Fiction by Chase Dearinger

by Chase Dearinger

issue 65


WYATT’S PAYCHECK FROM THE PLANT was all we had with Mom up and gone again. He moved to the third shift just to keep us going. This was all fucking up the summer before my first year of high school something fierce. It meant Wyatt was home all day in full blown underwear-and-Coke mode. It meant he quit bringing me a paperback every week when he went to Tulsa for his alky meetings, which meant I had to reread all of the old ones again, and after I ran out of those it meant I had to go to the library if I wanted to stick something between me, and him, and his dumb-fuck stories. All of which was why me and Squints had to get money for weed by cleaning out his mom’s shed.

On the way to Squints’ house, Wyatt took one hand off the wheel and squeezed my bicep. He said, Weightlifting’s starting to show, Buddy. Boyhowdy! and he laughed. I stared ahead, and he watched my face until the pickup veered onto the shoulder and the rumble strip rattled underneath, and he said, Shit, and pulled back on the road and said, Did I ever tell you the one about when me and Max went out and drove over mailboxes? I said, You just did.

He shook his head and said, Smartass, and then, As strong as you’re getting, you might think about going out for football. He started telling me another story about when he’d been a pole-vaulter at Okie State before he dropped out and how sports taught you all this high-and-mighty bullshit. Another thing that’s changed I can’t stand about him: he’s all-of-a-sudden interested in my business. I watched the wheat fields out my window and thought about leaving. Just skipping out. On Wyatt. On Seven Suns. On Oklahoma altogether. Maybe when I got my license and a car. Or maybe Mom would come home and take me with her somewhere. Fucking football: yeah right.

 

***

 

Squints Sherman lived with his mom in a square, white clapboard at the front end of ten ratty acres nobody ever touched. A real hell-scape of scrub brush, and devil’s weed, and burrs. Some coupon inserts from a pile of junk mail in a lawn chair blew around the yard, which was mostly just gravel and dead yellow grass. I heard the deadbolt clack and the door open, and Miss Sherman stood behind the screen smoking a cigarette. She was in sweatpants and a white tank top that said KANSAS CITY IS FOR LOVERS. She rubbed one eye with the heel of her palm and yawned.

She said, Nine o’clock, on the dime. And then, Wish you boys would actually do some work if you’re going to wake me up this damned early every day. She smiled. But it’s always good to see you, RT. She creaked open the screen door, and stood out on the porch, and raised up a hand to shield herself from the light, and she groaned and said, Goddamn sun. The lines on her face disappeared in the shadow of her hand, and I remembered how young she was. She said, How long are you going to put off that shed? I’d like to get some chickens in there before I’m too old to gather eggs. I said, You know Squints, and she said, Unfortunately. She moved next to me, and wrapped her arm around my waist, and squeezed me into her side, and moved her hand up and down. When are you going to make a man out of Squints like you are?

The screen door banged, and Squints came out, and I thought, Thank God, and Squints said, What the fuck, Mom? Just leave him alone. She let go of me, and put her cigarette out, and went back inside without saying a word. She slammed the door.

Squints had a fat face full of stubble and acne and was generally a chapped-lip, mouth-breather type. He was still cool, though, because he was pretty gangster. He wore a flat-billed Thunder cap tilted to the side. He had a fake-but-real-looking gold chain. He wore these baggy jean shorts so dirty they looked like they were made of wax, but they were gangster. I wore white T-shirts and Wranglers, and white sneakers from Wal-Mart.

He said, Yo, what’s up? and I said, What’s up? and then, Are we going to do the shed today? And he said, Fuck that, we’ve still got fifty bucks. Squints’ mom had paid us a hundred and fifty bucks up front. Which was a dumb-fuck thing to do because it meant we were just going to spend it on pot and not clean the garage until we ran out of money. Squints put his hands on his hips and looked up at the sky like he was going to decide what we’d do based on the weather. He said, You have any left? and I said, Yeah, but it’s at home.

