Homecoming & Other Mistakes: Chapter 20

We had two hits of Ecstasy in a plastic baggie. It was a sandwich bag and it dwarfed the drugs: two round pills that looked a little like Rolaids or Altoids or Sweet Tarts. Yet deviously different from all of those. Each pill sported an embossed happy face. Stacey said you could get them with all kinds of designs, but these were his favorite.

Adam was in a really good mood. He’d borrowed a CD from Stacey, The Kills, and he turned it up so that it was streaming out the open windows, the bass reverberating through the cab. I liked it. I thought I should maybe ask him to make me a copy as I drummed my fingers on the shuddering dashboard. I was surprised to realize I was in a good mood too. All the crap that happened at school today seemed really far away.

“We have Ecstasy!” I yelled to Adam, over the music and the rumble of his car. It was the kind of stupid thing I thought he might appreciate. And it was amazing to me. Three weeks ago I would have had no idea how to get Ecstasy. No idea that I even wanted it!

“So tomorrow night?” he yelled back; the music was that loud. He reached over to crank it down a bit. “We’re on?”

“We’re on!”

I turned my face to the open window, the wind whipping past my ears. The street lights were on; the sunset was shifting towards green and blue. The homecoming game could be starting now, I realized. I looked at Adam’s dash clock.

“Hey,” I said. “We can still make it to the game. Show some support for our team.”

Adam knew I wasn’t serious. “Fuck those guys,” he said. “I know they’ve been giving you hell.”

I was a little surprised. I hadn’t say anything about it beyond “Today sucked,” and Adam was no mind-reader.

“How — “

Adam cut me off. “People talk. Don’t worry about it.”

People were always telling me not to worry about it. I let my hands slide off the dash. “No, tell me. What did they say?”

“Nothing!” Adam said. “I said, forget it.”

I stared at Adam’s profile for a while, as if I could will an explanation from him with the only the force of my frown. When that didn’t work, I folded my arms and settled back into the seat. “Are you going to take me home then?” I asked finally. “Since we’re not going to game?”

“Do you want to go home?”

I didn’t really.

“No, dude,” said Adam, “The night is young. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“What do you usually do?”

“Nothing. I don’t do anything. I just sit around. Where are we going right now?”

“I don’t know,” Adam admitted. “I was just driving in circles. I guess we could go get some food.”

“I don’t have any money,” I reminded him.

“I still have twenty bucks left.”

“Homecoming tickets were that expensive?”

“Yeah, you’ve never gone?” Adam looked over his shoulder and turned on his blinker. I don’t think he expected me to answer. “Just a second, I’m gonna stop here.”

He pulled into the parking lot of a 7–11. He’d decided he wanted to get a drink. “You coming?” he asked me, kicking the door open.

“Yeah, I’ll come.” I reached into one of the pockets of my book bag to see if that dollar I remembered was actually in there. I found a couple of quarters instead. I was so broke, all the time.

We rolled up the windows, locked the doors and went inside. The salty-stale smell of hot dogs on the warmer hit me just as the fluorescent lights flooded my eyes. I was glad I wasn’t hungry. I looked up to see us coming in on the black-and-white monitor mounted on the ceiling.

We wound around the line at the register and walked back to the coolers and Adam spent a long time picking out an energy drink. He turned each can around in his hand while I stood there and watched our reflections in the glass. Finally, he made a decision.

“You want anything?” he asked, “I’ll spot you.”

“No thanks,” I said. The only thing I would have wanted was water, and I didn’t like the idea of making Adam pay for that. He’d already bought me E tonight.

We stepped into the long line that stretched back through the candy aisle, back to the magazine racks. The Friday Night Rush. Almost everyone was buying beer, and the line crawled as the bored-looking employee scrutinized IDs.

“Come on,” Adam moaned. Adam was fidgety. He picked up a magazine from the rack and started flipping through the pages; it was a car magazine, but the kind with a lot of women in string bikinis. He was angling the pages towards me. I couldn’t help thinking this was for my benefit.

“Check it out,” Adam said, pointing to a spread with some sports car and a woman in a checkered bikini posing on the hood.

“I’m not really into cars,” I said. Haha, I was so clever.

For some reason, Adam took me at my word. “You don’t like cars?”

“Um, not really. I mean, I don’t drive, remember?”

“Right, you don’t have your license.”

“I have driven before. I have my permit. I just don’t like it.”

Adam looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “You don’t like it? Driving is great!”

“I don’t think it’s great,” I said.

Adam looked around, looked at the line. It wasn’t moving anymore. I had no idea what the hold-up was, but when I peered over the heads of the other customers, I couldn’t see the cashier. “Okay, come on,” Adam said suddenly. He stuffed the magazine back into the rack and stepped out of line. “I have an idea.”

I thought he was shop-lifting the soda. “You’re not going to pay for that?”

Adam looked at me and then at the drink in his hand. “I decided I don’t really want it,” he said finally.

He left the can sitting by the magazines and we left the store.

We got back in the truck and Adam took me to an abandoned parking lot. He wouldn’t tell me what his great idea was until we got there; it was this big surprise. We drove a couple of miles on the freeway — the pick-up rattling along in the slow lane — then pulled off onto a frontage road. It was a part of town I’d never seen before. Adam slowed down when we reached this empty parking lot. We bumped up over the curb and stopped on the blacktop, Adam’s truck stretched the wrong way across the barely-there parking lot lines.

