Thick Summer

Called me to say you were driving down from Clay County, be in Orlando by noon. Told you eastside was  about an hour from the parks though. Said you knew but I knew. 

Showed up around two-thirty, truck so big you parked it way back and sideways. Asked if my roommate still  worked for Harley. Lit a menthol as you tucked in a wad of chew. 

Wondered what was good to eat nearby, and I said nothing but chains around here. Offered to get me Hooters. Said I don’t do titties and I don’t do beer: “Well lookie-loo.” 

Talked me into the Taco Bell on 50. Said hell, why not, you got vet gut, I don’t teach now. Told me lunch was your treat, mister man all of twenty-two. 

Busted my ass just about getting in your truck, though I have six inches on you. Felt your tires nip the lane  guards the whole time. Laughed at oncoming SUVs not knowing what to do. 

Ordered a bean burrito and a cheese quesadilla. Told you to skip the pork rindy churros. Asked what the  hell had happened to me: “Fine, then—side of potatoes, too.” 

Had a fire sauce competition, thick summer boredom. Knew you never saw mine, didn’t matter. Took down six-seven-eight-nine packs before I jumped to the Mountain Dew. 

Thought about asking when you were gonna but I didn’t. Thought about asking when I was gonna but you  didn’t. Let the nacho cheese and beef juice sit on your thick fingers, neon goo.  

Looked at the faggy doodles on my forearms: “Just those?” Had our father’s eyes meet our mother’s eyes: “Can’t afford to be a coloring book.” Waited five years for my next tattoo.  

Asked what-all you planned next. Told me you wanted to stop by the Harley, talk to my roommate about  military discounts. Brought your papers, even your dress blues.  

Feel that afternoon etched on my neck even still. What is brotherhood but a long truce? Texted you instead of a call this year: “Happy birthday to you.”

KJ Shepherd lives in Austin, Texas.

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