Alex, Approximately: Chapter 26


“I hate to shatter your ego, but this is not the first time I’ve had a gun pointed at me.”

—Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction (1994)


I don’t make a scene. I just clean out my locker, clock out, and leave while everyone gawks at me in silence. When Porter calls my name across the parking lot, I refuse to turn around. Helmet on. Kickstand up. Keys in ignition. I’m gone. The Cavern Palace is now a “was.” I no longer have a summer job.

I consider not telling my dad about getting fired for about five minutes, but I’m tired of being a coward. Besides, he’d find out sooner or later. I wonder if the Pancake Shack is hiring.

Grace comes over to my house after her shift and I tell her the whole thing, every bit of it and more. Before I know what I’m saying, I’m telling her about Greg Grumbacher and the CliffsNotes version of how I got shot. How Porter was the first person I really told, and now look—just look!—where that trust got me. And sure, I was talking to some guy online before I moved here, and yes, I had planned to meet him, but we don’t talk anymore, and NOTHING HAPPENED, and that’s none of Porter’s business. It’s no one’s business but mine.

For a brief moment, I’m worried that I’ve freaked her out.

But she says very seriously, “It’s a shame that I’m going to be forced to commit severe testicular trauma upon that boy.”

After this, our shared appetite for vengeance quickly spirals out of control. She calls Porter a C word, which is apparently okay to do if you’re English. She then asks if I want her to talk to him (I don’t) or spread horrible rumors about him at work (I sort of do). When she starts getting creative about the rumor spreading, it just makes me sad, and I start crying again. My dad comes home from work in the middle of my sob session, and Grace gives him the lowdown. She should be a TV commentator. By the time she’s finished explaining, I’m done with the tears.

My dad looks shell-shocked.

“Bet you’re sorry you signed up for your teenage daughter to move in with you now, huh?” I say miserably. “Maybe this is why mom hasn’t called all summer. She’s probably thinking, Good riddance.”

He looks momentarily confused, but quickly disregards that last remark, comes up behind me, wraps his arms around my shoulders, and squeezes. “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss any of this for one single second. And if there’s one thing I know about, it’s how to get over breakups. Or potential ones. Whatever this is. Get your stuff, girls. We’re going out for lobster and laser tag.”

Porter starts texting me the next day. Nothing substantial, just several short texts.

Text 1: Hey.

Text 2: I’m so sorry about work. I feel awful.

Text 3: We need to talk.

Text 4: Please, Bailey.

Dad advises me to ignore all of those texts and let him simmer. After all, Porter did the same thing to me. Time apart is healthy. Dad also quizzes me, asking me if I’ve realized why Porter walked out on game night. “You’re a good detective, Mink. You can figure this out on your own.”

Maybe I don’t want to anymore. I’ve pretty much given up trying.

Besides, I have other things to think about, like looking for another job, one that doesn’t mind that I’ve been sacked from my last place of employment. Dad offers to ask around at the CPA office. I politely decline.

When I’m looking through the classifieds in the local free paper we picked up during our million-dollar lobster feast the night before, Dad says, “What did you mean when you said your mother hasn’t called all summer?”

“Just that. She hasn’t called. All summer. Or texted. Or e-mailed.”

A long moment drags by. “Why haven’t you said anything?”

“I thought you knew. Has she called you?”

He rubs his hand over head. “Not since June. She said she’d be in touch with me later to see how we were doing, but she told me she’d mainly be communicating through you. I’m such an idiot. I should have checked in with you. I guess I was too busy being selfish about having you here with me that I let it slip. This is my fault, Bailey.”

After a moment I say, “What if something’s wrong?”

“I’m subscribed to her firm’s newsletter. She’s fine. She won a big court case last week.”

“So . . .”

He sighs. “You know how long it’s taking you to get over Greg Grumbacher? Well, it’s taking her just as long. Because it may have hurt and scared you, but not only did it do those things to her, too, she’s also living with the guilt that the whole thing is her fault. And she still hasn’t forgiven herself. I’m not sure she ever will completely. But the difference between the two of you is that you’re ready to try to move on, and she still isn’t.”

I think about this. “Is she going to be okay?”

“I don’t know,” he says, rubbing a gentle hand over my cheek. “But you are.”

The following day, I decide I am finished letting Porter simmer. No more games. This whole thing has spun so far out of control. I am just . . . done.

