"Punch him in the tongue."
Bob looks at Count.
"How the fuck you punch somebody in the tongue?"
It's not like I'm going to stick it out. Let them punch it. That would be just plan stupid. Even though Count just kicked me in the nuts. And even though my stomach feels like it's filled with glass. And I think blood is coming out of my left ear, I'm not going to make it easy for them.
Bob picks me up out of the dirt. He's a guy. A normal, just got on the bus, dating your ex-girlfriend, kind of guy. He wouldn't even be all that tough. It isn't like he's big or anything. But he carries a gun.
"Open your fucking mouth."
"Umgh." I'm not going to do it.
Bob pulls that gun of his out from behind his back. Tries to stick it up my nostril. With his other hand, Bob reaches right into my mouth and tries to grab my tongue. I pull it away. It's pretty hard to grab a tongue. But then he shoves his gun harder into my nose, so I stick it out for him.
"Tomorrow'll be worse for you," says Bob.
I don't say anything. I wouldn't have either. Even if my tongue wasn't hanging out.
Then the bastard actually punches it. He punches my tongue.
"Tomorrow," says Count.
Bob pushes me and I fall back into the dirt. Hit my head on a tree trunk. I think I groan. Bob and Count just walk away. Leave me there. Groaning.
After a while, I sit up and lean against the tree. My ear isn't really bleeding. My stomach still hurts, though. But not much. The worst thing is my fleece. It's covered in blood.
"Shit," I try to say. In my head, it sounds more like a camel I once rode. It had been at a flower show. They had camels and elephants, but they didn't let you pick which one you wanted to ride. My friend got the elephant. I was so pissed. But my mom told me not to make a scene. I couldn't believe it. Like she wanted me to just ride the Goddamn camel. Like that was good enough. A year later she got elephants for my birthday party, but I never really forgave her.
I shake my head. More blood splats down on my fleece. "Shit." Still sounds like a camel.
I have to get out of here. I guess I should explain one thing, first. See, I owe a couple of people money. It pisses me off, really. It's only about five grand apiece. Two different guys. I only owe the second guy because I was trying to pay the first guy off. And that was only because fucking South Carolina turned into a bunch of faggots and forgot how to play football.
I tried to get the money from my parents. My father, the one that carries the handkerchief is a dentist. My mom doesn't even have to work. They just bought a new Audi. But they won't give me any money. Not since I dropped out of college. But fuck them. They're stupid anyway.
The reason I need to get up is that I know the other guy is looking for me, too. I owed him a payment yesterday. Just like I owed the first guy. He sent Bob and Count. I don't know who the second guy is going to send. I haven't been beaten by his guys yet. But they all know I hang out in the park during the day, so I got to get going.
Oh fuck. I start running through the park. I can run pretty well. Not to brag or anything, but I was on cross-country in high school. We won states my senior year.
"Stop running, dumbass."
I do. It's not anyone who wants to beat me up. It's just a friend of mine. His name's Trevor.
I look around, make sure no one is trying to sneak up on me or anything.
"What the fuck you laughing at," I say.
Trevor keeps laughing. He laughs like an old lady.
"You sound like a retard," he says.
"And what's up with all the blood. Oh shit. Bob?"
I just nod. He's laughing at me because I sound like a camel. He is so uncool sometimes.
"Did he say anything about me?"
Trevor really wants to be some kind of criminal. It was his idea I borrow from the other guy. I shake my head. He starts looking around like he's Starsky or Hutch. He thinks he's such hot shit sometimes.
"Dude, you score?" he asks.
I shake my head. He knows I don't have any money. He is so annoying sometimes.
Trevor looks pissed. "I gotta motor," he says. "I'm meeting Molly at Thirsties." He checks his watch. It might be worth more than what I owe both these guys.
"Help me out, man. I need the money," I say. His parents still pay for him. They even give him enough for his drugs. They don't know that or anything. They just think Trevor is this great student of the decade or something.
He just laughs at me.
"Give me a ride," I say.
"I don't have the car," he says.
He's still laughing when he jogs away. I hate him. I watch him go and feel blood dripping down my chin. What's weird is that it doesn't really hurt. But does feel like it keeps getting bigger, like soon I'm not going to be able to breath. So I run the other way.
As I run I try to go through my options. I could go to Marcy's house. But she's probably on E. Plus, she doesn't have any money, anyway. Well, she does and all. But she won't give me any. She'd give me drugs. But not money. I list all my other friends. But it's the same story.
