Rylan's friends are at it again... but how far is too far? And it looks like Jia is having a party. If you like what you read here, please check out my other chapters and buy the full story available as an ebook from Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Etc. to see how it ends.
Blaise looked up toward the sky and water immediately crowded his eyelids. “Dammit, I forgot my Oakley’s at Rylan’s again.” A bead of sweat rolled down his arm under a full-length cotton sleeve, but he took no notice.
“You can just borrow Tai’s- he always seems to show up when we deal with his customers.” Maverick used finger quotations when he said ‘his’ and knelt down to pick up a pebble.
Blaise dodged around him and kept walking.
Maverick jogged a few paces to catch up to his friend.
When Blaise made no acknowledgement of what he said, Maverick forced his breath out in a huff. “It’s stupid, really. Tai thinks he’s somehow entitled to half the customers out there just because their ancestors are native to the island. I mean, come on- let the past be the past and step into the 21st century before it’s over.” He threw the pebble and watched it bounce off two trees before it hit the ground.
“Yeah,” said Blaise.
“We’re all here now, what difference does it make who got here first?”
“And we’re the bad guys? For selling to the wrong kind of people?” Maverick threw his hands up and huffed again.
With dead eyes Blaise surveyed the surroundings. Other than whatever animals happened to be living in the forest, they were the only souls in sight. In a hushed voice, he said, “we are drug dealers, that doesn’t exactly make us the good guys.”
Maverick stopped walking and stared at his friend with an open mouth. “So, what, you think Tai is better than us?”
“No, but we’re both dealers. I see it as a pot and kettle type of thing.”
Maverick rolled his eyes and continued walking. “You and your kitchen references. If you’re hungry, Blaise, grab a burger when we get to the diner.”
When the boys reached a dated restaurant with a red awning, Blaise opened the front door for both of them to walk through. Maverick stopped just before the entrance and nodded to the left. Blaise followed his gaze. He let the door go and the two went around the side of the building.
Past the strip of windows that lined the front half of the restaurant, a boy sat slumped against a dumpster. Despite the island summer heat, he wore jeans and a sweatshirt. Shaved down to his scalp his hair only remotely looked black, and white scars distinguished his head from any other. He sat motionless with glazed over eyes that were barely open.
Maverick shuffled his foot to kick at the boy, and as his foot narrowed in on it’s target, the boy said, “Have you ever noticed how many blades of grass there are?” His words came out slow and gravely. “Like, if every blade of grass was a person, that’d be a lot of people, man.”
The boys looked down at the grass beneath them before glancing at each other.
“Hong Fan?” Blaise asked, turning his attention back to the guy by the dumpster.
“Faan,” he said.
“What?” asked Maverick.
“It’s Faan. You said fan, like ceiling fan. But it’s Faan- a long ‘a’ sound. Faan.” His already slow words stretched out even more as he lingered on every syllable.
“Sorry,” said Blaise.
Maverick rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
“You dudes should really get to know your customers, man,” said Hong, “Tai never gets my name wrong.”
“You have a problem with-” Maverick’s words rushed out together. His sentence was cut off by the hand Blaise placed on his chest that held him back from getting in Hong’s personal space.
“Watch it,” said Blaise.
Maverick’s temper flamed, his face growing red from the insult of a stranger and the lack of support from his friend. “Whose side are you on?”
Blaise did not try to hide the contempt from his face. “Go on, keep picking a fight with every customer. See how long it’ll take Rylan to cut you off and fly your ass back home.”
Maverick narrowed his eyes as he glared at his friend. At his sides, his fists were shaking. He forced himself to break eye contact and he stared down at the blades of grass. After a couple deep breaths, his fists were unclenched and no longer shaking.
Once he calmed down, Blaise gave him a strong pat on the back. Maverick shrugged him off. They turned their attention back to Hong. He appeared to be passed out with his shoulders hanging low and his feet turned out. His mouth was partly open and saliva leaked out the corner.
“Do you think we should be selling to this guy?” Blaise asked.
“Sure,” Maverick shrugged, “why wouldn’t we?”
Blaise huffed and pointed his hand in Hong’s direction. “Look at him- like he really needs more drugs.”
“Well so what? That’s none of our concern.”
Blaise remained unconvinced but said nothing.
“Rylan sent us to do this deal, and we’ve got to do it- end of story. Besides, you think most of the people we sell to don’t end up like our friend Hong here?” Maverick itched the back of his neck. “He just got a head start, that’s all.”
Blaise turned again to Hong. His fully clothed body lay limp against the dumpster in the scorching summer sun. Blaise sighed and walked toward him, and he shook Hong with his foot until he stirred.
Hong groaned as he awoke.
“Are we doing this or not?” Blaise asked, his voice stern and his face void of all emotion.
