The two boys took Neil's beat-up old Toyota sedan out into the desert behind the small airport. The air was hot and still, and the car crunched and bounced over the red sand as they made their way to the spot they'd chosen. They parked behind a chain link fence overlooking part of the runway, right under a 'No Trespassing' sign, and laughed to each other about it, just as they did every other time.
At some point Neil or one of the other kids who came out here had put a big black dot in the middle of the 'o' to make it look like a target, and they climbed onto the hood of the car with handfuls of pebbles, taking turns throwing or flicking them at the sign.
"We should have brought some beer," Neil said. He always said that. Tommy just rolled his eyes. He knew his friend didn't drink, but Neil seemed to think it felt like the right thing to say in a lonely patch of desert where no one ever bothered them but the sun.
"Did you go to any parties after graduation?" Tommy asked. He eyed Neil out of the corner of his eye, pretty sure the answer was no. Neil looked like one of the school's toughs, but he was a good student and not much of a rule breaker. It was his dirty little secret.
Neil shrugged. "Nothing worth my time," he said. He scored a bullseye on the sign and let out a soft "yeah!"
"Me neither," said Tommy. "Not worth the trouble."
"I didn't say that."
"Sure you didn't. I hear Janelle Santos got a DUI that night with like six other people packed into her car."
"Wait, doesn't she drive a mini?"
They both started to laugh, and Tommy relaxed back onto the hood, his head tipped up by the angle of the windshield. It didn't have to be today. It didn't have to be ever, if he didn't want. "You taking that scholarship?" he asked. 'That scholarship' was a full hockey scholarship—improbable as that seemed in a state baked to dust by the incessant heat—to a decent school on the East Coast somewhere. Neil had offers; he had a future just waiting for him.
But he shifted uncomfortably and shrugged his broad shoulders. His light hair, caught somewhere between dirty blonde and pale brown, was long enough to fall in shaggy lines over his forehead, and Neil shook it back impatiently and turned to keep his eyes trained out over the desert. "Nah. I like it here."
Tommy shrugged, too. What Neil meant was that his mom and sister wouldn't be able to get on without his paycheck from working the gas station weekends and nights. It was one of the things that Tommy loved about him—his devotion to his family.
"Where are you going?" Neil asked.
"I don't know. My grades weren't the best the last couple of years. Maybe community college. I haven't really decided."
They lapsed into silence, except for the tapping of their rocks when they missed the sign, and the little plink each time they hit it. Occasionally one of them would hit the bullseye, and he would chuckle and nod, and the other would nod back in a sort of salute.
Tommy jumped when out of nowhere Neil said, "You should ask Kaylee out."
"Yeah, Kaylee Martin. She was in English with us. I think she likes you."