Divided We Fall(2)
Author:Trent Reedy

    Sweeney’s parents had struggled for years to have kids of their own. Finally, they adopted Sweeney from Korea as a baby. They must never have gotten over how happy they were to have him, because they bought him all the best stuff.

    Cal took off and Sweeney looked over my shoulder. “Hey, Timmy!” he shouted at Tim Macer behind us. “You still need a ride?” The kid nodded. “You’re with us in the Beast. Hurry up.”

    The Beast was my awesome cherry-red 1991 Chevy Blazer. She was way older than I was, but I’d spent a ton of money and worked my ass off to get her fixed up good as new. Better than new. With a four-inch lift kit and the thirty-six-inch super swamper tires, she drove like a tank. The dual three-inch-diameter electric exhaust cutout let me flick a switch to run right off the headers with no muffler. Then the Beast would roar louder than a jackhammer. Since it was summer, I’d taken her hard-shell top off in back, so she was basically an old-style pickup truck, with no wall behind the cab, a handy bench seat in back, and plenty of cargo room under the roll bar.

    “My truck ain’t no taxi,” I said to Sweeney. “It’s bad enough I got to be your shuttle, now you’re making me drive some little sophomore around?”

    “Chill. Anyway, you have room, and he might be coming with us tonight.” He held his hand up before I could complain. “As long as he brings his sister Cassie.”

    “Your new girl?”

    He shrugged. “One of them, anyway.”

    I shook my head. That was Eric Sweeney. Always the go-to guy for the parties. Always scamming on another girl. Sometimes I thought it would be cool to get with as many girls as he did.

    But those thoughts were swept aside when my JoBell led Becca Wells and a bunch of other girls out of the school from volleyball practice. JoBell wore a faded blue-and-white Freedom Lake Minutemen T-shirt and little gray shorts. Her blond ponytail bounced behind her as she ran. I stared at her. I couldn’t help it. She tossed her duffel bag in the back of the Blazer, then opened the passenger door and pushed the lever to flip the seat forward. “Hey, babe. Becca’s mom needed her car.”

    “Okay if I ride?” Becca said as she climbed in and moved to the back. She spread a towel out on the bench seat. “I promise I won’t sweat your truck up.”

    I acted upset, even though Becca was JoBell’s best friend and a girl I’d been friends with my whole life. “Do I have a choice?”

    “No,” JoBell and Becca said at the same time.

    Sweeney stepped on the right rear tire, grabbed the roll bar, and swung into the backseat. Timmy Macer did the same thing on the other side, but he was clumsier.

    “Whoa!” I shouted as he was about to sit down.

    “The hell you think you’re doing!?” Sweeney yelled at him.

    Timmy stood up straight and about fell out of the truck when he tried to take a step back. “What did I do?”

    I shot Sweeney a look. I’d told him I didn’t want to give this kid a ride. “You damn near sat on my hat.” I held out my hand and waggled my fingers until the kid handed it over. It was a golden-white fur felt cowboy hat with only a couple dingy spots that I’d been meaning to clean for a long time. I curled the sides of the brim a little.

    “No bull has ever bucked him off while he was wearing his lucky rodeo hat,” Sweeney said. “And you almost crushed it.”

    I held the hat over my heart. “I would have had to kill you, Timmy.”

    “And that’d be a shame,” said Sweeney.

    “Sorry,” Timmy said. He looked so serious, like he’d just shit his pants. “I didn’t know.”

    JoBell reached over and squeezed my knee. “I love you,” she said with amusement in her eyes. “But sometimes you’re too much.”

    We all laughed, and I flipped my hat on my head. Even the kid relaxed and forced himself to chuckle with us.

    “What are you laughing at!?” I shouted, eyeing Timmy in the mirror.

    “Danny,” Becca said. “Leave the poor kid alone.”

    I turned the key, and my truck’s three-hundred-forty-horsepower 350 V8 roared to life. I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling the torque of the engine shake my body. She growled like a chained animal waiting to be released, with the power to claw through anything. I’m not gonna lie. She was the most badass truck in Freedom Lake. She was the Beast.

    JoBell leaned forward to switch on the radio.

    That’s country! When I lay it all down

    I work hard for my money and I love this little town

    When them city slickers come, asking what it’s about

    I pick up my guitar and I sing and I shout

    That’s country!

    “Ugh, how can you listen to that crap?” JoBell said.

    “That’s a good song!” I said. “Hank McGrew’s newest.”

    JoBell fiddled with the dial until she landed on the news. Her old man was a lawyer with a small private practice in town. I’d had supper a bunch of times at their house, and he passed every meal by bringing a current topic up for discussion. The two of them could get pretty intense when they debated, so JoBell liked to go in prepared.

    Overnight violence and vandalism have marred the second day of protests in downtown Boise as police struggle to maintain order. Dozens have been arrested, and several officers have been reported injured, including one in serious condition after sustaining a head injury.

    As I pulled out of the parking lot, JoBell switched stations.

    From NPR News, this is Everything That Matters. I’m David Benson. The Federal Identification Card Act would provide a high-tech replacement for flimsy paper Social Security cards, saving millions of dollars by streamlining and simplifying access to federal services and providing easy proof of legal eligibility for employment.

    “So, Timmy,” Sweeney said. “We were thinking that tonight —”

    “Shh, quiet!” JoBell said. “For a sec, anyway. I want to hear what’s going on.”

    It was a hard-reached compromise, a rare spark of unity in an otherwise deeply divided nation. Now, as NPR’s Molly Williams reports, the law faces bipartisan, but not necessarily united, criticism from both progressive and conservative groups.

    Sweeney leaned across the center console and spun the radio dial until he found some music. “Enough of that already. So boring.” He flopped back into his seat. “So, Timmy, we’re taking my parents’ pontoon boat out on the lake tonight. You and Cassie want to come?”

    Becca groaned. “Oh, come on, Eric.”

    Sweeney held his hand up. He had tried to get with Becca for years, but she wouldn’t go for him. That was unusual, since most of the time when Sweeney had his eye on a girl, he’d find a way to make it work out. Still, I’d seen Timmy’s little sister, and part of me hoped Sweeney wouldn’t be her introduction to high school and high school guys. I caught Becca’s eyes in the mirror and shook my head.

    “She’s just a freshman,” Becca said. “She’s a nice girl.”

    Timmy must not have heard Becca, or else he didn’t understand or care what she meant. “Sure! If our parents will let us. But you really want my sister to come?”

    “Oh yeah,” Sweeney said. “She’s friends with JoBell on the volleyball team and all.”

    “Leave me out of this, Eric,” JoBell said.

    “Okay, kitten,” Sweeney said.

    She turned around in her seat to face him. “Call me any more sexist names, Eric, and I’ll make sure you never ride in this truck again. I have some pull with the owner.”

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