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You´re kinda quiet, Buck said as he and Chris drove in his Mustang to Rosarita´s Cantina where they were meeting the girls for a meal.
Chris shot him a faintly amused look.
Alright. Quieter than usual, Buck amended.
I´m ok, Buck, Chris assured him.
Well good coz we´re gonna have a great time tonight, Buck promised.
Chris grinned. He didn´t doubt it. With Buck along there were always good times and for the first time that evening, Chris actually felt grateful Buck had pushed him into this double date.
Yeah I know we will, he grinned before he forced himself to relax more in his seat.
As Buck talked away happily he felt a little less uncertain. That changed again once they parked the car and walked towards the restaurant. Buck saw their dates first and strode ahead. Taking a deep breath Chris followed. There were a few seconds where Buck´s large frame blocked his view as he greeted the girls enthusiastically. Then Buck turned around and Chris got his first look at his date.
How the hell did you ever learn about that way to get off campus? the astonishment was clear in Vin´s voice as he and the others finally emerged on the outside of Regent´s campus. The Texan just could not imagine when Ezra would have had so much time and opportunity to search out the difficult path that they took.
Do you really want to know? Ezra asked in response.
I do! J.D. answered.
Well when you pay me for showing you this route, then I´ll tell you, the southerner grinned smugly eliciting yet another round of eye rolling from both of his partners in crime.
Vin brushed past Ezra and with a toss of his head motioned for J.D. to follow him. How bout I just pay for your bus fare and then we´ll be even.
Still smug, the southerner followed the other boys for a step or two until Vin´s words filtered through to him. A mixture of distaste and apprehension crossed his face and he questioned, Bus?
Yeah, the bus. How else did you think we were gonna get there? Walk? Vin scoffed.
Not wanting the other boys to know that transportation had not even crossed his mind, Ezra ignored the question and pointed out, Well no one said anything about the bus.
What´s the big deal, Ez? You´ve ridden the bus before, haven´t you? J.D. asked.
His response was a most unimpressed look from the sophomore. No, I have never been forced to endure public transportation before!
Well you never got to dress up for Halloween before, either, J.D. pointed out. So this could be a year for a lot of firsts!
Again the southerner rolled his eyes. Unless one of those firsts includes making my first million, I really am not interested.
Don´t be so negative, Ez. New experiences will do you good, Vin stated as he started walking again. Now come on before we´re too late to catch them at the restaurant.
Reluctantly Ezra followed. What restaurant are they at? And are you sure you know how to get there?
His roommate sighed. I heard Buck telling Chris that they were going to meet the girls at a restaurant that their family owns, Rosarita´s Cantina. And just out of curiosity I found out where it was located, and it shouldn´t be too hard to take a bus out there.
Let me guess, you just happen to know exactly which bus we need to take?
A sly, secretive grin was Vin´s answer and it was Ezra´s turn to emit a put upon sigh. The southerner actually fell silent as he huddled deeper into his coat and followed his two friends to the nearest bus stop. This evening could not get worse from his point of view. First there was the body numbing cold and the fact that he was not getting paid for any of the information that he had provided. Now he was being expected to board public transportation. He could only hope that all their effort was worth it and Chris´ date proved worthy of taunting the senior about. Yes, finding new ammunition to torment Chris with would be worth anything Ezra had to go through this night.
Chris flicked his gaze over to Buck when he realized he was staring again but not before Maria cast him an almost shy knowing look. Time had gone both fast yet slow since they first set eyes on one another. There was so much talking and laughter as Buck took control of the conversation and mood. Yet when Chris would look across the table, drawn time and time again to meet her eyes, everything seemed to still around them. There was no denying he felt the attraction that had instantly flared between the two of them when Inez introduced them. Nor could he ignore the excitement that raced through him when she had returned his smile and they both immediately knew they both liked what they saw.
