R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author Suspense Urban Fantasy Fantasy Dystopian SCI FI
T he   girl’s   eyes   scanned   the   shelves   comparing   the   prices against   the   change   laid   out   in   her   open   palm.   She   came   in every    day    around    three    o’clock.    Roy    figured    what    she bought each day was her main meal. She    ate    best    those    days    she    found    a    good    haul    of aluminum   cans   on   the   road.   Today   wasn’t   one   of   those   days. What   would   she   do   if   there   was   no   recycling   machine   in   the parking lot? She     never     went     very     far     up     the     highway     in     any direction.   Could   have   done   better   if   she   did.   She   acted   as though   she   wasn’t   supposed   to   leave   the   little   motel   across the street. Eyes    always    darted,    not    just    at    the    ground    for    the precious   cans,   but   up   and   down   the   highway,   as   though   someone   she   hid   from   might drive along. Two   weeks   ago,   Roy   began   riding   his   bike   two   miles   in   each   direction,   collecting the cans outside her range, and scattered them along the median for her. It   was   a   hard   job.   He   wasn’t   allowed   to   ride   on   the   asphalt.   He   worried   about getting flats, as he bounced along the rough gravel at the edge of the road. Roy   dragged   his   five-year-old   Converses   across   the   worn   tile,   hands   tracing   over the   Qwik-Pick’s   hodge-podge   of   products,   trying   not   to   look   like   he   studied   her   every move on the opposite aisle. Today I will talk to her. I won’t chicken out. Her   favorite   was   the   Boy-Are-Dee   Ravioli.   But   it   was   expensive,   so   she   usually opted   for   the   white   label   chicken   soup.   When   the   sweet   rolls   began   to   get   green   on   the edges   and   Mr.   Rashad   put   them   on   sale   for   thirty-seven   cents,   she   eagerly   bought them. On   Mondays   she   usually   bought   what   Mr.   Rashad   called   the   day-old   bread.   They were   at   least   a   week   old   before   the   man   from   the   city   brought   it   to   them   to   stock,   and it always sat in the store as fresh bread then for a week first. In   the   past   she   had   bought   three   of   the   big   jars   of   peanut   butter.   Never   sodas   or milk. Must drink a lot of water to get that peanut butter down. He   didn’t   know   much,   but   working   there   as   he   had   the   last   year,   he   preferred   to make   the   twenty-minute,   one-way   trek   on   his   bicycle   once   a   week   to   the   real   grocery store for his own groceries. He would never tell Mr. Rashad that. The girl didn’t have a bicycle. Or proper shoes. She has one thing in common with me. I’ll buy me some nice shoes one day. Could   she   be   like   him?   Special?   Never   spoke   much.   Never   said   hello   to   Mr. Rashad.   Only   answered   in   yeses   and   nos.   Mr.   Rashad   had   given   up   trying   to   get   her   to talk. No one else tried. She   must   have   only   the   one   dress.   If   it   ever   got   dirty,   she   washed   it   in   the   sink   at the motel. But she always had it ironed nicely. He respected that. He   learned   at   the   group   home   to   iron   his   shirt   everyday,   because   it   came   off   the line   looking   like   an   old   rag.   That   was   one   of   the   things   he   had   to   master,   to   get   out   of the home. Just another few feet. She sure is pretty. Roy made the corner and faced the girl. She hadn’t noticed him yet. “Roy. Bring a couple cases of those sodas they delivered this morning up front.” He jumped. “Aaaaaah.” “Calm down, Roy. Take a slow breath. I’m not mad at you.” “Okay, Mr. Rashad.” Roy   stood   still   and   studied   a   spot   on   the   floor   for   a   moment,   before   turning   and shuffling   toward   the   back.   He   didn’t   want   the   girl   to   hear   the   loose   rubber   on   his   right shoe flap. I need to ask Mr. Rashad if he has any glue. He   nearly   knocked   cans   off   the   corner   shelf   as   he   rushed   by.   He   muttered   to himself   to   be   careful.   