“Faulkner!” I heard a voice yell from down the street. “Where are you?”
“Bye, Halley,” he whispered, smiling at me as he slipped easily around the side of the house, disappearing into the darkness of my backyard. I leaned around the corner, watching him as he ducked beneath the kitchen window, where Noah Vaughn was standing. His face was stony, solemn, as he stared at me, holding a Coke in his hand. He couldn’t see what I saw: Macon, my last glimpse, vanishing into thin air.
The next morning my father was grinning when I came outside. He loved this. “Well, hey there, lawn girl. Ready to take on the Beast?” Then he made the growling noise again.
“You’re not funny,” I said.
“Sure I am.” He chuckled. “Better get started before it gets any warmer. It’ll take you a good two hours, at least.”
“Shut up,” I said, which just made him laugh harder. My father believes our lawn is impossible; over the years it had sent yard services and neighborhood mowing boys running for their lives. My father, the only one who could navigate it safely, saw himself as a warrior, victorious among the grass clippings.
“Okay, here’s the thing,” he said, now suddenly serious. “There’s the Hole between the junipers that got me last summer, as well as a row of tree roots by the fence that were made specifically to pull you to the side and cut your motor. Not to mention the ruts in the backyard and the series of hidden tree stumps. But you’ll do fine.”
“Just let me get it over with.” I leaned down and started the mower, pushing it to the front curb, with him still behind me chuckling.
It was hot, loud, and too bright out in that yard. I got sleepy, then careless, and hit the Hole, which of course I’d forgotten; my ankle twisted in it and I fell forward, the mower flying out from under me and sputtering to a stop. By this time my father had gone to the fence by the driveway and was busy talking lawns or golf or whatever with Mr. Perkins, our neighbor. Neither one of them noticed me do a faceplant in the grass, then kick the mower a few feet out of pure vengeance.
I heard a horn beep and turned to see a red pickup truck sliding to a stop by the curb, a green tarp thrown over something in the truck bed. It was Macon.
“Hey,” he said, getting out of the truck and slamming the door. “How’s it going?”
“Fine,” I said. “Actually, it’s not. I just fell down.” I looked over at my father, who was staring right back at us.
“That your dad?” Macon said.
“Yep,” I said. “That’s him.”
Macon looked around the yard, at the small patch I’d done so far and the high grass that lay ahead all around us, spurred on by a straight week of rain. “So,” he said confidently, “you want some help?”
“Oh, you don’t want to...” I said, but he was already walking back to the truck, pulling the tarp aside to reveal a mower twice the size of mine, which he wheeled off a ramp on the back. He had on his BROADSIDE HOME AND GARDEN baseball hat, which he flipped around backwards, readying for action.
“You don’t understand,” I said to him as he started checking the gas, examining the wheels, “this lawn is, like, impossible. You practically need a map to keep from killing yourself.”
“Are you underestimating my ability as a lawn-service provider?” he asked, looking up at me. “I sincerely hope that you are not.”
“I’m not,” I said quickly, “but it’s just... I mean, it’s really hard.”
“Psssh,” he said, fanning me off with one hand. “Just stand back, okay?” And then he stood up, pulled the cord, and the mower roared to life and started across the lawn with Macon guiding it. It sucked up the grass, marking a swath twice as wide as I’d been managing with the Beast. I turned around to look at my father, who was staring at Macon as he glided over the tree roots and past the Hole, and edged the fence perfectly.
“Halley,” my father said from behind me, yelling over the roar of the mower, “this is supposed to be your job.”
“I’m working,” I said quickly, starting up my own mower, which puttered quietly like a kid’s toy as I pushed it along between the juniper bushes. “See?”
I didn’t hear what he said as Macon passed us again, the mower annihilating the grass and leaving a smooth, green trail behind him. He nodded at my father, all business, as he turned the corner and disappeared around the side of the house, the roar scaring all the birds at the feeder on the back porch into sudden flight.
“Who is that kid?” my father said, craning his neck around the side of the house.
“What?” I was still pushing my mower, circling the trees by the fence. The smell of cut grass filled the air, sweet and pungent.
“Who is he?”
I cut off the mower. In the backyard I could see Macon mowing around the hidden tree stumps. My father saw it too, his face shocked. “He’s my friend,” I said.
There must have been some giveaway in how I said it because suddenly his face changed and I could tell he wasn’t thinking about the lawn anymore.
My mother came out the front door, holding her coffee cup. “Brian? There’s some strange boy mowing the lawn.”
“I know,” my father said. “I’m handling it.”
“I thought that was Halley’s job,” she said like I wasn’t even there. “Right?”
“Right,” he said in a tired voice. “It’s under control.”
“Fine.” She went back inside, but I could see her standing in the glass door, watching us.
“This was supposed to be your job,” he said, as if reading off a script she’d written.
“I didn’t ask him to do it,” I said as the mower roared around the corner of the house, edging the garage. “We were talking about it last night and I guess he just remembered. He works mowing lawns, Dad. He just wanted to help me out.”
“Well, that doesn’t change the fact that it was your responsibility. ” It was an effort, but he was fading.
The mower was roaring toward us now as Macon finished off the patch by the front walk. Then he came closer, until the noise was deafening, before finally cutting it off. We all stood there in the sudden silence, looking at each other. My ears were ringing.
“Macon,” I said slowly, “this is my dad. Dad, this is Macon Faulkner.”
Macon stuck his hand out and shook my father’s, then leaned back against the mower, taking off his hat. “Man, that is one tough yard you have there,” he said. “Those tree stumps out back almost killed me.”