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Interesting how the world’s becoming one enormous neighborhood to explore. I sigh, and settle in to history class.
I open my binder and take out a pen, glance up. A tall, slim boy with wavy brown hair weaves toward me, through the rows. A bobcat in boots and black denim. He hesitates a beat, then sits right next to me and grins.
Hot, hot, hot, I stutter silently.
“Hey,” he says, grabbing a bunch of books from his pack. His binder slides down under his elbow. It smacks the floor and careens under my chair. With my foot, I nudge it, lean over to pick it up then begin to straighten up. Speckled eyes the color of rust stare into mine. I’m buzzing. He reaches to take the notebook. The hair on his arm grazes mine, and I smell limes. The room drops away.
The two of us are on some Hollywood set, not a sugary and over-the-top High School Musical one, more of an urban fascination set in a dark club. The set swirls us around to the thrum thrum of Skrillex or Pharrell.
Hey, I don’t know this guy from John Q. But love at first sight? Heck yah! He whispers thanks as we lift the book together.
My deity in the flesh.
I peek at the name scratched on his spiral binder as he pulls it away.
William. William Torres.
“How was your first day, Jösse darling?” Mom pronounces it like an exaggerated ‘you-see’, which can be endearing or annoying, depending on my mood. Right now it’s soothing.
“It’s a labyrinth, um, but it was great, everyone’s brilliant.” I don’t tell her I was hyperventilating and barely found the classes before the bells rang, or that a girl I rammed into had to practically hold my hand and lead me around, or in the morning I felt like a preppy geek-virgin among the urban Brooklyn übercool. I won’t give Mom an I-told-you-so moment.
“Meet anyone nice?” She fusses with the incense holders, clearly trying to hide her expression as she often does when the subject of my friends comes up. Now she’s rearranging the already perfect array of stone-carved pipes.
I think of bobcat-smooth, lime-infused Will. “I met a girl named Katya,” I answer finally, as I refold a scarf a customer left in a heap. “We ate lunch together.”
“That’s nice. Where does she live?”
Who cares? It’ll be more embarrassing when my new classmates find out where I live—over a freaking head shop in the East Village. “Manhattan Beach,” I say finally.
“Manhattan Beach. Is that—?”
I cut Mom off by turning to a pair of skateboarders who stride up to the counter. “May I help you?”
One of the guys points to a pipe. “How much?”
“Ten,” I answer.
His friend points to a marble container. “How much for a stash box?”
“Fifteen. They’re potpourri boxes,” I correct him. Mom insists on catchy names to hide the real purpose of the items, plus she gives the beat cops huge holiday tips—hush money.
In fact, the major premise of the store is a grand illusion. Even the shop’s name—Bodhisattva Beach—supposedly stands for a sanctuary of salt waves and coconut trees and mango mimosas with wisps of hibiscus petals. And Bodhisattva stands for paradise, for the godhead. But I know different.
In just a few days, I’ve morphed from nice girl into floozy guy magnet. Some guys in my old school said I was pretty but this is extreme. Maybe my new amber perfume contains some pungent pheromone operating on a purely animal level. If encouraged, Trenton would, no doubt, be a wild beast. Eek.
“So, chica? Wake up! Whaddya say?” Trenton musses my hair. The pressure of his hand feels good and bad. His breath on me smells of glazed donuts. How to tell him without hurting him that I don’t like him “that way.”
“There you are.” Another male voice pumps my hormones big-time.
“Will!” I leap away from Trenton. But not before Will notices, because his body curls in on itself, wounded. He strolls in anyway, tries to be blasé. His eyes fix on Trenton, and Trenton stares right back. They’re two male dogs, ready to pounce.
Trenton breaks the stare first. He springs up, shoots an imaginary basket and bounce-steps on over to the CD rack. “Hey, bro’ I was just asking Joss here, to recommend some tunes. I don’t know nothin’ about world music.” Trenton’s tone suddenly shifts to sheepish. He’s caved in to Will, the alpha dog.
“Is that so?” Will takes his time approaching the shop counter.
I have to be the bold one, need to fix it. “Hey, Will.” I come around to the front. “I’m really happy to see you.”
His speckled eyes meet mine, open a door in me and fill it with warmth. I feel the prick of tears. Stupid girl, you almost blew it.
“I’m happy to see you too.” Will takes my hands and squeezes them. Oskar’s touch was creepy-crawly, Trenton’s was what a brother’s might be, Will’s is liquid magic.
Thoughts on school veer off when I spot the box on my mother’s night table. The box. I know its black, lacquered form by heart. It’s the size of a large jewelry box. My father painted it with Bengali pink roses and a tangle of red cardinal vines. He must’ve used the tiniest brush, as if the objects inside were treasures—emeralds from Mumbai or silk doll clothes from Kancheepuram.
The box sits next to Mom’s organic remedies: tea-tree oil, Saint John’s Wort, aromatherapy ampules, zinc, monster-dose wheat grass capsules. She thinks these keep her functional. But I see how one accelerates her and the next slows her down, adding up to zero. The box is close enough she doesn’t even have to get out of bed in the morning. She can reach, with trembling fingers, light up and space out even before her first cup of black tea.
I crack open the box. Pre-rolled blunts sit like tainted royalty on a plush, purple pillow. Their sharp floral resin makes me sneeze.
Once when I was twelve, Mom offered me a doob after closing the store for the night. She claimed to be worried about how uptight I was getting. It was around the time when I was sprouting zits, boobs, hips and my period. Who wouldn’t be down in the dumps? Mom claimed that if I got stoned I might relax. “Cave women probably used it for cramps, before all these greedy pharmacists crawled on the earth, trying to sell Midol and Tylenol and—”
“Gee, thanks,” I snapped. “Are you serious? You want me to be a stoner too?”
“Darling, I want you to be less anxious, that’s all. I want you to be whoever you want to be,” Mom answered cryptically. “Look, weed is superior to all those anti-depressants shrinks prescribe to kids these days. It won’t poison your liver like Prozac. It’s organic.”
“Arsenic’s organic too,” I argued. Plus, some kids at my school would bounce off the walls without their so-called evil-shrink pills. But maybe I was too stiff.
Soon after, I opened the box, took one and lit up. After only two inhales, I felt trapped inside a thick glass room. Then, when I ventured down to the street for a soda, people seemed in a galaxy eons away. It scared me. I vowed not to try it again. How could my mother stand to feel so cut off? Or was it different for her?