Growing

Growing

by Billy Saefong

“Lucky” Lo Chen found a notice from the county police department in his mail. He opened the letter and found two leaves of paper. Lucky had two weeks to get rid of the marijuana he was growing in his backyard; he had way too many plants. The second page was a black and white photo of the backyard taken from a helicopter. What a stupid mistake for having so many out in the open like that, but he found fortune in them, so why stop when it was going good?  

Lucky left the letter on the kitchen table, on top of the credit card bills from an assortment of retail stores. He cracked open his stainless steel smart fridge, and started making breakfast for him and Sunny.  It was the start of spring, and the clocks were adjusted so that six in the morning was darker than usual. He looked out at the backyard through the kitchen window. In previous months, the plants were tall and full. They were majestic, even, and they were his to nurture, and cultivate, to grow. To create something from nothing, to plant a seed and watch it bloom, these were the natural skills Lucky was born with, and it was filled him up. A bird landed on a branch outside the window, and Lucky listened to it chirp against the crackling of eggs in the pan. The early sun hit its feathers revealing a hint of blue and red, but Lucky did not notice. 

Lucky grew cannabis for a few years after his wife died. He knew the risks involved, and ramped up his inventory year after year. He could have faced steep charges for possessing so much. His buddy Manuel got him into the idea, and the two moved the finished product at volume over the years. Both men grew, but only Manuel transported it. During this time, Lucky learned to rise before the sun, and tend to the garden before the heat tarnished the plants. The homemade irrigation system was compiled through a bit of ingenuity, and numerous trips to Home Depot. 

His wife, Sandra, used to plant azaleas because it reminded her of home on the east coast. She also enjoyed cultivating an edible garden with cucumbers, peppers, and cilantro; useful plants that served more than just the eye. “Always try to save a buck,” she’d say. After her death, it was all just green to Lucky. 

Sunny dropped her backpack near a chair, and tied her shoes at the kitchen table. 

“Hey, grab the rice, please,” Lucky said as he began frying a small bowl of chopped sausage. It sizzled, and Lucky switched on the freckled overhead fan. 

“Hey, dad, is it okay if Monica came over, like after school?” Sunny took the plate of eggs from her dad, and set the table with bowls of rice. 

“No, Sunny,” Lucky sat down with the rest of the food. 

“But why not?” 

“You know why,” Lucky, still in his pajama bottoms, got up again to pour himself coffee. “Hey, you remember what day it is?” 

“But we won’t even go in the back, we’ll just stay inside, or in my room and stuff.”

“Sunny, no’s no, okay?” Lucky sat back down. “Now come on, say grace.”

“What? Why me?” 

“Because you never do it, hurry up,” Lucky said. 

“Ugh,” Sunny closed her eyes, and she was a little annoyed now. “Thank you Lord, for the, uh, food on our table, and um, the trees, and the air, and thank you for letting my dad let me have friends come over today. Amen!” 

Lucky looked at his daughter and tried not to laugh. He shook his head.

“What?” she said, trying to keep a straight face.  

He gave her half a smile before gripping a piece of sausage with his chopsticks. “Still no, Sunny. Also, do you remember what we have to do today?”

Sunny searched for the answer, and when she came upon it, she seemed to sink in her seat. “Yes.”

“We visit your mother’s tombstone the same day every year, don’t forget that.”

Sunny’s fork clinked against her plate as she ate. Lucky knew it weighed on her, it was easy for him to read her face. “Sunny, in a couple of weeks, you can invite as many friends over as you want. Okay?”

“It’s okay, dad, it’s whatever,” Sunny placed her dish in the sink. 

“No, seriously, I’m getting rid of everything in the backyard.”

“Oh my God, really? You said this last time.” 

“Yeah, yeah, this is the last of it. I promise.”

“Wait, did you get in trouble? Do we have to move? Are you going to jail?”

“Uh, what, no, no,” Lucky thought of all the possibilities in his head. “Don’t worry about it, just go to school, you’ll be late. And don’t forget to come home right after.”

For the next few days, Lucky called all the favors he had and got help from those who were willing. His brother, and cousin came to help for a short period, but only Lucky’s mother stayed with him for a week, she even helped harvest some of the buds. She worked out in the shed, surrounded by cannabis, with an old bandana around her nose and mouth, and her graying hair tied in a thick pony tail. 

