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Making Mozel

Summary

Sam Shake doesn't have the problem he thinks he has. Having recently recrossed paths and rekindled a friendship with Mozel Nash, he's so busy trying to win religious arguments and offhandedly talk her into sex that it hasn't registered with him how truly crazy he is about her.  Moze is somewhat promiscuous but reluctant to cross that line with Shake for reasons that don't always remain consistent when she gives them, varying in conviction and contradicting each other from occasion to occasion.

When she was a teenager he was her algebra tutor and she crushed on him, but now -- thirty and divorced -- sees herself as a much more complicated creature. It both flusters and fascinates her that he too often still sees the teenager. And so they dance.

 

A Trip to Bail Out a Friend

Mozel Nash was so pretty it made Sam Shake sick. She'd been cute even in braces back as a boy-crazy thing in junior high, when Shake (a college sophomore at the time) tutored her in algebra. But now Moze was thirty and intolerably hot -- recently divorced due to infidelity issues (her own) when he'd run into her again the previous spring. 

Shake noticed her sandaled foot on the gas pedal as she drove his Jeep. Unlike the rest of her, her toes still belonged to the boy-crazy thing in junior high he remembered, rounded and baby-dimpled under the painted nails.

He'd let Moze drive because he'd been drinking when he got the call to go pick up their friend Warren Meek from the Snohomish County Jail and her car was in the shop. Also, Moze made decent money working at Kush Mart -- the little weed shop about thirty miles or so outside Seattle where Shake had reconnected with her that prior spring -- so she was the one who agreed to put up the money for Warren's bail. 

Moze pierced him with antifreeze-blue eyes which nearly matched the polish on her immature toes, shifting them between him and the road as she drove. She seemed to be able to see him flinching inside. She seemed to know the bewilderment she provoked in Shake and see him anticipating it.
"I can't believe you would do something like that," she said to him. "I can't believe you led those poor girls astray. Using their love for their God and their desire to serve and help lead people to Him to feed your twisted libido."

"Funny, because I found it to be perfectly in keeping with something I'd do," he said.

Shake had a feeling about Moze. He, in fact, had several feelings about her, and most of them made it hard to treat her with any sort of detachment. But the one feeling in question hit him low like thunder and made him fantasize about things like keeping the shampoo out of her eyes as he washed her hair in the shower -- things he'd ridicule another man for saying out loud about a woman.

Sometimes the feeling he couldn't name had him wishing to see her hurt and fragile in some way, so that he could be there to dry her tears and bring her solace. At thirty-five Shake was too old to confuse such a twisted feeling with love, but the desire in his blood was insistent and unreasonable. It outweighed any of the feelings of annoyance she inspired, but that weight kept it from floating to the surface as often as the annoyance too.

Moze's eyes were blazing with indignation as she fixed on him.   "I can't believe it." 

"I can't believe you can't believe it."

"Listen, anyone whose faith allows polygamy is flawed, but that doesn't mean the misguided should be taken advantage of," she said.

He'd just finished telling Moze how he'd seduced a twenty-year-old Mormon missionary girl from Arizona. She and two other young women had wandered to his place one afternoon about a week before, doubtlessly intending to show him the same light which inspired them to leave their families in Arizona, Utah, and California for eighteen months to win religious converts in Washington. He told Moze how he'd invited them in to give it their best shot, and how before it was over he'd shaken their faith at its foundations. He got them stoned and then had them violating their vows while away on mission to not read anything but the Book Of Mormon by sharing the "banquet turds" excerpt from Henry Miller's Tropic Of Cancer with them.

He let Moze know how Arizona girl was visibly less disturbed than her Utah and California sisters when he asked them if they were all virgins. She was the one who came back alone later in the night to smoke more weed and fuck. He told Moze how they talked between fucks about what it meant to be a spiritual soldier in a world of frauds.

Shake took the last drink from the beer he was drinking when they'd left his place and offered Moze a belated reply to her last admonishment. "I'm pretty sure I set them on a superior path, Moze," he said. "At least Arizona Mormon girl."

"I'm pretty sure you're delusional. We'll see on the day of The Last Judgment," she said. 

"I'm pretty sure we won't."  

"Didn't you bother even remembering her name? I can't wait to see your face when you find out you're facing eternal damnation," said Moze.

"Will you weep for me?" said Shake.

"I'll be trying not to look too satisfied."

"Won't Jesus know you're trying to hide how much my damnation satisfies you and punish you for it?"

"Shut-up, Shake."

Shake liked to tell himself he could never fall in love with a Baptist slut like Moze. He'd never met anyone whose passions for both Jesus and cocks were constantly competing and surpassing each other for supremacy. 

Moze had been sexually unbridled from fifteen or sixteen, but since her reacquaintance with Shake hadn't proven to be any more conflicted between her carnal appetites and her simultaneous need to save the souls of the men she banged than she'd been as a teenage girl.

Their five-year age difference meant much less now than it did then, but she still wouldn't bang him, no matter how much Shake hinted around that his soul needed saving. He suspected perhaps Moze knew that being saved was the last thing on his mind. He also suspected perhaps she'd never fuck a man who knew her as well as Shake knew her. Maybe her ex-husband getting to know her too well was what drove her to cheat on him.

Moze looked at Shake again. "Why do you have to talk with such insolence?"

"I was raised by wolves. Very insolent wolves."

"Heretic wolves," she said.

"Heretical wolves," he corrected.

"Don't correct me."

"It was a joke."

"It's blasphemy."

"Oh, please don't go fuck yourself," said Shake as he so often did when he tired of sparring with her.

Maybe Moze was as pious a fool as she acted and maybe she wasn't, but it both bothered and tantalized Shake more than any of her other bothersome and tantalizing traits. That she had such blind, idiotic faith both exasperated and made him secretly crave her, and even though it didn't take much, she often seemed to push him to antagonize her about it anyway. 

"You know, if me being blasphemous makes you look this fuckable, we're gonna have to find a way to bottle that shit and sell it," he said.

"Stop it. Don't make me pull over and pray for you."

"You wouldn't dare."

Moze pulled over on the shoulder of the highway. She clasped her fingers and sealed her eyes in prayer.

"You know, I don't think God meant for prayer to be used to annoy people," he said.

She answered him without opening her eyes or unclasping her fingers. "Seeing as you don't even believe in God, I wouldn't consider you an authority on the subject of prayer."

"You want to know what I believe in?"

"Shut-up, I'm trying to pray for you."

"The complete DNA software program is called a genome," he went on. "In a human, it contains about three billion bases and about 20,000 genes on twenty-three pairs of chromosomes. I believe in my genome, somewhere amongst the intricately woven nucleotide strands and base sequences that sculpt my hair wavy and paint my eyes brown, are instructions to trigger arousal in me whenever you get preachy and cross your arms and narrow your eyes at me."

"Is that why you go out of your way to piss me off so often?"

"It's really not that far out of my way. Anyway, your phony disgust only riles me up, so --"

"My disgust isn't phony."

"Anyway, this 13.8 billion-year-old universe was 9.6 billion years old when -- out of an infinitely ceaseless molecular fuckfest -- a chemical reaction we call life arose on Earth. And recognizing this, all I meant to say was that the concept of a Judeo-Christian God orchestrating the entire symphony is an explanation that reflects better on man than it does on God."

"Sounds like typical, heathen jabber gibberish. Cursed with the notion you can rationalize your way around the wages of sin when you can't," she said before mouthing some final inaudibility to her Lord and opening her eyes.  "You're just gonna excuse your way into damnation."

"Better than blundering your way into salvation. Heaven must be overflowing by now with idiots who never met a question they didn't fear to ask. You sure they'll have room for you?"

"I'm done talking to you."

Moze shifting the Jeep back in gear and pulling off caused Shake to notice the seams straining to contain the bursting and bumping glory within one of those thin summer dresses she liked to wear. Any man could see Moze was built for pleasure in seismic doses. Distracted by the screaming seams, Shake narrowly avoided falling into her lap.

"You're drunk. You're gonna make us wreck," she said. 

"God will protect us. Or do you have to say a different prayer for that?"

"Please don't go fuck yourself.  And give me that joint out of my bag," Moze said, pointing the clutch purse at Shake's feet. "You better not have been stepping all over it."

Shake reached down and picked up the purse. "Why did you ask if I was stoned if you have pot?" She had asked Shake if he was stoned when she first got in the Jeep, adding, "You look stoned" without waiting for a response.  It was her typical idea of a greeting.

"What does my asking if you're stoned have to do with me having weed or not?"

Shake obliged with her joint and a lighter. 

Recreational marijuana having been legal in Washington five full years by 2018, shops had sprung up all over the state. They sprang up in numbers that at least rivaled those of automotive supply store chains, if not those of the many bikini barista stands which were scattered along the streets and backroads.

Many fetching young women -- some in bikinis, others fully clothed -- worked in these tiny barista shacks, but Shake could never picture Moze in one. Not proud Moze, smiling and freezing her demure ass off in winter months for the pleasure of bored creeps who would drive up to order espressos and try to get her cell number from predawn until closing. Doing so would've made her hustle as common as the rest, although she was more beyond than above being a bikini clerk in winter.

What set the Kush Mart apart from all the other pot shops in Everett (and some suspected was a tactic they borrowed from the bikini barista stands) was its almost exclusive employment of hot young women as salesclerks. Sure, there were a few hipster dudes behind the counters too, and always a burly male working the door to check I.D.'s., but the rest -- numbering anywhere from five to ten -- were all pretty young treats like Moze. Shake never had any illusions about getting any to eventually peel their panties off for him, no matter how seemingly receptive to his advances they acted, but that didn't stop him from flirting anyway.

Then came the day he ran into Moze. By no means did she come off as easy prey to Shake, fully without a security system to disarm (which would've been worse) but the dance with her differed from what it had been with other Kush girls. He was stoned and had already hitched himself to its rhythm a full measure before realizing this song was unfamiliar. She mirrored his wit with what passed for lightning speed in his condition, and she did it without so much as a flinch or an appeasing giggle. He felt foolish hearing her say "I was too" after he stumbled to assure her he was only kidding about something. He spent some stunned seconds searching her patient face as he explained her brain to her. This was not the same teenage girl to whom he'd tutored math. Her antifreeze eyes were a colder blue now.

"I can't beat you. I can say nothing that will leave you at a loss for words," he said. "You must be an Aquarius. Did you ever tell me your birthday?"
At that, she flinched because he was right and said, "No, I never told you. And yes, I am." And so was he. Finding out her birthday was the day after his on February 17th was an extra gut punch.

The Kush Mart was located in a strip mall two doors down from a day labor dispatcher Shake temped for occasionally in the landscaping offseason. To the left of the Kush Mart was a convenience store that sold beer and the usual convenience store junk, along with weed paraphernalia the Kush Mart didn't carry itself for whatever reasons. To the right of it stood a tiny Vietnamese restaurant, one of many in Everett that specialized in pho noodle soup.  Moze turned Shake onto it that day when they had lunch to get caught up.

"It's good, isn't it?" she asked after his first spoonful.

"It's much better than I remember it being," he said.

"I thought you said you'd never had it before?"

Shake smiled. He wasn't talking about the soup.

Their conversations ever since had become less cordial.

Moze hit the joint with what was a luscious pucker to Shake and passed it to him. It was nearly done.

"Did Warren tell you what he got locked up for?" she said.

Shake pulled on the joint and let the smoke fill his lungs before answering in a strained whisper, "Something about getting caught pissing on the tailgate of Bink Sennett’s pickup truck in the parking lot of Bruiser's Tavern while Bink was inside shooting pool."

"Why would he piss on the vehicle of a man who's married to a sheriff's daughter?" she said.

"How should I know?  He was drunk.  He was Warren.  He was Warren being drunk.  He knew his wife wouldn't spring for his bail so he called me, and

I called you because you're the only one I know with that much cash laying around."

"What about your baby's mama, Ruth Ann?  She must have some money saved up from all your child support payments over the years," she said. 

"How old is Ruth now anyway?  Wasn't she the same age you are now when she had Millicent?  That would make her around sixty now, wouldn't it?"

"She's forty-five now and was your age when Millie was born if that's in any way relevant to anything at all."

"Do you still fuck her?"

"Only when she lets our daughter watch us. Millie's fifteen now and needs to learn firsthand what it takes to pleasure a man from a woman who's had forty or so odd years of experience,"  said Shake.

"It should concern you that I'm not at all sure you're joking," she said.

"And yet it doesn't."

Moze looked at him in a way that signaled she had just thought of a way to fuck with him.  "Sammy," she said in a clumsily sexy voice, "if I asked Ruth when she was with you whether you had a long, slender dick, or a wide and stubby one, what would she say?"

"I see you're done being religious. I'm glad you're in a more vulgar mood now." 

"I'm not a prude," said Moze. "I just love my God."

 

A Black Brother from a Blacker Mother

Shortly before she died of complications related to birthing him, Shake's mother Lucille named him Samhain after the ancient Gaelic festival that morphed into Halloween once the Catholic Church succeeded in rendering its raw, pagan roots meaningless. The festival marked the end of the harvest season and the start of the "darker half" of the year, and understanding this Shake had come to believe his mother foresaw the trajectory of his soul through this life while his eyes were still forming in her womb.
 
His father Howard (whose roots were Irish and Scandinavian) still lived down in Panama City, Florida in Shake's Gulf Coast birthplace. He'd never said anything to his son about Shake's Creole mother being a dabbler in voodoo, but she may have concealed her occult gifts from him. Astrology and numerology books Shake found as a boy in a box of her things had instilled in him a lifelong fascination with the hidden, mysterious symmetries of life in a way organized Christianity never had. 

Warren Meek -- Shake's black brother from a blacker mother as they liked to tell people -- was the first to point out to Shake the parallels and contrasts between his mixed-race heritage and Barack Obama's.  It was shortly after Obama's 2008 Presidential win. 

"I giveth not the faintest of shits, Shakespeare," he'd said to Shake before then, right then, and many times since.  "That nigga ain't African-American. He's American-African. An African-American could never have won the White House."  There was no point in arguing with Warren when his own observations were this impressive to him, no matter how poorly his words were thrown together. The enthusiasm in his deep reedy voice assured anyone listening that he knew he was onto something whether it made obvious sense or not. He and Shake had built a friendship based largely on their mutual distaste for oblivious, shit-talking people who could care less what the truth looks like, just so long as they can sell others a convincing description of it.  Accordingly, they took special pains not to practice any talking-out-of-the-assery in one another's presence, the sole exceptions being those times they were on the prowl for college girls during spring break at Bruiser's Tavern.

After what seemed an eternity waiting for the jail to process him out that August evening, Moze and Shake took Warren straight to the very place he'd been arrested the night before to apologize to the owner, Bruiser Noonan. Having been longtime friends him, Shake felt sure he could talk Bruiser out of banning Warren forever (again) but had told Warren to wait in the car.

Bruiser was in the storage area in the back of the bar checking supplies when Shake strolled in. "You know, I'm kinda busy right now, Shake."
 
"This won't take a second. It's about Warren."
 
"He's barred."
 
"He's really sorry."
 
"That's nice. He's still barred though."
 
"Come on, Bruiser. Don't we always make it a point to apologize whenever we fuck up on or around the premises?" said Shake.
 
Bruiser shook his head and chuckled as he looked down at the floor. "You think bringing up the fact that you fuck up often really helps your case?"
 
"No, but the fact that I got you to laugh does. And I never said 'often.' "
 
Bruiser looked up from what he was doing and looked at Shake with a sigh. "More than once is often enough for me."
 
Shake realized he must have been high on meth to think Warren would wait in the car and miss an opportunity to make things worse for himself when he came strutting into the storage room.
 
"It's not what you know, it's what you can prove you know, Shakes, and you managing to convince me I needed to prove something to you, myself, or anyone else is some impressive shit," he said as he leaned an elbow on Shake's shoulder.
 
"So you're thanking me for letting you be yourself again?  Like the Sly Stone jam?" said Shake. Bruiser gave them both a weary look.
 
"No, I'm saying you shouldn't try to convince me of things," said Warren. "I hope you two weren't back here discussing the unfortunate pissing incident."
"You make it sound like you were a bystander witnessing a motherfucking accident," said Bruiser. "Not like you behaved like a drunken asshole and pissed on the truck of a man whose sheriff father-in-law already has it in for you for fucking his other barely legal daughter. Didn't you just turn thirty-eight last week? Is the accumulating wisdom that's supposed to come with the passing years not sticking with you?"
 
"I'm sorry, Bruiser," said Warren. "And she was eighteen. But what's most important here is that I've forgiven myself."
 
"What's most important here is you giving me a reason why I shouldn't shove my foot up your ass," said Bruiser.
 
"You're obviously distraught, so I'll let that pass," said Warren.
 
Shake felt he should intervene. "So the sheriff has it in for him," he said. "Hasn't the urge to throw gasoline on a fire overcome us all one time or another, Bruiser?"
 
