David wasn’t a fan of Summer School. At 15 years old he’ll be starting his tenth grade year this coming September. His freshman year had been total hell where his classes were concerned. Having a full GT course load meant there was precious little time for anything else. Still, he’d somehow found time for piano lessons and three nights a week learning martial arts at his dad’s studio.
He’d wanted to play soccer or baseball, or even join the Robotics Club. But the amount of homework and studying he needed to keep his grades up were simply out of control. So, his parents had enrolled him in a summer school program for original GT credit. It sucked having to take a summer class, but it meant next school year he could cut one challenging class out to ease up on the homework and take an elective instead. And it hopefully meant he could join the Robotics club.
This summer class was a new program offered in his school system, and it cost his parents a whole lot of money. And unfortunately for him the last week of summer school coincided with something very, very important to him.
He and his father, Brice Jennings, were on their way home from a family reunion in Wyoming. David thought the blistering month of August was a horrible month to have such a celebration. The last day of summer school ended today, Friday August 5th and Monday through Thursday were supposed to be taken up with studying for the final, which was scheduled for today. But somehow he and his parents had convinced the teacher to allow him to take the test when he got back on Monday.
But driving from Casper Wyoming to Denver Colorado had been a very trying time for him. He battled nausea as he read the textbook, took notes, read his other reading assignments, took more notes, took the pre-tests in the back, answered the study questions, and did research on the paper he had to turn in.
It was the research paper that was causing him the most problems. He ‘d agreed to do this extra assignment in order to be allowed to take the test on Monday. It seemed as if Verizon had something against him personally. Driving down the interstate should’ve been no problem for a carrier that claimed the largest 3G network in the nation. But searches often timed out or suddenly the internet was unavailable.
Their flight was scheduled for that evening so he hoped to be able to do the rest of the research and finish the paper tomorrow on Saturday.
He normally excelled in most of his classes, until he reached High School. Now he was having the worst time just keeping up. He’d gotten his first B he could ever remember receiving, though it was only on an interim report. And it had been in Biology.
But that was last year. He almost dreaded what new tortures would await him during his sophomore year. He closed his notebook computer just as the nausea was peaking. He looked out at the road ahead. They were entering a small town, apparently heading west. And he knew from the map that Denver was east of Maybel. He also knew this small town was far more ‘out of’ the way’ than ‘on the way’ to Denver. But he did not remember turning off the interstate.
They had a flight to catch that did not leave until 9:00 pm that night and his father wanted to stop by an aunt’s house in Maybel before they left. His aunt Jude had not been able to make the reunion, despite her proximity to the event, due to a recent broken hip. It was just approaching 10:00 am by the time they reached her small house.
His Great Aunt lived on the southern edge of the town, right next to just about nothing. The town’s library and post office could be seen across the narrow street but set back a bit from the road. And between them, in the distance, there was what looked to be a volunteer ambulance service. David had heard of Volunteer Fire Departments, but not an ambulance service. The street itself dead ended in the distance with a large chain-link fence and a gate with a large red and white sign. It was too far away for David to make out.
He was oh so glad to be out of the damn car. They’d left Casper very early that morning when it was still dark, and had only stopped once along the way. They had been in the car for almost five hours. David had to use the bathroom pretty badly, and his queasy stomach did not let up much after he got out of the car.
The house was all on one floor with a wide, well-kept yard and a low flowerbed to the left of the front porch. He only recognized the daffodils, the rest he had seen many times but since they did not hold his interest, he did not know much about them. There was no garage, but there was a large and probably old Lincoln Town Car in the driveway.
Planted firmly in the front lawn of this obviously small residential, single-story house, was a large sign that read: “Brian’s ATV Rentals. Guided tours available.” A phone number was listed as well.
His dad knocked on the door and he got a “come in, door’s open!” reply from inside. The voice was of an old woman, used to smoking a lot. The door was thick and oak, probably, and had one of those round plates of glass in the center that was thick with some pattern so that you could not really see through it. Though he supposed you could at least tell if someone were standing in front of the door.
The small foyer was a bit interesting to David. There was a low chest to the right and high hooks above it for coats. There was a standing rack in the corner that looked like it should also be used for coats, but there were only hats on the short hooks at the top. To the left was a narrow door, probably a closet or something. The floor was polished wood planks. He supposed ‘Hardwood’ was what they were called, though he had seen very few in his life that were not fake. He was not sure he would be able to tell the difference, but looking at this floor it was plainly obvious it was real wood. There was also a small rug in the foyer, green with white trim and a black cat in the center wearing a hat. The cat had a piece of straw sticking out of the corner of its smiling mouth and gave the whole, small room a very welcoming feel.
But the strong odor of gingerbread or, perhaps spice-cake was what drew David’s attention the most. He had a sudden feeling that he was young Hansel, walking into the Gingerbread house and about to be baked into a pie or something. In any case his nausea seemed to fade almost instantly, though the odd feeling of walking into a witch’s house remained, if only tentatively.
