"A tourist," Ronnie said, the syllables dry and hard on his tongue. "Weekend hippie." He was wearing a Kmart T-shirt Star had tie-dyed for him on their first day here, orange supernovae bursting out of deep pink and purple galaxies, and when he turned to the new girl the light behind him made his beard translucent. "You're no tourist," he said. "Right, Merry?"
Merry leaned back into the cradle of his arm. "I am not ever going back," she said, "I promise you that." "Right," Ronnie said, "right, don't even think about it." Then he slipped his free arm around Star's shoulders and gave her a squeeze, and "Hey," he was saying, caught up in the slow-churning engine of the moment, "you want to maybe go down by the river and spread a blanket under the stars and make it - just the three of us, I mean? You feel like it?" His eyes were on the dancing woman, up one slope and down the other. "Would that be righteous, or what?"
And here was the truth: Star didn't feel like it. Nor, despite what she'd told herself, had she felt like it that night in the teepee either. It was Ronnie. Ronnie had talked her into undressing in front of the other guy - or no, he'd shamed her into it. "You don't want to be an uptight bourgeois cunt like your mother, do you?" he'd said, his voice a fierce rasp in her ear. "Or my mother, for shitsake? Come on, it's all right, it's just the human body, it's natural - I mean, what is this?"
The other guy, the teepee guy - she never knew his name - just watched her as if she were a movie he'd never seen before. He was sitting there yoga style, the very avatar of peace and love, but you could see he was all wound up inside. He was intense. Freakish, even. She could feel it, some sort of bad vibe emanating from him, but then she told herself she was just being paranoid because of the peyote. So she lay back, crossed her legs at the ankles and stared into the fire. No one said anything for the longest time. And when she looked up finally the teepee guy's eyes were so pale there were no irises to them, or hardly any, and Ronnie rolled a joint and helped her off with her blue denim shirt with all the signs of the zodiac she'd embroidered up and down the sleeves and across the shoulders, and he was in his shorts and the teepee guy - cat, teepee cat, because Ronnie was always correcting her, you don't call men guys you call them cats - was in some sort of loincloth, and she was naked to the waist. The firelight rode up the walls and the smoke found the hole at the top.
"Just like the Sioux camped on the banks of the Little Bighorn, right, man?" Ronnie said, passing the joint. And then time seemed to ripple a bit, everything sparking red and blue-green and gold, and Ronnie was on top of her and the teepee guy was watching and she didn't care, or she did, but it didn't matter. They made it on an Indian rug in the dirt with this cat watching, but it was Ronnie, and she fit the slope of his body, knew his shoulders and his tongue and the way he moved. Ronnie. Pan. From back home. But then he rolled off her and sat there a minute saying, "Man, wow, far out," breathing hard, sweat on his forehead and a tiny infinitesimal drop of it fixed like a jewel to the tip of his nose, and he made a gesture to the teepee cat and said, "Go ahead, brother, it's cool -"
Outside, at the main gate to the Drop City ranch, there was a plywood sign nailed clumsily to the wooden crossbars: NO MEN, NO WOMEN - ONLY CHILDREN. That was about it, she was thinking, nothing but children, Show and Tell, and show and show and show. Ronnie's arm was like a dead thing, like a two-ton weight, a felled tree crushing her from the neck down. The big topless woman danced. Got to keep movin', Junior Sky Dog was singing, movin' on down the line.
"So what do you say?" Ronnie wanted to know. His face was right there, inches from hers, the pale fur of his beard, the dangle of his hair. His eyes were fractured, little ceramic plates hammered into the sheen there and then smashed to fragments. She said nothing, so he turned to Merry, and Star watched the new girl's face.
Reprinted from Drop City by T. C. Boyle by permission of Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2003 T. C. Boyle, all rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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