They never did it when the neighbors were home. The Olivers’ cars were nowhere to be found every Tuesday afternoon from 3:15 to 6:00: their “holy window” of time. It was an established and honored weekly tradition – Chu would come home from class, drop his backpack in the hallway, grab a bag of Cheetos from the creaky kitchen cupboard, and exit out the side door to meet the other boys in their detached garage.
“It feels like this place gets fucking smaller and smaller every time we’re in here,” Chu heard Austin bark as he lifted the old garage door from the ground to duck underneath. “Am I wrong?”
“That’s in your head,” Christian already had the bong resting in his lap. “But, like… what a thought.”
“We haven’t even started yet,” Chu saw dust rise from the sofa against the dim light as he sat down. That’s gonna look much cooler in about twenty minutes, he thought. But for now, it just reminded him how desperately they needed to clean this dingy room.
“How was food science?” Matt looked up from his phone at Chu.
“I about bashed my head in. My academic counselor person said that was supposed to be the easiest science class – goddamn horseshit.”
“I can barely see in here,” Austin moaned from an armchair in the corner.
“Your dad owns the house, fucknut. Ask him to install some lights,” Christian was grinding away at the cannabis.
“These awesome lava lamps aren’t enough for you? I feel like they add to the vibe.” Matt began to materialize from within the darkness, displaying a signature smirk painted proudly on his face. Chu sighed. Austin chortled. Christian packed the bong.
“Where are the markers?”
“Right here,” Chu held up a mega-pack of permanent pens in a wide variety of colors. He shook the package. “Some are, of course, missing.”
“I think they’re under this cushion,” Matt squirmed and dug his hand into the crevice of the couch. “I vaguely remember… hiding them?” A flame from Christian’s lighter flickered in the darkness.
“Why the fuck would you hide markers?”
“Ask me after I’m high.”
“Fair enough,” Christian quickly closed his lips around the mouthpiece and Chu heard him suck the smoke billowing in the chamber.
“Matt does dumb shit like that all the time,” Austin leaned forward. “He doesn’t have to be high, either.”
“Right. Most of the time it’s when I’m drunk.”
“Were you drunk when you threw that glass bottle out a third-story window last year?” Chu shifted in his seat.
“That was stress,” Matt crossed his legs and then un-crossed them. “I think it was – yeah, it was the fucking entrepreneurship midterm.”
“That was hell,” Austin took the bong out of Christian’s outstretched hand, bringing it to his mouth with such force, Chu noticed him flinch. He doesn’t know his own strength, he said to himself.
“Remember when I punched through the drywall in the living room after that public speaking presentation?” Christian had reclined in his seat.
“I thought that was because you were showing off,” Matt laughed. “Wasn’t – what’s her name – Annie here when you did that?”
“Allison. And no, this was, like, a weekday afternoon.”
“Annie was last semester,” Austin smirked as he passed the bong to Matt.
“Right. From our political science class.”
“That was a killer,” Austin leaned on the arm of his plush perch. Austin always took the most comfortable chair. “I started taking Adderall because of that class.”
“That shit made you so psycho,” Chu held out hand for the bong prematurely. Matt, still breathing in the weed, pulled away instinctively. Chu saw the small tornado inside the glass swirl a little faster.
“But it was the only reason I made it out alive. Berringer – right, Christian? – Berringer had it out for me.”
“You skipped class. You skipped all the time.”
“That fucking class!” There was a low, collective “huh-huh” as the boys chuckled. Matt handed over the bong and the lighter. Letting out every ounce of air in his lungs, Chu flicked the lighter a few times before it caught. He hugged his mouth around the top of the bong – I don’t think we’ve ever acknowledged how unsanitary this is – and lowered the small flame until it lightly touched the bowl.
“Personally, I think this semester is the worst I’ve had,” Matt sighed.
“I can agree with that.”
“Hey – no one coughed. Not even a little,” Matt’s gaze floated across the room, his eyes finally beginning to adjust to the absence of light.
“Of course we didn’t, we’re not—”
“Alright, shut up, Christian. No one wants to hear it.” Chu made himself pull the bong away from his face. “Here,” he straightened up halfway to deliver the sacred vessel across the small coffee table into Christian’s waiting hand to start the process over again.
