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Grade
9

“I just wish…” I pause, realizing that I actually have no idea what I wish. The words had just come out.

Cassady looks at me, eyebrow quirked. “You going to finish that thought?”

I shrug and take another drag on the cigarette, watching as the smoke curled in the air, pale and silvery against the starless sky. People always whine about not being able to see the stars, but personally I think the sky’s better without them, more vast, more mysterious. The only light comes from the fluorescent 7/11 sign, pressed stark to the black sky, which bathes the parking lot in a dim green and red light. Down the highway, I can see the illuminated signs of other convenience stores and chain restaurant; neon advertisements, all equally empty. An electro pastel path way.

“What do you wish?” Cassady prompts, and I notice his tongue is stained a chemical blue from the slurpee we had got from the 7/11. Somehow, inside the store was even lonelier the parking lot, deserted aisles and the harsh light, made even harsher by the darkness outside; the sort of hollow loneliness that washes everything out.

It’s still lonely, sprawled next to Cassady on the hood of a Pontiac, but it's a better sort of lonely, the sort that makes you feel as if your the only person on earth.

The sort of lonely that narrowed the world down to just the warm, humming metal beneath you, the cool air, and Cassady.

“Dunno.” I say, blowing a puff of smoke in Cassady’s face.

Cassady huffs annoyed, “Come on, you can’t just start a sentence like that and not finish it.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” Cassady props his hand on his chin. “I want to tell you what I wish, but if I go ahead and tell you what I wish for before you tell me, I sound like a narcissist.”

“I already know you're a narcissist.”

“Then you should know that I don’t care if you think I’m a narcissist, I just don’t want to think I’m a narcissist.”

“Acceptance is the first step to changing,” I tell him, with a grin.

“I don’t want to change,” Cassady waves his hand dismissively, “That's boring. I want to continue living in delusion.”

“Healthy,” I say,

“Come on.” Cassady pokes me in the ribs. “Tell me.”

I groan and let my head fall back against the glass of the windshield. “I really don’t know.”

Cassady narrows his eyes theatrically. “You can’t just not know.”

“I guess I just don’t wish for anything.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t.”

“How do you know,” I demand,

“Everyone has something they wish, it’s the essence of who you are-” Cassady begins

“No,” I cut him off, “no, the essence of who you are is what you’re willing to do to make that wish into a reality..”

Cassidy shrugs. “If you’re being pessimistic.”

“I’m always pessimistic.”

“You’re too young to be pessimistic,” Cassady says, and the tone of his voice is so definitive I almost believe him.

“We’re the same age as me.”

“And I’m not pessimistic, am I?”

“Touche”

Cassady grins, pleased with himself. “So what do you wish?”

I press the cigarette to my lips and inhale. I’m telling the truth when I say that I don’t know what I wish, there are no stars in the sky to wish on, so why waste bother, but Cassady is looking at me expectantly, so I say, “I’ve always thought being an astronaut would be cool, but I doubt that going to happen.”

“Why not?”

“Don’t have the grades or motivation” I reply, then add, “I’m afraid of heights.”

Long pause and Cassady finally says, “Huh.”

“So,” I turn to face Cassady, “What do you wish?”

Cassidy's eyes get bright, and I can tell he’s about to monolog. They always get bright where he goes on his monologue- he’s so full, constantly overflowing from his eyes and mouth, the only trouble is that no one seems to know what he’s overflowing with.“Did you know that is take a 30th of a second to process the input of your senses?” Cassady asks.

I cock my head. “No.”

“Well, there is, so that means that everything you see, hear, feel, and taste, actually happened a thirtieth of a second ago. It’s a permanent gap between you and what's actually happening to you. Between you and the present.”

“Ok…”

“I wish,” Cassady says, his voice becomes earnest, “That I could close that gap.”

