Rewrite of chapter 9 for Redwood Summer. In this chapter Jason, the main character, and his friends Randy and Brian are driving home after seeing a movie, but what’s really happening is the growing apart of Jason and Randy. The breakdown that happens to Jason’s car is symbolic, not only of the relationship between Jason Randy, but also of the greater world changes that were happening below the surface in the summer of 1990 and were about to undermine the hard fought victory of the Cold War.
A rewrite of chapter 7, not much different than earlier version, but deeper. Action is right after action in chapter 6. Jason and Christine are at her nephew’s little league game, which symbolizes his journeys from participant to spectator, and contrasts with chapter 2 in which Jason plays a game of basketball with friends.
Also in this chapter Jason begins to lose control over his life as outside forces start to move him against his will.
A rewrite and expansion of Redwood Summer chapter 6. This is the beginning of the second third of the novel. It takes place about a month after chapter 5 ends, and begins the changes that will happen in Jason’s, the main character, life. Jason and his mother have a debate about the pros and cons of technology, and then she reminds him that his sister will be home from college that later that day. She is a student at Cal Poly, and this her first mention in the novel. Mother suspects Jason may be envious of his sister, though he swears he isn’t.
“So now Alex is trying to hook him up with a job so he can pay off his bills and his back rent!” Mike said loudly to Jason over blaring party music.
“Hook who up?” Jason responded just as loud.
“Curtis!” Mike repeated.
“Oh, good for him!” Jason yelled back. “Hope it works out!”
“Maybe he can find something for you!”
“I’ll need to make more than what Curtis is willing to work for!”
“I heard that!” Mike agreed.
They looked around the unfamiliar house at the shifty, uneasy crowd.
“Know anybody here other than Darren?” Mike asked loudly.
Jason scanned the horde of party goers. “A couple of familiar faces, but no one I know personally!”
They milled around and tried to fit into the agitated atmosphere of the party. Some were drinking heavily and clustered around in separate, loud conversations. Others went in and out of a bedroom at the end of the hallway, closing the door every time they entered or exited.
The night wore on then loud, angry voices clashed over the blasting music. Jason and Mike looked toward the clamor and saw people hurrying toward the front room. They followed everyone and saw Randy and another party goer screaming and pushing at each other as others yelled at them to stop or egged them on. Jason and Mike moved toward the conflict but merged into a flood of people that quickly filled up the front room. The crowd surrounded the two fighters as the mêlée escalated and they tried to wrestle each other down. Jason and Mike struggled to push through the crowd but were stuck. Jason watched the fight from a distance as spectators from the crowd finally reached in and tried to pull Randy and his opponent away from each other while others continued to incite them. Jason tried to keep his footing in the lumbering crowd then someone hollered that a neighbor had called the police.
Everyone quickly untangled themselves, broke away from each other, and dispersed out the front and back doors. Jason and Mike along with Darren got a hold of Randy while the other fighter was pulled away by other disappearing party goers.
“Where is that motherfucker!” Randy yelled.
“Chill, dude!” Darren said.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here!” Mike ordered as he and Jason pushed Randy out into the backyard and were trailed by Darren. They met up with Brian and Terry and joined a line of people running along the side of the house. They emerged into the front yard and everyone fled into the night under the hazy glow of street lamps.
Lit up police cars rolled up the street, and Jason, Mike, Brian, Terry, and Darren grabbed Randy and took off in the opposite direction. They raced down one street, then another. Jason was fueled by a rush of excitement as he deeply breathed in the cool night air. They kept running through the neighborhood then slowed to a jog, and then a walk as the houses gave way to the large expanse of a high school. They tried to catch their breath as they approached the front of the campus.
“Got away,” Brian said between breaths.
“So who was that guy you were brawling with?” Jason asked Randy.
“One of Tony’s asshole friends,” Randy said. “I think his name is Frank.”
“Well what were you two fighting about?” Jason asked.
“Fuck if I know,” Randy said as he wandered onto the yellow lit school grounds.
“Well that explains things,” Brian said sarcastically. “I thought it was something important.”
“You guys should’ve back me up!” Randy insisted.
“We tried but the place was packed,” Mike replied. “We could barely move.”
“You’re lucky we got you out of there,” Jason said to Randy. “You’re in no shape to be talking to cops right now.”
“They would’ve dragged you away on sight,” Terry added.
“Yeah, yeah,” Randy said dismissively. He wandered further onto the school and looked around at the institutional, rectangular buildings. “Haven’t been here in a while.”
“I had to get out of that party quick,” Darren said. “I think I still have a warrant out on me.”
“That the only reason why you’re so jumpy?” Terry asked knowingly.
“At least they didn’t send that helicopter with the spotlight,” Mike said.
Randy continued to survey the school grounds. He walked through the outdoor commons and everyone followed. “Can’t believe it’s been five years already.”
“Time marched on,” Brian reminded.
“Hope they don’t bust Tony,” Darren worried.
“They shouldn’t,” Terry answered. “He just threw a noisy party, that’s all.”
“Yeah, as long as nothing is in plain sight,” Mike reminded.
“They’re just there to break up our fun,” Randy said as he pulled a can of beer from his jacket pocket. “Shit, like they got nothing better to do.” He opened his beer and foam hissed out of the can as he took a drink.
“Hope you brought enough for everybody,” Brian chided.
“I might have an extra,” Mike said as he felt inside his jacket, pulled out one can, then another,
and handed one to Brian. Jason then felt his front jacket pocket, found a beer he had forgotten, and
pulled it out. As they opened their beers they all shot out foam.
Randy held up his can. “To the old school,” he said solemnly, and they all took a drink. Jason took a foamy drink that tasted warm and acrid.
“Not too often we get to see the old school,” Randy reminisced.
“You didn’t see too much of it when you were going,” Mike kidded.
“Yeah, but when you’re in high school you can’t let classes get in the way of having a good time,” Randy asserted.
“Can’t argue with that,” Jason said half seriously.
“That’s right,” Terry agreed. “So what if you weren’t the valedictorian.”
“Yeah, I was a pain,” Randy acknowledged, “but I never thought I was going to miss it.” He looked around the campus longingly as he walked ahead. “Now it’s all a bunch of kids who were in fucking junior high when we were here. Can you believe that shit?” Randy quickened his pace as he went by a row of lockers. Everyone else jogged after him while trying not to spill their beers until they came upon the courtyard in the middle of the school buildings. They all stopped, and Randy looked around the open space nostalgically.
“Sure looks empty with nobody around,” Terry said after a while.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed, “and smaller.”
Randy gazed around raptly then focused on one of the larger buildings. “The cafeteria,” he spotted. “Did a lot of Saturday school there.”
“Couldn’t have been as much as me,” Mike said.
“I remember this one time a food fight broke out in there,” Terry began. “When no one was looking, I walked out with a case of Fanta.”
“Did you guys hear someone else?” Darren asked warily.
“That’s nothing,” Mike said to Terry. “One night I carved donuts on the soccer field with my old Camaro.”
“I think that’s just our voices echoing,” Brian said to Darren.
“Yeah, I tore it up good,” Mike reminisced as he pantomimed making a sharp turn with a steering wheel.
“Oh, I remember now,” Terry said to Mike. “It was after that party when…”
A piercing scream suddenly erupted from Randy. The echo reverberated off the buildings and briefly filled the vacant courtyard. Everyone looked around startled. “You’re right,” Randy said to Brian.
“Goddammit, Randy! There are cops around!” Jason said angrily.
“Hope nobody heard that,” Darren worried.
“Oh, that was heard,” Mike remarked.
“You’re awfully jumpy tonight,” Terry said to Darren.
“He’s always jumpy,” Brian added.
“Cops won’t come,” Mike predicted, “they’re busy rousting Tony.”
“Aw, man,” Darren lamented.
Randy walked further into the courtyard. “You know how people that say that high school is the quickest four years of your life,” he began, “well it’s been about five years since we all left, and those four years were a lot more fun than the years that came after. Ain’t that a bitch.”
“Life was better then and we didn’t even know it,” Brian observed.
“Couldn’t wait to get out of here,” Randy said as he looked around the open space longingly, “and here I am.” The yellow lights on the buildings glowed beside him and his shadow stretched across the ground and moved with him. Jason watched Randy as he wandered to the center of the courtyard and appeared to be lost in memories. “Back then we were always hanging out with each other, like family. Now we don’t see each other the way we used to.” He stood by himself in the middle of the courtyard. “Especially since some of you are whipped by your girlfriends.”
Jason suspected the last comment was directed at him. Randy looked around some more, thenfocused on one spot in the far corner. “The center of it all,” he said happily. “The smoking section.”
“That isn’t the smoking section anymore,” Terry informed.
“What?” Randy looked stunned. “Where the fuck is it?”
“They don’t have one anymore,” Jason said.
“You’re shitting me!”
“All the high schools got rid of them,” Mike said, “new state law. Didn’t you hear?”
Randy lowered his head in disappointment. “Everything good in life, they take it all away,” he brooded. “It’s bullshit!” He paced around angrily. “Where are you supposed to go now to hang out with your bros and smoke a bowl?”
“Library?” Mike joked.
“Goddammit I’m serious!” Randy yelled from the middle of the courtyard. “We have been betrayed by a bunch of fucking new rules! Freeways cover up our old stomping grounds! It’s getting too fucking crowded here! Shit is getting too expensive! We’re losing our freedom!” he declared with fists clenched. “Where’s the fun? Where are the crazy adventures? The memories!” A tense pause filled the air.
“Life ain’t that bad,” Mike finally said. “Why stress?”
“Because we had something!” Randy emphasized. “We were the big men on campus, and nobody could fuck with us! And now it’s all gone! Fuck!” He flung his can of beer and it skidded across the blacktop then struck one of the buildings as it left a wet trail of beer in its path.
“Hey, that’s alcohol abuse,” Terry joked.
“You think I’m kidding?” Randy shot back.
“You need to relax,” Jason advised.
