Jan/Feb 2008  •   Fiction


by Brad Wetherell

Photo-art by Steve Wing

Photo-art by Steve Wing

When I reach to undo my seatbelt, my arm comes unstuck from my side and the sweaty little sprouts of hair in my pit cling to my underarm. My Uncle Charlie's barely used the air conditioning the whole ride upstate, and the seatbelt's been resting right between my tits—as everyone at school loves to call them—so when I take it off there's a dark sweat stain on my t-shirt, running right down my goddamn cleavage.

Home, sweet home, Uncle Charlie says, pulling to a stop in his gravel driveway, the tiny stones crackling under the Escort's tires. He turns the key and kills the engine. Take a look around, Billy, he says to me. It just feels calmer than your Yorktown.

Uncle Charlie is fat too, and getting out of the car isn't easy for him. I watch him draw in his breath with a lean backward and then reach forward for the top of the open door, something to pull himself up by.

I get out and grab my duffle bag from the backseat. It has three days worth of clothes in it. Exactly three pairs of khakis, t-shirts of assorted colors, boxer shorts and socks. My mom packed the bag. She promised they won't stay longer than planned.

Uncle Charlie puts his meaty arm around me as we walk toward the front door of their ranch house. You've got a lot going on, Billy, he says. It'll be good for you to be out here and relax a little. Get away from it all.

I don't know how much my parents have told him, but I do know there's no getting away from it, the not knowing. You can't just leave that at home.


I did it with a stapler, my cousin Jack says, pushing his studded earlobe forward for me to see in the fading daylight. It got infected the first time, he says, and I had to let it close up and heal. But this time it came out good.

Jack is a year older than me—after this summer he'll be a junior—and we're sitting on the roof just outside his bedroom window. He's got on cargo shorts and hiking boots with fat round laces. He's wearing a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, and I can see tendons twitching beneath the muscles in his forearms as he leans forward cupping his hand in front of his mouth, flicking his lighter until he brings an orange flame to his cigarette.

I could do it for you too, if you want, he says, exhaling blue smoke. Your brother had an earring, right?

Has, I snap at him. He still has it.

The sun is beginning to set behind us. Sinewy streaks of orange stretch across the sky. Jack takes a long drag and we both look off into the distance, over the fields with their tall grasses, past the lonely looking telephone poles lining the narrow streets, and onto the neighboring rooftops peaking through the trees.

What about football? Jack says.

What about it?

Why don't you play? he says. You could. You're big enough.

Jack is doing what everyone does. He's trying to turn me into my brother. My brother is the only one who doesn't do this. He's the only one who likes me how I am.

Coach Calhoun wants me to play, I tell him. But he's an asshole. I hate him. So I don't.

Jack lies back on the shingles, one hand behind his buzzed head, the other resting on his stomach, holding the smoking cigarette with the glowing tip, and he laughs quietly. I guess because I don't usually talk like that. He must think it's funny to see me angry.

I was just thinking an earring might make you look tougher, he says.

I don't want an earring, I tell him. And I don't need to look tougher. Why did you say I need to look tougher?

No reason, he says. Forget it. Come on, let's go inside. And Jack sits up, taking one more drag before he flicks the cigarette off the roof.

I watch it topple end of over cherry-tipped end, and I think how it would look totally different if you were on the ground and that thing was coming at you.


At dinner, Uncle Charlie eats two plates full of meatloaf and has to dab his napkin against his brow to wipe away the sweat. The television is on in the other room but I can't tell what's playing because Uncle Charlie won't stop talking.

What kind of nut actually thinks, hey, you know what, I should be the President of the United States, he says. Me, I'm the perfect guy for the job. Ten year olds say that, and I want to call them stupid. That's why we get such fucking morons running this country.

Jack laughs with a mouth full and pounds the table with a closed fist. Aunt Karen shoots Uncle Charlie a look.

Excuse my language hon, but it's the truth. And now this idiot wants to run for another term. That's why what your folks are doing is so important, Billy.

Billy, Aunt Karen chimes in, giving my uncle another glare. Do you want some more loaf?

I look at Uncle Charlie. He is breathing heavy and loosening the collar of his flannel shirt. He has two chins and sits back from the table to make room for his stomach.

