A full day of running had taken a toll on Frankie's body. He may have been on the football, wrestling and golf teams, as well as having played numerous other sports in the past, but Frankie was worn out. Note to self, Frankie thought, less cleaning, more exercise. The pain in his legs irritated him. How out of shape had he become since the end of the school year?
The other hindrance that plagued Frankie at this moment was the immense crowd on the sidewalk. People were staying out late since it was the Fourth of July. They were getting in his way, but while he was annoyed by their presence, those uninvolved were probably just as annoyed by his. Frankie was ducking and dodging through the crowd, moving down the sidewalk as quickly as he could. If he could make it to the west side of the park, he'd be safe.
Fortunately, though out of breath, Frankie made it. He ran across the green grass, avoiding his opponents until he had safely crossed the concrete path. Several people pursued him for quite a distance, going right up to the line before finally stopping. It was a proud feat, but Frankie wasn't happy. He had been right. Half an hour ago, he had voiced his speculation, which was as much a bad omen as it was an educated guess.
"What am I even doing here?" Carrie had said. The glasses-wearing girl sat with her elbows on her knees on the steps of the post office that stood on the west side of town. It was several minutes before nine o'clock. The sky was dark, and the post office had long been closed, but the city was still wide awake.
"We're having a strategy meeting," Rosaline answered from the top of the stairs. "First thing's first. From now on, you'll call me General Rosaline." She stood with her hands on her hips as the breeze tossed her blue hair.
"Carrie, you'll be Corporal Connors. You're Major Al, and you'll be Colonel Urban. Got it?" Rosaline declared this and denied any questions.
"We're doomed," Frankie muttered.
"If you've got something to say, speak up, Colonel," Rosaline lectured.
"I said we don't have a chance of winning," Frankie said, looking up at their leader.
"Keep those kinds of comments to yourself, Colonel. Our troops need impeccable spirit and high morale. I will not have any negative-nellies under my command!" She was getting into the habit of yelling everything.
"General!" Al energetically raised his hand.
"Yes, Major Al," Rosaline dramatically pointed at him.
"May we listen to the colonel's concerns so that we may be able to reassure him of our success?" Al spoke quickly and loudly. Rosaline gave her approval. Frankie gave Al an annoyed look.
"I'm just saying that we should take into account who it is we're competing against here," Frankie said calmly.
"It's just Pervy, what's-her-futs and R-Kelley."
On the opposite side of town, Michy stood with her arms folded across her chest. Unlike her blue-haired opponent, who was just pretending, Michy was at this moment the commander of a small army. With R-Kelley at her side with his usual laidback smile and David handing out red sweatbands, Michy couldn't help but smile defiantly. At the request of their leader, over thirty men and women assembled in a business plaza to obey the orders of their instructors as Michy and R-Kelley stood above them on the edge of a fountain at the center of the courtyard. R-Kelley promised them that this would be an enriching experience.
After all, Michy thought, it isn't about numbers, just the divine hands of the universe. She felt her adrenaline building.
"You don't think they're really going to use R-Kelley's followers, do you?" Al face-palmed. "That puts us at a major disadvantage. What, aren't there like fifty of them?"
"Do the words 'the number of players doesn't matter' ring a bell?" Frankie said as he turned towards Rosaline.
At the top of the stairs, Rosaline sat with her feet pressed together. "Well I only said that to satisfy my selfish desires. I can be obnoxious; she shouldn't take it so seriously," Rosaline said highhandedly.
"It's kind of scary how self-aware you can be sometimes." Frankie walked up the steps. "Regardless, we need to play carefully. We're not going to win through sheer force alone." Frankie turned his teammates' attention towards a bronze engraving on the wall of the post office. It outlined and labeled the main streets of the city.
"The playing field is as thus: we are bound in by West and East Avenues as well as E Street to the south and the park to the north." Frankie ran his finger over the perimeter of the playable space. It was a large rectangle with an additional smaller rectangle on top. "Remember, sidewalks are okay, but once you set foot on any of the boarder roads you are automatically out of the game."
"What kind of rule is that?" Al asked.
"Michy came up with it to ensure no one attempts to cheat by leaving the allotted area," Frankie explained.
"Who?" Rosaline asked, now with her ankle behind her neck.
"The two sides are divided by Gerald Street, more specifically the yellow line that runs down Gerald Street." Frankie drew his finger down the road on the map that ran parallel to both East Avenue and West Avenue. "Since Gerald Street is a busy road, the only way to cross it would be through the crosswalks, but as it is that might not be a feasible option."
