We watched from my front lawn as the parents of our neighborhood gathered in their leisure outfits to take instant pictures in front of the small yellow school bus, the kind special-ed kids ride. The bus had a festive banner with drawings of balloons and, in girl writing, Happy 15th, Larry and Robin, Up, Up and Away!
“When old people get together it’s like they have to make sure everyone knows how much fun they’re having,” I said.
Melissa Wheeler put her hands on her head, revealing the pale underside of one arm. “Why do they even bother?” she said.
“I still can’t believe our moms and dads are paying to see a bunch of jumpsuit-wearing jungle bunnies sing and dance,” Brad Baileycott said, fingering his puka-shell necklace.
I cringed. Brad was my best friend, but he could be a total ass. Melissa turned her back on him. “God, you are such a racist,” she said, and walked away. He looked surprised, as if he didn’t remember how Melissa had boycotted last year’s Bicentennial Pageant at school because it didn’t address slavery and racism, or that she’d seen the movie Billy Jack seven times.
As she walked away, I saw Melissa clap five times to a special beat, then bring her arms over her head from one side to the other. I pretended she was doing a secret cheer for me. She stopped in front of the enormous eucalyptus tree at the edge of the lawn and touched its trunk.
“I mean, the Osmonds, that would be one thing, but the 5th Dimension?” Brad yelled at her. He started clacking his retainer between his top and bottom teeth. I wished I wore a retainer, but my teeth were still covered in braces.
Brad’s parents waved for him to come say good-bye.
“Fuck,” he said, and then rode off on his skateboard.
Before mine got any ideas, I snuck over to Melissa and the tree. While growing up, us kids had stripped off big pieces of the tree’s bark to make swords and things. I’d always thought the bark would grow back, but patches of the trunk remained smooth and white.
“Why is Brad such a dick sometimes?” she asked.
This was a good question.
“Whenever I think about what a dick he is,” I said, “I remember that his father is a veterinarian and Brad is allergic to all animals.”
Melissa looked right at me, then her eyelids fluttered shut as if she were going into a trance. “It won’t be your fault,” she said, “but your life is going to be a hard one.”
Her eyes opened slowly and she looked away. I liked that Melissa was thinking about my life. It made me feel historical. A hard life.
“So maybe we could watch some TV later or something,” I said. “I think my mom bought some chocolate.” Melissa’s mom did not allow chocolate.
“That could be okay,” she said.
The bus horn honked. I heard the parents inside the bus cheering, the bus pulling away, the sound of Brad’s polyurethane wheels clicking over the sidewalk cracks, the synthetic skidding of a 360. I reached down for an acorn and picked at it, then threw it. Acorns are seeds; maybe this one would grow into a tree.
“Pool party tonight!” Brad shouted. “And Henry Weinhard will be in attendance!” He was talking about beer. I watched him do a tasty dismount where he stomped on the tail of the board and sent it flying up into his hands.
“You’ve got Henrys?” Melissa asked. She looked thirsty and eager and I wanted to say, I think my mom bought a jumbo Hershey’s bar, but I just followed her to the sidewalk.
“You … know … it,” Brad said, tapping his middle finger hard against my chest with each word.
I believed he was reminding me of what he’d said on Monday, that if he could get a few beers in her, he would definitely get some stink finger off Melissa.
That’s what he’d been explaining to me when his mom had walked into his room without knocking and found us with our pants down. Brad had calmly told her that I was concerned about the shape of my penis and that he was showing me what one should look like. I worried all week that Brad’s father, the pet doctor, would call mine, the people surgeon, but it never happened.
Brad finally removed his finger from my chest. I imagined the awful moment when he would run that finger under my nose and say, “Melissa.” (What would she smell like? I sniffed my fingers. They smelled like acorn.)
Suddenly, Brad hocked an enormous loogie. He couldn’t help it—Brad was cursed with adenoid problems—and Melissa shot him a look of disgust. She hated spitting, considered it littering. He waited, then swallowed the clam.
“Beer is cool,” I said, “and I’ll bring some of my parents’ hard stuff, too.” I tried to sound as realistic as possible, although I’d never drunk alcohol, and Brad and Melissa knew it.
Brad’s eyes bulged the way they did when he got psyched. “You’re on, dude,” he said, “the party starts at 8.”
Melissa gave me a concerned look, then crossed the street to go home.
“Check ya later!” I called, and timed it so that I stepped through the front door of my parents’ house just as she did the same.
The house felt empty when I got inside—I knew my parents were riding a bus on the freeway about now—but I called out for them anyway and then waited a minute before I took off all my clothes right there in the entryway. I walked through every room in the house, then went outside into the backyard and let the warm, beginning-of-summer breeze blow across my skin and through my legs.
Oct 25, 05:08 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
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