I have finally, FINALLY finished editing ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’. Now, I have to find the time to send it out. And not screw up anything as I have in the past.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 2. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.
Soccer means shit to Americans, but I never realized it’s everything over here. Kicking a beat-up volleyball in their fantastic, imaginary worlds, these little kids no older than seven hold their hands in the air and run down the block like the icons they worship. The buildings echo their chants like the crowds they dream of playing in front of.
As they pass us by on a street that’s not as wide or as busy as Manhattan, more like Boston, at least they still have dreams, I think. We’re standing in front of a strip-mall that could’ve been transported from Long Island. It has everything from a pizzeria walk-up to a stereotypical Irish pub to the minimart we need to sell us booze so we can live out every kid’s sophomoric wet dream – a toga party, in Rome of all places.
Pete scans the periphery. All clear. “What’s the plan here, boys?”
“Man” – Tommy shrugs, story of his life – “I can just shoulder tap somebody like back in the day.”
What Pete sees in the burnout besides his pot, I have no idea. Tommy might style himself as an eccentric musician with his moccasins, painted on pants, and hoop nose ring, but he’s part of the in-crowd just like the rest of us. Since his freshman fling with the once-popular Alice O’Malley got him in the door, he’s never ventured too far out of the upper social stratum.
“One of us has to go in,” I say, willing myself to sound tolerant, “preferably the only one who’s 18,” which isn’t me, Tommy, Pete, and probably not Becky either because she looks like she’s nine.
Surprisingly, Tommy catches my drift. “Lilly, man, Lilly. That’s a good idea, man.”
We turn to her. She’s whispering something to Becky, so she doesn’t notice us staring at her right away – not that she’s unaccustomed to being ogled at. Especially in a pair of destroyed, designer jeans that show more skin than a g-string.
“Lilly” – Pete squeezes her shoulders for added emphasis – “we need you to go–”
“No way! No, no, no, NO! Absolutely not.”
“I said no, Pete. I can’t, I’m sorry. I just can’t.”
“Why not, man?”
“Why not? Why not!” Lilly laughs blithely to herself. “Have you ever met my mom?” She flicks her hair, rubbing the back of her neck before another fresh cigarette’s in her mouth. “What if I got caught? Like what if?”
From what I’ve heard, Mrs. Foster is a complete Christian nut bar who believes in spiritual healing and doesn’t accept anything but perfection from her second daughter. Hence the pain Lilly goes through to maintain her flawless, yet faux, choirgirl credentials.
“Would I walk at graduation? They said I wouldn’t. They said I wouldn’t!” She was shrieking now, pacing back and forth like she was back on the Balaam stage performing.
“It’s fine, it’s fine” – Becky gently runs her hand through her hyperventilating friend’s hair – “we’ll figure it out; we always do.” She looks imploringly at Pete, at me, at Tommy.
None of us say anything at first – not about Mrs. Foster or beer or pot or parties or anything kids our age talk about – and it’s awkward because Lilly had gone serious and killed the vibe until Pete finally huffs, “Screw it, I’ll go,” and turns toward the entrance. Of course he will.
And I’m following – “Wait up!” – because I can’t possibly let him take all the glory. Or all the blame.
The doors open with a creak and a ding like the bodega that sells us smokes by Balaam. Not looking up from his paper, the clerk with the two-inch-ash on the cigarette hanging from his lips offers us his balding salt-and-peppered scalp. And nothing more.
And there we are on camera, which only adds to my anxiety that I shouldn’t have because I’ve done this so many times – but I feel it anyway.
Through the window, I can see Lilly keeping watch outside, cigarette in hand, her fourth overall in the last seven minutes, well-ahead of her usual pack-a-day pace, flinching any time someone walks by.
Somewhere, I can hear a clock:
Pete taps me. I shiver. “Ready?”
No. “Yes, sir.”
Smoothly, he places forties of Birra Moretti and sixers of 1764 on the counter while I practically drop two liters of Skyy Vodka on the floor. It’s so bad the man with the now-three-inch ash has to catch them. The ash crumbles all over the counter.
He mutters something inaudible to himself.
I avoid his eyes. Sweat drips down my back.
He’s on to us.
What’s he reaching under the counter for?
A shotgun? I shoot Pete a nervous look.
He gives me his characteristic smirk. And a kick to the shin. Keep it together.
This is it, I think, closing my eyes and holding my breath and smiling, bracing myself for the blast and a closed coffin my mother won’t be happy about. Who cares what she thinks? If she’s the last thing I remember before I get my brains blown out, I’ll be pretty pissed.
I open my eyes – I’m not dead – choking for air, forgot to breathe. It’s a calculator, a damn calculator.
Pete gives me one more kick and grins at this guy who, it’s now apparent, doesn’t really care if we’re 18 or 12. He only points to a number that means nothing to us, and we cough up the Monopoly money and he nods again and we’re out the door before it can even ding.
When Pete and I hit that outside air, we’re Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption – free at last. I feel the rush like when we used to get chased out of a schoolyard by the cops – the thrill of breaking the rules, of being young.
“Man, never doubted you guys for a second! I told Lilly, man, you guys got this, you guys got this.” Tommy’s as jubilant as the kids dribbling the soccer ball down the street. We all are.
“Yeah, Lilly, you see, we GOT this,” I say, somewhat derisively. She pretends not to hear. To Tommy, it’s a compliment.
Pete gives me that grin again as if he’s telling me to play nice. Or maybe he’s reminding me that he knows I almost lost it in there, that if I had to do it myself I might’ve failed. I’m sure I’ll hear about it when we’re drunk, but he doesn’t bring it up now.
Instead, he’s magnanimous. “Remember that time the cops had us on the curb outside Sevs?”
I smile at him, my old friend, with venerating wonder. “They could’ve arrested us that night.”
“Yeah, they probably should’ve.”
I’m still steamed at him for carrying on with Ms. Benevo, but for a solitary moment we both forget about that and we’re remembering when it was just us. I know it will pass – it always does – but I’ll take my best friend back even if it’s only until he sees her again. Together, we walk up the block laughing and sharing cigarettes and recalling fatuous nights of the past, talking with gaiety in our voices about the debauchery of the one ahead. Like we used to.
We’re all untouchable, invincible even, as we saunter through the automatic doors into the freshly polished hotel lobby with the mahogany concierge desk and the swanky, bright boutique couches. Nothing can bring us down – not “our drunk slob principal,” Tommy brazenly declares, echoing the sentiments of so many other students; not Mrs. Weary or Ms. Benevo. Not anyone.
Until we hear that grizzled voice I can pull from the middle of a Pantera concert. Lilly goes as white as her namesake. And Tommy’s not making jokes anymore.
Copyright (C) 2017 Andrew Chapin