Winters are hot in Southern California, and Rachel can actually feel her poofy blonde hair growing. Balled up in the ditch of her friend Jeannie’s car, she holds her backpack like a turtle shell to conceal herself from the security lady who’s conducting a careful inspection of the gold star (impossible to counterfeit) at the top right corner of Jeannie’s school ID, which indicates that Jeannie, but not her, can go off campus for lunch.

The delicious breeze soon created by the car moving forward is Rachel’s sign that all’s clear. Crawling into the passenger seat, she takes a Marlboro Red out of the crumpled hard pack in the front of her backpack, and lights one. Enjoying the kind of youthful freedom that feels best when stolen.

“Del Taco?” Jeannie asked.

“Duh. Can we also stop at Stater Bros, if we have time?”

“For what?”

“Dr. Pepper. They don’t have it at Del Taco.”

Waiting in the drive-thru for their cheap and greasy tacos, Rachel checks her watch and sees that they don't have much time left before they have to be back.

“Here’s some cash. I’m gonna jump out and walk over to to Stater’s real quick. Pick me up in front?”

Jeannie just nods.

She uses her hip to shut the door and feels the heat of the gold metal through her jeans. Walking quickly towards the store, smoking a new cig, she turns to make a face at Jeannie. As she does, perfectly timed, she sees her mother, driving by in her Red Jeep Cherokee. She’s wearing sunglasses but still … the look.

A week later, on Christmas morning, Rachel sits with her parents around the tree, unwrapping presents. On the last one, her mom watches as she peels at the shiny red paper with Santa faces all over it. A shoebox (trick box, she’d already opened the shoes), and inside there’s a pair of black crotchless underpants, and a carton of cigarettes. Her mom’s brand, Barclay.

“I don’t understand,” Rachel says, still holding the box.

“You looked like a real hooker, walking through the parking lot like that.”

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