Chapter Two

The Dillencourt home was a modest affair; a new build consisting of a main floor and a basement. A detached two-car garage stood on the opposite side of the driveway, which was wide enough to accommodate several vehicles and a dry-docked fishing boat. The Dillencourts had only moved into the neighborhood four years prior. They had initially rented the basement of the two-story aquamarine house directly across DeArmoun road from the Delsins, which is when Wil and Bryce had first met. It was only Duane, Beverly, and Bryce, Billy having long since been on his own. The plan had been to rent the basement until the new house a few blocks away was finished, with most of the work being done by a builder, but with Duane and Billy working on what they could when not otherwise engaged. Duane was more fisherman than carpenter, but he was no stranger to construction, was at that time a general contractor running a growing HVAC company, and could’ve easily framed the entire affair himself had time permitted.

A couple different families had previously rented the basement, and the Delsin kids made friends with them until they moved on. The landlady, also the owner of the house, was Mrs. Flynt; a rotund widow who always seemed to have a bitter demeanor, and a white, Lucille Ball poodle hairstyle. The school bus stop was directly in front of her house, and kids would whisper that the green light spilling from the windows in the early morning winter darkness meant that she was a witch, rather than the fact that she just had a lot of plants. And cats. Cats were always in and around the house, and from that witchy green base they plagued the neighborhood, howling and screeching at night, and spraying steps and porches with rank-smelling urine.

From the road, the front of the aquamarine house made it appear to be a one-story ranch. But walking around the back, the entire face of both levels was exposed, revealing its actual size, with the basement having a fully exposed southern wall, with its own door and plenty of windows. The basement door opened onto a walkway along the edge of a sizable lawn that sloped gently downward right into the creek.

Mrs. Flynt kept to herself and avoided neighbors entirely. She’d leave almost daily in her big yellow Cadillac, but it was anyone’s guess where she went or what she got up to. Occasionally one might catch the sound of her baby grand piano spilling from the upstairs level. No one in the neighborhood had any idea that she’d been a bonafide concert pianist before moving to Alaska with her late husband in the 1950s. Wil gathered from the renters that her unpleasant demeanor was consistent, and that her interactions with tenants were rare and strictly business.

A large woman, she could always be heard moving around upstairs by basement tenants, but nothing disturbingly loud; just walking slowly between rooms, shifting in a chair, and the occasional piano playing. At a certain point, it occurred to Beverly that it had been quiet upstairs for a few days, although the yellow Cadillac had never left. Walking around the house to the front door, she rang the doorbell. She gave it a couple minutes before trying it again. She could hear it chiming inside, so it was functioning properly. She tried peering through the small windows closest to the door, but could only see into the foyer area, and nothing around the wall in the kitchen and living space. Going back downstairs into the rented basement, she retrieved the house keys she and Duane had been given upon signing the lease. Only one opened the front door. There was a locked door in the basement apartment that they never used, but knew it was to a staircase that joined to the upstairs. This staircase had clearly had the doors added to either end after the decision was made to convert the basement into a rental apartment, simply as a means of separating households. Looking at the second key that they’d never used, she tried it in the lock. It turned and clicked successfully. When she opened the door, the foul stench caught her completely off guard, practically knocking her backwards. Gingerly making her way up the creaky wooden staircase, she found the door at the top unlocked, and slowly opened it. The odor of decay was stronger here. She heard a cat land on the carpet, which then peered at her around the open door, and meowed at her urgently. “Hello?” she called into the room. She ventured into the living area. “Hello?” Again no response. She saw where the piano was situated, and the entire living room was filled with natural light from the bank of windows. Carefully rounding the corner to take the living room into full view, she spotted Mrs. Flynt, lifeless and bloated in a recliner. The cats had obviously gotten hungry.

After flying back down the stairs and calling Duane at work in hysterics, she fled out into the open lawn and began chain-smoking Marlboros. Looking up at the windows of the second floor from the yard, she was too easily able to picture what was sitting right there, only out of view because of the higher angle. When Duane arrived, he quickly made the appropriate calls. By the time Bryce got home from school, the coroner van was parked out front, where it would remain for two days. Wil and Bryce stood by, watching what they could of the ghoulish affair, but the coroner’s office personnel barely acknowledged them and weren’t talkative. They never spotted the actual corpse, as Duane had caught them spying and shooed them away.