No thanks, I say. I think I'm full.


Jack's bedroom has a poster of a dirt biker and another of a snowboarder showing his badly bruised ass, with the word EXTREME! across the top. Above his dresser is one more poster, this one of a blond haired girl in high heels and a silver bathing suit. I eye her, and though I can't quit looking, it's easy for me to imagine what she'd say if she could speak, her voice a combination of every girl in my school, Keep dreaming, Nips.

I'm still staring at the poster when Jack tosses me a rolled up sleeping bag, so it hits me in the chest. He says it's comfortable, that he uses it when he goes camping and it could keep me warm in up to 20 below.

Tomorrow, Jack says, we'll do some cool shit. I'll show you around on the quad.

Cool, I say, and I unroll the sleeping bag on the floor alongside Jack's bed and then lay down on top of it.

Check this out, he says from up on his bed. Then a magazine rains down, pages fluttering, and lands on my chest. It's from my old man's stash, he says.

Hustler. I flip through the pages slowly, turning it the long way for the spreads, until I notice Jack watching me from his bed. I can tell he's waiting for me to say something. But what? Oh yeah, look at that. I'd stick it to her. So I hand him back the magazine, and I don't know why, maybe because I don't know what else to say, maybe because I've got the makings of a hard-on bobbing around in my boxers, or maybe I want to impress him, but I tell him about the time at the Lock-In last year when Sherry O'Shea told me to meet her in the auditorium at midnight and I almost felt her up.

Almost? he says.

Well, yeah. You know. I had my hand there, at her waist, and I was going to.

Did you make out with her?

Almost, I say again, my voice quieter this time.

So you've never hooked up with a girl? he says. Then he opens the Hustler up again and says, You've never seen this in real life?

He hasn't seen that in real life either, but I don't point that out. Forget it, okay. Listen, I say, do you guys have the internet?

No, he says, holding the magazine out to me again. But this is just as good as anything you'll find online.

I didn't mean that, I say. Nevermind. I'm just gonna go to bed. And I climb inside my sleeping bag.

Alright, man. Me too, Jack says. And he turns off the light on his bed stand.

The room goes dark. And it's got to be a sign. Above me, sprawling out along the ceiling, are magnificent glowing stars. They are bright and scattered, some big with five points and others just specks of light offering perspective. I lie on my back and begin counting them all. I won't stop till I've got every one. I'm still staring at the ceiling, the wild night's sky, long after Jack starts snoring. 246, 247, 248... There's no way this isn't a sign.


In my dream, my brother comes home. He walks up our driveway in uniform, medals pinned to his chest, and finds me tied to a tree in our front yard. I'm thrilled to see him, but insanely embarrassed. What are you doing, Bill? he says. I tell him Sullivan did it. Kevin Sullivan? Joey's little brother? he asks. I just nod and stand there with my head hung as he walks around the tree and unties the rope. Don't worry, okay bro? I'll take care of this, he says. And that's all I need to hear.


The next day, we tear across the front lawn and drop off the curb onto the quiet, rural street. I sit behind Jack, my arms wrapped around his chest. He steers and shifts and intentionally runs over a thick branch lying on the edge of the road. The quad's vibrations make my stomach and tits jiggle and send my heart jumping through my chest, but somehow the rush of it all feels good.

Jack turns his head around and shouts over his shoulder as loud as he can. Don't lean back, he says. I can barely hear him over the roaring motor. You're bigger than me, he says. You'll pull me off.

He gasses it and turns sharply. We fishtail and run off-road into an unmowed field. The tall grass whips our legs and I can feel the sting through my khaki pants. A translucent mist of pollen, dust and exhaust floats in our wake. And my face feels like it's being stretched by the wind. Or maybe just from smiling.


We skid to a stop. As I climb off the quad, a head pops up through the river's shimmering surface. It's a girl. I wipe my watering eyes and look again. Still a girl.

Even from here I can tell she's pretty. She's pulling her wet, butterscotch blond hair back from her face, bringing her arms up and showing the whole world her flat belly and her teardrop tits, like two tanned water balloons cradled in the thin fabric of her yellow bikini.

