Bah! I missed my self-imposed deadline — it’s exactly 12:00 am. But technically I DID post on March 17 with my update on Crystal and Wand. So, you know . . . we’re good.
I’m applying some of my student’s suggestions here, and I’ve changed the narrative to a first-person so that the vernacular works better with my grammatical sensibilities. What do YOU think, dear readers? Which version do you like better — this one or the first one?
I glanced down at the gas needle and wished I’d had enough money to put more than half a tank in before hitting the trails. I had a good half of a tank in my snow machine, but my buddies weren’t following the plan we’d all agreed on, turning left at the fork behind Northern College instead of looping around the lake in one quick trip. Danny was up front, leading the rest of us, and he had a habit of making changes on the fly. They might have been going halfway to Rouyn for all I knew.
Danny kind of pissed me off when he did stuff like that, but my heart was pumping and I was grinning from ear to ear, just the same.
If I’d only put more gas in the tank . . . I swore under my breath, adjusting my speed while leaning into a curve on the track. I had shit to do that afternoon, stuff that required money. My next paycheque wouldn’t come for another week, so I was trying to be good and make the cash last. Danny, Steve, and AJ didn’t have to worry about working; their dads all had good jobs and gave them money pretty much whenever they wanted. They didn’t have to think about budgeting. Maybe that explained why they could just change their minds at the last second and do whatever the hell they wanted.
I looked at the needle again and decided that as soon as they stopped for a break, or if I went down to a quarter of a tank, I’d turn back. No sense in being stupid.
My mind made up, I focused on keeping pace with my friends. It was a perfect day for a rip, so no wonder they wanted to do more than a loop and back to town again. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, just an expanse of deep blue overhead that reached from one side of the snow-covered forest to the other. It was damned cold out, but thanks to my mom landing some good deals during Boxing Day sales, my new Skidoo suit and gloves kept me from feeling the worst of the chill. -35 C was too cold for downhill skiing, which is what my girlfriend Penny would have liked to have done that afternoon, but it was perfect for hitting the trails: the Arctic temperatures made the snow sparkle in the sunlight, especially those crisp bits that flew away from the speeding vehicles’ tracks and blades. It was absolutely gorgeous.
Too bad Penny didn’t like hopping on the back and going with me. It was the one thing — well, maybe not the one thing, there were other things we didn’t have in common — but the main thing that we had different between us. I wished she was with me now, riding behind me, but I understood that I couldn’t force her to like it. Maybe, eventually, she’d want to try it out and I could take her for a ride.
Just not with Danny around. That guy was my friend, but also an idiot.
Case in point: Danny never stopped flirting with Penny, even when he knew it pissed me off. Or maybe he did it even more when I got mad. My gut twisted thinking about it, and my hands tightened on my risers. Penny didn’t say that she minded it, but every now and then I’d seen a shady look on her face when she moved away from Danny’s hand on her shoulder, pushing him back when he was begging for a hug, or when she caught him staring at her as he sipped from his drink. I would shove him or give him a semi-playful smack on the shoulder and tell him to stay away from her, but the guy just laughed it off.
“I’m just kidding! Relax, man!”
Sometimes I wondered why we were friends. Or, rather, still friends. We’d known each other since we were two, been to each other’s birthdays every year since then, learned how to fish and shoot together, and Danny had helped me to rebuild my old Skidoo practically from scratch. The hours we’d spent, hunting through the junkyard and picking through yard sales and Auto Trader magazines for the right pieces . . . And even though she was pretty ratchet, the snowmobile ran pretty good. Danny never bugged me about the way she looked, either. It was enough that I could match his speed.
I could see him up ahead, veering his 2016-model Summit X T3 880 up the drifted slopes and taking jumps that left wings of powder hanging in the air. What Danny wanted, he got, and so a lot of kids wanted to be in his circle.
It just sucked that being in this particular group meant you had to show you had balls. Turning around halfway through a run did not show anything but being a pussy. I sighed, anticipating the chirping I was about to get. But there was no help for it; the needle had already moved on the gas gauge, giving him about ten more minutes before I’d have to turn around.
The good news was Danny had already started slowing down, signalling a stop. If I was really lucky, I wouldn’t be getting back on fumes.
I parked my snowmachine in beside the other three and raised my helmet so I could speak clearly. ” ‘Sup, buds?”
“Smoke break,” Danny told him, grinning. “Want a dart?”
“Naw, you know I’m quitting.” Adam waved him off and looked away.
“Yeah, you keep saying that,” Steve said. “But I keep seeing you in the smokers’ pit at school.”
“That’s ’cause that’s where all you losers hang out, dumbass.” I propped one knee on my seat. “Listen, what’s the plan here?”
“We’re heading to Rouyn, gonna pick up some two-fours and head back to AJ’s for a party,” Danny said. He exhaled a long puff of grey-white smoke mixed with the condensation of his breath.
