Chapter 1: Samir CHAPTER 1 Pinky
The dead body was an especially nice touch.
Pinky Kumar grinned at her friend Ashish’s prone figure.
“This is amazing,” she said, touching Ash’s face. It looked waxy and pale, and his lips were the exact right color of death. Well, what death probably looked like, anyway. “You said Sweetie did this?”
“Yeah, she took a stage-makeup class last year,” Ash said, cracking open one translucent eyelid. “Does the hair look okay, though? I did that myself.”
“The hair’s poppin’,” Pinky said, lifting up a few strands of the purple wig he wore, the thick locks falling past his shoulders. “You look like you could start shredding on a guitar any minute.”
They were in Pinky’s living room, where they’d lit a dozen LED candles all over the furniture and floor and drawn the shades for extra ambience. Ashish was lying on the couch, his arms crossed on his chest, barely breathing. Of their friend group, he was the only one who’d been able to help her out on short notice; everyone else had already flitted off to various holiday destinations. Ash himself was leaving for Hawaii later today.
“Okay, do you have what you need now?” Ash said, shifting a bit on the couch. “This wig’s pretty itchy.”
“Almost.” Pinky stepped back and took a couple of pictures with her phone. “Let me get a wider angle.…”
“What charity’s this for, again?” Ash asked, peeking at her through the fringe of his wig.
“Don’t you ever listen when I talk?” Pinky asked, huffing a bit.
Ash laughed. “Seriously? This is, what, like, charity number thirty-two you’re helping this week?”
He had a point. “Fine, fine. It’s for the GoFundMe page of that nonprofit Super Metal Death,” Pinky said, taking another picture. “They used to be just Metal Death, but they really amped up their community-outreach efforts last year.”
Ash raised a thick eyebrow but kept his eyes closed. “Right, of course, Super Metal De—”
Pinky peeked out the big bay window. “Oh, crap.”
A white Porsche Cayenne had just pulled up, and a moment later, her mother stepped out, eyes hidden by her sunglasses, Hermès pantsuit still perfect after an eleven-hour workday. She speed walked to the house, her thin face wearing that same harried, pinched expression it always did.
For just a moment, Pinky felt a surge of panic. Her mom was, at the best of times, an extremely formidable adversary. But when she’d had a busy day at work and just wanted to unwind with her Sudoku book and was instead confronted by yet another one of Pinky’s special projects? Picture that girl from The Exorcist, with her head spinning, only instead of green vomit, Pinky’s mom wore pantsuits and spewed straight-up acid.
“What?” Ash said, cracking open one eyelid. He itched his scalp, and his fingers moved his wig so it was now half covering his face. “What’s wrong?”
But before Pinky could answer, her mom had opened the front door and was clip-clopping her way to the living room. Pinky stood there, frozen in indecision, and then it was too late. Her mom’s shadow came first, and then her mom herself emerged into the living room, her sunglasses pushed up on the top of her head.
As she took in the transformation her once-perfect living room had gone through, her face went from pinched to blank to confused to—
“Priyanka! What the hell!” Her mother rushed to the couch, frowning. “Is that a doll?”
Pinky opened her mouth to tell her the truth, but then a tiny pinprick of gleeful defiance bloomed in her chest. Why did her mom insist on calling her “Priyanka” when she was mad, when she knew perfectly well Pinky despised her full name? Also, why was her mom so quick to judge all the time? Why couldn’t she approach this situation with a joyful curiosity instead of freaking out? “No, it’s not a doll. It’s… a dead body.”
Her mother stopped short, her face going sallow. “No, it’s not,” she said, but there was a thread of uncertainty in her voice as she took in the candles and the dark room and thought about all the things she likely did not know about her delinquent daughter.
Pinky stared at her mom without smiling—and then grinned. “You totally believed me, didn’t you?”
Ash sat up, grinning too, and Pinky’s mother shrieked and jumped backward.
