Claire's gone for the summer. Someplace exotic with a beach. Tahiti, maybe, or Belize, or the Côte d'Azur; John doesn't remember exactly. She broke up with him before she left anyhow.
He might have put the moves on Allison, but she and Andrew are involved. Like, seriously involved. Like, if Allison weren't Allison, she might be picking out china patterns, involved. Hell, she might be picking them out anyhow. John wouldn't know.
So John is spending the hot evenings of late June avoiding his dad by hanging out behind the gym, even though there's really nothing to do back there with school being out and all, except for the summer school classes that the total losers and the overachieving geeks take. Vernon tried to make John take junior English over again, but that was never going to happen, even with the threat of having to spend an extra year at Shermer.
John works at the Sinclair station during the day. It doesn't pay much but it keeps him out of the house, and he swipes the occasional Hershey bar or bag of Cheetos. He figures they owe him that much.
Today he's sitting on the crunchy brown grass on the east side of the building drinking a Coke. He actually paid for that, but not the jar of maraschino cherries. It was ancient and dusty, lurking behind some canned cat food, and John thinks that there's some slight risk they might be too old to be safe, but he doesn't care. He takes a swig from the Coke and carefully pours some of the maraschino juice into the foam cup. Instant cherry Coke. Delicious.
"Taking cherries again?"
Brian is standing there, squinting a little even though they're in the shade at this time of day. John jerks his head to tell him to sit down.
"Naturally. And you're taking physics, or Latin, or something."
"Kind of shows the difference between us, huh." Brian licks his lips. His eyes are focused on John's Coke. John gives up and hands it to him.
"Don't drink it all."
Brian takes a good long gulp, though, pushing the limits. "Thanks. I owe you."
"You do." John raises the cup to his mouth, drinking, watching Brian.
"Um." Brian is the first to look away, down at the jar of cherries. "Can you do this?"
He plucks one from the jar and pops it, stem and all, into his mouth. His lips work. After a couple of minutes he pulls the stem out again; there is a knot in the middle of it.
John lifts his eyebrows. "Where'd you learn that trick?"
Brian turns red. "Boy scout camp," he mutters. "When I was twelve."
"Damn. Claire with her lipstick, and you with the cherry stem. I should've gone to camp, huh. How'd you do that?" John actually knows how, but he wants to hear what Brian will say.
"You kind of hold one end between your teeth and use your tongue. It just takes some practice."
"Uh huh." John isn't dumb. He knows why Brian has chosen this strategy to show off, even if Brian doesn't. He looks around. No one. The football team won't be out there until August. "Your dad picking you up here?"
"No. Bicycle today."
John takes a cherry, holds it up. "So. I want to know. Can you tie a cherry stem in someone else's mouth as well as in your own?" He grins, pops the cherry between his lips, and waits.
Brian's face becomes even redder. "I can try."
They go through the whole jar of cherries before Brian succeeds.