an alleyway coated in wads of chewed gum, gross, and we run on, spot the under the bridge kids down a side street, slouched on a curb in front of a closed coffee shop.
“Oh hey, hello,” we call. “How are you all doing?”
They do not answer. They do not move or emote in any way. They stare stony faced, sober, so we offer to buy them some beer. The one who sold us the mushrooms says okay and comes with us to the corner store. “Our treat,” we tell him and he sort of smiles like duh and we ask him if he’s hungry, if he’d like a hotdog or a plate of nachos, though neither option looks particularly appetizing through the dirty glass case. “I’m vegan,” he says, wrinkling his nose, and we don’t say a word about the animal products that exist in many types of beer, purchasing a twelve pack and meeting his friends in the grass by the bridge where they’ve set up a tent.
“Are you sleeping here?” we ask the boy, the only one who will answer us.
“Well, yeah. We’re homeless.” He says the word homeless like he’s trying it on, and we share a look, wonder at his parents, probably two towns over and worried out of their minds. We ask him his name but he won’t tell us so we crack him a beer and crack beers for all the other kids and we sit in their silence and watch the Mission, which is dark now, the belfry’s lights gone out. Until we can’t stand it, their silence, and ask them if they’ve seen any ghosts.
A girl says, “All the time.”
“Are they Indian, sorry, indigenous?”
“How would I know? They’re angry. Sorrowful. They hang out mostly in the belfry.” Of course they would, the watching bell-eyes, it was more than a feeling.
“We felt them, when we were trying to find you guys.”
No one says anything. Teens are terrible conversationalists, goths the worst, our niece in that Hemet dump the worst of all, always making comments, making us uncomfortable, making off with our guilt money gifts, gone as we were to LA, a whole other world. We couldn’t have done a thing when she’d run off, even if we’d wanted to—Hemet is two and a half hours away, separated by a tunnel of traffic that might’ve been an ocean, by all those years spent scaffolding our own life. We hadn’t meant to build a wall, but there it was all the same.
“We want to speak to them.”
“Well then go speak to them,” the girl says.
“Are you coming?”
“Fuck no. I told you they’re angry.”
“I’ll go with you,” the boy who sold us mushrooms says and we clap him on the back but he doesn’t like that.
I am furious, standing in that plaza, staring up at the three bells of the Mission. Buying beer for minors? “What the fuck, Evan,” I whisper, but it’s like he doesn’t hear me. Probably the second mushroom he ate. Mine, I pretended to eat and pocketed, and now I’m nearly sober. He asks the boy, “How can we get in,” and the boy says, “It’s locked,” and Evan says, “But we have to.”
“Why do we have to?” I ask him and he says, “Because. Because we have to speak to them.”
“This is like the plot out of a bad Hollywood movie. You will get killed.”
He doesn’t listen, dragging a metal trash can loudly to the front of the building, leaving a long scar in the stone, and I want to run but I can’t leave him. He hops up onto the trash can. Then he jumps for the belfry, grabbing hold of the bell’s nested window, hanging there. It seems like he might fall and I don’t mean to but I take hold of the boy’s hand and he doesn’t let go and we’re hissing be careful, come down, don’t be crazy. As if Evan’s found a new well of energy, he pulls himself up, disappearing inside the belfry. He’s gone a long time, and the homeless kid lets loose my hand, tells me he’s sorry and bolts. I want to follow, but I wait, feeling alone, no watched, no definitely alone. My legs are tired so I sit down in the stone plaza and stare at the bells staring back at me in their inky black sockets, shivering in the middle of the night cold that’s hitting me without Evan to hurdle me forward. I bury my face in my knees, creating a closed cavern that I fill with my own hot breath.
I must have fallen asleep because I feel myself waking, feel a dream at the corners of my memory, see Evan right in my face and I remember where I am and I’m so relieved, resting my hands on his shoulders, holding him in place.
“What happened?” I ask him.
“Let’s go back to the hotel.”