Teen Night by Brad Austin

A different boy calling this time—how many were there? Sounded like a party was happening in the background. Were parties so boring now that kids made prank calls to random businesses in the phone book? Or crank calls, was that the correct term? Roger was maybe 12 the last time he called someone as a joke. As a teenager he mostly called Steve. He’d ask Steve what he was doing, Steve would answer nothing, and they’d meet at one of their houses and do nothing. When they discovered drugs, they added drugs to the nothing-doing which made them feel like they were doing something. But they were doing nothing, especially not prank- or crank-calling anyone.

This new boy had just said to him, “Hi, is this Mr. Rogers?” He was already stifling a laugh.

Roger had to be careful not to give them a reason to laugh at him. The laughter of teenagers, teenage boys, had always caused him pain, almost regardless of context. The older he got the surer he felt that teenage-boy laughter was never innocent nor wholesome.

In the most unbothered, cool-guy voice he could muster he said, “You mean Roger?” For his effort he was treated to a punishing burst of joyous laughter from what must have been one thousand boys.

“Oh yeah, pardon me, Roger,” said the one on the phone, maintaining an air of professional calm even as he must have known Roger had heard all that laughing. Yes, this was no doubt a different, more sinister boy than the first. “This is Roger?”

“What do you want,” Roger said, aiming for gruff yet sounding to himself like he was whimpering.

“Just wanted to ask about the…oh, you know. The rumors.” Compared to the first boy, this kid was so deliberate and easy-going that it was disquieting. Roger pictured him, scary eyes squinting from cigarette smoke, wearing a varsity jacket even though he doesn’t play sports. A jacket passed down from his psychotic jailbird uncle, dried blood on the varsity letter. Roger feared him. How was that possible? He was sixteen, seventeen? When he was that age he looked at the confident, popular kids and figured his confidence would come later. Once the real world claimed them, the confident kids would lose everything, get fat, drink heavily. They would sit in shamed awe at the rise of Roger. And also the rise of Steve, who was smarter than Roger and even less confident. But then he lost touch with Steve in college and from then on Roger’s only male friendships were with coworkers, or the husbands of his wife’s friends. Now he owned a roller rink and was divorced. Sometimes he drank heavily.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t call here again.” Roger hung up. His daughter looked up at him from the other side of his desk. They’d been quietly sharing his cramped office, Beth doing homework, Roger pretending to go over invoices, in perfect silence besides these two calls.

“Same kid?” Beth asked.

“It’s a few kids.”

“Little shits.”


She went back to her work, a research paper about Costa Rica. The assignment was to write a report on the place you most want to visit. She chose Costa Rica because her mom’s boyfriend did a lot of business there and never shut up about how incredible Costa Rica is, that they should move there so he could introduce Beth to “pura vida.” His name was Wayne and his two obsessions in life seemed to be 1) finding an unbiased news source now that Fox News had kowtowed to the woke agenda, and 2) ditching America and its biased news sources altogether in favor of Costa Rica, where the zip-lining was choice and the vida pura. Daniela, Roger’s ex, was open to the move. Beth talked about it frequently.

Wayne was picking her up tonight to take her back to Daniela’s. He’d never been to the rink and Roger prayed he would wait in the parking lot. He hated laying eyes on the man he was losing his daughter to. Beth liked him, he was impossible to not like. He was charming, successful, he’d built his business, whatever it was, from nothing (Roger had purchased a business and changed nothing about it). And he was aging beautifully, putting on muscle, tanning, flourishing, the kind of middle-aged guy Beth wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with at the mall, unlike her sallow, fried-food-fed dad.

“Can I get you some mozzarella sticks?” he asked, standing. He suddenly wanted to get out of this messy, ugly room. He was used to the messiness and ugliness but now it also felt small. Beth was too close.

“Ew, no,” Beth said.

“You hate them too now?”

“They’re bad for you? And they’re gross?”

“We have a salad now.”

“You mean the one that’s almost all croutons and ranch dressing and disgusting ham chunks? Yum.”

“How about a pile of leaves from outside? Look, I’ll tell June veggies only, no ranch or croutons.”

“And no ham chunks.”

He was on his way out when the phone rang again. “Those ham chunks”—Roger picked up the receiver and hung it back up— “are organic.”

Beth looked at him, surprised. “What if that was a parent calling to check on their teen?”

She loved saying teen. It was Teen Night at the rink. Roger had not invented the concept of Teen Night, nor was it even his decision that the rink have a Teen Night, but she liked making fun of the name as if it was all Roger, as if he were the goddamn mayor of Teen Night. Not even a year ago she was talking about how she wished she could take part in Teen Night and skate with the bigger kids. Now here she was, not even thirteen, and she and all her friends thought Teen Night was embarrassing as shit.

“It’s not,” Roger said. “It’s those boys.”

