story

in book two, Kristin, Scott, Heather & James resume their journey through a rite of passage in 90s seattle. Risky behavior and parental conflict create the perfect storm that ultimately proves that rules have no bearing on their freedom.

waldenbooks

Saturday, December 31, 1994. 1 pm

 

Heat from the vents soiled itself throughout the car like warm breath as James removed the 12-V lighter from the console. The coil ignited the hand-rolled cigarette with a dry hunger. 

“You sure he’s got everything right,” James asked over Gary Newman’s Pleasure Principle playing in the background. 

“Dude. I’ve told you a million times he has it down to a science. No one’s been busted using his ID’s, so chill.” 

Smoke spewed from James’ nostrils like an exhaust pipe. “I don’t blow a hundred bucks for the hell of it, so I’m just asking.” 

“Fuck,” Scott blurted. Hitting the steering wheel with his fist. “Forget about it. He’s the best in town.” 

James blew smoke in his face before tapping the cigarette over an ashtray. 

“How did this even come up?” 

“When he gave me a copy of Madonna’s SEX videotape last week, it sort of came up. I’m guessing he got tired of buying our liquor all the time.” 

“I would think the markup would keep him going.” 

Scott looked sideways with reassurance. “If Mike wants to make an extra buck doing side gigs, I don’t care how much he charges.” 

“That doesn’t make the pressure any lighter.” 

Scott saw that James was nervous about the situation even though James didn’t care about things most of the time, but as long as his father remained in the back of his mind, dilemmas made him uneasy. 

“Yeah, but he doesn’t do favors for everyone. Put it this way—if he got ratted out, he’d know who it was.” 

The irony made James laugh. “Your dad hasn’t the slightest idea what he does for us.” 

“Nope. So there’s no telling how much longer he’ll be there. He graduates from Seattle University next year.” 

“That explains the help. Once he’s gone, we’ll need another connection.” 

“Figured that much, so why not take advantage while he’s here.” 

“Was it hard getting to know him?” 

“Not really. My dad reads a lot, so we’ve been going there once a month long before he worked there. It’s even cooler that he’s read all of Issac Asimov’s books, so we talk about things other than partying.” 

When they arrived at SouthCenter Mall, the clouds hung with a mist that coated everything in a film that wasn’t quite damp. Objects look faded and dense the longer the day went on. 

Busy New Year’s Eve shoppers meandered throughout the stores and food court buying last minute things to ring in the New Year. There was no denying that peoples’ expectations for tonight were inexcusable. The least they could do was look good in case their dreams somehow fell into their laps. 

“Anyway, I forgot to ask,” James mentioned, as they took the escalator to the second level. “Did we figure out what’s happening tonight?” 

“We’re crashin at Heather’s because Mrs. Malone called Mrs. Shannon begging not to let us go anywhere tonight.” 

A pair of middle-aged women in black leather jackets and combat boots moved over the landing at the opposite end of the catwalk. The attention was noticeable, but the gaze was only interested in what Scott and James were wearing. 

James adjusted his Catholic Discipline t-shirt beneath a black leather jacket. Red suspenders clung tight against his body as green Doc Martens were uniformly bar laced in orange. 

“What did Kristin say now?” 

“That we were going to a rave,” Scott replied. 

“What the fuck for.” 

“She wanted to give her mother an early New Year’s gift.” 

When they got to the store, the smell of gloss paper, binding and cardboard unified their spirits. Mike smiled from the register as an elderly woman around 65 finished a three book purchase. One could tell the conversation was lively by the look of the woman’s rosy cheeks. 

Mike put the purchase in a plastic bag and handed the woman her change. When she left the counter, James and Scott were in the new arrivals section. 

Her hand thrust over her chest as her complexion went pale despite the shock. “Oh my! You mustn’t do that.” 

“Do what?” 

“Scare people.” 

“Lady,” James implied flirtatiously, “if I’d seen an angel the way you did, I would be just as amazed.” 

“Not in the least,” the lady snapped aloud, “all of Satan’s demons are out tonight and the sooner I get home, the better.” 

Scott crossed his feet in a relaxed manner and slid his hands into his pockets. “Don’t think all these books are doing you much good.” 

“Oh. Why’s that?” 

“Seems like they’re giving you too much imagination.” 

“The nerve of some of you kids these days is unreal. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” 

As she stormed out, another couple walked in to browse the periodicals. 

