“The show tonight. You going?”
An excited voice asked, directed towards the back of Levi’s head. He turned to see that the anonymous question came from Ava. She playfully turned to look behind her as well.
“A-are you asking me?” he nervously replied.
“Casper, did you hear something just now?” Ava said as she pretended to look around. “Of course you. Who else? All of us in the student council worked so hard to make this happen tonight. We have to go.”
“Oh yeah, the fireworks show,” Levi said as he rubbed his head and looked off to the side. “The thing is, I promised my grandpa that I’d help him with something after school today. He kinda needs me to be there.”
“Oh... that’s too bad,” Ava said with a disappointed but understanding look. “We didn’t get to talk much during the setup and since this is the last day before summer break, I thought it’d be nice to hang out a bit… but hey, I still think it’s great you’re helping your grandpa! Maybe see ya around during summer?”
“Y-yeah yeah! Of course. See you around.”
Levi quickly did a 180 turn and squeezed his way between the stampede of students, making his way towards the rear exit door. Before exiting through the double doors, he looked back and saw Ava’s face off in the distance. She was staring deeply at her locker with a gloomy expression before one of her friends ecstatically yelled her name, breaking her trance. He thought little of it and went on his way.
Levi waited for a few minutes outside the double doors before continuing his way to the bike rack in the parking lot. He removed his bike-lock and noticed his rear wheel was looking a bit deflated. He made a mental note to inflate it once he got home. Lifting the kickstand with his foot, he got on the bike and sped down the now deserted street.
The afternoon bike ride was Levi’s favorite part of the day. It was when he could finally unwind and feel free. Not having to worry about his future, fitting in at school, or even embarrassing himself in front of his high-school crush, Ava. The 30-minute ride wasn’t an easy one as well. Strenuous winding hills, uneven terrain, and dirt paths plagued his daily commute, but he enjoyed every moment.
After riding for some time, Levi arrived at mile marker 7, which was also the halfway point between his home and school. Levi got off his bike and leaned it against the sign post like he usually did every day. Near the marker was a large flat stone that overlooked the town and all the wheat fields surrounding it. It was a breathtaking sight indeed. Though beautiful, Levi’s main reason for visiting the scenic point was to talk with his beloved dog, Photon.
Photon had disappeared the previous year and so Levi and his grandpa made a little dog shrine at marker 7, where Photon loved to visit. A water bowl engraved with the letter P marked the altar among other favorite toys scattered around nearby.
“Hiya boy! You missed me?” Levi said as he picked up a squeaky toy in the shape of a bone.
Whistling wind and the sound of falling leaves only replied.
“You’ve been holding down the fort while I was away? You know gramps is making our favorite tonight, chili with jalapenos. I can’t wait, I’m starving.”
Levi squeezed the chew toy in his hand, causing a high pitch squeal.
“You want to hear something super-mega-ultra embarrassing that happened to me today? Ava talked to me for like the first time. Like I mean really talked to me with her face. I know right! Hold the applause and tail wagging, please. Well, I’m glad to inform you that yours truly had choked so hard that I thought I needed a Heimlich performed.”
Levi continued to talk for a while more about his school life, preparing for entrance exams, and life at home before noticing the sun was dipping into the horizon. Observing the shadows of the nearby trees sway and fro, he knew it was time to go. He placed the chew toy back on the ground and took a long stare at it before continuing.
“Hey, remember, years ago we saw those fireflies here. We tried catching them with jars so we could show mom but they were too fast. You were chasing them and trying to catch‘em with your mouth. And then when you finally got one, I had to pry your mouth open. That was the best day, wasn’t it? I always hoped we’d see them again.”
Levi got up from off the large stone and walked towards his backpack hanging on the marker post. He put both arms through the straps and swung his legs over his bike. As he was about to leave, he looked at the aluminum bowl and felt the hole in his heart dig a little deeper.
“I miss ya, boy,” he said, as his eyes watered. Levi rubbed away the tears and continued on his way.
It was around twilight when Levi arrived at his grandpa’s home. He rolled his bike to the front steps of the patio, and walked around the house, and into the backyard. There he saw his grandpa, with a chisel and hammer in hand. He was crouched over a wooden sculpture with wood chips scattered around his feet.
“Sorry grandpa. I got caught up chatting with Photon again. How’s it looking?”
“Oh, Levi! Looks like this’ll be the one to shut that old yapper’s trap. I can’t wait to see the look on that old fart’s face when he sees this!” he said with glee.
Levi’s grandpa had been in a feud with uncle Tom from across the street for as long as he could remember. They both seemed to have forgotten what actually started the fight, but it eventually developed into whoever had the bigger and better new toy in their yard. This instance came into existence last week when Tom placed a large peacock birdhouse on the tree facing grandpa’s window. That day, Levi’s grandpa drove to the hardware store and began working on a monstrous birdhouse resembling a golden eagle with a crown on top of its head.