Sunny liked to bring her grandmother and Lucky hot tea when it was getting late. One time, grandma sliced her finger pruning a plant, and Sunny searched all over the house for a bandage. 

With the help from his mother, and close friends, Lucky packaged all of his plants, uprooted the hoses, and collected remaining material, and sealed them in rubber tubs. He had just a few days left to clean up everything.

“I’m glad you’re finally getting rid of all this, Lucky,” his mother said, concentrating on the plant in her hands. Lucky and his mother sat in the makeshift shed late in the night, with a single fluorescent light buzzing above their heads. “I don’t have to worry about you, or Sunny, or what could happen. I’d stay up all night just thinking about you two. I read about these two kids, barely older than Sunny, maybe about the same age, who were shot and killed because they knew bad people doing this. Your father and I could have helped you after Sandra passed away. You didn’t have to do all of this.”

“I know,” Lucky was never good at talking to his mom, he was never really good at talking. He remembered a time when he was just a boy. His mother, who worked in the fields, and knew only the most basics of mathematics, sat with him, and worked out the problems in his homework. Now, she sat with him in the shed doing the same thing. He kept his eyes on the bud in his hand, and continued trimming the excess bits. His stomach felt empty.

“You have a nice house, a beautiful daughter, all these things, TV, car, but you always look so sad.”

“You always say I look sad,” Lucky tossed the bud into a pile, and grabbed another plant. 

“That’s why, that’s why maybe you haven’t remarried.”

“Oh geez, mom, it’s not a big deal,” Lucky’s face grew hot. “It’s nice right now, just with Sunny and myself. It’s okay.”

Lucky’s mother sighed. “Okay, but she needs a mother, she’s growing, and big. It’s very hard, I know. Trust me, I know.”

Lucky’s conversation with his mother always weighed on him. He went into his bedroom and in his closet, he opened a safe. The safe was fairly large, and it was packed with cash. The sight of this filled him up. He had been working so much that he had forgotten the fruits of his labor. And seeing now again, brought some closure to his heart. Between the safe, and his savings account, he must have had enough to buy Sunny a car, and send her to college. But he always wanted to give her more than he ever had. Lucky dipped into the safe mostly for groceries, gas, and paying back favors, some of which still needed paying. 

A car squeaked its way up to the house. “Hey, hey,” Manuel waved, and walked up the driveway. “How you doin’ mija.”

“Manny, how are you?” Lucky said as he finished with the flowers.

“Going good, going good, was in the neighborhood, thought I’d say hi to my favorite little girl”

“Manny, dad scared the heck out of me, I had a heart attack!” Sunny gripped her shirt as she said this, her round little face was still a bit white. 

“You’re 12, you’re too young for a heart attack!” Lucky said.

“I’m 13!”

“Close enough,” Lucky grinned. “Hey check this out,” Lucky held a small garden snake out to show Manny, and Sunny shivered. 

“Dad, stop! Why do you still have it?” Sunny ran into the house. 

Lucky set the snake back into the garden, and pulled off his gloves. “So, what can I do for you, Manny?”

“I’m thinking about buying some land, a little bit up north. Grow on private property, be easier than doing it at home.”

Lucky nodded his head. “How big is it?”

“Big enough for two,” Manuel smiled. “Think about it.”

“I can’t, everything’s packed up, that’s it.” 

Manny bit his lip, and shook his head. “Lucky, Lucky, Lucky,” he said. “You sure, bro?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I’m sure. It’s been what, three years? You helped me a lot, Manny, but that’s it. They’re going to do an inspection tomorrow, got the call today from the county.”

“Sounds like you made up your mind, then.”

“Yes, yes I have. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.” 

“Okay,” Manny shook Lucky’s hand. “If you change your mind, give me a call.” 

A police officer showed up to the door the next day, and Lucky greeted him, his heart pounded a little faster than normal. The two men talked a little bit about the notice, and the two went out back to check on things. It didn’t seem like the police officer was very interested in what he was doing, perhaps it was just an easy gig to check on a pot grower, than say, to patrol downtown. It was the first time Lucky had seen his backyard since he gave the remaining plants to Manuel. As far as the officer knew, the plants were gone, and that’s all they asked for. But seeing the back yard empty, except for mounds of dirt, and Sandra’s azaleas among the overgrown grass near the fence, Lucky felt his body lose sync with itself. The officer checked in the shed, and mentioned something about a “felony” if they found any “intention to sell,” but all Lucky could focus on was the single fan in the corner, collecting dust, alongside the one light that hung from the ceiling. He could still hear his mother say “you always look so sad.” He followed the officer to the edges of the backyard, and they stopped when they came to the orange tree that peaked over from the neighbor’s yard. 

