“Jesus, Johnny,” Blair said, taking the wax-paper package from me and rolling his eyes. “Your mom doesn’t feed you or what?”
“Shut up,” Johnny said around a mouthful of sandwich. This was a daily exchange between the two and neither I nor Angela even heard it anymore. I passed her a sandwich and unwrapped my own. The four of us chewed for a while without talking. Blair pulled out a two-litre bottle of Coke wrapped in a paper bag and we passed it around like it was a bottle of rotgut wine and we were a pack of hobos. We were all envious of Blair. His parents were getting divorced, and as a result he and his two sisters could get anything they wanted. This largesse trickled down to our gang in the form of Coke, bags of Old Dutch potato chips and the occasional candy bar.
“We should go look for tools behind the shed,” Angela said after half her sandwich was gone.
“There’s nothing here,” I argued. We’d looked for something decent every day for a week and never found anything left behind.
“We haven’t looked everywhere,” Blair said, looking toward Angela. Everyone knew he liked her, except her and maybe him.
“You got any other ideas, Gumbo?” she asked me as if Blair hadn’t said a word. If it bothered him, he didn’t show it.
I was the only one in our group with a nickname, and I was never sure whether I liked the unique status or not. It was one of those dumb things that doesn’t make any sense but sticks with you forever. When we were all little, we would go out trick or treating on Halloween together. One year — I was maybe seven — I dressed as an elephant. I don’t know where I got the idea or how Dad even pulled it off. He was responsible for stuff like that, though if I’d wanted to be a cop for Halloween I’m sure Mom would have dug up a genuine child-sized uniform for me. I was never once a cop for Halloween.
Anyway, I was dressed up in gray sweats stuffed with pillows and an elephant mask with giant floppy ears and a trunk that hung to my knees. It looked ridiculous, but at least it was warm. The others were already there when Mom dropped me off at Johnny’s house. She walked me up to the door and delivered me to Mrs. Frazier with her annual Halloween warning about flashlights, reflective clothing and razor blades, and I had the usual sensation of wanting the floor to swallow me up. Having a cop for a mom is a permanent state of embarrassment.
After my blush faded, Johnny’s little sister Mary came toddling out to the door. She took one look at me and started jumping up and down and giggling. “Gumbo,” she shouted in that little kid voice. “Gumbo, Gumbo, Gumbo!”