by Mark Massaro
Riley, my pot-dealers girlfriend, arched her body over the enormous yoga ball in front of me while I sat on their couch as he weighed out quarter bags on a digital scale. A small tattoo of a Gemini symbol peaked out from her hip and a live Rusted Root album shook the walls while Riley’s yoga DVD played on mute. She breathed in slowly, and out slowly. Piles of unfolded laundry sat in most chairs, one with an ashtray on top, and the smell of wet dog soaked the air. They left me alone earlier and I grabbed a nugget from the table and let it fall into my cargo short; it wouldn’t be noticed missing. My eyelids were quite heavy, but my eyes remained solely focused on Riley.
Riley and Cambridge, “like the city,” he’d say, had been together for two years. Upon their first meeting, she invited him to live with her because he had just gotten out of rehab and didn’t want to move back in with his father and step-mother. They were decent people, I assumed, but it was clear that they were in that weird phrase that fifty-year-olds go through: suddenly dancing at clubs, drinking, and relentlessly flirting. Apparently, years ago, Cambridge got deep into painkillers, and not in the fun way. He got arrested and made a deal to go to a rebab facility in Florida, coming back with long-hair and a Buddhist. He preferred to wear his bathrobe and used a carved walking stick. I met him through a mutual friend, Rabbit, who I went to high school with. His real name is Rahib, but everyone called him Rabbit. I asked Rabbit if he knew anyone to get pot from, because my guy was out of town, and within an hour, Cambridge showed up at my work, with Riley peering from behind him.
“You Jack?” he asked.
“Yup, you Rabbit’s buddy?”
“Good to meet you,” I said. His long brown curls were tucked behind his ears and he had a Dr. Phil t-shirt on. I worked at a restaurant chain, that I prefer not to name at this time, as a server. The manager was a drunk and would come and go as she pleased so we took full advantage of the lack of attention on us. Most of us stole from the register by ringing up the order and hitting “No Sale.” Then we’d give the change and the customer would leave. It was a group effort and we’d share the nights earnings. We’d drink and smoke bowls in the walk-in, even have sex, depending on who you were working with that shift. It was a common rule to not date someone that you worked with, but we seemed to operate on the exception to that rule all of the time. And that led to a lot of workplace drama.
Riley sat in an empty booth and Cambridge met me at the jukebox, asking, “How much you need?”
“Ninety. It’s usually a hundo but Rabbit said you’re old friends.”
I gave him a hundred anyway as a goodwill gesture and he told me to keep him in mind for future needs. “Absolutely,” I said. I gave him an empty to-go cup with a lid and he went into the bathroom, coming back a minute later. He handed me the cup and I put it in my locker, glancing quickly at the full plastic bag inside. It stank, so I spilled some bleach down the nearby sink to mask the smell.
Riley caught my eye, waiting patiently in the booth. She had a smirk like she knew an important secret that no one else was privy to. Her dark messy hair fell across her shoulders and her bright blue eyes were striking, even from feet away. A shimmer from a small stud on her nostril flashed as she stood, she didn’t have on a bra, and I began to wonder what her story was. Why was she dating a dealer? Does she accompany him on all of his runs? Or did I interrupt their date night? And why was she so content with herself?
I got his number and Cambridge and we shook hands. On their way out, Riley turned to me and said, “Hi,” and waved.
“Hi,” I said, and then she was gone.
The moment of attention was nice. I had recently broken up with by one of my coworkers, Becky, who I still had to work with. We made a deal that whomever broke up with who had to quit but I had been working there first, so I figured that working opposite schedules would be acceptable. I had been trying to get out of that relationship for a while, but she wouldn’t let it happen. There were threats of suicide, desperate phone calls, and some mild stalking. She finally slapped me in public because I was five minutes late, so I walked out of the bar. She followed me into the parking lot, flailing her arms and screaming. I got in my car and locked the doors. She started kicking the side. She got behind it, blocking me in, so I drove straight over the parking slab and straight home. She showed up a few minutes later, beating the doors, screaming my name.
The next morning, my car was completely covered in deep key marks. I’m talking the roof, sides, hubcaps…everything. I was numb with anger.
I couldn’t prove it to the police because I didn’t have a photo of her doing it, while holding up an I.D. and the day’s newspaper. I called her but her lack of surprise made it clear that she was expecting the call. She denied it.