"You're not trying to be helpful, are you?" Warren mumbled to Shake.
 
"I told you to wait outside, you didn't, so this is the penalty for ignoring me," he said back.
 
"You know what?  Fuck it!  I don't have the time for either one of you or your comedy duo act bullshit right now," said Bruiser, poking the air.  "Just know, I'm not gonna just keep looking past your shenanigans, Warren. This is it, understand?"
 
"So we're cool?" said Warren.
 
"We are most fucking definitely not fucking cool, and have no chance of ever being cool again unless you clean up your act," said Bruiser. "The only reason I'm not barring you for life right now is that I can't stand that asshole Sennett or his father-in-law either. Now get the fuck out from back here, both of you. Go to the bar and order yourselves a drink or something. Or fucking leave altogether, I don't give a shit. I have work to do," he said, shooing them away with one hand and retrieving a broom to sweep up some broken glass with the other.
  
Mozel had already ordered and was already lining up vodka shots for them when Warren and Shake came out to the bar. 

"You were supposed to be babysitting him," Shake said to her.
 
"I had to use the restroom," said Moze. "Was I supposed to handcuff him to the steering wheel? Bruiser gonna be okay?" she said.
 
 
Warren downed one of the shots. "Bruiser 'bout got his ass fucked up talkin' shit. But yeah, he's okay," said Warren.
 
"Warren, you're a cocksucker," said Moze.
 
"Listen at ya," he said, looking at her with an amusement that resembled indigestion. "Cursed with the combination of a sailor's mouth, an Iowa Sunday School teacher's face, and a Detroit pole dancer's body."
 
"Why Detroit?" asked Shake.
 
"Detroit's broke. Bitch needs to have an extra bad body to eke out a living there."
 
"Outstanding," said Shake.
 
Moze stuck her pierced tongue out at them and scowled. "As Shake would say, please don't go fuck yourself, Warren."
 
"You guys don't have to do this, you know," said Shake.
 
"Do what?" said Moze.
 
"Do what?" said Warren.
 
"Pretend you hate each other for my benefit. I know you're fucking. Even if Warren's wife doesn't."
 
"I'm glad you know what you're talking about, Shakes, 'cause I sure as hell don't," said Warren.
 
"Maybe you don't, Warrster, but Moze can speak for herself. Do you know what I'm talking about, Moze?" Shake stooped to meet her unamused gaze directly.
 
"Everyone here knows I don't fuck black men, Shake," she said. "And it wouldn't be a married one if I started ."
 
Shake took a drink and smiled. "Racist."
 
"Don't test me," she said.
 
"Oh, he's a tester for sure," said Warren. "But he's not always so smart about knowing when to watch what he says, in the interest of his own self-preservation if nothing else."
 
"That threat lacked the subtlety I think you were aiming for," said Shake.
 
"Ain't nobody aiming for subtlety, motherfucker," said Warren. "I don't like the way you play sometimes."
 
"Chill," said Shake. "Besides, if I was going to tell Shayla about any of your extramarital exploits, I'd have already done it. Worry when you can't tell whether I'm playing or not."
 
"I ain't the one who needs to worry is what I'm saying. I giveth not the faintest of shits, Shakespeare."
 
"Why do you care who I fuck anyway?" Moze asked Shake.

"I don't know."

"You seem to dwell on it a lot," she said.

"I do. I enjoy dwelling on it."

"I'm beginning to think hanging out with you is a mistake," she said, steady in her attempt to provoke Shake.

"Moze, I only pretended to want to be your friend at first to get in your pants. I've seen that it's hopeless for a while now," said Shake. "I just haven't been able to figure out a way to let you know how little of personal interest you hold for me besides sex without hurting your feelings."

"Bullshit, you don't give a fuck about my feelings."

"Damn, I almost had you about not being able to have you."

"You're always testing people," she said. "Dick."

 

The Truth About Ruth

The heat was causing Shake to drag his ass, and he could barely appreciate the assistance provided by the all-wheel-drive lawnmower he trailed. He was hungover and extra sluggish from drinking with Moze and Warren at Bruiser's the night before. He looked around the grounds for a place to piss and maybe sneak a hit off the joint in the plastic baggie in his back pocket.
 
Marcus Lewton, a fellow landscaper on the crew, joined Shake for a smoke by the company truck during a break. Shake shared some personal observations as they passed the joint between them.

"This one time I heard Steve Harvey on the radio giving advice to a listener who had written in complaining about financial hardship," he said. "I didn't catch it all, but essentially the subject was about God and money.  Harvey, sanctimonious ass that he is, claimed that people who pray to God for rent money or gas money or bus fare or whatever aren't praying for enough."

Marcus, a tall black man with a neat beard surrounding a pleasant smile, enjoyed Shake's musings and was the type who encouraged them with easy challenges. "You don't like Steve, do you?"

"I don't like sanctimonious people, so no, I don't. Anyway, he was actually suggesting to his syndicated audience, many of them probably ignorant enough without his help, that the reason this particular caller had money trouble was that they weren't asking God for enough money.  Like God would be saying, 'Oh, I would have given you ten million if you'd been specific and asked for that much, but you only asked for ten dollars, so suffer.'"

"He said that's what God said?" asked Marcus.

"Are you stoned already? No, man, God didn't say anything," said Shake. "It's the idea that the God he believed in would let children in a family starve just because their parents hadn't bothered, or were too dumb to ask for enough money reminded me that Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh aren't the only ones out there conspiring to keep the masses unenlightened."

Shake's cell phone rang.  He recognized the number as Ruth Ann Delilo's, the mother of his child. He put the phone to his ear and stepped around to the other side of the truck for privacy. "Hey, what's up?"

"Nothing good," Ruth said without ceremony.  "Millie is acting out with me."

"Acting out what?"
 
"Alec Baldwin's motivational speech from Glengarry Glen Ross," she snapped. "What do you think, Samhain?"  She was the only person besides people in his family who called him Samhain.
 
"Sorry, didn't know you were in smartass mode, " he said. "What's up that's not good with Millie?"
 
"She's showing herself to be more and more like you so much now that it's driving me crazy," said Ruth Ann.  
 
"Yeah, I meant to apologize for that ahead of time in case it ever happened, every time we fucked in fact, but I can't remember -- didn't I do that already?"
 
"No, but you should for the rest of your life. She's so willful and rebellious, and she's somehow gotten it into her head that she's smarter than me, and therefore doesn't have to listen to anything I have to tell her."
 
"Wait, are we talking about just Millie, or like every teenager who's ever been raised by parents ever?"
 
"Well, I'm sorry I'm being too vague for you. Maybe I should call back when there's a more interesting problem to deal with like her getting pregnant by a gang member or something.  Would that be specific and interesting enough for you, Samhain?"
 
"Blood or Crip?" asked Shake.
 
"I'm hanging up now," she said before promptly doing so.

Ruth Ann Delilo had once been as inscrutable to Shake as a Steely Dan lyric. Back then he hung on her every word. She was beautiful and older, and he was a virgin willing to have her teach him everything. Unfortunately, when they first fucked he was immature, his ejaculation was premature, and she never had sex with him again. Premature or not, one ejaculation was all it took to produce Millie of course, and Shake could enumerate incidents from his life far more embarrassing and pointless than the one which resulted in his becoming a father.

After work, Shake pulled his Jeep to the Burger King drive-thru intercom to order something.

"Welcome to Burger King, would you like to try our new rapist burger?" said the unenthused female voice coming from the speaker.

"Did you just say 'rapist burger'?" he asked.
 
"Excuse me?" the voice asked in turn.
 
Shake assumed he'd misheard and proceeded.  "Nevermind. Can I get a Whopper Value Meal?"
 
She relayed the price and instructed him to pull to the next window.  As he did, he noticed a half-full Wendy's paper soda cup, probably from lunch the day before, in the back center cup holder. He picked it up and looked around the lot for a trash receptacle but couldn't spot one. He got to the window and paid for the food before presenting the Wendy's cup.  "Could you toss this for me?" 
 
"No, sir, I'm sorry," she said with genuine sorrow, but it probably had less to do with the Wendy's cup, and more to do with regret over the poor life choices that had landed her in this shitty job, poisoning apathetically willing customers with nutritionless-but-FDA-sanctioned "food". Sorrow over poor life choices was a sorrow Shake knew well.
 
He stared at her, waiting for some further explanation. She stared back, waiting for him to drive away. He did, but not before chucking the cup out the passenger side window and onto their parking lot.
 
"Sir, you can't do that," she said.
 
He took the Jeep gear out of park. "It's okay, I don't work here." 
 
As Shake pulled out of the fast food lot his cell phone rang again. It was Ruth Ann calling him back.
 
"Are you ready to talk seriously yet, Samhain?"  she said like the mother he never wanted but wouldn't have minded banging at least once more.
 
"No, but I might be willing to talk less, and listen seriously between making wiseass remarks."
 
"Good enough," she said. "Your daughter is out of control, and you're the only one I know she'll listen to. Will you talk to her after you come pick her up tonight?"
 
"I always talk to her when we're together for the weekend. But I can't imagine what it is you want me to say to her.  Her grades are still good, last I heard, right?"
 
"Yes, her grades are fine, but her utter lack of respect for me isn't something I think I should have to live with. Would you want to live with it?"
 
"Would I want to live with Millie disrespecting me?  No," said Shake. "Do I live with the undisguised lack of respect you've always shown me? Yes."
 
Ruth Ann sighed. "I do respect you, Samhain, in some respects. You have a good mind. What I do not respect is how little you've accomplished with it. You spend all your time partying with that black militant and underage tramp..."
 
" 'Black militant'?  What, like he's Bobby Seale now or something?  And Mozel Nash is well past the age she was when you first met her, Ruth."
 
"I'm not talking about the legality of her age, I'm talking about how much lower it is than yours."
 
"Well, maybe we should concentrate on you only being Millie's mother for now, and see about you taking the place of my dead one later."
 
"Look, just talk to Millie, Samhain, please. I've accepted the reality of my having to fight with you, but accepting it with Millicent too would just be too much for me to take."
 
"You don't have to fight with me. I'll have a talk with her."
 
"Thank you," she said and hung up.
   
 

Millicent Shake

Millicent Shake had recently pledged her eternal love and devotion at fifteen years of age to the late and eternally-deceased Kurt Cobain. She hadn't even been conceived when he'd made the smack-addled decision to blow his pretty face off, but as with the girls who fawned over Jim Morrison's corpse when Sam Shake was in high school, death by itself didn't matter. If anything, the devotion was intensified since there was no chance the object of devotion could betray that devotion by becoming an old, fat relic. Icons like Elvis and Michael Jackson checked out too late for that particular kind of celebrity corpse worship. Flames like Cobain's were extinguished at the romantic height of youthful possibility, and few things get a female teenager's core tinglier than a sensitive outcast "dying for his art."
  
On the drive back from Ruth Ann's house, as sensitively as possible, Shake broached the topic of Millie's purported disrespect towards Ruth Ann. Shake was never one to sensitively broach any topic, but with Millie he'd learned it was a good idea.
   
"What's going on between you and your mother?" he said.
 
"Strange things," said Millie.
 
"Strange like how?"
 
"Like she would rather I lie to her and say I cleaned the bathroom while she was gone without her asking, just to supply evidence that I seek her approval. Which I don't. Isn't that strange, Father?" said Millie.
 
"That you don't seek her approval?"
 
"That she would rather I lie, Father."
 
"You did want her approval at one time," said Shake. "Whether you do anymore is up for debate. Why do you always call me 'Father'?  Other girls call their fathers 'Dad' or 'Daddy'."
 
"Do you want me to be like other girls?  You've always said you didn't."
 
"I want you to genuinely be yourself, sure, but I'm getting into middle age, and a nearly grown woman calling me 'Father' all the time is an unwelcome reminder of that."
 
"You've always said you don't like to delude yourself," she said.
 
"Yes, that's right.  But I do it sometimes anyway.  We all do."
 
"So now you're telling me self-delusion is an unavoidable part of human behavior?" She was so much like him Shake thought.
 
"I'm telling you that sometimes you should do things that are important to someone you care about even if they don't make sense to you. Even if you both know it's bullshit. It's not an unavoidable human behavior, but it's characteristic of empathic human behavior.  Didn't I also always teach you to have empathy for other people?"
 
"Yes, Father. All right, I'll be complicit in pointless self-delusion with Mother. But I reserve the right to secretly condemn it as strange."
 
"I would never expect anything less, Daughter."
 
Millie smiled at Shake and a wave of love in him crashed on a shore of realization. It wasn't a new conviction that he'd kill any man who ever hurt, or tried to hurt her. He'd always cherished her and their bonds of mutual reception, but knowing too well the abundance of potential male treachery that awaits in the future of any beautiful young woman made him now dread the pubescent blossoming he could no longer ignore in her. 
 
"I'm in love with Kurt Cobain," said Millie, and Shake welcomed this distraction to his newfound dread. He would need more time to cope.
  
"I know. Your mother told me. It's another one of the things she wanted me to talk to you about."
 
"See? That conniving bitch," she said. 
 
"Please don't talk that way about her," said Shake.
 
"She doesn't agree with something I tell her, fails to twist my mind her way, and then resorts to roping you into the situation to have a supposedly innocent talk with me," she said.
 
"Well, actually, she doesn't rope me into anything. She and I have disagreed over how to raise you plenty, even if we haven't always made you aware it for the sake of putting up a united front," he said. "If I didn't agree with your mother when she told me that you've not been showing her proper respect, then believe me, we wouldn't be talking about it.  Now, what makes you think you love Kurt Cobain?"
 
"I had a dream I was him in Aberdeen, getting picked on by the jocks and the hicks in his high school. And then I was onstage singing and playing to the same crowd of bullies and indifferent teachers. 'God is gay' was spray-painted on a wall behind me and Dave and Krist," she said. "When I woke up, I decided I loved him. He was a feminist, you know, so in touch with the feminine side of himself and so passionate. So much more a real man than any of the guys who come on to me at school."
 
"At least none of them have been dead a half-decade longer than you've been alive."
 
"Father, there's more to love than life or death."
 
"You got wisdom to share? Something to teach me? Of course, now I want to know about the guys coming on to you in school.  And I wish I didn't want to know, but I do."
 
"I haven't had sex yet if that's what you're worried about."
 
"You zoomed way past anything I was worried about, but thanks for giving me a mini-stroke with that image," said Shake.
 
 Millie laughed magnificently.     
 
               

Mozel at Work

The Kush Mart crowd was heaviest around the first of the month and Moze hadn't had a break since her shift started. The customer she was helping seemed like he was only partially interested in knowing all the different flavors of cannabis oil he'd asked her to describe from the display case. "And what's that one like? How about this one? Have you tried it?" Lots of men pretended either to care about or not know things just to have an excuse to ogle her for as long as possible. It happened to all the girls who worked there, but it only pissed her off when they didn't buy anything.

This guy here was around Shake's age she figured, and just as unrepentantly flirtatious, but nowhere near as cute or unflappable. He probably thought he seemed less eager than he was coming across, fumbling to spark something with her. Moze looked at his missing teeth and wondered what else he'd been fooling himself about? Did he know that his breath smelled like wet cardboard for instance? Was he aware that he kept letting his eyes linger on the crotch of her jeans instead of the oil cartridge samples in her hands? Did he think if he concentrated hard enough he could will her to a denim-soaking orgasm? 

"You got a boyfriend?" he asked, apparently done with being indirect.

Moze smiled her best customer service smile. "I'm divorced, actually."

"Really? You look so young."

"Thanks, I've heard it ages you."

"I mean, you really look good," he said. "Has it been hard getting back into the dating scene?"

"Getting back into the dating scene is what led to my divorce, actually."

The customer laughed and fully exposed the vacancies in his mouth. "A girl who doesn't like to be tied down. I get it."

"Do you? How often?"

He laughed again, harder. "And a sense of humor too. I think I'm falling in love."

"That would be a mistake," said Moze. "Can I ring you up now?"

"Only if I can ring you first."

"I meant the merchandise."

"I know, I'm just having some fun," he said. "Seriously though --"

"Seriously though, I'm not interested. And I really have to get back to work if you're not buying something."

Moze watched the man's smile collapse and took no real joy in it.

"Wow," he said.

"I really am flattered," she lied reflexively, "but I'm actually seeing someone right now, and this time I'm hoping to make it work."

"I don't believe you," the customer said without discernible emotion.

"You don't believe I'm seeing someone or you don't believe how much of a bitch I'm being?"

"I don't believe you're seeing someone," he said. "Not exclusively."

"Hmm. Well, I am. He's here right now in fact."

Moze waved towards the shop entrance. The customer turned to see Shake entering with Warren, both of them waving back.

The customer looked back at Moze. "I should've pegged you as a nigger lover," he said. Moze knew this bigot had thought she meant Warren instead of Shake, whose African heritage wasn't as obvious. 

