©2004 The Angst Guy (email@example.com)
Daria and associated characters are ©2004 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Synopsis: Quinn Morgendorffer meets the man of her dreams, but the potential for nightmare is there, too, in this post-IICY? continuation of the second-season “Daria” episode, “That Was Then, This Is Dumb.”
Author’s Notes: On PPMB in September 2003, Bower of Bliss (Tafka) issued an Iron Chef challenge to write a story in which a minor “Daria” character was given a major role and kept in canon, with Daria herself in a subplot. Ethan Yeager, the son of ex-hippies Willow and Coyote from “That Was Then, This Is Dumb,” was one of the minor characters offered. This story appeared on PPMB in mid-March 2004. Part of this tale’s inspiration came from a “Daria” webpage on the MTV website in which Daria and Quinn offer their opinions of certain recent movies, among them Traffic.
A fanfic sequel to “Potential,” by another author, appeared soon after this one did: “Redemption,” by atimnie, serialized on PPMB since March 19, 2004 and posted in some fanfic websites.
Since writing this story, I have not been able to hear R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon” without thinking of Quinn and Ethan. Dido’s “White Flag” (the nameless song playing in the background at the mall when they first kiss: “I will go down with this ship / And I won’t put my hands up and surrender / There will be no white flag above my door / I’m in love and always will be”) has much the same effect. It’s hard to hear it now.
Acknowledgements: My gratitude goes out to Bower of Bliss for her fine challenge.
“Quinn! Daria!” Jake Morgendorffer shouted upstairs to his two daughters. “Guess who’s coming to visit! Go ahead, guess!”
Unwillingly nudged into wakefulness, red-haired Quinn raised an eyelid and dully regarded the bedside clock. It was 8:24 a.m. on a Saturday in mid-June. School was out and no major sales were scheduled in any clothing store in Lawndale, so no reason existed to get up. Bed was the one and only place to be.
“Come on, kids!” called their father. “You have to guess! Try it!”
Her sister Daria’s laconic voice drifted from her room down the hall. “Dad, it’s a federal law that teenage girls have to sleep late on Saturday mornings. Their brain chemistry and monthly cycles go out of sync otherwise.”
“What? Is that—oh, it’s not, is it? Was there a lawsuit or something?”
“A kid in California won sixteen million and divorced her parents. It was in the papers a year ago.”
Daria, bless her sarcastic heart, could shovel out bull crap by the truckload to keep their father occupied until he gave up. Quinn pulled the covers over her ears to muffle the sound. Her eyes began to close again.
“Really? Helen, can I legally wake the girls up if there’s no—”
“Jake!” shouted his wife. “Get them up!”
“Right! Come on, girls! Guess who’s coming over!”
“Santa Claus went on a summer joyride, wrecked his sleigh, and needs a lift back to the North Pole?”
“Nope! Guess again! Oh, Helen, wait—”
Loud footsteps came rapidly upstairs. Quinn pulled the covers over her head as the noise level rose. It didn’t help.
“Daria! Quinn!” Helen Morgendorffer shouted as she reached the top of the stairs. “We’re about to have company! He called and said he’d be here in just over an hour! Get up and come down right now!”
“Is this get-together clothing optional?” Daria called. A year and a half Quinn’s senior, Daria had just graduated high school and would be shoving off for college in Boston in a couple of months.
“Fully dressed, of course!” shouted their mother. “It’s Ethan Yeager! He’s driven all the way across the United States to drop off a present for us!”
Ethan? Ethan Yeager? Quinn blinked and pushed the covers back to reveal her nose, reluctantly clearing her sleep-fogged mind.
“Helen, damn it!” yelled Jake from downstairs. “This was my game! You weren’t supposed to give out the answer!”
“Oh, Jake, for heaven’s sake! Get up, girls!”
Quinn remembered Ethan well from the time two years earlier when his parents came by for a visit, driving their silly Volkswagen Beetle—canary yellow, what were they thinking? The Yeagers were never-say-die hippies, old college friends of Quinn’s parents. They were hopelessly out of touch where fashion was concerned and clueless about the real world, except for their niche market in selling hemp-woven hammocks. Quinn suspected the Yeagers were potheads in secret. It wouldn’t surprise her a bit.
Ethan, however, was a hottie—a tall, quiet, broad-shouldered, gray-eyed hunk with brown hair and enormous potential. Quiet guys intrigued the talkative Quinn. He was also two years older than Quinn, now seventeen, which didn’t hurt at all. Not at all.
“If he has a sack full of money, nothing lower than twenties,” Daria called, “I’ll come down in my underwear.”
“Daria, stop it! Get in the bathroom and get dressed!”
“Fine. I think I have a burlap sack I can pull on. It isn’t clean, but no one will mind.”
Then again, Quinn reflected, Ethan was perhaps too calm. When he’d visited last, he had been the teenage slacker king: slump shouldered, apathetic, prone to mumble “whatever” in response to any comment—but also short on proper compliments on Quinn’s natural cuteness and beauty. What was the fun in going out with someone like that, no matter how hot he looked?
“Wear something other than that dreadful outfit you always wear!” Helen shouted at Daria’s door. “Something . . . striking!”
“My one-piece swimsuit and a pair of boots should do it.”
“No! Don’t you have anything in your closet other than green jackets and black skirts?”
“Nightshirts? Winter coat?”
Ethan was probably still broke, too, like his parents. He probably still slept all day when he could, and he probably had no interest in Quinn unless she was willing to buy food for him. Maybe Ethan wouldn’t mind going out with her friend, Stacy Rowe. She had dibs on Quinn’s higher-quality cast-off dates. Stacy could talk, and Ethan could nod once in a while. It would work.
“What is it going to take to get you to adopt a different look, Daria?”
Quinn heard Daria sigh. “That’s a very good question, an excellent question, and I’m glad you—”
“Ethan’s going to be here in a few minutes! You have to get up, damn it!”
On the other hand, Ethan knew a lot of secrets about Quinn’s parents, lifted from his own parents, who had hung out with Jake and Helen through college and after, in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Some of those secrets had been quite valuable later in negotiating increases in allowances and reductions in punishments from Mom and Dad when the girls came home late. And, when he was eating, Ethan was a much more interesting conversationalist, even if he wasn’t paying for the meal. At least he was inexpensive.
“Quinn!” Her mother pounded on her bedroom door. “Come out of there!”
It might not be a bad thing to hang out with him for an afternoon. And, true, if Ethan had matured, if even a little of his potential had been realized since Quinn had seen him last, he would be hot indeed.
“Qui—!” Helen’s shout was interrupted when the bedroom door was flung open and her youngest daughter bolted past her and into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. “Quinn?” she said as an afterthought.
Her brown hair frizzed out like a failed static-electricity experiment, Daria opened the door to her bedroom and came out, yawning. She walked past her mother and tried the bathroom door, but discovered it was locked. “Curses,” she said with a shrug, and she walked back into her room to climb into bed again.
“Get in the bathroom as soon as Quinn’s out, okay?” Helen called to Daria, then went downstairs again to fix a snack for Ethan, in case driving to Lawndale from the deserts of the American Southwest had given him an appetite.
Quinn was dressed and downstairs in forty minutes, while her sister was still trying to wake up in the shower. Her blue-jean shorts and bright red halter top were accented with an ivory scarf, white sneakers, and a little patriotic jewelry. She hadn’t tried this ensemble in a long while, and it was just a couple of weeks away from the Fourth of July. Wandering into the kitchen, Quinn found her mother setting out brunch on the table in the dining nook. “Is Daria dressed yet?” Helen asked as she dropped napkins at every plate.
“No.” Quinn picked up a carrot stick and ate it. “When’s Ethan supposed to get here?” she said as she chewed.
“He said he’d be here around nine-thirty, but the Yeagers are sort of laid back, so who knows. He said he was—” Helen stopped, eyeing her youngest daughter for the first time. “I . . . don’t think that halter top is appropriate, dear.”
“Oh, Mom, it’s fine! Don’t worry! Tell me what he said.”
Helen sighed, giving her daughter one last glance before finishing with the napkins. “He said he was coming in alone. I’m surprised Willow and Coyote aren’t with him. He did say he couldn’t stay, but maybe—” Helen stopped again, looking her daughter over. “Maybe he could stay in a hotel for a night and stretch his visit, if he can.”
“Why not let him sleep over? He can have the guest room.”
“No, no, I think a hotel would be better. A lot better.” Helen went to the refrigerator and began pulling a few more items out of it to complete the brunch setting.
Quinn shrugged, knowing there was no point in pushing the issue now. Besides, she might be glad to have Ethan sleep in a hotel if he hadn’t improved since she’d seen him last. She was reaching for another carrot stick when she heard the low roar of a truck engine pulling up outside. Walking into the living room, Quinn parted a curtain and peered out the front window.
An enormous, bright-yellow Hummer had pulled up along the street in front of the house. It was a four-door sport-utility wagon, still sparkling from the carwash, though numerous small dents and scratches could be seen. The vehicle was outfitted with numerous lights on the roof and a winch on the heavy bumper in front. A small black two-wheel trailer was attached.
The driver got down from the vehicle as she watched. Moments later, Ethan Yeager came around the front of the Hummer and walked toward the house with his thumbs in his jeans pockets. A breeze ruffled his long brown hair.
Quinn’s jaw dropped. The only child of Willow and Coyote Yeager was now over six feet tall, deeply tanned, and muscled like a weightlifter. He wore a turquoise short-sleeved shirt, navy-blue jeans, and dark brown cowboy boots. A silvery watch sparkled on his left wrist. Even from across the yard, she could see his pale gray eyes.
Improved. That was such a weak word.
Quinn was out the front door in zero time. She stopped and waved to him from the front step. It was never good to look too eager.
