One day at the Strip mall, the heat was especially on. It was one of those days where a particularly large group of us had adjourned to loitering in front of the store fronts that day because of a recent dry spell, but Andy had reupped and Josh, another older person on the scene, had gotten into dealing, and his stuff was much more fairly priced and was pre-bagged. Josh was a flat rate, $10 a gram, $35 eighths, $60 quarters, almost no one bought quarters so that was a cut rate. I bought them, I was the only one in the group who had a consistent, non drug related job at the time.
After 2 cop cars had coasted by 3 separate times each, everyone was starting to get a little paranoid, Andy had already driven away with his crew, Robert being among them today. Soon after a cop came up and parked in the lot. Several of us dispersed while some us brave ones, or rather stupid ones, stayed behind.
Josh did not hesitate to find his way out and soon it was just Sam, Steve, me, Steve’s sort of step brother Ben, and Nick, another one of Steve’s lacky friends. When I first started smoking weed, he had tricked me into buying what turned out to just be grass, literally. My face was red but I did nothing. It wasn’t long before he basically disappeared and I was around more than he was. Year’s later I’d find out he was in and out of jail, still proud of the fact he conned me when we were 15. Besides, after that we were always civil, we’d share weed and smoke together and he’d let us use his pipe. But I digress, as stoners do.
It was just us and the cop, who did nothing but sit in his car. He had pulled around in a weird semi circle, turning the back of the car to us when he parked. He just sat there, with the window rolled down, staring at us from his mirror, pretending to be typing into his keyboard and talking into his radio with needless replies and checkins.
We had smoked behind the mall earlier, and were plenty dazed, it seemed I was the only one concerned about the cop, I was the only one with a clean record and I intended to keep it that way.
“What the fuck is he doing?” I asked in my stoned tenor. My voice got very deep at 16, but whenever anything that remotely looked like police came by it would rift with paranoid up-tones.
“Chill dude,” Steve said, “Until he tells us to move we’re cool.”
“Exactly,” Nick confirmed, “The worst we are doing is loitering and he has no probable cause.” He finished with a mildly annoyed inflection in his voice, Nick was always friendly with me but I think my paranoia got on his nerves. What could I say, I was fairly new at this stuff, they all had years of experience by this point.
Everyone seemed to agree so I attempted to appear at ease, but on the inside a thousand butterflies tore me apart, all of them drugged and angry.
Eventually we were harassed and asked to leave. Nothing more than a police strong arm, so we adjourned to Steve’s house with a bong on his back porch.
Steve and myself packed the weed, looking back on it I think that’s the main reason why the others tolerated me, I always had weed. Steve and Ben we’re always cool with me, the rest tolerated me, it was harder to do when Robert wasn’t there, for some reason his presence vouched for me.
We smoked as Steve indulged us in a tale of having sex with his on again off again girlfriend Rose, when speak of the devil, Rose showed up with her friend Tammy.
Rose was the kind of girl who matured faster than anyone in our entire class. She was dating older boys in middle school, and before she was 18 she already had 2 tattoos, “That my friends did.”
Tammy, there was no other way to describe Tammy other than raw. She put on some make up, but never too much, she never looked unnatural. She had dark skin and hair, both flawless, soft, and sheen. I was always very attracted to Rose, but Tammy, she just took it to another level for me.
There were times were I thought she liked me to, she often gave me a certain look that both drive me wild, and furious. I just didn’t know how to read it, at the time. But I never really had anyone to teach me that kind of stuff besides Robert, who was more interested in beating me to the punch than giving me a leg up. So I never made the move.
Steve immediately changed the subject when he saw them enter the front door and approach the sliding glass door to the balcony.
Nick gave me a “friendly” tap on the shoulder, “Hey Will, it’s your girlfriend Tammy.” He said half way jokingly, everyone knew I liked her, my crushes were never subtle.
