Dawn was barely breaking above the trees as Tommy excitedly jumped out of bed, threw off his pajamas and began dressing himself with a gleam in his eye. Most importantly, he grinned as he pulled on the special shirt he had so carefully laid on his dresser in anticipation of the day ahead.
A day that he had marked on the calendar so many months ago and carefully marked every single day in between.
Running downstairs, he slid across the floor in a routine he had practiced so carefully from one of his favourite movies after seeing it done by this new actor who was so cool, and they even shared the same name. That was awesome! And THIS Tom had pants on. Some of the kids at school thought it was so lame when he did it, but Tommy knew better. He may not know all the names of the big hockey and baseball players like some of his classmates did, but start talking about awesome actors and movies? Tommy knew everything.
Reaching into the breadbox he grabbed two slices of Dempster’s and popped them into the toaster, peered down at the new Casio CA-50 digital wristwatch he had received as a birthday gift from his grandmother and sighed. Almost two hours to go!
He ran back upstairs, knocked on his mother’s door, peaked his head in slowly, and announced himself with not quite a whisper, “Mom?”
Muffled through her pillow, his mother Dana answered that she heard him and that she’d be down shortly to make him breakfast.
He grinned, “Not today! I have it covered.”
His mother pulled her head up and mockingly announced, “Surely you can’t be serious”.
Tommy grinned and responded in a method that had become well practiced between the two, “I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.”
Dodging out of the way of the thrown pillow, the boy ran back downstairs to hear his breakfast finish with a familiar popping tone. He grabbed some Peanut Butter from the fridge, a plate from the cabinet, a knife from the drawer and after grabbing the toast back out of the toaster sat down to a quick feast. Didn’t need too much, this day would have lots of food ahead.
As he was finishing up, Dana gingerly walked into the kitchen and sat down at the other end of the table. After eyeing him quietly for a moment she asked, “Are you nervous?”
Nervous? Him? On this day? Heck, yes! What if they….no, better not think of that…
“No”, he answered with a shrug.
Dana could look right through her son, and she could see the crisis in his eyes. But she left him his pride and decided to leave this one alone. Small battles. “Now, you remember the rules, right?”
Tommy raised his left hand into the air, showing his watch. “I have the alarm on my watch that will go off every two hours, and I’m to give you a quick call to show you I’m alive. And every three hours if I’m dead.”, he grinned. Noting that her eyes had a more serious tone than normal, he decided to take the comedy down a notch and answered in an eerie replication of Dana’s own speech pattern, “No talking to strangers. Stay off the main road. The quarters in my left pocket I can use for games. But the quarters in my right pocket are only to be used for the payphone. I’ve got my allowance money in my pocket, and if something terrible happens to it I’m to ask security for help.”
“And if you get lost?”
Tommy’s head cocked to the side and he looked at his mother like she had lost her mind.
Dana continued to look at him quietly and then answered her own question, “Right, you probably know that place better than the architects by now. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak to security if you don’t feel safe. You are only twelve.”
Something in Dana’s voice had an unfamiliar catch that told Tommy he should just agree with her. After plucking the last bit of toast into his mouth and wiping his face on a napkin he hopped up and skittered over to give his mother a big hug.
“Thank you, mom. This day means a lot to me.” A strange catch rose in his voice.
That catch echoed in her response, “You’re welcome, baby. Be safe. And…say hi for me.”
Leaving the house on his own, Tommy went across the lot of the farmhouse they rented and pulled his blue and yellow Raleigh BMX bicycle out of the garage. Running alongside the bike for a short moment he threw himself up and onto the seat and began a trek that he had ridden so many times before. But never alone. He could imagine his companions riding to the left and right of him on the journey they had made so often together up until last summer. Until…
But no, he didn’t want to think about that. Not now, not ever. But today he knew he had to face it, but this wasn’t the time. Not yet. Now…he just needed to ride.
The ride to Enigma’s Empire of Fun, an amusement park only a couple years older than he was would normally take about an hour to get to when you took all of the roads. But for the last few years, Tommy had taken some time to explore the area and had found a trail that took him less than half that time. So, with the sun now rising into the sky and a light breeze cooling his skin he pushed his feet down one by one, and thought of all the music he had discovered in the last while at school or when listening to the radio with his mother. The music he wanted to share, like they used to.
