The three of them rode in silence until John reached over and turned up the stereo and the sounds of the 8bit song Threshold from the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World soundtrack started out of the speakers, filling the car. They turned onto Mark's street as the song was ending and John turned the stereo down again, “You close tonight?”
“Yeah, 10 o'clock I'll be done. See you tomorrow then?” Mark said opening the door and climbing out. Devon slid across the seat and levered up the car seat and climbed out beside Mark.
“Sounds good. We should go to Ames or something.” He stopped as his phone rang and he checked it, “Jeff?”
“From Dairy Queen?” Mark asked leaning forward to lean on the edge of the car's roof.
“Yeah, says we should stop by his work tonight if we're not doing anything.” John said sounding puzzled.
“Well, I'm out. I gotta work.” Mark said pushing himself upright. “You two could go, sort of chaperone each other so the big bad ice cream man doesn't whisk you off into his basement with the promises of candy.” Mark's voice dropped into a hoarse whisper, “It puts the lotion on it's skin!” He laughed.
John looked up from the phone distractedly, “Yeah, sounds good. Devon, get in. Let's go see what's up. I didn't know he had my number. Did you give him my number?” He looked up at Mark whose phone was beeping that he'd just gotten a text message as well.
Mark slid it open and read the message, “I got the same thing. I know I never gave him my number. That's weird.” His thumbs moved across the slider's keyboard as he sent the message that he had to work at the mall and couldn't go but John and Devon would be there. “OK. I gotta shower. Keep me posted. I might be slow to answer texts if Taylor's working. She's a bitch about phones at work.” His hands drummed a quick riff on the roof of the car as Devon buckled himself in the passenger seat “Later.” He turned and walked back into the house for a quick shower before going to work. He looked at his 1999 Chevy Lumina in the driveway. Dark blue with light blue pin-striping he liked the car in spite of the slight sag in the back end where the leaf springs were going. They had pushed the bushings out and the car sat about an inch lower than it should, but replacing those bushing was expensive and hard to do. It was fine for in town though and it was paid for.
Two slightly crooked concrete steps and a screen door later and he was on the porch slipping off his Nike's and opening the door to the house. “I'm home!” He called out to his Mom who had probably just gotten home from her job at the sheetrock mill where she was a secretary.
“You've got a letter in your room from Ron.” Her voice came from the kitchen over the sounds of dishes being put away. “Do you work tonight?”
He paused at the foot of the stairs, his hand on the wooden banister. “I'm going in soon as I get a shower.”
His mom came into the hall drying a plate, her shoulder length blond hair pulled back into a quick pony tail to keep it off her face as she did the dishes he'd dirtied when he and John had eaten grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. “Come home right after, you left dishes again.”
“I know. I'm sorry. I thought I'd be back sooner and get them done before you got home.” Mark said, walking over to give her a hug.
“That's not the point. You should wash them as soon as you're done using them. We don't want bugs.” She hugged him back, and he smelled her perfume, White Shoulders on her. He got her a small bottle every year for her birthday.
“I'm sorry. What'd he say?” He asked as he followed her into the kitchen.
“I don't know. It was addressed to you. I didn't open it.” Her voice didn't hold any hostility at the moment. That was good at least. She either talked about him like he was a complete stranger she didn't care about or ranted about what a jerk he was for leaving, he preferred the first choice.
“Hunh. It's not my birthday. Wonder what he wants. I'll be right back. But I need to hurry and grab a shower before I go to work.” Mark turned and took the stairs two at a time before flopping on his bed and picking up the letter. The light from his window came in over his shoulder and he looked at the envelope. There was no return address, but it was post marked in a small town half an hour east of here. He ran his finger along the letter and unfolded the single page letter and read his Dad's small neat handwriting.
Sorry it's been so long since I've written last. I've been busy working on a road crew and when I get back at night I'm beat and haven't had the energy to write. You would think with all the rain I'd have more time off, but we are still hauling rock, even on the rainy days. It's been a crap year for road work.
Tell your Mom I'll catch up on the checks soon. There was a garnishment problem that's straightened out now. Somebody had stolen my identity and bought a car and I didn't find out until the garnishment hit my check. Of all the identities to steal they had to get mine? I think they could have done better.
You still hanging out with John and Devon? Don't let them get you into trouble. I'm not there but I hear what goes on in town, and both of them are just waiting to get caught up to no good and I don't want you caught up in whatever it is. You're better than that.
I'm going to be in town Labor Day weekend. If you want to grab lunch or something let me know. My boss is staying in the Motel Six in West Clarion. Send the letter to me care of him and I'll get it. It would be good to see you again. I understand if you don't want to. I've been gone a long time but there's some stuff I wanted to talk to you about and it would be better in person I think.
Hope to see you Labor Day weekend.
Mark threw the letter on the bed. Every couple years his dad would try and re-establish contact, go eat a meal, make small talk, give him advice, and then awkwardly they'd part, sometimes with a hug, only ever initiated by Ron, sometimes with a hand-shake, and last time, with a wave. He wouldn't even tell him what hotel he was staying in, afraid his own son would go visit him and initiate some sort of confrontation or something outside of his control. Mark felt himself getting angry and pulled his shirt off, throwing it towards the closet before grabbing the towel hanging on the closet door and going into the bathroom down the hall to shower and get ready for work.