The next day at work, I left my pillow and pajamas in clear view in my backseat when I parked in the employee section to make it look like I spent the night out. I watched her look into my car and proceed with an emotional breakdown right there. She sat in her car for ten minutes, crying, her head down in her hands. The only reason that I felt bad was that I didn’t feel bad. I wasn’t used to feeling nothing for someone, especially after dating them, but she pushed, and pushed, to the point that I just didn’t care about her anymore. I was relieved to get some distance.
She was fired a few days later because of bringing drama into the workplace. The cops needed more proof, but my boss knew better. She’d been a ticking time bomb for a while.
Months passed, and I failed out of college again. I’d sign up for the courses, with full intention of attending, but the Hawthorne Pub was on the way, and they had an early bird, two-for-one domestics. I began hanging out with Cambridge and Riley more. At first, it was just for the connection and pool parties, but I slowly found myself going over just to see Riley. They had a small house on a cul-de-sac, and his backyard had a large pool house with a stocked bar. A rope-swing hung from a tree that we use when jumped from the roof into the pool. Rabbit would be there most of the time and I started going over more and more. It became normal for people to head over once they were out of work, usually showing up in uniforms complete with nametags. It wasn’t too long until Riley and I would start sitting alone together while Cambridge smoked cigarettes outside or went on ‘drives.’ I’ve never pursued a girl in a relationship, but most of the times that I went over, Cambridge sat in front of video games for hours. It was only natural that Riley and I would sit together, the neglected children of the dealer.
She was a reiki instructor at the Yoga Nook on Buckingham. Her parents were divorced. She said that her father would sit in his car in the driveway when he got home from work for hours, talking with his mistress on the phone. She and her sister would sit in their bedroom window and watch. Finally, the father left the family and moved in with his girlfriend, leaving the mother an emotional mess and the daughters with the classic absent father syndrome. Her sister was a few years younger than her but, Riley told me, she slept with over fifty men by the time she was eighteen. Two of them ended up in jail: one was a minister and the other was her high school gym teacher. “Yikes,” I said.
“I know,” she said, “Right?”
Riley went in the other direction. She immediately moved in with her friends and became the responsible one, trying to better her situation. She worked as a receptionist in lawyers offices and put herself through college and reiki certification. Her mother ended up committing fraud and stealing her identity, putting Riley in an insane amount of legal issues that won’t go away. Her mom ended up in prison somewhere in Georgia, last she heard.
Riley and I started hanging out more and more. I went with her to buy shoes. I cooked supper for her and Cambridge. I dog-sat for them when they attended a three-day festival. I waited with her at the DMV when she needed to renew her license. Sometimes, we’d get stoned and sit on the floor, opposite each other, with a CD of Tibetan monks chanting Ohm. Our knees would touch, and she’d run her hands over my chest and head, never actually touching but close enough for me to feel her warmth.
My days were split between working and seeing her. I made it a point to buy a quarter twice a week from Came, as to be a good customer and welcomed visitor. I always brought a twelve-pack of beer, in an attempt to always-welcomed. It was an awkward situation to be in; I was courting a girl with her boyfriend directly beside her. If Came was aware, he didn’t show it. His focus was on dealing and video games.
One day, Cambridge was playing a live shooter game. He was threatening someone through his headset. I sat on the couch, stoned as ever, watching him and waiting for more people to show. He began to tell me about how he was getting pot and edibles from California through the mail from his old rehab buddy.
“Dude,” I said, “you’re going to get caught. That’s ridiculous.”
“No, no,” he said, “no. My guy makes the shipments look like a care package from a mom to a son at college. He packs socks and DVD’s, random shit. He scoops out the center of a peanut butter jar and packs it up,” he said, making the scooping motions with a cigarette between his fingers,” and covers the top back up. Reseals it. Dogs don’t pick up on anything through that peanut butter, bro. Believe that.”
“Be careful, man.”
“I will,” he said, adding, “Don’t tell Riley.”
Riley walked into the room, holding a basket of laundry, asking, “Wanna help?”
“Sure,” I said.
We went to their bedroom, the walls covered in rippling tapestries and nag-champa burning in a mushroom incense holder. Ani DiFranco played on a CD player and a Bob Marley poster was duct taped to the wall next to framed black and white photographs of Riley doing ballet. “When was this?”
“High school. I did it professionally since I was young.”
“You look great,” I said.
“Thanks,” she said. “I was so wild back then.”
“Me too. It’s a miracle I’m not arrested by this point.”
“Too bad we didn’t know each other in high school,” she said, “I probably would have fucked you three times a day.”
