Okay, hop on, Booger.
I looked from my step-dad to the now-unsteady-and-most-assuredly-unsafe-deathtrap-of-a-bicycle that he holds up by the seat and then back to my step-dad. His wrench, that terrible co-conspirator, lay at his feet next to the training wheels that had prevented about 8,376 head wounds and broken bones. He patted the seat. Surely he meant to reassure me by doing so.
Come on, Boog. Don’t you want to try it out?
No, I really didn’t. Somehow, though, my step-dad’s easy smile and insistence made it impossible to turn him down.
You can guess the rest: the exhortations to pedal, pedal, pedal faster; the breeze blowing my hair around as I complied; the sound of my step-dad’s suddenly excited shouts and mom’s happy applause receding further into the distance as I pedaled towards the train tracks; the jerky turn to the left as I tried to come back to them; the almost too-sudden stop right in front of my parents; the laughter as my step-dad half-caught, half-steadied me.
I may have been smiling.
I looked behind me and saw them: the group of kids that I simultaneously loathed and tolerated enough to pal around with. The suburb of Cape Cods, split levels, and ranchers squatted silently in the Christmas morning aftermath. Cars occasionally wooshed by on the nearby main drag.
The kids, my elementary school classmates, pedaled toward me.
Nice new dirt bike, dork!
Let’s see how well you ride it!
Show us your wheelie, nerd!
You can guess the rest: my frantic mind screaming pedal, pedal, pedal faster; their laughter echoing off the houses as they gave chase; my labored breathing; the squeaking of new gears and handlebars as I took the sharp corner towards my house; their catcalls receding as I screeched to a halt inside my garage.
I may have been crying.
So, how has your summer been so far?
Slightly embarrassed, I mumbled my thanks as I accepted the glass of ice tea from her mother. I gulped it down in order to avoid answering her. When was she coming home? I made a mistake coming here.
Her mother looked me over, apparently practicing her telepathic skills.
I assume she’ll be home soon from her summer job. You can wait in the living room if you like.
I nod enthusiastically and retreat in that direction, mind racing.
Moments later, she returns home, calling a happy yet tired greeting to the house and its inhabitants.
Hi, dear. A friend of yours stopped by to see you. A friend from last year’s summer trip, I think? I couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation, but I can imagine it.
You can guess the rest: her awkward greeting as she enters the living room; my pleasant-enough-but-nervous reply; the explanations of her actions the summer before; the reiterations of the potential actions of her probably jealous high-school boyfriend; the contradictory feelings of puppy love, heartbreak, and embarrassment that I push down into myself; the caste hug goodbye, the look back that I try to avoid giving her as I pedal away.
I may have felt nothing. I may have felt everything.
Pedal, pedal, pedal faster.