“It’s just Ashish, Mom,” Pinky said, giving him a fist bump. “Pretty sick beat face, right?”
“Pretty what?” her mother said, blinking at the big dude on her couch. “Ashish? Is that really you?”
“Hey, Ms. K,” Ash said, waving and pulling off his wig.
Her mom looked at the wig for a long moment and then back at Ashish. “Why are you… corpsing… on my couch?”
“It’s for Super Metal Death,” Pinky explained. “I’m raising money for them. They’re crowdfunding to bring hot meals to band members from defunct bands. Did you know that eighty-two percent of formerly famous band members now live in homeless shelters?” She took a seat beside Ashish, her fishnets digging into her thigh a bit.
Her mother frowned. “There’s no way that statistic is right.”
Adjusting her position, Pinky swung her black military-style boots onto the couch. “Sure it is. People don’t realize how brutal the music industry can be.”
But her mother was glaring at her, no longer listening. “Get your shoes off the couch.”
“What’s the big deal?” Pinky said. “We’re going to get them cleaned soon anyway.”
There was a tense silence, and then her mother smiled a little at Ashish. “It was very nice seeing you, Ashish,” she said. “Please tell your parents I send my regards.” Turning to her own flesh-and-blood daughter, she added in a barely controlled voice, “Can I please speak with you… alone?”
Ash stood, looking nervous under the cadaverous makeup. “Ah, I better be going. See ya, P. Have a good summer vacay, Ms. Kumar.”
“You too, Ashish.” Her mother was doing one of those scary, plasticky smiles that made her look like a mannequin. Actually, she’d make a pretty good corpse.
Pinky flipped Ashish the peace sign even though her nerves were jangling at the prospect of the argument she knew was coming. “See you when I get back, Ash. Have fun in Hawaii. And tell Sweetie I said thanks for lending her makeup skills to a great cause.”
Once the front door had closed behind him, Pinky leaned back against the couch, her arms crossed. The clock on the wall ticked. The air hummed.
Her mom said, in a super-calm voice, “Where’s your father?”
Pinky shrugged. “I guess he’s still at that meeting in Menlo Park.”
“So you invited a boy here when you’re home alone. That’s against the rules, as you well know. Four days into summer break and you’re already—” Her mom broke off and rubbed a hand over her forehead.
“Already what?” Pinky said, her heart starting to trot. When her mom remained silent, she changed tack. “Anyway, it wasn’t a boy. It was just Ashish.”
Pinky’s mother pinched the bridge of her nose for a long moment, then walked to the entertainment unit to get the LED candle remote. She turned off all the candles and grabbed another remote to open the motorized blinds covering the big windows.
Turning back to Pinky in the suddenly bright room, she said, “Have you even started packing for the trip yet?”
“We’re not leaving till tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got plenty of time.”
Pinky’s mom’s stare turned icy. “No, you’ve had plenty of time. Pinky, come on. I just want you to be a bit more responsible. Stop spending your time on these ridiculous ventures that don’t mean anything—”
Pinky held her breath for a moment. “They mean something to me,” she said finally, quietly, bunching her fists up on her fishnet-covered thighs. “Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
“And I just want you to make better decisions,” her mom said, looking down at her from her vantage, making Pinky feel even more like a little kid. “Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
They stared at each other, at one of their many, many impasses. Finally, her mother exhaled, broke eye contact, and unbuttoned her suit jacket. Taking it off, she hung it carefully over one arm.
“One day, Pinky.” She shook her head, beginning to turn away. “One day you’ll understand that I’m not your enemy. And one day you’ll see why it hurts my heart when you insist on making these weak choices.”
Pinky threw her hands up in the air, her ankh pendant swinging with the force of her movement. “I didn’t make a weak choice! I’m helping charity! Name one weak choice I’ve made lately!”
“Aside from this one? All right,” her mother said, turning slowly to face her again. “Preston.”
