Authors: Marie Sexton
“Wind’s still blowing,” Nate said as he sat down.
“Welcome to Wyoming.”
He didn’t even glance Nate’s way. A brand-new day, and somehow Nate knew he was starting fresh with Cody. Whatever camaraderie they’d shared the day before had been wiped away in the night.
“I hear it’s really nice up in the northern part of the state,” he said, in an attempt to make conversation.
Cody sighed and tapped a cigarette into his hand. “I hear that too. I wouldn’t know.” He tucked the rest of the pack into the upper pocket of his jean jacket and pulled out a lighter. Nate waited while he turned away, cupping his hand against the wind to get it lit.
“How long have you lived here?”
Cody blew smoke, his other hand clenching around his lighter. “My whole fucking life.”
“Well, you graduate this year, right? Then you can leave. Maybe go to college—”
“Ha!” Cody shook his head, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees. “Yeah, right. College.”
Nate wasn’t sure what that meant. Maybe his grades weren’t good enough, or—
“There’s no leaving this town. Didn’t I tell you it’s the black hole of modern civilization? I meant it, man. There’s no escape. You’re born here, you knock up some chick, then you die here. That’s how it goes.”
“Uh . . .” Nate had no idea how to tackle that happy thought. “You’re planning on knocking somebody up?”
Cody laughed without much humor and contemplated the smoldering cigarette between his fingers. “Pretty sure nobody actually
that. Don’t change anything, though. Gotta have money to leave, and by the time you’ve got it, it’s too late.”
“I don’t care what you say. I’m leaving, as soon as I can. Packing up my car the night before graduation and leaving five minutes after they put that diploma in my hand.”
“And going where?”
“Home, I guess, for the summer at least. Then I’m moving to Chicago.”
Cody frowned at him, and Nate hurried to elaborate.
“My aunt lives there. She’s a real estate agent, and she owns a bunch of houses and apartments. She has one she said I could use while I go to school.” Although the idea of putting in college applications in a few months turned his stomach to knots.
Cody ground out the last of his cigarette against the side of the wagon and tossed the butt angrily into the wind. “Lucky you.”
Nate studied him for a moment, taking in the ripped knees of his jeans and the way they ended a bit short of his ankles. The arms of his denim jacket left his bony wrists exposed. His tennis shoes had holes in both toes.
A small knot of shame formed in Nate’s stomach as he finally realized it wasn’t grades standing between Cody and college. He thought about Warren—windblown streets lined with lifeless, dusty buildings. No flowers. No joy. No jobs. Even the houses seemed to droop in defeat. The people he’d seen didn’t look much better. Dead-eyed women not much older than him dragging their screaming kids through the grocery store. The line of rusty pickup trucks parked outside the shitty, seedy bar on the far side of town, no matter what time of day it was.
Maybe Cody was right. Maybe there was no escape.
Nate cleared his throat, trying to think of something that hinted at hope. “My mom always says, ‘Despair is anger with no place to go.’”
Cody chuckled and put his head down. He ran his hands through his straight black hair. “I guess that makes me Despair, then.”
“My mom also says, ‘When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.’”
“Oh yeah? Well, my mom says, ‘If the world didn’t suck, we’d fall off.’”
Nate laughed. He wasn’t sure if Cody had intended it as a joke or not, but either way, Nate couldn’t help it. Cody looked over at him in surprise.
“Well,” Nate said, still laughing a bit, “at least I know where you get your cheery disposition.”
Cody blinked at him once as if trying to decide how to take that comment, but then he gave Nate a grudging smile. “And I guess I know where you get yours.”
“Yeah.” Now it was Nate’s turn to duck his head in hopes of hiding his expression. It was true his mother had always been happy and upbeat. Right up until May, when she’d walked into Nate’s bedroom and casually told him she was leaving his dad.
“Your mom sounds like some kind of brainiac or something.”
“She’s an English teacher.”
“Will she be teaching at the high school?”
“No.” Nate couldn’t look at him. He twisted the class ring on his finger, watching the way the sun glinted off the light-blue stone. “She didn’t move here with us. She’s still back in Austin.”
Cody didn’t respond right away, and when Nate finally glanced up, he found Cody looking at him with more compassion than he’d seen from him before. “That sucks.”
“You have no idea.” As soon as Nate said the words, he realized maybe he shouldn’t have. He didn’t know anything about Cody’s family situation. It was possible Cody knew exactly how Nate felt. He wondered if he should apologize, but Cody didn’t seem bothered.
“When I was a kid, it seemed like I was the only one whose parents were split.” Cody looked toward the distant motion of the highway again, as if it held some kind of answer. “People were always asking me why my last name was different from my mom’s. Used to piss me off. But the older I get, the more it seems like the norm, you know? I don’t know if there really are more divorces now, or if it’s just because I’m more aware of it.”
Nate had always known about divorce, but he’d always assumed it only happened to kids with fucked-up family lives. Somehow, he’d thought the “broken home” came first, and the divorce second. He hadn’t quite realized the divorce was often what made it “broken.”
“I guess I thought it couldn’t happen to me,” he said.
He hated it. Hated his life and his parents and the fact that he was now one of
kids. He hated coming home to a house where his mother’s music wasn’t playing. He hated having to do his own laundry and the fact that there was never a pot of soup on the stove or a batch of cookies in the oven, and the fact that he never, ever woke up to pancakes and bacon for breakfast. He hated knowing he’d taken those things for granted for so many years. And more than anything, he fucking hated Wyoming.
“Hey,” Cody said, and when Nate looked over at him, Cody smiled. “When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.”
Nate tried to smile back, but failed. “I only see the dark.”
“Me too.” Cody nudged Nate’s knee with his own, and this time, Nate did manage to smile a little. “Guess it gives us a reason to keep looking up.”
They spent a stupid percentage of the next couple of weeks sitting in the middle of a goddamn field, smoking until their throats burned.
“Seriously,” Nate said sometime during their second week together. “What the hell do people do around here?”
Cody lit a cigarette from a book of matches, shaking the used match to extinguish the flame, as if the wind hadn’t done it already. “You got a gun?”
The question alarmed him. “No! Why would I?”
Cody shrugged. “Lots of people shoot squeakies in the summer.”
Nate blinked, trying to wrap his head around that sentence. Lots of people shooting was scary enough to begin with. “What the hell’s a squeakie?”
Cody squinted at him. “You know. Squeakies.”
Nate could only shake his head in bafflement, and Cody rolled his eyes before elaborating. “What, you don’t have squeakies in Texas?”
“I guess not. What are they?”
“They’re little rodents that burrow in the ground.”
“Like prairie dogs?”
“Like, a chipmunk?”
“No, man. Like a squeakie! People shoot ’em. Or they find a field full of ’em and spin donuts in their cars, seeing how many they can run over.”
“Are you serious?”
“And when they get bored of that, they chase the antelope, trying to run them down. And if that ain’t cool enough for you, I hear they got dogfights up by Farson.”
“Dogfights?” Nate gripped his head with both hands, horrified, wishing he’d never heard anything Cody had said. “Like, where the dogs get killed?”
Cody blew smoke and shrugged again. “That’s what they say. I ain’t never seen one. Can’t really see why that’d be fun. Never understood why shooting squeakies was fun either, but you asked what people do.” He held up both hands. “That’s about it.”
“Oh my God.” Nate hadn’t ever killed anything in his life, unless he counted the occasional insect or spider on the bathroom floor, but he’d seen a cat get run over once in Texas. He didn’t ever want to see anything like that again. “I think hanging out in this field is better.”
Cody smiled at him. “See? You’re getting used to Wyoming already.”
Once he was back home, Nate went to the bookshelf in the family room and scanned the spines of the set of encyclopedias his parents had bought two years before.
comprised two full volumes. He pulled out the second one and sat cross-legged on the floor as he flipped through the pages.
“Whatcha doing?” his dad asked, startling Nate from his contemplation of the book. “School hasn’t even started yet, and you’re doing research?”
