After he pumped thirty dollars worth in his truck, he went inside to pay. Two young boys were hanging around the store entrance, scuffling, laughing and calling each other names such as "chicken" and "turd."
Ray cleared his throat loudly, so they'd get out of his way. They moved a little but kept playing. Damn boys, he thought, annoyed.
After paying for his gas and a cup of coffee, he came back outside. The boys were still by the door, horsing around. His temper flared.
He growled at them, angrily, "You boys stop it!"
He hadn't meant to say it exactly like that, or so loud.
"You're just in people's way," he added, more quietly.
He briefly wonders if the woman cashier was the boys' mother and if she'd come out to scold him for yelling at them. But if she was, she didn't.
They stopped playing and looked startled and guilty, making their faces look even younger. The oldest looked like he was about twelve and the youngest looked eight or nine. They both had on baseball caps and dirty t-shirts, dirty jeans, and sneakers.
They both muttered "Sorry, sir" and shuffled away.
He walked to and got in his truck, put his coffee in the dash cup holder, and sighed. He put his seatbelt on and looked down at the floorboard. His mind taunted him, as it often does these days.
You know why those boys really upset you, don't you?
They reminded him of his own boys. Both grown now, and probably forever estranged from him because of his own pride and stupidity, with them and their mother. He has his excuses, but excuses don't mean anything when no one wants to hear them anymore, and you're all alone.
But damn, the memories of the good times with his boys; the wrestling, the fishing, the swimming, the joking around, the riding around with them in his truck, those hurt him worse than the bad ones for some reason.
He shook his head and looked up, and saw the two boys peeking around the side of the store at him.
He blushed and started his truck and left the station faster than he should have, but thankfully, there were no cops around to catch him. As dumb as he knew the thought was, the boys almost seemed like ghosts sent to haunt him.
He waited until many hours later when he took a detour down a dirt road at sundown before he allowed himself to cry.