As he dried and stepped out of the shower his phone beeped. Leaving the towel on his head he picked it up from beside the sink and read the message from his manager saying if he hadn't left yet to not come in until six after all. Sighing, he put the phone back down, finished drying off and wrapped the towel around his waist before going to his room to put on his skinny jeans, black t-shirt, and black and white converse classics and text John he was going to meet them there.
Almost immediately after sending the text to John his phone beeped again, from Devon, it said he should grab his "go bag" and meet them at DQ. He raised his eyebrows and looked at the bottom of his closet, where, under the winter coat that had fallen off the hanger last week when he was looking for his old ipod cable, he saw a red nylon bag. All three of them had the same bag and all three bags had the same things in them, a one-man tent, an inflatable sleeping pad, a sleeping bag, and a small tarp to put on the ground under the tent. John had gotten them all one last Christmas "for the coming apocalypse" but they'd mostly used them on camping trips to a nearby lake. Mark smiled, knowing he'd only gotten one for Devon because he knew Mark would invite him along and if he didn't have the right gear it'd be a wrench in the works and it was easier to just include Devon than to not. Mark knew they weren't really friends with each other, but he wished they would be. The constant shots across the bow, mostly from John, got old. Devon did it too though, less verbally and more doing things he knew would irritate John. They'd reached a sort of truce this summer after Mark had quit talking to both of them after they'd been in an argument in Ames about something stupid. "If you're going to wreck my fun every time I go somewhere with you why would I want to go? If all you're going to do when I'm with one of you is bitch about the other one why would I want to go?" Was the short version of his ultimatum. The long version, and the long version was what Mark was best at had been much longer… much longer.
He grabbed the bag, wondering why they thought he'd need it, sent back a quick "K" and went down stairs, not even looking at the letter where it lay on half on and half off his pillow. The TV was on when he got downstairs, "I'm going now. He wants to meet some time for lunch. I dunno if I'm going or not." He picked up the conversation about Ron where it'd left off, knowing his mom would know which "he" he meant.
"Don't forget to come back home right after work. Dishes." She called from the living room.
"I won't." He omitted telling her he wasn't going straight to work or she wouldn't let him leave. If she found out she'd claim he got the text after he'd already left. Shutting the door behind him he paused for a minute and locked it behind him. Not for any reason he could put his finger on, they never locked the door until they went to bed, but he locked it anyway.
John leaned back into his seat and turned up the stereo as soon as Devon closed the door to avoid conversation. He pulled away from the curb in front of Mark's house and drove around the block to get back to the highway towards the Dairy Queen. It was two blocks before he finally reached over and turned the stereo back down, "So, what do you do at the park really? You're there a lot and it's not like there's a lot to do there." His tone was that of polite conversation, but it was obviously faked, and the subject was one he knew Devon would rather not talk about. Everybody knew what went on at the park, well, maybe not everyone, but enough to where it had a reputation as a cruisy park for creeps.
Devon looked at him and reached for his pack of cigarettes before catching himself and putting his hand back in his lap. "Hang out mostly. It's quiet, and I like the river." There was a note of challenge in his voice, not quite argumentative, daring John to go on, but with an under current of that.
John knew Devon's buttons and this was two of them at least. He nodded and they drove for a little while longer, stopping at a light next to a maroon mini-van. John rolled his window down and yelled at the passenger of the mini-van, a dark-haired girl, his age, with small square glasses on. She smiled and waved at him through the glass of her window as the light changed and they pulled away from the light, John caught behind a slow moving Buick.
"Who was that?" Devon asked leaning forward to see who John had been waving at.
"Lindsey Shuhmacher. She goes to your school. Cheerleader, used to have a crush on me."
"Used to?" Devon asked. John was, to everybody but Devon, usually charming and friendly and didn't have many people who didn't like him. It was one of the things that made Devon tense around him. He felt like he was always just outside the spotlight when he was around John.
"Yeah." John sighed dramatically and shook his head slowly, "Her family's a Packers family. Can't stomach Greenbay." He laughed and changed lanes, going around the blue-haired, white-knuckled driver in the Buick that didn't seem to realize this hadn't been an unpaved gravel road for decades and still drove as if it were. "Seriously, there should be a minimum speed limit too, and if you can't drive it you shouldn't drive. Damn!" He ran a yellow light to not be stopped next to the Buick.
"What do you think Jeff wants? Why's he know your number?" Devon asked as they crossed the bridge over the still flooded river.
"Beats me. I never gave it to him. I didn't know he had it. You didn't give it to him did you? Trade our numbers for..."
Devon cut him off. "No. That's fucked up."
"I know. That's my point." John said.
Devon sat and stared out the window. Clouds were on the horizon. The weather report called for rain tomorrow. He was so tired of rain. "You ever sat at home with your gramma for two days in a row? Non-stop? With no cable? Or your aunt who goes to church every time there's someone there and tries to get you to go too?" His voice went into a high-pitched imitation of a woman's voice, "As long as you're under my roof you'll follow my rules and one of those is we go to church. You could use a little Jesus in your life young man." He turned to look at John whose eyes were on the road, "It's why I am at the park a lot. I hate being at their houses. I suck at school, and it's easier to go there."
"You ever think you suck at school because you don't go?" John asked.
"Yeah, that's it. And you suck at reading because you don't read. Why didn't I think of that. Want to stop at the library? You can get Harry Potter and I'll get a calculus book. We can discuss them at Starbucks tomorrow," he paused, "you're buying."
"I don't like Starbucks and I've seen the movies. But thanks for the tip."
"Yeah, same here."