The Shoretown, Texas curfew for minors began Fridays at midnight. But at 1:00 a.m., our arms cradled toilet paper and nine dozen eggs as we leapt from Nolan’s fence and darted across the wheat field toward East Dune Elementary. Only Nolan had attended East Dune, but that was years ago. He, Howdy, and I were freshman now, and after our first hometown football game, we’d stashed our band uniforms in Nolan’s room and plotted our break to April Ashleigh’s house. As a junior, cheerleader, and drum major, April Ashleigh had little use for our names. “Hi Boys,” were the scraps on which we lived. But egging her car and streaming miles of toilet tissue across her father’s crape myrtles felt vital to our hopeless adoration.
“Slow down!” Howdy whisper-shouted. At fourteen years old, he had yet to reach five feet tall.
“Hurry up!” Nolan said.
Stealthily, I passed them, quiet and quick on my feet.
We reached East Dune and tiptoed down the tin-roofed corridors. I had never left my bedroom after curfew, much less trespassed on government property. I felt grown now. Free. But when we turned the C-wing corner, the scene across the courtyard broke our stride. In a faint pool of moonlight, April Ashleigh crouched against a metal beam. Her sobs echoed off the concrete, and her t-shirt hung loose—maybe torn?—off her shoulder. A muscular figure towered above her. We recognized him even without his last name spelled across his back: Chavez. Hours earlier he’d strutted across the end zone; now he stood still and ominous. He mumbled something and reached for her. April shook her head and said, “No.”
We did not move. Then Nolan, with a courage I envied and cursed, yelled, “Leave her alone!”
They turned to us. But before either responded, a bright light flashed on our backs and voices called from the distance: “Police! Freeze!” In the glare, I saw only pistols.
As instructed, we surrendered our tissue and eggs and raised high our hands. We pointed and pleaded, insisting our friend was in trouble. A flashlight scanned the corridor, but the emptiness fashioned us liars.
Handcuffed, we slid into the patrol car, begging, to no avail, the officers find April and Chavez. Nolan fumed. Howdy sobbed. Doom swelled in my gut.
“What if he hit her?” I whispered.
“Or worse,” Nolan replied.
“What if he’s killing her right now?” Howdy cried.
The officers hushed us, and we reached the station—and our cell—in silence.
On Monday morning, we met in the band hall. As witnesses to a crime, we agreed to accompany each other everywhere. But in the foyer before the first bell, we came to face-to-face with April Ashleigh. She stopped and looked at us, but offered no “Hi, Boys.” Then she shouldered her way to the stairwell, glancing back to find us watching.
* * *
Fifteen years later, while posting pictures on Facebook, I received a message from Chavez.
“You probably don’t remember me,” he writes, followed by something about Shoretown High.
“I remember you,” I reply.
Then after a moment he types, “It wasn’t what you think.”
I am stunned. I respond: “That night has so tortured my imagination, whatever actually happened would probably disappoint me.”
“It won’t,” he assures. “I wanted to tell you then but couldn’t. Do you want to know?”
I hesitate before typing YED. In my anticipation, I have forgotten how to spell.
There is a pause, followed by the flicker of gray ellipses that indicate he is writing. Two minutes. Five. Ten. They vanish, and an endless blue box appears. I absorb it as if all at once. The words seem gigantic in their shaming of my wildest fantasies, revealing how far from adulthood Nolan, Howdy, and I had stood that night, with nothing but a prank on our minds, when in front of us worlds were crumbling.
Enjoy this video of the author reading “The Minors” at Read 360:
Photo by Paul van de Velde, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by John Mitchell Morris. This essay was first published in Read 650’s April 2018 anthology titled Back to High School: True Stories of Disses, Kisses, and Near Misses and performed at Read 650’s live event at the Ossie Davis Theater at the New Rochelle Public Library on April 29, 2018.