‘The handlebars. Climb on.’ When I just stood there, clearly doubtful, he said, ‘Look. If you want to learn to ride a bike, you have to want to learn to ride a bike. And the only way to do that is to see how fun it is, once you know what you’re doing. Hop on.’
I shot a look at Maggie. When she nodded encouragingly, I eased myself up on the handlebars, trying to be graceful about it. ‘Okay,’ Adam said. ‘Now hold on tight. When we get going really fast, you can let go, but only for a second, and only when you really feel ready.’
‘I’m not letting go,’ I told him. ‘Ever.’
‘That’s fine, too.’
Then he started pedaling. Slowly at first, and then a bit faster, so that the wind was blowing back my hair and ruffling my shirt. Once we reached the end of the parking lot, he hung a right and kept going.
‘Wait,’ I said, looking back at Maggie, who was watching us, her hand shielding her eyes. ‘What about…’
‘She’s fine,’ Adam said. ‘We won’t be gone long.’
We were on the main road now, moving swiftly along the shoulder, the occasional car passing us on the left. The sun was fully up now, and the air smelled sweet and salty, all at once. ‘Okay,’ Adam yelled as another car passed us, ‘tell me what you’re feeling.’
‘I’m hoping I don’t fall off the handlebars,’ I told him. ‘What else?’
‘I…’ I said as we bumped off the road, onto the boardwalk, ‘I don’t know.’
‘You have to be feeling something.’
I considered this as we started down the boardwalk, which was mostly empty, save for a few early morning walkers and a bunch of seagulls, which scattered as we approached. ‘It’s like flying,’ I said, watching them rise up. ‘Kind of.’
‘Exactly!’ he said, picking up the pace a bit. ‘The speed, the wind… and the best part is, it’s all you doing it. I mean, it’s me, now. But it will be you. And it will feel just like this. Or even better, actually, because it will be you doing it, all on your own.’
We were really going now, the boards clacking beneath us, and I leaned back farther, letting the wind hit my face straight on. To my right, the ocean was so big and sparkling, and, as we whooshed along, it was a steady blue, blurring past. Despite my worry about falling, and my various embarrassments, I felt a strange sense of exhilaration, and I closed my eyes.
‘See?’ Adam said, his voice somehow finding my ears. ‘This is a good thing.’
I opened my eyes, intending to respond to this. To tell him he was right, that I understood now, and how grateful I was that he’d given me this chance, and this ride. But just as my vision cleared, I realized we were passing the bike shop, and turned my head, looking at it. The front door was open, and in the second we blew by it I could see the back lights were on and someone was standing at the counter. Someone holding a plastic coffee cup. Maybe we were going so fast that Eli didn’t even see, or if he did, had no way of knowing it was me. But regardless, for one instant, I decided to let go for real, and held up my hands anyway.
For the next week, Maggie and I practiced almost every morning. It was a ritual: I picked up two coffees at Beach Beans, then met her at the jump park clearing. At first, on Adam’s advice, we incorporated what he called ‘assisted riding’, i.e., me pedaling with her holding on to the back of the seat. Then we worked up to her letting go for small increments, while still running behind, so I didn’t topple over. Now, we were increasing those periods, bit by bit, while I continued to work on my balance and pedaling. It wasn’t perfect – I’d had a couple of wipeouts, and still sported scabs on both knees – but it was much better than that first day.
More and more lately, I’d been realizing that my life had again shifted, almost reversing itself. I now stayed home at night, studying and sleeping, and was out in the early morning and afternoon, almost like a normal person. Unlike a normal person, though, I was still spending most of my time alone. If I wasn’t at work or practicing with Maggie, I was at home, avoiding texts from Jason – which were still coming, although not with such regularity, thank God – and phone calls from my parents.
I knew they both had to be wondering what was going on, as I hadn’t talked to either of them in ages, ignoring their calls and subsequent messages. I knew this was childish, and for some reason this actually made it okay to me. Like it was another part of my unfinished quest, making up for lost time. Really, though, some part of me was worried that if I did speak to either of them – even for a moment, one word – whatever I’d barely tapped into that day leaving the Condor would spill out like a big wave, engulfing us all.
The only family member I was talking to was Hollis, but even our contact was sporadic at best, if only because he was so caught up in his new life with Laura. If my dad’s relationship was falling apart, and my mom’s, as usual, never really even starting, Hollis was still bucking convention and his own history. Weird enough that he was still madly in love, long after he usually had lost interest and moved on. Now, he’d done something else shocking.
Even though I had dialed his number and so knew this was my brother, I was still taken aback by his professional tone. ‘Hollis?’
‘Aud! Hey! Hold on, let me just step outside.’
There were some muffled noises, followed by the sound of a door shutting. Then he was back. ‘Sorry about that,’ he said. ‘We’re just on a break from this meeting.’
‘You and Laura?’
‘No. Me and the rest of the personal finance specialists.’
He cleared his throat. ‘My coworkers. I’m at Main Mutual now, didn’t Mom tell you?’
Vaguely, I remembered my mother saying something about a bank. ‘I guess,’ I said. ‘How long have you been there?’
‘Three weeks or so,’ he said. ‘It’s gone fast, though. I’m really clicking here.’
‘So,’ I said slowly, ‘you like it?’
‘Totally!’ I heard a horn beep. ‘Turns out I’m really good at customer relations. I guess all that bullshitting around Europe did train me for something after all.’
‘You relate to customers?’
‘Apparently.’ He laughed. ‘I got hired on as a teller, but after a week they moved me to the customer service desk. So I handle all the account changes, and safety-deposit applications, stuff like that.’