But   he   had   to   complete   his   task   before   the   girl   left,   or   he’d   have to wait another day. He   rushed   to   load   the   sodas   on   the   trolley-thing.   When   he   came   out   from   the back   he   almost   dropped   the   sodas.   His   chest   tightened.   She   was   gone.   He   peered   out the   windows   for   her,   catching   sight   of   her   for   a   moment   as   she   disappeared   around the corner of the motel across the highway. “Ohhhh. Not another day. No, I messed up. Oh Roy.” He   jerked   at   the   touch   on   his   shoulder.   His   short   fingers   slipped   on   the   handle   of the hand truck. He lurched to keep hold. “Good catch, Roy.” “Oh, thank you Mrs, Mrs—” “Barnet.” “Ahhh    haaa.    That    must    be    the    third    time    you’ve    had    to    remind    me.    Barnet. Barnet. I promise I won’t forget again, Mrs, uh Mrs. Barnet.” “I know you won’t Roy. What has you upset?” “Oh,   that   really   pretty   girl.   I’ve   been   wantin’   to   say   hello   to   her   every   day.   But something just keeps getting in the way.” “The   one   you   told   me   you   saw   get   off   the   bus   a   couple   weeks   ago?”   the   bent-over woman asked. “Twenty-one    days.    She’s    been    staying    at    the    Star    Light    for    twenty-one    days. That’s a long time to stay in a motel, isn’t it, Mrs. Barnet?” “Yes it is, Roy.” “Another   woman   came   that   first   time   with   her.   But   she’s   never   been   back.   That’s really odd.” “You told me about that, Roy. Do you think the woman is her mother?” “She doesn’t look really old. The pretty girl is about my age, doncha think?” Mrs. Barnet smiled. “Did I say something funny? And I didn’t even try.” “Put   that   up,   Roy,”   the   woman   suggested,   pointing   to   the   sodas.   “We   can   talk while you do that, can’t we?” He   looked   down   and   studied   the   top   of   the   sodas   for   a   moment   and   his   face puckered up. “I   don’t   know.   Mr.   Rashad   doesn’t   like   me   to   talk   while   I   work.   He   says   I   mess   up when   I   talk.   He   doesn’t   like   me   to   mess   up.   I   haven’t   messed   up   in   days.   He   told   me just last night I had a really good day.” “Congratulations, Roy. I’m glad for you.” “Did   you   need   me   to   carry   something   for   you   up   to   your   apartment?   Mr.   Rashad liked it the other day when I did that.” She   smiled,   reached   to   propel   him   up   the   aisle   in   front   of   her.   “Where   are   you supposed to stack that, Roy?” “Right   up   here   with   the   others.   See?   Right   here.   Is   that   right,   Mr.   Rashad?”   he shouted. “Don’t shout, Roy.” “Oh,    yeah.”    He    set    down    the    sodas.    “Mr.    Rashad    says    shouting    disturbs    the customers.   I   wouldn’t   want   to   do   that.   I   don’t   think   I’m   ever   going   to   meet   that   pretty girl.” “Well,   why   don’t   you   take   her   a   little   gift   this   evening?   I’ll   bet   you   know   what room she’s staying in.” “Yes,   ma’am.   I   can   see   it   from   my   room   over   the   hardware   store.   What   kind   of gift should I take her?” The   woman   started   to   speak,   but   smiled,   and   patted   his   arm.   “It   isn’t   as   much about what you give, as why you give it,” she said. Roy scrunched up his face. “Why is that?” “Why do you want to talk to her?” Mrs. Barnet asked. “This   place   is   boring,   and   I   want   someone   to   talk   to.   Not   that   I   don’t   like   talking to you, Mrs. Barnet.” She   lifted   her   head,   a   smile   gleaming.   “Maybe   you   shouldn’t   mention   to   her   that you’re    bored.    Maybe    just    tell    her    you    wanted    to    be    neighborly    and    make    her acquaintance.” Mr.   Rashad   found   new   work   for   him,   and   he   shuffled   off.   He   was   in   the   back before he realized he hadn’t told Mrs. Barnet goodbye. That disturbed him. An hour later Mr. Rashad told Roy he had to leave for the day. “But I’m not tired, Mr. Rashad. I can unpack the rest of those boxes.” “We’ve talked about that. Only so many hours they let you work here a day.” “I   just   don’t   understand   that,   ’cause   then   I   just   go   and   rake   leaves,   or   wash windows.    