“You really can’t give me a ride?” Joseph asked. He sat in the driveway in the shadow of his bike, scanning his legs for new bug bites.
“There wouldn’t be room in the car, bra,” Kingsley said. He sat propped against his own bike, afro flattened against the seatpost, eyes closed. “You know how many siblings I have.”
Joseph thought for a minute. “Is Charlie Maher coming? Maybe he could give me a ride.”
“Nah, I just wanted it to be us this time.”
“Well, I don’t think I can come, man,” Joseph said. “You know my mom’s car’s still broken.”
The faded Crown Victoria sat behind the boys in the driveway. It would have been parked in the garage, but the garage was too full of stuff. Books—many of them devotionals—decorations for Christmas and Easter, and Joseph’s dad’s 1993 Ford Mustang, undriven since Pat Solomon had moved out.
“Man, I can’t wait to get my permit,” Kingsley said, opening his eyes. “Once I get it, I’m gonna drive us everywhere.” He ran his fingers through his hair. When he removed his hands, his afro shone like his forehead. “Yo, it’s too hot out here, dawg.”
Joseph stood and dusted off his shorts. “Let’s go in. I’ve got to show you something, anyway.”
With a finger, Kingsley stubbed out a drop of sweat threatening to roll into his eye. “You’ve got to show me something? Dude, you got me something else?”
Joseph rolled his bike toward the house, not answering.
“Joe, this is, like, the third thing you’ve gotten me this summer. How are you getting all this stuff?”
“You comin’ or not?”
“You must be stealing it,” Kingsley said, following Joseph into his room.
Joseph turned around. “I didn’t steal anything.”
“I’m just kidding,” Kingsley said. He clapped both hands on Joseph’s shoulders, then put his hands in his pockets. “J.K.,” he said, smiling to himself. Joseph, opening his closet, smiled, too. The boys used to call themselves “J.K.” back at St. Paul’s, their middle school. High school at Our Lady of Lourdes started next week. They hadn’t talked about whether “J.K.” would be cool enough for high school.
Joseph turned around, holding a bundle. He held it out. Kingsley took it and let it unravel, the black coil unwinding to the floor. He stared at it for a moment, then his eyebrows shot up. “No way,” Kingsley said. “How’d you get this? This thing is mad expensive.”
Joseph sat on his bed, watching Kingsley run his hand along the cord. “This guy came into my mom’s bakery a couple days ago? Just looking around, not really shopping. My mom asked if he needed help, and he was like, ‘Do you know anyone who plays guitar?’ and she said her son did, and it turned out he’d just bought a new amp cord on Craigslist, but it wasn’t the right one for his amp. So he gave it to my mom. She thought he wanted to sell it to her, but he gave it to her for free. Just like that.”
Kingsley looked up at Joseph. “Okay. You gonna tell me how you’re getting all this stuff? First the hat, then the bike lock, now this?”
Joseph grinned. He waited a moment, then went back to his closet. “You know how my mom likes religious gifts?” he said.
Joseph retrieved something from the closet and and turned around, holding it behind his back. “My mom went to the gift shop at the Eucharistic Congress—you know, that thing in June that everybody from school goes to? There was this lady there who was selling these mini-statues. My mom was just looking around, and the lady came up to her and showed her this—” Joseph pulled from behind his back a bust of a man with short brown hair and blue eyes. “It’s Saint Joseph—like, Jesus’s dad. The lady said if you wrote down a prayer and put it under the statue, it would definitely be answered.”
Kingsley scoffed. “Bet that doesn’t work.”
Joseph’s grin grew. “Guess what?” He held something out to Kingsley. “It does.”
Joseph revealed a handful of pieces of notebook paper. Kingsley took one after another and read Kingsley desires a Supreme hat. Please, Saint Joseph, grant him one; A bike lock for Kingsley; New amp cord for Kingsley;
“Oh my God,” Kingsley said.
Joseph beamed. “I know.”
Kingsley turned the scraps of paper over in his hand. “So you just prayed for this stuff, and then... got it?” He raised his eyebrows. “This sounds like the stuff they used to tell us all the time in middle school. Like, ‘ask and you shall receive.’”
“But this is different,” Joseph said. “I think the statue really works. It makes your prayer stronger or something.” His face fell. “It hasn’t worked for one thing, though. I’ve been praying for a new car for my mom, but for some reason, she hasn’t gotten it yet.”
Kingsley looked up, his expression serious. “It’ll work, though. It’s probably just taking a long time ’cause it’s such a big thing.”
Joseph grinned. “Yeah, you’re right.” He sat down on his bed. Kingsley sat down next to him, dropping the pieces of paper between them.
