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The Deal

Sam Wassel, 2011

        Jason’s gawky frame gave an involuntary shudder as he slowly navigated his way towards the rust-encroached Buick that idled at the corner of South Brent and Juniper. The moon was in that strange transition phase between a full and a quarter—a waning gibbous, that’s what it was called—and it bathed the car in an eerie glow that left its driver’s face half-hidden in shadow.

        Jason took a quick puff of his inhaler and returned it to the shallow front pocket of his corduroys, where it protruded conspicuously above the seam that was stitched along the pocket’s edge. He hesitated a moment, then hastily removed it and transferred it to the Spiderman book bag he bore on his back. Taking another deep breath, he willed his legs to carry him forward.

        He caught a glimpse of his pale reflection in the driver’s side window before it lowered in a jerky manner, creaking as it did so; his acne was even more pronounced than usual in the strange light cast by that not-quite-full moon, and the cowlick on the left side of his head stood more erect than it normally did, a result of being pressed against his pillow for the past three hours. Not that he had managed to actually sleep at all that night.

        “Climb on in, kid,” came the voice from inside the car. With the window now lowered, Jason was finally able to see the driver’s face; he recognized it from the picture of the football team in his high school yearbook—Rick Statson. Jason had never talked to him in person before, but he had studied the yearbook photo in order to make sure he met with the right guy tonight. This was definitely him. Even in the dim moonlight, Jason recognized his angular features, pronounced chin, and slightly crooked nose. Jason shuffled around the front bumper of the car, pulled the rusty handle of the passenger side door, crawled onto the worn, velour-covered seat, and carefully pulled his bulky backpack in after him.

        Rick turned and gave him the once-over before abruptly cutting the engine.

        Jason glanced nervously out his window. The glow of his neighbors’ porch light was just visible through a gap in the pine trees that bordered their front yard.

        “We’re staying here?” he asked, his eyes flickering towards Rick’s face long enough to absorb its hard expression but quickly enough to forgo the awkwardness of eye contact.

        “Sure, kid,” Rick replied. “This place is just as good as any, ain’t it?” His voice carried the hint of a challenge, as if daring Jason to question his choice of location.

        “I—well—no, I mean, yeah,” Jason stammered, shifting his backpack from his lap and wedging it between himself and the passenger side door. “I just figured that maybe we’d go somewhere, I don’t know, private or…something…” his voice trailed off.

        Rick chuckled.

        “You nervous, kid?” he asked. “You havin’ second thoughts? Never done this before, have you?”

        Jason used his elbow to nudge the backpack a little closer to the door.

        “No,” he mumbled, “but I’m here aren’t I?” His voice took on a slightly defiant edge. “I showed up, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, I’ll give ya that, kid,” Rick answered, a mixture of bewilderment and—Could it possibly have been admiration?—coloring his voice. He looked Jason fully in the face now. His eyes took in the field of acne spattered across Jason’s forehead, moved upward to the cowlick, and finally settled on the Spiderman backpack wedged between Jason and the passenger side door.

“Look, kid,” he said. “No offense, but you don’t exactly fit the profile of people I normally deal with. I know we go to the same school and all, but I didn’t even know you existed until you called me two days ago.”

        “Well,” Jason replied, fidgeting in his seat. “I just thought…you might be…interested.”

        Rick slapped his hands against the steering wheel.

        “Oh, trust me kid, I’m interested,” he laughed. “I just didn’t expect someone like you to be selling, that’s all. How’d you get your hands on it, anyways?”

        “Does it really matter?” Jason asked, looking out the window with a pained expression on his face.

        “You tell me, kid.”

        “What do you mean?” Jason asked, genuinely confused.

        “What I mean,” Rick answered, the laughter that had momentarily lightened his tone completely gone now, “is that maybe it does matter. How do I know it’s legit?”

        “It’s legit,” Jason replied, almost regretfully. “Trust me, it’s the real thing.”

        “Why you sellin’ anyways?” Rick asked, his voice thick with suspicion.

        “Does it really matter?” Jason asked again.