“Fuck you,” I said through a smile. A common teenage boy smile that always says “I know your just ribbing me, but salt in the wound, and FUCK YOU ASSHOLE!”
They came out onto the porch, Rose pulled up a chair next to Steve and Tammy by Rose, completing what was before a gaped, lopsided circle.
Rose looked to us. “So,” she said as she put her hand on Steve’s thigh, “what were you guys talking about?” She had a certain nature to her smile, weathered yet beautiful at the same time. It was a smile that had lived and seen more of the world than it had wanted, a 16 year old girl who might as well be 21, a smile that was beautiful but wasn’t afraid of anything anymore.
Steve, “Oh, you know, bullshit.” He said with that same aged smile of experience that ages youth, as if he knew Rose was well aware of what they were talking about. It was always like they were both in on some joke that I and the rest were totally oblivious to.
“Yeah,” she said with her wry smile. “Just bullshit, and stuff,” her voice had taken on the playful mimic of a deep “man’s” voice, “like cars, and pussy and stuff.” Tammy and her laughed while the rest gave a brief stony grunt and smile of a laugh.
“Hey, where’s Robert?” asked Tammy, she asked in my direction but it seemed anyone in the group was allowed to reply. Tammy had a crush on Robert. I had a crush on Tammy. Tammy intimidated the hell out of me to be honest, sexually that is, but in a good way.
“He left with Andy and those guys,” I said.
“Fucking Andy.” Steve said shaking his head.
“You don’t like Andy?” I replied, in that socially obligatory way one must to a comment like that.
“No, I don’t really like any of those fools.” He said, referring to Andy and Josh and of the other 18 and over gnats that either graduated or dropped out, yet still they hung around. “They’re just fucking losers, I mean I’ll be cool with them to their face.”
“You’re cool with everyone to their face,” said Ben. Ben was Steve’s might as well be step brother, they had known each other for years and Ben’s mom was dating Steve’s dad for years, so like I said they might as well be step brothers. He was right though, that was Steve’s style, no one had anything bad to say about him, at least to his face.
“Yeah, but I like have to stay cool with them if I want to have weed,” he said through a laugh as he hit Rose’s pipe that she had just freshly packed.
“I mean I think he’s cool,” said Sam, demonstrating his usual lack of good judgement, that lack of judgement that made him our super senior.
“You think everyone at the strip mall is cool,” said Steve. “Nah, its not even just that its just that, for one I don’t like Andy just because…”
“You get a bad vibe off of him?” I said.
“Yeah,” Steve exclaimed, “yeah exactly its like he’s really shitty and inconsistent with his weed prices, he picks and chooses who gets more in a sac for their money, Josh is at least consistent, but we all know the reason I don’t like Josh either,” he said looking to Rose as he put his arm around her. Years ago, Josh and Rose had dated, he was in high school at the time and she was still in 7th grade.
“Yeah but for real about Andy, I just think he’s a fucking idiot, Josh to, but Andy, holy shit.” everyone nodded in agreement, with the exception of Tammy, she was one of those hot girls who had other means of gettting weed, usually for free or at highly discounted prices, free and far away from the riff raff like us. But she paid attention to the conversation, both of us occasionally catching each other’s eye sight then looking away awkwardly.
The conversation peetered out into gibberish and stoner nothings and epiphanies until all of us were too tired and Rose’s hand was to high up on Steve’s thigh for us to take, so we all parted ways. I marched up to the bus stop for the long trek home, stupidly and nervously refusing a ride home from Tammy.
I could here the guys laughing behind me as she drove away and as I walked away from the front porch, Ben never laughed at me though he would just shake his head, and Steve couldn’t because he was in his bedroom fucking Rose. But Sam and Nick, I could always feel their laughter, but I took it, and just walked to the bus stop.
While all this went on Robert was in the backseat of Andy’s car, junked out getting a blowjob from god.
Two weeks later we got the news that Andy had killed a man.