“Wait,” Kingsley said, realization setting in. “Joe. Do you get what this means? You can have anything you want. We could ask it to put a Six Flags in our backyard if we wanted to. Dude. This is awesome!” Kingsley jumped up, the bust of Saint Joseph clutched in his hand. “Gimme a piece of paper.”
Joseph stood warily. “If it’s having a hard time getting my mom a new car, I think Six Flags might be too much.”
“Yeah, duh, but we can think of something else,” Kingsley said. “Something big, but not that big.” Kingsley took a piece of paper and a pen from Joseph’s dresser and paused, thinking. After a moment, he laughed, “Dang. I don’t know what to wish for. There’s just too many things I want.”
“It’s not wishing,” Joseph said. “It’s praying.”
Kingsley made a face. “I know that. I gotta think about this more. In the meantime...” He bent down and picked up a video game case from the floor. “Super Smash Bros?”
“Chyeah,” Joseph said, turning on his GameCube.
Joseph watched the fan turning above his head. In need of fixing, it turned too slowly. He sat up blinking, feeling sleep sticking his eyelashes together when he did. The light coming through his blinds striped his walls deep orange. The sun was setting. Beside him, Kingsley lay curled around his silver GameCube controllers. Super Smash Bros. was paused on the TV screen. Joseph unstuck his t-shirt from his back and heard his mother calling him.
He opened his bedroom door and went down the first few stairs. “Yes, Mom.”
Chas Solomon stood on the landing barefoot in capris and her Jonesboro Bakery t-shirt. She pulled off her hairnet, her gold-highlighted braids falling loose. “Kingsley’s parents are here,” she said. “I wish I’d gotten home earlier and started dinner—you guys haven’t eaten anything. Where is he?”
“Asleep on my bed.”
“Aw. Wake him up gently. I’m going to go say hi to his parents.”
Joseph went back to his room. Kingsley was already up, pulling on his hoodie. “Why are you putting your hoodie on?” Joseph asked. “It’s so hot.”
Kingsley made a face. “It’s not that hot.”
Joseph cocked an eyebrow. “Well, your parents are here.”
“Don’t forget your amp cord.”
“I got it,” Kingsley said, patting the pocket of his hoodie.
Joseph walked Kingsley outside, where his mother was talking to Kingsley’s father through the window of the Nwaeze family van. Kingsley’s mother stuck her head out of the passenger-side window. “Look at this boy,” she said, her glossy lips bright pink against her dark skin. “Chai, you are going for your haircut this weekend. I’m serious. You’re not starting school looking like that.”
Joseph and his mom laughed as Kingsley loped, head bowed, to the car. “Ah-ah, aren’t you going to say goodbye to your friend?” Mrs. Nwaeze asked.
Kingsley stopped short and walked back to Joseph and his mom. The boys threw their arms around each other briefly. “Bye,” Joseph said.
“It’s good to see you guys,” Chas told Kingsley’s father.
“Yes,” Mr. Nwaeze said. He wore a short-sleeved button-down patterned with palm trees, and a crescent of sweat peeked from beneath his upper arm. “We’ll see you people at the school sometime, eh? Okay, good night. Greet your husband for me.”
“I’m not married, but thank you,” Chas said, immediately unsure why she had said “thank you.”
“Oh,” said Kingsley’s father. “Oh, so sorry.”
Chas fluttered a hand, dismissing the topic. She and Joseph waved goodbye as the van backed out of the driveway. Inside, Joseph plopped into a chair at the dining table, and Chas returned to the stove. Frying onions, ground beef, and tomatoes perfumed the kitchen.
“What did you guys do today?” Chas asked, her back to Joseph.
“Just rode bikes,” Joseph said, straightening the cloth napkins in the ceramic holders on the kitchen table. “Kingsley wants me to go to Six Flags with him and his family before school starts, but I told him I can’t.”
Chas tapped a soup spoon against the side of her pot. “Why can’t you?”
“’Cause the car’s not fixed yet.”
“Oh,” Chas said, resting the spoon on the pot handle. “They can’t give you a ride?”
“Nah, there wouldn’t be room in the car with all his sisters going.”
“Oh yeah.” Chas turned, placing one hand on the counter. “I’m sorry, Joey. I’ll try to get the car fixed before school starts so I can take you.”
Joseph unrolled a napkin. “We can’t afford to fix it, right, Mom?”
Chas looked at Joseph sharply. He looked up, grinning. Chas’s shoulders slumped, but she smiled back. “I’ll be able to soon, honey,” she whispered.
“It’s alright, Mom,” Joseph said. He rolled the napkin into a neat spiral and put it back in its holder. “I’ll be right back.”