“Nice! It’s looking great, grandpa. Where should I get started?”
“We need to go big and bold, Levi. Big and bold. Go on and grab that brush over there. Start working on the wings while I touch up these talons. That old bastard will never see us coming!” his grandpa said, followed by a cackle.
“So how was school?”
“Not bad. Same old I guess.”
“You don’t have that whatchamacallit today. That firework thing you’ve been working on?” His grandpa said while still focused on the eagle’s foot.
“Nope. We finished that yesterday. Today’s the last day of school.”
Levi’s grandpa stopped what he was doing and looked at Levi.
“Well…” his grandpa said.
“Well... well what?” Levi retorted, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, why the hell are you here with me. You should be out hanging with your friends and doing dumb kid stuff. Not sloppily painting this majestic creature with an old man.”
“Sloppily?” Levi said, removing his brush from the eagle. “Well one, I think I’m doing a great job and two, you know I don’t really vibe with anyone at school. I’d rather be doing dumb kid stuff here and be painting an incredibly mediocre animal.”
“Mediocre!?” his grandpa said, with an appalled expression plastered to his face.
“Correct-O! And since we’re on criticism, why’d you go with an eagle? Everyone knows a phoenix one-ups an eagle. And what’s with the golden crown? Did he stop at burger king to get a whopper before landing on our front lawn,” Levi laughed.
“Okay smartass, I get it” His grandpa said, before slapping the back of Levi’s head.
They both laughed for a bit as the sun sank into the earth, taking with it the remaining traces of light. Levi’s grandpa walked up to a shelf in the shed and came back with an old glass lantern. He removed from his pocket an old matchbook and took out a single match from it. He struck the box with the match, resulting in a beautiful orange glow. Gently, he placed the weak flame in the lantern and lit the mantle.
“You’re a good kid, Levi. A damn good one. The best grandson an old man could ask for,” his grandpa said before blowing out the flame on the matchstick. “But I’ll be the hair on a pig’s ass if you ain’t the brightest bulb of the lot.”
“Wh-what? Was that really English?” Levi said with a dumbfounded expression.
Levi’s grandpa continued as if he didn’t hear him, tossing to the ground the extinguished match.
“I may have been… well, shit. What some may call difficult. Go to hell, Margaret.” Margaret was grandpa’s nurse that came 3 times a week to make sure he took his meds. Recently, she reported him to the hospital administration for creating a makeshift water balloon launcher, hoping to assassinate his neighbor with it. “But I guess, what can I say, you grew on me. And ever since that mutt disappeared, seeing you mope around, well, it breaks my damn heart.”
Levi’s grandpa turned to face the direction where Photon’s altar was.
“Did I ever tell you what the bastard did while you were away at school?” Levi heard the story a thousand times by now but he always listened, laughed, and cheered as if it was the very first time. “That thief jumped on the kitchen table and damn near ate half the pot-roast that I was making for dinner! I chased him ‘round the whole yard with a boot while the old cow was yelling and screaming at us to settle down. He ran straight between her legs, making her fall flat on her ass!” They both started belly laughing while doing silly impressions of Margaret. He paused for a moment before continuing.
“He was a wonderful dog, wasn’t he?”
“The best dog,” Levi said as he placed a hand on his grandpa’s shoulder.
“I think you should go to that school thing, Levi.”
“What do you mean? I already told you, I wanted to help finish this.”
Levi’s grandpa turned to the statue of the eagle. He placed his hand on its neck and traced his fingers down to the wing of the bird, admiring the intricate details of the feathers.
“If there’s three things I know for certain, it’s that neighbors will always be a pain in my ass, that Photon lived the best damn dog life he could, and that kids just want to have fun. Don’t go clipping your own wings, Levi.”
They both stood in silence for a few moments, staring at the expertly crafted eagle.
“I really miss him,” Levi said as a few tears streamed down his cheek.
Levi’s grandpa placed his arm around his grandson’s neck.
“A helluva dog, if I say so myself.”
“Do you think I can still make it?” Levi asked while looking up at the eagle.
A faint smile appeared on Levi’s grandpa’s face.
“Only if you ride like your ass is on fire.”
A smile grew on his face. He picked up his bag and started walking toward his bike. He stopped before going out of sight and turned towards his grandpa.
“You know, I kinda like the crown. It gives it a pleasant touch,” Levi said before continuing on.
“Your damn right it does,” his grandpa said under his breath.
Levi left the house around eight o’clock, which meant he had 30 minutes to get to school. It was a time crunch considering school was roughly 6 miles away, but he knew he could make it. He zipped between parked cars, glided around bends, and peddled without fear down the steep slopes. He was making good progress till he heard a “pop!”