“Seriously?” I looked away so I wouldn’t have to breathe in the stink of his tobacco, focusing on adjusting the velcro belt on the wrist of my glove. Normally the guys only smoked at the parties, passing around cigars, but Danny had decided for some reason that he needed regular smokes, too. I pulled the velcro back and pressed it down again in an awkward rhythm. “I got plans with Penny tonight.”
“Yeah, your plans include bringing her to AJ’s.” Danny jerked his chin and then glanced at the other guys, grinning.
“Honestly, I don’t think she’ll want to go,” I said. The noise of the velcro on my gloves was hard to hear against the growling of the engines. I slapped the strap down and took off my helmet to mess around with the padding, pretending to fix the way it sat on my head. “Kind of off parties right now, you know?”
Steve laughed, swaggering over to bush half-covered in snow with his gloves held under one arm so he could unzip his suit. “What, you afraid she’s gonna check out the competition, see somebody better, and ditch your ass? Bro, just bring her to the party. Don’t be a pussy.” The thin yellow stream steamed and crackled in the hollow it made under the bush. “Shit, I think I might have gotten piss on my boots again . . .”
Danny neatly tossed his cigarette butt in the snow at his feet. “Listen, bring her or don’t bring her, but you’re coming out. You need to relax, buddy. Way too tense. Am I right, AJ?”
AJ shrugged, his face still obscured by the mirrored visor of his helmet. He revved his engine, turning to the east, then took off suddenly, leaving an impressive spray of white powder in his wake.
“Whoa, nice boondockin’” Steve shouted, waving one arm. He zipped up and strode back to his machine, looking at Danny as he straddled the seat. “Let’s go, we’re wasting daylight. If he wants to wimp out, let him.”
I felt a hot glow deep in my chest, watching Steve slam his visor down and zoom off without another word. Why can’t I just tell them I haven’t got enough gas?
“So you coming or not, Adam?” Danny asked. He checked to make sure his pocket flap was down over his cigarettes and lighter. “We can carry more booze with four machines.”
“Yeah, I’ll be right behind you,” I said, slowly. “I thought I heard a knock in the engine. Need to check it out first.”
“Hey, want me to stay and give you a hand?”
At least the kid actually sounded concerned. I took my gloves off, flipping them at him. “No, I got this. Like I said, I’ll catch up. See you in Rouyn, okay?”
“Okay. And remember what I said — bring Penny tonight!”
There was that look again, damnit. Danny was gone before I could ask him what the raised eyebrow and crooked grin was all about.
The last echoes of the Skidoos racing eastward faded. I had turned off my ignition, so the quiet was absolute. Even the wind had died down, and it was too cold even for the ravens to squawk. I opened the engine compartment, closing my eyes for a minute to appreciate the odours of gas and oil before I started fiddling with some plugs. I checked over my shoulder a couple of times, listening for any signs of my friends coming back. Not that I really expected them to do that . . . well, maybe Danny would, if only to ride my butt about his old machine and my girlfriend.
The silence didn’t stop a bunch of thoughts from cycling through my head. In fact, it was hard to ignore them. I checked the oil, shoving the wire harder than necessary back into its slot, willing my brain to stop thinking.
I should just catch up and borrow money from AJ for some gas.
I should just go home right now. The hell with this.
Danny has the hots for Penny.
It was in his eyes when he watched her coming to sit down next to me in the caf, the way he looked her up and down, his gaze settling on her chest until someone yelled at him to pay attention. It was in those stupid jokes
Something in that shit-eating grin Danny had on his face just before he’d zoomed off was really bothered me. Maybe it was how he’d sounded when he’d said I should bring Penny to the party.
I could already predict what that party was going to be like. It would be the same as always: loud music that would get louder as people got drunker, a bonfire in a home-made fire pit that some fool would try jumping over and end up wiping out next to on the ice that formed from the melting snow (next to the fire, if he was lucky — more likely to wipe out on the fire pit), Danny hitting on every girl until he got one who was drunk or stupid enough to think he was actually funny. And if Danny scored with a girl who actually had a boyfriend, there would be a fight.
Come to think of it, Danny would probably focused on girls with boyfriends just so that he could get into a fight.
Me and Danny had never been in a real fight. We’d goofed around, just being idiots and re-enacting MMA bouts and hockey fights, tossing each other off of docks in the summer and into snowbanks in the winter. Hell, we’d thrown each other off of any surface we could climb onto: the roof of the bottom-story addition of my house (winter), the railing of Danny’s back deck (winter), the flat top of AJ’s boat house (summer), the flat top of AJ’s grandparents’ garage (winter) . . .