“Oh boy, looks like you got the short end of the stick here, Mr. Chen,” The police officer said. 

“Sometimes the oranges will fall on our side, or I’ll grab a ladder, or a broom,” Lucky said. “My daughter loves them.”

“California has the best oranges, I always say,” the officer said with his hands at his hips, looking up at the tree.

“Yes, yes, my mother used to harvest a lot of oranges.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes, she came over to the states, and you know, lots of war where she came from,” Lucky looked up at the officer, who was a head taller, and an arm wider than he was. “That’s what she knew how to do.”

“Mr. Chen,” the officer said, facing Lucky. 

Lucky looked at the officer, and felt sweat creep down his back. Everything was gone, that’s all they asked. “Yes, sir?”

“We appreciate you cooperating, and the neighborhood does also,” the officer shook Lucky’s hand, and then picked up an orange off the ground. “Mind if I?”

“Oh, oh, it’s not even my tree, I’m just,” Lucky didn’t finish his sentence. 

Lucky watched the police officer drive down the street and turn out of sight. Sunny was still at school, and the house was quiet, and cold. Lucky put on his sandals and started a pot of coffee. He noticed the red azalea flowers that poked out near the fence of the backyard. Lucky slid open the glass door, and walked towards his wife’s favorite flowers. He crouched down, and touched their petals. They were withering. Lucky found the watering can Sunny used to play with when she was little, and filled it all the way up with water. He watered the azaleas, watching hundreds of tiny drops of water crash onto the flowers. He did this until the can was completely empty.

How to talk to somebody.

How to talk to somebody.

I can walk up to them and say hi or

maybe that’s too forward.

I can ask them what’s good on the menu but

I bet they get that question all the time.

I can wear a shirt from a popular movie and pray that you say something like the time you mentioned you watched The Flash but stopped after season two.

I can simply say I like their shirt, or their shoes, or the way their hair shapes their face.

Or the way you smile, or the way you don’t smile and when you look at me I evaporate, but that’s again, too forward, and might come across rude.

I wish I could ask you about your art and the work you’ve done in school, but you’ve only mentioned it once and if I bring it up does that make me some type of loser that hangs onto everything you say? Am I to you a single drop of rain ?

I can pretend not to care.

I can just ignore you and fake laugh really loud like my good friend John, the way John laughs crazy.

I can do that but fake, or I can tell my friend a joke in front of you,

and hope that you notice me, but that sounds really desperate, too.

I can tell you I saw Bernie Sanders at a rally two blocks away.

No, no, back to basics.

I can just say hi.

But what the heck do I say after that? What if you say hi back? Was it the real Bernie?

I try to draw up something but all I get is blank. No, no, I can’t do that. I really like your shirt, where’d you get it?

Oh please don’t think I’m just trying to sleep with you.

Do you think I’m boring, do I smell bad, is my fly down, keep eye contact, what if they say hi back and I don’t have a follow up and everything blends together in a blur and never mind, I’ll sit back down.

Look around. Everyone is beautiful and look at you,

you can’t even talk to somebody.

you can’t even talk to somebody

you can’t even talk.

 

how to talk to somebody

Just Like A Man

Pssst, this is a work of fiction. If the events, or characters seem familiar, it’s simply a coincidence. Thanks for reading! And please let me know what you thought.

Last revised: 2/10/18

Just Like A Man

By Billy Saefong

 

 

I tried to see what my father saw. I always thought about the way men looked at women, and how it’s like a reflex.

“One day, you’ll have a son,” he said as his legs stuck out from beneath the truck. “You have to do this by yourself. You think you can do it?”

I watched him once from the door that connected the house and garage. He took a few sips of tea, painting a white mug black with finger prints before setting it on top of the car battery to his left. His breath smoked out, and he stood there a little while, his silhouette framed by the open garage door. There’s a photo album we kept, and in it are pictures of my dad and his buddies, a bunch of gruff men. He looked a bit dirty in most of his photos, as if he had just built something with his hands. Eventually there were photos of him and me as a baby. I wondered if he was satisfied with the things he had done.