She waves to Jack, but Jack doesn't wave back. He just pulls off his shirt, then does a little hop dance as he peels off his shoes one at a time. Come on, he says to me. You just gonna stand there?

I follow him down to the river's bank, fully dressed. And I can see her better from here. She's got a belly button ring that catches the sunlight. Her wet, glistening cheeks look used to laughing, and that could be good or bad, depending on what she's laughing at. And I want to know why Jack didn't tell me about this. How come he never mentioned a girl? He runs into the water, kicking a splash at the girl. She just laughs, like she's been wading there all day for him to do just that. And when Jack reaches her side she kisses him on the cheek.

Come on, man, Jack says to me. What're you doing?

I shrug my shoulders. I wasn't expecting this.

Come in, the girl says.

If you come in she'll make out with you, Jack says.

She slaps Jack on the arm and tells him to shut up.

I want to say, I don't even know her name. She's not going to make out with me. Don't tell me she's going to make out with me.

Instead, I find myself bending over to pull off one sneaker, then another. Maybe it was the quad ride, but I feel alive. Next go the socks. They're watching me as I take off my khakis and fold them before placing them on a rock next to the girl's tiny, frayed, scissor-cut jean shorts. Wearing my boxers and my t-shirt, I tip-toe through the wet sand and my feet are in the water already and I'm actually excited when Jack says, No way, Billy. First timers have to use the rope.

I look to the girl to confirm he's joking, but she just nods and says, It's the rule.

I walk to the tree at the river's edge and look up at its crooked trunk. Somebody has nailed wooden boards into the tree's side and a thick rope hangs over the water from a branch above.

Part of me expects to hear, Do you think the tree will hold him? Or, He's going to look like a wrecking ball swinging from that thing. But I'm not in Yorktown anymore, and Jack and the girl just wade in the river, watching as I climb one hesitant board at a time until I reach the top.

Jack swings me the rope. It's easy, he yells up to me. Just grab the knot and let go at the top of your swing.

Are you going to keep your t-shirt on? the girl asks. Jack gives her a nudge with his elbow, but she's not being mean. I know mean.

With a deep breath, I grab the rope and let my toes slip from the boards. For a second, the rope carries me outward and there's a rush of energy and it's just me and the sky and the water waiting below. But then there's the girls face contorting, Jack looking away, and the feeling of the skin on my palms being torn as I slide down the rope, unable to hold my weight. My toes skim the river and if I can just hold on one more second—but I can't. I flop into the water with a slap.

When I emerge, my tits sting. I look down and my t-shirt is now see-through. My nipples look purple.

Jack's clapping. Bravo, he shouts.

Encore, the girl follows. That was great, she says. She comes over and gives me a hug, just like that. Her wet body presses against mine. Then she peels herself off me and turns to face Jack. I half expect her to ask, So, whose are bigger? But she doesn't, not at all. Once she has Jack's attention she turns back to me, puts her hand over my mouth and plants a fake kiss on me so hard, we both fall over.

I open my eyes under water. The way the sun shines down onto the river, the water seems almost orange, and beyond the flecks of floating particles, I see the girl there. Her hair is floating wildly around her, and her eyes are open too. We look at each other and both start laughing, bubbles rising from our mouths to the surface.


The newswoman says, In Washington today the protests reached new heights—and then Uncle Charlie changes the channel.

Go back, I say.

He looks at me and his face says, Are you sure?

Please go back.

The newswoman is still talking. A shot of people marching by the Washington Monument plays on the screen. People are just dots, but I try to pick out the two dots that are my parents. The film cuts to police holding shields and wearing masks. The newswoman says, With tomorrow being the last day of the summit, demonstrations have escalated. And the TV shows two cops throwing a man with No More War painted on his bare chest to the pavement.

Uncle Charlie changes the channel to Wheel of Fortune.


Is Katie your girlfriend? I ask Jack, lying atop my sleeping bag.

Girlfriend? No way, man. She wishes. She'd do anything for me, but she's one of my best friends. I don't like her like that. There's a pause and I can hear Jack turning pages up on his bed. He rolls onto his side and leans over the edge. Look at these, he says. He's holding the Hustler open to a page where a brunette is squeezing her breasts with her fingers splayed, so you can see her nipples. Have you ever seen cans like those before? Jack says.

