"I'm gonna fucking kill you, McCormick." The voice was a growl, a mechanic and violent hiss that pierced the hazy orange glow of sunset. Tucker and I stood out by the railroad tracks, panting heavily, his hands in a vice grip around my throat. My gaze was spotty at best, my face and knuckles scuffed - possibly bleeding - in the aftermath of the fight. Craig wasn't looking too much better, though (like I said) my eyes couldn't be trusted at the moment.

I could feel my heart trying to escape the cage that my ribs formed around it, like some kind of frantic bird. Fuck. My blood pressure wasn't too great on account of the smokes, and you'd really think that frequently trying to outrun death would put me in some kind of pristine physical shape, but it didn't. At least, the cigs more than compensated for that. So now I was at the mercy of Craig Fucking Tucker, which did not suit me at all, thank you very much. With nothing much left to do, I contemplated spitting in his face, but I had no doubt that if I did that, he'd send me down south to pay Damien a little visit, so that was out. I also didn't feel very up to laying a joke on him; if it had been one of the other guys, like Clyde or somebody (which, for the record, Clyde would never be found wringing my neck like this - way too bro for that shit), I would've, but we were talking about apathy and danger's sordid lovechild here. So I had to resort to the only thing left; the one thing that I really, really didn't want to have to do.

"...I'm...s-sorry," I half-choked out through the burning grip of his sheet-white knuckles. I tried to look like I meant it. I mean, I guess that I sort of did mean it, actually. What I did was offense numero uno from where Craig was standing, and all that I can say is that if he'd pulled that shit on me, well... he wouldn't still be around to apologize for it. So props to Tucker for that (actually, while I'm at it, props to me, too, for being such a charmer) - but now let me get into why we were standing here, testosterone and anger flashing in the tepid September air between us.

Ruby Tucker was no stranger to me the first day of school when she walked into home ec. class five minutes late, her deft poker face morphing into a bold scowl as the teacher gave her a reproachful look. She'd been around my house plenty, on account of Karen, and I rather liked the kid; she was a fistful of spunk and wouldn't think twice about socking anyone standing in the way of her agenda. Or, really, anyone close enough to slug, regardless of their guilt or innocence... a lot like her brother, actually, though their relationship was a whole ‘nother level of terror antics and one-uppance.

Anyway, so Ruby pretended to be pissed when the only seat left open was the one next to me. Hah, right. It took a little nudging, but a week later we were co-conspirators, heads bent together in the back row, occasional outbursts of laughter earning us deep frowns from the posh, prude teacher.

We didn't talk much outside of home ec. (with the exception of her coming over to hang with Karen) until a few weeks later. Ruby texted me one Saturday, my phone's vibrations pulling me out of the rather spectacular dream I'd been having. My bleary eyes read the words: "ken you fucker. i have dope. come over?"

I shook off the satisfied smile; Ruby Tucker of all people knew that I had plenty of my own dope. I vaguely wondered where she'd gotten hers (maybe stolen it from the Big Brother?) because I was pretty sure I was the only dealer catering to this town. But nevertheless, I responded with, "be there", and then got up and proceeded to fully rouse myself with a splash of water to the face and a quick brushing of the teeth.

The Tucker residence was closer to my side of town than Token's. It was a small double-story with chipping paint that always reminded me of the stark way Craig's and Ruby's middle fingers looked while upright. This was the first time I'd gone to the Tucker place on account of Ruby, as opposed to good old Craigy, so I didn't really feel okay with just knocking on the front door (in case somebody else were to answer). Just as I was pulling out my phone to announce my arrival to Ruby, I saw a swish of the curtains in one of the upstairs windows, and then moments later the door was opening and Ruby was gesturing for me to come inside.

It wasn't the first time I'd smoked grass in this house. Except that Craig's venue of choice was the basement (all polished cement and grey with light streaming in from the high, flat windows), whereas Ruby's was the roof. She led me upstairs to her room - almost as messy as Craig's was empty - and then out the screen-less window and onto the thick, prickly slate that was designed to hold well under feet and feet of Coloradoan snow.

