Authors: Lisa Aldin
Tags: #One of the Guys
No one speaks for a while. Of course.
everyone is quiet. The hum of the boat's engine sounds. For a second, I think the hunt might be salvaged, but Loch doesn't turn around. The dock grows closer.
“We've spent almost the whole summer doing this,” Ollie says. “Searching for monsters. Bigfoot. Champ. Batboy. Giant cats. And for what? This is our senior year, guys. We can't keep chasing after something we thought we saw when we were eleven. We can't chase things that aren't real anymore.”
“We'll get the evidence on film,” Loch says. “We just need to pay attention at the right time.”
“We were all there.” Cowboy runs his slim fingers over the collar of his short-sleeved flannel. “We all remember. What's the big deal about proving it to everyone else?”
Loch pauses. His voice lowers. Shadows play across the profile of his face. “Because some of us are forgetting.”
When we arrive at the dock, Ollie and Cowboy jump off first and tie up the boat. I really want to say something to Loch about hope and all, but he won't look at anyone as he climbs off the boat. So I let it drop.
I'm last off the pontoon. The boys are still bickering about Champ so I hang back a little, annoyed. By my feet, I notice our four namesâreal ones, before any of the nicknames caught onâcarved into the wooden dock, laid out like a welcoming mat, each letter jagged and sloppy.
Toni. Micah. Luke. Justin
When I look up, the guys are halfway down the pier leading to the parking lot, still arguing about whether or not Champ even exists. Last year we had all undeniably believed in the monster beneath the water. What's changed?
“Hey! It's still early,” I call out, rocking from foot to foot.
“I'm done looking for monsters,” Ollie yells over his shoulder. “So unless you've got a better idea, I'm headed home.”
Cowboy stops, turns, looks at me. He smiles and stuffs his hands into the pockets of his jean shorts. “I've got to finish
He starts walking again. Each boy gets smaller, farther away, and suddenly it feels like this is it. The last hunt. Our ending. Not the one I had hoped for.
“I have a plan!” I announce. “It's epic! Huge! Exciting! Different!”
The boys stop, turn. All eyes are on me now. Sweat forms under my armpits as I search for a lie to feed them. Anything to keep them from leaving. I take a deep breath and march forward.
“Get in the car.” I grin. “This is gonna be a night you won't freaking forget.”
HE PASSENGER'S SEAT OF
old Honda Civic knows me well. As Loch drives, I sink into the frayed fabric and fidget with the loose thread beside my knee, careful not to pluck it out. I don't actually have a plan. I'm bluffing big time, and I wonder how long I can keep this up before the guys realize I'm stringing them along just because I don't want to say goodnight yet.
But this is the summer before our senior year. A time to hold on to everythingânot to let go. Next fall, too much will change. We should savor what we have now. For as long as we can.
“Which way?” Loch asks, his fingers tapping the steering wheel as we roll up to a stop sign.
“Left.” I raise my chin and try to speak with confidence, but my voice wavers. The rattling dashboard drowns out the faint sound of the radio. I punch the volume button a few times, but it's eternally stuck at low.
My seat jostles as Ollie leans forward from the backseat and asks, “So where we going, McRib?”
“I don't want to ruin the surprise.” I watch the dark tree-lined street outside. Hot air causes sweat to form along the back of my neck. On occasion, the Honda's air conditioner will grace us with its presence, but tonight isn't one of those nights.
Cowboy sits next to Ollie in the back, his forehead pressed against the window, his nose stuck in a book. Tonight he's reading my torn copy of
, a summer assignment for our English class in the fall.
“Let me ask you something, Cowboy,” Ollie says, leaning back. “Are you a masochist?”
I glance at the rearview mirror. Cowboy doesn't look up from his reading as he replies, “I know what we can do tonight. We can play the quiet game.”
“That book is torture,” Ollie continues. “Pure torture. Like anyone needs to read hundreds of pages about sperm whales.”
has one of the best monsters in all of literature,” Loch says, shaking his head. “Don't knock it.”
Ahead, the movie theater appears, the marquee aglow with this week's cinematic choices. Instantly, I think of all of the times my dad took me to weeknight shows. I ignore the knot in my stomach, but it's not an entirely
knot. Good memories are tangled with it, but I miss my dad. It's been three years since his death, yet his presence remains strong, especially in familiar places such as this.
“Um, turn here,” I order.
Loch steers the car into the parking lot, the pavement still shiny from that afternoon's rain. He parks the car in an empty spot near the entrance. I rest my elbow on the door and play with a strand of hair that's fallen free from my ponytail. I think about all the times Dad and I would scoop up old movie posters on Thursday nights before they were thrown away, many of which decorate my bedroom now. I hate
. It can really screw things up.
“So I got a serious question to ask you guys,” Ollie says.
I turn around, wondering if he's feeling the same thing that I am, that this year doesn't have to be an ending. It could be a promise. A promise to always be there for each other. A promise to stay the same when so much else seems to change.
Ollie pauses, takes a deep breath, and asks, “Who farted?”
He rolls down the window and attempts to wave the stale air into the outside world. I chuckle and glance at Loch, who just smiles and drums his fingers along the steering wheel.
“That's classic car smell,” he says. “Either that or the milkshake I spilled in here last week.”
“Is this the big plan?” Cowboy glances up from his book. “A movie? We could watch one in Loch's basement. My turn to pick. I choose
Ollie high-fives him. “Agreed! Such a good movie.”
Loch groans. “Oh, man. Shoot me now.”
“Better than those horror movies you and McRib are obsessed with,” Cowboy says.
“Please, Toni. Save me from the dreaded romantic comedy,” Loch says, glancing at me. “Tell me you've got something else up your sleeve.”
