I get up, and nothing gets me down.
You got it tough. I’ve seen the toughest all around.
And I know, baby, just how you feel.
You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real
Oh can’t you see me standing here,
I’ve got my back against the record machine
I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen.
Oh can’t you see what I mean?

                                                                                                   –Van Halen


“Say it, na!” Tom had my arm in a vice, but in a playful way. Regardless, it twisted at an uncomfortable angle, and that hurt.

“Knock it off,” I said. I didn’t want to resort to what I was going to do, but boys, am I right? I rolled my fingers into a fist and with my arm still in his grip behind me, I gave him a helping of crushed nuts, and was satisfied when I heard his squeal and felt his vice loosen.

“The cojones!” he was on the floor now, cupping his crotch. “Not fair! It’s like, come on, man! Did I tiddy punch you?”

“You think punching tiddies hurts?” I asked. I didn’t know myself too. No one had the audacity to do that to me, yet. Someone had squeezed them once, upon my consent, though, and that was frikking unpleasant. So, yeah, I suppose tittie punches would hurt.

“Arghhh, I don’t know, fam. But this does!” Tom rolled over and lay on his stomach. “Will you now fucking say it?”

Did I hit the poor sumbitch a little too hard?

“Fine. But I don’t see how it’s going to do anything. It’s just a word,” I said. Sometimes, the fervour with which Tom believed in trivial shit like that made me envious; why couldn’t I just close my eyes and nod in acceptance to the same things? Oh, well. He was brought up that way, or so he told me; brought up a believer. But instead of believing in the doctrines that he was supposed to imbibe after having been prepped for them, he absorbed pretty much everything else other than that which was forced onto him.

He sat up, turnip in the face, his hands not anymore soothing but instead propping him on the floor. “I’ll eat your downtown taco for two weeks straight, no strings, if you say it.”

“Stahp!” I said. Of course, I blushed. Downtown taco; leave it to Tom to come up with creative names for cunnilingus.I was unnerved, too. It was dark all around, and the mud beneath our feet was damp. I didn’t know where he had dragged me to, but all through the car ride to the place he’d been going on about how awesome it would be.

“Say it, Ellie.”

“Fine. It’s stupid, but here. Abracadabra.”

And then, magic. Brilliant lights all around. A carousel lit up to my left, a mechanized calliope quartet begun playing to my right. Overhead, a spinning wheel of kaleidoscopic colors began spinning—all its seats were still empty. Popcorn and cotton candy. Their smells flooded my nostrils. A shooting booth with guns hovering in mid-air, shooting at pots, bottles, and a hat off a mannequin, glowed into vision in front of me.

“Tom…It’s beautiful!”

But Tom didn’t reply. I turned around, there was no Tom.

“I know, right, Ellie? Do you want a balloon?”

A burst of red helium balls in my face, the face of death in their midst, and before I knew no more, I knew this last: He was floating with the balloons.