Ruby's long, wispy hair looked like fire against the bland backdrop, and her blue eyes were fierce as ever (her only resemblance to Craig). She was wearing clean, fresh makeup paired with a ratty flannel, jeans, and converse, as if she couldn't make up her mind on whether she wanted to look like a prim fashionista or a hood rat.

She looked at me with a lopsided smile that reminded me of myself and I felt a little creepy; the kid was Karen's age. She pulled out an old cigarette case and a nice, silver smoking lighter, popping open the case and selecting a J. Suffice it to say that if she'd rolled those herself, I was impressed. I lit the thing for her and waited for her to take her first puff before asking, "So, what am I doing here, Rubes?"

Her mouth made a small ‘O' as she exhaled, and her brow rose with suspicion. "Why wouldn't you be here?" A small pause ensued, and then, "...Free weed? Me? We're chilling?" She tipped her chin up at me, indicating that I take the joint.

"True, true. But I have all the weed I want at home. And you could've hit up somebody else. So what gives, hmm?" I was grinning wickedly at her so that she'd think I was fucking with her, but I sort of actually wanted to know. ‘Cause, like... I mean, sure: girls chased me (how could they not?) ...but Ruby Red? I wasn't buying it. Obviously she wanted me, but to actually do something? She was either gutsier or more conniving than I'd originally thought (which definitely said something, in either case).

Her eyes grew crescent-like and she didn't look at me and she took the joint back and she sucked in some more ganja smoke. The side of her sneaker kicked against my leg in warning or retribution, and I let it go. Soon our minds let go, too, and we lay back on the roofing and stared up at the fantastically fluffy clouds, comfortable in our silence.

I should have known much earlier than I did, but what can you do? Ruby had me over fairly often, and there was this unspoken agreement that we had to be discreet; why have Craig breathing his cynicism and apathy down our necks like Costa Rican humidity, anyway? We just smoked a lot at first. She apparently got the chronic from some friend of hers in Middle Park (no wonder I didn't recognize the taste of it!), and I contributed my own stuff about half the time. She wanted alcohol and I brought it and we got drunk or high or cross-faded. And when I'd come over to do all the same stuff with Craig, kicking the shit in the basement, Ruby would pretend she didn't see me. And that was okay. We played the same non-recognition game whenever she was over with Karen, doing whatever the fuck fourteen year old girls did together.

And then Ruby blew it. I say she blew it because she was fucking smart enough to know that I'm not one for self-restraint, especially when the bait is willingly dangling itself in front of my chops. We were crossed at her place one night, watching the stars and sharing the earphones of her iPod (dubstep blaring out of them), when she slowly sat up as if by invisible strings pulling at her torso and head. Ruby looked at me, her pink lips pouty and her blue eyes fairly intense, considering the state she was in. "Ken," she said softly. Craig was home and so were her parents, since it was late on Friday night; she had snuck me in when everyone had been preoccupied and we'd been up on the roof maybe four hours.


"Let's go back to my room."

"Are you cold?" She was in a plain tank top and shorts, her feet bare and white beneath the light of the moon.

"No, I just wanna go in." I looked searchingly at her through the haze of my cross-fade and decided to let her lead the way.

"Okay, sure." We very carefully stood and ducked back in through her window, plopping on the bed below heavily and then replacing the screen on the window frame. I swung my legs over the edge of her bed, waiting, but I had not been bargaining that Ruby would stand before me, thin legs bound close together, and fall forward onto me. We swiveled so that we were laying the right way on the bed and my dizzy head was vaguely aware that this was wrong, but my primal side tended to come out when I was doped up, and so I waved off my concerns. Wouldn't anyone?

Ruby placed her lips against the crook of my neck, sinking her teeth in ever so slightly. I could feel her hesitation. Normally, I would've let the girl relax while I did all the work, but I was afraid. Afraid to touch her; startled. And then I wasn't. And then I was turning her chin up and kissing her open mouth and running a hand down each vertebra along her gaunt, sharp spine.

Ruby and I basically led lives of secrecy from thereon out. I figured out an easier way to sneak into the Tucker house by climbing a tree in the yard and jumping, catlike, onto the roof, where Ruby would let me in. Every time I caught Craig's eye in the hallway, every time we descended the stairs to the basement, my pulse quickened and I wondered, Does he know? I would catch him looking at me for a moment too long and the panic would flutter in my chest. Craig started wanting to hang out more and more; sometimes, we wouldn't even get wasted.

