On the Fence

Page 8


He rolled his eyes like he wished Fate had taught me a lesson right then and he was frustrated it didn’t. Maybe he should open his eyes and see that Fate might’ve been trying to teach him a lesson.
Gage and Braden exchanged a look, and based on Gage’s sly smile, I knew they had secretly agreed on some form of punishment for my behavior.
“I’m up,” Gage said. He started to throw when Nathan stopped him.
“Your foot is over your marker.”
We all looked down at his foot, which was several inches past where his marker indicated it should be. “Nathan, don’t be anal,” Gage said.
“Fine, if you want to cheat, that’s on you.”
Gage growled and inched his foot back. He chucked his Frisbee. It careened into a bush off to the right. Nathan laughed.
“You got in my head, Nathan.”
“You let me in, sucker.”
Gage tromped off to find his Frisbee. When he came out of the bush, leaves all over his shirt, he held up his own tie-dyed Frisbee and an additional bright red one. “I found a lost soul.”
“The owner’s info should be on the back,” Jerom said.
Gage turned it over. “Lookie here. This Frisbee belongs to a Miss Lauren Fletcher.”
“A girl who plays disc golf?” Jerom said. “That’s hot.”
Gage curled his lip. “I don’t know. A girl who plays disc golf? She’s probably a dog. Some aggressive, burly thing.”
The guys laughed, not seeming to realize I was standing right there . . . playing disc golf. Maybe that’s how they saw me. Maybe that’s how most guys saw me.
Nathan grabbed the disc from Gage and shoved it in his equipment bag. “The least we can do is return her Frisbee.”
“Be my guest,” Gage said.
It wasn’t until close to the end of the course that I knew what Braden and Gage had secretly agreed to earlier. As we passed a muddy pond that tried to pretend it was a scenic lake, Braden grabbed me by my arms and Gage took hold of my feet. I kicked and struggled, but they held tight.
“You see, Jerom,” Braden said, “let me teach you the proper way to throw someone into a body of water.”
“I’ve always wondered if my technique was a little off,” he said, rubbing the patch of scruffy hair he had grown out on his chin. “Please share ways I can improve.”
“Well, first,” Gage piped up, and I managed to get a leg free and kick him in the chest. He gasped, but grabbed my leg again. “You swing them. Like so.” I moved from side to side in a big, arching swing.
“Okay, yes, I see.”
“We’re going to get kicked off the course if you throw her in,” Nathan said.
“Yes, listen to Nathan, please,” I begged. The cattails that filled the pond loomed in my peripheral vision on every downward swing.
Gage laughed. “Who’s going to kick us out? The park police?”
“Then,” Braden continued, “right when your subject reaches the height of the swing, you let go.” And they did just that. I landed with a smack in the shallow water, crushing cattails beneath me. A couple of ducks took flight and I let myself sink into the muddy water that the summer sun had turned into a warm swamp. It oozed between my fingers as I pushed myself off the bottom.
“You two are excellent teachers,” Jerom said. “Thank you for imparting your knowledge to me.”
I stood, large globs of mud splatting back to their home. “Who needs a spa treatment when I have disc golf mud therapy?” I ran a hand from my shoulder to my wrist, scraping off more mud, and then did the same on the other arm. When I exited I went straight for Gage, ready to give him a big hug. He knew that game and took off running. In my pursuit of Gage, I managed to catch Braden off guard by doubling back. I wrapped my arms around him from behind. “Whose car did we drive today?” I said, my cheek pressed against his back. “Oh, that’s right. I call shotgun.” I felt him groan.
“Your trunk is pretty big,” Nathan spoke up.
I gasped and let go of Braden. “Nathan!”
His cheeks colored. “I wasn’t serious.”
I smiled. As if he needed to clarify that. Gage came slinking back, keeping a good distance between us.
The players on the course behind us laughed as they took in the scene, then asked, “Uh, can we play through?”
“Yes,” I said, water still squishing between my toes as I walked. “Feel free. We’re leaving.”
“Leaving?” Braden said, faking incredulity. “But we only have two holes left. Come on, Charlie, we can’t stop now.”
I knew he was making fun of me and what I had done to Dave a few weeks ago in football, when he got the call about his grandma. The veiled rebuke stung. “Okay, let’s keep playing.”
“I was just kidding.” He put his arm around my shoulder.
I shrugged it off. “No, I want to play. You’re right, we’re almost done.”
“But you have mud dropping out of your shorts,” Braden said. “And the image isn’t a good one.”
“Shut up. Who’s up?” I asked as the players now ahead of us finished the hole. I picked up a Frisbee and marched to the throwing point.
At the car when we were finished, Braden opened the trunk.
“Don’t be a jerk,” I said. “I’m not getting in there.”
He shot me angry eyes and pulled out a blanket. “I was just getting something for you to sit on.” He handed me the blanket.
“Oh. Thanks.” I took it and wrapped it around my entire backside. “Sorry.” I shouldn’t have called him a jerk, even playfully. I knew that word bugged him.
The guys piled into the car, but Jerom stopped me, nodding his head toward where Braden sat in the driver’s seat. “How hard is it to let a guy feel useful every once in a while?”
“Would it have killed you to listen to his pointers back there?”
I looked at Braden, then back to Jerom. Why would Braden need to feel useful? Had something made him feel un-useful? Was something going on with him that he’d talked to Jerom, the “really good listener,” about? A surge of jealousy that Jerom might know something about Braden that I didn’t coursed through me. “Yes. It might’ve killed me.”
He rolled his eyes and headed for the passenger seat.
Chapter 12
When I got to work the next Tuesday, Linda’s face was beaming with a smile of giddy anticipation.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Go change and I’ll tell you when you get done.”
