“Shit, Shannon, I’m not supposed to be telling you any of this. Phil would kick my ass, especially since you’re dating Alesci.”
“He’s not a fucking narc, Danny.”
“Whatever. But yeah, I knew. I figured you did too, Shannon. I had no idea Jason was skipping out on you.”
“God, I really feel stupid.”
“He’s an asshole anyway. You’re better off without him.”
“I know that, Danny. But he’s taking Olivia. And I know you don’t know my whole story, but she’s the last thing I have in this world. She’s the only family I have, OK? And I need her.”
He stars at me for a few seconds. “You don’t know my story either. My mom never recovered from that bust. She got worse. She came out of jail so much worse than she went in. She was dealing drugs, doing drugs—”
“Then why do you do it?”
“I gotta make money to get the fuck out of here somehow. Might as well be the family business, right?” He laughs, but I don’t. “Look, I don’t deal like Phil or Jason. I sell joints. Pot is practically legal now. It’s not the same.”
“It will be the same if you keep doing it.”
“I’m not going to keep doing it. I’m retired now. I sold the last of my stock a few days ago. No more high school, right? No more kids who want to get stoned at lunch or after school. Rocky and I are going to Santa Barbara for school at the end of the summer. Why do you think I was in the counseling office that day we met? Rocky and I had just gotten back from visiting the campus for recruitment week and my counselor wanted to know how it went. That’s why you never saw me at Phil’s over Christmas break.”
How did I not know this about him? Why did I just assume he was a loser like me? “Great, so everyone is leaving this shithole but me. And I don’t even belong here. Jesus Christ, can my life get any more fucking ironic?”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t realize you were so attached to the baby. If I had, I would’ve…”
But he stops mid-sentence and drops that thought. “Would’ve what?” I ask.
He smiles. “I would’ve made more of an effort, you know? To fill you in on what’s been going on.”
“It’s not your fault. I’ve just been so busy with my own life, I wasn’t paying attention. I just wanted to assume Jason was a good guy.”
“He’s not,” Danny says, looking down at me through the dark hair covering his eyes. “He’s not a good guy, Shannon. And he should not be allowed to take that baby away.”
“I agree. But I have no recourse. I’m her aunt. If he marries that girl, she’ll probably have more right to Olivia than I do.”
He sighs and then sinks back into the couch cushions next to me. We sit like that, thinking about the conversation for a few minutes. And then he says, “Let’s go to the party.”
I say nothing.
“Come on,” he says, standing up and taking my hand, pulling me to my feet. “Let’s think about this tomorrow. You know I’ll help you any way I can, right?”
“I know.” He will too. Say what you will about his uncle, and selling joints is really not a good way to pay your way through college, but Danny Alexander is a stand-up guy.
As we walk up the alley the music from his party gets louder and louder, and when we get to West Street, I can see that most of the fenced backyard is filled with people.
“Let’s go in the front, I need to show you something.”
“Sure,” I say, feeling a little uneasy about the party. I’d rather be inside anyway. I’m not used to this anymore. I’ve been out of this scene for too long. And I have no real friends at Anaheim except Danny. There’s no way Josie and Mary are at a party like this.
There are people on the front porch when we climb the stairs, and Danny stops to tell them all to go in the back. They grumble, but they finally go.
Danny sticks his key in the door and then stops, looking intently at me. “Don’t be pissed, OK? I didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know what?”
He just takes in a deep breath and opens the door. There’s kids passed out on the floor. One about two, wearing nothing but an overfilled diaper. One is a little bit older and she’s got on a dirty sundress. And there, on the other side of the girl in the dress, lying on a blanket, the only thing between her and the filthy hardwood floors, is Olivia.
“What the fuck?” I whirl around and see Dana, the babysitter, sitting on the couch, smoking and talking on her phone.
She looks at me, takes a second to recognize what’s happening, and then she says, “Shannon’s here.”
“What the fuck?” I say again. “What the fuck is my niece doing at a drug house?”
I look at Danny and he tries a shrug. “I thought you knew,” he says. “I swear to God, I thought you knew. She’s been here for a couple months. Ever since Dana got evicted.”
“What?” I look at Dana. “You live here? Since when? You lived down the street the last time I saw you.”
“Well, I was supposed to live with Jason, but he said we had to kick you out first.”
I run over and pick up Olivia, who is miraculously sleeping. “Is she even OK?” I ask Dana, feeling rage bubble up inside me as I check my poor little niece. “How the fuck is she sleeping with this party going on? Olivia?” I say, pressing my lips to her head. “Olivia?”
“She’s fine,” Dana says. And then I hear Jason’s voice on the other end of the phone. “Here,” she says, thrusting the phone at me. “He wants to talk to you.”
I take the phone and spit, “You better have a good fucking explanation for this.” Which is stupid. There is no good explanation for this.
“Just shut the fuck up, Shannon. She’s not your concern anymore. And if you take her—” There’s a scream of police sirens in the background and Jason says, “Fuck.” And then the call drops.
“What the—” I look at Danny. “They’re on a drug run?”
“You told her?” Dana screams.
“Yeah,” Danny says, but he’s talking to me.
“Well, I think they just got busted. There was a siren and then the call went dead.”
“You bitch,” Dana says, getting up from the couch and coming at me. Danny throws her off to the side. She crashes back into the cushions like a rag doll. She must be wasted.
“You let her take my niece while she’s on drugs?” I ask Danny.
“Don’t fucking Shannon me. In what world did you think I was OK with this?” He says nothing. “I’m so fucking out of here.” I walk to the door and pull it open, but the cops are just pulling up, flashing their red and blue lights. “Jesus Christ.”
Danny slams the door and points to the kitchen. “Let’s go out this way. We can cut through the back.” He grabs my arm and drags me down the hall. All the while Dana is screaming at us, still trying to get up from the couch where she fell.
He throws the door open and drags me down the back steps. The party is raging now. There are kegs and music is thumping so loud, no one even notices the police cars in the front yet.