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February 20, 2024 Fiction


Trevor Crown

Jump photo

I could hear the usual blues music booming from Ryan’s garage as I got off my bike in the driveway, sweating through my Smoothie King uniform. Ryan’s dad had started and quit three blues bands in the year since he’d retired from the Fire Department, and the fourth sounded like his best yet, which likely meant they were on their way out. I had to piss, so I went straight to the side of the house, which was where we pissed at Ryan’s. We’d gotten used to having the place to ourselves in high school after his mom had left, back when his dad was still working four-day shifts at the station. Then he retired, and having him around turned out not to make much of a difference, since he was always either playing blues sax in the garage or watching heist movies in his room. 

I had gotten close with Ryan playing JV volleyball when I was a sophomore and he was a junior who seniors liked having around. Now I was twenty-two, four years into a two-year Associate’s program. I probably could’ve applied to real colleges straight out of high school, but we figured that didn’t make sense until you knew what you wanted to study. “Straight out of high school” was how Ryan said it, with a little bit of damn, like anybody who pulled that off was Lebron James. Ryan went to Arapahoe Community College, so I did too. My folks weren’t thrilled, but they didn’t mind the money they were saving.

Ryan had a kind of magnetism that’s hard to explain. He was charismatic and funny, and he listened to all this really heady underground rap, and he liked to debate, and the more you hung out with him, the more you felt like you were in on something. He made friends easily, pulled them in from different cliques, some of them a lot more traditionally popular, and they all ended up with the same sense of humor, Ryan’s sense of humor. Even the girls he dated. It was mainly non-sequitur, though I can’t remember all that much of what we found funny. 

But lately I had started to think maybe I’d put too much stock in Ryan, had spent too much time at Ryan’s house, where there were always dirty dishes on the kitchen table because the sink was full, and where the back lawn was overgrown with dandelions. Maybe it had to do with my older brothers never showing much interest in me beyond calling me Baby Bitch all the time, and my parents laughing when they did. I had always been a joiner. Every big spectacle I saw—a magic show, or a motivational speech about entrepreneurship—I would think: Maybe that’s who I am. Then I’d be practicing card tricks and reading Mark Cuban’s autobiography. Before volleyball it was swimming. I was sure I could be an Olympian if I spent enough time visualizing success. It was only recently that I’d taken stock of all the stuff lying around my room, all the debris of these phases I had blown through without accomplishing anything or becoming anybody I could recognize. The pocket chessboard. The bongo drums. My bible—we weren’t a religious family, I’d taken it from the hotel at a tournament. And yearbooks. I was finished getting yearbooks now, and all the ones I had were full of signatures and notes from friends, about how we’d stay close forever—friends that hadn’t lasted me the summer. 

Somehow what always came to mind when I thought of these things was a guy I’d seen on the Venice Boardwalk while visiting my grandparents in LA. He was dancing on the boardwalk, doing pop-and-lock moves to a boombox he’d set up. He definitely wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t as good as the other guys out there popping and locking, and he didn’t have very many moves, maybe three or four, and judging by the look on his face, he wasn’t loving it. But I think what broke my heart about it was: you could tell it was a recent idea. He hadn’t been there long, and wouldn’t be much longer. 

I scanned the grass for a patch of dandelions to piss in and overheard Ryan through the open window of the kitchen talking with Jens, who I hadn’t known was going to be there. Jens was older than us by five or six years, and he was straight-edge, which meant he had tattoos but didn’t drink or do drugs and was constantly smoking Winstons and talking about high school girls. I wasn’t totally clear on the rules of being straight-edge, but Jens made it seem like the chasing high school girls was just as important as the not partying. At least he’d been straight-edge for long enough to make it his thing. He had a purple truck and all these stories about getting jumped at hardcore shows. Guys were always supposedly getting “jumped” in my hometown, though I’d never seen it happen and I had my doubts. Was it getting “jumped” if you told a Mexican kid to go pick you a strawberry and he choked you out all by himself in front of your friends because even they didn’t want to help you? That I’d seen happen. To Jens. “Some people can’t take a joke,” he’d said afterward. 

Ryan and Jens must not have heard me come around the side of the house because neither one of them said Ay, and Ryan carried on telling Jens a story he’d already told me, about a guy who died doing plyometric jump training in his own apartment, jumped straight up into an archway and hit his head so hard he died before he hit the ground. And I could’ve interrupted him to give him a hard time about recycling the story, but instead I just stood with my chinos half-unzipped and listened. It wasn’t that I wanted to hear the story again—hearing it was painful, and I was scared to have my suspicion proven correct. What I suspected was that he would tell it exactly the same way he had to me, with all the same inflections, all the same jokes and commentary that had seemed off-the-cuff before. And I was right. “He jumped clean out of his body,” Ryan said. He talked about the split skull leaving a stamp of blood on the edge of the archway, like lipstick on a paper cup. And hearing it just added to a feeling I’d already had for a little while. 

