White Rock Court

By Bryan Alston Patrick


The trailer park was east of town where it occupied its own little corner of the sandbox. East of the park were smaller towns where time had stopped decades earlier. Segregation was still represented in signs on bathroom doors, above sinks, underneath twin windows at walk-up barbecue joints. The social structure was illegal but the signage was protected by the first amendment.

Tommy and Quinton grew up in the trailer park. Quinton was older by almost two years and started looking after Tommy when he was fourteen and Tommy was twelve. It wasn’t a formal thing. Tommy’s mother, Tamara, just kind of let it happen.

They had the nicer TV, the VCR and the dish. Quinton’s place had a black-and-white with rabbit ears. It wasn’t hard to get him hanging around.

That meant Tamara didn’t have to worry much when she was out at night. Usually she was working two of three different jobs. She did some dancing and some waitressing. The dancing was faster, better, easier money but she was getting older. The two clubs that hired her were interstate adjacent dives, but still. A lot of the guys who came in were sweet and tipped really well. It didn’t hurt that she was the prettiest dancer on the roster.

Quinton’s parents had split a while back. There were still some welfare and disability checks coming in but neither of his folks had been around in months. Used to be his father dropped in every now again under the pretense of checking on his son but who knows what was really going on. Could be his woman gave him the boot from time to time. She needed a minute to cool off. He crashed at the trailer a few nights and split again.

His mother had remarried and kind of restarted her life with step-kids and then someone said a new baby. He and his dad didn’t talk about her. Seemed like the mood darkened any time her name came up or someone on TV looked like her, even just a little bit. If there was a female character on a program named Amy, then forget it. That’d be a full-on liquor store run followed by a bender.

So most days after that Quinton ditched school and hung out by himself drinking beer if there was any and watching whatever came on regular TV. That was Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie, Happy Days, and The Jetsons. Then there were game shows and soaps: Price Is Right, Family Feud, Days of Our Lives, Another World and Ryan’s Hope.

Quinton’s favorites were Barney Miller and Welcome Back, Kotter. Those came on early evening when the sun was setting and the soft, forgiving pink light eased him into the letting go. A lot of days were spent in his underwear or sometimes a pair of running shorts if he had to step outside for some reason.

When he didn’t have money for food Tamara covered him, usually just ordering a large pizza for both him and Tommy. Quinton would come over to eat and then wind up watching the nice color set with the adult late-night programming on the dish.

His mullet had grown out into just long hair and his fuzzstache had thickened up to the point of capturing visible light. Little blond hairs had sprouted from his nipples. He was still tan from a childhood spent BMXing. Every so often he would bust out the Mongoose and go for a ride, even though the bike was too small for him.

Tommy was still a kid. A nice one. He got up for school every morning with or without maternal prompting. When Tamara was gone, he made his own Pop-Tart and caught the bus out on state road 979, a two-lane blacktop that led to school in one direction and wide-open wonder in the other.

He had his mom’s looks. A pretty boy on the skinny side but close enough to the median for his age. Not too big or small.

Still, some of the mean kids messed with him. Like they sensed something. First one of them had called him “rich,” which Tommy didn’t correct, who knows why not except that maybe he was dragging that trailer park shame around for so many years he just didn’t want to. Never mind they were just assuming because he was a white kid and their world view predicated all white kids must be rich.

But eventually they figured that out and turned it around, using the trailer park to pick on him. They didn’t know his mom was a stripper yet. Dread surrounding that impending day followed Tommy around like an unfriendly imaginary friend.

Quinton was on the couch watching something in a foreign language when Tommy came home from school.

“Your mom’s working tonight. She stopped by on her way out, asked me to come sit with you.”

“Okay,” Tommy said, going straight for the fridge but finding nothing except the same empty mustard bottle and white bread heel with mold on it.

“You hungry?”

Tommy nodded.

“You ate lunch, didn’t you?”

Tommy shook his head, not yet facing Quinton.

“Those boys take your money?”

Tommy nodded again, obviously embarrassed.

“Was it them same spics?”

Tommy nodded. “Mom says not to use that word though.”

“Okay, well, you don’t use it. I’ll use it.”

They looked at each other for a moment like two people who had already been through something together. Almost like brothers.

“You want me to mess somebody up?”

Tommy shrugged. If one were drawing an inference from his body language, one might conclude he did want Quinton to mess somebody up, he just didn’t want to actually say it out loud.

Quinton let it ride. “Your mom left me pizza money. What do you say we order up?”

“Cool,” Tommy said with a change in his voice. Something like relief.

Quinton had the beige phone from the coffee table already in hand, rotary-dialing Dominos by heart. “We’ll find us a movie to watch or something, alright?”

Tommy nodded, cracking a smile for the first time all day. Movies and pizza. Hell yes.

“The freakin’ Terminator is on? Sweet!” Tommy knew practically every frame of the movie.

His dad had taken him to see it when it first came out in theaters. After that he and Quinton and their other friend, Mark, who didn’t come around anymore, snuck into see it multiple times that summer. They snuck into Beverly Hills Cop and Friday the 13th Part IV and Nightmare on Elm Street. Ghostbusters and Splash came out that year but those were PG. Red Dawn too. It was big.

Quinton landed on the beginning of The Terminator just minutes after the pizza showed up. The film had started but it was still on the prologue. He kicked back in black running shorts and nothing else, letting Tommy hit the pizza first while the movie found its momentum.

“This flick is totally fuckin’ rad,” Quinton said, breaking one of Tamara’s rules before catching himself. “Sorry, man. Don’t tell your mom.”

“I won’t,” Tommy said defiantly, taking his second and final slice.

He always stopped at two and Quinton polished off the rest of the pie. A grin sharpened in one corner of his mouth and his big brown eyes lingered on Quinton’s tanned thighs for just an extra second.

Quinton pretended not to notice. He tilted his head back and draped the long, thin slice into his mouth as Arnold materialized through the time portal, buck naked chiseled. Tommy turned from the screen.

“You want a Dr. Pepper?” Tommy asked.

Quinton nodded, keeping his eyes on the screen. “Yeah.”

Tommy clawed the last two-thirds of a six-pack from the fridge and set them on the cable spool coffee table next to a yawning bag of Lays Sour Cream and Onion.

They tore through the sodas and chips and dozed off to whatever aired after The Terminator. Something with John Belushi. A romantic comedy neither of them cared about.

Several hours later they woke up boner to boner, with a no-name thriller on TV, nudity, shadows and murder, morning light sweating through the blinds. Sometime during the night, they had gotten chilly on the sofa, snuggled up under one blanket. Morning wood had naturally ensued.

Quinton squinted at the alarm clock across the room. It was a little after 6 a.m.

“I gotta go,” he said abruptly.

“What for?” Tommy asked, sounding disappointed.

“I got some things I gotta do.”

That seemed highly unlikely but Tommy wasn’t going to say anything.

“You going to school?” he asked.

“Nah,” Quinton said. “I don’t got time for that today. But you oughta start getting ready.”

He stepped into his flip-flops and out the door.




Tommy left for school at his usual time, without hurrying. He was always at the bus stop three to five minutes early. All he had to do was walk across the park and down the unpaved drive to the state road. From there it was less than two minutes to the stop walking lazily.

On a nice morning, with a breeze and some sunshine, that walk was pleasant. In a downpour it was the opposite. Tamara had found him a raincoat at Goodwill but his shoes and pant legs would still get soaked.

That morning was sunny and clear. It had rained a few days before and since then gotten warmer and sunnier, bringing out the green in all things. Trees looked like huge pieces of broccoli. Grass around the footpaths was thick and overgrown shag carpeting, duking it out with thriving weeds.

An older guy named Mr. Rodgers would come around to mow from time to time but it was seldom to the point that he was taking on a jungle with each effort. When he did cut the grass and the weeds and the bushes, mosquitoes came roaring out of their hiding places for a couple of days after. You really had to watch yourself outside until they moved on or died off.

Mr. Rodgers had something wrong with his voice so you could barely understand what he was saying. At his age, whatever that was—forty or fifty something, perhaps—he had lived most of a lifetime with minimal verbal communication. He had become accustomed to writing brief notes, perfecting his lettering to make his words universally readable. Folks would try to be polite when he was around until finally accepting he didn’t want to be talked to. It was more trouble than it was worth and he had to know they felt sorry for him.

Tommy had noticed for years that Tamara always just waved and smiled at Mr. Rodgers with simple kindness. He waved back with the same kindness. They left it at that.

Going by the height of the grass, Mr. Rodgers would be coming around again soon. It was almost up above the stairs to Quinton’s trailer. For some reason it grew higher and thicker in that section of the park. Probably that’s why the mosquitoes were worse over at Quinton’s place.

His Mongoose was normally chained up to the foundation pier right next to the steps but that morning it was gone. The absence of bright blue and yellow wheels was instantly noticeable.

Quinton had, in fact, gone out somewhere before 7 a.m. In and of itself, that was profoundly mysterious.

For the first time ever, Tommy saw the bus approaching way down the road before he had quite made it to the spot. Somehow he had gotten off schedule.

A stiff breeze whipped and whirled through the tall grass and skinny trees lining the road as Tommy upped his gait to beat the bus to the stop. Way up ahead in the distance, a hawk sailed on the air currents, zeroing in on a kill.

The wind threw the world into motion blur, answering the strange mood of the morning. Quinton’s body heat and his big boner. All that temperature trapped under the blanket. His flash of embarrassment. His tan skin and muscular legs. The golden fuzzstache. Rushing out the door. The missing Mongoose.




Cynthia was way overweight. She was obese back before people really said that. Instead, they called her a cow or a pig or a whale behind her back and sometimes to her face. She had dropped out of school and worked at Dairy Queen.

She lived with her mom and donor of fat genes, who had a good job as a secretary at a defense contractor headquartered in an isolated commercial park on the edge of the county. Sheila made really good money and they had a nice home in a newer subdivision.

“Ain’t seen you in forever,” Cynthia said bitterly on a smoke break. Back then you could smoke inside Dairy Queen but stepping out was more pleasant and felt more like a break than sitting at the counter next to the people you were just waiting on.

“Yeah, I mean, I been real busy,” Quinton told her, straddling his Mongoose.

He had put on a Rush 2112 concert jersey with the sleeves chopped off into black wedges. Tufts of dark-blond pit hair flashed Cynthia as he put his hands behind his head, either for effect or for a legitimate stretch.

“Well, I’d pretty much written you off,” Cynthia said, puffing away at Camel Light. “I can’t even remember the last time I heard a peep from you one way or the other.”

