“Okay, heads I eat the worm, tails, you eat it,” Riff muttered to Clay as he gripped at the cold copper-plated zinc in his sweaty palm. He wiped a bead of moisture from his forehead, wondering how he could flip the penny strategically to get it to land on tails. He debated about using the trick coin that he’d traded with Billy on the bus last week for his pocketknife. Double tails = Win every time! was the writing on the package. He felt guilty about using it on his brother, but maybe he should just this once. He wasn’t about to eat no damn worm.
“Deal,” Clay hollered as he sat down in the dirt next to Riff. The two boys glanced over at the shriveled-up worm, laying on the ground adjacent to them, basking in the sunlight. Riff thought it looked like it’d dropped from the sky. They hadn’t gotten rain in months so he couldn’t understand where it’d come from and what’d been looking for. There sure as hell wasn’t any water around for it to drink. And all the liquor had been drunk up by their daddy.
“So, you gonna flip that thing or what?” Clay asked before hocking an enormous loogie onto the ground next to the worm.
“Jesus, Clay! What’f I hafta eat that thing! I don’t want your snot germs all over it!” He reached over and shoved at Clay’s shoulders.
“Sorry, Riff,” Clay murmured as he shrugged and then rubbed his eyes with his fists. Riff thought he looked exhausted and began to feel bad about bringing out the trick coin on an innocent, tired little kid. You’re lucky I’m a good big brother, he thought as he kept the real penny between his fingers, leaving the trick coin behind in his pocket. Clay didn’t need any worms in his belly today. He’d be lucky if their mama remembered to give them lunch, she was so busy doting on their daddy inside. But eating a worm would probably just make him sick.
He held the coin tightly, placing it on the fingernail of his thumb. His stomach did a flip, thinking about ingesting the dried-up invertebrate alien sitting next to him. The things we do out of boredom on a Sunday, he thought as he tossed the coin up in the air.
“What ya’ll dumbasses doin’ over here?” Riff heard a voice call from behind them as he caught the coin mid-air. Both boys turned their heads and were met by Mae and Lacey Carter, the two prettiest sisters from their school who lived down the street. He swallowed hard; his mouth dry from the arid air around him.
“None of yer goddam business!” Clay shouted, turning to throw a stick towards them. Riff could feel his cheeks turn redder than his dad’s pickup truck. His younger brother clearly hadn’t caught the bug yet that Riff and every other red-blooded male had caught for the Carter sisters. He didn’t want to tell the sisters that even though it was over a hundred degrees outside, they couldn’t go in their house because their daddy was drunk, and their mama was catering to him. He didn’t want to tell the sisters that they literally had nothing better to entertain themselves with except a coin and a worm. He didn’t want to tell the sisters that Clay and he were bored as hell and were flipping coins to get one another to do nasty things like jumping off the barn into piles of cow manure and eating dried out worms.
“Just playin’ some stupid coin flippin’ games, tryin’ to stay outta trouble,” Riff mumbled, slipping the coin into his pocket as he stood up to face the girls. He wished he wasn’t wearing his Sunday church clothes; he looked like a straight edge. But his mama wouldn’t let him walk dead into the church that morning wearing his usual Levi’s and flannel. And she hadn’t let him come into the house afterwards to change, she’d just sent Clay and him out back after and said to go play. And Riff knew better than to go into the house when he wasn’t supposed to.
“Yeah, how ‘bout you let us play?” Mae asked, sauntering over towards them in a sheer sundress that Riff swore he could make out the silhouette of her underwear in. He watched in awe as she sat on the ledge of their dad’s pick-up truck as if it were a sofa in a family room. A second later, Lacey followed her older sister over, mimicking her moves as she sat next to her. Lacey reminded him of Clay, and he chuckled to himself. Maybe all younger siblings were alike, they all wanted to be like their older brothers and sisters.
“This here’s a boy’s game,” Clay boasted, “You couldn’t handle it.”
Mae laughed and kicked her boots from under her in amusement,
“Oh yea? Try me,” she said. Lacey giggled and looked over at Clay as he stood up and placed his hands on his hips.
“Okay, how ‘bout this one for you,” Clay began, reaching into his pocket as he pulled out a penny, “Heads, Lacey eats this worm right here, tails, I eat it!” Riff watched as Clay pointed down towards the worm on the ground and the girls arched their heads, squinting towards the little S shape on the dirt. He felt the knot in his stomach loosen, relieved that he wouldn’t have to be the one to eat the worm this time.