“Jesus Christ,” I said. “Don’t tell me that.”
She shrugged and laughed. I wanted her, and she knew it. After she said it, I knew that I’d replay those words in my head over and over again.
She started separate piles on the bed. I folded the towels. Her bras and throngs were tangled together and I worked my way around them as she smirked.
“I wish Came helped me with laundry. He’s always playing those stupid games.”
“Yeah, I noticed. After we smoke, I end up just watching him until I snap out of it and find you.”
“I wish he was more like you sometimes.”
“I’m like me,” I said, smiling.
“That song “Don’t Go Away,” by Oasis always reminds me of you. I hate when you leave. It gets so boring here.” I broke away from our shared gaze and tried to hide my excitement, but she knew what she was doing. “I love that song, “I said. “The end riff always reminds me of the end of some movie when someone’s running through an airport to stop someone from getting on a plane.”
“I know, right?”
I’ve never tried to steal a girlfriend from anyone, but it was becoming more difficult to remain passive in the situation. The more I couldn’t have her, the more I wanted her. The more time I spent with her, the more inappropriate it got.
That night, more people came over, carrying cases of beer over their head, joints tucked behind their ears. Cambridge called his pool the “liquid crystal abode,” and we walked around in his robe with his walking stick. Their front yard looked like a parking lot most nights. The backyard had plenty to do: beer-pong, frisbee, cornhole, and the rope swing. People started to assume that I lived there too, and I tried my best to avoid telling people how badly I wanted Riley. Rabbit showed up and I drunkenly put my arm around him and said, “Dude. I can’t take it. I want her so bad. She’s driving me crazy.”
“Dude…” he said, “Stay clear of that shit. That’s nothing but trouble.”
“No, no. There’s, like, something between us. You don’t know what she says when we’re alone.” I knew how the words sounded as they left my mouth, but it was the truth.
“Dude,” he said, “I’ve known her a while. A lot of guys fall for her.” But I wasn’t hearing it. I explained the situation in more detail. He listened patiently, caressing his dark beard occasionally and mumbled in agreement. “Just like Sadie Greene, dude.”
“Bullshit,” I said, “that was 6th grade.”
I grabbed another beer from the cooler, and jumped off the roof into the pool, trying to get Riley’s attention. She swam over to me, holding a drink above the water, and climbed on my back. Cambridge saw but he just smiled and continued to dance around. I didn’t know what to make of it. If she was my girlfriend, I’d have a problem with me, but maybe I’m just considered family? Maybe I’m no threat to their relationship at all?
She started kissing my neck as I held her against me. Riley smiled, wrapping her arms around me, and began to drop slowly down my front, staring up to me, before disappearing underwater and swimming away. What…the…hell?
Rabbit and I walked down the road to the Mexican-themed bar to continue our debate.
The next week was Halloween and I picked Came and Riley up to grab costumes at the Party City. He sat in the back, texting, while Riley and I danced. The three of us decided to go as Where’s Waldo? since it was the only decent costumes left and, as Came said, “Three Waldos are better than one.”
Riley’s sister, Jessica, showed up as Catwoman. I was surprised that they didn’t look anything alike and Jessica seemed to not be interested in me at all. Every time I looked at her, I couldn’t get the knowledge of her sexual history out of my head. Riley and Jessica disappeared into the backroom to change, but before they left, Riley whispered into her ear and Jess looked immediately at me. I smiled. Rabbit appeared, dressed in a sexy cop outfit, and he, Came, and I sat on his front porch and drank some beers, watching the holiday traffic pass. Came said, “You should try to hook up with Jess. She’s a fun chick.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “My last girlfriend was intense. I’m taking a break.”
No one said anything until Rabbit finally broken the silence, talking about his baby that he never gets to see. Came told us that a new shipment from California arrived and he’ll roll up some blunts when we got back later. Apparently, it was a super-rare strain of bud that tastes like Christmas.
“You gotta be careful using the mail, dude,” Rabbit said.
“I am, I am, but I’ve been thinking about another avenue for more cash-ish, and I want you two involved,” he said, lighting up another cigarette, his hair falling in this face. He leaned in closer, adding, “Trains.”
“Trains?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said. “And baby food jars.”
“We see the country. Go from here to New York. My guy out there is well-connected. We can charge double down here, and the college kids will pay anything.” He waved his hands through the air, as if adding a wonderment to his proposal.
Rabbit scratched his head and said, “I don’t know, bro. I’m pretty busy.”
“I’m down,” I said, without hesitation.
The five of us got a taxi to the downtown area for the parade and to barhop around. There were costume contests and a zombie-walk. Music was everywhere. White flashes from strobe lights pulsated over crowds. As our taxi rounded the corner to drop us off, drunken partygoers yelled, “Waldo! I found him!” I didn’t consider the added attention we’d receive because of our costumes. Rednecks dressed as Captain America and jocks dressed as Superman would bearhug me, yelling triumphantly, “I found him!” I stood at a urinal, noticing that I’m a Waldo, standing between Darth Vader and a zombie biker, all facing the wall, peeing together. Darth looked at me and said, “Found ya.”
“Yup,” I responded, giving him a thumb up with my free hand.”
The five of us would lose each other randomly throughout the night, but Riley and Came would be easy to spot. The eye can naturally find red and white caps and shirts within a mess of grey ghouls, bloody zombies, and slutty scientists. I saw some work friends and drank with them. Becky, the ex, was a sexy flapper-girl and she had her arm around a guy dressed as a 1920’s gangster. We saw each other and I pretended like I didn’t know her. It reminded me of a few times when we’d see her ex’es in public and they’d walk in the other direction. I thought it was weird at the time, but I ended up becoming one of them too.
I found Riley dancing to “The Monster Mash,” on top of a stage at an Irish bar. She made small cuts around her shirt, revealing small windows of flesh. Smoke machines poured white mist throughout the crowd and the floor was sticky with spilled mixers and booze. On the large teleprompter, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown played as the music echoed over the crowd.
“Jack!” she screamed, jumping into my arms from the stage. Pulling me in closer, she yelled into my ear over the loud music and crowd, “Let’s get out here,” and took my hand, dragging me through the celebrating mob.
We ran outside together, holding hands down the metropolitan streets, hearing an occasional, “There’s two of them,” and we fell into a small alleyway between two brick buildings. She laughed and put her arms around my neck, looking up at me while we made bullshit statements, like, “What a great night,” and, “I need another drink.”
She ran her hand over the top of my belt buckle, and looked up at me, asking, “Have you ever thought about kissing me?”
I didn’t hesitate a second before moving in. Months of pent-up frustration came to a head. I kissed her, hard. We made out for a few minutes, and I moved my hands along her sides. She pulled me closer by my belt, which made me crazier. A first kiss with someone is always exciting because of the unknown. She bit my bottom lip gently and ran her tongue over it after. There we were: two Waldo’s kissing in an alley. It was exciting.
She pulled away first, putting her hand up against my chest, and said, “Stop. We can’t.”
I said, “Right. I know,” and started kissing her neck, behind her ear.
She whispered “Stop” again, and I did.
We walked back into the crowded area, costumed people still yelling and raising their drinks at us. Before we left the alley, we agreed to keep the kiss a secret and to never tell anyone, but her lively demeanor changed to serious contemplation after a block. I smiled and tried to stay in the moment, hoping that she’d leave Cambridge for me as soon as possible. I figured that she had a rough week ahead, but I wanted to remind her why I was the better choice, so I danced and laughed, hoping that my carefree mood would appeal to her.
But it happened.
I kissed my dealer’s girlfriend.
The five of us regrouped in the middle of the packed street. A skeleton band was on stage playing “I Put a Spell on You,” and Cambridge and Rabbit were dancing in the front, spilling the contents of their red solo cups. Jessica was near, grinding on a guy dressed as Harry Potter.
“Let’s go home,” Came said, putting his arm around Riley.
She hugged him, staring off at nothing.
We all took a cab back to their house. Riley and Jessica went to bed immediately after taking selfies in the bathroom. Rabbit, Came, and I sat on his front porch, smoking a blunt, while watching the chaotic traffic.
“My dude in Cali got popped…so no more mail,” Cambridge said,” I’ll have to find another source. Idiot got pulled over with a pound in his trunk, so he’s done.”
I said, “That’s horrible.” At the time, it genuinely surprised me that I was able to sit with him after I kissed his girlfriend not too earlier. I guess that I compartmentalized the entire situation over the past few months. I was knowingly trying to steal her, so some slight social conditioning, on my part, must have occurred. I just hoped that we could still be friendly after she left him for me.
He said, “He is a big boy. He knew what he was getting into when we started it up.” He and Rabbit continued to talk but I couldn’t help but repeat that phrase in my mind. The disconnection from the reality shook me. Would he say the same words if I got caught with this “train” thing?
