I spent the last Friday of summer vacation spreading hot, sticky tar across the roof of George Washington High. My companions were Dopey, Toothless, and Joe, the brain surgeons in charge of building maintenance. At least they were getting paid. I was working forty feet above the ground, breathing in sulfur fumes from Satan's vomitorium, for free.
Character building, my father said.
Mandatory community service, the judge said. Court-ordered restitution for the Foul Deed. He nailed me with the bill for the damage I had done, which meant I had to sell my car and bust my hump at a landscaping company all summer. Oh, and he gave me six months of meetings with a probation officer who thought I was a waste of human flesh.
Still, it was better than jail.
I pushed the mop back and forth, trying to coat the seams evenly. We didn't want any rain getting into the building and destroying the classrooms. Didn't want to hurt the school. No, sir, we sure didn't.
Joe wandered over, looked at my work, and grunted.
"We done yet?" asked Dopey. "Thunderstorms rolling in soon. Heavy weather."
I looked up. There were no clouds in the sky.
Joe nodded slowly, studying the roof. "Yeah, we're done." He turned off the motor on the tar kettle. "Last day for Tyler, here. Bet you're glad to be quit of us, huh, kid?"
"Nah," I lied. "You guys have been great."
Dopey cackled. "If them sewer pipes back up again, we'll get you out of class."
There had been a few advantages to working with these guys. They taught me how to steal free soda out of the vending machines. I snagged a couple of keys when they weren't looking. Best of all, the hard labor had turned me from Nerd Boy into Tyler the Amazing Hulk, with ripped muscles and enough testosterone to power a nuclear generator.
"Hey, get a load of this!" Toothless shouted.
We picked our way around the fresh tar patches and looked where he was pointing, four stories down. I stayed away from the edge; I wasn't so good at heights. But then I saw them: angels with pony tails gathered in the parking lot.
The girls' tennis team.
Wearing bikini tops and short shorts.
Wearing wet bikini tops and wet short shorts.
I inched closer. It was a car wash, with vehicles lined up all the way out to the road, mostly driven by guys. Barely clad girls were bending, stretching, soaping up, scrubbing, and squealing. They were squirting each other with hoses. And squealing. Did I mention that?
"Take me now, Lord," Toothless muttered.
The marching band was practicing in the teachers' lot. They fired up their version of "Louie, Louie." Finely toned tennis-angel butts bounced back and forth to the beat. Then a goddess rose up from the hubcap of a white Ford Explorer.
The driver of the Explorer said something. Bethany smiled and blew at the soapsuds in her hands so bubbles floated through the air and landed on his nose. The driver melted into a puddle on the front seat. Bethany threw back her head and laughed. The sun flashed off her teeth.
Joe's tongue dropped out of his mouth and sizzled on the hot roof. Dopey took off his glasses, rubbed them on a corner of his shirt, and put them back on. Toothless adjusted himself.
Bethany bounced along to the next car in line, a dark-green Avenger that was burning oil.
Bethany Milbury pushes me against the hood of my cherry-red, turbocharged Testarossa. "I love fast cars," she whispers, soapy fingers in my hair.
"This is the fastest," I say.
"I've been waiting so long for you, Tyler. . . ." Her head tilts, her lips open.
I am so ready for this.
She grabs my arm and snarls, "Be careful, dummy, you'll break your neck."
No, wait. I blinked. I was on a hot tar roof with three smelly grown men. Joe was gripping my arm, yanking me back from the edge.
"I said, be careful, dummy. That first step is a doozy."
"Sorry," I said. "I mean, thanks."
A navy-blue 1995 Mercedes S500 sedan rolled into the parking lot. It came to complete stop. Left blinker flashing, it turned and parked in front of the building. A man in a black suit got out of the driver's seat. Stood next to the car. Looked up at me and tapped the face of his watch once, twice, three times. I had inconvenienced him again. Dopey, Toothless, and Joe crawled out of sight. They had seen my father detonate before.