in the city of l.a.

12:10 p.m.

On a Friday

Carlos adjusted his shiny aviator sunglasses in what he could make out of his reflection and tried different facial expressions to make sure he looked as cool as possible. He grinned. He didn't call this pair his "movie star glasses" for nothing. Phoebe had compiled a mix of songs about L.A.

"Beverly Hills – rollin' like a celebrity, livin' in Beverly Hills," He sang softly.

"Did you sign up for college orientation?" Keesha asked, breaking the relative silence.

"College is for losers who aren't famous." Carlos retorted, trying to get a good look at himself in the window of Phoebe's old van. Carlos, Keesha, Wanda, Phoebe, and Dorothy Ann were taking the van on the three hour trip to Los Angeles for a long weekend at one of Arnold's relative's Redondo Beach condo. Arnold, Ralphie, and Tim were in Tim's aunt's convertible. "Why couldn't I ride in the convertible?" Carlos pouted. "I'm going to make my debut in a – POS van."

"At least it's running." Phoebe said. "And we just got new wood paneling."

"The wood paneling's the lamest part." Carlos whined. "Oh well. I'll be discovered despite all of this."

"How are you going to manage that?" Keesha asked.

"I have my ways." Carlos didn't really have any ways, but he'd heard a rumor or two.

"I bet I can get discovered before you." Wanda challenged. "I'm cuter, more talented, and more … better than you."

"What are you betting?" Carlos asked.

"Um… fifty bucks?" Wanda thought aloud.

"You're on." Carlos shook her hand.

"I get the pot if neither of you are discovered." Keesha negotiated.

"Just wait 'til we get to Hollywood and I've got babes falling all over me because I'm so famous," Carlos daydreamed.

"You're not famous." Wanda said flatly. "Are we there yet?" She whined.

"Can you see the air?" Phoebe asked from the driver's seat.

"Um, no." Wanda furrowed her eyebrows.

"Air is invisible." Dorothy Ann added.

"Then we aren't in L.A. yet." Phoebe giggled.

"But we've been in the car forever!" Wanda whined.

"Maybe two hours." Keesha rolled her eyes. "Have you seen the guys?" She asked. Carlos tried not to hate the fact that he was stuck in a van full of estrogen, something he normally would have enjoyed, but he was being lumped into the group with "the girls," and it stung to think of "the guys" without Carlos, the loveable imp.

"No," Phoebe sounded concerned. "I hope they're okay."

"Dude, this is AWESOME!" Ralphie exclaimed as the three sped southbound on Highway 101 in a brand new silver 2005 Saab 9-3 convertible with the top down (of course). They had managed to stop cruising around Walkerville an hour ago, then had to cruise through Pismo Beach, then Grover Beach before they could even think of getting on the highway toward Los Angeles.

"We should totally stop in Santa Barbara." Arnold suggested. "I think I'll be hungry by the time we get there."

"At this rate, we'll be in Santa Barbara by sunset." Tim glanced over at him.

"Okay, we might have to stop before then." Arnold grinned.

half an hour later

"They're not answering." Dorothy Ann sighed then began talking to Arnold's voice mail. "Arnold, it's the rest of us. We're going to be at the In-n-Out Burger in Van Nuys in half an hour and we wanted to meet up with you guys for lunch. Call me when you get this. Bye." She hit the "end" button on her phone.

"Maybe they'll call back and give you a buzz," Carlos raised his eyebrows suggestively. "You know, if you put it-"

"Shut UP, Carlos," Dorothy Ann interrupted him by hitting him hard on the arm. "Don't be lewd."

"I so wish I was with the guys…" Carlos lamented. "Then I could say this kind of stuff, no one would hit me, and I'd be cruising down 101 with the wind in my hair…" Although the convertible could seat four, Carlos had been denied a seat, apparently because the luggage wouldn't all fit in the trunk. Carlos blamed Arnold's hair products. He'd been okay with going with the girls at first. He wouldn't have any competition for the girls' attention. Unfortunately, they weren't as interested in him as he'd hoped. In fact, they didn't seem to care about guys much at all – they just wanted to go to L.A. Carlos wondered if they'd actually hit puberty or had sex drives at all.

