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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Madame Tingley's Organ (Continued from Cybercorpse # 10)
by Teresa Bergen ||
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In the last flashback scene, Lex' evening with Eddie Martinelli ended in date rape. In the present, Lex attacks her bandmate after he tries to capitalize on publicity surrounding her sister's death. Then Lex and Dale Ross flee San Francisco, flying down to San Diego to deal with Lex' grieving mother.

Chapter Eleven

The day after my second and last date with Eddie Martinelli, Pablo cornered me outside my English class. "What happened?" he cried. Other kids turned and looked at us in the hall.
     "You were right. He's a tacky cheap bastard."
     He took my hand and gave me a rare sincere look. "Oh, Lex. I don't think anyone's first time is ever good. Even mine wasn't." He steered me to a quiet place near a bank of lockers too vandalized for use. I'd planned to tell him as little as possible, but the details spilled out.
     "We didn't even go out anywhere," I admitted. "We went straight to his friend's house and he asked if we could use their back room!"
     "While they were in the front room?"
     "Yeah. They were watching Jokers Wild. They turned it up so they wouldn't hear anything. Not that there was anything to hear."
     "Not Jokers Wild! That's a sure tip off to walk out immediately."
     "I didn't get much chance to walk out."
     His face went serious. "What do you mean?"
     I didn't want Pablo to picture how helpless I'd been. "Oh, never mind. It's done now."
     "What do you mean?"
     "Oh, I just kind of . . . changed my mind partway into it. But he was determined."
     "So he forced you?"
     "Well, I don't know. Not really, I guess."
     "What do you mean you don't know? What do you mean you guess?"
     "I let him take most of my clothes off. But I told him I didn't want to have sex. But then, I didn't kick him and I didn't scream. I tried to put my dress back on and he threw it across the room."
     "That's force, Lex." Pablo's face flushed and his eyes glinted mean.
     "But if I'd hit him or bit him or something . . . "
     Pablo pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me. He talked into my hair. "He deserves to suffer. It's not your fault. We'll think of something. He'll suffer."
     Eddie Martinelli called me later that week, but I wouldn't talk to him. Sandi answered. I stood near the phone and yelled, "Tell him I moved to Panama." He begged Sandi to put me on the line and she was too polite to hang up on him, so I pushed the disconnect button. I fantasized that he feared I'd press charges, that he called to beg forgiveness, or maybe to bribe me with a wad of cash. But I knew he didn't think he'd done anything wrong, that he still hoped to fuck me again.
     Sandi hadn't forgotten my promise to accompany her to the temple that coming weekend, and kept talking about Sunday like it would be the Great Day on Earth. She chanted incessantly. When I woke up Sunday morning I found her outside, surrounded by buckets, soap, steel wool and bottles of chemicals, washing and waxing our bikes for their ride to the temple. "I've tried everything, but I can't get this spot of rust off your gear shifter," she sighed.
     "That's OK. It looks great, Sandi. Really. Thanks." I'd never even washed my bike, an ancient Schwinn three-speed, let alone waxed it. It gave me the creeps that my devout sister rose early just to wax my old bike.
     We set off at three o'clock that afternoon for Pacific Beach. I thought the deal was just dinner, but Sandi insisted we get there for the preliminary chanting and dancing. I didn't know how I'd manage dancing with the Krishnas without dying of embarrassment, but it meant a lot to Sandi, and I'd missed her.
     Sandi dressed demurely in a baggy white sweater, beige wrap skirt and sandals. I couldn't resist wearing a sleeveless olive dress, a little tighter and shorter than the Krishnas would like, black tights and a black beaded cardigan. I had to hike the dress pretty far up my thighs to ride the bike.
     It took an hour of dodging traffic and finding ways to bypass the beach freeways, but it was still quicker than riding the San Diego buses. We parked in front of the temple, and Sandi rushed in ahead.
     "Hare Krishna!" she greeted her friends. She seemed to know half the people there. We took our shoes off and placed them on the rack by the door. I wished I hadn't worn my witch shoes, black leather with extremely pointy toes and heels just high enough to make my legs look good without being uncomfortable for walking. At two dollars, they were one of my best thrift store finds. Sandi saw me staring at my cool shoes amongst all the ugly sandals and cheap flip flops. "Come on, Lex," she giggled. "No one's going to mess with your shoes."
     I let her lead me away and introduce me to a bunch of people whom I couldn't tell apart. The women were all scrubbed clean and draped with saris. Scarves covered their long hair. The men wore white, peach or saffron robes and their heads were mostly shaved. Some sprouted small ponytails from the backs of their heads. I answered their greetings of "Hare Krishna" with a nod and a fake smile.
     She led me into the main temple room, where statues of blue gods stood on a platform, dressed with gaudy miniature clothes and flower garlands. "The deities," Sandi whispered reverently in my ear. The band sat on the floor in front of the statues, with a ragtag assortment of percussion instruments that banged and tinkled. I tried to go up to the front of the room so I could see better, but Lex held me back. "The women dance in the back of the room," she whispered.
     "So the men don't see them and get excited."
     This didn't seem fair, but I headed toward the back of the temple, and that's when I saw the weirdest thing in the room: a lifesize statue of an ancient, withered Indian man dressed in a yellow robe, sitting cross-legged on a pedestal, a garland of fresh flowers around his neck. A tiny child, perhaps five years old, his head already shaved, dropped flower petals on the statue's bare brown feet. "What the hell?" I breathed.
     "Ssshh," Sandi reprimanded. "That's Swami Prabhupada. He brought Krishna Consciousness to the US. In the sixties."
     I didn't like turning my back on the creepy statue, but I faced the musicians like Sandi did, and watched the chanting and dancing begin. First they shuffled, swayed and hopped. But as the chanting grew louder, energy surged through the room. It felt kind of like dancing to Bow Wow Wow, with all the percussion and freeform jumping around. The men must be really frustrated if they got turned on by this sort of dancing. But it was kind of fun jumping amongst these smiling, increasingly ecstatic people, though I'd never admit it to Pablo. I liked the music OK.
     I thought we'd get to eat after dancing, but some of the older women hauled out a box of Bhagavad Gitas and soon we all sat on our haunches and listened to a guy with an accent so thick I caught about three words in what seemed like three hours. Everyone had the Bhagavad Gita open on their laps, so I did, too, though I had no idea what page we were on. I hadn't eaten since morning and my stomach growled. Sandi elbowed me like I did it on purpose.
     When we finally finished with the books, my feet were asleep and I yearned for escape. Sandi directed me to the bathroom in the basement and I hobbled off alone, planning to hide out for a few minutes.
     I took a wrong turn in the basement and wound up at the end of a hall, no bathroom in sight. I turned and almost ran into a Krishna boy who had snuck up behind me. Since he wore no shoes, I hadn't heard even a footstep. I almost yelped in surprise, but he didn't look too threatening in his robe and hacked-off hairdo. He looked about the same age as me. "Hi," he said.
     "You're Sandalwood's sister?"
     "You don't seem much like her." He talked quietly and shot a look over his shoulder.
     "What do you mean?"
     "She's such a . . . believer."
     "Did you follow me down here to give me a lecture about Krishna?"
     His lip curled. "No. I was hoping you might have a cigarette."
     I giggled. "You don't look like a smoker. Don't you swear off drugs when you join?"
     "I didn't join. My Mom did before I was born. She was one of the first followers."
     "Oh no!"
     "Oh yes."
     I thought of Moonchild, and Pablo, and my own mother, and immediately felt like I knew this kid. "My name's Lex."
     "I'm Jinyasa."
     "What's your real . . .oh, you don't have a real name," I stumbled. All the Krishnas took new names when they joined, but poor Jinyasa didn't even have a Paul or Mike or Ted to fall back on.
     "I'll name myself when I leave."
     "You're leaving?"
     "Yeah. Someday." If only he had some hair and normal clothes, he'd be really cute.
     "Are you Indian?" I asked, eyeing his dark hair and skin.
     "No. Part Mexican. My dad came up here to work. I guess. Never met him."
     "How old are you?"
     "Four more years till you're legal! That sucks."
     "I'm not waiting four years to leave."
     We heard a noise and Jinyasa grabbed my arm and pulled me into a small room off the hall, closing the door behind us. Boxes of books and incense cluttered the room, and some mattresses leaned against a wall. The fruity smell of incense almost made me swoon. I thought Jinyasa might, too, as he stood staring at me. His face had gone three shades lighter.
     "What's wrong?" I asked. He shook his head slowly and looked at the floor. "What is it?"
     "It's embarrassing."
     "Just tell me."
     "I never get to touch girls." He was all shaken up from just holding my arm! Somehow this thrilled me.
     I smiled at him. "You've got to adjust to the outside world a bit before you run away."
