I answered the door in my pajamas.  The taller of the two girls standing there asked for my roommate, Sheldon.

“He didn’t come home last night,” I said.

“We know you,” the shorter one said.

“I think I served you once.”

“That’s right,” she said. “In Montana. Like a year ago.”

The three of us nodded, pleased to have cleared up that mystery.

“Would you like to come inside?” I asked.

They were both effortlessly beautiful in a hippy, outdoorsy way—like the models in the Patagonia catalog, stunning in fleece vests and stocking caps, sitting around a campfire or in a canoe.

Sheldon and I lived in a run-down rental in Boise’s otherwise nice North End. One of our neighbors was a state senator. Amidst a sea of well-tended green, our lawn was a brown smudge, all dust and dry weeds. Neither Sheldon nor I knew how to turn on the sprinklers. We’d lived here for months and had yet to clean. Our second-hand furniture sat at odd angles upon the carpet, never actually arranged. I’d scored a giant faux-leather sectional couch at a yard sale, its dimensions longer than any of the actual walls. Its L-shape fenced off the bulk of the living room like a playpen.

The girls asked if they could bring their dog inside. The landlord forbid pets, but already I’d found it impossible to say no to the two of them. From the covered pickup parked outside, they carried in sleeping bags, yoga mats, and a well-mannered husky with ice-blue eyes. I got the impression they’d be staying for a while, which made me inexplicably happy.

I’d moved to Boise months earlier for a graduate program and swiftly plunged into doubt and loneliness. Sheldon came here for a job around the same time, but wrecked his motorcycle during the first week and was forced to stay at home. We weren’t in the habit of talking about emotions, but it seemed like a bleak autumn for both of us.

From the moment they entered, everything changed in our house. The girls bought groceries, cleaning products, even plants. They practiced yoga in our living room. I woke to the smells of coffee brewing and eggs frying. They put candles and flowing cloths atop all the surfaces, moved the furniture into positions that facilitated sitting and talking. The dog curled at my feet. Someone was always brewing tea or offering a neck massage.

 

In the back of my mind, I must’ve expected a catch. On the third or fourth day of their stay, I learned there was more than skiing and camping gear in that truck. They’d come from Humboldt County, where Emily (the shorter, more beautiful one)’s father owned land. Wrapped in Ziploc bags and stacked in a series of Tupperware tubs were the pungent fruits of this year’s harvest.

Theirs was a brilliant caper: a truck overflowing with recreational gear, a dog, and two girls with infectious smiles. What law enforcement professional in the West would give them trouble? But it wasn’t all some ruse. They truly did love skiing, hiking, camping, even travelling by car. Selling pot was the means, not the end.

It turned out that our re-meeting hadn’t been all coincidence. After eating in the Montana café a year ago—with me as their waiter—they’d asked where to go for a drink. I’d directed them to a bar up the street where, unbeknownst to me, they’d met Sheldon. He’d fallen into the role of local fixer last year and was all set to play it again, here. I’d unwittingly set this visit in motion.

 

After a few days of relaxation, it was time to work. The girls cooked a stir-fry, hung a sheet over the windows that faced the senator’s house, and sorted through their Tupperware. Sheldon made calls. They loaded up the goods and put on their coats. I begged off, citing homework, but Emily insisted that I tag along. She pouted her lips and bunched up her eyebrows. I wasn’t that strong.

We crammed into their truck and drove out to a seedy strip of bars and auto-repair shops west of town. Sheldon led us to a tavern where we met two short-haired men at a table. With their leather jackets and trimmed goatees, they were the visual opposite of the girls.

Emily ordered a pitcher and glasses, then got down to business. She went on about numbers and varietals with one of the men: The Green Mama, Purple People Eater, Velvet Elvis.

Eventually, she led him out to the truck while the rest of us stayed inside. I drank beer and did my best to strike up a conversation with the other guy. He’d just returned from a lucrative stint driving trucks for a private contractor in Iraq, and was looking for his next move. On this errand, his role was similar to mine: a warm body recruited at the last minute to feed the illusion that our respective leaders had a bigger posse than they actually did.

Emily returned a few minutes later and motioned the rest of us out. We joined the dog in the cab of the truck. The girls were in high spirits as we drove away. Apparently, they’d unloaded some sub-par weed on this Idaho rube, a strain that looked exotic from within the plastic, but was harsh and unpleasant when smoked.

Sheldon was eager to celebrate. Emily was tired and asked to be dropped off. I jumped at the chance to have a little time alone with her, hoping she felt the same way. It turned out that she truly was tired, and immediately went to sleep on the short arm of the sectional couch.

 

The next day, I came home from class and found everyone packing up. The truck was loaded, the yoga mats rolled up, the dog dishes merely pots and pans once again. Sheldon had promised connections in Montana, Utah, and Colorado. He would ride along for the next several legs. I’d like to report that I chose to stay behind, that it was all some kind of formative and meaningful decision. But I never truly got invited.

As I waved goodbye from the brown dust of our so-called lawn, Emily’s face pressed momentarily against the glass of the passenger side. I wondered if I’d been conned like the local weed buyer, an easy sucker for her charm, a handy host and temporary helper. But I doubt it. It’s more likely that I played an even smaller role, a bit part really, in the much bigger adventures of those two girls. By now, they likely don’t remember me at all.

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TYLER MCMAHON is the author of the novels Kilometer 99 and How the Mistakes Were Made. He is the editor of Hawaii Pacific Review. He teaches writing at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu. More info at www.tylermcmahon.net.

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