I looked for Larry the next week, but he didn’t show up near my school. Keeping my head down, I went to class, to after-school Writers’ Club meetings, to fast food places, to the bus stop.
One night, in our small apartment, my dad casually asked if I had started smoking weed.
“No, not yet,” I said, concentrating on my book. We were reading The Good Earth in English class, and I was enthralled by the plight of the Chinese peasant farmers.
“You don’t think Helen stole a joint from me, do you?”
I looked up. Dad stroked Helen’s brown-and-white fur where she sat beside him on the piano bench. She purred, imperious.
I closed my book, my face heating up. “Sorry, Dad. It was for a friend.”
His eyes searched the carpet. His voice was quiet. “Tyler, you could get in huge trouble for giving other kids pot. I could get in huge trouble.”
“I know that,” I said. “He’s not a kid.”
Helen jumped down and ran to her food bowl. Dad leaned forward.
“Who is he?” His eyebrows came together under his balding pate. A bad sign.
Unprepared, I stammered a little but tried to smooth things over. “Just some homeless guy, Dad. No one, really.” I thought about Larry’s sunlight-on-chrome smile and felt a twinge. Larry wasn’t no one.
Dad got up and went to our tiny kitchen. He began preparing potstickers for dinner, kneading spices into meat and pleating dumpling wrappers. He started frying them, and my stomach growled. I put my book down and went to make salad.
“I’ll pay for that joint,” I said, taking down plates and bowls.
I jumped when he dropped the lid onto the frying pan with a clatter.
“Son, I don’t want you to pay for it,” he said. “I want a reasonable explanation.”
Abandoning dinner preparations, I went to the only bedroom—my room—and fetched the T-shirt out of my backpack. I brought it into the kitchen and held it up for my dad to see.
“He’s an artist,” I said, as if this would explain everything. The truth was, I had no excuse for taking the joint. I just felt like Larry deserved something more than money—something special.
My dad glanced at the shirt, setting two steaming plates on the table by the salad bowl. “Come eat.”
I obeyed, wadding the shirt up and laying it next to my plate. “Thanks for dinner, Dad.”
Adrien Kade Sdao earned their MFA in Creative Writing (Writing for Young People) from Antioch University Los Angeles, where they now teach through the Continuing Education program inspiration2publication. They are a reader and guest editor for Voyage, a young adult literary journal. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, K’in, Lunch Ticket, Fterota Logia, and more. They live in North Hollywood with their cat, Shelly. Find out more at aksdao.com. Adrien recommends the NoHo Home Alliance.