 

With my father’s blessing, and confidence, my buddy, Javier and I took the little pickup truck he fixed and set out to Los Angeles a week after graduation.

“What’s Cindy doing this summer?” I clicked the blinker to change lanes.

“Going to her grandparents in Tahoe or something. What about you? What happened with Christina?”

I ignored the strange sensation of tiny hairs rising on my cheeks. “Christina? What about her?”

“She was all over you at prom, bro, don’t tell me you couldn’t get it in that night!” Javier sat up in his seat. The sunglasses made him look like a bug.

I noticed a clunker speed by, weaving in and out of lanes, causing another driver to honk his horn. It gave off the smell of burning gasoline. Sometimes it was a nice sweet smell, but this time it wasn’t. I shook my head.

“Aw, dude, come on, you didn’t? You really didn’t?”

“Fuck I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but,” I gripped the wheel a bit harder. “Don’t fucking tell anyone, okay? Anyway, we were making out, but I don’t know if it was just the vodka from my dad’s cabinet, or what, but I just couldn’t do it.”

I still remember Javier’s face, he was laughing his ass off, his thick eyebrows arched over his sunglasses. My face grew hot, but after a moment, I laughed too.

“Aw shit, bro, don’t even worry about it, for real, my first time with Cindy, like for real though, was crazy. She a little white girl, but she a freak, you know what I’m sayin’.”

“Yeah, and you last like a minute or what?” I grinned.

“Hey, at least I got some bro, you can’t even get it up!”

“I was drunk!”

“So was I!”

We were dumbass kids laughing at everything we knew nothing about.

I thought of Christina a lot during that trip.

Christina and I went on a couple of dates before she asked me to prom. It was a bit of a relief she asked me. I said yes because it was nice knowing someone actually enjoyed my company. I had never had that experience before her, and though it boosted my confidence, I found myself more confused.

“What are you thinking about in there?” her voice echoed somewhere behind my eyes. Her auburn hair fell around a pair of safety goggles. I remember her as a very intense, and focused student sitting in lab class. Her face was often warped by the vials and flasks.

“Do you really like me?” On prom night she had more sips from my dad’s bottle than I did. I had none. After a little bit of touching and wandering about the bedroom, she kissed me and pulled me in closer. After a moment she stopped and looked at me. I didn’t know what to do, or how I should have felt. Half of Christina’s left pinky was missing and I felt the stub on the back of my hand. I played my part, and she played hers. “Never mind, you don’t have to,” she said.

 

“I’m surprised you don’t have a girlfriend, bro,” Javier reclined in the passenger seat. He was quiet for a moment, and only the hum of the car was audible. “College is going to be crazy, man.”

“Hm, maybe,” I went to a university near my dad’s place.

“You’re lucky, bro, I can’t afford that shit.”

“Maybe you should get a job?” I half regretted saying it in such a casual tone.

“You get a job!” Javier clicked the recliner back to a normal sitting position. “Anyway, what you majoring in?”

“Not really sure,” I said.

“For real though, everybody talks about what I should do, what I gotta do after school’s over, get a job, all that. It’s like whatever man. I’m gonna do me. If they don’t like that, then fuck em! Right? Man you and I, I think we’re homies because we from the same background, you know?”

“What the fuck are you even saying?” I started to laugh.

“No, no, check it out. I’m Mexican. You’re Asian, you’re family’s Chinese right?”

“We’re Thai, you dick.”

“Thai, right, regardless. Everybody thinks they know what’s best for us, but as long as we do what we wanna do, be who we wanna be, then it’s all good. My grandpa was telling me about when he grew up in Guadalajara, and how he ‘became a man’ and shit, and I was tellin’ him like it’s different now, we got Facebook!” The shit Javier said cracked me up, and looking back now, he turned out to be absolutely right. He continued. “I’m thinking about majoring in business, make the big bucks. I wanna be like the guy that made Google. Damn, she was fine.”

“Who?”

“Girl in the Honda that just passed us.”

 

We were halfway to LA when the old truck decided it was done for the day. Luckily, we weren’t far from a gas station with a yellow sign out front, so we pushed it. I popped the hood and looked around, but couldn’t find any particular faults. I made a call to my dad, but he was too far to do anything. We didn’t want to turn back, either. Javier insisted that we make it to LA. He had a cousin there that expected us.

“I’m not giving up,” he began kicking the tires of the truck. I had never seen him like that before. “I knew we should have asked my mom for her car, fuck!”

