Warning: Shady characters don't say things like heck or shucks, so there is some profanity. Not much, but some...
I hit the grass cold and hard, my back heaving as I peek from the wall of bushes lining the sidewalk. The street is quiet, only some faraway barking and the swooshing traffic coming from Rivermont. I wipe my forearm, gashed and scratched and wet with blood. My lungs scream. I’ve never run so fast, rattling my heels with each slap of bare feet pounding the street.
There’d been no time for shoes, only movement. Hurling myself down the stairs, the exposed tree roots blasted my joints as I plunged into the blackness of the woods behind the house, ripped apart by the brush and branches and at least one thorn bush that felt like prison yard barbed wire. I emerged from the thicket into the backyard of a gaudy brick colonial, taking refuge in the groomed boxwoods.
Headlights sweep the yard. Then the glow of brakes. I’m trying to hold my breath but instead wheeze through my nose. What the hell just happened? I come out of the shower to ask about the banging and yelling when boom!—the shots still ring in my ear.
A growling Dodge Charger sits a mere 15 feet away, a hairy forearm hanging out the door and a big burly head out the window. It’s definitely them. What the hell? How did it even come to this? How did my moving out of Mom’s house turn in to drug dealers storming the apartment with guns drawn? Fucking Ben.
A sting of remorse hits me for cursing my dead friend. I should show a little respect, even under these, uh, circumstances. But seriously, it’s not my fault. I knew he shouldn’t have started selling.
“It’s free weed,” he’d said, tossing a quarter pound on the table.
“I wouldn’t say, free.”
“I sell most of it and we smoke the rest.” So simple. Until the next quarter came, and then one more on credit. That turns into a bag full of money sitting in the living room. But the thing about credit is, there’s always interest to be paid.
The brakes flash again a few houses down. I choke down a shaky breath, growing rapid as the passenger door opens and the same brute who’d shot Ben, we’d shot Ben—Jesus, who'd shot Ben?--hops out and inspects the bed of a truck parked on the street. I glance towards Rivermont Avenue where cars stream along, driven by people headed out to dinner and maybe drinks and definitely not freezing their balls off with no shoes on their feet and blood on their arm. Then back to the thug returning to the Charger. The door shuts and the cars peels out, leaving the street quiet again.
I can’t go back to the apartment, even in my rattled state I realize that the cops would be there. And there were questions in my future. Tough questions, asked by leather jacket-wearing detectives that were only a badge’s difference from the guys in the Charger. I had to think but my ears are still ringing like a God damned bell.
Relax, I tell myself. What’s next? I need shoes. Shoes should be my top priority. Size twelve’s, but elevens will work in a pinch. I’m fairly certain that my current situation is considered “a pinch”. Standing up, the ground has drained every ounce of adrenaline from my body.
Everything hurts. I rub my arm, smearing blood to down my elbow. I wipe it with my shirt—the ratty Brew Thru T-shirt I’ve had since beach week my senior year. To my credit, I hadn’t planned on playing Jason Bourne tonight. My thoughts return to the fight with Ben earlier. I'd come out, ready to work things out when I saw he had company. Bad company. Ben owed them money, I owed Ben money. And now here we are. Or at least here I am, without my wallet, phone or keys. Only a crushed pack of Marlboro lights.
A dead friend and drug dealers chasing me--that wasn’t in the yearbook under senior plans. But my first priority is shoes. I need to get to Randolph Macon, or Randolph, or whatever the hell they were calling it now. Only a block away, there was a local uproar when they decided to let males in last year, but really, dudes like me have been roaming that campus since high school.
Anyway, I happen to know that the student center has a lost and found. A box of sweatshirts, jackets, shoes and everything else. Trust me, the tuition these kids pay is such that losing a northface fleece, if even noticed, isn’t remembered.
Scampering across the street and towards the glowing globes along the paths of the campus, I take measured steps and try not to draw attention but that makes me feel all the more sketchy. I look young enough to pass for a student and not like a guy running from drug dealers or possibly the police. I would hate to see my face in a mirror right now; I probably look like one of those junkies on intervention.
The next part is a bit tricky. I sit by the door and wait for it to open. Only I can’t just start banging on the doors like the shady townie that I am, it has to be done with a sort of the-world-owes-me-everything indifference common to so many of these douche bags. Especially as the door opens and four girls exit, giggling and prattling about something in which I have no time to pay attention. I nod casually, grabbing the door before it closes and step one is complete.
The tile hallway is cool on my bare feet that the florescent lights do my legs no favors. My reflection in the window confirms that I resemble a dust bowl migrant worker. The clock in the hallway shows a few minutes before six, I bound down the hallway for the information desk.
The door is open and I take a deep breath and actually wipe my shirt before entering. I approach the front desk where a frazzled middle age woman looks up. “Can I help you?”
A quick cough to find my voice.
“Uh, yes, I’m looking for a pair of shoes.”
“Okay, I need a description,” she pulls out a three ring binder, some sort of log. She can’t see that I’m barefoot and filthy. I think of the most common pair of college kid shoes, crocks? No too cold. “New Balance sneakers.”
She nods, shuffles through a box towards the back and to my utter disbelief produces three pairs of New Balance sneakers. I point to the largest, the retro kind, blue suede with a bright Yellow N.
“Okay, just sign the log here.”
For some reason I scrawl Ben’s signature. Then I stuff my feet into my sneakers and nodded.
“You may want to find a coat,” she says, aloof and already turning to her computer. I thank her again and scamper down the hallway, fully appreciating the cushion beneath my feet.
Now for a coat. I enter the student lobby, where a few groups of losers huddle around the television, some lounging on the couch, a couple reading books. It's still weird seeing dudes here. Scanning the chair backs, I spot a coat unattended and ease towards the table, hands in my pockets because they're still trembling like a crack head at mass. Any second I'm expecting the two goons from the Charger to bust in and start shooting.
A group of clueless kids argue about college football, taking most of the attention in the room. With an eye on their backs, I slide in and lift the collar of the coat.
“Hey man, what are you doing?”
A short and stocky kid with a buzz cut and a northern accent, the wrestling type. His chest is out and his dark, annoyingly well-groomed eyebrows are rammed down towards his nose. He jerks the coat from my hand and I look down, laughing.
“Oh, I thought this was my coat.
“Yeah? It looks like you need a coat, you trying to steal it.”
The football conversation quiets and all five of the guys are looking my way. I put my palms up.
“Look man, I’m sorry about the misunderstanding.”
The short kid doesn't want to let it go, but no one else seems to care. I back away, making my way towards the door. Wrestling boy glares at me the whole way, cursing under his breath. As soon as I’m back in the hallway I take off, smacking the doors with my hip and back out into the dark with one last hope.