“Hey! Good to see you again!” she called, casual and calm and smiling like the sun. “You’re early! Did you have a good drive?”
Ethan’s gaze was fixed on her as he walked up. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone, and it was hard to look away from his broad, perspiring chest. For some reason, Quinn had the impression that he looked sad. She shook it off, wanting to be positive.
“Hi,” he said. He put out an enormous hand, and it swallowed hers as they shook. His skin was warm and hard, not too soft and not too rough.
“Hi,” said Quinn faintly. “Won’t you come in?”
Ethan considered this, then nodded. “Okay.” After a moment, he added, “Thanks.”
“Oh, don’t mention it. You first.” So I can get a good look at you from behind, she added to herself.
He passed Quinn. It was then that she smelled him, and the scent hit her brain and all she wanted to do was get close to him and get her hands under that shirt and find out what he knew about kissing. She looked him up and down as he went inside. He’d improved, all right. He’d blown the top off the improve-o-meter.
Helen and Jake came into the living room together just as Ethan walked in. “Ethan!” Helen cried, giving him a hug. “Oh, my God! How you’ve grown! And aren’t you handsome! Woof!”
“Ethan, my man!” Jake said happily, shaking his hand and clapping him on the shoulder at the same time. “A chip off the old Coyote! How’ve you been doing?”
“Okay,” said Ethan. He appeared uncomfortable as he looked around the room.
“Well, sit down!” said Helen. “Oh, are you hungry? I was just making a little something for brunch. I’m almost done putting it out in the kitchen. Have you eaten anything this morning?”
“Uh, no,” Ethan said. He appeared more attentive now that food had been mentioned. Quinn smirked. Same old Ethan on the inside—maybe. She’d know soon enough.
Chattering away, Quinn’s parents escorted Ethan to the kitchen and got him seated at the table. Quinn made sure she got the seat on his right. She sat close enough that they unavoidably rubbed arms.
“Quinn, dear,” said Helen, “go see what’s keeping your sister.”
“Who? Oh, she’s fine,” said Quinn, looking at Ethan.
Her mother’s voice hardened. “Now, Quinn.”
“Okay.” Quinn turned her head. “Daria!” she called, and then she looked back at Ethan. “She’ll be down eventually,” she said. “So, Ethan, how was your trip?”
Groaning, Helen walked out of the kitchen to the stairs. “Keep an eye on things, Jake,” she warned as she left, watching Quinn. Jake nodded and continued trying to get mayonnaise out of a nearly empty jar.
“Trip,” said Ethan, reaching for the plate of cold cuts. “S’okay. Left Thursday morning.”
“See anything interesting on the way?” asked Quinn. “Oh, could you pass the salad?”
Ethan nodded and passed the salad. She stared at his hands. She didn’t remember them being so large. When she took the salad bowl from him, her arm pressed against his from elbow to shoulder. She had to think hard to know what to do with the bowl next.
“So, how are your mom and dad doing?” asked Jake. “We haven’t heard from them in almost a year. They been having lots of movement on those all-natural hemp-fiber hammocks? Did Coyote get his website built? Online marketing and sales are the way to go these days, you know, but you still need the brick-and-mortar.”
Ethan paused in the midst of emptying a bowl of sweet pickles onto his plate. He sighed heavily and his expression became sad again. Quinn knew instinctively that something was very wrong. She fought the urge to put a hand on his arm for comfort.
After a moment, Ethan set the bowl of pickles down. “Well,” he began, but said nothing else for a long moment. He stared at his plate, chewing his lower lip.
Helen walked back into the kitchen. “Daria will be down shortly,” she said, taking a seat. “She’s out of the shower, at least. What did I miss?”
“Oh, Ethan’s telling us how the hammock business is going!” said Jake. “I gave them the four-one-one on Internet sales and credit-card use online, and now I’m sure they can’t keep up with the business! That right, Ethan?”
“Well,” said Ethan slowly, “not really.” He leaned back in his chair, hands falling to his lap, and looked across the table at the empty chair where Daria usually sat.
“Oh, no!” said Jake. “Business not doing so well?”
Ethan paused, then shook his head no.
“Your mom and dad,” said Helen with concern. “Are they well?”
Again, Ethan shook his head. “No,” he said.
Both Helen and Jake gasped. “Are they all right?” asked Jake. “They’re still together, aren’t they?”
A pause. “No,” said Ethan softly.
“Oh, my God.” Stricken, Helen put a hand over her mouth. “Oh, my God. Are they separated?”
A pause. “Sort of.”
Quinn reached up without thinking and put a hand on his arm. She steeled herself, knowing there was more news but not knowing what it was.
“Sort of?” repeated Helen. “Ethan, please, tell us what happened.”
Ethan slowly let his breath out. His face registered defeat. “They went to prison,” he said.
The silence was broken when a fork fell from Jake’s hand and rattled loudly on his plate. “They what?” he said.
“Mom and Dad are in prison,” said Ethan, his voice low. “Mom’s near Phoenix, Dad’s in Yuma.”
“You don’t mean they’re actually in prison, do you?” said Helen. “Not like they’re prisoners?”
Helen’s mouth fell open. “That can’t be,” she said.
“What happened?” Quinn said.
Ethan swallowed. “Drugs,” he said.
Quinn took her hand from Ethan’s arm and stared at him. Even her expectation of this possibility could not prepare her for the shock.
Helen leaned forward over her plate, her eyes almost popping out of her head. “Drugs?” she said in a loud, rising voice. “They were selling drugs?”
Ethan’s hands went into his lap.
“They needed money for a warehouse. They had too many orders, not enough
hammocks. They hired workers but didn’t have a place for the hammocks before
shipping, so they tried to get cash for a small warehouse.” He gave a small
shrug. “They sold pot, and that helped, but then they tried to sell a lot of it
at once, thinking they could hide it with the hammocks. You know, so the dogs
couldn’t sniff it out, since it’s all hemp.” He looked up from Jake to Helen.
“They were selling pot?” said Jake. His face was slack and pale.
Ethan nodded. “They said hi,” he added. “Saw ‘em before I left.”
“How much pot?” asked Jake. “I mean, how much were they selling?”
“Uh . . . just over nine hundred kilos.”
“Nine hundred kilos?” Jake shouted, aghast. “They were trying to sell a goddamn ton of marijuana?”
“Jake!” shouted Helen, but she looked as horrified as he did.
“Nine hundred . . . Mother of God!” Jake slumped back into his chair.
“When did this happen?” asked Helen quickly.
Ethan tilted his head back, thinking. “Got caught in November.”
“Were they sentenced?”
A barely perceptible nod. “Last month. Mom got ten, Dad twelve.”
“Willow got ten what? Years?” said Helen, her face blank.
Ethan nodded, looking at his plate.
Helen’s voice rose to a shriek. “Your mother got ten years in prison for selling a ton of pot?”
It was dead quiet as Ethan nodded yes.
“You’re not pulling our legs on this, are you, son?” asked Jake, trying to smile. “Just a little?”
Ethan looked at Jake and shook his head. He reached into a back pants pocket, his arm brushing against Quinn’s. Pulling out his wallet, he opened it and removed a scrap of paper, which he handed to Jake. “Their addresses, if you wanna write. Phone numbers are on the bottom.”
Helen immediately got up and walked over to peer at the paper scrap over Jake’s shoulder. “Oh, my God,” she said when she saw the paper. “That’s their handwriting.” Her hands covered her mouth again. “Oh, dear God, this can’t be happening.”
“What about you?” Quinn asked Ethan, before she thought through what she was saying.
“Nothing,” he said. “They let me go. I wasn’t doing it.”
“No,” said Quinn quickly. “I meant, what have you been doing while all this was going on?”
“Oh. Talking to lawyers. Talking to Mom and Dad. Sitting around.”
“They did this on their own?” asked Helen. “Selling drugs?”
“Yeah.” Ethan sighed and looked over the table. He did not appear hungry now. “Supplier got caught, too. He got forty-five, second arrest.”
Jake looked up from the address and phone numbers. “What about the business?”
“Feds took it. Either for evidence or for auction.”
“Did you keep the house?” asked Helen.
“No. Seized it, too.”
“My God, where have you been living, Ethan?”
“In my car. With friends, sometimes.”
“What about money?”
“I got a bank account, credit card.” He made a noise like a laugh, without smiling. “Used up my college fund.”
“You spent your college fund?”
“Yeah.” Ethan slowly pushed back from the table and stood. “I better go. Uh, I got something for you. In the trailer. Outside.”
Two minutes later, the four of them stood beside the Hummer. Ethan was undoing the canvas covering the trailer.
“Where’d you get this?” Jake asked, looking at the Hummer. “Aren’t these babies expen—” He bit off the word.
“It wasn’t drug money,” said Ethan evenly, as if he’d answered that question many times now. He threw back the canvas and reached into the trailer. “I used my college fund.”
“You bought this with your college fund?” Helen repeated. “But aren’t you going to college?”
Ethan gave a derisive snort. He walked over to Helen and Jake with two duffle bags, one in each huge hand. “Here,” he said. “They wanted you to have these. Cops said it was okay.”
The Morgendorffers each took a duffle bag, but neither moved to open it. “What’s in these?” asked Jake.
“Hammock,” said Ethan. “One in each. Plus some pictures, candles, things they wanted you to have. Nothing much. Old college stuff, I think.”
Helen undid the snap on her bag and opened it. “Oh,” she said, staring. She reached in and pulled out a colorful handmade peasant blouse. “I remember this,” she said after a long moment. “Your mother made it. I always liked it.”
Ethan glanced at Quinn and grimaced, looking away. “I gotta go,” he said.