     Now color flooded his face, reddening his cheeks. "That's hard to do in here."
     "Yeah. It's kind of different outside."
     "Sometimes I hate my Mom. I'm going to be a freak forever."
     "You'll do OK." I took a deep breath and plunged on. For all the Moonchilds of the world, I had to help this kid. "What do you need from outside?"
     He smiled. "You're nothing like your sister. She's ready to move in here and give up everything."
     I stopped smiling. "Could that happen?"
     "Naw. She's too young to join."
     "Will you keep an ear open and tell me what you hear about my sister?"
     "Yeah. Will you come next week?"
     I imagined sitting through more of the boring Gita. "Can't we meet somewhere?"
     "I don't get out much," he said softly, looking at the floor. "They keep a pretty close watch on me. My Mom's in Mississippi right now, organizing a new farm. But everyone else watches me. There aren't many born Hare Krishnas as old as me." He said the name of his religion like it smelled bad. "My Mom's high up. Probably someone looking for me now."
     "Oh." I didn't know what to say, and the silence grew uncomfortable. "What do you need?" I finally asked, but he didn't know. "You want cigarettes?" He nodded. "How about something practical, like some regular clothes?"
     "I have a few for when we raise money in Balboa Park. But they're really ugly."
     "So you need cooler clothes." He nodded. "Should we go back? I'm starving."
     He raised his eyes to mine. "Someday I'm going to eat a hamburger." He had trouble even saying this.
     "They're not that great," I lied.
     "You better go back first. I'll come up a few minutes later."
     "OK." I stood looking at the poor Krishna boy, and decided to give him a thrill that would last a week. "Don't scream," I whispered. Then I moved in close and kissed him softly on the lips. He looked shocked, all right. "Bye, Jinyasa." He couldn't answer, just stared with those dark eyes.
     I slipped out of the storage room, back into the hall. I found the bathroom, then returned upstairs. People sat on the floor in rows, individual trays before them. Sandi sat near the front, an empty spot for me beside her.
     "Where were you, Lex? Did you get lost?" She probably worried I'd done something inappropriate.
     A woman carrying a tureen of red stuff scooped some onto our plates. "I was in the bathroom and my head felt really weird. I thought maybe I was getting a nosebleed or something."
     "A nosebleed! You've never had a nosebleed."
     "I know. That's the funny thing." I tried to sound perplexed.
     "You probably felt weird from the chanting."
     "Yeah, maybe."
     "They say it changes you even on the metabolic level."
     "What changes you?"
     "The words, the vibrations."
     "What's that mean, exactly, to change on the metabolic level?"
     Pause. "I don't know. I guess it's a pretty deep change."
     Another woman arrived with the inevitable yellow stuff. Hot behind her came some green beans with beige sauce.
     The food tasted OK, and anyone could eat it - you didn't even need teeth. Some of the more hardcore Krishnas shunned forks, favoring their right hands as eating utensils. "That's how people eat in India," Sandi whispered. "It makes them more mindful of their food. I tried it before, but it's harder than you might think."
     One of the older Krishna men sat crosslegged on the floor, a miniature podium supporting his Gita. He tapped the microphone to check the volume, then droned some verse or chapter involving Krishna and a big war. "I like the band better," I whispered to Sandi.
     "People are attracted by the food and music but some stay for the teachings. Try to listen, Lex," she said patiently, her answer so canned I suspected she'd learned it from one of the women in the saris who spent their days recruiting new members. Of course, they never would have needed to say that to Sandi. Teachings were foremost to her, food only peripheral.
     I ignored the lector and contemplated Jinyasa, who stood somewhere in the rear of the room now. I'd never just decided to kiss someone who wasn't expecting it. I could feel a new confidence spreading through my bloodstream like oxygen.
     For dessert the Krishnas served sticky balls of halvah and a sweet, milky rice drink. Sandi skipped these in her budding asceticism, but I ate a double helping. After dessert, Sandi said goodnight to all the Krishnas. About half even remembered my name. Maybe they'd already written it in their book of souls. I saw Jinyasa, but he was a seasoned sneak from fourteen years of the life. He didn't avoid my eyes, his gaze just brushed right by like I was any person in the world he'd never met and didn't expect he ever would.
     We didn't try to talk during our treacherous bike ride home in the dark. I'd never ridden this route at night and could barely see the road. It felt like a dream where I'm gliding along, legless, in cool fog. At one point we rode across a highway, a suicidal move. But like magic, like, as Sandi said later, Krishna held us in the palm of his hand, we slipped across just before an onslaught of cars.
     At home, Sandi glowed. She hugged me three times and thanked me for accompanying her to the temple. She asked if I wanted to chant a bit more before sleeping, but I opted for TV. Mom talked on the phone to Annabelle, the receiver caught between her shoulder and ear, her hands free to paint her nails wild rose.
     As soon as she hung up, Pablo called. "Give me that creep's number, Lex."
     "What are you going to do?"
     "Don't worry. We won't mention your name."
     "I don't want anything to do with him."
     "Where's your faith in me, Lex? Don't you know I'm a master of revenge?" I heard other voices in the background.
     "Where are you?"
     "What are you going to do?"
     He sighed. "I can't believe you're so protective of that Neanderthal. Do you harbor secret affections for him?"
     That made me mad. "223-2906."
     "Wait, here's a pen. Tell me again." I told him. "Don't worry, Lex. We have a fabulous plan for Mr. Martinelli."
     That night I dreamt Eddie and I wrestled in the temple storage room where I'd kissed Jinyasa. In the dream, Eddie tried to take my clothes off but they stuck to my body like skin. Then all the incense stored in the room blew up like jasmine-scented dynamite, busting the temple into a million pieces, separating me from Eddie Martinelli and shooting me, alone, straight into the sky.
     I woke up and heard Sandi chanting in a whisper. I couldn't tell if she was awake or talking in her sleep.
     At school the next day, Pablo wouldn't tell me exactly what they'd said to Eddie Martinelli on the phone. "Oh, we prank called him a few times," he said as we walked through the lunchtime throng of kids down Chatsworth Street toward the valley of Taco Bell, Cotija and Alpha Beta.
     "What did you say?"
     "Oh, just stupid stuff." He shrugged. "There were a lot of people over. Cutter's grandmother and aunt were out of town so all these people were in the house. But Cutter and I got tired of them, so we retired to the garage. What happened after that is anyone's guess."
     "Pablo! You just told them an embarrassing story about me, gave them Eddie Martinelli's number and disappeared?" I didn't see why I never got to meet Cutter or go to his parties.
     "I didn't tell them the sordid story of Mr. Martinelli's offensive dating habits. I simply said he was a creep who deserved ill treatment. These people were happy to comply without evidence or details of his poor behavior."
     We entered the Alpha Beta. Pablo hurried straight toward the cold drink case and grabbed two Cokes. I'd learned to choke the stuff down without complaining. Pablo bought me Cokes as peace offerings, bribes, and the highest possible compliments.
     Outside I sipped my Coke, shivering in the sixty degree late January day. We walked up the back way toward school on a residential street that curved up to Chatsworth, the ugly boulevard where Point Loma High School made its stand. We sat on a flower-girded stoop at the base of a walkway to someone's house. Pablo wore little black sunglasses despite the gray, drizzling sky.
     "I got a letter from Chandra," Pablo said. "Also known as Moonchild."
     "He doesn't write me anymore."
     "You're not missing anything." He pulled the crumpled letter from the pocket of his tight purple and black striped pants. The familiar writing hurt my heart. "They got him." Pablo crossed a leg and turned the sole of his boot up, picking pebbles out of the treads while I read the letter.
     Moonchild wrote: "I worked through my doubts and stopped holding back. As soon as I stopped holding onto the negativity, everything changed. One day the Bhagwan stopped in the middle of drive-by and pointed straight at me. Now I'm his special assistant."
     "Oh no!" I cried. "His special assistant!"
     "I can just imagine how he's assisting him," Pablo said bitterly. He kicked a rock, which hit a car and chipped its red paint. Pablo took an aggressive swallow of Coke that finished off his can. He picked up mine and gulped some more. "That fucker."
     "You still love him."
     "Shut up." He kicked another rock, but this one missed the car. "You still love him."
     "I don't know." The rest of the letter talked about how great it was that Bhagwan let Moonchild do really boring things like mail out propaganda that had to do with some political campaign. I hadn't seen Moonchild for a year and a half. It might as well be ten.
     "You know what that bastard said?"
     "No! Rajneesh. He said homosexuality was a cop-out for people too scared for real heterosexual love. That's what that bastard's drilling into Chandra's head right now."
     Moonchild made me mad, too. His letter didn't mention me at all, not even "say hi to Lex." I handed the letter back to Pablo, who licked the top of his empty Coke can. "I went to the Krishna temple last night," I said.