Beverly insisted that they weren’t spending another night in the basement; she’d rather move into the unfinished house. Which, actually was a common practice in the area at the time. A family could move into a mostly finished basement, and then build and finish the rest of the house piecemeal as time and money allowed. The Delsin home, which Wil’s family had moved into when he was an infant, was still unfinished, had undergone a significant add-on, and had a long way to go, even though Pete had started construction more than thirteen years earlier. The Dillencourt’s new home already had functional heating, and enough creature comforts for Beverly to declare it “good enough.” So Duane took the next two days off, he and Billy using their pickups to transfer the family’s belongings. They had the interior of the new house finished by the end of that summer. Now whenever Wil headed to the Dillencourt’s, he’d get an uneasy sense passing the aquamarine house, and was happy not to be going inside. The now feral cats that remained huddled outside, glaring at him suspiciously.

The Dillencourt house had a decent sized lawn, and as Wil walked his bike into the driveway, he spotted Bryce, entertaining himself with a whiffle ball and bat, by tossing the ball into the air, and smacking it into a high pop-fly arc, and then catching it on the other side of the badminton net that divided the lawn. “What’s up, dork?” Wil saluted. “Not much, dipshit.” Wil propped his bike against the garage and removed the transistor radio from the handlebars. As he bent over to pull his pant leg out of his sock, Bryce whipped the whiffle ball in an expert sidearm right into Wil’s hat with a sharp smack. “Asshole!” Wil snapped. “That fuckin’ stings!” Bryce laughed. “Pussyyyy!” Wil grabbed the whiffle ball where it had stopped, picked it up, and hucked it with all his might back at Bryce. He missed, as the lightweight, ventilated ball curved in its trajectory. “Let’s go fish, fag” Bryce began walking to the old motorhome parked behind the garage, where fishing poles and other camping equipment were stored. Walking through the narrow aluminum doorway and up the plastic coated steps, Bryce stopped suddenly, sniffed, turned around, and sniffed again. “You smell like beer” he observed. “Uh, yeah. It’s on my pants.” He shared his encounter with Charlie Parks. “That guy’s a fuckin’ dick!” Bryce announced, as though it needed explaining. “Why didn’t you kick his ass??” Wil didn’t have a suitable answer that would appease someone like Bryce, who lacked fear, had an overdeveloped sense of confidence, and took shit from no one. So he simply half smiled and said nothing. “I woulda beaned that fuckin’ asshole with a rock. Him and that fuckin’ dildo Dickie. And then I’da busted out the back window on that piece o’ shit El C!” This was all actually entirely believable. It may not go over as smoothly as Bryce laid it out, but Wil had no doubt he would’ve at least made an effort. Aside from being Billy Dillencourt’s brother, this was exactly the other reason Bryce didn’t get bullied. Different species of predators in the wild don’t often try to eat each other. They recognize one another as fellow hunters, and innately understand that the meal is too expensive. Win or lose, anyone who put hands on Bryce was getting hurt. Bullies are never looking for a fight. They’re looking for someone weaker who they can abuse without painful consequences. Any chance of a split lip or a broken nose and they lose interest.

Bryce shared a birthday with Wil; June twenty-first. Summer solstice. This was one of the things they had bonded over when the Dillencourts had moved into the neighborhood, in spite of Bryce being a year older and a grade ahead in school. Summer solstice holds a special place with Alaskans, being the longest day of the year with almost perpetual daylight. For the past three years, the boys had celebrated their birthday together by pitching a tent in the Delsin’s front yard. The first two years other boys had slept over as well, but the year prior it had just been the two of them. Staying up nearly all night, smoking cigarettes Bryce had sneaked from Beverly’s purse, telling dirty jokes, daring each other to do progressively more outrageous stunts, and sharing their deepest secrets. Wil had come to value this event as a holiday almost more magical and significant as Christmas. In his pre-adolescent mind, he’d just assumed it would always happen.

Walking through the motorhome to the corner toilet and shower combo where the fishing gear was piled, Wil looked through stacks of Billy’s old comic books, stored here and there, on available counter space and stuffed into nooks. They pulled some out and flipped through old issues of Dennis the Menace, Superman, Batman, and assorted horror comics like Creepshow and Plop! There were also substantial showings of such counterculture staples as Zap Comix and The Fabulous, Furry Freak Brothers. In previous summers they’d looked through many of these, and while the artwork had its own appeal, the drug references were mostly lost. Bryce’s first year of junior high had changed that. The Robert Service High School/Hanshew Junior High campus was notorious for having numerous “stoners” and delinquents in the upper classes, and an even greater number of younger students trying to emulate them. Bryce, being a year older than Wil, had smoked “pot” for the first time that year, and more than once. Not as heavily as other kids, but enough to know he enjoyed it. He’d let Wil try some on a couple occasions, and Wil had gone along, although he hadn’t inhaled enough for a strong effect. Everyone knew that Billy moved a fair amount of marijuana (and other stuff), but Bryce knew better than to ask him for any. Billy wasn’t known to be a heavy user of anything himself, and had a hard rule against involving family or kids in any of his business dealings. If he’d known they’d already tried pot, they would’ve both gotten smacked around. Especially if he knew that the source was sometimes from a ziplock baggie in Duane’s top dresser drawer that contained a wooden pipe and a small amount of dried-out herbage.

Bored with exploring the contents of the motorhome, they selected two short fishing poles with simple reels and lures and headed out. They didn’t need bait, or a tackle box. The fish that made it this far upstream were too small to eat, but they’d bite at anything if they were around. Following the power line trail behind the Dillencourt yard, they soon came to a narrow opening in the greenbelt; an entrance so small and overgrown it would’ve been invisible to the uninitiated. Bryce, walking in front, suddenly stiffened and froze, exclaiming “Listen listen!” followed immediately by a loud fart. Before the Dillencourts had moved to the neighborhood, Wil had never met anyone who took such pleasure in annoying others with his flatulence. And no matter how many times he employed the gag, the urgency with which Bryce implored others to “Listen listen!” always caught his targets off guard. Duane would stare at him in annoyance. Beverly would shake her head. If Billy were present, he’d slap him upside the back of his head or punch him hard on the shoulder. All Wil could do was roll his eyes, each and every time. Within a couple minutes they’d arrived at the banks of the creek and headed to their usual position.

Any body of moving water in Southcentral Alaska is flanked with cottonwood trees. They’re a secondary-growth tree that thrive in soil with very high moisture. Essentially the world’s biggest weed, extremely porous, they grow large relatively fast, and rot from the bottom. This causes them to topple after a few decades to decay on the forest floor, providing nutrients for slower-growing trees. Walk along any stream in this region and you’ll find numerous fallen trunks laying across, forming natural bridges. Neighborhood kids knew where all the suitable bridge logs were; the larger with footpaths worn through the thick, scaly bark and moss, older trees having rotted and worn halfway through, like dugout canoes.

A fallen tree some three feet thick straddling a narrow gorge was Wil and Bryce’s favorite perch. The large rocks below had tumbled into a pattern that formed a deep pool, which had become a spot for trout to gather. Wil crept out onto the log behind Bryce. In the center, they sat with their feet hanging over the side. Bryce laid his pole carefully beside him, then reached into the front of his waistband to produce a crushed, half-full pack of Marlboros. Placing one between his lips, he offered another to Wil, then lit both with a match from a book that he kept alongside the cigarettes. Wil turned on the green transistor radio, and fiddled with the dial, passing through static and blips of stations that couldn’t be clearly picked up. He fully extended the telescoping antenna, and waved the tiny device around until suddenly the familiar, ethereally distorted opening chords of Player’s “Baby Come Back” were bubbling through the tiny speaker. He carefully propped it up in a nook so that it wouldn’t lose the signal. They dropped their lines into the pool, slowly jigging from side-to-side in an attempt to draw strikes.

The boys puffed away on their cigs, neither of them truly inhaling. Wil had learned early on that he wasn’t really a smoker. They finished one, then another. Not a single bite, nor any visual signs of fish. Bryce took a final drag off his cigarette and dropped the butt into the creek; they watched it cascade along through the rocks, like a tiny kayak, until it disappeared from sight. Bryce theorized that the water was too shallow for trout to make it upstream this early in the season.

