Merry had her own version of the million-kilowatt smile, wide-mouthed and pretty, and she was all legs in a pale yellow miniskirt that looked as if it hadn't been washed in a month. She looked first to Ronnie, then stared right into Star's eyes before letting her gaze drift out across the room as if she were too stoned to care, but she did care, she did - Star could see it in the self-conscious way she ducked her head and tugged at the hem of her dress and the dark indelible line of dirt there where she'd tugged at it a thousand times before. "I don't know," she said, her voice nothing but air. And then she shrugged. "I guess."
The two blond kids were dancing now, the vacant-eyed boy of four or five and his little sister, watching their feet, no sense of rhythm, none at all, the boy's little wadded-up tube of a penis flapping like a metronome to another beat altogether. "Cool," Ronnie said. And then he turned to her, to Star, and said, "What about it, Star, what do you say?"
She said, "I don't think so. Not tonight. I'm feeling - I don't know, weird."
"Weird? What the fuck you talking about?" Ronnie's brow was crawling and his mouth had dropped down into a little pit of nothing - she knew the look. Though he hadn't moved a muscle, though for all the world he was the hippest coolest least-uptight flower-child cat in the universe, he was puffing himself up inside, full of rancor and Ronnie-bile. He got his own way. He always got his own way, whether it was a matter of who he was going to ball and when or what interstate they were going to take or where they were going to spend the night or even what sort of food they were going to eat. It didn't matter if they were passing through Buttwash, Texas, the Dexamil wearing off and eggs over easy the only thing she could think about to the point of obsession and maybe even hallucination, he wanted tacos, he wanted salsa and chiles and Tecate, and that's what they got.
"No, come on now, don't be a bummer, Paulette. You know what the Keristan Society says, right there in black and white in the Speeler? Huh? Don't you?"
She did. Because he quoted it to her every time he felt horny. Whoever they were, the Keristanians or Keristanters or whatever they wanted to call themselves, they preached Free Love without prejudice - that is, making it with anybody who asked, no matter their race or creed or color or whether they were fat and old or retarded or smelled like the underside of somebody's shoe. It was considered an act of hostility to say no to anybody who wanted to ball, whether you felt like it or not - it's seven A.M. and you're hungover and your hair looks like it's been grafted to your head, and some guy wants to ball? You ball him. Either that, or you're not into the scene because you're infected with all your bourgeois hangups just like your fucked-up parents and the rest of the straight world. That was what the Keristan Society had to say, but what she was thinking, or beginning to think, in the most rudimentary way, was that Free Love was just an invention of some cat with pimples and terminally bad hair and maybe crossed eyes who couldn't get laid any other way or under any other regime, and she wasn't having it, not tonight, not with Ronnie and what's her name.
"No, Ronnie," she said, lifting his arm off her shoulder and letting it drop like the deadweight it was, "n-o." She was on her feet now, looking down at him, at the tiny dollop of his face and the girl staring up at her with her smile fading like a brown-out. "I don't give a shit about the Keristan Society. I'm going to bed. And don't call me that."
He was hurt, put-upon, devastated, clinging to the girl - Merry, that was her name, Merry - as if she were a crate on the high seas and his ship had just gone down. "Call you what?" Breasts flapping, the little penis swaying, people hammering tambourines against their palms and the smoke of grass and incense roiling up off the floor like fog. "Don't call me Paulette," she said, and then she was gone, bare feet picking their way through the sprawled hips and naked limbs of her brothers and her sisters.
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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