The wind tugged at my hair as I rode my bike faster and faster, trying to shake off the constant dread that was welling up inside me. Sweat glistened on my brow. My whole body ached. Burning fire ran up my throat. But the faster I pedaled the more my dread rose, until visions started to appear before me. Two smirking figures flashed before my eyes. Numbers and letters swirled. In a desperate frenzy I pulled my brakes down, hard, feeling every little stone that my tires were braking on. I screamed. Voices rang in my head and then there was complete silence. Almost too much silence. I sat breathlessly on my hard black bike seat and waited for my air to return. As I caught my breath I looked down the long gray road before me. I felt like following it on and on, but my common sense got the better of me. Don’t be stupid I told my self. Don’t be stupid.
As I sat, the weight of my terrible year crushed down on me like waves crashing on a drowning person. I felt so alone in the world. Alone, alone, alone. The words paced and then collapsed in my head. I had no friends at school and I felt like I was growing up too fast. The thought of getting older and not being a child anymore loomed before me. I felt scared and frightened. This was the first hot sunny day of summer break. All the other people in my class were probably at birthday parties or pools. But me, I was alone. My parents were away at their restaurant, Waterfall Delights. “Enjoy your day at home, honey,” was all my mom had said. How was I supposed to enjoy my day at home? Anger ran through me, then sadness. And now, with the sun beating down hot on my face, I had a complete feeling of dread. I felt a mix of anger, sadness and hope. I clung to that hope tightly as I made my way slowly, almost not seeing back down the long road.
* * *
The water ran down my throat, cooling me down and calming me. I sat on one of our swivel chairs in our kitchen and took a deep breath. I just sat there for a while, looking into space, and watched the green digital numbers on our stove change. I got up, treading on one of my cat’s squeaking toys as I went. I ran up the stairs. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. At the top of the stairs to the right my brother’s black door loomed with the words scrawled on tattered paper: Keep Out! I missed my old brother, the one who used to play games with me and laugh with me and comfort me. Now in his teenage years he was a black, rearing dragon always shut up in his room or hanging out with friends. I sighed and continued to my room. I flopped on my bed and took out Swallows and Amazons and began to read. As I read, my mind relaxed and I forgot my troubles.
As I lay there, book in hand, I glanced up at the clock. Would time ever stop? Tick, tick, tick, time is flying by, it seemed to always remind me. The clock was right, I should get moving and make my day alone better. My parents would be home soon. I walked to the other side of my room where young plants were soaking up the sunlight. Their slender bodies reached to the sky in a beautiful arc. I had some new seeds I was going to plant. I looked at the seeds and was amazed as I had been many times before at how this little seed could turn into a plant. Children are like seeds, I thought. They reach up to their goals and become adults. They get sick and sometimes die, and eventually time sweeps them away. Would time take me away before I found a companion I longed for with all my heart?
Suddenly, I heard the sound of the door swing open. It was my parents! Just as I was starting to enjoy my day alone. Things happen like that, I thought. I slowly, slowly went down the stairs (so I would make my parents wait) and continued through the living room. As I walked I stubbed my toe on a chair, making me even more grumpy. I reached the dark coatroom and there were my parents. My mom was wearing an apron that said in huge fancy cursive letters, “Waterfall Delights.” She was carrying a pink umbrella. My dad was wearing a chef hat and carried a briefcase in his hand. They were quite a sight.
“Hi Michael!” they said with a little bit of fake enthusiasm and a little bit of self-embarrassment. I guess they saw the look on my face. “Where is your brother?” they asked. Red hot fury ran through me. The first question they ask is about my brother, my mean, stupid, selfish brother.
I tamed my fury and said calmly, “I have no idea.” My parents looked at each other and looked grim. Without another word they went into the kitchen. My mom started cooking and my dad went upstairs to his office. Enough cooking and sorting out money, I wanted to yell, you did that all day today. But I didn’t.
* * *
I opened the door and went outside. I started down the street at a brisk pace, jingling some money in my pocket and hoping it was enough for an Aero bar. The general store was a fairly long walk from my house so I picked up my pace a little. I jogged past Nathan and Hannah’s house, and then I was lost in a time where only trees and houses and people seemed to exist. As I ran something caught my attention. A black dog lay on the ground, licking his paw. As I looked closer I could tell he was a stray. He had no collar and he was very skinny. He looked right up into my eyes. His eyes were beautiful, brown eyes, just begging for me to bring him home. Something in me told me I had to. Something in those eyes told me. There was something in the way he looked at me. “Come on boy, we are going home,” I said gently. Just then I knew his name, Chester. Yes, Chester. “Come on Chester, let’s go.” From that moment on, a great bond began to grow between us. Happily (if only for this little time), we walked home together through the last rays of sunlight.