“What rumor are they talking about?”

“There aren’t rumors about me.”

“I mean, clearly there are?”

“Then, uh, clearly they’re false, then?”

“But what are they?”

“Jesus,” Roger said, his voice louder than he wanted. “You know something I don’t? Is there some rumor about me at school?”

“Why would people talk about you at my school?”

That stung. Never mind that it was entirely reasonable. He just didn’t need to be reminded that no one talked about him anywhere.“

I have no idea. To hurt you, maybe? Because they’re jealous of you?”

“No one wants to hurt me.”

But Beth was exactly the sort of person Roger wanted to see brought low when he was her age: pretty, popular, pretty friends calling all the time to make plans, never having to sit alone in Steve’s basement wondering why they didn’t get an invite to Troy Erickson’s Annual Boathouse Bash. Oh, Beth would have been the guest of honor at the Bash! Probably Troy’s date. Wasn’t that a good thing, that she was well-liked, having a swell time in youth? It wasn’t like she was reckless with her popularity, using it to make others feel small. She told him times were different, school was more inclusive than when he was her age, there really was no “popularity” anymore. He didn’t believe her. He knew there were still kids frowning in their rooms at Cure posters while Beth was out God-knows-where with her friends doing bong rips and talking shit about Teen Night. And he couldn’t help feeling that it might be good for her to be one of those frowning kids for a change. She didn’t even know who The Cure fucking were. Wayne was getting her into Michael Buble!

The phone rang again. Roger and Beth looked at one another, Beth smiling, getting excited. Roger lifted the receiver, planning to hang up again, but Beth did have a point: parents did sometimes call to check on their teens. He brought the receiver to his head.

“Skate Palace.”

“Roger, yes, hello, I am from the gazette. I’d like to give you a chance to speak to the many rumors about you.” A girl this time! She’d barely made it through her little speech without breaking. And the boys in the background were howling. She must be the leader of the pack. Or they were laughing so much because they all wanted to have sex with her. This was too much to bear, they weren’t even trying. The town didn’t have a goddamn “gazette.”

“Okay, little shit,” Roger said. “How about you tell me what you’re talking about.”

So much laughter. “Little shit!” screamed a delighted boy.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know,” the caller said.

“I really don’t.”

“We know all about your side business.”


“Where you take pictures? Of naked teens?”

He looked at Beth. She’d heard.

“There are a thousand rumors, Roger. A thousand!”

“Well, they’re all wrong.”

The laughing was loud enough to hurt his ears. He hung up. “That was a girl,” he told Beth. “You know this girl? Huh? You know about what’s going on here? These kids are in your grade, I swear to God.”

“I could barely hear, Dad. Calm down.”            

“Do your Costa Rica shit.” He turned away.



“I want some ranch, just not a lot.”

Teen Night hadn’t been the same since Roger switched it to Thursdays a month before. It was depressing now, really felt like a school-night in the place. Roger saw the school-night anxiety in every face and almost, for a second, wondered if he too was supposed to be home studying. Friday, that was Teen Night. A teen skating on Friday night feels as though anything might happen—usually a post-skate makeout session in a corner upstairs or sometimes the bathroom. Roger was used to breaking up these trysts and the sight of thirteen-year-olds touching their tongues together always made him ill, which then made him feel sort of satisfied, because it meant he was not a weirdo. Moving Teen Night to Thursdays had solved the watching-kids-tongue-kiss problem: having school the next day dampened their little libidos. No, that wasn’t it. The cool kids who could actually score simply stopped showing up. And these leftover dweebs were all too aware that their handholding would lead to nothing but a mad dash to finish their homework after watching TV with their parents. If cool kids came to the rink still, they wouldn’t give a shit about homework and would be making out all over the place. They’d be having fun, because being cool was fun. Roger felt a strange longing now to catch some kids making out in a stall. Which made him uncomfortable.

There was more business on Fridays now that it had been rebranded as “Family Night.” Parents bought a lot of concessions. He thought of killing Teen Night, but figured Thursdays could use a theme. Now, looking at the rink and the mere eleven kids sadly circling, he felt he’d betrayed some principle he did not know he had.

He looked at each skater, wondering what they’d heard about him rumor-wise, what they thought of him, if they were capable of skating while prank-calling him. But these were just normal, self-absorbed teenagers. Really, they were dorks. Ten of them skated in pairs: some holding hands, others just keeping pace, chatting. One pudgy boy skated solo. He was eerily focused on his skating, trying to do a good job of it. Possibly he was embarrassed to be alone and wanted to put on a tough face. Roger saw himself in this kid. He’d been solo a couple years now too and probably went about his days with an expression similar to that kid’s. A face that said, “I’m alone and trying to be okay with that, but inside I am hurting.”

