Chapter Fifteen: The Plan
On Wednesday, Nick told his parents that he needed a ride to the library. I just happened to be there when they dropped him off. We signed up for a private study room and spent two hours reading to each other. I don’t even remember what book it was. Some poetry anthology. Yeah, we sat around reading poems to each other. We’re lame, okay? Besides, what we were reading didn’t matter. All that mattered was that the door had locks, and the windows had curtains, so nobody could see us or disturb us. We pushed two chairs right next to each other on the same side of the table. Close enough that I could feel him reacting to whatever I was reading; feel him pouring emotion into whatever he was reading.
Between readings, I asked him if he’d ever been to a concert.
“Right. My parents would be all over me going to a concert. Alcohol, smoking, and dancing. Throw in a lecture on evolution and it’s their idea of hell.” He laughed. “Plus, according to this book they gave me, all rock music, starting with The Beatles, has been a front for the druids, who secretly insert demon-summoning drum beats into all their songs as a means to possess helpless teens.”
“…Seriously? Druids?” I shook my head. “I didn’t think druids were still around.”
“Around and running the music industry, according to ‘Spellbound,’ by Jack Chick. I’ll let you read it sometime, if you want.”
“I think I’ll pass. But I know a drummer who might be interested in this whole demon-summoning thing.” I said. “Anyway, what I meant to ask was…do you want to go to a show with me, sometime? I mean, if there’s ever a chance for us to do it.”
“I don’t know.” He looked nervous. “It’d mean going behind my parents’ backs…”
“We’re doing that right now.”
“Yeah, but if I get caught here, I get caught talking to someone at the library. No big deal. If I got caught at a concert…what am I going to tell them? That I got lost on the way to the library, and was lured in by the hypnotic powers of the druids?”
“I know, I know. I’m just asking if, at some point in the future, things line up so that we can go to a show together and not get caught, would you want to go?”
“Hey, I’ll go anywhere with you, so long as you can bust me out.” A smile started to creep across his face. “And, yeah, I guess I do want to know what it’s like to go to one of those things.”
“What are you smiling at?”
“Just thinking about how, if it wasn’t for you, there’d be a lot of things I didn’t know about. That I’d never get the chance to try.” He grabbed my hand under the table. “Which made me think of something.”
“What?” I smiled back.
“With me, baby, it’s always gonna be a zeppelin.” He said, imitating my voice. I burst out laughing. “I think I almost get what that means, now.”
“That makes one of us.” I took a quick look around the room to make sure that all the curtains were still drawn and that no one could see in, then kissed the back of his hand. He did the same to mine.
“You know, I always hear guys at school talking about how they take girls here to make out,” He said.
I opened my mouth to say something, but I squeaked instead.
“No, I mean, I wasn’t suggesting anything,” Nick was blushing intensely. “I was just thinking…when I heard them talking like that, I always had this attitude, like ‘God, how desperate do you have to be to make the library seem sexy?’ And now…well…”
“…Now you’re getting all hot-and-bookwormed?”
“Yeah. Checking out a hardcover.”
“Umm...hang on, let me think.” He closed his eyes for a second, deep in thought. “Periodicals…reference section…nope, I’m totally out of library double-entendres.”
“Well, don’t worry about it.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re not going to be the one waking up in the middle of the night shouting ‘Of course! Bibliography!’ or something.” A smile slowly formed on his face. “I do it APA style. All over the reference sheets.”
“There you go. You just made me associate citation with sex, in such a way that I will probably get all worked up every time I write a research paper from now on. Thanks.”
“You’re just mad that you didn’t think of it first.”
He was right.
On Friday, I met up with the band. We went to a restaurant called Bellini’s, one of their favorite places. Alex kicked off his shoes as we approached the building. Corey held open one door while Scott held the other. After taking a few steps back, Alex ran at full speed inside, then stopped sharply, sliding across the tiles on his then-wet socks and knocking over a sign that asked if we would please wait to be seated. I kicked his shoes in after him, and he pulled them on and began lacing them up. Sarah ran in and gave him a quick kick to the ribs, since he was already down on the floor. He laughed and untied her shoes. A girl, about Corey’s age and wearing the restaurant’s uniform, shook her head and tried to look angry through her laughter.
“You guys, again?” Her eyes fell on me. “Oh, god, and you’ve grown another one.”
