Leslie Blackwell Leslie Blackwell
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Paragraph one – "We are standing in a circle in Roaches backyard" would read better.

Leslie Blackwell Leslie Blackwell
Recommendations: 21

Those courses he is taking are not easy to say the least. I like his confidence when he says he can handle all of them

Leslie Blackwell Leslie Blackwell
Recommendations: 21

I can tell by their faces that they...

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Taylor Lanson Taylor Lanson
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She had a friend.

      In Roach’s backyard we are all standing in a circle, talking about each other’s lives without looking face-to-face. It’s dark outside, probably after midnight, but who’s keeping track? Even though Roach is standing right in front of the patio light switch, he doesn’t turn it on, preferring the darkness and hiding within it. He’s staring at the blunt Jay rolled inside and deciding whether or not he wants to light it, but he doesn’t just yet.
       Tristen is here too with a shaved head, saying something about joining the military and getting out of this town. He sighs because he knows he won’t be joining in on the blunt, not thinking about the second-hand smoke that will inevitably stain the insides of his lungs and the outsides of his clothes. Cameron is pacing back and forth along the side of the concrete just outside the patio the rest of us are standing under, I could never tell what was on his mind, but that was because he hadn’t been in the group for too long. Jay is looking thinner than usual, he has a joe in his ear and I can see the frustration on his face beginning to form as he tries to remember where he put it. As for me? Eh, I’m wearing slacks and my favorite leather jacket that my Uncle got me for graduation.
       Roach is lighting the blunt and takes a drag at least three times longer than usual, I can tell that something is turning inside his head. He passes it to Jay without a word though, and I’m beginning to feel a little uncomfortable with the silence. Before I get a chance to open my mouth I see Jay waving the blunt in front of it. Roach starts up.
       “Why can’t we ever see the stars out here?”
       “It’s called light-pollution, being so close to the city makes it like this, but if we were out in the country they’d be everywhere,” I always answer Roach’s questions, being that I’m the smartest among us. In return, he usually pokes fun at the way I talk, but this time he’s keeping those words to himself.
       “We should leave one weekend and go somewhere far away. I don’t even remember what they look like anymore.”
       “Where would we go? The greaser is practically shot and none of you have cars,” it was unlike Jay to be so harsh, but I guess he doesn’t feel like bullshitting tonight. It was true, though, his whip could barely take us from one house to the other.
       Roach rants for a minute about how the government is corrupt, it’s his favorite topic. I am trying not to laugh at him, but the blunt is making it difficult. I let out a snicker.
       “What’s so funny Benny, you really don’t think the government fucks with us?”
       “It’s pointless to talk about this shit.”
       “You just think that because of the shit they put in the water.”
       “Just d-”
       “Nah man, you drop it. You know how you always tell me that I should read something? Well this time I did,” I can see the lines in his forehead thickening, there is sweat forming on the outside of his eyebrows. He continues.
       “They put Chloride in the water, man. It makes you not care about shit so they can do whatever they want and get away with it.”
       I’m leaning against one of the two tables that line each side of the patio. They are both covered in all manner of tools: saws, hammers, an electric screwdriver, and at the end of one of 1 comment

them, a large vice. Tristen sighs again and is turning the vice’s handle clockwise till it closes completely, then he starts turning it back the other way. He keeps doing it until Roach tells him to quit it. Just now, two roaches scurry across the floor and Cameron jumps up on top of the table he was standing next to, we forget about the argument and laugh at him.
“Put me up against any man on any day, but if I’m fighting a roach I’m done for.”
“What are you afraid of those things for? What’s the point of working out so much if a tiny bug makes you jump?” Jay sounds like he is barking more so than talking.
       “I can’t explain it, it’s something deep inside me that just doesn’t feel right when I see one. No offense Roach.” He laughs at his own joke and I can see the edge of his tattoo creeping out of his left shirt sleeve, it looks like it might be the tail end of a scorpion.
       “Hey man, I’m not that type of roach.”
       We are all laughing together, our voices are shrill and careless. Before I know it the blunt has disappeared and there is talk of drinking, but no drink to be found. I get a call from my cellphone and notice it’s an unknown number. I ignore it, but Roach tells me I should answer it. I put the phone to my ear.
       “It’s Justin. Listen up, I don’t like you hanging with the crew anymore. You give me the time and we are going to meet to settle this.” I hang up out of sheer fear.
       At first I am trying to brush it off like nothing happened, I can tell by Jay’s grimace that he must have overheard what Justin said. He comes up to me and puts his hands around my collar.
       “Are you just going to let him say that to you? We all know Justin doesn’t like you, but we invited you tonight anyways. We invited him too, you know?”
       They all start chirping in like birds at dawn, one after the other with no end in sight and I am just now noticing how cold it is outside on this mid-January Friday night. The swing set in the yard just a few feet away from us is swaying in the sharp wind. The chimes hanging from the patio ceiling are bumping into each other, the sound is beautiful but I can’t help but feel like they are mysterious and maybe a little eerie. It smells like rust and smoke out here, there’s dirt everywhere.
       “Come on man, you have to call him back.”
       I am looking at Roach with his pencil thin, jet black beard running across his jawline. The contrast against his pale face makes him look like a ghost in the subtle moonlight. Jay takes a few steps backwards and lets go of my shirt, I can see the air coming out of his nostrils. What can I say? There’s fear inside me that they won’t respect me if I stay silent. I already feel like a corpse because I know I’ve never been in a real fight before. Tristen must be reading my mind, because he comes up to me already laughing.
       “It’s not like we expect you to win dude, but if you ignore Justin this is just going to get worse.” He is making sense for once in his life so I call Justin back immediately.
       “Alright, you know where that park is by the lake?”
       “Meet me there at two in the morning tomorrow and don’t bring anyone with you.”
       “You got it.”
       I hang up. Everyone is looking at me like I’ve just sold my soul to the devil and I can see Tristen shivering, which doesn’t surprise me since he’s wearing a skin-tight wife beater in thirty degree weather. Roach and Jay look at each other smirking, then they start a slow clap in my honor.

      “Alright man, now we gotta teach you how to fight…” Roach’s wrinkles have vanished. “But not now. Show up here again around noon.”
       We all dap each other off and leave the patio just as we had found it, but with a few extra ash piles. The drive home is lonely and unforgiving. I am questioning myself and forget to turn the radio on. Now, as I sneak inside the house through the back door without waking the dog, I can feel the weight of the blunt on my eyes. It’s a wonder that I didn’t pass out on the wheel. My dreams are darkness.

       I’m awake, the sunlight seeps through a crack in my blackout curtains. My room is a mess, but I don’t really care as I’ll be back at my dorm in just a few short weeks. My morning ritual is so deeply ingrained into my subconscious that I go into auto-pilot. Shower. Shave. Get dressed. Some toast and an apple is shoved down my throat because I hate doctors. My mom is watching divorce court and she doesn’t have a problem with me leaving to go back to Roach’s even though I was just there last night.
       Jay picks me up in a used Impala since he totaled his last car by racing it off the road. He told his people that some guy hit him and took off. It’s a shame that his best friend had to go to the hospital for it, ever since then Jay hasn’t been the same. He’s the only one of us who doesn’t go to school; has a full-time job as a busser at some joint downtown. He tells me the hours are awful, but he makes bank in tips. He only had to save up for a few months to get the hunk of junk we were cruising in now. It was impressive considering he was dropping forty dollars on weed every week, but who knows what else he is up to when I’m at college.  
       We get to Roach’s in fifteen minutes, somehow Jay managed to hit every green light on the way there. Jay sparks up a joint he rolled in the car while we were driving. Roach daps us off and starts rambling about posture when you fight. I’m trying to pay attention, but I just keep thinking about the phone call last night and whether or not I had imagined it. I guess I hadn’t.
Both Tristen and Cameron are nowhere to be found, they are probably still sleeping. Roach tells me that they will be here later, but I have to get back home for dinner. I at least want a full stomach if I’m going to get the shit beaten out of me. Roach, though he’s pretty short, still intimidates me with the way his face contorts when he doesn’t like what you just said. During last summer after a party, we were walking back to Jay’s car and Roach just turned around all of a sudden to look at me and swung at my head. He stopped just before it hit me and started laughing like a madman. I know now that if his fist would have connected, I would’ve been drooling on the street, but I was so drunk that I didn’t even flinch. I think he respected me more after that night.
       “So when are you leaving then?”
       “Probably around five.” It was already one thirty.
       “That’s not enough time, but whatever. Stay focused.”
       Jay is teaching me how to square-up, tells me that I should stay loose in case I need to duck. I’m not really understanding everything that he is saying, but I nod my head like I do and he buys it. Even though it is still frigid outside from the cold-front that came in on the tail end of last week, I’m starting to break a sweat.
       The final lesson for today’s class in ass-kicking is more philosophical than anything. Roach tells me to get ready so I put my hands up. He starts winding up a massive hook with his right fist and he is clenching so hard that I can see veins popping out of his neck. I plant my back leg to make sure I’ll still be standing, but just as I’m thinking he’s going to let loose with his right hook, he hits me with a lightning-fast left jab straight to my mouth instead.

      “You’ve got to be ready for anything.”
        “That’s cheap.”
        “So is talking in the middle of a fight.”
        He lets out another swing, but this one I manage to dodge just in time. He’s smiling and I can tell that I passed the test with at least a C+, which is much lower than my average, but then again I guess I’ve never had Roach as a teacher before. All jokes aside, my training is now complete. I feel like I could take on Cameron if I had the guts, but I still have the sinking suspicion that I’m going to get my teeth kicked-in tonight. Oh well.
       A couple of daps and three cigs later, I’m on my way home with Jay looking determined behind the wheel. He’s so skinny that his cheeks go inwards, I feel bad for him but I know I can’t invite him to dinner. I ask him if he can give me a ride to the place tonight, but he tells me that he’s busy. I get out of the car still buzzed from that jab to the kisser. Apparently, the hit must’ve left me brain-dead because I left my wallet back at Roach’s. I guess I’ll have to get it from him tomorrow if I’m still alive by then.
       I’m at the table with my family. My mom made my favorite: fried shrimp with homemade French fries and garlic bread. It isn’t the healthiest meal in the world, but nothing on this earth tastes better, I swear. My twelve-year-old sister is talking about how she drew some more pictures today. She’s way smarter than I was at her age, but she doesn’t have a work ethic. Those pictures are impressive, though. There’s one that she drew for me right before I left for college that’s a dragon breathing out a purple flame which lights a torch that’s floating in the sky. She said it symbolized my intelligence or something like that. I’ve got it hanging right above my desk.
       My dad breaks the silence, “So what are you taking this coming semester, son?”
       “In the morning, I’ve got advanced electromagnetism and quantum physics, but that’s just on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Tuesday and Thursday I’m taking the last progression in my Calculus classes. There’s one other one but I can’t remember…Latin, yeah that’s it, I’m taking my third Latin course this semester too.”
        He looks at me like I just solved world-hunger, “How many hours is that?”
       “Eighteen if you count the lab, but on paper it’s only sixteen,” I say with some confidence, but I’m not really sure.
       “Are you sure you can handle all of that?”
       “Yeah, it’s nothing.” 1 comment

       I’m waiting for everyone to fall asleep before I get ready. It’s pouring outside like the biblical flood, but there’s no turning back now. My sister is the last to fall asleep. She stays up late watching YouTube videos but she’s got a perfect report card every quarter so my parents can’t do shit to her. I take a piss in the adjacent bathroom and crack her door open right after. She’s finally out cold with her laptop still playing next to her on the bed. I turn it off and put it on her cluttered desk. I tell her goodbye and put on my leather jacket to shield myself from the weather, but mostly just to look tough. I try to leave through the backdoor, but I have to wait till there’s a lull in the thunder so that I don’t wake the whole house up.
       It’s about midnight now and it’s going to take me close to the full two hours to get to the park. This walk would be fun on any other night. I’m cursing to myself under my breath. The houses in my neighborhood all look the same. Some have cleaner porches than others, but most of the people around here let their front yards grow out till they’re practically jungles. I see a few stray cats here and there, but they run when I get close. I’m trying not to think about what’s

going to happen and the torrential rain is making that easier for me. I’m freezing my dick off with every step further.

       I’m finally here. For some reason, my mouth has dried up. I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m nervous. I can see Jay’s Impala parked down the street, but he’s not in it. I start to panic. A small dog in someone’s yard won’t stop barking and it reminds me of him. Lightning is arcing across the sky in all directions, the light exposes the corners of the neighborhood in ways I can’t explain. The rain is so bad that I feel like I’m in that scene of “The Outsiders” where that tall idiot steals a magazine and gets shot down in the mud by some pigs. My brain is telling me to run for the hills, but I won’t go back. I can’t go back.
       As I make my way past some swaying trees, I see Roach standing in the rain with his arms crossed, motionless. We are both drenched from head to toe, I wonder to myself how long he’s been waiting there. I’m about ten feet from him now, but I don’t know what to say. He starts up for me.
       “We thought that if you knew it was me, you wouldn’t have shown up.”
       “I don’t get it.”
       “Justin’s got no beef with you, idiot. I just don’t like the way you talk down to us.”
       “I’m sorry.”
       “Shut up and listen for a change. If I win, you don’t show your face around my crib anymore unless you’re prepared to keep that smart-ass shit to yourself. If you win, you can come whenever you like and say whatever you want. Deal?”
       “Deal, but where’s Jay?”
       “He let me use his car tonight. Sorry, but I live way farther from here than you.”
       “I gotcha,” realizing that he stood in the rain for all that time willingly.
       “Alright, first one on the ground loses. No groin shots. After this we can be friends like before.”
       I realize that I have to take my leather jacket off to fight and I throw it into the mud just to show that I don’t give a fuck. He tosses me my wallet and makes a face that asks if I’m ready. I square up and he charges at me. One step to the right. Two steps to the left. Swing. Duck. Swing again. Duck again. I take a shot to my stomach and it knocks the wind out of me. Roach looks like a barbarian with bloodlust carved into his face like a tribal tattoo from the same artist that did Cameron’s piece. He’s swinging wildly, nothing like the “reformed techniques” he showed me earlier. The rain is like a hurricane now. There’s so much water that we might as well be fighting in the lake and swimming with the fishes.
       The lightning shines off of his face every two seconds, but I can’t hear anything except my heartbeat pounding through my ears from the inside. The breath coming from his mouth looks like the smoke out of that dragon my sister drew for me. Its got to be below twenty out here right now, but I’m as hot as a furnace. One jab to the right. Two swings from the left. Duck under the hook. I land a straight punch right in Roach’s sternum, but it doesn’t sway him. I try aiming a little higher, but it’s too late. He’s already got a punch halfway to my face and I’m prepared to go down. Something else happens instead.
       His right foot slips in some mud and that punch that was supposed to hit him in the cheek lands right in his temple. He falls into the punch. Crack. Thud. I didn’t know I could punch that hard, but now I wish I had never found out. He’s face down in the drenched dirt and I flip him over. He’s not saying anything and his right hand raises up slowly with his fingers outstretched like he’s trying to grab something that isn’t there. His eyes are glossed over, but I feel like he’s looking right at me. No. He’s looking behind me, but there’s nothing there except the stars poking through the clouds. The rain is slowing down. Now it’s gone.
       Roach’s other hand wraps around his throat. He’s convulsing and choking at the same time. His eyes look like they are trying to escape from their sockets. His face starts twitching and those same veins in his neck are popping out. I start sprinting away and leave my jacket behind. I’m exhausted but I don’t stop running and I don’t take the time to turn around. Somehow I manage to get back home in less than forty-five minutes. I think about calling Jay, but it’s too late for that. If that poor fucking kid was really suffocating, he would have died by now. He wouldn’t be found till the morning when some unsuspecting jogger stumbles upon him by the trail. No one is there to help him. His own mother probably didn’t even know that he had left his house to fight me. I keep saying in my head that there’s a chance he snapped out of it. A chance that the seizure ended and he got up perfectly fine. He wouldn’t remember any of it, he would just think that get got knocked out unconscious. I am reassuring myself that everything is fine. I won’t let the doubts consume me. My dreams are darkness.
       Its mid-day now and I’ve only just opened my eyes. My body is sore, especially my legs. At first everything seems normal. I’m thinking about that slice of toast and the apple, but somethings caught in my throat. Then it hits me. Just like before, the question starts surfacing inside my mind. Was it just a dream? I ask myself again. It was just a dream, right? But I know it wasn’t a dream because I can see bruises using the bathroom mirror. I’ve even got a cut on my face. I wash the guilt away in the shower. I’m too sick to eat. I call Jay up and he answers after letting it ring five or six times, the fool never set up his voicemail.
       “So how’d it go last night, champ? Did you crap your pants when you saw Roach?”

      “What about your car?”
       “Huh? It’s parked in the driveway. I don’t know why, but he left the keys on one of the tables in the back instead of coming inside.”
       “Oh. Alright.” Relief takes over my entire body.
       “So what happened?”
       “I’ll tell you when I get there.”
       I hang up, get dressed, and am out the door without a word to my parents. It’s only a short walk to Jay’s crib and I’m all smiles. As I turn the corner I see Jay already outside smoking a joe, Cam and Tristen are here too.
       “Alright Mr. Mystery, let’s hear it,” Jay says with the cig still in his mouth.
       “I knocked him out with a lucky punch.” I can tell buy their faces that they don’t believe me. Tristen cuts in.
       “Damn. Didn’t see this one comin’ fellas.” He sighs, but I can’t tell if it’s out of sadness or relief.  
       “Where is Roach at anyways?” I’m starting to feel suspicious.
       “He hasn’t hit me up yet, but I’m sure he’ll come through eventually if you want to kick it. Anybody seen my lighter?”
       I figure to myself that Jay must be in a good mood to invite us all to stay till late. We’ve been waiting around till one or two in the morning and have been biding the time with a few joints and some music, but Roach is a no-show. We end up talking about each other’s lives and before I know it, both Cameron and Tristen have dipped. 1 comment

       It’s been a few weeks since then and no one has heard a word from Roach. Yet somehow, things haven’t really changed. Instead of Roach’s crib, we’ve been hanging at Jay’s. Instead of a swing set in the back yard, it’s a treehouse. Tristen ended up not being able to get into the military because he’s a convicted felon and he’s got three minor charges to boot; makes me wonder how he managed to even get into community college. Cameron says he’s been working out more, he wants to be a physical trainer and I can see it in him. Jay looks fatter and happier now that the restaurant he busses at started feeding him on his break. He never put his hands on me again after the fight. As for me? I see Roach in my dreams from time to time. It happens like this: there’s a light in the sky, but I can’t tell what it is - next thing I know - Roach descends from the heavens wide-eyed and smiling like an idiot; he’s got my muddy leather jacket in one arm and a blunt in the other, we talk about the government and how there’s Chloride in the water.

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