        Rick slapped the steering wheel again, harder this time, and without the laughter.

        “You gotta stop asking that,” he said. “ ‘Course it matters. I wouldn’t be asking if it didn’t matter. I’m not one to waste my breath on things that don’t matter.”

        “Or my time,” Rick added as an afterthought, his face hardening and his knuckles flexing. “You better not be wasting my time, kid.”

        Jason looked down at Rick’s flexed knuckles and tried to come up with an adequate response, but he found himself choking on his words. It felt like his Adam’s apple had dislodged itself from his throat and gotten tangled up in his vocal chords.

        Rick didn’t respond well to the momentary lapse in conversation. His body tensed, and both his face and his voice grew harder.

        “Are you wasting my time, kid?” he demanded.

        “No,” Jason replied, finally managing to find his voice after looking away from Rick’s clenched fists. “I’m not wasting your time.”

        “I don’t want this getting around school,” Rick said. “I’m on the football team; I’ve got a reputation to think about. If I find out this is a setup, if you go ratting me out to someone—”

        “It’s not a setup, I swear,” Jason assured him.

        “Then tell me why you’re selling,” Rick demanded. “Are you desperate for money or something?”

        Jason sighed. “No. I mean, the extra money doesn’t hurt matters, but that’s not why I’m doing this,” he explained. “I just…I guess it’s just time for me to move on to bigger things. It’s time for me to grow up.”

        Rick looked a little taken aback at Jason’s response. “Wow, kid. I gotta give you props for that one,” he said. “You’re takin’ one helluva risk, makin’ one helluva sacrifice just to ‘grow up.’”

        “I know,” Jason said in what was almost a whisper. “Believe me, I know what I’m giving up here.”

        “So what are we waiting for? Are we gonna do this or not?”

        Before Jason had a chance to reply, the car was filled with a sudden buzzing noise.

        “Aw, shit, what now?” Rick mumbled to himself under his breath, reaching across Jason’s lap.

        Jason instinctively clutched the backpack that was still pressed against the door. Hugging it tightly to his chest, he didn’t loosen his grip on it until he realized that Rick was only reaching for the glove compartment.

        “What?” Rick demanded as he flipped open the cell phone that he had snatched out of the glove compartment, filling Jason’s lap with a potpourri of cigarettes, loose change, and McDonald’s ketchup packets in the process. “I’m in the middle of something here. What do you want?”

        Jason heard what sounded like a woman’s voice on the other end of the line, but he couldn’t make out what she was saying.

        “Yeah,” Rick said into the receiver. Then, turning his head away from Jason, he added in a softer, slightly worried tone, “But it’s only five minutes past curfew…Yeah, I know I have the league in the morning…NO! No, you don’t need to take away the cards…I’ll be home in five minutes.”

        Rick flipped the phone shut and turned back towards Jason, his voice resuming its harsh tone. “So let’s do this already. I got places to be.”

        “Was that your mom?” Jason asked.

        “ARE WE GONNA DO THIS OR NOT?” Rick yelled. The sudden increase in volume caught Jason by surprise, and he jerked forward in his seat; the abruptness of his motion sent the backpack sliding to the floor.

        “Yeah, okay,” he replied, bending forward to retrieve the backpack from where it had settled against the tops of his sneakers. He pulled it back into his lap and began unzipping the front pocket.

        Rick watched with an anxious expression on his face as Jason fiddled with the zipper. He shifted in his seat, keeping his eyes on Jason and the backpack the entire time, and retrieved a wad of cash from the back pocket of his jeans.

        “We said seventy-five, right?” Rick asked, attempting to sort through the crumpled bills wadded in his hand.

        “Right,” Jason confirmed, reaching into his backpack and grabbing the plastic bag. “Seventy-five.”

        Rick eyed the bag greedily and shoved the bills into Jason’s hand.

        “Pleasure doing business with you, kid,” he said, and Jason reluctantly handed him the plastic bag that contained his first edition holographic Charizard Pokemon card before he had time to change his mind.

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All Information Copywright by Chimes Publication, Saint Mary's College 2010