"Once you go black you'll never fuck a needle-dicked white man again they say," said Moze with swift disdain. "Or something like that. You might wanna be gone by the time he hears what you just said to me."

The customer sneered and gave Moze another head-to-toe appraisal. "What a waste," he said before walking off in the direction Shake and Warren were coming. He gave Warren an equally nasty sneer as they passed each other. Not one to leave nastiness unreciprocated, Warren made a quick move in a feigned attack towards the man, as an NBA player might do a basketball pump fake. The man hastened his exit. Warren strutted the rest of the way over to Moze with a satisfied smile.

"Fuck was his issue?" Shake asked an amused-looking Moze.

"Yes, fuck was his issue. Basically the same issue as every other guy who comes in here wanting more than something to get them high," she said.

"Well the only fuck he was getting from here was fucked up," said Warren.

Moze looked at Shake. "I told him I was seeing you. I was afraid I was going to have to kiss you or something in front of him to prove it."

"You better be afraid," said Shake. 

"Don't you be creepy too," she said. "I still got the guy's sleaze all in my hair."

"But I lived and died ten thousand lives on a thousand different worlds to get to you," said Shake. "Don't you know that?"

Moze looked at him with wonder like she'd never seen him before. Shake looked at her like he realized he'd said something truer than he'd planned on saying. Warren felt like an obscene witness to this intimacy.

"Hey man, I'm gonna go check out the water bongs," he told Shake.

Moze and Shake kept staring at each other in silence as Warren walked away. Shake began to feel a panic creeping up. Why wasn't she saying anything? 

"That's the loveliest thing you've ever said to me," she said. "And I don't even know what you're talking about."

Out of habit, Shake's first impulse was to say something to puncture the tension of the moment. Instead, he reached his fingers out and brushed Moze's hair behind one of her ears like it was in the way of something, letting his hand linger. Her fearless antifreeze blue pierced him.

"I bet I could get you to let me put my toes in your mouth," she said out of nowhere and laughed.

"Not if you wanted to keep them you wouldn't."

Moze glanced around her and gently moved Shake's hand away from her face, abruptly cognizant that they were in a crowded shop. "I got a break coming up," she said. "You and Warren wanna go to my car and get high?"

"You think Warren is gonna protect you from me?" Shake felt much more at ease playing the predator than the poet.

"No, I think my can of pepper spray and the fact that's it's broad daylight outside will."

A short time later, Moze, Shake, and Warren were passing around and taking hits off a dab pen in Moze's Nissan Sentra. Shake, very stoned, was sitting in the passenger seat beside Moze about to describe a dream he'd had recently.

"So, I was in Greenwich Village, circa 1961. I was in a flat full of anonymous bohemians talking to Bob Dylan. He had a book in his hands he was showing me, and told me in that nasal voice that he was going to give it to me but that my spirit was rotten or lousy or something. Next thing I recall, we all were huddled around the book and one of the bohemians said that my mind bums. As in it bummed him out. In an attempt to impress them, especially Dylan, I said that my mind booms. My mind boogies. My mind bungles, blurts, and boggles. But that mostly it burns," he said.

"Why couldn't you have dreamed you was in the Bronx in the  mid-1970s at a Black Spades neighborhood hip-hop block party?" said Warren.

"Why couldn't I have been born able to poop diamonds?" Shake asked in turn. "I don't know. I'm not in charge of that shit. Can I finish? Anyway, next thing I remember is looking out the window and seeing Elvis Presley sashaying down Houston Street, singing a song to phantom music that sounded more like one of his gaudy movie songs than one of his early rock'n'roll hits.  It doesn't exist in reality so it must have been composed in my subconscious. He was singing, in that inimitable way of his: 'Down the street/ Down the street/ We're all gonna go where the jumpin' people meet' over and over. A long line of dancing fools had already formed and were trailing behind him as he went, and near the end of the line, somehow, was Dylan. The last thing I remember is rushing down to the street to follow them."

"Wow," said Moze after a silence, "I'm glad I listened to that all the way through to the end. It wasn't pointless at all."

"Since when do dreams have to have a point?" said Shake. "Can't the juxtaposition of images and people be interesting enough by themselves?"

"If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that, I'd be thanking you for a nickel right now. Oh yeah, juxtapositions. Those are always interesting. How could I have missed that?" said Moze.

"Yeah," said Warren, "how could she have missed that, Shakes?"

"Don't help," Shake said to Warren.

Moze checked her iPhone after getting a text. "Well, what do you know? I got a friend request on Facebook from Jonny Barber," she said. 

"Jonathan? The guy who works the door at Kush Mart?" asked Shake.

"Yeah, Jonny," she said, still looking down at her phone. Shake could see she had a little smile.

"He's cool," said Shake. "Do you know if he still has a girlfriend?" 

"Why? Are you looking to date him?" said Moze.

Warren leaned in the backseat with the dub pen and laughed out a plume of smoke.

"Maybe," said Shake. "He's cute, isn't he?"

"Very," said Moze. She could feel Shake's stare as she thumbed through her Facebook newsfeed. She relished the way he stifled his jealousy. "I think he wants to fuck me."

"What gave it away?" said Shake. "Him having a dick?"

Moze looked up from her phone and steered her tiny smile in Shake's direction. "Not everyone with a dick wants to fuck me," she said. "Warren doesn't want to fuck me, do you, Warren?"

"Naw, you a nasty bitch," said Warren. 

"How sweet," said Moze. 

"All you fuck are nasty bitches," Shake countered.

"Don't mean I can't play hard to get, motherfucker," said Warren.

"What nasty bitch in her right mind could resist him?" said Moze.

Shake took a minute to admire Moze's cool demeanor. Was it a facade?  In the smoky silence of the car, she was a sprite.

"It's snowing," said Warren. Everyone looked out to see snowflakes leisurely descend the way raindrops never do. Moze got out of the car and raised her face to the sky. Shake grabbed her phone off the seat and snapped a picture of her standing in the snowfall from behind. She turned and made a face at him and he snapped that too.

Warren watched them both from the backseat. He watched Moze twirl and taste snowflakes. He said only loud enough for Shake to hear, "Why don't you give up on her?"

Shake's smile as he watched Moze faded. He decided not to appear puzzled as he turned to Warren. "What do you want me to tell you?"

Warren smiled with stoned eyes. "I want you to tell me the truth, brutha."

"How about I let you know when I figure it out?"

"You can bullshit me, but you best not be bullshitting yourself."

Now Shake did look puzzled. "Meaning?"

"Meaning she's divorced, childless, and still well in her prime," said Warren. "How long do you expect her to wait for you to bridge her moat?"

Shake laughed. "Bridge her moat? You really need to get a grip."

"Naw, you need to get a grip before she slips outta reach. I don't know what your game is, but this is as easy as she's gonna make it for you. You fuck around and lose her interest, and it'll be Jonny reaping her glories."

"She's too religious for me," said Shake.

"That excuse only works with high school virgins, Shakes. That ain't Moze," said Warren.

"I know, but her moat has crocodiles in it."

"Whatever, fool. Go ahead, miss your chance. I'll be sad for you, but only for a respectable amount of time before I try to hit it myself. And you know I'll try."

"Yeah, because you're a fucker," said Shake.

"Always here to provide motivation," said Warren as they both watched Moze ballerina balance on her toes.

 

Dinner at Robert Nash's

The screen of Shake's laptop displayed the picture of Moze in the snow he'd taken behind the Kush Mart the day before. The corner of her mouth twisted open in a comic snarl titillated and startled him in a foreign way. Yes, he could see she was being a goof, but there was a questioning, an exasperation conveyed in her look. It said what are you waiting for? What more do you need to be certain of? What makes you think you have no time limit with me? The snowflakes in and around her hair were a taunting constellation.

He leaned back in his computer desk chair and twisted the cap off the Red Stripe he'd just retrieved from the fridge. Scattered caps and four empty bottles lay around his feet on the carpet. Warren's words of advice were still bouncing around his head. If it was advice. Maybe he'd only been probing as a way to get back at Shake for giving him shit about his philandering. In any case, Warren was right. What was it about Moze that made it so hard to know where things stood? He wanted her but only on certain terms. He wanted her on the same terms he'd had every other woman in his life, but no other woman ever had him thinking this seriously about changing those terms.   

The next day Shake went to meet Moze at her father's trailer for dinner. It promised to be a dismal affair. Shake had met Mr. Nash before, and although he found Moze's father to have a wicked sense of humor akin to his own, he also saw how miserly he was with love and approval for Moze. It wasn't the first time Moze had asked him to dinner with her father to be an emotional ally, but this time she invited Warren to tag along too. Shake couldn't decide if that was a good or bad idea.

Robert Nash answered the door in his pajamas. At least they looked like pajamas to Shake and Warren. He hadn't bothered to shave either.

"Is Mozel here yet?" Shake asked him.

"She's been the one inside cooking dinner, so what do you think?" said Robert. " Are you drunk?"

"I don't think so," said Shake. "This is my friend, Warren."

Warren shook Robert's hand. "Good to meet you."

Robert hadn't taken his attention off Shake. "You seem drunk," he said.

"I'm a little drunk," said Shake. "Aren't you?"

"Yeah, and I'm not looking for competition," said Robert. "Keep a civil tongue."

Shake nodded. He didn't know what the old drunk bastard was talking about, but he could see that he was itching for a fight. Robert stepped aside to let them enter the trailer and followed behind them to the dining room. Moze was setting the table. She had a lavender ribbon in her hair.

Her tense expression relaxed when she looked up and saw her guests entering. "Hey guys," she said. "Just have a seat here at the table. The food's ready, I just have to put on some finishing touches before I bring out our plates."

"Don't worry about me," said Warren. "I can fix my own plate."

"Have a seat, gentlemen," said Robert. It was his way of telling Warren that no guests would be helping themselves to anything here.

The meal Moze had prepared of Cornish hens, sweet potatoes, quinoa with baby portabella mushrooms, broccoli, and stevia-sweetened, iced green tea proceeded without much conversation at first. Robert watched Shake and Moze exchange smiles and silent looks.

"Are you two actually an item yet, or are you still such good friends you haven't noticed that you're different sexes yet?" Robert asked them bluntly. 

"Would you want to know if we were, Daddy?" Moze asked in turn. "I don't remember you being too thrilled when you found out Ethan and I were dating."

"I wasn't," said Robert. "And seeing as you're divorced from him now, my instincts couldn't have been too terrible."

"I actually have noticed your daughter's sex, Mr. Nash," said Shake.

"Has she noticed yours?" said Robert.

Warren nearly choked on his hen laughing at this.

"Daddy, be nice," said Moze. "And since you brought up the subject, I suppose now's a good a time as any to tell you I have a date with someone soon."

Shake looked up and saw Warren staring straight at him to gauge his reaction.

"His name is Jonny Barber," said Moze to her father. "He works at the Kush Mart with me."

"Great," said Robert. "Another stoner."

"Just because someone works at a marijuana dispensary doesn't mean they're a stoner, Daddy. Not all bartenders are drunks. I work there and I'm not a stoner."

"So you say," said Robert. 

"I'm not," said Moze.

Shake and Warren exchanged another look, checking to make sure the other one was hearing her outrageous lie.

"I can pretend I don't know things too I guess," said Robert.

Moze raised her hands as if to push the subject away. "Anyway, now you know, and I'm changing the subject." She looked to Shake. "The sermon this morning at our church touched on some points I wished you'd been there to hear, Shake."

This time it was Robert laughing and nearly choking on his food.

"What, Daddy?" said Moze. "Didn't you always teach me to spread God's message to those in most need of it?"

Robert put on his serious face. "Baby girl, I know you're right. Forgive me. Sometimes I need reminding that no man is beyond salvation. Even this one here," he said, gesturing to Shake.

"Fine, tell me what I should have been there to hear," Shake said to Moze.

Moze was delighted to get the go-ahead to share. "Okay, well remember when you said you led that poor Mormon girl astray and polluted her mind with heresies?"

"I said that?"

"No, but that's what you did."

Robert Nash had raised his daughter to be as devout a Baptist as he himself was -- told her that his faith in God was what had brought him safely through two tours of Vietnam fifteen years before her birth. He saw to it that she attended Sunday services regularly, feared the paradox of God's merciful wrath, and rejoiced in the symbolic drinking of a dead martyr's blood. But as is typical in many devoutly Christian homes, the image projected to the world fell far short of their domestic reality. 

Robert's PTSD-aggravated alcoholism and occasional drunken episodes of marital rape drove Moze's mother to leave the two of them when Moze was nine. That she left her only daughter behind with him to follow her photojournalist career as far away as it could get her (Indonesia was what Moze told Shake) was only mitigated by the fact she probably knew as well as anyone that Mozel was his only remaining reason to keep on living.

"Proverbs 21:16 says: 'A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead.'  That was one of the verses the preacher cited," said Moze. "'But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea' was the other.  Matthew 18:6."

"You didn't get too excited thinking of me when you heard that, did you?" said Shake. "Didn't soil yourself?"

"I don't want you to see you condemned to that. If I didn't care, I wouldn't say anything."

Warren looked at Shake. "You never told me nothing about no Mormon girl, Shakes."

"It was actually way less sordid than Moze here is making it out to be," said Shake. "I saw it as more as a meeting of the minds as well as the spirit."

"If only that was all that ended up meeting between you," said Moze. 

"I'm not ashamed of anything I did."

"And therein lies the problem."

"I don't have a problem."

"All right, you two, enough," said Robert. "Mozel, you know I can't stand hypocrisy. All those strict curfews I set for you as a teenager weren't always for the reasons I may have told you."

Mozel looked mortified. "Well. Daddy, if you have something to say, don't let being half drunk make you only half forthcoming with it."

"Don't try me, girl."

"You don't think I'm accustomed to you embarrassing me in front of other people by now?" 

Warren and Shake sat in expectant silence -- frozen except for their eyes darting between Moze and her father.

Robert sat up in his chair. He wiped his mouth with a napkin as he finished chewing a mouthful of food. He matched Moze's challenging stare with a solemn one. "You don't think I knew what you were doing all those nights you were supposed to be sleeping over at your girlfriends' houses? That I didn't know all those phone calls to the house from boys asking for you weren't just about missed homework assignments? You were always a loose girl, and I put up with it because I know you got it honestly from your mother. But eventually, the idea of you winding up pregnant by some hapless loser became too much to bear for me, so I gave you a curfew and made sure to restrict your social activities outside of the house."

Moze by this point was livid but composed. She'd gotten what she asked for. "See?" she said to Robert. "Doesn't that feel better to get it all out and vomit all over me in front of my friends?"

Robert went back to eating silently.

 

The Birthday Party

Shake stopped brushing his teeth and left the faucet running in his bathroom to go jot something down. A large cocktail napkin he found in one of his jacket pockets had "Rebecca" and a phone number written in lipstick on it. Unable to match a face in his memory to the name, he quickly gave up trying. On the other side he wrote:

  A crease in the fabric of time and space
  Through which my mind can see your face
  A memory from a life far past
  We met right here again at last 
  I sense the battles you fought with me
  To set ourselves and others free
  Dark lights, heavy softs
 
He was stuck. On her. Moreso now that she was dating Jonny regularly. Moze had been dating him for about a month and they were fifteen days shy of reaching their first Valentine's Day as a couple. Shake only knew this because Moze wouldn't shut up with her countdowning whenever he saw her. It had been a strain pretending that being constantly alerted as to the state of her romance didn't bother him, but strain he did, if only because he wasn't sure whether this was a contest they were having. After all, what made her think he cared about her happiness with another man when Shake's sexual harassment of her was ongoing? To Moze, it was actually attempted sexual harassment since she claimed to be immune to his innuendos. This was the only contest he'd been sure they were in together. He went back to brushing his teeth.
 
Jonny Barber was an amiable fellow and Shake liked him, so when Jonny invited Shake to his birthday celebration at Bruiser's Tavern he accepted. Moze would be there too of course, so Shake really thought maybe he should take a date. He stopped brushing went back to the napkin with Rebecca's number on it. He really wished he could remember if she was hot.
 
Moze and Jonny were at the bar with Warren and Shayla Meek when Shake entered Bruiser's with his date. Shake saw Moze's eyes come straight to him but they gave up nothing. 
 
"Everyone, this is my date Rebecca," said Shake. "Rebecca, these are my friends Warren and Shayla and Mozel and Jonny."
 
Rebecca, a swarthy woman whose beauty made her look like a Mediterranean version of Moze, gave Shake's friends a polite smile.
 
"Where did you two meet?" asked Moze.
 
"He was my karaoke partner at Madison Avenue Pub," said Rebecca. "We did a duet on 'You're All I Need To Get By' by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell."
 
Shake could see Moze sizing Rebecca up but couldn't tell if she was jealous. "Yeah, we bonded over a classic," he said.
 
