The Snickerdudels

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Book 2: Pax's Story

“Go play, con trai,” Mom said.

“Finally,” Pax said, jumping down from his stool in the restaurant that his parents owned. “I hate sitting in this kitchen. It makes me smell different than everyone else.”

Mom sighed. “Be proud of who you are. Tôi mến bạn.

Pax rolled his eyes and ran out of the kitchen, through the rows of empty tables, and out the door. The bell jingled as Pax stared at the ground where his bike had been. “What the?” he whispered to himself, looking down the street. Then he turned his head the other way only to see a familiar face sneering at him.

The boy from down the street sat on Pax’s bike, his feet planted on the ground. If Pax could only get close enough to knock him off…

The boy reached up and pulled at the corners of his eyes. “Can you even see me, Charlie, or are you just going to stand there?”

Pax clenched his fists. All the kids he knew made fun of his eyes just because they were a little different, and it wasn’t fair. “I can see you just fine, Carrot Top.”

The boy stopped pulling on his eyes and dropped his hands to the bike handles. “At least I’m not from a country that slings poop.”

“At least I don’t look like a Cheeto.”

The boy smirked.

“Give me my bike,” Pax said.

The boy put his hand on his chin like he was thinking. “Catch me if you can,” he said, moving his feet up to the pedals and riding off.

Pax took three running steps and leapt onto the boy, unbalancing the bike. They tipped onto the ground and Pax threw his fists at every part of the boy he could reach. The boy put his hands over his face and attempted to wriggle his legs out from under the bike, but Pax’s fists kept him too busy.

“Stop,” the boy cried. “Please!”

Pax continued punching.

“I’ll give your bike back!”

Pax stopped punching, and the boy slowly uncovered his face. Pax spotted bruises developing on his cheek and his arms and smiled smugly. He stood up and wrenched his bike away from the boy, who rolled onto his hands and knees. Pax slung his leg over his bike, his foot finding the pedal.

“Wait,” the boy said, standing up.

“What do you want, asshole?”

The boy laughed. “How old are you, anyway?”

“Almost eight.”

“Well then no wonder you haven’t learned to punch properly.”

“I just punched you all over,” Pax said, rolling his eyes.

“Am I bleeding, though?”

Pax shrugged, twisting his hands on the bike handles.

“I’m Patrick,” the boy said.

“Why do I care?”

“Because I’m eleven. I can teach you stuff.”

“By stealing my stuff?”

Patrick shrugged. “I don’t have a bike, and yours was out in the open.”

“Well I got it back,” Pax said. “Sucks to suck.”

“If I can borrow your bike sometimes, I’ll teach you how to punch.”

“How do I know you won’t just steal it?” Pax asked. He did want to learn to punch.

The boy held up his hand, three fingers pointed in the air. “Scout’s honor.”

“You’re a Boy Scout?” Pax asked laughing.

Patrick dropped his hand to his side. “I was. Still counts.”

Pax stuck his hand out. “As long as I always get my bike back, it’s a deal.”

Patrick grinned and shook his hand. Pax stepped off his bike and leaned it towards Patrick, who climbed on.

“Can you even ride a bike?” Pax asked.

“My cousin taught me.” Patrick started pedaling, and Pax jogged beside him.

“So what’s your real name, Charlie?”


“Is that even a real name?”

“It’s my name.”

“So it’s a gook name, huh?”

“It’s not Vietnamese, if that’s what you mean.”

“Still sounds like one.”

“Does not,” Pax said. He had always been glad that his name didn’t sound Vietnamese. It would have just been another thing to set him apart. “Patrick’s a pretty dumb name.”

“Shut up, Charlie.”

“Why do you keep calling me that?”

“Because you’re a gook, obviously. My dad says he wishes you guys would leave the country. He says they never should have let people like you in.”

“I’m not ‘gook,’ I’m Vietnamese.”

Patrick side-eyed him. “Same difference. It’s like you don’t even know where you came from.”

Pax scrunched his eyebrows, too afraid to ask what Patrick meant in case it made him seem even stupider than he did already. He ran after Patrick as he sped up. After a few minutes of practically sprinting, Pax called, “Can we trade?” His side was starting to hurt.

Patrick looked back at him and then almost swerved over the curb and into the road. “You getting tired or something?”

“Yeah, obviously.”

“Too bad.” Patrick laughed and started pedaling faster.

Pax poured on speed. “I’ll jump on you again!”

