The day Xochi moved in, Pallas made sure to tell her, “Watch out, Pad is a rake.” Now she’d seen it for herself almost every morning at the crack of dawn when Pallas dragged her out of bed and Pad’s night was just ending—the Pretty Girl Parade from his bedroom to the front door.
“Happy Equinox!” Pad hugged Xochi, something he’d never done before. “You look gorgeous tonight, love. Did you cut your hair?” He reached over to touch it, wrist grazing her collarbone. His normal hint of an Irish accent was thicker than usual. A sure sign he was either flirting or drunk, according to Pallas.
“Kiki did it.”
“Well, that explains it. Kiki’s a genius.”
“What about you? That set was incredible. And those lights! I had no idea you were so talented.”
“Don’t you flatter him, Xochi,” Bubbles said. “He’s conceited enough.”
“You wound me!” Pad clutched at his heart. “Really, I’m quite insecure. It’s why I need so much encouragement.” This was directed to the girl beside him. Tall and haughty, she resembled the others Xochi passed in the hallway outside his bedroom most mornings. Hair ponies, Pallas called them, the same thing she called the long-maned model horses she’d collected when she was little.
A pale, slender boy with a lavender Mohawk and a blue crescent moon tattooed on his forehead emerged from the crowd with a gilded water pipe. He handed it to Pad with a kiss on the cheek and danced back into the crowd.
“Is that a hookah?” Xochi asked.
Pad took a hit and passed it to Bubbles. “It is,” he said. “Not something you’d expect the governess to know, though, is it?”
“Depends on the governess,” Xochi said.
Pad laughed and the hair pony glared.
“It’s hash,” Bubbles said. “And a little tobacco.”
Growing up on a pot farm, Xochi had inhaled enough secondhand marijuana to last a lifetime. The few times she’d consciously imbibed, the plant had not been her friend. But the hookah smoke smelled nice and it wasn’t exactly weed.
She put the tube to her mouth as Bubbles leaned down to light the bowl. She was halfway through her inhale when the smoke changed direction, exploding out of Xochi’s lungs in a fit of rasping coughs. Laughing, Pad handed Xochi his beer.
“You have to go slow. Here.” Bubbles inhaled and brought her lips to Xochi’s, blowing the hit gently into her mouth. Xochi had never kissed a girl—not that this was a kiss. But the plush lips, the soft hand on the back of her neck—it was something to consider. Bubbles’s breath must have cooled the smoke. It slipped down Xochi’s throat like a sip of water.
The smoke penetrated the tight muscles in her neck and shoulders, the start of a nice, civilized buzz. “Way better.” The hash was different from weed, but related. With the familiar dissolving of limbs came an added electricity, a psychedelic edge. The first wave of high hit gently enough, but it kept on coming. The music was so loud. Her heartbeat competed with the hammering bass.
“I’ll be right back,” Xochi told Bubbles.
“You okay?” Bubbles was almost too shiny with her sequins and coppery eyes.
“Fine,” Xochi said. “I just need some air.”
Anxiety shot through her body in time with the music, now a mindless surf-punk pound. The dancers had abandoned rhythm for contact, bashing into each other like dogs in the park. Xochi made her way to the foyer and stumbled over the smokers clogging the front porch and stairs.
The night was uncommonly clear, with icy stars and an almost full moon. She walked past chalky pastel houses lining the street like beads on a candy necklace. Streetlights uncloaked the occasional bat.
The breeze lifted the thin fabric of Xochi’s dress. She should be cold, but she wasn’t. She was hungry, though. She would go back and eat some food. Go to bed.
Xochi stopped. How long had she been walking? If she was near the park, Eris Gardens couldn’t be far. But . . . wait. This wasn’t Buena Vista. This was a different park, one she’d never seen before. Her usual tactic of jumping on a bus and asking the driver for advice was useless this late at night. She spun in a full circle. Continuing downhill was the only logical move. She began to walk again, shivering now. She should have grabbed a jacket.
She heard the bar before she saw it, hunched between two shabby Victorians, its cinder-block façade stained red by a flashing neon sign. A man was outside smoking, muttering, looking at the ground.
No. Not the ground. He was looking at her, but not at her face. Xochi crossed the street.
“Hey, princess,” he rasped. The word leaked out around his cigarette as his gaze lifted, now on Xochi’s chest. “Where’s your boyfriend?”
Xochi walked faster. The end of the block was just a few steps away.
“Bitch, I’m talking to you. Don’t make me chase you now.”
Xochi meant to keep walking, putting squares of dirty sidewalk between her and the greasy threat in his voice, but the air was too thick, the ground tilting and unstable.
Some sane part of her rose from her body and hovered under the streetlamp, shrinking away from the figures below—hers in its thin beaded dress and his in a crusty army jacket and stained jeans. She saw herself turn and walk back until she was directly across the street from him.
“Say it again,” she said, her voice unrecognizable. “Say it to my face.” What did she think she was going to do? Her blood buzzed and her skin crawled, slug damp with something that should have been fear.
“Crazy bitch.” He laughed and dropped his half-smoked cigarette in the gutter. “Go back to the psych ward, c—.”
He stepped back, spat and pushed against the battered door of the bar. It opened wide, spewing speed metal and smoke, inhaling him into its dark, rank guts.