     He scowled at me. "Why did you go there?"
     "Keep an eye on Sandi."
     "Don't go there, Lex. You might get sucked in."
     "I'm not going to get sucked in by the Krishnas. What do you think I am, stupid?"
     "Do you think Chandra's stupid?" His voice cut me.
     "If you get sucked in, Lex, I swear I'll kill you and put you out of your misery."
     "Don't talk about killing me!"
     "I mean it, Lex. I'd rather have a friend die by my own hand than see another one's brain sucked out whole." His face flushed and his hands shook. "And if you're my true friend, you'd do the same for me." An angry tear seeped from Pablo's eye. He put his face in his hands, so all I could see of his head was wild platinum kinks. "We used to hide out in this old shed in Oregon. It was ass-freezing cold. We'd lie under these musty old blankets, and before we went to sleep, we'd say, 'Don't let them get you. Don't let them vacuum out your brain.' This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't left."
     "Don't you think he'll snap out of it?"
     Pablo shook his head. "Once your brain turns to mush, you just go from one thing to another. Like my mother. Like his mother."
     "Do you really think that's true?" He nodded. "I don't believe it."
     He knew I worried about Sandi so he kindly held my hand and didn't snap at me for contradicting him. I pulled a box of Saltines out of my backpack and offered them to Pablo. "I met a Krishna boy who wants out."
     "Really? How long he's been in?"
     "He's fourteen and a born Krishna."
     "Not many of those!"
     "That's what he said. I'm going to help him escape." I bit into a Saltine. It was an awfully dry lunch, so I mixed it with Coke in my mouth.
     "You do that."
     "I don't know how I'm going to do it."
     "You should just fuck him. Then he'll die of shock and escape that way and you will have done a good deed without expending too much effort."
     I couldn't tell if he was serious since sunglasses obscured his eyes. "I kissed him."
     Pablo choked on a Saltine, laughing. "You kissed a Krishna? How did you manage that?"
     "We were in this room where they store all their incense," I began. Pablo's mood reversed, he went manic, and by the time I finished telling him about Jinyasa, his laughter left tears on his face He pulled me to him and kissed me on the lips. "Oh, Lex, sometimes I wish you were a boy." He kissed me again and stroked my hair. "You rescue that Krishna boy. Tell me if you need help hiding him somewhere."
     "He's cute?"
     "If his hair grows a little." And we both laughed some more, though it hurt.
     That night, the phone rang when I was home alone. I forgot to not answer it, and I found myself on the line with Eddie Martinelli. "Lex, what do you know about last night?" His voice sounded entirely unfriendly. "Is this girl Sabrina a friend of yours?" My heart pounded, and much as I hated him, his voice extracted the shame I'd buried for more than a week. I couldn't talk. "Listen, you better tell me, because someone's going to pay for damages. Either you or her, I don't fucking care. But someone's going to pay."
     "What did she damage?" I managed to ask. I hoped she'd cut his dick off.
     He sighed. "In case you really don't know, I'll tell you. She ruined my bathroom. Dumped out everything liquid on the floor -- hair gel, aftershave, shampoo, you name it. It's all over my fucking floor and bathtub. A whole tube of toothpaste squeezed out on my mirror! Soap down my toilet! The fucking plumber had to come over first thing this morning. Cost me fifty bucks! She's your friend, isn't she? Sabrina. I bet that's not even her real name."
     "I don't know anything about this." Sabrina! She must be one of Cutter's friends. "I don't even know where you live."
     "She pried that information out of me when she called. Sneaky little bitch," he muttered.
     "What? You invited her over?" I could hardly believe a girl like that existed! I'd make Pablo take me to one of Cutter's events.
     "She lied to me! She said she met me at a party!"
     "So you didn't even remember her but you just invited her over?"
     "Yeah. I figured if I'd given her my number, she was OK. Why not? She wanted to come over. It's a free country, right?"
     "What else did she do over there?" Shame slipped away and I felt something rising in me, something good, stirred up by the mysterious Sabrina.
     "Well, there's the matter of someone else spray painting the front door while Sabrina was inside. You probably know as well as I do what the door said. I had to paint the fucking thing before I went to work! I was two hours late!"
     The thing in me rose and burst, and I broke out in laughter. "Good thing you work for your daddy!" I said, my voice finally coming out strong.
     "Lex, you acted so sweet at first. I don't get you. I mean, were you acting when we were going out, or did you really just turn into a fucking bitch in the last two weeks? You can't get away with fucked up shit like this. Someone's gotta pay!"
     I stopped laughing and my hands started shaking, but I kept my voice even. "Let me hand you over to my mother and you two can work out a payment plan. Since I'm only fifteen years old and in the tenth grade, I might not have enough money to cover the paint and plumbing."
     "Now wait a minute! Don't try to tell me you didn't want it that night at my friend's house! Thanks to you, my girlfriend walked out on me."
     "Hold on a second." I held the receiver away from my ear. "Mom! There's some old man on the phone who wants you to buy some plumbing services or a paint job or something!"
     He hung up. I dropped the receiver without putting it back on the floor and started crying. Would sex ever work for me? These feelings I'd had for Moonchild on The House steps, and for Chance in his grotto, I'd tried to graft them onto Eddie, a cute but dumb guy I didn't really like. If only I had those feelings, and the right person, and some time, all together.
      I checked to make sure the front door was locked. Mom was probably out at happy hour at Winston's, and Sandi might be at Annabelle's. When I could control my crying and jitters, I called Pablo. He didn't want to tell me what they'd painted on Eddie's door, or about Sabrina. "Haven't you learned, Lex, that the less you know, the easier it is to deny things?" he asked, but I insisted, and finally he told me someone had spray painted 'Eddie Martinelli's House O' Jailbait' on the door in red.
     I coaxed out some information on Sabrina. "Sabrina is an avenger," Pablo said."A skinny little punk avenger with a mohawk. She doesn't like people much in general, but especially not tacky cheap preppy bastards from Point Loma. She set him up. One of Cutter's friends knows Mr. Martinelli's live-in girlfriend, so we called her at work -- she works nights -- and she went home to find Sabrina lounging on their couch in her leather bra."
     "So they had their clothes half off?"
     "Oh, Sabrina often just wears a leather bra. But of course the girlfriend didn't know that."
     "But it's January! How can she walk around in just a leather bra?"
     "Sabrina's a runaway. From somewhere cold. Alaska? Whitehorse, Yukon? Or maybe she's just from Spokane. Whatever. The girlfriend didn't wait for an explanation. She split." We were both quiet. "You're not mad someone avenged you, are you, Lex?"
     "Well . . . I guess I wish I could do it myself."
     "You still can! Do anything you want to him! You know, Lex, he's probably done the same thing to ten other girls. At least. He's old enough to have done it to a lot more than that. So if you don't want someone else to avenge you, just think of it like Sabrina avenging one of those other ten or twenty or a hundred girls. You can still do anything you like. There's plenty of room for revenge on this bastard."
     Later that night, I lay in my bed and wished I could be Sabrina for a day. I pictured a little punk action figure, a determined girl with a mohawk and angry eyes. Sabrina the Avenger. I thought of how I'd laid down and taken it from Eddie Martinelli, too embarrassed to even yell. I pictured myself in a leather bra, trashing the bathrooms of strange men. The vision didn't come easily. I listened to Sandi's breathing, gentle in sleep. I wondered if Sabrina slept easy at night, or if she was too keyed up plotting vengeance. Me, I could hardly sleep at all.
Chapter Twelve

Years later I couldn't locate the house where Eddie Martinelli took me that night. I just knew it stood somewhere on Del Mar Street, maybe three or five or six blocks from the beach. It startled me when Mom first bought her condo on Del Mar Street, just a block from the beach, no more than five blocks from the spot where I had sex with Eddie. But the street had absorbed his transgression, buried beneath fourteen years of life and death and various greater crimes. I didn't feel anything, really, as Dale Ross and I walked from Newport Avenue to Del Mar Street. I led him on the locals only route, down alleys and cutting through apartment complexes, on the paths Sandi, Chance, Pablo and I had transversed so many years ago. The neighborhood looked about the same, still full of cute shabby beach houses, surfboards on the porches, and breathtaking glimpses of breaking waves down alleys, between buildings.
     All too soon we stood in Mom's kitchen, staring at a plastic container beside the can opener.
     "I can't believe they put her in plastic." I couldn't think what else to say. Mom looked haggard, older than I remembered. She'd only put on eyeliner instead of her usual full face makeup, and wore slippers with her black leggings and long T-shirt. She looked half dressed, tentative, like she didn't know if she should leave her condo or stay in the sky, up on the fifth floor, detached from everything below.
