Alex, Approximately: Chapter 15


“Never trust a junkie.”

—Chloe Webb, Sid and Nancy (1986)


Tiny arms hug me from behind. I’m engulfed by the scent of baby lotion. “I’m so, so sorry,” Grace’s elfin voice says into the middle of my back as she squeezes me. “Will you ever forgive me?”

It’s the following day, and I’m standing in front of my locker in the break room at work. We texted last night after Porter sneaked away—and after my dad got over being amazed that he never heard Grace’s car drive up, and why didn’t she come inside? Ugh. Once you tell one lie, plan on telling about twenty more, because they pile up like yesterday’s garbage.

“There’s nothing to forgive,” I tell her. I’m just relieved she didn’t think I ditched her for Porter—or ask why I was with him. “But for Halloween, I’m dressing up like a tree and you’re going as a sloth. I’ll carry you around while you eat my leaves.”

“You probably could,” she says, releasing me and flopping back against the lockers, arms crossed. “You’ve got all that secret strength for taking down adolescent boys. Were you on the varsity wrestling team back in DC? Coronado Cove’s got a Roller Derby team, you know. The Cavegirls.”

I snort a laugh. “No, I didn’t know that, but I’ll keep it in mind for this fall.”

“Look, I really am sorry for losing you at the bonfire. I didn’t mean to. I don’t even know how it happened. Freddy started talking to me and you just disappeared. Someone said you were talking to the twins—”

“I was. They introduced me to someone else. I don’t know. I’m not great at being social,” I admit. “Anyway, it all worked out.”

She glances around the break room. Only a few people are there, and no one’s paying attention to us. “So, yeah. Do tell. Porter took you home? And . . . ?”

“And what?” Crap. So much for avoiding that subject. I can feel my face getting hot, so I busy myself feeling around inside my locker for some nonexistent thing.

“I’m just saying, the two of you are spending an awful lot of time together and asking an awful lot of questions about each other—”

“I haven’t asked any questions.” Have I?

“And you’re giving him an awful lot of looks that say I’d like to jump on you with my mighty roller-derby strength. And he’s giving you looks that say I’d like to surf your waves.”

“You are nutty.”

“Mmm-hmm. Let’s see about that,” she murmurs, and then calls out past my face in a chipper voice, “Afternoon, Porter baby.”

“Hello, ladies.”

My heart rate jumps to a five on the Richter scale. I attempt to look casual, stay cool as I turn to my right. But there he is, hand braced on my locker door, and whatever self-control I tried to muster just blows away like paper napkins on a windy day.

“You’re still alive, so I guess everything went okay with your dad,” he says.

“No problems whatsoever,” I confirm.

“Good, good. Glad to hear it.”

“Yeah.” Is it just my imagination, or does he smell extra Sex Wax–y today? Did he do that on purpose? Is he trying to seduce me? Or am I just being sensitive? And—what the hell?—is the air-conditioning broken in the break room, because it suddenly feels like the Hotbox up in here. Note to self: Do not think the words “sex” and “wax” while he’s standing in front of you. Ever, ever, ever.

“So, yeah,” he says, sort of smiling to himself while he taps on the top of my locker. “I was just going to tell you, uh, both—tell you both,” he clarifies, looking over at Grace. “We got this new lock system . . . long story, but I have to help install it. So Pangborn and Madison will be dealing with all your Hotbox needs today. You know, in case you wondered where I was.”

“Because we’re always thinking about you,” Grace says sarcastically.

“I know you are, Gracie,” he replies, giving her a wink. He leans a little closer, hanging on my locker, and speaks to me in a lower voice. “So anyway, I was wondering what you’re doing after work.”

Heart. Exploding.

“What’s that?” Grace says.

Porter playfully shoves her head away. “I think I hear someone calling you, Gracie. Is that Cadaver? He said you’re fired for listening in on other people’s private conversations.”

“This is private?” she says. “It looks like a public break room to me, and we were talking before you sauntered up, if you do recall.”

He ignores her and give me an expectant look. “Well?”

“I’m not busy,” I tell him.

“Oh, good. Maybe want to get something to eat later?”