“Wait,” said Helen. She put down the blouse. Her eyes were bright with tears and getting red. “Ethan, don’t go yet. Come back inside and finish your lunch.”
He shook his head, looking anxious. “I better not. I gotta go.”
“Where?” asked Quinn. “Where do you have to go?”
He looked away and did not answer.
He has nowhere to go, Quinn realized. This is it. He has nowhere left to go.
“Stay with us a little while longer, okay?” said Jake. “You just got here.”
“Quinn,” said Helen quickly. “Take Ethan back inside so he can eat. We’ll be inside in a minute.”
“Okay.” Quinn motioned to Ethan. “Come on.” When he didn’t move, she stepped up, caught him by a bicep, and pulled. “Come on!” she said, using the Voice. It was the tone she used when she meant for a guy to do something for her right then, and it never failed. She pulled, and he gave in and followed where she led, his head down.
Quinn looked back when they reached the doorway. Her mother had pulled a cell phone from a pocket and was dialing a number while holding a scrap of paper in her other hand.
Moments later, Quinn led Ethan into the kitchen. It was there that they found Daria, sitting at her place at the table picking cold cuts out for a sandwich. She was dressed as she always was: big glasses, green jacket, black skirt, orange tee, black boots, the usual.
“Hi,” said Daria, eyeing Ethan and Quinn with curiosity. “What’d I miss?”
Rather than go into the matter with Ethan around, Quinn found it easier and more tactful to take Daria aside in the living room and explain the situation in whispers, while Ethan put together his brunch in the kitchen nook.
“So,” said Daria, when Quinn finished, “Ethan’s parents are in prison for the next ten years?”
Quinn nodded. “I can’t believe it!” she whispered.
“Neither can I,” said Daria impassively. “Some people have all the luck. Ouch!” She rubbed her arm and backed up, glaring.
Quinn held up her fist. “Say that again, and you’ll get it twice as hard.” Furious, she turned on her heel and walked back into the kitchen. Her expression changed to one of forced cheer. “Ethan, how are you coming with your sandwich? I can’t believe you have such an appetite!”
“Eh,” he said. The sandwich he was making from the cold cuts was enormous. Quinn was secretly glad she wasn’t footing a lunch outing for him. He ate like a Clydesdale now.
“So,” she said, and then she stopped, hearing someone come into the kitchen. It was Daria. The two sisters glared at each other, but Daria settled down at her usual place and picked up where she’d left off a few minutes earlier with her meal.
“So,” Quinn went on, sitting down next to Ethan, “when did you get your Hummer?”
“Hummer?” said Daria, who hadn’t yet looked outside.
“October,” he said. “Before everything happened.”
Quinn tossed her hair. “Why’d you use your college fund? I mean, if you don’t mind my asking.”
He shrugged. It seemed to be the only gesture he knew. “I was going to help in the business. Selling stuff. I was doing mail order, running the website.”
“You wanted to work before going to school?” Daria asked. Quinn shot daggers at her, but Daria ignored it.
“Yeah.” He picked up his sandwich and studied it. “Thought I’d work a couple years, then go in with some extra money.”
“Where were you going to go?” asked Daria, interrupting Quinn’s next question.
“Southern Cal,” he said. “Doesn’t matter now.” He bit into the sandwich, ending his part of the conversation.
The quiet moment ended when the front door opened and footsteps came inside. Helen and Jake reappeared in the kitchen with haggard expressions. They took their seats at the table.
“Ethan,” said Helen gently, “why don’t you stay with us tonight, at least? We have a guest room. We haven’t seen you for so long, and we want to know more about your mom and dad’s situation. This has been such a shock. Why didn’t you call and tell us, or why didn’t they?”
Everyone waited until Ethan swallowed. He shrugged. “Didn’t want to bother you,” he said. “Didn’t really want to talk about it.”
“Son,” said Jake, “you’ve always got friends here, okay? We want you to know that. Coyote and Willow are our oldest friends. I mean, they’re not the oldest, you know, in years, but we’ve known them the longest. You know what I mean, right? Look, you ever need some help, you ask us first, okay?”
“Okay.” Ethan’s face cleared for a moment. “Thanks.”
“Sure thing!” said Jake. He tried to busy himself with making a sandwich, but the cold cuts were gone. He got up and went to the refrigerator for more.
Helen’s cell phone went off, playing Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” “Excuse me!” she said, and she quickly pulled out her phone and left the room.
“Probably the prison calling back,” said Jake absently as he looked in the refrigerator. He flinched and winced with embarrassment, but Ethan did not seem to be bothered by the comment.
“Hey,” said Quinn, pulling on Ethan’s arm, “how about you and me going out for a drive after lunch? I’ve never seen a Hummer.”
Daria looked up and opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it, fighting a smirk.
“Shut up, Daria,” Quinn said out of the side of her mouth.
“I didn’t say anything,” Daria protested, still fighting the smirk.
“Where are you planning to go?” asked Jake, sitting down at the table with more cold cuts. “I mean, did you have anywhere you have to be anytime soon?”
Stopped from taking another bite of his sandwich, Ethan hesitated and pondered this. “I was going back to Arizona,” he said at last. “I see Mom and Dad once a week on visitation.”
“That must be hard to do,” said Quinn. “I can’t imagine what it would be like seeing your own parents in jail. I think I would freak out or something. I dunno.”
Ethan took another bite of his sandwich without responding.
“Are you going back to Arizona to stay, then?” Daria asked.
“Mmm-hmm,” said Ethan through the sandwich.
“You have a job there?”
Before Ethan could answer Daria’s question, Helen walked back into the kitchen, arms at her sides, cell phone in hand. She looked weary beyond words. “Well,” she said as she sat down with a thump, setting the cell phone by her plate.
“Who was it?” asked Daria.
Helen rubbed her arms. “I talked with the public affairs office where your mom is at,” she said to Ethan. “They’ll give her permission to call us collect about two this afternoon, if everything works out. She won’t be able to talk for very long, maybe ten minutes at most, and it will be recorded. Do you want to talk to her?”
Ethan swallowed and shook his head. “I talked to her already,” he said. “You can talk to her. I’ll call her tomorrow from the car. We have a time worked out.”
“You have a phone in your Hummer?”
“Yeah. Don’t use it much. Calling my parents, emergencies, that’s all.”
Helen put a hand over her mouth and looked out the sliding glass door behind Daria. “I just can’t believe this. I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Where’s Leary?” Jake asked suddenly, thinking of the Yeager’s brown, apathetic German shepherd. “Old Leary doing okay?”
Ethan hesitated again, then shook his head no. “He got sick,” he said, his voice getting rough. “Put him to sleep, January.”
“I think,” said Quinn in the silence that followed, “that we should take a long drive and see some sights, if that’s okay with you, Ethan.”
“That would be a good idea,” said Helen in a dull voice. “Take a few hours, if you would. Try to get back by four, so we can plan dinner out somewhere.”
“Sure,” said Quinn. Her hand automatically ran up and down Ethan’s back in a comforting gesture. She felt his muscles tense, then relax. Touching him made Quinn feel better, too. She was becoming depressed.
“Ethan?” said Daria. “Can I ask a question?” She did not look at her sister, who gave her a threatening stare.
“Sure,” said Ethan.
“Why a Hummer?”
“Oh.” He wiped his mouth on his napkin, then spoke slowly. “We lived way out in the desert, southwest of Phoenix. Needed it for getting around. Road to the house was kinda rough. Used to bust up the VW’s shocks and tires.”
“It’s your car?”
“Were your parents okay with you getting that thing?” Daria asked.
Ethan shrugged after a delay. He looked uncomfortable.
“Sort of expensive, wasn’t it?” Daria went on.
“So?” shot Quinn. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Daria,” said Helen in a warning tone.
“They’re thirty or forty thousand even used, aren’t they?” Daria said, unperturbed.
“Shut up!” Quinn hissed.
“Yeah,” said Ethan in a low, even tone. “Grandma Yeager’s college fund. Took most of it.” He pushed away from the table. “Wasn’t very smart, I guess.”
“Daria,” said Helen, her voice hardening, “why don’t you go fix the guest room for Ethan. He’ll stay over tonight.”
“No, it’s okay,” said Ethan, starting to get up again. “I should—”
Quinn stood up and grabbed his arm again, pressing herself against his side. “Sit down, Ethan,” she said, using the Voice again.
He sat down. Daria sighed, tossed her napkin on her plate, and got to her feet. “I’ll fix your room,” she said. “I apologize for my questions. Just curious.”
“S’okay,” said Ethan. “I’m sorry.”
“My fault,” said Daria. She left the room without another word or a look back.
“Teenagers,” said Jake, and he coughed.
They finished their meal in silence, then Quinn and Ethan made ready to leave. “We’ll be back before five,” she told her mother.
“Four,” Helen corrected. “We’re going out, and I want time to talk with him before we go. I have some calls to make, and I want to catch Willow when she calls collect, if they let her.”
Quinn turned to go. A hand fell on her shoulder, and she stopped and looked back at her mother. Helen started to say something, but whatever it was, it did not come out as she wanted. “Have fun,” was all she finally said.
Quinn and Ethan left after that. Ethan pulled the front door shut after Quinn went out, then walked with her to the Hummer.
“It stands out, doesn’t it?” Quinn said, unable to think of anything else to say.
“Yeah. Wanted it like that, case they had to find the car by air in the desert.” Ethan opened the passenger door for her, then held out a hand. “You have to kinda pull yourself up once you get on that step,” he said. “Careful of your head.” Quinn took his hand, climbed up, and got into the seat. It was more comfortable than she’d thought it would be. The inside of the Hummer was clean, but it smelled of oil as well as air freshener. She did not recall ever being up so high in a car before, not even other SUVs.