I    like    my    other    jobs    too.    But    I    see    lots    of    people    here,    and    the    air conditioning   feels   really   nice.   I   wish   I   had   air   conditioning   in   my   apartment.   Oh!   Mr. Rashad. I have something else to do today.” The merchant smiled patiently. “What’s that, Roy?” “I have to pick a gift for the pretty girl.” “You aren’t going to bother her, are you? We talked about that.” “No.   I   promise,”   he   said   snapping   his   head   back   and   forth.   “If   she   seems   like   she doesn’t   want   me   around,   I’ll   go   away.   I   promise.   Mrs—uh—Mrs.   Barnet   said   to   tell   her I wished to make her acquaintance.” “Well,    just    don’t    come    on    too    strong,”    Mr.    Rashad    said,    patting    him    on    the shoulder. Roy nodded, but had no idea what the man meant. He   walked   up   and   down   the   aisles   trying   to   decide   what   he   could   take   her.   He mumbled   to   himself   as   he   got   agitated,   and   Mr.   Rashad   came   over   and   told   him   to take a few slow breaths. The   man   suggested   a   few   things.   Nothing   seemed   right.   Roy   thought   hard   about the    idea    of    picking    some    wild    flowers    out    in    the    field,    but    that    sounded    too sweetheart-like. He finally decided on the sweet rolls she liked, and a pint of chocolate milk. He   rushed   to   his   apartment   to   clean   up   and   put   on   a   fresh   shirt.   The   evening traffic   heading   for   the   estates   east   was   starting   to   grow   heavy.   Roy   had   to   stand   in   the hot   sun   a   long   time   for   a   chance   to   snake   between   the   cars.   He   fretted   he   was   staining the fresh shirt with sweat, before he was able to run across. The proper way to cross was the first thing he had to master at the group home. He   stood   in   front   of   the   door   a   long   time,   working   up   the   courage,   and   the   right words, before he knocked. “Who is it?” bled through the door. “It’s—it’s   R—Roy   from   the   Qw—Qwik   Pick,”   he   said.   He   fought   at   the   anxiety bubbling   inside.   He   took   a   slow   breath   like   he   was   always   told   to   do.   “I   brought   you something.” “You have a delivery?” barely seeped through the door. “I didn’t order anything.” Roy   swallowed   hard.   “Mrs—Mrs—ohhh—Mrs.   Benard,   I   mean   Barnard,   no,   Mrs. Barnet told me to tell you I was being neighborly.” “I don’t understand.” “Ohhhhh.”   Roy   stamped   his   right   foot   a   couple   times,   and   the   loose   flap   of   the sole flopped. He studied it for a moment, forgetting what he was upset about. A   moment   later   the   door   opened   a   crack.   The   safety   chain   reached   across   the pretty girl’s face. “I’m not supposed to talk to anyone,” she said. “I’m not supposed to bother you. If I am, I’ll go away,” Roy said. She   looked   from   his   face   down   to   the   paper   bag   he   carried.   “You   said   you   brought me something. Why?” “Mrs. Barnet said that was neighborly. I don’t know what that means.” “I have to go,” she said, closing the door. “Okay,”   he   said   through   the   door.   “I’ll   just   leave   this   here   for   you.   I   hope   the   milk doesn’t go bad.” He scrunched up his face. “Ohhh, the surprise, I messed it up.” He   stepped   back   and   turned   to   leave,   before   remembering   to   leave   his   gift.   He whirled   back   around   and   set   the   bag   on   the   ground   against   the   door,   and   walked toward the noisy highway. He   looked   up   at   the   evenly   spaced   cars   that   trailed   out   to   the   horizon.   Some   of them   had   their   lights   on   now.   He   groaned.   He   hated   crossing   the   highway   when   it   was busy like that. The   rule   was   he   couldn’t   cross   if   a   car   was   close   enough   to   him   that   he   couldn’t walk   slowly   across   without   it   slowing   down.   He   had   already   broken   the   rule   once   that day. He   walked   back   to   the   low   cinderblock   wall   that   surrounded   the   tiny   swimming pool    in    the    middle    of    the    parking    lot,    and    squatted    in    the    bit    of    shade    the    wall provided, to wait. He   watched   the   pretty   girl’s   door,   hoping   she   would   snatch   her   gift   before   the milk   got   hot.   