Be cool, Rydell. This sounds like it could be a date. “Yeah, why not?”

“Excellent. Umm, so . . . maybe we should swap numbers. We can leave from here, but, you know, just in case we need to call each other.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” I notice Grace when I’m digging out my phone. She’s standing next to me with eyes like two full moons. I think she might be temporarily stunned into silence. Which only makes me more nervous. And that’s no good, because I can barely handle the basic exchange of a few single numbers, and I still almost mess that up.

“Okay, well . . . ,” Porter says, tucking a curly lock of hair behind one ear. How can he be adorable and sexy at the same time? If he doesn’t vacate the break room soon, I might swoon to death. “Go sell some tickets.”

“Go lock some locks,” I tell him.

He flashes me a smile and after he leaves the break room, I quietly bang my head against the lockers. Lock some locks. Who says that? What a dork. He’s broken my brain.

I look up and see Grace. She’s still staring at me, all wide-eyed.

“Mmm—” she starts.

“Argh! Don’t you say it,” I warn her.

She keeps quiet until we get to cash-out. “I knew that lad was asking too many questions about you.”

The only good thing about our shift is that it’s insanely busy, so it passes quickly. I don’t even see Porter once. Mr. Cavadini, either. Guess that lock business is time-consuming. So is being nervous, and by the time six o’clock rolls around, I’m wired and ready to get out of there. I count down my cash drawer, inform Grace that if she follows me out to the parking lot, I will slash her tires, and that, yes, I will tell her everything tomorrow, duh, and then I look around for Porter. Nada. No surfer boy in sight. But I do get a text from him: Almost done. Meet you outside in five?

Okay, cool. That gives me time to head out to Baby and swap my work shoes for some slinkier sandals, which I’ve got stashed under the helmet in my seat. I grab my purse from my locker and dash outside. The sky’s looking dark. Overcast and grumpy. It hasn’t rained since I’ve moved here, but it looks like that might change today. Driving Baby in the rain isn’t my idea of a fun time, so I’m actually relieved Porter invited me out.

I . . .

Look around. To the left. To the right.

Where’s Baby?

I parked her right here. I always do.

I double-check. I must be confused. Third aisle from the back door . . .

I spin around, looking for her turquoise frame and leopard-print seat. There’s got to be an explanation. Maybe someone moved her for some reason, though. . . . I don’t know how they would. . . . She was locked up. I always lock her up. Always. I go through exactly what I did when I arrived that afternoon, making sure I did—and yes, I know I did. I’m positive.

“Anything the matter, dear?”

It’s Pangborn, strolling out from the employee entrance.

“My scooter’s gone,” I say.

“What? Gone?”

“I parked it right here at the start of my shift.”

“You’re absolutely certain? What color is it? Let me help you look,” he says, putting a calming hand on my shoulder. “Don’t panic just yet, now. Let’s be sure first, okay?”

I blow out a breath and describe it. There are several scooters back here, but none of them are Vespas, none are vintage, none are turquoise, and, really, the employee lot isn’t that big. I’m starting to feel dizzy. I think it’s finally time to face facts.

Baby’s been stolen.

“Aren’t there cameras back here?” I say.

“Just over the building exits and the delivery door.” Pangborn tells me. “Not on the lots and roads.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” I say. What kind of hick place is this? Don’t they care if a truck pulls up and tries to rob the place?

I’m panicking now. What am I going to do? Should I call the police? Dad and Wanda drove to San Jose today to go dancing, or something. It’s her only day off work this week. Now I’ve got to ruin their day? And how am I going to get to work for the rest of my scheduled shifts? And who’s got my bike? Are they taking it around town for a joyride, with all my personal stuff in the seat? I think I’m going to be sick.

“What’s going on?” Porter says, out of breath as he runs up to meet us.

“Her scooter’s missing,” Pangborn tells him in a quiet voice. He’s still squeezing my shoulder. God, the old man’s so nice, and that makes me want to cry.

“Missing, as in stolen?”

“Looks like it. Didn’t notice anything unusual on the door cams, but you know how hard it is to spot anything coming and going way out here.”