"Actually, it was last summer," said Rebecca. "I didn't even remember giving him my number until he called the other night. Actually, I didn't remember anything about that night I was so drunk, not even him. It took us a good ten minutes to reconstruct the events over the phone."
 
Shake didn't like seeing the delight Moze took in hearing that. It was all coming off like he'd scrambled to get a date just so he wouldn't be alone while Moze was with Jonny. He minded less it being true than it being obvious.
 
"It's nice of you to blame the alcohol on Shake's being so forgettable," said Moze with gleeful relish. "It's also nice of you to overlook that and agree to a date with him anyway."
 
Rebecca looked amused but seemed to check Shake's reaction before daring to laugh aloud.
 
"She only says discouraging things because she wants me for herself," Shake told Rebecca while looking straight into Moze's smirk. "But I'm a one-woman man and she doesn't want to be mutually exclusive. Or is that mutually inclusive? I don't know. Anyway, she's a slut."
 
"See how much fun they have, Rebecca?" said Warren, the only other person privy to the conversation who didn't look uncertain about how serious it was.
 
"Yeah, they're like this all the time," said Jonny in a way that sounded vaguely like a reassurance to both Rebecca and himself.
 
"Happy birthday, Jonny," said Shake. 
 
"Thanks, Shake," said Jonny.
 
Shayla's look of uncertainty was tinged with a distracted impatience. "Warren, are you gonna get me a drink or not?"
 
Moze advanced abruptly, guiding Shake some distance away from the others by the elbow. She stopped and faced him with a smile. "Hey, I don't mind you calling me a slut, but you will not embarrass me in front of my boyfriend again."
 
"You don't mind me calling you a slut unless it's in front of your boyfriend?"
 
"You're hopeless, I'm not lying to myself about that anymore," said Moze. "I have to fight the urge to stomp your face in more often than you probably want to know."
 
"No, I want to know. How often?"
 
"Look, I just want to make sure Jonny has a good time on his birthday."
 
"Really? How often do you make sure Jonny has a good time?" asked Shake.
 
"More times than you probably want to know."
 
"Is it really any of my business? Maybe you should have said that instead."
 
"You already know it's none of your business, but you don't care because jealousy is eating you from the inside out."
 
She said it in a teasing way, but her face took on concern when she saw Shake flinch. He was trying not to look stung, but he was, and not because what she said wasn't true. Moze wasn't used to seeing him so unable to deflect and didn't take as much pleasure in it as she imagined she would.
 
Later, Shake was drinking with Jonny beside the jukebox. They watched Shayla and Moze dancing with Warren to the blistering "Get On Top" by Tim Buckley. Moze was crouching in her slinky dress, thrusting her ass and straddling one of Warren's legs while Shayla danced behind him. Shake peeked over at Jonny and saw that he was transfixed by her raunchy display.
 
"Nice preview of your birthday present," Shake said to Jonny.
 
Jonny looked at Shake. "Can I share something with you in confidence?" 
 
"What's that?" said Shake.
 
"Mozel and I haven't had sex yet."
 
"You're fucking with me. You two aren't fucking?"
 
"Don't get me wrong," said Jonny, "we make out and do oral sex and stuff. But when it comes to intercourse, she says she wants us to wait."
 
"Wait for what?"
 
"I dunno. Marriage I guess."
 
"And you don't have a problem with that?" asked Shake.
 
Jonny laughed. "I told her I didn't. You got any advice for me?"
 
"Me? What can I tell you?"
 
"Well, you know her better than I do. She seems to let you get away with saying a lot of things I'd never have the nerve to say to her," said Jonny. "I get the idea that you two have a special connection."
 
"I've known her since she was a teenager but I don't know how special our connection is," said Shake.
 
"No, really. She holds you in high regard. Talks about you constantly," said Jonny.
 
"That must get annoying."
 
"Fuckin' right," Jonny quickly affirmed. "If I didn't already know what good friends she is with you I'd be jealous."
 
"Well, my advice is to leave things between you in hand-job mode for the time being. You're bound to catch her in the right mood one night," said Shake. "She tell you she wanted to wait for religious reasons?"
 
"See, how would you know that?" said Jonny. "Yeah, something about not going into her first marriage properly blessed. I'd ask her how me eating her out and her blowing me is any more acceptable to God than us having sex, but I'm afraid she'd cut those things out too."
 
"I see your dilemma."
 
Shake's vodka-lubricated mood got a boost from the news that Moze's sex life with Jonny wasn't what she'd made it out to be. Moze began to look puzzled by the grin Shake returned whenever she looked his way throughout the night. She looked puzzled by it from the dancefloor. She looked puzzled by it on her way to the ladie's room. She looked puzzled by it as she stood by Shake at the bar ordering a drink. She was out slow-dancing with Jonny to "Adore" by Prince when she caught Shake's inscrutable grin again. She came straight for him at the bar when the song ended as Jonny ran for the men's room, presumably because he either had to pee or puke really badly.
 
"How excruciating it must have been to be a boy at a junior high dance trying to stay contained slow dancing with you," said Shake as Moze approached.
 
"Why imagine when you can find out for yourself?" said Moze. She took Shake by the hand as another slowish song -- "Bad" by Wale and Rihanna -- started playing. "Let's see how you do containing yourself."
 
Shake followed her out to the dancefloor and wobbled as she began to move on him like a dancer in a strip club. He felt steady enough to do no more than sway to the music as Moze slithered and coiled before him. She may have not known why he'd been grinning, but she knew the means to rattle him were in her arsenal. Her antifreeze eyes were focused and slow to blink. Her skin glistened in the club lights. Her mouth was open to taste when it wasn't forming the words Rihanna was singing ("I never made love/.... But I sure know how to fuck"). She put her hands on Shake's shoulders but left an inch between the rest of their bodies. Not much space for heat to escape.
 
Over by the bar, Rebecca watched what Moze was doing and couldn't help but see it as a brazen marking of territory. Already weary of not being her date's focus of attention for most of the night, she finished her drink and headed for the nearest exit. 
 
"I think your date's had it with you," Moze said to Shake nonchalantly, continuing to dance.
 
Shake turned just in time to see Rebecca leaving out the door. "Well fuck," he said. "Guess I had that coming."
 
"Guess you did," said Moze, unsympathetic. "Like me, she was probably wondering why you were grinning at me all night."
 
Shake grinned at her.
 
By the time Jonny emerged from the restroom Moze was right outside the door waiting to let him have it. "Why did you tell Shake we're not having sex?" she demanded.
 
Jonny was well drunk by now. "I just puked," he said.
 
"Did you hear what I said? I asked you why you volunteered details of our sex life to a virtual stranger?"
 
Seeing that the sympathy he sought was not forthcoming, Jonny tried not to say anything that would get Moze more pissed. "A stranger?" he said when nothing better came to him.
 
"Well, he's practically a stranger to you," said Moze, "and regardless of my relationship with him, you shouldn't assume that I share every personal detail of my life."
 
"You're right, I'm sorry. I don't know why I told him. I guess I thought he might be able to help or something."
 
"Help with what? With you fucking me?"
 
At this point Shake walked over. He could see from their body language across the bar that Jonny was under attack. "It wasn't like he meant for you to find out," Shake said to Moze. "That's entirely my fault. I should never have said anything."
 
Moze answered without taking her focus off poor Jonny. "Fuck you, Shake, you couldn't wait to tell me what he told you. Lurking around wearing that stupid grin half the night."
 
"You're right," said Shake. "I'm not as sorry as I should be."
 
Moze looked at Shake. "What are you trying to do?"
 
"Get you to take it easy on Jonny."
 
"No, I mean what are you trying to do to me?" said Moze. "Why would you make me wanna murder my boyfriend on his birthday?"
 
"I feel sick again," said Jonny before spinning back into the men's room.
 
"Can I talk to you outside?" Moze said to Shake.
 
In the parking lot Moze had her arms crossed, fuming in silence as Shake caught up to where she stood. After a minute of waiting for her to say something, Shake began to chuckle. This only made her angrier and she began slapping him on his arms. "Stop laughing," she said. "Just stop it."
 
"Did you call me out here just to kick my ass or did you want to talk?" said Shake.
 
"I want to know what you're doing," she said.
 
"You want to know what I'm doing? I'm freezing my ass off is what I'm doing. Waiting for you to tell me whatever it is you have to tell me."
 
"No, you're the one who has to tell me something," said Moze. "Tell me what it is you want from me, Shake. I'm tired of playing games with you."
 
"I am too drunk for this shit right now, Moze."
 
"Tough. If you're sober enough to play games, you're sober enough to tell me what you want."
 
"Am I supposed to believe you don't know I wanna sleep with you? Have I made that a secret?"
 
"I'd have to be pretty stupid not to know that. Come on, this is boring. What do you really want?"
 
"I really don't know what you mean," said Shake.
 
"You don't? Okay, let me lay out a breadcrumb trail for you," said Moze. "You have insinuated yourself into my life. The only man I'm closer to is my father. You do this thing where you run hot and then you retreat. Like you're afraid to open a door. You knock, I answer, and you're gone."
 
"I'm not afraid of anything. And when have you ever answered?"
 
"I'm answering now, Shake. Come in or get the fuck off my property."
 
Her challenge hung in the air as she held a defiant stance. Shake laughed and shook his head.
 
"I love..... the way you dance," he said before turning to go back into Bruiser's. Moze yanked him back around by the sleeve and pushed her lips up against his fervently. Unprepared, Shake had no time to react before she pulled away.
 
"I don't want you around me anymore, Shake," said Moze. It was Shake's turn to intercept when she went to walk away. He seized her by the shoulders and reclaimed her errant kiss. He felt her relax at first but soon try to pull away again. Shake wouldn't let go, she'd lit his fuse. Her resistance gained force and caused Shake to stumble back a few drunken steps when he released her. "You've had all your chances," said Moze. "I have to get on with my life."
 
Shake felt his blood retreat from the good places as he watched her walk off.
 
 

The Breakup

All his life it seemed, Shake had been looking for a good party. When Facebook came along he found a place where the parade of conversations never ended, and along with good music, food, and drink, conversation was all any good party required. Conversations at a combined family-and-high-school reunion that never ends. The party can last as long as you can. Sure, folks will drop out in droves as the wee small hours grow wee-er and smaller, but there always remained -- in Shake's friends list at least -- a few other insomniacs willing to stick around and debate politics, or talk about sex, or both.    Ruth Ann, as it turned out, was one of those friends.
 
He saw the green dot that indicated online availability by her name in the bottom right corner of his laptop screen and clicked to open a dialog box.
 
"Hey, see you're still up," he said to her in the message.
 
"Thank you for talking to Millie," she typed back.
 
"You shouldn't feel like you have to thank me for talking to my own daughter."
 
"No, I guess not."
 
"You're inexplicable to me, Ruth Ann."
 
"Is that the prelude to a compliment or a condemnation?  I can never tell with you."
 
"What right would I have to condemn you when you're the stable influence in Millie's life, and I've only really ever been good for getting her charged up and crazed and defiant? The universe matched our gametes perfectly, even if it couldn't get our hearts and minds to sync."
 
"You think so, huh?"
 
"You don't?"
 
"I don't know what I think. It's three in the morning."
 
"It was around three in the morning the first time we made love. The only time."
 
Shake had to endure a sizable pause before her reply appeared on the screen.
 
"Samhain, have you been drinking?"
 
"What difference does it make?"
 
"Trust me, it makes all the difference in the world."
 
"I can remember what it felt like to be inside of you. What if I told you I wanted to fuck you now?"
 
"I'd swoon and fall out of my chair. What do you think?"
 
"I think sometimes you want to fuck me too."
 
"Well, at least you have that reassurance to keep you warm at night. Getting drunk and getting on Facebook to tell me you want to fuck me doesn't make you brave, Samhain, but it does make you unimaginative. Do you ever cease with the psychological jujitsu?"
 
"I never get tired of trying to use your own weight against you and flip you onto your back if that's what you mean, no."
 
"I'm going to try to forget this conversation ever happened and go to sleep now.  Millie has a doctor's appointment early in the morning."
 
"Goodnight, Ruth Ann."
 
"Goodnight, Samhain."
 
There was no earthly reason Shake should be so drunk and sleepless near Seattle at the same time. Coming onto Ruth Ann did nothing to alleviate the agitation Moze had caused him outside Bruiser's. She fetched Jonny and had left the party not ten minutes after that kiss. He wanted to forget how soft her mouth felt. He could have sworn he tasted cinnamon. Big Red? 
 
He moved his cursor to the search field and went to Warren's Facebook profile. On his wall were pictures taken of them all with Shayla's phone at the party. Moze looked to be enjoying herself in the shots, dancing and downing shot glasses of Patrón Silver.  The thought that he'd been responsible for deflating her joy gave him a pang. Of something. Guilt? He didn't know. His emotions got so muddled around her. Damnit, he couldn't get her off his mind.
 
The next morning, Moze was nursing Jonny's hangover at her apartment. She brought a tray of food where he lay in the bedroom and placed it on his lap. 
 
Jonny looked with suspicion at the glass of thick, greenish liquid sitting by the plate of scrambled eggs and bacon. "What's that?"
 
"My hangover cure," said Moze. "Drink it."
 
"What's in it?"
 
"Kale, capers, yogurt, ground flaxseed, and coconut water. Drink it."
 
"It looks pretty thick."
 
"The fiber makes it thick," she said. "Fucking drink it and stop asking questions. You're lucky I care enough to make you anything at all."
 
Jonny lifted the fork and began poking at the eggs in no way that made it seem like he had an appetite. "You're still mad, huh?"
 
Moze sat on the bed beside him. "You have to understand. Shake is the worst person you could have told about our sex life."
 
"Because you're in love with him?"
 
Moze's spine snapped erect. "What? No!"
 
"Then why did I see you kissing him in the parking lot?" asked Jonny.
 
Moze's mouth hung open and her eyes searched the space around her for a reply. "You saw that?"
 
"I came out from puking and Warren and Shayla told me you'd gone outside with Shake when I asked where you were. I saw you kissing him and I went back inside. I thought for sure you were gonna tell me you were going home with him when you came back inside. Instead, you said we were taking an Uber to your place."
 
Moze's open mouth slowly moved to form words again. "It's not what it looked like."
 
"When does a kiss look like anything else but a kiss?"
 
"When it's a kiss-off. When it's a goodbye," said Moze. "I told him I didn't want to be around him anymore."
 
"But first you kissed him," said Jonny, searching her face for confirmation.
 
"Yes."
 
"Gee, Mozel, maybe I'm crazy, but that sounds like a pretty funny way to show someone how much you dislike them."
 
"I can't explain it. I felt like I owed him that much for some reason."
 
"Just that much? Not like a blowjob or anything?"
 
"Don't be gross," said Moze.
 
"Okay, I won't be gross," said Jonny. "I won't be gross if you won't keep lying."
 
"Lying? What am I lying about? I told you it was goodbye."
 
"I don't know, maybe you're lying to yourself. Are you trying to tell me you never had feelings for him?"
 
"I'm saying I don't have feelings for him," said Moze.
 
"So you did have feelings for him."
 
"Of course I did. I've had feelings for a lot of guys."
 
"You realize how that sounds?"
 
"It sounds like I had a life before we started dating. What are you, a fourteen-year-old?"
 
"I'm twenty-three. And you're thirty. And I'm thinking maybe I'm too young for you," said Jonny.
 
"Is that what it is? 'Cause it's crossed my mind more than once that maybe you're too dumb for me."
 
Jonny dumped his tray onto the floor beside the bed and stood up to leave. "I'm outta here."
 
"You sure you don't need your diaper changed first?" said Moze.
 
Jonny paused at the bedroom door and turned around to address her. "I may not be as smart or mature as Sam Shake to you, but I have always been honest with you. So trust me when I tell you that you're kidding yourself if you think you can just stop liking somebody for no reason. Hell, I have a reason, and I can't make myself stop liking you. But I know a lost cause when I see one."
 
Moze sat silently as Jonny walked out. She heard the front door slam. As she cleaned his breakfast off the floor she wondered what had just happened. Trying to explain her actions to Jonny only exposed her to her own flimsy understanding of them. Did she really believe she owed Shake a kiss before cutting him out of her life? Was not knowing exactly what she wanted Shake to say to her in the parking lot yet believing she'd know it if she heard it even rational? She stopped cleaning the eggs off her carpet and grabbed the cell phone out of her purse.
 
Shake woke up and wondered how he ended up on the floor, feet away from his bed. What was to become of his life if he couldn't manage even the simple hurdle of reaching his mattress? He couldn't hone in on the faint ring of his cell phone. It was close and he felt for it on the floor around him. He realized it was beneath him and he reached under his back for it. "Hello?" he said without checking the number.
 
"I wasn't being fair to you last night," said Moze, eschewing any greeting.
 
"Moze, is this you?" said Shake even though he knew it was.
 
"I'm not apologizing," she said. "I just want to make that clear up front."
 
