HOLLYWOOD—Jason got back to his studio apartment in Hollywood, where Candy was babysitting Kit. An appetizing smell filled the apartment. Candy nibbled a sample of the frijoles simmering on the kitchenette stove and worked her cute mouth below her cheekbones that looked as if two doorknobs were stuck inside her cheeks. Candy pronounced “No ready.”

While Jason was gone, Candy had cleaned his apartment. Freed it of its rattiness and misogynistic rubble of beer mugs, sports paraphernalia, plus Eureka College mementos and stinky cardboard-stiff socks, it smelled lemony fresh.

Craving relaxation, he turned on the Lakers game. It would soothe him after having Suzanne’s success—a triple whammy—shoved in his face by Mom, the supermarket checker, and Joey Leonard.

Cleveland missed a shot from the free-throw line, and there she was again. Suzanne. On his TV. Suzanne appeared in a courtside cutaway shot whispering something to Jack Nicholson.

“Look, it’s Mommy!” Kit cried.

Suddenly the idea of getting high seemed like a good option to Jason. After the day’s vexations he wanted nothing more than to smoke himself into oblivion and let the munchies take him to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. He’d be no good for class tomorrow, so a ravenous desire to feel good NOW seized him.

Still agape over seeing Suzanne, on TV, Jason realized his daughter had been saying something.

“Da-ad,” Kit said, “You’re not listening to me.”

“What did you say?” Jason asked.

She puckered her face with disgust and said, “Oh, nothing.”

Jason know that he had lost her and his actor’s concentration had failed him. Kit’s eagerness to share would never be back.

“It’s past yourbedtime,” he loudly stated and turned off the TV.

Candy tucked the eight-year-old in and sang a lullaby in Spanish: Madre querida, madre adorada, no te alborotes porque no te traje nada. Soon Candy herself was snoring. She must be worn out from all the cleaning, Jason thought.

Touched by his daughter’s request for a story, he joined her and Candy on the bed. Under the covers, there was something so soothing and warm about the three of them; the ice in his heart finally thawed.

Kit finally fell asleep, too. Jason felt the heat radiating from Candy’s softly breathing body. The roots of her platinum hair were turning dark brown. Soon he too joined Candy in sleep. It seemed that they clutched each other in joint slumber—real? a dream?—it felt unsure as the shifting sands of a dune underfoot. Then in the dead of the night he felt a sting on his chest: Candy’s arms and legs were thrashing. She howled in her sleep. From the garbled torrent of Spanish all Jason could make out were were two names, Doňa Rosa and Mario. Just when he thought Candy’s arms and legs had settled down, she punched Jason’s jaw.

Wide awake now, the urge to smoke tugged at him, to inhale the fragrant weed his one-time student had gifted him. He went to his stash in a corner, concealed in the hollow pot of a plastic fern. The first sensation his palm had of the stash can was a pronounced weightlessness, and the sensation was confirmed when he lifted the lid. Jason was livid somebody had swiped his stash, and that somebody had to have been Candy.

Quietly Jason pulled on a Shetland sweater and slipped out into the cool night. In the Sentra he drove north over Cahuenga Pass to rendezvous with Juventino, at an overlit gas station on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. There Jason gratefully received a new baggie stuffed with more fragrant weed. Sweet deliverance.

Jason reached down into his pocket.

“No teacher. No,” said Juventino. “You no pay. It’s present,” and speeded off in a white Mercedes. Speaking perfect English, Jason noted, wasn’t a requisite for owning a Mercedes. Jason took the scenic route home (Mulholland Drive) and pulled into turn-out that showed the city’s stellar panorama, pulsating with a billion lumens. The pungent tendrils of smoke reached out as the many arms of the Indian goddess Lakshmi as he stoked a rose onyx pipe kept away from the prying fingers of Kit, who might find it an appealing toy.

As his lungs received the peppery smokeclouds, Jason belied his poor math ability and put two and two together. Deduced that Candy had cleaned his apartment, decluttered and degrimed it, and, on top of that, she had thrown out his stash in a misguided effort to reform him. A woman is in deep if she undertakes the doomed enterprise of trying to save a man from himself. And Jason didn’t want to be saved.

(To be continued…)