54. We’re Not In This Together

“We’re not in this together.”

“Screw you, dude.”

The officer studied the two boys – mere teens, really. The shorter one – the one who spoke – had his jawline covered in small, shallow cuts. Someone was too eager to start shaving, it seems. The other boy was what you would describe as lanky. With his fair, freckled face and thin frame, the officer was almost sure that he was a favorite of the girls and the bullies at school.

“Well then,” the officer spoke to them in a practiced, leveled tone, “You boys had better start getting round to explaining yourselves, or I’ll have to come up with my version of the event for the report.”

The short one exhaled heavily, and the lanky one sat back and rolled his eyes. The latter spoke first.

EARLIER

“We’re not in this together.”

“Man, shut your trap!” Ronnie hissed at his friend, eyes fixed on the cross wire fence and the complex beyond, “You were in this three hours ago, so shut up, man up, and let’s get this over with.”

Alex considered, for a brief moment, knocking Ronnie out cold and hightailing back home. In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to do exactly that; but in that moment, it seemed unwise. Ronnie had a hungry look in his eyes. He’s a maniac, Alex thought, a kleptomaniac, to be exact; he got his kicks from doing things like these, but he’s also way too much of a scaredy-cat to do it on his own.

Dear lord, what had he gotten himself into?

“You brought the scissors?” Ronnie turned to ask.

“Man, you go on ahead if you want,” Alex put his hands up, “I’m not going on with this. First of all, it’s illegal. Second of all-”

Ronnie interrupted with a string of obscenities that made Alex feel embarrassed just for hearing it. “We’re doing this, ‘kay?” Ronnie spoke with a crazed, frantic desperation, “You want to go home and forget about this? You’d best start packing your things while you’re at it, but there’s no —-ing way you’re stepping back into school. I will defame you. I will humiliate you. I will destroy you. You got that, Lexie?”

Alex swallowed hard. This guy was like a heroin addict who has went on for too long without getting a fix.

“Chill, dude,” Alex passed the garden shears over to him. Ronnie snatched it from his grip and immediately set off to cutting a hole in the fence.

“No alarms, no CCTV, no security,” Ronnie laughed as the leveraged steel made short work of the flimsy obstacle, “It’s like they’re asking for something like this to happen.”

Alex thought about proximity sensors and silent alarms, but kept his mouth shut as Ronnie completed the hole in the fence and climbed through. Praying to God that everything would turn out fine, Alex followed, and broke the law for the first time in his life.

EARLIER

“We’re not in this together.”

“Nuh-uh, yes we are.”

Alex stared at his new friend and soon-to-be accomplice, bewildered. “Do you have any idea what you’re getting into, here?” he asked, and Ronnie nodded enthusiastically in return, which only added to his confusion.

“You’re crazy,” Alex said.

“C’mon, dude,” Ronnie said, his voice charged with electricity, “This is going to be the adventure of a lifetime. Life is meant to be lived!”

“I don’t want to end up in prison!”

“It’s a run-down mall, no one gives a —-. Besides, you owe me one.”

Alex sighed. He did. What choice did he have?

“Minimum security, I’ve checked out the place,” Ronnie said, “Doesn’t even have security guards. Just a lousy old fence around it, and a gate that they lock after 10. We’ll be in and out before anyone even knows we’ve been there.”

Murphy’s Law came to mind. Alex had a bad feeling about all of this.

“Aw, wipe that glum look off your face, Lexie!” Ronnie punched him in the arm, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

EARLIER

“We’re not in this together.”

That was what Jayden said before bolting off, leaving Alex to face the group of schoolyard thugs on his own. Two of the thugs wised up and filled in the gap that Jayden had escaped through, completing the semicircle and trapping Alex against the wall.

“Look, guys,” he put up both hands before him, “It doesn’t have to go this way, alright? I’m sorry I gave you the wrong answers on purpose, but-”

The next thing he knew was that he was doubling over, sinking to his knees as his middle cramped up from the impact of the punch. His forehead met the dirt, and he heard one of them speak – he guessed it was the one with the blue cap on backwards.

“Too late for sorries, pal,” came the unforgiving voice, “Ya done messed us up, so we be messing ya up good now.”

Alex braced himself for the next impact when another voice came calling.

“Hey – HEY! Back off from him! He’s helping me out!”

“Wha-?”

“Yeah, you heard me. Back the —- away. Don’t make me say it again.”

“But this fella gave us trouble, it’s only fair-”

The owner of the first voice found his words stuck in his throat, and Alex felt a cold tremor run through the group surrounding him. With a quick shuffling of feet, he heard them back away and make their exit. He managed to get up to his knees when he saw the hand before him, offering assistance.

“You alright, man?”

“Mostly,” Alex replied as he was helped to his feet, “Nothing’s broken, so I’m at least thankful for that.”

“Name’s Ronnie,” his surprisingly short savior introduced himself, “You?”

“Alex.”

“I don’t know about you, Alex,” Ronnie said, his eyes glinting, “But I think we’ll make good friends.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Alex said, smiling in return.

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