Mike’s neon green hair was slicked against his skull as he laughed. A silver nose ring shined in compliment to a yellow and pink Dils t-shirt that was faded and worn. 

“How come you don’t scare her?” Scott asked. 

“I like everybody at the mall,” he said, “no exceptions.” 

“What the fuck she buy?” James asked noisily. 

Dismayed by the question, Mike had only met Scott’s friends a few times, but not enough to consider any of them friends. 

“This fucker always this judgy.” 

“Not really. He only takes the bait when he wants to.” 

Mike explained that she was “our top New Age fiction” customer, and that “every three months” she came in “like clockwork” to get “new books.” 

“Bet that’s fun.” 

“Nice lady—but a real wack job. It’s probably the stuff she reads, but at least she’s fun to talk with.” 

Mike moved out from behind the counter. They quickly noticed his skinny jeans tucked into 14-eye military boots. 

He looked at the large clock over the entrance and saw that it was 2 pm. 

“For a second there I thought you forgot we closed at 3 today.” 

“How could I. They’ve had these hours for as long as I can remember.” 

The couple from the periodicals stand came forward to purchase a handful of music magazines. After they left, he went back to where James and Scott browsed the bestsellers section. 

“Your boss here with you?” Scott asked. 

“Let’s find out.” He turned and faced the back of the store. “Everyone stop what they’re doing and hand over your wallets. The store’s being held up.” 

They waited for a response, but the only one given was Mariah Carey’s Emotions playing over the intercom. 

Mike looked back with a wicked grin. “Guess the coast’s clear.” 

“Smart ass,” Scott reacted out of breath, “course the goddamn store’s clear. Who’s gonna sit around after that.” 

Mike shrugged his shoulders with open hands. “Ain’t my fucking problem.” 

“It never is when it comes to you.” 

“Are you not satisfied with my services? I can always cancel your order.” 

“In your dreams” 

Mike looked gratified and pompous—a quality he’d come to admire without shame. 

“Making sure you ain’t got cold feet. Folks get it sometimes.” 

“That ever piss you off?” 

“Not really,” he replied. “They usually come back a few weeks later.” 

“Speaking of that. Where the hell’s our shit?” Scott asked. 

“Why didn’t you say so! Mike exclaimed with two fingers in the air. “Now that it’s time for the ultimate show. I’ll be back. Gotta grab the bag of trix.” 

He crossed his eyes like a fiend and shuffled off with fading laughter. The backdoor slammed—leaving them alone as Ace of Base played overhead. 

“He’s sorta strange,” James added with clammy hands. 

“Makes him perfect for the job. 

“You think we can snag some books?” 

Scott grew wary about the question. “He doesn’t like that.” 

“No way.” 

“Yeah. He tracks inventory like a hawk so artists get their royalties.” 

When he came back, a bright blue corduroy JanSport hung over his shoulder. 

He called them over to the Reference section like an eager panhandler. “Hand over the dollars folks.” 

Scott took out four-hundred dollars as Mike’s face lit up. He opened the bag and handed Scott a wad of cards wrapped in a blue rubber band. 

James quietly took his from the stack. “Fucking trippy.” 

“No kidding.” 

“Now that everyone has what they need,” Mike slurred in sympathy, “I’ve decided to throw in a little something for tonight.” 

“I love surprises.” 

A small baggie with red Playboy bunnies was willingly handed over. 

Scott held it to the light with confusion. “What the fuck we supposed to do with this? There ain’t enough for a fucking mouse.” 

“Of course there is,” he snickered, “there’s enough for what I call a ‘night in heaven.’ ” 

“Does it last long?” 

“Yup.” 

“What is it,” James asked. 

“Ketamine.” 

James and Scott looked at one another with befuddled amusement. 

“Dude,” Scott said, “this is really fucking dope. You just made our night.” 

“All everyone needs is a single line. Nothing more. Too much kills the trip—so take it easy with this shit.” 

“Totally,” James replied. 

Mike went back to the stockroom to put away the backpack. 

Afterward, they moved to the front of the store. Fresh popcorn, cotton candy and multicolored helium balloons floated in childrens’ hands as they walked with their parents. 

Scott adjusted his Screamers t-shirt beneath a slim Italian leather jacket he found at a thrift store last year. 

“You going out tonight?” 

“Yeah. After this I’ll head to a dorm party. Things always get crazy there.” 

“You still seeing that girl you met a few months back?” 

“Who doesn’t love a chick that listens to the Offs and has milk white tits to suck on?” 