"Okay. Is that it?"
 
"I wanted you to say something to me last night, and I expected you to know what it was even though I didn't."
 
"I hope it wasn't 'I love you.' Because I don't," said Shake.
 
"Yes, you do, but that's never been the point, has it?" said Moze.
 
"You tell me since you seem to know everything. Well, everything except what I was supposed to say to you last night of course."
 
"I'd hoped I wouldn't catch you in a cranky mood. Should I call back later, or is your condition terminal?"
 
"Do you love me?" asked Shake.
 
"Goddamn it, Shake, will you just shut up and listen for a minute? I lost a boyfriend because of you today you know."
 
"Jonny couldn't take you bitching at him about telling me you weren't putting out, huh?"
 
"Jonny couldn't take seeing us kiss."
 
"He saw that?"
 
"He saw that," said Moze. "But listen, I don't feel like exploring fresh wounds. I called you to let you know that I was drunk and I did and said some things to you I didn't mean last night."
 
"Could you be more specific?"
 
"Yes, I could. Anyway, I need to borrow twenty dollars. I went over budget this week planning for my now ex-boyfriend's birthday party."
 
"Bullshit."
 
"What's bullshit?"
 
"Saying you did and said what you did to me because you were drunk. Why don't you just admit that you're in love with me?"
 
"Because you'd never let me hear the end of it," she said. "Also because I'm not."
 
"Bullshit."
 
"Look, can I borrow the money or not?"
 
"Should I mail it to you since you said you never want to see me again?" asked Shake.
 
Moze was silent for a time.
 
"You still there?"
 
"I told you I said some things I didn't mean, Shake. Because I was drunk."
 
"In my experience, drunk people are more truthful than sober people."
 
"It was the truth when I said it but now it's not, okay?" said Moze. "Just like when I kissed you. It was a mistake. I wasn't in command of my emotions."
 
Shake's voice dropped to a deeper, softer register. "Your lips tasted like cinnamon."
 
"Yours tasted like booze and stale bar peanuts. Your point?"
 
"I liked it."
 
"Yeah, I can't remember getting many complaints before you either. Are you done trying to make me uncomfortable?"
 
"Why does talking about us kissing make you uncomfortable?" asked Shake.
 
"Because I want things to stay the same and not get weird between us."
 
"Things have always been weird between us."
 
"Weirder then. Can't we just count it as a momentary lapse of judgment on my part? Go on like before?"
 
"You mean go on being friends without benefits while we both pretend we're not secretly crazy about each other because apparently that's more enjoyable for me than it is for you?"
 
"Fine," said Moze, "do you wanna know why I can't pursue this any further with you? It's because you're not a Christian. I've already been married to one heathen and I can't make that mistake again."
 
"So if I go to church with you then you'll --"
 
"Don't finish that fucking sentence."
 
"Fuck me?"
 
"That's another thing. I can't be with someone who's never serious," said Moze.
 
"Sure you can," said Shake. "I'll teach you."
 
"I'm currently in mourning over the death of a relationship. It's friendship with us or nothing. Can you deal with that?"
 
Shake let out a long groan and a sigh. "How much money did you say you needed again?"
 
THE ROMP
 
Shake sat up so that Moze could see his eyes clearly. "I love you whether you like it or not, and no matter what you do or say it's not going to change how I feel."

Moze climbed over him to get to her clothes off the floor on his side of the bed. "You're so full of shit," she said as she stepped into her hastily discarded panties. "What would change in how you feel about me if I stabbed you with something? How would you feel then?"

"Surprised?"
 
He reached over and pinched her ass. She jumped and spun around. "I'm serious, Shake! Not about stabbing you, but, you know. In general."
 
"Oh, I see, I tell you I love you but it doesn't count because I'm not serious."
 
"That's right. You're not. I know the player mentality, Samhain Shake," she said with a bold chin. "You shouldn't think I'm just the same unworldly little sixteen-year-old girl I was when we first met."
 
"'Unworldly' is the last word I would have used to describe you at sixteen. Well, no, maybe 'little' is the last one."
 
"So now you're saying I was fat?"
 
"Stop it. You know I was talking about your tits."
 
"All I know is that you don't mean it when you say you love me."
 
By now Moze had both her bra and panties on. She stood defiantly, the same toes he's just made curl with an orgasm now digging into the carpet.
 
"Don't guys usually lie about that before the sex happens?" he said.
 
"This was a mistake."
 
 

Spring

Just as winters weren't as cold as nearby Montana's and summers weren't as hot as California's to the south, Washington's springtime behind the Cascade Mountains was as ambivalent as any other season. Warren had brought Shayla and their son, Prince to the park for a picnic and was grateful for some April sunshine in their notoriously overcast region of the country.

No more than a minute or two after he'd accepted the invitation to the picnic from Warren did Shake consider calling back to cancel. He could tolerate their unruly six-year-old, Prince (the name was Shayla's doing, but he thought Warren should have contested harder) just fine. What he wasn't sure he could handle was Mozel -- with yet another date -- being at the picnic too. That she'd continued to date other men after their encounter in Bruiser's parking lot didn't bother Shake as much as the fact that Bink Sennett -- the husband of a sheriff's daughter who Warren pissed off by pissing on his tailgate -- was her date. Not only was she dating a married man, she was dating a married asshole, and Shake couldn't understand how Warren could be cool with her bringing him. 
 
"How are you cool with Moze bringing him?" Shake asked Warren at the picnic table before Moze and Sennett had arrived. 
 
Warren shrugged as he rolled up a blunt and Shayla set out Tupperware containers of food. "Man, what was I supposed to say? She asked if there would be any trouble if she brought him, I told her, 'Only if he brings some,' and she said, 'Okay, good.' "
 
"He called you a shiftless nigger, man," said Shake.
 
"And I pissed on his truck," said Warren. "If it happens again, I'll piss down his throat this time. But I'm not going to worry myself about what that cracker may or may not say. I don't allow that word to have that much power over me."
 
"Only enough to try to piss down his throat and get arrested again?" said Shake.
 
"You best not get arrested again, motherfucker," Shayla said to her husband. "Hoke said he'd fire your ass if you missed another day of work like that without calling in."
 
"Fuck Hoke," said Warren. "He knew full well I couldn't call him from jail."
 
"And like he said, that ain't nowhere near his problem," said Shayla.
 
Prince Meek stopped playing with his Jurassic World T-Rex on the ground behind Shayla and offered his opinion. "Mama, I think Daddy could get a better job."
 
Shayla turned her scowl towards Prince. "Boy, what did I tell you about getting in grown folks' conversations?"
 
Shake looked over to see Moze and Bink Sennett approaching their table. Sennet, brawny and bald, wore an olive green t-shirt and camouflage pants. He'd been discharged under reputedly embarrassing circumstances from the Army during basic training years before (some said he had an emotional breakdown, others said it involved petty theft) but liked to portray himself as a seasoned veteran anyway. Moze was wearing one of those dresses which served as a painful reminder for Shake of how perfectly her lines fell.
 
"Damn, Moze be looking fine as hell," said Warren lowly. "Why you never hit that when you had the chance, Shakes?"
 
"You're the only one who thinks I had a chance," said Shake just as they came into hearing distance.
 
"Hey, everyone," said Moze. "Sorry we're late."
 
"It's my fault, really," said Sennett. "I should have threatened to leave without her if she didn't speed things up." 
 
Sennett looked at Moze and laughed. Moze smiled back at him. Shake thought he might vomit in his mouth a little.
 
"Have a seat, y'all," said Shayla, gesturing to the picnic table bench.
 
"Hope y'all like cold pulled pork and potato salad," said Warren as he finished rolling his second blunt. 
 
"You gonna smoke that here?" Sennett asked him.
 
"I'd planned on it, yeah," said Warren. "Why? You gonna narc me out to your father-in-law?"
 
"It's not illegal in Washington," said Sennett.
 
"Since Trump got elected plenty of things that weren't illegal became illegal to do while black," said Warren.
 
Sennett chuckled and put up his hands in mock surrender. "Forget I said anything. Not trying to get into any political debates over Trump today."
 
"Tired of losing them?" said Shake.
 
"I just find some people have a hard time judging the truth," said Sennett. 
 
"Yeah, people who support Trump," said Warren. "Traitorous piece of shit."
 
"Everyone's got an opinion," said Sennett in an obvious attempt to deflect.
 
Moze looked anxious but hesitant to speak.
 
"I don't know about y'all, but I hadn't planned on spending the better part of a beautiful day talking about that dumb motherfucker in the White House at all," said Shayla. 
 
"I concur, Shayla," said Moze, looking relieved that she didn't have to voice the sentiment herself.
 
"You what?" said Shayla.
 
"She agrees," said Warren. "Damn," he said, shaking his head.
 
Shayla fixed Warren with a glare. "Damn what, motherfucker?"
 
"Damn nothing," said Warren.
 
"No, what?" Shayla insisted.
 
"Damn you act dumb as hell sometimes," said Warren.
 
Shayla slapped the side of his head.
 
"Ow!"
 
"Maybe you can teach me how to do it without acting sometime," she said to him. "Got your nerve."
 
Moze and Shake shared a smirk over this. Sennett pulled out a pack of cigarettes and slid one out.
 
"You gonna smoke that here?" Warren asked him.
 
"It's not illegal," said Sennett. 
 
"Neither is adultery. Doesn't make it a healthy choice," said Shake, looking straight at Moze as he did.
 
Sennett paused in lighting the cigarette in his mouth to look at Shake. "Cute," he said with forced good humor before putting the flame to the tip. Moze's expression made no pretense at such good humor. Shake saw nothing but contempt in her eyes.
 
Later, during drinks after the meal, the subject of the forty-fifth president reemerged and Sennett was no longer reticent about his political viewpoints. "And all these liberal cucks with TDS -- Trump derangement syndrome -- go around hysterical no matter what he says or does," he said with his fourth beer in front of him. "All this leftist obstruction, all this fake Russia crap, it's all just the Democrats wanting revenge for Hillary Clinton losing the election to him. Meanwhile, he's the best president we've had since Reagan."
 
Shake smiled and finished off his fifth beer before replying. "I hear what you're saying there, Binky. I hear it all the time in fact."
 
"That should tell you something," said Sennett.
 
"It tells me that most people who support Trump don't know what they believe," said Shake. "I think I'll start a band called the Cucks."
 
"I know what I believe," said Sennett.
 
"I've found through my interactions with folks like you on various Facebook threads that you don't. It's like this guy Callipygian Danskin says in one of his Youtube videos -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- folks like you operate as though there's no truth, only competing opinions, and as though those opinions aren't sincere, just tools to be used or tossed aside. You'll defend the Holocaust just to feel smarter than someone who thinks it's a crime against humanity. Just to win. And he says that the real point isn't whether you can tell the difference between a bigot who doesn't know they're a bigot and a bigot who knows but won't tell you, but that there's no line dividing the two," said Shake.
Sennett stared blankly at Shake for a second or two. "So you're saying just because someone supports Trump that makes them a bigot?"
 
"See? Here's where I say, at the risk of stating the obvious, yeah, it makes them a bigot. And you say something about me being a liberal hypocrite for being intolerant of opinions I don't agree with because you know nothing pisses a liberal snowflake off more than being called intolerant," said Shake. 
"Only that's not what's going on. What's going on is you want your own intolerance to be tolerated."
 
Sennett's jaw was tight. "Is that what it is? Is that what's going on?" he said. "You're already so sure you know what I'm going to say you could have this argument all by yourself. What do you need me for?"
 
"Good question," said Shake. "Maybe the best one you've asked all day. Anyway, people like you don't care what they believe, but they know what they hate, and they don't want to think about why they hate it. You talk a good game about being for tolerance, freedom of expression and freedom of religion, but you have no problem persecuting Muslims and gays, especially when you're in the company of fellow hypocrites. You're inconsistent in 
your beliefs because living up to them would take you too far out of your comfort zone."
 
"Fake news," said Sennett.

"Come on, man, that's all you got after all that?" said Warren.

"It's been real, guys," said Sennett, standing in preparation to leave. "But I can't sit here and have a black man call me a bigot right after I broke bread with him. I mean, is that what bigots do?"

"Naw, a bigot calls a black man a shiftless nigger during a discussion about NFL football," said Warren.

"I apologized for that," said Sennett.

"Yeah, you're very sorry, I know," said Warren.

"Thanks for the food," said Sennett. "Let's go, Mozel."

Moze, conspicuously silent during most of the conversations, stood and dutifully followed her date away. She shot Shake one last scowl over her shoulder as she went. When he got home Shake got a call from her.

"You don't know when to quit, do you?" were her first words when he answered.

"It depends on what we're talking about," said Shake. "Do you assume I know what we're talking about?"

"You didn't have to embarrass Bink in front of everyone like that," she said.

"People like Sennett are complicit in embarrassing themselves every time they share their opinions in public," said Shake.

"He tried to avoid the whole topic of politics."

"He didn't try hard enough. Look, I don't know what you're really upset about, but unless you've decided to abandon all good taste and judgment and become a Trump fan, you're coming at me from a pretty precarious position of moral superiority. I mean, not only are you dating a MAGA nut, you're dating a married MAGA nut. How does any of that qualify you to lecture me on my behavior when it comes to anything?"

"What do you mean you don't know what I'm really upset about?" said Moze. "You think what I say I'm calling to tell you about is only an excuse to hear your sexy voice or something?" 

"You think my voice is sexy?"

"Please don't go fuck yourself."

"You first. And don't think I didn't notice you deflecting about you fucking a married man," said Shake.

"Who says we're fucking?"

"Oh, sorry, are you giving him blue balls making him wait the way you made Jonny wait? Poor guy. At least Jonny only had to wait for marriage. Sennett still has to get divorced first."

"Who says we're not fucking?" said Moze.

"Okay, what am I missing here?"

"Everything. And that's how I want it as far as my sex life is concerned. You're not going to coax things out of me which have nothing to do with the conversation we're having," said Moze. "Don't think I don't notice that  whenever you do it."

"Okay, I won't. And I'll be direct. Why are you dating a married MAGA nut?"

"Stop calling him that."

"Isn't that what he is? Why would you defend someone who supports someone who hates women and blacks and Mexicans and Muslims and democracy and the planet?" asked Shake.

"He doesn't agree with everything Trump represents," said Moze.

"So he's more apathetically bigoted than homicidally bigoted is what you're saying. How reassuring."

"I'm saying that just because a person supports a bigot for some of their policy stances doesn't mean they're a bigot too."

"How's that Kool-Aid tasting where you're at?"

"Well let's reverse engineer your logic then. If Bink was a racist, that would make me a racist for dating him," said Moze. "And I'm not a racist."

"I don't know about that. You have said you don't fuck black men. That could be construed as racist," said Shake.

"You know what I meant when I said that," said Moze.

"There you go expecting me to know things."

"I meant that, as a rule, I don't sleep with --"

"Fuck. You said fuck."

"As a rule I don't fuck black guys because of the inherent complications involved. Not because I'm racist against them. And I fucked you, so why are you even bringing that up?"

"Yeah, you fucked me good."

"It was a mistake."

"Yeah, you already said that."

"What would you call it?" asked Moze.

"A temporary surrender in your battle to confound me."

"I call it a mistake because you weren't ready to confess your true feelings for me."

"I told you I loved you."

"Not in a way that made me believe it. It was too easy for you."

"So it was no consolation whatsoever that, after I finally got what I wanted most from you, I didn't just lose interest?"

"It's no consolation when you say sex is what you wanted most from me," she said. "Does the sound of that ring differently in your ears?"

"You were so wet."

"Focus please."

"I couldn't believe how good you felt."

"You're deflecting."

"You bit my neck. Is that when I gave you an orgasm?"

"It's bad news that you have to ask."

"When can we do it again?"

"And you wonder why I say you don't take me seriously."

"I do take you seriously. And seriously, when can we do it again?"

"Never, Shake. I don't call something a mistake and then do it again. Call me crazy that way," said Moze.

"I call you crazy in many ways," said Shake, opening his refrigerator to see what he had to eat.

"I would think you'd be happy. You got what you wanted most from me, no strings attached. Why keep pursuing it?"

"Does the sound of that ring differently in your ears? The absurdity of it I mean?"

"What I gave you only comes with no strings attached once."

"What are the strings?" he said.

"It's like I'm talking in circles with you. If you're incapable of giving me what I need from you then I prefer you keep your opinions about who I sleep with to yourself. Which, as I recall, was the main purpose of this call."

"You're a terrible human being, you know that?" 

"And yet you can't wait to get down my pants again. What does that say about you?"

"I love you, Mozel Nash. I'm sorry I didn't have tears in my eyes when I said it."

"That's nice, Shake. But I'm with someone right now."

"A married someone."

"Would him not being married have substantially changed  anything about this conversation?"

"Probably not."

"I didn't think so. Goodbye, Shake."