I take a quick glance, but my mind is on a different girl.

What's going on with you? he says, closing the magazine. Wait, why'd you ask?

No reason, I say, playing with the zipper to the sleeping bag.

He reaches down and smacks my shoulder with the rolled up Hustler. You like her? he says.

I look up at him and he's smiling like a fool. She's alright, I guess.


I wake up with a bad feeling. Something's not right. The first thing I see is the ceiling, and the stars are nothing more than stickers. Cheap, stupid stickers. They're neon yellow and childish and it's 8:30 AM and I already know I'm a fool for ever believing in them.


Uncle Charlie and I have been driving to houses for a couple hours now, this time in his work truck—a better fit for him—a pickup with a cherry picker in the back.

It wasn't always this door to door permission stuff, he tells me. I used to be the guy shimmying up the trees and trimming the branches back from the power lines. But let's face it—he pats his belly with his non-steering hand—my climbing days are over.

I don't laugh or say huh, like I'm amused, because I'm not. I don't want to talk today. I don't even want to listen. I can't shake this feeling.

We pull in another driveway, another ranch, one story and long. We get out of the truck and walk to the front door. Uncle Charlie gives a little rap on the door with his knuckles and a woman with green curlers in her hair answers.

Charlie, you big oaf, she says, with a playful slap to his shoulder. How are you?

Good, Jean. Real good, he says. Then he pushes me forward. This is my nephew, Billy.

Not-uh, she says, smiling at me. You're Allison's boy?

We've gone through this at almost every house. I know my role by now. So I extend my hand to greet her, but this woman pulls me in for an awkward hug.

How is your mother? she asks.

Even if I wanted to tell her the truth and say, Scared, I couldn't, because she's already launching into a story.

Your mother and I were the best of friends when we were kids, the woman says. She would be over here almost every day. She was a Tomboy, though. Did you know that? I'd want to break into my mom's closet or put on her makeup, and your mother was always sneaking off with this big ape—she slaps Uncle Charlie's shoulder again—and my older brother to go in the woods and play war or something silly like that.

My brother's in the war and he might be dead, I say. And maybe I shouldn't have. Maybe it's not the type of thing you just say like that. But I don't care anymore. My brother's in the war and I haven't heard from him in three weeks and I miss him and I wouldn't even be here, hiding out in Plattsburgh, New York, if he was still around to protect me.

I'm sorry, the woman says. She's wrings her hands together in discomfort and then looks to Uncle Charlie.

Jean, Uncle Charlie steps in, if I can just get you to sign this here, we'll...

But I've turned around and started walking back to the truck and I can't hear them anymore. I get in the truck and wait a few minutes before Uncle Charlie swings his door open and climbs in the driver's seat. Well, he says.

Uncle Charlie, I say, I really need to use the internet. Is there some place we could go that has it?

I don't know, he says. But he didn't even stop to think. He's still bothered about what I said to the woman. I can tell by the way he's not looking at me.

He finally starts the trucks and says, This must be pretty boring for you, Billy. What do you say I drop you off back home so you can grab some lunch?


Jack's got his finger on the trigger, his eye leveled over the barrel.

I'm holding his cigarette, and I've never held one before. I don't know the right way to do it. Dangling between two fingers, pinched between three, like a pencil? I don't know.

Bang. The soda can Jack had propped on a stump goes flying. Jack takes his cigarette back and says, It's as easy as that. Then he gives me the BB rifle.

I've never held a gun before either. I imitate Jack and bring the butt of the rifle tightly against my right shoulder. I just pull the trigger? I ask Jack.

Just pull the trigger, he says.

My left eye is closed and I've got my sights on another soda can.

Go ahead, Jack says.

I pull the trigger and the rifle kicks a little and I feel a pulse run through my body. My shot nicks the can and it wobbles like a bowling pin before falling on its side.

Not bad, Jack says.

He reaches out for the gun, but my blood is still pumping from the rush. I hold it away from him. I don't want to give it up. I say, Let me go again. I want to try again.

He steps back. Go ahead, he says, and takes a puff of his cigarette.