And he definitely liked what he saw. Dark wavy and wild hair framed her pretty face and smoldering dusky eyes beckoned him. Into what he didn´t know. He just knew he wanted to know where it led. As Chris caught Buck´s eye, his oldest friend grinned and raised his eyebrows. Chris smiled. Buck was enjoying himself fully. Like her cousin, Inez was a very attractive girl and it was obvious the tall quarterback was thrilled to be here with her. Chris already admired her skill and dexterity in handling a worked up Buck in high gear. Like two dancers they moved and parried, back and forth, hot and cold. Chris was in no doubt that Buck had no idea where he stood yet.
Buck´s smile faded and he straightened a little in his chair as their two male waiters returned to their table with their meals. After setting down the plates and shooting further pointed looks to both boys, the table went silent until the waiters moved away.
How many cousins do you have? Buck asked Inez.
Inez smiled and turned to Maria questioningly.
Eighteen, her cousin supplied for her.
Eighteen! Buck repeated before he glanced across the room and saw yet another cousin´ at the cash register watching their table. Do they all work here?
Inez laughed. No. Just my uncle and his sons, she replied. Her father had insisted the date start at his brother´s restaurant so that her cousins could keep an eye on her and Maria.
Buck smiled reassuringly at the grim faced cousin before he faced Inez. They seem very observant, he quipped.
Oh they are, Inez smiled as she picked up her knife and fork and began eating.
Outside the restaurant three boys jostled with each other for the only available view into the restaurant through a break in the curtains. J.D. found himself pushed aside as Vin and Ezra peered through the glass.
What do you see? the freshman demanded. Give me a look!
Vin turned around first, his face expressing disappointment. We can´t see. Their backs are towards us, he explained.
J.D. groaned aloud as Ezra finally turned around.
We could wait for them to leave, Vin suggested.
Its cold out here, Ezra complained. We should go inside and take a look
Are you crazy? J.D. exclaimed. If Buck and Chris catch us we´re dead!
Vin cocked his head, silently agreeing with the younger boy´s assessment. Ezra sighed impatiently.
IF we´re seen, the southerner replied.
How do we get past the lady at the door, Vin asked. He had already noticed that to enter the restaurant you had to pass a counter occupied by the manager.
Guys! J.D. interrupted.
I can get us in, Ezra insisted. Question is, are you game? he goaded his eyes locking with Vin´s in an unmistakable challenge.
Vin knew he was being played but it didn´t matter. The challenge had been made and he wasn´t one to back down from a dare. I´m game, he drawled.
I´m not! J.D. announced and stood his ground when the two older boys gave him looks that signified their unhappiness with his lack of daring.
Come on, J.D, Vin said finally.
No, the boy replied stubbornly.
Suit yourself, Ezra told him as he moved towards the door.
Vin hesitated for a second while he looked from one friend to the other then he made up his mind. Wait here, Vin ordered to J.D. before he moved to catch up with Ezra.
J.D. lasted all of two seconds before he crumbled and ran to join the two other boys as they walked through the restaurant door. Ezra flashed a smug smile to Vin before his expression changed to one of an earnest and trustworthy teen as he approached the counter.
The restaurant manager ran her eye over all three boys before she spoke, Can I help you?
Ezra smiled broadly revealing his dimples. Good evening. My companions and I are meeting friends here, he replied politely. Could we please take a look and see if they have arrived yet?
The woman smiled approvingly at his polite manner. What is the booking name? she asked.
Ezra paused as new arrivals entered through the door. Please, he said smoothly gesturing to her new customers. We can wait a moment, he added.
She smiled again this time appreciatively and served the newcomers. Vin took the opportunity to shoot Ezra a nervous look and the southerner responded with a silencing stare. As the group was handed over to a waiter to be seated the phone rang. Ezra looked over to the manager with a pleading look and as she spoke into the phone she nodded then waved them through. Confidently Ezra walked into the restaurant with Vin and J.D. following. They stopped beside a large fish tank that prevented them from being seen. Looking out carefully they peeked around.
Vin groaned. Still can´t see!
The three began to argue quietly about moving further around when Ezra brought them to silence. They´re moving!
