In high school John Lucky and Tony Premo effortlessly established their reputations as assholes. When they weren’t drunk or stoned, they drove like idiots, shop-lifted at Walmart and menaced their girlfriends. Lucky was pretty sure the only reason they graduated was that their teachers couldn’t stand to have them around anymore.
His daughter, sixteen-year-old Serena Lucky, had no idea just how big an asshole he had been. And he intended to keep it that way. Because even though she wasn’t any more of a star pupil than he had been, she was a good girl--gentle and sweet, the kind of girl he and Pro would have tormented in high school.
On top of that, Lucky figured that, in spite of the ways he had fucked up and the ways his family had fucked him up, he’d done okay. He’d gone to community college and become an X-ray technician. He’d married MaryRose, who got pregnant and didn’t tell him until it was too late. They stayed together till Serena was seven. Eventually, he even became a pretty good father.
The first few years after the divorce he saw Serena only when he wanted to and on his terms. He’d take her to movies so they wouldn’t have to talk. Or they’d watch TV. For a while he dated somebody with a daughter the same age. The two girls would play together, leaving Lucky and his girlfriend free of parenting responsibilities for a few hours.
But when Serena was ten, MaryRose re-married. She told Lucky ‘joint custody’ had to start meaning something now. He really wassupposed to take Serena half-time.
He explained to MaryRose that he’d never wanted to be a father, wasn’t a good father, that he’d fight her in court.
MaryRose didn’t care. She told him he’d have to step up to the plate.
He would have to give up the high life, she said. Good-bye parties. Good-bye, girls. What she didn’t know was that the parties were few and the girls--well, mostly the girls were on stage at a strip club so there was little hope of one of them ever waking him with a morning blow job or bringing him a plate of scrambled eggs in bed.
Sure, he could probably have bought a blowjob. But he didn’t have the money or the heart for it. As for breakfast, you got good value at Friendly’s.
Once Serena was living with him more-or-less half-time, he realized that you got good value at Friendly’s for dinner, too. Kid’s meals. They were cheap and came with an ice cream sundae at the end. He’d never need to learn to cook.
This was at the beginning of real ‘joint custody,’ when he was looking for simple solutions.
Over time he discovered that fatherhood was not an exact science. Given his high school science grades, this might have been good news. Unfortunately, fatherhood was more like English class where the only thing you could count on was being both bored and confused at the same time.
After a while, fatherhood stopped being boring and slightly less confusing. He began to get the hang of it. He learned how to cook a few things. He learned how to pack a lunch—with mini-carrots instead of chips once Serena was in high school and thought she was getting fat. Fat, Lucky thought. She was beautiful and didn’t even know it.
He learned how to check Serena’s backpack for the permission slips she always forgot to give him--for the IMAX field trip, for the visit to the State Capitol, for watching “Saving Private Ryan.” Whatever it was, he signed. There hadn’t been IMAX when he was in school. And nobody had been saving Private Ryan. He figured the teachers knew best. So he signed.
He also learned to talk to Serena’s teachers without insolence or fear. What could they do to him? Flunk him? He’d already been through all of that. Flunk his kid? Not likely. This was the era of No Child Left Behind.
Lucky’s friend, Pro, had taken a different path. And had a lot less success at life. Like, no success at all. He couldn’t keep a job, couldn’t keep a woman. He got pulled over for DWI and between that and the speeding tickets, lost his license. He ended up living in his mother’s house, in an apartment over her garage.
Pro wasn’t creative enough to be evil, organized enough to be devious, or smart enough to realize that if even if he didn’t recognize his own incompetence, everybody else did.
That didn’t make him a bad guy, Lucky thought. But between Pro’s ongoing saga of fuck-ups and Lucky’s responsibilities--plus the fact that he didn’t go to strip clubs anymore—they drifted apart. Once in a while they still hung out. When Pro was sober and Lucky didn’t have Serena.
“Come on, Pro, you’re fucking up your life,” Lucky told him after he had dumped yet another of the eighteen-to-nineteen-year-old girls he managed to charm, “Date a girl your age.”
He just laughed, “I like ‘em young.”
Pro is a loser, MaryRose used to say. And Lucky would respond,Maybe he’s a loser. But he’s my friend.
After the DWI MaryRose started saying, Pro is an asshole. And Lucky would respond, Maybe he’s an asshole. But he’s my friend.
Friends were something men needed—he’d read enough of the women’s magazines MaryRose brought home to know that. (Actually, it was through reading women’s magazines that Lucky discovered two simultaneously conflicting things about women: They wanted to be paid more money for the work they did. At the same time they also wanted to have a husband who made enough money that they could chuck their jobs and stay home with the kids. This led Lucky to think that men really did need friends. And that maybe what women needed were shock treatments.)