“Fuck that!” Randy paced around some more. “You don’t get it! All you motherfuckers are relaxing too much!” he accused as everyone watched him. “Everything we had is disappearing! And you’re all settling into your nice, boring routines! Dull, predictable lives!” He moved in closer. “You’re all dying inside.”
“Whoa, Randy, that’s heavy,” Mike cautioned.
“And take it easy. There are cops around!” Jason warned.
“What the fuck is wrong with you guys? Are you even listening?” Randy yelled. He pulled out another can of beer from his jacket pocket, opened it, took a long drink and moved closer to everyone. “In the old days you would’ve backed me up.”
“We tried but everybody rushed in,” Mike said. “We could barely move!”
“And then someone said the cops were on the way,” Brian said.
“Yeah,” Jason agreed. “What the fuck were we supposed to do?”
“You’re not supposed to forget who your brothers are!” Randy shouted. Everything fell silent again.
“Okay, Randy, sorry for not jumping in on time,” Brian finally replied. “We didn’t know you were going to start a fight with some total stranger.”
“Fuck, man!” Randy continued angrily. “I didn’t start shit! That fucker bumped into me on purpose! Then he started shooting off his mouth! I couldn’t let him get away with that!” He appeared to wait for a response. “It wasn’t my fault!” he insisted.
“It never is,” Terry remarked.
“Fuck you!” Randy shot back. “You’re supposed to be on my side!”
“Let it go,” Brian advised.
“No! Fuck that!” Randy yelled. “I don’t want to hear any more of that pussy bullshit! I’m not letting it go!” he emphasized. “I know what’s going on. No one wants to hang out with Randy anymore.” He paced around again. “Your girlfriends don’t like having me around. They think I’m an embarrassment. They think I’m trouble. But don’t you all forget that I’m the one who makes things happen!” He stared at them accusedly as the tension rose up again. “What would you have done without me, huh?” he asked pointedly. “Sit around and jack off all day? All your memories are because of me! I’ll be the one you tell stories about whenever you all get together! I made your pasts!” He moved in closer. “You can’t escape that.”
“No one has forgotten,” Jason finally said.
“That’s right,” Mike agreed. “Always the life of the party.”
“I was the party,” Randy declared proudly. His eyes appeared to light up from a recalled memory. “You guys remember that party we went to in the east side? At that ranch up in the foothills? Big place, kegs everywhere. And we met those farmer chicks, I think they were drunker than we were,” he said with a laugh. “And there was that one I hit it off with, Rhonda or something. Then we went behind a shed, and we had our party,” he added luridly.
“Yeah, I remember that party,” Terry reminisced, “or at least I remember going there. I think I blacked out at some point.
“One of those girls had her hands all over you,” Randy said to Jason. He moved toward him. “You could’ve fucked her. How come you didn’t?”
Jason was caught off guard. “I was going out with Jenny at the time.”
“So I didn’t want to cheat on her.”
“Well good for you,” Randy said ominously. “That shows loyalty.”
Jason began to feel uneasy. “What are you getting at?”
“I remember a time when you were loyal to your friends,” Randy said as he moved closer to Jason.
“Aw, c’mon!” Jason refuted. “Where do you come off saying shit like that?”
“Tell me I’m wrong.”
Jason felt the heat of persecution. “I went with you to Tony’s sketchy party, didn’t I?!”
“After I begged you.”
“I can’t hang out like we’re cutting classes anymore!” Jason argued. “I’ve got responsibilities now, bills to pay!”
“And a new class of people to hang out with,” Randy accused.
“What the hell do you want from me, the old Jason? You don’t think I don’t want to do all the fun things we used to do? I miss those days too, but I can’t be a kid forever!”
“No more room for Randy,” Randy said with angry self pity.
“Hey! I’m here now!”
“Chris finally let you off her your leash.”
“Goddammit! If you can’t keep a woman that’s your problem!”
“I can get any broad I want! Even yours.”
“You better watch your mouth!”
Randy stepped closer. “I have known you a lot longer than she has! We grew up together! We played ball together! Partied together! Did everything together! We used to go after the same girls, and they never got in the way!”
Jason felt the heat Randy’s righteous, accusing glare. Shared memories and the lure of nostalgia tempted him and reminded him of the stresses of his present life. Buried fears of a lost, happier past, fading comradery, and an unknown future arose. The gulf between his past and present widened, and dread began to haunt him. “What is your fucking problem?! Christine is the woman I love! Not some party skank! And do really think my life is some kind of fucking fairy tale? I’ve got all kinds of new problems to deal with! A job I can’t stand! Credit card bills! Mooching off of my parents like I’m still a child!”
“Oh, so I’m holding you back,” Randy further accused. “Is that it?”
Anger and frustration boiled over. “You’re holding yourself back! You’re making the wrong choices! What the fuck am I supposed to do, lead you around by the hand?!”
“You’re supposed to remember who your brothers are!” Randy shot back. “Todd would have backed me up! And Alex, Dwayne, even Curtis!”
“They’re not here!”
“Well where the fuck are they?!”
“I think there at Stu’s,” Mike interjected.
“Stu’s throwing a party and you didn’t tell me?” Randy fumed.
“You wanted to go to Tony’s!” Jason reminded angrily.
“I think it’s more of a get together,” Mike added.
“Well we’re not at Tony’s now!” Randy shouted back at Jason.
“Yeah, you had something to do with that,” Terry reminded.
“Fuck you!” Randy threw his almost empty beer can at Terry. Terry quickly moved out of the way and the can thudded against a wall.
“Whoa! What the fuck, man!” Terry said hotly.
“Get a hold of yourself!” Mike ordered.
“Fuck Stu! We’ll have our own party!” Randy declared. “We’ll get some more beers and drive down to the beach!” He began to leave then looked back at everyone. “C’mon!”
“We’ve been drinking all night! We can’t drive over the hill!” Jason asserted.
“You see, that’s the kind of pussy bullshit I’m talking about! Not willing to jump in and take a chance!”
“You’re out of control,” Mike cautioned.
“Who’s with me?!” Randy shouted. “Who’s got a car?!”
“Dude, we’re not driving over the 17 in the middle of the night after we’ve been drinking!” Terry argued.
“Shit! I can drive that hill blindfolded!” Randy bragged. “Darren, we’ll take your car!”
“No way, the brakes are shot.”
“Are you kidding? My alcohol level has to be twice the legal limit right now.”
“Don’t let me down, Terry!”
“Fuck it, I’m heading home,” Terry said, then started to move away.
“Guess I don’t need to ask you,” Randy said flippantly to Jason.
“I’m out.” Jason also began to leave, then Mike.
“Darren!” Randy said with exaggerated friendliness. “You won’t leave me.”
“Sorry, bro, I gotta keep out of sight.” Darren left and jogged up to everyone else leaving.
“So that’s it?” Randy called out as everyone exited the courtyard. “Just gonna leave ol’ Randy all by himself?”
Everyone continued down the corridor toward the school entrance.
“Well I don’t need any of you motherfuckers! Go back to your boring lives! I’m a one man party! I am a creature of the night!” Randy’s voluminous voice became distant as Jason and everyone else approached the school entrance. “That’s it! Keep going! Don’t worry about Randy! I’ll go invade Stu’s! Or find some other party!” Jason heard footsteps in the courtyard moving away quickly in the opposite direction.
Jason and everyone else made it to the street and walked along the sidewalk. A couple of them took a last drink of their beers and tossed them into a nearby trash can.
“Well this has sure been a crazy night,” Mike observed, and everyone muttered in agreement. They then saw a police car driving down a cross street, and everyone froze for an instant.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
Jason paced himself with the surrounding traffic on one of the valley freeways. Vehicles moved in sync as cars, vans, and pickups sped past semi-trailer trucks in the late afternoon sun. More vehicles entered from and exited onto merge lanes. Randy sat in the passenger seat talking while Brian was in the back seat, his head nodded back in sleep.
“So the whole day started out mellow,” Randy continued, “just me, Brian, Darren and Greg hanging out at the beach, tossing around the Frisbee, rapping with some bitches, pounding some brews, making a day of it.”
“Did you guys go to the Boardwalk?” Jason asked.
“Nah, we went to the beach that’s at the end of 26th Avenue, away from the tourists.”
“Nice and secluded over there.”
“Yeah, where the locals go. So anyways, these other guys show up, and a couple of them were also from the Valley, and one of them had an entire case of Pabst in his backpack, so we partied with them. It was awesome,” Randy said as he reminisced. “I like it down there. You can do things down there you can’t do up here.”
“Like smoking a bowl in public?”
“I’ve done that up here plenty,” Randy reminded. “So when it got dark we tried to get a fire going, but no luck. It was getting late so we finally decided to head back, and I ended up having to drive because I was the least wasted.”
“That’s unusual,” Jason kidded.
“Yeah, well no thanks to this pussy,” Randy said as he pointed back to Brian. “Anyways, I made it over the 17 in record time, and then we went to this party at Jamie’s, and the whole place was raging, an insane fucking party. It took me all of yesterday to recover.” Randy looked back toward Brian again. “I don’t know what this animal here did yesterday, but he was the life of the party.” Brian remained asleep.
“Guy I met through work.”
“You were partying and you didn’t even call me,” Jason chided. “What gives?”
“Aw man, I’m sorry,” Randy apologized. “I just figured you were busy with your family because your sister’s in town.”
“Yeah, but, you know…maybe I needed to get away.” Jason looked over at Randy appealingly, and they shared a laugh together.
“So how’s Kathy doing?”
“Doing well,” Jason answered, “living the college life.”
“Good for her, I’m really proud of her,” Randy said sincerely. “She’ll go far.”
“Yeah she will,” Jason agreed. “She’ll probably end up supporting the rest of the family,” he joked. They laughed some more in agreement and enjoyed the moment, then Jason wondered if what he said was actually going to happen.
“That was a good movie,” Randy said after a bit of silence. “But you know what would have made it better? If Clint Eastwood had starred in it.”
“I thought Sean Connery did a good job.”
“Yeah, but couldn’t you see Clint in charge of a submarine? He wouldn’t have to take any shit from anybody.”