The feeling wasn’t just about Ryan—it had to do with the chessboard and the bongos and the bible and everything else. The dancer on the boardwalk. But Ryan was right there with the rest of it. I was losing warmth. And I guess losing hope. Not hope for humanity or anything dramatic like that, but the hope that used to make me think whatever I saw or did next might bring on some big change in me. It had to do with realizing that I didn’t really know Ryan, the guy I thought of as my best friend, and that Ryan wasn’t really interested in knowing me, that he was usually putting on a show to get something from me, attention maybe, and I was doing the same for him. 

I thought about all that while listening to him talk, and staring at the dandelions between my shoes. When you’re a kid, dandelions are flowers. Then you grow up and they’re weeds. But that day I couldn’t bring myself to piss on any, so I walked to the back door and opened the screen. “Ay,” Jens said, blowing smoke. “Ay,” Ryan said, “you spritzin’ the lawn?” That was what we called it: spritzin’ the lawn. “Nah,” I said. “I’m gonna use the turlet.” That was what we called the toilet. Ryan said, “Very sophisticated,” in what I guess he thought was a French accent. And as I walked down the hall with its low ceiling, closer to the thumping blues, I imagined taking four quick strides, planting both feet to load momentum, bending at the knees and bursting up head first into an exposed oak beam. I imagined the sound it would make.   

From the bathroom I heard the band in the garage make several false starts, with a guitarist tuning his instrument incessantly between. 

Back in the kitchen Ryan offered me a Foster’s, our beer of choice solely because nobody else drank it. I guess that’s one example of something we found funny, slurping Foster’s Australian Lager out of those choded up double-wide 25oz cans. It tasted horrible.

“Hell yeah,” I said wearily. “Crack me one.”

“How’d it go with Yogurt?” he asked. I’d gone on a date the day before with a girl named Sammi who worked at a frozen yogurt shop in the mall. “She give you a… free sample?” Ryan’s tone parodied the type of jock who would ask such a thing, but he was also asking it.

“It went alright,” I said. “We had a picnic on the grass by Sun Hill. I made Italian subs.”

“Yuck,” Jens said. “With, like, salami?”

“Hey,” Ryan said, “Jens, buddy, please shut the fuck up from now on.” 

“With salami,” I said, glaring at Jens with a flat violence. “Anyway, picnic went great. Then we saw a movie. Sandra Bullock.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ryan said. “I’ve seen the commercials.” He was rushing me through, and I knew what he wanted to find out, but I also knew he wouldn’t repeat the question. So I kept going just to piss him off. 

“Decent movie actually,” I said. “Sandra Bullock hasn’t lost a step. It starts out in the middle of a chase scene. I love it when they do that, just drop you right into the action. What is that called? Ryan?”

He shot me an impatient look.

“We fooled around in my car,” I said. “Just hand stuff.”

He grinned. “You think you’ll hang out again?”

The truth was that Sammi had seemed nice, and at the picnic I had thought things were going great. But by the end she was laughing so hard at every dumb joke I made—jokes Ryan would’ve made—and touching my arm, looking at me with these wedding eyes, and all that just ruined it for me. I was embarrassed for her. The hand stuff was a lie. I’d barely even said goodbye to her before dropping her off. 

“Maybe we will,” I said. “She’s pretty busy at the shop. Probably, though.” 

Ryan shrugged and said, “She’s cute, man.” And I hated Ryan. Sure, Sammi acting obsessed with me made me think of less of her, but she was a nice girl, and she was definitely conventionally attractive, and I knew Ryan had only used the word cute instead of hot or beautiful to make it very clear that he found her dumpy and plain—to put her down and put me down for hooking up with her, which I hadn’t even done.

Super cute,” Jens said, picking at a scab on his spider-web elbow tattoo. And maybe he was trying to be nice, adding the word super to challenge Ryan’s assessment without outright contradicting him, but Jens I wanted to choke. 

“Wouldn’t she be a little old for you?” I said.

“Fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“Her step-sister’s twelve,” I said. “I could put in a good word.” 