Pinky felt her face close off. Crap. She’d completely forgotten about freaking Preston, her last boyfriend.
“Yeah?” she said, as if she didn’t know where her mom was going with this. As if it wasn’t the exact same place she’d gone with it ever since Pinky had brought Preston home (well, not exactly “brought him home” in the traditional sense. She’d sneaked him in her window and her parents had caught them).
Her mom gave her a you know exactly what I’m talking about look. “He got mandatory community service for something you still haven’t disclosed to us.”
Pinky groaned. “What’s your point, Mom?”
“My point is that maybe this summer, if you happen to get a new boyfriend, as you usually do every month or so, you could find a real boyfriend. Someone who isn’t prone to finding themselves on the wrong side of a jail cell.”
As her mom walked off to the kitchen, Pinky narrowed her eyes. A “real” boyfriend? What’d her mom think Preston was, a ghoul? Besides, Pinky thought, slipping her phone out of her pocket to post her pictures to the Super Metal Death GoFundMe page, “real” boyfriends didn’t exist in her world. Though, thanks to the little conversation they’d just had, that wouldn’t stop her mom from micromanaging every cute guy Pinky hung out with this summer at their lake house. It would probably become her summer project or something.
One thing was certain: This summer vacation was going to majorly, definitely, monumentally suck.
One thing was certain: This summer vacation was going to be the most epic summer vacation in the historical record of summer vacations.
The smell of freedom invigorated every fiber of Samir’s being. Here he was vital; he was unstoppable. He paused to admire the skyscrapers towering over him, steel and glass glinting in the bright sunlight, the bright blue cloudless sky, the people in business suits rushing past, typing on their phones, cars honking their impatient horns. A giant truck drove by, belching exhaust right into his face, and Samir launched into a volley of red-faced coughing.
Okay, so maybe that truck wasn’t part of the perfect picture. But still, the point stood: Washington, DC, was his fresh start. This was where he could stretch his wings—damp and weak and slightly damaged from all his years at home—and let them grow thick and strong in the sun. Samir was trying really hard not to skip along the sidewalk. First, he didn’t think these high-powered DC types would look too kindly on that. And second, this suit was his only business-appropriate suit—staying home day in and day out didn’t really require much beyond polo shirts and shorts—and he didn’t want to accidentally rip it or something. He adjusted his tie (freshly ironed this morning by laying a damp white cloth over it to protect the fragile silk fibers) and walked on.
Thinking of home made him think about his mom, and Samir felt a familiar shot of guilt. Should he call her? No, come on. It was fine; she was fine; he was fine. She’d call him tonight and he’d tell her about the first day of his internship.
He grinned, squinting up at the glass and steel building that loomed before him now. This miraculous structure housed the offices of Iyer & Whitman, attorneys-at-law, easily in the top five most prestigious corporate law firms and nearly impossible to get an internship with. Yet he’d done it. It had been a complete fluke, too, Samir thought as he walked up the broad concrete steps to the revolving-doors-and-stone-lions-adorned entrance, his messenger bag bouncing against his hip.
He’d heard about the internship on a prelaw forum he hung out on. He hadn’t even told his mom about it; he knew she’d dismiss it outright like she’d dismissed so many other opportunities that took him out of her realm of comfort and care. It was why he went to an online high school. Plus, he hadn’t wanted to panic her for nothing. Samir was used to being the levelheaded one in their duo, the one who took care of things, the one who didn’t require much.
So he’d applied in secret, writing the essay at his desk at night and sending off the electronic application without any hope that he’d get picked. And instead, he’d gotten the call.
He was one of the top five applicants, and they wanted to do a phone interview. He still didn’t tell his mom then, thinking there was no way he, a homeschooled boy with no law connections, would ever get picked. He’d done the interview when his mother went out for her weekly visit with his friend Ashish’s mom. And then, a couple of days after that, he’d gotten the email. Attorney Leon Stepping, a senior partner, had picked Samir as his summer intern.
