TWO NIGHTS LATER, THE SKELETON OF THE PLAN emerged in a text message Josh received at three in the morning from Nik. Gemma was in, Nik said. But he did not want to involve Valencia. The next morning, on the bus, he and Nik huddled in the back row of the bus. The diesel smell made Josh feel woozy.
“Vee doesn’t go to our church,” Nik said. “Though she would be a lot of fun.”
“Boston is great,” Nik said. “Great music scene, you got Cambridge, coffee shops, corners to busk.”
“Too cold,” Josh said.
“Hell, it’s spring up there, just like here—daffodils, trees, bunnies, all that crap. Don’t tell me you want to go to Tampa,” Nik said.
“It’s warm there,” Josh said.
“You just want to see your grandparents lived.”
“Jesus, Josh—Florida, the land of hurricanes and alligators and Cubans and old people,” Nik said. “There’s no… culture.”
Josh couldn’t help but laugh. He thought for a moment of South Dakota, of going to see his uncle. There was plenty of land out there, plenty of space to be with his friend. And that was the reason why they were going, wasn’t it: to be able to be friends? But he didn’t mention South Dakota, didn’t mention the pressure building behind his heart.
By the bus pulled into the school drop off zone, Nik won. The next day, Josh withdrew all eight hundred dollars from his checking account, sold his Nintendo and PSP handhelds for another two hundred at Gamestop, and copied information from two of his mother’s credit cards onto a small note card he tucked in his wallet. Gemma had nine hundred dollars and Nikko almost three thousand dollars. Josh had no idea where he got that kind of money, and didn’t ask.
The rest of the week, nervous excitement fluttered in his gut, and in school he couldn’t concentrate. At home, his mom hovered over him, asking him to eat, asking him if he’d done his homework, nagging him to empty Absalom’s litter box, which he kept forgetting.
They decided to leave Sunday afternoon. There was a special church meeting, to discuss the petition, which would occupy the parents. At the same time, the school play had rehearsal. Josh felt badly ditching the school play, and on Friday, at school, Gemma expressed the same remorse.
“Finally, I get a key part and bam!” she said. She joked about it, but when he looked at her face he could tell she was serious.
“And of course, the prom,” she said. “Nik doesn’t care, but Vee and I found these strapless black numbers and well, we were bringing shovels to pick up all the jaws dropped on the floor.”
They both laughed quietly over their lunch trays.
A warm front moved in on Saturday, making the temperatures soar into the nineties. Josh’s mom complained of a headache and slept much of the afternoon; his father mowed the tiny patch of a lawn and then worked on his sermon in the closed study. The silence felt the way Josh imagined air felt before a tornado struck: yellow and thick and still. Josh pulled clothes from his backpack, replacing the shirts, adding additional underwear and socks, then dumped the pack and started again. He had no idea what to bring: did he need toothpaste, should he bring his razor? For stubble had appeared on his chin and cheeks, as if his hormones understood he was about to leave childhood behind him forever.