I was four inches taller than Jens, but we probably weighed the same. I’d never been in a fight before, and he’d been in plenty, but he’d probably lost all of them. I was already up when he put his hands flat on the table to stand. 

But before we could find out who had the true advantage, we heard an earsplitting electrical crack from the garage, then the sound a plugged-in guitar makes when it falls over, followed by feedback that made us grit our teeth. More commotion. I could make out at least three male voices shouting, two of them saying, “That’s what you get!” A pained grunt. Footsteps outside, a door slamming, and then it was quiet. 

I asked, “Should we—”

“No,” Ryan said. “Nope.”

I sat back down and took a sip of my big fat Foster’s. 

“That’s the best they’ve sounded all day,” Jens said.

“Excuse me?” Ryan’s dad said. He must’ve heard through the dog door between the kitchen and garage, left over from before Ryan’s mom took the dog. “You were saying?” He stepped into the kitchen with a big swollen knot on the side of his head and a red welt around one eye, wiping his hands on a washcloth. “Hi Ricky,” he said to me without taking his eyes off Jens.

“Hey Sal,” I said. 

Jens didn’t speak. He had a cigarette going. 

“Put that shit out in my house,” Sal said.

“Sorry,” Jens said, mashing it in a paper cup. “Ryan said—”

“It’s not Ryan’s house,” Sal said. “It’s my house. Ryan doesn’t work, Ryan doesn’t pay for shit. It’s Sal’s house.”

“You heard the man,” Ryan said, enjoying himself.

Sal mocked Jens with a high-pitched whine. “But, but Ryan said—Dumbass!” He opened the freezer and gathered ice cubes in the washcloth, wet it in the sink, and pressed it gingerly to his face while looking out the kitchen window. His shoulders started to shake, and for a confusing moment I thought he might be crying. But he was laughing. 

“What’s so funny?” Ryan said. 

“They keyed your car.” 


“My band.”

“Are you fucking serious?” He ran outside. 

Sal laughed and laughed, icing his face. His bandmates had mistaken Ryan’s car for his—it was the same model, a red Mazda Protégé, but newer and cleaner. “See, Ricky?” he said, pointing the ice at me. “Never assume.”

I smiled. “Band break-up?”

He frowned. “Huh? No, no.” He shook his head and looked out the window, suddenly serious. “I think this one might stick.”

From outside, Ryan called, “You’re paying for this, Sal.”

Sal just smiled and shook his head. He watched Ryan lovingly like that for a minute, with a kind of sad pride. The red welt around his eye had begun to purple. He walked over to the table where Jens sat, and took a Winston from his pack. 

“See Ricky,” he said, lighting the cigarette while Jens tried not to flinch, “the one mistake I made with Ryan—the one place I went wrong—was letting him do whatever he wanted, all the time, for his entire life. Don’t you think?”

This was by far the most he had ever said to me. He may have been concussed. I shrugged and said, “Ryan’s not so bad.”

Sal gave me a look like, Oh, come on.

“My dad used to put a spoon on the stove,” Jens said, “and burn me with it. On my stomach.” He looked embarrassed then, round cheeks flushing pink. I’m still not exactly sure why he told us that—if it was to let Sal off the hook, or to sound tough, or what. But whatever his intention, I could tell he regretted it before he was even finished, which was how I knew it was true. I was grateful he didn’t lift his shirt to show us. 

Sal took the ice down from his eye and looked at it in one hand. Maybe he was thinking about Jens’s stomach, or some other burn he’d seen in his time as a firefighter. All he said was, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

You have to hold somebody still to burn them like that. That’s what I was thinking about when Ryan came back in, saying maybe he’d get some stripes on the Protégé if it needed paint anyway. 

The rest of the day went about how I’d expected. Parks, parking lots. But I left when it got dark out, because I’d realized I wanted to. I didn’t lie and say I was going to meet up with Sammi, or that I had work early. I just told Ryan and Jens I was going home, and I did. They could only give me so much shit in the few seconds it took me to mount my bike. It was the last time I saw either of them on purpose.  

And biking home, I thought of the dancer from the boardwalk again, except this time he wasn’t on the boardwalk. He was biking home just like me, to a little house near the airport with a crabgrass front lawn, old but well-kept. Getting inside and seeing his mom and dad, who maybe hadn’t shown a whole lot of interest in the direction of his life, but also hadn’t spoiled him rotten or held him down and burned him. Just sitting down between his dead-average parents who cared about him in their own quiet way, and watching some TV. Laying low but paying close attention in case an idea came, because he wasn’t so old he couldn’t start something new. I thought, okay. Maybe that’s who I am.