While Billy Dillencourt was tall, lean, and dark-haired, Bryce was almost compact, light blonde with hair so wavy it was almost curly, and broad across the shoulders and thick in the arms like Duane. Even though they were exactly a year apart, Bryce and Wil went through competing growth spurts, with Bryce presently being taller by about an inch. Bryce was also, of course, developing ahead of Wil, and as he set down his pole and carefully stretched himself along the log, on his back with his hands behind his head, Wil caught a glimpse of of wispy armpit hair starting to grow, which reminded him of Billy ribbing him about pubic hair.

“Saw Billy on the way over, he said to tell you ‘hey.” he informed Bryce. “Yeah? What was he up to?” “Pickin’ up Sherri, they left on his bike.” Bryce sat back up, wild blonde ringlets catching the rays of sunlight that penetrated the greenbelt canopy. He looked thoughtfully down the length of winding and cascading creek, to the point where it vanished around a bend on its way downhill. “Well he’s gettin’ laid then.” “Yeah?” Wil asked, mainly to fill in the conversation. “They’re pretty serious?” “HA!” Bryce exclaimed. “As serious as she is with every guy in the club.” Wil was visibly confused. “Huh??” “She’s a biker chick.” Bryce explained, “A sheep.” Wil still hadn’t processed what he was hearing. “Use your head, numbnuts. She fucks the whole club.” Wil was stymied. He’d heard his mother refer to Sherri in all manner of unsavory terms, but the scope of these terms had been completely lost on him. He felt himself starting to view Sherri in a different light, although he couldn’t fully understand why it should matter to him. Through Billy he’d met several guys in the club, and not many of them were exactly what he thought of as a Casanova or Adonis. Some looked scary, others just downright ugly. The thought of an attractive, barely out of high school girl like Sherri going to bed with any of these men, let alone all of them… he just couldn’t wrap his head around it. He tried to stop thinking about it.

Fishing was officially a bust for the day. This was still time well spent however, just watching the water softly cascading through the rocks, gathering foam here and there, in jams of twigs that would gather in the odd nook. The boys had discovered in earlier summers that if they fixed their vision on the swirling waters for a few minutes, when they looked up again, the trees, rocks, and the very ground would appear to be swirling, flexing, and breathing for a moment, like living creatures. You could only do this a couple times before you’d start to get a nauseous headache exactly like seasickness. “I wonder if this is what acid is like” Bryce mused. “Well, we know where to get some” Wil offered. “Fuck that noise; you know Billy’s rule. He’d laugh in our faces then kick both our asses. Then he’d kick our asses’ faces.” Wil had just been speaking absentmindedly, and wasn’t even thinking about asking Billy for drugs. “No, I was talkin’ about Phil. He’s always got acid.” Phillip Dietz was another boy in the neighborhood. Although the same age and grade as Wil, he was already a regular dope smoker, and was known to always have weed and acid. They’d all hung out together for a couple years, and Phil had even attended the first summer solstice birthday sleepover, when Wil turned ten. But toward the end of elementary school he’d gotten a bit… wild. That was the only way Wil could think to put it. Phil had an older brother, Donny, and the two of them had taken to hanging around the licensed foster home a couple blocks down DeArmoun from the Delsin house. The same home that Charlie Parks and Dickie Hill frequently visited . Although, “foster home” was a very loose way of describing it. The owner of the small, dark red, run-down ranch style house, a man other kids never saw but who the resident boys referred to as “Uncle Jim,” lived off stipends he received from the state to board troubled boys. There seemed to be very little structure or supervision, and one of the boys had even boasted that “Uncle Jim” didn’t care if they drank beer and looked at Playboy Magazines.

