WE WERE SEVENTY MILES outside of Monterey when Oliver pulled off the highway and into a gas station. We were surrounded by flatlands and a few anorexic trees and nothing much else. There were dozens of dead bugs on the windshield, tiny winged things reduced to yellow streaks. The air was hot and dry and made my skin feel like cardboard. While Oliver was filling up the gas tank in the Picklewagon, I opened my sketchbook and worked on a drawing I had started the day before: a giant crow perched on a house, the bird’s wingspan wider than the roof. Ashley leaned forward between the headrests.
That’s cool, Marcus, she said.
How did you learn to draw like that?
I don’t know, I said, making hatch marks on the side of the house. Family genes, I guess.
Ashley turned around. Can you draw, babe?
Nope. I didn’t get that gene.
Ashley leaned forward again and looked over my shoulder. Hey, can you draw a picture for me?
Sure, I said, my hands getting all clammy. What do you want me to draw?
I want to get another tattoo, she said. When I was a kid I had a dream about this hummingbird. It was blue and green and it was drinking from a flower that was shaped like a heart. Would that be hard to draw?
Ashley’s breath smelled like cinnamon bubble gum. I wanted to kiss her. I wanted her to know that I wanted to kiss her.
I could do that, I said.
Where do you want the tat? Enrique wanted to know.
My chest. Right over my heart.
Enrique pulled Ashley toward him and started kissing her neck.
Oliver popped his head into the car window. Anyone need to use the bathroom?
Me, I said, and jumped out of the car and into the dry heat.
I had to get away from them. I was liking Ashley more and it was really starting to hurt. I thought about her coming to our house day after day, what that would do to me. I pictured her sitting at our dinner table, the side of her fork sliding through my mother’s flan, the perfect shape of her lips as she slipped another sweet bite into her mouth.
The bathroom at the gas station had stall doors painted mint green and on one of them someone had drawn a gigantic penis with a black marker. The balls were two adjoined circles with short lines radiating outward, quick dashes that were supposed to be pubic hair. It looked like a dick stuck on a cactus.
Oliver walked into the bathroom whistling. That’s about how big mine is, he said, gesturing toward the vandalized door.
Sure it is, I said. I was wetting my face at the only sink in the bathroom, and the mirror above it was all scratched up with more graffiti—gang names and fuck-yous and a heart skewered on an arrow.
Oliver was pissing in one of the urinals and the back of his T-shirt was damp with sweat. So how long do you think your brother and Ashley are going to last? he said.
I don’t know.
I give them a month.
He seems pretty happy with her, I said. For a depressive, I added.
Oliver hit the silver bar on the urinal to flush and zipped up and moved toward the sink. Hey, has your brother ever tried to commit suicide?
No, I said. Not that I know of.
Oliver’s hands were under the faucet’s column of water, wetting them.
Why, have you ever thought about it? I asked.
Oliver shut off the water and yanked out a few paper towels from the chrome dispenser. I wanted to tell you something, he said.
Shoot, I said.
The ones in the glove compartment. That wasn’t my aunt in the photo, he said. He wiped his hands on the paper towels and balled them up and then dropped them into the trash can. That was some woman my dad was screwing and got pregnant.
I leaned against the wall. Does your mom know?
Yeah. She went to the same church that my parents went to.
That’s messed up.
I know, Oliver said. My father paid for her abortion. Three days later he hanged himself.
Shit, I said.
Enrique walked into the bathroom with a bounce in his stride. Thought I didn’t have to go, he said, and stood before one of the urinals and unzipped. How much farther do we have to go? he asked over his shoulder.
About an hour, I said.
Oliver was quiet and his face was blank like a sheet of paper with two eyes. There was a small cricket on the floor and he watched it crawl across the tile. The cricket moved quickly in one direction, stopped, moved quickly in another direction, stopped again.
And I knew what he was going to do before he even lifted his foot and slammed it down.
A week after my dad left us, the bruise around Enrique’s mouth was almost gone when the kid who lived across the street, Chuck Phillips, gave him a new one—a dark purple shiner that made it look like my brother was wearing an eye patch.
We were tossing a Frisbee on the street in front of our house, Enrique and me, the blood-red disc gliding back and forth between us. Since it had only been seven days, I feared our father still might come back and imagined him pulling up into the driveway, standing with us, and snatching the Frisbee in midair.
The Phillipses’ garage door opened and Chuck wheeled out on his BMX and came down the driveway, pedaling sluggishly. He rolled around Enrique and said something I couldn’t quite make out, something about throwing like a girl. I tossed the disc and Enrique caught it and held it out to Chuck but pulled it away before Chuck could grab it. Chuck got off his bike and let it fall to the street and the front tire spun by itself like a roulette wheel. He snatched the Frisbee from Enrique’s hand and pitched it up into the nearest tree. Enrique pushed him in the chest, hard, so his head snapped back. Chuck swung and hit Enrique square in the eye and I ran toward them.