Patrick slowed down a little before coming to a complete stop. Pax nearly tripped over himself trying to stop before he ran into the bike.

“Fine,” Patrick said. “But only because I don’t want to be blamed for breaking your leg.”

Pax took over his bike eagerly as Patrick stood with his arms crossed. “Well, see you later, Charlie.”

“What about teaching me to fight?”

Patrick shrugged. “Some other time.”

“I have something we can do today,” Patrick said when he pulled up to the restaurant on Pax’s bike.

“What?” Pax asked. “More fighting lessons?”

Patrick rolled his eyes. “My cousin, Buddy, wants us to come meet him and his friends.”

“What for?”

“Does it matter?” Patrick asked, shrugging. “They’re teenagers, so they’re cool. It’ll be fun.”

Pax wondered what teenagers wanted with kids like them, but instead he crossed his arms and said, “Fine. But I get to ride my bike.”

Patrick sighed and dismounted. Pax grabbed the bike from him and jumped on before Patrick could change his mind. He started pedaling and Patrick jogged alongside him, telling him where to turn.

They stopped at the diner on Main and Patrick pointed through the glass at a group of four teenagers.

“Them?” Pax asked in disbelief. Two of the guys were laughing and punching each other in the chest and shoulders, and on the other side of the booth, the third guy had his arm around a blonde girl. She looked younger than him, but Pax couldn’t help but wonder if the two of them were together. Or maybe they were siblings.

“Yep,” Patrick said, pulling Pax from his thoughts. “The one with the green hair is my cousin.”

“Weird hair colors must run in the family.”

“It’s dye, idiot.”

“Then why’d you choose orange? It’s not a good look for you.”

“Just shut up,” Patrick said, pushing Pax so that he nearly fell into the side of the restaurant, bike and all. Pax quickly got off the bike and stood up, but Patrick didn’t wait for him. Pax ran after him, and when he entered the restaurant, Patrick’s cousin was waving them over to the table. The guy next to him, who had medium length black hair and wore a blood red t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off, eyed Pax.

“Patrick, sit here,” his cousin said, scooting over so that there was room for Patrick on his side of the booth.

Pax looked at the girl with poorly cut blonde hair expectantly. She smiled at him, making Pax’s brain go fuzzy, and then started scooting closer to the third guy, who had dull blue eyes and crooked yellow teeth. Pax climbed up into the booth. They hadn’t made a lot of space for him, so in order to stay on the seat, he had to press his thigh against the girl’s thigh. Something about it made Pax’s heart pound harder.

“Whose idea was it to bring it?” the guy with the crooked teeth asked, gesturing at Pax.

“Pat said this one has fight in ’im,” the green haired guy said. He winked at Pax and Pax shifted uncomfortably.

The black haired guy reached up and put a toothpick in his mouth, eyeing Pax once again. “I’m Titus. This idiot is Dump,” he said, elbowing Patrick’s green-haired cousin. “That’s Nero,” he said, nodding at the guy with the crooked teeth, “and this pretty little lady is Lytch.”

Pax looked over at Lytch, who was blushing. Pax wanted to help her, but he didn’t know how. It wasn’t right for a guy who was probably, what, six years older than her to talk about her like that. Or look at her like that. Lytch’s eyes met Pax’s, and she gave him a small smile. Once again, Pax’s brain went fuzzy. She really was pretty.

“You boys hungry?” Titus asked, his eyes boring into Pax.

“Yeah,” Patrick said, grinning. Titus continued to stare at Pax, so he shrugged.

“Call the waitress,” Titus said.

Dump looked around and then started waving. A few seconds later, a waitress was at the table and everyone began ordering. Pax was hungry, so he decided to order a burger. Only after he had told the waitress what he wanted did he remember that he had no money with him. “Wait, I need to cancel my order,” he said desperately, interrupting Nero as he ordered.

Everyone stared at him, and then Titus said, “Dinner’s on me. You can pay me back later.”

“Oh,” Pax said, giving Titus a small smile that went unreturned. “Thanks.”

When the waitress left, Patrick started asking everyone questions, but they either gave short, uninformative answers or ignored him, so he eventually stopped. Every time Pax looked up Titus’s eyes bored into him, so he stopped looking up and instead got very familiar with the scratches on the table. He started to get the feeling that these were not people he wanted to hang around, but he was too scared to leave. So he stayed, his leg pressing against Lytch’s.