     A strange woman hovered on the edge of the living room, perched on Mom's armchair, then slipped into the kitchen to make coffee. Mom introduced her as Peggy Barnes. "Peggy has been wonderful to have around since the . . . incident," Mom said, sitting down and going pale. "Come sit by me, honey." I sat beside her on the beige couch, a couch so plain and new it could almost erase history. The whole furniture set affected me like that, sterile as an airport, a place you only needed to contemplate while there, and would forget as soon as you left.
     Mom's dark roots showed, her face looked puffy and ruddy, almost alcoholic, under her mostly blond hair. She didn't look 62; she looked more like a gruesome 49. I put my arm around her and she felt softer and more delicate than I'd remembered.
     "Can I get you a drink?" Peggy asked me and Dale. "There's coffee, and a pitcher of margaritas."
     I couldn't imagine them blending up a batch of margaritas, these two women, a party activity after the tragedy. But I wanted a margarita, so I didn't ask any questions. Dale had coffee. I figured Peggy must be a neighbor, she knew her way around the condo so well. She looked fifteen years younger than Mom, but I could picture her going through the same motions in her own identical place, probably two or three floors down. She and Dale kept exchanging glances, which perplexed me, because he resembled a young Alan Ladd, and she reminded me of a rural librarian. She was probably in her middle forties, her hair graying in places, her eyes squinty behind oversized glasses. Her baggy beige dress hung below her knees.
     "Oh, the phone calls I've been getting! Some of Sandi's . . . friends . . . grew up here too, you know. I'm afraid to go outside half the time, that I'll run into their . . . families."
     I wanted out already. I wanted to ditch my mother, to run over to Pablo's apartment and hide. But he'd moved to San Francisco ten years ago, and I had no one but Mom left in San Diego. I tried to think of something to say. "Did you know any of them?" I finally asked.
     But by then she'd forgotten what she'd said. "Who?"
     "Sandi's friends."
     "Oh. No. Of course not. You know she hardly talked to me the last few years. Always said she needed a retreat, or something about spiritual cleansing, silence, not talking. She certainly never brought her friends home to meet me."
     Peggy leaned forward with a sympathetic expression. "When was the last time you talked to your sister, dear?" I didn't want to be rude to my Mom's friend, but I didn't want to answer her question. I sipped my margarita, shrugged, and looked out the window. The sun came out from behind a cloud and glittered on the ocean. The expanse of blue, the sun bouncing off it in shards of gold, set a million synapses firing in my brain: Memories of Sandi and Annabelle, a longing for my younger years, a wish for release, for absorption into something as complete, un self conscious and overriding as the ocean. Had Sandi's suicide released her, or only bound her more firmly to the cycle of death and rebirth?
     "Lex," Mom prodded, "when did you last speak to Sandi?"
     "I don't know. A while ago, I guess."
     "When did you last see her?" Mom asked.
     "Why? What does it matter now?"
     Mom and Peggy exchanged a look.
     "When did you last see her?" Dale asked, looking at Mom.
     "I don't think Persi feels like answering questions right now," Peggy interrupted. She made me nervous. I wished she'd go home.
     Since no one wanted to answer questions, we all sat quiet and uncomfortable for a half hour. Finally Dale said, "You two probably need some time alone. I'm going to have a look around town."
     I suddenly dreaded being alone with my mother, or, worse, alone with her and her awful neighbor. Cruelly I asked Mom to borrow her car. "I want to show Dale around," I said.
     She would have been hurt if she hadn't been so damaged already. What difference did a seventh or eighth helping of pain make? She gave me the keys and we arranged to return and pick her up for an early dinner at Margarita's, a Mexican restaurant that had stood on Newport Avenue since the Triassic Period. Ten minutes later we zoomed toward the end of the Point, winding along Sunset Cliffs, the waves breaking below.
     "You should have stayed with your mother."
     I looked at him from behind my sunglasses, stared at him long enough to miss a curve and slip into the other lane. A horn honked, a car swerved. He wore sunglasses, too, so I couldn't see his eyes. "I can't take it," I said.
     "You can take it."
     I turned too fast into a parking lot facing the ocean, and I slammed on the brake just before we went over the cliff.
     "Do you want me to drive?"
     Thirty feet below us wetsuit-clad surfers swam toward swells, like seals with human feet. "You need to rest," he said gently. "Do you want to go back to the Ebb Tide and take a nap?" I shook my head. "Let me drive then. Or I could rent a car."
     "You want to be alone?" I asked him.
     "It's easier for me to think that way." A cloud of pot smoke from a neighboring car seeped through my window.
     "OK," I sighed. You can take the car. But drive me over to Sea Trader first. You can just drop me off there."
     "It's a liquor store over on Point Loma Avenue."
     "And why do you want to go there?"
     "I'm just going to get something to drink. Maybe sit on the beach." I thought about all those times Sandi and I had laid in the sand together as kids, walking on the beach, trying to call up mystical powers of the ocean. I imagined getting good and drunk at the beach this afternoon, and going home to some sandy beach shack with the first possible candidate. I could forget myself in cheap wine and anonymous sex, at least for an hour or two before dinner.
     "No, Lex. You're not going to get drunk on the beach. You'll stay with me." His eyes flashed like he itched to break a bottle of wine over my head.
     "What! Why are you getting mad at me?"
     "You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself," he said softly.
     "You fucking try to be me and see how you feel, OK?" I slammed the car into reverse and tore down Sunset Cliffs toward Hill Street. Dale's white knuckles clutched his armrest, but I ignored him. I drove to Point Loma Nazarene College, formerly Lomaland. The guard stopped our car at the gates. "This is a non-smoking campus, sir." Dale put his cigarette out.
     "Nazarenes," I hissed, and drove double the campus speed limit to get away from the guard. "Go ahead and smoke. My connections here go way back."
     That campus always made me ache. Most of the old buildings had been torn down decades ago. Madame Tingley would have hated their sleek, modern, boring replacements, and the proliferation of crosses. Only her Greek amphitheater still stood, and one white building with a spiral staircase and an amethyst glass dome. But the Nazarenes hadn't destroyed the view. The campus spread high across a green flank of the Point, with roads shooting down to cliffs and tidepools hundreds of feet below, and the infinite ocean beyond. Dale and I had arrived at the most beautiful spot on earth.
     I stopped the car by a bank of iceplant, suddenly unable to bear my loss. Was I from this place or wasn't I? I'd left years ago. I'd never exactly belonged. My schoolmates had labelled me the seance queen, kooky Annabelle's granddaughter, Pablo's twin. And the people I'd cared for had dispersed. Annabelle dead, Sandi dead, Pablo in San Francisco, Fuzzy in Alaska, last I'd heard, Chance married in the Midwest, and Vince gone many long years, I never knew where. Only Mom stayed on, in her sparkling sterile condo, drinking margaritas. What was San Diego to me without the people? Yet when I sat there on the site of Lomaland, the place where my mother and grandmother began their lives, sunlight winked off the ocean at me. This place seemed mine in a personal way, but at the same time, it was illusory. My presence didn't change the ocean's color, and if I wasn't here now, it would wink at someone else. The ocean didn't care about me, and the land didn't care, and neither did the city. And somehow I couldn't bear to be a daughter of Point Loma, my people gone, part of my spirit bound here, for no compensation.
     Dale took the keys out of the ignition. "You want to go for a walk?" he asked. I shook my head. "Then let's trade places." I slid across the seat to the passenger side. He walked around the car and sat behind the wheel.
     My anger disappeared, swallowed by something bigger. Dale drove down the ribs of Point Loma toward the ocean. I knew we'd dead end by the Navy's dolphin research lab and have to drive back up, but I didn't tell him. "I have to tell you the rest of the story," I said. "The rest of how I got involved in Sandi's channeling. But it's crazy. It all happened in one week. I don't know if you'll believe it. I might not believe it myself."
     "The heartbreak and the death?"
     "Yeah. They both happened in a week." I didn't want to tell him I still hadn't gotten over either. But it would come out, like pus from a wound, as Dale Ross sat silent and beautiful with his tape recorder. "And a lot of other stuff happened, too."
     "Why won't I believe it?"
     "It's crazy. I couldn't have ever been so young, so . . . susceptible to people. I told you about all that with Eddie Martinelli. Well, this other guy bewitched me. Which sounds impossible. And it was too soon after Eddie Martinelli. The doesn't add up. I mean, when I think of it, it was just too soon. Why was I even interested in sex or love right then? It doesn't make sense. How did he do that to me?"
     "Vince Farris."
     "The heartbreak?"
     I nodded, trying to glimpse a dolphin through the Navy's fence.
     "Who said heartbreak makes sense?" Dale said, his face drawn. "Who said life adds up?" He turned the car around and drove back up the hill.