I run for awhile before I notice people are staring at me. I remember that my orange fleece is all covered in blood. I take it off, still running, and tie it around my waist. But they are still staring at me so I stop running. I just walk for awhile and it works. No one pays me any attention then.
I walk past this funny deli and convenience store on Fourth Street. I go in there every once in awhile. Me and my friends. If there's more than three of us, though, he kicks us out.
I stop. Down the block I see him. He's a big guy. Black. Wearing a sweat suit. He's looking right at me. I can hear the wicky-wicky of the nylon. Then he cracks his knuckles.
I try to think fast, but that's not always something I'm good at. Then I just run into the deli and convenience store. This other idea hits me. I see a broom leaning against the wall. I'll act like I work here. I grab the broom and start sweeping. I try to keep my head down but I keep kind of looking up without lifting it.
I see the big black guy. He's walking right toward the store. "Hey you. Stop that."
I turn around and see the owner. He's yelling at me. I just start sweeping faster.
"Get the hell out of here." He's an old guy with a lot of hair. He's fat but I'm not sure how anyone who owns a deli and convenience store could be skinny. He limps, too. It's very noticeable as he comes at me.
"Dude, just for a second, man. I just need to..." I keep sweeping, faster and faster. Why won't he just let me sweep? I'm not hurting anything.
He stops. He starts looking at me funny.
"What?" I say.
Then this woman, who I guess was at the counter, walks up beside him. She is looking at me funny, too.
She comes closer. I stop sweeping. It's like she's kind of scary. But in a helpful way, you know.
"Are you at the wrong store?" She says it like she's talking to my brother. He's nine. Or maybe eleven. But she's talking like he's nine.
I look out the window real fast.
"I'm just waiting for that guy to pass," I say.
"You're just doing it for the pay?" she says.
She turns to the owner. "He doesn't work here, right?"
The guy shakes his head. He doesn't say anything, though. That is very odd. He's usually a loudmouth.
"And you don't employ any special needs, right?"
"Honey, I think you might be lost." She says that to me.
"I'm just sweeping," I say.
She smiles like that is the warmest thing she has ever heard.
"My car's out front," she says. "It's okay," she says this to both of us, "I'm a social worker."
The door to the store opens. I turn around and see the big black guy. He's walking right at me. God, I don't want to get beaten twice in a day. It's just too much, you know.
"Okay," I say. I drop the broom and go to the lady. She reaches out her hand. I look at the big black guy and take it. She leads me out. The black guy and the owner watch. They look like they're driving by some kind of accident. I smile at them. I shouldn't. But I just can't help it. Even the big black guy smiles back. Which does not make any sense to me.
- - -
I'm sitting at a desk. The woman from the store's desk. She's on the phone, talking to someone.
"I just found him at Cruz's on fourth. He was sweeping. You should have seen it. He's so cute," she smiles at me. "His speech is pretty bad, but when I asked him where he lived, I think he said his parents kicked him out." Pause. "I know." Pause. "Maybe Billy." Pause. "Great." She hangs up.
"Peter," she says. For some reason she keeps calling me that. I've stopped correcting her.
I nod this time.
"Can you come along with me?"
I nod again.
She stands up and leads me through some hallways then outside. We walk down this sidewalk that goes through a park. It's nice, smaller than the one I woke up in. But nice. There are people out there. Four or five at a picnic table. They're doing something all together but they're too far away for me to see what. One of them laughs.
On the other side of the park are a bunch of buildings. They look like those buildings at summer camp. You know, the long ones with all the beds. And we are definitely heading for one of them. We walk up the wooden stairs and in the front door. Some guy wearing a helmet, like a hockey one, not a football one, is standing there. He has a woman with him, too.
"Peter, this is Billy. He's going to be your roommate for awhile," my lady says.
"Roommate?" I say.
My woman says to his woman, "At least until I find out who he belongs to." The other woman nods.
"Peter," mine says. "Lunch is in an hour. If you're tired, you can take a nap. We'll bring you some clean clothes, too. We'll take care of everything."
"Everything?" I say.
She smiles. It has been a very long time since someone has offered that.
"Will you be my friend?" the kid in the helmet says.
I think for a second. Everything?
"I'll give you my cookie," the helmet kid says.
He'll give me his cookie?
"Sure," I say. But in my head, it sounds like that camel I told you about.
About the author:
For the past ten years, Bryan Reardon has written professionally for a Governor and members of his cabinet. Recently, he found writing fiction to be more rewarding and not too much different than writing for politicians. He is currently shopping his first novel, The Lost Son, and is diligently working on his second. He despises cell phones and likes short but brisk walks on the beach.