It figures that the one time I actually finish at a reasonable hour
Thanks much to eltea for betaing, and I hope you like this one, 'cause I'm rather fond of it for once. XD
The swings are his favorite.
You’re not supposed to stay on them for very long, of course, because there are only two of them, and you can’t funnel people through a pair of swings the way you can herd them along the track of a jungle gym.
But Adam stays on the swing until the others start yelling at him and calling him a hog, at which point they make very unflattering faces to accompany their oinking noises. He pumps his legs again, tuning the shouts out until they are one buzzing murmur in his ears, and savors the kiss of the sky just three times more. It’s sweeter now, because he knows he’s about to have to get down and let it go.
He does, obediently enough, and misses it immediately. There’s nowhere else you can get it, that rush into the air, that moment of heady weightlessness at the top of the curve, everything in this suspension in nothing, purchased with your aching calves and disheveled hair. Some kids fling themselves from the seat at the highest point, trying desperately to preserve it, trying to fly upward, onward, outward, boundless, but they always come back down. Tanbark sprays about their sneakers on impact.
Sometimes Adam dreams that he is swinging. Sometimes he dreams that he has crept onto the playground after dark, having clawed his way hungrily over the chain-link fence, so that he can swing alone. Nobody tells him to hurry up and give someone else a turn. It might just go on forever, this oscillation between soundless sky and the world he knows.
He drags his heels in the tanbark, splinters wriggling into the weave of his white cotton socks, and gets up from the swing. He has put his hands in his pockets and started to walk away when someone pushes him hard in the back.
The next moment, he is facedown and breathing in wood dust. Because his hands are in his pockets, the face in question takes the brunt of the blow.
A parent monitor rushes over, siren-voice howling at the sudden crowd as she tries futilely to convince them to disperse. Fingers with manicured nails clasp about his shoulder, and he wonders whose mother she is.
“Are you okay, sweetheart? Who hit you?”
Hitting and pushing are not the same; why has she conflated them?
He pries his hands out of his pockets, plants them on the ground, spreads his finger-roots, and pushes himself up to look at her. “I’m okay,” he pledges to her brown eyes and pug nose, her mascara-clogged lashes and straight white smile. “I just tripped.”
Her hands flutter about his elbow as he stands, so he puts on an answering smile. Apparently it convinces her, for she brushes tanbark from his T-shirt and rearranges his dark hair. He wipes his palms on his shorts, denim grating against their soreness, and trots off before she can ask anything more.
A shadow falls over his peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Adam looks up.
The owner of the umbra is Evan Dewitt, a boy twice Adam’s weight and a head better than his height, a bully extraodinaire with a future in torture and extortion.
“Hello,” Adam says, hoping he’ll at least be permitted to finish his sandwich before he gets his face ground into the pavement near the foursquare court.
“You told her you tripped,” Evan says.
Adam blinks. He doesn’t know how he is supposed to respond to what is clearly a statement, but he doesn’t dare stay silent lest Evan Dewitt think Adam seeks to ignore him.
“Yes,” he says.
Evan folds capable arms across his chest. “Why?” he demands.
Adam looks at his sandwich and resignedly bids it a fond adieu.
“I didn’t want to cause trouble,” he answers.
“I did it,” Evan blurts out, olive eyes narrowed. “You were on the stupid swing too long.”
Adam wonders how many seconds he has to live.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
Evan glares at him for a long moment, which Adam utilizes to count down the remainder of his existence.
Then Evan frowns, shifts his weight, and sits down next to Adam.
“You’re weird,” he decides.
Adam stares at him, then realizes his life might still be at stake and stares at his sandwich instead. Blueberry jam is seeping through the bread, and it is getting slightly soggy.
“I guess,” he concedes uncertainly.
Evan takes out a nice insulated lunchbox. It is royal blue, which is Adam’s favorite color.
“Whatever,” Evan says.
Adam looks intently at his sandwich. Perhaps he actually has been ground into the pavement, and he is currently hallucinating in the back of the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Well, no sense in wasting a perfectly good sandwich, imaginary or otherwise.
He takes a bite, chews, and swallows.
“I like your lunchbox,” he tells Evan.
The other boy regards it. “I like it, too,” he concludes.
There is a pause in which Evan somewhat vindictively punctures the little foil on his juice-box with the pointed end of the straw.
“I’ve never had a friend before,” he mutters.
That’s two things they have in common.
Adam was admiring the collection of sports trophies and MVP plaques on and near the shelf when Evan tossed the paper down and looked at him, a sardonic emphasis to his skepticism.
“That’s not how it went at all,” he declared.
Adam pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and smiled a little. “How’d it go, then?”
Evan frowned and glanced at the offending memoir assignment. “Not like that at all,” he repeated.
“How was it different?”
Resolutely, refusing to be swayed by voodoo-logic, Evan shook his head. “You wrote it the total pansy way,” he announced. “Now your teacher’s going to think I’m sappy and shit.”
Adam couldn’t help grinning. “We were in the second grade, Evan.”
Evan raised a demonstrative index finger. “I don’t care,” he retorted. “I have never been sappy. Ever. You got that?”
Adam took his paper back and flattened out the crease at the stapled corner, nodding noncommittally.
He was not going to be changing a word of his total pansy paper, and Evan probably knew it.
There was a reflective silence, into which Evan broke with a revelation.
“You did get one thing right,” he remarked.
“Yeah,” Evan confirmed, grinning. “That was one sweet motherfuckin’ lunchbox.”