The mid-day sun was bright and clear, punching down on the summered walkways of the small town, giving dramatic shadow to everything with dimension. A scraggly teen-aged boy wanders across the remarkably quiet town square, his slouching frame is covered by an over-sized t-shirt catching wind like a galleon’s sail. His mop of shiny, youthful blond hair covers his face like melted wax. His Vans are showing poor wear, and his big toe can be seen peeking through the top of his left sneaker as he dodges wayward pages from a newspaper as they cartwheel into his path. He crosses the empty square, jay-walks the boulevard, and enters a customer-dead Family Dollar store.
Two twenty-somethings guys are working the registers up front, ignoring everything around them. The brown, shaggy-haired scenester of the two is reading People magazine. He picks at a patch of chin acne, a remnant from his Dungeons and Dragons youth, while his blinkless eyes pour over the brightly colored articles. His apron is far too large for his mild frame and he leans against the counter in stressed blue jeans, with a faintly feminine pose, staring intensely into the glossy pages. The other guy, a couple of years older, with a thin sheen of hair on his pointy head, is bouncing a super ball off the floor with enough power to send it up into the ceiling tiles. “I’m gonna knock one of these fuckers out.” He repeats this, whether anyone is within earshot or not. He has a militia aura about him, and tends to wear fatigue-ish gear even when it is inappropriate to do so. Such as a funeral. Or the beach. He was never ROTC in high school, but tells everyone he was. He was denied entrance into the military, even though he tells everyone he was part of Desert Storm. He is an atrocious shot, but is a rabid carrier of the NRA virus, which he contracted through his imprisoned father. When he slams the ball to the asbestos tiled floor, he throws his entire body into it. Like a tribal dance move. Every slam earns a bespittled grunt.
The teenager strolls past them, nabs a box of strawberry pop-tarts from a shelf, and makes his way to the back of the store, beyond the sight of the two cashiers. Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer’ hits the intercom. The scenester starts to nod his head to the beat, still combing through the articles.
Super Ball speaks up. “Hey, Jaime, do you bet me that I can get this ball stuck in the ceiling?”
Jaime, the scenester, still staring at his magazine, “no, Brad, I will not bet you. The last time we did that you swallowed a golf tee for two bucks. I had to do overtime that week to cover your shift. Plus the two bucks.”
“But this one doesn’t make me do stupid things. I got it this time. I bet you.”
“No Brad. Besides, I’d have to go up there and get it out if you won.”
Brad stops to seethe, just slightly, while staring at Jaime. This is standard practice between them. They grew up blocks from each other, but never really knew each other until they both started working at Family Dollar two years ago. Jaime always speaks of leaving their town for L.A., Seattle, or New York. Brad usually speaks of fast food, marijuana, and getting laid.
“Hey Jaime, I bet you I’ll fuck that girl from the hair salon next door. She was watching me lock up my bike today. She’s pretty hot.”
Jaime, unamused, and refusing to peel his eyes from the pages of celebrity tales, answers back with an almost parental tone. “Sure Brad. That’s Jennifer you’re talking about. The coach’s daughter. She’s fifteen.”
“So. She has no man around, except her dad, and he’s old. I’ll ask her out. To the drive-in.”
“You have no car.”
“I’ll borrow Joey’s.”
Jaime finally looked up to meet Brad’s stare. This was an almost daily exercise between the two of them. Brad would say something obscene, litigious, or outright insane, just to get Jaime to engage in conversation. Eventually Jaime would break down, and indulge the exercise for an hour or so.
“Don’t you think Joey might want to use his own car this weekend?”
“Not if I ask him today. It’s only Tuesday. I’ll ask him now before he makes plans.”
Jaime puts down the magazine and leans back against the counter, with his arms folded.
“She’s fifteen Brad. Fiff-fucking-teen. And you plan to fuck her this weekend. Did you forget to take your meds?”
“Shut the fuck up about my meds. And you don’t know if she’s fifteen anyway. You don’t even know if that old man is a coach. They just said that when they moved here.”
“Oh, sure. Why would they lie about being a coach and a fifteen year old if that isn’t what they are? That would be a lame-ass lie, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t they choose ‘actress and retired firefighter’ or something more interesting?”
Brad, looking pensive, as if he were honestly processing what was just said. “Well, maybe they are here as protected witnesses for something mafia related.”
Jaime’s previous expression of wonderment melts into a mask of irritation. “He coached for my cousin’s football team. And she really is fifteen. She’s in my mom’s bible study class.”
They stared at one another for several seconds, Jaime nodding his head with a grin, and Brad shaking his down-tilted head with pursed lips. Finally, Brad relented.
“Yeah. That’s right. So just drop it and don’t be such a perv.”
The teenage boy opens up a cooler in the back and takes out two cans of Red Bull. He pounds one down, puts the second in his pocket, and drops the empty Pop-Tart box to the floor. Just before he pushes his way through the rear fire exit he mumbles, just audibly, “man, this has to be the worst town yet.”
The launching of the fire alarm causes Brad to lose concentration on his task. The Super Ball hits a disheveled floor tile and pops directly into Jaime’s chin, forcing him to fall backward over the counter in an effort to make a dodge. He sustained the hit anyhow, right to the pimpled chin. But as he toppled over, he managed to yell, "Fucking Brad and your fucking balls!"