"Why is that?" Carrie asked meekly.
"Because R-Kelley's followers can guard every crosswalk; we wouldn't be able to make it across without getting tagged." Al was catching Frankie's drift.
"Right, so the best chance we have without going through traffic would be to find a way through the park. The concrete path that runs all the way through is the dividing line. You can cross it anywhere, but that only means that the park will be heavily guarded. In other words, it is almost impossible for us to penetrate their defenses."
"Um," Carrie raised a shaky hand, "I'm confused. What exactly are we playing?"
"Capture-the-flag," Frankie and Al said simultaneously.
"All this for capture-the-flag? Shouldn't we be playing in an open field or something?" Carrie asked, unsure.
"Well, the General thought it would be more fun to have buildings to run in and out of," Al answered, throwing a thumb at Rosaline, who was tying a blue, two inch wide ribbon around her head.
"That's right," Rosaline said proudly. She threw a bunch of blue ribbons at her teammates. Her ribbon was hardly distinguishable against her dyed hair. "Put these on. It will be us, the blue team, versus the blonde team."
"Actually, they're the red team. They'll be wearing red sweatbands." Frankie added.
"Right! Now let's get going team!" Rosaline excitedly yelled.
"Actually," Frankie stopped her again, "one more thing; well, two more things. Our flag is positioned so that it is visible from the outside of the five story hotel on G Street, but you have to go into the hotel in order to get the flag, since it's tied to a flagpole. Because of that, I think we should position Carrie in the lobby of the hotel incase someone goes for the flag."
"Agreed," Carrie said.
"Aw, come on Carrie. That's no fun." Rosaline whined.
"It's fine; someone has to do it," Carrie countered. The shy girl was happy for the easy job and thanked Frankie in her mind.
"Okay, now we also need a jail. When you tag someone, you have to escort them to jail. Once they're there, you can leave, but they have to be in jail for ten minutes. Then they get a free walk back to their side."
"Then our jail should be right here," Al said, pointing to a street corner on the map.
"What building is that?" Carrie asked.
"It's just a small shop." Al explained.
"On the corner of West Avenue and A Street; got it?" Frankie confirmed.
"Now move out troops," Rosaline commanded.
"But we still don't have a strategy," Al said.
"Who cares? We can totally wing this! Am I right?" Rosaline laughed confidently.
That was half an hour ago. Rosaline had been tagged and sent to jail twice. Al had tried crossing the park once, but didn't get very far. Frankie made three attempts at breaking through the defenses, his last one being the most successful, but he was never capable of passing A Street, which lined the south end of the park.
"Hey Buddy Boy, how's it hanging?" Al asked, growing tired of their failures.
Frankie straightened up and took a deep breath. He didn't answer Al's question, but he put his hand to his chin and gazed at the people wearing red sweatbands around their heads at the other end of the park. Each one watched him for any movement. Frankie realized his team couldn't win this way.
Frankie put his arm around Al's shoulder and led him to the north corner of A Street. He gazed at the city map on the side of the bus stop. Frankie grinned cleverly when he found what he wanted, a direct route to the enemy's side without exiting the boundaries of the game. With Al at his side Frankie took off to the bus stop on D Street. The two boys boarded the bus and traveled up Gerald Street without getting spotted.
"Oh, I'm so hungry," Al whined.
"Don't worry; we'll eat after this is over. Keep your head down." Frankie and Al sat low in their seats as they past their opponents guarding the crosswalks. "Where do you think the flag is?"
"Some place they know really well? Wait I got it; they probably hid it in a restaurant that David and I went to yesterday," Al said. "You know, I haven't seen David since the game began; or R-Kelley or Michy."
"They're probably leading from a distance, giving orders from a comfortable location far away from the battle field." Frankie mused darkly.
Michy, R-Kelley and David shared a booth near the entrance of the Fruity Beanie Hut. R-Kelley happily sucked up the chocolate milkshake from the glass in front of him. Michy sat opposite to him with her cell phone at her ear, and David sat next to her, eagerly listening to the latest news.
"Okay, Rosaline's jail time has just ended. Keep an eye on her as she walks back to her side. Call me if she comes across the flag," Michy ordered. She hung up and dialed another number. "Hey, have guys seen Frankie or Al recently? They haven't tried crossing through the park in the last fifteen minutes. Stay on guard." She hung up.