 

Shelter in the Storm

Moze sat up naked in the motel bed watching Sennett do push-ups on the floor in his boxers. Once again he'd finished before she came anywhere near climaxing. She had declined to mention it on prior occasions, but her resentment had now built to the point where keeping the peace was no longer a priority.

"Do you do pushups after sex with your wife every single time too?" she asked.
 
Sennett knocked out two more pushups before he stopped to answer her. "No. Why?"
 
"Just curious."
 
"Be curious about something else. I don't want you asking questions about my wife."
 
"All right then," said Moze. "I'm curious whether you care if I get off or not? I had planned to work up to the question by asking how you are when you're
with your wife, but this works out better since I didn't really care about that."
 
Sennett looked at Moze from his position on the floor with the look of a man unaccustomed to having his sexual etiquette criticized. "You seemed like you enjoyed yourself fine to me," he said.
 
"What gave you that impression?"
 
"You were moaning."
 
"Lucky guess."
 
"What do you mean?" he said.
 
"I mean there's no way you could have heard me moaning over all the noise you were making."
 
"So I guess I'm supposed to read your mind or something?"
 
Moze, exasperated, got off the bed and retrieved her panties. As she slipped on her bra she began to wonder what she'd ever seen in this guy. "No, you're not supposed to read my mind or something, Bink. But you could ask me. You could pretend you were thinking about anything besides getting your nut."
 
"I thought you were a religious woman," said Sennett.
 
"What the fuck does that mean?" said Moze.
 
"I thought you believed that it was a woman's job to please a man."
 
"What is this, 1825? You think that just because I'm a devoted Christian that I shouldn't expect to enjoy a satisfying sex life?"
 
"Maybe we read different Bibles," said Sennett dismissively.
 
"We're committing adultery, dumbass. I'm pretty sure that's against God's law no matter which version of the Bible you read."
 
"What did you just call me?"
 
"What?" said Moze, somehow not cognizant of the specific insult in her wave of anger.
 
"Did you just call me a dumbass?" Sennett stood up, vaguely poised for conflict.
 
Moze, still in her underwear, intuited physical threat, but she declined to back down. "Yeah, I called you a dumbass. What else would I call someone who thinks Donald Trump is the best president we've had since Reagan? Or for that matter who thinks Reagan was a great president in the first place?"
 
"You're starting to piss me off, Mozel."
 
"Are you sure? Maybe you just did too many pushups."
 
"I'm pretty sure you better shut your mouth now."
 
"Fuck you, dumbass!"
 
Sennett charged her. Moze tried to evade him but he corraled her and flung her into the corner near the bathroom. He pinned her to the wall by her throat. The sociopathic calm of his face around cold eyes scared her more than if it had shown emotion. "This how you're used to talking to your boyfriends? Huh? You think you're something special? Have them thinking you're something more than a cheap whore who sells weed for a living? Well, I'm not them. I see you for what you are," he said as she felt her blood pulsing against his grip. She spat in his cold eyes, kneed him in the groin, and lunged for the motel room door when he shrank back. She pulled it open and was yanked forward when Sennett came from behind and slammed it shut. She struggled as he threw her onto the bed. He straddled her and punched down on her face twice. 
 
Shake took Millie to see Avengers: Infinity War at the local multiplex. The part where Spiderman disintegrated in despair prompted him, as he sat beside her, to offer a comforting hand when he saw her tears welling up.
 
"He'll be back in the sequel," said Shake.
 
"I know, but he's so scared," said Millie. "He doesn't want to go."
 
The tenderness of his daughter's heart fascinated Shake the same way the beauty of the stars struck him after a hundred nights of forgetting to look at the sky. He kissed her forehead.
 
As they came walking out of the theater into the main lobby Shake felt his cell phone vibrate inside his jacket. 
 
"Hello?" he said.
 
Moze didn't speak right away. Shake thought he heard her sniffling.
 
"Moze? Are you there? What's up?"
 
"Shake... I need a ride," she said weakly, glumly.
 
"Where are you?"
 
"Motel Express on Broadway. Can you come get me?"
 
Shake saw that Millie was watching him. "I'm with Millie right now but our movie just let out. If you don't mind having lunch with us before I take her back --"
 
"Oh, that's right, this is your weekend with her. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have bothered you," said Moze.
 
"No, hey, it's cool. Give me about twenty minutes," said Shake.
 
"Okay. I'll be waiting by the front office."
 
Shake paused before ending the call. "Moze?"
 
"Yeah?"
 
"Is something wrong? Are you okay?"
 
"I'll talk to you when you get here," she said and hung up before he could ask her anything else.
 
"Who was that, Daddy?" asked Millie.
 
"Moze. Hey, do you mind if we swing by and pick her up before we get lunch?" said Shake.
 
"Mom says she's your secret wife," said Millie out of nowhere.
 
"Oh yeah? What else does she say?"
 
"She says the only reason you're not together is because you don't know what you want in life and are too happy being miserable to figure it out."
 
"Well, I tell ya sweetie, the reason your mother says things like that is because she's a lonely, bitter old woman."
 
Millie narrowed her eyes and smirked at Shake's cluelessness. "She has a boyfriend. They've been seeing each other for months. He's nice."
 
"I didn't know that," said Shake. "Why didn't I know that?"
 
"Because, if it's not about me, whenever you and she talk all you do is try to get her to sleep with you again."
 
"She tells you everything, doesn't she?"
 
"Yes."
 
"And why didn't you tell me she had a boyfriend?"
 
"I didn't feel it was my place," said Millie. "But Mom and I both think moving on would be the best thing for you."
 
"Well, her having a boyfriend doesn't mean she's not old and bitter."
 
"Come on, Daddy, let's go get her."

In the bathroom mirror, with the blood washed off, Moze thought her face could still pass a casual inspection. She'd filled the sink with ice and water and repeatedly plunged her face in it for an hour to keep the bruising and swelling from becoming too pronounced. She had sunglasses to cover her eyes. She began to regret calling Shake to come get her. If she'd called a cab or an Uber she wouldn't have to be concerned whether she looked like someone had beat the shit out of her. It wasn't until she came to on the blood-and-tear-stained sheets that she realized Sennett had stranded her at the motel. It hurt too much to cry and she knew that if she had to talk to Shake about what had happened she would lose it again. Maybe it wasn't too late to call him back and tell him not to bother coming. 

The knocking on her room door quashed that hope.

"I thought you said you were gonna wait outside the front office?" said Shake when she opened the door. Millie was waiting in the Jeep.

"Sorry," said Moze. "I lost track of time."

"It's kind of overcast today. What's with the sunglasses?" 

Moze took a step back as she reflexively adjusted her glasses. Shake stepped inside towards her and caught the hand guarding her face. He used it to remove her glasses.

"What did he do to you?" said Shake when he saw her face.

"Please don't make a big deal out of this, Shake," said Moze as she replaced her sunglasses and ushered them both outside, shutting the door behind her.

"I think you know me well enough to know that's not gonna happen. That piece of shit put his hands on you?"

"It doesn't matter. We're through," said Moze.

"As if, what? Him beating you up.... Were you even conscious when he stranded you?"

Moze didn't answer. Two quick teardrops fell down her face. "It doesn't matter because we're through."

"You may be through, Moze, but I'm not! I can't just let this go."

"What are you going to do? Kill him?"

"You need to press charges. Either that or I go after him myself. It's your choice," said Shake.

"I knew I shouldn't have called you."

"If you didn't want me to see you like this you wouldn't have called me. Now you want me to pretend it doesn't mean anything."

Moze's eyes flared as she took Shake firmly by the collar by both hands. "I'm asking you not to do anything."

"So that means you're pressing charges?"

"No. I mean not right now. Can we just please go?"

Millie watched from the backseat of the Jeep Wrangler as her father pulled into a driveway where another man was tinkering under the hood of a pickup truck. 

"Shake, I am begging you. Please don't," said Moze from the passenger seat as Shake put it in park and got out.

"What's this?" said Sennett, peeking over his shoulder to see Shake approaching.

Shake swept the leg supporting the bulk of Sennett's weight out from under him and Sennett's head hit the truck engine. Shake slammed the hood down on him as he went to rise again.

"Your wife might not mind you knocking her around, but you shouldn't assume that means you can just put your hands on any woman who makes the mistake of fucking you," Shake said to Sennett, who was slumped against the front bumper and reaching to the asphalt for a nearby tire iron. He grabbed it but Shake stepped on the other end before he could raise it. With his other Puma-clad foot Shake kicked Sennett's jaw and knocked him on his back.

"Oh my God," Millie said as she watched the lopsided fight unfold.

"I have to stop this," said Moze after the face kick, moving to get out of the Jeep.

"Your black cuck ass has really fucked up now," Sennett said from the ground with a bloody mouth. He saw Moze step up beside Shake and smiled. "Somehow I knew you two had something going on. He came right to your rescue, huh sweetie?"

"Now see? Even a cuck like me would know to at least pretend to be sorry when he's tasting his own blood," said Shake. "I mean, did you want me to beat an apology out of you?"

Moze grabbed Shake by the arm as he went in to inflict more punishment. "No, Shake. Let's just go."

"Your wife home?" Shake asked Sennett.

"She's out. Why? You wanna catch another assault charge?"

"Just wondering what she'd think about you stepping out on her."

"Oh don't worry, I'll tell her about the latest tramp I was banging. And then I'll say I'm sorry, like I always do, and she'll forgive me, like she always does. Then I'll tell her to call her father and have a warrant put out for your arrest."

"You be sure to have her give Sheriff Rodeheaver my love," said Shake.

Back in the Jeep and pulling away, Moze looked at Shake with some mixture of wonder and pity. "You getting yourself in trouble with the sheriff is the last thing I wanted to happen."

"Yeah?" said Shake, gently touching her bruised face. "And what was the first?"

They stopped at a Mexican restaurant to have the late lunch that may as well have been dinner by the time they received their orders. Shake attacked his beef tongue burritos like it was his first meal of the entire day.

"What did you say to make him hit you?" Millie asked Moze.

"I need you to understand something, Millie," said Shake. "There's nothing any woman can say to a man that justifies him hitting her. Got it? Nothing. Ever."

"Okay, Daddy."

"That doesn't mean it's a stupid question," said Moze.

"Fine. Tell her then," said Shake.

"I'm not disagreeing with your father, Millie, but as you grow as a woman you'll find a lot of what you're told about how things should be in relationships with men doesn't help as much as knowing how they actually are," said Moze before taking a slow, cautious bite of food.

"How do you think they are?" asked Millie.

"Yeah," said Shake, "how do you think they are, Moze?"

"Well, Shake, excuse my language in front of your daughter, but I think they're fucked."

"Like race relations since Trump got elected," Millie offered for comparison.

"Yeah, like that," said Shake, impatient with the conversation. "Eat your enchiladas."

 

 

Making Mozel

Marcus Lewton shut off the weed wacker as the sheriff's car pulled up to the curb. Sheriff Bill Roy Rodeheaver, a portly and balding man in his late fifties or sixties, climbed out and approached him.

"You got a Samhain Shake on your crew?" said Rodeheaver.
 
Marcus smiled. "Afternoon, sheriff. How can I help you?"
 
"Yeah, you can tell me if there's a Samhain Shake working with you here today," Rodeheaver repeated. He could smell the weed Marcus had been smoking.
 
"Yeah," said Marcus before restarting his weed wacker and preparing to continue his work.
 
"Hey!" Rodeheaver shouted over the motor. "Shut that off!"
 
Marcus shut it off.
 
"You wanna tell me where he's at?"
 
"Oh, you didn't ask me that," said Marcus. "He's in the backyard trimming hedges." Marcus restarted the weed wacker and went on his way.
 
Rodeheaver shook his head as he started toward the house. He really hated stoners. When he got to the backyard he saw one guy pushing a lawnmower and Shake sitting against the fence taking a water break. The sheriff walked up and stood over Shake as he sat.
 
"Sheriff Rodeheaver. Hope you didn't spend too much precious time tracking me down."
 
"I fit you in my regular schedule," said Rodeheaver. "I assume you know why I'm here."
 
"You'd be assuming I know what your son-in-law told you. Which I don't."
 
"He said you attacked him in a jealous rage over a woman."
 
"Rage? Yes. Jealous? No that's not what went down. He put a beating on my friend and I let him know how I felt about that."
 
"She's just your friend, huh?" said Rodeheaver. 
 
"Does what she is to me matter more than what he did to her?"
 
"I suppose not. Just trying to get the story straight here."
 
"Are you aware what a piece of shit your son-in-law is?"
 
"I'm well aware, yes," said Rodeheaver. "He is, however, my daughter's husband and father to my grandchildren, so I'm obliged to look out for him. Warren Meek is one of your running buddies if I'm not mistaken."
 
"Yeah. Does him screwing your daughter lose me extra points?"
 
"Not necessarily, but watch your tone."
 
Shake took a drink from his water bottle as he squinted up at him with little concern.
 
"Okay, so here it is," said Rodeheaver. "Bink didn't tell me about him getting rough with the woman, and I can figure out pretty easily why he left that part out. The question that arises is why didn't she press charges against him herself?"
 
"I put that option forward. She rejected it. So I went with the fall-back option."
 
"You broke the law."
 
"Yeah."
 
"What did you think that would get you?"
 
"I may be wrong, sheriff, but you seem disinclined to do the bidding of a woman-beater who cheats on your daughter, no?" said Shake.
 
Rodeheaver rubbed his jaw and nodded. "Tell you what. I'll have a word with him. See if I can make him see his way clear to not pressing charges. See if I can inspire any shame in him at all. But if he's still hellbent on me putting you in handcuffs, and as much as I can sympathize with your position, then I'll have no choice but to come back for you."
 
"Got it. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to finish up my trimming," said Shake.
 
Coming into the backyard, Marcus passed Rodeheaver on his way back to the sheriff's car. Shake was priming the pump on the hedge trimmers as Marcus stepped over to him. "What did the sheriff want with you?"
 
Shake chuckled. "Just a routine random citizen survey asking whether I felt my law enforcement needs were being adequately met."
 
Marcus tilted his head. "They do that?"
 
Early the next morning before work, Shake went to check out an address from a Craigslist ad selling a used guitar. He'd been thinking about learning to play. He drove to a trailer park and was double checking the paper with the Google map directions when he saw none other than Mozel Nash stepping out of Ethan Athey's trailer and gingerly closing the door behind her.  Ethan Athey was her ex-husband. He couldn't be totally sure whether the clothes she had on were the same ones she'd had on the night before, but he couldn't imagine her reporting to her new bank teller job dressed in tight, jungle-ripped jeans.

He pulled around to the secluded path she disappeared down and lightly tooted his horn. She whipped her head around like someone had caught her pissing in a houseplant at a tea party, but seemed to relax when she saw that Shake was smiling. She walked back towards the Jeep and got in.
 
"Hey, what are you doing around here?" she said with all the nonchalance she could muster.
 
"Looking for an address before traffic got too bad," he said. "I wasn't sure if this was the same trailer park you told me your ex-husband lived. You stayed the night and snuck out? And where's your car?"
 
"I drove over with him," she said. "And I wasn't sneaking, I just wanted to leave without waking Ethan up.  We're not getting back together or anything.  It's just one of those things."
 
"One of which things?  One of the things you do that you wind up regretting later, or one of the things you know you're going to regret beforehand but do anyway?"
 
"Can we go now? In case he comes out and sees me in here talking to you?"
 
"What's it worth to you?  Can I blackmail you for a handjob or something?" 
 
"Shake, come on, seriously, let's go."
 
Shake put the Jeep in gear and crept down the secluded path. He glanced over to see Moze had tears welling in her eyes. He stopped the car in a wooded area.  "Moze.."  
 
Before he could find words to console her she had her lips pressed to his and her hands on his cheeks. He tasted her tongue and salty tears. She pulled her face back and the anguish on it deepened. "My father died last night," she said before burying her sobbing face in his chest.  
 
"I'm sorry," he said, still uncertain what was happening. "What is it you need?" was all that he felt right saying.
 
She lifted her face and kissed him again, harder and longer.  "I don't know what I need.  I only know what I need right now," she said and began to undo his shirt buttons. After a violent, wordless tumble of arms and legs punctuated by grunts, kisses, and earlobe-heating pants, Shake found himself inside Moze again. "Don't talk, just fuck me, Shake," she demanded in sweet delirium, and he did.  He fucked her with more conviction and abandon than he'd fucked anybody in ages.
 
 
She shivered. "Are you cold?" he asked.
 
"No," she said before biting his shoulder and arching her back, the sudden cresting of her pussy capsizing his rhythm half a second.  He clutched a fistful of her hair and pulled himself down near her chattering teeth.  "I'm cumming," she said with broken breath.  She crested again and he rode it, pushing down and up into her so deftly that her eyes sprang open and she gasped a sharp gasp.  She coiled him like a boa and he spilled inside her.