I went home that night, collapsing into bed with a fulfilled smile and an excitement in my gut, and passed out.
It finally happened.
The next morning, I found a text from Riley that said, “Remember. Don’t tell anyone,” but Rabbit also texted me to call him immediately. On the floor, my damp Waldo outfit reeked of smoke and booze. I slowly sipped some coffee and called him.
“Dude,” he said. “Riley told me about last night.”
“Shit,” I said, rubbing my face, “We agreed to keep it a secret.”
“She’s going to tell Came today. You better say something first, bro, so you don’t look like a complete asshole.”
“Dude, she started it.”
“Well, she’s saying that you just randomly kissed her and she’s upset about it.”
“That’s bullshit.” I was too anxious to explain the full context, so I kept repeating, “It was her.”
I called Riley.
She answered, sounding like she didn’t sleep at all last night.
“I’m at work and can’t talk long.”
“Riley, are you going to tell him?”
“Yeah,” she said, “I can’t look at him without feeling bad. He needs to know.”
“We agreed to keep it a secret. Whoever doesn’t tell him looks like an asshole.”
“He’s my boyfriend,” she said.
Apprehensively, I paced around my bedroom, rubbing my messy hair, and asked, “Are you going to break up with him?”
She laughed like I never heard her do before, and said, “No! Of course not.”
“…but…what about us?”
“Are you serious? You kissed me, dude. Oh, did you seriously think there was something between us? I have a boyfriend, Jack…who is your friend, supposedly.”
“God, this always happens,” she said. “Did you actually think that I was going to break up with Came for you?”
“I don’t know.”
“…you got to deal with the consequences of your actions.”
I said that I was sorry and hung up, feeling beyond defeated and utterly confused. Did I make it all up? What else would “Have you ever thought about kissing me?” imply?
I texted Cambridge to meet up with me for breakfast, on me, and waited for him in the parking lot of the taco place on 4th and Cedar. I sat there, repeating what Riley said to me over in my mind. Of course I thought that something was going on between us. My heart broke seeing this side of her, hearing her abundantly capable of being so distant and cold. My chest hurt so deeply that tears welled up in my eyes until I let out a pained wail.
I sat crying, with my head on my hands, until he showed.
I got out and said, “I have to talk with you about something.”
“Let’s wait until we’re inside,” he said, and with that, I knew that he knew.
Sitting at a booth, he said, “I know it’s unlike you to behave like this. I know you’re a good guy, so that’s why I’m not going to beat you ass. It’s so out of character of you, that I’m chalking it up to being wasted, but Riley is pissed. I’m pissed.”
“But…” I said.
“Just don’t do it again and it’s settled.”
I weighed the choices. I could tell him my side of the story or let it be.
I accepted to the role of a drunk asshole to squash the drama. I wasn’t about to present my case to him which would make her yell at me more. She was better at it and I was brokenhearted. Imagine me pleading with her, repeating, “…but you asked me if I ever thought about kissing you?” and her laughing it off or saying that she never said that.
“Plus,” he added, “This isn’t the first time. Two other of my friends tried to kiss her.”
I bought Cambridge’s breakfast burrito, and another quarter from him, and left. I continued to cry at the traffic lights, in my keyed-up car, holding my chest in emotional agony. Everything that I thought about my relationship with Riley was wrong and I would look like a jerk to everyone at that house.
I continued to hang out there, despite what happened. It was the social scene and, despite what happened, I wanted to leave the group on good terms, so I showed up, bought pot, got drunk, and acted as normal as possible, but was always on my mind. I slowly started to go over less and less. No one ever mentioned it, but I got the feeling that people knew. Riley and I never talked about what happened. I took the full responsibility for the kiss and, even though I was quite drunk, I remember what happened.
I remember what really happened.
A few months later, I heard that Riley left Cambridge for Rabbit.
About the Author:
Mark Massaro received a master’s degree in English Literature from Florida Gulf Coast University with a focus on 20th Century American Literature and also profound personal respect for 18th Century British Literature. He is an English Instructor at two universities, teaching Creative Writing, Composition, and Literature. When not reading or writing, he can be found at concerts, watching his stories on the couch, or in his black Chucks at a bonfire in his home state of Massachusetts with his friends. His works have been published in Literary Juice Magazine, The Pegasus Review, Jane Austen Magazine, and The Mangrove Review. His happiness is being next to his wife, with their son in his arms, and their golden retriever curled up nearby.