“I don’t know,” Jason disagreed. “Clint playing a Russian just doesn’t seem right, it would be like John Wayne playing a Nazi. And could you imagine how funny he’d sound if he tried to talk like a Russian?”
“He’s Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t have to say anything,” Randy said. “All he has to do is give you that don’t-fuck-with-me look.”
Jason slowed down as he approached a reflective tanker truck. He changed lanes, sped up, and drove past it.
Randy looked over to Jason appreciatively. “Hey, thanks for covering me. I owe you.”
“No problem,” Jason said.
“Movies sure got more expensive,” Randy bemoaned.
“Tell me about it.”
“I mean, when did it go up to five bucks a ticket? You can rent a movie for half that.”
“What gets me is that they have the balls to charge you two seventy five for a cup of ice that maybe has a couple of ounces of coke,” Jason complained.
“Highway fucking robbery!” Randy fumed. “Remember when we used go to the UA, only pay a dollar, and then sneak from movie to movie?”
“Or play video games out in the lobby,” Jason added. “A whole weekend of fun with nothing but a pocketful of change.”
“The place we were just at had at least ten screens,” Randy pointed out. “We should have sneaked into another movie just to get our money’s worth.”
“I would’ve loved to, but then we’d have to drag this guy around,” Jason said and pointed back at Brian. “Plus, you know, I’ve got things to do.” He drove quickly to keep up with the rapid, weekend traffic.
“Right, family stuff,” Randy assumed. “Doesn’t your dad work on parts that go into submarines?”
“He used to,” Jason answered. “I’m not sure what they’re having him do now, but he’s going to retire pretty soon anyways.”
“Did he get to work on anything that had to do with torpedoes?”
“Maybe,” Jason said. “But he wasn’t much into talking about his job. Whenever any of us asked what he did, he would say that when he was home that was his time, and he didn’t want to spoil it by talking about work.”
“Got to agree with your dad there,” Randy said. “Work sucks.”
“Right,” Jason said doubtfully. “How’s that coming along?”
“Aw, more problems with the boss,” Randy said.
“He’s not giving me enough work. I keep telling him that I could use some more hours, but he says he doesn’t have anything for me.”
“It’s summer,” Jason pointed out, “this is the busy time of the year for landscaping.”
“Lots of competition out there,” Randy said, “at least that’s what he tells me.”
“Sounds like he’s jerking you around.”
“The guy is a prick anyhow,” Randy complained. “He’s one of those stick up his ass types who have to manage every little detail of your job, a royal pain.”
“Yeah, micro managers are the worst.”
“And he’s so into micro managing that he forgets to look for new customers.”
“Maybe you should try to bring in some business,” Jason suggested.
“Me?” Randy laughed.
“You’re an outgoing guy,” Jason said, “and you have the personality for it.”
“He needs to learn how to run his shit first. One time when we were done for the day and getting ready to leave ready, but that fucker wanted us to keep working just as it was getting get dark because he scheduled us for another job the next day. How the fuck are we supposed to work in the dark?” Randy demanded. “And if I’m going to sell anything I’d rather be selling something that puts in touch with the right kind of customers, like lingerie,” he added luridly.
“Now you’re talking.”
“Oh, you’re being serious.”
“But there’s got to be something better out there for you than that headache of a job.”
“You know what,” Randy began. “I don’t need a lot to be happy, just the essentials. Why do I got to bust my ass for?”
“Believe me, I wish I could do the same,” Jason said, “but prices keep going up. Rent, gas, food…everything.”
“You know what we should do?” Randy said excitedly as he turned toward Jason. “We should just say the hell with it and go live on a beach somewhere. We could do that. I’ve met some people that do that.”
“Yeah, they’re called bums.”
“Aw c’mon, you know it ain’t a bad idea. Who needs all that rat race bullshit anyway?”
“I can’t do that. What would Christine say?”
“Bring her along.”
“Serious?” Jason laughed.
“Why not? We used to do stuff like that all the time, remember?”
“Yeah, when we were kids,” Jason reminded. “But people grow up, and things change, and you have to change along with them.”
Randy stared at Jason. “You used to never talk like that.”
“Well, that’s life.”
Randy looked away. “You used to be fun.”
“C’mon, Randy, you know I didn’t mean anything.”
“Yeah, I know,” Randy said forlornly, “just looking out for me because I’m a fuckup.” He kept staring ahead as the pavement quickly disappeared under them. “I’ve been hearing that straighten up and fly right talk from teachers, principals, and bosses for as long as I can remember. You know I don’t sweat that stuff. Why worry about getting ahead or any of that, it’s all bullshit anyways.”
Jason noticed wisps of steam from the front of the car, then a steady vapor rose from underneath the hood and blew over the windshield. “Aw, shit.”
“Uh oh,” Randy said. “Looks like we’re going to need a ride.”
Jason decelerated, merged right, and coasted onto the shoulder of the freeway. “The last fucking thing I need,” he said with frustration. He came to a stop and turned the ignition off. The engine hissed and steam wafted from underneath the hood.
“We home yet?” Brian asked groggily from the backseat.
“No, go back to sleep,” Randy said.
Jason reached under the left side of the dashboard, pulled a handle, and the front of the hood popped up. He got out, walked to the front of the car, and carefully reached underneath the hood while trying not to burn his hand. He found the metal lever, pushed it aside and lifted the hood all the way up as it released a cloud of steam.
“Hope it’s not the water pump,” Randy said as he appeared alongside the car and looked down into the engine.
Jason noticed Randy after not seeing him at first. “Probably just a hose.” He looked down behind the radiator and saw a thin jet of steam hissing out of the thick, black hose that connected the bottom of the radiator to the lower engine block. He leaned downward to get a better look.
“Yeah, looks like a hose,” Randy said as he also leaned in closer. “At least they’re cheap to replace, could be worse.”
Brian wandered up to the front of the car. “What happened?” he asked.
“We’re going to have a picnic,” Randy joked, “right here next to the freeway.” They were all looking under the hood as vehicles sped by in a constant coming and going hum of spinning tires on pavement. The sun glared down on the arid landscape and baked the freeway asphalt, and the dry dirt and weeds alongside. Haze permeated the hot, dry air.
“I got some rags in the trunk,” Jason said. “I think I can tie it around the leak and get us to a gas station. Then I can put more water in the radiator.”
“Electrical tape would be better,” Randy said.
“Well, unless you can cough up a roll we’ll just have to make do with what we got.” Jason walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk, reached in, found a rag, and closed the trunk. He returned to the front of the car and saw Randy still peering down at the engine while Brian stood around lethargically.
“Let’s find a pay phone and call Todd or someone and get a ride,” Randy suggested. “No, we’ll call Stu. He’s got Brian’s van.”
“What’s he doing with Brian’s van,” Jason asked.
Randy looked to Brian. “Why did you let Stu borrow your van?”
“He had to move some shit,” Brian answered tiredly.
“He had to move some shit,” Randy reported to Jason.
“I’ve got ears, Randy,” Jason said.
“So I guess there’s no way to get a hold of Stu,” Randy said.
“We’ll make it home,” Jason assured. “There should be a gas station at the next exit.” He went under the hood.
“Maybe you can get a new hose there,” Randy said.
“If they have the right one.” Jason found the steam sputtering pinhole size leak on the hose and began to tie a rag around it. He tried to avoid getting grime on himself as he reached down between the radiator and engine and worked the rag into a knot. “If they don’t, I’ll probably have to get one from a dealership, and those places love to rip you off.” The rag became wet as it minimized the leak.
“For sure,” Randy agreed. “We should get into that kind of business, something a little shady.”
“Nah,” Jason said as he closed the hood, “too messy. And I don’t think Christine wants to see me with grease underneath my fingernails.” He looked over at Randy and Brian as they stood around by the car. “Thanks for the help, guys.”
“Anytime,” Randy replied. Brian crawled into the backseat and Randy got in after him into the passenger seat while Jason got into the driver’s seat. “Look, about what you were saying. I know you’re just trying to help, and I appreciate it, really.”
“It’s all right,” Jason said.
“Tell you what, since you paid my way, I should do something for you.”
“Now, I know you love Christine,” Randy said, “but maybe sometimes you get a little curious as to what you’re missing out on.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need any of your hos.”
“No, I’m talking about Brian,” Randy kidded as he pointed to the backseat. “Serious, I’m going into the pimping business, and Brian’s going to be my first ho,” he laughed.
Jason was unmoved.
“Hey, lighten up, man. No need to get all serious.”
Jason tried to remain upset, then finally relented and laughed along with Randy as he started the car.
“Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Brian asked.
“Quiet, bitch!” Randy ordered.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall
Jason and Christine were sitting upon a small stand of wooden bleachers watching her nephew’s little league baseball game. Christine’s sister, brother in law, brother, brother’s girlfriend, niece and nephew were sitting by them along with other families and groups of friends. Others were lounging on folding lawn chairs on either side of the cyclone fenced backstop that surrounded the home plate corner of the baseball diamond. Ten and eleven year old children dotted the the gravelly dirt infield and the patchy, uneven green grass that covered the outfield. The high summer sun shone above from a cloudless sky. Past the field heat waves shimmered up from the blacktop and blurred the images of the drab, rectangular school buildings in the far ground.
Christine’s nephew, Tommy, crossed the white chalk foul outline at the side of the diamond and advanced to the batter’s box with bat in hand. “All right, Tommy, let’s go!” Christine and her family shouted. Tommy planted his cleats into the dirt rut beside the five sided white plate, gripped the bat with both hands, held it up behind him ready to swing, and focused on the pitcher. The pitcher stood still on the mound and looked straight ahead to the catcher. He nodded yes, then wound up, leaned back on one foot, launched forward and hurled the ball to the catcher. Tommy stepped toward the pitch and began to swing but held back as the ball smacked into the catcher’s mitt.
“Ball,” the umpire called from behind the catcher.
“Good eye, Tommy! Make him pitch to you,” the family yelled out supportively.
“He’s showing more patience now,” Christine’s sister Carla, said. “Remember how he used to swing at everything?”
