Alex, Approximately: Chapter 28

“I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly.”

—Meg Ryan, You’ve Got Mail (1998)

I blow out two quick breaths and stash my purse in the borrowed locker. Behind me, through a narrow passageway onto the main floor, I can see the crowds in the stands and the bright lights of the auditorium. Almost time to start. I twist my head to either side and crack my neck before checking my phone one more time.

Some people thrive in the spotlight; others prefer to work behind the scenes. You can’t make a movie with nothing but actors. You need writers and makeup artists, costume designers and talent agents. All of them are equally important.

I’m not a spotlight kind of girl, and I’ve made my peace with that.

These days, I’ve pretty much given up my Artful Dodger leanings. Mostly. I relapsed a little when school started a couple of months ago in the fall. But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to run for senior class president like Grace. It does mean that ever since our girl talk on the beach after I let her down, I’ve tried to make good on being a dependable friend, so I helped her with all her campaigning. She won, but that was no surprise. Everyone loves Grace. I just love her a little more.

After school, I work at Video Ray-Gun, which is much less pressure than the Hotbox—not to mention less sweaty. Plus, I get first pick of the used DVDs that come through. And since Porter’s shifts at the Cave are only on the weekends now that school’s in session, I get to see him on my work breaks, because the surf shop is only a five-minute walk down the boardwalk from the video store. Win-win.

And I have to see him whenever I get the chance, because next week, he’s flying out to Hawaii with his mom. They’re meeting up with Mr. Roth to watch Lana compete in Oahu for some special surfing competition. And to talk to someone in the World League about Porter surfing in a qualifying event in January in Southern California. He’s already registered, and he’s been practicing every chance he gets. There’s crazy buzz online in the surfing community that the Roth siblings could be the next big thing; a reporter from Australia called the surf shop last week and interviewed his dad for a magazine.

It’s all exciting, and I’m thrilled to pieces that Porter finally wants to surf. He was born to do it. At the same time, I’m glad he’s not giving up on the idea of going to college. He says he can do both. I don’t think he realized that before, but I can understand why. His family’s been through a lot. It’s hard to think about next week when you’re not sure if you’ll even make it through today.

But I don’t worry about him now. And I don’t worry about him going pro like Lana, and whether he’ll be traveling all over the world for a week here and there, Australia and France, South Africa and Hawaii. Maybe sometimes I’ll get to fly out with him. Maybe not. But it doesn’t matter. Because he’s right. Surfing the Pipeline or rocket to the moon, we’ll find each other.

“Five minutes,” my captain calls out to the team.

Several of the girls around me rush to finish last-minute adjustments to their makeup and pull up their black tights, kneepads, and shiny gold shorts. One girl is running late and just getting her skates on. If the team captain, LuAnn Wong, finds out, she’ll have to sit out the first period. LuAnn doesn’t take any crap.

I joined the local Roller Derby team, the Coronado Cavegirls, two months ago. We’re part of a regional Rollergirls league, so we compete against three other teams in the area, including one from Monterey. That works out well for me, because I also volunteer every other Saturday at the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum. It’s mainly cataloging shells in the stockroom, and I don’t get paid or anything, but I love it.

At first, I was a little scared to join the derby. It seemed too “spotlight” for me, and most of the girls are a couple of years older. One skater is even in her late thirties. But Grace encouraged me, the uniforms were totally cool, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. When I’m out there skating, it’s not about me, it’s about the team. We work together as a group. I’m a jammer, which means I get to wear the helmet with the star on it, and my goal is to skate past the opposing team’s blockers as fast as I can. My Artful Dodger skills are put to better use on the derby track than in my daily life.

Plus, it helps me blow off steam. When I was working the Hotbox, I overheated, figuratively and literally. Skating gives me an outlet for my frustrations. I don’t have to jump punk kids who steal falcons from museums, throw tickets at customers, or wrestle shotguns away from junkies. I can knock around girls bigger than me and it’s not only legal, it’s encouraged.

I peek out through the passage and scan the stands for familiar faces, spotting them almost immediately. My dad is sitting with Wanda; they never miss my Roller Derby bouts. In front of them are Grace and Taran—who returned from India at the end of the summer, thankfully, so I didn’t have to fly over there and kick his ass—and Patrick with his boyfriend, and then Mrs. Roth and Porter. He’s wearing his HOT STUFF devil jacket, which makes me smile. (Note to self: Tear that jacket off later in the back of his van.)

“Three minutes, ladies,” LuAnn calls out behind me. “Get ready to line up.”

As my teammates zip around me, I whip out my phone and ask one of the girls to take a photo of me smiling over my shoulder with the crowd in the background. My skate name is printed in bold letters on the back of my jersey: MINK.

I text the photo, with the time, date, and precise geolocation, to my mother. I don’t wait for a reply; I know it won’t come. But I haven’t given up hope that one day she’ll be ready to forgive herself. To forgive me for leaving her and moving out here. And when she is ready? She can come and visit me and Dad. Maybe we’ll even take her out for posole, who knows.

After the last call, I stash my phone in the locker and line up with my teammates. Everyone’s buzzing. It’s always like this before we go out. It’s such a rush. I shake out my arms and adjust the strap on my helmet. Everything’s in place. I can hear the announcer riling up the crowd. They’re cheering. It’s almost time to go.

“Are you ready, girls?” LuAnn asks, skating down the line, making eye contact with each one of us.

She touches my shoulder, reminding me of how Pangborn used to, and I give her a little nod.

I’m so ready.

I am Mink. Hear me roar.


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