Jess's Ford roaring up my driveway woke me up. I looked at the clock, 7:15. I was supposed to be awake at 7:00.
I was in the shower when I heard Jess yell from my front room, "You lazy bastard! We're going to be late!"
Breakfast would have to be a Pepsi and a chew of Copenhagen, no time for cereal. I had just got my shirt on, clinging to my wet skin, when Jess and I eased down the hill in his faded blue pickup.
"Well," Jess breathed out. "What do you think it'll be like this year?"
"Don't know," I said. "I failed English last year, so I have to take bonehead English with the kids who can't spell 'cat.' Other than that I've got auto shop for the first three periods: two hours of vocational, and the third one I'm teacher's assistant." I rolled down the window and let the cool air breeze over my hand and arm. The rushing air filled the cab and blew little specks of dust around and in my eyes. My eyes teared up, and I rubbed the grit from them, and when the air had cleared I opened them again.
Jess wound the truck down Wards Ferry Road.
"Moss's Creek," Jess said as we crossed the one-lane bridge.
"Yep," I said after taking a swallow of soda. "Good old Moss's. We had a pretty good time there."
"Hell yes," Jess exclaimed. "We had an awesome party there. We were singing 'Gin and Juice' until the sun come up. Nobody even knew the words."
"Why'd we start singing that?" I asked but cut him off before he could answer. "Oh, I know, because Tuff brought a bottle of cheap-ass gin his sister bought him."
"Yeah," Jess agreed. "Boy, that gin was bad."
"Tasted like sawdust."
"That was cheap damned gin. I think there were bits of wood floating around in it."
The dilapidated farmhouses and cow pastures outside my window soon gave way to the gas stations and restaurants of downtown.
"Remember when Reb got arrested right there?" I said, pointing to the spot in front of the library.
"Yeah," Jess said through a knowing smile. "What was that, parade weekend?"
"Yeah," I answered. "Remember we had the bed filled up with coolers of ice and beer, and by about midday Pam kept taking her top off?"
Stifling a laugh, Jess said, "Ol' Pam. She's shameless, ain't she? There were little-kid marching bands and the 'Sierra Ladies' on their horses all walking by, waving and playing their instruments, and there's Pam up on my roof with her tube-top pulled up over her head and around the back of her neck. Looked like she was wearing a harness. There are still dents up there from that day," he said, pointing up to the round indentations in the ceiling of the truck cab.
"We lost this mirror a couple weeks later," I said and made a circular gesture outside my window where a rearview had been. There was still a bracket remaining from when Jess backed through a barbed-wire fence and one of the posts wrenched the mirror off.
"Hell, the worst abuse this truck took was when nobody at all was driving. I had Jenny laid out in here, and her foot popped the shifter into neutral. We were down at Brewster's place up on that little hill above his cabin. I sit up to take her pants off, and I look out the window and yelled, 'Oh shit! We're rolling!' I scrambled down with my left hand and crammed the brake on right before we slid into that tree. The front bumper's still creased in the center."
I thought about the jukebox days of summer. Sitting on chrome bumpers, sipping beer from silver and blue cans, and riding down to the lake in the bed of the truck, singing "You Shook Me All Night Long" and "Rock and Roll All Night." I put my hand out the window and let the air run over it. I made an aerofoil out of my hand and forearm and shifted the pitch of my palm to let the wind push it up, and then with a lazy arc from my wrist I let it be pushed back down. Up and down. Up and down, bobbing and cutting through the oncoming breeze. But always pushed forward by my shoulder and the seat of the pickup and the tires on the road and Jess behind the wheel and his foot on the accelerator.