“Looks like he listened to what you told him,” Carla’s husband Bill, said to Jason.
“He’s a natural,” Jason said.
“You were pretty good in your day,” Christine said to Jason. “You should see his trophies,” she bragged to Carla.
“They give those to everybody,” Jason downplayed.
“C’mon, you were good, you know it,” Christine insisted.
“I heard you were an all-star one year,” Christine’s brother Pete said.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Christine agreed. “Don’t be so modest.”
“Yeah, I guess I was pretty good,” Jason admitted.
“Hey, Chris,” Carla said, “we’re having a barbecue after the game, want to come by?”
“Sure, we’ll be there,” Christine said. “I’ve been dying to see what you’ve done with the backyard.”
Jason was caught off guard.
“You should see the new roses,” Carla said, “we also have a new brick walkway, and the deck is finally fixed.”
“Did you and Bill do that yourself?” Christine asked.
“Are you kidding,” Carla laughed. “We hired this guy who uses college students to work for him, he’s a friend of a friend of Bill’s. I think they were all hungover half the time, but they did a good job, a lot faster than we ever could have done it.”
Jason became irritated as their conversation continued.
“Hey, is that Tina over there?” Christine asked.
“Yeah, her kid brother is on the other team,” Carla said.
The frustration continued to build up in Jason until there was a break in Christine and Carla’s conversation. He leaned toward Christine. “We’re supposed to be having dinner at my place tonight,” he reminded her sharply. “My sister’s coming home today. Don’t you remember me telling you earlier?”
“Oh, that’s right,” Christine said apologetically. “I’m sorry, I forgot. We can skip the barbecue.”
“No, we can go, but you should ask me before inviting us places,” Jason asserted.
“Carla asked me,” Christine pointed out. “And we don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
“It’s okay, we’ll go,” Jason said irritably.
“Why are you being so touchy?”
“Let’s just watch the game.”
When the game was over, the two teams went to their side of the diamond, formed into a line and walked toward each other. They slapped each other’s outstretched hands while saying ‘good game’ as they passed each other then wound back to their side of the field. The coaches gathered the players together, said one last thing to them before letting them go, and then they dispersed to their separate families.
“Did you see that RBI double I hit?” Tommy said excitedly as he ran up to Carla, Bill, and the rest of the family.
“How about that catch back in the second inning?” Bill said. Everyone stood around Tommy and congratulated him and bragged about his team’s performance as they headed to their vehicles.
The celebratory mood continued as the families walked over to a row of parked cars with their folding chairs and coolers while chatting with each other. They slowly loaded everything in while still conversing, then got into their cars. Carla rolled down her window. “So I’ll see you at my place?” she asked Christine.
Jason thought he could feel Christine’s eyes on him. “What do you say, hon,” she asked him.
“Sure,” Jason nodded.
“See you there,” Christine said to Carla. She and Jason then walked over to his car as Carla and Bill drove away. “It was an honest mistake, really,” she said to him. “I know, I should have remembered about your sister, it’s just that I haven’t seen Kathy in a while so I guess I forgot,” she said as they were walking. “We go to Carla and Bill’s all the time, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason said as they arrived at his car. “Just me overreacting,” he said sullenly.
“No, you’re right. I should’ve asked you first,” Christine replied helpfully as they got into his car. “We don’t have to stay long anyhow. Carla just wants to show off her new deck, you know how she is.”
Jason started his car, backed up into the street, and drove off without saying anything.
“Really, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Jason drove along with the exiting traffic. “I know.”
“I’ve invited us to places before, we both have. I didn’t think it’d be a big deal.”
“Usually a couple of days in advance,” Jason reminded, “not all of a sudden.”
“Okay, from now on I promise not to be so absent minded.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault.”
“Then what’s bothering you?” Christine asked.
They came to a red light. “I don’t know how it happened,” Jason began as he struggled to find the right words, “but now it feels like that I always have to be somewhere. Nothing feels spontaneous anymore, you know?” He felt somewhat unburdened. The light turned green and he turned onto the main avenue.
“We weren’t planning on going to Carla’s right now,” Christine said as she tried to sound helpful.
“I mean just the two of us,” Jason continued, “like when we used to go places on the spur of the moment, just for fun.” He thought longingly. “Remember how much more often we used to go to the beach? Or to concerts? Or how about that time we went down and camped at Big Sur? Stuff like that,” he said nostalgically. “Just the two of us.”
“I’d love for us to get away too, but sometimes you have to make the time for family. Maybe we can’t do everything we want, but we still have fun.”
They drove ahead. “You know I don’t like to whine,” Jason said. “I’m not trying to be a dictator, but I still like to have a say in things.
“Of course,” Christine agreed supportively, “I don’t want you to feel ignored. And you’re right about us needing to get away somewhere. Take a break from everything, like when we took the trip to Hawaii.”
“Yeah, but first we need to be able to afford it,” Jason reminded. “I don’t need much anyways, even a trip up to the city would be all right.” They drove along with the busy traffic then came to another red light.
“So how are things at work?” Christine asked.
“Work’s fine,” Jason said. “That isn’t a problem.”
“Didn’t you say they laid off some people?”
“They were just temps.”
“I see,” Christine remarked. The light turned green and they drove ahead. “Maybe that’s why they have you working more hours.”
“The extra money will get me out of debt quicker,” Jason reminded.
“But it’s going to cut into you going to school.”
“See, this is what I’m talking about,” Jason said angrily. “I’m tired of worrying about this, that, and every other damn thing. I just want things to be simple.”
“Me too,” Christine agreed. “But what can we do? Maybe this is just how life gets, less play and more responsibilities.”
“Just like our parents always warned us about,” Jason recalled ironically.
“It’s been getting busier at my job too, ever since that new client.”
“Work is cutting into both of our lives.” Jason thought yearningly of disappearing free time, and feared that it may never return.
“You should hear some of the talk at my job,” Christine related. “Mergers, acquisitions, lawsuits, one company swallowing up another, and they don’t even think about how all that affects other people’s lives.”
“I’ll bet a lot of that is big talk just to impress each other. Guys like to bullshit, especially lawyers.”
“Maybe so, but I don’t know what they’re saying behind closed doors. That’s what gets me wondering,” Christine said ominously.
“No need to get paranoid,” Jason allayed. “And don’t they have you take notes at those meetings?”
“Not all of them. Sometimes they send me out for coffee.”
“Well, no point in worrying about things you can’t see.”
“But who knows what they’re planning. There’s a buzz going around.”
“What happens in those closed door meetings runs everything,” Christine stated, “and they’re all secretive.”
“And you think where I work is the same way?”
“Aren’t they all?”
“I don’t have my head in the sand,” Jason assured. “If anything was going to happen to my job I would know about it.”
“They should at least pay you what you deserve,” Christine insisted.
“It’ll do for now,” Jason said. “Besides, it’s such a pain in the ass to look for a job. I should just pick up the extra pay while I can.” He slowed down and turned right into a residential neighborhood.
“I’m not trying to be a harpy. It’s just that it feels like it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen next,” Christine said with concern. “For all I know the lawyers I work for are planning something with the people you work for.”
“Well if they are, maybe it’ll end up working out for us,” Jason said while trying to sound upbeat. “They tell me that I’m a good worker,” he said as he navigated through the maze of suburban tract houses, “and if there are any changes, that can mean growth, and I can rise with the company.”
“I just don’t want you to be left behind when everything settles.”
“Enough worrying, everything will be fine,” Jason said with forced assurance. “Things are adjusting, that’s all. We’re heading into a new era,” he went on. “Bad enough I can’t hang out with Randy anymore.”
“Jason, you know I don’t want to keep you away from your friends, but Randy is getting difficult to be around, especially if he’s been drinking. Remember how belligerent he was at Todd’s party?”
“Yeah, he was of out of control, but so was everyone else at that party. We’ve all been that way before.”
“Gina kept calling me and Cheryl and Rachel and Liz and everyone else everyday for about the past two weeks crying over Randy.”
“Maybe she’s better off without him.”
“So you agree Randy is getting difficult,” Christine replied.
“That’s not what I meant!” Jason said irritably. He sensed Christine looking at him. He tried to maintain himself and gather his thoughts. “Sure, Randy has been kind of wild lately, but maybe he’s just blowing off steam. Troubles with Gina, bouncing from job to job, conflicts with his mom. That’s what causing it all.”
“But how long will that behavior go on? Where’s he going to end up?”
Jason felt pressured to come up with an answer. “You know what, we all make mistakes. Hell, all of us got into trouble with teachers or the principal or parents or someone in charge. That’s just part of growing up.”
“Yeah, but once you grow up you’re supposed to mature and leave that kind of recklessness behind.”
“I don’t know if I’d call Randy reckless,” Jason countered. “It’s not like he crashed a car into a school bus. He’s spirited, he likes to stir things up.”
“He really hurt Gina.”
“And I’m sorry for that, but it takes two to ruin a relationship,” Jason pointed out.
“Gina was the one that left in tears while Randy just payed quarters with you guys.”
“Game was over by then,” Jason said defensively. “We were all too drunk to play anyhow.” He still felt Christine looking at him. “Randy is what he is, that’s why everybody likes him. He’s a lot of fun, he makes people feel good and festive wherever he goes. He’s like a traveling party.” Jason thought some more. “He may not be the most responsible guy around, but he doesn’t intentionally try to hurt anybody. Sometimes when he’s having fun he just loses control.”
“Yes, he can be a lot of fun,” Christine agreed, “and he’s a joy to be around when he’s that way. I wish he could be that way all the time, without going over the edge.” They continued driving along. “I know he’s one of your best friends and he means a lot to you, but his behavior seems to be getting worse. I just don’t want see him to get into any serious trouble.”
Jason felt her words penetrate.
“Maybe he needs outside help,” Christine suggested.
“Like what, AA?”
“If that’s what it takes.”
“I know you’re just trying to help,” Jason said, “but I really don’t think that Randy is at that point yet.”
“I just don’t want to see him get to a point where it’s too late,” Christine warned.