I line the gun up, holding it snug between my shoulder and the side of my tit. My heart is thumping and the summer wind whispers in my ear as I aim. It says, How can you hold that thing with those sloppy tits in your way, Nips? And then it laughs the laugh of 15 people standing around my locker as I open the door to find a huge, grandma's bra hanging from one of the hooks. Fuck you, Sullivan, I say. Fucking fuck you. And I pull the trigger. The can jumps off the stump with an echoing ping.

Only now do I realize I'm starting to tear. My cheek twitches a little, trying to hold it in. I'm sick of holding everything in.

Jack reaches for the gun and pulls it from my hand.

I sniffle a little and wipe my eye with my t-shirt. That felt good, I say.

He nods and says, Sullivan's the kid who tied you to a tree?

What? I say, arms crossed. I don't know what you're talking about.

He looks me in the eyes. Your mom told my mom, he says.



It's my last night here and before we go to sleep, Jack says, You really hate that Sullivan kid, don't you?

The lights in his room are still on. I turn away so he can't see me when I tell him how yeah, it was an almost with Sherry in the auditorium, because we were supposed to be alone, but when I leaned in to kiss her Sullivan and all his stupid football friends came busting out from behind the stage curtain cracking up and she said, God, I thought you were going to wait till he put his tongue down my throat.

I take a deep breath and tell him how Sullivan and I were friends until we got to high school and I wasn't cool enough anymore. That our older brothers are best friends, that they played football together and that stupid fucking coach Calhoun got them to enlist and our parents agreed because they could go to college for free with the Army, that they're together at this very moment somewhere outside Falluja. But now Sullivan has everyone at school calling me Nips and that he would never dare do any of this if my brother was still around.

You need to start sticking up for yourself, Jack says. He gets up off the bed and steps over me on the way to his closet. He rummages through the boots and dirty laundry that litter the floor in there. Eventually, he pulls out a shoe box. He lifts the top and takes out something small wrapped in tissue paper. When he sits down on the edge of the bed, he says, Here, and gives it to me.

What is this, I say, unwrapping it. And when I see it, the size of my thumb and red, with a thin white fuse, I ask him again, What is this?

An M-80, he says. I know you're not going to stand up to this kid and fight him. But you can at least use this.

Use this, I say, looking at it, still not understanding what he's getting at. Use it how?

It's easy. You just put it in his mailbox, light it, and run.

And then? I say.

He puts his hands together, one fisted cupped inside the other. And then, he says. Boom.

I smile as I watch his hands explode apart.


Three hundred and forty-eight. That's how many stars I've counted on Jack's ceiling. I've counted them every night and I counted them again tonight and I'd count them again tomorrow, if I was still here. And maybe I don't believe in the stars anymore, maybe I know it's silly, but that doesn't mean I don't want to believe in them. It doesn't mean I'm going to stop hoping.


I follow Jack across the gravel driveway, feeling behind my neck for the tag of my t-shirt, sure I put it on backward or inside out when Jack woke me up and rushed me through the dark halls out of the house.

What're we doing? I whisper to him.

He just turns and presses his finger to his lips. Shhhh. Behind him, the moon sits up there like an eye watching us. And as Jack climbs in the driver's side of Uncle Charlie's truck, I wonder what the moon thinks about grand theft auto.

Jack reaches across and unlocks the passenger door for me. I get in and he starts the engine. It's not too loud, but still I'm watching Uncle Charlie and Aunt Karen's window, waiting to see a round silhouette appear.

Jack leaves the headlights off as he backs up, turns around and pulls out the driveway.

You know how to drive? I ask him.

He looks at me in a way saying, Obviously. And I feel stupid for a second. Then he explains, though. Sometimes, he says, when my dad's hung over or something, he pays me to drive his routes for him and keep him company.

We are on the road and once we can't see the house anymore, Jack hits the headlights and gives it a little gas. He turns on the radio. It's tuned to one of Uncle Charlie's country stations, but it doesn't matter what's playing as long as it's loud. We put the windows down and Jack picks up the speed. I've never done anything this crazy and suddenly I'm wondering why.

A few minutes later, we take a left onto a small road and Jack turns down the radio. We're almost there, he says. He puts the windows up and kills the headlights.