Not all of them, Vin added. Just the girls, he observed. What do we do? he asked Ezra.
The southerner glanced around quickly and noted the ladies bathroom almost directly behind them. We wait here. They´ll walk right by us, he informed them.
A few seconds later the two girls rounded the fish tank and pulled up short when they ran into them.
Sorry, Maria said automatically as she inadvertently bumped into Vin.
It´s ok, ma´am, Vin replied immediately.
Maria smiled curiously at his use of formality before she followed Inez into the Ladies room.
Wow! J.D. spoke aloud as the bathroom door closed.
I concur, Ezra agreed while Vin nodded appreciatively.
Limits the teasing possibilities somewhat, Ezra continued dryly and the Texan grinned.
Maybe, he mused speculatively.
Chris is coming! J.D. announced in a panicked voice.
Aww hell, Vin cursed as he looked through the fish tank and saw his friend coming straight for them.
Manager six o´clock, Ezra added as he saw the woman had finished her phone call and was also walking toward them.
Both Vin and Ezra saw the kitchen door that was situated a little to their right from where they stood at the same time. They looked at each other and an unspoken course of action was agreed upon. Grabbing J.D, Ezra shoved him forward as the three of them made for the door. Two cooks looked up as they burst through the door but Ezra kept propelling J.D. forward through the kitchen.
You can´t be in here! the female manager called to them once she had followed them into the kitchen.
Faster, Vin urged as they navigated through the kitchen and the subsequent back passage that led to the back exit. They all spilled down the steps and into the alley that ran behind the restaurant.
Let´s get out of here! Vin ordered as he himself took off. He heard the other two running behind him as they followed him.
Chris had already returned to the table before the girls returned. Buck grinned happily at his oldest friend before they both watched the girls walk back towards them. Each girl had dressed similarly in low rise jeans and stylish boots. However their choice of blouse colors and belts and accessories reflected their different personalities. Inez´s were vibrant and fun whereas Maria had chosen darker colors but with a touch of polish to them.
Both young men stood as they reached the table.
Ready to leave? Buck asked.
Before they could move from the table, one of the girls´ cousins stepped over to them. Tossing a glare at the boys, he then turned directly to Inez and Maria. Vuelva a la casa por la medianoche. Y no va dondequiera pero al baile.
The two girls shared a look and simultaneously rolled their eyes at his rude use of Spanish in front of the two teens who would not understand it. Inez stepped up to her cousin, purposefully speaking slowly in English. We will be home by midnight, Javier. As for where else we go, that is up to us, not you!
Javier turned from her and addressed Chris and Buck, You will not go anywhere but to the dance.
Chris beat Buck in responding, I think you heard your cousin. We´ll have them home, safe, by midnight. We´re taking the girls to the dance, cause that´s where they want to go. But if they decide that they want to go somewhere else, then we´ll take them there.
Javier and Chris squared off and while not a word was said it was obvious that both young men were taking the measure of the other and that neither was about to back down. The two girls took the initiative finally as they knew that they could be here all night if they waited for one of the boys to blink. So they stepped forward and took the arm of their dates and with a final look to their cousin began to lead Chris and Buck away. Maria could not help but toss a final look over her shoulder at Javier and raise her eyebrows at him. She had been very impressed with the way that Chris had responded to and handled Javier. Her cousin could be intimidating, especially when he was so very disapproving of their going out with boys that were not Hispanic. She could tell that Javier was very surprised to have been stood up to and her estimation of her blind date went up a few notches.
The three boys hustled out of the building into an alleyway but they continued moving quickly, not even bothering to look where they were going. Their only desire at the moment was to put as much distance between themselves and the two couples on their date. They knew that they had not been seen, but still they could not fight the instinct to keep moving. Finally Vin, who had been leading their quick rush out of the building, slowed and then stopped. Ezra and J.D. stopped with him and it was only then that the three boys began to look around and wonder where they were and just how they were going to get back to where they needed to be. As one J.D. and Ezra turned to Vin expectantly.
