I don’t find out Blake is 17 until I catch Antonio asking Blake how we’re gonna check into an authorized hotel if we’re all underage. This makes me frown a little bit. Blake is only two years older than me, him being senior status and I being freshman status. I find myself being absorbed in Blake’s laugh in retort to Antonio’s question.
“People in those positions pay no attention to detail. As long as I have my credit card and ID and I look like I’m over 18, then we’re alright.”
Antonio shrugs, resuming to look out the window. Blake then sighs, raising his voice in a goofy, saturated tone.
“Besides folks...we’re not checking in at a hotel anymore. Too expensive. We’ll find ourselves an inn.”
The car ride seems excruciatingly slow and silent as I’m sitting here feeling like an isolated outsider. My thoughts consume me whole and my chest feels hollow reminiscing about my family and abandoning Barbara in the woods. The feeling is continuous...the world I’m living in is continuous...
I don’t snap out of my thoughts until Antonio (whose sitting to my left in the backseat) softly grazes my bandaged arm. We lock eyes, and my words immediately catch in my throat.
“Stop thinking about it esé. It’s not gone do you any good at this point.”
Blake side glances us for a second before returning his attention back to the road. I crumble under Antonio’s stare and face the reality of his words.
“You’re right. It’s done now.”
The inn we’ve arrived to is tiny. It fits two queen-sized beds with just enough space to fit a nightstand and a lamp inbetween, with a bathroom door on the far side of the inn that’s adjacent to a long plasma screen with a perfectly placed remote and usual paper ads littering the TV stand. We all make ourselves as comfortable as possible. Blake rubs his hands together and stares at the ground, most likely collecting words for an announcement.
“Well, we’re here,” Valerie says, the bags under her eyes making her look a few years older. “what’s the plan now?”
“The plan is to eat and shower,” I interject, causing a light stir of laughter out of everyone.
“Ron’s right,” Antonio stands up, elongating his limbs. I see his light pink stretch marks grazing the soft skin of his belly when his shirt lifts up just the slightest. I veer my eyes away and focus on nothing in particular instead.
Blake’s stone expression doesn’t fade. His eyes are bland and void of detection. I watch him move across the room in frantic, puzzled strides. Antonio is about to say something until Blake whirls around and wears an unexpected smile on his face.
“Ya’ll can stay here and freshen up and I’ll run to the store for Ron’s charger and to pick up some food.”
On that note, he grabs his car keys and leaves. Antonio, Valerie and I all make eye contact and Valerie shrugs and stands to her feet as well.
“I hugged Barbara’s body in the woods before we fled, so I definitely have to freshen up.”
“Wait, we didn’t bring any clothes though,” Antonio thinks aloud.
“Fuck. You’re right.”
All we brought with us were our supply of weapons and the inventory of cash from the hideout house. Even though I’m in desperate need for a shower and some edible food as well, that’s surprisingly not the prioritized thing on my mind. In fact, I’m more or less thinking about what Blake is really gonna do once he gets in that car and drives away.
I hope you don’t go looking for more trouble.
Time blurs itself out. Temporarily, I am at peace. My breathing is stable, my head is clear, and my body is finally able to rest properly. In this dream I’m imagining, Barbara is still alive. There is no gang life and my parents openly accept Blake and I as more than friends and the whole gang can be one huge friendship group with parents who love us and take care of us. This dream almost jolts me awake with how fabricated it is, but it keeps me at bay because I enjoy this alternate reality. The reality that could’ve happened if only our lives played out a tad bit differently. If only...
The one part of my brain that’s slightly alert and awake feels that a lot of time has gone by since Antonio, Valerie, and I have fallen asleep. This starts to trigger me.
I jolt out of my sleep and cautiously rub my neck while taking in my surroundings. Valerie and Antonio are on the other queen-sized bed fast asleep with pillows as barriers between one another. Other than that, the inn looks the same. Our bags of weapons and cash has been pushed out of sight and the atmosphere of the place is hushed and still. I stare at the inn’s atrocious bed covers and allow my conscious to slip back into my body. Functionality hits me again and I stand to look out the window facing the front entrance. To my surprise, Blake’s car is out there, and he’s at the trunk pulling out plastic bags. My heartbeat quickens and without thinking, I unlock the door and allow myself to be seen, Blake smiling at my dismay rather than displaying concern.
“Good afternoon beautiful.”
He walks past me and abruptly kisses my temple. Chills shoot up my spine and I’m discombobulated as to what’s going on, what time it is, or what Blake bought at the store.
He comes back out after putting the first set of stuff away and grabs my waist, pushing me towards the trunk.
“You can help out a little Ron. I kind of went overboard anyway.”
“Did you go on a whole shopping spree?” I croak, voice aching from my deep slumber.
Blake cracks another amusing smile then shoves the second set of bags in my hands. I peer through the gaps while walking and catch sight of clothes, deodorant, and all kinds of bath soaps. My curiosity heightens. When I sit the bags down at the foot of the first bed where the other bags are, Antonio and Valerie wake up almost simultaneously and are puzzled as to what’s going on.
“Damn, who went shopping?” Antonio jokes, rubbing at his reddened eyes.
Blake walks in with the last three bags and then leaves to park the car in a more official spot. For the little amount of time that he’s gone, Antonio, Valerie, and I peek through the bags like nosy children and are shocked to find fast food and groceries and bath necessities like soap, towels, and clothes.
“Wow,” Valerie’s eyes enlarge. “he really went all out didn’t he?”
“Clothes!” Antonio shrieks, pulling out sweaters and sweatpants and a pair of jeans. It mind boggles me that Blake even has knowledge on our clothes sizes, which then makes me believe that maybe he just went by our body shape and made really good estimates. Either way, fresh clothes are appreciated, no matter where he got them from.
Blake comes back in and catches us peering through our stuff. He smiles and sits down himself, looking worn from lack of rest.
“You really thought about us man,” Antonio goes over to him to slap his back. Blake smiles but it’s a tired smile. We all notice how tired he is and everyone falls eerily silent.
We’re all hyperaware of how tired Blake is.
“Blake, I think you need to rest,” Valerie suggests, not breaking eye contact with him.
He smirks at us, demeanor too cool and too solid to show a flaw.
“Thanks for your concern but I can’t afford rest right now. This will be our last day of freedom until we make ourselves known to the Chicago Saints.”
We all nod in agreement. We stay comfortable for now, attack later. I’m slowly drawn to my gun that I stashed under the bed in the duffel bag of weapons. Catching everyone off guard, I unzip the bag and hold up my pistol, cocking it upwards for dramatic effect. Antonio itches closer to me as if nervous I’m gonna set it off in the room.
“Ron, what are you doing?”
“Well for starters, I have never had to fire a gun in my life. If we’re about to shed blood, I need to know how to shed.”
Blake’s eyes darken in a subtle way. Antonio and Valerie are taken aback by how serious I am. What do they expect a newbie to do; hope I have good aim and stability for when shit really goes down with our archenemies? I have without a doubt in my mind that Antonio and Valerie are already properly trained. They just need me on board with them.
“Our baby boy has grown up, hasn’t he?” Blake teases, which makes me smile in return.
I have grown up. I grew up overnight. Between abandoning my family (whose numbers I had to block so they could stop calling and texting me), losing a dear friend, and dragging myself into this wild and dangerous lifestyle, I had no choice but to grow a pair of balls. This is my destiny more or less. This is the path I chose for myself.
And this is the moment where I break into my new skin.