Chapter 11: The Mall
May 17, 2017
I’m bored. Maybe, I will go drive around. Or maybe, I will see if John is home and go to the mall for an hour. Yeah, I will do that. Sometimes, the cool girls hang out there, in the parking lot, near the food court. I need to get out for a minute, I’ve been staying at my mom’s friend’s house for days and there is nothing to do, plus things are screwy in my head right now.
Knock . . . knock . . . I can see his mom’s short bowl haircut through the glass pane in the door.
“Hey, Leo, how are you?”
“Well good. John is upstairs. You can go up there if you want to and see what he is doing,” his mom says. Her voice is always so crackly and babyish, but I try not to let it bother me.
I run upstairs. His door is wide open, and he is sitting on his bed reading a comic book underneath a fleece Super Man blanket, eating Crunch n’ Munch from a plastic Sponge Bob bowl.
“You are such a dork. What are you doing?” I cringe at the sight of him.
“What does it look like?” A piece of Crunch n’ Munch hangs off his lip.
“Ok, come on. Let’s go to the mall. I need to get out and do something,” I beg him.
He shuts his comic book.
“Ok, but just for a little while. I gotta rearrange my Star Wars figures in my closet tonight. They are getting out of order.”
I crank the ignition and reverse out of his long circular driveway. His house is in a neighborhood right next to my old one. I recognize the big white brick house on the corner. I used to pass it every day on my way to school. It’s definitely a different feeling this side of town. Big mature trees cover the yards, and everything is so much nicer and cleaner. And even the grass is greener. I miss it.
We drive down the street and on the freeway towards the mall.
“I’m sorry about your yard, dude. I know Henry rolled it with Darren Myers,” John squeaks.
“How do you know that it was Darren Myers that helped him?”
“Betsy told Laura Whittington, and Laura told me at lunch the other day.”
I bite my fingernail.
“I just don’t know, man,” I snare.
“What am I going to do about Henry? I am just dreading that moment when he finally spots me at school. I have been creeping around the halls and skipping the bathrooms. If I have to take a piss, I run all the way to the gym, use that one, then run back,” I bite off another fingernail and flick it out.
“Eww gross, don’t flick that on me,” John snaps.
“This is serious, John. I know my time is coming. I just don’t want to be the fool in this situation, and I know it’s about to rear its head sooner than later. Any day now, he is just gonna creep up behind me and sucker punch me in front of the whole damn school. I’ve read that if you get punched too hard in the middle of your head you can die?!” I sound unsure, but scared.
“Noooooooo. That won’t happen. Come on man. But, did you tell your mom or your dad?” John asks slowly.
The pain in my chest twists and burns. I look down at my cell phone. No missed calls.
We pull into Providence Place Mall and park near the food court.
“Are we going to the mall? I want a blue icy,” John squeals like a ten-year-old.
“Not right now, John. Look over there,” I point towards a group of girls sitting around the picnic tables in front of the mall.
“Is that Becca?” John asks.
“Yeah, come over there with me,” I demand.
I can’t take it anymore. I have to see her.
We slide out of the jeep and start walking towards her. My walk transitions into a cool strut.
Surprisingly, Becca immediately walks over to me before I can even approach the table.
Her hair is wavy today. I like it. But then, I always like her hair. Matter of fact, I like everything about her. She could have zits all over her face, and I would still like her. She wouldn’t have zits though. She doesn’t really get em.
“We ne-e-e-e-e-e-d to talk,” Becca urges like it’s an emergency.
“John, I will be back in a moment. Meet at the picnic tables in fifteen minutes,” I tell him.
“But, we just got here. What am I . . .?”
“Just go get your icy,” I snap.
“Geez, ok,” he walks past the group of girls, ignoring them, and walks straight into the mall.
I shake my head.
“Let’s talk,” I grab her hand.
Becca and I start walking outside the mall along a sidewalk lined with dozens of crape myrtle trees. Their white full blooms are falling all over the walk way.
“Are we broken up?” she asks.
“No, Becca. I just needed to clear my head. So much is going on right now,” I explain.
“Well, I need to know one way or another, ok? I am not just gonna sit here on hold for you. I have written you three notes, and you weren’t even there today after second period.”
Her head seems to be on fire. She is pissed.
“Ok, no we are not broken up. Don’t worry. I will figure everything out,” I assure her as genuinely possible.
“Quit ignoring everyone at school, Leo. Everyone knows you’re hiding. Just fight him if he tries anything. You can win. Don’t let him come between us,” she says with that puppy dog look in her eyes.
I laugh under my breath, knowing I would never win.
“Uh, yeah. You’re right.”
I let out a big sigh.
She stops and adjusts her pocketbook, flipping back her wavy brown hair over her shoulders.
