"See-ya, mom…gotta go…" Skateboard in hand, he went through the kitchen in less than six steps and down the back steps before the door closed behind him.
"Be back here by dinner time!" followed him through the slowly closing door, his mother's voice from somewhere in the front part of the house.
Skateboard hitting pavement, he was on it and rolling, right foot propelling him forward, picking up speed, heading for the hill five houses down the street. Over the edge and into the slope, he was doing twenty-five miles an hour by the time he got to the bottom and banked low into a sharp left turn. Cars approaching the intersection from two different directions had to hit their brakes. Doing an Ollie, he jumped the curb on the right side of the street and worked the board in long wide curves, cut across the street into the school parking lot, pumped again and Ollie'd two stairs to the upper level walkway and again, two more stairs at the next sidewalk transition. Turning sharply into the wider walk, he headed for the stairs at the far end, jumping the planter and doing a rail-slide on the steel handrail down six stairs before landing again on concrete.
He loved the sensation of moving fast, of riding the flexible board, the adrenaline rush he got from attempting difficult transitions and changing directions, tricks with feet and rotating board. When he couldn't get to the beach or if it was rotten weather for surfing, he substituted the skateboard for surfboard. Six years of practice was paying off and he hadn't broken a bone in the last fourteen months. Sometimes broken bones didn't hurt as much as raspberries he'd gotten when asphalt and flesh met at high speed. He'd had a total of twenty-two stitches and four trips to the hospital since he'd first gotten on a board, and like buddies, was proud of each scar. What seemed to anger parents more was trying to keep him in shoes, but how could he keep up with the other guys and worry about stupid stuff like that.
Five minutes later he was at an older business strip parking lot behind a huge new popular shopping center. So were five of his best friends.
"Dude!" said one, foot on a board, making it stand up on end with just a touch of his toe. "What took ya so long? Let's do it…"
Serious-faced nods from the other four, each dropping boards and rolling across the lot in wide sweeping curves, shifting weight from left to right, hands deep in the pockets of baggy pants.
Left foot on board, he was moving again, already catching up with his friends. "Let's go over to the mall," he said casually, cool and almost aloof, "let's check it out…"
"Yeah," grinned one of the other kids, "let's check it out!"
A fast exchange of short comments.
"Seen the security guard down there at the donut place. What an' old fart. Let's do the main aisle…they got killer ramps…did you see me grind when I went down that curb? Man, I must have done twenty feet! My trucks are like, totally thrashed."
"Mine, too…gotta get me some new wheels, too. I wanta get me a new deck. Man, they really got some tight designs since I got this one."
"Dude, no lie. I'm gettin' a new deck, too. Hey…let's do that long ramp at the south parking lot…that's the most awesome ramp here."
"Dude; you know it, but I'm gettin' me a drink first."
They rolled to a stop at the new 7-11 and three went in to buy Big Gulps while three waited outside. A highly polished red Mustang drove up and the boys tried even harder to look cool when three teenage girls got out and went into the store, miniskirts and clogs showing off lots of legs. Pretending not to notice, no one said anything but each knew the others were thinking the same thing. When their pals came out with drinks, they stood in the sun, caps on backward, no one talking when the girls came out again and got back in the car.
When the girls drove away, the tallest kid wiped his mouth on his wrist. "Nice wheels; that was a sweet paint job."
"You said it," nodded one of the kids, crunching ice noisily between teeth.
They stood, James Dean cut-outs against the wall of the building, skateboards substituting for Colt 45s, young guns at the 7-11 O-K Corral. Cars came, cars left, the boy's eyes following the river of passing patrons, no one talking. Definitely cool.
"Let's do it," said the tallest, and they were rolling for the mall.
The line of boards carved through shoppers and cars in the huge asphalt lot, then turned and hit the main mall promenade, mothers pulling daughters out of the way as the six rolled past busy storefront shops. Everyone noticed, not all impressed in the same way, looks spanning spectrum from admiration to disgust. Young boys were enthralled. So were some young girls. Mothers were aghast. Fathers were pissed, grown men acting worse than hormone driven out-to-press- limits youth.
"Ass-holes!" said one man. "I'm calling the police," said another. "God-damn teenagers," said an up-tight business suit. Admonishments meant to offer wise guidance and garner respect?
The boys turned off the promenade and down a steep ramp to a wide swale in the drive, then up an even steeper ramp into the four level parking structure. By the time they got to the top of the building each were out of breath but doing their best to hide it. The building was less than half-full of cars and traffic was light to moderate. The six looked over the edge of the top railing at the street four levels below. No one spoke. Removing caps and rubbing burr-cut hair, they returned caps to heads like a troop of well trained dancers. A flock of noisy Western Gulls swooped in, landing below by an over-full dumpster to scavenge fast-food discards that had fallen to stained pavement.