"We're making great time!" Tim commented as the guys drove past Santa Maria without cruising much. The girls had been calling, so they figured they didn't have too long to dawdle.

"Yeah, it usually takes about 25 minutes to get from Grover Beach to Santa Maria," Ralphie slowed down.

"It took us 20." Arnold rationalized. "And we're not stopping for anything this time."

"Besides, we don't know anyone in Santa Maria that we needed to go visit in the car." Ralphie added.

"Exactly." Tim nodded.

"My phone is ringing again!" Arnold complained. "That's the problem with putting all the girls together – they become like one giant clingy girlfriend."

"Carlos is part of the Big Girlfriend," Tim laughed.

"Dang, now the Big Girlfriend is ugly." Ralphie added. "Arnold should be part of the Girlfriend to boost her looks."

"Are you saying he's prettier than all the girls?" Tim asked.

"I am," Arnold patted his curly hair. "Prettier than all of them combined."

"And so modest about it." Ralphie added.

"So modest." Tim echoed.

an hour later

As guys arrived in Santa Barbara, the girls and Carlos gave up waiting. They devoured their fast food after having been made to wait for an hour in the restaurant for their friends to either call or show up. Wanda was getting increasingly testy as she went without food, so they'd finally caved. Just as Carlos ate the last onion ring that was left, Dorothy Ann's phone rang in a quick rendition of "Fur Elise."

"Where are you?" D.A. asked quickly.

"Uh…" Tim started. "We're almost there." Arnold and Ralphie cringed. They were about halfway to Los Angeles.

"Almost where?" D.A. pressed.

"Almost to L.A." Tim replied. "Sorry, we couldn't hear the phone over the wind."

"We waited for you guys before we ate!" D.A. started, but Keesha grabbed the phone from her.

"Whereare you?" She demanded.

"Um…" Tim passed the phone to Arnold.

"Hi!" Arnold said cheerily. "We're almost there."

"Okay, two things." Keesha said firmly.

"Shoot." Arnold was still chipper. The wind in his hair was definitely a good thing, as was the prospect of picking up some college girls in Santa Barbara.

"First of all, you're not handing the phone to anyone until I'm done talking, okay?" Keesha was on the verge of being incredibly irate.

"Sure thing." Arnold grinned.

"Secondly, no vague answers. Where are you?" Keesha demanded.

"We're really close." Arnold replied without thinking.

"Give me a city name." Keesha insisted.

"Uh," Arnold started.

"Don't you dare pass the phone, Arnold." Keesha interrupted his train of thought.

Arnold was trapped. He was trying to think of a city closer to L.A. than Santa Barbara, but all he could think of was San Francisco, San Diego, and… "Compton. We're in Compton." Ralphie and Tim looked at him, puzzled. After a few noises of acquiescence, Arnold closed the phone quickly. "They're going to be there in 45 minutes. How fast does this sucker go?"

"I thought the condo was in Redondo Beach," Phoebe said meekly. "Why Compton?"

"I didn't ask." Keesha rolled her eyes. "It took me forever to beat out of them where they were."

"Good thing it's before night," Dorothy Ann said nervously.

"Why?" Carlos asked.

"I hate being in unfamiliar places in the dark," D.A. replied quickly.

"I'll protect you," Carlos tried to put his arm around her.

"Ew!" D.A. flinched. "Don't touch me!"

"Okay, did he say where in Compton they are?" Phoebe looked around nervously.

"I knew I forgot to ask something…" Keesha grabbed the phone and dialed. "No one's answering…"

"I guess we'll just have to look for them." Dorothy Ann swallowed hard.

"Lock the doors, Phoebe! There are bad people out there!" Wanda panicked.

"Bad people?" Keesha raised her eyebrows.

"You know, the ones in the gangsta rap songs," D.A. said nervously.

"You listen to gangsta rap?" Carlos was incredulous.

"No, but I've heard about it. Turn around, Phoebe!" D.A. urged.

"I'm trying!" Phoebe was getting anxious. "I don't want to get lost!"