“Sorry,” Quinton said, waiting for his looks and charm to take effect.

Cynthia was having a slim day. She was looking good in the emerald light coming through sycamore leaves overhead. She was holding her ground.

“You look real pretty in your uniform,” Quinton said.

“Thanks,” she said, throwing the line away.

She took another drag and shrugged, waiting for his next move. He rocked back and forth on his wheels, playing the game of attrition.

“You still get off at one, right?”

She nodded, hesitantly. Her cigarette was almost done. She turned her head for a glance inside. There were customers but they had a lull between rushes. Folks due in at eight had already come and gone. The nine-to-fivers would be rolling in at any moment.

“What do you want, Quinton?”

“What? Nothing. I was riding by and I saw you is all.”

“You were riding by at eight in the morning? Pulease.”

“I went riding first thing. Over at the old trail we used to race.”

“What? And you found a dead body or something and rushed over here to tell me?”

Quinton appeared miffed. “Uh, nah. That’s a real strange conclusion you just went ahead and jumped to.”

“I’ve been reading a lot of Stephen King,” she said in a loaded way, as though his neglect had driven her to reading epically long, horrifying books because she had nothing else to do.

“Oh yeah? That’s cool. I loved Firestarter.”

“You read Firestarter?” For the first time since the conversation started, she looked and sounded like warm, friendly Cynthia.

Quinton shook his head. “I saw the movie. Didn’t know there was a book. Guess I thought he just wrote the screenplay or directed.”

“Oh.” Cynthia’s eyes went downcast with mild disappointment and the giveaway Quinton was looking for: She didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and that’s all he needed to know.

He inched a little closer on his bike. He wasn’t crowding her, just letting her know.

“So what are you doing later? Reading Stephen King?”

“I’m halfway through The Talisman, so maybe. Yeah.”

Quinton scooted forward another half a foot. His front tire pointed between her blue and yellow Nike running shoes. She had fought for the right to wear them at work. They were the only thing standing between her and debilitating foot pain.

“I could swing by in a while,” he said. “We could read it together.”

“You wanna come by my house and read?” she asked with compound disbelief.

“Yeah,” Quinton went with it. “You could read to me. I wanna know what that there book is all about.”

He rolled forward a few more inches until his tire stopped between her blue suede toes. His eyes landed on her ankles. Those ample thighs tapered down nicely into proportionally slender yet shapely calves.

“Maybe somebody’s already coming by to see me.”

“Somebody who?” Quinton said, not taking her seriously.

“Johnny Malina.”

“Johnny Malina? Why the hell’d he be coming over?”

“He came over last week.”

“What’d he come over for?” Quinton challenged her.

She shrugged her shoulders, looking downward and coy. The two of them were talking to each other’s feet.

“You been messin’ with Johnny Malina? He’s a beaner.”

Cynthia rolled her eyes. “He ain’t a beaner. He’s half Mex. Just like your cousin, what’s her name, Farah? The one everybody knows you been messin’ with.”

Quinton blushed through his bone deep tan. Somehow word had gotten around about him and his cousin who didn’t even live there. She lived a hundred miles away in a small town outside Waco in probably the best trailer park Quinton had ever seen aside from the one everybody talked about in downtown Austin that had somehow held off the stampede of developers.

The only time it could have been was once when he and Farah were fooling around outside Rollerworld skating rink. Somebody might have seen them. It was also possible, perhaps even more likely, that Farah blabbed to someone she knew back home who knew people who knew Johnny Malina who told Cynthia because, well, obviously he was driving a wedge between her and Quinton to get in her pants. There was no other possibility worth discussing.

Cynthia then was throwing all this back in Quinton’s face to make him feel shitty for neglecting her, which he only did because he was often too lazy to get his ass out of the trailer park over to her place and sneak in her bedroom window and give it to her. Not that her mom ever cared at all. She was heavy too and took it where she could get it.

Quinton’s face was nonetheless burning hot by then. It didn’t matter that the games were so obvious you didn’t need to say it out loud. It was the hurt and disrespect. That Cynthia would mess with him like that, go around with the likes of Johnny Malina to shake him up. How could she do that? The answer to that was equally obvious. Johnny came creeping around and she wanted the attention and at the same time she could throw it in Quinton’s face later on, as she proved, having it all loaded up when he came to see her at DQ, which she had to have known he would eventually do.

Combine that with the sheer blunt force of his secret liaison with Farah coming out all over the place, which, when you think about it, wasn’t much of a shock at all given Central Texas wasn’t all that big back then. People were related to other people and they talked. Pure and simple.

For some reason the young can have ideas about the world that plainly do not conform to the laws of gravity. Swept away by the heat of the moment, teenagers go on making one ridiculous, impulsive decision after another, totally ignoring the consequences. They say it has something to do with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Underdeveloped executive functioning.

Quinton’s underdeveloped executive functioning fired a loogie at Cynthia’s prized sneakers, darkening the blue fabric with the same saliva that had oozed all over her body all three times they had done it. He went crazy on her every time in an omnidirectional frenzy of wanting. Her first orgasm happened with him, not by herself. He mapped her territory and showed her the way, giving her a gift that would always continue giving.

She had been overwhelmed by his tornado of desire and yearned for it ever since, with frustration building into resentment and near madness and finally lashing out at him with Johnny Malina, a jerk and a punk who bullied kids at school and vandalized property, who didn’t give a weak shit about her, who brought a friend with him after she invited him over and the two of them showed up with expectations and she let them. They left her house laughing and high-fiving. Johnny’s friend, Neil, a boy to whom she had never spoken, came inside her, kicking off a month of sheer panic until her period arrived with waves of relief rolling through her like warm honey and the newfound conviction she would never let herself be treated like that again, the degradation and needless stress, all of which piled on top of her existing resentment for Quinton, fueling it, blaming him and his tan and his tongue and fingers—his love, that’s what it was, there was no longer any mistaking it for anything else after the starkly contrasting example of Johnny and Neil—and the ensuing deprivation for all the terribly stupid decisions she’d made over roughly five weeks.

The whole thing had been a rollercoaster starting with the ecstasy of Quinton, the plunging momentum of his negligence, the rebounding hope of recapturing desirability with Johnny and the approaching free fall of seeing him in the front yard with Neil, the two of them imitating the same walk with their heads low and their shoulders hunched like prowlers or vandals sneaking up to cover her with their graffiti and afterward leaving what they wrote to be painted over like it never meant anything in the first place, the end of the ride when all the adrenaline is gone and with it the trick she used to convince herself she wanted it and the stark reality of ugly metal cars with no comfort or warmth and a long line of strangers waiting in line for the same fleeting lie, Johnny’s idiotic grin, watching Neil fuck her and jacking off and making fun of Neil’s orgasm face followed by Johnny’s sticky load warm in the folds of her stomach.

Quinton was pedaling away furiously as Cynthia’s cigarette trembled in her hand from the impact. Her games continued to produce worsening outcomes. Her mother had previewed much of this in her own stormy relationships with men who either didn’t value her or couldn’t successfully prove it. She tested them again and again until there was no one around to test. What should have been a cautionary exercise was instead a blueprint.




A day later everyone found out about Johnny Malina and his friend, Neil Purcell. They claimed they were jumped by some Mexican American kids or “meskins,” as they pronounced it, despite Johnny’s own ancestry. There were several of them, they said. Too many to count for sure and no, they didn’t recognize any of the other boys, nor had they done anything to provoke the aggression. They just got jumped for no good reason because “meskins are like that, man—they’re just meaner than the rest, y’all know that already.”

Quinton was on the couch drinking one of Tamara’s beers when Tommy came home from school all amped up because, “oh man, Johnny and Neil go their butts kicked!”

Johnny and Neil were the same two kids who bullied Tommy, along with another kid named Julio, who had totally dropped out of school and gotten arrested in a neighboring county for stabbing a guy and taking his wallet.

Quinton seemed unimpressed and unsurprised.

“Right on,” he said, lackadaisically.

It wasn’t until they were getting into the pizza that Tommy noticed his knuckles. He was getting his second and final slice when Quinton reached for his first. The two were stuck together, not sliced all the way through. They had to carefully pull them apart to avoid destroying one or both slices. Tommy’s eyes naturally fell on Quinton’s hands while they worked together.

His knuckles were purple and raw. Whether Tommy put it together right there and then or sometime thereafter is impossible to know. He was an intelligent, perceptive kid but kind of dreamy, off in space. He hadn’t ever talked about the kids who bullied him at school. Not by name, anyway.

Tamara might have mentioned Johnny to Quinton, possibly in an outburst of frustration. She was probably washing dishes in a huge hurry as she often did, the scrubbing and drying repetitive motion building up in her an electrical charge of hot discontent verging on exasperation from the multiple jobs, the bosses who ogled and pawed her along with customers, who were mostly okay but the bar was so low and the sink so small and inadequate and always full of dishes.

Quinton could see her shaking at the sink. Then she dropped a saucer and chipped it. There weren’t many left. Only she used the saucers for her tea and coffee. They were her nicety. She might have been crying by then or at least on the brink.

He wouldn’t have known what to say. He didn’t have the words but he had his kindness. He would have stepped up behind her to finish washing the dishes so she didn’t have to do it, brushing against her, a moment of tenderness warmed up with her dissatisfaction—her unanswered need.

Once or twice they had hugged for too long. That was it. Quinton was just a little older than her own son. She couldn’t do it. Tamara was the kind of person who understood her own weaknesses and knew when to stiffen up. She was bright and perceptive. Like her son. He got it from her. That made living in a trailer all the more infuriating, knowing that other people would say, “She’s pretty and smart—what the hell went wrong there?”

As she backed away from the sink and let Quinton finish the dishes, she probably let it slip that the school had called. Tommy was in a fight. One that he lost. The other boys were being disciplined but so was Tommy. For that the vice principal admitted he felt sorry—Tommy was a good kid but they had to be fair or at least strike the pose of fairness.

Quinton would know their names from then on, probably keeping an eye out for them. He might have had past beef with Johnny, which would explain the spreading of rumors about Farah and the double-teaming of Cynthia. But involving Tommy, a small, sweet kid who couldn’t tangle with two bigger older boys. Mean, scary boys, warped by something dark at such early ages. Boys who liked to break shit, start fires and cause pain. Who terrorized their own pets. Who hit other kids, boys and girls.

Of course Tommy would have been afraid of them. He was smart. Intelligence lets a person know when to be afraid.