Just beyond the foyer was the living room, or perhaps it was the family room. The house was far too small to have two such rooms so it must serve double-duty, at least in David’s humble opinion. There were two small sofas, two large cushioned seats, a low coffee table, and a fireplace. There were also several large and small plants in pots on low tables and on the floor.
Someone who was obviously his great aunt Jude was sitting in a wheel chair. She was in the opening that led to the kitchen. Behind her was a man pushing the wheelchair. He looked to be anywhere between 18 and 20 years old with dark blond hair, almost brown, and a face pocked with acne scars.
They moved into the large room as David’s father moved closer to give her a hug and say hello to the strange man.
David’s first impression of great aunt Jude was of an old, frail woman. His own grandmother was in her early 60s and she walked around just fine without the need of a wheelchair, though she did not have a broken hip. His mother’s only aunt had died the year before of Cancer, and David had known her very well. Now here was another old woman, probably older than his great aunt Karen, but also someone that David knew only had a few more years to live.
Somehow, he was not too sure how well he wanted to get to know her. If she was real nice he would feel horrible when she died. He thought he must have cried for a week after great aunt Karen’s funeral, and he had felt just awful. It had been far worse than when their dog Skippy died when David was twelve.
“Aunt Jude, I want you to meet my son, David Alexander.” He looked back at David and motioned him forward. “Come on David. Come say hi to your Aunt Jude. She is your Nana’s older sister.”
David distinguished between his mother’s mother and his father’s mother with the expedient measure of calling his father’s mother ‘Nana’ and his mother’s mother ‘Grandma.’ He stepped closer and stood next to his father. “Hi, Aunt Jude.” He said with a friendly smile. He was not a particularly shy boy, but for some reason he felt a little uncomfortable meeting her. He knew that this would be the only time he ever met her since he never had before and they lived so far away.
“Oh, come here. I won’t bite.” She said as she held out her arms for a hug.
David went forward and took the embrace. He was surprised to feel how strong she was. She certainly looked frail enough, with papery skin so thin he thought he could see the bones on the back of her hands. She had what he had always called ‘age spots’ all over her hands, arms, and face. He remembered that his Aunt Karen had them too, and to a lesser extent so did his grandpa. He never met his mother’s father since he died long before David was ever born.
When she had finished hugging David, she held onto his arm at the side of the chair. “My, you’re big. I think you will be taller than your father.” Brice Jennings was 6-1 and close to two hundred and twenty pounds. He had broad shoulders and a slim waist. As a police officer he was used to exercising regularly. But what continually kept him in excellent shape was his martial arts studio. He co-owned the Dojo with a friend and fellow officer.
Brice looked at his son David for a moment. David was 5-10, not unusual for men in his family at that age. But Brice remembered that he stopped getting taller when he was sixteen or so. He had been an early bloomer, or so his own parents told him. He wondered if his great aunt’s prediction would prove to be true for David or not.
“David, this is Brian Sheppard.” She said, indicating the man standing behind her. “He is one of your many cousins and another one of my grand-nephews. He’s been taking good care of me.”
David waved to Brian. “Hi.” He said simply.
“Hey, why don’t I give you a tour of the place, huh? Let your dad get acquainted with Granny, oh, I mean Aunt Jude, again. I’m sure they have lots to talk about.”
“Go ahead David. Just don’t go too far. We need to go in a few hours.” Said Brice.
Brian turned and David followed him into the kitchen. “Ok, here is the kitchen, you saw the living room and foyer. There is a bathroom right off of the foyer to the left. I know it looks like a closet, but it really is a bathroom, trust me.” He pointed through another opening that led to a short hallway. “Through there is another bathroom, this one a full bath, and two bedrooms. The room on the left is Granny’s, that’s what we all call her you know, Granny, not Aunt Jude. And the one on the right is mine. I’m staying with her now.”
“I graduated high school last year and am trying to earn enough money to go to college. That is, unless my business works out.”
David saw two baking pans on a counter top, both covered with cauliflower blue towels. Now that he was closer, he could tell they were the source of the gingerbread smell. And since he was now standing next to the still-hot oven, he could tell they were freshly baked.
“So, you rent ATVs” Asked David. His gaze left the baked goods and moved to the hallway. He looked longingly at the bathroom door at the end. “Mind if I use that bathroom?” He added.
“Yes, and yes. Go ahead and use the bathroom.” Said Brian. David immediately started off down the short hallway.
Brian continued talking though, and raised his voice once David had closed the door. “I get to stay here for free and keep the place up for her, though she pays me sometimes as well. Hey, can’t say no to free room and board, huh?” In a lower volume he added an additional comment to himself. “Though no one told me the word ‘Bored’ would figure so highly in the arrangement."
His volume increased again though. “I already had two ATV’s that belong to my dad and Granny lent me the money to buy a couple of others. You would not believe how easy it is to start a business like this in Colorado. I even have a corporate sponsor, would you believe it? They footed the bill for a lot more and better All Terrain Vehicles. I've got fifteen of them now.”
“In fact, I have some customers coming here in about twenty minutes. Two groups totaling thirteen people. You can come for free if you like, that's if your dad says it's ok. And if someone drops out he can come too.”