“Miss Melody!” Corey strutted in and bowed deeply. “We’ll take your best and most visible table, if you please.”
“You’ll take a hike, is what you’ll take. Come on, you know Mr. B hates you guys. Every time you come in here, he ends up in a bad mood for days.”
“But our month-long ban finally ended! Besides, we tip well.” Alex said, standing up.
“I wouldn’t say ‘well’.” Melody said, picking up the sign that had been caught in Alex’s path and setting it back up. “Not nearly enough to make up for the damage.”
“The entertainment value makes up for that, don’t you think?” Scott asked.
“And, after all, we’re your regulars!” Sarah added.
“Regulars? You come in here once every couple months, smash something, and then don’t order anything.”
“Well, we would come more regularly,” Corey said, “But your boss keeps banning us. Anyway, if we promise to eat something this time, can we have a table?”
“Okay,” Melody said, sighing. She led us to a booth in back, far from everyone else. Once we were seated, she pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil. “What can I get you to drink?”
Everyone asked for water, except for Corey, who insisted on soy milk.
“Okay. I’ll have that for you soon. Now, here’s some menus-”
“Not necessary,” Alex said.
“Oh, come on!” Melody slapped the stack of menus against the table in frustration. “You promised!”
“We promised to eat something. Not that we’d buy something.” Sarah said. “Gentlemen, produce…produce!”
Corey pulled a carrot from each pocket. I pulled out a stalk of celery. Scott removed a head of lettuce from under his coat. Alex took a bell pepper from his coat pocket, though it had been slightly crushed from his trip to the floor. Sarah pulled a tomato and onion from her purse. We all set our items on the table.
“And what the hell do you call this?” Melody asked.
“D.I.Y. salad bar.” Scott looked from the pile of produce on the table to our waitress, who I was beginning to pity. “We’re going to need five bowls, five forks, at least one knife, and some salad dressing, Melody. If you please.”
“Vegan salad dressing,” Corey added.
“I hate you guys so much.” She said, though she was struggling not to laugh.
“While we’re waiting for that stuff, can you bring us some of those placemats with the mazes on them and a jar of crayons?” Alex asked.
“And some of those risers. The ones that you have the little kids sit on when they’re too short to reach the table.” Sarah said.
“I require a throne.”
“Absolutely not.” Melody said. She returned a few minutes later with our bowls, silverware, and drinks.
As Corey and Alex played a rather obscene game of hangman on the back of their placemats, Sarah and Scott were scribbling anti-government propaganda on napkins and then re-inserting them into the dispenser. I realized that I was definitely falling behind in the current sport of petty harassment and anti-social behavior. I had to step up, make them glad that they’d brought me along. Okay, it wasn’t just that; I wanted to have some fun, too. But what could I do? That was when my eyes happened upon the stack of jelly packets. I stood up and slid out of the booth, past Corey and Sarah. They both asked where I was going, but I just mumbled “Be right back.”
I walked in the direction of the restroom, but turned at the last minute, making a quick circuit of the restaurant and picking the racks of jelly packets from a few of the unoccupied tables. When I got back to my seat, I poured the packets into a large pile along with our own and set to work on what was, without a doubt, the most epic tower of jelly ever to be built.
Usually, there were limits to the extravagance of condiment architecture. There were only so many at each table, and I’d always had to compete with Mark for resources. This time, however, there was unlimited potential. I stacked intently, ignoring the encouraging words from the others as I built the tower higher and higher, with columns and parapets and even a few balustrades made from sugar packets. It was a work of art with a jelly center.
“It looks like a giant dick.” Scott said, nodding.
“Much like yourself.” Corey said.
Sarah snorted and scribbled something about “toppling the towers of patriarchy” on her napkin.
They were right. I hadn’t meant it that way – those were supposed to be supports on the sides, not testicles – but from an overview, it really did appear phallic. Of course, if you’re in the right mindset, anything taller than it is wide could appear phallic. Whatever. It was still art, in my mind.
“Oh, Bran,” Alex said, “I found something for you.” He pulled a slip of neon green paper from him pocket and slid it across the table to me.
It was a flyer for a show. I didn’t recognize any of the bands that were playing. “Locals?”
“Yeah. Nothing too rough, but they won’t bore you, either.”
I checked the time. Five o’clock – fairly early for a show. Maybe even early enough for me to smuggle Nick out of the church for a couple hours. I noticed the date.