When Quinton heard those names again from Cynthia, Johnny and Neil, there was no more waiting around for happenstance. He went looking. He went out hunting.

He caught Tommy staring at his knuckles. “Oh,” Quinton said, “yeah. Fell off my bike earlier.”

Tommy bought it or seemed to. He finished his second slice of pizza and kicked back, putting his feet on the table, which Tamara always told him not to. Raw Deal was on. Anything starring Arnold.

“Where’d you ride today?” Tommy asked between shoot-outs.

Quinton only sort of heard him. “What?”

“Were you on the trail?”

“Yeah,” Quinton said, “I rode on the trail.”

“Did you do the big jump?” Tommy asked, excited.

“I’ll be bock.” Quinton dropped the line in unison with Arnold like he hadn’t heard Tommy. Maybe he just didn’t want to lie.

He had been to the trail before going to see Cynthia but he hadn’t fallen off his bike or done the big jump. He had ridden a couple of laps and taken off when two bigger kids, Lyle and Baxter, came pedaling up the path from the cemetery. Those dudes were okay. But they were serious BMXers. Lyle was sponsored by PK Ripper. Baxter was the better rider but he was wild. Way into taking acid and mushrooms, hanging out listening to Minor Threat and going to punk shows.

They lived in town. They were city kids. They probably weren’t the type to look down on anyone but Quinton might have assumed otherwise.

He didn’t stick around to find out. By the time they hit the trail, Quinton was out of sight the back way, riding fast up the hill toward Old Moss Road, a winding unpaved route to 971, the two-lane farm road that led to Dairy Queen, where Cynthia played games with him, confused him, put him off, hurt and stung, he rode away steaming.

Neil and Johnny had cut school that day. Not at all unusual. They were both missing more days than they attended by then. Later that same semester, both boys dropped out of high school, well on their way to becoming full-time losers.

They were skating the loading dock at the old feed store. Johnny wore torn jeans cut off below the knee. His floppy, greasy black hair was nasty looking. A giant white Butthole Surfers T-shirt hung like a rag on his bony frame with the sleeves cropped out flashing white ribcage. He looked dirty and rank.

Neil was taller and better looking, going from a low bar. He was skating in loose jeans and black low-top Vans. He was sloppy on the board. Neither boy was very skillful but Johnny had the build for it. Neil was tall and bulky. Awkward. His coordination was functional and nothing more.

He hadn’t landed a single trick since Quinton had first pedaled by and turned around. Neil botched another one, kicking the board straight at Johnny, hitting him right in the ankle.

“Ahhhh!” Johnny shouted. “Fucker!”

Quinton had U-turned and stopped behind a dumpster. He watched as Johnny got pissed and kicked the board back at Neil. It veered sharply right and shot off the dock, rolling toward Quinton.

He stopped it with his foot. By then they noticed him. There was a moment of what’s next. A stare down it was called at the time.

“Hey, kid,” Neil said. “That’s my board.”

They all knew each other from around but suddenly they were strangers on a no-name basis. Glaring. Icing.

Finally, Neil, the bigger of the two, jumped down off the dock with cool lassitude, moving like a large, semi-sentient noodle, holding his stare on Quinton with every serpentine move.

“That’s my board, homie.”

Quinton rocked the board back and forth with one foot while his other stabilized the Mongoose. He had taken his concert jersey off and tied it around his head turban-style.

Neil approached him, shoulders back. “Yo, man. Let me get my board.”

Quinton stood up and let the Mongoose fall over. With a toe on the back of the board, he kicked it up into his hands, putting a smirk on Neil’s face, showing off another move he’d failed to land.

That pissed Neil off. “Give it,” he said, reaching out.

“You want it?” Quinton taunted.

“Give me the fucking board, dude.”

“Okay,” Quinton said as Neil moved into grabbing range.

Instead of handing him the board, he jammed it up under Neil’s chin, cracking teeth and fracturing his jaw.

From where Johnny stood on the dock, he only saw Neil’s head snap back, followed by a strange, dazed vocal noise somewhere between pain cry and orgasm. Then he watched the big kid wobble on his feet for a moment, knees buckling, dropping first to his shins, then falling on to his side, landing on a bed of sparkling green shards of broken bottle glass.

Johnny glanced side to side instinctively. Desperately. He was trapped on the dock. The only way out was through Quinton.

Rather than pursue, Quinton stood over Neil’s fallen bulk with his arms crossed, waiting.




The cops never showed because they bought Johnny and Neil’s story. None of the investigating officers doubted that they had been attacked by multiple assailants. None of them challenged the “official story” with an alternative theory of one attacker.

The beatdown had been that complete. Hence, Johnny and Neil’s brief but pricey hospitalizations and the gnarly bruises on Quinton’s knuckles. Even with all that purple going, they were in better shape than Johnny’s face. The dental work alone was going to cost a small fortune back before dental work cost a fortune.

Tommy kept sneaking glances. Maybe putting it together, maybe just wondering. Maybe none of the above. Maybe he just couldn’t keep his eyes off those raw knuckles, purpled and swollen. The mystery of it. The intensity. The heat.

When Quinton stood up to go take a leak, Tommy’s eyes moved with him in time to see part of his balls and penis through the short open leg of his yellow runners.

There was a warm flush and Tommy looked away, at the television screen, seeing none of the film. His heart was speeding. His flash boner pushed uncomfortably into his zipper.

Quinton came out of the bathroom straightening his shorts, riding low on the top edge of his pubes. Tommy grabbed a corner of his mother’s crocheted blanket and pulled it over his visible erection.

Quinton tried to act like he hadn’t noticed, failing to completely suppress a slanted grin as he took his seat on the couch and grabbed the remote to up the volume just slightly at the onset of a car chase.

Tommy lay down on his side with his hands between his knees, doing his best to hide the boner in a naturalistic manner.

“You want the blanket on you?” Quinton asked him.

Tommy took a second and a breath, settling in with a wiggle, getting cozy. “Yeah.”

Quinton stood up with the blanket in both hands, spreading it out corner to corner. It was blue and brown with fat zigzagging stripes cascading in shades from light to dark. He whipped it forward and landed it parachute style on Tommy, covering him in one move.

Tommy’s side rose and fell slowly on a long deep breath as the end credits rolled on Raw Deal.

“I’m gonna step out for a minute,” Quinton said, locating his cigarettes on the small circular dining table.

“Okay,” Tommy said, looking at the TV as Quinton opened the springy aluminum screen door.

He lit up on the steps and let the door snap shut behind him. Tommy watched Quinton move off the stairs and disappear from view, replaced with occasional puffs of smoke that drifted by on a northerly breeze.

The film faded out completely as an interstitial faded in with an ID bumper: Next on Hollywood Home Theater: Risky Business, starring Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay.

Tangerine Dream music kicked in with a mellow voiceover by the picture’s leading man. Tommy’s eyes closed. He blinked a few times, fighting it, but that arpeggiated synthesizer score was so pleasantly hypnotic. The opening dream sequence unfolded in soothing slow motion. “The dream is always the same….”

Tommy was out. Instantly falling into sound sleep. He didn’t hear Quinton come back in or notice him sit down on the couch.

“Are you ready for me, Ralph?” Rebecca asked Tom on the screen.

Seconds later, the two hot, young co-stars were going at it. Clothes were coming off. She had nothing on under that little cotton dress. This was like the hottest scene back in the day.

Quinton’s hand was down the front of his own shorts before he’d even thought about it. Total reflex. He was powerless, as any fifteen-year-old boy would have been in the same situation. Rebecca stripped nude was simply overwhelming to the developing male nervous system. It was tantamount to Alicia Reynolds from eleventh grade suddenly walking in naked. Resistance impossible.

That’s basically how the whole thing had gone down with Quinton and his cousin, Farah. She was a little older, hot and titillating. There had always been this flirtation between them but they were never alone, and likely Quinton hadn’t even taken it seriously beyond good fantasy material. But when they were alone the year before, sitting in Farah’s car after a screening of The Goonies at the big old ten-screen theater in Leander, they had drifted into a sizzling, forbidden kiss. It was Quinton who went for it after Farah sent him big bright flashing signals. He read them correctly.

They didn’t have sex right there and then but they did get into a serious, R-rated make-out session in the parking lot of a multiplex. They were seen. On some level they had to know they would be but the tidal wave of hormones carried them way past caring.

The actual sex came later and frequently in the days before Farah went back home. They were pretty careful to keep it secret but the rumors had already started. People knew. They would talk.

In and of itself, incest didn’t mean much to Quinton’s rep. He was already considered trash. Farah lived in another town a hundred something miles away. Didn’t matter. Word spread fast through a sparse, interrelated population.

It maybe took a week before she noticed the funny looks and the distant vocal inflections from people she’d known her life. Eventually, someone told her what they were hearing.

One night, while Farah was still in town, Tamara had sent Tommy over to check on Quinton, make sure he had enough food at home, could he babysit for her the following night, the usual drill. When Tommy got up on the doorsteps, he could see Quinton and Farah through the screen, on the floor of his living area. She was on top, messy blonde locks hiding her face. A topless hair monster. She wore cowboy boots and nothing else. Quinton’s hands were all over her sides, abdomen and small breasts, with nipples sharpened to the point of distant observability.

Tommy stood transfixed for an unknown period of time by the groaning, grunting and writhing—the nudity. Quinton fell out of Farah twice while he stood there, getting his first look at anything really sexual. He had seen plenty of dramatized romanticized “lovemaking” on the satellite but this was different. Shocking and raw. The fumbling, the mildly embarrassed smiles and giggles, as Farah steered Quinton’s hard-on back into her pussy. Neither of them was terribly experienced. They were figuring it out together.

Tamara had always been extremely careful about protecting Tommy from anything too adult. She had never once brought a man home to their trailer. “Sometimes Mommy has to work late and I’m too tired to drive home,” she had told him a partial truth to preemptively explain any potential overnight absences, due to liaisons with men and/or just partying with her friends. The truth was Tamara didn’t sleep around much and she didn’t drive under the influence. But everyone needs to cut loose once and a while. She just made sure to never do that in front of Tommy. Seeing Quinton and Farah together was Tommy’s first eyeful of human sexuality.

“Well, what’d he say?” Tamara asked Tommy when he came back to the trailer, oddly quiet.

“He’s all set,” Tommy answered instantly, as if having cued it up beforehand.




Quinton was close-watching Rebecca and Tom. His shorts were down around his legs, just above the knee. He hadn’t noticed Tommy open his eyes.