Other patrons at the gas station turned and looked at us. I crawled back into the grey interior of the truck. I looked around for something, anything. I pulled open the glove box, and noticed Javier talking to an older man. He wore a cowboy hat, and had a white button up shirt tucked into his jeans. Javier came over to me and told me what was going to happen.

“This guy offered to tow us with his big ass truck, back to his place.”

“What the fuck?” I wasn’t too comfortable with the idea of following some random person out to some random house in a random part of the state. I was pretty sure we were going to be chopped into bits or be held in a dungeon or something.

“We have to fucking do this,” Javier said.

“Are you serious? Let’s just call the insurance, have them pick us up, and we can figure it out there.”

“No, dude, this guy can give us a lift,” Javier was determined. I didn’t want to live out the rest of my days in some cowboy’s sex dungeon, and looking back on it now, we should not have gone but we did.

“Are you serious?” I thought the old guy probably lived in a little cabin in the woods. Maybe he had a shotgun for shooting birds, and a little shed in the back that was locked up, that made eerie noises at night.

“Trust me, if he tries anything, between you and me, we can probably fuck him up. But we gotta do this man, come on. Everybody’s gonna talk shit if we go back now, I don’t wanna hear that.” Nobody was going to talk shit. Nobody cared.

 

The old man hooked up our little truck to his, and we drove. The plan was for Javier to sit in the back because he was smaller than me. And if anything happened, I was bigger and could handle the old guy, while Javier could get him from behind. That was our strategy.

“My name’s Mike,” He took off his hat and placed it in the middle of the dashboard. I noticed his eyes on me, and I began to sweat a little. I took his calloused hand, and shook it. The truck was a big, shiny Ford, and everything was black, and leather and clean. “Where yall headed?”

I felt Javier look at me without me having to even look at him. “L.A” I said.

“Ah, that’s great, have a daughter that goes to school down there.” Mike must have been in his late 40’s, I wasn’t sure, but he didn’t look old. He had a square jawline, and striking blue eyes. He smelled a little like gasoline and his eyes had a youthfulness about them. I couldn’t help but try to imagine him younger.

“So I hear the truck is yours?” Mike rolled up his sleeves, and switched on the air conditioner. “Hot as hell in here, apologies.”

“Yeah, my dad and I worked on it for a really long time,” I said. There were a number of rolling hills, all were yellow at that time of the year. I remember the sky being the bluest I’ve ever seen, and my eyes followed the telephone poles as Mike drove.

On our drive to his ranch, he told us about his life. He was in the Army when he was younger, and after he got out, he married his high school sweetheart. She died after having their daughter. He’s lived alone ever since.

 

Mike owned a very large piece of land in the middle of California. I had no idea where we were, and I still can’t remember exactly what the town was called. I just remember a big house, and an even bigger shed with an airplane in it.

“You boys can head on inside,” Mike unlocked the door and flicked on a light. “I’ll just be a minute, going to move your truck closer to the garage where I got my tools. Feel free to wash up, if you want. Water’s in the fridge.”

Mike’s home was large. Everything was a dark, cherry-stained wood, and the photos on the wall were framed in worn gold. Javier and I looked around the living room, daring not to venture further into the house. Our steps creaked the old floors, and we marveled at the gigantic television in the middle of the living room.

“Damn, I want this,” Javier said touching the TV. “This guy’s a baller.”

I noticed the books stacked up on the shelf, and a girl in the picture frames. There was one of the same girl, but in that particular picture she was much older, and smiling.

“His daughter’s hot, right?”

“Shut up,” there was a staircase that led up, and I saw Mike walking towards the front door. “Let’s just fix the car and get out of here.”

“You guys look tired, did you find the water?” Mike led us to the kitchen where everything was silver, and black. He opened the fridge. “Or would you like a beer?”

That was the first time I was ever offered beer. Javier took one. I looked at Javier, and he looked at me. I saw Javier drink before, and as far as I knew, he started drinking in elementary school.

“Don’t tell nobody,” When Mike smiled, his eyes did too. He had graying hair, and looked like he could have been an actor, the type moms would have fallen in love with. “Looks like the battery might be malfunctioning in your truck. Which is the easiest problem to fix if you had a spare battery lying about, but we don’t. We’re going to have to wait to tomorrow, and I’ll run to my buddy’s shop and pick up some things for your car. Might be an alternator issue too.”