David felt much relieved as he walked out of the bathroom. He had noticed that all of the towels had the same cauliflower blue pattern. “Can I see them?” He asked Brian.
“Sure, they’re out back. Let me show you.”
He then led David to the other side of the kitchen where there was a sliding-glass door. Beyond was a cement patio. One quarter of the small patio was taken up by a rusted grill. Some of its original black color was still there, but it had mostly flaked away. There was a hole in the side from the rust and David imagined it had not been used in a decade.
The yard itself was pretty large and had a short chain-link fence running the length and sides of it. There was a shed in one corner with tracks leading to a gate in the fence. At the back, just on the other side of the gate, were fifteen four-wheeled, All Terrain Vehicles. They were covered in heavy tarps at the moment though. David had never ridden one before though he’d seen them on TV.
Beyond the fence there was nothing. Well, there were fields with some trees and low hills, but no defined properties. Several trails led off in various directions, obviously formed from the tracks of the ATVs.
“When I’m not renting them I sometimes ride with one of my friends. Drake is scared as shit and won’t take jumps, steep hills, or even go very fast. But at least he rides with me occasionally. Go ask your dad if you can come. I’ve got helmets for everyone. I’m sure one of them will fit you. Though when I’m not giving a tour I don’t use one, and I’m still alive, right?”
Somewhat excited about the prospect of using an ATV, David returned quickly to the living room. He was about to say something aloud to get the information to his dad, but saw that he was talking rather seriously with his aunt. Instead, he cleared his throat rather audibly. His father broke off whatever he was saying and looked up with a questioning expression on his face.
“Hey dad, can I go with Brian and ride one of his ATVs? He says he has some customers coming soon and I can join them for free if I want.”
Brice looked at his aunt. “Is it safe?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve never ridden one but Brian and his friends have always come home uninjured, for the most part…well, nothing serious anyway. They have helmets, though I’m not sure they use them.” She replied.
“Ok, sure David. Go ahead. But I think I’ll stay here and visit. Just use some common sense, don’t do anything stupid and risky. And wear a helmet. Oh, and remember that we have to leave here no later than 2:30. We have another five hour drive ahead of us. Keep an eye on the time.” He stood up and fished out his cell phone. “Here, take this. Our number here is listed as Aunt Jude and it’s the last number I called.”
“Thanks dad.” Said David. He took the cell phone and slipped it into the front pocket of his jeans. He then quickly turned around and went out the back door, which was now partially open. He closed it behind him and felt the heat of the day. He was sorry he had worn jeans since this was surely weather for shorts. But he moved at a jog to catch up with Brian half-way across the yard.
Brian had picked up a helmet from somewhere and handed it to David as he came up beside him. It looked like a motorcycle helmet with a break-away front. The whole front of it, along with the tinted visor, slid up and away when a tab at the chin was pulled. The word “Hawk” was printed on the back. It looked very sleek.
“It’s heavy and hot. It only looks cool. That’s why I don’t usually wear one.” He said. "Just try it on to see if it fits. We’re still waiting for actual customers.”
David noticed the microphone and speakers built into the helmet. ‘Cool’ He thought. My dad said I can ride as long as I wear a helmet."
Brian nodded and hoped that one of the people coming would cancel. He’d really like David’s father to come along. It was part of the reason he had offered David to come with them. Someone almost always cancels. He knew the man was a cop. As much as he personally despised cops, just as a matter of course, the two last-minute, paying additions might cause some problems. Immediately he regretted the offer. Now he would have to be responsible for the kid. And he was going for free. "You definitely need to wear that helmet kid."
“Ok, let’s get you acclimated to the bikes before the others get here. Let you get in some practice. This is the throttle. Push this button to start it, the key’s already in the ignition. Here’s the brake. It’s simple really. If you fall off or your hand leaves the throttle, the engine goes idle and the bike comes to a stop.”
David had ridden a Jet Ski for the first time three days ago. He had just been old enough to ride by himself. It had been a real blast flying across the water. And he remembered instructions just like these for the Jet Ski, except there had been a clip on his life vest that pulled a pin and cut the engine if he fell off. Even in idle the Jet Ski would keep going forward.
“You ever fall off?” He asked Brian.
“No. You think I’d tell you if I did? I’ve been riding these for years now. Go ahead. You take this one, it’s the oldest of the bunch. The others are not faster, but they’re less beat up. If you crash and burn or damage it, at least it will be the oldest one that gets toasted, not the newer ones.”
David got on and put on the helmet. It was a tight fit and it took him a minute to get the chin strap on. During that time he felt the heat and weight of the helmet. It was painted dark black and purple with white and silver trim. It soaked up the morning sun.
Brian came close and flicked a switch on the left side of the helmet. “Can you hear me?” Asked Brian. David saw that he was wearing his own helmet now.
He pressed the start button and the engine came to life. He looked up to see Brian nod to him. “Just tool around the yard here for a while. Get the feel of the ATV; how it steers, accelerates, and breaks. We’re waiting for the others to arrive. They could show up any minute.”