Nonetheless, I called her. She answered on the fourth ring. “Hey, bitch. What’s up?”
“Did you—this is going to sound really dumb, but you didn’t mail me a check? Did you? Like, you didn’t secretly win the lottery?” I laughed, like it was joke. “I mean, you didn’t, right?”
Layla guffawed. “Have you been drinking? Why the hell would I mail you a check? I don’t even have checks. And if I did, and if I had money to give you, why would I mail it to you?”
“Yeah, right. That’s—that’s what I thought.”
Layla caught the tone in my voice. “What’s going on, Key?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. “I. Um. Can I come over? For…a few days?”
“Your electricity got shut off?”
“I also got evicted.”
“No,” she breathed.
“What?” Layla shrieked. “Didn’t you just tell me you were going to get the permanent job?”
“I was sexually propositioned by Mr. Edwards.”
“Shut the f**k up.”
“He said I could keep my job if I sucked his cock. I mean, he didn’t say it in so many words. But he made it clear…by pulling his dick out.”
“Key. You’ve got to be kidding me.” Layla’s voice was flat, disbelieving.
“Wish I was. I’ll never get that mental image out of my head. Ugh.” I didn’t fake the shudder of revulsion. “Know what I did?”
“I head-butted him. Broke his nose.”
“You did not!”
I nodded, and then realized I was on the phone. “I did. I totally did.”
Layla was silent for a minute. Then, “Damn, Kyrie. That’s a hell of a shitty day.” I heard the light bulb go off. “What was that about the check?”
“Can I come over? You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I had to force my voice to stay calm.
“Of course. Bring your blankie, bitch. Let’s have us a sleepover.”
Layla would never let me down. I mean, she couldn’t pay my rent for me, but she’d let me stay on her couch until doomsday if I needed to. She lived with her boyfriend, Eric, so we couldn’t be roommates anymore, but she’d always welcomed me. I changed, packed my bags—which didn’t take much time—and left my shitty, third-hand furniture where it was. Either I’d be able to come back for it, or I wouldn’t. Nothing to do about it now.
At Layla’s, I kicked off my shoes and accepted the Bud Light she handed me. Layla was half-black, half-Italian, all attitude and curves. Long black hair, dark brown eyes, and flawless mocha skin. We’d been best friends since the first day of college, roommates for two years, until she met Eric and got serious enough to move in with him. Eric was…okay. Smart, good-looking, nice…and a small-time pot dealer. I didn’t actively dislike him, but I didn’t get what Layla saw in him. He wasn’t a bad guy, just not my cup of tea. She knew it, and she didn’t care. She liked him, he liked her, and it worked for them. Whatever.
I sat back on her ratty couch, drained half of my beer, and then handed Layla the envelope. Or, as I thought of it, The Envelope. “I got this in the mail today. Just like that. Out of the blue. Open it.”
Layla frowned at me, then examined the outside. “Nice handwriting.”
“I know. But look inside. And…maybe sit down.” I took another long pull of my beer.
Layla perched her butt on the arm of the couch beside me and withdrew the check. “Holy shit!” She looked at me, her eyes wide. “Key, this is ten thousand dollars. You know what you could do with this?”
“Yeah. I do. But…where did it come from? Who sent it? Why? And more importantly…do I dare cash it?”
Layla sighed. “I get your point. I mean, part of me says ‘duh, cash that bitch!’, but the untrusting part of me says ‘hold on now, sister.’”
“Exactly. I’d never be able to pay this back. Not ever.” I finished my beer, and got up to get another one, found a box of old pizza in the fridge. “Can I?” I lifted the box.
Layla shrugged. “Go for it. So what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know, Layla. I wish I did. I—I’m at the end of my rope. If I didn’t have you, I’d be living in my car right now. Daddy’s life insurance policy ran out six months ago. I’m short on rent, and all my other bills are past due. Cal’s tuition needs paying, and so does mine. Fuck, everything is due. And I don’t have a job. I looked for weeks to find even this temp job. I’ll never find another one. And now…right when I need it most, this” —I snatched the check from Layla and shook it— “shows up. I don’t see how I can not cash it. I’ll just have to hope I don’t end up owing, like, Sal the Slicer or something.”
Layla nodded. “That’s a risk. You don’t know who this is.” She taps the check. “Did you Google this VRI Incorporated?”
“No electricity, remember? I couldn’t use my computer. And I’m out of data on my cell phone plan.”
“Oh.” Layla slumped into the chair in front of her PC, which was almost as old as mine. She brought up Google, typed in the name and address, and scrolled through the results. “Nothing. I mean, there are tons of companies with that name, and the fact that it’s a P.O. box means whoever it is doesn’t want to be found.”
“No shit, Sherlock. Short of hiring a f**king P.I. or something, I don’t see how I can find out who this is.”
“So you cash it.”
“So I cash it.”
We spent the evening drinking. I got blitzed on about eight beers and passed out on the couch, since I didn’t have to be up in the morning. Layla and I both had an afternoon class, so we slept in until almost eleven, which was nice. After breakfast and a shower, Layla and I went together to the bank. I stood in front of the teller, two checks in my hand, shaking like a leaf. Eventually, I managed to hand them to the teller. I asked her to deposit them, and give me back a thousand dollars in cash.
When that was done, the teller handed me a receipt and an envelope full of the cash she’d counted out to me. I put two hundred dollars in twenties in my purse, and left the other eight hundred in the envelope. I stared at the bank balance on the receipt: $9,658.67. We left the bank, got into my car, and drove to the university. True to form, Layla made no mention of the money, no hints at how many bills she had due, how much she could use even a couple hundred bucks. Couple hundred? Shit, to girls in our situation, even twenty bucks would be a godsend. She wouldn’t ask, not ever, no matter how much money I had. Just like I wouldn’t ask her if the situation were reversed. She’d never ask for anything unless she was in dire straits like I was now. Before we got out and went to class, I put the envelope of cash into Layla’s hand.