“Ok, Becca, we will figure this out, ok? I will take care of everything. We are back together,” I say confidently even though I know my head is still not in the right place.
I look up at the sunny sky and reach over to grab her shoulders. I slowly bring her face closer to mine and kiss her gently. I love the taste of her peppermint lip gloss on my tongue and her chest against mine. In these moments, I forget the big ball of mess I am in.
Honk. Honk. Honk.
“Becca, come on! I have to go home!”
It’s Becca’s best friend, driving up to the sidewalk in her little white car.
“Sorry, I gotta go. I promised her I would ride home with her,” Becca looks at me apologetically.
“Ok,” I kiss her again.
She grabs my hand. “I am glad we worked through this, Leo. Meet me tomorrow after the second period. I have notes to give you. Don’t dodge math class again!”
She smiles and trots over to the car and proudly places her purse in her lap and shuts the door. I stand and watch them drive off til’ they’re no longer visible.
Oh my God. What am I doing? I run back to the food court.
John is standing alone, looking down intently at his cell phone with bright blue lips.
“Can we go home now?” John is annoyed.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
We hop in the jeep, and I flip on my sunglasses.
“So, what did y’all talk about?” John asks.
“None ya biz.”
“What? I am your best friend,” John’s voice cracks.
“I will tell you later. You wanna go down Jungle Road before we go home?”
Sometimes, when we drive around, us two goons drive as fast as we can down this back road called Jungle Road. It has lots of speed bumps. We fly down the road at about 60 MPH over the speed bumps, flying up and down and dying laughing. So far, no damage to my jeep. It’s fun.
“Nah,” John says.
“Ok, maybe tomorrow.”
My mind starts to race. Just as I turn the corner, an idea pops into my head.
“We need to go somewhere. I want you to meet someone real quick.”
I speed down the highway and turn the radio to the hard rock station.
“Leo? Dude, what is wrong with you lately? You are out of control. You are not yourself.”
I skirt into the ugly yellow townhomes and into his driveway missing the edge of the concrete and into the grass a little bit.
“Whose place is this?” John asks wearily.
“Just follow me.”
His annoying dog barks behind the door.
“Well, hey man, like I didn’t think I would see you again!” Dreadscol says swinging open the door.
“This is my friend, John. Can we come in for a minute?” I ask.
“Well, yeah, man, like come in! Mi casa es su casa!”
The corner of my mouth curls up as I walk in. A filthy stench mixed with what I hope is pizza fills the air.
“Ummmmmmm, I need to get home soon,” John’s voice trembles a little.
“We will,” I assure him as I hold my hand up.
“No, like, I got to get home in two minutes,” John snaps.
“Ok, dudes, like y’all sit down, and like tell me what happened with that guy that threw you down in the dirt at school?”
I try not to pinch my nose for that odor.
“Well—I’ll level with you. He’s about to kick my ass, like now.”
“Like now? Here?” Dreadscol’s eyes light up.
“No. No. No. I mean now, as in any day now. It’s going to happen soon. I have been hiding all week, but I can’t anymore. I got back together with my girlfriend. And she wants me to stop hiding from everyone in the halls! What am I going to do? Can you fight? Can you come to school with me tomorrow and help me fight this dude?” I desperately plead.
“Me? Awwww noooo. No, I can’t do that,” he says. “Like let’s all sit down on the couch and think about your situation for a minute. Ok, dudes, I am good at figuring things out.”
He whips out a long tube and lights it up with a yellow fluorescent lighter, accidentally burning his finger.
He flicks the lighter again and fires it up, inhaling a massive amount of smoke and holding it.
Two minutes go by, and he is still holding his breath.
“Dude, exhale that crap out of your lungs man! You are gonna die!” John yells as he jumps to his feet.
Smoke pours out of his mouth.
“You want a hit?”
John looks over at me with a look of horror and almost screams, “No!!!!”
“I do,” I say. I grab the long glass thing.
“It’s called a bong. Here, I will get it ready for you cuz. I don’t think you have ever smoked weed before. All you have to do it suck up the smoke and hold it in. Then breathe out,” Dreadscol instructs me like a pro.
I watch the thick cloud of silvery smoke curl through the dirty bong like fog in a dark alley.
I inhale it all up into my lungs.
Cough. Cough. Cough. Cough. Cough. Cough. Cough.
He bores his bloodshot eyes into me, “Man, like, I have a great idea.”
“I have to go now! I will be in the jeep, Leo. You better be out there in one minute! I have to go home!” John looks at me like he is about to strangle me.
He runs as fast as a cheetah out the front door.
“Ok, Dreadscol, I have to go and take him home. Hurry. What’s your idea?”
“Follow me!” He leads me over to a hallway closet.
He opens the door, scanning up and down. He pulls out a black box.