At eight in the morning, I text Porter and tell him I want to meet and talk. He suggests the surf shop. He says his family is at the beach, watching Lana surf, and he is there alone opening the shop. It hurts my heart that he’s not out there with them, but I don’t say that, of course. Our texting is all very civil. And meeting in a public place sounds like a reasonable plan.

It takes me a little while to stoke up my courage. I cruise down Gold Avenue. Circle the boardwalk parking lots. Idle for a minute watching the fog-covered top of the Bumblebee Lifts. Speed down the alley to make sure Mr. Roth’s van isn’t parked out back.

Since I’m unsure where our relationship stands, I decide to park Baby in front of the shop, like a lot of the other scooters do along the boardwalk storefronts. No special privileges: I can walk through the entrance like any other Mary, Jane, or Sue.

Ignoring the compelling scent of the first churros being fried that morning, I spy movement in the shop and wait for Porter to let me inside. Surf wax wafts when the door swings open. But it’s the sight of his handsome face that makes my throat tighten painfully.

“Hi,” I say stoically.

“Hi,” he answers gruffly.

I stand there for a second, and then he gestures for me to come inside. When I do, that big white fluffy cat I saw on the roof with Don Gato tries to sneak in the door with me. He shoos it away with his foot and says, “Scram.”

He locks the door behind me before glancing at his red surf watch, changing his mind, and unlocking it again. “One minute until nine,” he explains. “Time to open.”

“Oh,” I say. Doesn’t really look like there’s a line of people itching to get inside, so I guess we still have plenty of privacy. Then again, I don’t know when his family’s coming back. Better make this quick.

Ooaf. Why am I so nervous?

Porter looks in turns hopeful and worried and wary. He shoves his hands into his pockets and heads toward the back of the shop. I follow. When he gets to the counter, he walks around it and faces me like I’m a customer.

Okay, then.

“So . . . ,” he says. “You mentioned that you were ready to talk.”

Nodding, I reach inside my pocket and pull out the shark tooth. I’ve already removed my keys. I set it down on the counter and slide it toward him. “You gave this to me on the condition that I be more honest and open with you because you need to trust me. However, I’ve clearly done something that has hurt you, and must assume that I have broken your trust. Therefore, I am returning your tooth, and dissolving our . . . whatever it is we are—”

“Bailey—”

“Please let me finish. My mom’s a lawyer. I know how important verbal contracts are.”

“Dammit, Bailey.”

The shop door opens behind me. Great. Can’t people wait five stinking minutes for Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax? I mean, come on.

Just when I’m ready to move aside and let Porter deal with the customer walking up behind me, Porter’s expression transforms into something very close to rage. And it’s at this exact moment that I recognize the pattern I’m hearing on the wooden floor. It’s not the sound of someone walking: it’s the sound of someone limping.

“Get the fuck out of here,” Porter shouts.

I swing around, heart pounding, and see Davy heading toward me. He looks much rougher than the last time I saw him at Fast Mike’s motorcycle garage, which is saying a lot. He’s not only wearing a shirt, miracle of miracles, he’s wearing a sand-colored trench coat, and it looks like he’s still on at least one crutch, partially hidden behind the coat.

“Hello, cowgirl,” he says in an emotionless, lazy voice that sounds like it got flattened by an eighteen-wheeler. He’s high as hell—on what, I don’t know. But his eyes are just as dead as his words, and his head’s moving a little funny, bobbing and weaving.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement from Porter.

“Nuh-uh.” Davy lifts his crutch and points it in Porter’s direction.

Only, it’s not a crutch. It’s the shotgun from the bonfire.

I freeze. So does Porter; he was in the middle of bounding over the counter.

“Saw you riding around in the parking lot earlier,” Davy says to me. “Thought maybe you were coming over to apologize. But you drove right past me.”

Shit! How could I have not noticed Davy’s big yellow truck?

“Put the gun down, Davy,” Porter says in a casual voice that sounds a little forced. “Come on, man. That’s insane. Where did you even get that thing? If someone saw you walking around with that, you could end up in jail. Don’t be stupid.”

“Who’s going to see me?”

“Anyone who walks in here,” Porter says. “Dude, we’re open. My folks are on their way back from the beach. They just called. They’ll be here in two minutes. And you know Mr. Kramer comes in here every morning. He’ll call the cops, man.”

Davy thinks about this a second and waves the gun toward me.

Breathe, I tell myself.

“Cowgirl here can go lock the door. I want a private conversation, just the three of us. I’ve got a beef with the two of you. An apology is owed, and maybe a little cash out of the register while you’re at it. Payback for pain and misery suffered. What you did to my knee.”