Now Samir walked up to the enormous front desk, thinking about the conversation he and his mom had had after that, the feeling of a claustrophobic, heavy net tightening around him with every “no” she verbalized. But he’d looked her straight in the eye, stood up straighter, and told her he’d made his decision. He was going.
He remembered her looking at him, her mouth opening and then closing again. And finally, after five long seconds of heart-pounding silence, she’d said, “Fine. Okay.” Samir had felt the thrill of exhilaration: It was the first time he’d ever asserted himself like that. He knew what had changed for him. A couple of months ago, his best friend, Ashish, and his… frenemy… Pinky had convinced him there had to be a better way to do life than he was currently doing it. At the time he wasn’t so sure, but he supposed he’d just wanted the internship so badly that he’d spoken before he had a chance to overthink it. There were other things he still hadn’t changed, though. For example, he hadn’t yet told his mom he wanted to be mainstream schooled for senior year, and he wasn’t sure he would. Wasn’t that taking things too far?
“Hello!” he said now to the muscled, blond, female security guard at the front desk, who responded with an apathetic “Mm.” Undeterred, Samir continued cheerfully. “My name is Samir Jha. I’m here to see Leon Stepping of Iyer & Whitman.”
The security guard looked at a clipboard at her elbow, her eyes running down the list of names. Samir saw hesitation cross her face, and then she looked back up at Samir. “I need to make a call,” she said, picking up the phone. “Have a seat.” With her free hand, she gestured over to a small collection of aesthetically pleasing potted plants and leather armchairs clustered around a tabletop fountain.
“Oh, um, is there a problem?” Samir asked, feeling his mouth go just the tiniest bit dry. He wanted, needed, to be up on the fourteenth floor, being shown where the copier was.
But the security guard only held one authoritative finger up and then gestured to the seating area again. Opening his mouth and then thinking better and closing it again, Samir turned away like some door-to-door salesman who’d been told the dogs would be set on him if he didn’t take his leave. Except I was invited to be here, Samir thought, straightening his shoulders. This was clearly a mistake. Leon Stepping probably just forgot to put his name on the list.
Aboard the Boeing Something-or-Other aircraft, Pinky sat in her first-class seat behind her parents. Her dad turned around and winked at her, his face soft and rounded and pale, completely the opposite of her mother’s.
Technically he was her stepdad—he and her mom had met when Pinky was a baby and had gotten married when she was four—but she couldn’t remember life before him. One of her first memories was of throwing a lump of sweet potato at him and him laughing uproariously. So, naturally, toddler Pinky had done it again.
“You comfy there, kiddo?” her dad asked now.
“Yep.” She’d promised her mom she wouldn’t wear her ripped shorts and midriff-exposing crop top, so instead she was dressed in an off-the-shoulder top and distressed capris, which was practically formal wear in Pinky’s eyes. She glanced at her reflection in the plane window. At least her hair, with its unruly pieces of teal and magenta and green, and her nose and eyebrow piercings still helped her feel like herself.
Her mom turned around. “Pinky, can you please turn down your music? I can hear it up here.”
“I have AirPods in!” Pinky said, gesturing to said Pods.
Her mom sighed and turned around, and Pinky saw her dad murmuring to her. Probably talking her off the ledge of abandoning Pinky in one of those safe-shelter places.
“Excuse me.” An older man in a suit stood in the aisle, frowning. He looked down at his boarding pass and then back up at the seat numbers. “I think I’m… in that seat.” He gestured to the empty window seat next to her.
Pinky hopped up and let him slide in. When she sat back down as he adjusted himself, he turned to her and motioned for her (kind of rudely) to take out her AirPods. Pinky did slowly, her eyebrow raised. This better be a medical emergency.
The skin on his face was papery white, nearly as white as his thinning hair. “Are you supposed to be in this seat?” he asked, looking at her clothes kind of pointedly.