I sigh, ready to admit defeat, I've got nothing here, until someone I recognize exits the movie theater. Principal Rogers stands at the curb, illuminated by the glow from the building behind him. He wipes his glasses on his blue polo shirt and examines the clear night sky. He slides his glasses onto the bridge of his nose and then runs a hand through his thick, gray hair.
“Principal Rogers.” Ollie sounds intrigued, spotting him. “Wow. He exists outside the halls of Burlington High.” He playfully kicks at my seat. “So what's the plan here, McRib?”
“There is no plan,” Cowboy states. “You do all realize that, I hope.”
“Not true,” I interject. I study Principal Rogers, an idea forming. A dumb idea. Juvenile, really. But an idea nonetheless. “I have a plan. An epic plan.”
“Let's hear it then, McRib,” Cowboy says. He closes his book and smiles. “Now or never. What are we doing?”
I scratch at the mosquito bite on my wrist and blurt out, “Gentlemen, we're going to moon Principal Rogers.”
Silence. Stunned silence. My heart pounds. I've never
anyone before. But it'd be harmless at least. Could I even do something like this? Expose a piece of myself? Yes. Yes, I could. If I had the guys beside me, I could do just about anything.
“This will be unforgettable,” I continue. “Come on, guys. We're
. This could be, like, a senior prank thing.” Or this could be our new bonding moment. After tonight, maybe we won't need Champ to hold us together anymore.
Ollie excitedly pounds the back of my seat. “Genius! I love it! Let's do it!”
Cowboy sighs. “I like my butt to remain private.”
“You still saving it for Katie Morris?” Ollie asks, ruffling Cowboy's hair. “One of these days, she will know you exist, man. Even though you never talk to her. Or text her. Or acknowledge her presence in any way.”
Cowboy's cheeks go red. He sinks into his seat and buries his nose inside Melville's pages. At the mention of Katie Morris, he'll be lost to us for at least five minutes, probably dreaming of her.
Loch leans toward me. I catch a whiff of vanilla. As he looks pointedly at the principal, he raises his eyebrows. “So this was the plan, huh? How'd you know he'd be here?”
I shrug and avoid eye contact. Loch knows I'm making this up as I go along. He can always tell when I lie. But he lets it slide. “Well, he's not alone,” Loch says, pointing.
A slender woman with brown hair and pale skin walks up beside Principal Rogers, hooking her arm into his. She wears a beautiful red sundress and leans her head on his shoulder. She looks all dreamy, happy. Principal Rogers smiles wide, a rare and odd sight, and gently caresses her cheek.
“Oh my God. He's on a
,” I whisper.
“Weird.” Loch shakes his head. “Like I'm watching a bizarre mating ritual on the Discovery Channel. I don't want to see it yet I can't seem to look awayâ¦”
“He'll recognize me.” Ollie tries to flatten out his wild curls with the palm of his hand. “We need something to cover our faces.”
“I've got some extra sweatshirts in the trunk.” Loch sinks lower into his seat. Hard to do, considering his height. “Thought we would need them for the hunt tonight.”
I pat his shoulder to let him know that if it were up to me we'd still be out on that lake. He gives a soft smile, but I can sense his disappointment. This plan better work.
“Move the car,” Ollie says. “He'll see us from here.”
Loch drives around to the other side of the parking lot, a safe distance from the principal and his date.
“If we're going to do this, we need to move fast,” I say, my pulse quickening. “Right now, Principal Rogers and his special lady friend appear to be stargazing. No big hurry to go home. But they could leave at any minute.”
Ollie grabs the sweatshirts from the trunk and hurries back into the car, out of breath. He throws me a gray hoodie with the words GONE SQUATCHIN on the front below a silhouette of Bigfoot and tosses a plain blue sweatshirt to Cowboy. But Cowboy just stares at it like it's covered in slime or something.
“Cowboy?” I pull on the sweatshirt, which practically swallows me up. It smells like mud and cake. Like Loch. “You in?”
“I don't think I can do it.” Cowboy scratches his thin nose. “Just the thought makes me want to puke. You sure no one's up for watching
I can be flexible. Anything with a happy ending.”
Ollie yanks on his sweatshirt and says, “Another time, my friend. Another time.”
I tuck a hair behind my ear, pull up the hood, and run my fingers over the soft fabric. Man, this sweatshirt is comfy. “Loch?” I ask.
Loch rubs his dark stubble. “There should be a getaway driver,” he says. “Just in case. But I'm here for moral support.”
“Guess Ollie and I will be the classic pranksters tonight.” I force a smile as my stomach flips. It's a holy-crap-is-this-really-going-to-happen kind of flip. There's a reason we don't do things like this. A reason we stick to tradition. Monster hunts or movie nights at someone's house. It feels so unnatural to stray from the normal, but if Ollie wants a different sort of adventure, here we go. Bottoms up. Ha.
Ollie shoves his hair beneath the hood of his black sweatshirt, which is about two sizes too big for him. “On three, McRib,” he says. His sharp green eyes glow like jewels in the darkness, and shadows fall across the light freckles on his nose.
I reach for the door handle and say, “One.”
“Two,” Ollie adds.
of the back door opening. I hear Loch's gentle breathing and Cowboy turn a page in his book.
We should have thought this out more. Too late. Can't back out now
“Three!” I shout.
I open my door and leap onto the cement. I run toward Principal Rogers, my cheeks warm with exhilaration, my armpits slick with sweat. Ollie runs beside me, his breathing loud and ragged. The principal pays us no attentionânot until I jump in front of him and his date, my back turned, and yank down my basketball shorts, presenting a full moon for the adorable couple.
To my right, Ollie leans over, his shorts down, his face hidden beneath the hood. I can't believe I'm here, pants pulled down, my butt exposed to my high school principal and some woman I don't even know.