"But why? You don't need any of this!" The younger boy, 15 with dirty blond hair almost whined.
"We talked about this Mark, we have to test if it works or not. Christmas is coming and they'll have more stuff out then, but their security is tighter. We need to see if this part works now. C'mon. We've been here too long, let's walk around for a minute. You said you'd help. It'll be fun. You walk through with one between your phone and the case and they'll think it's your phone. I've done it already at Wal-Mart and as soon as they see the phone they'll wave you through."
"Well, if you've already done it why do I have to do it?"
"This isn't Wal-Mart for one thing. The first two times I went through those doors and set it off they didn't even stop me. Target pays better attention. It's not a test if nobody checks. The wallet worked to block them when we came in. They didn't set off the doors but now we need to know if they use the same chips. If we're going to set it off anyway, we might as well get something for our trouble." The brown hair boy grinned. "And it's not like it's not their fault. They didn't let you return the game because the box had been opened. We're just getting our money back. It's the same game they didn't let us return. We'll bring it back with the receipt tomorrow and get you your money back. It's not even stealing! We tried to bring it back, they just wouldn't let us bring back the one your gramma bought. The only one that could get in trouble is me. I'll have the game in my bag."
"If you get in trouble again you're going to get in big trouble. Aren't you on probation still?"
"Yeah, but this won't count," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"Because I'm not going to get caught, that's why. We're friends right? I mean, aren't we?"
"Yes." The resignation in the younger kid's voice was obvious and John knew he had him. He hated playing the "friend-card" but it always worked, or it had worked since the first time they'd run home from school over lunch and he'd talked him in to that. They'd been sitting under the dining room table eating peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches when his aunt had come home and caught them, sending them back to school and promising not to tell on them if they got back before lunch was over. So, they'd ran and made it back to class just in time. They hadn't gotten caught and the rush of almost being caught had been addictive to John. He'd loved it. Mark didn't love it, he didn't even like it, but he'd do what John asked him to do eventually, and had since their first adventure in second grade.
Mark slid his phone out of it's pocket and popped the corner of the black silicon skin off the phone and slid the white plastic into the case. They didn't sell this skin here. They'd made sure of it not only by looking for it twice, but by asking one of the red-shirts if they had one like it for a friend. They didn't so if they found it they couldn't say he's stolen it. "I'll do it, but you've got to show me where you practice tomorrow after work."
"All right," John grinned at his friend, "think you're ready for a harder course?"
"Yeah," he held up his right arm and a fading yellow bruise above his elbow surrounded a big shallow scab that looked like road rash. "The wall crumbled the other day and I slid down it then landed on the corner of a brick but other than that it's been a week since I had any trouble. I watched those youtube videos you sent me. Did you see the one I sent of that guy from Russia?"
"Yeah. He was good. Really good. I gotta work on my jumping because I'm not that good vertically."
"You're close. Closer than I am anyway. I suck at pushing up walls."
"You push away too much, you need to push up, like you're pushing your foot down on a stepper machine. I've watched you. Watch those youtube videos again, slow them down. There's almost no horizontal movement when they climb the walls. I'm talking about his jumping. He jumps higher than I do."
"I think he's just shorter so when he jumps waist high that's not as high as if you're trying to jump waist high. Did you see how tall he was compared to that car?"
"Yeah, but cars suck for comparison because they're foreign and all those european cars are short anyway." As they talked they'd weaved their way up and down the aisles of the electronics department and John walked towards the counter holding a card reader. "Can I buy this here so I don't have to stand in line up front?"
"Sure. Do you have some more shopping to do or are you finished?"
He smiled at her and pointed toward the grocery section of the store, "I need to get some pizzas I guess, but I don't want to carry them around frozen and he's," here he thumbed in the direction of Mark, "still trying to decide if he's going to get the new motion controller for his 360." He paid with a gift card another friend had bought with cash at a Target in Des Moines and the two of them went back to browsing the video game section and talking about Parkour.
