Billy was working in the attic on his secret lego city when the doorbell rang. Billy's mother had convinced her son that it was okay for a thirteen-year-old to play with toys—so long as the play focused more on exploring construction techniques and less on concocting character-based fantasies. But Billy hadn't told his mother about how an illicit love affair between the city's mayor and its district attorney was flowering into soap-operatic scandal.
"Billy!" his mother cried. "Davey's at the front door!"
Down on the front porch, Davey greeted Billy with a winner's grin.
"I stole the keys to my paw-paw's Buick," said Davey. "Let's go get those girls at the mini-mart."
Billy went back inside and told his mother he was going to Davey's to play video games.
"Bullshit!" his father yelled from the couch; but it was at the Braves game, not at Billy.
Davey's paw-paw's car was a great silver fish sleeping in the driveway.
"What happened to your paw-paw?" Billy asked Davey.
"I don't know," Davey said. "He was in the bathroom for like two hours. So I took his keys and bolted. He might be dead."
Nighttimes that summer Davey and Billy malletted garden gnomes, plundered cigarette machines, bonfired for-sale signs. But this stolen-Buick joyride was, by far, their most advanced act of rebellion yet.
The mini-mart was located just outside their subdivision, which had been named by a committee and featured a golf-course designed by one of Jack Nicklaus's step-sons. After pulling in and finding the situation free of anyone—parent's friends, suspicious-looking adults—who might tell on them, Billy and Davey parked the car by the ice stand and got out.
The girls they had been pursuing were sitting on a bench beneath the awning, popsicles thrust halfway down their downy necks: Janie, Janie's friend Rachel, and Rachel's sister Bee.
"Check out my ride," said Davey.
"Think it'll do eighty?" asked Janie. "There's a hill over in Cunningham that if you floor it going up you'll fly over the top like a roller coaster car."
"I've heard of that," said Davey. "And I know how to get to Cunningham. Let's go."
"You stay here, Bee," Rachel said to her sister.
Billy and Davey lived in a rural county that was being slowly consumed by colonies of commuters, but Cunningham was way out where no realtor ventured. Pine tree thickets and rundown trailer-homes scrolled across the Buick's windowpane. Mirages slithered like snakes across the empty pavement. It was as if they were in some eerie, black-and-white horror movie, determined to accomplish an evil but not looking forward to it. Even with Rachel and Janie's continual noise-making—singing Faith Hill songs, erupting into malicious laughter, decoding the inside of each other's hands—the whole world felt silent. Billy fiddled with the cigarette lighter and wished they had tried to steal smokes from the mini-mart. He didn't know much about the cops over here in Cunningham, whether they sometimes pulled over suspicious Buicks full of pre-teenagers. Where's your paw-paw, son?
"Hey Davey," Janie asked from the back. "I heard you got it bad for Rachel. Somebody said you wouldn't get out of the swimming pool last time she was wearing her two-piece. I thought you said this car could go eighty. Have y'all ever drank a beer?"
"Maybe you should slow down," Billy whispered to Davey.
"Where is this mother-fucking hill, anyway?" Davey said.
The girls fell asleep after a while. Davey turned the car around in gravelly dead-ends, and Billy counted the missing letters on the same country-store signs, noticed the same raggedy dogs sleeping in the shade of giant satellite dishes. Afternoon expired slowly, and the tops of the trees glowed orange as the sun descended. Davey pulled the visor down over the top of the windshield, but he still had trouble seeing through the glare: said something about Cunningham being a county, not a town. Billy wondered about Paw-Paw's corpse, rotting in the bathroom; thought about his lego city in the attic, untended.
"Hey," Davey said finally. "I think this is it."
The Buick waited at the beginning of a long paved straightaway that ended in a steep ascent. Trees on all perimeters, darkness sneaking in through the branches, pinkish sun hiding in shame.
"We need to go get my sister," Rachel said. "It's been like an hour."
"This is the hill," Janie said. "Davey, floor it."
Davey gritted his teeth and make a sucking sound with his throat. Then the Buick hopped up like a mad hound breaking itself from a chain and raced down the road. When they began driving up the hill, everyone in the car breathed in something heavy and fell back in their seats. All they could see as the car climbed upward was the blue-black sky ahead, and on their sides the pine trees arrowing out at forty-five-degree angles. They seemed to be ten years waiting for the Buick to reach the top.
Finally the Buick, going at least eighty, leapt over the crest, and for a half-second Billy's ass levitated above the leather seat and his heart let go of its bloody web. A rush of fear flooded the car like river-water. The four passengers briefly understood flight, realized that the last thing you saw before you died was the flicker of your mother's face.
Then the wheels of Paw-Paw's Buick kissed the pavement with a gleeful squeal. Billy exhaled as Davey reined the car patiently down the backside of the famous hill.
"Oh my god," said Rachel.
Janie giggled. "You did it, finally," she said.
"Yeah, that was something alright. We were like on a rollercoaster, flying through the air," said Davey.
"No you idiot," said Janie. "Look back here. Rachel finally got her period!"
Billy and Davey looked over the seat in terror. Sure enough: blood was all over the backseat, Rachel was blushing and pawing at her skirt in frustration.
"You bitch, you got blood all over my paw-paw's Buick," said Davey.
"Your paw-paw's dead, you jerk," said Billy.
"Rachel, this is so great," said Janie. "You finally did it."
"We need to go get my sister," said Rachel. "I'm really in for it now."
The county was dead dark as the foursome drove home. Davey clicked the headlights off for minutes at a time, Billy watched for ghosts in the woods, the girls fashioned a makeshift maxi-pad from a McDonald's napkin. Billy figured there was a throng of paramedics, investigators, and newspaper reporters in Davey's front yard by now. They had become lost children, wanted for murder. Eventually his mother would walk next door and start asking what had happened. Either the lego city would be dismantled, or Billy would be made its prisoner.
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