“Two hundred bucks?” Manny echoed. His face paled, mind racing back to any possible reason he might owe that money. Had there been a charge for the frat party he had not known about? Had he damaged some kind of furniture piece while he was drunk?
“Two hundred bucks,” Brice repeated. “Pay up.”
“Wh-why?” Then, shaking his head, “I—I don’t have that kind of money just lying around.”
Brice rolled his eyes. “Remember that whore you slept with?”
Manny’s throat went dry. He said nothing, but acknowledgement must have been clear on his face.
“Yeah. Well, he needs to be paid.”
“I thought…the guy…one of the other guys said you paid him already.” Manny’s voice had disappeared. He had forgotten to breathe. Hope filled him at hint that Angel might still be around. But two hundred dollars? Where was he going to get that money?
Brice scoffed. “I wasn’t gonna pay that little shit. I could have fucked a silicon doll, and it would have been just as good. Would have been minus all the fucking blubbering he did, too. Not to fucking mention, we gave him room and board for the night. What the fuck more could he fucking ask for?” Brice kicked at the floor. “But the little whore has a pimp, apparently. And since the little shit went missing after he spent the night at the house, this Drake douche thinks we did something to him.”
“You…you’ve seen Drake?” Manny wheezed.
“Yeah, stupid fucking hot-shot douche came flapping in like a mad mother chicken. Now he says we gotta pay not only that night’s fee, but also a fee for every night it takes him to find the fucking whore. We’re all splitting the cost fairly, but we figured you spent the most time with the slut, so you should pay the highest fraction.”
“I—I don’t have that kind of money,” Manny repeated, his face paling still further.
“Then get a fucking job or some shit, I don’t care!” Brice tossed his hands in the air, then quickly drew them across his chest again. “If the little shit slut hasn’t shown up by tonight, it’s gonna be another fifty from you. So you can probably go ahead and figure you owe me two hundred fifty. I’ll pay off the damn pimp tonight, but you’ll owe me, you hear?”
Manny nodded quickly. If Drake had some way of making Brice listen to him, it was with a strong motivator. From someone running a lucrative business on the bad side of San Diego, that motivator was most likely a loaded firearm. “I—I’ll pay you back,” Manny promised.
“You’d better,” the frat boy warned. “I’ll fucking keep an eye on you till you’ve paid every fucking penny.”
Shit, I need to find him, Manny thought as he shut the door.
Manny went to his evening class. Between wondering where he was going to find the money to pay Brice and where he was going to find Angel, Manny barely absorbed any of Professor Ramsey’s lecture. If he’s homeless, where would he go? Damn, I’m gonna have to ask Uncle Leon for money. I guess I could get a job, but where? I don’t have a car, and I don’t really have time for a job. What would I say to Angel if I found him? He didn’t want anything to do with me before. How am I gonna convince him that I never meant to hurt him? That I was completely fucked up, and I NEVER meant to hurt him??
The seconds were ticking by like entire minutes. Manny felt desperate, less focused than he had ever been. Repair the damage, pay back the debt, help Angel. Damn, I really want to see him again. Wait, what? Manny’s left knee began bouncing under his desk. Not really, right? It was all out of guilt, wasn’t it? Like Leon had said, Manny had a conscience. That was the reason he wanted to find Angel and make things right, wasn’t it? It wasn’t because Manny felt some kind of superficial attachment to the beautiful boy with the bird tattoo on his shoulder. Anything like that would be foolish. Completely whimsical. Utterly stupid.
And yet…those eyes.
The way he had walked, his silhouetted figure against the yellow streetlight.
Black hair streaking across his face. That faint half smile. The ring piercing his lower lip.
I kissed that?
No. I’d never be caught dead kissing a boy.
But…I was caught alive after sleeping with one.
“All of this information can be found on page 115 of your textbook,” Dillan Ramsey shook Manny out of his head. “Please keep working on your bone boxes. The bone box test at the end of the semester is very real. That will conclude today’s meeting, I’ll see you all Wednesday.”
The classroom erupted into the sounds of chairs moving, backpacks being zipped up, and students chattering. Manny shoved his things into his backpack and followed the flow of students out into the hallway. Shouldering past a taller boy with brown hair, Manny started for the door. But he did not get far. And this time, it was not Israel who jumped out and stopped him.
“Hey! Kid with the Nike hoodie!”
Manny recognized her voice instantly. Heart suddenly racing again, he turned to see Ava standing a few feet from him, hidden in the shadow of a display case.
“Hey, I need to talk to you.” She flashed her eyes at him, then beckoned for him to come over.
But it was not her firm, commanding stare that made Manny feel a chill run down his back. She was wearing her hair differently this time, with the fringe flipped back as part of a half-crown braid. And there, over her left eyebrow, was a black-ink tattoo. Drake.
Manny’s hand paled on his backpack strap. Uneasily, he approached her, then stopped in the shadow of that hallway display case.
“I’m still looking for him,” Ava informed Manny. “That guy I was looking for the other night at the frat house. I don’t suppose…you’ve seen him? Or know anything about what happened to him?”
Manny’s lips parted, his throat going dry.
“Look, I need to find him, alright?” Ava sighed. She looked up at Manny almost pleadingly. “Those guys at the frat house won’t help me. But you were there. You must know something. You must have seen him, at least.”
“I…I saw him,” Manny readily conceded. “But I don’t know where he is now.” Someone walked past, and Manny glanced quickly over his shoulder.
Ava lifted a hand to her stomach and let out a heavy sigh. “What did they do to him? Where’d he go?”
Manny gaped for a moment, then simply shook his head. “I—I don’t know.”
Ava tossed her hand slightly. “They didn’t drop him off at some hospital, or something?”
“Hospital?” Manny shook his head again, this time feeling his back go rigid. “Why would they drop him off at a hospital?”
“Oh, come on. What, you think I’m stupid?” She tilted her head incredulously. “Angel knows better than to agree to a frat party. He should know better than to take twenty-some-year-old tricks! If he wasn’t damn-well forced into the vehicle from the start, he certainly didn’t agree to whatever shit followed. Damn.” Ava’s eyes strayed, and her voice cracked slightly. “Angel isn’t stupid. He’s damn smart. He’d never get pulled into shit like that if he had a choice in the matter.” Her gaze flashed back on Manny. “So you tell me. What’d they do to him? And if they didn’t take him to a hospital, what fucking roadside did they dump him on when they were finished?”
Manny remembered to breathe with a sharp gasp. He tried to swallow, then gave up and whispered. “I assumed…I assumed he walked out. He seemed fine the next morning. He was asleep when I left.”
“Oh, so you stayed all night, did you?” Ava gave Manny a repulsed glare. “So you’re just like the rest of them, aren’t you? Shit, and I was over here thinking you were halfway decent. But you’re a perv just like the rest of them.” She tossed her hands in the air, then turned and started for the exit.
“I—I’m not,” Manny protested behind her.
She didn’t even turn. “Yeah, tell that to me again after I’ve found him struggling to stay alive under a bridge or dead in a gutter.”
Manny sucked in a weak breath. Images flooded his head of Angel washing his forearms in that drainage slide, of the blood on Angel’s hands, of the thin hooded jacket he had been wearing.