When he did it was too late to turn back. He was edging and then over the edge. He watched Tommy watch him come. He watched Tommy bite his lip watching him.

Quinton came hard, shooting up high on his own belly, panting and letting out a sustained, garbled, half-suppressed moan, twisting embarrassment and arousal, degradation and satisfaction.

“Oh, dude,” he said, jumbled. “Man, I was just. I thought you were asleep.”

The backload trickled off the tip down his still choking fingers. It was like he was afraid to move. What could be more reddening than busting out in the open like that is hard to say exactly but any move to wipe off or pull up his shorts or high tail it to the john—well, there was no dignified exit.

“Can I go now?” Tommy asked, already touching himself under the blanket.

Quinton didn’t get it. He had the face of a cautiously friendly mutt meeting someone new.


But Tommy wasn’t waiting. He was going for it.

“Okay, dude,” Quinton said, looking away.

“Watch me,” Tommy said.

“Nah, that’s cool.”

“I want you to watch me,” Tommy said. “Come on. Watch me like I watch you.”

Quinton swallowed. “Okay, then. Go for it.”

Tommy moved the blanket aside. His underwear was down. He had a light growth of brown pubic hair. His uncircumcised penis was rock hard.

Quinton watched with ambivalence, discomfort and excitement as Tangerine Dream dropped those soft and pretty analogue synthesizers on the soundtrack.

Tommy wore his mom’s old gray Adidas shirt. It had been really big on him but he had almost grown into it closing in on his fourteenth birthday and it looked cute.

As he neared the edge, his legs straightened out on to Quinton’s lap. From there it was a matter of seconds. It was over. The panting lull ensued. Deep breaths and pounding hearts. Tom Cruise. Tangerine Dream. Rebecca De Mornay.

A few minutes passed. It’s hard to know exactly how long it was. Tommy smiled and pointed at Quinton’s lower region. He was hard.

“Wanna go again?”




“Shit,” Quinton said, lighting up in bed next to Cynthia. They were still seeing each other. Tommy may or may not have known. “You know I’m total fuckin’ white trash. Sleeping around with my own cousin, my neighbor’s son, and a damn Dairy Queen waitress of all the crazy women.”

“Heyyyy!” Cynthia said with an unlit Camel between her lips, playfully swatting him on the upper arm. “I ain’t crazy. And what’s wrong with Dairy Queen?”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with Dairy Queen, darlin.’” He exhaled, slow and sensual. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong, period. All is as it should be.”

“Is it now?”

“Hell yes. Thing square folks don’t understand is freedom. Living white trash is free. Nobody ever thought shit about me to begin with so I can do whatever I want. Fuck whoever I want.”

“Yeah, but.”

He waited for her to say it. “What?”


“Nah, just say it.”

Cynthia shrugged, trying to let it go.

“What? You’re embarrassed by me?”


But her emphasis was forced.

“You are. You live in your pretty house with your green grass and your two-car garage and you don’t wanna be seen with me.”

“No, no,” she insisted. “It’s not about that, Q.”

“Then what is it? What’re we talkin’ ’bout?”

“Look. I love being with you. I love the way you make me feel. And I’m really sorry about the whole thing with Johnny and Neil. I can’t believe…I just…I’m mortified, alright? I was bent at you and then I thought Johnny liked me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Quinton said. “We all wind up fuckin’ people we shouldn’t from time to time.”

“Okay. That’s not my point,” Cynthia said. “What I’m trying to tell you is I care about you.”

“You want more.”

“No, dang it! Let me finish.”

“Alright, then. Go ’head.”

“I don’t care about all that romantic shit. If you want to come over at night, climb in my window and do it all night and not call me for a week, that’s fine. But I don’t understand what you’re doing with yourself.”

“What I’m doing with myself?”

“You basically dropped out of high school. You don’t have a job. You look after Tommy, who is now basically grown up and his mom feeds you. Your parents left you the trailer and.”

“You think I should get a job?” Quinton said. “I can do that. Maybe.”

“Get a job or don’t, Quinton. I can get you a spot at DQ tomorrow. That’s not my point.”

“Well get to it then. You been yappin’ for damn near five whole minutes.” He held up his finished cigarette as evidence of time passage.

“You need guidance. That’s what I’m telling you. You need to figure out what to do with your life. What you wanna do. Then you go learn how to do that. But your parents took off so there’s no one around to help you figure that stuff out, not that either of them would be doing that anyway, but.”

Quinton nodded calmly, put the smoke out in the Dairy Queen ashtray next to the bed and reached for a fresh one.




One thing about living in the White Rock Court was quietude. Most folks didn’t even realize the trailer park was back there. Other than the postman and Mr. Rodgers, no one came around who didn’t live there.

Cynthia said she had a really hard time finding the place. She had driven past it three to five times and finally had to stop at a Gulf station to call from a payphone. Quinton had given her Tamara’s digits just in case. Tommy answered the phone and gave her directions from the station.

That was sort of awkward because Tommy and Cynthia knew about each other without knowing each other. Tommy knew Quinton had sex with girls. He knew about the thing with Farah even though he never said anything to Quinton. He had seen them together with his own eyes and the rumors were all over school.

There were nights when Tamara was able to stay home with Tommy. Quinton was always welcome there for dinner but he would often go out. Tommy was fifteen by then and totally capable of fending for himself but it had become about pooling resources. Quinton had food stamps but no car. He would go shopping with Tamara and/or Tommy, load up the back of Tamara’s Pinto, and then store most of the goods at their place.

Sometimes they would all have dinner together. A lot of nights it was just him and Tommy. Tamara was working; she didn’t say much about it.

When Quinton wasn’t at their place, he was at Cynthia’s. He could ride his bike through the woods and the trail the kids made and the cemetery and be at her place in less than thirty minutes. He often traveled barefoot in running shorts and nothing else. Once inside her bedroom, he would strip the shorts and slip under the covers, sometimes waking her from a sound sleep with a little bit of playful head.

Cynthia’s bed was soft and cozy. So was she. Her mother had gone from mild shock that a teenage boy was sneaking in her daughter’s window at night to have sex with her to relieved that said boy was kind and affectionate.

She had observed the latter one night for nearly a full minute after silently opening Cynthia’s bedroom door. Quinton was in her bed and clearly making her very happy. Her face was clinched and her body was trembling in one of several orgasms.

Her mother shut the door with the same practiced silence, and leaned on the hallway wall, feeling the texture of the printed wallpaper on her palm, flushed and pulse-pounding.

Once after that she asked Cynthia to please be careful and not get pregnant. That’s it. She never said another word about it.

The night that Cynthia finally drove out to see Quinton at his place and got lost in the process, the plan was pizza, sex and then helping him clean up the place and start getting his life in order the following day. She was still working at Dairy Queen then but her mom had already started discussions with her boss about finding something for Cynthia at Westinghouse.

They were turning over a new leaf. Quinton had tentatively agreed to go back to high school or start preparing for his GED. They would talk about it in the morning.




That whole day had been odd. Tamara was getting in the mix too. She had left some community college brochures on the breakfast table. She wanted Quinton to look at them and see what “jumped out.”

She also finally mentioned that “I know what you and Tommy have been doing, Quinton.”

“Yeah?” He turned the leaflet over for a vacant glance at the back. “What’s that?”

“It’s okay. I know my own son. Frankly I was relieved when I figured out he’s not gonna go and get some teenage girl pregnant.”

Quinton put the leaflet down and made humble eye contact with Tamara.

“Tommy loves you. I do too. You’re family.”

Quinton stayed quiet. His eyes were glossing over but he was holding it in.

“I figure you like boys and girls?” she asked him.

“Turns out the critics were right. I am in fact white trash and will screw anything that moves. On two legs anyway.”

“I want you to stop saying things like about yourself.”

“Aw, I’m just kidding around.”

“You’re not, Quinton. You’re not kidding. You are a bright, sensitive young man. You are so young. You have a future in front of you.”

“Do I now?”




There wasn’t any fanfare when Julio Sandoval got out of jail. Not even his family showed up to greet him. Nor were there any special circumstances surrounding his early release. He had gotten five years for stabbing another scumbag but back then minors weren’t charged as adults very often. His sentence was controversial. Things had happened inside. Liberal advocates were arguing on behalf of young men like him who had made mistakes. His behavior inside was good. He was out in less than three.

He went straight to Johnny’s place to get fucked up as quickly as possible.

After that, they had gone over to Rollerworld, where Neil was skating backward to Janet Jackson, showing off. He wore a black rayon shirt totally unbuttoned with some snug Wrangler jeans. He had his eye on thirteen-year-old Shelly Gonzales.

He and Johnny knew Julio was going to want some pussy right away. One of them tossed a ’lude in Shelly’s sweaty fountain Pepsi. An hour later they gang raped her in the semiprivate breakdancing box in the corner of the skating rink.

Johnny and Neil had the same goofy grins and giggles going as the day they double-teamed Cynthia.

“Dude, you make the craziest face when you nut!” Johnny said after they had bailed on Rollerworld.

“Me? You should see your own!” Neil did a cartoon horse face with rectal exam eyes.

“You guys are fucking weird,” Julio said, lying in the backseat on whatever was left of the ’ludes they used on Shelly. “I think I’m in love though, for real.”

They stayed fucked up through the whole next day, driving around trying to find that trailer park.

“But you don’t know which one is it?” Julio said with drowsy eyes and the voice of an exhausted spouse in a codependent relationship with another addict after the umpteenth row.

“How many can there even be?”

“We ain’t even found one so what the fuck does it matter?”

So went the chatter in Johnny’s mom’s station wagon. Neil was driving because he insisted and Julio was “too fucked up, man,” never mind Neil had been pacing with him pill for pill. They had boosted old muscle relaxers from some old bird’s medicine cabinet. She was actually home when they broke in but sitting in her recliner, getting up from which required work. Julio had grabbed the walker parked nearby and moved it across the room.

“You guys find us some cash and pills,” he said. “I’ll sit with Grandma.”

Neil and Johnny headed into the hallway and split up at the bathroom and bedroom respectively, Johnny nodding back toward the living room, whispering, “He’s not gonna fuck that old lady, right?”

Neil shrugged his way into the bathroom and started rummaging for amber bottles. Whatever he found was surprisingly potent. He and Julio were rubber-faced and slurring.

“What are you even gonna do if we find him?” Johnny asked from the backseat, possibly challenging his two incredibly stoned friends.

“Tsss!” Julio threw a lazy glance over his shoulder. “I’m a stab his lil’ ass.”

“Shit, homeboy. You even got a blade?”