He   was   so   excited   when   a   hand   snuck   out   a   few   minutes   later   and   pulled back his surprise that he jumped up and poked a fist in the air. He   turned   for   the   highway,   his   body   vibrating   with   joy,   his   face   filled   by   a   full grin of success. “I   gave   the   pretty   girl   a   gift.   I   talked   to   her.   I   finally   talked   to   her.   That   was   so cool.   I   gave   her   a   gift.   I   know   she’s   gonna   like   it.”   He   shook   his   fists   together   in   front of him as he walked. “Maybe   she’ll   talk   to   me   tomorrow.   I’ll   bet   she   will,   ’cause   she   likes   those   sweet rolls. And who wouldn’t like chocolate milk. It’s the greatest.” He   laughed.   “I   know   there’s   no   such   thing   as   chocolate   cows.   That’s   so   silly.   Larry liked to tease me about chocolate cows. He was funny.” A horn blared and Roy jerked. I forgot! The   sound   of   the   brakes   made   Roy   close   his   eyes   tight.   He   threw   his   hands   in   the air. “I’m sorry!” he screamed, “I’m sorry!” There were more screeches. Then there was an ear splitting explosion. Roy felt the pain in his legs first. He whipped right and flew through the air. He was going to be in trouble. Roy   heard   his   own   grunt   as   his   limp   body   ground   into   the   asphalt.   He   opened   his eyes as the grill of another car rushed at him. I hope the pretty girl likes my— © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
Roy’s Gift T he      girl’s      eyes      scanned      the      shelves comparing   the   prices   against   the   change laid    out    in    her    open    palm.    She    came    in every     day     around     three     o’clock.     Roy figured   what   she   bought   each   day   was   her main meal. She    ate    best    those    days    she    found    a good   haul   of   aluminum   cans   on   the   road. Today    wasn’t    one    of    those    days.    What would    she    do    if    there    was    no    recycling machine in the parking lot? She     never     went     very     far     up     the highway   in   any   direction.   Could   have   done better   if   she   did.   She   acted   as   though   she wasn’t   supposed   to   leave   the   little   motel across the street. Eyes    always    darted,    not    just    at    the ground   for   the   precious   cans,   but   up   and down   the   highway,   as   though   someone   she hid from might drive along. Two   weeks   ago,   Roy   began   riding   his bike   two   miles   in   each   direction,   collecting the   cans   outside   her   range,   and   scattered them along the median for her. It   was   a   hard   job.   He   wasn’t   allowed   to ride    on    the    asphalt.    He    worried    about getting    flats,    as    he    bounced    along    the rough gravel at the edge of the road. Roy         dragged         his         five-year-old Converses    across    the    worn    tile,    hands tracing   over   the   Qwik-Pick’s   hodge-podge of    products,    trying    not    to    look    like    he studied    her    every    move    on    the    opposite aisle. Today     I     will     talk     to     her.     I     won’t chicken out. Her     favorite     was     the     Boy-Are-Dee Ravioli.     But     it     was     expensive,     so     she usually   opted   for   the   white   label   chicken soup.   When   the   sweet   rolls   began   to   get green   on   the   edges   and   Mr.   Rashad   put them    on    sale    for    thirty-seven    cents,    she eagerly bought them. On   Mondays   she   usually   bought   what Mr.   Rashad   called   the   day-old   bread.   They were   at   least   a   week   old   before   the   man from   the   city   brought   it   to   them   to   stock, and    it    always    sat    in    the    store    as    fresh bread then for a week first. In   the   past   she   had   bought   three   of   the big   jars   of   peanut   butter.   Never   sodas   or milk.   