A blue Camaro and a Purple Camaro sat in Charlie’s driveway. I’d never seen Daniel so happy. Sandy stood with her arms crossed.
“Well son, what do you think?”
Daniel walked around both cars, running his hands down the fenders. “This is the best birthday present ever!”
Daniel’s favorite cars were all General Motors F-Bodies, Camaros and Firebirds especially. It was the day after Daniel’s sixteenth birthday. A newly printed drivers license was stuffed into a stiff leather wallet in Daniel’s back pocket.
“Can we go for a drive?”
“Well, the Purple one is for parts. It runs though, but I’m not sure how long. The blue one is all yours.” Charlie pulled a key ring out of his pocket and tossed it to Daniel. The black one is for the ignition. The other one unlocks the doors.” Charlie looked at Sandy who nodded slightly.
“Take it down the road to the gravel turn-around and come back. You can let it eat a little, but keep it under fifty-five.”
Daniel smacked me on the shoulder, and we took off toward the car. Sandy and Charlie watched.
The door creaked as I pulled it open. Climbing into the car felt like climbing into the cockpit of a fighter jet. My legs were completely straight, and they extended up under the dashboard. The seat felt reclined no matter how far I raised it. The nose of the car and the spacer panel extended out far past my field of vision.
Daniel climbed in and gripped the steering wheel in awe for a bit before pulling the door closed and starting the engine. The car roared to life right away and then settled into a low growl. Daniel smiled and turned to me, “what do you think?”
“I’m happy for you man.” I thought about my own car, a mid nineties Ford Aspire, a near perfect pink semi-circle my dad called the Easter egg. The Aspire was a subcompact four door. Its four cylinder engine shook with effort over sixty miles per hour, and going up an incline required shutting off the air conditioner. One of my English teachers once joked that it “aspired to be a real car.”
I was more than a little jealous. Daniel had twice as many cars as I did, and even his parts car was better than mine.
We backed slowly out of the driveway, and Daniel puttered down the road until he was out of sight and hearing. He opened the throttle and the speedometer climbed toward sixty but passed it in no time. The leaves caught in the car’s wake pulled toward the center of the lane in a flurry of fall colors. I gripped the door handle.
Daniel was an experienced driver by the time he got his license. Whereas I had to plead and beg to get my parents to take me driving, Sandy and Charlie competed with one another to take Daniel driving. Being behind the wheel was the one thing Daniel wanted to do without fail.
Sandy taught Daniel how to be a responsible and defensive driver. Charlie taught Daniel how to whip the car around corners and launch it through it’s gears.
So naturally, Daniel began spending much more time with Charlie. In response, Sandy started competing for Daniel’s affection by spending money on him. She bought video games, clothes, gadgets, and a new cell phone in the lead up to Daniel’s sixteenth birthday.
The twin Camaros were the latest shot fired in a cold war between Charlie and Sandy.
Daniel backed off the gas and pulled off onto a packed gravel spot on the shoulder. “What do you think?” He asked as he unconsciously worked the car through a middle of the road k-turn.
I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s the fastest car I’ve ever ridden in.”
“The only thing I don’t like about it is that it’s a V-6 and it’s an automatic. I love the color. New exhaust, some rims, and a custom stereo, and this will be a pretty sweet ride.”
“How much is all that?”
“A couple thousand.” Daniel waved his hand in the air. “Mom will get it for me.”
Daniel was aware of his parents’ battling for his time, attention, and affection. He used it to great effect, dropping hints here and there in an effort to get what he wanted.
Daniel pulled the car into the other lane and stopped at a flat spot in the road. He pressed the brake with his left foot and revved the engine with his right. In one motion, he released the brake and stomped the throttle. The car spun a bit and then gripped the road, launching the car forward. The car whipped by the trees and bounced over the gentle bumps in the road.
When we neared the house, Daniel slowed the car to a crawl. Sandy and Charlie hadn’t moved.
Daniel pulled the car next to his parents and we got out.
“Well?” Charlie asked.
“I really like it!” Daniel smiled. “Some things I want to fix. Like putting a new stereo in it, get some rims and wider tires. Maybe an alarm. Some things to spend some birthday money on.”
“Well,” Sandy thought for a moment. “I think since your dad really did a good job picking out your car, I can help with some things you want to fix.”
“Wow, thanks Mom!” Daniel forced elation. Charlie and Sandy exchanged glances.
“We can pick some stuff out when you get home. Be careful riding around,” Sandy said.
“I will.” Daniel twirled the key ring around his finger and stopped it in his palm, making a clapping sound.