"Hurry or they'll get us!" Wanda screamed.

"Who?" Keesha asked again.

"The bad people!" Wanda repeated, then motioned to a group of people on a corner. "THEM!"

"The blacks and the Hispanics?" Keesha raised an eyebrow and looked at Carlos, who was looking seriously at Wanda.

"I – yes – no?" Wanda stuttered. "Let's just get out of here!"

"Don't point at them, Wanda, you'll make them mad!" D.A. cried.

"Not all blacks are drug dealers," Keesha tried.

"We're in L.A., what else do they do?" Wanda shrieked. "Crack?"

"Um, they star in movies?" Keesha replied. "Stop being so racist, let's look for the guys."

"I think I see them!" Carlos pointed straight ahead at a convertible, which they began to follow.

"Why do you think they keep calling?" Arnold shouted nervously.

"Shut up, Arnold, I'm hauling ass and I need to concentrate." Tim was going about 95 miles per hour down the highway and was very serious in his request.

"Just say your phone was out of service or something!" Ralphie suggested.

"Good idea," Arnold said and turned up the stereo so they could rock out more properly. Phoebe had burned the mix of songs about L.A. to a pair of CDs for the guys in the convertible. She was sweet that way. It almost made Arnold feel bad about wanting to cruise UCSB to pick up freshmen – almost. "California Dreamin'" came on. "Yuck," Arnold shook his head. "Why is this even on here? We live in California."

"Because it mentions L.A.," Ralphie answered. "I think it's a good opener." Arnold hit the "next" button.

"Track five!" Tim requested. Arnold complied and Tim cranked up the volume as "California Love" blared out of the speakers.

"Sweet," Arnold nodded, bobbing his head to the beat. Tim and Ralphie followed suit. There was nothing cooler than three 18 year-olds rocking out in a convertible to classic rap.

"This is going to be the best weekend ever." Ralphie mused.

"That was pretty slick of me to tell them we're in Compton, huh?" Arnold laughed.

"Totally." Tim concurred. "West side is the best side," he nodded, paraphrasing the lyrics.

"I'd love to see them in Compton," Ralphie ran his fingers through his hair. "I bet Phoebe wouldn't last ten seconds."

"I think they'd leave her alone – she obviously doesn't belong." Arnold thought aloud.

"She's like a sign that says 'look at me,'" Tim concurred. "It's Keesha lasting in Compton that I think would be interesting."

"Keesha would definitely stab someone." Ralphie nodded.

"She'd stab several people." Arnold added.

"She's not dumb – she'd be shooting people left and right." Tim argued. "It's Wanda who'd bring a knife to a gunfight."

"While D.A.'s saying, 'According to my research, Compton is a dangerous place!'" Ralphie mimicked her voice as best as he could while having to practically shout to be heard.

"She doesn't say that anymore." Arnold countered. "She probably already knows anyway."

"She'd probably end up being someone's ho." Tim looked at Arnold quickly to gauge his reaction.

"And Carlos…" Arnold changed the subject. "Carlos would pretend like he got involved in a gang fight and made it out alive, so he could tell us, but he'd really be hiding under the backseat of the van."

"Definitely!" Ralphie laughed heartily. The conversation lulled, leaving the boys to listen to the mix Phoebe had prepared for them. The relative silence lasted until they were nearing Highway 405, which was still half an hour away from where they said they'd be.

"Oh shit," Tim said under his breath, his sentiment echoed by the other guys in the car as red and blue lights flashed behind them. He took a deep breath and started to slow down, not daring to look at his speedometer.

"Did you try texting?" Wanda asked.

"Of course I did!" Dorothy Ann snapped. "I've tried everything, including sending them a picture of some scary people so they know I'm dead serious and I need help."

"Just checking." Wanda discreetly started text messaging.

"I ALREADY DID THAT!" Dorothy Ann shouted.

"Please stop yelling," Phoebe whimpered.

"Don't yell, you're making Phoebe nervous!" Keesha yelled. Phoebe whimpered quietly.

"Maybe they meant West Compton?" Carlos suggested. "Or East Compton?"