“Um… yeah?” Pinky said, frowning. “It’s 2D, right?”
“Right…” The man opened his mouth as if to say something else. Finally, he added, “And you’re sure this is your seat?”
Pinky opened her mouth to respond, to ask the guy precisely what he meant by that comment, but then her mother turned around, looking very much a first-class traveler in her Armani cardigan and silk pants. Glaring at the old dude, she said, “That is her seat as much as the seat you’re sitting in is yours. Is there a particular reason you think her seat might not be hers? A reason that isn’t blatantly based in discrimination, that is?”
Pinky chuckled at the guy’s thunderstruck expression. “That’s Veena Kumar, my mom. She’s a partner at Kumar & Strong. You might’ve heard of them—the biggest corporate law firm on the West Coast? Oh, and that’s my dad, Howard Yeung, next to her. They’re both lawyers, incidentally.” Her dad was also giving the dude the evil eye, which Pinky knew was hard for him to do. He was as much a teddy bear as her mom was a werewolf/Komodo dragon hybrid. (How the heck they’d ended up together was completely beyond Pinky.) She smiled sweetly at the man in the seat next to her. “Just FYI.”
The man turned an alarming shade of fuchsia, shook out his copy of the Wall Street Journal, and began to read. It was as if he suddenly couldn’t understand what they were saying and was definitely not a part of this conversation anyway.
Pinky beamed conspiratorially at her mom, thrilled at this rare moment of solidarity. Her dad winked at her, and her mom said, “Turn down your music. You’ll damage your hearing.” And then she turned around and went back to the Times.
After that, the old man pretty much left her alone. He didn’t even ask her to get up so he could go to the bathroom, and Pinky knew for a fact that his bladder had to be hurting after all those Bloody Marys.
They landed what felt like forever later. Grabbing their luggage, they made their way outside, Pinky blinking in the afternoon sunlight.
Ellingsworth Point. It was the same as Pinky remembered it. She looked around at all the women in pastel-colored clothes, like walking Pez candy (her mom was one of them). Luxury cars glinted in the sunlit parking lot as far as the eye could see, most of them driven by chauffeurs.
The summer people had arrived. Pinky had mixed feelings about being a “summer person,” but then again, she had mixed feelings about being here at all.
One of the lesser frequented Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts, Ellingsworth still thought of itself as relatively unspoiled and unmarred by tourists (unlike its cousins, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket), though that was rapidly changing. Although there were beautiful beaches on Ellingsworth, Pinky’s family had a lake house in the more interior part of the island and they spent all their time swimming there. Her dad had a weird aversion to sand for having been born and brought up in coastal California.
“Ready?” her dad said, leading them to the rental car area.
Pinky glanced at her mother, who was dictating a work email into her phone. Two whole months in the lake house with her, with not even school or Pinky’s Atherton friends to interrupt.
“As I’ll ever be,” she muttered.
The drive to the lake house took about an hour, and Pinky and her dad played Antakshari, which was an Indian game where people had to sing a song based on the last letter sound of the song the player before them had sung. It was supposed to be played with Hindi songs, but since neither Pinky nor her Chinese-American stepdad spoke Hindi, they played it with English-language songs.
Her dad gave a sonorous rendition of “My Heart Will Go On,” and when he was finished, Pinky tapped her finger on her chin. “?‘On’ was the last word, so that leaves me with the letter N… Hmm…” She glanced at her mom’s profile, always so serious. “Mom? What’s an N song I can sing?”
Her mom smiled. Pinky was constantly taken aback how much her face transformed with the simple act of baring her teeth. “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down—” her mom began, grinning at her father.
“No, no, no.” Her dad guffawed. “You know darn well that song begins with, ‘We’re no strangers to love,’ you cheater.”
Her mom laughed and looked at Pinky in the rearview mirror. “What do you think, Pinky?”
“Well, since that song’s from, like, the Mesopotamian age, I’m not really sure, but I can Google it.”