Must   drink   a   lot   of   water   to   get   that peanut butter down. He    didn’t    know    much,    but    working there   as   he   had   the   last   year,   he   preferred to   make   the   twenty-minute,   one-way   trek on    his    bicycle    once    a    week    to    the    real grocery    store    for    his    own    groceries.    He would never tell Mr. Rashad that. The     girl     didn’t     have     a     bicycle.     Or proper shoes. She   has   one   thing   in   common   with   me. I’ll buy me some nice shoes one day. Could   she   be   like   him?   Special?   Never spoke     much.     Never     said     hello     to     Mr. Rashad.   Only   answered   in   yeses   and   nos. Mr.   Rashad   had   given   up   trying   to   get   her to talk. No one else tried. She   must   have   only   the   one   dress.   If   it ever   got   dirty,   she   washed   it   in   the   sink   at the    motel.    But    she    always    had    it    ironed nicely. He respected that. He   learned   at   the   group   home   to   iron his   shirt   everyday,   because   it   came   off   the line   looking   like   an   old   rag.   That   was   one of   the   things   he   had   to   master,   to   get   out of the home. Just    another    few    feet.    She    sure    is pretty. Roy    made    the    corner    and    faced    the girl. She hadn’t noticed him yet. “Roy.    Bring    a    couple    cases    of    those sodas     they     delivered     this     morning     up front.” He jumped. “Aaaaaah.” “Calm   down,   Roy.   Take   a   slow   breath. I’m not mad at you.” “Okay, Mr. Rashad.” Roy   stood   still   and   studied   a   spot   on the   floor   for   a   moment,   before   turning   and shuffling   toward   the   back.   He   didn’t   want the    girl    to    hear    the    loose    rubber    on    his right shoe flap. I   need   to   ask   Mr.   Rashad   if   he   has   any glue. He   nearly   knocked   cans   off   the   corner shelf    as    he    rushed    by.    He    muttered    to himself     to     be     careful.     But     he     had     to complete   his   task   before   the   girl   left,   or he’d have to wait another day. He    rushed    to    load    the    sodas    on    the trolley-thing.   When   he   came   out   from   the back    he    almost    dropped    the    sodas.    His chest   tightened.   She   was   gone.   He   peered out   the   windows   for   her,   catching   sight   of her    for    a    moment    as    she    disappeared around   the   corner   of   the   motel   across   the highway. “Ohhhh.     Not     another     day.     No,     I messed up. Oh Roy.” He   jerked   at   the   touch   on   his   shoulder. His   short   fingers   slipped   on   the   handle   of the hand truck. He lurched to keep hold. “Good catch, Roy.” “Oh, thank you Mrs, Mrs—” “Barnet.” “Ahhh    haaa.    That    must    be    the    third time    you’ve    had    to    remind    me.    Barnet. Barnet.    I    promise    I    won’t    forget    again, Mrs, uh Mrs. Barnet.” “I   know   you   won’t   Roy.   What   has   you upset?” “Oh,    that    really    pretty    girl.    I’ve    been wantin’   to   say   hello   to   her   every   day.   But something just keeps getting in the way.” “The   one   you   told   me   you   saw   get   off the    bus    a    couple    weeks    ago?”    the    bent- over woman asked. “Twenty-one   days.   She’s   been   staying at    the    Star    Light    for    twenty-one    days. That’s   a   long   time   to   stay   in   a   motel,   isn’t it, Mrs. Barnet?” “Yes it is, Roy.” “Another   woman   came   that   first   time with   her.   But   she’s   never   been   back.   That’s really odd.” “You   told   me   about   that,   Roy.   Do   you think the woman is her mother?” “She   doesn’t   look   really   old.   The   pretty girl is about my age, doncha think?” Mrs. Barnet smiled. “Did    I    say    something    funny?    And    I didn’t even try.” “Put      that      up,      Roy,”      the      woman suggested,   pointing   to   the   sodas.   “We   can talk while you do that, can’t we?” He   looked   down   and   studied   the   top   of the    sodas    for    a    moment    and    his    face puckered up. “I   don’t   know.   Mr.   Rashad   doesn’t   like me   to   talk   while   I   work.   He   says   I   mess   up when   I   talk.   He   doesn’t   like   me   to   mess up.   I   haven’t   messed   up   in   days.   