Her words broke my heart a little bit.

“Ryan’s not my type,” I said lamely.


“What’s your type – assholes?”

“No. I – I’m in love with Derek.”

There. I finally said it.

Even if he hasn’t.

She nodded. “So… your type is assholes.”

“No – ”

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter – the pussy wants what the pussy wants. But don’t ever say I never gave you any good advice.”

The pussy wants what the pussy wants.

It wasn’t exactly Shakespeare.

But it turned out she was right about the other part – the part about giving me good advice.

I just didn’t see it at the time.

96

The night – and Riley’s story – continued amidst a flurry of shots.

She talked about the various punk rock bands she’d been in through the years, including the one she’d started when she was sixteen, called ‘Fuck You.’ When she first heard Cee-lo Green’s song by the same name, she immediately changed the band name to ‘Punk Rock Bitches’ because she didn’t want people thinking she took her band name from a Top 40 hit. That would have been very un-punk rock. (Although, technically, the Top 40 hit was titled ‘Forget You,’ and ‘Fuck You’ was the naughty, alternate version… but that didn’t seem to matter to 16-year-old Riley.)

She talked about how she started playing the drums when she was five years old, using overturned pots and pans as the bass and snares, and lids suspended on fishing line as the cymbals. Growing up, she got practice time on other kids’ real drum sets by trading them alcohol she shoplifted. She didn’t get her own set until she was seventeen, just three years before she joined Bigger. She paid for them by working on a phone sex line. She eventually got fired – but not because she was lying about her age to work there. No, it was because she pissed off too many customers. If she got mad at a caller, she liked to tell them things right before they were about to climax. Like their penises were too small. Or she would drop her voice and say she was actually a 65-year-old man named Hiram.

She talked about how she had been born to a sixteen-year-old girl who had gotten pregnant and given her up for adoption. She didn’t even know her mother’s first name, just that her last name was Wojtalik.

She talked a little about some of the foster homes she grew up in. Riley freely admitted she was the kid from hell – furious at the world, shutting everyone out, always in trouble, getting drunk daily by age twelve. As a result of her bad behavior, she got shuttled around a lot. Some of the foster homes were good… and some weren’t. She didn’t go into detail, but I could tell there was a lot of pain there. And there was some kind of abuse in her past. Whether it stopped at physical beatings like the one that Mr. Hopkins had given her at four years old, or whether it went beyond that into something worse, she wouldn’t say… but she never looked me in the eye once when she talked about it.

She finally brought up her sister, who was actually her foster sister. Megan was two years older than Riley. Their host family only kept them for the government checks. They’d kicked Megan out of the house the day she turned eighteen. A couple months later, Riley ran away and followed her foster sister to New York City.

Megan got a job as a waitress, went to community college at night, and lived with three other girls in a squalid dump in the Bronx. Riley would crash on their second-hand couch for weeks at a time, until the other girls got tired of her drunken rages and kicked her out. Even then, Megan would always give Riley some money out of what little she had, and always made sure Riley had something to eat.

Megan was the only person Riley still talked to from that period in her life. I could tell how much she loved her just from her voice – because it was the only time in the three weeks I’d know her that I’d ever heard her sound truly happy.

97

Riley eventually got tired of all the self-introspection.

“C’mon, Blondie,” she said, grabbing my hand. “If I can’t hit on you, I can least use you as chick-bait.”

We went out on the dance floor – which was no more than twenty feet square – and bumped and grinded along with at least forty other women, ranging from lipstick to sporty to full-on butch.

I got my fair share of attention from other women, including a few offers to buy me a drink. I turned them down, but told them I appreciated it. Everybody was cool; nobody got annoyed.

I had a fantastic time. When I didn’t have to fend off advances from Riley, she was actually a hell of a lot of fun to be around.

Riley hit on just about everybody else, though, over the course of the night. Her favorite trick was to wait until someone set their sights on me, then dart in and say, “Hey, have you met my friend Kaitlyn? She’s straight. But I’m not.”