As Ethan walked around to the driver’s door, Quinn leaned down to feel for the seat-adjustment bar, hoping to move her seat forward a few inches. With her head down at her knees, she happened to look around as her right hand grasped the bar.
Under the driver’s seat to her left, set back and shielded by metal plates so that no one could easily see them, were two large, black pistol butts. They were holstered upside down and tilted to the sides slightly, and Quinn could not figure out why until she realized that the driver could reach down and grasp both pistols at once and pull them from their holsters under the seat with no trouble at all.
She sat upright instantly, knowing that Ethan would open the driver’s door at any moment. He did, and he got in beside her with careless ease.
“Ready?” he asked, looking right at her with a bland look.
Quinn nodded rapidly, looking out the passenger window at her home. The thought came to her that she might not ever see it again, and a sudden urge to throw open the door and jump out and run for her life came—
“Ready,” she said, looking back at him and forcing a smile.
They pulled on their safety harnesses. Ethan put the key in the ignition, turned it, and the Hummer started with a low roar. He put it into gear and they pulled away from the curb, heading down the street and away, rounding a curve at the end of Glen Oaks Lane. “Where to?” asked Ethan.
Quinn thought quickly. “Go through the next intersection, and I’ll guide you out of the subdivision. It’s a little complicated but not too bad. We can check out the mall. It used to be called Cranberry Commons, but some other company bought it and now it’s the Lawndale Mall. Like, duh.”
“Okay.” Ethan might not be a scintillating conversationalist, but he was an alert driver, at least. The ride in the Hummer was smoother than Quinn had expected, too. Comfortable, even, and she liked the sense of power she had, looking down on other drivers.
“We’ll have some fun this afternoon,” she said brightly, trying to put the image of the pistols out of her head. “Oh, turn right on Hyden. That leads you back out to Marcil Johnson Avenue and to the mall. What are you doing back in Arizona?”
“Not much.” Ethan turned right.
“Do you have a job?”
“Heh. Did, till last November. Not now. Lost track of things because of the court stuff. Just see Mom and Dad, talk to friends, not much else.”
Quinn noticed a CD player on the dashboard. “How about some music?”
“Oh. Sure.” Ethan took a hand from the wheel and pointed to the glove compartment in front of Quinn’s knees. “Some CDs in there. Listened to them on the way in.” He reached forward and poked the button for the CD player. After a moment, a song began with a man and a guitar.
Mott the Hoople and the Game of Life.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Andy Kaufman in the wrestling match.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
“Is this R.E.M.?” asked Quinn. It was a silly question, she supposed. The glove compartment was full of R.E.M. CDs.
“Yeah. It’s my favorite group.”
Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
See you in heaven if you make the list.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Quinn stopped singing the “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” refrain and turned the volume down slightly. “Is there any chance you could put the business back together again?” she asked, raising her voice to be heard. “Run it yourself, you know?”
He shook his head, lips pressed tight together, then said, “Feds took everything.”
“How can they do that? I don’t get it. It doesn’t seem fair.”
“Well,” he said, slowing as they approached a stop sign, “Mom and Dad were selling pot, a lot of it, and that put everything they had out as fair game if they got busted.” He sighed heavily. “It’s all gone.”
Did he know beforehand that his parents were selling dope? Quinn wasn’t sure if this was a good time to ask. Maybe later, if at all. “Tell me what kinds of things you’re interested in,” she said at last. Guys always liked to talk about themselves, almost as much as Quinn usually liked talking about herself—except for today.
He shook his head. “Not much lately.” It was a long moment before he spoke again. “Kinda worried about Mom and Dad.”
“About them in jail, you mean? Turn left at the light, onto Johnson.”
“Well . . . nothing much is going to happen to them for a while, right?”
Ethan frowned. “Not exactly,” he said. “Dad got beaten up three weeks ago. I don’t know what it was about, but they broke his nose and beat him up pretty bad. People he’s with are big-time convicts, most of them.” He made a frustrated noise as he pulled up to a stoplight and waited to turn onto the main highway. “Can’t do anything about it. I can’t protect him and I can’t make the guards protect him. No one listens to me. It really gets to me.”
Quinn blinked, aghast at the news. “Someone beat up your dad? That’s awful! Why would anyone do that?”
“Dunno.” The light changed, and he turned left with the traffic. “Mom’s having a rough time, too. The guards and the other prisoners aren’t being good to her. She won’t talk about it, but I know something’s going on. Really pisses me off.” He bit down on his lower lip and said nothing until they got to the mall parking lot.
“Turn in anywhere here,” Quinn said in a subdued tone. She had several ideas about what might be happening to his mother in prison, and none of them were good.
Ethan parked the Hummer and trailer across two spaces, about thirty feet from the other cars. When he turned off the engine and the CD player, he undid his safety harness but sat back in his seat, making no move to get out. Quinn looked at him and waited.
“I don’t know why they did it,” he said, looking out the front windshield. “I think about it all the time, and I don’t know why they did it. I don’t know.” He rubbed his face. “They knew it was wrong, and they could get caught. I just don’t . . .” He waved a hand. “Whatever.”
“Did you talk to them about it?” Quinn asked—and a moment later realized she was also asking him if he knew beforehand what his parents had been doing. She pulled back, fearing his reaction.
He exhaled and shrugged, dropping his hand to the door handle. “Wanna go in?”
“Yeah.” Quinn pushed opened the door on her side—and froze, looking down at the distant pavement.
“Wait, let me get over there,” Ethan said. He jumped down, shut his door, and walked around to her side. He raised both arms and gently lifted her down to the pavement. He felt infinitely strong.
“Thanks,” she said, running a hand through her long red hair. She could still feel where he’d held her. He clicked a door-locking button on his key chain, and they set out for the mall entrance.
“I owe you,” he said as they walked.
“Last time we were here, buying lunch for me. I was broke. I’ll get you a slush cup or something, if you want.”
“Sure! That’d be great.” To her surprise, Quinn had not been thinking at all about what he could get for her, as she usually did with guys on dates. In the back of her mind, she thought Ethan was still broke, though he obviously wasn’t.
The problem was deeper than that, though. In a weird way, going out with Ethan was more like being out with a guy friend who didn’t have to do anything to impress her because she took him as he was. And what could Quinn ask for from a guy who carried guns in his car? He could be dangerous, though she instinctively felt he was not a threat to her. There was a dark side there, she could tell that. Better to just go with the flow and see where things led—but to be careful, of course. Always careful.
They walked to the mall doors in silence. I should probably have my head examined once I get back, she thought. Never go out with a guy whose parents are in prison on drug charges, that’s going to be the first rule in my date book from now on. But if that’s so, why am I not going home? I could tell him to take me home right now, and he’d do it. I know he would. Maybe that’s why I want to be out with him. I really do need my head examined. Maybe Daria can figure it out, if she can shut off the smart remarks.
She looked up at Ethan at the entrance and noticed he was scanning the parking lot behind them, eyes narrowed. She looked around but noticed nothing unusual.
“Usual Saturday crowd,” she said. He grunted, then opened the mall door and held it for her as she went in. They set out at a leisurely pace, side by side.
“I hope things work out for your parents,” she said, unable to think of much else to say on the matter. Soft rock music played from overhead speakers, echoing down the halls of the mall.
“Me, too,” he said, “but I don’t count on it.”
She wanted to ask more, but a crowded shopping center was a bad place for this kind of talk. “Anywhere you want to go?” she asked, and was again surprised because she usually picked all the places to go on a date.
“Just walking’s okay.”
“This is a good place for it.” For a moment she almost began to direct them toward a clothing store, but she sensed it wasn’t a good idea and subsided. Better to just let things happen, for once.
At the Orange Joy kiosk, he bought two triple-orange slush cups, giving one to her. He pulled a roll of bills from a pants pocket and peeled one off to pay for them. He tried to hide the money as he did, but of course he got change, which proved he’d given the clerk a fifty. Quinn pretended not to notice, but his roll of bills had been big. College fund? Something else?
As they started walking again, their unoccupied hands bumped together. Quinn slipped her hand into his and squeezed, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It felt right. After a moment, he squeezed back lightly.
“That’s the pet shop I worked at for a few weeks, like a year ago,” she said, pointing with her slush cup. “It was the pits. A canary accidentally got away from me and got sucked into the air system, which was like really awful, but then a boa constrictor got out, and you wouldn’t believe the trouble after that. Some guys tried to catch it, but they let out a lot of other animals by accident, I think, and then the snake almost choked one of them—one of the guys, I mean. I got fired, but it was okay. I love animals, but I guess I’m not a pet-store cash-register sort of person. I can sell stuff if I want, that’s easy, but selling animals kind of like bothers me. I’d rather let them out or take them home, except they’d shed all over everything.”
“Hmm,” he said, sucking up the triple-orange slush cup through a straw. “My dog did that. Leary.”
“He was okay, but he did shed a lot. All over the couch pillows, I remember.”
“I’m sorry he’s gone.” She squeezed his hand again.
“Yeah, me too.” He squeezed back. Children laughed and called to each other in the background.
“Are you planning to stay in Arizona for a while?” The question slipped out from nowhere.
“I dunno. There’s nothing to do there. I could work loading trucks or something, but there’s nothing else to do. Mom and Dad would miss me if I went anywhere else, though. They don’t have any other visitors.”
His sense of responsibility touched Quinn, even if they were incarcerated on drug charges. She’d never felt sorry for prisoners before. “I wonder if they could transfer your parents to someplace around here, so you could . . .” She stopped, grimacing. “I’m sorry, that didn’t come out right at all.”
“What?” He looked down at her.
“Forget it,” she said. “I stuck my foot in my mouth up to my knee. Just forget it.”
“Mmm.” He sipped his drink, then lowered it, holding it in his fingers by the cap. “I like it around here.”