Chapter 13

The Saturday after I promised to be the Krishna boy's conduit to the outside world, Pablo invited me to a party at Cutter's house. I settled on the seventh outfit I tried on, a foam green sundress that ended just below my butt, black tights, black leather boots that laced to my knee, and a short black jacket trimmed with fur.
     Cutter's grandmother and aunt, who were in Palm Springs, inhabited a real mansion. They lived amidst candelabras, chandeliers and ancestral portraits. I loitered in the foyer, a space half the size of my shared bedroom, before following Pablo up a curving stairway to a real ballroom.
     The party looked ill-attended in the huge, pale blue ballroom. Some kind of experimental music shrilled from the stereo, the treble overkill twisting my already strained nerves. Twenty people, mostly guys, huddled together in threes and fours, trying to talk over the music.
     I finally met Cutter, the best-looking guy in the room, whose dark hair and eyes, aristocratic nose and lean body reminded me of a Spaniard on a TV western. He wore a black silk shirt, black pants and plum pointy-toed boots. He looked about twenty-two.
     Cutter merely nodded at me when Pablo introduced us. I wondered if Pablo had ever even mentioned me to him. The sweat seeped into into my armpits. What could I going to say to these older people, all of whom seemed to know each other? I catalogued my areas of expertise: plants, Bow Wow Wow, the thrift shops of San Diego, the alleys of Point Loma, Theosophy, a passing knowledge of the Hare Krishnas. What were the chances these topics would even come up?
     "I suppose you're in high school, too?" Cutter asked over the music. He looked me over in a flash, and I felt like his one glance saw everything, saw through me.
     He turned to Pablo. "Great. More jailbait at my party." Cutter put a hand on Pablo's hip bone and ignored me.
     "Let's get some drinks," Pablo said after a minute, and steered me toward a bar in the corner. "What do you think of Cutter?"
     "Gorgeous. But not very nice."
     Pablo laughed. "What would I do with nice?"
     He poured himself a Coke and mixed me a screwdriver, then we joined a group of two guys and a girl. The girl wore a pink lace dress that looked at home in the ballroom, but her ripped black tights, combat boots and dark dredlocks contradicted the historic effect. Pablo introduced me.
     "Good God!" said a guy named Andy who wore a camouflage T-shirt and tight, shiny black pants. I didn't catch the other guy's name. "You're as young as him!" He nodded at Pablo.
     "Just ignore him," Pablo said.
     Pablo introduced the girl in pink lace as Chloe, a poet whose work Cutter published in his fanzine Eat Me! Eat Me! Do I Have To? Do I Have To? Chloe seemed friendlier than the others, but they mostly all ignored me. I gulped my drink. Someone passed a joint and I smoked it. After not saying a word for ten minutes, the conversation allowed me to advise Chloe on her houseplants. Then I lapsed into a longer silence. Someone handed me another drink.
     Another guy joined our group. "Hey, your eyes are drooping!" he said to me. I guess I looked pretty stoned. "Take this," he said, handing me a black capsule. I didn't think twice until after I swallowed it.
     I examined every facet of the ballroom: the chipped paint on the walls, the white gingerbread trim just beneath the ceiling, the blond parquet floor, the crystal chandelier. I tried to keep a happy, friendly look on my face, but I felt like a failure. Pablo would never invite me to another of these parties, because my social ineptness probably embarrassed the hell out of him. I estimated my chances of slipping out, unseen, and making my way home. The drinks and the joint and the pill made me feel kind of weird. I wasn't sure I could walk home.
     Just as I decided to hide instead of leave, all eyes turned to the door. A tall blond man swept in wearing an ankle-length olive parka. His piercing blue eyes flashed in his ruddy face, his movements were quick and commanding. He looked older than anyone there. A blue-haired boy and a skinny girl, both teenagers, followed him like royal servants.
     "Oh, Lord," Chloe moaned. "Who invited Vince Farris?"
     "Probably no one," Andy said.
no one," corrected Pablo.
     "Watch out for that Vince Farris," Chloe warned me.
     "Who is he?"
     "He's deranged," said Andy. "He shows up everywhere. He'll tell you he's king of the San Diego punks. All those people stay together in a house in North Park."
     "Why should I watch out for him?"
     "Just look at him!" Andy said in disgust. "Vince Farris always gets people in trouble."
     I could hear Vince Farris' loud voice over the music as he swooped from one group of people to another. I couldn't stop watching him, and neither could anyone else, though they pretended to ignore him. I remembered a fairy tale about an evil neighboring ruler who's not invited to a feast, but shows up anyway, only to curse the guests. His entourage stayed close behind him, especially the girl, a sickly, scrawny thing dressed in red leather. When Vince Farris reached a nearby group of people, I heard a red-haired guy say, "Vince, what you been up to?"
     Vince tore off his parka, thrust it, without looking, at his blue-haired attendant, and turned his back on the redhead. "Lift my shirt," Vince Farris growled. The guy giggled. Everyone in the room stared. "Lift it!" The guy gingerly raised Vince's shirt an inch. "Higher!" The guy pulled it up, revealing long welts across Vince Farris' pale, bony back. The guy let the shirt drop in a hurry. "I met this crazy girl," Vince boomed, whirling to face the guy. "She took me to her house and it turned out she was into that S&M shit." Vince's eyes jumped over to our group, and the rest of him followed. The skinny girl in leather was glued to his elbow, but he never looked at her. "Hey Chloe!"
     "Oh fuck," she muttered. "Hi Vince."
     "I wrote a poem for you, Chloe. It goes 'Pink treasure in the ballroom of the night, raven hair fly me past the stars to ultimate throb.'"
     "Thanks, Vince. How long did you work on that masterpiece."
     "It's not the length of time, Chloe. It's sensation! You're a poet. You know all that shit."
     "Sure Vince," she said nervously.
     His eyes flicked over to me and stayed there. "I'm Vince Farris. King of the punks. These people are my subjects."
     "So I hear."
      "Now you're mine, too." He took a step toward me. I looked up six inches to reach his eyes, which held like velcro.
     "I don't know about that," I barely managed to say.
     "I do." Vince Farris stood and radiated in front of me. His outline shimmered as the electrons broke up and reassembled around his outer edges. I felt all my energy draining out of me and pouring into him, swelling Vince Farris into a deity right in the room, or at least a king, like he claimed. "You look like you're going to fall," he said. His lips curved up about one millimeter, into a sort of smile, while his eyes shot sparks.
     "Stop it, Vince," the red leather girl whined as she grabbed for his arm. He shook her loose, still not looking at her, and she stepped back. My knees buckled. Vince stepped forward and caught me. Unwholesome and malnourished as he looked, he pulled me to my feet without effort. But to my horror, I leaned into him and didn't even attempt to stand on my own.
     Next thing I knew, Pablo's hand rested on my back "What are you doing, Vince?" Pablo's voice quavered.
     "Do you know this girl? She fell. Might have got hurt, I hadn't caught her."
     "What did you do to her?"
     "Do you know her name?"
     "Of course I do. She's my best friend." Pablo touched my hair. "Lex," he whispered. "Are you OK?"
     I couldn't answer. I was in Vince Farris' forcefield. I was on his planet.
     "Lex," Vince whispered. "Lex." His voice sounded low and gravelly. "Lex." He said my name three times and I belonged to him.
     "Oh, fuck," Pablo breathed. "She needs to lie down." He reached out and touched my shoulders but I shrugged off his hands.
     "Where can she lie down?" Vince asked
     Pablo sighed. "Follow me." Vince Farris gently unwrapped one arm from me, but left the other to steer me after Pablo. We crossed the room and I saw the shocked faces of Cutter and his friends, but they made little impression on me. I glided behind the blond afro, held up only by Vince.
     We exited the ballroom and turned left. Pablo led us into a bedroom with two double beds, like a hotel room. Vince Farris guided me to a bed and eased me onto my back, then sat on the edge. Pablo shifted from foot to foot. "I can watch her now," Pablo said. "You can go back to the party." Vince stared at Pablo, utterly still. The air was charged - I saw the atoms pulsing in place. "She just drank too much. Smoked some bad weed," Pablo tried. "I saw her take an upper." But Vince just sat there. "Oh, come on Vince! Leave her alone!"
     "She fell," Vince whispered, looking at me. "I caught her." His eyes were blue like the July sky over Point Loma, floating in his flushed face.
     "She's fifteen. For God's sake, leave her alone!" Their blue eyes regarded each other.
     "Pablo, do you think age has ever meant a thing to me? One thing?"
     "It means something to the authorities."
     "Don't give me that choir boy talk," Vince growled. "It's so beneath you. I guess the authorities make a special exception for you and Cutter, since you're so much in love?"
