Tuesday, March 11, 2014

End Lesstin Kering 7 3/11/14

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Oliver's foot slipped in the mud, and he toppled backwards onto the slick bank. Lesstin grabbed the boy's hand without thinking, pulling him back from the edge. The older boy laughed as he dragged himself back toward stable ground.

“Nice grab Less!” Oliver said once he was safely atop the cliff. “I almost went for a swim!” He laughed again and kicked a fist-sized rock off the edge. They watched it fall and fall then splash into the river. “Hey, not too far, is it?”

Far enough down to make Lesstin feel ill. “I don't like it,” Lesstin admitted. As soon as he said it, he knew he shouldn't have. Oliver's smile changed from friendly to wicked. His mouth hooked down, and his eyes grew wide and happy.

 “Lessie doesn't like it?” Every word was punctuated with barbed laughter. “Is he afraid of the height?” He put Lesstin in a headlock and dragged him toward the edge. Behind them, Chase was laughing too. He always laughed when Oliver laughed. Today was supposed to have been different; they asked him to come along, and not because their mother had forced them to. But then Lesstin had to go and open his big mouth.

“Lay off Oliver.” The voice of a hero. Chase Million was the only boy who could tell Oliver what to do. Sometimes. “He just pulled you back from falling in the river.”

Oliver flung Lesstin onto the grass, and spun to face Chase. “So what? I aint fraid of the river. I'll jump off, right now. You think I won't?” He started fumbling with the buttons on his cuffs.

“Give over Ollie. Your pop would slap you purple if you came home with wet clothes, so aint the same with you stripping.” Chase offered a hand to help Lesstin back to his feet. “Crud, you ripped your jeans. Look at that Ollie, bet his pop will throw him through a wall.”

Lesstin's father would never do such a thing. His mom might click her tongue about the grass stains. But he was learning; he didn't say anything.

“Hey,” Oliver said. “Yeah, no deal, right?”

“No,” Lesstin said. The whole day had been a whirlwind. What had he done to make them want him along all of the sudden? He didn't know, and didn't really care. For once, they were glad to have him along.

Chase slapped Lesstin on the back, maybe a little hard. The voice of reason, maybe, but Oliver was his best friend, and the two were more alike than they were different. He laughed as Lesstin stumbled toward the cliff. “I know that look. We all got dads man.”

“He's a good sport, aint ya Less?” Oliver asked. He looked more relieved than cruel, but Lesstin stayed wary. The boy could switch from prancing to pouncing without notice. “I've always said so, haven't I Chase?”

“Sure have,” Chase agreed. Lesstin had never heard them say anything of the sort.

They turned and marched up the cliff side, toward the old train bridge. Rusting beams still connected the old cement pylons, but most of the suspension had been removed or collapsed long ago.

“We were thinking,” Oliver said, resting his arm around Lesstin's shoulder. “Some of the boys pick on you, don't they Lesstin? Call you baby, all sorts of stuff. Nah, nah, you don't need to answer. They're jerks. But Chase, me, our guys, no one says that to us. Do they Chase?”

“What?” Chase asked, as if he had never thought of such a thing. “If they said that, I'd pop them in the face, that's what I'd do. Did someone call you something Ollie?” Chase was the biggest boy boy in the sixth grade. Even the junior high kids left him alone.

“Nah,” Oliver said. “They know I'm too hard for that. But I was thinking, Lessie here, he might need some help. Cover from these...bullies.”

No one had ever talked to Lesstin like this before. He was the butt of the joke, the pincushion for everyone else's bad day.

“What do you guys want?” He asked. That big stupid mouth of his, running off again.

Oliver put his hands up. His cruel eyes were dancing, but his face looked insulted. “Hey now, we're trying to help you here.”

“You want to help me? Leave me alone.” He shrugged Chase's hand off his shoulder. He should have run right away when he saw them. They'd been following him for an hour now, but right then he had a chance to leave. He was fast and knew places to hide. He could have got away, but he had blown it. Stupid.
Chase grabbed Lesstin by the back of the neck. “Look runt, aint no one gonna leave you alone. You know that, smart boy.”

“Lay off Chase,” Oliver said. He looked friendly now. Lesstin had never seen that look before, and liked it less than the cruel dance by far. “We're not saying 'lets be friends.' But we're saying, hey, you got brains, and we got brawn. Mrs. Haden's watching us two close, so maybe we can't do much if you won't give us answers. But you want to, right?”

Lesstin hated giving answers to people, but it was better than getting thrown in the mud every day.

“I guess?” Lesstin said. “Why do I want to?”

“There's a clever one,” Oliver said. He grinned, pleased with himself. “Chase was telling me he doesn't like how Kib and Nate treat you. Weren't you Chase?”

“It aint right,” Chase said. His grin was wide as Oliver's. “But way I see it, they're only half the runt you are. I'll thwop them a bit, and tell em, leave Lesstin alone.” Chase pounded hand against palm.

“Course,” Oliver said, “you'll still have to help them pass. Call it tutoring or something. But you charge them, right? Like you used to, before everyone figured out you were a little twerp.”

Lesstin winced. He had come up with the idea the previous year, but it hadn't quite gone the way he had planned. “And you don't have to pay, right?”

Oliver laughed. Different than normal. This was more shock than deviousness. “Son, we don't pay now. No, you give us half what you get. And we're the muscle, see? Anyone doesn't pay...” Chase pounded his hands together again.

And for a moment, the idea seemed alright to Lesstin. “And you'd keep them from...” He couldn't say it. His big mouth had done enough work for the day. But Oliver understood. And his eyes glimmered, horrible as ever.

“We'd be in business,” he said. “I'm not saying we'll stick our neck out for you. Run to Lady Haden if you want. But you can sit with us at lunch.”

Oliver had thought hard about this. He sat with the nerds at lunch, and it only made things worse. If he could sit by Chase, that alone would save him most of his trouble.

“All right,” Lesstin agreed. Once again he wondered what he had done to earn their sudden friendship.

“Of course 'all right,' runt. Hey Chase, he thinks we're asking.”

“For a smarty,” Chase said, slapping Lesstin on the back of the head, “you sure are stupid.”

“But we aint doing this to just help a poor soul, profit aside.” Oliver picked at his teeth with a piece of paper. “See, Benny Gads made this bet with me. Said, no one would walk across the old track, to the other side. Fifty bucks even. Wave to Benny, Lesstin.” Oliver pointed to a figure on the far side of the cliff. Benny's orange hair marked him even at a distance.

“See, we figure, everyone knows you're a chicken-shit.” Chase guided Lesstin up the gravel hill toward the old rails. “So this helps.”

Lesstin's knees weren't quite shaking. He couldn't stop looking at how the rails ran out over the air, mounting the pylons. They were narrower than his wrist. Occasional wooden boards spanned the bridge, but over the seemingly endless gap between his side and Benny's, there were stretches with only the iron, and a rail at his side.

“So, you walk across,” Oliver said. “And we're in business.”

“What if I don't?” Lesstin thought he knew the answer.

Oliver's brow dropped, and his mouth twisted. This was the look Lesstin dreaded, the angry, and delighted grin of evil itself. “It's funny Chase. He thinking we're asking again.”

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