I told Mike I knew how to tackle all of these problems, but I never thought that I would need the tools. My father was always there with the tools. It must have been one or two in the afternoon, on a Sunday and the auto store was closed.

Mike showed us around his land, which, besides the house and the shed, consisted of empty yellow fields, some dirt tracks, and a little mail box near the road. Mike inherited all of this from his father. The most interesting part, however was the plane.

“Fuck that, bro, I’m not going in up there,” Javier crossed his arms, a bottle of Budlight in one hand. “Humans are land mammals. Land. Mammals.”

“Well?” Mike looked at me, and his hair blew in the wind. I looked at the red and white plane.

Fuck it, I told him, and Mike handed me a helmet. I sat next to him and strapped in.

“Don’t go grabbing anymore of my beer. You only get one.” Mike said to Javier from the pilot’s seat.

Mike flipped a few switches, checked some gauges, suddenly the plane began to move. Within the last four hours or so, I was the furthest I’d ever been from home, and for the first time, I was also in an airplane, with a complete stranger. Logic and everything I ever heard about what’s right and wrong, and what to be worried about ran through my head, but I knew my heart wanted this experience. The sudden jolt of the aircraft made my heart jump. I thought about all the times in the movies when characters would say “Don’t look down,” and then they’d still look down. That was me. I looked at the ground as we took off. Javier became smaller and smaller in my vision, until he was just a little speck in the yellow dirt.

“How you feelin? Pretty cool right?”

It was heart-pounding, and the smell of gasoline from the engines reminded me of home. I held the microphone on my headset close to my mouth and spoke. “This is amazing,” I yelled, and Mike shook his head.

“You don’t have to speak so loud, that’s why we have microphones on.”

“Oh right,” I still yelled. I asked him how long he had been flying.

“Oh, this was my father’s plane. After he passed away, I had it fixed up. I’ve been flying this thing since I was about your age. Everybody loved it.”

Mike liked to give people rides in the plane, he even told me he taught his daughter how to fly.

“Up here, you’re able to see everything, how little we really are in comparison to the entire world,” he said. “I used to be afraid of flying with my father but the older I got, I’ve grown to appreciate it. It’s peaceful. You can be yourself up here and it’s okay to be a little afraid of it all.”

“It is a little scary,” I said.

“I can show you, if you want,” he gestured toward the machine’s controls and switches. “You won’t be afraid once you know how it all works. And when you do, you’re in control, and you can do whatever you want, it’s freedom.”

“Sounds nice,” the sky above the horizon was gray and below it was green. The plane rumbled and for a moment I thought something terrible might happen. I calmed myself by assuming that there were always stutters in these situations that gave even the best men doubt. “Better if I don’t know for now.”

“Ignorance is bliss, hmm? Anyway, get ready,” he turned and looked at me. I saw his blue eyes glimmering behind the flight goggles. He smiled at me. My heart and stomach jumped out the window. Mike did a barrel roll that turned the plane upside down before coming back right side up. It happened so fast I almost didn’t feel it. And then Mike did it again, laughing. He was able to navigate the instability of it all, he flipped the world upside down, flew through it like it was his and his alone. All the way up in the sky where everyone could have seen us, all of our faults and flipped desires, he handled the machine with calculated confidence. We both laughed on the way back down, and he squeezed my shoulder. I had never felt that way in my life.

 

Mike set a room for us after dinner. All night I couldn’t sleep. Javier on the other hand fell asleep instantly.

The buzz of the airplane still crept into my ears, and the window let a blue glow into the room. I got up, and made my way to the bathroom. After I finished, I noticed the living room was flickering from the television. I walked over and saw Mike drinking a beer, typing something on his laptop.

“You guys never told me why you were headed to LA,” Mike kept his attention to his computer screen.

I wasn’t really sure why either of us did it. We understood that going to SoCal wasn’t a big deal. “I think we just wanted to kind of get away,” I joined him on the couch.

“Where you guys from anyway?”

“Woodland.”

“Woodland?”

“Yeah, around Davis, Yolo County you know. Not much there.”

“Oh yeah, yeah I know the place. I used to work up around there. My family’s from there, near Dunnigan, really, which is a bit further up. We used to always go to Woodland because that was the closest place that had anything.”

“I bet.”

“Your friend, Javier, I think had too many drinks. I was making dinner and I thought, wait a minute, I just bought a six pack, and now I’m down to two.”