Chu’s eyes morphed into two hyper-focused headlights. He went from searching his friends’ faces, watching their mouths move and form shapes to watching their hands. As time progressed, they danced less and less and less and less until they just sat and stared at each other – their hands, that is. Their mouths continued to function well after their hands had decidedly given up. Christian, head leaned completely backward on the arm of his chair, was the first to suggest they pick up markers.
“Maybe in a ssssss-second,” Austin hissed. Chu blinked. Matt reached for a light pink pen.
“No,” Chu heard himself say. “Not pink.”
“You’re gonna draw – a vagina.”
“I’m not,” Matt giggled. “I’m – I’m actually not.” Chu followed his friend’s hand, which held the marker lazily, as it rose from the table, passed the couch, and met the wall. In that moment, the foreground fell away and his focus shifted to what had been a mere backdrop for the last half hour.
The wall of the small garage had introduced themselves to the boys as off-white, chipping, deteriorating canvas not two years prior. Chu laughed at the idea of shaking hands with a wall. Firm grip you’ve got there. More laughter.
“What?” Austin’s voice came from a mouth halfway-buried into the fabric of his headrest.
“Nothing,” Chu didn’t take his eyes off of Matt’s hand, which had started to create wispy lines. He forced his vision to zoom out, gazing upon what the garage wall had become since they’d moved in. From these weekly rituals came the only thing that the four of them could truly agree was beautiful. Not some movie; not a song; not even a girl – nope. It was this magical fucking wall.
Color where there had been a ratty eggshell hue. Dragons playing poker where there had been peel. Though the rest of his body couldn’t be bothered to move, his eyes were more active than ever – isn’t it strange that the opposite was true every other hour of the day? – dancing over rolling green hills and underwater scenes and onto the neck of a naked woman lying across a bed of pineapples gathered around to read Shakespeare sonnets. They pine, Christian had said when he’d drawn it up a few months ago. But beyond the comprehensible figures were the patterns and tapestries and colorful montages of light and dark shades that reminded Chu of the most important moments of his life, somehow. A spiral curled around a long tube was his first kiss with Erica Wise and now that he thought about it, it was probably his first sexual experience too because of the symbols but why didn’t it remind him of having sex with Jessica Lo then? Because she didn’t curl, right. She didn’t contain that kind of delicacy she was more like that dragon except she wasn’t playing poker she was kind of bulldozing him in bed which 17-year-old him found sexy and scary and that’s how he felt about every girl from then on, was that normal? Maybe that’s what he’d draw today. A bulldozer.
Even now in his memories and the occasional dream she reminded him of some kind of machinery, something with sharp lines and an unforgiving engine, maybe even a – you know – a thing that crushes cars and he was the car. But then he realized he could never draw something like that because Jessica didn’t deserve that, it was her first time, too, before she went off to that college across the country and he only saw her on social media now, and somehow that made his heart twitch – was it twitching if it was sore?
Christian was adding something that looked like a mouth, or did everything just look like a mouth, no he was definitely drawing a mouth, but it wasn’t human. Austin filled in a seashell he’d spent hours to build last week and Chu figured he was finally hearing the ocean which had been the plan all along. To hear the ocean or to see the ocean or to be swallowed by it – something like that. But Austin was too strong a swimmer to drown. Maybe Christian wanted to speak up more.
Was Matt drawing a flower – he promised he wasn’t going to draw a vagina but that could definitely be a vagina but it could also be a lily or some shit, maybe it was both? He looked focused which is hard for him since his ADHD is raging and he was typically all over the place, wait, was it ADHD or ADD, Chu should know this, he’s his best friend. Thank god this wasn’t one of those TV shows with a narrator that said everything he was thinking or else Matt would probably be a little hurt that he couldn’t remember what goddamn disorder he was working with. Matt’s drawing a flower. He’s not all that original. We tell him that he’s not creative all the time but, well, he’s creating that flower so that’s something, right? But it could be a vagina – Matt is immature and not creative and Chu’s best friend. Chu decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and declare that he was drawing a flower but his mouth didn’t open so maybe he’d just announce it to himself or maybe Christian’s mouth might announce it for him. Christian chewed on his sleeve and Austin sunk to the floor and Matt pressed his nose to the flower and breathed in the same way he’d breathed into the bong. Chu looked up. He’d drawn a bulldozer.