I am hot! Nothing but net from everywhere. Okay, it's my driveway and nobody's got his hand in my face, but this is amazing. Fifteen in a row, the last one from the middle of the street. I wish that jerk who wrote Slow release, slow feet on a scouting report could see me now.
When I was little, I slept with my basketball. Mom's got a picture of me in my Spidey pajamas, both arms around my first Rawlings. Maybe I'm not the fastest guy in the world, but nobody takes the ball away from me.
I wish I didn't have to meet Mary Ann. Or maybe I just wish I didn't have to meet her in the pasture. I for sure can't go until I miss. No way am I stopping when I'm on a run like this.
Nobody could have made that last one. Now I can trudge down there. Up Huron Street, cut past Mr. Denby's house; go by the falling-down-on-itself shed where Mr. Tieman kept plow horses about a thousand years ago, cross the barbed wire fence, then pick up the path that zigzags down toward the little stream Teresa used to pretend was the Nile.
Oh, man. The view from here used to be so cool: up to my ankles in fescue, big stand of maple trees, and a few cows with those black-and-white sides like seat covers.
And now? More little stakes with more orange ribbons. I come down here at night, pull them up, and throw them away. Next morning they're back. What do they do-multiply in the dark? Now they're almost to the Volvo. Our Volvo.
I dial Larry on my new cell. I point like he was right beside me. "Can you believe this?"
"It's not even ten a.m., Elliot. I'm vulnerable. I can believe anything."
"I'm down in the pasture. Waiting for Mary Ann. What do you think would happen if I laid down in front of the bulldozers?"
"That's lay down, Elliot, and anyway they'd run over you. Did you finish your Gatsby essay?"
"Teresa's proofing it. Listen, Mary Ann's on her way, but where are you going to be in twenty minutes?"
"Twenty minutes? The girls on The View are right: Romance is dead."
"She said she just wants to talk."
"I'll be here for a little while. I'm watching this movie on HBO."
"I'm gonna call Teresa. I'll tell her to meet me at your house, okay? We'll do something."
"Don't we always?"
I hit the little End button to finish the call. Larry's always watching a movie. Or part of one, anyway. He's funny that way. We've been friends forever, though. Me, him, and Teresa. They're the only ones I've got in my phone book.
I punch #2 and don't even give her a chance to say anything. "Hey, have you seen the pasture?"
"Hello to you, too."
"Well, have you seen it?"
"Sure, Larry and I tried to figure out how big the lots are. There's either going to be sixteen castles with room for a few serfs or two hundred and thirty huts with a hog wallow."
"This has been our place since we were kids."
"Honey, if it's your childhood you're worried about, I've got about a thousand pictures of you in war paint, brandishing a bow and arrow. And another fifty of Larry squatting by a fire, stirring imaginary maize in an imaginary pot."
"You know, we should do something. What if we burned the Volvo? What if we burned all our stuff?"
"Arson's always fun."
"Hey, you want to hang out at Larry's in a little bit? Maybe twenty minutes? I gotta meet Mary Ann, but-"
"You're not inviting her to your birthday party, are you?"
My dad's a butcher, and I am, too, kind of. I know knives. And that question of Teresa's has got an edge on it.
"I mean, do that," she says, "and your mom'd start speaking in tongues."
"I'm just gonna talk to her, then hook up with you guys."
"I'd watch your step with Mary Ann if I were you. I was surfing the Net the other night, and I'm pretty sure I saw her on that Naked Nurses Who Kill for Kicks site. She was the one with the deadly bedpan."
"Very funny. See you in a little bit."
I'm not like Larry and Teresa. I have to do stuff. I can't just sit like that naked guy with his chin on his fist and think. So I go look in the Volvo (okay, it's just barely a Volvo now, but it used to be), and there's Larry's Oreos and Teresa's dictionary and my portable radio so I can get the games from U of I.
I grab some kindling and logs out from under the tarp and build a fire right where we always do. It starts slow and smoky at the bottom, then speeds up. I'd like to build fires for a living.
I take off my down vest, roll up my sleeves, and start chopping wood. I'm good at that, too. I've got a sharp ax and a wedge. I'm strong for a point guard. Lean and mean. I show that old log no mercy.
I'm panting and sweaty. My heart is going boom- da-boom. My lungs feel big and clean. I don't want to stop, so I don't for a minute. Then I say it: "Hi, Mary Ann."
I lay the ax on my vest because I don't want to forget it when I leave. "Do you believe what they're doing to this place?" I point. "That old Volvo used to be a stagecoach and a spaceship-"
"It's a wreck now."
Mary Ann took that stud out of her tongue for Christmas, but she's still a little punked out in her tiny skirt, Doc Martens, ripped stockings (not the smooth dressed-up-for-church kind but the rough stripper kind), and, naturally, purple-and-green hair.
She asks, "Want to smoke?"
I tell her, "Maybe one little hit wouldn't hurt."
She carries joints in a flat tin box with a jaguar on the top. I watch her choose one, going kind of eenie-meenie-minie-moe. She lights up, takes a huge lungful, settles down in one of the broken-down chairs, passes me the spliff.
The dope really helps. Inside of thirty seconds, those piercings in her eyebrows kind of shimmer and her long earrings look like tinsel.
I tell her, "I was shooting hoops about half an hour ago, and I swear to god I could not miss. I've been in the zone before but not like that. Have you ever felt like you could do no wrong?"
Her knees are kind of chapped from the cold weather, and there's a scab on the left one, like when we were seven, everybody got skates for Christmas, and she kept falling down.
She doesn't look at me when she says, "I just got another D in pharmacology. I could flunk out of community college. How pathetic is that?"
"How many exams are there?"
"All semester? Like, five, probably."
"Did you study or was it just really hard?"
Mary Ann can be pretty, but she's not now. "What do you know about trying hard?"
"Hey, I try."
She shakes her head. "Bullshit. Teresa and Larry help you with everything."
"We study together is all. Why don't you do that?"
She exhales my way. "I don't get along with my classmates, okay? They're, like, intense. They never want to party or do anything except look through a microscope. And they dress weird."
I can't help it. I start to laugh. She's mad for about four seconds, then she does, too. Partly it's the weed, partly it's just funny.
"Sorry," she says finally, "about what I said. I know you study. I'm just jealous or something." She flounces her little skirt. "I need a new look. I need a new life. Everybody loves my mom at the hospital, okay? She is, like, you know, Super Nurse. So of course I'm supposed to ace everything, get my cap, and go to work right beside her." She doesn't want to exhale, so her voice is kind of squeaky. "That's a lot of pressure."
I nod. "Yeah, my mom, too. High standards and all that."
"No kidding. And then there's, you know, these guys I run with, and all they talk about is how empty materialism is, but one of them's got a two-hundred-dollar Marilyn Manson wristwatch. Is that some kind of irony I don't get, or is it just stupid?"