“The Mesopotamian age?” her dad said, glancing at her in the rearview mirror with wounded eyes. “How old do you think we are?”
Pinky laughed as their rented BMW turned onto the gravel road that led to the lake house. “I refuse to answer on the grounds that it might incriminate me.”
Her dad guffawed. “Well played, kid.”
Pinky smirked. “I learned from the best.”
She looked out her window at the encroaching house, feeling a frisson of excitement in spite of herself and her utter conviction that this summer was going to suck. The house was enormous—five giant bedrooms, six bathrooms, a wraparound bi-level deck with a hot tub, a gazebo, and a barn in the backyard, and the lake within walking distance. She’d spent nearly every summer of her childhood here. There were so many heat-baked, happy memories—paddleboating on the lake while the sun beat down on the top of her head, visiting the island’s butterfly habitat with her parents, she and her cousin Dolly playing in the big barn and making “nests” out of dead leaves for a fictional cat they hoped would give birth to kittens there that summer. Pinky’s family and Dolly’s family (Dolly’s mom and Pinky’s mom were sisters) owned the house together.
As if on cue, her cell beeped.
Dolly: Where are you???? We’ve been here forever!
Grinning, Pinky responded, We’re pulling up! I can’t wait to see you!
Dolly: Me either! This summer is going to be soooo fun. Low key, doing a whole lot of nothing, just you and me hanging.
Pinky typed back, I KNOW. I can’t wait.
She looked up at her parents. “Dolly’s already here.”
“Excellent!” her dad said, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as he waited for the garage door to open. “Prepare for the inevitable Boggle beatdown.”
Pinky rolled her eyes and laughed.
“I can’t wait to hear what Dolly’s been up to all year!” her mom said as they pulled in next to Dolly’s family’s rented Jetta. Her voice was buoyant, like she was filled with bubbles. “Wasn’t she up for some big teen humanitarian award?”
Pinky slumped back in her seat. If there was one thing she could change about her perfect cousin, it would be… her perfection. And the way her own mom responded to it—moth, flame, et cetera. Couldn’t Dolly have at least one tiny flaw? It didn’t have to be anything major, just a tendency to spill ink on Pinky’s mom’s important papers or something.
Pinky unbuckled her seat belt. “Yeah,” she said reluctantly, in answer to her mom’s question. “And I think she won it.”
Samir was considering throwing a penny in the fountain for good luck on his first day when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and glanced at the screen.
His mother. He swiped and held the phone to his ear. “Ma?”
“Samir!” Her slightly husky voice came floating down the line. “Where are you?”
Samir looked around the busy lobby. “At Iyer & Whitman. The law offices?”
“Good, good. Did you remember to starch your cuffs and collar this morning? I forgot to ask you.”
“Of course I did.” That would be a rookie mistake, forgetting something as basic as that. He’d been starching his clothes since he was in third grade. And before that, his maid used to do it for him. “And I put a laminated copy of my itinerary on the fridge, so it’d be easy for you to find it.” He wasn’t expecting his mom to be totally rid of her old habits.
He could hear the smile in his voice as she answered. “I found it. Thank you, beta.”
Samir turned to see a young bespectacled brown-haired woman in a suit that was just slightly too big for her. “Yes,” he said, holding the phone away from his ear. “Just a moment, please.” To his mother, he said, “I have to go now. I’ll call you later, okay?”
A brief pause, during which he knew she was debating arguing. But then she said, “Thik hai. Talk to you soon.”
He pressed end, slipped his phone back into his pocket, and smiled precisely and politely at the young woman. Holding out his hand, he said, “Hi. I’m Samir.”
The woman took his hand in her own small, pale one and shook, her grip firm and dry. “Margot Peterson. I’m Mr. Stepping’s legal assistant.”
“Oh, great!” Samir’s smile got bigger, then dimmed a little when Margot looked at him with a mixture of pity and unhappiness.