We're almost where? I ask him. Why are we stopping?

Jack parks the truck across the street from a white house. It's your going away present, he says. Hop out and climb in the cherry picker.

The cherry picker? Why the hell—

Trust me, okay. Just trust me on this. Go, he says, and he pushes me toward the door.

I hop out of the truck and shut the door quietly. Then I run around to the back, climb up into the bed, and step into the bucket of the cherry picker. My gut—my stupid fucking gut—tells me this isn't a good idea.

I feel it in my knees first. They buckle a bit as the cherry picker starts to rise. Then I feel it my stomach, that weightless sensation you get when an elevator lifts—a feeling I wish I could capture and take with me everywhere. And soon I'm ten, fifteen feet above the truck.

It stops with a jolt. The headlights flash once. What's going on?

A room lights up on the second floor of the house. We're busted, I think. I'm going to jail. I think of the jokes I'll hear: With tits like those you'll be the most popular guy in prison.

Then there she is. Katie. She's standing in the lit window, pulling the curtains open wide. She's in panties and a tank top. She smiles. She waves. She does a little wiggle and pulls off her top. Her tits are round and perky and milky white as they hang there, two handfuls of heaven surrounded by an even tan. She squeezes them together, leans forward, and presses them beautifully against the glass for me to see.


My parents drive with the radio off. It only makes things more uncomfortable. I notice every time my mom shifts in her seat or my dad lets out a big, frustrated breath. I can hear him wince whenever he takes one hand from the wheel and touches his swollen, blackened eye.

I don't ask about the protests or tell them I saw the news, I just sit in the backseat with my bag at my side and plan my attack. I'll steal a match from the box my dad keeps by the fireplace, and I'll wait in my room till my parents are asleep. Then I'll put on my black sweatpants and my brother's old black Metallica t-shirt, and I'll sneak out the sliding glass door into the back yard. I'll stand by the tree near the road and check to see if anyone is around. Then I'll run across the street and hide by the bush next to their mailbox while I take out the M-80 and strike the match and light the fuse.

I'm excited just thinking about it. My only regret is I'll have to run. I won't be able to stand there and watch Sullivan's stupid fucking mailbox explode.


Finally, I can use the internet. The first thing I do at home is go in my dad's office and boot up the computer. While I wait for it to load, I play with the M-80 in my khaki's pocket, where I know my mom won't find it.

The computer is ready and I open my email. Enlarge Your Penis 3x Bigger. Lonely Russian Singles Want You. Today is your lucky day.

There's nothing from my brother.


At dinner my dad says, Billy, we need to tell you something. And when my mom reaches across the table and takes his hand I know it's going to be serious.

I don't want to hear it, I say. He's fine. He's just away somewhere and can't write. He's fine. I know he's fine.

Billy, my mom says. Calm down. Your brother's okay. Just let Dad speak.

He did write Billy, while we were away. He wrote Mom and I an email. My dad takes a deep breath. Billy, Joey Sullivan is dead.

And what I feel is relief. It's Joey, I think. My dad keeps talking, saying something about a car bomb. But I'm still thinking, It's not my brother. It's Joey. And I know I should be upset anyway, but I'm relieved.

How'd he sign it? I say, interrupting my dad. The email, how'd he sign it?

Counting my lucky stars, my mom says, smiling, because I told her once, and she knows that's our code for he's really okay, not just saying it, but really, truly okay.

My dad says, After dinner we're going over to their house to offer our condolences. And you're coming with us.


Kevin Sullivan's bedroom door is open. He's sitting on his bed with his head hung and his back to me, staring at his brother's football jersey—number 16—spread out on his lap.

I'm standing in his doorway, but he doesn't see me yet. I nervously fiddle with the M-80 in my pocket and look at him, realizing my brother has a jersey just like that.

Hi, Kevin, I say.

He looks over his shoulder and sees me. His eyes are red. The way his hair is, without its usual gelled spikes, I can tell he's been pulling at it. I can't imagine that's helped any.

What're you doing here, Nips? he says. And he turns more, shifting on the bed so he can see me better.

His golden chain with the cross hangs on the outside of his Yorktown Police Athletic League t-shirt. Your mom sent me up, I say. My parents are downstairs.

