Authors: Marie Sexton
“Where is everybody, anyway? I mean, you know, where’s everybody hang out?” Nate had only smoked half the cigarette, but he tossed it into the gutter.
Cody resisted the urge to smack him. He’d smoked his down to the filter, and he dropped it on the pavement and ground it out with the toe of his shoe. He was trying not to resent Warren’s newest resident for wasting half of his second-to-last smoke. He was also trying not to resent him for being from the fucking Grove. He could get past the first. The second, though? That one pissed him off for no good reason. “Who exactly are you looking for?” he asked. “Rich kids like you?”
He could tell Nate didn’t know how to answer. “I suppose. Anyone our age, really.”
Cody knew his attitude was unwarranted. It wasn’t Nate’s fault his folks had money any more than it was Cody’s fault that his didn’t. He sighed. “The people you’re talking about will be at City Drug. It’s on Main Street.”
“A drug store?”
“It’s like a general store. It’s old. They still got one of those old-fashioned fountains, you know? Like from the fifties.” It was actually a pretty cool place, if you didn’t mind the preps. They made killer malts, had Ironport on tap, and sold limeades that were actually fresh squeezed. “That’s where your type will be.”
Nate grinned. His hair was blowing in his eyes again. “And what about the ones who aren’t ‘my type’?”
Cody frowned. He resisted the urge to take out his last cigarette and light it. “The cowboys’ll be at the old rock quarry, south of town. I don’t know what they do there, and I probably don’t want to. The burnouts and the trailer-park kids hang at the bowling alley. It’s only got three lanes, but there’s a Pac-Man, and Centipede, and pinball, and a foosball table.”
He could have told him that the pinball machine tilted if you breathed on it wrong, and the foosball table was missing four of its men, three from red and one from blue, but he figured Nate didn’t need to know quite that much. “Then there’s just the Mormons, I guess. They stick together. Mostly hang at each other’s houses, I think.”
“And what about you? Where do you hang?”
Cody laughed. “I guess right here, behind the ICE cooler.”
“There must be someplace else?”
Cody studied him, weighing his odds. “Maybe.”
Every school had its outcasts, and at Walter Warren High School, that role was filled by him. If he had to pick a crew, it’d be those losers at the bowling alley, but he didn’t trust them. He knew from experience they’d turn on him in a heartbeat if it suited them. So on one hand, it was kind of cool to think about having some company for a while. On the other hand, school started again in three weeks. And when that happened, it’d be over. It was a safe bet it’d only be a few days before Nate was in tight with the jocks and those preps from the Grove, looking right past Cody in the halls like they’d never met.
Still, that wouldn’t be until September, and this was August. Bright and sunny and blowing like a motherfucker. Right at that moment, he didn’t have a damn thing to lose.
“I’ll take you somewhere,” he said. “But first, let’s buy another pack of smokes.”
Nate assumed they’d leave right away, but Cody had him wait. Finally, when the last customer left the gas station, he took Nate’s money and went inside. He came back out with a pack in each hand, one of Marlboros, one of Camel Lights. He shoved the latter into his jacket pocket, and tossed the Reds Nate’s way.
He didn’t say anything. Just headed off down the sidewalk. “Where are you going?” Nate called.
Cody turned on his heel. “Thought you wanted to go somewhere?”
Ah. Cody expected him to follow. On foot. “Why don’t we drive?” He nodded toward his car, and Cody’s eyes followed the gesture to the brown Mustang parked at the end of the lot.
Cody looked at it for a minute, and Nate didn’t miss the resentment on his face. He thought about the way Cody had said,
“Rich kids like you?”
“Yeah, okay,” Cody said.
Nate got in the car, and Cody came back and got in the passenger side without meeting his eyes. “Nice car.” But it was clear he only said it because he figured Nate expected it. He glanced around. “Convertible, even.”
“I had the top down the first day. It’s a lot less fun here than at home.” Having the wind in his face was one thing. Having it buffeting him from every direction was another. “My dad wants me to sell it and buy a truck.”
Cody shrugged. “Truck’ll do you a lot more good in the winter.”
True enough, probably, but the fact was, the car had somehow become the centerpiece of his battle with his dad. First, his parents had ruined his life by deciding to divorce. Then, his dad decided he needed a new start in a brand-new town. Nate had wanted to stay in Austin with his mom, but his folks decided that wasn’t how it should be, Nate’s feelings on the matter be damned. So here he was, in the middle of godforsaken Warren, Wyoming, population 2,833 (and he thought that might have been a generous estimate). He didn’t want to be here. Selling his car and buying a four-wheel-drive truck like the local yahoos drove would make him one of them.
And he had no desire to ever be one of them.
Cody pointed down the street, and Nate started to drive. A minute later, Cody leaned forward to touch the stereo, a shy grin on his face. “Eight-track. That’s crazy.”
“I don’t even know if it works. I used the radio at home, but the only station I could find here was playing country.”
“That’s out of Casper. The closest rock station’s in Salt Lake. Might be one in Laramie, too, but we’re in the middle of fucking nowhere, man. We’re like the black hole of modern civilization. Don’t even have a damn record store.”
“I saw some cassettes at the gas station.”
He laughed. “Sure, if you like Hank Williams.”
On the west end of town was a trailer park. Cody directed him all the way through it. On the far side, the road turned south and dipped under the train tracks. It came back up in what might have been a trailer park in its good days. Now it was like something out of a horror movie: four bedraggled trailers with nothing but dirt for yards, tattered sheets in the windows in lieu of curtains, and one mangy dog growling at them from under a rusty car on cinder blocks.
“Park here,” Cody said.
He did, and then followed Cody out of the car and up to a barbed wire fence. Cody ducked through.
Nate stopped, suddenly having second thoughts. He eyed Cody, wondering what he was up to. Nate was no fool. He could look at Cody and figure the score. Faded, off-brand jeans with a ratty T-shirt, a denim jacket that was falling apart at the seams, and that wary, accusing look that told him Cody was probably used to being on the wrong side of every line anybody had ever drawn.
Nate’s dad would take one look at him and say he was a bad egg. He’d tell Nate to stay away.
Of course, that was the exact reason he’d decided to talk to Cody in the first place. Still, it was one thing to piss off his dad. It was another thing to get arrested for trespassing.
“Will we get in trouble?” he asked.
“Nah. This is Jim’s land. He don’t care, so long as we don’t mess with his cows.”
Nate followed him through the fence. They jumped an irrigation ditch that stunk of cow piss, and walked on through the field. Ahead of them, to the west, he spotted the highway that would eventually lead to the interstate. From here, they were close enough to see the cars, but too far away to tell makes and models. To the south, a herd of cows grazed. A couple raised their heads to regard them, but mostly they just chewed their cud and ignored the human interlopers.
A few more steps, and the land dropped several feet, forming a small bluff. Below was a graveyard of sorts. It was obviously the place where Jim and his family had dumped unneeded vehicles for the past hundred years. There was a rusted cab of an old pickup truck, a few tractors looking like decrepit skeletons, and a couple of things Nate couldn’t even begin to identify—maybe farming equipment of some kind.
On the face of the bluff, wedged halfway into the dirt, was an old wagon. The wheels were gone. Its axles must have been buried in the embankment underneath it. There were still arching metal bands that had once held a canvas cover. It sat in the ground at nearly a ninety-degree angle. Cody stepped over the topside and slid down to sit on the downhill edge. The bed of the wagon made a sort of reclining seat that looked out over the prairie.
He pulled his cigarettes out. He took the last one from the first pack, wadded the empty package up and stuck it in his coat pocket, then lit the smoke with practiced ease. “Watch your butts out here. Gets pretty dry. I imagine Jim’d skin me alive if we burned down his field.”
Nate slid down the wooden bed of the wagon and sat next to him. Being inside of it at least took the edge off the wind.
“What do you do out here?” he asked.
Cody leaned back and closed his eyes. “Nothing.”
Cody smiled but didn’t open his eyes. “I smoke. I read. I nap. I jack off.” Nate wasn’t sure if he meant that literally, or if he meant it as a synonym for goofing around. His stomach fluttered a bit as he pondered it.
“So this is it?” Nate asked. “This is all anyone does?”
“This, or get high.”
“You get high?”
“No. But lots of them do. Especially those of you in the Grove with money to spare.”
Nate had always been a good kid at home. Sure, he’d snuck a few beers through the years, but he wasn’t into drugs. He took his own pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and looked at it. The truth was, he’d only started smoking two weeks before, and he’d only done it to piss of his dad.
“Class of ’87,” Cody said. “You’ll be a senior this year?”
Nate wondered how he knew, then realized Cody was looking at his class ring. “Yeah.”
Nate straightened the ring on his finger, remembering how excited he’d been as he chose the designs back in tenth grade. Of course, he hadn’t known then that they’d be moving before graduation. Now he’d have to serve out his senior year in Warren, Wyoming. Only one year in this joke of a town, and he’d be able to leave. That’s what he held on to. “You play any sports?”
Cody laughed. “Yeah, man. I’m the captain of the football team. Whatta you think?”
It had been a stupid question. If he’d thought about it for half a second, he would have known that.
“What about you?” Cody asked.
“Tennis. And I was on the swim team.”
“Only swimming pool here is the outdoor one. It’s open about three months outta the year.”
“Yeah, I saw it.” It was nothing more than a square, cement hole in the ground, full of squealing kids. It wasn’t even close to Olympic size, even if there had been lanes. Next to it was the tennis court—singular, not plural—the cement cracked and overgrown with weeds and grass. Nate had counted five empty beer bottles but not one tennis ball.
He swallowed hard against the sudden lump in his throat. He fought to turn his frustration into anger. It’d serve him better that way.
“I guess I don’t do anything anymore.” But he didn’t sound nearly as casual as he’d hoped. He knew his bitterness came through.
For the first time, there was no resentment or disdain in Cody’s eyes. It looked more like pity.
“You’re in hell, Nate,” he said without a hint of humor. “This place will eat your soul.”
Nate offered to drive Cody home, but Cody said dropping him back at the gas station where they’d met would be close enough.
“Want to hang out tomorrow?” Nate asked. “I can meet you at the wagon after lunch.”
It took Cody a second, like he hadn’t quite understood the question, or couldn’t believe he’d actually heard it, but then he smiled. Not the cynical smile Nate had seen earlier, or the one that told him Cody thought he was a preppy fool. This was different. It made him look younger than he really was. It was sweet, like a secret smile Nate suspected few had ever seen.
“Cool,” Cody said. Nothing more. But Nate had a feeling he was looking forward to it.
He drove up the hill to Orange Grove with a familiar feeling of dread in his gut. His dad was the newest officer with the Warren PD. The oil boom had brought lots of people to the state in the seventies and the first part of the eighties, but now, the boom was over, and people were fleeing Wyoming in droves. Towns were shrinking, and unemployment was higher than it had ever been. Fully a third of the houses in Orange Grove were empty, dented For Sale signs standing in the front lawns, bowing before the wind. Unfortunately, higher unemployment and a hard-hitting recession meant an elevation in crime. Nate’s dad had managed to get a job with the police department because he had years of experience on his résumé, but Nate had never understood why they had to leave Austin at all, and moving to a town that had already peaked and was now declining into ruin was the last thing he’d wanted to do.