“Yeah, but it’s boring. I’ve been here for like three years, and I’ve like done everything and seen everything. I want something else out of life, but I don’t know what I want.” She fell silent. Since when have I started telling people this? she asked herself. It’s what I really think, yeah, but I’ve never told anyone that. Why now? Because I want him to hear it.
“More boring to be where I am,” he said. “I feel like I owe it to Mom and Dad to be there to—”
“Quinn! Hey, Quinn!”
They stopped and turned. Stacy Rowe, one of Quinn’s friends from high school, ran up from behind, her brown pigtails bouncing. Stacy looked from Quinn to Ethan—and her eyes locked on him for longer than could be hidden.
“Huh-hi!” Stacy said to Ethan when she got to him. “Oh!” She turned to Quinn, but kept glancing up at Ethan as she talked. “How’ve you been? I was out shopping for shoes and I didn’t think I’d run into you here like this! Who’s your friend?”
“Ethan Yeager,” Quinn said. She could read Stacy’s awe-struck face like ten-foot-high letters on a billboard. “He’s a friend of the family, up for the weekend.”
“Wow, great! I’m so glad to meet you! Are you going to be around long? Like next week?”
“No,” said Ethan before Quinn could answer for him. “I have to head back home soon.”
“Where’s home?” Stacy asked. “Oh!” she gasped a moment later, looking at Quinn. “Sorry to butt in like this! Hey, I’ll let you go, but I just wanted to say hi.” She looked up at Ethan. “Hi!” she squeaked. “Maybe next time you’re in town, we can go out or something, okay?”
It took a second for Stacy to realize what she’d said. “Oh, no!” she gasped in horror, glancing at Quinn’s stony face. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean for you and me to go out! I meant like a double date or something, okay? Whatever! I gotta run! Bye, Quinn!” She managed a quick wave, her face burning, then dashed off into the nearest store, which sold baseball caps, and hid in the back.
Ethan shook his head as he looked after Stacy, then turned away to continue walking with Quinn again. “Weird,” he said softly.
“Oh, well, that’s Stacy all over,” Quinn said, keeping her voice down despite her annoyance. Distracted, she bumped into Ethan’s side. His arm came up to steady her, then fell around her waist.
After a moment, he let go of her. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I didn’t—”
Quinn reached down, got his hand, and put it around her waist again. She then put her free arm around his waist and pulled him close. Despite the difference in their height, it was a very comfortable fit, side by side. Quinn thought she could walk like this forever. Her slush cup was empty, so she dropped it in a garbage can. They set off down a side corridor in the mall where few people were around.
Why do you have two guns under the front seat of your Hummer? “Are you afraid of anything?” she asked.
He shook his slush cup, then dropped it in another garbage can. “Yeah,” he said softly, looking somewhere else. “Worry about my parents all the time.”
“I mean,” said Quinn in a low voice, “afraid of anything that could hurt you.”
The arm around her tensed. He still didn’t look at her. “Oh,” he said at last. They approached a store that sold fireplace tools and parts. “Not really,” he said, and stopped before he said more.
She slowed and looked up at his face. He hesitated, then looked down into her light blue eyes. He knew now that she’d seen the guns. She could tell that he knew. Their feet slowed to almost stopping.
Ethan looked away. “S’go in here,” he said, nodding to the fireplace store. No one was inside. It had several alcoves that led away from the center floor, showcasing gas-powered fireplaces.
“Okay.” She gave him a reassuring hug around the waist, but at the same time her stomach began to knot with fear. Are you selling drugs, too? she wondered. Are you dealing like your parents did? Do I have any right to question you, after all you’ve been through? Where did you really get all that money? Why do you need those guns? Can I trust you? Am I going to regret this, or will I have enough time for that in the end? She had a million questions now, and she knew she would rather fall down and die right where she stood than find out the answers to any of them.
The fireplace store was effectively uninhabited. One clerk was present, half hidden behind a counter, a bored older woman who glanced up at them from her computer monitor. Quinn suspected the lady was playing solitaire. Quinn and Ethan walked into an alcove behind a decorative potted tree, their backs to the rest of the store.
“What’s going on?” Quinn asked quietly. Her skin broke out in goose bumps. Perhaps it was the air conditioning.
He stared down into the gas-fed flames of the fireplace. “I shouldn’t have come here,” he said. “I should’ve just stayed in Arizona.”
“It would’ve been better. I wish they’d listened to me.” Ethan swallowed, staring. “I was so mad at them.”
“You knew what they were doing,” she whispered. It was a fact.
He was silent for a long moment. “Yeah,” he said at last. “I told them what would happen. I told them.” He let out his breath. The words tumbled out. “I found this brick of hash wrapped in plastic in the storage room. I thought one of the workers had put it there, but I told Dad about it, and he said leave it alone.” He rubbed his mouth. “We had a bad fight. I told him he was putting us all in danger, the cops would be up our asses and we’d go to jail, and he said don’t worry, Mom’s in on it, we know what we’re doing, blah blah blah, it’s not a freaking problem. Just stay out of the shop, he said, just take the mail-order shipments to the airport, keep things running. It’ll be okay, he said. I was so freaking pissed. We were screaming at each other and everything.” He swallowed. “I wanted to hit him. I didn’t, but I wanted to just knock the crap out of him for doing that. I should have. I really should have.”
Quinn stared at the fire, listening.
“I got crazy,” he went on. “I just gave up. I said I was taking all the money out of my college fund, ‘cause I’d turned nineteen and it was mine, and I was just going to leave and blow it unless they stopped, got rid of everything and got back to doing normal stuff. I really thought they’d listen to me, but no. They said I could do whatever I wanted with the money, they’d have lots more money soon, it was okay. It’s just pot, it’s not like hard drugs or anything. They didn’t care.” He paused and looked Quinn in the face. “Your sister was right. She didn’t say it, that buying the Hummer was stupid, but it was, it really was. The VW was about busted, but I could’ve gotten something cheaper, a pickup or something. I was crazy. I didn’t care anymore, about college or anything. Everything was over. I wanted them to wake up, get themselves together and get cleaned up, but they didn’t. They didn’t listen to me. And then we got raided.”
“I think one of the local workers saw the hash and told the police. They came in at two a.m., busted into everything and took us down to the jail, but the next day they let me go. Mom and Dad said I wasn’t in on it, our lawyer made them let me out, but I had to stay around in the county until the trial. Cops had impounded the Hummer, but they let it go, too. They took everything else except me and Leary and a few other things. Everything. I got some stuff out of the house thanks to the lawyer, but that was it.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“Just like that, I had nothing, no family, nothing. I’ve been living in the Hummer or hanging with friends for months. I feel like a freaking refugee, I swear. I had to check in with the cops every week, but seeing Dad and Mom, walking around with chains on their feet . . . that was just too much. That was just . . . God.”
She moved closer to him, their arms almost touching. “Did you have to go to court, too?”
Ethan looked increasingly agitated. “Yeah. Told the cops I wasn’t going to testify against my parents, even if they threw me in prison, but . . . but then they cut a deal with me. I gave evidence against the supplier. I saw him around now and then, thought he was an industrial hemp dealer.” Ethan exhaled. “I sent him up for forty-five years. I wish I’d killed him, I wish I’d shot him right—”
“Shhh. No.” Quinn put a hand on his arm.
“I really do. I should have stayed in Arizona. Dad wanted me to come out here and bring their stuff to your folks, so maybe there’d be something left for him and Mom to have when they got out.” He gave a half-laugh that died on his lips. “They want me to get out, too. They tell me I should leave, get out of the state and don’t ever come back. They don’t think it’s—they just want me to go, get a new start somewhere else. Like I really could. I don’t care anymore, I’m not going to—I can’t leave them there, like—”
Ethan covered his eyes with a shaking hand and struggled against tears.
“Shhh.” Quinn’s arms were around him. She pulled him close and laid her head against his chest below his chin. She heard his heart pounding through his thin shirt. “Shhh.”
When he wiped his reddened eyes, she looked up. Her right hand came up and curled behind his head and pulled his mouth down to hers. He tasted faintly of orange. A song played in the corridor outside in the mall. A woman sang, sadly and slow. Quinn could not make out the words through the noise in her head. Their lips parted, then his arms clutched her to him and lifted her as his mouth met hers again and they became one. It was like the first kiss ever.
They left the mall and drove aimlessly around Lawndale for an hour. He drove with one hand, his other hand holding hers. They talked nonstop. Everything came out. Even little things had an urgency to be heard.
He told her stories about her parents in their college days, stories his parents had told him that she hadn’t heard before, about her mom’s foray into body painting, her dad’s stoned attempt to build a UFO landing strip so he could teach aliens to sing Bob Dylan songs, the camping trip on which they became nudists and were almost bitten to death by mosquitoes. He told her about his own parents, their nonsensical philosophies and rants about politics and spirituality, and how it all came to nothing in the end. It was funny and terrible and they laughed and were frightened. Quinn now understood how much Ethan had lost and how little he had, though to her it seemed he had inside him everything anyone could hope for. He had everything, that is, but someone to guide him, and that someone she knew was her. She held on to him as he drove, she the life raft, he the drowning man.
They took in a movie at the Multimovieplex, a romantic comedy they both liked. Afterward, Ethan wanted to show her how the Hummer handled off-road, so she directed him to the abandoned gravel quarry south of town. The bouncing around was fun. They laughed. Quinn’s red hair flew, and he let Quinn drive the Hummer until it looked like the trailer was in danger of getting banged up. And then, because no other teenagers ever came to the abandoned quarry on dates during the daytime, only at night, they parked alone in the bright yellow Hummer under the sun on a quiet Saturday and nearly found themselves in the back seat after an endless period of heated making out with R.E.M. playing in the background.