“This is tonight?” I looked up.
“You said to find one that was coming up, so I grabbed the earliest one I saw.”
“What time is it now?” I looked around for a clock, then remembered that I had my phone in my pocket. I pulled it out and checked. “Two? It starts in three hours?”
“What’s the matter? Got something else planned?” Alex asked.
“No, but I was hoping to ask somebody…” I stopped myself from saying anything else. The slowly emerging grin on Alex’s face told me that I’d already said too much.
“Ask somebody to go with you?” He finished for me, tilting his head sideways. “Like…on a date?”
“No. Just for fun. Like when you took me.”
He laughed. “Think about what happened the time I took you.”
“Oh. Right. Not exactly like when you took me, then. But, just a friend who I think could use some, uh…exposure to a different subculture.”
“Planning on exposing your subculture to him on the first date? Jeez. And here I thought you were a bit of a prude.” He eyed the giant, somewhat phallic tower that was looming over the table.
I dropped my head into my hands and groaned. “Forget it.”
“Aw, perk up.” He slapped my shoulder. “Now, what’s the problem? Three hours isn’t enough time for you to ask this guy?”
“It’s not just that.” I said. “There’s no way in hell his parents would let him. I’m sure there’d be some way to work it out to where we could sneak around them, but it’d probably take a lot of planning.”
“You realize who you’re talking to, right?” Alex said. “Sneaking around overprotective parents is, like, practically a part-time job for me. And I’m so good at it that they keep giving me more hours. They won’t make it full-time, though, because then they’d be on the hook for benefits, and being the capitalist pig-dogs they are…well, point is, I’m sure I could help you out.”
“Wait…in that analogy, who were the capitalist pig-dogs, again?”
“Your bosses. In the job of ‘sneaking around on your parents.’ Wouldn’t that be you?”
“I’ll be damned. Hey, Corey!” He called across the table. Corey turned. “I’m a capitalist pig-dog!”
“You are not.” He replied, rolling his eyes. “You’re a consumer-whore. Get it right, man.”
“Anyway,” Alex turned back to me, “As I was saying, give me twenty minutes and I can slip through any parental defense. Trust me.”
“These aren’t just any parents. And besides, I don’t know if he’ll want even want to go if it’ll involve all this…uh, capering.”
“If he’s anything like me, the capering’ll make it even more fun. Is he anything like me?”
“Not really. I mean, other than you both having well-known, overprotective parents.”
“Really?” He grinned. “Sounds like this may even be a challenge. If you decide to do it, just give me a call, okay?”
“Will do. But…why are you so interested in doing this?”
He shrugged. “Couple reasons. First, it involves lying to authority figures and going to a punk show – two of my favorite things to do. Second, it helps you out, and I owe you for knocking some sense into me and helping me smooth things out with Cor.” He checked his watch and turned back to the others. “Hey, guys, I’ve got to leave soon.”
“Really?” Scott asked. “Guess we’d better hurry up and get thrown out of here, then. Hey, wench!” He pulled off his shoe and threw it at Sarah. It knocked her glass of water into her lap.
“What the hell?” She stood up, grabbed Corey’s glass of soy milk, and splashed it into Scott’s face. It dripped cleanly off of one side of his face, but it stuck to the half-beard that he had on the other side.
“Hey!” Now Corey was standing, as well. “I had to pay for that!” He grabbed Alex’s glass of water and dumped it over Alex’s head.
“What? I didn’t do anything! Yet!” Alex said, reaching for my glass. I inched away as Alex tossed my water directly at Corey’s pants. Corey yelped and bumped against the table, which caused my tower of condiments to collapse into a giant heap on the table, covering our plates and the remains of our salad.
This was when I spotted an ice cube, no doubt from one of the thrown glasses of water, sitting on the table. I grabbed it and dropped it down the back of Alex’s shirt, making him jump. “That’s for making Corey smash my tower.”
At this point, Scott was feeling left out, so he took his own glass of water and threw it at me, most likely because I was the only dry person left at the table. Looking around for something to use in retaliation, my eyes settled on the remains of the tomato. I grabbed it and had my hand cocked back when I heard someone scream “Out!”
A man wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, a tie, and a murderous expression was stomping his way over to our table. Scott grabbed his shoe – still resting on the table – and scrambled to put it back on. “It’s Mr. B. Get ready to run for it. Everybody throw in for the tip.”
