Setting: Modern Day
A young girl tries to evade family problems by turning to drugs.
Carla is a high school student. Unpopular, and overweight. You also get the feeling, straight away, that she's socially awkward (which speaks volumes to the fact that she only has one close friend and no social life). Carla's lack of social life seems to distress her mother more so than herself as she's constantly being compared to her older, popular sister, Diane (who has escaped to college). Carla's father is a successful businessman. Not only does he make great money, he's only home once every few weeks. With his father absent, her mother tends to drink...something that her father denies.
The story really begins fifty pages in when, after Carla spends the evening with her best friend instead of eating dinner with her mother, she returns home to find her mother drunk on vodka. Not only has her mother failed to deliver (or even remember) a message from Carla's crush (a nice college boy, Tom) but she's drunk once again.
In a frenzy of anger, Carla runs blindly into the winter night and straight in front of a car driven by none other than the fabulously popular, soul-searching pot-smoking Dexter Smith. She escapes with only a sore knee.
Enter Dexter's world:
There was an "Apartment for Rent" sign in the front yard of the building where we paused. At one time, certainly, it had been nice. Built of brick and stone, two entrance lights as big as honey dew melons, guarded its entrance. Only one was lighted, but above the doorway I could see the words "The Lotus" carved into stone.
Dexter opened the door, held it for me. The vestibule was small, stuffy, and so hot you could smell it. Unclaimed magazines and newspapers lay in an untidy heap on the floor. An old steam radiator the kind I remembered from the house on Beeler Street where I'd lived when I was very small, hissed and sizzled beneath a brass-framed bank of name plates on the wall above it.
Dexter grinned. "....this apartment belongs to a friend of mine, an older fellow. He doesn't mind if I and some other kids he knows drip in now and then and make ourselves at home, even if he's not there."
...despite the queer lights and the apartment's furnishings...or lack of them...the kids themselves were so relaxed and friendly when Dex offered me a lighted cigarette. I took it without thinking. Yet the minute I had it in m hand, I knew there was something different about it. Not smooth and firm like a regular cigarette, but also smaller and thinner, too....
Before Carla knows it, she's whisked into the underground teenage drug-dealing life of Dexter. Not only does she help him roll marijuana sticks (and later sell them at a party) but she also really begins to enjoy smoking pot, herself.
He lighted another and moved closer to me. His arm was around my shoulders but it was light and presureless. "I don't need to ask if you're happy. I can tell. The problem is, if you're going to stay happy you have to work at it, see? You have to learn to cool it. Cooling it is the big thing. You have to get high, see, and not have anyone know it. You have to cool it, stay cool and look out the window at all the stupid people rat-racing around, working at their pointless jobs, discriminating against their neighbors...giving themselves airs...and generally making you as unhappy as they are themselves."
From people in general, we went on to society, then back to our parents, teachers, and all the squares me knew.
Dex really had all the answers. I felt as if I, too, was beginning to see things clearly for the first time. But, best of all, I liked cooling it. I liked looking out the window. At everybody.
Before long, Carla is consumed by the lifestyle of a drug user. She smokes pot daily. Several times a day. She admits to herself that she is addicted and becomes agitated when she can't get ahold of it. Not only that, her grades are slipping. She loses all her friends...except for Dexter.
The story climaxes into a brilliant disaster when, upon entering Dexter's private location he's designated as the place where he plans to write a book, she realizes just how deeply Dexter has been drawn into the world of drugs. In addition to having her deliver drugs he was selling on several occasions, he has shelves upon shelves of drugs...uppers and downers and who knows what else.
When Dexter injects drugs via a needle and falls into a comatose state, she must get help....and in doing so incriminate her own self.
Carla narrowly escapes jail time. She receives probation so she can resume some sort of life, although she's gained a reputation as the girl who was with the drug dealer who overdosed. She also receives that belated phone call from Tom, so we sort of get the idea that perhaps a romance will finally blossom between the two. The family also is trying to reconcile as a whole so there is some semblance of a happy ending for Carla, after all.
As for Dexter, he appears to be brain damaged and currently resides in an asylum. The doctors don't know if he'll ever recover. He works on his book everyday. A bunch of typed words that make no sense...
This is one of those stories designed to really put a fear of drugs into teenagers and younger adults. You get the whole idea of pot as a gateway drug. I often wonder if the author meant to predict the idea that had Dexter not ended up harming himself to the extent that he did, maybe Carla would have ended up doing some harder drugs.
Either way, this story packs a definite punch.