“Wait,” Quinn gasped, somewhere beyond second base. “I’m seventeen. We can’t—we’d better not—”
“I know, I know, I know,” Ethan said, trying to catch his breath. “I know. Okay.”
“I think we should drive somewhere else. Soon.”
“Just not right now. Oh—”
Minutes later, they rearranged their clothing and escaped the quarry and real trouble, but only barely. At the stop sign on the way out, he took her hand and kissed her palm with his eyes closed. She unbuckled her safety harness and leaned over him for a longer kiss, locked together in their arms. She knew the guns were right under his seat. It didn’t matter now.
“I love you,” he whispered into her neck. “I swear I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she whispered back. They were at the stop sign for ten minutes.
Afterward, they drove for another hour with the windows down and the summer wind blowing in, talking less, looking at the world, singing to the CD player and remembering nothing but each other.
“I can’t make out all the stuff he’s saying on that song, when he sings it so fast.”
“On ‘End of the World’?”
Quinn read the title from the CD box. ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It, And I Feel Fine.’”
“Leary chewed up the lyrics book. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me, either. Good beat, though.”
“You like to dance?”
“Yeah, used to. Haven’t danced in a long time.”
“Let’s go out tonight, if you want. I know a good place to go.”
“Yeah, that’d be great. Oh. Uh, what time is it?”
Quinn checked her watch, the first time she’d looked all day. “Oh, crap, we’re a little late. It’s four-fifteen. That’s not too bad.”
“You’re kidding. It’s after four?”
“Yeah. Where’d the time go?”
“You have to get back?”
“Yeah, better check in. Mom wants to take you out for dinner. Maybe we could go, just ourselves. We’d better check in, though.”
They got home just before four-thirty. A subdued Daria met them at the door. “Mom needs to see you,” she said in a monotone to Ethan. “She’s in the kitchen.”
“Oh, stop it,” said Quinn. “We weren’t that late. There’s lots of time to go out and eat somewhere.”
“That’s not the problem,” said Daria. She looked up at Ethan. “You’d better see her now.”
“Did my mom call?” Ethan asked.
“We’ll both go.” Quinn walked around her sister, heading through the family room for the kitchen. “We’re home!” she called. “Sorry we’re late! Can Ethan and I go out for dinner by ourselves?”
Helen sat at the table in the kitchen nook, by the sliding glass door. Several pads of yellow legal paper were on the table before her, with the portable phone and an address book. “Quinn,” she said in a strained voice, “I need to see Ethan alone for a while.”
“Muuh-ooom, no! It’s not his fault we’re late! We had a lot of traffic and—”
“Quinn, stop it!” her mother shouted. “This isn’t about that!”
“Then what is it, Mom?”
“Is something wrong?” Ethan asked, coming up behind Quinn.
“Your mother called,” said Helen. She hesitated, making herself calm down. “You and I need to talk.”
Quinn turned to Ethan. “Can I stay? I want to hear this, too.”
“Well, Daria’s already heard it! I know she has!”
“Quinn,” said Ethan. “Quinn, wait.” He put a hand on her shoulder, then turned to Helen. “Mrs. Morgendorffer, can she stay? It’s okay. I don’t mind.”
Helen looked from Ethan to Quinn, looked at Quinn’s hand as it rose and covered Ethan’s. She looked away, then down at her notepads. “Whatever,” she said tiredly, “but when we’re done, Quinn, I want to see you, and just you alone.”
Tightlipped, Quinn said nothing. Ethan pulled a chair out for her, and all three of them sat.
Helen eyed them both, then put her arms on the table and her hands together, fingers interlaced. “Ethan,” she said, her voice softening as she spoke, “Ethan, I’m sorry, but I have bad news. It’s about your father.”
Quinn felt a cold finger run down her spine. She reached for Ethan’s arm, but whether to comfort him or steady herself, she didn’t know.
“What?” asked Ethan in a hollow voice. “My dad? Is he okay?”
“Ethan,” said Helen, “your father was attacked by other inmates this morning, in the prison cafeteria in Yuma. He was badly hurt, but I don’t know the details yet. He’s in the prison infirmary under guard. I spoke with your mother and your parents’ attorney, who’s—”
“What happened to him? Do you know what happened?”
Helen’s face was a tight mask. “He was stabbed,” she said, not sounding like herself. “He will be in intensive care for some time. Your parents’ lawyer should be there with him by now. I’m going to get a call back later this evening from him for an update. I don’t know anything more about his condition, but I’ll tell you as soon as I know. Your mother is safe in Phoenix. She’s been separated from the other prisoners there for her own protection.”
Quinn felt a sudden detachment, the sense that she and everything around her were unreal. No way this was possibly happening.
Ethan got up from his chair, his face alive with fear. “I need to go back there tonight and—”
“No, you can’t go back!” Helen reached for him across the table. “Sit down and listen! You can’t go back. You’re to stay here in this area for a while. You can’t go back there right now.”
“What?” He opened his hands to her. “That’s nuts! Why can’t I go see him?”
“Ethan!” Helen’s voice hardened. “Your mother left orders with her attorney and the prison system in Arizona that you are not to see either her or your father for the time being.” She held up a hand to stop his protests. “Listen to me! Just listen! Your mother wants you out of the state! It’s not safe for you there.” She turned to Quinn. “Please go. I have to talk with Ethan alone for a while.”
“No,” Quinn said flatly. “I’m not leaving.”
“Quinn,” Helen said through gritted teeth, “damn it, get—”
“Mrs. Morgendorffer!” Ethan interrupted. “Please, tell me what’s going on! It’s okay that Quinn’s here, it’s okay! Please, just tell me what’s up!”
“Ethan, this is about your court testimony, and I don’t want anyone—”
“I already know!” Quinn shouted. “I know he turned in the dealer or whatever! I know about it, so let me hear it!”
“Quinn!” Helen was on her feet. “For God’s sake, shut your idiot mouth!”
“The hell I will!” Quinn screamed back.
“Wait, wait, wait!” Ethan got up, too, hands out to hold off Helen and Quinn at once. “Don’t fight about it! It isn’t worth it! Don’t fight, please! It’s okay! It really is!”
“It’s not okay!” Helen’s shout rose to the ceiling, her face bright red. “It’s not okay, Ethan, because that supplier was the brother of the cartel lord, and you know it! You knew it when you testified against him! The cartel’s probably looking for you this very second, Ethan! That’s probably why your father was attacked this morning! Your attorney thinks the perpetrators were gang members from the cartel who were trying to find out who gave evidence on the dealer! Your lawyer thinks your dad might have talked when he was attacked! You can’t go back there because they’ll kill you!”
Ethan stood his ground, though all the color drained from his face. Quinn stepped back, shaken and feeling faint. This was not at all what she had expected would happen. She had found the one, the one man she wanted, but everything was going to hell like a train on fire. It’s a bad dream, a really bad dream, she said to herself. Wake up right now, right now. Damn you, now! Wake up!
Helen pointed at a wall, in the direction of the front yard of the house. “You’re going to get rid of that car, Ethan, first thing tomorrow, if we can find a dealership that’s open on Sunday that’s not in this county. If not, we’ll get rid of it first thing Monday, or we’ll junk it and have it crushed. A yellow Hummer stands out like a lighthouse in a backyard swimming pool. They probably already know the make and model and color and even your license plates, and they’re probably looking for it now all over the frigging Southwest!”
“I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t—”
“Your mother cares!” said Helen, the velvet gone. “You don’t care, but your poor mother sure as hell does! Willow doesn’t want to see you right now, and she’s fixed it so you can’t see her, even if you go back. She wants you out of there, away from that place. You have to stay away until this whole mess is over. You can talk to her about it tomorrow by phone, but you are to stay here and not leave! Do you understand me?”
After a steady silence, he nodded once.
Quinn had seen the film Traffic and discovered it was not a good date movie. Still, she had to ask what she suspected she already knew. “Who’s looking for him?” she whispered.
Helen glared at her daughter. “The goddamn cartel! I just told you that!”
“The drug lords,” said Ethan heavily. He looked down at the tabletop. “Colombians, some Mexicans and Americans, some other guys. Splinter group that broke off from a bigger gang after the Federales busted the big one. The little group got away to Arizona. Got some links here and there all over. What the cops told our lawyer.”
Drug lords. Quinn blanched. She finally understood why Ethan had those guns, but they were so small and inadequate for what they had to do.
Helen looked straight at Ethan. “That was very brave what you did, testifying against him. I hope you knew what it meant. I don’t know that I could have done it. Didn’t your attorney talk to you about the consequences? Didn’t he say anything about what might happen down the road?”
Ethan’s jaw tightened. “He told me. I didn’t care, and I still don’t. I knew they’d be pissed about it, but he was the son of a bitch who got my parents in trouble, and I wanted to get him back. I should have killed him.”
“You should have run a lot sooner.” Helen waved away Ethan’s protests. “I know, your parents, I know! You can’t help them now, except to stay alive! That’s the only thing that will give them any hope or comfort, knowing you’re safe and well! Nothing else! You can’t do anything else for them!” She reached for him across the table again and caught his arm, squeezing it. “Do you hear me? You can’t go back!”
Quinn sniffed. She hadn’t realized she was crying. She dug the heels of her palms into her eyes and wiped them dry, but she stood by Ethan’s side. It was her place from now on.
“He’ll stay,” she said, her voice breaking. She looked up at Ethan. “You’ll stay,” she said, but it was half a question. She knew she couldn’t control him if he was truly afraid for his parents.
Ethan stared back at Helen. “Yeah,” he said dully. “Yeah.”