"Do you think Frankie has decided on a defensive strategy?" David asked.
"That might be a good plan for them. Going on the offensive against us would prove difficult, but no one's going to win unless we take action." She turned toward R-Kelley. "Do you want to lead our expeditionary force?"
"Oh," R-Kelley pulled the straw out of his mouth and began rubbing his thighs with a pained expression. "My legs are so sore."
"David," Michy sighed, "Can you do it?" David gave her an affirmative answer, and she called some of their men from the park to assist him. Pulling up a map of the city on her phone, Michy instructed David to lead his squad across the most southern crosswalk and do a thorough search of the department store where he worked, and to call back once the mission was accomplished.
"Roger," David acknowledged before exiting the frilly café.
"Well you two are really getting into this," R-Kelley mused once he was alone with Michy.
"I guess it is kind of fun," Michy granted.
"David says he and Al came here yesterday."
"Well," Michy looked at the candle on the table, the couple sharing ice cream from a single dish, and Mr. Fruity Beanie playing his violin in the far corner of the restaurant, "that's pretty gay."
"This is a great place to bring a date, don't you think?" R-Kelley's smile was innocent without any mal intent.
"I suppose so…if you're into that sort of thing," Michy said passively.
"Not that I would know," R-Kelley placed his glass down on the table in front of him. "I've never been on a date before. Is it fun?"
"This isn't a date, R-Kelley," Michy said suddenly.
"I know," R-Kelley quickly responded. "Did you think I was getting romantic?"
Michy's face grew hot, embarrassed and unsure of how to respond. She defiantly said "Whatever," picked up her milkshake and began drinking it. It wasn't her milkshake, and once she realized it, Michy was too embarrassed to admit her mistake. So she kept drinking as her face became pinker. R-Kelley smiled as he watched.
Michy suddenly pulled the straw from her mouth and ducked down under the table. She quickly motioned for R-Kelley to do the same. He moved to her side and the two peeped over the top of the table. What they saw were Al and Frankie entering the café.
They didn't seem to know their opponents were there, and looked around the place as they made their way to the middle of the building. Al even gave Mr. Fruity Beanie an awkward wave. The large man returned it with a hand motion that said "I'm keeping an eye on you."
R-Kelley held a finger to his lips, telling Michy to keep silent. The svelte boy, with quickness that seemed to defy his "sore legs," slipped out from under the table and positioned himself right next to the door. When Frankie finally saw this, it was too late. Their only exit was cut off.
"I see," Frankie gave a rueful grin, "you wouldn't want to cause a scene at this nice location. It's much easier to keep us trapped, right?"
R-Kelley grinned in response. He picked up a newspaper off of the rack by the door and began reading it.
"What now, Frankie?" Al asked.
"Well, you said you were hungry, right?"
The two members of the blue team took seats at the counter with their backs to Michy and R-Kelley. Frankie ordered a milkshake and Al ordered a bowl of ice cream. Frankie realized that this was an extremely risky position, and he intended to keep his eye on the opponents, but he figured they wouldn't make any big moves. If tagged, they would only be in jail for ten minutes, but who knows how long they could be trapped in the café?
Michy's cell phone rang.
"Okay, Rosaline is back on her side. Resume guard at the park. We're spread a little thin over there." As she spoke, Michy went back and forth between giving orders to the person on the phone and relaying new information to R-Kelley, who remained by the door.
Frankie carefully watched R-Kelley's reflection in the metal cup that held the remainder of his milkshake that wouldn't fit in the glass. When he was sure R-Kelley wasn't looking, Frankie quickly went for his cell phone in his pocket. As inconspicuously as he could, Frankie tried texting the new information Michy was unwilling giving him. This could be the advantage his team needed to win.
But still, Frankie was really impressed. Not only was the red team well manned, it was also very well coordinated. Michy, especially when teamed with R-Kelley, was a force to be reckoned with.
"I need you and number 15 to move to the park. Yes, I know that means G Street will be unguarded, but I feel that Rosaline is more likely to cross at the park. We've got Frankie and Al cornered here. We just need to worry about her."
When it came to the blue team, they had a general who knew nothing of planning, organization or strategy. Rosaline was more likely to just keep charging across the line without any ideas rather than taking time to devise a winning tactic.