Everything was almost fine until one day it all went to shit. I was with Ruby one afternoon, and we were having our usual argument.


"I can't."

"But I want you to, Ken! C'mon!"

"Sorry," I said, trying to sound like I was teasing. I needed to get off the subject somehow. She'd been asking me to sleep with her for a few weeks, now, and I couldn't let myself. It was hard, though: having to deny her so many times in every way imaginable. I knew it was only a matter of time before she won out.

A few minutes later I had to leave, and I was slowly walking backwards out of Ruby's room, imparting a kiss upon her before my departure, when I walked smack-dab into Token Black, who had apparently let himself in and was on his way to Craig's room. I froze, and I could feel Ruby stiffening behind me, the two of us staring at Token and him staring back at us with his eyes wide. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

So now I stood here as Craig choked me. He'd followed me home from school, presumably the first day he could get his hands on me after Token had informed him of my sins. My breath was haggard and my eyes were watering, my vision blurring fantastically. I tried to blink my eyes clear, and I was surprised to see that Craig looked tearful as well. I thought that I wasn't seeing correctly. In the twelve years that I'd known the kid, I didn't think I had ever seen him cry. Not once, not even after falling down on the playground in kindergarten or anything. I knew I was right when his hold on my throat began to relax, though.

"Craig...?" I softly asked.

"Fuck you, McCormick. Fuck you..."

"I'm really sorry, man. I know how wrong it was. I didn't mean for this to happen, she just... she just started kissing me one day, and- no, wait, no: I'm sorry; I shouldn't be blaming her, I'm at fault just as much as..." Nothing I was saying seemed to be helping, so I stopped. Craig had sunken to his knees and was looking down, angry tears falling to the dusty ground. I kneeled down in front of him. "I'll hazard a guess that this isn't about, um, Ruby and I?"

"Just fucking forget it," he said in a low voice that actually sort of frightened me - it was the sort of voice that I imagined a monster under the bed would have.

"C'mon... What's wrong?" I was speaking in a deathly quiet tone, afraid that Tucker would leap at my throat again in another fit of rage. He said nothing, so I tried to peek under his bowed head to get a glimpse of his face. His eyes were closed, his dark brow furrowed. Well, fuck.

We sat like this on our knees for a long time, both of us silent, Craig's broad shoulders shaking a little bit. I finally worked up the courage to place a hand on one of them. It only seemed to make him shake even harder, though. Still, I kept my own trembling hand there. Then I tried again, "I know I'm probably the last person you wanna talk to right now, but you can tell me anything, man." He finally looked up when I said this.

"You don't get it, Kenny. You really don't." The apathy was strong as ever in his voice, even though he was sitting in front of me with tear-stained cheeks. I swallowed nervously.

"Try me."

He looked as though he regretted saying anything at all. "I, um." The sky was growing dark. Craig seemed to be searching for the right words, working himself up to something. "I... I'm not mad about... what you did with my sister. For, um. The reasons you think."

After a pause, I hesitantly asked, "So... you're not mad because you want to protect Ruby from me...? Why else would you be mad?" I thought for a second. "I haven't been gypping you on the price of your skunk, man, I promise. And, hey, we even use my stuff half the time, dude-"

"It's not that."

"Then what?"

"It's that... I... It has nothing to do with Ruby, really. It could have been... anyone else, as far as I'm concerned." He waited, as if that suddenly clarified everything.


"Fuck, Kenny. Do I really have to spell it out?"


He sighed and rolled his eyes, which were still a bit red. "You were screwing the wrong Tucker."

"I wasn't screwing her! She kept trying to make-" I froze midsentence. "Wait, what?"

"I'll see you later, Kenny," he said, standing up and walking back the way we had come, towards his house. I stood up, too, wanting to call him back but too in shock to say anything or move. So I just stood there as the first stars came out, watching his retreating figure escape into the darkness.




If you enjoyed this story, remember to check out the original artwork that inspired it!