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First Chapter

The manager of the Tacoma teen club my band had played that night wanted to close up, so I shambled out to the sidewalk to wait for my ride-none too happy about it. Tacoma cops had a rep. And there I was stoned, guitar case at my feet, panicky, absolutely unaware that I was about to meet the first of three women who would mark my life indelibly. Instead I wondering if Brendan had forgotten me. Was that a cherry top up the street? Prowling? What a find: a stranded hippie on an empty street. Kick the crap out him with nobody the wiser. Then...ah...relief. Old Reliable, Brendan's VW microbus, rounding the corner, the Jefferson Airplane pounding from the tape deck. He lurched to the curb and the side door swung open. I hoisted myself in. "Say, hey, bro."

In a small, round burner glued to the dash incense smoke drifted thickly from a glowing cone, commingling with the Airplane singing about dropping acid, a capsule blue and silver sunlight hair. Mobiles, god's eyes, tie-dyed seat covers-Old Reliable decorated to a tee. I slid my ax along the wall behind his seat, clapped Brendan on the shoulder. "How was Cream, man?"

"Clapton kicked ass," he said. "And Ginger Baker played a solo for half-an-hour, man, never played the same pattern twice." High-as-a-dawg smile, he nodded towards the rear of the van. "Some friends needed a ride home. Sami, Vickie, you know my brother, Galen, right? Galen, you know Sami and Vickie?"

I hardly noticed Vickie because there was Sami, smiling that same smile she'd flashed me two years ago, her eyes with that look in them again. Like she'd found something lost.

"Wow," I said inelegantly. "Have you ever changed."

She laughed and pivoted the ankle mooring her legs, crossed in front of her, their full length exposed, luminous in the red and blue neon of the teen club sign filtering through the thin paisley-print curtains of the microbus.

"Last time I saw you in a skirt like that Principal Johnson 'bout had a cow."

She laughed again as I settled next to her. "So'd my dad, when he had to come pick me up." She pitched her voice deep: "'What do you think you're doing wearing a bathing suit to school.'"

I smiled at her. "No big deal anymore, I suppose, wearing a skirt like that. Except how good it looks on you."

Sami raised her chin, play-acting tough. "Well, that was two years ago. I was still in high school."

"You and Brendan," I said. "And he's off to Yale now. You going to college, too?"

"I'll go to Riverton, I guess. Everybody says it's just a high school with ash trays, but...."

"It's sorta like that, but it's sorta okay, too."

"You're going to Riverton? I thought you were at the University of Oregon."

"I was, yeah. Past tense. Lasted a year." Scowling, she said, "You didn't like it there? Boy, I'd die to get out of Elkhorn."


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