"I don't know where we are anymore." Phoebe whined.

"Yeah, after we scared that middle-aged trophy wife in the convertible by following her for ten minutes, I don't think any of us know where we are, Carlos," Keesha said, her voice stinging.

"Her hair was fluffy like Arnold's." Carlos rationalized. "I think I can find our way out of here."

"Oh great, Captain Carlos has come to save the day." D.A. rolled her eyes.

"Where in Compton did you say we were?" Tim asked Arnold as they tried to divert their minds from the $500 ticket for going 98 mph in a 70 mph zone. Tim hoped that they'd have an awesome time – something would have to distract him from the possibility that his aunt would have his hide. At least they were only about half an hour away from Compton and finding out what hilarity had ensued in their hour-long absence.

"I don't know, I just said Compton because Wanda made me listen to rap all this week." Arnold shrugged.

"Ooh, what were you doing with Wanda?" Ralphie taunted.

"LISTENING TO RAP, IDIOT." Arnold shouted.

"Why don't we call and tell them the truth?" Tim suggested, carefully checking his speedometer.

"Because they'll kill us." Ralphie replied. "Too bad we can't keep hauling ass."

"They'll kill us if they find out we were taking bets on what they'd do, as well as lying about where we were." Arnold added.

"Carlos is already going to kill us because he's not with us." Tim said.

"Let's do an experiment." Arnold suggested. "Let's let you be in charge of who rides in the convertible, and see how hard all the girls flirt with you." He said to Tim, who smiled and nodded.

"Good idea!" Ralphie pitched in.

"I bet Carlos is the first one trying to kiss my feet." Tim laughed. "I'm in."

"I'm getting scared." Phoebe said meekly. It was late afternoon, and she wanted to get to the relative safety of the condo. "Will you call the guys again?"

"What am I, chopped liver?" Carlos folded his arms.

"You're with the girls." Keesha reminded him. "It's just easier to say 'the guys' than 'Tim, Arnold, and Ralphie.'"

"I know." Carlos sighed.

"And a lot nicer than 'the cool guys.'" Phoebe teased.

"I'm cool!" Carlos argued.

"You certainly try." Phoebe acquiesced.

"Arnold! Where the hell are you guys? Why haven't you answered my texts or calls? Did you see the pictures of the scary people?" Dorothy Ann babbled into her phone, panicked.

"Uh, my phone was out of service. We got stuck in some – I mean we got pulled over, so we're running a bit behind." Arnold explained, trying to control the shaking in his voice. He was a bad liar in situations like this. Something like quickly saying he was somewhere he wasn't was much easier than coming up with reasons and rationales.

"You were pulled over for an hour?" Dorothy Ann exclaimed. Keesha raised her eyebrows skeptically. "What happened? Were you in an accident or something?"

"No, we just got a nice lecture about – um, speeding. Because you know how boys are. Boys in sports cars. We're really bad." Arnold managed. Tim shook his head. "We speed a lot. Speeding is fun."

"Why did we let Arnold do the talking?" Tim asked. Ralphie shrugged, knowing he'd be just as bad or worse.

"Can you meet us in Redondo?" Arnold changed the subject, glaring at the two others.

"Can we meet them in Redondo Beach?" D.A. asked.

"Sure!" Carlos answered.

"I'm still lost!" Phoebe whimpered. "I'm at – 154th and Crenshaw."

"Here, give her directions." D.A. handed the phone to Phoebe, who handed it to Keesha.

"Arn, I'm going to write down the directions." Keesha explained. "No dicking around."

"I promise, no dicking around." Arnold echoed.

"You'd better not; the three of you together make a giant dicking around machine." Keesha sighed.

It was nearly five by the time the group all met up at the three-bedroom condo in Redondo Beach. The van was already in the driveway when the guys pulled up in the convertible. Before they could even get their luggage out, Keesha shot out of the van and came barreling toward them.

"Okay, you weren't in Compton, were you?" Keesha fumed. The rest of the girls and Carlos got out more slowly, taking in the beach air and opportunity to stretch their legs.

