Brian jumped up, startled to see his classmates suddenly hovered around him.
“I bet you can’t even hit the side of a barn!” Robert scoffed. Brian ignored him and began to walk away.
“Hey, don’t leave bro’, let the master show you how it’s done.” Robert tossed a large, grey stone up and down in his right hand with a daring twinkle in his eyes, then turned and hurled it at the old, red barn that stood less than fifty feet away. A tight-lipped smile emerged on his face as he watched it pierce a window at the top of the barn, creating a spider-web like crack.
“Yeah, baby! Good luck topping that one, loser!”
The boys laughed and slapped hands in victory. It was only 11:00 o’clock in the morning, and the summer sun was already warming up the boys’ skin underneath their dirty white T-shirts. Their sunburned foreheads glimmered with sweat.
Brian said nothing. He leaned over and picked up a small rock at his feet and turned toward his classmates. The smiles quickly fell off their faces. In one awkward motion, he lifted his arm up over his head and then, to their relief, turned toward the barn and threw the stone. It soared up sharply at first and then suddenly veered right, as though caught in a gust of wind. With a dull “plunk” it hit a loose board dangling off the edge of the roof and then ricocheted right through an already broken window.
“Try and hit one that isn’t already broken, dufus!”
The boys roared with laughter and threw the last few rocks in their hands. Brian glared at them as they ran away, pushing and teasing each other.
Once they were gone, he sat down, stared up at the barn, and allowed his mind to wander in and out of all the stories he had heard about it. As usual, his thoughts turned to the story his mom had told him when he was only eight.
“Mom, who does that old barn on Minnow Road belong to?”
“Well, it belongs to the town now, but it used to belong to the wealthiest family in the community—the Murphys. It was quite a lively place back when you were a baby! Every summer, they used to hold town potlucks under that large grove of sugar maple trees behind the barn.”
“Nobody really knows why the Murphys left Fairwater, but they left in quite a hurry--they didn’t even bother to take their livestock with them.”
“What happened to all the animals?”
“Oh, the other farmers split them up among themselves.”
This past year, Brian watched the town put a chain-link fence around the barn, but it was still within throwing distance of the local teenagers. Shards of glass sat in most of the window frames, perched like targets in a carnival game. Abandoned and worn, the barn was not much to look at.
Then again, neither was Brian.
He was half-way through high school and terribly short for his age, so short in fact, that most of the girls in his class were taller than he was. And to make matters worse, he had no athletic ability in a town filled with sports worshipers. All his classmates, neighbors, and even Pastor Hank believed that the Green Bay Packers were God’s team. And while the Packers hadn’t exactly made God proud last season, they had provided the town cheese-heads with some much needed distraction during the harsh Wisconsin winter. Brian, on the other hand, had spent most of the snow season holed up in his room reading Stephen King books, while large, black headphones blasted punk music into his ears.
In elementary school, Brian had been an energetic and outgoing kid who always did his homework and played “Joseph” in the church Christmas pageant two years in a row. But adolescence turned him into a painfully short, pock-faced klutz--an easy target for his high school classmates. Time after time, they would hurl insults at him every chance they got-- between classes, on the field during P.E., in the lunchroom, and even now, when they found him sitting in front of the barn on an otherwise quiet, June weekend.
They didn’t know it, but he came here every Saturday--just to sit in the thick grass and stare up at her.