Her mother stopped short, her face going sallow. "No, it's not," she said, but there was a thread of uncertainty in her voice as she took in the candles and the dark room and thought about all the things she likely did not know about her delinquent daughter.
Pinky stared at her mom without smiling—and then grinned. "You totally believed me, didn't you?"
Ash sat up, grinning too, and Pinky's mother shrieked and jumped backward. "It's just Ashish, Mom," Pinky said, giving him a fist bump. "Pretty sick beat face, right?"
"Pretty what?" her mother said, blinking at the big dude on her couch. "Ashish? Is that really you?"
"Hey, Ms. K," Ash said, waving and pulling off his wig.
Her mom looked at the wig for a long moment and then back at Ashish. "Why are you...corpsing...on my couch?"
"It's for Super Metal Death," Pinky explained. "I'm raising money for them. They're crowdfunding to bring hot meals to band members from defunct bands. Did you know that eighty-two percent of formerly famous band members now live in homeless shelters?" She took a seat beside Ashish, her fishnets digging into her thigh a bit.
Her mother frowned. "There's no way that statistic is right."
Adjusting her position, Pinky swung her black military-style boots onto the couch. "Sure it is. People don't realize how brutal the music industry can be."
But her mother was glaring at her, no longer listening. "Get your shoes off the couch."
"What's the big deal?" Pinky said. "We're going to get them cleaned soon anyway."
There was a tense silence, and then her mother smiled a little at Ashish. "It was very nice seeing you, Ashish," she said. "Please tell your parents I send my regards." Turning to her own flesh-and-blood daughter, she added in a barely controlled voice, "Can I please speak with you...alone?"
Ash stood, looking nervous under the cadaverous makeup. "Ah, I better be going. See ya, P. Have a good summer vacay, Ms. Kumar."
"You too, Ashish." Her mother was doing one of those scary, plasticky smiles that made her look like a mannequin. Actually, she'd make a pretty good corpse.
Pinky flipped Ashish the peace sign even though her nerves were jangling at the prospect of the argument she knew was coming. "See you when I get back, Ash. Have fun in Hawaii. And tell Sweetie I said thanks for lending her makeup skills to a great cause."
Once the front door had closed behind him, Pinky leaned back against the couch, her arms crossed. The clock on the wall ticked. The air hummed.
Her mom said, in a super-calm voice, "Where's your father?"
Pinky shrugged. "I guess he's still at that meeting in Menlo Park."
"So you invited a boy here when you're home alone. That's against the rules, as you well know. Four days into summer break and you're already—" Her mom broke off and rubbed a hand over her forehead.
"Already what?" Pinky said, her heart starting to trot. When her mom remained silent, she changed tack. "Anyway, it wasn't a boy. It was just Ashish."
Pinky's mother pinched the bridge of her nose for a long moment, then walked to the entertainment unit to get the LED candle remote. She turned off all the candles and grabbed another remote to open the motorized blinds covering the big windows.
Turning back to Pinky in the suddenly bright room, she said, "Have you even started packing for the trip yet?"
"We're not leaving till tomorrow afternoon. I've got plenty of time."
Pinky's mom's stare turned icy. "No, you've 'had' plenty of time. Pinky, come on. I just want you to be a bit more responsible. Stop spending your time on these ridiculous ventures that don't mean anything—"
Pinky held her breath for a moment. "They mean something to me," she said finally, quietly, bunching her fists up on her fishnet-covered thighs. "Why is that so hard for you to understand?"
"And I just want you to make better decisions," her mom said, looking down at her from her vantage, making Pinky feel even more like a little kid. "Why is that so hard for you to understand?"