the same gold: part one

She'd known him for six years, the night she got to know him better.

Six years of chaste, usually comical assignations. Late-night trips to his various apartments (he moved as much as she did). Hollywood, Silverlake, even the valley once. Or he'd come to her place, usually after several days of flaking and last-minute cancellations. Sometimes they'd meet in public: a hasty exchange in the intimates section of a crowded Gap, or the parking lot of a Costco. Exact change always ready for him, bills folded neatly in her palm. The awkward, attention-getting way he'd shove a baggie of pills (or mushrooms or tabs) in her open tote bag. The whole thing so ridiculous, always. Fear and shame attaching themselves to something that should produce neither.

He exasperated her to no end. He was unreliable and uncommunicative, and his products were consistently inconsistent in quality. Sometimes though, they were pure magic. She had no choice but to see the humor in it all and to come to regard him with affection.

Over time, they became friends of a sort. He always followed up to see if she'd enjoyed/survived her purchase. Such customer service, she teased, admittedly moved by his concern. When she took acid for the first time and found herself in a blind spiral of terror, he answered her call and calmly talked her off the ledge. And when that same acid leveled out and she discovered the pure, heart-splitting joy it could offer, she called him back. He answered again, this time laughing to hear her first-timer's evangelism. I know, babe, he said, simply. I know. And when she took it subsequent times, she couldn't wait to talk to him again. There is no connection like that between those who've crossed the same rainbow and found the same gold.

These pre and post-purchase conversations grew in length and scope. She learned about his other interests, professional and creative. She listened to his music. When he quit his bar gig and began working in a lab -- a genuine, salaried job -- she was thrilled for him, and truly impressed with how far he'd come.  She knew all too well how easy it was for bright, good-hearted people to undersell themselves for the sheer ease of it.

He kept selling her drugs even when selling drugs became the side-side hustle. And then suddenly, he wasn't really a dealer; he was more of a friend keeping her in the loop. When something came around that was purported to be good, he offered to be the go-between. Or when she wanted something specific, he made a call or two. Meanwhile, he worked full time and pursued his passions on top of that. Just like a regular civilian. Just like her.

And of course, all this time, there was the fact of their chemistry. That didn't hurt her willingness to accommodate his flakiness. It was the sweet, uncomplicated chemistry of two people who are in no danger whatsoever of getting involved and getting hurt. She had a boyfriend, almost always. He was over ten years younger than her. She was, essentially, his client. No danger.

Still, it was there. Hello and goodbye hugs that lingered, with smiles that said everything. His occasional compliment on her looks, her outfit. Over time he grew bolder. The compliments became more direct. It was flattering and fun to her; he was absolutely adorable. But it wasn't an option. There were an assortment of things in the way. Among them: she was taken.

Until she wasn't.