Chet shivered as he ran across the boulevard that separated the neighborhoods. His green windbreaker had been enough earlier in the sun, but not with the temperature dropping to the low 50s.
His watch blinked 10:08. Damn! His school night curfew was 10.
Sheldon’s galcit rocket was so coolâ€“eighteen inches long, aluminum body, steel fins, annealed nozzleâ€“that Chet forgot he was three miles from home and not just across the street at Jimmy’s house. Sheldon planned a big launch Saturday, on the hill behind his house.
Imagine that! Sheldon lived where all the space was not taken up by buildings.
Chet sprinted down Dimsdale Drive, halfway home. What a change a friend made! This morning, when Larry wanted him to skip school at the pool hall, Chet said no. Now that he had a friend, school was not so hateful.
He bounded up the steps to the porch of their end unit row house. Catching his breath, making as little noise as possible, he pressed the latch of the screen door.
His father had been doing this at Larry’s midnight curfew, but Chet hadn’t thought he’d do it to him.
He was only a few minutes late. He pressed the doorbell. No sound inside. He pressed it again. Still no sound of the doorbell. Phase two of his father’s prevent defense was operational. He’d disabled electricity to the outside.
Chet rapped on the aluminum screen door. It made a good, loud sound. His knuckles stung in the cold air, but still no response from within the house.
He started banging on the door with the flat of one hand while shaking the handle with his other, amplifying the noise.
Finally, a light came on in his father’s bedroom. Heavy footsteps came down the inside stairs. The chain rattled and the door swung open, a few inches. His father’s grey eyes peered over the metal chain. “What!”
Like his father didn’t know. “Open the door.”
“No.” His father shook his head. “You missed curfew. You know the consequences.”
“One time, Dad.” Chet heard the whine in his voice, but the ridiculousness of this lockout overwhelmed his control. “Just fifteen minutes.”
“I can’t make exceptions. You know that. Even a little soldier can’t be late. A miss is miss. Sleep on the porch tonight. Dismissed!” He shut the door with a crisp thrust.
“But I’m not a soldier,” Chet screamed.
Frustrated, Chet pulled the summer lounge chair to the inner corner of the porch, where the overhang was greatest and the wind least. He slipped under the worn cushion. The metal of the chair was cold.
After he closed his eyes, a shiver started at his ears and worked its way down to his toes. Once passed, Chet forced his mind to more pleasant thoughts. He imagined the smoke trail the galcit rocket would leave. He wondered how much higher it would go than his best launch, twice the heights of the twin oaks at the park.
Chet must have dozed. The crunch of leaves under boots on the sidewalk waked him. His eyes popped open. “Larry?”
A shadowy figure in the yard stopped and looked around. “Chet?”
“Up here.” Chet swung out from under the foam pad. “I got locked out.”
Larry came up to the porch. “I guess you’re not letting me in tonight then.” Larry grabbed the screen door’s handle and shook it and banged on the panel, just like Chet had. Again it made a terrible racket, sure to wake and hopefully to bother their father.
“I was late.” Chet grabbed his brother’s arm. “I deserved it.”
Larry shook him off and banged harder on the door. “Nobody deserves it.”
Lights came on in the next house. Through an opened sash, Mr. Corci yelled, “Stop that noise. It’s after midnight.”
“You better stop, Larry.”
“Never!” He pounded the door. Still no sign from inside.
He kicked the metal front panel. It bent in with a distinct crunch.
Finally the front door opened again. “Two rule breakers!” Dad’s eyes tightened; his lips pulled back, showing his teeth. “I should have guessed. You both know the rules.” He paused. “The cool air is good for you.” He slammed the door.
“Cool air is good for us!” Larry yelled back.
Chet lost it then. He jumped up from the lounge chair. “Then it’s good for him, too.” He folded the chair, picked it up, and threw it through the front window.
Lights came on in more houses.
The front door swung wide open. “What the hell?” Their father pushed the screen door, but the buckled panel jammed it in place.
Chet and Larry jumped off the porch.
“Come on.” Larry grabbed his brother’s sleeve. “We can stay at the pool hall tonight.”
Old Lock.jpg by Wilfredor / CC0 in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons