The first time Rocky spends money in California, it's for a cab. The second time is to pay the first tattoo artist who didn't mind Diddy sitting there while the artist did her work, filling in the color of Rocky's ladybug.
She watches as the artist breathes life into the linework, but she still feels lost. She got herself and Diddy to California, she's got hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash that no one is looking for, and now their life can begin.
She thought it would feel better than this.
"How'd you get into this?" she asked.
The artist didn't look away from her work. "I had a girlfriend who took it up as a hobby. Turned out I actually had a knack for it, and I found someone who would apprentice me."
Rocky felt a sharp stab of envy, that a career had just fallen into her lap like that. Rocky didn't have luck like that. She had desperation and greed and a kid sister who still had hope. She had cold hard cash, and she supposed that would do for now.
The apartment Rocky rented wasn't nice. You had to walk a-ways away to wash your clothes, and the smell of old occupants lingered, a miasma of sweat and pot and something stale. Turned out cold hard cash wasn't the be-all end-all when you had no credit history or rental history.
Rocky bought herself and Diddy fake identities, because cash was good for that. Rocky was now short for Rochelle.
And then Rochelle got herself a credit card. Once more she didn't have "credit history" and she had to loan herself three hundred dollars of her own money or some shit like that to get the card. Maybe if she'd put more than the minimum in her new bank account they'd treat her nicer, but Rocky wasn't ready to give up the money yet.
She got herself a job, too. $300K was enough to get out of Detroit, yeah, but it wouldn't last forever. There'd been the tickets to California, rent, electric bills, water bills, phone bills, everything a bill bill. Diddy's school supplies cost $75, if you didn't count the money Rocky spent running around town trying to find a 2 1/2-inch binder. Rocky knew that one binder size was as good as the other, because they were all fucking binders, but Diddy was gonna have the right school supplies. Everything on the list.
And don't get Rocky started on the food. She'd bought the food in Detroit; she knew what shit cost.
It cost more here.
The job was crap, but it explained things. Rocky had money because she worked. Don't look at the man behind the curtain. And she could save the money beneath her bed for Diddy. Diddy could go to college. It also got them health insurance, because Rocky didn't even want to try to buy that on her own again. What the hell even was that site?
Between the job and Diddy, Rocky didn't sleep much. She liked it that way. She saw things when she closed her eyes.
She saw Money pleading for his life. She saw Alex's slack face accusing her, even though he was the one who chose to okay the job and chose to come back. She'd felt sorry then, but it wasn't her fault, none of it.
But most of all she saw the girl, even though she didn't know her. She'd insisted they save the girl, and she died anyway. Alex would've lived and she never would've—they'd both have gotten out if they'd just left her. Alex would've called the cops and they'd find the girl and The Blind Man would be in jail.
He wouldn't be a local hero.
Alex and Money wouldn't be two punks who got what was coming to them. (Yeah, Rocky read all the news even though it made her grind her teeth till her head hurt.)
He wouldn't be waiting.
Being awake stopped being a distraction when Diddy caught on. Rocky should've known she would, should've done something. But Diddy had grown up in the same trailer Rocky did. She knew how to watch their mom's moods, keep an eye on her new man, still so young and sweet but sure deep in the heart of her that you couldn't just trust adults. Some lookin' out you had to do yourself.
"You don't sleep," Diddy said, simple as that. "Sleeping eight hours a day is important. Mrs. Rodriguez said so."
Mrs. Rodriguez was Diddy's new hero. She could make funny voices while she read. What could Rocky do, steal a fortune from a fucking psycho?
Rocky smiled at her sister. "Just not that tired."
"You've got bad dreams. I hear you tossing and turning." Diddy hesitated, and sat down her crayon. (She'd been coloring. That was still her favorite, just coloring. Endless pictures of them on the beach.) "I'm happy that you kidnapped me. You shouldn't feel bad."
Rocky froze. "I didn't kidnap you, Diddy. Don't ever tell anyone that, all right?"
Diddy nodded, her big eyes wiser than they should be. "I'm not dumb, Rocky."
She wasn't. She was a smart girl. And she was dead wrong, but she was a little right too.
Rocky was guilty. She'd choose the money for silence any day of the week. But The Blind Man had reneged on that deal, hadn't he? And besides, he'd told the police himself. She was never there. She'd never stolen anything.
She'd just left things behind.
She dreamed about the dead girl again that night, but for the first time, she doesn't see her shot. The girl claws her own belly open, smiling the whole time.
Rocky isn't sure that it's a nightmare.
It was easier than finding someone to sell her a new identity. Best of all, it made her feel like a spy, getting a burner phone.
She had to look up the Detroit police number, and she almost stopped there. But she made the call.
"Cindy, that rich girl who disappeared? Look at the veteran who accused her of killing his daughter again. In his basement, there's a padded cell. Rip up the tiles in front of that. Rip up all the tiles. She's under the new concrete."
Her finger hovered over the button to end the call, but there was more, wasn't there?
"He's a fucking rapist," she snarls.
Then she ends it.
Rocky doesn't check the Detroit news again. She still dreams of Money and Alex, faces destroyed, but she also dreams of them being stupid boys trying to impress her. She never dreams of the girl. And that's all she wanted.
It's not the future, not yet, but at least it's not the past.