"In about ten minutes, come and take over the guarding of the G Street crosswalk." Michy hung up her phone and stood. "R-Kelley, I'm going to check on the flag. Could you please pay my bill; I'm a little short on cash."
"Sure, good luck." R-Kelley happily bade her farewell as Michy left the café.
With a sense of satisfaction, Frankie clapped his cell phone closed and lifted himself off the barstool. He paid their bill and turned to face R-Kelley.
"Come on, Al. Let's not waste anymore time here. R-Kelley, do you mind?" Frankie said as he held out his hand.
R-Kelley happily tagged both Frankie and Al just as a member of the red team stepped in.
"Just in time; could you escort these two to jail please?" R-Kelley said. The guy agreed and led Frankie and Al out of the café. Frankie seemed pleased with the outcome, and Al, having realized what Frankie was doing, gave his friend a thumbs-up as they walked down the sidewalk.
Back at the café, R-Kelley was pulling out his wallet when he saw a napkin on the table. In black marker, it read "Meet me at the park in twenty minutes." R-Kelley picked it up and stuffed the message in his pocket.
"Michy sure is clever," R-Kelley mused.
Just then his cell phone beeped when it received a text message. It read "Leave Rosaline to me," and was sent en masse to everyone on their team. Speak of the devil, and the blue haired vixen will dart past the window, trying to trail Michy without being noticed.
"Very clever," R-Kelley added with a smile.
Rosaline found herself in the parking lot of a grocery store on B Street. It was pretty full, but in actuality the cars belonged not to shoppers but people wandering about town and setting up picnics in the park. Rosaline looked every which way to track down Michy, having lost sight of her in the dimly lit lot.
It was from between two cars that Michy jumped at her. With only a moment to react, Rosaline reached for the car door and swung it open. The lifeguard jammed her hand into the glass and exclaimed in agony. Rosaline laughed loudly and ran off. Michy slammed the car door and took off after her target.
She's fast, Michy thought as she ran. After luring her over here, I didn't think she'd be so difficult to catch. I guess she isn't all talk.
And then Rosaline was out of sight. If she didn't already leave the parking lot, then she's hiding behind the cars. Michy dropped to her knees to look under the cars, and sure enough, a dark figure in the distance was squirming beneath one. Michy ran over to it as fast as she could. Like Frankie and R-Kelley, her legs were also tired.
Michy didn't make it in time, for when the blonde reached the car that Rosaline was crawling under, the blue-haired girl already made it out and across the street, causing a driver to suddenly stop and angrily honk his horn. He had to stop and honk suddenly again when Michy crossed his path and followed Rosaline into the grocery store.
"Damn it," Rosaline huffed once she was hidden behind the racks of junk food, "Blondie may be a fitting opponent after all." Rosaline was spotted with sweat, the warm air and the exercise finally getting to her, as she carefully looked around the end of the aisle. Michy was coming right at her.
Michy skidded to a stop and then ran down the aisle Rosaline was in. Rosaline grabbed a soda off the rack, lobbed it at Michy and ran away. Michy swatted it out of the air, grabbed a milk carton off the rack and lobbed it at Rosaline. The carton, perfectly aimed, hit Rosaline in the back of the head. Her face was one of shock as the carton burst open and sent milk all over her.
Michy couldn't help but laugh as she watched Rosaline wipe the milk off her face and filter it out of her hair with her fingers.
"Don't you dare laugh at me, you pervert!" Rosaline exclaimed, dramatically pointing at her rival as milk dripped to the floor.
"What? How am I a pervert?" Michy asked angrily.
"Duh, you threw milk at me," Rosaline said, as if the answer was obvious.
"And you threw a bottle of soda at me," Michy yelled back.
"Yes, but soda isn't the least bit sexual."
"Milk is sexual?" Michy shouted with exasperation.
Several people attempted to go down the aisle, but turned and walked away when they caught sight of the spectacle the two girls were giving. Neither of them noticed the shoppers giving them weird looks.
"Hello, don't you know where milk comes from?" Rosaline looked at Michy as if she were an idiot.
Michy made an odd face, really considering if she had missed an obvious point Rosaline was trying to make. When she couldn't find one, the lifeguard responded "Cows!"
"What a moron." Rosaline brought her hands up to her chest. "The answer is boobs, of course." She began shaking her head disapprovingly as she spoke. "You sick freak, I bet you're into that lactation porn that Al was talking about."
Michy slapped her hand over her face.
