In which Dani gets fashion advice and a new case from Mikey.

Jen looked up from her phone long enough to spare the outfit a quick glance. “It’s racist.” She bowed her head back over the phone, long black hair blocking her face from Dani’s view.ani flashed a smile and twirled the serape draped over her shoulders with a flourish of her hands.  “Hey, Jen, whaddya think? Awesome, right?”

“Racist against whom?”

Jen pushes her hair back with a sigh, and stood up, shoving the phone into her back pocket. “Mexicans. To everybody. Anybody with taste. Wasn’t that your Halloween costume from a hundred years ago?”

Dani clutched the brightly-colored serape to her body. “Maybe.”

“And didn’t I tell you it was racist then, too?” Jen’s eyes narrowed.

Dani didn’t actually take a step backwards, because that would be ridiculous. She wasn’t scared of Jen. Ten years out of high school and Jen still only weighed a hundred pounds. Plus she probably hadn’t kept up with the kick-boxing, right? There was only a seventy-five percent chance Jen could still kick her ass.

“Maybe.” Dani looked at Mikey for support but he was face down on the bed, only the spikey black tips of his hair visible. The huge white comforter swelled over him, concealing most of his slim body. His scruffy Converse hung over the edge of the bed. No help would be coming from that corner. “Fine.”

She tossed the serape on to the bed, aiming for Mikey. It drifted down over his head. He didn’t budge. From the way he was dressed, he’d come right from last night’s Mr. Right Now to her house.

She reached for Jen’s hands, grasping both of them in hers. “Jen. Kwanjai. Babe. Why were you bringing me down? There are going to be cowgirls. Cowgirls. I gotta have some style. Help me, Obiwan Kenobe. You’re my only hope.”

Jen rolled her eyes then laughed, dimples on full display.

Yeah, there’s the smile Dani had been going for; that ‘you’re a dork, but you’re my dork’ look. It warmed the cockles of her heart.

Dani dropped down onto the bed. Mikey rolled against her back as the mattress sagged. “Okay, seriously. What should I pack? It’s not like I’ve got a whole lot of choices. I’ve got plaid flannel, and, um…” She stared into the small walk in closet, “plaid. And jeans.”

“I vote for plaid flannel and jeans. Stay in your comfort zone.” Mikey’s voice was muffled by the pillow.

Dani snorts. “You would. And look who’s talking, you haven’t changed your style since high school And stop making out with my bed.”

“Your bed loves me.” Mikey gathered the pillow against his head. “Besides, isn’t plaid like a mating call for you people?”

“Don’t mock the traditional clothing of my people.”

“Plaid and jeans are fine, Dani.” Jen could afford to be smug, her bag was neatly packed already and waiting in the trunk of the car. Plus dressing was easy for her. She was five foot nothing and a size two. Everything looked good on her. At five-eight, Dani was average-sized in the real world, but hanging with Jen and Mikey made her feel like a giant.

“You both suck.” Dani tossed the serape in the bottom her duffle anyway. And some chaps. You never knew. She threw some underwear in the bag, socks, t-shirts. It’s not like she had a huge wardrobe. Serviceable was a generous description of her style. She shouldered the bag, kicking Jen’s foot as she passed and smacking Mikey on the ass. “C’mon, losers. We’re gonna be late for ro-day-o school.”

 

The Roadmaster’s chassis shined in the sun, flashing white arrows of light into the other cars. The hum of the engine vibrated through Dani’s bones as they drove down the road, Jen rode shotgun, Mikey sat the back. Just like they’d done it in high school but with less pot and fewer sets of fishnet stockings.

Dani reached over and squeezed Jen’s knee. “Music, Nu. Pick something good.” She gave one more squeeze for emphasis, smacking Jen’s thigh as she pulled away. Jen didn’t move and Dani was afraid she pushed too far, too fast, but the old name had just slipped out. She’d called Jen Nu, the Thai word for mouse, for years before she’d found out that was wasn’t actually her legal name. Heck, she hadn’t even known it meant mouse until Jen’s mom, Khun Honey, mentioned it in passing when they were in fourth grade. Jen started insisting on being called Jen in middle school, but at home she was still Nu.

“I got it.” Mikey sat up. A few seconds later the sound of something horrible came from the back seat. A broken synthesizer, Dani thought. Or some new atonal Asian band maybe? Jen looked as confused as Dani. “What the hell?”

Mikey smiled when they caught his attention in the rearview mirror. “I thought we’d try something new?”

Jen laughed.

Dani backhanded her on the thigh, rattling the cracked pleather box of cassette tapes on her lap. “Don’t make me stop the car, Michael.” Dani threatens. Jen grabbed her hand, holding it in place. It was distracting.

“But, but, new music!” Mikey held up his phone. “Endless, streaming music. No hiss.”

Dani reached over the back seat and rattled the box of tapes at him. “Rare bootlegs. Tapes off the original vinyl. Tapes painstakingly compiled with all the songs in the right order. Barbarian.”

“We made those in high school.”

“Give it up, Mikey.” Jen took the box back from Dani. “Dani’s wardrobe wasn’t the only thing that atrophied in the nineties.” Jen dragged a finger down the rows plastic boxes with handwritten labels until she found one she liked. She slapped the tape into the hand she knew would be there.

Dani slipped it in, turning the volume up on general principle. She was right. Bikini Kill still sounded awesome, and despite their bitching, Jen and Mikey still remembered every word.

 

They sang every song with varying degrees of skill as the cruised the side roads to the highway. Jen pointed out the turns, even though Dani knew exactly how to get there and Jen knew she knew. It’s how they did it. Fort Collins, Colorado was 350 miles straight South of Rapid city, even if they drove the long way through Custer State Park. Which they would. Jen always made Dani take the scenic route even if they were only going to 7-11. Dani could do the drive with her eyes closed. Hell, she didn’t even need a case, she’d do the drive for the beer and the music alone. She’d spent quite a few happy hours in that town a long time ago. You have to love a college town.

In the backseat, Mikey was stretched out, feet up, shoes off, which Dani appreciated, absorbed in clicking through his phone.

“Hey.” Dani met his eyes in the rearview.

“Yeah?”

“So, tell me about you and the cowboy.” She turned the music down. It wasn’t often Dani found out something she didn’t know about Mikey. Jen, of course, was another story. The seven-year gap in their friendship held secrets that conversations in the last few months had only begun to touch on.

“Where’d you guys meet?” Jen asked.

“Well, you know, this ain’t my first gay rodeo.” Jen groaned. “Oh c’mon, you know somebody had to say it.”

“Oh, I’m sure it will be said several times over the next few days.”

Dani tapped on the back of the seat. “So,” she repeated. “You and the Sweetheart of the Rodeo?”

Mikey pulled himself up, crossing his arms on the back of the seat and leaning his chin on his forearms. “His name’s Karl and we met in L.A. I was a sweet young thing working the concession stood at the fairgrounds. He was a sexy cowboy working the circuit. He was a roper.”

Dani rolled her eyes over to Jen. Jen didn’t even try to hold a smirk. “Awesome.”

“You have no idea.”

Awesome, Dani mouthed at Jen.

Jen shook her head.