"Not exactly, no." Ralphie admitted. Tim elbowed him hard, but knew that if Ralphie didn't cave under pressure, Arnold would.

"Why the hell did you lie, then? I bet you weren't pulled over, either!" Keesha accused.

"Oh, we were." Tim produced the ticket.

"We were in Santa Barbara when you called. We got a – a late start." Arnold confessed. "You wouldn't believe how much fun it is to cruise around in this car!"

"I call dibs on it next." Carlos cried.

"Damn, you were going fast," Keesha whistled softly. "Well at least you're penitent."

"Did you hear me, guys?" Carlos yelled. "One of YOU has to be one of the girls next time, I called dibs on a seat in the convertible."

"That's not how it works, Carlos." Tim grinned devilishly. "I decide who rides with me."

"Let me get your bags for you!" Wanda, who had napped for most of the trip, suddenly sprang into action. Ralphie, Arnold, and Tim looked at each other and smiled.

"I'm so glad I didn't put my money on Carlos," Tim whispered.

"What are we waiting for, let's go in!" D.A. sighed. She wasn't feeling too patient anymore, what with the boys lying to her and Carlos trying to touch her all the time. She wanted to be alone for a while so she could "recharge."

They entered the condo (after Arnold found his key), and began to explore. There were three bedrooms: a master bedroom with adjoining bath, a guest bedroom, and a small den with a fold-out sofa bed.

"I'll take the den," D.A. offered.

"I'll room with you!" Carlos wiggled his eyebrows.

"There's only one bed." D.A. said, realizing that it was to no avail too late.

"We can share."

"No." D.A. replied.

"Come on, it'll be fun!" Carlos pleaded.

"In your wildest dreams."

"I can make your wildest dreams come true if you just give me a chance," Carlos whispered salaciously in D.A.'s ear.

"LEAVE ME ALONE!" D.A. cried.

"I'll take the master suite, if no one's calling it." Arnold smiled.

"I'm not sharing a bed with you, dude." Tim negotiated.

"Me either." Ralphie added.

"Or me." Wanda chimed in. "I claim the guest bed."

"Wanda, that bed is huge! You can't have it all to yourself!" Phoebe said.

"Yes I can." Wanda took her bags into the guest room. "See?" She flopped down on the bed.

"Wanda, you take up, like, a quarter of the bed." Ralphie laughed.

"Please, D.A.?" Carlos asked genuinely. "I won't violate you." He was interrupted by a quick swat on his head. "What was that?"

"A rolled up magazine, what do you think?" Keesha said.

"What the hell was that for?" Carlos could feel the anger mounting a bit.

"Pissing D.A. off and being a general douche bag." Keesha explained.

"You think that's going to keep me from hitting on D.A.?" Carlos asked.

"It's how I taught Pongo not to piss on the carpet, so yes." Keesha grinned with satisfaction.

"Damn, you have guts." Carlos smiled. D.A. took the opportunity to duck into the den with her bags and shut the door.

"So I guess the rest of us have the two bedrooms." Arnold remarked.

"I call the master bedroom with all the girls," Carlos cried, unsuccessfully dodging another swat on the head with Keesha's newfound weapon – Good Housekeeping. "Except Jailbait Terese." Keesha swatted him again.

"Stop being so damn sleazy!" Keesha insisted.

"Are you making me sleep by myself because I'm not 18?" Phoebe asked.

"Yep." Carlos grinned and watched the magazine carefully.

Wanda cried out from the other room, "I'm not sleeping with Carlos either!"

"Carlos, you realize your plan leaves your friend Phoebe with all the other guys, right?" Keesha winked at Phoebe. "She could end up getting more than you." Phoebe blushed.

"That would be awesome!" Ralphie exclaimed, soliciting a room full of raised eyebrows. "I mean, if Phoebe got more than Carlos." He added quickly.

"Let's go to the beach now and worry about sleeping later." Tim suggested.

"I think I'm going to want to go to the store to pick up a magazine I actually want to read if I'm going to train Carlos." Keesha suggested. "We can go on our way to the beach."

"Who's in the convertible, Tim?" Carlos asked, hopeful.