He   told me just last night I had a really good day.” “Congratulations,    Roy.    I’m    glad    for you.” “Did   you   need   me   to   carry   something for   you   up   to   your   apartment?   Mr.   Rashad liked it the other day when I did that.” She   smiled,   reached   to   propel   him   up the   aisle   in   front   of   her.   “Where   are   you supposed to stack that, Roy?” “Right    up    here    with    the    others.    See? Right   here.   Is   that   right,   Mr.   Rashad?”   he shouted. “Don’t shout, Roy.” “Oh,    yeah.”    He    set    down    the    sodas. “Mr.    Rashad    says    shouting    disturbs    the customers.   I   wouldn’t   want   to   do   that.   I don’t    think    I’m    ever    going    to    meet    that pretty girl.” “Well,   why   don’t   you   take   her   a   little gift   this   evening?   I’ll   bet   you   know   what room she’s staying in.” “Yes,   ma’am.   I   can   see   it   from   my   room over   the   hardware   store.   What   kind   of   gift should I take her?” The     woman     started     to     speak,     but smiled,    and    patted    his    arm.    “It    isn’t    as much    about    what    you    give,    as    why    you give it,” she said. Roy    scrunched    up    his    face.    “Why    is that?” “Why   do   you   want   to   talk   to   her?”   Mrs. Barnet asked. “This     place     is     boring,     and     I     want someone   to   talk   to.   Not   that   I   don’t   like talking to you, Mrs. Barnet.” She   lifted   her   head,   a   smile   gleaming. “Maybe   you   shouldn’t   mention   to   her   that you’re    bored.    Maybe    just    tell    her    you wanted    to    be    neighborly    and    make    her acquaintance.” Mr.   Rashad   found   new   work   for   him, and   he   shuffled   off.   He   was   in   the   back before    he    realized    he    hadn’t    told    Mrs. Barnet goodbye. That disturbed him. An   hour   later   Mr.   Rashad   told   Roy   he had to leave for the day. “But   I’m   not   tired,   Mr.   Rashad.   I   can unpack the rest of those boxes.” “We’ve     talked     about     that.     Only     so many hours they let you work here a day.” “I    just    don’t    understand    that,    ’cause then    I    just    go    and    rake    leaves,    or    wash windows.   I   like   my   other   jobs   too.   But   I see     lots     of     people     here,     and     the     air conditioning   feels   really   nice.   I   wish   I   had air   conditioning   in   my   apartment.   Oh!   Mr. Rashad.     I     have     something     else     to     do today.” The       merchant       smiled       patiently. “What’s that, Roy?” “I have to pick a gift for the pretty girl.” “You    aren’t    going    to    bother    her,    are you? We talked about that.” “No.   I   promise,”   he   said   snapping   his head   back   and   forth.   “If   she   seems   like   she doesn’t    want    me    around,    I’ll    go    away.    I promise.   Mrs—uh—Mrs.   Barnet   said   to   tell her I wished to make her acquaintance.” “Well,   just   don’t   come   on   too   strong,” Mr.     Rashad     said,     patting     him     on     the shoulder. Roy   nodded,   but   had   no   idea   what   the man meant. He    walked    up    and    down    the    aisles trying   to   decide   what   he   could   take   her. He   mumbled   to   himself   as   he   got   agitated, and   Mr.   Rashad   came   over   and   told   him   to take a few slow breaths. The     man     suggested     a     few     things. Nothing   seemed   right.   Roy   thought   hard about     the     idea     of     picking     some     wild flowers   out   in   the   field,   but   that   sounded too sweetheart-like. He   finally   decided   on   the   sweet   rolls she liked, and a pint of chocolate milk. He   rushed   to   his   apartment   to   clean   up and    put    on    a    fresh    shirt.    The    evening traffic    heading    for    the    estates    east    was starting   to   grow   heavy.   Roy   had   to   stand in   the   hot   sun   a   long   time   for   a   chance   to snake   between   the   cars.   