Helen let go of Ethan’s arm. “Good. Your mother will call tomorrow at noon, if she can get permission. I think the lawyer will swing it. He seems to have his head screwed on right. You have to be here for the call. Don’t miss it.” Her tone dropped to one of exhaustion. “I’m sorry, but we shouldn’t go out for dinner tonight. There’s just too much going on. I wish I’d given you a cell phone so I could have called you earlier today. I’ll need to get the number of the phone in your car, Ethan, if you don’t mind.”
He nodded to her once, a barely perceptible movement.
“Where’s Daddy?” said Quinn, sniffing again.
“He’s talking to the neighborhood security company. We cooked up a story about a peeping tom, so with any luck, they’ll drive by the house more often. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to tell it to the Lawndale police.” She raised a finger and pointed from Ethan to Quinn. “Neither one of you should be outside after dark. Got it? Okay. We’ll work out more details later, once we know something. Now, Ethan, if you’ll excuse us, I need to talk to my daughter. Alone.”
Ethan turned to go. Quinn caught him, wrapped her arms around his chest, and put her face against his heart. She did not want to cry, but some of it slipped out. His arms covered her like great shields, and he murmured into her ears not to worry, it would be okay. It helped to hear it. When she let him go, he walked out of the room and off to the guest room, where he shut the door.
Helen walked around the table and sat down next to where Quinn stood. “Sit,” she said. “Let’s talk.”
“What about?” Quinn slowly sat down, though she did not want to do it.
“You know what about.” Her mother leaned close, elbows on her knees, hands clasped before her. “I know how you think,” she said, looking Quinn in the eye. “I know what’s been going on, and it has to stop. You cannot get it into your head right now that Ethan’s your hot date for the weekend, so keep your hands to—”
“Muuuh-ooom! That is such complete bullsh—”
Helen got out of her chair and grabbed her daughter by the shoulders and shook her. “You will listen to me!” Quinn tried to slap her mother, but Helen grabbed her by the wrist at the last second and forced Quinn down again. “Listen to me! Stop it! Don’t you dare start this take-me-to-Chez-Pierre nonsense with him! He can’t afford to be dragged around the way you do every boy in school! He’s got real problems, terrible problems, and if he doesn’t keep his head together and focus on what’s right, someone’s going to blow his head off! Do you hear me?”
Quinn struggled to get up. “Let go of me!”
“Do you hear me? You’ll get him killed! Is that what you want? Do you want that on your conscience? Do you understand what’s going on? Do you?”
With a sudden effort, Quinn threw off her mother’s grip and fell from her chair. Scrambling up from the floor, she fled the kitchen into the family room—past Daria, who sat on the sofa pretending to be engrossed in a poetry book—then ran up the stairs to her bedroom. Once there, she locked herself in with the deadbolt. She heard her mother shouting at her from the foot of the staircase, but she ran to her bed and threw herself on it, covering her head with pillows to block out all sound. She thought she heard her mother pounding on her door, but the noise went away in time, and soon it was quiet again, except for her weeping.
Dinner that evening was a subdued affair. No one complained about the microwaved lasagna. Quinn did not say a word, though she sat next to Ethan as she had earlier and passed all the food she could to him.
Halfway through the silent meal, there was a knock at the door. Daria got up to answer it and came back moments later followed by Trent Lane, the grungy older brother of her best friend, Jane. “Yo,” said Trent, waving at the diners. “Smells good. Is that some kind of macaroni?”
“Trent, my man!” called Jake with relief. “Why don’t you pull up a chair and—”
“No,” said Helen with finality. “Trent, I’m sorry, but we have company over. Can we call you back later?”
“Oh, no problem. I had a Pop-Tart and some red stuff from the refrigerator already. I came over to see if I could borrow Daria.”
Daria had just seated herself to begin eating again. She looked up, startled, but gave Trent a smirk. “I might be inexpensive, but I don’t give it away for free, Trent.”
“Give what away?” asked Jake, looking worried. “What are we talking about?”
“Joke, Dad,” said Daria.
“What do you need her for?” asked Helen in a resigned tone.
“Oh. My band’s getting ready for a road trip. Janey’s helping us get packed, but some of the guys and I are having this, um, sort of long talk about the band’s name, and things kind of aren’t getting done.”
“Last time I asked you about it,” said Daria, “you wanted to change the name from Mystik Spiral to something-something-explosion.”
“Yeah. That could be cool. Anyway, I thought she and Janey could sort of help us out, if she’s free. Well, not busy, I mean, not free. Not not free. Whatever.”
Helen and Jake exchanged looks, and both shrugged. “It’s up to Daria,” said Helen. She looked at her oldest daughter. “You can stay over if you want. Just call back tomorrow morning and be back here by early afternoon at latest, okay? Take a toothbrush. And remember it’s going to rain tonight.”
“I’ll try to stay indoors after dark,” said Daria in a deadpan. “Be with you in a minute, Trent.”
“No problem,” said Trent. “I’ll be outside.” He waved at the gathered family and Ethan. “Oh,” he added before he walked from the kitchen, “cool Hummer. Wish the band had one of those instead of the Tank. I bet the floor isn’t rusted through yet.”
“Not yet,” said Ethan with a smile.
Daria left when the meal was done. The sky was already cloudy and turning dark. As Ethan and Quinn played a videogame on the TV in the guest bedroom—the door kept wide open by Helen—the phone rang. Jake answered it, but he turned it over to Helen moments later. She took the cordless phone upstairs to her bedroom with her and was gone a long time. Jake became caught up in a baseball game on the family room giant-screen TV, so unlike the alert Helen he was unable to hear anything that went on in the guest room.
“I love you,” Quinn whispered to Ethan. They sat side by side on the guest bed, each with a set of controls for the car racing game on the TV.
“I love you, too,” Ethan whispered back. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go back to Arizona. I’ve got to see my dad. I have to.”
“You can’t go,” Quinn whispered. She was losing control of her racecar. It spun out and crashed moments later.
“I have to. What if he dies and I’m not there? I’d never forgive myself. I feel like I’d just die, too.”
“Shhh. Don’t say that, don’t ever
He was silent. His racecar plowed into a wall and blew up. The game started another racecar for him, but he lowered the controls and ignored it.
“Ethan,” whispered Quinn, “please stay.”
He did not answer. She knew he was going.
“Swear to me you’ll do one thing, okay?” she whispered.
“If you go, I want to see you first, in person. Don’t leave a note. Don’t do that to me. I’d never forgive you.”
He swallowed. “Okay.”
“I swear it. I swear on everything that is holy.”
“Swear by us, by all we have.”
“I swear it. I’ll wait for you.”
“Okay.” A pause. “What time would you leave?”
He thought. “About two or three in the morning, before everyone gets up. I want to at least get out of the state. The police here don’t have any reason to pull me over, but I want to be far away by the time everyone else is awake.”
“I’ll come downstairs at three, then.”
“Ethan.” She put down her controls and reached up for his face. She stopped him before they kissed. “Swear to me again that you won’t leave without seeing me.”
He did not blink. “I swear it.”
Her mouth met his.
“Go, go, go!” Jake cried from
the family room. “You bastard, yes! Home run!”
They got no further than first base in the guest bedroom, but it was enough. They knew Quinn’s mother would be back at any time. And she was.
“Your father lost a lot of blood,” she told Ethan later. “He was in surgery for three hours because of damage to his heart and left lung. His prognosis is only fair, but if he makes it through the next two days, he should recover. He can’t talk yet.”
“I can’t go see him?”
“No, not for a long time. He and your mother both signed papers to keep you from visiting them. You have to stay out of that part of the U.S. for your own good, and for theirs, too.”
“This is so unfair. I can’t believe they’d do that.”
“They did, but only to save you. You can talk to your mother about it tomorrow when she calls, but if I were you, I wouldn’t give her a hard time. It’s for your own good.”
Ethan stalked off to the guest room to brood. Everyone went to bed by eleven o’clock, exhausted from the day.
Outside, it had already begun to drizzle.
By three a.m. it was a steady downpour, and rain hammered endlessly against the windows and roof. It did not awaken anyone who was not already awake.
At one minute after three in the morning, Quinn opened the door to her bedroom. Though it was pitch black in the hall, she knew precisely how far the stairway was from the door to her room. She wore jeans, a pink tee, a jeans jacket, and high boots, with a small travel suitcase in one hand stuffed with underwear, socks, two changes of clothing, and all the money she could scrape together, just over two hundred dollars.
From long experience at sneaking out of the house on dates, Quinn knew where to walk to keep the stair steps from creaking and awakening her parents, who slept in the bedroom opposite hers. She made it to the bottom to find Ethan already there with his own suitcase. They wrapped themselves in each other’s arms and kissed, alone in the night.
“Let’s go,” Quinn whispered. It was an order, and Ethan did not argue. The house did not have an alarm system, so all they had to do was open the front door, walk outside in the driving rain, and carefully pull the door shut behind them. They then splashed across the lawn to the Hummer, where Ethan unlocked the doors and lifted Quinn inside. Shaking water from her long hair, she threw her bag in the back and buckled in as Ethan got in the driver’s side.
“Headlights,” Ethan said, looking in the rear view mirror. They ducked their heads and waited until the neighborhood security car had passed before their next move.
“I hate this part,” he said, then grimaced and started the Hummer. He pulled away as quickly as he could. They were out of the subdivision in five minutes, through Lawndale in ten minutes more, then on the Interstate and on their way west.
The heavy rain made the going relatively slow, though traffic was light. It was impossible even with high beams to get over fifty miles an hour in the downpour, visibility was so poor.
“Could be worse,” said Ethan, hunched over the steering wheel and trying to see the road ahead.
“Could be raining.”
Quinn laughed in relief. “I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too.” He exhaled and shook his head. “We must be crazy as hell. I wish you’d just stayed home, but—”
“I would’ve if you had.”
“Yeah. I know. I guess we can’t worry about it now.” He glanced at her and reached for her with one hand. “You’re beautiful. I mean, on the inside. You’re beautiful inside, where it counts.”
Many people had told Quinn she was beautiful. No one had said she was beautiful below the skin. She felt herself glow.
“Both hands on the wheel,” she said, kissing his hand before she released it. She kept a hand on his arm as he drove, and she wondered where they would live, how they would make ends meet, and how it would feel when they finally had sex, which she was sure would be very soon. She was ready.
They did not sing to the CD player as they had the day before, being lost in their thoughts and nervous in the rain. An hour out from Lawndale, as “Driver Eight” was playing, they pulled into a rest area. Ethan parked the Hummer and trailer in a space for a tractor-trailer. Blinding rain hammered down around them.
“I gotta get caffeine,” Ethan mumbled, shutting off the engine and headlights. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. “Gettin’ too tired.”
“I’ll drive, if you want,” said Quinn, “but I’d better get a soda, too.”
“Don’t drink too much, or we’ll pee our way across America.”
“Eww!” She hit him on the arm. “You’re disgusting. I can’t believe I love you.”
“Yeah, but you do. You know you do.” She tried to hit him again, but he grinned and fended her off. He then undid his seat belt and popped open his door a fraction, letting rain spill in as he studied the night. Another vehicle passed behind them and pulled into a space not far away. “We’re gonna get soaked,” he said absently. “Shoulda brought an umbrella. Never thought of it. Stupid me. Hey, you know what?”
“You’re cute, too. In a shallow, superficial kind of way, you know.”
“You’re going to regret that,” she said, laughing. “You’re so going to regret that.”
“Ain’t that the truth. Hey, wait to get out until I come around to your side of the car, okay?”
“I’m not going anywhere without you,” she said with a smile.
“Sure,” he said. “Get ready.” He opened the door wide and jumped down, then slammed the door shut.
Something banged against the driver’s side of the car, followed almost instantly by a queer, flat echo like a mechanical cough. Quinn heard Ethan (it must have been Ethan, though she could not see him) make a sound like oof and fall heavily against the door he’d just slammed.
“Are you okay?” she called, thinking he’d slipped. “Ethan?”
Another loud metallic bang rang against the side of the car, again with the coughing echo. A thick redness splattered over the driver’s door window. A moment later, a heavy object scraped across the outside of the door and fell away from the vehicle. In the faint illumination of a streetlight, Quinn saw the wide splash of crimson run down the glass under the beating of a thousand raindrops. Scattered over the window, mixed with the red, were bits of red-tainted solid matter.
“Ethan?” she called, her voice rising. “Ethan? Ethan!”
Only the thundering rain answered.
A wail broke from her throat. She knew. She leaned across the center divider and fumbled blindly under Ethan’s seat. Her fingers found the butt of one of the black pistols, and she pulled it out after a moment of intense struggle. Keening and sobbing, she opened the passenger door and slid down out of the Hummer, scraping her side as she dropped. She barely noticed the pain. The warm rain came down in a smothering sheet from a black sky, her surroundings lit only by distant streetlights. Terrified, she crouched and pressed her back against the side of the Hummer, holding the heavy gun against her chest with both hands. She sobbed aloud with both eyes shut. It would soon be over. In her terror, she knew it for a fact.
It took a minute for her to finally creep around the front of the vehicle. It wasn’t an issue of courage; she was too frightened to have any. It just didn’t matter anymore where she went, how fast she got there, or what she did. She crossed in front of the Hummer, gun quivering in her two-handed grip, and squinted through the rain. No one else was visible anywhere in the night—except on the ground by the driver’s door.
She called his name and crept over to him. There was more illumination on this side of the Hummer, even in the downpour. She could tell that the body was Ethan’s. He lay without moving in a huge flowing stream, his face turned away from her. His chest was stained dark, though his shirt had been ivory in color a minute before. She knelt in the running water, knees pressed into the rough pavement, then put down the gun and reached over to lift and cradle his head.
Her fingers went through his wet brown locks and inside the back of his head, where part of his skull was missing. One of his eyes was a dark hole that leaked red over his face and over her hands and down into the stream that swirled off into the darkness.
Everything inside her died. She began to cry, really cry, her body shaking from head to feet. There was no point in doing anything else. She bent over him and wept.
Slow footsteps came, ages later, splashing through puddles until they stopped behind her. She bowed her head, her cheek touching Ethan’s, and closed her eyes. She was cold now, cold from her fear, cold all the way down to her bones.
Something hard and blunt pressed down gently into her back, to the left of her spinal cord against one of her shoulder blades. She shook violently and began to pray. Our Father, who art in—
A tremendous blow struck her back and burst through her chest, knocking her flat against her beloved. The world rapidly dimmed. Even the pain faded into darkness.
My heart! She held Ethan to her as she faded. He was still warm, though she was not. My heart—
Soaked to the skin, Trent Lane stuck the silenced pistol into a tattered gym bag, zipped it shut, and jammed it under his seat. To his left, Jesse Moreno did the same. Running a hand through his dark wet hair, Trent twisted the ignition key to the black van that his band called the Tank. The engine sputtered and revved to life.
“Good thing it still starts,” Trent said. As if the engine heard him, it coughed and almost died. Careful application of the gas kept the pistons moving, however, and Trent was able to put the vehicle into reverse and pull out of the parking space near the bright yellow Hummer. Seconds later, they were on their way out of the rest area, windshield wipers vainly trying to shove aside the floodwaters of the heavens.
“That was quick,” said Jesse, Trent’s best friend. They’d graduated high school together, barely, and had played guitars and done drugs together for years before. Selling drugs on the side brought them cash when their band’s gigs did not, which was often the case lately. The money went right back into buying more drugs. Trent liked smack. It kept him in bed a lot, sleeping it off, but it was worth it.
“Yeah,” said Trent. He sighed. “Too bad about the Hummer.”
“Yeah. It was cool.”
“We gotta get one, one of these days.”
“Good thing it was yellow. Thought I was gonna lose it about a million times on the way out.”
Trent sighed again. He was glad the job was over. It was his first hit, his and Jesse’s. Went off without a hitch. It was a relief. They drove for an hour in the black rain.
“Hated doing it to the girl,” Trent said at last.
“Huh?” Jesse turned toward him.
“Hated doing the girl.”
“Just a kid. I sorta knew her.”
Jesse shrugged and looked out the side window again. He was the perfect best friend, always agreeable and sympathetic. He liked pot best. He smoked a ton of it.
“Yeah,” said Trent. He looked in the rear view mirror but could see nothing behind him. “How’re the guys doing?”
Jesse turned in his seat and looked back. Nick and Max, the band’s bass guitarist and drummer, were sprawled over their equipment in the back of the van, sleeping off the effects of the drugs Trent had put into their beer before they left on their tour. They’d wake up later that day, none the worse for wear, and never know about the extra job Trent and Jesse had taken on.
“They’re cool,” said Jesse, looking back out the front windshield.
“Cool,” said Trent. “Can you get me a smoke?”
“Sure.” Jesse pulled a small plastic bag of joints from the glove compartment with the broken lock, lit one, and passed it to his friend.
“Thanks.” Trent took a long hit on it, blew the smoke out in a stream. “Long way to Tucson,” he said.
“Hmmm,” said Jesse.
“Two days, I think. If the Tank holds up.”
“Bet we get something good for the job,” Trent said. “Juan said it counted, this one. Said he’d do something nice for us. We were lucky, you know. He came right to us. Almost can’t believe it.”
“Yeah.” Trent thought a long time. “Something something explosion,” he finally said. “Damn.”
“Hey,” said Jesse, turning to Trent. “How about, Biorhythm Blues Explosion?”
“You know, like, we sometimes sort of do blues rock, you know? Biorhythm Blues Explosion, instead of Mystik Spiral.”
Trent thought, but his thoughts drifted as he watched the Interstate roll by in the Tank’s half-working headlights. He thought of Quinn Morgendorffer kneeling over the body of the bigmouth, probably her boyfriend or something, how she didn’t even try to run. He wondered what his sister’s friend Daria would think if she knew. It probably wouldn’t go over well. Daria and Jane were sleeping now at the Lanes’ home, as drugged out as Nick and Max. Rohypnol worked wonders when mixed with alcohol. Thanks to the drugs, Daria had talked freely and confirmed what Trent had suspected about Ethan, that he was their man. It wasn’t likely she’d remember her treason, though, or that Jane would remember Daria’s interrogation, as roofies with alcohol usually induced amnesia.
Soon, though, they’d wake up and wonder what the hell had happened. Daria would then get the news about her sister and the bigmouth, and things would turn sour. It would be almost impossible to keep this hit from being tagged to him and the band.
However, they might get away with it. It was, after all, their first and only hit. The money had been too good to miss, a huge sum, and the boss and everyone else would love them for it. Trent and Jesse would be somebody at last.
Trent shook his head. The hit had some bad with the good. Maybe this time Spiral should go away on tour and stay gone. Maybe they should head south of the border for a while, for even further, until things cooled off—if they ever did. Nick and Max could be ditched somewhere. Trent and Jesse were the real team, the real heart of Spiral.
Maybe it was a good idea to keep moving until they hit the Mexican border. Things could move fast sometimes where the police were involved. If they cut through Texas and didn’t stop much, they could be here in a day. It would work.
“Hey,” said Jesse.
“You know. Biorhythm Blues Explosion.”
“Oh.” Trent took a deep toke, held it in, blew out the smoke in a long breath. Things would work out. He nodded. “It’s got potential,” he said.
Original: 03/11/04, modified 10/28/04