I don’t move.

“My parents are just down the street,” Porter repeats, this time sounding angry.

Davy shrugs. “Guess you better hurry with the register, then. Go lock the door, cowgirl.”

I flick a glance at Porter. He’s breathing heavy. I can’t read his face all that well, but what I do know is that he’s absolutely miserable and conflicted. Funny thing is, for the first time in forever, I’m not. I’m scared and worried, yes. And I hate the sight of that goddamn gun with an unholy passion I can’t measure.

But I am not afraid of Davy.

I am furious.

I just don’t know what to do about him.

Eyes guarded, I plod to the front door and lock it. The windows are enormous; I can see his reflection in the glass, so I watch him the entire way there. Watch him watching Porter, because that’s where he’s pointing the shotgun now. And why wouldn’t he? Porter’s the one who kicked his ass. Porter’s the one who nearly jumped the counter. Porter’s an athlete, nothing but muscle. Even a rational, sober person would consider Porter the bigger threat.

Davy’s not sober.

I take my time strolling back to them, and I think about my dad’s warnings about oversteering, and about how I exploded in the Hotbox—twice. I think about all my Artful Dodger skills and how they’re partly inherited from my CPA dad, and his love of details and numbers, and partly inherited from my attorney mom, and her love of finding loopholes. I think about how my dad said I’m going to be okay because I’m willing to try to get better.

But mainly I think about that day last month when those two punks tried to steal the Maltese falcon from the Cave. They underestimated me too.

Davy gives me a brief look, enough to see that I’m approaching but giving him a wide berth, head down. “Locked up tight?”

“Yep,” I say.

“All right,” he says, pointing the shotgun at Porter. “Register. Empty it.”

Lowest of lows. Robbing your best friend’s family. I know Porter’s thinking it, but he says nothing. His jaw is tight as he presses a few buttons on the computer screen. “Haven’t started it up yet,” he explains. “Can’t open the drawer until the program’s running. Hold on a sec.”

Bullshit. He must have put the drawer in himself, so the computer’s on. He probably has a key to the drawer. But Davy’s too stoned to realize this, so he waits. And while he does, Porter’s eyes dart toward mine. And in that beautiful, singular moment, I know we’re both linked up.

Trust is a golden gift, and this time, I’m not wasting it.

I shift my focus to Davy. The counter is in front of him, and behind him is a rack with some short, squat bodyboards on it—a third the size of a surfboard, but “way lamer,” as Porter once joked.

I wait. Come on, Porter. Give me an opening.

As if he’s read my mind, he suddenly says, “Oh, lookie here. The computer is finally waking up, Davy.”

Davy’s head turns toward Porter.

I step back, slip around, and slide one of the bodyboards off the stand. As I do, it makes a sound. Crap! It’s also a lot lighter than I hoped. Oh, well. Too late now, because Davy’s turning around, cognizant that I’m closer than he expected. I don’t have a choice.

Right as his gaze connects with mine, I grip the board in both hands, rear back, and smack him in the side of the face.

He cries out as his head whips sideways. His step falters, and he stumbles.

The shotgun swings around wildly and clips me in the shoulder. I grab it and try to wrestle it out of his hand. It suddenly breaks free, and I fly backward with the gun—but that’s because Porter has hurdled over the counter.

Porter slams Davy to the floor as my back hits the rack of bodyboards, knocking them over. I scramble to stay on my feet and hold on to the shotgun, but fail.

I fall on my face.

“Porter!” I’m swimming in a sea of foam bodyboards. The boys are struggling on the floor, and all I can see is Porter’s arm pounding like a piston and Davy’s trench coat flapping and tangling around his legs.

And then—

A loud whimper.

Heart knocking against my rib cage, I shove the bodyboards aside and jump to my feet.

Porter is lying on the floor.

Davy is below him, facedown. One cheek is turned against the wood. One eye blinking away tears.

“I’m sorry,” Davy says hoarsely.

“Me too,” Porter says, pinning Davy’s arms to the floor. “I tried, man. Someone else is going to have to save you now.”

Porter looks up at me and nods. I set the gun on the floor and kick it out of the way. Then I dig my phone out of my pocket and dial 911.

“Uh, yeah,” I say into the phone, out of breath, swallowing hard. “I’m at Penny Boards Surf Shop on the boardwalk. There’s been an attempted armed robbery. We’re okay. But you need to send someone to come arrest the guy. And you also need to call Sergeant Wanda Mendoza immediately and tell her to come to the scene right now.”


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