Back in his room, Joseph looked for the bust. It wasn’t on his bed. He must have put it back in the closet before he and Kingsley fell asleep. He checked. It wasn’t there, either. He checked under his bed, in his rumpled covers, in the tangle of GameCube cords on the floor. He stood, put his hands on his hips, giving the room one last once-over. He sat down on his bed. He closed his eyes and let his chin fall toward his chest. After a moment, he opened his eyes. He reached toward his bedside table, opened the drawer, and rummaged around until he found his rosary, the one his mom gave him after his first Communion. Joseph turned the white beads over in his hands. He hadn’t used the rosary in weeks. He ran his fingers along the string until he found the first Our Father bead, then closed his eyes again and made the sign of the cross.
“Saint Joseph, please help Kingsley use your bust for whatever he needs. Thank you for helping me with my prayers. And please don’t forget my prayers for the new car. Amen.”
“So is Joseph’s mother divorced?” Mrs. Nwaeze asked, sitting down in the living room and pulling her pink sandals off her plump feet. “Or was she never married?”
“I’on’t know,” Kingsley murmured, taking his shoes off by the front door.
“Because I remember,” Mrs. Nwaeze continued, not hearing him, “at that graduation mass in May, she was talking to that man who sells cars. You remember?” She rubbed her large feet thoughtfully.
Kingsley scowled at his shoes and kicked them into the corner of the foyer before running upstairs.
“Eh? Was she married to Joseph’s father?” Kingsley’s mother asked. “Kingsley—”
“I said I don’t know!” Kingsley called. He got to his room and slammed the door out of habit. He took his hoodie off and spread it out on the bed. Unzipping one pocket, he took out his new cord and let it unwind as he dragged it to the corner where his neglected amp stood. He plugged one end of the cord into his amp and the other into one of his electric guitars, the bright green one. He turned on the amp, turned the volume dial to the right, and strummed a chord. The note reverberated through his room and, he was sure, throughout the rest of the house. He knew his parents would complain, as usual, but it was too late now. He played a few more chords, then put his guitar back on its stand and returned to his bed. He unzipped the other pocket of his hoodie, reached in, and pulled out the bust of Saint Joseph. He locked his bedroom door, then took the bust to his wardrobe and placed it on top. He tore a piece of paper from an old composition book on his desk and stood before the bust, thinking about what to write. He started a sentence, then crossed it out. He tried to reword the sentence, like they always practiced doing in English class. He filled the paper with slashed scribbles before finally crumpling it and tearing out a new one. Staring at the blank page, he sat on his bed, then wrote, slowly: Not to feel this way. He put the paper under the bust and pressed his hands together.
“Our father,” he said softly. “Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
Someone banged on his door. “Kingsley,” he heard in his father’s deep voice. “You’d better not play music now. Your mother is trying to take a nap.”
“I’m not playing any music!” Kingsley shouted. He closed his eyes. “Our father, who art in heaven—”
“Kingsley,” his father said. “Open this door right now. What have I said about speaking to me in that tone? I am not your mate.”
Kingsley groaned and dropped his hands. He went to his nightstand and grabbed his iPod. Shoving his earphones into his ears, he scrolled through his music, searching for his favorite song by AWOLNATION. He found it. After a few quiet seconds, the crashing chords poured into his ears. His father’s voice and footsteps faded, and Kingsley lay on his back. His phone, still in his back pocket, jabbed him. He took it out and clicked idly through his photos. Almost all of them were of him and Joseph: an action shot of them jumping off the swings at the playground at St. Paul's; the two of them with their mouths overflowing with fries at lunch; a couple pictures of them with their arms slung around each other, uniform ties loose, sleeves rolled up, after the last Friday mass of the year. Then, there were just pictures of Joseph: Joseph going downhill on his bike in Kingsley’s neighborhood, smiling mouth wide open, teeth bright against his dark skin; Joseph standing on a couch, one fist—grasping a video game controller—pumped triumphantly; Joseph, shirtless, with a sassy look on his face, cupping his invisible breasts beside Charlie Maher’s pool. And, in the photo tagged with today’s date, Joseph lying on his bed, asleep.
Kingsley only looked at the picture for a few seconds before throwing his phone across the room. It hit the wall with a sudden smack, then thudded to the carpeted floor. Kingsley heard his father’s muted yelling again. He nudged the volume on his iPod all the way up and buried his head in his pillow, clamping his headphones more tightly onto his ears. He thought about his last day in middle school, the day he’d taken the picture after mass. Mass had been weird that day. Kingsley hadn’t been paying attention until the priest said the word “sex.” He’d stopped playing paper-scissors-rock with Joseph and sat up in his seat. Priests never said the word “sex” [...]