She gestured to the couches right behind them. “Here, let’s have a seat and chat for a moment.”
“Okay.” Samir sat, his pulse speeding up. “Is… something wrong?” He was suddenly intensely afraid that she was going to say they’d meant to invite some other Samir Jha. That he was the wrong one. Maybe the real Samir was already up there, learning how Mr. Stepping liked his coffee in the mornings.
Margot sat across from him and leaned forward, her hands clasped between her knees. “Samir, Mr. Stepping had to take an unexpected sabbatical. He’s going to be gone for the next three months.”
Samir blinked. That was not even in the same zip code as what he’d readied himself to hear.
“What?” Not the most elegant response. Come on, Sam, you got a 720 on the vocabulary section of the SATs. You can do better than that. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Ah, I mean… What?”
Margot sat back and considered him, her brown eyes bright behind her glasses. “He’s gone. Ergo, he’s not taking on any interns this summer after all. I’m sorry, but your internship has fallen through.”
Samir took a beat to process this. There seemed to be a block of ice in his brain, though, that refused to let any coherent thought pass through. “But… I flew all the way from San Francisco to be here.”
“I know.” Margot pursed her lips. “All of this just happened this morning. I wish we’d had time to tell you before you spent your time and money doing that. I’m so sorry.”
“This just happened this morning? He decided to take a sabbatical on a whim?” Samir wasn’t a lawyer yet, but that seemed really shady to him. “Sorry, but that makes literally no sense.”
Margot shifted, and a faint flush of color rose to her pale cheeks. “Certain things have happened that forced our hand.”
Samir continued to stare blankly at her. The universe was making no sense today. “What?” he said again. It was apparently his new favorite word.
Margot sighed. She looked at him for a long moment, opening her mouth and then closing it again. Finally, she said, “This is confidential.”
Samir nodded slowly. “Okay.”
“I shouldn’t be telling you.”
He nodded again. “I won’t say anything to anyone.” What the heck was going on?
Margot studied his expression and then seemed to come to a decision about his trustworthiness. “I’m telling you because I know how much it must suck to have something like this happen. And we really liked your application.” She took a deep breath, and her voice fell another notch. “Mr. Stepping had to go to rehab. That’s where he is. Things sort of… came to a head today.”
Rehab. Holy crap. The dude wasn’t off eating pain au chocolat in Paris or whatever. He was in rehab. Which meant, yeah, Samir was SOL. “What about one of the other lawyers?” he said, aware that he sounded about as desperate as a door-to-door salesman now. The muscled security guard glanced over, alert at the first sign of trouble. Samir forced his voice into a more natural speaking tone. Being deloused in preparation for a prison term was not how he wanted this day to end. “Maybe someone else could take me on.”
Margot shook her head. “Sorry. Only three lawyers were taking interns this summer, and neither of the remaining two want another one.” She stood. “Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you. Maybe stay in DC a while, take in the sights?” She shrugged, as if to say she was all out of helpful suggestions, and then walked off, swiping her badge to get through the turnstiles.
Samir stood there, staring after her, his DC dream in a pile of ashes at his feet.
He sat at an outdoor café, staring morosely into his latte as streams of people in business suits and sneakers rushed by him. Then, taking a deep breath and straightening his shoulders, Samir pulled out a small, monogrammed planner from his messenger bag, along with a pencil box full of colored markers. Flipping open to the current date, where he’d denoted each task that lay before him—6 a.m.: wake up. 6:15 a.m.: brush teeth. 6:20 a.m.: shower, 6:30 a.m.: iron shirt, tie, and pants, etc.—he crossed out the 8 a.m. entry: begin internship. Then he sat back and sighed.
The rest of the day was blank, because he hadn’t been sure what, exactly, his tasks for the day would be. The plan had been to fill that in for the rest of the week based on how today went. Maybe he should just fill in “be a directionless loser” for the rest of the summer.
