Home > The Serpent King(3)

The Serpent King(3)
Jeff Zentner

“What am I working with today?” Lydia asked. Dill gave her a blank stare. She held up her hand and rubbed her fingers together. “Come on, buddy, keep up here.”

“Oh. Fifty bucks. Can you work with that?”

She snorted. “Of course I can work with that.”

“Okay, but no dressing me weird.”

Lydia extended her hand to him again—more forcefully, as though karate chopping a board. “No, but seriously. Have we met? What was your name again?”

Dill grasped her hand again. Any excuse. “You’re in a mood today.”

“I’m in the mood to receive a little credit. Not much. Don’t spoil me.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“In the last two years of school shopping, have I ever made you look ridiculous?”

“No. I mean, I still caught hell for stuff, but I’m sure that would’ve happened no matter what I wore.”

“It would. Because we go to school with people who wouldn’t recognize great style if it bit them right on their ass. I have a vision for you, planted in rustic Americana. Western shirts with pearl snaps. Denim. Classic, masculine, iconic lines. While everyone else at Forrestville High tries desperately to appear as though they don’t live in Forrestville, we’ll embrace and own your rural Southernness, continuing in the vein of 1970s Townes Van Zandt meets Whiskeytown-era Ryan Adams.”

“You’ve planned this.” Dill savored the idea of Lydia thinking about him. Even if only as a glorified mannequin.

“Would you expect less?”

Dill breathed in the fragrance of her car. Vanilla car freshener mixed with french fries, jasmine-orange-ginger lotion, and heated makeup. They were almost to Travis’s house. He lived close to Dill. They stopped at an intersection, and Lydia took a selfie with her cell phone and handed it to Dill.

“Get me from your angle.”

“You sure? Your fans might start thinking you have friends.”

“Hardy har. Do it and let me worry about that.”

A couple of blocks later, they pulled up to the Bohannon house. It was white and rundown with a weathered tin roof and wood stacked on the front porch. Travis’s father perspired in the gravel driveway, changing out the spark plugs on his pickup that had the name of the family business, Bohannon Lumber, stenciled on the side. He cast Dill and Lydia a briny glare, cupped his hand to his mouth, and yelled, “Travis, you got company,” saving Lydia the trouble of honking.

“Pappy Bohannon looks to be in a bit of a mood himself,” Lydia said.

“To hear Travis tell it, Pappy Bohannon is in a permanent mood. It’s called being a giant asshole, and it’s incurable.”

A moment or two passed before Travis came loping outside. Ambling, perhaps. Whatever bears do. All six feet, six inches, and 250 pounds of him. His shaggy, curly red hair and patchy red teenager beard were wet from the shower. He wore his signature black work boots, black Wranglers, and baggy black dress shirt buttoned all the way up. Around his neck, he wore a necklace with a chintzy pewter dragon gripping a purple crystal ball—a memento from some Renaissance festival. He always wore it. He carried a dog-eared paperback from the Bloodfall series, something else he was seldom without.

Halfway to the car, he stopped, raised a finger, and spun and ran back to the house, almost tripping over his feet. Lydia hunched over, her hands on the wheel, watching him.

“Oh no. The staff,” she murmured. “He forgot the staff.”

Dill groaned and did a facepalm. “Yep. The staff.”

“The oaken staff,” Lydia said in a grandiose, medieval voice.

“The magic staff of kings and lords and wizards and…elves or whatever.”

Travis returned, clutching his staff, symbols and faces carved on it with clumsy hands. His father glanced up with a pained expression, shook his head, and resumed work. Travis opened the car door.

“Hey, guys.”

“The staff? Really?” Lydia said.

“I bring it on journeys. ’Sides, what if we need it to protect ourselves? Nashville is dangerous.”

“Yeah,” Lydia said, “but it’s not dangerous because of all the staff-wielding brigands. They have guns now. Gun beats staff in gun-staff-scissors.”

“I highly doubt we’ll get in a staff fight in Nashville,” Dill said.

“I like it. It makes me feel good to have it.”

Lydia rolled her eyes and put the car into gear. “Bless your heart. Okay, boys. Let’s do this. The last time we ever go school shopping together, thank the sweet Lord.”

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