“But what can I do?”
“You can talk to him.”
Jason chuckled. “Yeah, that’ll work.”
“All you have to do is tell him that you’re concerned,” Christine argued. “He’ll listen to you. Just tell him that you don’t want to see him or someone else get hurt.”
“Randy may blow it sometimes, but he would never hurt anyone intentionally. He’s a result of his upbringing. He can still grow out of it.”
“He’s an adult now. Shouldn’t he have grown out of it already?”
“Ah, why stress so much!” Jason felt exasperated. “Randy will be fine, he’s a survivor.” He turned onto another residential side street. “If I go to Randy with some Nancy Reagan lecture about how he’s got to straighten up and fly right, he’s just going to think I’m getting on his ass like everyone else in his life, and that’ll just upset him more.”
“If he gets any worse, I’ll talk to him,” Jason relented. “Okay?”
“I’m just concerned, that’s all,” Christine reiterated. “He might have a lot inside of him that he needs to let out.”
“Well I don’t know about that,” Jason replied. “Randy isn’t the type to hold back,” he said as a new thought occurred to him. “Maybe that’s the problem.” He turned onto another street. “So how’s Gina doing?”
“I think she’s starting to recover,” Christine said. “That poor girl always has bad luck with guys.”
“All I’m saying is that they’re not right for each other,” Christine said pointedly. “That’s all I meant.” Jason felt Christine looking at him again as she moved in closer. “I care about Randy, too. Deep down he’s got a good heart. Sometimes he can be a real sweet guy. I just wish he could be his better self more often.”
“Sometimes you just have to accept people for what they are,” Jason deemed. “People are what they are, and they don’t change all that much.”
Christine relaxed back into her seat. “I know he didn’t have an easy time of it growing up. Maybe if things were different.”
“If only,” Jason agreed. He thought back to when he and Randy were younger. “Randy always had a hard time settling down, always wanting to do something or go somewhere. We used to think it was because he was more adventurous than the rest of us, but I guess he just lacked stability at home.” He looked upon his old memories with new perspective. “Funny how much stuff you don’t notice when you’re younger.”
“Do you know how his sister is doing these days?”
“Living with some guy she met at The Saddle Rack last I heard.”
“Do she and Randy stay in touch?”
“Yeah, they talk once in a while.”
“It’s really too bad Randy’s dad wasn’t around,” Christine sympathized. “His war experiences must have seriously messed him up.” They pulled up to Carla’s house and parked out front. Jason cut the engine.
“You know, the only reason why he got sent to Vietnam was because he got into trouble with the law,” Jason revealed. “The judge told him he could either join the army or go to jail.”
“Not much of a choice.”
“They probably would have drafted him anyways.”
“So what’s he doing now?” Christine asked.
Jason tried to remember the last time he heard anything about Randy’s father. “I have no idea. Randy hasn’t seen him in years. Last I heard he fell in with a bad crowd.” Jason thought some more of Randy and his father and their similarities. “Just a couple of victims of circumstance.”
They got out of the car and walked to Carla’s house. “We don’t have to stay long,” Christine promised, “just long enough to admire their new deck,” she added humorously. “I’m really looking forward to seeing Kathy. I want to hear some of her college stories.”
“Yeah, same here,” Jason said. “Did you know she’s going to be a junior when she goes back to school in the fall? She’s halfway to graduating.”
“Already? Time sure does fly.”
And where does it all go, Jason wondered to himself. They entered through the open front door and were enveloped into the hum of socializing once everyone said their hellos. People were in the kitchen and backyard cooking and barbecuing, chatting and laughing while a ballgame was on television in the background.
©2106 Robert Kirkendall
Jason was feeling good as he got home after work. His younger brother was sitting at the kitchen table and talking on the telephone while his father was over in the sunken family room. Father was looking at the newspaper while the evening news was on the television.
“Hi, Dad,” Jason said.
“Jason. How was work?” father asked.
“Good, real good.”
“Oh yeah,” Jason said positively as he went down to the family room. “We had this big company wide meeting today. Everybody was there, including the owners. Went really well, too. Upper management said we’d make the transition through the current world situation so easily that nobody would notice.”
“That sounds grand,” father said amusedly.
“Well, that’s the way they put it, but it all sounded legit.”
“Did they bring you flowers as well?”
“No flowers, but they set out a huge spread. I’m full.”
“So you won’t need any dinner tonight,” father joked.
“I’ll make room,” Jason said humorously. “But you know what, we’re in the satellite imaging business, and they have lots of uses, not just military. They say the future is looking bright.”
“Well that’s good,” father said. “But remember, they’re only going to tell you what they want you to know. They can’t risk the commoners knowing too much.”
“They’re smart people, they know what they’re doing.”
“Maybe they’re just acting like they know what they’re doing,” father pointed out.
“Well whatever they’re doing, it’s working. I got a good feeling about where we’re going and I’m glad to be a part of it.” Jason looked over at his brother. “David, anyone call for me?”
“Huh? No,” David said from the kitchen. “Who? That was brother,” he said into the telephone. “Older…Yeah, I’m the youngest.”
“Now you heard about this Hubble telescope fiasco, right?” father said to Jason.
Jason looked back to father. “Oh yeah, everybody at work has been talking about it.”
“A couple of billion charged to the taxpayers and the damn thing doesn’t even work right,” father ridiculed as he pointed to an article in the newspaper.
“He’s only been here for a couple of months,” David said into the telephone. “He had to move back home because of credit card debt.”
“Hey! Don’t be telling the world my business,” Jason said angrily to David.
David pulled the receiver away. “Sorry,” he said to Jason, and went back to the telephone.
“Kid sure is a blabbermouth, eh?” father laughed.
“Yeah he is,” Jason agreed.
“So the point I’m trying to make,” father continued, “is that no matter how high up the ladder someone is, no one is immune to incompetency. Some people just know how to present themselves well, fool the right people, and that’s it.”
“Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but I really think the people I’m working for are too smart for that,” Jason replied. “They’re even bringing in some new investors, and that can only mean things are looking up. Investors aren’t going to gamble their money on something with no future.”
“Maybe so, but remember, we had a stock market crash just a couple of years ago,” father reminded.
Jason tried to remember the crash. “Seems like we’ve recovered.”
Father laughed. “Aw hell, you know what you’re doing.”
“I’m fortunate to be in a good place, so I’m just going with the flow.”
“Okay, but remember,” father cautioned as he pointed to the Hubble telescope newspaper article again, “all it takes is a mistake at the top that trickles down and fucks it up for everyone else. And you know that none of the people who came up with this boondoggle will get fired.”
“That’s where the job security is,” Jason said, and they shared a laugh as he left the family room. He headed through the dining area, down the hallway, and entered his room. He closed the door, and the sound of the television and David talking became faint. He tossed his keys onto the nightstand, then sat on his bed and took off his shoes. He put on a compact disc and pressed the play button on his stereo. He fell back onto his bed and the music permeated the room. He relaxed unhurriedly.
Jason lost himself in the music as he basked in the afterglow of the meeting at work. He felt content, and anticipated a brighter future. A few minutes later he heard his mother come home followed by the sound of a couple of bags of groceries being set on the kitchen counter. From the calmness of his room he overheard activity happening in the rest of the house. He then heard a knock on the front door. His mother answered and he heard his friend Randy. “So where’s Jason?” Randy asked.
“I think he’s in his room,” mother answered.
“I hear there’s going to be a huge party at Todd’s this weekend,” David said.
“Sorry, Dave, grown ups only,” Randy said.
“That’s all right,” David replied, “me and the guys will find something to do.”
“I, not me,” father corrected.
“See?” Randy said to David. “You got things going on.”
“David got a part time job at Long’s,” mother said proudly.
“So you’re a working man now,” Randy congratulated. “Way to go!”
“I just stock shelves,” David said. “Not exactly brain surgery.”
“But you are learning about responsibility,” mother reminded.
“That’s right,” Randy agreed, “listen to your mother or you’ll end up like me,” he joked. “I’ll go bother Jason.”
Jason heard quick steps to his room and a knock on the door. “Come in,” he said.
The door opened and Randy entered. His clothes were dirt stained. “Already in bed? The sun is still out.”
“Just relaxing after a day’s work.”
“I just worked too,” Randy chided, “and you don’t see me layin’ around.”
Jason lifted his head up. “You found work?”
“Yep. Terry hooked me up a job with a landscaper.”
“Way to go.”
“Now let’s celebrate and go shoot some hoops!”
Jason dropped his head back onto his pillow. “Can’t. I’ve got class tonight.”
“Again? You had class last night.”
“It’s a Monday through Thursday night class.”
“But it’s summer!” Randy pleaded. “What are you going to school for?”
“It’s just one class, and it’s only for six weeks,” Jason asserted. “Excuse me for trying to get an education.”
“You weren’t talking about getting an education back when we were cutting classes in high school.”
“I didn’t cut nearly as much as you.” Jason looked over at his clock. “And I’m going to have to leave in half an hour.”
“Aw, c’mon, you can skip one class!” Randy persuaded. “Why you want to drive all the way out to Los Gatos?”
“It’s in Saratoga.”
“So what’s your point?”
“My point is that today’s Thursday,” Randy said, “so you know what means?”
Jason thought for a moment. “Tomorrow’s Friday?”
“So you want me to cut school and go shoot hoops with you?”
“Of course,” Randy said. “Once we get to the park and throw the ball around you’ll feel better, a whole lot better than if you went to class.”
“I don’t know,” Jason said reluctantly. “It’s early in the semester.”
“One missed class isn’t going to hurt.”
Jason thought it over. “I suppose not, but I don’t know.”
“C’mon, dude. You said we’d play this week, and the week’s almost over.”
Jason started to relent. “Well, you did find a job. That’s worth celebrating.”
“It’s only a temporary job.”
“Again? Seems like all your jobs are temporary.”
“Hey! At least I did something!” Randy argued. “Look at me, dirty from a hard day’s work. And look at you, just layin’ there like a lazy bastard.”
“I’m just messin’ with ya,” Jason kidded.