He knew he could always go back home, maybe get a job at the country club as a tennis coach. Spend time with his mom making smoothies and granola and stuff like they had last summer. The thought almost made him gasp for breath, it was so stifling. And, of course, he felt completely guilty for feeling that way. It wasn’t his mom’s fault she was how she was.
The thing was, his family… His family wasn’t like other families. Samir’s dad had died in a car crash when Samir was just a baby. It had always been just him and his mom, the “two musketeers,” as she called them. And then, when he was ten, his mom was diagnosed with really advanced breast cancer. That was scary enough, but what made it worse was that her own mom, Samir’s nani, had died of the same thing when she was his mom’s age.
Against all odds, in spite of what the doctors said, his mom managed to fight it off and live.
Samir didn’t know if her doctors had written “kicked cancer’s ass” in her medical file, but they should’ve. And then, after she was cancer-free, his mom became a little overprotective of Samir. It was as if she felt she’d been given a second chance to make sure his life was perfect, that he was set up for success, in case…
It really stung that his internship, his jailbreak—okay, that was a mean way to think of it, but there it was—had been snatched out from under him so abruptly. Not that he wasn’t happy that Mr. Stepping was off getting the help he needed. But man, did he have to do it the day Samir was due to work for him? Couldn’t he have had his breakthrough in the fall?
Samir sighed, took a sip of the latte, which was still piping hot, thanks to the relentless summer sun beating down on the concrete patio, and slipped his phone out of his pocket.
Internship canceled, he typed in his text message to Ash, who was on a family trip to Maui. All of Samir’s friends were off having their own summer adventures. Which meant that if he went back home, he’d basically have just his mom for company. 24/7. The vise around his chest tightened and he tried to take a deep breath. It only kind of worked.
Ash: What?? Dude, what happened??
Attorney went on sabbatical. Long story. Anyway, sitting at a café now wondering what to do.
Ash: Dude, that freaking blows. Hey, you wanna come out to Hawaii? Gita Kaki brought Crabby. To freaking Maui. He called me a gringo, Sam. I don’t think he knows what it means, only that it’s an insult, but still. I could use the distraction.
Samir snorted. Gita Kaki was Ashish’s eccentric aunt who was convinced messenger parrots were this era’s email. And Crabby, a giant parrot who cursed almost nonstop, was her pride and joy. No thanks man. I’d rather watch all four Twilight movies back to back.
Ash: Don’t lie, you’ve been on Team Edward forever. Anyway. So what are you gonna do? Go back home?
Sam: Idk thinking about it. How’s Sweetie?
Ash: :) good good. She’s visiting her cousin but it’s gonna be awesome when we reunite. Hey do you think girls like bacon roses or is that a weird present
Sam: um yeah I’d rethink that
Ash: yeah you’re probably right. hey you sure you gonna be okay? You know my mom would love to have you
Sam: I appreciate it man but I’m okay. Gonna stay the night and head out in the morning. Maybe I’ll get a job at the country club caddying or something, get out of the house a bit
Ash: Good idea. I’ll be back in a couple weeks and then we’ll have a major bball tournament
Samir smiled. Ashish was trying to make him feel better, and weirdly enough, it sort of worked. Thanks bro enjoy Hawaii
Putting his phone down on the metal table, Samir signaled for the check. While he waited, he sat back and watched the cars whizzing by on the street. His hotel was right down the block from here. He was supposed to be subletting an apartment for the summer, but he’d already texted the Georgetown student to tell her his internship had fallen through. She was sympathetic but not heartbroken. Apparently she had a waiting list of twelve people who wanted to be notified in case his plans fell through.
Should he go back home? That would be the smart thing to do. It was still early in the day; there were lots of flights back, he was sure. Except… except he didn’t want to go home. Not yet.
For now he’d go back to his hotel and watch a really bad movie, he decided. Maybe one of the older Godzillas. Watching a fake disaster unfolding might distract him from his very real one, at least for a couple of hours.