The Texan looked back at them before turning and surveying the darkened and nearly lifeless street they found themselves on. The young man knew the other two were automatically looking to him to lead them back to where they needed to be to catch the bus back. He was the one with the most natural sense of direction, the one who negotiated both the plains and hill country of Texas with ease, but he was also the one with the least amount of experience within the city. His first instinct was to go back to the restaurant since he knew exactly how to get back to the school from there. But the two couples had been too close to leaving for the three of them to risk going back there.
Ezra watched as Vin carefully looked all around him. The southerner exhaled loudly as he rolled his eyes. Not that I am at all eager to get back on public transportation, but please tell me that you do know where the bus stop is.
I know where it is, Vin stated, irritation touching his low voice, but we just can´t go back there right now cause Chris and Buck might see us.
So what are you saying? That we should wait? Ezra asked, eyeing truly for the first time the barrenness of the part of town they are in.
I´m saying that we´ve got to look at our other options.
J.D., standing off to the side, watched the two older boys. He shook his head as he knew what was coming between those two. Under normal circumstances, the two of them got along amazingly well. In fact when they teamed up together, they were pretty much unbeatable, as was evidenced by the number of pranks they had managed to pull without getting caught. But when something moved them to be on opposite sides of an issue, neither one was likely to back down.
And what, pray tell, would those other options be? Ezra demanded.
Vin shrugged. Well since you were the one with the bright idea that almost got us caught out by Chris and Buck in the first place, I reckon maybe you ought to be the one to come up with the bright ideas to get us back.
That just means that you have no idea about how to get us home, the southerner shot right back. Then he added, And need I remind you that if you had not been the ones to come to me and request that I help you out with what you and J.D. had already plotted that we would not be here in the first place.
Well if YOU didn´t know how to sneak off campus then we wouldn´t have been able to do it, so it is your fault. Even Vin knew it was a weak argument, but at the moment he did not care. The teenager was beginning to feel uncertain about their situation. All three of them were not natives to this city or even the state. Vin´s experience off of school grounds had still been limited to either school activities or trips he made with the other guys. And generally those were limited to their homes. The Texan was relatively certain that J.D.´s experience was equally limited. He thought that Ezra had probably been around more of the town with his mother and stepfather, but Vin doubted that it would have been in this poorer section of the city. And as the sophomore realized more and more how they were out of their element, his apprehension grew.
Ezra laughed out loud and then cut it off quickly. I can not believe that you are trying to blame this on me. I believe that you and J.D. were the ones pleading with me to help you out on your scheme. I would be quite comfortable back in my dorm room right now, if it had not been for the two of you.
Quit the innocent act, Ez, I don´t think there´s anyone gullible enough anymore to buy that from you! Vin stated.
You´d be quite surprised, the southerner responded smugly. Besides I don´t even have to act this time. You can´t deny that you were the ones who came to me.
Does it matter?
Ezra and Vin both looked over at the freshman who had finally spoken and quite loudly. Seeing that he had their attention, he asked again, Does it matter whose fault it was? We´re out here now and we´ve got to get back to the school before anyone realizes that we´re not there. If we do that, then we don´t have to worry about whose fault it is, cause no one will have caught us. But if you still want to argue about it, then you can do that in your own room all night for all I care!
Grudgingly Ezra and Vin regarded each other and had to admit that J.D. was right. They were glad that none of the others were around to see it and that they would not hear about it either, since they wanted to keep this little adventure to themselves. It would just be too embarrassing to admit that the freshman had been the one to act the most adult in the situation.
Finally Ezra broke the silence. That still brings us back to what we are going to do, he pointed out.
The three boys stayed in silence for a bit as each considered their situation and the best way to get out of it. Suddenly Ezra turned sharply to J.D., Do you have your palm pilot? We could find the closest bus stop from here. Providing, of course, that we know where here is.
J.D. sighed. No, it´s in my room.