Roger turned and went to the kitchen. Some kids were in line to rent skates and a few more sat in booths upstairs eating hot dogs and nachos and cheese sticks and pizza.

He liked going into the kitchen and talking with June. They were not attracted to one another. Roger liked that. Her back was to him as she slathered runny red sauce over lumpy dough. She was in her late forties too and had wiry bleached hair and had been the cook since before Roger’s time. She was not a real cook, but could put a pizza in an oven, drop potatoes into a fryer, put together a high-calorie salad. Her sous chef, if the boy could be called that, stood at the fryer nearby.

“Hi guys,” Roger said. “Just gotta make a quick salad.”

June looked up from the pizza. “What for?”


“Oh, I’ll make it for her.” She dropped the remaining pepperonis thoughtlessly and shambled over to the salad station.

“That’s okay, June. You know Beth. So picky.”

“Not a problem, just tell me what she wants in it.”

Roger couldn’t exactly remember now what Beth had requested. “Something healthy. Just make it healthy.”

“It’s a salad,” she said, wheeze-laughing. “Don’t get much healthier than salad. You alright? You look bad.”

“Do I?” Roger looked at the kid at the fryer, trying to recall his name. “Do I?” he asked him.

The boy smiled and shrugged at him.

“I’m fine. Can you bring Beth the salad?”

“Sure, honey,” said June.

“My Heart Will Go On” was blasting from the speakers. The song always filled Roger’s head with images from Titanic. He wondered if any of the kids on the rink had even seen that. Beth stood near the rink, her head moving around, looking for him. He felt faint suddenly. He raced toward her. She looked lost, upset, worried. He wanted to hold her tight and kiss her on the cheek over and over like he’d done when she was small. The last time he’d kissed her she made him feel like a creep. It was after her basketball game: she’d scored a few times, they’d won, Roger was proud. In his elation, he attacked her face with kisses. She pushed him off and scowled at him and went back to her teammates. Roger was shocked by how physically strong Beth was in pushing him, and by how strongly she did not want his affection. He and Daniela were still together and Roger couldn’t even look at her to get her assessment on what happened, they never discussed it. He was ashamed and did not show Beth affection after that unless she invited it or showed it to him first. He stood before her now, wondering if there was something wrong with him, that he wanted to kiss Beth but wouldn’t because he worried it would make him feel like shit.

“Beth,” he said. “I need you to know there’s nothing…I didn’t—”

“Hey, they called again.”


“They said I should be ashamed to have a dad who…has photos of—”

“It’s all lies, honey. Look, almost all my employees are teens, almost all our customers are teens. These kids are having a laugh because I’m around teens so much and they think it’s weird.”

“Maybe it is weird.”

“What, you think Teen Night is creepy? I own a place where there’s something called a Teen Night, so I’m a weirdo? These are just bored boys trying to… maybe they’re mad at me about moving Teen Night, I dunno.”

She looked him in the eyes and he worried she’d start laughing in his face. What a laughable thing to say. These kids had no use for Teen Night. What did they want with him, then? They were messing with his kid now. Did she even know that there are men in the world who get off on images of naked kids?

“Honey,” he said, about to hug her, but then June was there holding a salad.

“Oh no,” June said when she saw Beth’s face. “What happened? You okay?”

Beth looked at June, then at the salad she was holding. It had tomatoes, lettuce, onion, cucumber, ham chunks, croutons. It was drenched with ranch.

“Oh,” Roger said. “No, June, that’s–”

But Beth was already thanking June for the salad and taking it from her, beginning immediately to consume it using the plastic fork June had provided. June and Roger watched her eat, stabbing at the salad without prejudice—the croutons and glistening ham chunks and the ranch-soaked leaves.

“You’re starving,” June said. “I’ll get you some cheese sticks.”

“She doesn’t eat those,” Roger was going to say, but Beth was nodding yes as tears formed in her eyes and lettuce crunched in her mouth.

At some point Roger became aware of Wayne approaching. Jesus, this guy. Probably had ten years on Roger and look at that body. The veiny, tan biceps, the pecs that jutted out like an open top-drawer of a dresser, the fancy salmon-colored shirt straining to contain it all.            

“Yo, yo,” Wayne said. To Roger, to Beth, to the world, this man says “yo yo.” What does a man of fifty mean, exactly, by saying “yo, yo”? What is it he wants?

“You’re early,” Roger said.

“Yeah,” said Wayne, “Daniela said you wouldn’t care. She wants to get on the road nice and early tomorrow, so.”

“Ah. And where would we be headed this weekend?”

“My place in Petoskey.”

“You have a—since when do you have a place in Petoskey?” Roger hoped he’d disguised the desperation and discomfort in his soul, not wanting Wayne to know that his ownership of a place in Petoskey where Roger went every summer as a boy was deeply hurtful to him.

“Bought it last year. Little place. Crazy good fishing up that way.”

