The house was left over from some other generation, before the entire neighborhood had gone to shit. It looked out of place largely because it had been kept up well. Most of the other big houses had been split up into apartments, or knocked down to put in low income housing. Or burned to the ground and left as wild, dangerous empty lots. When I was a kid, I'd always imagined that some powerful wizard lived in that house, using his power to hold back the urban decay as the rest of us rotted into the ground. Even dealing with an imaginary homeowner, I'd resented him. How dare he have all of that and share nothing with the rest of us?

"So what do you say?" Nacho asked, tossing a pebble back and forth between his hands. Ignacio Azarola was a little older than the rest of us, soon to be eighteen. That had made life dangerous for him in a lot of ways, since if he was caught now they'd most likely charge him as an adult. He didn't seem to notice the danger, though. If anything, he seemed to be pushing for wilder and wilder stunts. He was always talking about big deals and gangs and I figured it was only a matter of time before we all heard he'd joined one of those big named gangs. Bloods or Crips or Juggalos or something.

Nacho had a larger than life persona, like some sort of god who was slumming it among us mortals. At five feet, two inches and a hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet he wasn't much to look at, if you wanted to be critical. His hair was black, but his cheeks had a splatter of Howdy Doody freckles. His teeth were stained yellow from smoking since he was eleven and my mother would often tell me it was why he was so short, too. No boy who was almost grown should be shorter than his sisters, she said. Everyone always wisely disregarded what their mothers told them, though. Mothers weren't there for listening to, after all. Just being afraid of. If you could lie to your mother and get away with it, you were a real man.

"I dunno, Nacho. I heard the guy was some kind of crazy white supremacist and he has, like, fifty AK-47s or something," said Damon.

Damon was my age, fifteen, but already taller than everyone else in our neighborhood group. The fact that he was a foot taller than Nacho and always standing up to him caused a lot of tension. Nacho was always working out and talking about how much weight he could lift, but we could all see exactly how big he was. Everyone knew better than to comment on it, but Damon by his very existence pissed Nacho off. Damon's mom came over from Mexico when she was a kid, but his dad was black. He was one of the few of us who still had his dad living at home and it was a quiet source of envy, too.

"Uh, yeah. I heard that, too. Why do you think I wanna break in there?"

"Man, do you really wanna be shot by some geezer?"

"If the old guy was gonna shoot somebody, he would've done it by now," a new voice drawled. That was Sage. My mom said that his name sounded like a girl's name, but I knew better than to ever repeat that one. He was Nacho's boy and a big part of the reason why people tended to be afraid of him. Once this kid Tim owed Nacho some money for pot. When he didn't pay up, Sage took him for a ride. Nobody ever saw Tim again. His parents thought he'd run away and maybe that was it, but the weight of what I really thought had happened always settled on my chest when I thought about him and I'd find my lungs refusing to fill with air.

So it was better for me to not think about Tim.

Sage had greasy black hair that he kept parted down the middle, his bangs hanging to frame his face. His eyes were a pale gray, which looked unsettling ringed with pitch black eyelashes and corpse white skin. I always tried to avoid meeting Sage's eyes because it felt like looking at a dead man. I wondered if he felt the same way when he looked in a mirror. I wondered if Tim looked like that.

But I wasn't going to think about Tim.

"You too scared to do it?" Nacho asked Damon with a bit of a smirk. "C'mon, it's after ten. The old guy's probably asleep."

I shoved my hands in my pockets and looked down at the sidewalk, rolling a broken piece of cement back and forth under my foot. It seemed stupid to me to be talking about breaking into someone's house out here in public. Anyone could overhear. Somebody's little sister could have followed them or some parent could have a window open or something. I wasn't going to say that, though. I couldn't imagine what would happen if I told Nacho and Sage they were being stupid.

I glanced over at the other two guys with us, who were being as silent as I was. There was Juan, Nacho's cousin. He looked a little like him except he was taller and had a healthier look about him. He and Nacho weren't really close as near as I could tell, but Juan kept showing up whenever Nacho had some great plan. He always looked miserable. I wondered what Nacho had done or said to always get Juan following his orders. The other guy was Wayne. He had glasses and was a little taller than me, but still shorter than Sage and Damon. My mother made the mistake of thinking Wayne had to be a studious boy because of the glasses. Near-sightedness had no connection to brains as near as I could tell. He wasn't very bright and he could be a real jerk when he wanted to be. Most of the time he was all right, but not as good of a friend as Damon.

"I'll do it."

Nacho, Sage and Damon turned to look at me. I cleared my throat, feeling my cheeks burn. "I'll do it," I repeated, a little louder this time.

"Jamal, you don't wanna do this." Damon was shaking his head, his eyes looking as disappointed as my mother's would probably look.

Nacho threw an arm around my shoulders, probably trying to seem genial. Since he was shorter than me, it pulled me down to his level. I grimaced. "Sure he does. There's all kinds of things this boy wants to buy and he's got balls."

Damon crossed his arms, frowning. "Yeah, he does. You wanna get them shot off?"