It’s nearly dark outside, and I’m standing in Toys in the Attic next to Sunny, who is lording over a stack of boxes near the front window display. Her face is animated as she talks to us. “It was in the seventies, and one of the big publishers, Marvel or DC Comics, put out a KISS comic—you know, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley in makeup, being superheroes, or whatever. And they used the band’s blood in the ink. I swear it’s true.”
Mac rolls her eyes. “Who starts these demented rumors?” she says in her Scottish lilt. “That is so not true. And it’s disgusting.”
My mom crosses her arms, nodding at Mac. “Can you imagine how many STDs those guys had? Who would want their tainted blood in a comic book?”
“Plenty of people, apparently, because it’s a fact,” Sunny insists. “Ask Lennon.”
I tug a belt loop on the back of his black jeans. He’s bent over, half of his body inside the back of the shop’s window display—a group of carved Halloween pumpkins and a black cauldron overflowing with condoms and bottles of massage gel instead of witch’s brew. Halloween was last night, so we’re swapping out the jack-o’-lanterns for a Thanksgiving cornucopia.
“Did you hear all that?” I ask.
He emerges from the window display, standing up to full height. “Sunny’s right. A nurse drew their blood, and they flew to New York and had pictures taken at Marvel’s printing plant, where they dumped vials of their blood into a vat of ink. A notary public witnessed and certified it.”
“Eww,” we all say in chorus.
Lennon shrugs. “KISS was always doing silly, shocking gimmicks like that to sell their merchandise. They were more interested in making money than music.”
“And that’s why you owe me a cupcake,” Sunny tells Mac, her face lifting into a delighted grin.
Mac shakes her fists at the ceiling. “Curse you, Rock Star Urban Legend Game.”
I’m not sure why she bothers siding against Sunny. She always loses. Or maybe that’s the point. All I know is that a cupcake sounds pretty freaking good about right now, and I’m wishing this window display were filled with actual candy instead of condoms. I think I’ve been eating too much junk food lately, which is something I didn’t know could happen. But Mom and I have been too busy to go to the grocery store for real food. Our only home-cooked sustenance has been Sunday dinners at the Mackenzies’.
It’s been a couple of months since my dad left. He’s still in San Francisco, and he’s already in full-on Diamond Dan pivot mode, doing something impulsive. He enrolled in a certification course for—I kid you not—equine massage therapy. That’s right, he wants to move to Sonoma and give horses back rubs. Hey, it’s his life, I suppose. I’ve talked to him on the phone a couple of times, but I haven’t seen him. A good thing, probably. I’m not as angry as I once was, but I don’t need any more disruptions in my life.
And Mom doesn’t either. She’s been busy too. Everhart Wellness Clinic is now Moon Wellness Spa. Yes, she’s the one who decided to christen the spa with her maiden name, but I’m the one who suggested she use an actual moon in her new logo. Sunny and Mac found her a new masseuse—a friend of a friend who was moving out here to the East Bay, because she couldn’t afford the rent in the city anymore. San Francisco got Dad and exchanged him for Anna, a young Latina who has purple hair and likes dogs. Win-win.
While Mom is busy rebuilding her business, my focus is on school. At first, I was hyperconcerned with college applications, but now Lennon and I are starting to think about taking a year off between high school and college—a so-called gap year. It would allow me to build my astrophotography portfolio and take a Korean language class at the local community college so I can communicate better with Grandpa Sam. Lennon wants to work full-time and save up some money. He wants us to go backpacking in Europe. I’m definitely amenable to this idea.
We’re also talking seriously about trying to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s more than twenty-five hundred miles long, running through California, Oregon, and Washington—all the way from Mexico to Canada. It takes six months to hike the entire thing. I’m not sure if I’m up for that just yet—or ever, actually—but if we start next June, we can do part of the trail from the High Sierras up through the Cascade Mountains and stop at the Canadian border.
We’ll see. Right now, we’ve been camping every other weekend. Just short two-night trips—nothing majorly off trail. This weekend, we’re going up the coast to Redwood National Park in Humboldt County. I won’t lie: Half the fun of camping is the potential for sexlaxation. But I’m actually enjoying being outside, away from the city. Lennon is using his mapping skills to get me to nearby areas with clear night skies; I finally started using my portable telescope to take photos, instead of hauling it around for no good reason.
“I hate to break it to you, but you’ll have to get your own cupcakes,” Lennon tells his moms. “I have a hot date with an astrophysicist at the Jitterbug.”
“That’s me,” I say, waving my hand. “I’m the hot date.”
“Isn’t it too late for caffeine?” my mom warns.
“Is it ever?” I ask.
“Herbal tea, please,” she says.
“I’ll think about it.”
“We’re actually going there to do homework,” Lennon admits. “Decent Wi-Fi and an employee discount are a potent combination.”
I started working there part-time after school a couple weeks ago. I practically live there now, but that’s okay because (1) I’ve always loved their coffee, and (2) now I get paid to drink it. I also need all the money I can get, because camping is expensive when you’re broke.
“Back by ten,” my mom says. “It’s a school night.”
Lennon salutes her as I tug Andromeda’s leash. We tell everyone good night and head out of the shop into night air that’s starting to get a little chilly. It feels pretty good, actually, and it’s not so brisk that Andromeda minds. We’ve been walking her several nights a week, and she’s perked up considerably, as if she has a new lease on life. And maybe she does. I think she missed walking with Lennon over the last year. My mom says pets can get depressed when their owners do. Or maybe it’s just that we see a lot more of Grandma Esther’s perky dogs, and Andromeda’s had to learn to keep up.
Lennon takes her leash and she trots ahead of us, tail swinging as she scouts our trail. He slings an arm around my shoulder as we saunter to the corner and wait for the streetlight to turn green.
“Okay, milady,” Lennon says. “We both know we’re not doing homework at the coffee shop.”
“I finished mine during fifth period,” I confirm.
“Finished mine at work earlier while I cleaned out gecko cages. Multitasking to the rescue.”
“We are so good,” I say, holding up my hand for a fist bump.
“The best.” He knocks knuckles with me, his arm still resting on my shoulder.
Juggling school and work and us hasn’t been easy. It helps that we get to eat lunch together every day in the school courtyard. We sit with Avani and her boyfriend, and sometimes Brett, unfortunately. Once he begged Lennon for forgiveness in his part of what’s now known as the Battle of Mackenzie Falls, we haven’t been able to get rid of him. Reagan, on the other hand, transferred to private school. The official word is that she’s no longer focused on the Olympics, so she doesn’t need the support of our athletic department. Unofficially, Reagan’s parents forced her to transfer after she was busted over the glamping incident.