She got a few make-outs from that approach.

There were more shots, and more dancing, and more laughter. For the first time in over a week, all my troubles were gone. No drama with Derek… no fucking article to write…

Just a good time had by all.

And then, somewhere along the way, I blacked out.

98

I awoke in a grimy hotel room with the worst hangover I’d ever had, to the sound of my cell phone blaring loud as a trumpet.

At first I didn’t know where the hell I was. Grey light was filtering through an open window. I was lying on a lumpy queen-sized bed with stained, threadbare sheets. The yellowed wallpaper was peeling off here and there in strips, and the furniture was so shabby that I doubt even Goodwill would have wanted it.

The previous night came back in a blur. Shots… lots of shots… lesbian bar… dancing…

…Riley…

…unfamiliar hotel room…

I looked over in panic. There was a person-sized, rumpled spot next to me – but no Riley.

Next I looked down, checking my clothes – but I was fully dressed, with everything on but my boots. Jeans, blouse, jacket. My underwear seemed untouched: no funky bunching of my bra, no uncomfortably skewed panties.

My phone was still blaring like the 1812 Overture, though.

I leaned over the bed, half-blind and nauseated, and fumbled in my purse for my phone. When I hit the ‘Answer’ button and spoke, my froggy, one-octave-deeper-than-normal voice took me by surprise.

“…hello…?”

“Kaitlyn – are you okay?!”

Derek.

I squinted around the empty room. “…I… think so…”

“Jesus, you scared the shit out of me when you didn’t come home.”

Awwwww… he cared.

I felt a tiny bit better – which meant I felt like I might die in thirty minutes instead of the next five.

“…I was out drinking with Riley…”

“I know. Why does your voice sound so weird?”

I tried to think of an answer, but the easiest was the one I’d just given.

“…I was out drinking with Riley.”

“Okay, stupid question. You sure you’re alright?”

“…I’m alive,” I croaked.

He laughed. “That’s something, I guess. If you survived a night out with Riley, count yourself lucky. Where is she?”

I looked around the room, then slowly got to my feet and wobbled over to look into the dingy, horrifying bathroom. Nobody was there.

“…I don’t know…”

Derek’s voice became angry. “She better not have ditched you, or I’m going to fucking KILL her – ”

I winced. “…not so loud…”

“Sorry. Do you need me to come get you?”

And this was the guy Riley had said was an asshole. Pfff. What the hell did she know.

“…I… maybe…?”

Then, from outside the room, there was a familiar laugh.

“…uh… let me call you back…” I mumbled.

“Okay, talk to you – ”

I didn’t realize until he reprimanded me later, but I hung up on him.

Then I stumbled to the door and opened it.

Outside was nearly as grim as inside.

It was some cheap, by-the-hour motel, the type prostitutes use for tricks on TV cop shows. The parking lot was mostly empty except for a few battered junkers, a dozen withered, used condoms, and a shitload of cigarette butts and broken crack vials. The main office was way on the other end of the building. The metal bars over its windows made it look like a prison, and the second ‘A’ in its neon ‘Vacancy’ sign was burned out.

Riley was standing on the patio walkway outside our motel room with a cigarette, blowing smoke into the misty Seattle morning. She was wearing her thrift shop parka from the night before as protection from the chill in the air. She held a cell-phone to her ear, and her crumpled Mohawk jutted out over it like a protective shelter.

“…yeah, that’s awesome… I’m really proud of you… I knew you could do it.”

She heard the door open, looked around at me, and raised one finger in a hold on kind of way. Then she turned back to the conversation.

“What, are you fuckin’ kidding me? Of course I don’t mind. Bitch, please, I got so much cash laying around I don’t know what the fuck to do with it. No, it’s totally cool. Just think of it as payback for all those years you took care of me. Yeah. No, it’s cool. I’ll get Ryan to handle it for me right away. It might take a day or two, but I’ll get it to you. Yeah. Okay. No, don’t even worry about it. I gotta go – I’ll talk to you later. Yeah… you too. Congratulations again.”

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