My mind raced, trying to think of a place to hide Chester. Meanwhile, he licked my hand and brushed his warm black fur against my legs. His fur was toasty warm from the heat of the day. But now the day was drawing to a close and my time alone with him would only last till I got home. I would have to think of a place soon. Time was running out. I let my mind wander through our yard. Pond, trees, concrete, back door, path. Then suddenly I knew it! My brother’s old clubhouse would be the perfect place. I would sneak out back and put him in there. The only other problem I could think of now was food. It would be hard to get him food. But he really needed it. Even though he was trying to walk playfully I could see he was weak. I knew we had frozen meat, but I couldn’t cook it for him. Not with my parents around. There was a chance we were having meat for supper. And then I remembered my mom cooking ground beef. It was a simple recipe; we had had it before. There was only a little bit of pepper and salt in it. I could sneak some into my napkin while I was eating dinner.
Steam wafted from the food on the table as my parents and I joined hands to say grace. “Blessings on the meal,” my mother said, and then we ate. As I ate I hoped Chester was OK. I had left him in the clubhouse and he had seemed to be all right, but how could I tell? I thought he should see a vet for a checkup, but how could I bring him to the vet without my parents knowing? It was hopeless. I snuck some beef in my napkin, and at that very moment I heard my parents’ voices saying my name.
“Michael.” I jumped a little, almost spilling the contents of my napkin.
“Y- yes,” I stammered. My parents didn’t seem to notice any of my surprise and continued.
“We were wondering if you wanted to get a dog for your birthday,” my mother asked.
“We have noticed you seem lonely lately, and a dog would be a good companion,” my father said.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, trying to stay calm.
“If you want some time to think about it, that’s OK too,” my mom said.
“That would be good,” I said, trying to smile. I knew my parents loved me by the way they talked to me and looked at me, but how could I tell them about Chester?
“You look tired,” said my father, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “What about an early night tonight, eh?”
“Yeah, Dad,” I said, “I am tired.”
“Go upstairs and get ready for bed, honey, I’ll be up in a sec,” my mom said in a motherly tone.
“OK,” I said quietly. As I brushed my teeth I looked into the mirror at myself. All I saw was a boy with dirty-blond hair and a worried look on his face. But I tried to believe I was something more, someone more in this world of billions of people. I tried to think of people who loved me. The first two people were my parents. Whatever I did they would always love me. Sometimes it was hard to tell they loved me, but I knew they did. The third person would be my brother. Amidst all his anger and blackness I knew he loved me with all his heart. The next two people (well not really people) would be my cat, Whisperer, and Chester. They both loved me as a master and would be devoted until they died. I finished brushing my teeth and crawled under my cool covers. I just watched the stars and listened to the cicadas chirp and let myself relax. Soon my mom came in to say good night.
“Have a good sleep, Michael,” she whispered and then went to the door. Then she turned around. “Whatever you do, your father and I will always love you, right?”
“Yeah Mom, I know,” I said.
“Good,” she said, and she shut the door. My mind relaxed but then jolted to a start. I had to feed Chester! I listened to the low whispers of my parents and willed them to stop. They did. And with only a moment’s hesitation I slipped onto the cold floor. I took out the wet napkin from under my bed and headed downstairs. The house felt different now. Holding its breath. Every step I made the whole house creaked. I held my breath. Nothing. I opened the door and then I was out. Free to roam in the starry night. My eyes half closed. My mind started to drift. As if in a dream I walked to the clubhouse and put the napkin down, feeling warm fur against my leg, and then I left. Did I leave the door open? No, I couldn’t have. And as quickly as I came, I was in my bed again, drifting into a deep, black sleep.
* * *
I opened my eyes. A large furry face hung over my face. For a long few seconds I was terrified but then I realized who it was and my panic turned to dread. It was Chester! I must have left the clubhouse door open last night. But how did he get into the house? He must have scratched on the door and my parents let him in. Then I realized my parents knew about Chester! I sat up quickly. There were my parents and my brother smiling.
“Good morning, son,” said my father. “It looks like we have a very early birthday present here.” I was too happy and bewildered to speak, so I just smiled. I guess my smile worked because our whole family smiled. My brother, my parents, me, and of course, Chester.