Tim thought for a moment. "Um… Dorothy Ann and Wanda."

Wanda squealed. "YES! I WIN! Get your fifty bucks ready, Carlos."

"Whatever." Carlos shrugged. "I could arrive on a dumpy little bike and I'd still get discovered because of my charisma."

After hitting Ralph's for some groceries and hearing Carlos ask Ralphie if he got a discount for the umpteenth time – ("it is your store, isn't it?"), the gang went to the beach. It was nearly sunset, and the beach wasn't terribly crowded.

"Isn't it romantic?" Carlos asked, looking sidelong at Dorothy Ann.

"I'm going to read." D.A. spread her blanket on the ground and grabbed one of Keesha's magazines.

"Come on," Carlos scooted nearer to her. D.A. didn't move away, just lifted an eyebrow in warning. "We're on a classy beach together, alone – if they'd go away – at sunset. It's perfect."

"I know, you're ruining my moment." D.A. opened the National Geographic and tried to read, but Carlos was staring at her. "Will you stop that? It's creepy."

"Everyone knows we have incredible chemistry." Carlos crooned.

"You smell like rotten moth balls." D.A. didn't look up from the glossy pages.

"Do moth balls rot?" Carlos wondered.

"I don't know and I don't care. Please go far away from me." D.A. looked up at him, more menacingly than he thought she could look.

"What if I don't want to?" Carlos asked.

"Then this happens." Keesha smacked Carlos with a Rolling Stone and a seventeen rolled together.

"OW!" Carlos whined. "Why'd you hit me so hard?"

"I had to catch up. Come on, let's move out." She grabbed Carlos' arm and pulled him away from D.A.

"She's a good friend," Arnold offered awkwardly. D.A sighed. She just wanted to be alone.

"Mm-hmm." D.A. turned a page.

"Look, I just wanted to talk to you when you weren't being followed by Carlos." Arnold looked over the top of the magazine. "But if you want to be alone, I understand that."

"It's okay;" D.A. put the magazine down. "I mean, since you're being nice about it."

"Sorry about sending you to Compton. I got your pictures." Arnold gazed at the sunset over the Pacific. Sunsets were definitely among his favorite things.

"Don't worry about it, no one got hurt." D.A. giggled. "We were pretty freaked though. Carlos was acting like he could get us out of there and that he could take down all the gangs with his stupid Swiss Army knife…"

"Let's not talk about Carlos," he urged softly in a tone that halted all of D.A.'s thoughts, a longed-for silence which lasted until they broke apart from their passionate kiss a minute later.

Phoebe turned her gaze away from Arnold and D.A. and back to the surf. She had rolled up her pant legs and was walking along the shore toward the pier with the waves licking her calves and feet. She'd chosen to go the direction of the pier, not only because it was away from the rest of the drama (Keesha and Carlos were probably throwing stuff at each other again, and Arnold and Dorothy Ann were exploring each others' mouths), but also because of the two figures playing Frisbee near the pier. Wanda was off hitting on some guy, probably trying to get "discovered" before Carlos did.

"Hey, Phoebe, want to play?" Tim called. Phoebe went into deer-in-the-headlights mode. She had been walking toward the guys, but that was the easy part. The hard part was talking to them, the impossible part was flirting. She'd had a crush on Arnold for a long time, but he and D.A. had been mutually attracted and inseparable like magnets. Only Carlos was foolish enough to try to come between them. Phoebe was still nursing a tiny pang of regret that she hadn't done more, but she was mostly over it. She wanted to avoid the regret in the future, which was why she was standing near the pier looking awkwardly at Ralphie and Tim.

"Catch!" Ralphie called and tossed a Frisbee at Phoebe, who was mortified. Her mind filled with images of the Frisbee hitting her in the eye, in the nose, in the forehead, or in the general face area. She ducked, and the Frisbee fell, tapping her lightly on the top of her head, then falling into the waves.

"Good try," Tim laughed lightheartedly.

