My know-it-all brother Michael said my bike was made of wax. We were sitting on the front steps of our new apartment. He wiped his nose on his shoulder the way he always did and said, "Jacob, the sun will destroy that thing. And if it rains..." He wiped his nose again. "It will melt and wash right down the sewer."
"Youíre lying," I said. Michael was 10, just two years older than me, and he read a lot of books. He always seemed to be one step ahead.
"Fine, donít believe me," he told me, "but it was made in a special wax factory in Stoughton." Stoughton was the next town over. "It will melt just like Mum's kitchen candles if you aren't careful. They were made at the same factory. Check the labels."
I felt my stomach flip flop, like a fish was swimming around in there. Once, when I was small, not quite four, Michael told me that no matter how much chocolate cake I ate I wouldn't get full. That turned out to be a big lie and I threw-up on Dad's pants. So I didn't want to believe Michael, but the last thing I wanted was a bike melted to the street like a stick of gum. It was a two-wheeler that I got for my eighth birthday, basically my new best friend. I decided right there on the spot I would only take it out when it wasn't sunny or raining.
One of the best things about riding my new bike was that I could go really fast. I loved to feel the wind rushing by my ears. And I was lucky in a way. Our new apartment was in a row of buildings at the top of a steep hill. Since the road was mostly deserted Mum let me ride up and down. That way I got to feel the wind on my face as much as I wanted.
And I spent a lot of my time doing that in Winslow, my new town. Dad got promoted to be head of the computer department, and his company transferred us up to Massachusetts. We moved as soon as school ended. I hated it. It was a week before the Fourth of July holiday and I still hadn't made any new friends. There weren't many kids around. And I didnít really like the ones that were.
So I rode my bike a lot. It wasn't the same as playing baseball or pretending to be a fireman like we used to do back in Plainville, my old town in Connecticut. But it was still pretty fun and I really loved my new bike.
I loved the way it looked more than anything. It was bright red with narrow handle bars and a banana seat. I would sometimes attach baseball cards to the spokes. Usually, I used Yankees players that I hated, like Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams. Dad said we were Red Sox fans and even though the Yankees won more, we had to hate them. The cards made a great sound going down the hill: thwack, thwack, thwack...
On Monday, six days before the Fourth of July, I looked outside and tried to decide whether or not I should take my bike out. There were a few gray clouds that were moving right toward us. I thought it might be dangerous and I really didn't want to ruin my new bike. But there was someone at the bottom of the hill, someone I'd never seen before. I decided it was worth the chance.
Mum sat outside on the steps reading one of her mystery books. Michael sat beside her working on a model airplane and blowing hair out of his face. My brother and I both had curly brown hair and brown eyes. But my hair was much curlier and my eyes were darker. Mum said I looked like a shaggy puppy sometimes. I guess that meant Michael, who was a lot taller, looked more like a full grown dog.
I pulled the baseball cards out of the spokes on my bike. I didn't want the boy at the end of the street to hear me coming. Then I started cruising down the hill past the woods. Michael said wolves lived in there, hoping for a kid like me to eat up for lunch, so I had to stay on the look-out. I wore my gross green tee-shirt because I figured no wolf would eat something so ugly. It made me look like a stick of broccoli.
I pedaled down to the end of the hill, slowly so I wouldn't make any noise. There was a boy playing there. He was shorter than me with a round stomach and straight, dark hair. His face was oval shaped, like an egg, and I figured he was probably around my age. Plus, he wore thick eyeglasses. He was digging a hole and didn't notice me as I turned around and headed back up the hill.
I liked the way he scooped the dirt, as if he really was doing something important. But I wondered why heíd be digging right at the end of the street like he was. How awfully strange, I thought.
"Who is that down there?" I asked Mum. I felt all twitchy and nervous, like I do on the first day of school.
She shrugged. "Why don't you go find out?" she said.
"He's a new kid," Michael said. "Moved in last week. Very suspicious character."