Julio creased his brow in what might have been a fierce expression with his facial muscles under control. As it was, he just looked vaguely confused by a pop quiz or a card trick.

“Who you calling homeboy, homeboy?”

Johnny slapped the back of the front seats, nearly cutting his fingers on a sharp tear in the old sunbaked green-vinyl upholstery, hardened to a sharpened crisp.

“Man, we’re never gonna find this place, man. We’ll be out here all night driving around with your stoned asses.”

“Maybe we should stop and asked directions,” Julio muttered on the edge of nodding off.

Neil scowled at him derisively. It wasn’t quite dark but would be soon, and they had failed to find the trailer park in broad daylight. Asking directions though? Come on.

“Maybe we should, dude,” Johnny said. “The fat guy at the Gulf station might know. He grew up in Manor, I think.”

“Who, Kenny McDowell?” Neil said. “Yeah, his family owns that used car place with all the pit bulls.”

“Ha, ha,” Julio muttered groggily. “Kenny. Stupid fucker. He knows where the park is at.”

“Does he?” Neil said, suddenly amenable to asking directions. “You sure?”

Julio was half-asleep. His eyes were closed and he was grinning. He made a garbled vocal noise like a napping dog dreaming of squirrels and feral cats.

“We should murder this fool and go back to fuckin’ Rollerworld,” Julio said with a sudden burst of semi-lucid conviction.

“I don’t know that we should go back there right away, dude,” Johnny said. “There could be heat.”

“I gotta see Shelly, man,” Julio said. “I love her.”

“I don’t think Shelly’s gonna be around the skating ring, you know? Like, in light of everything.”

“I love her, dude. I wanna like, marry her and shit,” Julio said with his eyes completely closed. “Next time I see her I’m a be like, a total gentleman and shit and invite her over to dinner with me and my moms.”

Neil ignored him. The Gulf sign was glowing up high against the swirly pink and purple sunset. The orange and blue color scheme seemed almost designed to go with that dusky sky.

“You and your mom are talking again?” Johnny asked. “That’s cool.”

“Nah, but. Once she meets Shelly, man, me and her’ll be cool again. We’ll be a family and then everything else, man—who even gives a shit, you know? Family’s everything. La familia.” Julio fisted his own chest weakly.




“Y’all mean White Rock Court? You just passed it.” Kenny McDowell not only knew exactly how to find the trailer park where Quinton lived, he was flashing a small object wrapped in foil halfway out the pocket of his jeans. “Y’all wanna buy an eight ball?”

“Mmm,” Julio sneered with feigned skepticism.

“No offense but y’all kind a look like you could use a bump.” Kenny said off two sleepy zombified faces. Johnny had stayed in the car. “Seriously, I need to get rid of this shit.”

“I mean, shit,” Julio said. “I’m open to possibilities but, like, if you need the money right now, that could be a problem.”

Kenny looked left and right. Other than Neil and Julio, there were two crusty old prostitutes in the back, eyeballing forties, and a deer hunter in his seventies named Hank Nash. Pretty much everyone in that neck of the woods knew old Hank. Folks respected him too. Could be Kenny wouldn’t want Hank knowing about the eight ball. Also could be he was thinking both those nasty old truck stop whores would blow him for it.

The one with bleach-blonde ultra-frizz was rolling toward the counter with a malt liquor and an Almond Joy. She was really happy about something and grinning. All those missing teeth and that belly. Distended from alcoholism or?

“When can you get the money?”

“Yo, I can have it to you tomorrow, like first thing. What time you get to work?” Julio asked him.




“How are we supposed to get that money?” Johnny asked, suddenly preoccupied with logistics as the nastily impure meth hit.

“Don’t sweat it,” Julio said, snorting back a bump off the head rest. He’d cut a soda straw into thirds with his buck knife. Each guy had his own third. They were going through that eight ball. “After we do this murder, I’m a go back and rob that gas station.”

“That’s. What?” Johnny tried to make sense of it. “Kenny works at the station. You’re gonna rob Kenny to pay him?”

Neil was giggling behind the wheel.

“Fuck yeah.”

“He’ll know it’s us.”

“Nah, esé. I move like a ghost. Like a pussy phantom.”


“You’ll see.”

Neil howled with laughter.

“I can’t wait to tell Shelly about this,” Julio said. “I kind of wish she were here right now, you know? I just wanna share everything with her.”




Quinton stood naked at the breakfast table, glancing at leaflets, sort of reading them. Tommy was lying on the couch, flipping channels with a blanket over his midsection, chilling in postcoital calm.

“Anything good on?”

“Commando,” Tommy said.

“Seen it,” Quinton said, looking almost interested in an ITT brochure. “Overrated.”

“First Blood?”

“That’s on?”

“Coming up next.”

“Shit yes. You seen it?”

“Nope. Wanted to.”

“First Blood is awesome. That’s Stallone at his best.”

“Better than Rocky III?”

“Way better.”

“Way better?”

“Let’s watch it.” Quinton looked past the leaflet at Tommy. “See for yourself.”

Just then Mr. Rodgers passed the back window. The one right behind the couch. Quinton jumped with a slight start.


“Mr. Rodgers. Startled me is all.”

“He’s still out there?”

“He ain’t been here in like ten weeks. He’s probably gonna be here all night cutting shit back.”

“He got the machete?”


“He’s like fuckin’ Jason Vorhees with that thing,” Tommy said.

Quinton laughed. “We should get him a hockey mask.” 
 Tommy wasn’t laughing. “Yeah,” he said flatly.

Quinton noticed the difference. Tommy’s sudden absence.

“What’s up, dude?”

Tommy waved the remote at the screen. “First Blood,” he said. “It’s starting.”

The anger was right behind his face. He had been changing over the past year, growing out of the cute, sweet boy who made good grades and pleased others, who never gave his mom or anyone else a hard time, who people liked because he made them feel better about themselves.

Quinton had seen it. With Tommy’s sexual awakening had come something else. He was in pre-college courses at school. His advisor had him preparing a year in advance to go check out universities. Tommy’s eyes were opening. He was growing away from Tamara, Quinton and the trailer park. He was starting accept the truth that he had a future elsewhere. The world was available.

“You pissed because I’m seeing Cynthia tonight?”

“You see her all the time.”

“I know, but. Did you want to just hang here, you and me?”

“Whatever. You planned to see her. See her.”

“We got a problem?”

Tommy dropped the remote on the table. “Does she even know about you and me?”

“Of course she knows. Everybody basically knows. I’m white trash, remember? I banged my own cousin. I’m like a mythological beast around here.”

“So Cynthia knows we just had sex, you and me, and you’re just gonna wash your dick off and go stick it in her?”

“No, now, wait a second. That ain’t how it works. You fucked me. My dick is clean. Long as I don’t stick it in more than one person per day that ain’t cheating in my book.”

“Your book?”

“Yeah. My book,” Quinton said. “Nobody ever gave me the instruction manual so I wrote my own.”

They both heard the heavy thuds of car doors closing in quick succession. That simply was not a native sound in White Rock Court. No doubt something was amiss. A foreign element had been introduced.

Quinton moved quickly to the front window and peeked discreetly through Tamara’s yellowed Venetian blinds, instantly identifying Julio, Neil and Johnny. Back in eighth grade, Quinton had fought Julio twice and kicked his ass twice, the second time publicly, right in front of the bike racks. The other two boys he had hospitalized two years earlier. All three of them had obviously struggled to let go of the past.

“What’s up?” Tommy asked with obvious alarm in his voice, sensing Quinton’s sudden vigilance.

His black running shorts were on the floor in front of the sofa where Tommy had pulled them down and off. His flip-flops were parked in front of the kitchen door next to Tamara’s weekend sneakers. They were almost a match.

Quinton darted like a shark to the couch and back, grabbing the shorts and forgoing the shoes. He moved better barefoot. Always had.

Watching the three guys approach his trailer rather than Tommy and Tamara’s, Quinton stepped into his shorts. Somebody had to have tipped them off if they knew his trailer. The only thing giving it away was a decorative piece his mother bought for the front door. An imitation planter made of fiberglass, pink with ambiguous green vine-like growths spilling out that may or may not have been botanically correct. His father had screwed it to the door for her, right under the peephole.

Kenny McDowell used to come over and hang out sometimes back then. His parents had been friends with Annie Craft, who used to live in the trailer next to Tamara’s, but she had gotten sick and moved away somewhere. That was it. Then the Farleys had moved in. Been there ever since.

No doubt that Kenny and Johnny knew each other. It was an easy jump to those guys talking to Kenny at the gas station after driving around looking for the unpaved road no one could ever find. There was no stop sign or traffic light or streetlamp. You just had to know from being there.

Anyway, all three guys were obviously speeding. They were in psycho gear. Neil had a tire iron. Julio had a blade. Johnny looked amped to the gills, edging on manic.

“Get dressed,” Quinton told Tommy.

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Some assholes are here. I gotta fight them.”

“What? No you don’t. Let’s call the cops.”

“Call ’em,” Quinton said. “But meantime put on some clothes and stay inside this trailer.”

He moved away from the window and headed back toward Tamara’s bedroom. Tommy jumped into a pair of gray sweats and his usual Adidas T-shirt. Then he found himself frozen in the living area, unsure of what to do. Oh yeah, right, the cops. Call them. He went for the wall-mounted phone next to the kitchen and watched lateral movement in the gaps between the blinds.

By then, Quinton had disappeared through the trapdoor in Tamara’s bedroom. He was underneath the trailer, watching three assholes through the latticework skirting. Up until that evening, the foliage and overgrowth around Court A had been more than thick enough to provide guerrilla-style stealth, but Mr. Rodgers had been cutting and mowing since that afternoon. The coverage Quinton was counting on had been stuffed into thirty-gallon bags piled up on the edge of the main drive.

Somehow he had to sneak between Tamara’s trailer and his own. The woods demarcating Court A and Court B were his best bet. First he would have to discreetly tear some of the skirting off. Mr. Rodgers had evidently gone above and beyond to repair the spot where it had broken away from the trailer on its own.

Meanwhile, Julio was buying him some time, posturing like an idiot right out in plain view of five trailers on the circle.

“You wanna play rough?” Julio did a terrible Pacino from Scarface, though in his own amphetamine brain he probably sounded right on. “Let’s play rough, muthafucka. Come out on meet my leedle friend!”

He sped past his own grammatical errors and flashed his blade as Quinton broke through another weak spot in the skirting and rocketed into the woods, disappearing ninja-style into twilight and dense vegetation.

