The cart grumbled as it rolled over small potholes and rubble. I took in a deep breath, surprised the wheels hadn’t let up under my weight. The wind lifted my tank top and whipped it around my waist as I hooted and hollered with my arms up and out. My chest heaved as an exhilarating breeze picked up, zapping me with an electrifying momentum. I was so loud that people looked over their shoulders at me, distracted from loading up grocery bags or kids into their cars.
Halfway from Tatum’s Fresh Foods entrance, the cart drifted left and my eyes widened. My excited clamoring digressed to an aghast shrill.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
I shifted my body to the right, trying to put the thing back on course for the brick wall that separated the parking lot from the road, not the lone red van parked a few feet before it. Jumping out was a no-go. Neither had it crossed my mind. I was too high on soft brisk winds to entertain the thought of tumbling across the asphalt. The red minivan approached faster with every sway and jolt I put on the basket.
“Shit!” I screamed. The cart slammed into the fender and shoved my body across the hood. My knees and stomach skidded over the hot metal as my body flung forward, pushing me down onto the pavement. My head broke my fall.
Dazed, I grunted and laid on the festering ground sucking down thick humid air.
Soles smacked the ground with a heavy speed. Panting hard, Lance halted and leaned over me, watching me lay there, blinking hard at the sun.
“Damn man! That was…shit!” He got close with his phone, filming me panting on the ground. “Good thing you gave me your phone this time. Your mom would be pissed if you broke another one.”
“Yeah.” I sat up and winced at the sharp cramp in my knee. “Making wipe out videos and pranking strangers isn’t the best excuse.” I groaned and ran a hand over my aching, sweating scalp. “But she’ll get over it once we’re rich.”
Lance moved around the van, searching it. He winced at the hood. “Damn man, we need to get out of here. The hood has a nice dent on it. And…” He pulled the cart and pushed it off to the middle of the parking lot. “Oh shit. This is a nice deep scratch over here too.” He shook his head.
“Whatever.” I peered around. A balding man gawked at us with a serious scowl across his bare face as if we’d disturbed him from loading his car. Another woman rolled her eyes before getting into her blue convertible. Her kids, no older than ten, laughed and whispered as they held their phones up. I smirked. “Anyway, did you get the whole thing?” I asked, exerted and aching at the joints.
“Yeah! I mean, this is gold! We can upload it right now. Forget the old folk’s home. I’m sure they can wait until tomorrow for the diaper prank. But this? This is going viral tonight, guaranteed.”
“Really? I was looking forward to Meadow Oaks. It’s been…I don’t know, fifteen years since I got to shit myself and not get in trouble for it?”
“That last part being the most important, right?”
“You’re a slob,” he said.
“Says the guy who dips his grilled cheese in sour cream.”
He shrugged. “Don’t knock it til you try it.” He poked at his phone with stubby fingers. Sweat trickled down his face and caught his exposed chest. His t-shit looked like a dog chewed the collar before stretching it. I know it was hot, but why the hell was Lance always so wet? Even in the freezing winter, he’d always sweat.
“Ugh. Dude, move. You’re getting your fat boy fluids on me,” I said.
“Shut up,” he said, taking a couple of steps back while recording me standing up. I adjusted my basketball shorts around my hips and twisted my tank top straight along my waist.
I chuckled, shaking the dizzy spell from the fall. “Let’s get outta here before—”
“Hey!” An unfamiliar voice. I looked over my shoulder, past the van. A fair-skinned, dark-haired woman approached; her loafers paced with a hurried stride as she clutched her purse tight to her side. She pointed. “Hey!”
As we looked on at the red-faced woman, I couldn’t help but think of my neighbor, Ms. Monica. She whined as much as Mom and demanded as much as Coach Valders. When she wasn’t calling the police to complain about me bouncing a ball at nine o’clock on a Friday night, or calling my mom to tell about me and Zoe skipping school at my house to make-out, she was busy sipping on Starbucks, knitting zany hats, or yelling at her cat to stop hissing and scratching at her little ankle-biting yapper. Zoe called her Karen but I’m sure her name was Ms. Monica Berry.
“Oh my God.” Her eyes watered as she stared at the fender on the opposite side. “Look at what you assholes did to my car,” she growled.
“Uh, we’re sorry,” I said.
“Sorry?” she said. “You’re sorry?
I nodded. “It was an accident. See, my cart got away from me when I—”
“This doesn’t look like a—” She rounded the vehicle for the hood. Her jaw dropped and eyes popped. “What the hell?” she whispered.
“Look, ma’am, I swear it was an accident,” I said. I wasn’t sure if it was the utter shock on her face or the tears in her eyes, but I felt the same disappointment in my bones that I did whenever Mom lectured me about being irresponsible. ‘Sorry’ seemed to paint a smile on Mom’s face. But it wasn’t working for this woman.
She glared at me with red eyes and twitched.
“Who’s going to pay for this?” she growled.
“It—it was an accident—”
“I said, who the hell is going to pay for this,” she said. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath before mumbling something to herself. It sounded like a low chant.
Her eyes popped open and the left one flickered as if it were struggling. Her sunken cheeks expanded with heavy, exasperated breaths. “W—where are your parents?”
“I—” I started.
“Dude, run!” Lance said after taking off and gaining a couple of feet on me.
