“What’re you buying, school supplies?” Wes scoffed and turned back to the candy shelf, debating the merits of gummy worms versus chocolate.
“Yeah, actually, since that’s what our parents gave us money to buy.” Tommy sighed, wishing his best friend would grow up a bit. “What’re you gonna do on Monday when you don’t have anything to write with, just a pile of Twizzlers?”
“It’s not exactly your problem anymore, is it? You’ll be in the smart-kid class.” Wes ducked his head, pulling crumpled dollar bills out of his pocket and concentrating far too hard on counting them to hide his reddening face.
“That’s not fair. We’ll still see each other on the weekends!”
As much as he wanted to believe nothing would change, Tommy couldn’t convince himself, let alone Wes. The air in aisle thirteen was laden with what-ifs as a rare moment of silence passed in between the boys, each scared of what was left unsaid. Wes checked his Star Wars watch, same as Tommy’s, they had a matching set from Tommy’s ninth birthday. “We should go soon. Dinner’s in fifteen.”
Tommy nodded and gathered an armful of notebooks and pens, avoiding eye contact and striding towards the checkout. Wes pretended not to notice the Star Wars folder Tommy had left behind, or the brand-new leather watch on his best friend’s wrist.
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Tommy pedaled painstakingly slowly, wobbling from the weight of bags on his handlebars. The sun crouched low to the horizon, stretching the boys shadows. Wes stared at the ground, remembering the days before Tommy got a bike for getting straight A’s, when they would walk side-by-side, tossing a basketball back and forth, shoulders bumping.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Wes’s basketball echoed hollowly along the empty streets. “Hey Wes?”
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. “Yeah?” He didn’t look up from his dribbling.
“Do you ever think about how maybe some people are just moving faster in life than others?” Thud. The dribbling stopped. “I guess…”
Tommy continued, wobbling across the street. “Maybe some people want to stay close to others, but they just can’t.”
“Why not?” Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
“Maybe they’re just moving too fast. They’re just drifting farther and farther apart, even if they don’t want to.” Tommy’s voice cracked.
“Can’t one of the people just slow down?”
“If you’re on a bike, you’ll fall over if you go too slowly.” Tommy teetered over to one side before regaining his balance.
“Maybe one of the people really wishes he had a bike, but he just doesn’t.” Thud. The basketball ricocheted off of Wes’s shoe and into the bushes.
Tommy’s brakes squeaked as he slowed down to wait for Wes. “Yeah, maybe.”
Conversation was sparse and strained as they neared 36th st, where they turned opposite directions to get home. The dying light slipped away and the air turned gauzy.
“A bike can always stop and wait.” Wes said softly.
“What if the bike wants to go fast? What if the bike wishes his friend was a bike too?”
Tommy’s bike squeaked again as he rolled to a stop at 36th Avenue. He turned to Wes. “I’ll miss you, you know?” And Wes did know.
“I’ll miss you too.” And Tommy knew they weren’t just talking about Monday anymore.
Wes slung his arm around Tommy’s shoulder, their shadows becoming one for a split second before Wes broke away and grabbed his basketball. “Bye, Tommy.”
Tommy sped off as Wes trudged toward home.