“Deal!” Lacey yelled enthusiastically as she hopped off the truck and reached her hand up for him to shake. Clay raised his eyebrows in surprise and glanced over towards Riff, as if needing his approval.
“Go on then,” Riff affirmed, nodding his head at the two kids as they shook hands. He glanced over at Mae who was laughing and leaning back in the truck. When she caught his eye, he looked away quickly, feeling his face burn with heat.
“Okay let’s do this then,” Clay began. He placed the coin on his thumb and stared at it intently, giving it a flip and catching it in his palm. Quickly, he slammed it on the back of his other wrist, displaying the outcome to the group. “Heads!”
Riff widened his eyes and peered over at Lacey who stared at the coin in bewilderment. He waited for her to argue or try to get out of her commitment of eating it. But a second later, she marched over towards the worm, bent down and picked it up.
“Bottoms up,” she announced as she placed the worm on her tongue and swallowed the entire thing whole without even a chaser of water to aid her.
Riff glanced over to see Mae and Clay’s mouths both agape and realized that his mouth was wide open as well.
“Damn, you got some balls on you Lacey,” Clay exclaimed. Riff had to agree. Lacey was probably four years younger than him and a girl at that, and he certainly would’ve had a hard time eating that squishy thing. He definitely would’ve needed a cola or something to chase it down at least.
“Bigger balls than you boys,” Lacey chimed, grinning as she walked back over towards her sister on the truck. “So, Riff and Mae, you’re next.”
Riff furrowed his brow and glanced up towards Mae to see what her response was. He didn’t want to be the one to come up with any sort of dare for Mae. The only thing he’d like to dare her to do was to let him take her out for an ice cream or to go see a movie. He didn’t want to see her embarrass herself whatsoever.
“You in, Riff?” Mae asked as she stood up and approached him, hands on hips.
“Um…sure. If you are,” Riff replied, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He’d let her do the leading. “What were you thinkin’?”
“I think there’s a spider’s nest in the barn! I bet one of you could eat that!” Clay shouted. Riff watched as Mae softened her face and turned towards his little brother.
“How about heads you have to streak as buck naked as a hog around the barn?” she suggested, the grin widened on her face as she turned back towards Riff.
Riff grimaced and looked down towards his church shoes. Dammit he should never have said they could play this game. He should’ve just said no. If he had to strip down in front of Mae Carter and her little sister, he would have to move out of the state of Wyoming and that was that.
“And…. tails…. you kiss me?” Mae suggested slowly, as she kicked a rock over towards his feet.
Riff’s spine stiffened and he sluggishly moved his eyes up to meet Mae’s, furrowing his brows. He felt around in his pocket for his trick coin, never feeling happier about trading anything in his entire life.
“Ewwww!” Clay yelled, punching Riff in the arm. “So gross and that’s a lose-lose for Riff!”
Riff pushed his brother off him and turned towards Mae, “Deal,” he said, pulling out the coin from his pocket and displaying it on his thumb.
“It’ll be a shame to lose all those nice church clothes,” Mae teased as Lacey and Clay gathered around them, eyes alert to the coin, “But I guess you’ll be able to run faster without them weighing you down,” she grinned.
Riff pretended to scoff, and gave the coin a flip into his palm, placing the penny down on the back of his hand. Slowly, he removed his hand, revealing what he already knew the outcome would be.
“Tails!” Lacey and Clay screamed in unison as they jumped up and down.
Mae lifted her brows and glanced up towards Riff, closing her eyes, her lips pursed.
Riff glanced over at the peanut gallery next to him and then turned towards Mae, pulling her towards him. As he kissed her, he noticed that she tasted like honey and vanilla. It was the best thing he’d ever tasted.
“Ewww!” Clay yelled as Riff pulled away, feeling his stomach drop up into his throat.
He watched as Clay and Lacey ran off to the rope swing and he turned back towards Mae.
“I hafta admit something,” he said, holding out the coin.
He watched as Mae glanced down at the copper circle in his palm.
“It’s a trick coin. Lands on tails every time.”
Mae glimpsed up and smirked at Riff. “Riff,” she laughed. “Why do you think I made tails to kiss me? Billy told me about the coin trade.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, making his heart begin to beat so fast, he thought it was going to burst out of his chest.
“Play again tomorrow?” she asked as she strolled over to retrieve Lacey from the swing.
Riff slowly nodded yes as he watched her walk away. Best goddamn trade I ever made.