“It’s impossible,” Porter agrees, and he starts asking me the same questions all over again—when did I get there, where did I park, did I lock it? I snap at him a little and then apologize. I’m on edge and trying not to bawl my eyes out like a two-year-old kid in front of everyone, because—of course—now there are several other employees out here. And everyone’s looking around the lots, making sure they don’t see it abandoned in the regular parking area.

Just when I’m about to give up and call my dad, Pangborn says to Porter, “By the way, did your friend catch up with you?”

“Who?”

“The one with the bum leg.”

Porter stills. “Davy?”

“That’s the one. He was looking for you.”

“Here?” Porter’s confused.

Pangborn nods. “He was skulking around by the employee entrance when I was coming back from my . . . uh, afternoon medicine break.” Pangborn’s eyes dart to some nearby employees. “Anyway, he didn’t recognize me at first, but I remembered him from when he worked here last summer for a few days. I asked him if he wanted me to page you, but he said he’d just text you.”

“No, he didn’t,” Porter says. “What time was this?”

“Couple of hours ago?”

Porter’s face goes as dark as the overcast sky. “Listen to me, Bailey. Does Davy know what your scooter looks like?”

“I . . .” It takes me a second to remember. “Yeah, at the posole truck. He saw me with it when I was with my dad and Wanda. Asked me if it had been restored.”

Porter’s head drops back. He squeezes his eyes shut. “I think I know who stole your bike. Get in my van. He’s a couple of hours ahead of us, but I know where we can start looking.”

I’m too stunned to talk until we’re speeding away from the museum and headed south on Gold Avenue. I’ve never been this far on this side of town, and everything looks strange. That’s when it hits me that I should probably ask where we’re going.

“Is this the way to Davy’s house?”

“No.” Porter’s angry. Really angry. The muscles in his arms are flexing as he holds the steering wheel in a death grip. “He’ll try to sell it. He wants cash for drugs.”

“Oh my God. Why me? Why my scooter?”

He doesn’t answer right away. “Because he’s pissed at me. Because he’s mad about the party going to shit last night. Because he knows it was his fault. Because deep down he knows he’s a screwup, but he hasn’t hit rock bottom yet, so he’s going to keep going until he’s either dead or in jail.”

I wait for several seconds, trying to figure exactly how to ask this, and then I just give up and come right out and say it. “What does any of that have to do with me and my bike?”

“Aghhh,” Porter says, almost a sigh, somewhere between exasperated and guilty. “Because I went over to see him before work today, and we got into a huge fight. Somehow he’s gotten it into his thick, stupid skull that you are . . .” He sighs now—a real sigh, low and long. “Okay, think of it like this. He’s got the mind of a toddler, and because he thinks that I have a shiny new toy, you being that toy—not that you are a toy! God, I knew this was a bad analogy.”

“Whoa, you are digging yourself in real deep, buddy.”

“Look, he thinks I like you, therefore he wants you. And today I told him if he harasses you again or brings a gun anywhere near you, I will burn his goddamn house down.”

Well. That’s not something you hear every day. A foreign, uneasy feeling ping-pongs inside my gut.

“And because he’s a brat, what he’s doing right now is retaliation. If he can’t have you, he’s going to do dumbass, destructive things—like steal your shit and sell it for money, so he can get wasted and forget he’s a total screwup. Because he’s a maniac, and that’s what he does.”

“Jesus.”

“Yeah,” he says in a softer voice, one that’s suddenly all out of rage. “So, basically, this is my fault, and I’m sorry, Bailey.”

I glance down at my feet and line up the toes of my flats with the floor mat. “Davy thinks you like me, or you really do like me?” Last night in the yard seems like a million years ago.

Porter gives me a sideways glance. There’s a wariness behind his eyes; he’s not sure if I’m teasing. But the corner of his mouth lifts, just a little. “Both?”

“Both,” I repeat softly, more than satisfied with that answer. “I think I understand now.”

“So . . . ,” he says, “I guess the real question is, how badly do you want to choke me right now for what’s happened? (A) A little, or (B) a lot?”

I shake my head, both dismissing his question and unable to answer. I’m not mad at him. How could I be? It’s not his fault that he’s got crappy friends.

