Authors: Mara White
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2015 by Mara White All rights reserved.
First Kindle Edition: January 2015
Editor: Adrian J. Smith
Cover: © Daniela Medina
The Delivery Playlist by Leslie De Jesus
Printed in the United States of America
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
An enormous thank you to,
My family, especially my husband, who works hard so that I can have time to write.
My beta readers, Jiya Lyons, Jamie Roberts, Jill Owen, and Jenae Hutchins. (To Sarah, Ramona and Jason for trying.) To my husband for his keen insights and to Sue Rohan for the consistent last minute clean ups. I couldn’t do this without all of you and I’m so grateful to have your support.
Leslie de Jesus for her input and contributions.
Daniela Medina for this, and all my beautiful covers.
Adrian J. Smith for her good advice and soft touch.
Jenny Feterovich for the Russian/Detroit connection and to AzraRed for the hook-up.
Streetlight Graphics and Michele Catalano Creative for all they do.
These book-world beauties for their friendship and support, Autumn Davis, Ellen Widom, Renee Giraldy, Kim Golden, Rachael Orman, S. Ann Cole, Katy Evans, Marata Eros, Ava Parker, Yahaira Cintrón, Jamie Roberts, and Robin Bateman. All of you girls run my world!
To my readers, you mean everything to me. Thank you to all of you who reach out to me, who leave reviews and recommend my books. I really couldn’t do this without you!
For Arturo and Arturo
aney pushes open my door and walks toward my desk with a dangerously large pile of case files.
“Don’t even think about giving those to me. There’s no way I can accommodate that many new clients.”
She hasn’t even bothered to shuffle them together so they look somewhat cohesive. Another pile to add to the one I only got halfway through from last week. Janey blows her bangs up and sighs as she plops them down on my desk.
“The air is out again on the records floor. I almost suffocated. My shirt is wet all the way through. If we don’t move away from paper soon, I’m setting that room on fire.”
“Oh sure, I’ll take care of that as soon as you secure us a grant for an IT department. Is there coffee?”
“Yeah, but you got an interview in the lobby already. Been here since Amir unlocked the front door. His file is on top.”
“Give me five and then send him in. Can you get me a coffee, though?” I ask, handing her my embarrassingly brown, coffee-stained mug.
I drink too much coffee on this job and eat too much crap food. I’m always trying to catch up but there are too many delinquents in the city of Los Angeles for a tiny non-profit like ours to manage. We’ve only been able to take the cases the county sends directly to us due to excess demand. I hate having to turn anyone away. In some ways, I wish we could do more preventative intervention, but then I tell myself this
preventative because our clients are still young, all eighteen and under. It’s not too late for them to turn their lives around.
I grab the first blue folder off the top of the pile and stare down at the name: Moisés Roberto Robles de la Cruz, DOB 11.21.96.
I open the file to his mug shot and date of arrest. Just two months ago, first major offense, attempted armed robbery, pled guilty, mandated to juvie, showed promise, sent to Pathways to Success. Same story, new face. Our job is to make sure it’s their first and last offense, steer them down another path, and try to prevent the next stop from being San Quentin.
I close his file and then try shuffling the files together so the loose papers hanging out appear more presentable. It doesn’t work, so I take to picking them up and shaking the folder until the individual documents fall into place. If it looks like garbage, it will make the kids feel like garbage. My job is to show them they have potential and they deserve success.
Janey comes in with my coffee. She is sweaty and her blouse is clinging to her, as are the wet, golden strands of hair around her face.
“I put a ton of that caramel creamer shit in it. I figured it was one of those days.”
“I’d thank you, but my diet just punched you in the kidneys.”
“Whatever, Lana. You’re ninety pounds with heels on. Can I send him in? You’ve got a line forming. The lobby is full already.”
“Whatever happened to the good kids? The one’s that came home in time for dinner and did their homework at the kitchen table? Does anybody grow up and go to college and start a nice little family anymore?”
“Well, if they did then we wouldn’t have jobs. Besides, they still exist. We just don’t see any of them in here. You want your first or should I still hold them off?”
“Send them in. I’ll take the last one at 11:45, and then that’s all we’ll have room for today.”
“Corrections already brought their load so the rest should just be walk-ins.”
I open his folder again and go over his stats. Six years old when he came to the States. No resident alien status, practically off the books until this arrest. Some foster care placement. Investigated for deportation twice but went underground both times. I sip my coffee that is sweeter than fuck and close the folder when there’s a knock at the door.