“Yeah, I know,” Randy said. “Hell, when you come right down to it, work sucks, but school sucks even more because you don’t get paid for it, so let’s go!” Randy looked around. “Where’s your basketball?”
“At your place.”
“So we’ll stop at my place and get it,” Randy urged. “C’mon, it’s on the way. You said you’d play, remember?”
Jason weighed going to school against the fun of a playing basketball. He reminded himself of the importance of getting an education, but didn’t want to deny Randy either, and a decision came to him. “Okay, you talked me into it.” He sat up.
“Now you’re talking!”
“I’ll just copy the notes from another student.” Jason put on his running shoes. “I could use the exercise anyway.”
“That’s right,” Randy agreed. “You do too much sitting at your job, time to break a sweat.”
“At least it’s steady.” Jason finished tying his shoes and got up.
“But how do you know they won’t lay you off someday?”
“Please, you’re ruining my good mood,” Jason said half seriously. He turned off his stereo, grabbed his keys, and left with Randy. “Going to the park to shoot some hoops, Mom.”
“Have fun,” mother said as they walked out the front door.
Jason and Randy walked along the suburban street in the orange glow of the sun. The sidewalk neatly divided the front yards from a strip of lawn next to the curb. Some lawn strips were covered with rocks, juniper bushes, trees, or were overgrown with crabgrass. All the houses were of the same four or five designs with a living room on one side and a garage and driveway on the other. Variations of color and exterior features lessened the conformity. Jason felt comfortable in the familiarity of the neighborhood.
“Just like the old days,” Randy said happily. “Going to the playground to shoot some hoops!”
“Wonder if we’ll ever grow up,” Jason wondered.
“Now why you want to do something like that?” Randy laughed.
Jason tried to figure out an answer. “You got me.” They stepped over a wide crack in the sidewalk where a tree root had lifted the concrete.
“That’s right, you know what I’m talking about,” Randy said. “All work and no play makes life boring as shit, and I don’t want to see you turn into a bore.”
“Just because I have a regular job and I’m going to school doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time,” Jason countered.
“Yeah, but now you save all your fun for Christine,”
“Hey, I can still party.”
“I don’t know,” Randy doubted. “She seems to have you on a short leash.”
“A leash?” Jason laughed. “We ain’t that kinky.”
They turned down another residential street. “So you ready for tomorrow night?” Randy asked.
“Of course.” Jason began to look forward to their friend’s birthday party.
“Twenty five years. Can you believe that?”
“I know,” Jason agreed. “Kind of sounds old.”
“It’s one of life’s major events,” Randy said, “so you know it’s going to be raging.”
“I am so looking forward to it,” Jason anticipated. “I have a good feeling about this party, I think it’s going to be extra special.”
“I’m ready to cut loose,” Randy said eagerly, “and this time I earned it.” The nondescript, quiet street slowly rolled into a curve and crossed over a narrow creek. A short concrete wall with cyclone fencing topped with rusty barbed wire separated the sidewalk from the creek. Its banks sloped down a shallow stream of green water partially covered with dry weeds and foliage.
Jason and Randy arrived at Randy’s house. An old car was parked in the driveway. The front lawn was dry and overgrown. The house was faded with paint starting to crack.
“Is that you, Randy?” a loud voice said from the kitchen as they entered.
“When are you going to mow the lawn?” Randy’s mother called out. “It looks like shit.”
“Mom, I have a guest.”
“Just me,” Jason said while Randy went to his room.
“Oh, hi, Jason,” Randy’s mother said nicely. She ambled slowly into the foyer. She was wearing a bathrobe and using a cane. “So how are you doing?”
“Doing all right.”
“Good, good. And how’s your mother?”
“Doing well,” Jason answered. “She really likes her new job.” Randy returned with the basketball.
“Glad to hear that,” she said. “There are still places out there that don’t like to hire women, especially mothers.”
“Good thing Mom landed at the right place,” Jason said.
“And how’s your father?” Randy’s mother asked.
“Doing good as well, looking forward to retirement.”
“So I suppose you two are going to the park to play some basketball?” Randy’s mother asked.
“No, Mom, we’re going bowling,” Randy said as he tossed the basketball around in his hands.
“Well, smartass, could you mow the lawn when you get back?” Randy’s mother responded testily. “I filled the gas can yesterday and I don’t want it sitting in the garage forever.”
“Don’t worry,” Randy said, “the house isn’t going to blow up.”
“No, it’s not going to blow up because you’re going to mow the lawn ASAP.” She looked over at Jason and put her hand on her lower back. “I’d do it myself but I can’t. My back’s killing me. I won’t be able to go back to work for six months. Doctor says I might even need surgery,” she added.
“You’ll be fine,” Randy said.
“And you,” she pointed at Randy sternly, “stop stealing my Percodans.”
“Right, they just disappeared on their own.” Randy’s mother ambled back to the kitchen area. “You two have fun.”
Randy and Jason left. Randy dribbled the ball as they walked down the sidewalk. “My mom’s making way too big of a deal about her back injury,” Randy said knowingly. “She isn’t going to need any surgery. She just wants sympathy.”
“I don’t know,” Jason said, “back injuries can be pretty bad.”
“She’s also trying to milk workman’s comp.”
“Wasn’t she just on crutches?”
“You taking her side?” Randy said in a hurt tone.
“Well, someone has to,” Jason said trying to sound humorous.
“That’s because she treats you better than me.”
“I think all mothers do that,” Jason pointed out. “It’s their way of trying to get you to act like some other kid that they think is better behaved.”
“Even your mom?” Randy said surprisingly.
“Not anymore, she only does it to David now.”
Randy laughed. “Your mom’s cool.” He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then passed it to Jason. “So how are things with you and your main squeeze?”
Jason began dribbling the ball. “Can’t complain.”
“So what’s the secret?”
Jason was puzzled. “What secret?”
“The secret to keeping a woman from leaving you.”
“Beats me,” Jason admitted. “I didn’t know were going to last this long.”
“Must be why you’re always with her,” Randy kidded.
“Things are good, we’re happy,” Jason said feeling satisfied, then another thought came to mind. “Now her family, that’s a different story.”
“Oh, I see,” Randy said pointedly. “You don’t live up to their standards.”
“No, I don’t think it’s that.” Jason dribbled the ball ahead of him. “It’s just that we’ve been going together for almost three years now, they see us together all the time, they treat me like I’m one of the family. And now I’m thinking they want me to take that next step.” He thought some more. “I’m almost a hundred percent positive.” He dribbled the ball a couple of more times then bounced it over to Randy.
“Has anyone said anything to you?” Randy asked as he took the ball and dribbled it.
“Not directly, they just say stuff like, ‘back in the old days, everybody got married when they were still young.’ You know, hints like that.”
“Subtle,” Randy joked. “Yeah, they’re putting on the pressure.”
“I can’t say I blame them,” Jason said. “Family is family.” He thought a little more. “But sometimes it does seem like they’re being too possessive about Christine.”
“They got to get over it,” Randy concluded. “You can’t let them tell you what to do.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason agreed. “But they’re…you know, traditional.”
“Yeah, but it’s not what they think, it’s what Christine thinks. Do you think she really wants to get married or is her family putting her up to it?”
“Sometimes she complains about how controlling they are, but she has her own mind about things,” Jason said. “Believe me,” he added.
“You know what they all might be thinking,” Randy offered.
“That you’re some lech who’s trying to use their little girl.”
Jason laughed. “If that was my plan we would’ve been over with long ago.” They walked along some more. “Christine isn’t that type of girl anyhow.”
“I’ll say,” Randy agreed. “You’ve been with her longer than all your previous girlfriends combined. You two should just move in together.”
“I don’t think Christine’s family would like that, being traditional and all.”
“You two have been together for almost three years,” Randy reminded. “If you two ever do tie the knot they know it’s not going to be a white wedding.”
“Yeah, they’re past that,” Jason said. “At least I think they are.”
“Not your problem anyhow,” Randy counseled. “If you did move in together, it would show that you’re serious. That should get them off your back.”
“Well I don’t plan on living at home forever, but right now might be the last time I get any free meals or free rent,” Jason said. “Besides, if we did move in together, that’s like saying we’re engaged.”
“And you don’t want to give up your life as a free man, I hear ya.”
“And I’m not ruling it out, I just don’t know about that kind of commitment right now.”
“Good plan. You don’t want to jump into anything just because of Christine’s family,” Randy advised as he passed the ball to Jason in mid stride.
“Of course,” Jason said as he dribbled the ball. “But they’re good people.”
“Sure they are, especially that fine cousin of hers, what’s her name again, Melinda?”
“Yeah, Melissa,” Randy said. “Does she look good, or what?”
“She’s not bad.”
“Not bad? She’s fuckin’ gorgeous,” Randy said excitedly. “Did you ever want to leave Christine for her?”
“Hey, I love Christine.”
“Of course you do, but you used to love all kinds of girls, remember?”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason said reminiscently. “But I’ve never been with a girl like Christine before. And there aren’t a lot like her out there, at least ones that are available.”
“I know Christine means a lot to you, but you don’t want to lose all your options,” Randy said helpfully. “I love Gina, at least I love fucking her. But am I in love with her, do I want to marry her? No way.”
“You know, if this was the old days, Christine and I would be married already, living in our own house, paying a mortgage, maybe with a kid or two already,” Jason said. “Nowadays, all of that is just too expensive.”
“For sure,” Randy agreed. “And women these days don’t want to be housewives. They want to go to college, get careers, do their own thing. They’re not at man’s mercy anymore.”
“You’re telling me, Christine makes more than I do,” Jason admitted. “That never would have happened in the old days.”
“She works for lawyers, and they make more bank than anybody,” Randy reminded. “And don’t be afraid to mooch off of her, I wish Gina made good money.”
“Yeah, but I want to be a provider,” Jason assertd. “And she doesn’t make that much more than me,” he added. “You know, it was that trip we took to Hawaii that put me on the path to debt. We may have partied a little too much.”
“Yeah, but you had a good time, right?”