     I'd never seen Pablo at a loss for a comeback, or looking young and scared like he did now. He sank to the edge of the bed so that I lay between them. "Lex," he whispered. "Snap out of it."
     There was no snapping.
     Vince and I could drink each other without words. We recognized each other on a different plane.
     Cutter and the girl in leather came in after ten minutes or three hours, I don't know. "What is going on?" he asked. He drummed his fingers on Pablo's shoulders. The girl stood over me and stared, her malevolent eyes small and almost black.
     "Vince is up to his tricks," Pablo said.
     "It's no trick." Vince's eyes stayed on mine.
     "So this is what you want," the girl sneered. "Miss Goody Goody fucking Point Loma girl. You're such a poser."
     "Scram, Sabrina," Pablo said. Her name washed over me, Sabrina the girl avenger. She looked scrawnier, stringier, dirtier than I'd imagined.
     "Yeah, where am I supposed to go?" she snapped. "I'll just have to sleep over here again."
     "No way," said Cutter. "Vince, get rid of her."
     Vince reached in a pocket of his parka, extracted car keys, and tossed them in her direction. "She's not old enough to have a license," Pablo protested. Sabrina hesitated a moment, maybe composing one last insult for the road, but then she just left.
     "Christ, Vince! You come over to my house uninvited and make everyone nervous as shit!" Cutter said. "Why don't you just leave now, too. Hurry up and catch up with Sabrina and get back to fucking North Park. Leave this girl alone. You're twice her age!"
     "Two and two-fifths," Pablo said.
     "He's two and two-fifths times her age."
     Cutter turned on Pablo. "What's your problem? You're sitting here watching your fucking friend fall for Vince Farris! In my house!" Cutter looked scared, too. "She probably has a curfew!" Cutter yelled. "Her parents will send out the police! To my house! Fuck, Pablo, how are we going to get these two out of here?"
     Pablo shook his head. "I have no idea."
     "You always have ideas."
     "Not this time."
     Minutes ticked away. "OK, Pablo, OK. We'll just leave them here. Hey, it's a big house. We'll just seal off this room! Leave the lovers alone for eternity!"
     Vince Farris smiled just the slightest bit at me and took my left hand, which had been laying on my stomach. He hadn't touched me since bringing me to the bed. I felt energy rushing out his hand and shooting up my arm. Our arms felt like one long arm and I, a continuation of him.
     "I'm not going to stand here and watch this," Cutter said. He hesitated, as if waiting for Pablo to leave with him, then stomped out of the room and slammed the door.
     "She has to go home," Pablo said. "It's after midnight."
     "I'll take her home."
     "She has to go to her home."
     "I'll take her to her home. What do you think I'm going to do to her?"
     "Well, I guess you've already done the worst. You sucked out her soul and left her a vegetable!"
     "I wouldn't hurt Lex for anything." He squeezed my hand and sent a flood of hyper-awareness through my body. I could suddenly feel every hair follicle, and the oxygen entering my bloodstream when I inhaled, and the spit trickling into my stomach when I swallowed. "Do you want to go home, Lex?" Vince whispered.
     I shook my head.
     "She doesn't want to go. You don't want me to make her do anything she doesn't want to do. Do you?"
     "In this case, yes." Pablo leaned down toward me. "Lex, it's one o'clock in the morning. You can't worry your Mom like this all night."
     A little piece of my mind bubbled to the surface. "You're right. Where's the phone?"
     It was the most coherent thing I'd said since I first fell into Vince's chest, and Pablo looked encouraged. He ran out to the sitting room and got the cordless phone. In the ten seconds Pablo was out of the room, Vince pressed his lips to mine. I felt like I overflowed the container of my body, like my energy and spirit couldn't be confined within four limbs, a torso, head, neck and shoulders.
     Pablo returned with the cordless phone, then hesitated. "Who are you going to call, Lex? We should be leaving, not making phone calls."
     "Just give her the phone."
     Pablo sighed and handed it over. I stared at the phone for minutes, then raised my eyes to Pablo. "What's my number?" The here and now overwhelmed me, Vince and the pulsing air, the feelings in my body were all that mattered. Numbers on the phone, connections outside of that room, that moment, seemed random, unimportant. I couldn't even think what Mom's voice sounded like, much less what I should say to her. And I couldn't care.
     "Oh, for Christ's sake!" He grabbed the phone and punched in some numbers. "Vince, you fucker, you're going to get it someday."
     Pablo handed me the ringing phone. Mom answered, sounding asleep. "Hi, Mom."
     "Lex, where are you?"
     "I'm tired. I'm going to stay at Pablo's."
     "Where are you?"
     "His friend's house."
     "You sound peculiar. Have you been drinking?"
     "I'm just tired, Mom."
     "Have you been smoking pot? I'm not going to get mad at you, I just want an honest answer."
     "I'm just tired, Mom."
     "Well you be careful. Call me if you change your mind and I'll come pick you up. What time is it, anyway?"
     "I don't know."
     "I fell asleep watching this old movie with the cutest little dog in it. But now I guess it's over." Pause. "Well, I'll see you before long, Lex?"
     "Good night."
     I hung up. "OK, Lex," Pablo said. "Sure you can stay at my house. Let's go before it gets any later."
     I looked at Vince. "Do you think you can walk?" he asked. I nodded. "Do you want me to take you home?"
     "Look, Vince, I'll leave with you. Lex is my best friend. And everyone knows that you're . . . uh . . . how do I put this . . . not the right match for my best friend. So tell me, Vince, what can I do to get you to leave her alone? Anything you want."
     "What do you think you have that I could possibly want?"
     "Money? Sex? I can get you any drug you want. I can get you anything."
     Vince's lips turned up in that one-tenth smile. "What I want I get myself. Come on, Lex. Let's get out of here."
     Vince Farris helped me to my feet and I stumbled toward the door. If Cutter hadn't shown up right then and held Pablo's wrists, I'm sure Pablo would have followed us.
     Outside, my strength returned enough to stand alone. Night enveloped us, the sky as dark as it ever gets in San Diego, a kind of fuzzy gray, the glow of city lights mixed with black. It was late enough that Lindbergh Field had shut, and the absence of jets in the sky felt disturbing, like the ocean if the waves stopped. I led Vince in back of the house, to the alley behind Cutter's garage.
     "I don't want to take you to my place," he whispered, his voice gruff. "Too many people."
     "I know where we can go." We were at least two miles from Chance's grotto, but I felt light, like I was made of air, not flesh, and could walk all night. At the same time, I still felt hyper-aware of every sensation in my body. I routed us through the alleys of Point Loma, holding his hand as we threaded our way between shrubs and garbage cans. The houses stood mostly dark, except one rear window that showed the silhouette of an old couple in German costumes dancing. We heard faint polka music seeping into the night.
     Now that the strength had returned to my legs, I stalked through alleys, more sure-footed than ever. I felt some power again, but I wasn't sure if it belonged to me or to him. I guessed it was mine, from night and ocean.
     We didn't talk, but communicated through the blood and pulsing of our held hands. We flew through those alleys, and in what seemed like minutes we arrived at the dirt road that led to the path, and then we tiptoed down the path that led to the grotto. As we stepped into the clearing, the clouds shifted and unveiled the hiding moon, three quarters full, shining on the empty space with its low wall and bushes. The moon scoured away the ghosts of me and Chance sitting on the wall, leaving a clean new place for me and Vince Farris.
     Vince turned to me and looked in my eyes and I'd never felt so sure I was in the right place. He leaned over and slowly his face moved toward mine. Our lips touched but they just dragged across each other's, the feeling too intense to really kiss. I would have fallen again if he hadn't held me up. My heart beat too fast and I could inhale but not exhale and my knees were nothing. He helped me to the wall and sat me down, then took off his parka and spread it on the ground. He held a hand out to me and I wobbled over to sit beside him on the parka.
     "Can you do this to anyone you want?" I asked, my face close to his.
     "Do what?"
     "Bewitch them." I wanted to know if I was special, or just his weekend parlor trick.
     "I didn't do anything to you."
     Witnesses saw him do it. "Then how did this happen?"
     "We're together. We're in sync. You might as well ask about the tide. Or the phases of the moon."
     We pressed our lips together and this time they didn't slide apart. Instead, I felt my heart pound with bruising force. I slid down the parka until I lay on my side. He lay and faced me and we kissed and looked at each other and not much more, but it was almost too much.
     I felt wide awake, hyper-aware, then suddenly I woke from a dream where Vince and I stood alone in a room and he looked at me with burning eyes and touched one hot finger to my forehead and I fell over backwards, stunned and staring. I opened my eyes and Vince lay inches away, looking into them. The sky was lightening, and the first birds cleared their throats. I noticed the ground beneath us, that grass is not so comfortable as a mattress.