A frustrated woman with a petulant pair of pubescent complainers was ignoring pleas for what gulls were feasting upon.
"You can eat when you get home," she said, obviously the last word from her point of view. Perhaps her offspring were deaf, whines and high-pitched protestations competing with raucous voices of gulls.
The boys looked at each other, eyes rolling to show disdain for the lame scene appearing below. For the next minute or two, the tallest kid examined something under his right thumbnail as if it was causing some concern, then stopped when he noticed the other five watching him.
"Last one to the bottom buys the next drinks…"
They were almost airborne at the first curve, sound of twenty-four smokin' wheels echoing louder than cars, six youths crouched into gravity-defying postures, centrifugal forces trying to part riders from boards. Other than the sound of wheels and air in their ears it was silent competition, cars and boards missing collisions by fractions as surprised drivers were faced with the low-flying crew, curses and honks echoing throughout the concrete structure. Blasting into sunlight some three feet off the ground, six boarders carved a sharp right down the center of the street and turned again at an ignored stop sign to the mall's rear entrance.
"Dude," said one, "did ya see that ass-hole in the Buick? Give me a break! No one wants anyone ta have fun."
Nods and shrugs all around.
"You fly," said one, nodding to the fastest. "I thought you were gunna buy that Toyota."
More nods and grins.
The fastest kid said nothing, but lips twitched, narrowed eyes searching the distance for nothing. Definitely cool. "Sure could go for some sun…I'm tired of all this cloudy shit."
More nods and serious expressions.
"Did ya hear Kev' got busted for 'boardin' at the post office?"
"Oh, yeah?" said one, uncertainty undisguised. "Like, when?"
"A couple a days ago. What a bummer."
"So, like…what's gunna happen? Is it gunna cost money?"
"What-a ya think? Someone's gunna have-ta pay for the ticket."
"What-a bunch-a bull-shit that is. Like, who's hurtin' anyone? No one wants anyone ta have fun."
"Right on, dude. It's all so bogus an' everything. I mean, like, someday, like when I get better, I'm gunna enter those contests an' make me a tight bundle, dude. Someday we'll be as big as fuckin' golf!"
"Right on, dude!"
More serious nods. More cool.
Rolling again, they ended up at the other side of the mall just as the security cop drove around the corner. The minute he spotted the crew, he accelerated so fast wheels burned rubber. Trying to block the main drive, he turned on the flashing lights and loud speaker.
"This is mall security. Stop where you are!"
The kids looked at each other and rolling eyes skyward, were off like the devil was on their butts. They passed the car before the guard had hardly gotten himself out of the seat-belt and were almost to the road by the time he'd gotten back in his seat and buckled.
Onto the main street, the boys took the downhill route and were doing thirty by the time they got to the turn, once again carving a sharp path across the street and a quick turn into an alley back of a business-center. They heard the short sharp scream of the security siren, then a metal-tearing crash, then nothing. They didn't go back to look. Once again back where they'd met, they paused and looked at each other, exchanged smug expressions and headed in opposite directions in groups of twos.
"See ya," said the smallest, the one who'd finished second in the parking structure race.
The others nodded and rolled, hands in pockets, all looking cool. Picking up skateboards, the boy and his pal walked for two blocks, listening to the sounds of sirens at the mall. When they got to the foot of the hill where he lived, he turned and stood with the other boy and watched a younger kid learning to blade, knees together, hands out to break certain falls. The two looked at each other and smiled almost shyly, then looked back at the younger boy. When the kid saw them watching, he turned and skated off awkwardly in the opposite direction, only once looking back over his shoulder to see if he was being followed.
The boy looked at his pal. "Gotta go," he said. "See ya tomorrow…"
"Later," said the other.
The boy walked up the long hill toward his house and when he got to the top, he dropped the board and skated it all the way to the steps.
"Is that you?" called his mom when he opened the back door.
"It's me," he answered, going to his room and putting the board on his bed, sitting down and checking out the wheels on the right side which had been making more noise than they had a week earlier.
"Where did you go?" asked his mother, standing in the open door of his bedroom, watching him spinning the skateboard's wheels.
A long silence.
"What did you do all afternoon?"
"Nothing…" He didn't look up.
"I was worried when I heard those sirens. I hope you're not out there getting in trouble."
He looked up from the wheels, deep-set eyes meeting hers, but said nothing, expression as empty as a stolen purse.
"I wish your father was still here…he'd…"
She didn't finish the thought out loud. Finally, wiping hands on a towel she'd been holding, she sighed, then turned and walked down the hall toward the kitchen.
* * *