I was going to jump in like I did when my dad was beating Enrique in the kitchen. I was ready to put Chuck in a headlock and everything, but by the time I reached them, Enrique was already pummeling the poor kid, jabbing and kicking and pulling and jabbing. He clutched the back of Chuck’s hair and ground his face into the pavement. When Chuck rolled over on his back I could see threads of skin on his forehead, blood streaming from the wound. His nose was crooked and two bloodworms slid out of his nostrils and down his cheeks. Enrique lifted his fist again. I grabbed his arm.
Let go, my brother yelled.
Stop, I said.
Enrique stood and kicked Chuck on the leg and pointed up at the tree. Get it, he said.
What? Chuck said.
Our Frisbee. You threw it up there, now go get it.
Leave him alone, I said.
Chuck coughed and wiped the blood leaking out of his nose onto his shirtsleeve. He looked up into the tree’s architecture, the red disc stuck in the middle of it. I can’t get up there, man.
Enrique cocked his fist and lurched forward. Chuck flinched.
Okay, okay, he said. Someone’s got to give me a boost, though.
Enrique stood by the tree and wove his fingers together and held them at his knees. Come on, he said.
Chuck placed one hand on Enrique’s shoulder and stepped onto my brother’s locked hands, using them like a stirrup. Enrique lifted him up and Chuck reached for the lowest branch, grunting. A blood drop rolled off his face and disappeared in the grass.
Come on, monkey boy, Enrique said, looking upward with his hand pressed against his brow like a visor. How ’bout a banana, monkey boy? Enrique smiled, and his missing teeth were open windows on a white building.
I realized then who my brother was becoming, what kind of boy he was backing away from.
You won already, I said. Leave him alone.
Enrique said nothing more. We looked up in silence and watched Chuck Phillips climb higher and higher, leaves spiraling down like ticker tape as his arm stretched out toward the Frisbee, a fat heart caged in the ribs of the tree.
We all pitched in and got a room at a Best Western just outside of Monterey, the bruised sky of dusk hanging over us. Enrique volunteered to approach the hotel manager, to say he lost his ID and that he could pay more if necessary, but it wasn’t. The hotel manager was, according to Enrique, the biggest flaming homo that ever walked the earth.
He was practically batting his eyelashes at me, Enrique said. He sat down on one of the two beds in the room and kicked off his Converse sneakers. I think he was wearing blush, he said.
He didn’t ask for your ID or anything? Oliver wanted to know.
Yeah, but I told him I lost it at a club. Then he told me how much he loved going to clubs and dancing. I swear, I think he really was wearing blush.
Ashley sat beside Enrique and put her arm around his shoulder. Was he hitting on my boyfriend? she teased.
Ashley quickly removed her arm. Don’t say that, she said. God, I hate that word.
Which one? Enrique asked. Fuckin’ or faggot?
Ashley stared at Enrique hard. Are you homophobic? Because if you are, I need to know.
I was sitting up on the other bed with my back against the headboard, watching their exchange. Catface yawned and arched her back.
No, I’m not homophobic, Enrique said. I just don’t like it when some butt pirate is eyeing my brown eye.
Hey, is anyone hungry? Oliver was sitting at the small round table in the corner of the room, flipping through the Yellow Pages. Should we order some pizza or what?
You can be such a prick sometimes, Enrique. Ashley stood and turned around and sat on the bed opposite my brother, her ass just inches from where I’d stretched out my legs. When she leaned forward, the waist of her skirt opened like a pocket and I could see her panties, a thin strip of pink fabric.
Come on, Enrique, stop drinking the Haterade, Oliver said.
Are you going to order pizza? I asked.
You need to calm down, Enrique said to Ashley, and picked up the remote and turned on the TV.
Yeah. Should I get two larges?
I am calm. Don’t tell me to calm down.
One pepperoni and one cheese? Oliver held the phone in his hand, the Yellow Pages split open on the table.
I like black olives, Enrique said, clicking through the channels.
You know I don’t like olives, Ashley said, annoyed.
Oops, I forgot.
Okay, forget the olives, Enrique said. Get whatever, I don’t care.
The air between Ashley and Enrique was sour. I always hoped that they’d fight one day, that one fight would lead to another fight that would lead to their breakup, but I never thought I’d witness that first fight. I tried to contain my excitement.
Ashley tapped the side of my leg with the back of her hand. Scoot over, she said. I did and she sat up beside me, arms crossed, so the side of her right arm touched the side of my left arm.
While Oliver was ordering the pizzas, Catface jumped on Enrique’s bed and he pushed her off the mattress with his socked foot. She fumbled to the carpet and meowed and moments later jumped on the other bed where Ashley’s and my feet were. She stared at me with her topaz blue eyes and blinked slowly, wondering if I was going to kick her off the bed too.