(A Flash fiction featuring a young Tommy Gates and Kyle Anderson from the Downey Series)
by Genevieve Dewey
Tommy’s favorite thing to do after school was cut through the park by Aunt Claire’s house and play Hunt the Bad Guys in the baseball diamond. He’d take the bus to Aunt Claire’s house like he was supposed to, wait for his mother to call and check on him before she left for her other job, then sneak out while Claire watched her soap opera. Mama would freak if she knew he was wandering around alone—Omaha was by far the biggest town they had lived in so far—but the way Tommy saw it, he was only a couple weeks from turning ten. And once you hit the double digits, you were practically an adult.
He always began his game by sneaking behind the man-sized trunks of the cottonwood trees nearby and ambushing the bad guys that were after him and his mom with a gun he’d made out of wood and rubber bands. Then he would run a Coke bottle along the fence and imagine the chink-chink-chink was the sound of prison bars closing. There was weeping and teeth gnashing and the classic ‘I would’ve gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for him!’. The grand finish was pretending the snow-like seeds in the air were confetti celebrating his victory over the bad guys. He was never a cop or anything like that, though, in this game. Just a regular kid. That was why they were throwing the party, because he was a kid hero. And Mama would say, “That’s my little man!” and the kids would have to stop teasing him. In his mind, the bad guys often had the amalgamated faces of the boys who teased him. Ironically, it was the one constant in his life, other than Mama and Uncle Jack. Everywhere they lived, there were always bullies who taunted him about his run down, out-of-date clothes and having no family.
The best part was after Tommy’s victory over the bad guys, his father would come out of hiding—because he wasn’t really dead—and he’d bring with him a whole score of aunts and uncles and cousins and Tommy would have a big boisterous family like Aunt Claire had. Uncle Jack always joked that the Andersons had made an Olympic sport out of having children, so they did their part as Underwoods by not having any. Tommy reckoned he just said that to take Aunt Claire’s mind off the fact she couldn’t have her own kids. But Tommy figured there’d be nothing more fantastic than having a big family because it meant he’d never be alone. There’d always be someone he could count on wherever he went.
He was laying in the browning grass watching the fluffy white clouds glide behind the water tower when he heard the tell-tale crunch of leaves. He grabbed the rubber-band gun and rolled over like soldiers did in the movies. In front of him was a boy a few years older than Tommy in neatly pressed school clothes. He had meticulously combed brown hair and a big grin.
“Oh, sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. Aunt Claire told me to come look for you,” the cheerfully bored-looking boy said.
Tommy always figured ‘cheerfully bored’ was the best way to describe that type of person that never seemed to mind having nothing to do. This kid was one of Aunt Claire’s many nephews and nieces that came to visit from time-to-time. Tommy couldn’t remember what his name was… something with a ‘K’.
“I’m Kyle, remember? From the picnic on Sunday?” Kyle said then flopped down on the ground next to Tommy, head on his crossed arms. Tommy stared in stunned silence for a moment then mirrored his body language.
“I’ll just pretend I found you in a bit, if that’s alright with you. I just gotta get away from Motor Mouth for a while.”
“Motor Mouth?” Tommy asked.
“My sister. She never shuts up. And I mean never,” Kyle said. “And she constantly follows me around. It’s the pits having a sister sometimes. And I got three of ’em.”
“What a pain,” Tommy said, but really, he figured it would be neat to have a pesky little sister.
“Saw you playing cops and robbers, but I figured you wouldn’t want me to bug you or anything. I’m going to be a cop when I grow up, I figure. Or a fire fighter.”
“I’m going to play professional hockey,” Tommy said.
This was the nicest any kid had been to him in the four months they had lived here and he wondered how long it would last. He hoped this was one of those Anderson kids that lived nearby in Ashland. It really was hard to keep them all straight. It’d be nice to think he could finally have a friend, even if it was just a sometimes friend.
“Hockey?” Kyle asked.
“Yeah, and I’m going to get rich and famous and buy my mom a mansion and a billion servants so she never has to work again.”
Kyle nodded his head a few times on his arms. “Your mom’s the new choir director at St. Vincent de Paul’s, isn’t she? How come you don’t go to school there?” he asked, his gaze briefly darting to Tommy’s obvious lack of Catholic uniform.
Undeterred, Kyle asked, “What’s your dad do?”
Tommy pressed his lips together and glared at the letters on the park sign nearby until they merged a bit.
“He died. He was in the military,” Tommy finally said.
He had made that one up on the first day of school. He figured with Offutt Air Force base south of town people would buy it pretty easy. The truth was he had no idea how his dad died or what he had done for a living or even what his name was. Mama refused to talk about him. Tommy figured it had something to do with the bad guys that made them be on the run. He liked to imagine his dad had died a hero protecting them, like somebody in the military would. So that was going to be his story as long as they lived here.
“Oh. Sorry,” Kyle said softly after a minute. “That’s tough.”
“Kyyyyyyle,” a girlish voice called out.
“Ugh,” Kyle sighed as he got up from the ground. “Well, it was nice while it lasted. C’mon,” he held out a hand to help Tommy up. “Bet your mom’ll be by to pick you up soon anyway.”
“Yeah,” Tommy mumbled.
As they cut across the park towards the Underwood house Tommy felt a shiver cross his body. He stopped and looked over his shoulder. He scanned up and down the park but it was just kids and moms and parked cars. He figured he was just beginning to get as paranoid as Mama was so he shook it off with a laugh and jogged to catch up to Kyle and Motor Mouth. Tommy’s relief at Kyle’s welcoming smile and the idea he might have made a new friend had him on cloud nine all the way home. It also caused him to miss the Rolls Royce that pulled away from the curb and followed them there.
Copyright 2013 by Genevieve Dewey, All Rights Reserved.
You can read more about the characters from the Downey Series HERE.