The front door flew open, and Miss Sherman pointed at Squints and yelled, If you don’t get that shed cleaned out soon I’m gonna sell that pickup of yours and pay them to put a big billboard up by the mailbox that says HOME OF QUENTIN SHERMAN WHO HATES HIS OWN MOTHER. She trembled when she said it, and even though I thought the lady was first-class crazy, and even though she could be mean as hell to Squints, I felt sorry for her. We got in Squints’ pickup, and he hit the gas so hard that gravel cracked against the side of the trailer. We were on the highway to Tulsa in no time, with the wind roaring through our open windows and Hank Jr. blasting. The sky was white, and the hills rolled on and on, and if I didn’t think too much about the future, everything felt almost all right.

 

***

 

On the way back from picking up the weed, Squints hotboxed the truck cab. I squirted mustard from a packet into my mouth between bits of corndog. When we passed Giant G Ranch, a stallion was mounting a mare up by the fence, and his giant dick flopped pink and shiny, and I pointed it out to Squints, and we laughed. We discussed the merits of being willing to suck another guy’s dick. Squints said, We probably wouldn’t have to clean out my mom’s shed to pay for dope. We could find us a sugar-daddy for that, and I said, Sure, yeah and get HIV, too, but he didn’t laugh like I thought he would.

We kept driving, passed a Subway, and a Pizza Hut, and the mill, then turned right into Seven Suns, a suckhole with two banks, and a dozen churches, and a whole lot of assholes. Squints parked in the alley behind the abandoned Showbiz Video, and I said, God this is getting old, and Squints said, No fuck. We started coming here when we couldn’t chill and smoke at my place anymore because of Wyatt. Even when Squints didn’t come around, I could still lift weights, and read all day, and be alone. I decided then I’d start trying to read and lift more. To make myself better.

We got out, and I pulled just enough on the particle board covering the back door of the video store for us to climb in. It was crazy hot and dusty, and I could feel the sweat already beading up on the small of my back.

We walked past the empty dirt-caked shelves to the room behind the counter with the yellow dick spray-painted on the front. I liked it back there because it felt haunted, and because that’s where the only open window was, so the only place to catch a breeze. Squints liked the room because the place was ankle-deep in empty VHS boxes from pornos. Outside the window, across a field of gone-to-seed grass, a train chugged towards Tulsa. Massive rusted hunks of blue and red and orange, long as hell, hauling God-knows-what. What I loved most about trains was the graffiti—big, crazy-crowded, bubble words you couldn’t read or understand. Like someone out on the coast, where the trains stood still, was sending a message into the middle of America. But they were gone in a second. Maybe the message wasn’t for me, but someone else down the line.

We sat with our backs against the wall across from the window, with our legs spread out in front of us. Squints’ body was warm, and his sweet musky smell felt familiar. I breathed it in. He broke up some weed on the back of Womb Raider, and we smoked two bowls. Squints was being casual about it, but I wanted to be as stoned as possible, so I took massive hits. I coughed and offered the pipe to him, but he held up his hand and shook his head and said, Naw, yo. I’m baked, and I said, Suit yourself, and kept smoking.

I said, You know we’re actually going to have to clean that shed? and he said, Dig, dig. We’ll start tomorrow. He’d never said dig, dig before, and it felt forced and stupid, and for some reason I felt sad for him for having to fake it like that. But I got it: I was working on my style, too, right? I said, Anything to stay away from home, and he said, What’s up with that? and I said, Man, Wyatt’s a dumb-fuck and always trying to get up in my shit.

Squints said, then why do you stick around? and I said, Mom’s coming back. He didn’t say anything, and I felt stupid, so I said, Plus if I run off and get caught they’d just put me in some foster home where I have to suck some dude’s dick for my government cheese, and Squints laughed, and I felt better. I took a crazy rip and cashed the bowl, and my lungs burned, but I held it in. He said, Look at this, and he handed me the box for Paris, France, which had this sexy-looking maid and the Eiffel tower on the front. I said, So what, and he said, No turn it over, and I did, and there was a guy on all fours, and another guy behind him pounding his ass. He had this crazy look on his face, and his lips were parted like a kiss, and Squints said, there’s you’re fucking sugar-daddy, and we laughed.

I got up, and acted like I had to piss, and went into the main room, and stood behind the counter, and unzipped my pants, and looked at my boner. I thought, He’s going to hear I’m not pissing and come around and find me with this hard-on in my hand, and he’ll never speak to me again. But it went down enough, and I actually had to piss, which was a major relief. The whole room echoed with the splashing against the front of the counter. There was a grunt and a scrape in the back room, and Squints came out, and stood behind the counter, and leaned forward and watched me while I finished, and I know I should’ve said something—like called him a pervert, or a faggot, or something—or joke like I was going to aim at him, but I just let him watch and then zipped up.

After we left Showbiz, we bummed around downtown, and went to the library, where I couldn’t find a decent book, and then smoked a bowl behind the water tower. Squints said, Yo, I gotta drop you off and get home. By the time we got to the trailer park, the orange sky had turned to purple and was plunging into blackness, and the stars were coming out. Squints said, Good hanging, and then, Let’s knock that shed out tomorrow, and I said, Cool, yeah, sure, and we bumped fists, which I always hated.

Wyatt was still asleep. I went into the extra bedroom, where I kept my bench and dumbbells, and did three sets of bench, three sets of upright rows, three sets of butterflies, and three sets of curls. I did reps until I couldn’t move, and my body got tense, and my face got red, and I was soaked in sweat, and I cried. I locked my bedroom door, and sat in bed, and smoked my one-hitter, and got under the covers, and listened to someone else’s screen door bang against the side of their trailer.

 

***

 

Wyatt stomped on my mattress and yelled, Wake the fuck up dope-head, and I yelled, Fuck you, and thought about taking a swing at his dumb-fuck Indian face, and walking right out the front door for the last time, but didn’t.

Wyatt stomped harder and yelled, Come on, Buddy, you got work to do!

I said, All right, all right, I’m up! and found a pair of black jeans and a black T-shirt and looked at myself in the closet mirror.

Wyatt had his boots up on the coffee table. His shirt was off, and his Wranglers were unbuttoned, and he had a can of Coke balanced on his stomach, and he yelled, Good morning, princess, and I crossed to the kitchen and stood and ate Applejacks from the box. Our pantry consisted of Applejacks, canned meat, white bread, Hot Pockets, and cases of Coke. Wyatt said, So tell me about this big job you and Squints are doing. How’s that going? I ignored him and turned to put the box back. He said, Well if you’re not going to tell me about it, I’m going to have to force it out of you, and he stood and came up behind me, and wrapped his arms around me, and squeezed me tight as a hose clamp. I started to get away, but he pulled me back, and kept me pinned with just one crazy strong arm, and started messing my hair as hard as he could, and said, How bout it? I asked you a question.

I gave in and stood as still as possible. He lifted me off of the floor and yelled, Boyhowdy! and jolted me back down, and let me go. I turned to face him and balled my hands into fists. At least he didn’t make me arm wrestle him. Fuck I hated that. He didn’t use to mess with me so much. He didn’t use to give me the time of day.

Wyatt stopped laughing. He looked tired. He scratched the back of his neck, and I knew he wanted to say something to me, because he kept looking at me, and then down the hallway, and then back to me, but he just walked past me and picked his Coke up off the bar and said, Let me get my keys, and I’ll drop you off, and, You better be ready.

In the car he tipped back his Coke, and then crushed the can, and tossed it hook-shot style out the window and into the bed of the pickup, where it clattered with others. When he collected enough he’d sell them in Tulsa.

 

***

 

Squints answered the door and said, What’s with all the black, yo? You’re going to be hot as fuck, and I said, What’s the big deal? I like black. So what? But it sounded stupid because it was obvious I was going for some kind of look.

We stood in front of the shed and assessed the situation, which was bleak. Squints said, Goddamn, yo, and I said, I bet we can knock it out in an hour or two if we really go at it, and Squints said, Bullshit. It was just a graveyard for busted furniture, and rusted tools, and rusted nails, and rusted appliances.