We each dropped a dollar or two on the table and made a dash for the door. As we ran out, we heard Mr. B yelling after us. “You’re banned! You’re all banned! I don’t want to see any one of you again for…for six weeks!”
When we made it to Alex’s van, we were all out of breath from laughing.
“Man, why doesn’t he just ban you guys for life?” I asked.
“No idea.” Alex said. “So, was that your first time getting thrown out of someplace?”
I nodded. “It’s more fun than I thought it’d be.”
“I find it’s good to get thrown out of something at least once every couple months.” Corey said. “Helps you to remember what we’re fighting against.”
“Property! The whole idea that someone can ‘own’ a piece of the Earth and tell you whether or not you’re allowed to set foot on it.”
I looked over at Alex. “Is that why you’re doing it? Fighting against the concept of ownership?”
“Actually,” He said, “I just think Mr. Bellini’s a prick, and I like to get him mad.”
Corey sighed and shook his head. “You’re doing the revolution no favors, Alex.”
“Yeah, how’s that revolution of yours going, Cor? Overthrown anything, yet?”
“Shut up.” He reached up and smacked Alex in the back of the head.
I rang the bell on the door of First Baptist and waited for Nick to answer. I knew that he spent most of his time in the basement, so it would take him a while to get to the door. I looked out at the parking lot, which was still free of snowdrifts. It hadn’t snowed since the night Nick and I shoveled it. That made me wonder if that had been the last big snowstorm of the year.
The door swung open, and Nick gestured me inside, where I followed him to his room in the basement. The church was cold, but an electric heater kept Nick’s room warm. As soon as I had my coat off, he had his arms around me.
That’s one thing I noticed from the time we spent together: Nick clung to me. Not in the figurative, “he’s too clingy” kind of way. I mean that whenever I hugged him, he would cling to me, tightly, like there was a tornado swirling around us and I was the only thing anchored into the ground. I only noticed this because I started thinking about the way I held onto him. Gently would be the best way to describe it, I guess, like I was afraid I was going to break him. Or like I was afraid I’d scare him off by coming on too strong.
“It’s been two days!” He said. “I’m going crazy, locked up in here.”
“Want to get out?” I asked.
“Yeah. Can we?”
“There’s a show that starts at five. Want to go?”
“Yeah! But…it starts at five?” His expression fell. “My parents will be home by then.”
“Yeah, that’s what I figured. Don’t worry about it. Unless, of course, you want to sneak out.”
He shook his head. “They’ll come looking for me if I don’t show up for dinner.”
“We could always wait until they get back, then tell them that you’re going somewhere else.”
“But I never go anywhere. I already used the library once this week; they won’t buy it again.” He said. “Besides, I’m a terrible liar. They’ll see right through me.”
“You could get somebody else to lie for you.” I said. “I’ve got this friend…”
I explained Alex’s offer of giving us a cover story.
“I don’t know. Bringing another person into a lie seems like it’d make it that much easier to see through.”
“Yeah, but this guy…he’s practically a professional liar. He’s the best liar I’ve ever seen. And I mean that in a good way.”
“Well…” He glanced around his room. “Okay. Call him.”
“Yeah. Just…we’ll see what his plan is, first. Okay?”
“Okay.” I fished my phone out of my pocket and dialed Alex.
“Alex? It’s Bran.”
“Hey! You decide you needed my services after all?”
“Maybe. We want to know what your plan is, before we commit to anything.”
“I don’t have a plan, yet. First, I need to know about him and his parents. Then I can make a plan.” Alex said. Nick, meanwhile, was pacing around the room.
“One second.” I turned to Nick. “I’ve got to tell him who your parents are, so he can make a plan for getting around them. Okay?”
Nick bit his lip. “You’re sure we can trust this guy? You’re sure we can trust the best liar you’ve ever seen?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
I took my hand off of the phone. “Alex?”
“His parents…well, his dad is Reverend Patton.”
There was a pause on the line. “Wait. The Reverend Patton? Brimstone fucking Patton?”
“You want me to con Brimstone Patton? Oh my god, this is the big leagues! Smuggling Brimstone’s own kid to a punk show? They’re going to give me a medal for this!”
“I don’t know, whoever goes around giving people medals for outstanding acts of punkery. Hang on. Yeah, yeah, I’ve got a plan.”
