Alex, Approximately: Chapter 6

“Sometimes you’re better off not knowing.”

—Jack Nicholson, Chinatown (1974)

I spend the next morning on the boardwalk. It’s going much the same as my first morning on the boardwalk, which is to say that it’s a bust. Despite zero signs of Alex, I’ve run into that stupid orange tabby again hanging around my favorite churro cart. I’ve now dubbed her Señor Don Gato (from my dad’s and my favorite children’s song, “Meow-meow-meow”). After all, she fooled me into thinking she was a “he” the first time around.

After pigging out and feeding churro crumbs to some bossy seagulls, I still have some time before I have to head over to the Cave for my afternoon shift. I’m not looking forward to facing Porter again. We didn’t see each other after the cookies. Yeah, that was a nice attempt at making up for his dickery, but whatever. Maybe don’t say anything you need to atone for in the first place.

Ugh. Just thinking about him makes me want to kick something. It also reminds me that I wanted to find a scarf to tie up my hair, so that it doesn’t stick to the back of my neck when the sweating starts in the Hotbox. I throw away my crumpled churro paper in the trash can, say good-bye to sleepy Señor Don Gato, and head to a shop I spied during my previous Alex sleuthing—Déjà Vu. It’s a small vintage clothing store with old mannequins in the window that have been pieced together from several different mannequin bodies—male, female, brown, pink, tall, small. When I go inside, a small bell over the door dings, a sound that’s barely audible over the congo drums of the 1950s exotica music thumping over the speakers. The shop is dark, and it smells of a mix of musty old clothes and cheap detergent. Everything is jammed in tight, a browser’s dream. There’s only one other shopper in the store, and a bored college-aged girl with purple dreadlocks is running the register in the back.

I spot a rotating rack of old scarves near the counter. Bingo. Some of them smell funky, and a few are way too psychedelic for my taste, but there’re dozens to choose from. Halfway through the rack, I find a gray-and-black striped one that won’t clash too badly with my pumpkin vest at work. I pay the girl at the register. When she’s ringing me up, the bell over the door rings. I glance over my shoulder to see two boys walking through the store. One is a burly Latino guy in a sleeveless T-shirt. The other is lanky and white blond, wearing shorts and no shirt at all. He walks with a limp, as if he’s got an injured leg.

Crap. I know him. It’s Porter’s friend. The other guy from the crosswalk—the drugged-up one who slammed his fists on my dad’s car. They both approach us.

“What up, mamacita?” he says in a lazy, raspy voice to the girl at the register as he sidles up to the counter next to me while she’s getting my change out of the register. I glance up at his face. He’s got high cheekbones and deep hollows beneath them, pockmarked by acne scars. His white-blond hair is a mess. Despite this, he might be more classically handsome than Porter. Almost model pretty. But he has a scarier vibe. Something’s off-kilter.

“I told you not to bother me at work, Davy.”

“Yeah, well, it’s an emergency. I’m driving down to La Salva this afternoon. Need you to help a brother out.”

“Not now.”

He puts his hands on the counter and leans closer, blocking my view of their faces. I can still see her purple dreads draped over one bare shoulder. “Please,” he begs.

“I thought you were chipping,” she says in a hushed voice.

“I am, but you know how it goes. I just need a little.” His soft tone matches hers, but I can still hear every word they’re saying. I mean, hello. This conversation isn’t private. Do they know that? “It’s just for today.”

“That’s what you said last week,” she argues.

“Julie, come on.” He runs a hand down her arm, stroking a dreadlock with the tips of his fingers. “Julie, Julie, Julie.”

She sighs. “I’ll make a call and text you. Might be a couple of hours.”

Satisfied, he turns back around and seems to notice me for the first time. “Hi there.”

I don’t reply, but I can feel him looking me over while I accept my change. I quickly shove it into my wallet, and then grab the bag with my scarf and head down the narrow aisle toward the door. I just want to get out of here, like, yesterday.

But I’m not fast enough. Footfalls dog my heels.

“Whatcha buyin’?” I feel a tug on my bag and turn around to see Davy pulling the scarf out. “Are you a cowgirl or a gang-banger?”

I snatch the scarf out of his hand. “Neither.”

His companion snickers behind him.

“Whoa, now. Just curious,” Davy says. “Haven’t seen you around. What’s your name?”

“I don’t think so.”

“O-oh, burn,” the burly guy murmurs.

“Come on, cowgirl,” Davy says. “Don’t be that way.”

I can’t get through the door fast enough. Too fast. For the second time in twenty-four hours, I slam straight into another human being. The real Artful Dodger would be so disappointed in my slipshod getaway skills. My cheek smacks against a breastbone made of steel. I jerk back, overcorrecting, and nearly lose my balance. Hands grip my forearms.

I’m staring at a Quiksilver Surfboards logo. I crack my jaw and raise my line of sight. Now I’m staring at the angry face of Porter Roth.

“For the love of rocks,” I mumble.

The hard lines around his eyes soften when he sees me. Just slightly. Then he looks above my head and gets pissed again. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” He’s not talking to me. That’s when I realize he’s not angry at me either; he’s angry at the person standing behind me.

“Who are you, my mom?” Davy’s raspy voice answers. “Relax, man. Ray and I were just grabbing something to eat then heading to Capo’s place.”