We put on leather gloves and moved everything to the dumpster Miss Sherman had rented. We pulled out a set of eight school desks—one of which had a nest of black widows in it—and found the matching chairs stacked up behind those, and we moved a broken-down bed frame with a rusted-ass brass headboard. I went through four shelves of tools one at a time, to see if any of them were salvageable, but ended up throwing them all away. Two busted lawnmowers, a piece of a tractor I recognized but couldn’t name, a Formica table. I sweat so bad, I soaked through and dried out twice, but fuck it felt good to actually do something—like really accomplish something—instead of just being general fuckups. We got it down to an avocado refrigerator in the back, which we decided was unmovable, and a big-ass A/C wall unit sitting on the arms of a rocking chair.

Squints said, I guess we ought to get this fucker out of the way. He wiped his forehead with the bottom of his T-shirt, and I noticed that his stomach was soft, and white, and pudgy, and he said, Don’t stare.

We were about to pick the thing up when his mom came around the corner of the house. I could tell by the way she had to stop and lean up against the house that she was drunk. She came towards the shed, trailing cigarette smoke from the limp hand in front of her face. She stopped midway, and reached down, and pulled off her shoes one at a time. She stepped slow and careful on the gravel and said, How you boys doing? and I said, Fine, and she said, What’s with all the black, RT? and Squints said, He just likes black, Mom, so whatever. She was wearing gray sweatpants, and a black sports bra, and a pink bathrobe that hung open. She held her high heels in one hand, and smoked with the other, and smelled like vodka.

RT you’re getting big, she said. She dropped her shoes and leaned on my shoulder with her hand. You’re getting strong. She slid her hand up the sleeve of my shirt, and squeezed my bicep, and said, Yes you are. I didn’t like her touching me one bit, but I have to admit I was happy that people were starting to notice the weightlifting. She blew smoke in my face, but said, Oh my God I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to, and I said, Sure, yeah, and she said, I just meant to bring you boys some water but I forgot it. Her hand was still up my sleeve.

Squints said, Leave him alone Mom, and she turned to face him. She said, Son—and she started to say something, but it came out in a long slur, and she cut herself off, and swayed, and narrowed her eyes at him, and she tried again and said, Son are you going to finish this or stand there like a do-nothing? Cause you’ve been a do-nothing all goddamned summer so far.

He nodded at me and then the A/C, and I decided I’d follow his lead. We got underneath the A/C, but when we lifted it up Squints said, Holy fuck put it back, and I said, No don’t be a pussy, and he said, Holy fuck the edge is cutting into my hands. Set it down, set it down, and I yelled, We already got it up! and his Mom said, Yeah, son, don’t be a pussy, get it up, and Squints dropped his end and fell backwards, and the unit crashed down, and broke the arms of the rocking chair, and rolled face-first onto the ground. Dark liquid pooled out into the dirt.

Miss Sherman snorted, and I felt sick. Half of her cigarette was just ash. It broke and fell down the front of her bathrobe. She said, Show him, and pointed at me and then the A/C with the burned-out cigarette.

She said, Show him, RT! I wanted Squints to give me a signal for what the fuck to do, but he just sat on the ground with his knees up and his head down, so I just did what she said, and squatted down and lifted up the unit on my own. My back, and legs, and arms caught fire, and I grunted and spit a little, but I saw Squints was watching me, so I held strong and lugged it fifty feet to the dumpster. I heaved it up over my head and dropped it down, and the crash scattered sparrows from the tree line. Miss Sherman said something quiet to Squints, but when I turned around she was walking towards the house, and Squints held two hundred-dollar bills in his hand.

Once she left, we sat with our backs to the shed with our legs spread out, and we leaned against each other, and I said, What the fuck was that all about? and he said, Nothing, just typical bullshit, and I loaded up a bowl, and we smoked. My whole body trembled from lifting that unit, and I decided then that I’d take advantage of the burn and lift even harder that night.

I wanted to say something to Squints like, She’s a real bitch, man, but I thought, Try to give less of a fuck. But that felt phony, so instead I thought, that’s his business. That felt better. I pulled hard on the pipe, and the cherry crackled and glowed orange.