She probably thought it was weird that I brought my work clothes in my backpack and came in wearing my sloppy T-shirts. But I still cared more about what my brothers thought than what she did. And I didn’t live in my mind . . . or whatever she had said. I lived in a house full of guys who loved to make fun of me. I walked out after changing and looked at her expectantly.
“Okay, close your eyes,” she said.
Playing along, I closed my eyes.
“Ready? Open them.”
I did, and she held up a check for a hundred and fifteen dollars. It was made out to me. “What’s this?”
“Your cut of the makeup session we did the other day.”
I took the check and stared at the number. And here I thought I was going to tell Linda I didn’t want to do it anymore. But if I could make over a hundred bucks just sitting there, I could handle it. It meant I’d be able to pay off my dad quicker.
“We did so well, we’re going to hold at least two more classes and see how it goes.” She pulled a flyer out from under the cupboard and handed it to me. On the upper right-hand corner of the flyer was a picture of me in full makeup.
“Whoa. What’s that?”
“Your picture. I thought you were okay with it. It’s the one we took the other day.”
“I just thought you printed off a few for my . . . family . . .” I would not mention my mom again. It really was eating me up. “. . . to see.”
“Did she like them?”
“Yeah. They were great.” That wasn’t a lie, right?
“I apologize. I should’ve asked you. It just turned out so well, I offered it to Amber.”
I stared at the picture again. It was just a dumb flyer. Hopefully no one would recognize me. My friends and brothers weren’t exactly in the market for makeup.
That night I couldn’t sleep. My brain kept spinning. It was only midnight, earlier than my normal middle-of-the-night waking, so when I looked out the window and saw the light on in Braden’s room, I texted: Up?
Yeah, see you in one minute, he texted back almost immediately.
I heard his back door shut right after mine. We arrived at the fence together. He leaned his shoulder against the board and I could smell his deodorant. It was a sharp, clean scent.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Feeling restless.” I sat down, back to the fence, and listened as he did the same.
“No run again today?”
“Are you out here every night you don’t run?”
“No. Aside from the two nights with you, I’ve only been out here one other time.”
“You should’ve texted me.”
“It was two in the morning.”
“I may be selfish, but even I felt bad about that.”
He laughed.
I didn’t know why I texted him to come out here. It wasn’t like I had anything important to discuss. In a way it was nice to know I wasn’t alone in my middle-of-the-night world. My brothers slept like the dead. How was it that my brain wouldn’t shut off? I felt guilty asking my brothers about my mom. I didn’t want to be the one to make everyone else miserable when they had moved on. Maybe they’d moved on because they had real memories to hang on to while my brain had to make up its own. Why did my brain have to be so morbid about it?
“Why do you run so much, anyway?”
“I need to stay in shape for basketball or I’m in pain those first several weeks of practice.”
“So you run, what, six . . . seven miles a day to save yourself from two weeks of pain? It seems like you’re training for a marathon, not a basketball game.”
“Well, it helps me sleep, too.”
“Most people don’t need to exhaust themselves in order to sleep.”
“True. A lot of people just take sleeping pills.”
He let out a single laugh, the way he always did when something someone said surprised him. “Yes. I guess your way is more natural.” There was a long pause. “You’re good at avoiding questions, but what I’m asking is why you can’t sleep.”
He was just a disembodied voice, I told myself. I could talk to a disembodied voice. Or the moon. I could always talk to the moon. I found it in the sky, minding its own business, only half lit.
Finally, I said, “I have nightmares.” He must’ve sensed it was better to talk as little as possible, because he just waited. “About my mom and the night she died. My brain seems to think it’s fun to give me every scenario, even impossible ones. It’s pretty much the only memory I have from when I was little . . . that night. I don’t even know if any of it is real or if my mind has made all of it up.” I had never told anyone about my nightmares, not even Gage, who knew more than most about the inner workings of my brain. It felt strangely freeing, like I was putting it out there for the moon to deal with.
“What happens in them?”
“Different things—rain and breaking windows and cars. And my mom, of course.”
“I’m sorry.”
“I hate it. Running equals dreamless nights.”
“Well, that makes a lot more sense than the basketball excuse.”
“It helps for basketball too.”
“I’m sure.” After several minutes he said, “You learned how to ride your bike when you were four. I was so jealous because I still had training wheels.”
I was relieved he had switched to our useless-facts game and said, “I remember your training wheels.”
“You do? Because right after you learned how to ride your bike, I spent that entire Saturday learning how to ride without them. You shamed me into it.”
I smiled and tried to think of something I remembered about him as a child, to match his fact. “How about in the first grade when you told your teacher that my dad was really your dad and you yelled ‘This man is trying to kidnap me’ when your father tried to take you home? Your dad was so embarrassed.”
“Yes, that was back in the days when I was jealous you all had each other and I didn’t have any siblings.”
“Now you’re trapped in the craziness. You’re one of us, baby, whether you want to be or . . .” I trailed off as his real intention of bringing up my bike-riding hit me. He wasn’t jumping back into the game. “Wait. I was four?”
“So my mom was alive when I learned how to ride my bike.” I searched my memory, trying hard to picture her there, out in front of the house, watching me learn. I could clearly picture my dad holding on to the back of my bike, running along beside me. I kept telling him to let go. He wouldn’t. Was my mom watching us?
I squeezed my eyes shut. “Just let me ride around the block,” I had said. “I’ll go with her,” Jerom offered. He had been riding circles around me. He must’ve been almost nine at the time. We went around the block, and it wasn’t until the first corner that I realized I hadn’t practiced turning without training wheels yet. Fear stopped me from trying and I ran straight into the street sign. Jerom picked me up, put me back on the bike, and pointed me in the right direction. I crashed on every single corner, but made it home with only one scraped knee.