"You," she pointed grandly at Rosaline, "you see milk and automatically connect it with lactation porn, and yet I'm the pervert?"
"Yes," Rosaline said, smugly nodding.
Michy, having had enough nonsense, ran at Rosaline. The blue-haired girl then began running at Michy. She stopped short, as she suddenly remembered that she couldn't let Michy tag her. Rosaline then made for the exit.
Coming down to see what all the yelling was about was a plump employee of the grocery store.
"Please, ladies, I insist you stop thi- blargh!" That was all the poor, round man could say before Rosaline planted her hand over his flabby face and pushed him aside as she ran through the store.
Recovering the best he could, the man said "Please, lady, I insi- blargh!" before Michy planted her hand over his flabby face and pushed him aside as she ran after Rosaline.
Rosaline left the store and ran into a small souvenir shop that faced the park. Michy followed her in, but the blonde couldn't see her anywhere in the store. It was a small place so one glance should have allowed Michy to locate Rosaline immediately, but she was nowhere in sight. It was then that Rosaline slipped out the door. The blue-haired girl had stood right next to the entrance, and Michy ran past her without noticing.
Hearing the sound of the door opening, Michy quickly turned around and lunged for it. Rosaline quickly pressed her body against the glass door, preventing Michy from opening it. Michy pushed as hard as she could to get through.
"Trapped like a mouse in peanut butter."
"I am going to murder you."
"Hey knock it off," a cashier in the shop yelled, pulling Michy by the shoulders away from the door.
Rosaline stuck her tongue at the captured Michy and skipped away laughing. That was until she ran into a rather tall police officer, who having seen the sight at the door of the souvenir shop, sternly inquired as to what was going on.
Michy quickly apologized to the cashier and was allowed out of the store. She ran up to Rosaline with a brief laugh, but then backed off when she saw the cop. Michy tried to excuse herself, but the policeman ordered her to stay put.
"Someone want to tell me what's going on here?" the man said in a hoarse voice, as if he'd been yelling all day.
"Well," Michy spoke up after seeing Rosaline's pursed lips. "We were just over in the park playing a game of capture-the-flag and we got a little carried away. We're really sorry for causing a disturbance." Michy tried to sound as adult and innocent as she could.
"Is that true?" the dark-skinned man raised an eyebrow in Rosaline's direction.
"I am the great General Rosaline! I don't have to explain myself to a mere police officer," she bellowed.
Michy slapped both of her hands over her own face. What is this idiot doing? she thought.
"Excuse me?" the uniformed man asked.
"I will buh-ow for no man!" Rosaline declared with her fists clenched before her face.
"Right, you'll just bend over," Michy added snottily.
"You callin' me a whore?" Rosaline said, puffing out her chest.
"Go on, tell me I'm wrong."
"You're dead wrong, Blondie!"
"Please, I'm begging you, take her to prison," Michy pleaded to the policeman.
"No, I don't think that'll be necessary," he said, rubbing his tired eyes.
"Ha, suck it," Rosaline exclaimed.
"Listen closely you two." The policeman had had enough. He tugged on Rosaline and Michy's ears and spoke loudly so there would be no questions. "You can keep playing your game, but you better behave yourselves. There are a lot of people here and I don't want anymore disturbances. Understand?"
Amidst the pain, the two girls nodded like little kids being scolded. The officer then released them and walked away. They stood there, rubbing their ears.
"Hmph, treating us like babies," Rosaline pouted.
"That's the only way to get anything through your thick head," Michy quipped.
"One of these days I'm going to run over your face with a racecar," Rosaline said bitterly.
"Well, if he won't take you to jail, I will." Michy quickly latched her hand around Rosaline's wrist. Michy led Rosaline off to jail as the blue-haired girl gave the most dramatic "no" she could deliver.
"How could I be caught by such a despicable creature?"
"Yeah, yeah, despicable my ass," Michy said angrily.
David stood at the center of the first floor of the department store in the middle of a small group of people. He stood with his cell phone to his ear while everyone else leaned in to hear what they could. There was, however, no response on the other line.
"Michy's not answering," David finally said after his second try.
"What should we do?"
"Hmm, I think you guys should return to your posts on our side. I'm going to stay here and scout out more of the area," David said.
"Shouldn't we stay too and help look for their flag?"
"I'm afraid that if they see too many of us on their side, they will abandon their offensive strategy. We have an advantage in that they are obsessed with getting onto our side, not keeping us out of their side. So yeah, like I said, return to your duties." David became a little self-conscious at the end of his explanation, but his teammate obeyed his orders without any further questions.