This association between the Dietz brothers and the foster home boys was like two raging torrents crashing together, and caused a lot of unnecessary havoc to be wreaked around the neighborhood. Kids riding past the yard on their bicycles would pedal extra fast, or risk having bottle rockets launched at them, or being pelted with anything from rocks to dog shit. Irate parents who took it upon themselves to venture inside the chain link fence would be met by a pack of insolent youths, and no guardian to be seen. In this environment, Phil became extra rude, mean-spirited, and disrespectful toward nearly any adult. After Mona had confronted him for wearing a ditch across the Delsin’s driveway with his dirt bike, Phil had mouthed off so rudely that Wil was no longer allowed to associate with him. Which was fine by Wil, as Phil had passed fully into a circle of friends who Wil and Bryce wanted nothing to do with. He’d also gotten mean. Fights on and off school grounds were routine for him, and he quickly gained a reputation for fighting extremely viciously, using dirty techniques other kids simply had no comprehension of. One morning on the bus ride to school, he’d called a girl named Amy a slut. She slapped him across the face, and without skipping a beat he slapped her back so hard she fell over. This was an unheard of transgression, but no one present, including the bus driver, interfered. Phil had decided Amy was a slut, and that was it. During a fight at the Abbott-O-Rabbit fields the previous summer, Phil had thrown another boy to the ground, then leaped into the air, dropping down with both knees onto the other kid’s torso. The rumor was that the other boy had to be hospitalized with broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Although the boys didn’t spend time with Phil anymore, Bryce tolerated him, and Wil just tried not to get on his bad side. “Yeah, I suppose…” said Bryce, clearly thinking what Wil was thinking, that they’d rather not pay a visit to the trailer on the wooded lot where the Dietzes lived. In any case, Mona Delsin had put the fear of God into Wil about all drugs, and when he’d asked her what LSD was after hearing some older kids talk about it, she assured him that anyone who took it saw spiders crawling all over them before jumping off a roof thinking they’d fly away. So it wasn’t something he’d seriously considered, he was merely going off Bryce’s hypothetical query, filling space with unnecessary conversation, as was his habit.

For Wil at least, thoughts of the solstice campout and Phillip Dietz were inextricably linked, as Phil had been the one to goad them all into a singular monumental event. They’d been playing cards; Old Maid, Go Fish, and Bullshit, but then Phil had upped the ante and suggested they play Strip Poker. None of the other boys had any sort of experience approximating sexual awareness, so the thrill of doing something forbidden and naughty eventually won out. As they established the rules, once a player had lost all of his clothes, he had to go outside and run around the large blue tent once. By the time they’d all done so, the taboo had been completely and irreparably shattered. None were any longer ashamed of their nudity, and as their inhibitions waned their daring grew. Next was a game of Chicken, where all of the boys would run out to DeArmoun Road, and see who’d remain the longest when a vehicle was heard approaching. Phil won this segment hands down, when he didn’t leave his position at all, and instead spread-eagled for the oncoming car, wagging his tongue and gyrating so that his privates flopped around wildly, leaving the rest of the boys rolling and howling hysterically from the safety of the tent.

Once Phil got back into the tent, the boys discussed what to do next, and Phil proposed an even more outrageous game. He told them how he’d played this game with some cousins and some older friends. Everyone played a hand, “and the loser has to suck the winner’s dick. Whoever wins the final round gets to screw the loser in the ass.” Some of the boys were on board, “Yeah!” they snickered. Wil sat quietly, blank faced, an uneasy feeling rising in the pit of his stomach. When he was five, another boy had come for a sleepover at the Delsin house. Mona had put them into a bath together, and when she returned to check on them playing, she found Wil and the other boy inspecting each other’s penises. Furiously, she’d yanked Wil out of the tub by an arm, then called the other boy’s parents to pick him up. After they were gone, she whipped Wil’s bare bottom with one of Pete’s thick leather belts, each lash like an electrical shock followed by searing, swelling pain. To Wil this seemed to go on forever, all the while with Mona screaming about germs, and the Devil, and Hell, her face contorted with rage. Eventually she sent her uncontrollably sobbing son to bed, with welts and bruises that lasted for days. Wil wasn’t allowed to be friends with the other boy after that. From then till his tenth birthday party, this was Wil’s only understanding of anything approximating sexuality. “I don’t want to” he stated deadpan; “There’s germs down there”. “No there’s not!” two of the other boys scoffed. Wil shook his head sharply. “Nuh uh. I don’t want to. It’s gross.” His refusal to participate had dampened any excitement toward the rest of the night’s events, and as it was already three in the morning, the boys drifted off to sleep. The next morning it was as if the last conversation had never happened, and none of them ever spoke of it again. This was however the beginning of Wil and Bryce unconsciously distancing themselves from Phil Dietz.

