"What's this?"

"That's what you earned, boy."

"You said I'd get twenty bucks for cutting the grass. This is fifteen."

"Come here son," and Robert Langman put his arm around his son's shoulder and led him to the bay window. "What do you see? I'll tell you what I see. I see grass clippings all over the front walk and driveway. I see a gas can sitting on the porch. I see an open garage door, as if the neighbors really want to see that mess. And I've seen the retarded Kipler boy make straighter lawnmower tracks than that. But I guess the grass is shorter, so I figure that's worth fifteen."

"Fine, whatever dad. Can I still use the car tonight?"

"Just keep up that tone of voice."

"Sorry."

"Are you going out with that Eddie again?"

"Yeah, so?"

"You know I don't like my car driven into the core after dark, much less left unattended."

"His neighborhood ain't bad. Besides we're coming right back out here anyway, to hang out at Jake's."

"Then why doesn't this Eddie take the bus down here? He's used to that, isn't he?"

"Dad!"

"Oh don't 'dad' me. He does get bussed down here everyday for school, doesn't he? Tell me, if his neighborhood 'ain't that bad' why is it that no one from our neighborhood gets bussed up there to go to school? And what about this Eddie's parents. . ."

Travis gritted his teeth and rubbed his sun burned shoulders while his father went on and on. He was determined not to argue this time. He did not yet have the language to translate his father's polemic into what it actually meant: everyone not like me is guilty until proven innocent. Still, intuitively he knew the old man was full of it. Either way, right now he didn't care.

It was already five o'clock and Travis wanted to start getting ready. He showered until the water heater couldn't keep up, used his dad's deodorant and briefly considered cologne. He was careful to pick out clothes that looked just like the clothes he wore everyday. His hair, however, was combed and recombed and shaken and primped in an effort to make it look like he spent no time on it what so ever. Before he knew it, it was time to go. He made his third double-check to see if he remembered everything. He learned it in the Boy Scouts: always be prepared.

Travis took the tollway from the suburbs to the city. He rode low in the seat and reprogrammed all of the radio stations. And despite the way he flew that thing over the snaking pavement, he seemed to be going backward for want of his destination. He hopped and jumped to his music and leaned forward to urge on his father's innocuous blue Buick. But when he reached his exit a nervousness rose up in him. Sure, it went away after a few blocks but it happened every time he exited here. He didn't understand why he was so acutely aware of it.

He pulled up in front of Eddie's just after eight and didn't have a chance to honk before Eddie flew out of his house swinging a backpack over his shoulder, not closing the door behind him. He was already to the car by the time his father came to the open door shouting the consequences to be if he wasn't back by midnight.

"What's up Trav?" Eddie was all energy tonight.

"Nothin' man. What's up with you?"

"Same old. Thanks for givin' me a ride, man."

"Hey, no problem. I told you I was coming up this way anyway. You're going to Darien's right?"

"Where else on a Saturday night?"

"I dunno. You stopped seeing. . . uh . . ?"

"More like she stopped seeing me."

"Ha!"

"You still seeing Andrea? Hang a right on sixtieth."

"Yep."

"Nice. I told you you two would dig each other, didn't I? What'd I say?"

"I can't figure why. Thanks for the intro though."

"I've never seen her without a sketch book . . . I've never seen you without your damn sketch book . . . maybe it was the matching paint stains on your pants, I dunno."

Travis flipped Eddie off.

Eddie replied, "So what's up man, she teachin' you how to draw yet?" And before Travis could react Eddie snatched his sketch pad from the dashboard.

"Hey!" was all Travis mustered in useless protest.

"This stuff ain't bad man."

"It's not like her stuff. She's amazing."

"Hey, just 'cause you ace art classes at goddamn Glendale West don't mean you got talent."

"I hear that."

"You're gettin' better though."

"Maybe, but she's got talent."

"Man, she got more than that."

page2 "He loved kissing her the way a seventeen-year-old boy loves kissing a seventeen-year-old girl."