“How about these?” Dylan held out a plastic packet of multicolored water balloons.
Jaxon, his best friend since forever, took the pack from Dylan’s hand and held it up for inspection. “Perfect,” he declared. “Just the right size for a good soaking.”
The boys were gearing up for their last epic water balloon fight of the season. School had started for the year, but it was still hot enough in Texas for a full-scale battle—and Dylan and Jaxon were an unstoppable team. Their signature move was to ambush their friends from two sides at once—and they’d never lost. Not once.
Jaxon tossed the package back to Dylan, who caught it in midair.
Dylan grabbed four more water balloon packs from the rack and headed for the register.
“When are we doing this?” Dylan asked. “Tomorrow?”
“If you can handle it!” Jaxon punched him on the shoulder and Dylan winced.
“You’re going to regret that!” Dylan chased Jaxon to the front of the store, where the cashier eyed them sternly.
The boys slowed to a walk. Dylan cleared his throat and dumped a handful of change on the counter. Jaxon’s long brown hair flopped into his eyes as he looked down and turned his jeans pockets inside out to grab every last coin. Together they had just enough, even if Dylan was contributing more of his allowance than Jaxon was.
“I’ll take those.” Dylan grabbed the shopping bag from Jaxon as they walked out of the store. He hopped on his bike, ready to head for home. “I’ll text you later to make a plan of attack. I have some ideas for a new strategy.”
“Hey, Dyl, actually, I had an idea too.” Jaxon rubbed his chin thoughtfully, like he had thought of something brilliant. “What if we ditch the fight and do something else entirely?”
Dylan shot Jaxon a skeptical look, to be sure his friend wasn’t just messing with him. The showdown was tradition. Why wouldn’t Jaxon want to play—or win—anymore? “What are you talking about?” Dylan asked doubtfully.
“I’m just saying, maybe now that we’re in sixth grade, having a water balloon fight every weekend is for little kids.” Jaxon shrugged like it was no big deal.
Dylan couldn’t believe it—Jaxon was serious. “I mean . . . I guess, maybe?” Dylan tried not to sound disappointed. If Jaxon suddenly thought the whole thing was babyish, he didn’t want to admit that he was looking forward to it.
Since kindergarten, Dylan and Jaxon had always been like two sides of the same coin. They had played on the same soccer teams and gone to the same swimming classes. They had even looked alike until recently, when Dylan had his dark brown hair buzzed down to the usual crew cut to match his dad’s military cut, while Jaxon had let his hair grow out.
But Dylan had to admit that it wasn’t just their hair that had changed recently. Dylan had also noticed that at school, the other guys had started to treat Jaxon a little differently. It was like he and Jaxon and their friends had always been a pack—equals—but now Jaxon had moved to the front of it, and the guys would do anything he told them to. Dylan had started to feel less like Jaxon’s friend and more like his follower. It seemed to Dylan that Jaxon had noticed it too—and kind of liked it.
“Come on, Dyl—don’t you ever get . . . I don’t know . . . tired of doing the same stuff all the time?”
The question took Dylan by surprise. “Uh . . . no. I mean, sometimes?” He felt something squirm in his stomach—like somehow Jaxon was reading his mind. He did get tired of some stuff, but not the water balloon fights. “I just think we should do something really different this time,” Jaxon said. “We’re twelve. Maybe we should do something . . . I don’t know . . . cooler.”
Jaxon’s words stung, but Dylan did his best not to let it show. He couldn’t say Jaxon’s suggestion was coming out of nowhere. With his new status, Jaxon had been pushing boundaries lately, as Dylan’s mom would call it—asking Dylan to stay out late, skipping his homework, and thinking up elaborate pranks. Dylan liked having fun, and Jaxon always acted like whatever he had in mind was going to be the most fun thing ever. And if Dylan or one of the other guys hesitated, Jaxon was quick to tease them in front of everyone else.
So Dylan had been telling himself to just go along with whatever Jaxon suggested, even when he wasn’t so sure it was such a good idea. What’s the worst that can happen? he’d recently found himself wondering more often than he’d care to admit.
“Like what?” Dylan asked, trying to sound cool himself.
Jaxon shrugged and jumped onto his bike. “Let me think . . .” A strange look crossed his face that Dylan had never seen before. There was a glint in his eye and a smirk on his lips—and it made Dylan instantly uncomfortable.
“Um, why are you looking at me like that?” Dylan asked, not entirely sure he wanted to know the answer.
“You know that video I sent you? Of the guy with the hose?”
Dylan nodded, hoping Jaxon wouldn’t notice that he was just playing along. He didn’t remember that video because he hadn’t watched it—or most of the others Jaxon and their other friends had sent in the last few days. He’d meant to, and even held his finger above the play arrow a couple of times. But he just hadn’t done it. Lately, while Jaxon and their other friends were high-fiving and fist-bumping and hey-bro-ing about things Dylan usually cared about, he found himself tuning out. What so-and-so posted on Instagram. The latest Nintendo news. A viral YouTube video. Sometimes Dylan thought it just seemed . . . boring.
“Yeah, sure. That one was crazy,” Dylan said.
Jaxon broke out into a full grin. “So what if we copied that video, but instead of using a hose, we throw water balloons at the cars?”
This time, Dylan’s stomach did a full churning somersault. “You want to throw water balloons . . . at cars? Isn’t that . . . I mean, that’s not . . . Is that a good idea?”
Jaxon’s eyes bulged out of his head. “A good idea? It’s a great ide...