“Hell yes. This is going to be brilliant. This will be my masterpiece. Even if I don’t get a punk medal for this, I’ll get an academy award for the great acting I’m going to do. Maybe even both. Okay, listen up. Wait, is your dude there? Put me on speaker and I’ll tell you both the plan.”
I hit the button for speaker and motioned Nick over. I set the phone on the floor, and we sat down next to each other, leaning against Nick’s bed. “Okay, you’re on.”
“Here’s my plan. First, Bran, you’re going to need to get out of there. I don’t want you around when this goes down. You can wait in your car somewhere down the street, at a gas station or something. Okay, it’s going to happen like this: I ring the doorbell. When the Rev. answers, I tell him that I’ve been going through some tough times and I need someone to talk to. I’ll play that part by ear, it’ll sound more natural. But, basically, I tell him that I want to learn about the bible and stuff. Then I tell him that I know…um, Bran, what’s your friend’s name?”
“Right. I tell him that I know Nick from school. That everybody there knows that he’s the person to talk to about God and stuff – I’ll have something good cooked up by the time I get there – which will not only help our cause, but give Nick some huge points with his parents, I’m guessing.”
Nick nodded, apparently too transfixed by The Plan to realize that you can’t nod over the phone.
“Now, I ask if I can talk to Nick, since I feel that I could better understand the message if it was coming from somebody my age. He’s around my age, right?”
“Okay. So I come in and talk to Nick for a couple minutes, then we come out and we explain to his parents that I’d feel more comfortable talking about this stuff at my place, and ask if he can come over for a couple hours. The Rev., being in the business he’s in, says yes, because, hey, anything that’ll win a soul for the big G is cool in his book, right? And, yeah, I won’t use terms like ‘the big G’ while I’m there. Anyway, we head outside, I drive Nick over to the gas station where you’re conveniently parked, he gets in your car, and the two of you head off to see some dudes scream into some microphones. Oh, and Nick – you listening?”
Nick nodded again.
“He is.” I said.
“Pack a change of clothes. Your parents will get suspicious if you come back from a bible-ministry-whatever session drenched in sweat and smelling like smoke. Unless you guys really get into that kind of thing. But you probably don’t.”
There was silence for a few seconds as we all pictured the plan in our heads. From my end, it was looking pretty promising.
“One second.” I said. “Won’t that plan work just as easily if I do it? Like, instead of having to go through the whole thing with picking up and dropping off at a gas station and changing cars and stuff, what if I was the one to come to the door and say all the stuff about wanting counseling?”
“No, that wouldn’t work,” Nick said. “My mom already knows you. And besides, the less they see us together, the better. It’ll keep them from jumping to any conclusions, you know? Like, we could always say ‘Hey, no, I barely even see him!’”
I glanced at the phone. When Nick saw where I was looking, his eyes nearly popped out of his head. That sounded pretty incriminating. Like we had more to hide than just sneaking out.
“Yeah, sounds like you guys are on top of it, then. When are we doing this?” Alex said.
“Uh, my…my Dad will be here around four thirty.” Nick said.
“Okay. Let’s make it quarter-to-five. Approximately. No need to synchronize our watches. Although…actually, that’d be cool. Let’s synchronize our watches.”
“I don’t have a watch.” I said.
“Me neither,” Nick said.
“Aww. Okay, fine. Bran, drop me a text around four thirty if we’re still going through with it. Alexander Molotov, Liar-for-Hire, over and out.” With that he hung up, no doubt by dramatically snapping his phone shut and probably playing an air-guitar solo. I imagine he’s the kind of guy that plays a lot of air-guitar solos when no one’s around.
“His last name isn’t really Molotov, is it?” Nick asked, sounding suspicious.
“Nope. His first name isn’t really Alex, either.”
“That’s good. I’d hate to think that the guy behind my breakout plan would use his real name.”
“You’re up for all this?”
“I’m really nervous about the plan and really exited about going out with you,” He said. “I’m not used to feeling so much. Like, I’ve felt nervous, and scared, and excited and everything, but just never this intensely.”
“Is that a yes?”
He raised one hand as if he was going to smack me, then dropped it around my shoulders at the last second. “Yeah, it’s a yes.” We stayed like that, leaning against the side of his bed, until the time came to put the plan into action, and I had to leave.