I snort, it’s such a Cassady thing to say, never mind the fact that he lives in the middle of Fresno with a dead dad and addict sister and no money for college, no, he wants to get rid of that thirty-second gap between what you see and feel. “Of course you do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Cassady asks, he doesn’t angry, just curious, everything about him has sharpened. Now that he’s begun overflowing, he’s not going to stop. I can see it in the way his fingers drum against the hood of the car and his leg bounces slightly, he’s overflowing with god knows what, and weirdly, I hope some of it will flow into me. But I can’t let that happen. Being empty is underrated.

“Just that your life sucks.” I say, “And anyone else would wish for something more useful.”

Cassady looks confused. “My life doesn’t suck.”

I laugh, “So I suppose you want to be stuck out here in the middle of the most boring city in the world and not even be able to afford college to escape.”

“There’s nothing to escape from,” Cassady states.

“So you want to be a poor kid in Fresno forever?”
“I want to get rid of the perception gap, so I can live in the now.” Cassady said firmly, “That's it.”

I let out a breath of air and shake my head, “Whatever you say.”

“So,” Cassady says to me, “If you were an astronaut, where would you go?”

I don’t hesitate. “The moon.” I’ve always thought the moon would be like an empty parking: dim and lonely in the best of ways.

“Why not the sun?” Cassady asks,

“Top bright. Too hot. I would get burned.” I answer.

“The more you burn the brighter you are.”

“Not worth it.”

“Oh yes, it is.”

I look at the sky, empty like me. “With that way of thinking, why settle for the sun, why not the stars?”

Cassady looks mock-doubtful, “You think you could make it to the stars?”

“Excuse me,” I say, clasping my hand over my heart in exaggerated offense, “I know I could make it to the star.”

I don’t realize until it’s too late that a little bit of Cassady has flowed into me.

* * *

When I drink vodka, the vodka drinks from me, sucking away all my worries and hopes and fears and wishes; when Cassady drinks it fills him up until everything about him is suffused with intensity and he is just about bursting at the seams. I’m not sure why he keeps drinking the vodka when he’s already overflowing without it, but I’m already empty and still let the vodka drain me more and more, so I have no right to ask.

It’s early, too early to drink, but hungover and miserable we do it anyways, we tell ourselves that it’s to ease the pain, take the edge off of things, but that's a lie and we both know it. The truth is, we’re creatures of habit and our habit has become drinking.

The house we’ve woken up in aesthetically pleasing in an impersonal, just-out of-the-package way, like every other house in the suburb. Looking at it as the sun comes up, washing it out with flat Frezno light, suddenly know what I wish. I wish I lived in this house. Living here would mean money, which would mean college which would mean hope. I like to think that if I had hoped I would be doing something other then passing out drunk in empty houses I’ve broken into.

Cassady thinks differently:

“These places are stagnant and boring. People who live in them are stagnant and boring. I’ll take my one bedroom apartment over this any day. At least things move there.”

“If you hate these places so much, then why do we break into them?” I ask,

“Because when we break into them, we’re giving them motion. Shattering of glass, turning of a lock, a feeling of exhilaration.” Cassady takes another drink, and more of him overflows, “By breaking into them, were defying the stillness. Living in them is succumbing to it.”

* * *

The classroom is quiet and unusually sedate, a thick haze hanging over us as the teacher drones on, and I am dozing when I feel Cassady poke me.

“What the hell?” I hiss, jolting upright.

“I'm bored,” Cassady tells me, reclining in his seat, “Entertain me.”

I don’t know why Cassady always singles me out. Everyone, the most interesting and popular and beautiful people are enamored with him, there’s no real reason for him to spend time with me- but Cassady is overflowing and has enough of whatever it is that he has to spare, so he doesn’t need a reason.

I snort, “Only boring people get bored. Entertain yourself.”

“Come on,” Cassady pokes me again, “Don’t be like that.”

The teacher stops talking to glare at Cassady, and Cassady gives her a dazzling grin. She rolls her eyes and continues droning.

“Let’s get out of here,” Cassady whispers,

“I can't.”

“Why?”