I tried not to laugh when he said that. He smiled to himself for a moment before his eyes lost a bit of life, as if he thought of something sad. Mike looked at me, and I felt him searching for something in my face. It was a similar feeling I had when I was with Christina at prom.

“Hear, have the last one.” I took it. I sipped it. It tasted bitter, and smelled worse up close. I drank it like a soda, and tried my best to take large gulps.

“Slow down, champ,” Mike shut his laptop and grabbed the remote. He switched a couple of channels before coming up on the late night news. The audio was turned down. “What are you running from, son? What are you boys really doing all the way out here?”

“Nothing, we just, you know, it gets boring sometimes. What else is there after school, and jobs and family and growing old?” I wanted to stop but I couldn’t stop talking. I wanted to be back on that airplane. Before I knew it, the beer was all gone and I felt his blue eyes penetrate my body.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, besides, you’re young, handsome, and you have the rest of your life to worry about that. I wish I had that.” His voice was quieter and he took a deep breath before continuing. “Greta, she used to run this place. Sometimes I catch myself not thinking about her. She was my wife, how does that even happen, forgetting about someone you loved?”

The flickering images on the screen cast shadows on Mike’s face. I wished I saw him more clearly when he spoke. I didn’t realize it at the time but I stared at him for what must have been longer than I should have. It was like a reflex.

“Running from a broken heart? I know that look,” Mike said.

I didn’t say anything, and I watched the television. I was running out of breath. There was footage of a large crowd of people dressed in black, holding onto baseball bats, screaming and yelling. After a moment, the news anchor switched to another story about a celebrity who was in the middle of a gender transition. Mike muted the television completely and the closed captioning turned on.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” the caption said. There was another shot of people showing peace signs, and multi-colored flags. I watched the television with the knowledge of Mike’s eyes on me. I took a deep breath but tried to do it so it wasn’t noticeable. I turned to look at him and he was growing bigger in my vision. My heart was racing like it was about to jump out of my chest. I was frozen heat. It’s like that feeling you get when you’re slowly climbing to the top of a roller coaster. The climb is the scariest part and you don’t want to look down, but you do, and you would do anything to be on the ground again. I was stuck in some sunken place, strapped into a plastic seat, waiting for the drop. I felt his fingers reach my belt, and it was undone, and I fell off the ride, a rush of air roared through my head. He squeezed my shoulder on the plane. I remembered my hand stumble up Christina’s dress.

“You don’t have to,” Christina told me. She held my head, and stroked my hair as we lied in bed. I played with the materials of her dress. Red flooded my vision that night.

I closed my eyes, and saw the shapes move in darkness. I heard the buzz of the plane’s engine and the light scent of gasoline filled me. The light from Mike’s television flickered beyond my eyelids. He moved closer to me on the couch and I lost control and then I heard him chuckle. I got up and walked as fast as I could to the bathroom. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know what to feel. My heart exploded. I barely slept that night.

 

The next day, Javier and I woke up around noon, and couldn’t find Mike anywhere. He left a note on the fridge that said he had to “work early,” and that the car was “good to go.” I packed up my shit as quickly as possible, and I tried not to look at Javier in the eyes because I was afraid. I think he knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure. I just remember my hands shaking, and I wanted to shower, but I didn’t want to shower there..

I don’t even remember throwing our bags into the truck, but I drove as fast as I could. I didn’t say a word in the car for a long time.

“Yo, bro, you good man, want me to drive?”

We made another pit stop and I let Javier drive the remaining distance. I told him “I was just fucking tired.”

 

As Javier drove, we listened to the radio, and I stared out of the window. I fell in and out of sleep with the rocking of the truck. I dreamed about Christina and in the dream she told me she wouldn’t tell anyone about prom, she promised.

“It’s our secret,” she kissed my forehead.

Occasionally, I opened my eyes and caught a glimpse of the mountains in the distance, and the small towns we passed. We got closer to Los Angeles, and I saw an airplane fly above us. My stomach churned and my heart raced. Then my father called.

“Sorry,” I told him my phone was dead. I told him about how we got the truck fixed with the help of a “local.” He kept asking me if we were okay, he didn’t sound pleased that we stayed at a stranger’s home. And I assured him we were fine, and we were less than an hour away from Javier’s cousin’s place.

“So, tell me again,” My father said on the phone. “Who was the man that helped you?”