After lunch the day seemed to fly by. Our usual mundane learning continued to be replaced by slide shows and educational films on such topics as “The Food Chain” where we got to see lions on the Serengeti take down zebra’s and gazelles (EXCELLENT). Other films such as “Cross Walk Safety” and “Water Danger” were real snoozers and most of the kids in class as well as the teachers seemed to sleep through them. By the time the last bell rang everyone in school seemed filled with nervous, restless energy and no real direction or outlet for the repressed tension that crackled like electricity throughout the hallways. We took that energy with us as we spilled out of the school as quickly as possible so that we could enjoy the last few hours of sunshine.
Fin, Fish and I met up near the rear doors that lead out to the playground and the bike racks. Over the years we had come to know instinctively where to meet and we always managed to run into each other within minutes of the final bell. By the time I made my way to the doors my buddies were standing just outside the industrial grade doors enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
“What took you so long?” Fin asked.
“Mrs. Miller asked me to stay back for a minute about my math. Don’t worry, it wasn’t about homework.” I answered trying to kill any worry Fin may have had about copying my papers.
“Let’s beat the streets.” Fish said and headed toward the bike rack. Fin and I followed.
As we closed in on Fish, I nudged Fin with my elbow and nodded towards the bike we snagged the seat from. Jimmy Delveaux was standing near his bike screaming at anyone who would listen about his missing bike seat. Fish saw Jimmy raising a fuss and slowed his walk to a stroll and we caught up.
“Don’t say anything, don’t admit to anything and don’t do anything stupid.” Fish whispered.
As the three of us approached the bike rack along with most of the other kids in school, Jimmy was accusing everyone on the playground of stealing his seat. We joined in the throng of kids. Fin and I hung towards the back of the crowd while Fish made his way to his bike.
“You think he’ll figure it out?” I whispered to Fin.
“Nah, its Jimmy. He’s not the sharpest kid in school.” He answered.
“C’mon, let’s get out of here before a teacher shows up. We can wait for Fish at the drugstore across the street.”
Fin and I headed away from Jimmy’s rants, and our classmates screaming responses. Several students were already in line outside the drug store and we could hear them talking about the after school sweets they were in line to purchase. The current popular choice was Snickers, although Kit Kat’s seemed to be running a close second. I always chose Snickers and Fin always chose Kit Kats while Fish usually stole whatever he could get in his pocket and then he proceeded to share with us. Good friend to have.
As we waited in line, both of us kept our conversation on the bike and the camping trip in fear of anyone close to us finding out about the purloined seat in Fish’s back pack and squealing to Jimmy. Jimmy… He was and had been my enemy and nemesis through most of my elementary and middle school years. We had fought each other enough times to know almost intimately when the other was going to throw a punch, pull a knife and when we had been beaten. If it weren’t for the fact that he had saved my life once I wouldn’t have cared that it was his seat that we had stolen. But I did care and what sucked the most about it was that I could never tell Fish to give the seat back. But, in this game of friendship and life one has to pick sides and today was Jimmy’s day to lose. I didn’t like it but there was no turning back.
About five minutes of waiting and twenty kids in line later, Fish showed up pushing his bike, his shirt was torn and his Levi’s were scuffed and dirty at the knees but he was grinning from ear to ear.
“Man, you guys took off to early! Jimmy tried to pick a fight with some older kids. I got knocked down and punched a guy in the nuts and then all hell broke lose! Mrs. Miller showed up and busted up the crowd. Sent everyone packing and I think Jimmy got detention for the rest of the week for inciting a riot!” He bragged joyously.
“Man, sorry to have missed that.” I exclaimed.
“Yeah. Would have been great to see Jimmy get in trouble finally.” Fin added.
“You guys going in? Or do you want to get to work?” Fish asked.
“We were just waiting for you Fish.” I said “No real need to go in.”
“Ok, let’s blow this popsicle stand.” Fish said and led us away from the innocence of childhood.
The walk to Fish’s garage was filled with the usual chatter we had all become familiar with. Girls, bikes, fishing, the Green Bay Packers and what we wanted to do once we got old enough for people to not tell us what to do.
Once we arrived at Fish’s garage we pulled the bike out, checked the paint, touched up any spots we’d missed and started assembly. Fin got the front wheel on while Fish and I set the rear wheel and got the chain in place. Once that was done we put on the new peddles and flipped the bike over. Fish pulled the seat out of his back pack, set it in place and Fin tightened the retaining nut. Then came the handle bars and hand grips.
We were pulling out the air pump to fill the tires when Fish’s little sister came out to the garage to inform us that it was six o’clock and time for dinner.
“Guy’s I gotta go. You should probably head home too. We will finish this up tomorrow and test her out.” Fish told us.
“Fish, man, we are almost done!” I complained as if I were channeling my inner Fin. “Ten more minutes. C’mon. We can get this done tonight.”
“Look, I’d love to but when dinner is ready I gotta go. Family time. Ya know?” He answered.
“Yeah, Fish, we know.” Fin answered for me.
“Great! See youse guys tomorrow.” He said and disappeared inside his house.
Fin and I gathered up our bags and headed for home.
Family time we knew was something that we would not experience that night or for a lot of nights to come. Both of us being the product of broken homes we could neither remember nor muster up the energy to try and remember what family time meant.
“You think things will ever be like that for us?” Fin asked as we turned onto our street as the florescent street lights came on, breaking our self proclaimed silence with his now cracking voice.
“I hope so.” I said as I looked at his face. There appeared to be tear stains on his cheeks. I don’t know if they were or not, I couldn’t look at him for long. The guilt of the day, the pain of my life and the hope for a better future stabbed at me like a wound that would never heal.
“I really hope so Jim.”