Robert considered Scott his best and only friend, but to Scott, Robert was only one among many. Scott was blond-haired and handsome. His only physical flaw was, to most, more endearing than hideous. When Scott was nine, the front wheel of his bike had suddenly rolled away from the axle, and he had fallen and hit his open mouth on the concrete. Although the bottom of one incisor was lost to the street, a dentist had made a replacement and affixed it to an invisible retainer. So with a flick of his tongue, Scott was able to dislodge his retainer and dance the fake tooth around in his mouth.
        The middle school the boys attended was very large, and a day did not pass in which Scott wasn’t propositioned to perform his trick. Robert never asked to see the tooth, and prided himself on this. Sometimes Robert made lists of things that he should never say to Scott. One item that appeared regularly in the list was, “I love you.” This was because Robert was not at all handsome, or particularly charming. His right eye had a mind of its own, often rolling clockwise away from whatever he focused on, slipping around the socket like a greasy marble. Although he did pushups before bed each night, Robert remained embarrassingly small—with the exception of his chest, where he was troubled by fatty little breasts that swayed under his t-shirt as he walked.
        Scott was fond of Robert; this was certain. “You’re a comedian,” he would say to his friend. “Come on, be funny.” Robert would then begin talking in a reedy, frog-mouthed way, telling Scott dirty things about girls that happened to walk by. “Go put this banana you know where,” he would say, or “I gotta put this big tongue somewhere soon or I’ll choke.” The two spent one lunch hour a week this way. The rest of the time, Scott made the rounds with his other friends, and Robert ate by himself.
        After school, Robert and Scott would wait at the bus stop with a crowd of other kids. Inevitably, the truck would arrive first. It was equipped with a noisy exhaust and painted bright red. The chassis hummed two feet from each axle, and a loudspeaker jutted from just above the winshield, through which the driver would offer words of encouragement as the truck buzzed the waiting students. “Hey there Ryan!” he would call. “Chin up, Mark!” “Study hard Delorenzo!” They didn’t know how the driver learned their names, but this bothered none of them because of his unflagging support. He would shout long enough to get their attention and then roar away, the actual man invisible behind the tinted windows. Robert guessed that he and his companions would probably burn one day for worshiping things like fancy automobiles, but he didn’t care. He would have given quite a bit to be able to spend the rest of his days driving such a loud and threatening machine.
        The bus always arrived later, after the truck had passed, and the crowd chattered and swore to one another as they boarded. They would talk excitedly about the truck, and then forget about it until the next day. But not Robert: he would stare out the window and follow the trail of exhaust the truck inevitably left and try to imagine the place it lead to. He was not very creative however, and he would struggle trying to picture the truck’s final destination until the bus pulled up to his corner. The wealthy kids exited near the golf course, while both Robert and Scott exited at the next stop at Fairfield Lane. On the north side of Fairfield Lane was Amoring Lake, a stagnant man-made pool that no one visited. On the south side of the intersection, across from the lake, stood the Shell Station where the truck’s driver was rumored to work. None of Robert’s classmates had seen him on the job, as he handled the night shift. Because he kept late hours, the middle school students surmised that when the driver cruised by the middle school in the truck, it was probably the first thing he did when he got up, something akin to a morning cup of coffee.


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