“It is. Crazy.”

“Ready, kiddo?” Wayne asked Beth. “You alright?”

Beth nodded. She was looking at her salad, still working at it. She looked at Wayne, nodded.

“Let’s do it,” Wayne said.

“She’s waiting on cheese sticks,” Roger said.

“It’s okay,” Beth said, handing Roger the bowl, still some salad in it. She hugged him, got on her tippy-toes so she could whisper in his ear. “You’re not a creep. Right?”

“I don’t think so,” he whispered back.

Beth walked toward the front doors with Wayne.

“Wait!” Roger called. “Tomorrow’s Friday. You’re skipping school tomorrow for Petoskey? Don’t I get a say—”

“Dad,” Beth said. “It’s Good Friday tomorrow. Three-day weekend.”

“Three-day weekend!” Wayne said, making a “surf’s up” hand gesture. Roger couldn’t tell if he was doing it sincerely or doing it as a kind of impression of a lame dad, an impression of Roger. Either way, Beth, with more teasing affection in her voice than Roger was comfortable with, said, “Shut up.”

They were gone. The rink felt quiet, haunted, the kids making their long, eerie circles on the wood and looking like ghosts of kids who had died together on Teen Night at this very roller rink years ago.

June returned with the plate of cheese sticks. “Where’s Beth?” she asked, taking the unfinished salad bowl from Roger with her free hand.

“She just left.”

“She seemed upset. Is it a boy?”

“It’s a few boys, you could say,” Roger said, taking a cheese stick off the plate. He was about to shove it in his mouth when he caught himself, then studied the foodstuff a moment. He broke it in half and slowly pulled it apart, stretching the cheese. He stretched to his entire wingspan and the two halves of fried batter remained connected by the long, sagging strand of white cheese.

“Are you okay?” June asked.

“I’d like to introduce some new things to the menu, June.”

Out the window, the taillights of a vehicle caught his eye. He thought this was Wayne’s BMW departing through the too-big parking lot, driving diagonally across vacant spots to taunt him. But it wasn’t Wayne’s and it wasn’t a BMW. And the car wasn’t departing, it was circling. Roger closed the cheese stick halves and gathered up the cheese entrails and put it all on the plate of still-intact cheese sticks. He ran outside where the car made one last large, deliberate oval before speeding off. He could only make out the first three letters of the plate.

At his desk he stared at a space just above his computer monitor and absentmindedly shoved one cheese stick after another into his face. June had set the plate on his desk, probably knowing he would eat them this way. He wanted to pick up the phone to call the police and tell them about the car and the calls, but he also wanted it to ring. He wanted to win a round with these kids. Or be in on the joke. Show them he didn’t give a shit.

“Yep, been taking nude pictures of teens for many years, and we’re looking for some fresh bods! Come here now.”

But the phone didn’t ring and he knew it wasn’t going to. They’d lost interest in him, and knowing this made him sad, which made him hate himself. He looked around his office, disgusted by the seedy appearance of it. Wasn’t it the exact kind of office that a guy who took pictures of naked kids would sit in all day when not committing his hideous crimes?

June appeared in the doorway. “Hey, got a complaint about the men’s room.”


“A parent saw two pairs of shoes under one of the stall doors.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Want me to handle it?”

“Nah. Leave it.”

“Leave it? What do you mean?”

“Just let it run its course.”


“Fine,” he said, standing. “I’ll go handle it.”

Entering the bathroom, he felt spooked. He didn’t want to be doing this. If it was two kids making out, so what? If they were doing something more than making out, which was probably the case since they were using a bathroom stall, well, Jesus, what was he supposed to do?

He didn’t see any shoes under any stalls and he heard no sounds. They must have left. Or maybe it was the other bathroom. Roger pushed open the door of the ladies’ just as an adolescent girl was coming out of it.

“What are you doing?” she said. “That’s the girls’ room.”

“Yeah, I know, I—”

She made her disgusted face even more disgusted and walked off.

“I’m the owner,” he called after her.

Behind him, the pudgy kid from before was heading for the men’s room. Roger smiled at him, nodded kindly, relieved to see someone whom he now considered a kindred spirit, but when the boy saw Roger looking at him this way his face broke out in an unfriendly expression and he quickened his pace to the bathroom.

Roger walked back to his office, looking out at the rink, where the girl he’d had the awkward encounter with was pointing him out to her friend, both of them looking in turns sickened and amused.

“I’m the owner,” Roger felt like screaming at them, at the whole place. “I’m not a sicko.” But no one would be able to hear him over the music. He went into his office, shut the door, and called the police.

Brad Austin is a writer and stand-up comic from Michigan. He lives in Melbourne, Australia. He’s published “humor” pieces in the New York Times and Vulture. “Teen Night” is his first work of short fiction and he is threatening to do more.

Instagram: @bradaustinky