“Hey, Bailey? I’m going to get your bike back,” he says, face turning stony and serious. “I meant what I said before. Davy will pay for this.”

God help me, but at this moment, there is nothing I want more.

After another mile, the van slows, and I see where we’re headed. On the left-hand side of the highway, just off the beach, a giant paved lot is banded by a sign that reads: MOTO PARADISE. There must be a hundred used scooters for sale here. Porter pulls up next to a fenced-in trailer that sits on the back of the lot and tells me to wait in the van. “This is the long shot, but it’s the closest to the museum, so let’s rule it out first. Just sit here and text if you see Davy. He drives a bright yellow pickup truck with blue lightning bolts airbrushed on the side.”

Of course he does.

Porter’s not even inside the trailer five minutes. My heart sinks. And it sinks again twice more, because we drive to other lots that look similar to this one, just farther out of town and smaller. Now I’m getting worried. What if it wasn’t Davy? What if it was one of those two Richie Rich punk kids who tried to steal the Maltese falcon statue? Maybe they stalked me at work and were trying to get revenge. But Porter doesn’t buy this. He says Davy has stolen stuff before, and that he never comes by the museum. It’s too coincidental. I guess he’s probably right, but I’m starting to freak out again, and I’m having a hard time thinking straight.

Porter is tapping the van’s steering wheel. He snaps his fingers, and then tugs his phone out of his pocket and looks something up. A couple of minutes later, he’s calling someone. That’s a bust, but he calls someone else, dropping his family name—I hear him say “Pennywise”—and then a third person. That’s the call that sticks, because he’s suddenly all relaxed and loose-limbed, one hand atop the wheel, as he tells the person he’s looking for Davy. After several grunts, he hangs up, and then five minutes later, someone calls him back.

“I think I may have a lead,” is all he says after it’s over.

So why doesn’t he sound more hopeful?

A soft rain begins to fall. Porter turns on his windshield wipers as we pass a sign telling us that we’re exiting Coronado Cove and another identifying some tiny township that has four thousand residents. Everything here seems to be about state parks and camping and hiking. Oh, and car repair—lots and lots of car repair. Auto body, auto detailing . . . auto restoration. There’s a small industry built up out here, people who are into muscle cars and racing, and I wonder if this is where my dad bought his car.

But Porter’s headed past the nicer places. He’s going down a dirt road into the woods, to a cinder-block garage with a number six spray-painted on a door to the left of three closed bays. Carcasses of rusted motorcycles lay in heaps near the building, discarded with other metal scraps. This is some kind of motorcycle chop shop, a place good bikes come to die. I’m suddenly very scared for Baby. A little scared for us, too.

Porter parks the van several yards away, under the fanning branches of some pines. “Stay in the van.”

“You must be kidding,” I say.

“If he’s inside, I don’t want you to see what might go down.”

He’s scaring me a little, but I don’t want him to know this. “No way. This area reminds me of Deliverance territory. We stick together.”

He snorts, hand on his door. “That takes place in the backwoods of Georgia, but I’m not even going to ask how you know about that movie, because we don’t have time. So just . . . come on.”

Rain dots the dirt road in front of our steps as we make our way to the door with the red six. It’s eerily quiet, no one leaving or coming, no signs that the place is even in business. But as we get closer, I hear the faint sounds of a radio and voices, and I get nervous.

As Porter lifts his hand to knock, the door cracks open. A goateed African-American man in a tight-fitting red T-shirt pokes his head out. He looks Porter over, eyes zeroing in on Porter’s scars. “Roth?”

“Yeah. You Fast Mike?”

The man’s face softens. “You look like your mama.”

“Thank God. Everyone usually says that about my sister.”

“Never seen her, but my cousin painted that old Thunderbird your mama had.”

“Yeah? She sold that a couple of years ago,” Porter says. “Hated to. She loved that bike.”

Fast Mike looks past Porter and notices me.

“This is Bailey,” Porter says. “The Vespa we’re looking for belongs to her.”

The man blows out a hard breath through his nostrils. He opens the door wider. “Better come inside, then. Got a feeling this isn’t gonna be pretty.”