“What’s a squeakie?”
“Squeakies.” His dad chuckled. “I wondered the same thing. Turns out they’re some kind of ground squirrel, although I’m not sure which kind. Jake said a Thompson’s ground squirrel, and Fred told me they’re actually Uinta ground squirrels, and Susan told me they’re Wyoming ground squirrels.” He scratched his head and shrugged. “Not sure who’s right or what the difference between them is anyway. Why? Somebody ask you to go shooting with them?”
“Not exactly, but I heard that’s what some people here do for fun.”
“Yeah, I’ve already been on a couple of calls because of it. People shooting guns in city limits, or on someone’s private property. For what it’s worth, I’d rather you didn’t participate in that particular local custom. It’s bound to get you in trouble sooner rather than later.”
Nate was perfectly happy to promise he wouldn’t go out shooting innocent ground squirrels anytime soon, but for the rest of the night, he brooded over his conversation with Cody. He imagined squeakies—they looked like prairie dogs in his mind, no matter what Cody said—running for cover, and antelope fleeing pickup trucks, and dogs, forced to fight to the death while a bunch of rednecks laughed and drank.
was what passed for entertainment in Wyoming?
He took a deck of cards to the field with him the next morning. It was almost impossible to keep them from blowing away, but over the next few days, they managed a few games of Go Fish, Crazy Eights, and War. They were attempting a game of Five Card Draw when Cody suddenly asked, “So, why’d your folks split?”
Nate squirmed. He wasn’t sure he wanted to talk about it. Then again, he had a feeling Cody would understand, seeing as how his own parents weren’t together either.
“My dad had an affair.”
“Suppose that’d do it.”
“I guess.” Nate didn’t know the details. His parents hadn’t ever told him, but he’d overheard his aunt and uncle whispering about it.
He didn’t want to think about his parents. He scowled down at his cards. He didn’t even have a lousy pair. “I fold.”
Cody laughed as he gathered Nate’s discarded cards. “Bad move. I didn’t have shit.”
They weren’t playing for anything, so it didn’t matter. Nate’s hair was blowing in his face again, and he pushed it off his forehead. He kept thinking he’d buy a baseball cap, but he had yet to find one in Wyoming that didn’t have either a John Deere logo or some redneck slogan on it.
He glanced at Cody who was shuffling the cards, a cigarette dangling from his lips. “What about yours?”
Cody frowned as if he hadn’t considered that Nate might turn the tables on him. He cleared his throat, and took the cigarette out of his mouth. “My dad was sort of in and out all along, you know? But I guess he’s been mostly ‘out’ since I was ten or eleven. He lives in Worland.”
Nate didn’t know where Worland was, but figured it didn’t matter. “Do you ever see him?”
“Not for a long time.”
“Do you miss him?”
Cody scowled, his eyes turning dark. Nate wasn’t surprised when his answer was more attitude than anything. “Why the fuck would I? He’s a jerk who can’t even bother to send me a goddamn birthday card. Fuck him.” When he was done, he sucked long and hard on his smoke, not meeting Nate’s eyes.
“I miss my mom.” Nate figured he sounded like a whiny kid when he said it, but he didn’t care. “I thought maybe I could go visit for Christmas, but my dad keeps putting me off, saying ‘maybe.’” He watched as Cody started dealing, tossing cards by Nate’s knee onto their makeshift seat. “Like I don’t know that means no.”
“You got a car. Why can’t you just go?”
Nate blinked at him, stunned by the idea. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Fuck, man. If I had my own car, I’d have ditched this shithole ages ago.”
Nate thought about that. “What about high school?”
Cody shrugged, but Nate suspected his nonchalance was just for show. “What about it?”
Nate picked up his cards and fanned them out, his mind a mile away. He knew Cody didn’t consider college of any kind an option, but giving up on high school seemed reckless, even for him. “There must be a community college in Laramie or something.” He glanced up at Cody, trying to gauge how close he was to pissing him off. Cody’s expression was still stony, but not quite angry. “Don’t you have any plans for after high school?”