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FREE TO READ: How It All Got Started 001: Alex

Monday, June 18, 1984

Alex Kent woke up on his first post-high school Monday morning knowing exactly what he wanted to do with his day.

He wanted to see Angel.

He saw her Friday, the last day of school, forever (for him; just for the summer for her). He talked to her on the phone for a bit on Saturday, like they often did. There was little risk of losing touch with her over the summer. She was his closest female friend.

Not a girlfriend. Just a friend who was a girl.

And yet…

Lately, Alex sensed something shifting when it came to Angel. Today, for whatever reason, that shift felt more like a fast slide, heels first, ass bumping fast on the grass.

Huh.

Eleven days away from his eighteenth birthday and still frustratingly without a car or a license, Alex got on his twelve-speed bike and pedaled. And thought.

Maybe it was the graduation thing. Granted, it still felt like just another summer vacation, but Alex knew it was not.

There was no more school unless he wanted it, and even if he did, with his grades and lackluster attendance that meant junior college for a year or two.

Then there was his father’s prodding for him to get a job, which went from half-serious to a dedicated assault the moment they got home from the commencement ceremony.

Life was about to begin. Adulthood beckoned. Or threatened.

Or… something.

Bottom line: it was in sight.

Maybe it was just Angel. They could talk for hours. He had stacks of her letters and notes from the last two years.

He smiled and felt a little quiver in his belly that was not unpleasant. There was no denying she was stacked to the ceiling… and she had those big, dark eyes.

Alex pedaled down the Abbeque Valley Parkway bike lane and thought. The miles slid by. He turned down her street and braked in front of her house.

Angel stood on the covered porch.

Someone was with her.

“Alex!” Angel walked across the small yard to meet him. “What are you doing here?”

At school, they had greeted each other with hugs as often as his other friends gave each other high-fives, or the finger.

There was no hug vibe today.

“I was in the neighborhood?”

“Yeah, right!”

“Well, I was once I rode here. How’s it going?”

The other person on the porch stepped forward and was revealed to be some dude Alex didn’t know.

A big dude. He had at least a foot on Alex, which made him a foot and a half taller than Angel. His sleeveless sweatshirt was a broad square of gray cotton across his chest. He was blond, like Alex, but this guy’s hair was sun-dyed yellow-white, not Alex’s sandy variety.

Angel made introductions. “Alex, meet Mike Dante. Mike, this is Alex, who is, like, only one of my best friends in the world.”

Alex shook hands with Mike Dante. Mike applied a touch more pressure than absolutely necessary, just long enough to send a message. He wore a friendly, empty smile.

Mike’s eyes carried the same confident challenge Alex had seen so often on the faces of many, many, jock-ass bullying fuckers. “How’s it going.”

“It’s been going great.” Alex hoped his gaze silently communicated, “until you showed up.”

Alex met Angel’s eyes when she looked from one guy to the other. She squinted and smiled, both slightly.

“So, are you on your way somewhere?”

“Nope. First day of summer. First day of everything. Thought I’d come see you.”

Unspoken: It’s the first day of the rest of my life and I chose to get on my bike and haul ass halfway across town to see you.

“Well, I’m honored, Mr. Kent.” Her voice was light, but he noticed the minor confusion in her smile.

Alex was a little confused, himself. What brought him here, again?

Who was this guy?

“So… how do you two know each other?”

Mike said, “Angel and I go to the same church.”

“Oh, that’s cool.”

Mike nodded. “Where do you go to church, Alan?”

“It’s Alex.”

“Oh, yeah, right. Sorry. Whatever.” Another smile-challenge. “So, where?”

“I don’t, really.”

“Oh.” Two letters, one vowel, one consonant, one syllable and about a ton of subtle judgment.

Angel said, “I tried to get Alex to come to mine…”

“Kinda far.” Alex reckoned it was about half as far from his house as the distance to Angel’s house.

Where he had ridden his bike today.

To see her.

Mike tossed a few straws of hair off his forehead. “But you’re a Christian, right?”

“Sure.”

Alex and Angel exchanged a small smile. Alex remembered praying with her for their friend Rod, who everyone thought was under attack from a couple of witches at the school. It was one of those super-dramatic times that bring people together, even if it had all (probably) been in their over-active, hormonally-charged imaginations.

Mike put himself slightly between Angel and Alex. “That’s cool,” he said. “Just not much for church, right?”

“Pretty much.”

“That’s cool.”

Some uncomfortable silence in the front yard, then.

Angel bounced toward the house. “The iced tea should be ready. I’ll bring some out. You guys, like, get acquainted.”

Pretty much at the same time, Mike enthused, “Awesome!” Alex added a jaunty, “You got it!”

Angel went into the darkness of the house. Mike and Alex stared at each other.

“Let’s go sit down,” Alex said.

“You’re probably tired from riding your bicycle.” Mike’s condescension was so precise, he might as well have said “tricycle.”

“Not really,” Alex said.

Lame!

They sat. Alex ended up on a ratty folding chair. Mike claimed one side of the porch swing. The open space to his left was the only place left for Angel to sit when she returned.

Alex felt stupid and small and increasingly pissed off. Again: why had he come here?

Mike glanced toward the house. Angel made noise in the kitchen. Mike nodded at Alex.

“You remind me of… what’s that thing, the wire with the fuzzy stuff on it?”

Alex knew this asshole was trying, really hard, to insult him. He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Mike shot a thick arm at him, index finger first. “I got it!” He snapped his fingers. “A pipe cleaner! You remind me of a pipe cleaner.”

Less than two weeks from being the age when he could vote and get drafted and be tried for bloody murder as an adult, and Alex was being insulted—poorly—by a stupid cross between a surfer and a jock. He might as well be a freshman again.

Was that what post-high school was? You start over, back at the bottom, except now the entire world is ahead of you?

His primary defense mechanism activated: Alex smiled and echoed back, “A pipe cleaner?”.

“Yeah. A pipe cleaner.” Mike nodded. He had his own smile in place: a cheerless, menacing, territory-grabbing smirk. “You guys are just friends, you and Angel. Right?”

“She’s my best friend,” Alex said. He hoped his tone carried a warning. He doubted it would penetrate.

“Awesome. I bet you’d be stoked for her if she got together with a real nice guy.” Mike stretched his arms across the back of the porch swing, poised to encompass Angel’s narrow shoulders when she inevitably sat down.

“All she has to do is find one,” Alex said.

Angel came out. Mike’s arms shot down and and he folded his hands in his lap. Maybe he wasn’t as confident as he came across.

Jerks like him never were.

Alex smiled at Angel. She carried a pitcher of iced tea and three glasses on a tray. She glanced at both of them, and Alex was sure she had the score.

“What are you guys talking about?”

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The Sovereign Era, The Shaper's World, Daikaiju Universe, Protector Universe, Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights, How It All Got Started, Thing, Carson Meunetti, Lina Porter, Alex Kent, Crystal Dubois, Abbeque Valley, Dana Cove, Pinnacle Records, Hagar's and related characters, institutions, situations, and representative depictions in media are trade marks of Matthew Wayne Selznick.
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