The apple caught Bobby behind the left ear, dropping him in the dirt.
Cal spun around, only one person threw like that.
“Whatcha little dipshits up to, huh?” Brad sauntered out from behind a tree tossing another apple. His twin, Carver, trundled out after him. What Carver lacked in smarts he more than made up for in size.
Cal wished Little Pete were there, but he was off at his grandparents’ place for his annual week-long visit. Little Pete was the only buffer between them and the Terribles as they liked to refer to the twins.
Bobby wobbled to this feet rubbing his head. Cal steadied him.
“Aw, is the little guy hurt?” Brad said. Carver picked at a zit then wiped his sausage fingers on his stained dungarees.
“Go away,” Cal said.
Cal stared at him.
“Just go away,” Bobby said, “we aren’t causing you guys any trouble.”
“Yeah, but that’s the rub, ain’t it, Bobby? We like trouble.”
Carver giggled, a fat pig getting his stomach rubbed.
Bobby stepped up, “You just wait ’til Little Pete gets back—“
“Yeah?” Brad shoved him, sending Bobby to the ground again. “That fat piece o’crap ain’t here now, is he? So whatcha gonna do about it?”
As Bobby struggled to his feet again a piece of paper fell from his pocket. Brad snatched it up.
Bobby made a grab for it, “Gimme that!”
“What’s the little boy been writin? Maybe it’s a looooove note,” Brad rolled his eyes unfolding the paper. Carver giggled again.
Bobby balled up his fists. Cal grabbed his shoulder, shook his head.
“Ho-ly hell, Carver, it is a love note. And it’s to Francine.”
Bobby sagged into Cal.
Carver pawed at his brother, “Read it! Read it!”
“Shut up,” he squinted at the paper, “you wouldn’t even understand half these words.”
He wheeled on Bobby, “Where’d you learn to use such big words?”
“Reading,” Bobby whispered, “maybe you should try it.”
“What’d you say, shrimp?”
“ ‘swhat I thought. Why don’t you just keep your little dreams of romance packed away in that little excuse for a brain you got stuck between those elephant ears of yours. Ain’t no girl gonna look twice at you, not even that fat cow Francine.”
“Fat cow!” yelped Carver.
“Shut your face, Carver, you ain’t got no room to talk, you sweaty meatball.”
Carver shut up.
They stood, the four of them squared off in the dusky summer heat. Sweat rolled in Cal’s eyes, but he never stopped staring at Brad. The quiet glare unnerved Brad for some reason. There was something off about the thin boy in front of him, the way he didn’t cower like the other kids, the way he just stood there staring.
“Ain’t got nothin to say, Cal?”
Carver tugged on Brad’s shoulder. “C’mon, let’s go.”
“I’ll go when I’m damn-well ready to go,” Brad shrugged him off. He stepped towards Cal.
“You stay outta my way, freak. You and your pet runt.” He shoved his dirty finger into Cal’s chest.
Cal just stared.
It was wrong, Brad thought, to stand there like that. Wrong in some way his muddy mind couldn’t quite grab.
He slowly shoved the letter into his mouth, chewed it, then spit the globby mess into the dirt. “Hope she can still read it.”
The twins turned and lurched off into the trees.
Bobby sank to the ground and gingerly poked at the pulpy mess.
Cal laid a hand on his shoulder.
Bobby looked at him and sniffed, “I’m fine.”
Cal read the lie in his eyes.
“I jus’,” Bobby’s voice quivered, “I really worked hard on that letter. Been holding it for a week waiting for the right time to give it to her.”
He stood, swore, and kicked the wadded mess into the grass on the edge of the trail where it lay, broken roadkill left for the birds.
“I even wrote her a poem.”
Cal raised an eyebrow.
Bobby caught the look, shook his head. “I could maybe re-write it, but it’s not gonna be as good. It just had a . . . a magical feel, like I really got it right.”
He shrugged then started down the trail. Cal didn’t follow.
Cal shook his head.
Bobby nodded, used to the mysterious ways of his silent friend.
“Swimming hole tomorrow?”
Bobby turned and shuffled away. Cal watched his little slumped shoulders until he rounded the bend in the trail and disappeared.
The trail was empty. Just the low summer afternoon and the grasshoppers singing in the shade of the forest.
Cal looked after him for a moment longer then turned and plunged into the woods.
“How do you eat that crap?” Bobby stared as Little Pete took another bite of black licorice.
Little Pete leaned back against the railing while Cal creaked back and forth in the old porch swing. Bobby gnawed his pencil and stared at the pad of paper in his lap.
“Heard you two had a run in with the Terribles last weekend.”
“And I heard somethin else too, they done had some kinda run-in with some outta town punks. Leastwise that’s the story they’re tellin.”
Bobby perked up, “Say what?”
“Yep. Beat the everlovin piss outta ’em from what I heard,” he hocked a fat black wad into the yard, “done got their asses handed to ’em. Brad, he got one of the best lookin shiners I ever seen. Can’t believe you ain’t heard about it.”
Little Pete looked at Cal. “You sure you don’t know nothin about it?”
Cal opened one eye, stared at Little Pete, yawned, and went back to rocking.
“I sure would like to meet those fine gentlemen that delivered the beating and shake their hands,” Bobby sounded almost reverential.
Little Pete gnawed off another bite.
“Would you quit it with that? You’re making me sick. Smells like death on a stick.”
Little Pete sniffed the licorice, shrugged.
“It suits me.”