"Really?" Suspicious? I didnít like the sound of that. One of Michael's favorite mottos was, "never talk to strangers." It sounded like a good motto in this case. Besides, I didnít like the thought of that new kid hanging around the street all the time. If he saw me, heíd probably want to ride my bike. And the last thing I needed was some stranger crashing my bike into a tree.
"Youíve got to be careful of those new kids, thatís for sure," Michael said. "They might not look bad on the surface, but he's probably a secret agent. Who knows what he's doing here in Winslow."
I felt my spine tingle, like caterpillar was crawling up my back. Michael was first born and he said that made him smarter. Iím not so sure about that, but Michael did seem awfully smart about things.
"Yeah," I said. "He was digging a hole. That is kind of weird."
I hated to admit it, but Michael made sense. This new kid probably was up to something. "I guess I should make sure he's not a secret agent before I talk to him."
"Eight-year olds ARE NOT secret agents," Mum said.
"I don't know," Michael said. "He's probably trying to steal all our secrets. Then he'll run off to some exotic place. Like Arizona."
Mum rolled her eyes. "He's just a boy," she said.
Mum was smart, but she didn't know about things kids knew about. She was just too old. I decided to spy on the new kid. I had to find out what he was up to, just to be safe.
I pedaled my bike halfway down the hill and then pulled off into the woods. I knew I was risking being eaten by a wolf, but I was too curious to care. I stopped in a small clearing. There was a thick branch sticking out from a tree just a few feet over my head. I leaned my bike against the tree and stood up on the seat. The branch was still just out of my reach. I jumped and grabbed it with both hands and pulled myself up. I can do seven pull-ups in a row. Michael can't even do one.
The bark on the tree was sticky and wet. I wrapped my arms around the thick trunk and then looked out over the street. I felt like a pirate on look-out.
I could see the boy. He was sitting down in a little clearing, just off the road. Trees surrounded him on all sides, but he was really only a few feet from the road. He was digging a hole, quickly scooping dirt with one fist then the next. The way he moved reminded me of a back-ho.
Now and again the kid would stop to look over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching him. I got that caterpillar feeling on my spine again and my eyes felt like telescopes popping out of my head. Then I noticed a shoe box on the ground next to his leg. What was in there? Suddenly, my foot slipped and I almost fell right to the ground. I just managed to hang on with both arms and pull myself upright again.
When the hole was deep enough, the boy grabbed the shoe box and put it in. Suddenly, a car pulled onto the street and sputtered up the hill. The kid jumped, belly-first, over the hole to cover it until the car passed. What was he hiding? Maybe he was a spy. I once heard about a kid in a foreign country, Canada maybe, who stole papers out of his teacher's desk at school and hid them in a bird house in his backyard. They caught him the next spring when someone spotted a bird making a nest out of a fourth grader's report card!
The new kid filled in the hole and jumped up and down on the dirt to flatten it. He brushed off his pants, hard too, like it was the most important thing in the world. Then he looked around and began walking out of the clearing. He waddled up the street, looking back now and then to make sure no one was spying on him.
Now was my chance! I could find out what was in the box. I shimmied down the tree and hopped on my bike. I dodged in and out of the trees until I came to the hole. The dirt was wet and fresh and smelled like tar, I guess because it was so close to the street.
I looked up the hill, but the boy was no where in sight. I was safe. I jumped off my bike and I circled the hole, like a tiger moving in for the kill. My heart fluttered, making a thrum, thrum, drum roll sound.
I knelt down and put one hand into the soft dirt. Then suddenly, a drop of water splashed on the ground right in front of me. I looked at the sky and another drop hit me smack on the nose. It was raining! My bike! If I didn't hurry, it might melt and I wasnít about to take a chance like that with my new best friend. I got on my bike and started racing madly up the hill. The drops started pounding, big, thick drops. It was like someone was bombarding me with huge buckets of water.
I looked up and Mum was already standing in the doorway waiting for me. But I didn't know if I was going to make it. A big drop hit me on top of the head. A few more like that and my bike would be a goner for sure!
I pedaled as hard as I could. My legs hurt, like they were suddenly filled with lead. But I couldn't stop, I told myself. Not if I wanted to save my bike.
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