As James listened to their conversation, he had yet to experience bare breasts against his hands or naked body. Only celluloid demonstrations of pleasure from a VCR dressed his mind with fantasy. Even the mere thought of having sex one day was getting his dick hard. 

“Alright, Mike,” Scott said, looking at the clock. “It’s coming up on three and we still need to stop by the liquor store to try these babies out.” 

“Sure thing. Next time you’re around, you can tell me all about it.” 

“Thanks for everything, man.” 

“No problem,” as Mike looked over at James. “It was cool meeting you. Come by if you ever need anything. Even if it’s for a good read.” 

James and Scott moved down the escalator as designer perfume and apparel saturated the air like toxic waste. James wondered if the smell secretly made shoppers impulsively purchase things they didn’t need. 

Outside, a cold front began to swoop in. They were glad they had their jackets because there was no telling how bad the weather would get. 

They drove to a State run liquor store on Capitol Hill along 12th Avenue at 1605 St. It would be their first time in a liquor store, so they weren’t sure how to act. 

“If anything,” Scott implied, locking the door, “just don’t react to prices. It’s New Year’s Eve, so I’m in the mood to try something different.” 

James nodded as they crossed the street toward the store. 

Scott caught sight of a tiny stream of smoke billowing from an incense stick that smelled like cherries. He looked at the overhead sign that read: We have the largest liquor selection on Capitol Hill. We specialize in local distilleries from all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond. 

They browsed the wine and beer before cruising the liquor. 

“There’s too much shit here,” James whispered, “just snag anything but scotch—that smell makes me sick.” 

Twenty minutes later Scott saw something that made his eyes pop. “Hey, come here.” 

James looked over his shoulder and read that the “straight-cask-strength-rye” had been “aged sixteen-years.” 

“Isn’t that a bit out of our league.” 

“It’s unfiltered and undiluted at 124 proof at the Hochstadter Distillery in Philadelphia. How can it?” 

James pointed at the price tag. “That’s why” 

“So what. One time purchase. If we like—we’ll buy again next year. If not—we’ll try something else.” 

“That shit will kill us.” 

“Its gotta be a winner,” as he snatched the bottle. 

They moved to the counter where a barley, white man in a fluffy beard sat reading Steven King’s ‘Salem’s Lot. 

When he saw them approach, he put the book down. His eyebrow curled as he analyzed the customers. “Can I help you with something?” 

Scott made sure not to smile too much as he kept eye contact. “I’ll take this.” 

The red stool squeaked when the man stood up. “Can I see both of your ID’s.” 

One by one, the man confirmed the dates without scrutiny. He pressed a few keys at the register and said, “Sixty-dollars.” 

Scott handed over a George Washington as the clerk opened a drawer. He marked the bill with an iodine marker before dropping it in the till. “You guys got here right on time.” 

“It was a last minute thing. We weren’t sure what the plan was till now” 

“You all staying in?” 

“Yeah. We’re having a house party.” 

“Sounds like the perfect way to celebrate. Especially with something nice like this.” 

“That’s the idea.” 

The bottle was wrapped in a skinny paper bag and set over the counter. “If you have any friends that need any last minute goodies, be sure and tell them we close at 5.” 

They moved toward the door when Scott looked back. “Happy New Year by the way.” 

“Same to you. Have a good one.” 

As they walked down the sidewalk, a man wrapped in a dirty white blanket held a sign high over his head: Repent. Jesus Is Coming Soon. 

The man saw the boys had read the sign and began to yell “the lamb has given me the power to read minds, as well as see through souls, and yours is black. Turn from the darkness before it’s too late. Turn back I tell you. You’re in jeopardy. Grave danger!” 

The distraught man frothed from the mouth as they crossed the street. Even a few yards from the demonstrator, there was another man passed out in a dirty Santa suit. Drool ran past his chin as the liquor drained from a bottle clasped in a frail hand. 

“Would you look at that,” Scott said under his breath. 

“Sometimes I wonder what they say is true.” 

“Never know man. The homeless either know what’s really going on, or street life really drives people insane.” 

“Guess we won’t know till we're on the other side one day.” 

Scott put the bottle in the backseat as James grabbed the shoebox filled with cassettes. 

“You think the clerk suspected anything?” James asked 

“If he did, he seemed more concerned about fake money than turning customers away.” 

As they drove off, We Are the One by the Avengers played with energy in the late afternoon.

take your chances