Jason dribbled the ball and reflected happily on the trip as they were walking. “I wouldn’t mind doing it again, maybe run up a bigger debt.”
“Fuckin’ A right you would! I would’ve done the same thing if someone was dumb enough to give me a credit card.”
“They’d confiscate your card and send you to the leper colony island,” Jason kidded.
“And they’ll make me their leader!” Randy declared. “But seriously, all those fine ass bitches in bikinis laying out on the beach right in front of you, must have been tempting.”
Jason thought back to the scene on the beach. “No harm in looking.”
“Yeah, I knew it,” Randy laughed. “A whole lotta pussy out there, and I don’t want you to miss out if you’re still feeling the need.”
“Thanks for looking out for me,” Jason said with a laugh.
“Hey, what are friends for,” Randy said as he threw his arm around Jason’s shoulders. “But you gotta let me plan your bachelor party, if you get married that is, I got to make sure you leave bachelorhood in a blaze of glory.”
“Okay, but nothing too crazy like in that Tom Hanks movie.”
“No cross dressers, no farm animals on drugs, I promise,” Randy said then let go of Jason. “You know, we haven’t even hit our prime yet, we’re only twenty two.”
“I’m twenty three.”
“You are?” Randy said with surprise.
“Yeah, don’t you remember the party?”
“Oh yeah. I guess all the parties seem to run together,” Randy said humorously. “So twenty three? Dude, you’re old.” They approached the park, a patch of green open space bordered by tract houses. Near the entrance were the basketball courts, painted rectangles on the black asphalt in between steel poles. Ten feet up the poles were wooden backboards which held horizontal metal hoops with the dangling, tattered remnants of chain link nets. The rhythmic, high pitched sound of children on swings was in the background.
Randy hit the ball from Jason’s hands and broke into a jog while dribbling all the way to the empty basketball courts. He ran up to the closest basket, jumped up and rolled the ball off his hand. It hit the back board and fell through the basket. “Two!” he exclaimed as Jason arrived at the court.
Randy went to get the ball and looked over at some high school kids playing on one of the
courts. “Hey, check out Craig’s little brother. Tommy!” he called out. One of the guys at the other court looked over at Randy, waved to him, then returned to his game. “He’s not as good as Craig was.”
“Not yet, but he might catch up,” Jason said.
“I don’t know, looks pretty runty.”
Jason walked up to the painted line that crossed the middle of the court.
“Wanna take it out?” Randy asked.
Randy bounced the ball to Jason. Jason began dribbling. He tried to see a path to the basket, crossed the half court line and dribbled slowly while moving one way, then another as Randy stayed in front of him. He moved closer to the end of the court as Randy stayed between him and the basket. He got to within shooting distance, held up the ball with one hand, balanced it with the other, sprang up and shot the ball as Randy reached up and tried to block it. The ball arced over Randy, missed the basket, and ricocheted off the backboard. They both ran after the ball and Randy grabbed it first.
“Too slow,” Randy taunted, and Jason’s competitiveness was triggered. Randy dribbled to the half court line as Jason followed him. Jason got in front of Randy and stayed in front of him as he dribbled the ball back into play. Jason kept up with Randy as they advanced steadily toward the basket. Randy moved one way, then another, then charged toward the basket. Jason ran with him, Randy then circled around, aimed the ball to the basket and Jason threw his arms up. Randy quickly dribbled around Jason, jumped to the basket with the ball in his palm and lofted it up. Jason tried to block as the ball bounced off the backboard then dropped through the hoop. “That’s one,” Randy said.
“That one doesn’t count,” Jason said.
“Because I let you have it.”
Randy laughed sarcastically while Jason grabbed the ball as it bounced to a stop underneath the
basket. He took it to the other side of the half court line then dribbled the ball back into play as Randy blocked. He ran down the side of the court while dribbling and Randy quickly ran beside him. Jason slanted to the middle, tried to get past Randy, and slowed to a stop with his back to the basket. He dribbled the ball cautiously and maneuvered sideways and back while Randy stood behind him with his arms outstretched. He then held the ball with both hands and tried to figure his next move as he sensed Randy encroach upon him. He cautiously dribbled the ball again, moved right and drew Randy into one direction, then dodged the other way, spun around him, shot the ball over the hoop and through the basket. “One to one,” Jason said.
“Okay, we’re warmed up,” Randy said. He took the ball to the half court line, dribbled the ball back into play and Jason got in front of him. Randy moved ahead slowly, first one way, then another as Jason stayed ahead of him. Suddenly he charged around Jason and Jason ran with him as he tried to stay in front. They raced to the basket and bumped against each other as they got closer. Near the end of the court Randy got the ball in both hands and jumped forward. Jason jumped alongside Randy and tried to get a hand on the ball. Randy pushed the ball up and sank it into the basket. “Yes!” he boasted. “Two-one.”
Jason grabbed the ball and jogged to the other side of the half court line. He looked down the court as Randy stood in front of him and focused ahead on the basket. He dribbled the ball across the line as Randy stayed in front of him. He bolted, stopped abruptly, and Randy overran him a couple of steps. Jason huddled around the ball as he dribbled and Randy tried to reach in and knock it free. Jason moved laterally, then dodged around Randy and shot the ball to the basket. It rolled around the hoop and fell through. “Two-two,” he said.
“That was luck.” Randy grabbed the ball, hustled to the half court line, and Jason quickly followed. Randy dribbled the ball in place as Jason tried to anticipate his next move. Randy broke past Jason and dribbled ahead quickly as he ran alongside and fought to keep pace. Randy jumped to the basket while pushing the ball up with one hand as Jason jumped next to him and batted the ball away. It ricocheted off the backboard and bounced onto the court. Randy grabbed the ball before Jason could get to it, turned around and shot the ball off balance. Jason reached up and tried to deflect it. The ball cleared Jason’s hand, skimmed off the backboard, and bounced out of bounds over the foul line. Jason ran after the ball across the asphalt and picked it up as it slowed down.
As Jason circled around and jogged back to the court he saw two familiar figures approaching from the edge of the park, one of them was bouncing a basketball. Jason got to the foul line and looked again at the two figures, recognized them and saw they were advancing toward him and Randy.
“C’mon, let’s go,” Randy urged.
“We got company,” Jason said and nodded toward the two approaching guys.
Randy turned around, saw Tim and Ronnie, and started laughing. “You two looking to get beat again?” Tim and Ronnie walked up to the court. Tim was holding a basketball against his hip.
“Nah,” Ronnie said, “we just happened to be in the neighborhood. Then we saw you two stumbling around and figured you needed a lesson.”
Jason and Randy started laughing.
“Stop, you’re killing us,” Jason said between laughs.
“I know why they’re here,” Randy said after he finished laughing, “they’re here to watch and learn!” He and Jason laughed some more.
“Shit,” Ronnie said disdainfully, and looked over at Tim. Tim dribbled his ball a couple of times then broke toward the basket, ran past Jason and Randy, leaped, and laid the ball up to hoop with one hand. It fell through and bounced along the asphalt until it came to a stop.
“Wow!” Randy exclaimed sarcastically. “You’ve been practicing.”
“Guess you don’t need a step ladder anymore,” Jason added derisively.
“Think you can keep up?” Ronnie dared.
“We take it out,” Randy insisted.
Jason took his ball and went to the end of the court. He stood underneath the backboard behind the painted white perimeter while the others gathered around in front of him. “Full court?”
“Of course,” Ronnie said as he moved in front of Jason.
“What are we playing to, ten? Fifteen?” Jason asked.
“Fuck that, twenty,” everyone else said.
“All right,” Jason said. He held the ball with both hands and looked for Randy past Ronnie and Tim. Ronnie blocked Jason and Tim stood in front of Randy. Jason faked a pass quickly one way and then the other as Ronnie shifted side to side. Jason spotted Randy as he ran around and tried to separate from Tim. Randy stopped, Tim stood in front of him as they both watched Jason, then Randy broke away and Jason threw him the ball before Tim caught up.
Randy dribbled quickly down the side of the court as Tim ran alongside and tried to keep up. Jason and Ronnie chased after them along the other side of the court and tried to outrun each other. Randy came to the end of the court, stuttered to a stop, and Tim stopped between him and the basket. Jason and Ronnie caught up to them and they all clustered at the end of the court. Randy passed the ball to Jason, Jason dribbled slowly to the basket as Ronnie blocked him. Jason looked left, saw Randy run from behind Tim, and bounced the ball right to where Randy was going. Randy grabbed the ball, turned around, jumped up and shot the ball to the basket. It rolled around the hoop and fell through.
“One-nothing,” Randy said.
Tim took the ball and stood underneath the backboard. He deked the ball one way then the other as Randy blocked him. Ronnie moved around and away from Jason as Jason kept up and stayed between Ronnie and Tim. Jason watched Ronnie then Tim as he tried to anticipate where Tim was going to throw the ball. Ronnie ran in front Jason and Tim shot the ball to him past Randy. Ronnie dribbled quickly to the other basket and Jason ran after him. They crossed the half court line and Ronnie passed the ball to Tim on the other side of Jason. Tim dribbled quickly to the basket and Randy tried to get in his way as they bumped against each other. Tim threw the ball to Ronnie, Ronnie hopped up and shot the ball over Jason as he tried to deflect the ball. The ball glanced over Jason’s hand, hit off the backboard then fell through the basket.
“One-one,” Ronnie said. Randy took the ball and stood under the backboard. Jason dodged around Ronnie as he tried to find an opening from Randy. He ran in front of Ronnie and angled behind Tim, then Randy shot the ball to him diagonally. Jason got the ball with one hand while running and pushed it down and forward as he ran and dribbled down court. Jason heard Ronnie’s footsteps fast behind and he sped up. He approached the basket from the right, jumped as he lifted the ball with one hand toward the hoop, and Ronnie smacked the ball from behind. The ball fell down onto the court and Randy snagged the ball ahead of Tim. He came to a stop and dribbled in place as Tim got in front of him and Jason positioned himself for a pass. Randy slowly dribbled to the basket and Tim blocked him as Jason shifted one way then another and Ronnie stayed in front of him. Randy dribbled some more, turned then set himself to shoot. Tim got in front of Randy while Jason circled behind Randy with Ronnie trailing him to the other side of the basket.
