I was so far behind on the ride, that they were out of sight. I knew they were ahead of me, but where? There had been no intersections in the trail and the thin, ribbon of trail was barely there to start with, a new trail, a bandit trail that they were exploring. This was their idea, and I had no idea where I was at this point. They were long gone.
But then, I could hear laughter through the pines. They had stopped, and I flooded with relief. I would live!
As I rode up, they were huddled around something, laughing and absolutely simmering with joy.
“What’s going on?” I asked, stopping and stepping off my bike.
They looked over their shoulder at me, then stepped back in unison, in a wide sweep, arms spread, revealing their companion.
“Look, we found you!”
“You’re slow, but we didn’t realize how slow!”
“We’ve been out here for days!”
There “I” sat: The guys had found a deer carcass in the woods, gathered the skull and the rib cage, and had reassembled it against a stump along the trail. Someone had perched their helmet on it. “Kandy” had withered away on the trail - due to her snail’s pace.
And they could NOT stop high-fiving their handiwork.
I should have been mad; I should have been insulted.
But they played it just right. I stood in the middle of the woods and couldn’t help but laugh. I loved it. The teasing, the ribbing, the punching. They were like the brothers I never had, a far cry from the oftentimes biting world of sisterhood. I wanted more of it. The playfulness.
Playfulness was the last thing that I had put away in the world of cancer. I had tried to carry that lightness with me to the appointments, to the hospital, to the bedside of my mother. I collected funny anecdotes everywhere, saving them for her. Yes, that would make my mother laugh! I tried bringing up old, outrageous stories of her Yooper father. I tried fixing her hair, barely there, telling her we could dye it Aunt Barb’s dark black if she wanted. I tried anything I could think of to make her laugh.
But eventually, our playfulness with each other faded, like everything did. My mother, always the one to laugh and carry the mood, started to go dark. In the end, she would only open her blue eyes at something funny I would say, just a crinkle, a silent Oh, honey! when she didn’t have the strength to fill her chest with laughter anymore.
Back at the parking lot, where we had met at the local elementary school, I loaded up my bike on my rack and told the guys all good-bye. They were going to ride longer and off they went to the trail, having delivered me, their new slow-as-a-carcass friend, back to civilization safely.
But I was the one waiting this time.
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Something came over me. A wild freedom. A daring. I had to do something. It was payback time.
Maybe I’d steal a car.
I decided to look for the keys to one of their Jeeps. They hid them in the same place every ride. My hands shook. Dare I? It was parked in the school parking lot. Everyone was inside. His wife was a teacher inside. Her classroom window overlooked the lot.
I did it anyway.
I unlocked the doors. A little click. I looked around. About 15 other cars in the lot, and 400 kids bent over their desks inside. I eased the driver’s door open. I slid into the seat. It was so new that I couldn’t figure out where the ignition was. Finally, I found it: a button. I pressed it and rock music flooded the truck. The Jeep bounced in response, like an alarm. I slammed at the dashboard looking for the volume and turned it down.
I looked up and found that no one, no one had seen me stealing my first car.
I relaxed a little then. I explored. I reset all of the radio stations to the same country music station, my favorite; they hated it. I readjusted the mirrors, moved the seats, raised the headrests. I was shaking and laughing and hooting so, so quietly. It was the most daring thing I’d ever done.
Confident that I’d left my mark on the inside, it was time to go. I put the truck in gear. Time was ticking. His wife was probably calling the police by now, as she should. I drove past the carline and out onto the main road.
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