"You running track this year when school starts back?" Mark asked, his voice catching as John dropped the game in the bag as they rounded an aisle. They believed it was a blind spot for the cameras as all that was kept here was the discount items on the end cap. He picked up a Hello Kitty camera case as he rounded the corner. It was almost the same size as the box he'd been carrying in case any cameras had been watching him. He dropped the Hello Kitty case a few steps later in amongst the cases for e-readers and laptop bags.
"I don't know. Coach Jennings is kind of a douche-nozzle. You running?"
"Probably not. Mom says money's tight and all. It sucks now that her hours were cut. Ron was sending money pretty regular but then he either got laid off, skipped town, or got arrested again because they quit coming. I won't ask if she knows. She just goes off for an hour about what a piece of shit he is. It gets old. It was 13 years ago, let it go."
"Yeah." John felt guilty that his parents were still married when almost none of his other friends' still had both their parents in the same house. Hell, most of them barely talked to one of them or the other. He'd never heard Mark call his dad anything but Ron, never Dad. Sure, he'd left when Mark was two, and he was, from everything he'd heard, kind of a bastard, bar fights, changing jobs pretty regularly, and evidently he screwed anything on two legs within five years of his age in either direction. He didn't drink, and he never hit anybody in the family that John had heard about, but he'd have been hard to be married to if the whole town knew he was sleeping with whatever warm body would say yes to him. "So," they'd made their way toward the front of the store, and were near the birthday cards, waiting for a cart with a group around it to get towards the front of the line. The more people going through at the same time the better it would be, the harder to figure out who was setting off the doors. "You still want to find him when you get your license?"
"I don't know. What would I say? He'd be a stranger… but I'd like to meet him. I can't remember him at all, and she threw away all the pictures that had him in it. Even the ones where he was holding me… and that's not right. I was freaking adorable as a baby."
"Yeah, God knows what happened since then. Acid baths?" John grinned and pushed Mark sideways, "Go. Hit the doors same time as those two old ladies with the grandkids." They started toward the doors.
They'd timed it right and the ladies and Mark got to the door at the same time and the lights started flashing and an automated voice asked them to stop. Mark, looking slightly pale, moved back and forth between the sensor setting them off as the cashier approached and John slipped out the door and to the car with his bag in his hand winking at John as he turned to go past him.
Less than a minute later Mark rounded the corner slipping his phone into his pocket and walked across the parking lot towards the strip mall across the street. John started the car, a silver Toyota Prius and glided across the street into the strip mall parking lot, parking behind a van and waiting for Mark. On the radio Eminem rapped:
"I'm not afraid to take a stand
Everybody come take my hand
We'll walk this road together, through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just let you know that, you're not alone
Holla if you feel that you've been down the same road"
The passenger door opened and Mark slid into the seat and leaned back with his eyes closed for a short breath before pulling the door closed and the Prius eased out of the parking lot and into traffic. Neither of them spoke until the song ended and then John reached forward and paused the MP3 player. "So, you OK?"
"Yeah. One of the bags had a DVD in it that they didn't disable the thing so they thought it was one of the blue-hairs. I don't think I can do this. I'm a wreck. It used to be fun, but now, I dunno. I'm not a chicken shit. Don't even start with that it's not that I'm scared so much as when we were kids they didn't do anything to us, but we're not kids any more. We can go to jail, like adult jail, like… I'm too freaking pretty to go to jail. Do you see this face?" He indicated gestured dramatically, "Too pretty man. Too freaking pretty for jail."
"You're not that pretty, Mark. You know it's just your Mom that tells you that don't you?"
"No, it's not. Jeff at Dairy Queen. He tells me all the time." The two of them laughed. Both of them had teased the Jeff, or as they called him, “The Dairy Queen” for free ice cream more than once. He knew they were teases but he also knew they were basically good kids, easy to look at, and they got free ice cream whenever he was working by himself. He ran the place so didn't have to worry about a boss coming in, but he didn't want his employees catching him at it he'd told them or they'd think they could get away with it too and soon he'd be out of work.