Johnny found a pile of dead branches Mr. Rodgers had piled up next to the lawn bags. He took a nice stick, say about four feet in length, two inches in diameter, and held it between both hands, staring it down with nihilistic mania in his eyes. He clenched his teeth and raised a foot to stomp the stick in two. It wasn’t nearly as brittle as he’d expected. Instead of snapping, it bowed with a slight cracking noise, fighting Johnny with surprising strength, lacerating both his hands and taking him to the ground with several muscles pulled in his legs, groin and back.

He let out an unintentionally humorous pain cry and cursed the stick. Jumping up and stomping on it with murderous rage. A wrestling match ensued from there.

By then, there were neighbors looking out their windows, investigating the commotion in a place where the only noises typically heard at night were prowling owls, copulating cats and other people’s television sets turned up too loud.

Julio went up Quinton’s front steps and pounded on the door, rattling the imitation planter ornament. “Leedle peeg leedle peeg, let me in!”

Quinton searched through grass and weeds for something heavy enough but Mr. Rodgers had cleaned up so thoroughly the natural weapons array had been seriously depleted. There was, however, a short length of two-by-four leaning against the back of his own trailer. His father had probably found it somewhere and put it there in case he needed some scrap wood for something at some point.

Quinton had noticed it several times riding out that way on the Mongoose. It had gotten dark and kind of mossy sitting out in the rain for however long it had been there. Maybe a couple of years or more. He test gripped it, swinging a couple of times to make sure it wouldn’t slip through his fingers. As long as he held it tight at the cleaner end, his handle was sure.

Johnny finally had his own stick almost torn in half but moist bark and tree tendons refused to let go completely. He looked up at Julio pounding on the trailer door.

“Maybe he ain’t home!” Johnny shouted.

“His fucking bike is here!” Neil shouted back, pointing at the Mongoose chained up on the trailer skirting.

He was looking over his shoulder the wrong way when Quinton came out from behind the trailer, swinging.

The two-by-four hit the side of Neil’s face as he was turning his head forward, maximizing impact, breaking his jaw again in a slightly different way from the skateboard he took under the chin. Prior to that moment, Quinton hadn’t noticed the pair of rusty six-inch nails in the bottom end of the plank.

They pierced Neil’s cheek, leaving filthy twin puncture marks full of mud, mold and rotted sycamore leaves.

“Ffuuuhhck!” Neil blurted, drawing his attention to the new jaw injury as he tried to enunciate. He staggered backward and sideways, instinctively touching his face, which must have hurt like hell as stunned nerve endings stirred, waking up from the blunt force impact.

After a beat and a half blood spurted from the cheek holes. In the same instant, Julio came flying off the steps, charging Quinton with the blade out.

Quinton sidestepped, moving deftly on bare feet as Julio’s cowboy boots failed to grab the loose earth underfoot. He almost went down but caught himself with his free hand. Then he caught a foot to the face as Quinton kicked him fast and hard.

Julio went back on his ass and dropped the knife. Quinton lunged at him, leading with a knee, connecting with Julio’s brow, dazing him.

But he’d lost track of Johnny who had finally gotten his stick broken. He swung with both hands, bashing Quinton in the back of his head, opening a cut under his long blond hair.

Quinton maintained his footing well enough to dodge Johnny’s second swing and return the favor with a blow to Johnny’s head by the edge of the plank. No nails that time. Just wood.

Johnny groaned and staggered as Julio tackled Quinton from behind and started wailing on him. Quinton twisted and flailed, looking to get out from under Julio, but he struggled to get the necessary leverage belly-down.

The storm had blown in by then and thunder was cracking. A lightning vein rippled across the sky as Julio raised the knife with both hands, preparing to plunge it into Quinton.

Tommy came out the front door of his trailer in time with another thunder crash. Julio sneered and drove the knife into Quinton’s back like a stake in the hands of a vampire slayer. Quinton’s face registered the shock of being stabbed but he was silent. There was no outcry. Maybe the pain hadn’t set in right away.

There were sirens in the distance and headlights on the vines lining the drive. Rain came down like a curtain dropping on the park.

Julio took the blade out of Quinton and screamed like a maniac with a face-gaping orgasmic rapture, raising his hands over his head again, ready to repeat that overstated stabbing motion. Just as he began his downward velocity, an obstacle suddenly presented itself.

The machete didn’t take his arm completely off but damn near. Mr. Rodgers had been swinging the long blade back and forth for hours. He was pretty tired, and human flesh and bone were considerably more stubborn than most of the vegetation he had been thwacking.

Cynthia’s car had come to a stop with the high beams spotting Quinton and Julio. She left the lights on and the motor running as she jumped out in horror as Julio realized what had happened to him.

The knife fell harmlessly from his weakened grasp and landed in one of those many orphaned patches of grass. Julio sprung to his feet on a surge of adrenaline and methamphetamines. He moved in jagged, Frankensteinian lurches, his body in severe shock, picking Johnny out of the scenery, stumbling toward him as Johnny instinctively moved away and vomited from the sight of the dangling arm, stretching skin and tendons eerily reminiscent of the stick he had worked so hard to split.

Neil, meanwhile, had gotten back in the driver’s seat of Johnny’s mother’s station wagon and peeled out toward the main drive where he ran into a pair of sheriff’s cruisers on their way to the scene. The deputies hopped out with their weapons drawn, unable to get around the station wagon on the narrow drive.

As three deputies moved into the park, one having stayed behind to wrangle Neil, Tommy and Cynthia had made their way to Quinton. Both knelt next to him, completely unsure of what to do. He was bleeding externally and internally. On some level, both lovers may have realized the wound was likely fatal. This boy they both loved was going fast.

The EMS vehicle rolled in behind the cruisers, thus taking longer to get the gurney to Quinton and costing him critical seconds. Injured as he was, they couldn’t do much for him there at the scene. They had to get him into a trauma unit for emergency surgery. There was no other way.




Julio had run from flashing lights and sirens, vanishing into the woods where he bled to death in a matter of minutes, thereby saving Quinton’s life by allowing the emergency medics to focus exclusively on him rather than attempting to save two severely wounded people at once.

The recovery was long and arduous but mercifully paid for by the state since Quinton was a minor living well below the poverty line with welfare checks and food stamps to prove it.

The drugs were excellent but there was no cable. Weeks turned into a couple of months as the newish hospital in Manor was well staffed and happy to bill the government for everything it took to get a teenage boy back to health.

He turned eighteen in his hospital bed and celebrated with a cute young male nurse to whom he had hardly spoken theretofore. They had a tacit moment of connection when Quinton busted a woody under the hospital blanket. Their eyes met with instant understanding and playfully naughty smiles.

“Would you like a hand with that?”

“Sure, yeah. If you got a free minute.”

Over the course of his stay there were two female nurses in the mix as well, plus Tommy and Cynthia stopped by. With plenty of food, hospital-issue dope and sexual favors, Quinton was eventually “right as rain” as they say.

A few weeks in, Farah drove down from Hillsborough, where she was going to school. In the time that had passed since their last in-person, she had become a fully grown woman. She was less cute and pretty. Her boobs had gotten bigger but she was thin and lanky. Her hips were oddly shaped and her calves were too small as revealed by the cutoffs she wore with a black ZZ Top Eliminator jersey. As a kid she had worn knee-high tube socks for deemphasis. On a couple of occasions with Quinton back then, the tube socks were all she had on.

She held his hand until he woke from his nap. It took him a moment to get her in focus. It had been years.

“It’s me,” she told him. “It’s Farah.”

“I know,” Quinton said, grumpily. “What are you doing here?”

Farah looked hurt by the question. “You mad at me about something?”

“Nah. I just ain’t heard from you in eons is all.”

“Well, as I’m sure you can imagine, there are reasons behind my prolonged absence from your life. There were certain social stigmas, which came as a result of our magical night together in the parking lot of the Royal Cineplex.”

“And you held that against me?”
 “Not at all. Not for a second. I can hardly believe you would ever even suspect that of me. You know how I felt about you.”

“Shit yeah. You started the whole thing.”

“Mm, I think we started it together.”

“You lifted your dress to show me you weren’t wearin’ panties.”

“That was for informational purposes only. What you did with the information was what set it off.”

He stopped her with a smirk.

“Now you’re the one who seems cross at me.”

“I ain’t cross at anybody. I missed you is all and it felt like you threw me away like a piece of white trash.”

She squeezed his hand gently. “Never. Quinton, you got to understand. My family was embarrassed. And angry. It was horrible. My relationship with my parents will never be okay. They’re holding this over me forever.”

“I’m sorry. That’s stupid. We were just kids experimenting. Doing what’s natural.”

She smiled with big, strong mixed emotions. “That’s what I love about you.”

“What’s that?”

“You just don’t give a fuck what other people think.”

“Don’t have a fuck to give,” Quinton said, noticing something on the TV. A news report on mute. The remote was laying next to him. “Hold up.”

He aimed the remote and increased the volume by several green rectangles. They were on there talking about Johnny and Neil. Evidently, Shelly Gonzales was the niece of Nora Gonzales, city councilwoman and Chicano-rights activist. Shelly’s parents had picked her up from the skating rink and noticed something was off right away. Other kids had witnessed the assault but didn’t really know what they were seeing wasn’t consensual. They were just kids, but their testimony plus Shelly’s testimony and her blood testing positive for barbiturates plus all kinds of political pressure coming from Nora and her network closed the case on Neil and Johnny. Rollerworld was closing down indefinitely in light of all kinds of unwanted attention that included more stories of drug use, drug dealing and sexual assaults on minors.

There was no mention of Quinton in the report but the anchorman had referenced recent assault charges against Neil and Johnny.

He muted the TV again and set the remote down by his thigh.

“I’ve been following that case a little,” Farah said. “I’m so glad you came out okay. But I am so sorry for that little girl.”

“Yeah,” Quinton said. “I hope she’s gonna be alright. Least she has people who love her and look out for her so. That’s something.”

That sat quietly together for a little while until finally Quinton said, “I really am sorry about your family, Far. I don’t give a shit what they think about me but I do care about you.”

“I know that. It’s. In a way it’s fine, Quinton. I never really fit in around there. I never liked going to church. Never bought into all that stuff. I always wanted to be free.” She laughed at herself. “And I always had that powerful libido. I know you would have never made a move on me if I hadn’t pushed you.”

“No regrets,” Quinton said. “What are you doing now, by the way?”

“You mean right now, or generally speaking?”

“Either. Both.”

