“None of you guys were as cool as Erica,” Lisa said. “She went up to those guys and did exactly what we said. Hey Erica, you can give me a dare to do. It can be as hardcore as that.”
“How about going up to Tommy and asking if you can ride his moped,” Erica said. She usually didn’t come up with the dares, but she knew it would annoy Simone to give Lisa such a risky one, and right now that was all she felt like doing.
“Oh yeah,” Lisa said. “That’s a good one. And if he says yes, I’ll definitely ride it. He just got that moped from Josh’s father. His father owns that used car dealership on 20-A, and I heard Josh and Aidan talking about how Josh’s dad had given it to Tommy.”
“I’ve seen Tommy on that,” Jo said. “He was riding it down my street, but it makes a crazy amount of noise. Sounds like someone has a chainsaw on or something.”
“Get your stuff together,” Simone said. “This is it. Hey Erica, you coming too?”
Erica shrugged. “I suppose. Yeah, I’ll come.”
They got off the bus and walked up the long driveway to Simone and Lisa’s house. It was one of those houses that you couldn’t see from the road because there were so many trees. One of those houses that is so far away from the neighbors that you might as well be out somewhere in the middle of the woods, completely alone. Out on the porch, one of Lisa’s old bikes leaned against the plastic table. Pink and white ribbons were tied around the handle bars from a birthday years past. Mrs. Ferris had planted white azaleas in front of the patio and Erica could smell them as they walked up the steps. Inside, Mrs. Ferris was talking to a burly man in a blue work suit who was bent over the fireplace. The man had taken part of the wall off and was pointing up the chimney and Mrs. Ferris was nodding with her brows furrowed.
“Our house might burn down,” Lisa said, as though she took some sort of satisfaction in this information, as if it were a piece of interesting trivia she had read somewhere.
“Well, actually,” Simone said, “it won’t burn down because we’re not supposed to use the fireplace until it’s fixed. They did a crappy job, whoever built our house. Sparks from the fireplace could get down between the wall paneling and the brick, so we can’t use it until they fix it.”
“That one girl’s house last year burned almost all the way down,” Erica said. “Something similar to yours. Sparks got up in the paneling. She lived down the street from me, but I can’t remember her name.”
Erica lived in an old ranch house on the strip of highway farthest from West Seneca. West Seneca Mobile Home Community, as it was called by her parents, was about a mile down that highway, and some of the kids from school used to call her Trailer Park and RV in the lunchroom until Simone had told them curtly that Erica didn’t live in a trailer, just a single-story house, but if she did, it would have been a lot cooler, because she could have driven it anywhere she wanted.
The girls walked quietly passed Mrs. Ferris and went into the living room. The Ferris’ house had bright hard wood floors despite being slightly shabby and outdated. In the living room, across from the floral print couch that the girls all sat on, was a picture of Simone and Lisa when they were younger. Simone’s hair had been bright yellow, and she was smiling up at a slight angle, a pink headband in her hair. One of her front teeth was missing, yet she seemed almost proud of it. Lisa was smiling more conservatively in the lower corner of the photograph, her cheek resting on Simone’s shoulder.
“I remember that picture,” Erica said. It seemed like a while since she had been in Simone’s house, and she felt as though she were discovering the terrain for the first time. “I remember when you lost that tooth. That was in second grade, I think. I remember because I lost mine a week later, and I had been so jealous of you for losing it first. You kept smiling like crazy, just like in that picture.”
Simone looked at the picture, and after a while, without looking at Erica, said “I hate that picture. Why do little kids always have to smile with their stupid gap teeth?”
“What are you gonna do: ban them from smiling?” Lisa was grinning at her sister.
Simone got off the couch where they had all been sitting and went over to the rocking chair at the other end of the room. “That’s better,” she said. “No more picture of me looking like a retard.”
For s second Erica felt like smashing the picture. It was a momentary surge of something she didn’t understand. No wonder Simone hated the picture of her younger self so much: she had changed since those younger years, and the new Simone was too cool to acknowledge any connection to her former, childish self.