Hong blinked repeatedly until his eyes focused on Blaise standing in front of him. With a delayed sigh he stood on two feet, staggering as he rose. “Yeah man, be cool,” he said to Blaise. He stuck his hand in his pocket and as he pulled out a wad of cash he said under his breath, “such a hurry.”
Hong held out the money, and Blaise stuffed it in his pocket without counting it. Maverick shoved a small plastic bag with a dozen white pills into Hong’s chest. He stumbled back from the force, and the pills were barely safe in his pocket when Maverick grabbed him by the collar of his sweatshirt. He yanked him forward and threw him toward the front of the restaurant.
“Get outta here.” Maverick spat in Hong’s direction.
Hong looked back at the boys with a sour face. His mouth opened but no words came out, so he turned back around and staggered away.
The boys lingered by the dumpster. Blaise let out a sigh and leaned against the brick wall. “Man, I’m glad that’s over,” Blaise said with a sigh. Maverick stuck his hands in the pockets of his shorts and shuffled his feet in the gravel. The sound of crinkling paper caught his attention, and he looked at the ground.
Maverick knelt down to pick up what he stepped on. He brushed dirt off the paper and smoothed it between his hands as he stood straight.
Blaise’s glance shot from the paper to Maverick’s face. “What’s that?”
“I don’t know,” Maverick said before he had a chance to examine the paper. He stared at the curly black letters that were almost too fancy to read.
You’re Cordially Invited to:
Jia’s 20th Birthday Bash
Black Tie Attire
“Looks like it’s an invitation,” Maverick said, “to some girl’s birthday party or something.”
“Hong must have dropped it when he took out his cash,” Blaise said.
Maverick folded the paper and stored it in his pocket. “This gives me an idea.” He strode away with determination, and Blaise followed close behind.
Bang! None of the ten pins stood a chance against the black ball when it crashed full-force into them. They ricocheted off the back wall and settled in an unorganized mess on the floor. At the other end of the lane, Rylan watched as an X flashed across a screen, and he waited for his ball to be returned to him and the pins to be neatly aligned once again. He picked up his ball and stood in position on the wooden floor, and just as he brought his arm back to throw it, he heard the thumping of two sets of footsteps on the floor above him, so he put the ball down and waited for them to descend the stairs.
Blaise and Maverick were bickering among themselves as they crossed Rylan’s basement. As soon as they noticed he was staring at them, they fell silent.
“What took you two so long?” Rylan asked, his voice quiet and unthreatening. He turned his back to his friends, picked up his ball, and once again tossed it down the lane.
“Hong wasn’t our favorite customer,” said Maverick, “if we’re too slow, you can just go next time.”
Blaise elbowed him in the ribs. Maverick pushed him away and rubbed his chest.
All ten pins crashed against the back wall again.
Rylan turned back to face the other boys. Maverick winced at him, bracing himself for Rylan to respond like Blaise.
“So, you get the money or what?” asked Rylan, his face straight and his voice flat.
Blaise reached into his pocket and handed him the wad of bills.
Rylan nodded at them and began thumbing through the cash.
“You think it’s a good idea to start selling to people who are already loaded now?” Blaise asked, the last word cracking with emotion.
Rylan looked up from the money in his hand. “Is this it?”
Blaise blinked. “What?”
“Is this all you got?”
“Yeah, why?” Maverick asked.
“It’s three hundred short.”
Blaise and Maverick’s eyes widened. Maverick gulped.
“Rylan, man, that’s all he gave us. We didn’t take any, I swear,” said Maverick.
“I know you didn’t, I trust you,” Rylan shook his head, “whatever, I’ll take care of it.”
Blaise and Maverick glanced at each other, both their eyebrows scrunched up and lips pulled back in a frown.
“What are you going to do?” Blaise asked.
Rylan waved him off and cracked a smile. “Don’t worry about it.” He handed the cash to Blaise. “Here, you keep it. It’s less than I was going to give you anyway.”
Blaise gave half the money to Maverick and they both pocketed their shares before Rylan changed his mind. Rylan clapped his hand on Maverick’s shoulder, who flinched at his touch. “Next time count it before you bring it to me.” He picked up his ball and threw another strike.
Maverick’s hand hovered in his pocket. He licked his lips and cleared his throat. “Hey, uh, Rylan, we got something else that might interest you.”
Rylan slumped in a plush chair and let out a sigh of boredom. “What?”
Maverick took Hong’s invitation out of his pocket and offered it to Rylan, who grabbed it and held it open between his fingers.
“Why do you have an invitation to this girl’s birthday party?” Rylan asked, his tone flat.
“Hong dropped it- finders keepers, right?” Maverick smiled.
Rylan rolled his eyes and read the invitation closer. He perked up as if a light turned on inside of him, and he sat straighter, holding the small paper with both hands. “This name sounds familiar- I think she may be Rui’s cousin. Do you think Rui will be there?” He looked up at his friends with large, eager eyes.
