It also has a themed display window that the owners change every month. This month it’s a forest, and like toadstools, a curated collection of bright rubber dildos rise from fake grass. One even has a squirrel molded into its side. This might be funny, except for the fact that plenty of people I know see this window regularly, and I have to endure lurid, snickering commentary about it from certain people at school.
Our dueling businesses—and nearby homes—sit together at the tail end of a tree-lined shopping promenade filled with local boutiques, organic restaurants, and art studios. Most of our cul-de-sac contains old Victorian houses like ours that have been sectioned up and converted into apartment units. Not exactly the place you’d expect to find sex for sale.
My dad says a place that sells “marital aids” is “no place for a young girl.” The two women who own the sex shop darken his dazzling smile on a regular basis. They are the Hatfields to his McCoy. The Hamilton to his Burr. Our neighbors are the Enemy, and we do not fraternize with the Mackenzies. Oh no, we do not.
My mom used to be on friendly terms with the Mackenzies, so she only half agrees with my dad on this. And me? I’m caught in the middle. The whole situation just stresses me out. It’s complicated. Very, very complicated.
Pink walls and the synthetic scent of silicone envelop me as I duck inside the sex shop. It’s not quite noon, and only a couple of customers are browsing—a relief. I divert my eyes from a display of leather riding crops as I make a beeline toward a counter in the middle of the store, behind which two women in their early forties are chatting. I’m behind enemy lines now. Let’s hope I don’t get shot.
“It wasn’t Alice Cooper,” a woman with dark shoulder-length hair says as she lifts a small cardboard package on the counter. “It was the guy married to the redheaded talk show host. What’s-her-name. Osbourne.”
The woman standing next to her, green-eyed and fair-skinned, leans against the counter and scratches a heavily freckled nose. “Ozzy?” she says in an accent that’s a soft blend of American and Scottish. “I don’t think so.”
“I’ll bet you a cupcake.” Brown eyes dart over the counter to meet mine. Her oblong face lifts into a smile. “Zorie! Long time, no see.”
“Hello, Sunny,” I say, and then greet her freckled wife: “Mac.”
“Sweet glasses,” Sunny says, giving a thumbs-up to the retro blue cat-eye rims I’m wearing.
I have a dozen other pairs, all different styles and colors. I buy them dirt cheap from an online store, and I match them to my outfits. Along with crazy bright lipstick and a love for all things plaid, cool glasses are my thing. I may be a geek, but I am chic.
“Thanks,” I tell her, meaning it. Not for the first time, I regret that my dad is fighting with these women. It wasn’t that long ago that they felt like my second family.
The entire time I’ve known Sunny and Jane “Mac” Mackenzie, who have lived directly across the cul-de-sac since we moved into the neighborhood, they’ve insisted that I call them Sunny and Mac. Period. Not Mrs. or Ms., or any other titles. They don’t like formalities, not in names or clothes. They are both quintessential Californians. You know, just your average former riot grrrl lesbian sex-shop owners.
“Help us out. We’re playing Rock Star Urban Legend Game,” Mac says to me, pushing fiery hair shot through with silver away from her face. “Which heavy metal star bit the head off a bat onstage? Back in the sixties.”
“The seventies,” Sunny corrects.
Mac rolls her eyes humorously. “Whatever. Listen, Zorie. We think it’s either Ozzy Osbourne or Alice Cooper. Which one?”
“Um, I really don’t know,” I answer, hoping they’ll give this up so I can get what I came for and leave. They’re both acting like nothing has changed, that I still come over for Sunday dinner every week. Like my father didn’t threaten to bust up their shop with a baseball bat for driving away his clients and they didn’t tell him to go screw himself while dozens of people looked on from across the street with cell phones recording. The footage was uploaded to YouTube within the hour.
Yeah. Fun times. Dad has always disliked the Mackenzies, when they were just the “weirdo” neighbors across the street. But after their sex shop opened last fall and our clinic started tanking, that dislike turned into something stronger.
But okay, if Sunny and Mac want to pretend as though everything is still normal, fine. I’ll play that game, as long as it gets me out of here faster. “Alice Cooper, maybe?” I answer.
“No way. It was Ozzy Osbourne,” Sunny says confidently, slicing open the package on the counter with a box cutter. “Look it up, Mac.”
“My phone’s dead.”
Sunny makes a clucking sound with her tongue. “Likely story. You just don’t want to lose the bet.”
“Lennon will know.”
My stomach tightens. There are plenty of reasons for me not to want to come over here. The dildo forest. The fear of being seen by someone I know. My dad’s ongoing feud with the two women bantering behind the counter. But it’s the seventeen-year-old boy casually strolling out of the stockroom who makes me wish I could turn invisible.
Monster T-shirt. Black jeans. Black boots laced to his knees. Black, fringed hair that’s all swept to the side, somehow messy and perfectly spiked at the same time.
If an evil anime character sprang to life with a mission to lurk in dark corners while plotting world destruction, he would look a lot like Lennon. He’s a poster boy for all things weird and macabre. He’s also the main reason I don’t want to eat lunch in the school cafeteria with the rest of the hoi polloi.
Carrying a zombie-splattered graphic novel in one hand and something small and unidentifiable tucked under his other arm, he glances at my blue plaid skirt, then his gaze skims upward to settle on my face. Any looseness in his posture immediately becomes tight and ridged. And when his dark eyes meet mine, they clearly reinforce what I already know: We are not friends.
Thing is, we used to be. Good friends. Okay, best friends. We had a lot of classes together, and because we live across the street from each other, we hung out after school. When we were younger, we’d ride bikes to a city park. In high school, that daily bike ride morphed into a daily walk down Mission Street to our local coffee shop—the Jitterbug—with my white husky, Andromeda, in tow. And that turned into late-night walks around the Bay. He called me Medusa (because of my dark, unruly curls), and I called him Grim (because of the goth). We were always together. Inseparable friends.
Until everything changed last year.
Gathering my courage, I adjust my glasses, paste on a civil smile, and say, “Hi.”
He tugs his chin upward in response. That’s all I get. I used to be trusted with his secrets, and now I’m not even worthy of a spoken greeting. I thought at some point this would stop hurting me, but the pain is as sharp as it’s ever been.
New plan: Don’t say another word to him. Don’t acknowledge his presence.
“Babe,” Sunny says to Lennon, unpacking what appears to be some sort of sex lube. “Which rock star bit the head off a bat? Your other, less-hip mom thinks it’s Alice Cooper.”
Mac pretends to be affronted and points to me. “Hey, Zorie thinks so too!”