Billy Redsky, a rebellious punk who loves art and nature, is saddled with a welfare-leeching, alcoholic mother and criminal older brother who are the joke of their Ojibway community. Sick and tired of being perceived as a loser, Billy deals drugs for his older brother to earn quick money. He hopes if he buys a dirt bike, he’ll finally impress the chief’s popular and aloof son, René Oshawee.
When the two are forced to serve detention together, a friendship begins to bloom, but much to Billy’s frustration, René keeps putting him on ice. To make his biggest dream come true if he finally wants to call René his own, Billy must make a huge decision that could cost him everything.
Thunder Mountain First Nation, Thunder Bay, ON
For the last year he’d sold ten joints a day. With the measly cut he was getting from his shit-ass older brother for peddling the dickhead’s weed, Billy would be wearing dentures and bunking at the senior’s building by the time he got to buy the dirt bike he’d been drooling over at Moe’s Motorcycles.
Maybe he could find a job. He shoved aside the empty beer bottles and overflowing ashtray on the coffee table and snatched the reserve’s bi-weekly newsletter peeking out from beneath the mess. He flipped through the stapled pages.
This was useless. As if anyone would hire him. He was a Redsky. Mom and Hoyt—with their drinking, drugging, letting the house go to shit, monthly gimme money ’cause I’m too fucking lazy to work welfare checks, stints in jail—had done everything and anything to trash the family name.
There wasn’t even one job anyway. He tossed aside the newsletter and stood. At least Mom’s boyfriend kept the fridge stocked with lunchmeat that Billy had made two sandwiches from.
He slid his sketchpad and charcoal pencils into his backpack. Then he adjusted the Canadian flag pin on the lapel of his jean jacket from right side up to upside down so those in the know understood he had weed for sale.
There were messes on the living room and kitchen floors he had to step over. Eight o’clock. The school bus would arrive any second. He shouldn’t have screwed around while rolling those ten joints earlier.
Mom’s light snores carried from her bedroom adjacent to the utility room. Billy lifted his middle finger. He kicked open the utility room door, and it banged against the wall. Good. The noise might wake the lazy lush.
Mom’s purse sat on the washer. He reached inside, dug out her wallet, and helped himself to a five-dollar bill.
He left the house to a shining sun and a clear blue sky. Neither matched the gray cloud seeming to hover above his head.
The corner of his eye caught the tail end of the school bus driving by. His irritation went from twenty-five degrees Celsius to a raging thirty-eight. Great. Fucking great.
He threw up his arms and tramped down the driveway while the bus kept chugging farther from him. There was money to make and a dirt bike to buy if he wanted the bodacious Carla Morrisseau and the super-cool royal spare, René Oshawee, to finally fix their eyes in his direction.
The growl of a V8 engine and then the brum brum brum of a bitchin’ steel muffler carried across the field from the cul-de-sac where the royal family’s castle was located. René must be backing out of his fancy three-stall garage for school.
Mom’s rusted truck from the disco seventies sat in the driveway. There wasn’t a motorcycle, so her boyfriend must’ve crashed at his own pad for once.
Billy huffed for the road. The city bus was a ten-minute jaunt to reach, but business was business. If he didn’t sell his weed, he’d get to taste Hoyt’s fists—again.
Being late wasn’t a big deal anyway. Billy could handle Chrome Dome Carlson. This wasn’t the first time he’d arrive after the second bell, or the first time he’d find himself in the vice principal’s office.
Blue jays obnoxiously jeered. Finches cheeped. A crow on a hydro wire cawed down at him. The pure whistling tone of an oriole floated on the warm fall air. Too bad he didn’t have an orange in his backpack, or he’d share it with the too cool bird, but fruit was six holidays wrapped into one at his house.
Maybe Pumpkin was foraging around. Next month, the big bear would bunk down for the winter. After school, he’d go up the mountain. He almost had his sketch completed of the cinnamon-colored big guy. But a trip to the mall might be a better idea. He could steal some more supplies to create a kick-ass tribute to the bear.
Billy reached the end of his road and walked along the main stretch of Ojibway Drive. The brum brum brum restarted. He licked his lips.
The V8 engine and muffler grew louder. A fist seemed to squeeze his heart. Gripping the shoulder straps of the backpack, he used his thighs to walk, almost stepping up because his nerves had gotten in on the game and had tightened.
Instead of speeding up, the truck slowed to a light putter. Why the hell was René Oshawee slowing? He should be bombing by to get his main man in Northwood and then head to Gold’s Coffee on Arthur Street to slurp some mud before school. That was the royal spare’s routine. The rocker clique always showed up five minutes before the first bell.
From his peripheral vision, Billy caught the hood louvers on the black truck as the vehicle crawled beside him. Heart now seemingly in his rolling stomach, he turned his head to René staring back behind sunglasses that matched the shade of his slick four-by-four wheels. The passenger window lowered.
“’Sup, Redsky? You skipping again or are you five minutes behind the clock?” René asked in a tone Billy had heard while renting movies at the video store—smooth, silky, and finer than a taste of his brother’s favorite whiskey.
“Five minutes behind,” Billy managed to spit out.
“Get in, dude. You’re on my route.” René used his head to make a slight motion.
Flattery should smack Billy’s face, not a bucket of offense at what was probably a charitable offer. But he shoved aside the hint of annoyance steeping in his belly and opened the truck door to the scent of lemons coming from the air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.