     I realized we couldn't stay that way forever. Life would resume. Life would close in on us, a natural contraction to offset the expansion of the night before. Life never stayed expanded -- that would loosen everything so the machinery would forget to run.
     "You can live with me," he said, reading my mind.
     "But you live in North Park!"
     "You'll like it there. We'll be together."
     "I can't leave my mom and sister."
     He pulled me to him this time, so not only did I feel his lips, but the whole front of his long body. I blame it on our hearts: they beat so loud, so out of sync with their own needs, that I lost consciousness. I had a vision that I awoke and found myself alone in the grotto and Vince Farris had never existed and my life ground on one million times as lonely and empty as anything I'd ever felt. Each day took a hundred years to pass and I saw not one color nor heard one note of music. The life had been squeezed out of life.
     I opened my eyes and still Vince kissed me. I knew he'd planted the vision in my head, though he'd never admit it.
     We heard footsteps and stopped kissing. The feet were definitely coming toward us. I could make out trees and bushes and the figure of a man walking toward us against the lightening sky. The closer he got, the more familiar he looked in the half light. His course pointed directly at us, and if I didn't say something he would trip on our bodies.
     "Chance," I whispered and he froze.
     "Who the fuck's there," he growled in his pre-Theosophy voice.
     "It's me. Lex." He came closer and squinted down at us in the half light.
     "You brought someone here! You bitch! You promised you wouldn't tell anyone about this place!"
     "I didn't tell. I just led him here."
     "You've ruined it!"
     "Don't yell at my lover," Vince said.
     Chance glared down at Vince, who now crouched on the parka. "Your lover! For god's sake, Lex, where do you find these people? That little fag you run around with is bad enough, but fucking bums outside in a vacant lot is too much!"
     Vince sprang at Chance and had him by the throat before I could even figure out his intention. "Vince!" I shrieked. "Stop!" I jumped up and grabbed one of Vince's wrists. I felt the veins popping out. "Vince, no!" He let me remove his hands from Chance's throat. He left a trembling hand in mine.
     Chance choked, trying to breathe again. He stumbled to the wall and slumped down, holding his throat. I held the hand that had almost killed my former friend Chance, and wondered what that hand had done before. Plenty, I knew without asking. I remembered the vibes that shot through the ballroom when Vince Farris entered. I remembered someone saying he always brought trouble.
     "You almost killed him."
     "No one is going to hurt Lex anymore," Vince growled.
     "It's life," I said. "Everyone gets hurt."
     "I'm going to protect you."
     "You can't. No one can."
     "I just come here sometimes to meditate," Chance sputtered. "This is my place."
     "Sorry, Chance. I didn't know you still came here."
     "I do. And no one's ever tried to kill me here. It's always been an all right place. The only all right place."
     "I'm sorry," I said.
     "It's ruined," Chance breathed. "How old is that guy, Lex?"
     "Be smart. Don't aggravate him."
     "Where'd you meet him? I've never seen him around." Chance peered at us in the early light. The birds were getting worked up now.
     I figured I might as well introduce them. "Vince, this is Chance. We're co-workers."
     "You're just going to say I'm your co-worker?"
     "Well, you are."
     "Aren't we something more than that?"
     "Not really. Not for the last year or however long it's been."
     "What were you before then?" Vince's asked, his voice wary.
     "She was my girlfriend."
     "Oh, not really!"
     "We sat on this wall right here."
     "One time! Before you went all holy."
     "You went for this guy?" Vince leaned forward and squinted at Chance. Neither of them looked so hot. They were both stubbly and rumpled. Vince's hands still shook, perhaps from more than nerves.
     The previous night came unmoored from morning, receding with the stars. Suddenly Chance's familiarity comforted me. I knew his limits, which stopped short of strangulation. I looked at Vince, who watched me closely. "I don't know about this," I whispered.
     "What is it?"
     "You almost killed him. I don't know if this is going to work."
     His eyes clouded. "Lex. We have something. You can't withdraw from me. This is too special for fear."
     "Where did you meet this guy?" Chance still held his neck. I wanted to see if the marks looked bad, but I stayed beside Vince. "What are you doing to yourself, Lex?"
     "I think I better go home now," I said. "We should give Chance his place back."
     "It doesn't belong to him. After last night, it's ours. Our presence is everywhere here now!"
     "And it will be forever," Chance moaned. "Thanks a lot for keeping my secret!"
     "He wouldn't even be able to find it again," I protested. "We came here in the middle of the night."
     "It's ruined." Chance had told me about his father, right here in this grotto, a year before. Chance had already lost so much.
     "I need to go home," I said. "I need to think."
     "You don't need to think. You know." Vince turned my face toward his, and looked into my eyes like he could read them. "Don't fuck this up." He kissed me for too long, showing Chance the situation. "I'll walk you home."
     We left the grotto, and returned to the imperfect world we really inhabited.
     The streets of Point Loma were deserted Sunday morning, except a few early morning Christians straggling into the church on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, and one old man who scrubbed an airplane in his driveway. The man rubbed a spot by the tail with a nailbrush. He didn't look up as we passed.
     "You're scared of me now."
     He grabbed my wrists and stopped so fast I tripped. "Don't ever lie to me, Lex. I'll always know." His voice sounded soft, intimate, and pulled me back to him.
     I lifted my eyes, knowing I'd never lie to him again. "Last night I was so sure. But you almost killed Chance! You can't go around killing people just because you don't like them!"
     "I wasn't going to kill him. Just scare him. He can't talk to you like that."
     "Well, you scared me. And I don't want to be lied to, either."
     "I couldn't lie to you."
     I stopped in an alley two blocks from home. "I'll walk alone from here."
     "What are you talking about?"
     "There might be trouble . . . " I didn't want to embarrass him about being so old. "If my Mom saw us together . . . anyway, she thinks I'm at Pablo's."
     "I wouldn't just leave you alone in an alley! I want to protect you."
     "I grew up in these alleys. I'm perfectly safe."
     Suddenly it seemed impossible that I could walk one way and he, the other. I fished a pen from my purse. "Do you have something to write on?"
     He pushed up the sleeve of his parka and the black shirt beneath. "Write on my arm." Scars crisscrossed his pale skin but I didn't ask why. I wrote my phone number. "I'll write it on the wall when I get home." He didn't offer me any way to reach him.
     "Do you know how to get home?" I asked.
     "I own this city, Lex." He swooped down, kissed me, then rushed off like a coffin-bound vampire racing the force of sunlight.
     Mom woke up when I let myself into our apartment. She staggered out of the living room in her nightgown, her eyes half sealed with sleep, a sharp letter opener in her hand. "You scared me half to death, Lex! It's not even seven!"
     "I couldn't sleep. Pablo never wakes up until about noon on the weekend so I thought I might as well come home."
     "You're not an early riser yourself. Is something wrong?"
     "No. There was just . . . a cat yowling outside. Pablo slept right through it, but it kept me awake."
     "You poor thing! You want me to make you some toast?"
     "No. Go back to sleep. I'm going to lie down and try to sleep again. Goodnight, Mom."
     "It's hardly night."
     "It feels like it should be."
     I kissed her on the cheek and tiptoed into my room. I undressed down to my underpants and crawled into bed, where I fell into a stupor. But the whole time I slept, I saw Vince Farris on the back of my eyelids. He watched me sleep, spying on my dreams.
     The phone rang before nine. No one answered it, so on the fourth ring I stumbled into the hall and picked up the receiver.
     "Is Lex there?" asked a man's voice, familiar but not recognizable.
     "This is she." I heard the phone passed to someone else.
     "Lex! You're home!" Pablo cried.
     "Who was that?"
     "Cutter. In case your Mom answered and you were supposed to be at my house."
     "Oh yeah."
     "What are you doing?"
     "Where's Vince Farris?"
     "He went home. I guess."
     "When did you get rid of him?"
     "About seven." If I'd been more awake, I might have made something up.
     "Seven! You were with him all night! Where did you go?"
     "To a place I know. Outside. Kind of a vacant lot sheltered by hedges and trees." I whispered so Sandi couldn't hear.
     "How romantic. I guess Vince Farris can't even afford a decent motel room."
     "I don't know. I didn't want to go to his house."
     "Smart move. It's a dump."
     "You've been there?"
     "Sure I have. By the way, I almost slept with Vince Farris once. God help me, I was drunk."
     "So Vince is bi?"
     "Vince Farris sleeps with anything. No offense."
     "We didn't have sex."
     "You don't have to deny it."
     "I'm not denying anything! We didn't even take any clothes off. Except Vince took off his parka so we'd have something to lie on."
     "How chivalrous. But I don't believe it. What on earth did you do with Vince Farris all night if you didn't fuck him?"