Porter’s hands are still gripping my arms. I can’t tell if he’s holding me up or trying to keep me away from Davy. But standing so close, he smells strongly of coconut oil and wax—which smells pretty freaking good, frankly. And while I’m busy being intoxicated, he’s still drilling Davy. “You mean to tell me that I didn’t just see you walking out of Déjà Vu?”

I turn my head to see Davy backpedaling. “Julie asked us to come inside. It was nothing. We were just chatting about Capo’s new dog. Get your panties unbunched.”

Umm, he’s lying. But there’s enough testosterone flying through the air to start a war, no way am I tattling on Davy. And what do I care? Not my business. I just want to get out of here and go to work. And why is Porter still holding on to me? He seems to finally notice this too, and at the same time I shake him loose, he lets go of me and holds his hands back like I’m radioactive.

“And what are you doing here?” he asks me.

“Buying a scarf,” I say, moving away from him. Why is he always in my personal space?

“You two know each other?” Davy asks, absently rubbing his right leg. Looks like that’s the injured one—the cause of the limp.

“We work together.” Porter eyes Davy, and then my bag, like he doesn’t believe either one of us. I’m insulted to be lumped in with this loser.

“Small world,” Davy says, grinning. “You gonna tell me your name now, cowgirl?”

“Seems to me you’re going to call me whatever you want, so what’s the point?”

“Damn, girl.” He hikes up his shorts. “Is she this mean to you at work?” he asks Porter.

Porter slides a glance down at me. I dare him with my eyes to say something smart. Go on, buddy. Show off. Tell him how you riled me up, acting like a pig, called me a snob, and I almost got myself fired. Make yourself look tough in front of your dirtbag friend.

But all he says is, “She’s cool.”


Davy gives me another slow once-over and then snaps his fingers. “You should come to a bonfire. Saturday night at sunset, the Bone Garden.”

I have no idea where that is, nor do I really care. Especially not after that dubious exchange I heard inside the shop.

Porter snorts. “Don’t think I don’t know that’s where you first hooked up with Chloe.”

“So?” Davy challenges. “Chloe’s in LA now. Why you gotta bring up the past?”

“Why are you inviting her to the bonfire?” Porter jerks his thumb toward me.

Davy shrugs as his friend Ray urges him down the boardwalk, away from the vintage clothing shop. “It’s a free country.”

I’m not sure what that was all about, but I’m feeling pretty awkward being left alone with Porter. “I gotta get to work.”

Midday sun lights up golden streaks on top of Porter’s dark curls, and when he turns his head toward the ocean, the scruff on his face almost looks red. “Yeah, me too.”

Crap. We’re both working together again today? I forgot to check the schedule in my rush to get out of there after everything that happened yesterday. I’m not sure how much more of this strained togetherness I can handle. But he’s looking at me sort of funny, scratching the back of his neck, like he wants to say something else. And now I remember the cookies he left me, and I’m wondering if he’s remembering them too. Sure, as far as gestures go, it was okay. But for all I know, he could’ve stolen them from the café. I should have just thrown them in the trash, but I gave the chocolate chip one to Grace and ate the others.

Feeling uncomfortable, I mumble a good-bye and turn to leave. That chick from the shop, Julie, is standing outside, both arms and purple dreadlocks crossed over her chest, warily watching us. I avoid eye contact and keep walking.

“See you later, cowgirl,” Davy calls in the distance somewhere behind me.

Let’s hope not. As I pass the churro cart, I notice Porter heading in the same general direction, but his muscular legs carry him faster. Someone whistles, flagging him down. It’s a middle-aged man, maybe my dad’s age, with wavy, gray-brown hair, closely cropped. He’s dressed in board shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt and looks like he could have been handsome when he was younger, but he’s had some hard knocks. One of his arms is covered with faded tattoos; the other arm is missing—as in, completely gone.

I’m surprised to recognize Porter’s eyes in the man’s when I pass, then I glance at the puckering pink scars where the arm once was. Porter catches me staring. I quickly look away and keep going, face flaming.

I think this is probably Porter’s dad and the “horrible” thing that Grace was talking about.

What in the world happened to that family?


@mink: What do you want to do after high school?

@alex: You mean, with my life?

@mink: I mean college. When I was younger, I used to think I wanted to go to film school. Be a director. But now I don’t think I’d be so good at being in charge. I don’t want that kind of pressure. Now I think I’d rather be behind the scenes, cataloging something.

@alex: Professional film hobbyist?

@mink: *blink* Is that a real job? Hopefully, it pays huge sums of cash.

@alex: Right there with you. My dad expects me to take over the family business, and I don’t want to. Don’t get me wrong: I like the family business. I enjoy it as a hobby. But I don’t want the pressure of doing it full-time for money. What if I want to do other things, you know?

@mink: I hear ya. And I guess we have to start applying for colleges in the fall. Sort of scary. Too many schools. West Coast? East Coast? I don’t know.

@alex: Enjoy your multitude of choices. Meanwhile, I’ll be stuck at the local community college, working two jobs. My future is already mapped out for me.

@mink: That can’t be true.

@alex: Some of us aren’t so lucky, Mink.


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