Maverick groaned. “Not this again. I’ve been trying not to upset you all day, but damn- you need to get over her already. You know who else will be there? Other girls- lots of other girls.” Maverick waited for Rylan to respond but he didn’t say anything, so he continued, “This is exactly the kind of rebound you need.”
“We should go,” said Rylan.
“And not chase Rui around all night,” said Maverick.
Rylan shot him a look that made it obvious that was not going to happen, and he repeated himself. “We should go.”
* * * * *
Jia did as she was told and a makeup artist brushed her top eyelashes with mascara. She shifted her gaze from left to right, not taking her eyes off the ceiling.
“Jia,” her mother pulled up a chair next to her, and Naomi sat on her other side. The three grown ladies crowded her. Jia took a long breath in through her nose and held it. Mrs. Choi asked, “What do you think about marriage?”
Jia scrunched her eyebrows close together and narrowed her gaze at her mother. She felt the mascara wand hit her face, and the makeup artist cursed under her breath. Through her mouth, Jia released the air she had been holding and looked back up at the ceiling, partially to avoid her mother’s gaze and partially to enable the makeup artist to fix her face.
“I don’t know- what about it?” she said, her tone flat.
“Well you’re not getting any younger.”
“You’re turning twenty tomorrow.”
“So, that’s really not that old.”
“It’s old enough.” Jia could feel her mother’s icy gaze and she was glad she had an excuse to not look at her. “Your father and I got married at your age.”
“I’m not really dating anyone right now though.”
Mrs. Choi crossed her hands over her chest. “Have you ever really dated anyone, Jia?”
Jia blushed. Her mother knew the answer to that question, so she did not respond.
“You know, your cousin Rui has had better luck with boys so far and she’s two years younger than you. Do you really want to her to beat you?”
Jerking her head backwards, Jia scrunched up her face. “Love is a matter of the heart- it can’t be rushed, right? It’ll just happen when it’s supposed to.”
“Close them,” said the makeup artist.
Jia caught a brief look at her mother’s disgusted face before she closed her eyes. The pressure of the brush on the delicate skin of her eyelid would have made her flinch on any other day, but in the midst of the conversation she did not twitch.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Do you want to die an old spinster?” her mother exaggerated the question as her hands flew to her hips.
The question provoked Jia to peek at her mother, but she snapped her eyes closed before tears had a chance to surface. “No,” her voice was soft, sounding distant even to her.
A short pause gave Jia a glimmer of hope that the conversation was over. She imagined her mother adjusting her position in her chair as she so often does.
“Well, you’re in luck, because I know someone who is interested in you,” said her mother.
“You can open them. I’m finished,” said the makeup artist.
Jia opened her eyes. Her mother, the makeup artist, and Naomi were staring at her face, analyzing every detail of her makeup.
“Oh, how beautiful, Miss Jia,” Naomi said, her voice in awe.
“Yes, gorgeous,” her mother’s brief words lacked Naomi’s enthusiasm.
The makeup artist packed up her tools and excused herself from the ladies.
Mrs. Choi changed back to the previous topic. “Jun Lao likes you.”
Naomi gasped and her hands shot up to cover her mouth. Jia sat still and stared at her mother with empty eyes.
“Who is that?” she asked.
Her mother huffed. “How do you not know who he is? He came to the house the other day.”
“Oh. That guy. I remember him now,” Jia said, thinking back about when she ran into a man on her way out of the house before her morning run.
“Well, what did you think of him?” her mother asked, resting her hand on her hip and tapping her side with one finger.
Jia shrugged. “He was alright, I guess. He wasn’t very friendly.”
An exaggerated gasp came from her mother’s mouth, and Jia glanced at Naomi to make sure they hadn’t switched bodies.
Naomi raised a hand, attracting the other ladies’ attention. “If I may say so, Mrs. Choi, Miss Jia… Jun is a very good catch. He has a career most boys your age could not get. His family is one of the oldest and most respected on the island. And he isn’t too hard to look at, either,” Naomi giggled, her cheeks rosy.
Jia focused on a point behind Naomi and her mother. “Eh.”
Mrs. Choi crossed her arms in front of her chest with more force than necessary. “Well, I invited Jun to your party tomorrow. He wants to get to know you better. Tell me you will keep an open mind.”
Jia looked at her mother. “Sure.”
“Promise me you’ll give him a chance.”
Jia nodded. “I will.”
A smug grin spread across her mother’s face. Naomi clapped her hands in her lap, her face beaming.
A stylist walked up to the ladies, holding a coral dress that matched Jia’s eye shadow. “Ready Jia?”
Jia smiled at her and hopped off her chair to follow her into the dressing room.