There was never any real question that MaryRose was right about Pro. When Lucky asked him to be Serena’s godfather he had to take him step-by-step through how he needed to act in church, how he would have to dress.
Pro made it through the service all right. Pretty good, actually. But in the middle of the coffee hour that followed, when everybody was sipping de-caf and cooing over the baby, he took Lucky out to the parking lot for a smoke. Then he opened his trunk and showed Lucky the twelve-pack he’d brought to go with the coffeecake he’d taken from the church hall.
Lucky waved away the beer and went back into the church. It wasn’t as if they were ever going to show up there again, but he still didn’t want people to see him out in the parking lot swigging a can of Miller. And he didn’t want MaryRose smelling beer on his breath, either. (Though in about half-an-hour at the baptismal party she would be downing White Russians like they were mother’s milk. He knew MaryRose.)
The thing about Pro, Lucky thought, was that his fuck-ups had never really hurt anybody. It was more the other way around--people were always helping him out of his various scrapes: the relationship with the girl married to a state trooper, the apartment fire he had started because he’d fallen asleep—or maybe passed out—smoking in bed.
So when Pro called one Friday, asking if he could come over, Lucky just assumed he was in some other kind of mess.
“Sure,” he said, “But MaryRose is dropping Serena off around six so you’ve got to be gone by then.”
Pro being Pro, he didn’t show up until just before six, an open, quart-sized Dos Equis in his hand.
He walked into the living room, Lucky following, and flopped down heavily on the couch.
“Listen, man, I got some shit going on. I need some help.”
It was Internet trouble, he said. He was in a jam. He had found a website with young, willing Asian girls anxious to service American men. He had found another website with young, willing Russian girls anxious to service American men. He had also found a site with young, willing Indian girls anxious to service American men. Fortunately for all of those young, willing Asian, Russian and Indian girls, he had found still another site, one advertising very young, willing American girls anxious to service American men. This was the website he contacted.
One thing led to another. He hadn’t planned on meeting the girl. And then he figured, what the fuck. He wasn’t going to do anything bad, he swore. He just wanted to check it all out. So they planned to meet at the Star-Lite Motel. And then, when he got there, who should be in the motel room at the Star-Lite but this bitch cop who was older than he was.A lot older.All she was willing to do was arrest him.
“But I swear to God, Lucky, even when she was reading all that shit to you like they do, she sounded just like a fifteen-year-old girl. She had a voice like a fucking kid.”
Pro’s mother, he said, had posted bail. So what he needed now was a lawyer to get him off. It’s not like he’d done anything wrong.
“Man, I never had a chance. I never even opened my fucking mouth. They just assumed I had all the worst intentions in the world.”
“Yeah, well, Pro, man, that was a stupid move, you know?” Lucky said. But he didn’t think it was just stupid. He thought it was sick. Real sick.
“Yeah, but I can’t go to jail for this. I mean, I didn’t do anything. Nothing. I don’t see how they even could arrest me,” Pro said.
Lucky shook his head, “They arrested you because you broke the law. It’s not like you’re some kind of victim. You’re not supposed to solicit sex from kids. You know that, right?”
Pro took a pull of beer.
“Yeah. I know that. But she wasn’t a kid, not a little kid. And I wasn’t asking for sex. It was about getting to know each other--.”
“Pro, don’t give me that bullshit.”
“Okay, it was a stupid thing to do. But I didn’t have sex with her.”
Just as Pro was saying that Lucky heard Serena unlocking and opening the front door. She and MaryRose walked in, talking non-stop, without even so much as a ‘hello,’ and went into the kitchen. Maybe it was because Pro was there. But women, he’d long ago discovered, could do that—come into a room and keep on talking, ignoring whoever else was there. It was different with guys. They didn’t like to be overheard, particularly by a wife or girlfriend. You never knew what topic would set them off.
And Lucky truly did not want to be overheard right now.
But Pro kept going on, asking Lucky for the name of a lawyer who could help him. What was the name, he wanted to know, of the lawyer who worked out the terms of Lucky’s custody arrangement with Serena?
“Pro—listen. She does family law. You need a criminal lawyer,” he tried to keep his voice low, but Pro kept saying, “What? Huh?” so Lucky spoke a little louder.
“Family lawyers don’t do criminal law,” he said.
Pro looked at him, “I didn’t commit a crime. I didn’t do nothing.”
Lucky put his hand to his forehead, raked his fingers across his scalp.
“Yeah, you did. You committed a crime. You need a criminallawyer.”
Pro looked at him, his eyes hard, “Lucky. I didn’t lay a hand on that girl. Christ, there wasn’t even a real girl there for me to lay a hand on! Just a cop. So how could I have committed a crime? Just give me the name of that fucking lawyer. That’s all I’m asking for. Her name.”