I closed my eyes, and the sun warmed my face, and I said, It feels good to actually do something, you know? but I regretted it, because saying it out loud probably ruined it. He didn’t say anything, but I could feel him getting closer to me because I could hear his breath, and it grew hot and fuzzy on my neck. I didn’t look at him or anything, just thought, It’s cool we did all this work together, and we’re tired, and sort of like one person, and he kissed me on the cheek, and something got going in my blood like a pump-jack gone crazy. He kissed me on the mouth, and it was wet. I pushed him away but didn’t say anything.

We sat in silence. The sky was so big and blue, it broke my heart. A contrail from a jet pointed down into Tulsa. Squints stood, and picked up a piece of gravel, and ran, and threw it at the jet, and I followed the rock with my eyes, until the sparrows scared again, and broke my vision.

He offered to take me home, and I said, Nah, I think I’ll walk, and he said, Hey man, but that was it. I walked the four miles back down the highway and the half mile down 389, but it only took me an hour and a half, because once in a while I’d sprint until my legs were on fire and I couldn’t breathe.

 

***

 

Wyatt wasn’t home, and I didn’t care why. I thought, Fuck it, and drank two of his Cokes, and got stoned, and put on a Jerry Reed album. I picked up two thirty-pound dumbbells and did curls until I couldn’t even lift my arms, but I pulled the bench upright and sat and did overhead presses anyway. I grunted louder with each rep until I was yelling—just one long nonstop growl—and I just dropped the weights and let them crash.

I went down the back hall to Wyatt’s room. No: their room. No: Wyatt’s room. I looked through his stuff for anything interesting or illegal but knew I wouldn’t find it. There were only some pearl snaps on hangers in the closet, and a pile of T-shirts and jeans on the floor. The other half of the closet was Mom’s. I pulled some things out: the crazy, shiny-sequined purple dress she’d cut down from her senior prom dress to go see Willie in Tulsa, the denim jacket with the puffy, red-paisley liner that she wore in the winters and looked stupid and fat in, her lace-up boots, a snakeskin belt with a silver cross for a buckle. I laid them all out on the bed, and then put them away, and wondered what she was wearing right then.

The way the screen door slammed against the side of the trailer, I knew Wyatt was drunk. I tried to make it to my room and shut myself in, but before he even had the door all the way open, he yelled, RT! and I froze in place in front of my door. Wyatt stumbled the six feet from the door to the couch, and fell on his side, and laughed, and pushed the hair away from his eyes. He yelled, RT! again, and then, R-fucking-T! and I stood behind the couch and thought, Fucking great, now this, but said, Don’t you have to go to work? and, What the fuck, Wyatt? What the fuck?

He struggled to unbutton his pants and kick off his boots, and he said, So good to see you, RT! and tried to get his pants off just by kicking. He fell, and landed face-first, and yelled something, but it was muffled by the carpet. I got down and hooked my arms under his armpits, and raised him up, and smelled the sweet rot of beer on him, and dropped him on the couch and yelled, What is fucking wrong with you? I was tired of waiting and just wanted something to actually happen, so I reached back and sank my fist into his stomach so hard I heard the beer in him slosh and thought I could feel his spine on the back of my knuckles.

I said, Fuck you, and then, Fucking drunk Indian, because I knew how much he hated that phrase drunk Indian. But it was a dumb-fuck thing to do, because the sound of it pulled every sober string in his body taut as a fishing line, and he sat up, and bent over the coffee table, and grabbed me by the wrist, and got down on one knee, and planted his elbow on the table, and I knew right away he wanted to arm-wrestle, and that he wouldn’t let go until I did, and he said, Let’s have a go, Buddy, and then, Let’s have a go, smartass, and then, Let’s have a go, white trash.

