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     Everyone in Owen County knows Dare Winchel. Everyone in Owen County has either one of two opinions on the guy. Half the town – mostly the young half – thinks he’s alright, twenty-two with the house he got after his mother died. The house is always open if you need a couch to curl up on or a floor to pass out on. He’s the guy who lets you bum around his living room playing video games and rolling blunts, the guy who always has a couple cans of Bud in the fridge. Everyone says he let Marcus Davis and Graig Manuel hide in his basement after they knocked off the Gas n Go last year, the one who drove them to the Greyhound station and got them on the next thing smoking…kind of like a modern day Fagin, if you will. A real humanitarian.

     Dare’s the one who opened the gate to every fence on Monrovia Road and let the cows out because he said even a bunch of fat heifers deserved a running chance. The cows didn’t get too far and most of them still ended up being ground into someone’s Hamburger Helper.

     Still, it just made Dare seem cooler to us kids and made the cops angrier since everyone knew Dare did it but no one actually saw him do it and, questioning the guy? Good luck with that.

What, man? Someone let the cows out? That is outrageous! I demand to know who in this town would commit such an offense. Me? Oh no, Officer, it wasn’t me. I was home writing a letter to Mother Teresa and watching televangelists. You ever watch televangelists? Well, you should. They’ve got a direct line to the man upstairs. If anyone knows how your cows got onto route 20, I’m thinking it’s Him.

     Yeah, half the town thought that was the most hilarious setup since Edy Jones and Cannon Greene snuck into OCHS after hours to draw afros on the paintings of General Sherman and General Lee that used to hang in the front lobby. The other half? Not so much.

     That half – the mostly old half – thinks Dare Winchel is one step above the gutter.

     Isn’t that the awful boy who punched Principal Kelly during his freshman year?

     Isn’t he the one who streaked across the stage during that high school graduation ceremony wearing nothing but dirty running shoes and a pair of Oakley’s?

     Oh, and wasn’t he driving the night Joanie Beasley died?

     Joanie Beasley, the pretty girl who was popular just because she was pretty.

     I remember slumping on the back of the school bus with the rest of the eighth graders while we waited for the high schoolers to board. That’s how it was in Owen, elementary kids picked up first, then middle, then high school.

     Dare and Joanie were always two of the first kids out, smiling and holding hands and looking maddeningly awkward since Dare was six feet tall and Joanie was maybe five two at best. She was a T-Boz haircut and doorknocker earrings, dark red lipstick and nine inch acrylics, bibbed overalls and Timberland boots. Dare was knit beanies and button front flannels with the buttons purposefully in the wrong holes, ripped jeans and Chuck Taylors with the laces tied upside down.

     Hip Hop met Grunge and fell in love.

     Every day they’d get as far as the bus right next to mine, major PDA in the bus loop; and I was this stupid kid thinking how cool they were.

     News moves like wildfire through a place like Owen so I honestly don’t remember who first told me Joanie was dead. What I do know is that I’ll never forget when the high school bell rang and Dare walked out alone.

     He reached the center of the bus loop, then stood perfectly still, lips drawn and eyes fixed ahead. Like he knew what was coming and wasn’t going to fight it, maybe even wanted it because it was what he deserved. There was a gauze bandage on his forehead and his hands were open at his sides, no fists. Seconds later, he was on his knees, pummeled by possibly every black guy in the OCHS senior class and at least half the white ones.

     Bus horns blew like crazy.

     I slid down in my seat and cried.

Recommended2 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Young Adult (YA)