Sandy left and we said goodbye to Charlie. Daniel crawled the car down the road until we were out of sight.
“Where should we go?” Daniel asked without turning from the windshield.
“It’s only the afternoon,” I replied.
“We can literally go anywhere we want, and we don’t have anywhere to go.”
“Seems that way doesn’t it.”
“We should at least go see what Steven is doing.”
“We could call Robby too.”
“You can call Floppy.”
I laughed. “You guys will never be best friends huh?”
“Probably not, but I guess we can’t just call him when we want his brother to buy us beer,” Daniel grinned into the rear view.
“Oh he’s fun to have around,” I had to stick up for Floppy. Someone had to.
“We need cigarettes.”
“I can get someone at Shop n’ Save to sell them to us.’
“Well, looks like we got shit to do now.”
The car rumbled down the road. I had never ridden in a sports car before. The Camaro has an uncanny way of going fast while feeling slow. Daniel forced the car around corners at sixty when the signs suggested thirty-five, but the car felt capable of taking those corners even faster. The trees and houses on each side of the road seemed to crawl by, even as we approached speeds double the limit.
First, we stopped to pick up Steven. His house rested at the bottom of a steep hill, carved into shale and dirt. Steven’s purple minivan was the only vehicle in the driveway. He was seated on the hood when we crept down the hill.
“Wow, sweet ride!” Steven walked a lap around the car, stopping to kick each tire.
“Steve, what the fuck are you doing?” Daniel asked with folded arms.
“Well, Dan, I am kicking the tires of your fancy sporting mobile.”
Dan rolled his eyes. “What do you think that does?”
“Well, it’s told me that this is a quality vehicle.”
I laughed, “yeah? and how’s that? what were you looking for?”
Steven took a minute and thought. “Well, when I kicked these tires,” he paused again, “they did not,” another pause and then a finger raised in false eureka, “they did not fall off the car.”
“Well, I’m glad we got that out of the way.”
“Hmmm, yes.” Steven added an accent, “I believe this car is fit for me to ride in.”
I pulled the seat forward. The back of the car had bucket seats, separated by a large protrusion in the center where the car’s driveshaft sat below. Steven climbed through the opening, turning his shoulders sideways to squeeze through the narrow opening. He stooped like a coal miner, bumping his head as he turned around to sit.
Steven cocked his head to the side to avoid hitting the ceiling. “Hmmmm, yes.” The accent persisted. “I do believe I was wrong in my initial estimation of this automobile.”
Daniel looked at me, “He is like, a foot taller than you, Mike.”
“Goddamnit.” I looked at the ground. “Come on good master Stevie, I’ll climb in the back.” I reached through the opening and grabbed Steven’s hand.
I wouldn’t say that I was comfortable in the rear bucket seat, but I fit. Steven and Daniel climbed in front. “I like this better than the purple pill.” Steven liked to give everyone’s vehicle a nickname. His van was the purple pill.
“I like the van better now that I have to sit in the back.” I complained, and the others laughed.
Steven jerked and pointed up.
“Uh oh, Stevie had an idea.” Daniel said.
“I guess your car is about to get a nickname Dan.” I watched Steven’s reflection in the windshield.
“I was playing Mega Man earlier today.”
“Like, the old one?” I asked.
“Alright, do we really need the explanation?” Daniel sighed.
Steven reached out and touched Daniel on the shoulder, “Shhhh.” He put a finger to his lips. “Do you know what they call Mega Man?”
“They? Who is they?” I asked.
“I don’t fucking know Mikey! They. Haven’t you ever heard of they? It is the they. The one everyone talks about.”
“Oh, they.” I pretended to know what he was talking about.
“Anyway. They call him the blue bomber.”
“You’re not calling my car the blue…” Daniel protested.
“I like it,” I took sides with Steven.
“Oh, fuck off, Mike.”
“The blue bomber has a nice ring to it,” I repeated my support.
“I know, right?” Steven said.
“Why don’t we call it…” Daniel thought for a moment, grasping for any alternative name. He sighed and whispered “goddamnit.”
“Can’t come up with anything better?” Steven’s grin threatened to split his face in two.
“No.” Mike said through his teeth.
“Blue bomber it is then.” Steven reached up and patted the dashboard like the car were just brought to life.
“BB for short.” I pushed a little farther.
“Now you’re just being stupid,” Steven laughed.
Daniel started the car and let it settle into idle. “So where to next?”
“Want to go pick up Floppy?” I asked.
“Not really,” Daniel scoffed.
“Come on. Please?” Steven clapped his hands together and made his eyes wide.
