Tom put cheese balls on the trampoline so that when we jumped, they would all turn into orange mush. “Watch this,” he said as he went soaring into the air, a perfect double front flip. I took my socks off because the orange slosh was getting all over them. “Try it,” he offered, brushing his hand through his red hair and then out into the open air towards the corner of the mat. I jumped a few times, and he boosted me by ramming himself hard next to my bounce, and I went flipping wildly above all the trees on General Avenue. “I can’t,” I said, catching myself on my fall, “I can’t do it.” I looked down and there was cheese ball all over my hands and knees. Tom said, “Dale can do almost a triple backflip. His dad says he’s going to get him an even bigger trampoline if he can land it.” I dusted myself off and regained my balance, bouncing calmly in the center of the circle. “My parents won’t get me a trampoline, they say it’s too dangerous. I can’t even do a flip or crap!” I yelled. Tom reached out and threw a handful of the orange cheese ball dust all over my face.
“Choose your character,” he said. There was a skinny guy with big muscles and a baseball bat, a girl in a bikini who had a power ring, and a fat man with a sledgehammer. I tried to select the fat man but it wouldn’t work. “I always play as The Crusher,” he stated, “Dale uses The Wolf. He’s got the best top agility.” I grabbed some potato chips and laid back on the dirty blue couch. Once we started the game, I asked Tom where his parents were. “Mom’s sleeping upstairs, I don’t know,” he mumbled. There was dog hair all over the blanket and when Rexy ran into the room and licked Tom all over his face, I hid my cheese ball hands under my butt. “Rexy. Down!” Tom yelled. The dog abided but then went for Tom’s face again. “Look. This is how I learned to kiss,” Tom said as he put his mouth around Rexy’s whole snout. The Crusher got killed by a big giant clown tank on River City Riot Squad and I found an ashed cigarette butt under my foot.
“Who do you like?” Tom asked, pulling a gray wife-beater tank top over his pale white skin. “I love Kristina,” I whispered, falling down onto my black flannel sleeping bag, “she’s my girlfriend.” Tom laid back on the thick blue spread on his bed and placed his hands around the back of his neck. “Did you guys do anything yet?” He asked me. “Like what?” I responded. “Did you kiss her or do anything in her pants?” He asked. I shrugged and rolled over onto my side. “We kissed in the spit pit during recess,” I said back. He took a deep breath, watching the sky through the dust and grime-crusted window beside his bed. Then he rolled over onto his side and said, “when Dale comes over, we give each other massages. He does my back first and then I do his back.” I looked over at him and saw his blue eyes bright in the dark. “I don’t want to do that,” I whispered, “what if your mom comes in the room, she’ll think it’s weird.” Tom scratched at his forehead. “It’s not weird,” he said, “they’ll never come in here. Plus, massages feel really good.” I wormed a away from a cluster of dust bunnies and brushed some crud out of my hair. “You only feel that way because you haven’t gotten with a girl yet,” he said. I crawled out of the sleeping bag and replied, “yes I have.” Then, Tom got off his bed and propped himself up behind me. He started squeezing my shoulders with his hands and said, “just relax.” I smushed my face into my pillow and he went slowly over my back muscles with his palms. “Dale does really good massages. You know that’s how he got to kiss Candice with tongue at McDonald’s,” Tom said. “At McDonald’s?” I asked. “Yeah. No wonder he was the first one of all of us. Well, except for me,” he stated. Then, he got off of me and laid down on my sleeping bag face first. “Now do me,” he said as he took off his wife beater and laid back down. I put my hands on his shoulders and noticed the wealth of acne growing all over his back. “You have a lot of pimples,” I whispered. “Yeah, it’s what happens when you start getting with girls and getting boners,” he muttered back with his face in the flannel, “fuck you,” he said with a laugh. I pressed into his spine with my two pointer fingers and he started to get looser. Something was happening in the kitchen. “What’s that?” I asked, retrieving my hands. “Nothing. It’s probably just my dad,” he grunted. There was a pause, and then he said, “he takes all those pain pills. Did you know I found an email from a Chinese lady in his Yahoo account?” I drummed on his lower back with my knuckles in fists. “She emails him all the time. I think they’re cheating on my mom,” he said. Before I could do any other moves with my fingers, he whispered, “wait.” I stopped. “What?” I asked. He turned his head to the side and replied, “draw something on my back.” I leaned away from him and looked down at the white slab of skin facing me, it was speckled with red pimples and little pock marks. “What do you mean?” I asked. He spread his arms out across the sleeping bag and onto the knatty old rug, getting bits of dirt and dog hair on his hands. “Me and Dale do this thing where we draw something and try to guess what it is. I’m really good at it,” he said. I cracked my knuckles and said, “okay.” I started tracing on his back, and my fingernail felt like it was cutting through his zits. He wasn’t responding to my lacerations so I just kept going. “A trumpet,” he said. “Yep,” I responded. “That’s an easy one,” he said as he slipped himself out from under me and nudged me down. “My turn,” he whispered. I put my head on the sleeping bag and he started painting with his long finger, using big straight verticals that cut hard at the ends. I listened into the floor and I heard voices from downstairs. There was a man and a woman, chattering back and forth in the kitchen. “What is it!” A woman’s voice yelled through gritted teeth, “pop pop pop! That’s all you do, you pop these percocets and pills and God knows what, one day I’m going to find you dead on the floor!” Then there was a man’s voice, using the same hushed yelling tone as the woman. He said, “you don’t understand. You’ve never felt this pain. It goes all the way down into my ankles! Have you any idea what that feels like?” She slammed something on the ground and Tom stopped for a moment, but I think it was just to stretch his arm out. She yiped, “this place smells, it’s a mess, and when you do come home you’re drunk and high as a fucking dog! You know what Dale’s parents said? They told Tommy that our house isn’t safe and that Dale can’t play here anymore!” Now the man got back into it, “Dale’s parents? You think I give a shit about Dale’s parents? It’s hard enough living in this house when all you do is fucking sleep all day, sleep and get fat, that’s all you do, and now I have to worry about Dale’s parents too?” Then there was another loud noise and Tom said, “hey.” I pulled my ear off the floor and said back, “oh.” He whispered, “well, what is it? What did I draw?” I tried to think of something quick. “A monster truck?” I said. Tom laughed as he pulled himself off of me and got back onto his creaky old bed. “No, you idiot,” he muttered. I pulled the sleeping bag back over me and zipped up the edges. “A race car?” I asked. He laughed again and said, “no way!” I stopped for a second to try to make sure there were no more voices from downstairs, and then I finally said, “I don’t know! I give up.” Tom coughed and then everything calmed down. We laid in our sleeping arrangements for a little bit and I heard the door slam downstairs and Rexy’s collar clang and jingle down the street. For a little bit it seemed like Tom had fallen asleep or that he was going into a haze. But then he took a deep breath and said, “it’s my soul. Dale says that when you draw your soul on someone’s back, you get to live forever.”
For the rest of the night I slept with my hands under my ear to cover myself from the noises, but I woke up before the morning with such bad pins and needles that I had to bite down on my cheese ball fingers just to keep them alive.