“Here,” Jason called out while still in motion and Randy passed him the ball. Jason took the ball, jumped up to the basket and tried to shove it over the hoop. The ball bounced backward over Jason and Ronnie and they chased after it. They jostled against each other as Jason grabbed the ball first and quickly dribbled away. He looked for another shot or a way to get the ball to Randy. Ronnie got in front of him while Randy and Tim jockeyed for position near the basket. Jason slowly dribbled toward middle court as Ronnie shadowed him. Randy and Tim stood against each other underneath the basket, then Randy broke away and Jason pushed the ball to him. Randy got the ball, shot it before Tim caught up, and it fell through the basket.
“Two-one,” Randy said loudly.
Tim grabbed the ball as it bounced under the basket and stood under the backboard. Jason blocked Ronnie as he watched Tim and tried to predict where he was going to throw the ball. Ronnie got in front of Jason, Jason moved back in front of Ronnie and they crowded each other until Ronnie broke away and Tim passed him the ball. Ronnie hurriedly dribbled down court and Jason ran after him as he was getting caught up in the antagonistic, competitive spirit.
Ronnie and Jason got to the end of the court as Randy and Tim ran upon them and they all bunched up around the basket. Ronnie passed the ball to Tim, Tim dribbled to the basket while trying to dodge Randy, then passed the ball back to Ronnie. Ronnie set himself to shoot, Jason got in front of him, and Ronnie passed the ball diagonally to Tim. Randy reached for the ball, deflected it, and it bounced away. Tim and Randy ran after the ball followed by Ronnie and Jason. Tim got to the ball first, snagged it up, and dribbled rapidly back to the end of the court as Randy, Ronnie, and Jason ran after. Tim got to the basket, jumped forward and hooked the ball sideways in an arc. It rebounded off the backboard, hit the front of the hoop then fell through. “Two-two,” he retaliated.
Jason grabbed the bouncing ball and stood under the backboard. He looked for Randy past Ronnie as Randy moved one way then another and tried to keep away from Tim. Randy dodged around some more then Jason saw a clear path to him and he shot the ball quickly. Randy dribbled furiously to the other end of the court as Tim ran close behind and lateral to him. Jason hustled down the other side of the court as he tried to outrun Ronnie to the basket. Randy got near the end, stuttered to a stop and set himself to shoot. Tim swarmed Randy as Jason and Ronnie ran upon them. Randy passed the ball around Tim to Jason and he dribbled ahead quickly. Ronnie got in Jason’s way, Jason went around him and launched the ball to the basket. It hit the backboard at an angle and bounced through the net. “Three-two,” he said.
Ronnie grabbed the ball, stood under the backboard and Jason positioned himself in front of him. He faked a pass one way then the other as Jason moved sideways with the ball until Ronnie bounced it diagonally into Tim’s hands and the action of the game shifted down court.
The match went on with both sides trading baskets and rebounds as the lead changed several times with the difference no more than two points. Dusk approached as a golden orange sunset shone over the western mountains and cast the last of the sunlight across the neighborhood, the park, and its visitors. Jason felt energized and immersed into the intense, reciprocating competition. Some other people at the park noticed their game and watched for a bit.
“C’mon, man, try to keep up,” Tim baited Randy.
“On your ass, motherfucker,” Randy warned.
“Bitch, you’re laggin,’” Tim spun around Randy, shot the ball to the basket, and it fell through. “Oh yeah! Back on top!”
Randy grabbed the ball as he went under the backboard. He slung it to Jason. Jason quickly dribbled to the other basket while being flanked by Ronnie. He ran across the half court line then passed the ball to Randy. Randy charged ahead, jumped to the basket simultaneously with Tim as they bumped against each other, then he underhanded the ball to Jason while in midair. Jason got the ball as Ronnie swiped at it, dribbled a couple times to the basket, then pushed the ball up to the hoop. It went over the rim and fell through.
“Fuck yeah!” Randy shouted. “Thirteen all!”
“Settle down,” Ronnie said as he grabbed the ball, “we’re just getting started.”
“That’s right,” Tim backed up, “I put the T in Run TMC.”
“Oh my god!” Randy laughed. “That is the stupidest fucking thing you’ve ever said.”
“Always talking shit,” Tim accused angrily.
Ronnie stood under the backboard. Jason got in front of him and focused on the ball as Ronnie held it close. Tim and Randy ran around behind Jason, then Tim got the pass from Ronnie and furiously dribbled down court quickly trailed by Randy then Jason and Tim. The game persisted as the momentum and the lead shifted back and forth. The pace quickened as they competed more aggressively, and they increasingly taunted and insulted each other. The glow of the sun was disappearing behind the western mountains and night approached over the eastern mountains as people began to leave the park.
Jason and Randy battled to a nineteen to eighteen lead as Tim ran and dribbled then made a shot over Randy to the basket. The ball ricocheted off the backboard and fell toward Jason and Ronnie. They jumped for the ball and Jason snagged it first. He dribbled quickly and sped down court as he anticipated the winning point. He heard footsteps all around him and noticed Ronnie in his periphery running alongside. He then saw Randy running ahead of him to the other side. He passed the ball to him then veered away from Ronnie. Randy charged to the basket and got the ball up as Tim ran up by him and knocked it away. The ball bounced toward the foul line and Randy chased after it as Ronnie tried to get it first. Randy grabbed the ball with both hands, spun around and shot it to the basket while still in motion. The ball traveled in an arc, hit against the hoop, rolled around a couple of times and fell through. “Yes!” Randy shouted. “Game point!”
“Hey!” Ronnie yelled as he pointed down at the foul line. “Your foot was over the line, right here!”
“I was in!” Randy yelled back while pointing to the same spot.
“Bullshit! You were out!”
“Yeah,” Tim said as he got behind Randy. “Our ball!”
“Game over! We win!” Jason said out loud.
“Your foot went over the goddamn line!” Ronnie pointed again at the spot on the blacktop. “Here! Right fucking here!”
“Yeah! I saw it too!” Tim chimed in.
“You lost!” Jason insisted. “Now go on home!”
“Stop your crying!” Randy shouted back at Ronnie, “I wasn’t out! I was in! We won it fair! Now quit your bitching!”
“Fuck you, punk!” Randy and Ronnie advanced upon each other. Tim backed up Ronnie and Jason got behind Randy. They swore at each other and argued some more in the near empty park. Jason felt a rush from the heat of conflict as he stood behind Randy and became entangled in the noisy ruckus. The boisterous shouting went back and forth until tempers cooled down and Jason dragged Randy away while Tim pulled Ronnie away.
“C’mon,” Jason said to Randy, “let’s go. We won and they know it. Sore fuckin’ losers just don’t want to admit it.”
“In your dreams, bitches!” Ronnie said defiantly and they traded a few more taunts as they slowly parted from each other. Randy picked up Jason’s basketball from the end of the court as he and Jason left the park. Randy bounced the ball forcefully on the sidewalk with one hand then the other as they walked home. Jason was still feeling agitated from the almost fight and moved quickly. The sun was below the horizon and twilight was cast over the valley.
“What a couple of whiny fuckin’ babies,” Randy said as he dribbled the ball from hand to hand. “No respect.”
“They’re punks,” Jason said. “Remember when we used to hang out with Ronnie’s brother, Jeff? He wasn’t a smart ass, he was all right.”
“He should’ve kicked Ronnie’s ass more often,” Randy said.
“I think we showed him.” Jason’s excitement slowly ebbed and his breathing became easier.
“Man, my heart is still racing,” Randy said while dribbling.
“Must be the adrenalin buzz,” Jason said.
“That and those two little fuckers getting under my skin,” Randy said.
“They’re not so little anymore.”
“So what? We can still fuck them up.”
“Of course,” Jason said. “Remember what a skinny little bastard Tim was when he was a freshman? Couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds.”
“Yeah, and he already had a big mouth.”
“No respect,” Jason repeated. The layer of sweat covering him cooled him off in the balmy early evening. He breathed in deeply and felt good as they walked home in the increasing darkness. He began to relax after the excitement of the game and the heat of the argument had dissipated. “Felt good getting that win,” he said. “I thought I might be slipping.”
“Nah, you haven’t lost a step,” Randy reassured. “You played real good, if anything there were a couple of shots I missed that I should have made, especially the one you dished off to me when they tried to double team you.”
“Yeah, but that was a tough corner shot. You didn’t miss by much.”
“I should’ve hooked it more.” Randy finally stopped dribbling and held the ball against his side. “We got to do this more often, and get some some of the other guys to play too.” They talked about the game some more as they were walking until they arrived at Randy’s house.
“I bet you had a funner time than if you went to class tonight,” Randy said.
“Yeah, it was fun,” Jason admitted, “especially getting that win.”
“So you want to grab a beer?” Randy asked.
“Can’t. Going over to Christine’s right now,” Jason said. “I’ll save myself for Todd’s party tomorrow night.”
“Right on,” Randy said. “At least you’re getting some tonight.”
“Don’t you have Gina to go to?”
“I don’t know, she’s being a real pain in the ass right now. I’ll go and see what some of the other guys are doing.” Randy jogged across the yard to his front door. “See you tomorrow night. Man, I can’t wait!”
“Try to control yourself, all right?” Jason said jokingly.
“I’ll be on my best behavior, I swear,” Randy promised, and they both laughed. They waved one last time as Randy entered his house.
The front door closed and Jason moved along. The neighborhood was suddenly silent and the overhead street lamps shone yellow as he walked home alone with his thoughts. He replayed the last few seconds of the basketball game in his mind and was certain he and Randy had won. He silently reveled in victory for the rest of the walk, and sensed an overall positive feeling about his life and its direction.
Jason came to his house then looked down at his empty hands and realized he didn’t have his basketball. “Dammit,” he said to himself. “Forgot it again.”
©2016 Robert Kirkendall