We pulled into Floppy’s house, and his dad was outside painting the exterior trim of their brick house. His bare belly was sunburned on the top and hung over the lip of his pants. The suspenders that he always wore were pushed away from his center to either side to make room.
He put his paint can down as we were baling out of the car, “He there boys. Beautiful day isn’t it?”
Rob Senior hid a general dislike of other people behind a false facade of Andy Griffith style aggressive friendliness. I was unsure of his goal. Was he embarrassed to be on disability? Was he afraid that having people around his house would make his abuse vulnerable to public scrutiny? Whatever the reasoning was, while saying the exact opposite, he always made it clear that he didn’t want us on his property.
“Yes, sir. It sure is.” I said climbing out of the back seat.
“Michael.” Rob Senior said.
“Yes?” I knew what was coming.
“Call me sir again and I’ll go upside your head.”
I laughed. “I wouldn’t want that.”
“No, you wouldn’t.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking, but I took it in the nature he intended. Rob Senior wasn’t unlikeable. He wasn’t even what I would call a bad man. He had his own sort of honor. “I’ll go in and grab Robby for you.”
I thanked him, and he went inside.
“Is it just me, or is that guy terrifying?” Steven waited until Rob Senior was inside the house before speaking.
“You better watch how loud you speak. Sound bounces around down here in this hollow. He keeps the bedroom window open and listens. When we were younger, Senior always knew when Floppy and I were up to no good. He was eavesdropping from the bedroom. But he’s always been nice to me. You guys don’t have anything to worry about.”
Senior came out of the house with a glass of water. He stepped down off the deck and put a hand on the lower part of his spine and arched. Floppy came out behind him.
“Yeah, Dad” Floppy turned and faced his dad.
“Don’t do anything stupid. Be home at a decent time.”
Senior turned toward the car, “That goes for the lot of ya. No stupidity, decent time.”
We each nodded.
“I was young once. I know what happens after you get your license,” Senior continued.
“I’ll keep everyone’s head on straight.” I reassured.
“That’s good Michael, you’re the only one with any damn sense. Be safe boys. Call if you need someone to bail you out.” Senior gave a chuckle and went back in the house.
“So what does happen when you start driving?” Steven asked Floppy as he came near the car.
“Well, when he was a kid, he told me that he and my uncle used to steal beer from 7-11 and drink it in the parking lot. Lee Fox, the old sheriff, used to come and chase them off. Probably get arrested for that shit now.”
“Damn, wish I had the balls to steal beer.” Daniel thought out loud.
“Yea, then we wouldn’t have to pay my brother to get it. Save us a lot of money.”
“We are gonna go buy some cigarettes,” I said.
“I already got some.” Floppy patted his pants pocket.
“You gonna share fucker?” Steven laughed.
“Not here in the driveway numbnuts, my dad would kick my ass,” Floppy whispered.
“Well, by all means then,” Steven opened the car door and pulled the seat forward.
Floppy went to get in behind.
“That’s my seat,” I complained.
“Mike, there’s less room behind the driver, and Floppy is taller than all of us,” Steven reasoned.
“Why don’t you give him the front seat then, since he’s so tall?” I replied.
Steven considered it, “Well, because I’m sitting in the front seat.”
“Are you serious?” I looked at each of them in turn. They were.
“I’ll pull the seat up as far as I can.” Daniel compromised.
“I’ll give you a cigarette.” Floppy offered.
I weighed my options for a minute, “I’ll do it… but,” I pointed to Floppy, “you can’t give Steven a cigarette.”
Floppy and Daniel exchanged glances, “Fine with us.”
“Wait a second here.” Steven protested.
“It’s only fair.” Daniel grinned.
Steven looked hurt, “But I really want one. Wait, just how is that fair?”
“I’ll take the front seat and go without a cigarette if you want to trade. Your choice.”
Steven thought for a minute, “Alright, I’ll sit in the back.”
“Behind the driver?” I clarified.
“Behind the driver,” Steven looked at the ground.
I extended my hand toward Steven. “You drive a hard bargain Stevie.” He shook it without enthusiasm.
Once we all got in the car and out of the driveway, Floppy passed out cigarettes to everyone but me. As we headed to town to see who else was out on a Friday night, I rolled down the window and enjoyed the feeling of the wind on my face, the deep growl of the motor, and the smell of swirling tobacco smoke.
After a few quiet drags, Steven shouted from where he was slouched in the back, “You know what I just realized, Mikey?”
I turned to face him “What’s that Steve?”
“You didn’t lose a damn thing in that deal.”
I smiled, “Nope. I didn’t.”