     "I don't know. Talked a bit. Looked at each other."
     "Lex, you are too much! You were in a vacant lot looking at Vince Farris for six hours! I bet you didn't even have a radio!"
     "No. No radio." I could tell Cutter was in the room, making Pablo mask his concern. "So I know everyone hates him. But what, exactly, is so bad about him? Did he do anything specifically terrible?"
     "Everything Vince Farris does is terrible! Lex, you're fifteen and he's thirty-six. That's terrible right there."
     "Age isn't the most important thing in the world," I hissed. "It's not even a good indicator."
     "He plagued Chloe for a year. Wrote awful poems in response to her work in Cutter's magazine. Lex, writing awful poetry is embarrassing. But sending it to a great poet like Chloe is unforgivable."
     "I don't care about his poetry."
     "He's done plenty of other stuff."
     "Uh huh. He's supposed to call me this afternoon."
     "They don't even have a phone. Lost that privilege ages ago. He'll go to that scummy liquor store by their house. Paul Cat's Liquors, it's called. They all know him there. Probably won't even let him use their pay phone. Don't see him again. Don't be a fool."
     "I still don't see what's so terrible about him."
     "Look, Lex, I hate to mention this, but wasn't I right about a certain Mr. Martinelli? And didn't you fail to take my advice? And wasn't that a bit of a disaster? Now I'm coming over to keep an eye on you."
     "No thanks."
     "You can't sit by the phone all day. That's pathetic."
     "I'm not sitting by the phone. I'm sleeping."
     "Sleeping by the phone is even more pathetic than sitting by the phone. I'll be over in a couple of hours."
     "Who invited you over?"
     "Watch your manners, Lex! Sandi invited me over. We're going to have a Gita study party and go to the temple tonight. You haven't forgotten your little friend at the temple, have you?"
     I had. "Of course not."
     "Well, I want to meet him, too. You know I like to help boys escape from cults. And I think those dresses the Krishna boys wear are so titillating."
     "I'm going back to sleep now."
     "OK. See you in an hour." We hung up, and I trudged back to the bedroom.
     "Who was that?" Sandi asked. She always snapped awake, completely alert.
     "What were you arguing about?"
     "Never mind. Pablo's just bossy. Likes to tell me what to do." I lay back on the bed, but between Sandi awakening and Pablo stirring up my concerns, sleep looked like a lost cause.
     "You sounded mad at him."
     "Never mind."
     "Anger eats the soul, Lex. It's not good for us to feel anger."
     I pulled myself closer to the wall, but I couldn't get very far away from my sister.
     "When we feel anger, we should imagine we load it on a green boat, then we give the boat a shove and it sails off across the sea."
     "Never to land again?" I muttered. "I don't think that's the way it works."
     "I want you to be happy, Lex, because it's Sunday. Today we go to the temple! What could be more beautiful?"
     I imagined all the more beautiful things in the world: my own room, my own chain of thrift stores, Moonchild escaping the cult and moving to San Diego to be my boyfriend. Moonchild had never scared or threatened me.
     I pretended to fall asleep so Sandi wouldn't talk to me anymore. I dreamt Vince Farris sat across the room on Sandi's bed, watching me. When the phone rang again, waking me, it was him. Sandi and Mom had gone out somewhere.
     "Lex. When will I see you?" I had the eerie feeling of being surrounded by Vince. Fresh from dreaming, I felt like he still perched on Sandi's bed, and talked into my ear, which felt almost like he was implanted in my brain. "Lex? Are you there?"
     "I was sleeping."
     "Did you dream about me?"
     "What did you dream?"
     "That you were in the room watching me sleep."
     "Maybe I was."
     I shivered. "Were you sleeping, too?" I imagined him astrally projecting himself into my dream. Annabelle had told me stories of such things.
     "I don't sleep. When I need rest, I just close my eyes for a few minutes, then I'm OK," he said. I didn't know how to talk to him when I couldn't see his eyes. "Can I see you this afternoon?"
     "I'm spending it with my sister," I said.
     "What are you doing?"
     I tried to bite my tongue, but he somehow drew the words right out. "We're going to the Krishna temple. She's into that stuff."
     "In Pacific Beach?"
     "Yeah. You've been there?" I tried to picture him shaking some Krishna's hand and bragging about being king of the punks.
     "I told you I own this city! Krishnas are OK. They dish out the food. So what time is Sunday feast? 5:30?"
     "Yeah." How could I dissuade him?
     "So some of us will come from the house. Should we pick you up?"
     "No. That's OK." The doorbell rang. "I got to go. Someone's at the door."
     "I'll hold on. I'll make sure it's not an attacker." I dropped the phone without protesting, and walked toward the door. I half expected I'd open the door and Vince would be standing on the balcony. And inside he'd still be on the phone, and also on Sandi's bed, waiting for me to return to sleep.
     But Pablo stood on the balcony. "Lex, you look dreadful!" He hugged me, holding on for an unsettling amount of time.
     "Vince is on the phone. I got to hang up." He let go and followed me inside. He perched on the edge of the living room couch, ready to listen to every word of our conversation. "It's not an attacker," I said into the receiver. "It's just Pablo."
     After we hung up, I sank into the couch beside Pablo. "I forgot you were coming over."
     "What a flattering thing to say! I think Mr. Farris' brutish manners are rubbing off on you already."
     "I was asleep. That's why I forgot. The phone woke me up." Pablo put an arm around me and I leaned against him. "I miss Moonchild. He seems so uncomplicated now."
miss him! I practically lived with him."
     "But you have Cutter."
     "Don't you know I'd throw Cutter over in a second if Moonchild was here?"
     "No. I didn't know." I wasn't even jealous, just sad for all of us.
     "Don't you know it broke my tender heart to leave him, much as I hated the commune?"
     "I don't know what to do about Vince Farris."
     "You loved him last night."
     "I don't know today."
     "I'm glad to hear that. But you're not going to get rid of him easy."
     "Yeah. I was getting that feeling."
     "You frightened me half to death last night. I'm telling you, I was traumatized. I've never seen anything like that. What was going through your head when you were lying on that bed between us?"
     "Not much. It was like I had continuous electric currents running through my brain. They were coming out of his eyes."
     "I hate that his eyes have more power than mine!"
     "I guess I must have been pretty embarrassing. You finally take me to one of Cutter's parties and I act like that!"
     "Well, I won't lie and say it wasn't mortifying to have my best friend fall for a psychopath in front of Cutter's whole social circle. But Cutter told everyone you were on acid, so they probably won't hold it against you."
     Sandi and Mom came home later. Sandi bounced around the room, straightening a pillow on the chair, throwing some junk mail in the trash. When everything was straight, she did a pirouette, her loose platinum hair streaming out, like she was still seven years old. "I'm so excited you're coming to he temple again today!"
     "Pablo wants to go, too," I said.
     She stopped spinning. "I thought just we were going." I hated to think how upset she'd be when she saw Vince and his entourage walk into the temple. Mom turned on the TV.
     "What's Jokers Wild doing on in the middle of Saturday?" Pablo cried.
     "I never thought you'd want to go there," Sandi said to Pablo. "Everyone knows you're agnostic."
     "Lex said the food's good."
     "It is. But that's just a tiny part of the reasons to go. A tiny, tiny part."
     "It's good enough for me."
     Later that afternoon, Chance called Sandi. They hadn't talked much for a while, except at work. Now she pulled the phone to its farthest point, just inside the door to our room, and stayed on for half an hour. He was probably telling Sandi everything he knew about Vince Farris. I crossed my fingers that she could keep her mouth shut and not tell Mom.
     Pablo, Mom and I watched Big Valley. Mom sat in the easy chair, sneaking glances at Pablo's arm around me, probably wondering if Pablo was really gay. On screen, some rough-looking characters approached the fancy Barkley house in Stockton. Victoria Barkley answered the door. She didn't like the looks of the men so in her low, throaty voice she told them to get the hell off her property. She was a tiny woman with gray hair and a proper, high-collared dress. But between the commanding voice and flashing eyes, they high-tailed it off her property.
     "You see that, Lex?" Pablo whispered. "There's a role model for you. Victoria Barkley, Victorian bad ass."
     Sandi emerged from our room and hung up the phone. She sat on the couch on my other side. "Chance is going to the temple today, too." Her blue eyes regarded me, cold and clinical. He had told all. It annoyed me that she believed him, even though it was all true.
     "Chance can't go!" I cried. "He was with us in Balboa Park that first day we met the Krishnas! Remember how he just glared and wouldn't even be on the same side of the street as them? And then dragged you off, yelling?"
     "Well, we never thought Pablo would give them a chance either. Hare bol!" she said, holding my eyes until I looked away.

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