Duran Duran, Lionel Richie, and Madonna were his favourites right now and with complete innocence and joyous naivete he began belting out the lyrics to “Like A Virgin” at the top of his voice, scaring a raven that had been perched on a nearby tree. A few cows in a pasture to his left stopped their grazing for a moment and stared at him. But Tommy didn’t care. It lifted his heart. Suddenly, he realized he really was nervous. And he returned to his aborted question to himself from earlier.
What if they didn’t want to be friends anymore? So much has happ…
Tommy almost lost control of his bike as he felt his emotions crashing in on him. His singing stopped and he pulled to a halt and thew his bike down and began pacing intricate circles around a large oak tree that stood alone in the field.
Just like he felt.
It’s not fair. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t cause it.
Yeah, but I’m the only one who’s ok, right? Why is that fair?
It’s not. But that doesn’t mean I should stop riding. That I need to keep going.
Because I need…them.
I just hope they need me back….
Wiping some tears that he was startled to note had sprung from his eyes, Tommy jumped back on the BMX and continued the journey. Closer and closer he rode, until he could see the Roller Coasters and Castle cresting the hill towards them. Soon he would be there. Where they would be too.
His heart was like a drum, ever increasing in tempo. Every sound began to be drowned and even his vision seemed to darken a bit. He suddenly didn’t know if he was ready for this. Every moment for the last six months he had convinced himself this was going to be perfect. Ever since the plan was set in motion by his mother during the service. The last time he had seen…
No. Not that.
Tommy stopped peddling and drew to another halt with one foot in the tall grass.
Not today. This isn’t about…him. This is about you and them. HE has nothing to do with this day.
But he was my…dad. And they got hurt because of him. What if they blame me? What is they didn’t even come?
Your friends were…are the coolest people in the world. They are your world. Trust in them. Who knows, they may need you more than you think.
Of course, I’m you.
Galvanized for one last spurt of riding, while still feeling nervous he drew himself to the final crest of a hill that the park backed onto. One last obstacle. But he was ready. Taking one deep breath, he rode and began peddling as if his life depended on it. But there was no danger behind or even before him. The danger was this mad obsession to suddenly turn around and ride away. To accept his father’s shame as his own. To run rampant and destroy one of the greatest things he’s ever had in the name of fear.
The feeling kept creeping up on him more and more and he suddenly felt like he was peddling through a swamp. So hard to keep going. The pressure in his ears grew again.
He rounded a bend and then he saw them. Together by the entrance to the park with their mother.
They saw him, and Carly, who Tommy had always considered to be the strongest and smartest person he ever knew, slowly raised her left hand and waved from her wheelchair. Her twin brother, Chris, whom Tommy had considered akin to a brother himself held onto the back of her chair to take the pressure off his artificial leg. But his smile was there. Genuine. It beckoned his onwards until he pulled his bike right up to them.
“You wore the shirt.”, Carly observed.
The shirt they picked out together, but only had money for one. So, they had all decided to share it together. The three of them sitting together on the water ride, drenched to the bone but still laughing in glee. It had been a perfect moment. A perfect day, really. Right up until what happened on the way home.
Awkwardly, he looked towards Carly and Chris’s mother. Someone who had been a second mother to him herself. He didn’t know what to say.
Darlene was a woman who had experienced more trauma in the last year than any parent should ever have in a lifetime. The loss of a husband and almost her two children because of two jackass’s poor driving decisions. She knew loss. She herself hadn’t quite known how she was going to handle this moment. Would she take it out on him? Afterall, his dad was the one who was driving and Tommy was the only one to get out without a scratch. But then she looked into Tommy’s eyes she saw the same haunted look she witnessed sometimes in the bedroom mirror. It was heartbreaking and unfair.
In a moment, she swooped over and pulled Tommy into a huge hug, like she would have done when he was just a little boy.
Every moment of awkardness was gone. The pressure was gone. He felt safe.
Tommy then looked towards the twins. These two who had been his pillars of strength ever since they first met in kindergarten. Their bodies had been broken but he could see an amazing amount of strength still in their eyes. Their resilience. Their love.
“Get down here”, Carly demanded, throwing her arms wide. Tommy carefully wrapped his arms around her, not knowing if he would hurt her or not, but she squeezed him so tightly that he felt the breath in his lungs pushed out. Then he felt Chris’s arm’s wrap around him as well, and the three crouched there together, absorbing the moment they had looked forward to for so very long. Tears burst from Tommy’s eyes, and soon a torrent of tears cascaded from all four of these souls sharing in a perfect moment of reconnection.
They had each other again.
That was all that mattered.
Copyright 2022 by Tim Norton. All rights reserved.