We had been up in that room for most of the night, listening to the ticking of the old clock and waiting for Manny to show up with the dope. I sat with my back to the outer wall, near the window where Damian stood watching the driveway below. Karen was huddled on the couch, her eyes wide in the darkness—frightened, homesick, the eyes of a naïve little girl who has gotten herself into a world too big for her. The eyes of a runaway.
I knew the feeling.
I had been too stoned to remember the exact day that I’d left home—meth never did much for my memory—but it’d been sometime around Christmas the year before. My dad had found the dope in my room, the dope that I’d been selling even then, and we got into a fight. Later that evening, while he was drunk in front of the TV, I walked past him and out of the house. Never went back.
Karen no doubt had a similar story, except she’d left home recently. I’d heard that she had a lot of cash hidden somewhere, enough for several people to live off for a while, but that was probably just rumor. Either way, a girl like Karen wouldn’t be able to hold onto it for long—not living on the streets.
I turned to Damian. “Why’d you bring her along?”
Damian looked at me as though questioning my sanity. “Why else? She’s paying.” He turned to Karen. “You brought the money, right?”
She hesitated. “Yes. Yes, I did. What’s it for?”
Damian grinned at me. “See? We’re covered.”
“Not unless Manny gets here. You sure he knows the place?”
“What, you getting tired of waiting?”
I shrugged. “Maybe I wasn’t planning to spend Christmas Eve this way.”
Damian laughed. “He’ll show.”
I had a feeling that if Karen knew what she had gotten herself into, she would never have agreed to it. I could tell by the look on her face that, inside, she was still innocent. She still had a future. Not like me. I’d wrecked my life again and again since the previous Christmas, and now I was waiting for Manny so I could do it again. I suddenly found myself wondering what next year would be like.
I couldn’t let it happen to Karen, I decided. I couldn’t let her destroy what was left of her life.
A faint sound made its way up the black stairs, a distant rasp that could have been a footstep or a key in a lock. Damian spun to face the doorway, sweat beading his forehead. “He’s here.”
Karen sat bolt upright, her eyes wide with fear. “Who?”
Damian shot her a sarcastic glance. “Santa Claus.”
“No, please, I mean it. What’s going on?”
Enough was enough. I stood. “A dealer named Manny is coming with a truckload of meth that he smuggled from a lab in Mexico.”
Damian was staring at me, his face a cold mask. “Can it, Trent.”
I ignored him. “Damian is buying half of it off him, with your money. After tonight, Karen, you’ll be in this ring as deep as the rest of us.” I stepped to the window. Karen watched me, her eyes wide, startled. I turned to her and said, “You can still get out of this. You can still go home.” I wished someone had said those words to me.
Damian’s voice was tight with rage. “No one’s going anywhere. You’re not leaving me here with Manny and no dough—”
I pulled open the window, eyeing the fire escape that led to the ground. “Yeah, I am.” I nodded to Karen. “Come on. This isn’t what you wanted.”
For a moment she seemed indecisive, unsure what to do. The sound of heavy footfalls on the stairs seemed to finalize her decision. She leapt up from the couch and joined me at the window, casting a wary glance toward Damian. We climbed out onto the fire escape and down to the ground. I think Damian called after us, once or twice, but by then Manny was in the room and Karen and I were walking away along the road toward town.
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