I didn’t even know we had places like this in our city; decaying diner-buildings that just sat in these large, empty lots, dimly lit by overhead, city-powered lights. He reached over to kill the music.

“This is your idea?” I asked. I didn’t know what “this” was and felt suddenly very nervous. There weren’t any other cars around. The occasional set of headlights would blow past on the frontage road, but that was it.

“Let’s switch places,” Adam said. Adam, with his provisional license, who I wasn’t even supposed to be riding with. “You get in the driver’s seat.”

“No, that’s okay,” I said.

“Hey, I brought you all the way out here.” He wasn’t buying my protest. He glanced over his shoulder, put the truck in reverse then rolled it back to the edge of the lot. He had his hand on the door handle.

“No, really,” I said. “Let’s do something else.”

But Adam wasn’t looking at me; he held his hands out in front of his face, thumbs and forefingers at right angles, like he was framing a shot for a movie. “You ever done donuts before?”

“Donuts?” I almost laughed. “I don’t drive.”

Adam was still unconvinced. “My sister taught me how. I was going to show you.”

“Let’s do something else,” I repeated. “We could go back to my place.”

“Come on, Dillon. It’s easy.”

I shook my head. “I can’t even drive stick, remember?”

Adam pushed his door open. I felt a breeze blow through my hair, cooling the sweat on my forehead. The whoosh of freeway traffic was suddenly louder. “I’ll tell you what you have to do. Just slide over.”

I realized I had wrapped my hands around my seat belt, a clammy death-grip. I shook my head again. “I don’t think so. Let’s just go.”

“Come on, just try it.” He almost sounded angry. “We’re already all the way out here. Don’t be a wuss.”

Oh, but I am a wuss, I considered saying, Sorry if I misled you. But I had hesitated too long. Even in the poor light, I could see the annoyance on Adam’s face.

“If you really don’t want to, why didn’t you say something sooner?” he demanded. “Instead of just letting me bring you here?”

“I didn’t know what was going on,” I said.

“Well, what did you think we were doing out here?”

I swallowed, trying to uncoil the tightness in my chest. Adam’s lip curled, a sudden upgrade from annoyance to disgust. We were treading on something weird now, something I didn’t want to think about. “I’d never been out here,” I said. “I thought we were going to IHOP or something.”

Adam stared at me for a few seconds, his mouth a tight, unwavering line. Then he started to laugh. “You look fucking terrified!”

I took his cue and laughed too, though it was more from relief. “I don’t want to do any donuts!”

Still grinning, Adam shook his head. “You really don’t like driving.”

“I told you!”

Adam pulled his door closed, then rested his hands on the steering wheel once again. “I thought it would be fun,” he said.

I released the seatbelt from my sweaty grip. “Have you ever spun out? Cause that’s not all that fun.”

“You’ve spun out? Like in the middle of the street?” Adam’s grin returned when I nodded. “That’s pretty awesome, actually.”

“It wasn’t on purpose! It was scary as fuck.”

Adam snickered. “Did you piss yourself?”

“No,” I said, surprising myself by laughing too. “Almost.”

“Well, this wouldn’t be like that,” Adam said. “You’d be expecting it. It’s not that scary, I swear.”

I bit my lip. I didn’t want to argue with Adam again. “You do it then,” I said. “Show me.”

He considered this for a long second before nodding. “Okay.”

“Great,” I said, reaching for the panic bar. The parking lot had started to look a lot smaller to me as my stomach clenched down on the memory of how it felt when Lionel made me spin the Mazda, that awful reeling that ripped through my body. I was never a fan of thrill rides, and it was infinitely worse when you’re staring down the barrel of a car crash. Even now, I had a sudden vision of Adam’s truck smashing through the cloudy glass of that abandoned diner’s front window. Smashing through the weathered siding, turning it to splinters.

“You look like you’re steeling yourself for execution,” Adam said.

“Stop stalling,” I heard myself say.

Adam laughed. He shifted out of park and the truck started to roll forward. Then he stopped again. “Hold on.”

When I glanced over, he was frowning down at the steering wheel, like he was trying to remember what to do. I almost chickened out and stopped him, but then he started to rev the engine and I swallowed my words. Maybe this was something I needed to do.

The truck took off with a lurch and Adam yanked the wheel one way and then the other, almost tossing me against the window. My stomach lurched as the tires lost their grip on the pavement and then we were spinning, whipping around in one dizzying circle and then another. If I squeezed the panic bar any tighter, my hand was going to fall off. I held my breath, Adam let out a whoop and then it was over. We came to a slow easy stop, a comfortable distance from the broken-down building.

“See?” Adam said, half-grinning. “Now how is that not fun?

I let out my breath in a whoosh.

“You sure you don’t want to try it?” Adam asked.

“I’m sure.” I was still trying to find my stomach — maybe it had crawled up in my ribcage in an attempt hide — but my whole body was tingling with something positive, something exciting. I looked back at Adam. “But can you do it again?”

Up next week, Chapter 21: The Letter

Homecoming and Other Mistakes is free to read here and at AndOtherMistakes.com. Story and illustrations © AR Cribbins 2017.