Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 19 of 64

“That’s a weird story, dude. So, do you think of yourself as an orphan?”

Art rolls over on his side, face inches from hers, and snorts a laugh. “God, that’s so—Dickensian. No one ever asked me that before. I don’t think so. You can’t really be an adult and be an orphan—you’re just someone with dead parents. And I didn’t find out about my dad until I was older, so I always figured that he was alive and well somewhere. What about your folks?”

Linda rolls over on her side, too, her robe slipping off her lower breast. Art is aroused by it, but not crazily so—somewhere in telling his story, he’s figured out that sex is a foregone conclusion, and now they’re just getting through some nice foreplay. He smiles down at her nipple, which is brown as a bar of Belgian chocolate, aureole the size of a round of individual cheese and nipple itself a surprisingly chunky square of crinkled flesh. She follows his eyes and smiles at him, then puts his hand over her breast, covers it with hers.

“I told you about my mom, right? Wanted to act—who doesn’t? But she was too conscious of the cliche to mope about it. She got some little parts—nothing fab, then went on to work at a Sony dealership. Ten years later, she bought a franchise. Dad and second-wife run a retreat in West Hollywood for sexually dysfunctional couples. No sibs. Happy childhood. Happy adolescence. Largely unsatisfying adulthood, to date.”

“Wow, you sound like you’ve practiced that.”

She tweaks his nose, then drapes her arm across his chest. “Got me. Always writing my autobiography in my head—gotta have a snappy opener when I’m cornered by the stalkerazzi.”

He laces his fingers in hers, moves close enough to smell her toothpaste-sweet breath. “Tell me something unrehearsed about growing up.”

“That’s a stupid request.” Her tone is snappish, and her fingers stiffen in his.

“Why?”

“It just is! Don’t try to get under my skin, OK? My childhood was fine.”

“Look, I don’t want to piss you off. I’m just trying to get to know you. Because… you know… I like you. A lot. And I try to get to know the people I like.”

She smiles her lopsided dimple. “Sorry, I just don’t like people who try to mess with my head. My problem, not yours. OK, something unrehearsed.” She closes her eyes and treats him to the smooth pinkness of her eyelids, and keeps them closed as she speaks. “I once stole a Veddic Series 7 off my mom’s lot, when I was fifteen. It had all the girly safety features, including a tracker and a panic button, but I didn’t think my mom would miss it. I just wanted to take it out for a drive. It’s LA, right? No wheels, no life. So I get as far as Venice Beach, and I’m cruising the Boardwalk—this was just after it went topless, so I was swinging in the breeze—and suddenly the engine dies, right in the middle of this clump of out-of-towners, frat kids from Kansas or something. Mom had called in a dealer override and Sony shut down the engine by radio.”

“Wow, what did you do?”

“Well, I put my shirt back on. Then I popped the hood and poked randomly at the engine, pulling out the user-servicables and reseating them. The thing was newer than new, right? How could it be broken already? The fratboys all gathered around and gave me advice, and I played up all bitchy, you know, ‘I’ve been fixing these things since I was ten, get lost,’ whatever. They loved it. I was all spunky. A couple of them were pretty cute even, and the attention was great. I felt safe—lots of people hanging around, they weren’t going to try anything funny. Only I was starting to freak out about the car—it was really dead. I’d reseated everything, self-tested every component, double-checked the fuel. Nothing nothing nothing! I was going to have to call a tow and my mom was going to kill me.

“So I’m trying not to let it get to me, trying to keep it all cool, but I’m not doing a great job. The frat guys are all standing too close and they smell like beer, and I’m not trying to be perky anymore, just want them to stay! away! but they won’t back off. I’m trying not to cry.

“And then the cops showed up. Not real cops, but Sony’s Vehicle Recovery Squad. All dressed up in Vaio gear, stylish as a Pepsi ad, packing lots of semilethals and silvery aeorosol shut-up-and-be-still juice, ready to nab the bad, bad perp who boosted this lovely Veddic Series 7 from Mom’s lot. Part of the franchise package, that kind of response. It took me a second to figure it out—Mom didn’t know it was me who had the car, so she’d called in a theft and bam, I was about to get arrested. The frat rats tried to run away, which is a bad idea, you just don’t ever run from cops—stupid, stupid, stupid. They ended up rolling around on the ground, screaming and trying to pull their faces off. It took, like a second. I threw my hands in the air. ‘Don’t shoot!’ They gassed me anyway.

“So then I was rolling around on the ground, feeling like my sinuses were trying to explode out of my face. Feeling like my eyeballs were melting. Feeling like my lungs were all shriveled up into raisins. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t even breathe. By the time I could even roll over and open my eyes, they had me cuffed: ankles and wrists in zapstraps that were so tight, they felt like piano wire. I was a cool fifteen year old, but not that cool. I started up the waterworks, boohoohoo, couldn’t shut it down, couldn’t even get angry. I just wanted to die. The Sony cops had seen it all before, so they put a tarp down on the Veddic’s backseat upholstery, threw me in it, then rolled it into their recovery truck and drove me to the police station.

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