I said, Sure, yeah, pissed as hell, and knelt down opposite him, and he put his free hand on top of our matched hands, and swayed, and burped, and yelled, Ready, go! and we went at it. I squared up my shoulder, and concentrated on my hand, and put my whole life into that fucking arm, and I held him there, and he grunted once, and before long my arm started to go, but I kept laying it all out, and I opened my mouth and let out a growl that turned into a yell that turned into a scream as my shoulder and arm turned to rubber and gave. He slammed the back of my hand on the table. He smiled and said, Good old, RT, and then, What do you think of that? and then, Who’s your daddy?

I said, Fuck you, and locked myself in my bedroom, and did pushups, and smoked a pinch out the window, and went to bed but didn’t sleep. I heard a knock on my door later, and I thought, Go the fuck away, and like he read my mind, he did.

 

***

 

Crazy rain in the morning. I looked for clothes on my floor and realized I had only one black outfit, so I put the same clothes back on, even though they reeked from all of the sweating I’d done in them. Wyatt was gone, but there was a note on a paper napkin on the coffee table that said SWITCHED SHIFTS FOR A BUDDY SORRY ABOUT LAST NITE I CLEANED UP WHATEVER WE SPILLED – W.

I called Squints and said, Hey, Wyatt’s gone all day. Come over, and we’ll smoke a bowl and chill, and he said, Hell yeah. I ate Applejacks from the box, and watched some cartoons, and read about a third of The Shining, but Squints didn’t come. I called again, but his mom answered the phone, so I hung up. Not long after that, I heard his pickup. Squints came in soaking wet without knocking.

I said, What the fuck, man? and he took off his high-tops, and stepped onto the carpet, and said, Yo, take it easy. I got a flat and had to change it in the rain on the fucking highway. He was pissed, but I knew it was because of the flat and not me, but I said, Yo, you take it easy, and then, Now we only have a couple of hours to chill before Wyatt gets home, and he said, Whatever. Why do you always have to be so negative?

I found some Wranglers for him, and a white sleeveless shirt, and I stood in the doorway of my bedroom and watched him strip down and put on the dry clothes in the living room. His whole body was pale, and hair was starting to grow on his chest.

We smoked a bowl and messed around with the weights, and Squints tried to juggle the two ten-pounders I used for shoulder work, and he actually did it before dropping one on his foot. I showed him I could bench the fifty- fives, and he tried and couldn’t even get them up once, so I gave him twenties, which he could do. I called him a pussy but he laughed. I was going to show him how much I could do on overhead press when he said, Come on this is stupid, and I said, Sure, yeah. I was pretty stoned and had no idea what that was supposed to mean, and I followed him in my room and said, there’s no TV in here.

I sat on my bed, and he went through my novels. He kept his head tilted to one side, and read the titles aloud, and said, these are alphabetized, and I sat and watched him, and I said, Wyatt got drunk last night.

He said, Oh yeah? So what? and he stopped looking at the books, and I said, Well he’s not supposed to drink, but he does it anyway. He said, Yeah, I guess, I guess—but I didn’t let him finish, and I said, Don’t you hate it when your mom drinks? and he blew air out between his lips and said, Man she’s fucking tripping out all the time. What do I care? I got shit to do, people to see, dope to smoke, you know? and he smiled and said, Maybe you got lucky with your mom taking off, and I said, Sure, yeah, and laughed, too. He said, You don’t have to know when she’s sucking some guy’s dick, and we both laughed.

I said, Did you ever get your dick sucked? even though I knew he hadn’t, but he said, Hell yeah, and I said, What was it like? He went Mmm-Mmm and rubbed his belly like he’d just eaten something delicious, and I said, Oh yeah? I bet I can suck it better, and he laughed, and he didn’t stop me when I stepped up and kissed him. We both used our tongues, and his chapped lips were crazy cold, and I didn’t like it, so I kissed and sucked on his neck. He didn’t stop me when I got down and worked at the zipper on his jeans. He even helped when I couldn’t get the button undone.

His dick was smaller than mine and circumcised. When I put it in my mouth, it was warm and soft, but also slick and hard, and I felt my own dick push against my jeans. He leaned back against the bookshelves, and some books fell off the edge, and I pulled his dick out of my mouth and wet it with my tongue and kept sucking. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I felt his warm, sticky hand on the back of my head, and figured I was doing fine. I moved my head back and forth and breathed through my nose.