Levi looked back and saw that his tire blown out. He forgot to refill it at the house.
“Frick!” he shouted in annoyance.
He was near the halfway point, which meant he could drop off his bike next to Photon and figured he could jog the rest of the way to town and still make it on time.
Levi got off his bike and started walking with it towards marker-7. As he was walking, a feeling of dread combined with shame, washed over him as he noticed all the cars at his back were those of his classmates. All he could hear was cackling and horns from each car that passed.
“Great idea grandpa,” he sarcastically sighed.
Levi continued to walk despite the barrage of heckling and figured he could at least see Photon before heading back home.
“I hope Margaret makes you do physical therapy a whole month, old man,” was one of many insults Levi cast from under his breath.
Just when it seemed like the horns were dying down, and the obnoxious whistling was subsiding, Levi heard a “toot toot.”
“Go around!” he said in annoyance while motioning with his hand.
“Toot toot!” the sound neared.
“I said go around!” Levi turned angrily toward the direction the
sound was coming. “Are you de…” he stopped in mid-sentence when he saw who was nearing. Ava was riding a neon blue bicycle paired with a similar colored bike helmet.
As she approached, she removed her helmet and flipped her hair back, followed swiftly with a finger comb. Levi thought she looked stunning at that moment.
“Am I what?” she asked.
“You are what?… Oh no, I mean! I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to myself, but like not in a weird way.”
Ava giggled as she listened to Levi try his best to explain.
“Don’t worry, I do that too, but I always opt for the weird way.” She followed up with a cross-eyed impression and snarling nostrils.
Levi broke out in laughter, shortly followed by Ava.
“That's a good look.”
“Oh, I know. A head turner for sure,” she winked. “So, you ARE going to the show?”
“Oh, yeah. I mean I was, but I got a flat. I guess that’s fate’s way of telling me to go home and turn on Netflix for the night.”
“What, don’t be silly! I’ll pack you. you can stand on the pegs.” Ava pointed towards the rear of her bicycle, suggesting the two aluminum bars.
“Ah, I don’t know. I was only going for a minute or two and then heading back, anyway. Kind of not in the mood anymore."
For a few seconds, Ava said nothing except stare at Levi. After what felt like an eternity, she got up from her bike and stood face to face with him. Before She said anything, she took a long moment to look deep in his eyes as if the answer she sought was there.
“I think you should go with me.”
“We both worked hard to make this night happen. I think we should see it through to the end. Besides, it’ll be fun.”
“There's no excuse in the world that’ll justify not going tonight. If you want my advice and if I were you, I’d apologize for being a jerk earlier, accept this dashing girl’s offer, and lastly offer to buy her some funnel cake cause she loves it. Trust me, I have an inside source.”
A few seconds of silence had passed between them before Levi spoke.
“People still use the word’ dashing, huh?”
“Just me. Cause I am,” she winked with both eyes.
“Well, you had me at funnel cake. Let me drop my bike off over there.” Levi pointed to the marker 7. “It’s my dog’s favorite spot.”
“Oh, you have a dog! Also, I didn’t say I’d be sharing.”
“I had a dog. He just disappeared one day out of the blue. My grand dad and I built a little makeshift shrine in his favorite spot. Thought he might smell or recognize the stuff and return home. Yeah I know, kinda dumb.”
“Not dumb at all. I think its sweet. Can I see?”
They both began walking towards the bend till they reached the mile marker. Levi rolled his bike off the pavement and leaned it against the large stone that overlooked the town. He turned to Ava and saw that she had her eyes closed and her head was bent slightly back. A gust of wind gently came and engulfed the pair, as if it were welcoming them home.
“This place… Its so beautiful. How Have I not been here before?”
“I guess its kind of like superman’s fortress of solitude. People overlook the boring.”
Levi bent down and picked up the bone shaped chew toy that was at his feet and handed it to Ava.
“Well, this is really all I have left to remember him. A few of his favorite toys and a water bowl.”
Ava took the chewed up toy and gave it a warm hug, surprising Levi.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Photon. Say, you think I can borrow your friend for a bit while you watch his stuff? I promise to have him back by midnight.”
“Boy, I give you full permission to eat any funnel cake that approaches incautiously and unannounced.”
“Hey!” Ava said, before hitting Levi’s arm.
“Well, you ready to get going? If the offer is still on the table, that is?”
Ava smiled and gently placed the toy back on the ground.
They both began walking towards the bike near the road. Ava got on first, followed by Levi. As Ava peddled, Levi looked back at the large rock and saw something he hadn’t seen in a long time. An orange glow dancing between the grass as if it were being chased.