“What d’you wanna be when you grow up?” asked Steve.
“What kinda question is that?” responded Malachi. “I’m gonna be a machinist like my dad. Just like you. Right?”
Steve didn’t answer. He lay on the soft grass in the shade of a peach tree, his hands behind his head, and stared up at the sky. It was a perfect day: cool, with little whorls of warmth twisting up from the earth and down from the late fruit, as if summer and fall were flirting with each other. All the windows along Sycamore Street were open, and beside Sam’s house, the mouth-watering smell of baking bread made the boys’ stomachs rumble.
“Why, what you wanna do?” Malachi said.
Before Sam could answer, his little brother’s head emerged from the anthill he’d been examining. “The ants are looking for big bugs to fight the grasshoppers,” Benji said.
They ignored him. Everybody ignored Benji, because he never shut up. “I want to fly planes. Maybe the space shuttle,” Sam said.
“Whaaa? There’s no more space shuttles, genius. They’s all in museums now.”
“Well, whatever comes next, then.”
“Is blue a color?”
Sam sighed. “Yes, Benji.”
“Is orange a color?”
“You know what your problem is?” Malachi grabbed another peach from the pile beside him. “You gotta learn to be satisfied with what you got. Look at this. Nice shady spot to sit, all the peaches we can eat, and all in your back yard.” He tossed a peach.
Sam bit into the soft flesh. The juice ran down his fingers, sticking them together. He and Malachi had been friends since they were knee high to a chihuaua, but on the cusp of high school, there was no denying they just weren’t headed the same direction anymore. “So that’s enough for you? You don’t want something more?”
“Like what?” Malachi tossed the pit and wiped his fingers on the grass, then sniffed the air. “Matter of fact, I do. I’m thinkin’ a piece of that bread sounds like just the thing.”
Benji pounded on Malachi’s arm. “Can I tell you a joke?”
“What if a person went down the drain?”
Sam rolled his eyes. “I’m just saying,” he said, “there’s gotta be more to life than doing exactly what our dads did. Haven’t you ever wondered what’s out there?”
Malachi laughed and knuckled Benji’s head. Benji giggled and ran off singing his ABCs “rock star style,” which meant lots of air guitar and no pitch at all.
The boys scrambled up as Mr. Olivet, with his shock of wild hair that always seemed to be running away from his craggy features, stalked across the lawn toward them. “Yeah, you, ya little punks. Who told you you could sit under my tree and eat my peaches? Get outta here! You’re lucky I don’t call the cops!”
Sam grabbed Benji and dragged him toward home, away from the heady smell of late-season peaches and fresh bread and back to the house that smelled of stale smoke and leftover Chinese takeout.
Back. But not for good.