With the advent of puberty, the prudishness which had been violently instilled in Wil began to fade, ever so slowly. He didn’t engage in the crass, sexual boasting lies in the dugout, or in the locker room after Gym class. He rarely openly discussed sex at all, but he’d begun thinking about it in the past year, a lot. Even dreaming about it. He’d look at the Playboy and Hustler magazines that other boys acquired and snuck onto the school bus, or splayed out on the floor of Bryce’s bedroom. He tried to effect the same conversational tone that Bryce and other boys used around the topic, but it felt forced and awkward to him, and the other boys would pick up on this and rib him mercilessly about it, so eventually he’d just keep his mouth shut. And finally, like all boys his age, he seemed to have perpetual boners in class, which he’d have to hide with his jacket or a Pee-Chee folder. Having yet to attend the mandatory sex education course in eighth-grade health, and having no developmental support from his parents, the way that his thoughts and his body were changing left him feeling as though this was yet another thing wrong with him. He was always uncomfortable when Bryce or other boys his age brought up the topic of sex.

Wil slid the notebook and pen from his tight back pocket, removed the pen’s cap and slid it over the tail end, and began scrawling away thoughtfully. Bryce removed another cigarette from the smashed pack, stuck it between his lips, then offered the pack to Wil, who glanced at it briefly then shook his head and continued writing. Bryce lit his cig and took a drag. “You and that fuckin’ notebook” he observed lackadaisically, with no tonal indication of either disapproval or approval. “Whatcha writin’ now?” he inquired. “Haiku” Wil explained, almost absentmindedly. “Gesundheit.” Wil paused and glanced at Bryce. “Think you’re fuckin’ funny, huh.” Bryce found a small bit of twig in a crevasse of cottonwood bark and whipped it at Will. It stuck in his hair and he brushed it away without so much as a shadow of annoyance. He was in a mode of productivity that Bryce called “the zone.” “Those are those short, Japanese poems, right? Well what’s it about, Jack London?” he ribbed, referencing the first author that came to mind (they’d all had to read “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang” in sixth grade). “Bobby Driscoll.” Wil answered, without looking up or interrupting his pen. “…Who the fuck is Bobby Driscoll?” Bryce asked. Wil continued writing a moment longer, then stopped and read what he’d just completed. He stared at the page in silence for another moment, then, apparently satisfied, turned to Bryce. “He was that kid in all the old Disney movies. You know; like “Song of the South” and “Treasure Island?” “Oh yeah. You mean the stowaway? Long John Silver’s kid?” Wil nodded “Yep, that kid. Did you know he died? Like, years ago?” Bryce raised his eyebrows. “Damn. No shit?” “No shit. They had a story about him in Sunday’s paper. I guess after he got too old for kid roles, Disney just kicked him aside. Like stopped giving him roles, stopped talking to him, locked him out of the studio and everything. So he just became a junkie, lost all his money, and some kids found his body in an abandoned slum like ten years ago.” Bryce was clearly shaken. “Fuck, man… That’s shitty.” Wil offered him the notebook. “Shitty indeed.” Bryce took it from him and looked at the open page.

“Where is Jim Hawkins?

Thrown away, gone with angels.

Fuck you, Mickey Mouse.”

Bryce read it a second time. Then a third. He took a real drag off his cigarette and blew a long stream of smoke while staring at the sky through the canopy of cottonwoods and birch. He stared at Wil like someone waiting for the unexpected. “You are fuckin’ out there, man.” Smiling, he smacked Wil on the shoulder with the notebook by way of returning it. “Fuck you, Mickey Mouse.’ Heh.”