The 1983 Michael Jackson rehearsal demo of "Love Never Felt So Good" had been playing during most of their intercourse. No, Shake thought, indeed it hadn't.

Later in the week, following her father's funeral, they fucked again, this time in the back of a hearse. Some weeks after that Shake came by her place in the hope that Moze might still need to work through any lingering grief.
 
She was on her couch watching TV. Displaying what Shake considered to be her borderline-philistine tendencies, she had on Maury Povich, watching him prove -- for maybe the ten-thousandth time in a decade -- that you can watch an entire hour of damaged, dismayed, proudly undignified, comically ignorant people having their paternity test results revealed in front of a loud and equally clueless studio audience, and come away having learned absolutely nothing which might help anyone live a more enriching, productive, fulfilled life.

"I love how people who watch shows like this somehow think that improving the condition of your life by comparing it to lives more fucked up than your own is the same thing as actually improving the condition of your life. I'll let you in on a secret.  It's not," Shake said to her unaverted eyes.
 
"I was just pausing here briefly on my way to flipping to the fucking nature channel," Moze said.  "That would improve my life, right? Watching wild animals fuck and kill other wild animals?"
 
"You got something against the History Channel?"
 
"History's just not something you can look forward to, I guess. You know, if you came over here hoping to get laid, your coming in annoying me right off the rip didn't improve your chances at all. Next time, wait 'til I turn you down before you go insulting my lack of sophistication."
 
"No need for the sexual pre-emptive strikes.  Can't I just want to come visit a friend?" he asked as he let his focus drift to the shadow in her cleavage. The way she sat made the sunlight expose the tiny blonde fuzz growing from the pores of her breasts. 
 
With a casualness that bordered on indifference, she rose from the couch, strode straight to where he stood, pulled him with one hand by his shirt, and kissed him. She pulled her face back and looked him straight in the eyes as she plucked his hard-on.  
 
"Fuck!" he yelped and jumped back. "That fuckin' hurt, Moze."
 
She giggled like the schoolgirl he first knew her as. "I'm sorry.  Come here," she said, extending her hands.
 
"No, I've lost any appetite I had for you now," he lied.  
 
"Oh, believe me, I was only inviting you in for a hug and nothing more. Or messier."
 
He guarded his crotch with both hands and waddled over.  She draped her arms around his neck and stared at him silently for some seconds.  She kissed his lips again, pulled back and fixed him with another stare.  "I'm pregnant."
 
Time and space rippled and warped in Shake's vision the way it should have after hearing an utterance of such weight. "I'm really wishing you would have saved that news until after we fucked."
 
She smiled unexpectedly.  "I love you, Shake.  I have for a while.  But I need to change you."
 
"So you're not pregnant?"
 
"Why would I tell you I was pregnant if I wasn't?"
 
He brushed some strands out of her face with the back of his fingers. "You've been known to kid."
 
"I've been known to kid about a lot of things, but I don't remember false pregnancy ever being one of them."
 
"Is it mine?"
 
"I should knock your teeth down your throat."
 
"Right, because that's such an unfair question to ask."
 
"Fuckin' right it's unfair to ask. You owe me more romance than that.  More gallantry.  I know you're fucking capable."
 
"You know I don't like to play head games."
 
"That's a lie. And romance isn't a head game, you space-case. But I guess I can't expect any from you now that I've started having sex with you."  She kissed him again before returning to her position on the couch. "In case you were wondering though, Ethan is sterile, and I make any other man I'm with wear a condom."
 
Shake still hadn't truly digested the news. "So why risk getting pregnant by me?"
 
"You're not bad looking, smart, and whatever you lack in ambition I was sure, if we had a kid, my side could make up for."
 
"With what?"
 
 "Please, don't go fuck yourself, Shake."
 
"Had you considered, during this apparent frenzy of considerations, whether I even wanted another child before you hijacked my sperm?"
 
"What you wanted was to fuck me, and that was all the information I needed. If you don't want to be in the baby's life, that's up to you. It remains to be seen how your first attempt at fatherhood is gonna turn out anyway."
 
"I take it from that you disapprove of the way I raise Millie?"
 
"You're raising her to be Godless. Of course I disapprove. Our child is going to be raised a Baptist. And it's not open for debate."
 
"Oh, is that what we're doing here?  Now? Debating?  Seems to me the best time for that would've been before you let me blow a load, bareback, inside you."  The memory of it gripped him even in his anger.
 
She returned her eyes to the television. "Well, anyway, now you know," she said with a careless sigh. 
 
Shake felt like he was about to burst. "Would you stop being a tease and let me crawl inside you before I have an aneurysm?"
 
"I don't mean to make it not seem like I can't wait to have you inside me.  But I need you to tell me you'll do something for me first." 
 
Like him unknowingly donating his sperm hadn't already been enough for her he thought but didn't dare say. "What?" he said as he scraped his lips down the nape of her neck and let the heat of his breath roll down the back of her lace-trimmed blouse. His right hand felt for her bra latch as the fingers of his left went down the loose waistband of her sweatpants and slipped beneath her panties unfettered. His veins bulged at the unexpected ease of it.
 
"I want you to go to church with me," she said.
 
He halted his advances and lifted my head to meet her gaze again. "Right now?"
 
"No, silly," she said as she reached down to guide his hand between her thighs. He could smell the Bartholin's glands seep sweetly on the inner lips of her pussy.  "Next Sunday.  I know you'll keep your word later if you say you'll go now," she said as she closed her eyes and pushed her hips up slightly, lubricating him past the second knuckle.  "I want you to come to worship with me.  I need someone to go with me now that my father is gone."
 
"You know worship is never my reason for going to church," he said.
 
"Then come as a scientist.  Or whatever it is you want to tell yourself you're doing there. Just do it with me."
 
"I'll do it with you," he said. He peeled and tossed away her sweats, undid his jeans, and eased her onto her back. The plunge into her was snug and hot, and the air between their faces caught the rising scent of her. 
 
 

Pregnant

Robert Nash died of a stroke in his bathtub.  His daughter Mozel discovered him there when she'd stopped by after work to check on him. He'd raised his daughter to be as devout a Baptist as he himself was, as he believed it had brought him safely through two tours of Vietnam years before her birth. But what becomes of a girl who must grow in the absence of a mother, and the all-but-physical absence of a war-haunted father? For a lot of lucky girls it would only mean years of therapy. For the unlucky ones it could mean succumbing to crack or meth addiction or a predatory pimp who'd introduce her body and mind to hells similar to the one Robert Nash knew and within which he would curl up and drink, like a fetus hoping to sleep through to a better birth.
Yet Mozel had resilience. She clung to her faith -- one of the few gifts her father was able to give her -- and the belief that God always knew what He was doing whether she did or not.  
 "God doesn't want you to be unhappy," lied Pastor Bradford, and he seemed to be looking and lying directly to Shake when he said it. Sitting in the Everett First Non-Protestant Baptist Church (what a monicker!) with Moze sitting on the pew beside him, Shake searched the pastor's face for intelligence.  Sense is not only something animals and people do, it's also something animals (and sometimes people) make.  Do me a favor and make some sense he thought to himself as he listened to the preaching.  Make sweet, passionate sense to me all day long.
Mozel was hugging his right arm with affection. She was at home here. He wondered what her fellow congregation members were thinking. Maybe that she'd snagged herself another hapless, God-fearing fuck buddy perhaps, although he couldn't know for sure how many other men, if any, on so many previous Sundays she'd brought with her to the same church. 
"God may not always give you what you want, or put you where you'd like to be, but he's available to help guide you down the righteous path. And when you follow that path you'll see God's been providing, all along, what you need rather than what you want."
Shake had taken some bong hits before going to pick up Moze, and his mind began its inevitable drift. He thought of something he'd read from James Joyce's enigmatic novel Finnegan's Wake. Now there was a drunk scientist of language on the verge of literary blasphemy:
  Given! A
  way a lone a lost a last a loved a long the
  riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay,
  brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle & Environs.
  The great
  fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid
  man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the
  west in quest of his tumpty-tumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace
THC scattered whimsy across his mind's landscape. Cosmic microwave background radiation has allowed mankind to see back in time to photograph the birth of the universe. Each element on the periodic table is a musical note in a chord in a melody in the song that commenced then. History wrote itself for us.  Luca Cavalli-Sforza began gathering blood DNA samples from around the world in the 50s to prove the existence of a global family tree. Any drop of lethally shed blood in human history closed an irreplaceable window into man's family ancestry. 
Transmissions from the microwaves that bounced....  Shake thought his mind was banging bigger bangs than the bangs this buffoon preacher was fumbling to illustrate. Tesla and Joyce and Picasso were playing a game of Texas Hold 'Em in his space station. 
The channel changed on the pirate broadcast in his head. The scene was of Moze from July 4th night, on the beach behind her cousin Pearce's house in San Diego.  Shake recalled how her gymnast legs and hips -- curved smooth like breath in denim lungs -- and strawberry-chestnut pubes came unpeeled from the jeans and gangster-pinstripe panties she draped over a sago palm stump near the water's edge. He recalled how -- after she dove into the water and his clumsily-bobbing erection pulled him running in after her -- those legs clung around him like vine stems on a chain link fence during a storm. 
"Proverbs 5:20 says 'For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress and embrace the bosom of a foreigner?'" said Pastor Bradford. 
Shake snuck the hand he'd rested on her knee far up across her thigh to make the hem of her dress creep up, and he sensed her spine tensing harder against the pew bench as it crept. Without taking her eyes off the pastor (and a few nosy congregation members) she gently slid his hand back close to her knee and returned her flushed thigh to its appropriate concealment. She kept her eyes forward, only peeking at him from the corner of her eye once to catch him smirking at her. He slid his hand along her leg the same way again, only his grip on her was firmer when she tried to remove it.  She turned her head to glare straight at him, her jaw clenched and her eyes ablaze with adorable outrage. The smile she cracked betrayed the thrill she meant to hide.
 
When they got back to his place Shake had Moze do a strip tease for him to "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" by Muddy Waters.  
 
"Now who am I supposed to be again?" she said.
 
"The daughter of the plantation master," he said. "Taken prisoner during a slave revolt."
 
"Should I act scared?" 
 
"Yeah, but also like you've been watching me and the other slaves picking cotton in the fields most of your life, and are secretly somewhat curious about mandingo dick."
 
"I'm not a little girl, am I?  Like twelve or thirteen or anything?"
 
"No, what do you think I am? You're sixteen or seventeen I guess."
 
"That's still pretty young."
 
"Not for the 1800's it wasn't. Just dance," he told her as the song played. She moved to comply, but couldn't seem to find the right groove to get into. She smiled uncertainly and feigned fear unconvincingly. She stopped.
 
"This is stupid.  I can't dance to this," she said before cueing up Bjork's "Enjoy," a song with a slower, more pronounced beat. She stooped and swiveled her hips in a slow circle. She pantomimed, singing: "...and I have no fear / I'm only in to this to.... enJOY..." and Shake shifted with delight in his seat.

She took him by the hand and led him into the bathroom, where they made love doggy-style in the tub, crunching their slippery flesh together, though Shake's knees could only take so much fucking on acrylic. They relocated to his bed and he rammed again the mad, flexing grip of wet, fibromuscular joy. 
 
Another minute or five passed before he stopped and told her that, for him to get off, he needed to see her face as she got fucked. He told her he needed to see her eyebrows furrowed in furious prayer as the lips of her mouth and pussy hissed moist obscenities. She thought that was kinky and sweet. Feverish fucking with Moze was as emotionally cathartic as some of the rough grudge-fucks Shake had had with other women in the past, only without (or mostly without) the grudge feelings.  
 
Afterward, they did something they hadn't done yet. They stayed sticky and naked and talked. She rested her ear on his pounding heart and left faint tracings in his chest hair with her fingernails. She talked about missing her Dad and Shake knew enough to stay silent as she did. He knew she didn't need assurance or confirmation that the pain of loss would fade with time and that she just needed to share it with another soul.  And he didn't mind. And he no longer minded that he didn't mind. Which is to say he'd been softened inside by loving Moze. She was no longer just the annoying woman he couldn't fully admit to wanting to do more with than fuck. She was now the young woman who'd pulled him into the womb of her heart without hesitation.  

Dancing

Vic Oltya, a regular at Bruiser's Tavern, was gay and once had a tremendous crush on Shake when they were high school classmates. He came from money and Shake wasn't above using the crush to manipulate Vic on occasion, but that didn't prevent their friendship from flowering long after Vic had abandoned any hopes of getting Shake to switch teams.

When her parents both had to work, Vic babysat Millie for them a few times before she started preschool, and Millie adored him then and still. Warren's homophobic tendencies were most pronounced in Vic's presence, and he made a point of staying away from the big house parties to which Vic invited the Bruiser's crowd. Vic kept inviting Warren despite Warren's consistent refusals since he didn't have a phobia of homophobes.

Millie told Shake she was going to be paid by Vic and Shaw (Vic's black boyfriend) to DJ at one such party at his house on the lake -- an end of summer party on Labor Day. Vic asked Millie to invite Shake and Moze.

Vic came walking, arms outstretched like a loving bird of prey, down the drive of his immense home to greet Shake and Moze as they approached. His long hair was graying, save for one braided golden strand hanging to his left shoulder. Shaw trailed behind him carrying their little dog Malala, named after the teenage Pakistani human rights advocate and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai (Shake had told Moze that he didn't think the brave Muslim teen had ever needed -- before or after being shot in the head by the Taliban -- to have anyone come behind her shoveling up turds she left scattered across the big lawn (something Shake had to do whenever he cut Vic's grass with the landscaping crew).

"Samhain Shake," he said with dramatic flair as his wings encircled Shake, "deigning to grace us with his presence." Shake tickled his ribcage and caused him to jump back and cackle. "Don't touch me that way, your fingers are electric," Vic said. Vic looked over at Moze with feigned disgust. "And I see you've brought this tramp?"

"Be nice to me, you old queen," said Moze. "I'm with child."

Vic's eyes widened with surprise and then pleasure. "Congratulations," he said grandly as he embraced her.

"Easy on the affectation," Shake said to him. "How's the catering business?"

"Thriving," Vic said with solemn satisfaction. "So, Moze, I've been meaning to ask, what with you being such a luscious creature, why in God's name you'd ever let a slob like Shake get anywhere near you?"

"Well, I guess the challenge of restoring a fixer-upper is more fulfilling to me than buying or building a new house," said Moze.

"Amen to that, my Caucasian sister," said Shaw, moving closer beside Vic. "Vic here had a slew of bad habits I had to correct in the first months of our living together."

This caused Vic's eyebrows to raise at Shake and Moze. "Is that your current living arrangement?" he asked to either one who would answer.

"No," said Shake.

"No," said Moze, "I figured we'd just skip the courtship bullshit and get to getting me pregnant. Which we did. And I am."

Vic grabbed his chest and held in an expectant breath after asking, "You're joking, right?"

"Don't feel bad for not knowing that Moze doesn't joke about being pregnant," Shake said. "I only found that out myself a few days ago when she told me she was pregnant. I'm only finding out now that we're going to be sharing the news by pretending to joke about her being pregnant."

"Everyone knows how much you love surprises, hon," she said.

"Congratulations are in order in any event," said Vic before he and Shaw and Malala Yousafzai showered Shake and Moze with hugs, kisses, and doggie licks.

Soon the party was well underway as Millie sat perched between two huge speakers on a low balcony overlooking the pool and patio with the rest of the music equipment. She had her iPod plugged into the main console and had the guests below moving to "Malamente" by Rosalía.

Shake came dancing from behind her with a cocktail in one hand and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Since when do you know Spanish?" he asked her.

"Since forever, Daddy. I've had Spanish-speaking friends since second grade and been in Spanish classes since junior high. Where've you been?"

"Absent and in the dark."

"Besides," said Millie,"knowing Spanish isn't a prerequisite for enjoying Latino music."

"My daughter the cultural ambassador," said Shake with a nod of admiration as he sat his drink down on the table holding the equipment. "Why don't you let me pick one to play?"

Millie looked at him suspiciously. "You weren't planning on commandeering my job, were you? I know how you get, Daddy."

"One pick is all I want. I promise, baby."

Reluctantly she passed her iPod to Shake and he began to browse through its contents. Millie dropped something into his drink while he did. Little did Shake know that the same night he planned to tell her that she should be expecting the birth of her first sibling, Millie was planning to dose him with Molly, that psychoactive result of white-coated German pharmacists attempting to create an appetite suppressant in 1912, and illegal in America since 1988.

It wasn't until over two minutes into the track that Shake played that Millie recognized it as "I Won't Be Long" by Beck and made a face. "Daddy, you picked a long one!"

"If I only get one pick why shouldn't it be a long one?" Shake picked up his glass and quickly finished off his drink.

Millie watched her father goof to the groove to make her smile. "You're lucky you're my father," she said.

"I tell myself that every day," he said and gave her another kiss on the forehead before retrieving his empty cocktail glass and turning to go.