"It was like it was tracking you!" Ralphie jogged toward Phoebe, who reached down to grab the disc that was headed back out to sea. Phoebe jogged toward it and heard Ralphie cry out, "Wave!" an instant too late. The Frisbee was brought back to shore by a fairly large wave that crashed against Phoebe's legs, soaking her. The sand sliding back out to sea made her feel as if she were moving backward on a conveyer belt. She picked up the Frisbee and pulled her feet out of the sand.

"I think I need to change my clothes." Phoebe laughed weakly.

"Nah, just stay in the sun for a little bit, you'll be fine." Tim grinned. "Come on, let's keep playing."

They tossed the Frisbee until Phoebe was downgraded from "soaked" to "damp" to "moist." After dark fell, the group gathered back together. Ralphie gestured for Tim to wait for him behind the rest of the group, then he asked, "Wasn't Phoebe acting weird?"

"Not too weird, just Phoebe-weird." Tim shrugged. "She's acted this way before. She probably just has a crush on someone, that's all." Phoebe was usually pretty comfortable around the guys, even though she was lanky and clumsy. It was only when she had a crush on someone that she didn't dare talk to any guys, lest they talk like girls, which normally didn't happen.

"On you or the convertible?" Ralphie asked in the same tone he played devil's advocate with.

"We'll have to see." Tim grinned evilly.

"Can I come too?" Ralphie asked. "I want to see how she reacts."

"Fine, just so we can compare notes." Tim sighed.

"And piss Carlos off as much as possible." Ralphie added. They jogged to catch up with the group.

"I was networking, what were you doing?" Wanda taunted Carlos.

"Building a wicked sandcastle." Carlos retorted.

"I had to find a constructive outlet for his energy." Keesha joked to Phoebe, who was another dog enthusiast.

"Are you taking him for a walk tomorrow?" Phoebe was relieved to be talking to a non-threatening person again.

"We're in L.A., not San Francisco, you freak." Carlos joked, and people laughed sincerely for the first time in recent memory.

"I'm impressed." D.A. smiled at Keesha. "You're rehabilitating him."

"I am the Carlos Weesperer." Keesha said in her best Cesar Millan imitation.

"I call shotgun in the convertible!" Wanda cried.

"I have dibs!" Carlos insisted.

"Dibs doesn't count – shotgun, no battle!" Wanda argued.

"Neither of you get it, did you forget my rule?" Tim yelled. "I choose who rides in it, and I choose Ralphie and Phoebe." Phoebe looked alarmed, and Tim and Ralphie smiled at each other. "We'll definitely find out who she likes tonight."

"Isn't this kind of evil?" Ralphie asked, smiling.

"It's Phoebe we're talking about." Tim laughed. "Besides, it's not like we're resorting to stealing her panties."

"Yet," Ralphie added.

"We have to be really careful to clean up," Arnold worried as he watched Wanda chug her third beer. Wanda had acquired beers from Ralph's on her fake ID. "Do we have to keep listening to this CD?" He sighed.

"Dude, it's awesome." Ralphie insisted. "Want a beer?" He teased.

"If I drink in my great-uncle's condo…" Arnold bit his lip nervously. "I think I'd be kicked out of my family."

"I bet there's a funnel in the kitchen somewhere – there has to be something we can make a beer bong out of." Carlos ran off.

"I WAS JOKING!" Ralphie cried. "Don't give Arnold beer."

"You weren't entirely kidding if you said it." Carlos insisted. "Want some liquor to calm your nerves, D.A.?"

"Go to hell." Dorothy Ann spat.

"I'll have something!" Keesha tried, but it was too late.

"Pretty eyes, pirate smile, you'll marry a music man…" Tim sang along with Elton John subconsciously. "Ballerina, you must've seen her dancing in the sand."

"I'm a ballerina!" Wanda said, trying to spin on her toes with her arms above her head in stereotypical ballerina fashion. "This song is so about me!"

"Right," Ralphie laughed. "You are tiny."

"Am not!" Wanda argued. "I'm five feet tall!"

"That's how much taller than the limit on midgets?" Arnold asked.

"Shut up!" Wanda teetered. "Fine then, I'm tiny and this song is so about me!" She seemed to be getting excited. "I have a song about me! Wait, when does he say 'tiny'?"