Erica was looking at Simone, but Simone was staring at something above the couch on the wall, or so it seemed. “This is really fun,” Simone said sarcastically. “I should be studying for geometry.”
“Truth or dare,” Lisa said. “Who wants to play?”
“Hey Erica,” Simone said. “What about your dare? You gonna do it?”
“Yeah yeah yeah,” Lisa said. “You can totally do it now. He lives right down the street. It will be the best dare.”
“Yeah, it will be the best one ever after I get caught for stealing. And it wasn’t even my turn. It was your turn, Simone,” Erica said without turning her head to look at Simone.
“You won’t get caught if you’re good.” Simone was slouching with her legs over the arm of the rocking chair. “Listen, if you don’t want to, fine. Just say. I just thought…” She let her words trail off, but Erica knew what she had wanted to say. “I just thought it would be a fun.”
“No, you just want to do it because of Tommy,” Jo said.
“Screw Tommy,” Simone said.
Erica got up and went into the bathroom. She stared at her face in the mirror and pulled her skin back so tight that her eyes looked squinty. She wished she could somehow fade into the rug on the bathroom floor. In a few minutes she went back into the living room.
“Erica, come on,” Lisa whined. “Don’t be boring.”
“All right,” Erica said. “I won’t be boring.”
Lisa jumped up and grabbed both of her hands. “Erica, Erica! Can I ride it? It was partly my dare too, remember earlier today?”
“We’re not serious,” Simone said. “We don’t think you’re boring.”
Erica looked at her. They all walked outside into the driveway. Lisa was skipping ahead. They walked to the end of the driveway and Jo lit a cigarette and gave one to Simone.
“Ew,” Lisa said. “I’ve had enough of that. Me and Erica don’t need to do that.”
“You watch it,” Simone said. “No more insults from you, okay?”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Jo said. She was standing with her shoulders pulled up next to her ears.
Her legs looked so long and slender in her shorts. For a moment Erica felt she was in a separate universe; Jo looked so young, almost as young as Lisa.
Simone was smiling at the corners of her mouth. She turned to Erica. “We can leave the moped here, hide it somewhere in the bushes, and in a few days drive it back. He’ll have no idea.” Simone was smiling. “I heard Tommy telling Aidan he keeps a spare key on the top shelf in his garage,” Simone said. “You know, once you get into the garage it will be right there, somewhere on the shelf.”
“You just said that,” Lisa said.
“Well, that’s what I heard,” Simone said. “Though he might have been lying. I can’t believe you’re doing this, Erica. Tommy was such a jerk today.”
“You guys will wait here for me?”
“Of course,” Lisa said. “I need to see the moped. Maybe ride it.”
“No,” Simone said. “You’re not riding it.”
Erica started walking up the gravel road. It was so dark she could see fireflies off in the ditch blinking on and off. She smiled to herself in the dark and lifted her hands into the air to feel the cool breeze under her armpits. It was the beginning of autumn, and the leaves had just started accumulating in piles along the sides of the road. She thought of Lisa smiling at her, thinking how brave she was, how she was doing something they all admired, something they wouldn’t have the courage to do. She was doing something brave.
She passed a house on her left and heard the distant bark of a dog. The house was large and close to the road, and in the lighted window she could see two girls and a boy seated at the table playing what looked like a board game. It started to drizzle lightly, and she began to jog, feeling for the first time in control of her body. Her legs were heavy, but adrenaline was pumping through her, and she lifted them with seeming ease.
