Money, water, blood (Part 15)

December 4, 2013 § 10 Comments

When Turner rode up on the sidewalk and down the walkway that led to his apartment, he knew something was wrong because he could see a big pile of shit parked in front of the door. He got off the bike and confirmed what he’d thought. The pile was all of his belongings.

He rapped on the door, and after a couple of minutes Will opened it, shirtless. “What the fuck do you want?”

“You can’t just throw my shit out on the lawn. I live here.”

“Set foot in this apartment and I’ll break out all your fucking teeth.”

Turner looked at Will’s muscled chest and arms. “Your frat is a bunch of douchebags,” he shot back, but he didn’t try to enter the apartment. “Give me a couple of big trash bags at least, willya?”

The door slammed, reopened, and out flew two large Hefty’s. “Get lost, Turner. If my dad didn’t know your dad I’d beat your ass just for standing there.” The door slammed again.

Turner bent over and began stuffing his few possessions into the garbage bags. “Thank dog my fuckin’ books are paperbacks,” he said to himself. As soon a he got the bags knotted, it started to rain, and amid more curses he embarked on what he would later consider his greatest ever feat on a bicycle: Crossing Austin and descending Congress Avenue in the rain with two enormous trash bags.

He swung off onto Lavaca and pedaled up to Clementine’s apartment. He must have looked like the bedraggled rat he felt like, and he was cold. She opened the door and looked him over, saying nothing, but not moving aside, either. “How’re things working out for you, Turner?” The corners of her mouth were turned up, but he wasn’t sure if she was smiling or if she was insinuating victory with her lips.

“Great,” he said. “Today seemed like a perfect day to ride in the rain with all my shit stuffed into a couple of garbage bags. It was either that, or, you know, get all my teeth beaten out by my roommate.”

She laughed, but still didn’t move. “I’m shocked, absolutely shocked. To think that those Sig Ep boys would stick together like that. And you being a philosopher and bicycle rider and all.”

“Money’s thicker than water, I suppose.”

“Money’s also thicker than blood, honey. Money’s the thickest shit there is. I suppose you want in?”

“Desperately.”

“Grass, ass, or rent money, Turner. Nobody sleeps for free.”

“Okay,” he smiled. “Just  promise me that when it’s your turn to throw all my shit out onto the lawn, you’ll do it on a sunny day.”

She stepped aside and he walked in, still breathing hard from his crosstown effort. His nostrils sucked in the air of the apartment. The whole place smelled like woman.

Thick as thieves (Part 14)

September 22, 2013 § 18 Comments

The hunger washed over Turner with a primal violence. His side ached. The side of his face hurt. He was exhausted. And on top of everything, he was hungry right down to his cells. “I gotta get some food,” he said.

“Let’s grab a burger. GM Steakhouse is just a few minutes’ walk from here.”

Turner hated the GM Steakhouse. It was run by Johnny Papadakis, a fat, sweaty Greek guy who loved the frat guys, the frat clothes, the frat cars, and most of all the frat money. Everyone hated Papadakis, but they loved his burgers. They were giant, lean patties cooked on the grill while you stood in the cafeteria line, with big, freshly baked buns and equally fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and avocados. The GM Burger with Fries was also pricey, at $5.75 it was a once-monthly treat, and almost worth the abuse and harassment that Papadakis ladled out to everyone in the line who wasn’t a frat brother or sorority sister.

“That place is a huge frat hangout. Do we really want to go there after robbing the entire Sig Ep fraternity, stealing one of their cars, and then vandalizing it?”

Clementine smiled. “How old are you, Turner?”

“Eighteen.”

“You gonna spend the next four years here slinking around with your dick in the dirt, scared of your own shadow because some frathole might beat you up?”

“Sounds like a reasonable plan, actually.”

“Well, it isn’t. They’re just a bunch of big bullies. We’ve stared ‘em down once. We can stare ‘em down any time. And I’m hungry.”

They walked down the Drag and into the burger joint. It was packed and the line was long. The two students in front of them were Indian. The guy ordered after looking at the menu. “I’d like the, uh, the GM Burger, please.”

