Red Sumpter leans against the hood of his car, his thumbs hooked through his belt loops. He eyes the group of teenagers loosely circled around the car of his opponent a few meters away. The girls are gathered around the boy he’d challenged, Skip Hutchins. They whisper and giggle as they look from Skip to Red. He pretends not to notice their gawking glances, but he does, and they make him uncomfortable. He shakes off his nerves and reaches a hand up, smoothing his ink black hair back, and plucking the cigarette from behind his ear; he always kept one there. He catches it between his lips and swiftly pulls a lighter from his back pocket, lighting the cigarette and taking a long drag. As he blows the smoke out, he kicks his heels through the dirt.
He’d known that getting kicked out of school three months into the semester due to fighting didn’t bring joy to his mother’s life, but those kids were asking for it. He never went looking for trouble, but it seemed wherever he turned, trouble followed him as closely as his own shadow. When he had started at the new school he had tried his best to stick to the straight and narrow, but when Skip, the star baseball player, had taken a liking to making his life miserable, he wasn’t pleased. Naturally he challenged him to a game of chicken.
It’s not that Red was an adrenaline junkie or had something to prove, but then again, maybe he did. Even now, the thought of how happy he would be when he beat Skip and took his ego down a couple of pegs made his heart beat a little faster. A grin tugs at the corner of this lips and he pulls the cigarette from his mouth. “Hey. Are we gunna do this or what?”
The group of girls parts and Skip strides forward. He wears jeans and his baseball jacket. His eyes are green and as dismal as the expression he wears. He looks bored with the whole thing and clearly he’s used to coming out on top. “We’re doing this, Red,” he says the boy’s name like it’s a bad taste in his mouth. Crossing his arms, he walks over to Red. “Are you sure that jalopy is up to it?” He says, eyes rolling over Red’s ‘37 Buick Century. The teal grey paint was rusted around the doors and there was a large dent in the bumper from when his mother dinged a milk truck, but it was a reliable car.
Red flicks his cigarette into the dust and crushes it with the heel of his boot. “My car can handle anything you can throw at it, can you say the same?” His eyes fall on Skip’s gleaming Chevy Bel Air. The robin’s egg blue and bright white paint don’t have a single spot of dirt and the chrome shines in the sunlight. “Doesn’t look like that baby could handle getting dirty.”
Skip snorts and sets his jaw arrogantly. “All talk, eh? Having second thoughts?”
“Not a chance.”
“Good. Let’s do this then. You start from there,” Skip says, pointing to the beginning of the dirt road about 500 feet away, “I’ll start from here. First person to jerk the wheel loses. Got it?”
“Got it.” Red says, pulling the door open and sinking into the seat. He watches Skip walk casually back to his car where his girlfriend kisses him on the cheek and unties the scarf around her throat. She smiles as she places it in his hand and then follows the other girls to the side. They walk over to a large tree near the side of the road.
Red revs his engine and hits the gas. His car shoots down the road, dust billowing out behind his wheels. As he drives to his starting point, he thinks back to his mother’s words when he was expelled. “You’re breaking my heart. When will you get yourself together?” she’d frowned, shaking her head. He could feel the disappoint rolling off of her like a heat wave, suffocating and heavy. What his mother thought of him seemed to matter less and less these days. It was almost expected that he would screw up. Red shakes his head to clear his depressing train of thought and makes a tight U-turn at the beginning of the dirt road. Skip in his Bel Air is visible in the distance and Red can make out the smirk on his face even from here.
In less than a minute he won’t be smirking, Red thinks. Skip’s girlfriend strolls out to the middle of the road, her pink poodle skirt billowing in the breeze. She raises her arms up into the air. Pausing, she looks from Skip to me and then swiftly she brings her arms down. That’s the signal. Red steps on the gas and his wheels spin in the dirt, chucking up a red dust cloud in his wake. Skip’s Bel Air flies forward, hurtling on a collision course with Red.