The door pushes open and in walks my first client of the day. He’s surprisingly big, probably close to six feet and has the shoulder spread of a wrestler. He’s wearing dark green, loose fit cargo pants and a black T-shirt. He’s got a black beanie on that completely obscures his hair. What strikes me most about him is the jewelry. There are piercings—which is sort of standard fare, an eyebrow and a lip—but this kid is adorned. Large, masculine silver rings decorate both hands, multiple bracelets on his wrists as well as pendants, everything in black leather or silver. His aesthetic is very bohemian. He looks like a gypsy, not a thug, which is what I’m most accustomed to, especially with my clients coming in from juvie.
“Come on in and have a seat, Moisés,” I say, glancing down at his file to make sure I got his name right.
He moves across the room and places a well-worn backpack by the chair. He’s got on heavy combat boots. Plopping down in the chair, he starts to crack his knuckles, all the while staring blankly at me.
I can’t quite put my finger on what it is about him, but he seems different than the hundreds of kids who tromp through here on a daily basis. It’s not just his style. He’s seems confident but not cocky. He has an almost distinguished vibe going on. He
intelligent. I realize I’m staring.
“Is that what you go by, Moisés? I’m Lana Finch, but most of the kids call me Doc.”
He nods and rubs the stubble on his jaw with his thumb as he looks at me thoughtfully. He’s taking me in, sizing me up, probably wondering if he can trust me or if he should be on the offensive. They all do—it’s a defense mechanism. These are kids who have been through a whole hell of a lot.
“What do I have to do?”
His voice is deep and melodious. Everything about him is surprising. I expected something more feminine, maybe a tenor, definitely not baritone.
“Oh!” This kid is throwing me off my game. It’s simply because I can’t read him, and I’m good at reading delinquents—no, I’m great at it. It’s what I do.
“You have to get accepted first and sign a contract. At that point, we’ll discuss what your assignment would be. Success with one assignment determines the likelihood of being granted another and so on and so forth until you graduate. It’s a goal-oriented, feedback loop. If you make your goal, you’re given the opportunity to participate in another assignment all the way through until completion and certification, most likely gaining applicable credit toward community service hours, assuming that’s what the judge asked of you.”
“Who accepts me?”
“I do.” I swallow hard. He just made it sound so personal. I don’t accept participants based on anything personal. They have to meet very specific criteria and demonstrate promise in their first group activity. I don’t randomly pick and choose candidates because I either like or dislike them.
“Okay. So what do you want me to do?”
“Just answer a few questions.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“No, I’m a social worker. I’m the project director at Pathways. I came in as a group leader initially.”
“Do you like it here?”
“I do like it. Most days.”
I’m the one who’s supposed to be asking the questions here, kid
. “So is it Moisés you go by? I have to fill out your intake form, and we do honor nicknames here as long as they’re not gang affiliated.”
“Why is your nickname Doc?” he asks and pulls off his hat. His hair falls nearly to his shoulders. It’s shaved close around the sides but the center is long enough to be pulled into a ponytail, and it’s the blackest, thickest, shiniest head of hair I’ve ever seen. This kid missed his calling as a Pantene model. He runs his hands through it, and his bracelets clank together. His whole appearance would read decidedly feminine if not for his broad chest, muscular physique, and the shadow of stubble across his strong jaw.
“Have you ever applied for citizenship before?”
“Why don’t you put any pictures up in here? It seems kind of sad not having anything on the wall. You aren’t into art?”
He hasn’t answered a single question or even acknowledged I’m asking them. I arch my brow at him and hold eye contact, trying to figure out what kind of game he’s playing. Kids like these always want to play hardball. They don’t have the experience to realize that fucking with me means fucking with their own future. He’s knows how many others are in the lobby and that one signature from me could blow his chances. I can play hardball, too.
“The next time you’re arrested you will be tried as an adult. Have you ever been inside a federal penitentiary?”
“They’d deport me first. I don’t have any resident standing. You know, I have some canvases I could lend you, really colorful stuff. Bright. The subject matter is mostly dark but the colors are… well, I could bring them in for you to see.”
Ahah! He responded. I win. Not exactly the answer I was looking for, but he acknowledged my statement. I glance at my watch and see we’ve already gone over the fifteen minutes we allow each candidate. We have nothing filled out. Not even the name preference.