We follow him through a small office with two tidy desks, a counter, and an old register. No one’s there. Past an old couch and a coffeemaker, another door leads into the garage. Burnt engine oil and old paint fumes hit me as we step onto stained concrete. Seventies rock music plays on a radio on a work bench. Rows of fluorescent lights hum over three drive-in bays, the closest of which is occupied by two motorcycles. The middle bay is empty but for three people, sitting around in folding chairs, talking. But it’s what’s in the far bay that snatches 100 percent of my attention.

One mustard-yellow pickup truck, blue lightning on the side, passenger window covered in a black garbage bag.

And behind the truck: one turquoise Vespa with a leopard-print seat.

I feel like I might pass out. And maybe that’s why it takes my brain a couple of extra seconds to realize that one of the people lounging around in the chairs is Davy. In a way that’s good, because I suddenly feel like committing a wild and vicious attack on him. But in another way, it’s really, really bad, because Porter isn’t dazed like me. Just the opposite, in fact. He’s a laser beam, and he’s headed straight for his former best friend.

The two other seated people scatter. Davy now sees Porter coming and the look on his face is absolute panic. He rushes to leap up, but his foot slips, and he can’t quite stand. Porter lunges with both arms, shoving him with so much unhinged violence that Davy flies backward. Boy and metal both slam against a concrete pylon and slide across the floor.

“You piece of shit,” Porter says, stalking Davy to where he’s now crumpled in a heap by the tire of his truck. “Too much of a coward to steal from me, so you jacked her stuff?”

Davy’s groaning and holding his head in his hand. I’m worried he’s got a concussion, but when he opens his eyes and looks up at Porter, there’s nothing but rage. “I hate you.”

“That makes two of us, junkie.”

Davy cries out, a horrible battle cry that tears through the air and bounces around the garage. In quick succession, he leverages onto his good leg, grabs the folding chair, and swings upward. I scream. The chair bashes into Porter’s face. His head jerks sideways. Blood spatters. The chair leg slips out of Davy’s hands and sails through the air, clanging into his truck.

Porter’s doubled over.

I try to run to him, but strong hands clamp around my arms. “Whoa,” Fast Mike says in my ear. “He’s okay. Let those boys work it out themselves.”

But he’s wrong. Porter’s not okay. When he pulls his hand away from his face, there’s blood all over it. A big gash crosses his cheek. Dumb boy that he is, he just shakes his head like a wet dog and refocuses.

“That’s it,” he growls and slams his fist into Davy’s face. Hard.

After that, the whole thing is a mess. They’re on top of each other, both throwing punches that land God knows where. It’s not like a well-staged boxing match or a movie, it’s just chaotic and weird, and more grappling than anything else. They’re shouting and grunting and slugging each other in the ribs so hard, something’s going to break or get punctured.

This is a nightmare.

I’m terrified they’re actually going to kill each other. These aren’t wimpy kids on the playground, giving each other bloody noses. They’re rabid wolves, straining with muscle, teeth bared. And someone’s going down.

“Let me go,” I tell Fast Mike. I can’t let Porter do this. If he gets seriously hurt, I don’t know what I’ll do. But I can help somehow . . . can’t I? I look around for something to break up the fight. Maybe I can hit Davy on the head with something—

I can hardly believe what I’m seeing. Davy’s grabbing Porter’s hair—his hair! He has a fistful of Porter’s dark curls, and he’s wrenching his head back . . . is he going to bite his face? WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING?

Porter’s lower body twists. He gives a powerful back kick to Davy’s bad knee.

A sickening crunch! echoes around the garage.

Davy drops to the floor.

He doesn’t get up. He’s clutching his knee, mouth open. Silent tears begin falling.

Porter’s chest heaves. All the veins stand out on his arms. A thick line of blood flows down his cheek and neck, disappearing into the black of his security guard uniform. “I’m calling your grandma, and I’m gonna tell her what you did today,” Porter says as he stands over his friend, looking down at him. “I’m also telling my folks. I’ve given you so many chances, and you’ve thrown them all in my face. I can’t ever trust you again. We’re done.”


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset