Trevor and Nicky became friends when they first started school. Most everyone in Titusville knew each other, but these two were best buddies since five years old. A slight little imp, Nicky hadn’t grown a whole lot since they met playing kickball on the Kindergarten playground. Trevor stood up for him any time someone picked on the little guy, so Nicky figured he owed him. No one chose Nicky when splitting up teams in gym class, but Trevor always called his name first if he was captain.
Nicky idolized the bigger boy and didn’t judge him for his family’s station in life. He didn’t care if Trevor’s clothes were dirty or his hair hadn’t been cut since summer time. None of that mattered to him. He followed Trevor’s lead and tried to kiss girls at recess as they ran screaming for a teacher’s help. Every time the ring leader ended up in the principal’s office, his mischief brought Nicky right along in tow.
Their small town had a main street running its length, a lone grocery store at the end with a single cash register just inside the front door. Mr. Walker ran the place after his father died and left it to him, but the man was old enough to be dead himself. Kids took advantage of his bad hearing and pop-bottle eyeglasses in giving themselves five-finger discounts at the store. Trevor and Nicky were no exception.
Trevor wielded a weekend supply backpack from a local charity. It sagged with canned goods to give him something to eat when he wasn’t at school, something otherwise not available to him at home. But a supper of Skettios lacked the appeal of malted chocolate balls and red hot gummies there for the taking at Mr. Walker’s store.
“It won’t hurt no one, Nicky,” he’d say. “That old guy’s rich. Don’t you see his Cadillac parked out back? He’s got money to spare.” The boy usually stole out of necessity, but he sometimes turned the process into a nonsense game to pretend his plight wasn’t so serious. If he could persuade Nicky of that being true, maybe he could convince himself.
Nicky, on the other hand, held a healthy sense of guilt and a gut full of holy roller fear. He told his friend, “My grandma knows Mr. Walker. She’ll ask the preacher to send us straight to H – E – double hockey sticks if she knows we was stealing from his store.”
Trevor’s overblown confidence grew from being dirt poor, but his desperation gave him a bravado otherwise foreign to any other kid his age. He also realized how to work his friend’s lack of self-confidence and quipped, “Come on, Nicky. Quit being such a baby.” He appointed Nicky as look-out and told him to distract Mr. Walker with his gift for babble.
Nicky asked, “Well, whaddaya want me to say to ‘em?” Big brown eyes bugged out of a disproportionate head that almost capsized his stick-thin body and mimicked the look of a bobble head doll he once got as a freebie at the AAA ball game down in Florrisant. The bolder boy told him, “Just start talkin’ – talk about the weather. That always works with the old ones.”
The thieving pair never imagined Walker might have a .22 hidden under the counter. His livelihood would be at stake if he didn’t. All the business owners in town started packing after the Skelly station out on the state highway got robbed. Nobody paid any mind to the fact $80 and a multi-pack of Skoal had been the only things stolen in the incident. “Better safe than sorry,” they all said. Mr. Walker felt the same way.
Nicky’s distraction lasted long enough to allow Trevor to make a run for the door, pockets stuffed with candy. The proprietor only saw a vague figure flying out the front with a bulging backpack flailing behind it.
The man barrelled out from behind the counter. He’d grabbed the gun from below the register and swung it out wide, knocking Nicky to the floor in the process. Walker’s poor eyesight hindered his aim. A wild shot followed no precise path and, lucky for Trevor, didn’t meet its loosely intended mark. It did, however, catch a can of vegetable soup amongst the goods in the Eastpak bag the boy pulled through the air in his flight from the store.
Nicky found his footing and made it outside the store, where he discovered his friend face forward and flat on the sidewalk with his splayed limbs marking an “X” where he lay. Two perfect holes in his backpack showed where a bullet pierced the fabric, with thick red liquid flowing where the soup trickled out from the exit. Nicky feared the worst and screamed out for his friend, “Trevor, NO!”
He didn’t know soup from blood and fell to the ground next to his best friend. The boy grabbed handfuls of bubble gum from the ground where it fell from Trevor’s pocket and chucked it forcefully back to the storefront. “No! Don’t die, Trevor!” He cried, “It wasn’t worth it.”
Trevor recovered well enough to roll over and grab Nicky. He shook the boy to bring him back to his senses. “It’s okay! I’m still here,” he assured him. “Don’t worry. I ain’t goin’ to Hell. Not yet anyway.”