“Sure,” said Papadakis, waiting to pounce. “Everything on it?”

“Yes, please. Everything but mustard.”

“One GM Burger!” Papadakis roared out. “With butt mustard!”

“Butt mustard for the Indian fellow!” roared the line cooks in unison.

Everyone snickered and the guy, chagrined, didn’t know what to say. “How much butt mustard, sir?” asked Papadakis.

The guy smiled weakly. “Everything except mustard, please,” he clarified.

“Oh! Cancel the butt mustard for the dark fellow! No butt mustard for the Indian fellow!”

The customers were guffawing too. Turner and Clementine ordered, got their food, and sat down.

“How’d you wind up at a frat party?” she asked him. “You don’t look the part.”

“My roommate’s Sig Ep, he’s a junior. He invited me.”

“That’s a problem.”

“What is?”

“When he finds out about your little stunt, you’re going to catch hell. Those guys stick together.”

“Now who’s scared of her own shadow?”

“I’ve been around, Turner. I’m six years older than you, and I know these fratholes.”

“I’ll just stare ‘em down, like you said.” He was getting scared again. “Plus, you don’t even know Will. His dad and my dad work together. He’s like a big brother to me. He’s a good guy. I’ll tell him what happened and he’ll probably argue with me but it won’t be a big deal. I’ve known him for years.”

Clementine had finished eating. “I gotta go fill my prescription. My hand is killing me. Want to come with?”

“No, thanks. I have a paper due on Monday. I gotta get on it.”

She looked at him for a second. “You’re just blowing me off, right?”

Turner blushed. “No, I’m not blowing you off. I have a paper in my philosophy class and it’s a really hard class and I gotta get a good grade in this class.”

“You’re hoping I’ll just go away, aren’t you?”

“No! Why would you say something like that?” He was desperately hoping she’d just go away.

“Well, then, walk me home.”

“Sure. Where do you live?”

“Two blocks up, just off Lavaca.”

He got on his bike and pedaled slowly, to match her casual amble. They came to a small apartment complex. Hers was on the ground floor. She went to the door and tried to get the key out of her purse. Turner dismounted. “Let me help.” He got out the key, and put it in the lock. The door swung open. He stood aside to let her in, and she was suddenly facing him. She put her arms around his shoulders and pulled his mouth to hers.

Her mouth was so hot and wet that his mind went blank. She pressed her chest against him and he felt the pressure of her breasts and the force of her pelvis as she pushed against him. Her tongue pried open his mouth and she entered him, filled with fire. Then she disengaged and pulled away. “You coming in?” she said.

He opened his eyes. He was soaked in sweat. His heart was pounding. “No,” he said. “I can’t.” He reached down and picked up his bike, threw a leg over the top tube, and rode away. “Don’t look back,” he said to himself. “Whatever you do, don’t look back.”

And he didn’t, with the soft and hurt and angry reproach of “Fuck you, Turner!” ringing in his ears.

The mysteries of the ladies’ room (Part 13)

September 21, 2013 § 14 Comments

Clementine burst out laughing. “Poor little puppy!”

“What’s so dogdamned funny?” asked Turner.

“Your face! It’s all purple! Open your mouth, okay?” she said. Turner complied. “Well, that’s good. At least they didn’t break out any of your teeth. ‘A tooth is more precious than a diamond.'” Then she laughed again. “I told you they were gonna kick your ass.”

“You were right. But they’re also gonna give you back your money, Clem.”

“No way.” She went from disbelief to serious. “Really?”

“Yeah. But they want to give it directly to you. Let’s go.”

“You know what?”

“What?”

“You’re really cute when you’re scared shitless.”

“I’m not scared.”

“Which means you’re pretty much cute all the time.” She hopped out of the car.

When they walked into the Sig Ep frat house the living room was filled with the entire brotherhood. Galen and Powers were the only ones sitting. The hatred was so thick you could eat it. “Hi, fellas!” she said, and mock curtsied. She looked at Turner and said in a stage whisper, “I’m so nervous!” Then she turned to Galen. “Where’s the little girl’s room? I have to pee.”

“Up there, whore,” he said, pointing to the staircase. “Second door on your left.”

The next five minutes lasted forever. Turner was sopping wet with sweat and fear. The frat brothers had formed a phalanx around the couch, and looked at him with loathing and contempt, but no one said anything.

Clementime skipped back down the stairs. “Is this it?” She pointed to the stack of bills in front of Galen.

“Yeah.” He began counting it out. “One hundred, whore. Two hundred, whore. Three hundred, whore.” He was taking his time. Each time he said “whore,” the brothers joined in, like a chorus. Finally he reached the end. “Twenty-four hundred, whore.” He shoved the stack of tens and twenties over to her.

She curtsied again and scooped them up. “You still owe me a hundred.”

“Shut up, Clem,” Turner said. She ignored him.

“I counted fifty-two little squirt guns last night, times fifty, minus the hundred you gave him.” She pointed at Turner. “You still owe me a hundred.”

Galen surged up from the couch, his fists clenched. “You fucking cunt!”

But Powers pulled him back. “Give her the money,” he said.

Trembling, Galen reached into his pocket and dumped out the final hundred dollars. Clementine scooped them up, too, and put them in her purse. “Thanks, boys!”

She spun on her heel and headed towards the door. At the moment when the furious brothers would have set upon them and torn them to shreds, she clasped Turner’s loose hand and pulled him along with her. The tsunami stayed itself. They walked out the door.

The moment it slammed shut, she let go of his hand. “Run, dammit, run!” Clementine sprinted off, and Turner followed. They went around the corner and jumped into the car. Turner was bewildered. “Go!” she shouted. “I said go, goddammit!”

He put the car in gear and sped off. “What’s going on?”

They hit Lamar and he turned right. She began to laugh. Then she pulled out her purse and took out the money, setting it neatly in her lap. Next, she pulled out another large stack of bills and began counting them, her feet up on the dashboard and her skirt riding down towards her lap so that he could see the white fabric of her panties. “One thousand, seven hundred, and forty-six!”

“What the hell is that?”

She didn’t answer, but divvied up the stack. “Here’s your share. $873. Not bad for a morning’s work, huh?”

“What the hell is it?”

“It’s your share.”

“My share of what?”

“The take.”

“What take?”

She giggled. “I might not have gone to the bathroom.”

It took a second, but it sank in. “You’re kidding.”

“Nope.”

“You didn’t.”

“I did.”

Turner now saw himself being arrested. “Clem, how could you?”

“They’re a bunch of fucking thieves. As soon as I saw ‘em all downstairs I figured I would just pop into the bedrooms, real quick, and empty a few wallets. Fuck ‘em.” She dumped Turner’s share in his lap.

“Now, if you don’t mind, make a right.” Turner steered the car down the street. “And park it right here.” He parked. “Okay, get your bike out of the trunk. Let’s go.”

“Go where?”

“I don’t know. Your apartment, maybe? You still owe me eighty bucks.” They had circled around back to West Campus and had parked the car underneath some large, shady oaks on a quiet street near the Scottish Rite girls’ dorm. Clementine took a knife out of her purse and methodically slashed all of the tires. Turner had taken his bike out of the trunk and watched, stupidly, as the air hissed out.

“I have no idea what’s going on, Clem. I don’t want this money. I’m now guilty of receiving stolen property. That’s a felony. Jeez, Clem. I don’t want it.” He stuffed the money back into her purse. “This is all fucked up. See you, Clem.”

“I’m going with you.”

“No, you’re not. You’ve slashed the tires on your own car. You’re nuts. Your roommate is gonna kill you. I’m going home.”

She grinned again, walking happily alongside him as he pedaled. “It’s not my roommate’s car, Turner.”

He hit the brakes on his bike. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Don’t be such a dummy.”

“Dummy? You said it was your roommate’s car.”

“After you assaulted me by pushing me out of the truck and breaking my wrist … “

“I didn’t do that!”

” … I walked back to the party and borrowed one of the cars that had the keys in it.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

“I borrowed it from some nice fraternity fellow while he was drunk and having fun with the nice stripper lady and now I’m returning it. The fraternity brother will be glad to have his car back, won’t he? Or should we go pee in it, too?” She was giggling, but serious.

Throwdown, or little guns (Part 12)

September 20, 2013 § 20 Comments

“We can take my car,” said Clementine. “Can you put your bike in the trunk?”

“I dunno,” said Turner. “We can try.” They went over to her car, a brand new BMW 325i. “Fancy,” he said.

“It’s my roommate’s car. Here,” she handed him the keys. “You drive.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you.”

“How come?”

“My writs hurts like hell, especially when I shift.”

Turner slid behind the wheel. “Let’s go to the frat house first instead of my place. It’s closer.”

Clementine  lit a cigarette. “Do you smoke?”

“No.”

“Does my smoking bother you?”

“Actually, yes.”

She blew a long stream of smoke in his face and smiled. “Good.”

After a few minutes they reached West Campus. “Why don’t you park around the corner?” she suggested.

Turner shrugged. “Okay.”

“What are you gonna tell ‘em?” She was excited and smiling.

“I don’t know. I’ll think of something.”

“You’re such a cowboy tough guy,” she said. “You know what’s gonna happen, don’t you?”

“What?”

“They’re gonna kick your fucking ass. I guy I used to fuck was a repo man. He was a complete badass and he still got his ass whipped every now and then. You know what his first rule was?”

“What?”

“Don’t ever repo when they have friends or family around. They’ll gang up on you and smash your face. And he used to repo with a sawed-off and a baseball bat.”

He looked at her and swallowed. Now he was even more scared. “I ain’t scared.”

“No,” she agreed. “You’re completely terrified.”

Turner walked up the pathway to the entrance of the huge frat house. It was the biggest one at UT, and as he walked in the front door and entered the massive living room he realized that the guys were big, too.

Galen was sitting in the big leather couch holding the remote. He looked over at Turner and nodded. Three other guys were sitting on the couch, and a couple of others were in padded lounge chairs. “What’s up?”

“I came to get that girl’s money.”

Galen’s face went blank. “What?”

“The girl’s money from last night. I came to get it for her.”

The next thing Turner knew, he was flying across the room. He hit a table with his back, flipped over it, and crumpled in a heap. Galen was on him and before the other guys could pull him away he’d landed a kick to Turner’s head and to his kidney. His mouth filled with blood and the pain in his side was so sharp he couldn’t breathe.

If the brothers hadn’t held tightly onto Galen, he would have killed Turner. “Get out of this fucking house you motherfucker!” Galen was screaming.

A very big dude appeared, even bigger than Galen. “What the hell is going on?” Everyone stopped. It was John Powers, the president of the frat.

“This little fucker came in here and threatened me, that’s what,” yelled Galen.

Turner spit out a mouthful of blood and stood up. The pain in his back and side was so bad he gasped. “I want the money,” he said.

Galen lunged again, but they pulled him back. “I don’t owe you anything motherfucker!”

“What money?” asked Powers.

“From last night.” Turner said. “He ripped off the girl that was at the frat party.”

“Girl? What girl?”

“The whore!” yelled Galen. “He’s the cunt whore’s pimp!”

“You a pimp?” Powers said, dubiously.

“No. I was at the party. And he ripped her off.”

“Wait a minute,” said Powers. The rest of the guys crowded around.

“You came to our party, drank our beer, watched our strippers, fucked our whores, and are now coming back to get money from one of our brothers?”

“I didn’t drink your beer or fuck your whores. He ripped her off. I ran into her this morning. She’s got a broken wrist because your buddy threw her out of the fucking pickup in the middle of the night. She could’ve been killed.”

Powers looked at Galen. “Really?”

“Lying little cock, I did not.”

“I’m here to help you fuckers out. She wants to file a police report and charge you with attempted murder, then sue you for her medical bills. That’s gonna make a great story, isn’t it? ‘Frat hooker sues Galen Asshat for assault after rush party goes awry.'”

Powers got serious. He was a graduating senior. “What do you want?”

“I want the girl’s money back.”

Powers looked at Galen. “You have her money?”

Galen nodded. “Go get it,” said Powers. “You don’t want this in the Daily Texan, and neither do I.” Powers turned back to Turner. “But we’re not giving it to you. She’ll have to come get it herself.”

“Okay.” He limped out the door. And then, long before it was popular, he said, “I’ll be back.”

Don’t piss off the innocent (Part 11)

September 19, 2013 § 10 Comments

Turner made a beeline for the Whole Foods Market on Lamar. It was a shabby little store that had opened a few weeks ago, filled with hippies that sold organic food and body odor. The twenty-dollar bill in his pocket, however wrongly obtained, was going to fill his stomach, and his guilt decreased in direct proportion to his mind’s realization that the gnawing hunger in his gut was about to come to an end.

“This is what they mean,” he mused “when they say people will kill for food.”

He picked up a large loaf of dense Russian bread, a pound of butter, and a few apples. He stomach was flipping over inside his abdomen. Turner went to the shortest check-out line, where a girl in front of him was fumbling with her purse. “For fuck’s sake hurry the fuck up,” he thought.

Then he noticed that she had a cast on her wrist, which was making it difficult for her to get her money. He peered over her shoulder as she tried to dig the bills from her wallet. She only had a couple of dollars and was buying a carton of milk. She turned her face in profile and Turner almost cried out as he recognized her from the fraternity party.

What happened next was too awful, and it happened without thinking.

“Hey,” he said. She turned around. “You dropped this.” He shoved the twenty towards her on the conveyor belt.

She recognized him in an instant. “You fucking little cunt,” she said, snatching the money. The cashier watched, slackjawed.

The girl paid and walked out. Turner didn’t have any more money with him, so, leaving his food on the belt he followed her outside. She spun around. “Quit following me,” she snarled.

“I’m not following you,” he said. “I’m just getting my bike.”

“Where’s the rest of my money, you little thief?”

“I’ve got some of it,” he said. “The dude who kicked you out of the car has the rest.”

“Well let’s go get it, then. That’s my rent money, not to mention the money to pay the doctor for this fucking cast on my broken fucking wrist.”

“I can give you my part,” said Turner. “But I can’t give you his. The dude that has it isn’t my friend and he’s not gonna give it back.”

“What’s your name?”

“Turner.”

“I’m Clementine.” She stuck out her hand. “We haven’t fucked yet, so I guess we can shake hands.”

Turner laughed and took her hand. It was smooth and small. She had a pretty smile, even though she was mad and still wearing last night’s makeup. “I’m so sorry,” he hung his head and blushed.

Clementine brushed away the hair from her forehead. “I know you are, you little chickenshit. Why else would you have given me that twenty? Anyone else wouldn’t have. But you’re still a little fucking thief.”

“How’d you get home?”

“How do you think? I flagged a drunk who took me to the hospital. I just got out.” She held up her cast. “Painkiller’s wearing off and it hurts like shit. I need some drugs and my money.”

Something about her had Turner by the throat. Maybe it was her toughness, or maybe it was the way she’d called him a cunt in front of the cashier. Or maybe it was because she was pretty. “Let’s go get your money, then.”

It was her turn to be surprised. “How are we gonna do that?”

“First we’ll go to my place and I’ll give you the $80 bucks from the hundred I got. Then we’ll go find the dude who stole the rest and get it from him.”

Clementine grinned. “This is gonna be fun! You’ll get your ass kicked or maybe even shot. Can I watch?”

“It’ll cost you twenty bucks.”

“Deal,” she said, and handed him the twenty. “Let’s go.”

Big wheels keep on turnin’ (Part 10)

August 29, 2013 § 21 Comments

In the dawn silence of the room, Turner’s eyes popped open. He moved, almost without motion, to extract himself from the bed he shared with his slumbering brother.

In the kitchen his bare feet tingled from the cool linoleum, and when he pulled open the door of the refrigerator the cold air blasted him in the face. He grabbed the glass milk bottle and peeled off the aluminum cap. Noiselessly he took the box of Kaboom and tumbled the cereal into his bowl.

“Kaboom!” he thought. “What’s the ‘Kaboom’? Is it the clown?” He peered at the gaudy character on the cereal box and read the text: “Minimum daily requirements of vitamins and iron in 12 oz. sugary oat cereal with marshmallow stars!”

The first part sounded pretty bad, but the sugary oat cereal and marshmallow stars sounded great. He sniffed the sweet smell. “Kaboom!” he said to himself. “Today’s gonna be kaboom!” He crunched the smiley oat faces and savored the marshmallows. “Kaboom!” he said again.

Turner went to the shed, got his bike, and pushed it into the front yard. “I ain’t no grandpa chickensissy,” he said to himself, feeling nonetheless very chicken and a fair bit sissy, too. The bike was too big. He stretched his leg over the top tube and rested his butt on the saddle, his left foot on the pedal and his right foot barely touching the ground. He pushed hard on the pedal and shoved off with his right foot.

The bike went forward, wobbled, then fell over. The side of the bike dug into his leg, and he gritted his teeth to keep from crying, because it hurt.

Turner picked the bike up and tried again, and fell again. By the fifth try he was covered in dirt.

“C’mon, dummy,” said a voice behind him. It was Cason. “I’ll hold ya.”

Cason balanced his brother so that he had both feet on the pedals, then gave him a mighty push. The bike shot forward and Turner stomped madly. For a brief moment the bike balanced, the pedals turned, the wheels spun, and he was riding, he was riding, he was riding! Then the bike left the dirt patch and hit the edge of the sidewalk. Turner didn’t know what to do, so he stopped pedaling and the bike flopped over. This time, ground up against the concrete, it really hurt.

“Aw, Turner!” Cason yelled. “Ya had it, ya dummy! Ya had it!”

Cason left in disgust to get his own bike. Then he came zooming out of the back yard and rode a pair of neat circles around Turner, who was trying to remount. “You ain’t no bike rider! Not today you ain’t!” Cason zoomed off down the sidewalk and disappeared.

That brief few seconds had infected Turner, however, with the conviction that he really could ride the flying machine, and he refused to let go of the spinning, zooming feeling that had gripped him as he’d pedaled. He remounted, pushed off, wobbled, and fell. Then he did it again. And again. And again.

Finally, the bike didn’t fall, and it happened at the very moment that Cason was coming back around the corner. Turner mashed the pedals harder, desperate for the bike to stay upright, and its gyroscopes obeyed.

Cason braked and put a foot down as his brother zoomed by. “Hey, Turner!” he yelled. “Wait for me!”

Turner didn’t hear anything, though, except his own voice shouting “Kaboom! Kaboom! Kaboom!”

Inside the wallpaper (Part 9)

August 28, 2013 § 23 Comments

At dinner that night, Turner was the last one to be seated. He was usually the first. Cason, who was always last, was first, eager to crow about the day. Turner stared at his little bowl of sliced cucumbers and swirled the oil and vinegar and black pepper around in circles, trying to make the oil and the vinegar mix.

The house was one of the few that had survived the Great Storm of 1900. Its floors were made out of longleaf pine from trees that were already over a hundred years old when they had been milled into boards, so that now they were so hard you couldn’t penetrate them with a nail and a five-pound hammer.

The house had degenerated into a dilapidated rental, with the original heavy cloth wallpaper still tacked to the walls. It was a floral pattern of light green prints that had faded into brown on a once-white background which had itself become a faint, uneven yellow. The curlicues of the flowers were so intricate that Turner could stare at them and lose himself in their folds and twists and turns, forever if need be.

He could tell that tonight was going to be a wallpaper night.

“Did you boys have fun on your bikes today?” Mom asked.

“I rode over some roots and a big crack and down to the end of the street and jumped off a curb!” Cason bragged. “And I rode around the garden five times and rode over some more roots and out in the alley!”

“Did you have fun, too, Turner?” she asked.

Turner vaguely heard something as the cucumbers winked back at him and he tried to spear an oil bubble with his fork. “Huh?” he said.

“Turner didn’t have no fun!” Cason said with glee. “He was a grandpa chickensissy!”

“A what?” asked Pops.

“A grandpa chickensissy!” Cason was so happy with this new word, he had already made up a little jingle that went “I’m so prissy like a grandpa chickensissy.” He had put it to a little tune and had been humming it all afternoon. Even though it was directed at him, Turner loved everything Cason did and had started humming it too, against his will.

“What in the world is that?” asked Mom.

“A grandpa chickensissy is a sissy who’s too chicken to take off his training wheels and so he keeps falling like a crybaby and he does it for a hundred years ’til he’s a old man and then he’s a grandpa chickensissy!” Cason was so pleased with the definition he looked like he would bust open from pride.

“Don’t call your brother names,” Pops said.

“Turner don’t care,” said Cason defiantly. “You’re a grandpa chickensissy, aintcha?”

Turner had climbed up into the wallpaper with his bowl of sliced cucumbers. He’d been given an important mission: Find the secret curlicue passageway that had the magic pepper grinder that would make the oil mix perfectly with the vinegar so there wouldn’t be any more oil bubbles. He’d gone way deep into the wallpaper now, and there was no turning back.

Inside his head there were three worlds. The first and the best world was Cason’s World, a place full of excitement and fun and madcap antics and hilarity and danger and adventure, but a place that always ended with him getting humiliated or getting a nasty pummeling or worse, like the time Cason shoved an entire unshelled pecan up his nose, or the time he shot him out of a tree with an arrow that had had its rubber tip removed, or the time he’d made Turner drink half a bottle of ammonia and then told Pops and he’d had to get his stomach pumped..

The second and worst world was Turner’s World, a terrifying place filled with angry adults and bad consequences and lots of places to do the wrong thing and people trying to make you eat anything besides cucumbers with oil and vinegar and black pepper for lunch and dinner, and scowling at him for always wanting Kaboom cereal for breakfast. The third and middle-best place was Pretend, where Turner could wander off and do whatever he wanted. The only down side to Pretend was that after a while he always got yanked back down into Turner’s World, and the longer he was in Pretend the rougher the landing in Turner’s World ended up being, although if you hung out very long in Cason’s world you were certain to get a whipping, no exceptions, ever.

“Aincha?” Cason said again.

“Ain’t I what?”

“Aincha a grandpa chickensissy?”

Turner took a moment to assess where he was. It looked like Cason’s World, because he was getting namecalled, but it might also be Turner’s World, because if he caused a ruckus he’d get yelled at by Mom or Pops. He thought for a second.

“Nope, you dope,” he said to Cason, using a phrase that was guaranteed to earn him a kidney punch at bedtime. “I ain’t one of those.”

“What are ya, then?” Cason taunted him.

Out of nowhere it came, or maybe it came from the magic-est curlicue in the wallpaper, or maybe it came from out in the dirt-and-weeds front yard, where his bike was laying on its side, or maybe it was simpler than all that and it was just fate, Turner’s fate. “I’m a bike rider.” he said.

Cason laughed, but now he was angry. “No you ain’t! You can’t even pedal without falling like a crybaby chickensissy! You ain’t no bike rider! You ain’t! You’re a bike faller chickensissy, that’s what you are!”

“Am too,” Turner retorted, stabbing a cuke and popping it into his mouth. “Am too!” he said again.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” said Mom.

“If you do any more namecalling at the dinner table I’ll tan your hide, Cason,” said Pops.

Cason’s euphoria bubble had popped and he sank down in one of the deep, black troughs that would characterize his life until, many years later, he ended it. Cason scrunched up his eyebrows and stared angrily at his dinner. “You ain’t no bike rider, you ain’t, ’cause you can’t ride a bike.”

“Am too,” Turner hummed. “Am too.”

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