Red can make out faint cheers and hoots from the girl’s near the tree, but he knows they’re not for him. Skip is coming up on him fast, and Red accelerates more, closing the distance between them quickly. Gritting his teeth, Red punches his car to the limit, and its engine groans in protest. “I’m not losing this game,” Red whispers to himself.
Skip is only a few hundred feet away now, and closing fast. Red works to keep his eyes focussed on Skip, the bouncing of the wheels over the rocks making it hard to concentrate. Fifty feet now. Twenty feet. Red’s hands stay gripped firmly to the wheel, anchoring the Century on a straight course. Ten feet. Sweat beads on the back of Red’s neck. “C’mon chicken. You know you’re a chicken.” Five feet.
At the last instance, Skip swerves sharply to his left, narrowly missing the front of Red’s car. Red shouts in excitement, punching the dashboard with his fist. Slowing the car he cranes his neck to his right just in time to see Skip’s car collide with the tree. The girls are running out of the way, some are screaming. There’s a loud crunch of metal and then smoke begins to twist through the air.
Red’s eyes widen and he quickly throws the Century into park. He bolts from the vehicle, leaving the driver’s door open. Sprinting across the field he avoids a few girls running haphazardly away from the wreck. He comes to a stop beside Skip’s girlfriend who’s trying desperately to pry the driver’s door open.
“Skip!” She cries.
Without a word Red grabs hold of the door handle and places one foot against the car for leverage. He pulls as hard as he can and the door pops open. Skip sits unmoving, a cut on his forehead is oozing blood. After a second he comes to and swivels his head to look at Red and his girlfriend. His expression becomes enraged.
“Look at my car!” He exclaims as his girlfriend helps him out. “This is your fault.”
“I don’t think so,” Red says defiantly.
Skip steps forward, shoving an accusing finger at Red’s chest. His girlfriend stands back, unsure of what to do. “You’re paying for the damages.”
Red scoffs at this, running a hand through his hair. “Look, I get you’re embarrassed about losing, but you jerked the wheel. It’s not my fault you’re a lousy—“
Skip’s fist collides with Red’s jaw and his head snaps to the side, cutting him off. Red’s face clouds over as he wipes blood from his lip. He looks to Skip, whose face is red not just from his blood, but from his anger.
“Skip, stop it,” his girlfriend pleads grabbing his arm and trying to restrain him, but he just shrugs her off.
“Stay out of it, Vivien.” His voice is savage.
“Don’t talk to her like that Skip. If you’ve got something to prove, go for it. Take another swing, I dare you.” Red shifts and stands a little straighter.
Skip’s lips draw back over his teeth. “You’re just a greaser. But I guess grease runs in the family.”
Red jumps forward and grabs the front of Skip’s shirt. Insulting him was one thing, but insulting his father and sister was something else entirely. He pull’s Skip close and flips him over his shoulder. Skip lets out a grunt as he hits the ground, but quickly sweeps out his leg, tripping Red. In a second he sits on top of Red’s chest. Red strikes out with his palm, connecting with Skip’s nose and fresh blood rains down on him. He heaves and flips over so he now sits on Skip’s chest. He begins beating into Skip’s face. The girls that decided to stay to see what happens yell their disapproval and shout Skip’s name repeatedly.
The fight continues, with Red winning, as siren’s sound close by. The girl’s quickly disperse as a cop car pulls up alongside Skip’s wreck of a car.
Red continues to hit Skip until a cop pulls him off and gives him a good hit in the ribs with a night stick. Red doubles over on the ground near Skip as Skip struggles to sit up.
“Break it up, now,” the officer barks as his partner rounds the car and kneels down beside Skip.
Red spits some more blood onto the ground where in mingles with the already red dirt, and smiles crookedly. Skip won’t be shooting his mouth off about him anytime soon, his ego’s been trampled. First the game, now this, he won’t be able to show his face in school for at least a week. The thought makes Red’s smile grow wider.