Tommy’s house was close to the road. It was only eight thirty, but all of the lights were out and the garage door was open, and the car was gone. Goldmine, Erica thought. She felt around the shelves in the garage and found the spare key on the top shelf under a pile of tennis rackets and fitted it easily into the ammunition. The bike itself was rusted all along the handlebars, and red paint was chipping off below the seat. It seemed like a pretty old piece of junk, and she couldn’t imagine why anyone’s dad would think to give it to his son’s friend. It sputtered to a start and she didn’t even feel that guilty when she drove it out of Tommy’s driveway and down the sloping dirt road. Damn it’s dark, she thought. She decided to go around the block the other way, the long way, now that she had the job done, even though it was a risk she might encounter Tommy or his parents. She stepped hard on the gas pedal and watched the needle hover and swing upwards until it stopped around thirty miles per hour and wavered there. Wow, this is as fast as it goes, she thought. Still, at thirty miles per hour, she felt nervous and wobbly, like she was riding a bike for the first time. Her thighs were clamped tightly around the seat, and her fingers began to freeze in the icy wind. She grinned to herself. There was something empowering about it, never mind all of Simone’s annoying smugness. Lisa was still appreciative and excited about her feats, and Lisa wasn’t all cool and grownup in the way Simone was becoming. Lisa was refreshing, fun, the way Simone used to be. The drizzle felt good splattering against her skin, and she started humming to herself a song that she remembered from somewhere years ago.
When she pulled into the Ferris’ driveway, Lisa was running out to greet her. Erica slowed to a stop and together they walked the bike around to the back of the Ferris’s house. Lisa was laughing, and Simone had a half-smile stuck on her face. “You’re fucking awesome,” Simone said. “Erica, I didn’t expect you’d do it, honestly.”
“Poor little Tommy,” Lisa said. “He’ll never suspect you did. Well, we all did it. But he’ll never think it was really you.”
Simone was walking next to Erica. “Here, we can hide it here.” There were a few wild bushes to the left of the yard in the back. Erica leaned the moped against a tree. It looked kind of natural next to the gray-green of the bark, and Erica wondered if anyone would ever notice if they just left it there for good.
Lisa made popcorn and brought it out in a large mixing bowl. “Moped party,” she said. “Don’t we get to ride it?”
“No,” said Simone. “We’re criminals. We can’t be seen with the item of theft.”
“The what?” Lisa said. “We didn’t do anything. We’re going to return it.”
“Well, I’m saying we can’t be seen with it,” Simone said. “Now I need to go do my geometry homework, and this party’s over.”
Lisa was already pulling the moped out of the bushes. She climbed on it while balancing the popcorn bowl. “Look, I bet you can’t do this, Simone.”
Simone ripped the popcorn bowl out of Lisa’s hands. “Get off that bike, Lisa. Or Erica’s gonna take it back.”
Lisa stepped on the gas pedal, but Simone put her hand on the handlebars. Lisa tried to pry her fingers off. “I hate you! I fucking hate you! Why do you always try to be like mom? You’re not mom. Let me do what I want!”
“You can’t just do what you want,” Simone said. “That’s not how things are.”
“Listen,” Lisa said. She was staring furiously in Simone’s eye. “I’m sick of you. I’m sick of the crap way you treat people. You’re not some queen, Simone. You’re just all bitter because that pot-dealing loser didn’t want to date you. Well, I wouldn’t have dated you either if I were him.”
Simone let go of the handlebars and flung her hand up. Erica wanted to say something, but felt strangely distant from her, like Simone somehow wouldn’t have been able to hear her words. Simone was walking towards the door.
Lisa was crying softly. “I knew it. I knew you’d react this way,” she shouted. “You just can’t handle it when someone actually says it you. Why don’t you come back and talk to me, Simone?”
Erica stood in the driveway. Lisa looked at her and said, “She’s such a coward. She never would have stolen this bike.” She had stopped crying and the rain had covered up the trace of her tears on her cheeks. It was raining heavier, and the newly-fallen leaves formed a mosaic of color on the wet blacktop of the driveway.
“Take it around the block,” Erica said. “Don’t listen to her. You’re not like her, don’t worry.”
“It’s like she thinks she’s the only one in the world,” Lisa said.
Erica shrugged. “I took the bike; I say you can ride it. It’s fun. Just be careful of the leaves.”
Erica saw the light in Simone’s room turn on. Lisa looked at Erica without smiling and pressed on the gas of the moped. It made a loud sound like the buzzing of a nest of bees as Lisa pulled down the driveway.
Joy Baglio graduated from Bard College in 2008 where she studied creative writing and literature. She taught high school for two years immediately after graduation, and just recently quit in order to travel solo in Europe and work on her writing. She has a passion for Spanish guitar and love birds more than anything.
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