Ezra blinked and his mouth worked to create sound but he was so stricken that he could not produce words. While he struggled to verbalize his disbelief that someone who had such an incredible piece of hardware would not carry it with them at all times, Vin thought of something else. What about your cell phone, J.D.?
Despite it being seemingly impossible, J.D. suddenly looked even more downcast than he had before. No. I was in such a hurry to grab my coat that I didn´t even think about it.
Well then I guess we can just walk a little ways until we find a pay phone, Vin suggested.
Oddly Ezra perked up a bit as he removed a cell phone from his coat pocket. Fortunately I happen to have my own phone.
Vin´s brow furrowed. Where did you get that phone from, Ezra?
From my coat pocket, the southerner stated, purposefully perceiving his roommate´s question to be the obvious one. See, unlike J.D. here, I keep my phone in my coat pocket. After all, I know that I will never be going out without my coat and therefore will never be going out without my phone. It´s all about planning and being prepared.
You ain´t no Boy Scout, Ezra. And that ain´t what I meant and you know it. You´re not supposed to have anything like that and you know it. So when did you get that cell phone?
Does it really matter where I got it from? The issue at hand is that we must return to campus and my having a phone should help us in that endeavor.
Vin sighed as he realized the truth in Ezra´s words. The Texan wondered if there would ever be a time when he or anyone, for that matter, learned what all the southerner got into. So who do we call?
The three boys looked around at the darkened street as if the answer would be out there somehow. Well if we knew exactly what street we were on, then we could call city services to find out where the nearest bus stop would be, Ezra answered after a moment.
Again the boys searched around them, but they could not find anything that would tell them where they were. Empty parking lots and abandoned store fronts were all that they could see. We could walk to the end of this street and find the street signs. Then we´ll have a better idea, Vin suggested.
The two other boys nodded and fell into step behind him as he once again fell into the leadership roll. When they did finally reach the end of the street, though, all they found were barren poles on all four corners of the intersection.
Why would someone steal the street signs? J.D. asked incredulously.
Ezra shrugged before answering, There´s no telling. Maybe there is something of value in the material used to make them.
Or, Vin interjected, maybe someone doesn´t want to make it easy for anyone to be able to find their way into this part of town. The uneasiness that Vin had been feeling had grown tremendously when he saw the empty poles. Somehow it just confirmed his growing concerns that they were in a very bad, and potentially dangerous, part of town. The warehouse style buildings that stood empty with partially boarded windows and heavily graffitied walls were definitely not a good sign that they were safe. And at Vin´s words the other boys also looked around at their surroundings and began to feel the same uneasiness that he did. Silently the boys all took a step closer to each other while still trying to keep an eye out for any possible danger.
Much as I hate to say it, it looks like we´re gonna have to call Josiah and Nate, Vin said quietly.
Ezra whipped his head around to look at his roommate, Now, let´s not be hasty! There´s no reason to involve the two of them. Maybe we can just walk to the next street or perhaps backtrack to the restaurant, he suggested.
Vin shook his head. If we still had daylight, I´d agree with you, Ez. But I don´t think we should be wandering around out here in the dark. Standing beside Vin, J.D. nodded his agreement.
Ezra knew that he could continue to argue, but he did not. He did not like the looks of the part of town they were in and he was eager to get back to the safety of the school, even if it meant getting into trouble with the four older boys. He had no doubt that Nathan and Josiah would snitch them out to Chris and Buck, but not to the school officials. Instead the older boys would appoint themselves as disciplinarians and meet out their own form of punishment for the underclassmen´s wayward behavior. And while Ezra hated the idea of having to answer to the others, especially Chris, he knew it was far preferable than answering to the headmaster or dean.
So it was with a heavy sigh that he took his phone back out from his pocket and dialed Nathan´s cell phone. The junior had received a phone for Christmas, though he had been hoping for a car. What he did not know was that his parents were saving the car for his birthday. The rest of the seven did, however, since they had been charged with learning what type Nathan would like and what color.
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