“Well, let’s see. In a minute, or whenever they say I have to leave, I’ll head back to my motel. There’s a Chili’s right by there on 290. I’ll probably grab a cheeseburger to go, smoke a joint, and eat said cheeseburger in my motel room and go to sleep. I was on the road for several hours before.”

“Sounds good. Kinda wish I could join you. Cheeseburgers here aren’t the best.”

“I wish you could too,” she said with soft eyes and soft lips. “Generally speaking, I just got my commercial trucking license and I’m about to start hauling between DFW and Minneapolis. You could join me for that sometime if you like.”


“Sleeping compartment fits two.”


“You don’t. Sorry. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Don’t say sorry to me. I might come with you if I can get out of here in time.”

“It wouldn’t have to be anything. I’m just saying you’ve never been out of Central Texas, right?”

“Never been on a plane. Never been more than a hundred miles from where I was born.”

“Same here, y’know. That’s why I got my license. I want go places and see some things. I can’t afford to get on a plane and fly to California, but I can haul a sea can down I-10.”

“Can I think about it?” Quinton asked. “I mean, I don’t really know how I’m’un’a feel after I get outta this joint.”

“Yeah, of course. I’m not leaving right away. And I.” She had never gotten comfortable in the conversation. “I feel weird asking, y’know? I know it is weird. I just feel like everybody took you away from me.”

Her eyes quickly moistened and reddened along with the tip of her nose. She reached for his hand again.

“Nobody ever made me feel like you did,” she said, sniffling and snorting suddenly. “What am I s’posed to do about that?”




Mr. Rodgers had continued working at the park. Several witnesses, including Tommy, the Paytons, Neil and Johnny (both telling the DA everything they could for lenience in the Shelly Gonzales case), all saw Julio on top of Quinton, stabbing him. From their perspectives, Mr. Rodgers simply reacted to what he rightly perceived as an attempted murder in progress. He hadn’t intended to kill anyone. He was acting fast in a very intense moment. He had no history of violence or criminal record of any kind. After a hearing, no charges were brought against him.
Shelly Gonzales was a top story for a couple of weeks, generating heated public disdain for Julio, Neil and Johnny. Local news reporters were unable to find anyone in the community to speak on their behalf. But one shopkeeper in Elgin agreed to talk on camera about Julio Sandoval, who had robbed his grocery store with a pistol when he was fifteen. “The kid was always rotten,” he added coldly. “From the womb.”
Such was the tenor of public sentiment. During a town hall, folks hollered at their local representatives. “If the little son-of-a-bitch hadn’t been released in the first goddamn place!”
The cumulative impact made Mr. Rodgers something of a folk hero. He got a lot more yard and landscaping work from it. Some folks would watch him hacking back overgrown ivy and whisper among themselves, “Is that the same machete?”




Tommy got accepted to a few really good schools, including Rice and UT. Then it was a matter of figuring out financial aid and scholarships and so forth. Tamara was ready to do whatever it took to get her son on the right path. They got it solved together. He would start at Rice in the fall. There would be a couple of orientations over the summer. He would leave in August.

Tamara’s boss at Lady Lux gave Tommy an ’83 Camry. His motivation could have been altruistic or purely libidinal. We’ll never really know.

The night before he left for school in Houston, Tommy and Quinton spent their last night together. A year and change would pass before they saw each other again. By then, Tommy had a boyfriend at school. A math major. Steven.

One night, Quinton came home to find Tamara by herself, sitting at the kitchen table, smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap peach-colored wine from a box. She had been crying. That was obvious.

“Both my boys up and left,” she said, wiping tears on the back of her wrist. “Thing is, I’m happy. I want you two out of this dang park. You have to break out. If there’s anything of value I have to teach you, it’s that. You know, somewhere along the line you can just plain veer off track. I had Tommy and I never could get myself a stable relationship going with a man. Why that is, I really do not know. Maybe I never found the right one. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Maybe I just don’t want to deal with the shit other folks deal with in order to keep a marriage going. I just don’t know.

“And I’m not complaining, Quinton. Not at all. I never regretted having Tommy, not for a second. He’s the best son a mother could ever hope for. He’s beautiful and smart and kind.” She started crying again for real, fueled by the maudlin wine buzz in part but also something deeper. “I wonder sometimes.”

She couldn’t finish the sentence.

“You wonder would he like girls and be normal if he had a dad around,” Quinton said.

Tamara nodded, her lips pressed together hard, squeezing out another wave of tears.

“You know I had a daddy around up until a few years back. Can’t say I miss the SOB, not one iota. I wondered all that same stuff about myself. Would I be normal if. Who the fuck knows and who the fuck cares?”

Tamara shrugged. “I don’t really, but should I?”

“Way I figure it, based on my own firsthand personal experience, Tommy and I hooked up all natural. And why not? There was no one around. We’s both horny, so what the hey? Same with Cynthia. She’s a beautiful, sensual woman but she don’t see herself that way ’cause she’s heavy and the world says she oughta feel bad about herself. But I like them big girls. Always have. I like thick legs, big titties and fat asses.

“No one ever told me different. No one programmed me. So what if we’s all, like, just feeling how we feel? What if most folks are out there doing what someone told them they should, liking what they were told to like. If no one’s telling you one way or the other, is any of us anything, or is it all just made up?

“I reckon it’s all made up or we all just wired how we’s wired and we either live by our hearts or we hide that ’cause of what someone else might think. I see them folks out there hiding. You know, I see the way some grown men look at me. I know what they really want.

“I see ’em taking their kids to Dairy Queen, acting like big, strong, macho dads, but I catch them eyeing my dick or my butt, swallowing and twitching like, right in front of their wives. I think that seems miserable. Like living in a kind of prison you can’t see but it’s there all around them all the time. They got the keys to their own cage but they won’t let themselves out. They’d rather stay locked up. What kinda madness is that?”

Tamara’s jaw was hanging. She had stopped crying. Her face and eyes were tired and tender. The years of dancing, drinking and tanning had caught up with her but she was still very pretty. Her figure had proven remarkably durable. Those legs. And feet. Pink toenail polish next to her bronze skin.

She had caught Quinton looking at her so many times. Him, a teenage boy. Her, a stripper coming home from work in sweats and a half-shirt. Cleaning up around the house in cutoffs and a twist-tie. Sunning in a red bikini. On her folding poolside lounge chair with a homemade daiquiri in the center of the court, drinking alone, so much sadness and beauty. She wasn’t looking for attention. She had plenty of that.

He was a handsome boy with a man’s body. A naturally athletic physique. A resilient spirit to match it, withstanding abandonment and ridicule, fighting back with violence when necessary. Instantly ready to protect her and her son. Of all the men in Tamara’s orbit, few if any had what Quinton had—the strength, purity and guilelessness. The men coming at her ranged from divorced middle-aged dads with just enough money to insult her in their efforts to impress, to obnoxiously self-impressed losers with the wrong idea that Tamara and the women like her were damaged goods with low to no self-esteem who could be bought or coerced, to the other kind of losers who figured her for a broken-down homecoming queen looking for a rescue, fantasy obliterating reality, imagining her desperation and gratitude, servicing them sexually, letting them do what they wanted to her happily because at least she wasn’t on the pole anymore.

Why didn’t she “have a man” so many had asked her over the years, a pretty girl like you? What the fuck is a “man,” exactly, according to your definition? An overweight over-the-hill hump with the social skills of a barnyard animal? A womanizer with moves so obvious you have to fight off the laugh? How about the type who seems real sweet until he hauls off and smacks you because you accidentally wounded his ego?

Or how about a rock-hard eighteen-year-old made of steel and gold, radiating the power of love like an isotope ready to heat the world?

They sat at the table, holding eye contact until it was time to let go and let the moment pass as they had every time before.




Tommy and Steven came home from school one weekend right before Quinton left. It’s possible Tamara had set it up. It’s also possible Tommy wanted to come home for the weekend but more likely Steven pushed him.

Tamara had come to visit in Houston and hit it right off with Steven, a math major, a cutie and a gentleman on the nerdy side of attractive. But it’s almost certain that Steven recognized the reluctance in his partner, that he wanted a breakthrough, he wanted the feeling of unabated closeness, of no secrets and unmitigated intimacy.

The risk of course would be pushing his first serious boyfriend away but Steven seemed like a pretty smart cookie. A pragmatist with a whole lot of quantum understanding under his belt, knowingly influencing all that he observed. As long as he allowed Tommy to conceal his origins, there would be distance between them. As long as Tommy felt he had something to hide, he would feel threatened by true intimacy.

The night they all got together for dinner, Tamara’s old Camaro broke down on the way back from the supermarket and Cynthia came to pick her up since Quinton still wasn’t driving and she was stuck too far from home for a lift on the Mongoose.

Eventually all five of them sat down to split the two large pizzas Quinton had ordered to salvage the evening. Somewhere in the course of the meal and the chitchat, Tamara had everyone hold hands.

“This is the nicest gathering we’ve ever had here. Thank you all for coming,” she said. “And thank you, Cynthia, for rescuing me.”

On the drive back to Houston, Steven admitted feeling a bit insecure around Tommy’s “first love.”


“Yes. Quinton. Of course, Quinton. Did you think I meant your mom?”

“I just don’t understand why you would feel insecure. What we have is totally different.”

“Yeah, right. Totally different than that hot fuckin’ action to the max.”

Tommy used the steering wheel and the road as good solid reasons to avoid eye contact with Steven as he searched his inner Terminator menu for a diplomatic response. There wasn’t one. He kept driving.

“Don’t front right now,” Steven said. “I mean, he is porn-star hot.”




Eventually, it was Tamara who talked Quinton off the ledge of pornography. By then she was the only person who could. Tommy and Steven stayed together through college, becoming friends and partners building a life together, getting a place together, coming out to Steven’s parents together, leaving everything else in the rearview, including Quinton.

Cynthia had chickened out of going to Los Angeles to be with him. She was afraid of living in “a massive impersonal city crawling with models and movie stars.”

“It’s not what you think,” Quinton told her. More than once.

They were speaking every few days at that time. Almost always fighting.

“I don’t want to leave my mom, Quinton.”

“Your mom is a grown-ass woman. You just gonna spend the rest of your life on the same spot you started?”

“What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with here? My mom is my best friend. It would break her heart and mine too. Never mind what am I coming out there for? I have a good job here. I’m happy. You’re the one who left, with your freaky slutty cousin no less.”

“Now we’re going there again,” Quinton said. “That’s nice.”

