It didn’t occur to him at the time—not until much later in fact—that he was only a few years removed from being a barefoot boy given to clutching puppies himself. Right then, Jesse was busy trying to show three seniors they picked the right junior to ask for a ride home. He wanted to give good ride value for, well—not money, that was for sure. The seniors were cool drummer-types, and like serious musicians everywhere, had no money. Or jobs. Or cars. Or friends apparently, because they approached Jesse, of all people, in the parking lot after the last period of the last day of school. He thought it must have been due to his new Led Zeppelin shirt, because they hadn’t paid attention to him all year in band. But that could have been because he played the tuba. Which was not his first choice by any means. After a semester of saxophone as a sophomore—which tended to make a weird honking sound anytime it came near his lips—he was moved to trombone for the rest of the year. Which he didn’t mind. But at the beginning of his junior year he was relegated to tuba, with no explanation.
And so, with J. Geils thumping in the speakers and someone in the back seat pounding Jesse’s brain into jello with drumsticks on his headrest, he tromped on the gas and steered for the unfortunate barefoot boys. As the drummers realized what he was doing, the drumming stopped, and Peter Wolf even seemed to be struck into silence as the engine roared and the boys ran for the shallow ditch on the side of the road. As it happened, the song had ended and the car was silent save for the Camaro’s engine. The boys had heard it coming from the other side of the hump and had enough time to grab the dawdling puppy. They would have made it to the side of the road cleanly under normal circumstances. If it had been someone’s mother driving for instance—not rock, freedom, and heat-crazed drum and tuba monsters.
“Drop, rock and roll, fuckers!” one of the drummers yelled, cleaving the air with his voice.
The boy with the puppy knew what he had to do to save himself—he flung the puppy ahead into the ditch and tumbled in after. His friend followed. The Camaro was almost past them when the confused puppy jumped back out of the ditch and into the road.
The drummers were roaring with laughter and high-fiving Jesse’s non-driving hand. Jesse himself laughed so hard with the shock of what he’d done—and relief that no one had been killed—that he wet his pants mightily, which he was still prone to do when he laughed too much. In fact it would be another year before he got over that.
So when he recovered enough to look in the mirror and saw the boys hunched over something in the road as he sped away, Jesse recalled, with freon running through his veins, a slight thump as if a small, pliant object—like a ball, had bounced off the car as he roared past the boys in the ditch.
Jesse dropped the drummers off with his Led Zeppelin shirt pulled out over his lap as far as it would stretch, and drove home warily, as he would for the next few weeks, to change his pants and face the summer.