“Grades dumb ass.” I don’t actually give a fuck about grades. I just want a reason not to go with him- or maybe it’s to make him try a little harder to convince. I’m not sure which reason is my real reason. Besides, I’m empty and have nothing lose, so I don’t really need a reason.

“You’re seventeen. You're too young to be worrying about shit like grades.”

I roll my eyes, “Actually, grades is exactly what I should be worrying about at my age.”

“Square.” He laughs

“Burn out.” I shoot back.

“Boreing.”

“Future junkie.”

He grins. “Future politician.”

“Budding alcoholic.”

“Bright-eyed and full of potential.”

“Fuck you. I have no potential.” I tell him,

He leans closer to me, breath hot against my ear, “But do you know what you do have?”

“What?”

“Youth. And let's not waste it.”

And I’m sold. I grab my backpack and get to my feet. “Fine.”

Cassady looks smug but not triumphant, as if he knew that I was going to agree to go with him all along. It annoys me that he knows me so well, but not as much as it flatters me.

The teacher gives a loud and frustrated sigh as we walk out of the classroom.

Cassady and I drove to Target, where he stole three boxes of pop tarts and a can of Reddi-Whip, which we took turns spraying straight into our mouths. We threw away the pop-tarts.

We don’t know why we even stole then in the first place.

Cassady says it was to spite Target because it's corporations that harness capitalism to trample the working class until we’re nothing but soulless, chain-shopping zombies. I say that it was for fun.

We can’t agree on which reason is the real reason and neither are particularly good reasons, but Cassady’s overflowing and doesn’t need a reason, and I’m empty and don’t need a reason either.

* * *

Cassady got in the car because he wanted to live.

I got in the car because I wanted to die.

We got each others wish.

We had spent the day in the Walmart parking lot- empty except for us and the vintage, cherry red Cadillac- sprawled on the hoods of our cars, the hot sun burning our skin. We were initially planning to use the open space to play a makeshift game of two-person baseball, we had brought a bat and plastic bases and everything but we had abandoned the idea in favor of getting drunk because of the heat. It was too hot to get drunk, but we did anyway because it was also too hot to stay sober.

“I’m bored,” Cassady whined,

“I’m sunbathing,” I told him, over-enunciating the words, so they wouldn’t slur.

He laughed. “Let’s try something new.”

“Drugs?”

“Nah.” He sat up, and slid off his car, landing in an ungraceful heap on the asphalt, got to his feet, and with a drunken-lumbering gait, made his way to the red Cadillac. “I want to do something big.”

He wasn’t even trying to hide the fact that he was slurring.

“Hand me the- the-” He paused, miming a swinging motion,

“Bat?” I supplied.

“We’re so in sync.” He grinned I reached through the open window of the car, and grabbed the baseball bat resting in the front seat, and tossed it to him.

He caught it easily, and then, with one languid motion, swung the bat at the window of the catalyst. It shattered with a loud crack, and the blare of the alarm sounded through the parking lot.

I sat bolt up. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Stealing this car,” Cassady told me, reaching into the car and unlocking it.

I stared, dumbfounded.

Cassady opened the door and slid into the car. “Well?”

“Well, what?” I sputtered.

Cassady’s eyes were impossibly bright. “Are you coming.”

And at that moment I was full, full of nervous energy, excitement, exhilaration, and glee. It was the feeling of taking something a step too far and it was beautiful. I wanted it to be the last thing I felt.

I drummed my fingers on the dashboard as Cassidy hot wired the car.

Crowed with laughter as it revved to life.

And whooped as it started.

Cassady was too drunk to drive and I was too drunk to stop him. But that’s not the real reason it happened. There was no real reason it happened, neither of us needed a reason.

* * *

I stare at Cassady, head smashed against the dashboard, blood stark against his skin, eyes staring blankly up at me.

For once he is empty, and I am overflowing, tears spilling from my eyes, broken sobs filling up my throat.

* * *

State
CO
Zip Code
80206