It’s a balmy December South Florida Friday night, only seventy degrees, and Santa is watching. Ian and the two best friends he made in fourth grade when his folks split up each tell their parents they’re staying at the other’s house, but at ten the fourteen year-olds meet in the parking lot of their town’s fledgling mall to wait on line for the latest iPhone.
For their night outdoors Ian carries a sleeping bag he snuck out of the garage. Abreem holds two Dr. Peppers and a bag of jalapeño and vinegar potato chips. Reed works at Starbucks. He’s the only one with cash in his pocket.
Street lights illuminate the shopping center landscape of fichus hedges and concrete sidewalks. The boys are the only ones there, so they stash the sleeping bag in a bush and walk a few intersections down to a strip mall movie theater. Screen thirteen features a flick Ian already illegally downloaded. Reed negotiates a discount and Abreem sneaks in the refreshments. After the movie they pee by a Dumpster behind the theater and then head back to the mall.
Three older Trekkie types with beer guts and graying beards are now in line. The boys grab the sleeping bag and claim a space behind them on the sidewalk. They stick their ear buds in and message each other and girls through their older model phones. The cracked face on Ian’s keeps him from clearly seeing the updated profile pic of a girl he likes. Abreem’s battery is almost dead so they zoom in on Reed’s to see if her bra is a bathing suit.
By two, no one else has shown up. The Trekkies give the boys twenty bucks to save their spots and go to sleep in their car. The boys recline in the shape of a disjointed cross with their heads all aligned and their lanky legs stretched out in opposite directions. Ian’s head rests on the rolled up sleeping bag. Reed's on Ian's disturbingly thin abdomen, and Abreem makes a pillow of the meatier part of Ian’s jean'd thigh. At five, some older girls show up and some young mom types in yoga clothes. The Trekkies get back on line and the boys sit up until six when an Apple Store employee brings the growing line inside.
The employee is an alumnus from the boys' high school and in a blue golf shirt he helps the Trekkies first. Two other guys all in the same shirt carrying the latest model devices escort Abreem and Reed to separate terminals. Ian's cracked phone vibrates in the front pocket of his jeans. Rather than the girl he texted last night, it's his dad. “Get home NOW.” But it's Ian's turn to go. He answers a few questions about his purchasing practices and watches a five-minute video demonstration. The resolution on the new phone is much better and he asks about the enhanced texting feature. Ten minutes later he meets Reed and Abreem back outside, all empty handed. Their parents already pre-ordered it. They've hacked into their emails and checked.
It’s eight and anxiety creeps. I pull up at my brother's late. I missed my nieces’ Friday night dance recital, which I promised I’d make. But I took the day off to finish a contest submission and the writing muse kept me waiting till three.
What's with all the cars? I thought this was a kid's thing. Good thing I bake when I should be writing and happen to have a contribution. I think I it's perfect this time - crazy chocolate crazy cake.
The story’s complete, but not sent yet. Midnight’s the deadline and a stronger resolution may still appear. In the foyer I share none of this when hugging my mother, just that a work meeting ran long, because like me she only values certain things.
My nieces, still in their tutus, run downstairs to greet me. Idolizing, forgiving. Thin arms wrap around me, their favorite aunt, of course. Their embrace, the best part, like a deep sound I absorb. The older one’s now my height. The younger one has my eyes.
I promise to let them later paint flowers on my nails and as they run back upstairs, I get an idea for a new story. Silently repeating the word flower, I walk into the kitchen where my sister-in-law orchestrates meal preparation.
Her friends still in work clothes take lids off to-go containers of overpromised contributions they didn’t have time to make. My cousin’s here too, with her teenage son, and the newest little bundle she christened last week.
Everyone was relieved when she divorced last year, but then much like the x, a rebounder grew roots from a seed planted too soon. She holds the drooling bundle out for me to hold, but I have a fear of baby germs and stumble an excuse.
Neighbors arrive with green bean casserole and toddler twins. My sister-in-law gives me a stack of pre-sliced cheese. “Take this out to your brother,” she says with a wink. She’s the only one who believes me when I say I'm happy.
Under a dusky summer sky my brother mans the grill, flanked by the husbands of the wives in the kitchen. They all hold bottles of microbrew beer, and as I hand over the cheese, my brother nods his head toward the cooler by his feet. I’ve known these flankers since high school, and, sipping along, enjoy their banter, storing it away for a story I hope to never finish.
Soon everyone’s outside and the burgers are done. I make a plate and sit in a chair that’s missing its cushion. My cousin sits next to me. She’s so glad I'm here, and, wrestling bites of casserole from the squirmy bundle’s reach, she asks, “Don’t you want one too?”
Before I can answer her boyfriend walks up. He works with my brother, who sent him for more beer. He leaves the case of Miller Lite Lime next to the cooler, hands back my cousin’s credit card, and pops open a can. "So, I hear you're a writer."
And just like that a better ending appears. I feign having to pee and camouflage my plate among the messy kid’s table. Upstairs in my niece’s room two hours go by. Thank God for deadlines or there’d be nothing left to submit.
Back downstairs the remaining adults are asleep. My nieces and their friends eat the rest of my cake and now I get my manicure.