Millie grabbed his arm to stop him. "I have to tell you something. Promise you won't get angry."

"I promise I won't murder you, probably," said Shake. "And that I'll regret it and miss you terribly if I do. Probably."

"I love you."

"Stop stalling."

"I put something in your drink. I put Molly in it. I wanted to tell you before you completely left the stratosphere and not know how you got there."

"Just now?"

"I can't tell from your face if you're angry or not," she said.

"Are you on it too?"

"Yes. And don't tell Mom. Are you angry?"

"Enough to murder you? No. Enough to toss you off this balcony? I haven't decided yet. Now stop trying to steer the conversation and let me talk. What have I ever done or said that would make you think it was okay to dose your dad?"

"I just thought it would be fun for us to do together," said Millie.

"So why didn't you just ask me first?"

"I was afraid you'd say no."

"But not afraid to dose me anyway."

"Are you angry?"

"Stop asking me if I'm angry like it's gonna make me not want to be angry with you," said Shake. "What other drugs are you on?"

"None."

"I don't just mean right now, I mean in general. You drink? Do meth? Oxy?"

"No! Of course not, Daddy! You've raised me better than that."

"I have? Because I don't remember giving my fifteen-year-old daughter a pass to do molly."

"You're the one who always taught me that not all illegal drugs were as bad as the government wanted people to believe."

"I also told you that some drugs are cut with stuff that'll kill you."

"Not this stuff. The guys I deal with are all about quality control."

"Oh, well give me their address so I can thank them."

"Daddy, be cool. You're making me think you don't trust my judgment as much as you always say you do."

"Oh, you would bring that up now, wouldn't you?"

Millie dropped her chin and raised wide, sad eyes up at Shake in an exaggerated ploy for his good graces. Shake couldn't help but smile.

"Okay, I trust your judgment," he said. "But don't ever dose me or anyone else ever again in your life, girl, or I'll track you down and perform an extremely late-term abortion. Also, I want you to stay in my line of sight tonight. I don't want you wandering off into one of the many empty bedrooms in this house with some Justin Beiber lookalike."

"Gross," she said.

"Or whoever. Kurt Cobain."

"I still love Kurt, but my newest, most emphatic love is for Jeff Buckley now."

"You know he's as dead as Cobain, right? And what do you have against dead black artists like 2Pac?"

"Daddy.."

"I know, I know. Death has nothing to do with love. Or whatever it was you told me."

"There's more to love than life or death. But close enough," she said.

"Your employer okay with you doing drugs on the job, young lady?"

"He's been too busy snorting cocaine in the kitchen to notice," she said.

"That's rough."

"Daddy, promise me you won't do any with him if he asks."

Shake laughed. "Let me get this straight. You dose me with molly, and then tell me not to do another drug with someone else?"

"Cocaine is a soul killer. Isn't that what you told me?"

"I was probably on something. Well, it doesn't matter. It's sound advice, even if my mind was swimming in serpent piss when I gave it. Good girl."

"Thank you, Daddy."

"I have something I need to tell you too," he said.

Millie nudged him and steered his attention toward the pool. Changed into her bikini and displaying no hint of a fetus yet, Moze had stepped into the shallow end where two, tattooed biker chicks were also splashing about. One drifted over and hemmed Moze in the corner of the pool, talking close like she meant to kiss her. Lesbian friends of Vic Shake surmised. Moze had her arms crossed, her expression showing more amusement than discomfort. One biker chick mouthed something to her and then went in for a kiss. Moze didn't bother uncrossing her arms, waiting patiently as the woman sampled the taste of her lips. The woman withdrew and mouthed something else. Moze shook her head in the negative. She lifted her chin and motioned her eyes in the direction of the balcony where Shake and Millie stood. The woman's gaze followed hers until it met Shake's. He smiled and gave the woman an approving thumbs-up. The woman smiled back begrudgingly before returning to splash with the other biker chick at the deeper end of the pool.

"That doesn't freak you out?" Millie said after seeing Shake's reaction.

"It would have at any other time of my life with any other woman when I wasn't half drunk and dosed with molly."

"I think you're in love. That's good. I've talked to Mom about it. She doesn't want you to be alone either. She thinks you need somebody to keep you stable."

"So your mother thinks I'm unstable, huh?"

"She thinks you're volatile and at odds with the world," said Millie. "She thinks your volatility robs you of objectivity sometimes."

"Objectivity about what?"

"She thinks you overestimate discrimination against black people because you're half black."

"Yes, I'm well aware she's one who believes the first Obama inauguration should have marked the conclusion of racism in America. And I'd be perfectly happy to concede her that if the people who still hate niggers could get on board with it too."

"Nigger is such a harsh word," she said. "I'm glad no one's ever called me that."

"Why would they? You look as white as your mother."

"Would it really bother you if I dated a white guy?" she asked.

"If he treats you golden, I haven't a shit to give what color he is," said Shake. "I was only kidding about the 2Pac thing."

"I always like being reminded how cool you are."

"Are you dating a white guy?"

"No, he's black. But I get the impression Mom wishes he weren't."

"Follow your heart," said Shake. "Don't worry about what either one of us think."

A little later Shake went to sit on an armless patio chair. Moze came over to straddle and sit facing him on his lap. She smiled with zest and pushed her eyes close to examine his. "How fucked up are you right now?" she said.

"I can handle the drugs and booze," he said. "You're what leaves me senseless."

"I don't think you can handle any of it."

"You confound me, Moze. You're this reckless, beautiful thing that offends my senses."

"I offend your senses? Um, like I, what, stink?"

"No, like you, you know, make so little sense to me. You're drawn to fire and fast things and I feel like you need protection. I feel like I need to protect you."

"My former husband said he wanted to protect me. His idea of protection was control."

"I want to give you guidance."

"Like when you tutored me in algebra?"

"Yes, like that. Except that I can have sex with you without risk of incarceration now, too."

"You goof. You know, I could hardly concentrate on the assignments you were so cute."

"Yes, you were a terrible student. Tell me something else I don't know."

"You know, I never had anyone else make my teeth chatter when they made love to me."

He looked at her with what could best be described as lustful admiration. "I'm being extra sweet because I'm rolling on molly right now. What's your excuse?"

"Pregnancy hormones."

"I love you."

Moze stared at Shake for what seemed like two full verses of "Thinking of You" by what may as well have been Al Green but was Tony Toni Tone. Her expression was a novel blend of calm and fear, like her mouth and lips refused to reveal what her eyes declined to hide. "Shake, how fucked up are you?" she said low and evenly. "You've never told me you love me like you meant it."

"And I wasn't even trying," he said.

 

She feigned a bashful fluster. "Aw, it's so sweet of you to give me a weakness to exploit."

"Let's get married. We can be the James Carville and Mary Matalin of religious couples."

"You're not religious though."

"Oh, but I am. About a great many things. Let's get married."

"You're so lucky I'm not the type of person who would hold you to something like that in your current state of disarray."

"Don't you want to marry me?"

"Shut up, Shake."

"What?  Don't you wanna?"

She sealed his lips with a finger. Her look got serious. "I love you. But don't ever propose to me while you're drunk and rolling on Molly again, or I'll cut open your scrotum with a dull, rusty razor blade. I have to go pee," she said before rising from his lap and marching toward the house. 

In speaking of her ex-husband Moze must have conjured him, because Ethan Athey came following Vic out of the house. And following Athey was Bink Sennett. And following Sennett was Sheriff Bill Roy Rodeheaver. At first Shake wasn't sure if they'd all come together, as he had no knowledge Athey and Sennett even knew each other. Vic pointed the men in Shake's direction but only Sennett and Rodeheaver advanced. Athey stood searching the crowd.

Fully expecting to be handcuffed and led away, Shake put his wrists together and extended his arms towards the sheriff.

"That's not what we're here for," said Rodeheaver. "Bink here has something to say to you."

Shake looked up from his chair at Sennett. "Yeah? And what's that?"

Sennett did not look eager to speak. He looked at Rodeheaver and was met with a gesture urging him on. He let out a sigh of resignation. "I wanted to apologize to you for hitting Mozel."

Shake could scarcely believe his own ears. "Thanks, but shouldn't you be apologizing to her?"

"We expected to find Miss Nash here with you," said Rodeheaver. "Mr. Olyta made it clear when he invited Bink to this party that he was to resolve any ongoing conflict involving you and her."

"Vic?" said Shake. He slowly figured out what was going on here.

"Yeah," said Sennett, looking undoubtedly incensed that he was being forced to make peace due to the influence of a wealthy liberal fag.

"What would Trump think?" Shake said to Sennett, eliciting a puzzled look from Rodeheaver.

"Is Mozel around?" Sennett said impatiently.

"She's in the bathroom. I'll relay your apology," said Shake.

Sennett clenched his jaw and looked at Rodeheaver. "Happy?"

"No, but at my age I've learned to live with that," said Rodeheaver. "Go get yourself a drink or something and try not to piss anyone off on the way."

Shake let out a little laugh. "So who called who?" he said after Sennett had walked away.

"Apparently Mr. Olyta got wind of your altercation with my son-in-law and took it upon himself as one of my biggest campaign donors express his concern to me that the situation be treated appropriately," said Rodeheaver.

"And if he hadn't called you?" said Shake.

"Well, as I told you before, I was sympathetic to your position. But legally? Let's just say it's a good thing you have important friends."

"Yeah, I guess it is."

"Enjoy the party," said Rodeheaver as he walked away.

Shake saw that Athey was still looking about for someone.  Not a full minute after the sheriff disappeared into the house did Shake see Moze emerge from it. 

"Mozel!" Athey called out to her.

Moze froze in her advance toward Shake when she saw Athey.  She glanced at Shake and caused Athey to look to see who she was looking at.  She raised a finger signaling to Shake to give her a minute and went to talk to her ex-husband by the pool. 

Shake watched Moze say something that made Athey fume and grab his thinning hair in both hands.  He made a sweeping motion of finality with his hands and stormed past her.  He walked right up to Shake and stood there silent for some seconds.

"Something I can enlighten you with?" said Shake.

"So this is what she's been reduced to these days, huh?" he said.

"I know, disgraceful, isn't it?"

"It's a real shame she couldn't do better for herself."

Shake sighed and took a drink. "I get it. You would you like it if I were angry with you. But I'm not interested in being angry with you. I'm high, drunk, and rolling, and that's more important to me than you are. We'll just both accept that you're the better, whiter man she didn't choose and be done with it. Agreed?"

"I should kick your fucking ass."

"I hope you haven't fully convinced yourself of that."

"I heard of you, Shake. Or Shakespeare, or Shakes, or whatever that other nigger Meek calls you, and I gotta say, you're a let down in person."

Shake smiled at him for the benefit of Moze, who was standing some distance away with a worried look on her face.

"You can have her.  She's stained now," said Athey.

Shake shot to his feet and knocked Athey sliding headfirst into a small drink stand.  Ice cubes rolled on the patio beside red stirring straws.  

"Ethan!"

Shake could have sworn the voice that cried out this prick's name with such concern was Moze's.

"Shake, what the fuck?" she was saying as she ran over to stoop over where Athey fell. "Are you okay?" she asked him.

"Call me when you want to date within your own species again," he said to her before getting up and walking off.

"If you hurry you can catch him and make sure he doesn't need any stitches," Shake said with a bite in his tone

"Just because I choose you doesn't mean I don't care if you try to kill my ex-husband."

"Your ex-husband thinks you're fucking a monkey."

"Which should clue you in as to why he's not the one I choose, asshole."

Millie was standing nearby at this point.  Shake had only just noticed that she had tears streaming down her cheeks. "Daddy, my whole vibe is crashing."

Damn, being on drugs and being a father and being a boyfriend was hard to do all at once. "Good vibes crash, baby," he said and put his arm around her.

He looked to Moze. "I was cool until he started spewing venom about you."

Moze came over and rubbed Millie's head. "Looks like we're all in a fragile state tonight," said Moze. "Let's go up and play us some more good music, Millie."

Joined by Shake and Moze, Millie returned to the balcony. Not two bars into "I Love A Magician" by The Dismemberment Plan, Shake and Moze heard Warren's voice shout above the music, "Yeah, Vic, I love you too, motherfucker, but Imma fuck you up next time you put your lips on me!" 

Vic came walking out onto the patio with Warren, whose cockstrut morphed into a wacky dance when he caught sight of Shake, Moze, and Millie. Vic laughed and turned to go back inside.

"You decided to make an appearance I see," Shake said to Warren when he came to the balcony.

"Mozel called me and asked me to come," said Warren before hugging Millie and kissing her forehead. "She didn't want me to tell you that, but I'm telling you that anyway."

"Glad you could make it," said Moze.

"I could hear the music from around the block," Warren said to Shake. "You the only nigga I know would play whatever this shit is and Gang Starr and Kool and the Gang back to back to back."

"We're sharing music duties," Millie told Warren. "The Dismemberment Plan was my pick."

"The dis- what? You crazy as your Daddy."

"Where's Shayla?" asked Shake.

"Couldn't get her sister to babysit Prince," said Warren. "Now, please tell me you brought some weed with you, because Shayla hid my bag someplace and I didn't have time to find it before I snuck out tonight."

"We can burn one right now," said Moze, dancing up from the other side of Shake to Tinashe's "2 On" as it began to play. "It's the only fun I'm gonna be able to have until this baby's born. Well, maybe not the only fun," she said while giving Shake a wicked grin. 

"You're pregnant?" said Millie. "Daddy, she's pregnant?"

"Say what?" said Warren.

Moze hadn't meant to blurt it out. She looked at Shake as they came to the common realization that they should've coordinated how they were going to break the news to everyone.

"Yes," said Shake.

"We're pregnant," said Moze.

Millie's mouth hung open.

"I was going to tell you but you distracted me with the lesbians," Shake said to his daughter.

"Say what?" said Warren.

"This is insane that I'm finding it out this way," said Millie.

Moze scrunched her shoulders and threw her arms wide. "So is anyone going to congratulate us?"

"I was going to say sorry, but yeah, I guess congratulations is a better way to go," said Warren as he went to hug Moze.

"Are you freaking?" Shake said to Millie.

"No, I am stoked that I'm going to have a little brother or sister, of course, why wouldn't I be? It's just that I'm ..."

"On drugs," Shake said for her.

"Right," said Millie.

"Yeah, me too," said Shake. "We're gonna be okay though. You'll always be my first little girl."

Millie hugged her father and then hugged Moze. "Congratulations," she said to her.

"Thank you," said Moze.

"Shakespeare and Mozart having a baby. You were saying something about burning one?" said Warren.

Shakespeare, Mozart, and Warren went in search of a secluded place to smoke and wound up lounging in a tool shed near the vegetable garden.

"I can't believe you talked my man Shakes into going to church with you," said Warren to Moze.

"I was sexually coerced," said Shake.

The blunt end glowed brightly beneath Warren's nostrils as he pulled.

"I didn't sexually coerce you," said Moze. "You've told me before you'd gone to other churches many times just to observe ... What did you call it?   The Christian psychological construct..."

"The Christian Construct," said Shake.

"Yeah, that's what I just said," she said. "Christian construct.  Like Christians are infected by some foreign strain of psychology or something."

"It was going to be the title of an essay."

"Wait," said Warren as he passed Moze the blunt, "many times what?  Shakes went to the churches many times, or he told you many times he went to churches?"

"You're stoned, stoner," said Moze.

"I don't think psychology can actually infect you, seeing as it's a field of study and not a microorganism," said Shake.

"I disagree," said Warren. "Psychology has a strong effect on me. It affects me all the time."

"Not effect or affect, infect, you stoned stoner," said Moze, and she choked on a smoky laugh bursting through her pink pursed lips. Convulsing, she lowered her face to her lap and extended the blunt to Shake.

Shake, having rejoined Millie on the balcony, watched the party guests dance to "Stars and Sons" by Broken Social Scene. The repeating bass line ignited the fuse of a long-lost algorithm in everyone's soul, and even Vic was neglecting his hosting duties to go out and dance with Shaw. The Molly had Shake in a more loving mood than he'd thought possible, and it was nice seeing Warren and Moze dance and clown together -- even if he wasn't sure whether that threesome proposal he'd turned down from Warren was serious. 

Hurricane

Even if he'd found a better paying job the same day Mozel told him she was pregnant, and even with her employment as a bank teller, Shake wouldn't have had time to build much of a financial cushion for them and the baby in the months before its arrival . Whatever meager paycheck he earned would already have been garnished for child support for Millie before he saved any of what was left.
He decided they would both ask for a week off and drive to Panama City to see Howard Shake about a loan to fatten the cushion. Moze's baby bump was beginning to show just as their autumn road trip reflected the waning life of the year in burnt oranges and crisp yellows. In Kansas City a convenience store clerk where they'd stopped for gas told them that a hurricane was on its way to meet them, but they'd already come too far to fret about that.