Of course, we didn’t need a bit of high ground to throw each other down. Back in grade five, Danny’d taught me how to sweep a leg out from under my opponent, passing on whatever he’d learned in the karate classes that my parents couldn’t afford. And then I’d shown Danny how to pile-drive, what it took to do a decent sleeper hold that could really knock somebody out, and the pressure points I’d learned from my dad. Danny loved finding out about those, just little sensitive spots between thumbs and forefingers that could keep a kid on the ground for as long as you wanted, if enough you pressed hard enough.
But we’d never yet taken a swing at each other. Hadn’t had a reason to. Especially not over a girl.
And I honestly didn’t want to do that. Not that I’d ever tell anyone, out loud.
It wasn’t that I was scared. I could take Danny
It was just . . .
I slammed the cover back down on my snowmobile. The bang startled a distant raven into cawing loudly as it flew away.
Guys fought, didn’t they? They fought and then they got over it. Fighting cleared the air. Girls, they snuck around and bitched at each other and sent nasty texts until they were ripping at each other’s hair and rolling around school hallways. Girl fights lasted for weeks, or even months.
When Danny went after some other guy’s chick, the guy would call him out either at the party where the thing happened, or at school the next day. I kind of thought it was stupid to do it at school, but there had to be an audience. My mom once said, after she’d heard about one of these fights, that it had to do with something called ‘saving face’. Whether Danny and whoever went at it right away depended on the other guy’s temper — or fear.
I sat on my snowmobile and stared at the remains of Danny’s cigarette in the snow, my nostrils crinkling in the cold air. The grey ashes looked like dead snowflakes. Zombie snowflakes.
Sometimes, after Danny had a fight with a guy, and there was snow on the ground, there would be blood spattered on it. He only ever needed to fight a kid once and then the problem would be over. Nobody ever challenged him twice.
If Danny was going after Penny now, I would have to fight him. Guaranteed.
Damnit, why couldn’t all of this be as simple as gliding over drifts and along the edges of embankments? It wasn’t Penny’s fault that she was pretty and smart; I was lucky to have her as my girlfriend, and I knew it. How long would it be before someone better than me came along and we broke up?
It might as well be Danny as anyone else. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with wondering who she was with. Then again, I might have to stop being friends with the jerk.
The ticking of the engine as it cooled off brought me back to reality. It was too confusing to just sit there and think; easier to ride. Pivoting on my heel, I threw my other leg over the seat, rammed on my helmet and started the motor. It was satisfying to lean into the curve as I turned my Skidoo around and headed back down the trail — better than thinking and thinking and not having any good answers.
It felt better, too, once I’d picked up speed. The dark trees whizzing past me on either side, but the sky didn’t seem to move at all. I relaxed my body into the seat, enjoying the way my shoulders and arms were feeling the strain of the drive and how my legs were working to mould him against the machine. The heavy vibration blended into my muscles until I felt like me and the Skidoo were almost connected, working together to virtually fly over the contours of the trail. All at once, like the driving was blowing cobwebs out of my brain, I saw clearly what I needed to do: warn Penny that Danny was going to hit on her, and then tell Danny to back off. It was as simple as that. I could even run our conversation through my head — mine and Danny’s, not the one with Penny — and predict how it was going to go.
I never had trouble talking to Penny. With her, I just felt comfortable. But Danny had a way of twisting other people’s words that was fun to watch, when it was happening to other people.
I gunned the engine as I approached a hill, catching air over the crest and bracing myself right before the impact seconds later.
“Dan,” I’d say, keeping my voice serious and low to keep from attracting attention. “Lay off of Penny, okay? She doesn’t like you like that.”
“Lay her? Sure, I’ll lay her for you!” Danny would probably laugh, and he’d do it loudly too, making sure everyone could hear. “I know you’re still saving yourself for marriage.”
The trail forked just up ahead, with the main branch — the official path — leading off to the right and back to town by following the uneven shore of the lake. I bent my left elbow and knee to direct the snowmobile over the rough pile of snow toward the southeast, relishing the thrill of the machine diving into deeper powder. The shortcut over the lake would save me five, maybe ten minutes if I really pushed it. Just had to watch out for patrols, but I could just explain that I was running out of gas and needed to get home fast.
“Dan, I need to talk to you,” I’d say instead, so that my long-time friend would know I was serious. “It’s important. Penny wants you to leave her alone.”
“I’m sorry if I freaked her out,” Danny would shrug, his eyes all innocent. “I was just joking around. Maybe you shouldn’t be with her if she can’t take a joke.”
I shook my head, gritting my teeth. The snowmobile shuddered over a patch of rough ice as I zoomed onto the lake. I had to come up with something to say that Danny couldn’t turn around on me, something that the asshole would respect.
What if I told him that if he kept harassing my girlfriend, we couldn’t be buddies anymore?
Did guys even do that sort of thing?
So, keep going with the first-person? Or back to the third-person narrative? Comment below!