Just then Wyatt’s pickup crunched to a stop in the gravel outside, and I heard heavy footsteps on the deck and the screen door open and shut, and Wyatt yelled, RT? and I pulled my mouth off of Squints and tried to remember whether my door was locked or not, and when I decided it was, I yelled, What the fuck? Squints shot me a we’re-fucking-busted look, but I used my eyes to say, Chill, and I stayed there on the ground, and Wyatt knocked on the door, and I yelled, Go the fuck away! I’m busy! and he said, Well when you’re done hiding your dope, let’s go into town and get supper at Sonic, and I said, Sure, Yeah, and started to suck Squints dick again, but it wasn’t hard anymore.

I tried to get it hard with my hand, but he swatted me away and said, Fuck it, but I kept at it until he stuck the palm of his hand on my forehead and pushed me away. When he leaned over to pull up his pants, the bookshelves on the wall behind him fell, and an avalanche of paperbacks came down on his back and knocked him over, and he yelled, Goddammit, and I said, What the fuck? and he said, You’re a fucking faggot.

So I kicked him in the stomach, and it was a weird time to notice, but I realized I’d been wearing white sneakers with my all-black outfit, and I thought, Fuck fuck fuck, and I kicked him again but harder, and he rolled over and groaned, and I heard Wyatt beat on the door. He said, Hey! Hey now. What’s going on? He banged again, and I heard him try the handle.

I felt all the muscles I’d used to move that A/C catch fire again, and I hit Squints in the mouth with my fist, then I hit him again, only this time his mouth gave a little, and I could feel something crack-pop deep down through all that flesh, and he yelled out, and I stood up and tried to breath, but I couldn’t. Every muscle in my body flexed, and I couldn’t move. Squints yelled something, but it was like he was underwater, and all I could hear were deep vibrations, and his face was bright with blood, and his eyes welled up, and his bottom lip was already twice its normal size, and I couldn’t believe how broken I’d made him.

The doorframe cracked behind me, and the door flew open, and I could feel Wyatt’s warmth fill the room, and he yelled, What the fuck is going on in here? and Squints stood, and pulled up his pants, and ran right past his wet clothes in the living room to his truck, and peeled out so fast his tires sprayed gravel like gun fire against the side of the trailer. I picked up the books and stacked them against my chest and said, He fucked up my books. I crawled around collecting them like that and didn’t look at Wyatt, and then started to cry, but made sure it was quiet and not a bunch of sobbing. Snot went in and out of my nose, and Wyatt said, What the fuck is going on here? What the fuck was going on here? but each time he said it, he got quieter. I dropped an armful of books on my bed and started alphabetizing them, but I had this crazy, splitting headache already from trying not to cry too hard, and my chest heaved, so I couldn’t concentrate on the titles.

Wyatt sat down on the metal folding chair at my desk. God, he looked tired. Tired, and skinny, and just broke down, and he leaned back and put his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. He said, Listen, and I started picking up books again, and he said, No godammit, listen, and I let the books drop and just stood in the middle of the room with my hands in my pockets. He leaned forward, and rubbed his hands together, and said, I don’t know what’s going on in here, and maybe I don’t need to, and for the first time he actually looked at me. But here’s what we’re going to do from here on out. He put his finger to his chest and said, I’m going to do me, and he pointed at me and said, And you’re going to do you. I nodded, and he stood and pointed at me and said, You do you. And don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

I changed my clothes. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, and we drove into town. The train tracks were empty, and the rain had stopped, so I watched the black tree line against the blue-black sky, and on the highway out there, the stars were crazy, white winks, and I could even make out the blue blur of the Milky Way, but when Wyatt turned into the Sonic, there was only the orange buzz of fluorescent lights against the red awning. He ordered a burger, and fries, and a Coke. I ordered tater tots, and when they came I ate them and squirted mustard into my mouth between bites. Wyatt sucked at his straw and said, I’ve got to go right back and work the third shift already. I said, Sure, yeah, and even though he was sitting right next to me in the pickup, I already missed him.