Each member of the red team, keeping an eye out for the enemy, sneaked out of the department store and across the street. David was the last to leave the store. Looking both ways first, he crept out of the building, keeping his head down and eyes open.
On the other hand, David thought as he walked among the crowd, if we just dedicated half of our forces to looking for the flag, we'd keep them busy with defense and we'd find their flag faster. But who am I to question Michy?
He crossed D Street and began walking along Gerald Street, saluting his teammates that saw him on the other side. Once he reached G Street, David decided that they wouldn't hide the flag where anyone could see it from the opposing side. So the blonde boy turned on G Street and walked west.
David had searched the boutiques that lined Gerald Street very thoroughly. He gave every shelf and basket full of clothes, jewelry or trinkets the once over and then a twice over to make sure. The flag could be inside buildings as long as it was clearly visible when someone was looking in its direction. The tedious searching almost made David call the others back over to help him.
He was gazing up at the tall brick hotel that stood along G Street when he began to fear that maybe they had hid the flag on the roof of one of these buildings. Would that be against the rules?
The hotel went up five floors, and on the exterior it was covered in bricks, discolored both by the weather and the various remains of graffiti on the walls. But while the exterior looked old and weary, the interior was very well furbished, as David noticed as he past the glass doors that revealed the fancy lobby.
David was stopped, for the sight of the lobby was blocked by the sight of Carrie. The pigtailed girl wore a blue ribbon around her head. She covered her mouth as she yawned so big that she couldn't keep her eyes open. But when she was finished, Carrie could see David very clearly on the other side of the door.
"Hmm?" Carrie cocked her head slightly.
Then she remembered that she was supposed to chase anyone that came by from the red team. And in that same instant, David remembered that too. So the blonde boy took off, and the pigtailed girl pushed the heavy door open and followed him.
David had turned around, running back east towards Gerald Street. The traffic prevented him from crossing back to his side, but he could cross G Street. The blonde boy ran north with Carrie not far behind.
Carrie kept up pretty well until she fumbled. David glanced behind his back and was frozen when he saw her on her hands and knees, feeling around for her glasses on the sidewalk. He wanted to run up to her, ask if she was okay, hand her the glasses and then help her to her feet. But he couldn't. David just clenched his fists as some other person beat him to the punch. Carrie gave the guy a relieved smile as she thanked him.
David couldn't watch anymore; he ran north as fast as he could. Carrie didn't come after him, and David only stopped when he was completely out of breath. He placed both his fists against the wall of a building and then pressed his forehead into the brick wall as he panted quickly.
"Why can't I…"
It was then that a hand came down gently on David's shoulder. David looked up to see that it belonged to Frankie, who looked at him with a tired and grim expression.
"Congratulations, you're our first prisoner."
David's head dropped as if his neck muscles just gave out.
"What the hell, Al?"
Frankie looked up with disgust at the neon sign that read "Ron's Adult Shop" on the corner of West Avenue and A Street. The building was concrete and unpainted, run down and littered with trash. The front display windows were blacked out, but showed posters displaying the latest clothing and movies of yesteryear. It figured Al would know of a place like this. An image of his mischievous smile came to Frankie's mind.
David leaned up against the building, illuminated by the one yellow light bulb that stuck out of the wall. Frankie turned to walk away after escorting the blonde to jail, but he was stopped.
"Frankie," David said in a low, solemn voice, "I need advice."
"You think I can help you?" His voice was as a sigh. A slight smile appeared on his face, as if responding to déjà vu.
"You always do." David seemed deflated.
"Well…" Frankie wasn't a parent. And he didn't have any intention of becoming a father for many years to come. So why was it that he was the one always giving advice? How come, when his friends were off having adventures, goofing off and playing, he was doing housework? The burdens of being the adult had made him tired, but a sense of pride kept him awake. Seventeen is too young to be worrying about this stuff.
He turned back around and joined David at the wall of the building. He folded his arms and took a deep breath through his nose, taking in every bit of that salt air that he could. Now this was living: two pals on a cool night beneath an endless galaxy that shined as clearly through the dark sky as one could ever hope. Two men, listening to nothing but the far off sound of traffic and the taps from the moths overhead as they swarmed at the light bulb. One suffered from a tired body; the other from a tired heart.