It was Laurel Kensington. And all the while Lucky worked with her he had thought she was probably a dyke. She wasn’t married, she wore pants suits all the time and she didn’t seem to like him all that much. That had to make her a dyke, right?
Looking back, he could see why she didn’t like him. He had hired her to argue for the least amount of custodial time. She ended up getting him more hours. He’d been pissed as hell, felt ripped-off. He hadn’t known then that he’d grow to like being a father.
Which was the reason he didn’t want to give Pro any help. Any at all. Because Pro had gone to that motel thinking he was going to get to fuck a fifteen-year-old. And that made him a scumbag in Lucky’s book. Probably he would have felt that way even if he hadn’t been a father. But he was.
“Listen, she’s not the right lawyer for you,” he tried to keep his voice even and low. But he was getting more and more angry, “She does custodial arrangements and stuff like that. She doesn’t defend criminals--.”
“Hey, don’t give me that shit. I’m not a fucking criminal, man. I’m your friend and I’m getting framed and I need a little help.”
“Pro. You’re not getting framed. You committed a crime,” he kept his lips pursed together so the words barely came out, “You went out to that motel hoping to get laid by a girl who’s younger than Serena. Younger than your god-daughter.”
“Fuck, man! I can’t believe you’re laying this shit on me.”
“Shh,” Lucky said. He could hear the girls in the kitchen, popping the tops of soda cans, opening the back door to the patio. He wondered if they had been listening.
“Pro, man, I can’t believe you’re laying this shit on me. Like, you think that even if I had a name to give you that I would? But I don’t know any criminal lawyers. Turns out, I never needed one.”
“Fuck!” Pro said, shooting up from the sofa and slamming his bottle on the coffee table. Beer sloshed and the bottle wobbled, but stayed upright, “Fuck! I can’t believe this! You’re just going leave me hanging?”
“Yep, Pro. I can’t help you. You’re on your own with this one.”
“Because you’ve got a fucking teen-age daughter you’re going to go all holy on me? You think I’d ever hurt Serena?”
At the sound of her name Lucky exploded. He jumped up, clenching his fists, blood thrumming in his ears.
“Look, Pro,” he said slowly, deliberately, “Don’t you even say her name. Don’t call her my ‘fucking teen-age daughter--’”
“You are some fucking meathead, man. This isn’t about Serena. It’s about me--.””
“I mean it—don’t say her name!--.”
Pro stared at him, wordlessly. Then he grabbed his half-empty beer and slowly poured the rest of it on the rug, swinging it in an arc as if he was pissing in the snow. Next he slammed the bottle against the side of the coffee table and it shattered, sending glass everywhere.
“You’re the fucking sicko, man. You’re the one whose got ideas about your daughter. Not me--.”
Lucky lunged at him, “Shut up! Shut up and get the fuck out of here! Now.”
But Pro shoved him back with both hands and Lucky, unprepared, stumbled, nearly landing in the glass. By the time he got his footing, Pro was at the door, yanking it open, slamming it shut. Lucky chased after him, yelling.
Pro was already in his truck, firing the engine, grinding the gears. He shot out into the street so fast an oncoming car had to swerve hard to avoid getting hit.
Disgusted, Lucky turned around and went back inside. He looked at the dark beer stain on the rug, the shattered glass. The bottle neck was all in one piece, like a guitar slide. Fucking Pro.
He went to the kitchen for paper towels, for the broom and dustpan. He cleaned up the mess, dumped the broken glass into the garbage can. He didn’t know what to do about the beer smell. Maybe he would ask MaryRose. Or maybe he wouldn’t.
His brain ached. He knew Tylenols weren’t going to help, but he went to the sink for a glass of water and took a couple, anyway.
From the window over the sink he could see MaryRose and Serena sitting on the patio in golden, late-day sunshine. MaryRose had her back to him and her dark hair gleamed. Serena was facing his direction, wearing a denim skirt, green flip-flops and a pink tank top. Her hair—lighter than her mother’s, almost blonde—shimmered. She was talking to MaryRose and said something that made them both laugh.
He liked their laughter. He liked it when Serena made him laugh. Kids that age wanted you to think they were all grown-up. But they also wanted you to take care of them. As long as you didn’t let them know that’s what you were doing. It was the best of both worlds: To be able to laugh with Serena. And also to be able to protect her.
So when Lucky thought about Pro wanting to fuck somebody’s daughter, he knew Pro wouldn’t have thought of her as a daughter, not anybody’s daughter. The way he looked at it, she wouldn’t really have been anything at all. Just some young cunt.
Right then MaryRose said something and Serena laughed, her head back, her mouth opened wide, her teeth shining in the sunlight, her hair draping her shoulders.
And it made him sick, but he wondered--blood thrumming his eardrums again—if Pro had ever looked at Serena that way. He wondered if Pro had ever looked at his daughter and thought—yeah, nice piece.