When the food came, everyone ate in silence. Pax was hungry enough that, even with the unshakable uneasy feeling, he cleaned his plate. This diner made the best burgers.

When everyone was done, Titus said, “Did you enjoy your food?”

Pax looked up to find Titus looking between him and Patrick. Patrick was nodding and smiling, so Pax nodded, too. It was the truth.

Titus waved down the waitress so that he could pay, and before Pax knew it, he was following everyone outside. He started to pick up his bike at the front of the restaurant, but Nero knocked it out of his hands and growled, “Leave it.”

Pax looked down at his bike and considered grabbing it and getting out of there, but Nero grabbed his arms, pinned them behind his back, and pushed him towards the alley between the diner and the laundromat. Pax’s heart rate shot up. His parents had always told him to avoid the alleys because nothing good ever happened between buildings, according to them, but Nero had a death grip on Pax’s arms.

“What are we doing?” Patrick asked. Pax noted that no one had had to force him to come along.

Titus pulled a bottle of beer out from a pocket in his bulky jacket. “Dessert.” Nero let go of Pax as Titus used the lip of a dumpster to get the lid off and then took a swig. He passed it to Dump, then Lytch, then Nero, who all took a drink without hesitation. Then he gave it to Patrick, who was grinning like he had won the lottery.

After he took a drink, Patrick made a face. “That stuff’s so gross.”

Titus ignored the comment and held the bottle out to Pax.

“I’m pretty full,” Pax said, wondering how quickly they’d catch him if he made a run for it now. “So no thanks.”

“It’s not something you can say no to,” Titus said, shoving the bottle into Pax’s chest. “Drink.”

Pax looked up at everyone. Nero and Dump seemed to be trying not to laugh at him, Patrick was nodding, and Lytch was smiling reassuringly. Pax took the bottle from Titus. The beer didn’t smell good at all, and it made Pax’s stomach churn.

“Drink or I’ll smash the bottle on your head,” Titus said.

Pax took a sip. It was disgusting.

“More,” Titus said.

“But I —”

“More, dammit!” Titus yelled.

Pax took another sip.

Titus grabbed his neck and titled Pax’s head back. “More.”

Pax brought the bottle to his lips and took a big gulp. The pressure on his neck released, and Pax coughed, but he didn’t dare spit any of the beer out.

“Now that wasn’t so fucking hard, was it?” Titus asked, snatching the bottle from Pax’s hand. He gave it back to Patrick and told him to drink more. Patrick didn’t hesitate.

Pax rubbed his neck as a strange, warm feeling spread through his body. Kids weren’t supposed to have beer, he knew. Was it going to kill him?

“It’s time for you two to pay me back,” Titus said, taking the bottle away from Patrick.

“I don’t have money,” Patrick said. “I thought Dump said —”

“You don’t need money,” Titus said, grinning.

A chill ran down Pax’s spine.

“Now c’mere,” Titus said, holding an arm out to Patrick and an arm out to Pax.

Pax glanced at Patrick, who was already walking towards Titus. Pax followed his lead, not wanting anyone to grab his neck again. Titus put an arm around both of their shoulders and bowed his head down so that he could whisper to them. “Now here’s what you’re gonna do: you’re gonna fight each other until one of you is out, okay? No mercy or I’ll have to show you what a smashed skull feels like, all right?”

Pax nodded, no doubt in his mind that Titus had killed or nearly killed someone before. He looked up at Patrick, who was also nodding, his eyes as big as dinner plates.

Titus shoved them away and Pax stumbled. Patrick got his footing first and put up his fists. Pax tried to imitate his stance, but Patrick hadn’t taught him anything about fighting stances before, so Pax knew he was the underdog. Maybe if he was fast —

“What’re you waiting for?” Titus growled.

Patrick’s foot lashed out and hit Pax’s shin, causing an explosion of pain. Pax sucked air through his teeth and resisted the urge to look down at his leg. He tried to punch Patrick, but somehow Patrick blocked the blow. Pax tried again with the same result.

Patrick’s fist came out of nowhere and hit Pax in the side of the head. The world went sideways and Pax’s ear rang louder than it ever had in his life. He tried to stay on his feet, but he didn’t even know where the ground was anymore. When pain exploded through Pax’s arm, he knew he had fallen on his side. He groaned and saw three Patricks staring down at him with their fists still raised.

“What are you waiting for? Finish him!”

Three of Patrick’s sneakers connected with Pax’s face, and the world went black.

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