As the final bar of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” buzzed through the tiny speaker, the KANC disc jockey announced that it was Three O’ Clock. “Practice!” Bryce announced “Time to jet!” Scrambling back over the log, they quickly made their way up the trail to the Dillencourt property and stashed their poles back inside the motorhome. Back at the house, Bryce reached inside the front door for his glove, which he hung on the handlebar of his bike. “Let’s move out!” He exclaimed, pushing his bike down the driveway and hopping onto the pedals. While Wil had wanted a ten-speed bike for years, Bryce favored single-speed BMX bikes, like the Redline he was now blasting down Natrona on. Wil had always though a multi-speed road bike was the way to go, but Bryce had no problem leaving him in the dust, ever. He caught up, and they rode abreast down the middle of Buffalo. They moved aside for a tractor-trailer rumbling down 140th, and emerged from the cloud of dust at DeArmoun, where they scrambled up McDowel to retrieve Wil’s glove. “One sec” he told Bryce, before rushing up the front stairs. Garrett, startled, quickly turned off the blaring television that he wasn’t supposed to be watching. “Busted, ya little shit!” Wil exclaimed triumphantly. He saw most of a pack of grape Bubble Yum in Garrett’s hand and snatched it. “Mine now, unless you want mom to know you were on the boob tube.” Garrett’s face contorted and he began bawling “No fair!” “Here, cry baby” Will said. “I’m just taking two pieces.” He handed the rest back. “Where’s Kara? Isn’t she supposed to be watching you?” “She went to the Shields’ to help Mary with some gardening. She wasn’t gonna be very long.” Looking out the kitchen window at the neighboring property, Wil saw Kara and Mary Shields stooped over some plants next to the Shields’ greenhouse. Poking Garrett in the chest, he threatened “No more TV, or next time I take all your gum. And I’ll know!” He grabbed his glove from a peg on the coat rack and trotted back down the stairs to the driveway, handed Bryce one of the pieces of gum and popped the other into his mouth, then hopped on his bike, and the boys headed back out McDowel and sped down Dearmoun.

For a mile below McDowel, Dearmoun Road was a gentle downward slope, which made it very easy for a kid on a bike to achieve maximum speed very quickly. Bryce always took the lead. Wil would upshift and try to overtake him, but as soon as he came abreast Bryce would always stand up and dig into the pedals, easily pulling back ahead. The road dipped up again slightly at Elmore, then another downward slope which came to a steep hill right at the end. As they crested this hill, Robbie and Curt Cutler exited Sabine Street onto Dearmoun. Bryce and then Wil flew past them, and the Cutlers dug in to catch up. Robbie was Wil’s age, and they’d attended school together since kindergarten. Curt was in Bryce and Kara’s class. While they had been on different baseball teams previously, this year all four boys were on the Giants. Bryce and Curt had been in the little league majors together for two years, Robbie only the previous year. It was Wil’s first year in the majors. After tryouts in the spring, Bryce told Wil that he’d done better than any of the other candidates that year. It was the kindest thing Bryce had ever told him, and the first inkling he’d ever got from an objective source that he was actually improving.

Like Bryce, the Cutler boys favored BMX bikes, Curt on a Mongoose and Robbie, like Bryce, on a Redline. As they caught up, Curt, tall and lean, pumped past Wil and begin riding abreast with Bryce. Robbie pulled alongside Wil, and they rode in that formation to the Seward Highway, even though DeArmoun had no shoulder to speak of. Passing cars would give them a wide birth, most drivers understanding the lack of a shoulder to ride on. Occasionally a car would barrel past and the angry driver lean on the horn, at which point all four boys would wave a middle finger and shout “FUCK YOU!” practically in unison. The Seward had actual shoulders wide enough for a call to pull onto if necessary, so the boys stuck to it in a single file, for the mile and a half to the Abbott-O-Rabbit fields.

Cruising down the dirt drive to the fields, Bryce and the Cutlers slide-stopped their bikes dramatically, spraying some players who were already there with gravel and dust. Wil felt extra lame coming in last and using his hand brakes. They joined the other boys on the team and leaned their bikes against the chain-link fence. Duane Dillencourt’s work van rumbled up near the field in a cloud of dust. He parked, got out, and opened the back doors. “Alright, lets’ go!” he called out. “Ya’ll get over here and grab this gear!” All the boys rushed up and eagerly began grabbing duffel bags filled with bats, helmets, and balls, and the pillowy bases. They hauled all of these through the opening in the fence and deposited all the gear next to a dugout.

Author: Uncrowned & Unchained

My life is my own. Your life is your own. Force not your will upon any, nor allow any to force their will upon you.

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