“Oh shit!” I took off after him for Montpelier Ave and passed him. We whisked past store fronts along the busy street before cutting right into an alley. Colorful graffiti and city dumpsters crowded my peripheral as they hid from the aggressive heat in the thin shadows. I made a sharp left on Harper Road at the alley’s end and stopped in front of Numbers Phone House. I mopped my brow clean with the back of my hand and put my hands to my knees.
“Shit.” I threw my head back and squinted at the clear sky. “Oh, man.”
Lance stumbled out the alleyway, breathing as if his lungs were shrinking. I swaggered over to him and drove my fist into his wiggling gut. His shirt rode up his belly, exposing the curdled mess that I called ‘hang time.’
He wailed and lurched over. “Fuck was that for?” He sounded like he was about to barf up the potato chips and cheese pizza he sucked down before we left my house for the afternoon.
“You were supposed to be looking out!” I said.
“Well shit, I—”
“Just like you were supposed to be looking out for the guy that broke my phone the other day! You fucked up again!”
“Come on! You can’t blame me for that. How was I supposed to be on the lookout and record? That’s not fair!”
“Nope! That’s it! If the footage is fucked, I’m not going back in that cart next time, you are!”
“Aw come on, Reese! You’re lighter. The cart will go faster! It’s dynamics!”
I glowered at him. I hated, no, I despised when Lance tried to sound smart. It was a cheap attempt at tossing my barely passing ninth grade in my face or rubbing in his advancement to the eleventh-grade next year. Cousin or no, he sure knew how to rub me the wrong way and he wasn’t afraid to take advantage of it especially since he moved out to the suburbs. He’d turned his nose up and looked down on me since. I wondered why he even bothered coming to the city every summer. Sometimes, our relationship seemed forced with Mom and Aunt Rose ignoring the fact that Lance and I were drifting apart.
“I don’t give a shit! You’re going in the cart; I’ll record and be on the lookout! At least I’d be affective.”
“Effect—Ah!” he wailed when I pinched and twisted his nipple. “Son of a bitch!”
“Yeah, I got your son of a bitch.” I flinched at him with balled fists. He jumped and threw his hands in front of his face.
“Knock it off, man.”
I limped on my cramped knee up Harper.
“Hey. Wait up,” Lance said, catching up to me. “Look, I’m sorry about all that. I really am. But at least we got the shots we needed. Ready to get back to your house and edit the video?”
I sighed. “Yeah. I guess.” I grimaced at the subtle burning on my arm. “I think I clipped my elbow.” I twisted my arm enough to find a red scratch on the opposite side. “My knee is shit too.”
“I noticed the slight limp,” he said. Lance winced. “Ow. That looks like it hurts.”
“Ya think? That’s why your fat ass is going on video next time.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes the hell you are, Lardy McFatass!”
“Oh no. Is it because baby girl needs her rash cream? Are your scabs hurting, little girl?” He whined.
“Shut up. Belle is ten and she’d kick your ass in a heartbeat.”
“So you’re going to get your little sister to beat me up?” He shook his head. “Classic Reese.”
“The better question is do you want your ass kicked and buried under Mom’s garden?”
His face crumbled. “Really? How do you plan on explaining that to my mom and dad when they finally come and get me from this hell hole?”
“Hey! Get off my city! Everyone doesn’t have a mansion in the hills where there is fuck all to do.”
“Fuck all to do? It’s better than walking or catching the bus everywhere. Do these people know there are smells besides hot piss?” He yelled.
“Well, if you hate it so much, go home. Oh, wait. You can’t because you’ll eat your parents out of house and home, you fat fuck!”
He let out a condescending chuckle. “Really, Reese?”
“Yeah really. And I know you think you’re better than everyone, but you’re not the only fucker who can do something with his life.”
“Wait? You have plans other than living at your Mom’s house?”
“Yeah asshole, I’m going to law school.”
He scoffed. “No, you’re not.”
I scowled. “Why’d you say that?”
“Because lawyers are smart and you’re as dumb as a blonde on a short bus.”
I growled. Lance laughed and took off running for the corner.
I took off after him, grunting with a burning face. I’d tear his ass in half. I wasn’t stupid. Far from it. School was just not fun. It was the last place I or anyone else wanted to be. At least in college, you got to pick what you wanted to study, right? And besides, I wasn’t the one stuck spending the last three months of summer here. Lance was. I couldn’t wait to tell Belle. Lance had just signed a contract to be the ass of every prank in our household. And there was plenty to go around…literally.
Lance hit the street with a stride I’ve never seen out of him. He laughed, gasped, and held his stomach with both hands while he hunched over, leaning into his sprint.
“I’ll kick your ass in the street, Lance! You’re not going to—”
The quick wind whipped by, pulling some weight off my feet. It went by so fast that my legs locked before I stepped off the curb. A van ran through Lance, picking him up from the street. He hit the hood with a thick womp and rolled across the roof. He hit the ground and rolled about a foot before he rocked on his side and landed belly down.
“Oh shit!” I yelled. My jaw dropped as I watched the Illinois plates drift further up the street. The tires tore into the road as it made a right a few blocks up. The engine grumbled as the sick fuck pushed it to the limit, heard but unseen.
With stiffened legs and staggering thoughts, I inched into the street. I dropped to my knees at Lance’s side. “Oh, God. Lance?”
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