"What do you want to do?" Frankie looked up at the sky. The air was crisp, and the dim, yellow light discolored the two boys. "I mean, if you could change the world around you, how would you prefer things to be different?"
David sighed, and slid down the wall as he spoke until he reached the cold concrete beneath him. "I'd make things go back to how they used to be; back to before Carrie came into my room that night, before I knew the truth."
"Huh, funny," Frankie mused. The taller boy had a sentimental glimmer in his eyes. "You want to change the past rather than change Carrie. I give you all the power in the universe and you say you'd have preferred to keep on living oblivious to the truth."
"At least back then I had a sliver of hope. I wouldn't be as depressed as I am now."
"I'm saying you didn't choose a more self-serving path." Frankie held out his hand so as to admire the shadow it cast in the lamplight. "Tell me why you didn't say 'I want Carrie to be straight as an arrow and become crazy about me?'"
"Because I didn't think of it," David answered stubbornly.
"I don't believe that." Frankie smiled to himself again, looking down on his friend fondly. "Carrie's quite a catch. Am I right? She's got that cute smile."
"I melt every time I see it."
"And how 'bout that habit of blushing and being all shy?"
"It's like a gift from the goddess of moé."
"And no matter how much she's teased, she never fights back or makes a fuss. She's the kind of girl who you look at and just want to protect."
"Yeah," David sighed.
"But she's stronger than that. I don't think Carrie's just really passive. She can take it and then move on. Even after you made Rosaline kiss her, she was ready to forgive and forget in no time."
"She's really something," David said sadly.
David already knew these things about Carrie. That's why he liked her so much. He realized that this was the Carrie that he had fallen for. So it made sense that he wouldn't want to change anything about her. He'd change his situation, but not her. Every part of Carrie was perfect in David's eyes, even the part that made it so they would never be together.
"What if Carrie had never gone into your room that night? Let's say we never found out the truth, and eventually you confessed to her. What would you do if she turned you down flat?" Frankie posed.
"I don't know," David said defiantly.
"I guess in that respect, you could keep trying to win her over. At least there'd be some hope of success." Frankie answered his own question.
"So, what am I supposed to do now?" David was getting annoyed.
"Just run away, David."
David looked up at Frankie in shock. The taller boy gazed at the ground in front of him with a serious face as he spoke.
"Just run away. When something gets tough, just run away like you always do, David." Frankie's words were cold and biting.
"I don't always do that."
"When you wanted to confess to Carrie, you did. You find out Carrie is a lesbian, and all you do is avoid her. If you hit a wall you just turn around."
David's head sunk slightly into his arms. He saw that there was some truth in what Frankie was saying. But what about…?
"No," David straightened up. "I'm not like that. Today I stood up to Rosaline. She's as thick headed as an ox, but I stood toe-to-toe with that girl. And I wasn't about to back down!" David's voice increased in volume along with his confidence.
"Pffft, sure you did. What, you call her a bitch and then stare at her angrily?"
"I know I've done that before, but I did stand up to her this time. She was strangling me and I didn't even step back. You can ask Al!" David yelled angrily.
"Uh huh, right," Frankie said with a condescending smile.
"She was running me ragged all day, and even though I was just trying to help her, she kept insulting me nonstop. I couldn't let her keep walking all over me. That girl, she infuriates me to no end. I may have lost my cool, but there's no way I'll keep letting her treat me like dirt. I will not be beaten by the likes of her! After all, I am a man!" David yelled much louder than he should have.
"Well what about now?" Frankie gave David a proud smile and extended a hand to the boy on the ground. "Ready to face Carrie?"
David gave an unsure look at Frankie's hand for a brief moment before accepting the gesture with a bold grin.
"Damn straight," David gave Frankie's hand a tight grip. The football player pulled the blonde boy to his feet. "And this time, things will be settled once and…for…all." David's forehead smacked into the wall. "But what am I supposed to say? I know I can look her straight in the eye, but what should I do? Should I apologize, pretend nothing ever happened, just talk to her like normal, but how do I do that? Maybe I should confess to her, or at least tell her why I've been avoiding her. She's got the right to know that much, right?"
"I don't know," Frankie said as he walked off. He took out his cell phone and looked at the time. "But don't worry; you've still got two minutes to think it over." When Frankie was a ways away, he yelled back "Just try to secure the future you want to live in."
And then David was left alone, his back to the wall of the adult toy store, looking up at the stars. It really was a beautiful night.