“It’s not nice. No, it’s not. It’s nasty. Nasty and stanky. You two in the back of her truck. Doing dirty filthy things.”

“Things you like to do, far as I recall.”

“Yeah, you’re right. You’re damn right about that.”

“You’re a dirty birdie,” Quinton said. “Aren’t you?”

“I am. Damn it.”

“Tell me how dirty you are.”

“You wanna know?”

“Oh, I already know.”

“You do, don’t you?”

“Shit, I taught you all them dirty tricks, didn’t I?”

“You did.”

By then he could hear her vigorous hand movements and she could hear his.

“You totally fuckin’ did.”

“Shit, yeah. You were just a little girl when I found you. Then I went and made you a woman, ain’t that right?”

“That is soooooo right!”

And on it went from there. Three or four nights a week, fighting followed by phone sex so intense it could be mildly injurious. Cynthia had been to her mom’s chiropractor twice, working the handset crick out of her neck.

The few times Cynthia started talking Quinton out of doing porn escalated to arguments—him accusing her of judging him, her denying—then into voice porn, then her gasping and panting and occasionally crying, “I’m just addicted to you.”

It was obvious she wasn’t going to talk Quinton out of doing anything. If he went ahead and did a porno, she would be the first one jacking off to it.

Tamara called occasionally to check in on him. Also because she had no real company back home. She always had the option of hopping into bed with a migrant roughneck when she was in the mood but that was increasingly rare. Most nights she spent at home, alone in her trailer.

“How’s things back home?” Quinton asked, lying on the couch in a pair of yellow running shorts and nothing else.

“You know, I can’t complain. It’s actually a little nicer here,” Tamara said, lying on her side on the sofa wearing a pair of men’s boxers and nothing else. “Mr. Rodgers comes a lot more often now.”

“Yeah? That’s cool. How’s he doing?”

“Pretty good, it seems like. He’s kind of a local hero now and I guess he works a lot more. He’s got himself a team of guys—all Mexican by the way, not that it matters, just sayin’—so they, um, they just do a lot more around here. It’s actually kind of pretty.”

“Nice. I’d love to see it.”

“It would love to see you.”

There was a pause then.

“So where’re you living out there in LA exactly?”

“It’s called Echo Park. You know it?”

“No. I’ve never been. I know it’s real big.” 

“Yeah. Real big. Man, it’s crazy.”

“You live by yourself or?”

“I got a couple roommates. Other guys from the club.”

“The club?”

“I’ve been dancing at a club. Money’s great.”

There was another pause.

“Are, you, um, did you get your driver’s license, is what I mean to ask?”

“Nah. Not yet. Mostly I take the bus. Sometimes Russ drives me.”

“Who’s Russ?”

“He’s one of the guys who lives here. Sometimes. He’s out of town a lot. Vegas mostly. He actually owns this apartment, which is cool.”

“Oh yeah? How old’s Russ?”

“Hell if I know. Thirty, thirty-five, maybe?”

“Does he dance at the club?”

Quinton laughed. “Nah. He don’t dance. You should see him then you would get why it’s so funny you asked.”

“So, what’s he do? For a living?”



“That’s what he told me.”

There was another pause.

“Does Russ wear suits or is he more the black-leather-blazer type?”

“Oh, leather blazer all the way.”

“He got his hair slicked back?”

“How’s you know that?” Quinton asked. “You met Russ before?”

“No, honey. I haven’t met Russ. But I have met some guys like him.” She took a second. “I need to ask you something, honey. And it’s real important.”


“Is Russ there right now?”

“Nah. No one’s here tonight. Just me. We can talk about anything you want, no matter how dirty.”

“Okay, that’s. No, I don’t want to talk about anything dirty. I want to ask, because I really care about you, sweetheart.” She stopped to swallow and stifle a sniffle. “Are you just making your money dancing, or, are you, um, doing anything else on the side?”

“I’ve just been dancing out here for the past few months,” Quinton said. “Money’s been real good so far and rent’s cheap here at Russ’s place.”

Another pause.

“How’s your cousin, Farah? You see much of her these days?”

“Not so much, actually. She got a place way out in San Bernardino. I was staying out there for a while but it’s way too far and I had no way of earning money or getting around and she’s gone sometimes for weeks at a time trucking.”

“Is she doing okay? Do you hear from her at least?”

“She’s changed somewhat. And, no, I don’t hear from her all that much. I know she was doing speed on the road and I think she kind of went off the deep end a little bit with that. And like, there aren’t all that many female truckers out there. Some of them boys I seen on the road with her, they’re monsters really. Filthy. Just rough. Last time I saw her she was real skinny, carrying a gun, twitching. I was freaked out. That’s when I figured, I need to get gone. So I hopped a bus to Hollywood and found my way to the club.”

“How’d you find the club?” Tamara asked. “Is it near the bus station?”

“It’s, kind of. It’s not that far but really it was a coincidence. Russ and my other roommate Mike were there to pick someone up who didn’t show and we all just started talking.”

“Okay, sweetie. I need to ask you something real personal. You know you can tell me anything, right?”

“Sure. Yeah.”

“I mean, nothing you could ever tell me would shock me or make me stop loving you,” Tamara added. “You know that?”

“Yeah. Same goes for me to you,” Quinton said, chuckling. “I go both ways. As you know.”

“Okay, ha, ha, but right now we need to be real serious for just a minute and then we can get back to fun talk.” Tamara sat on the edge of her sofa, rigid, reaching for an empty glass of wine, then hesitating to refill it because the phone cord wouldn’t make it to the fridge. “I have to ask you something important and I need you to tell me straight, no matter what.”

“Ask away.”

“Has Russ, or anyone, asked you to do things besides dancing? Has anyone mentioned anything like that?”

“Like what?”

“You know I’ve been in clubs a long time, right?”

“Yep. That’s how I knew the money’s good.”

“Yeah, it can be. But sometimes some of the girls I’ve known start doing other things to pad their income. They’re doing more than dancing.”

“You mean they’re hustling?”

“Yes. Sorry. I should have just said that. Are you hustling out there?”

“No. No. Not at all.”

“So Russ hasn’t brought anything up like that?”

“No, no. Russ ain’t a pimp. He’s trying to break into the movie business. That’s what everyone does out here. He’s talking about us all doing movies.”


“The dirty kind.”

Yet another pause.

“Honey, now, I really don’t want you to go doing something like that, okay?”

“They’re talking serious money, Tam. I don’t know that I can pass it up.”

“Okay, I know it probably sounds like a lot, but I know some girls who got into that stuff too and it—it doesn’t really add up like you think it will. And honey, I have to tell you it’s too dangerous. There’s AIDS now. And there are so many double-talking people around that kind of business, especially out there in a fast town like LA.”

The next pause was different. She could hear him breathing calmly into the phone. Hopefully she hadn’t pissed him off.

“Quinton, honey? You there?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’s just thinking on what you said.”

“Yeah? Okay? What are you thinking, exactly, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“I don’t. What I had been thinking before was some of the guys I met out here do work on movies. Production work, they call it.”

“I’ve heard of it.”

“So, some of these guys, they go back and forth between dirty movies and regular movies and I was thinking, maybe I could get into something like that. Maybe I could star in a couple of movies. That might be kind of cool. But then I could do other stuff too. This one dude I met says all he does is hold a microphone out on a boom. That’s like a long stick with the mic on it, you might’ve seen something like that.”

“I know what a boom is.”

“So that could be something I could do.”

“You could do that kind of work right now, if you go to those guys and tell them you want to be a PA. You don’t even have to work on the dirty movies at all.”

“Yeah, I know, but.”

“But what? Is Russ pressuring you to do a movie?”

“Nah, not pressuring. He just keeps saying I’ma be a big star. He says I’m the next big thing. He says he’s afraid once my face gets out there the big Hollywood agents are gonna come try and get me away from him.”

“Yeah, okay. I think I get it.”

“You do?”

“Oh yeah.”

“So you never know, things could work out real well. But I do wanna learn how to work the boom and really, what I was thinking would be better than that is setting lights. You ever seen ’em do that?”

“I’ve done some photo shoots in a studio,” Tamara said. “I know what you mean. It is pretty cool.”

“Yeah, totally.” Quinton uttered an LAism. “Listen, I probably gotta go. Mike just got here. He might need to use the phone.”

“Okay, but just wait a second. Because.”


“I, um, Tommy left a letter with me to send to you.”

“He did?”

“Yeah. He told me it’s real important. Can you real quick give me your address before you go so I can get that to you? I know he’s gonna ask me about it next time we speak.”

“Yeah!” Quinton sounded elated.




Tamara hung up the phone and finished her bottle of white wine and fell asleep on the couch, crying off and on. When dawn broke, she was up and wide awake, having slept some but not enough, tired but wired. She hopped up and got herself a cigarette and smoked it while the coffee was making.

Then she called Kenny who was running the club and left him a message saying off the top of her head she had a family emergency. “I’m sorry, hon. I really do have to take some time off and deal with this. Probably a couple weeks at least. Really sorry for the last-minute notice but it’s an urgent family matter that just came up, real late last night as a matter of fact.”

She finished her rambling, stress-induced message and hung up on the machine. After a look around the place, a little visual inventory, she made herself an omelet and washed the dishes, cleaned out the fridge and started throwing clothes in a green and beige suitcase that had belonged to her grandmother way back in the 1940s. There was a picture of the grandmother and the suitcase framed on the nightstand next to Tamara’s bed. The story had been that she was coming to see baby Tamara for the first time, that she had flown from Tallahassee to Houston and taken a bus to Victoria. The suitcase and the photo were the only evidence she had of her grandmother, who had passed shortly after that visit when Tamara was still an infant.

The Camaro seemed to start with a roar. She pulled out of the park and onto the state road, letting the engine warm up on the way to the gas station where she filled up and got herself a thirty-two-once cup of coffee.

The damn cup was too big to fit snug in the holder and too hot to clench between her thighs. She found a towel in the backseat and put it across her lap to buffer the heat. After a while the coffee cooled down enough she could ditch the towel.

She drove in silence for the first few hours until she was good and settled in on Interstate 10.

“Straight shot from here,” she told herself, hitting rewind on the tape deck.

When it hit the leader, the cassette started playing automatically. Pat Benatar’s Greatest. “Heartbreaker” at the top.

Tamara upped the volume till the factory speakers rattled. Tiny black mountains nibbled at the horizon way off in the distance. Her voice cracked as she stretched the high end of her register to belt out the lyrics, “You’re the right kind of sinner, to release my inner fantasies!”