A soft knock sounds on the window of my office door, and Janey steps in with another coffee, this one in a disposable paper cup. I can smell the sweetened creamer as soon as she takes a step in the door.
“Times up,” she mouths to me and smiles sweetly. Janey is my right hand at Pathways, quite literally—the world’s best assistant and Friday night cocktail partner.
Moisés’ eyes are on me, and his stare is intense and smoky for such a young guy. His eyes are dark and almond shaped; they relay an intelligence that exceeds his years.
“So, do you want me?”
I think I have decided to accept him and we didn’t even get started on the goddamned questionnaire. I hope this one doesn’t come back and kick me in the butt. He’s an artist—hopefully not a moody one, and by moody, I mean violent. But he definitely doesn’t belong in jail. Jennifer, one of the team leaders, the blonde that all of the boys go crazy for, has a mural project going in Silver Lake today. We get asked to do a ton of murals. Most are commissioned by artists, and my kids just paint by numbers, but every once in a while, we get a freestyle one and we could use this guy for those. Pathways can paint the fuck out of some murals—they’re one of our most loved and successful team projects.
“I’ll give you one project. We’ll see how you do.”
Moisés smiles, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s the only real display of emotion since he walked through the door. His face goes from sultry to spritely, and he seems so incredibly pleased.
“Okay, Mr. Cruz,” Janey interrupts as she sets the coffee down on my desk. “Just sign the consent form and come back out the front desk where Billy will escort you upstairs to Jennifer’s group. They’ve already started laying out the mural design on paper.”
I lean forward and slide the form over to Moisés, and he pulls a pen out of the front pocket of his backpack. He signs and then pulls his hair back from his face and replaces the beanie.
He stands to leave and throws his backpack over his shoulder. It clunks as he beelines for the door.
“What do you have with you? If it’s contraband you better leave it at the desk with Janey or you’re out before you even start.”
He turns when he reaches the door and smiles again. He reaches one arm up behind him and grips the top of the door as if to stretch out his back. His T-shirt rides up and a distinct line of little hairs lead down from his belly button to the waist of his pants. My eyes inadvertently stick to it, and he notices me looking. His smile widens. A million cascading thoughts fall through my mind.
He fucking caught me! Looking there. Am I attracted to him? Am I blushing? Belly button. Worst intake interview ever! Treasure trail. Cock. Swollen cock. Fuck. I’d lose my license. Seven years. I’d pull his hair. God, I want to touch that hair! He’s lying about his age. He’s a grown man. Look at the muscle in his arms alone. Christ! I’m seven years older than him. I’m a
pervert. I would
totally fuck him. Under any other circumstances. I’m a lech! I’d stick my tongue in his belly button and follow that path. Finch, you’re a disgusting lecherous old maid! His dick is probably small. Probably a lousy fuck. I need a relationship not a headache. Look at how his shirt stretches across his pecs. He must wrestle. He should wrestle me! I’d better get it together and say something here before he thinks I’m totally off my rocker and reports me.
“What is it?”
“What’s what?” he asks, still smiling.
“In your bag?”
This kid will drive me nuts with his circuitous questions.
Moisés then bends the elbow of the arm that’s holding onto the top of the door and pulls his goddamn feet off the floor.
He’s strong. Crazy strong. Like a gymnast. He’s showing off for me, and I’m impressed. I’m captivated; look at how easily his stupid antics work on me.
“Spray paint.” His face cracks into an even wider grin.
Well, look at him! He’s absolutely delighted with his rebellious young self.
“Check it. Even if it’s legit and not for graffiti—you don’t need another arrest.”
I’ve got to pull my head out of his pants.
“Get out of here! But make sure you come back before you sign out for the day so we can fill out this form,” I say, shaking it at him.
He puts the other arm up and pulls. Both his feet come off the floor again. The door swings lightly with the weight of his body.
“It’s Mozey. On the street they call me Cruz, but my friends mostly call me Mozey.”
“Do me a solid, would you, and send in the next kid on your way out.”
The more nervous I get the more stupid I tend to act. If I’m super casual, it’s means my foundation is minutes away from collapse.
“I could use a shot of whiskey in this coffee!” I mumble as I take a sip.
What the hell is wrong with me today?
“I didn’t mean to say that out loud,” I say setting down the cup. “I apologize. I really only drink on Fridays.”
Get out of my office and take your belly hair with you! Stop being so damn delicious and only eighteen!