He   fretted   he   was staining   the   fresh   shirt   with   sweat,   before he was able to run across. The   proper   way   to   cross   was   the   first thing he had to master at the group home. He   stood   in   front   of   the   door   a   long time,    working    up    the    courage,    and    the right words, before he knocked. “Who is it?” bled through the door. “It’s—it’s   R—Roy   from   the   Qw—Qwik Pick,”    he    said.    He    fought    at    the    anxiety bubbling   inside.   He   took   a   slow   breath   like he   was   always   told   to   do.   “I   brought   you something.” “You    have    a    delivery?”    barely    seeped through      the      door.      “I      didn’t      order anything.” Roy                   swallowed                   hard. “Mrs—Mrs—ohhh—Mrs.    Benard,    I    mean Barnard,   no,   Mrs.   Barnet   told   me   to   tell you I was being neighborly.” “I don’t understand.” “Ohhhhh.”   Roy   stamped   his   right   foot a   couple   times,   and   the   loose   flap   of   the sole   flopped.   He   studied   it   for   a   moment, forgetting what he was upset about. A    moment    later    the    door    opened    a crack.   The   safety   chain   reached   across   the pretty   girl’s   face.   “I’m   not   supposed   to   talk to anyone,” she said. “I’m   not   supposed   to   bother   you.   If   I am, I’ll go away,” Roy said. She   looked   from   his   face   down   to   the paper     bag     he     carried.     “You     said     you brought me something. Why?” “Mrs.   Barnet   said   that   was   neighborly. I don’t know what that means.” “I    have    to    go,”    she    said,    closing    the door. “Okay,”   he   said   through   the   door.   “I’ll just   leave   this   here   for   you.   I   hope   the   milk doesn’t   go   bad.”   He   scrunched   up   his   face. “Ohhh, the surprise, I messed it up.” He   stepped   back   and   turned   to   leave, before   remembering   to   leave   his   gift.   He whirled   back   around   and   set   the   bag   on the   ground   against   the   door,   and   walked toward the noisy highway. He   looked   up   at   the   evenly   spaced   cars that    trailed    out    to    the    horizon.    Some    of them   had   their   lights   on   now.   He   groaned. He    hated    crossing    the    highway    when    it was busy like that. The   rule   was   he   couldn’t   cross   if   a   car was   close   enough   to   him   that   he   couldn’t walk     slowly     across     without     it     slowing down.    He    had    already    broken    the    rule once that day. He   walked   back   to   the   low   cinderblock wall   that   surrounded   the   tiny   swimming pool   in   the   middle   of   the   parking   lot,   and squatted    in    the    bit    of    shade    the    wall provided, to wait. He     watched     the     pretty     girl’s     door, hoping    she    would    snatch    her    gift    before the   milk   got   hot.   He   was   so   excited   when   a hand   snuck   out   a   few   minutes   later   and pulled   back   his   surprise   that   he   jumped   up and poked a fist in the air. He    turned    for    the    highway,    his    body vibrating   with   joy,   his   face   filled   by   a   full grin of success. “I   gave   the   pretty   girl   a   gift.   I   talked   to her.    I    finally    talked    to    her.    That    was    so cool.   I   gave   her   a   gift.   I   know   she’s   gonna like   it.”   He   shook   his   fists   together   in   front of him as he walked. “Maybe   she’ll   talk   to   me   tomorrow.   I’ll bet   she   will,   ’cause   she   likes   those   sweet rolls.    And    who    wouldn’t    like    chocolate milk. It’s the greatest.” He   laughed.   “I   know   there’s   no   such thing    as    chocolate    cows.    That’s    so    silly. Larry    liked    to    tease    me    about    chocolate cows. He was funny.” A horn blared and Roy jerked. I forgot! The    sound    of    the    brakes    made    Roy close   his   eyes   tight.   He   threw   his   hands   in the air. “I’m sorry!” he screamed, “I’m sorry!” There   were   more   screeches.   Then   there was an ear splitting explosion. Roy   felt   the   pain   in   his   legs   first.   He whipped right and flew through the air. He was going to be in trouble. Roy   heard   his   own   grunt   as   his   limp body   ground   into   the   asphalt.   He   opened his   eyes   as   the   grill   of   another   car   rushed at him. I hope the pretty girl likes my— © R. Mac Wheeler 2017