He doesn't say anything, and I don't know what to else to do so I look around the room: it's different than I remembered, but he still has his home run ball from our little league team in a plastic case on a shelf. Next to it is the wooden boomerang his dad brought home from Australia and we spent weeks throwing and chasing before we gave up on it, never able to make it come back to us even once.

I'm sorry about Joey, I say. And I never thought I'd be the one apologizing to him, but right now I'm so glad it's not the other way around.

Fuck you, Kevin says. He stands up and you can tell he's a football player. He's as wide as I am, but without the fat. I can see he wants to cry but he doesn't want to do it in front of me.

He walks over and says, Get the fuck out of my house. And he pushes me. Two hands firm against my chest. But he's sapped. There's nothing behind it. I don't even lose my balance. I don't usually need to be told twice to get the fuck out, but this is different. Really, I'm sorry, I say. It's not fair.

Fuck you, he says. Your brother could still come home. You don't know shit about fair. And he tries pushing me again, but I catch his arms and hold them at the wrists. They're dead weight. He puts on a show though, struggles some, like he's got to protect his honor or something.

A car pulls in the driveway. We both hear it at the same time. He stops writhing and I let go of his arms. I follow him over to the window to see who it is, and the floor creaks under one of my steps. Any other time, Sullivan would make a joke.

Standing behind him at the window, we watch as Coach Calhoun steps out of his old station wagon with a bouquet of flowers. The asshole has the brass to wear his old Army uniform, like it's some kind of tribute.

Fucking coach, Sullivan says, letting his forehead fall against the glass. A fog appears on the window and then fades away with every breath he takes.

I put my hand on his shoulder. You're fighting the wrong guy, I say.

He turns to look at me. I can't tell if he wants to cry or scream.

I'm sorry about Joey, I tell him. Really, I am. But I've got an idea.


I watch from the bushes, wood chips jabbing me through my khakis at the knees.

Sullivan is standing in the shadows by the garage, probably thinking about what comes next. We went over it twice. And it was sad, really, how easy it was getting him to go along with my idea. He's not the big, mean, meathead football player right now; he's broken and looking for glue. He would have done anything I told him to.

The Sullivans, my parents and Coach Calhoun were sitting in the den, a white carpeted room Sullivan's mom wouldn't let us walk through when we were kids, when we snuck out the backdoor. There's a window in the den. They could see this happen, if they weren't so busy staring at their shoes and avoiding each other's eyes.

I part the prickly branches of the evergreen shrub obstructing my view. And seeing Sullivan step out of the shadows and into the driveway, walking slowly but intently, all 180 drained pounds of him, I somehow know he's not going to bail, and it makes me nervous, the idea of him actually going through with it.

He doesn't look nervous, though. He looks numb, as if he's sleepwalking. He kneels down behind Coach's car. He stays like that for a second, just kneeling. And I wonder what he's thinking and who he's thinking it to.

The next part happens fast: he pulls the M-80 from his pocket, strikes a match, casting a ghoulish glow on his face like when we used to hold flashlights below our chins and tell ghost stories. It makes him look young, too young to be worried about revenge, to be stuffing an eighth stick of dynamite up the tailpipe of his football coach's car. But that's exactly what he's done.

He runs toward me, his hands covering his ears, and jumps the row of bushes like it's a blocker. He's pressed right up next to me, parting the bush in a spot so we can see it happen. He's awake now. And he's crying. We have maybe 30 seconds, and there's no taking it back now. But he's crying like he wants to. He's crying because he of all people knows things can't be undone. He lets go of the branches and they snap back, blocking our view of Coach's station wagon. In another couple seconds there will be a Boom, just like Jack said, and our parents will run out here and turn their heads side to side looking for someone, something. It won't take them long to figure things out, to wonder where we are, but that doesn't matter, because it's already done and now there's just the waiting.

But Sullivan won't even see the muffler explode, the bottom of the car fall out. He isn't even watching. He's doubled over and bawling, with his head buried in my tits. I can feel a wet spot forming on my t-shirt. I can feel the warmth of his breath through the fabric. I can feel my cleavage growing damp with his grief.