4 NOT MEETING PEOPLE ISN’T THE ONLY THING standing between me and a social life. There’s also the fact that I’m still living at home. My parents drove to Niagara Falls to pick me up from the hospital. We returned home in relative silence, which was fine by me; at least there weren’t any questions about Daphne. By the time we were pulled into the driveway, I’d decided that I could tolerate a week or two under their roof. Just enough time to get me back into the game. But what game? As my wounds healed and my restlessness grew, I made two disturbing discoveries: (1) the U wasn’t in any hurry to take me back, given how badly I’d slacked off during my last semester there; and (2) I was an untouchable, at least as far as Nassau County’s food service industry was concerned. The events at Hempstead had turned me into a local celebrity. And while many free drinks flowed my way, the job offers did not. Only my old boss at Carvel, where I worked my senior year in high school, took mercy on me when I agreed to work for minimum wage. Which wasn’t going to rent me living quarters that didn’t have the name “Projects” attached to it. I quit Carvel the night I returned from my orientation with Rico. In a couple of weeks, I’ll have enough saved up to find a place of my own. Maybe even in the city, like I’d boasted to Marvin. But I need a story to tell my parents. Too risky to lie about a restaurant job – the city’s close enough for a surprise visit. I decide to tell them I’ve found steady work as an office temp. Which means smiling a lot while my mother, bursting with joy at her newfound ability to use “my son” and “office” in the same sentence, drags me to the mall and forces a whole new wardrobe upon me. And she wakes up early Monday morning to make me breakfast, meaning I damn well have to wear it. I’m pretty sure I will be the only weed dealer in
the tristate area rocking business-casual. By the time I get to the city for my first day flying solo, the pager’s already buzzing. “Pick-Up’s at the Fifty-Ninth Street Station, near the newsstand. Meet-Up is at the Engineers’ Gate, Ninetieth and Fifth Avenue. Young lady. Look for Lycra.” I think I’m going to like this job. The problem, when I get to the gate, is an embarrassment of riches. Every third or fourth person is a woman under thirty wearing Lycra, Upper East Side runners toning their glutes on the loop around the Central Park Reservoir. My eyes finally settle on the one who isn’t running. She’s a few years older than me, maybe twenty-six or twenty-seven. Fair skin, short blonde hair, and breasts that, while not huge, still demand attention. Expensive running shoes. Maybe a young lawyer. A kept wife. The schoolteacher-daughter of some captain of industry. In any case, my first customer. “Are you him?” she asks. “I hope so,” I reply, making a mental note to thank my mother for getting me out of the house in something other than jeans and a T-shirt. “You don’t look like a drug dealer.” “Who said I was a drug dealer?” Never admit you’re a dealer, Rico had warned me. You let them establish intent to sell, and you might as well be handing them the keys to your cell. She sighs. “No, no, yes, no, yes.” “What’s that?” “The answers to the questions you’re about to ask me.” “You’ve done this before.”
“Yes,” she says, bouncing impatiently on her toes. “Have you?” “Can you tell it’s my first day on the job?” “Congratulations. Can we get this over with? I’m expected home.