"The song is called 'Tiny Dancer.'" Phoebe replied, sipping her orange soda.

"I'm back and I got you a beer!" Carlos said to D.A.

"I don't want it." D.A. folded her arms.

"Come on, please?" Carlos did his best puppy eyes. Keesha tossed a copy of National Geographic at his head with impeccable aim. "Ow, a corner hit me! That'll leave a mark on my perfect face!"

"You should've thought of that before you acted like a sleazebag." Keesha said. "Now give me that beer."

"I thought it was 'hold me closer, Tony Danza.'" Wanda continued.

"It is," Carlos nodded.

"It's 'Tiny Dancer.'" Phoebe repeated.

"You're lying." Carlos argued.

"No; I think I'd know what the songs I put on the CDs were called." Phoebe said.

"I don't think you're right. I'm looking it up on the internet." Carlos challenged.

"Fine." Phoebe raised her eyebrows.

"It's 'Tiny Dancer,' dude." Ralphie nodded at Phoebe. "Trust me, I've been listening to Elton John since I was little."

"You know that makes you gay, right?" Carlos turned around from pulling his laptop out of his bag. He turned back around and opened it up. "You'd better stay away from me."

"Gay isn't contagious." Ralphie rolled his eyes. "That's why I keep hanging out with YOU."

"Oh, teenage boys." Keesha sighed and smiled. "The only acceptable response to an accusation of gayness is to reciprocate."

"Big words, Keesha." Wanda pouted.

"The only way to respond to 'you're gay' is 'you're gayer.'" Keesha translated.

Wanda erupted in laughter. "IT'S SO TRUE."

"Look at this!" Everyone gathered around. Carlos had navigated to a page with a picture of Tony Danza and Elton John hugging and the words "Hold me closer, Tony Danza" in a large font on the page. The line was playing on a loop in the background. "It's proof!"

"Anyone can put whatever they want on that site." Keesha said skeptically. "It's not proof."

"Will you please close that – it's bugging me." Arnold furrowed his brow.

"I need another beer." Carlos went to the kitchen, singing "hold me closer, Tony Danza!"

"IT'S NOT 'TONY DANZA!'" Ralphie yelled.

"Just because I'm comfortable with my masculinity," Carlos began. "I can admit that Tony Danza is an attractive man."

"You just called me gay for liking Elton John." Ralphie pointed out.

"Elton John is gay." Carlos argued. "But Tony Danza – that's a man's man." He came back into the room and typed something into Google. "I mean, look." Unfortunately, everyone did. The first image to come up on the search was a black-and-white, naked picture of Carlos' beloved Tony Danza.

"You still want him to hold you closer, Carlos?" Arnold asked slyly.

"Go ahead, add the page to your favorites. We won't judge you." Tim patted Carlos on the shoulder.

"We all know how much you love Tony Danza." D.A. giggled.

"I'M NOT GAY FOR TONY DANZA." Carlos yelled.

Arnold, Tim, and Ralphie looked at each other briefly, before singing along, "Oh how it feels so real, lying here with no one near – only you, and you can't hear me when I say softly, slowly…"

"Hold me closer, Tony Danza!" the girls chimed in.

"STOP IT! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP!" Carlos screamed. He covered his ears so he couldn't hear the rest of the chorus.

"So now you know not to argue with the experts over Elton John lyrics." Ralphie smirked.

"Tony Danza can hold ME closer any time." Wanda slurred.


Author's notes:

Chapter title is from "California Love," by 2Pac

All the places I mention are real, except Walkerville and the condo. I don't own any of them. If I did, I'd be friggin' rich.

Keesha's inspiration to train Carlos comes from Questionable Content's comic 984.

Cesar Millan is the Dog Whisperer with a show on the National Geographic channel since late 2004.

The "hold me closer, Tony Danza" website is on "You The Man Now, Dog!"

"Tiny Dancer" really is NOT about Tony Danza.

Songs on Phoebe's mix so far, none of which I own:

"Beverly Hills," by Weezer
"California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas
"California Love," by 2Pac
"Tiny Dancer," by Elton John

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