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I just stood there holding my bike, still staring in the direction that Little Mike left in. My mind was racing, trying to come up with some reasonable explanation of what the hell was going on…
“OK,” I said to my bike as I set it back down and went back to the swing set. “None of this should be here, it’s a dream. Yeah, that’s it. I’m dreaming.” I said loud enough for half of the street behind me to hear.
I absently walked to the other end of the swings, sat down and pushed off with quite some force. My mind was still running at a million miles a minute as I digested this new revelation and I gained a good amount of height.
“It’s a dream. None of this is real.” I repeated to myself. “I haven’t woken up yet. Damn this is a good one too.” I chuckled as I slid my hands higher on the chain to pull myself further into the seat.
“OW! DAMN IT!” I yelled as I dug my feet into the dirt to stop, creating a huge cloud of dust.
When I opened my right hand, it was covered with blood. I looked at it in disbelief as I looked the chain over. Then the words from Little Mike a few minutes earlier echoed through my head, “Don’t use the swing on the left, there’s a sharp spot on the chain that can cut you and they haven’t fixed it yet.”
“That really hurt,” I muttered to my hand. “This is a dream. How could that hurt, how could I feel the pain like that?”
“Because they need to replace those darned chains.” A voice boomed out, shocking me back to reality.
When I looked up, there in front of me stood Leo, the school’s janitor, well he was when I was a kid…
“Oh my god. Hi, Leo.” I said without even thinking first.
“Do I know you?” He asked, looking a little bewildered.
“Think fast…Should I continue to play into this nightmare, or test it?” I thought before deciding to throw caution to the wind.
“You used to I think; actually I’m not sure anymore I think I’m losing my mind.”
“Well, you obviously know my name, How’s about a refresher on yours cause I can honestly say I can’t remember it to save my soul.” He stated in what I always thought to be a ‘grandfatherish’ kind of way.
“Well, it’s Michael, Michael Page.”
“Nope, not ringing any bells. Did you work here or something? I usually never forget a face.” He asked as he sat on the swing next to me.
“No, I was a student here back in the late 70’s” I spit out. More to see what his response would be than anything else.
“Hehehe, that’s not possible. Stop playin’ with me son, how do you know my name?” He chuckled out.
I took a deep breath and decided “If he’s half as wise as I thought he was back when I was a kid, he’ll either hear me out or take this all as a joke. Either way, no harm done.”
“Well, Page is my adopted name. It was originally Avery.” I stated as I slowly looked up into his now pondering expression.
“Oh, are you Mikey’s uncle or something? I thought I saw him with you a minute ago.” He said as a smile returned to his old, tired looking face.
“Nope…” I replied, and with a sigh continued, “I am Mikey, Leo Don’t you recognize me?”
“Oh come on, quit joshin’ with me. Did Mikey put you up to this? That little bugger is always up to something.” He said as he looked back in my direction.
“Up to something? You mean like the time I purposely slammed my jacket into my locker so the door would jam, just because I didn’t want to take that math test?” I sat upright and studied his expression.
“It took you two hours to finally get the locker door to open, and when you did free it, the door popped back and hit you in the forehead.” I continued. But still no response other than a puzzled look.
“Do you remember that fight I got into my last week here? The one where my glasses got smashed and you brought me to the nurse’s office?” With that, he just looked over at me with a look that I could only define as bewildered.
“You sat there with me for an hour and a half. I remember telling you that my dad was gonna beat me when he got home because my glasses were new. I even remember what you said.”
“Oh, you do? What would that be?” He asked. Knowing that I would never have shared this with anyone back when I was a kid.
“You put your arm around my shoulder and said ‘Son. if he ever lays a hand on you, come and get me. I’ll set him straight’ and then you sat down with some glue and started to piece the broken parts of my glasses back together.”
He silently sat there, his squinting eyes, obviously studying my face and probably waiting for the punchline.
“I never did thank you for that… Never did take you up on that offer either.”
We both sat there in silence, me staring off into space and I’m sure his eyes were still locked on me. Probably trying to figure out if I was some sort of lunatic or if Little Mike had put me up to this.
After about a full minute of silence, I finally decided to push my luck. “Leo, why didn’t you ever tell me how sick your grandson Kenny really is?”
Leo took a half step backward, now obviously shaken. “How do you know he’s sick? I haven’t told anyone about that. Not anyone damn it, just who the hell are you?” He now demanded.
In my entire life, I had never seen Leo angry. His grandson was a close friend of mine until the year I left this school. Then he just stopped going to public schools completely.
“You told me, it was about a year from now when you finally told me that he had Leukemia.” Just remembering how hurt he was started to make tears well up in my eyes again, even after all this time. “He was my best friend, and you never even told me until I hadn’t seen him for almost two full years.”
Leo looked at me as I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. ‘Wow, it still hurts to think of that day. That was the day he told me that he had passed away.’
“Son, look at me.” He said, now in his usual soft, concerned tone of voice that I remembered so well. “Look in my eyes.” He stated as he brought his fingers to my chin to raise my face to his. His expression actually melted as if he had found what he was looking for and didn’t expect to. “I’ll be damned,” He said with amazement in his voice as he released my chin. “I have no idea how but it really is you. I can feel it too. What’s happening here? How is this possible?”
It was my turn to be shocked, but he knew me somehow. “You really recognize me?”
“Yes Son, I don’t know how it’s possible, but it truly is you. No question about it.” He said as he scratched the back of his head and looked me up and down.
“Are you just trying to humor me so I’ll shut up or do you really believe me?” I asked, my turn to wonder if he was trying to pacify an insane man.
He looked me in the eyes again and started “That day I fixed your glasses, when I was putting them back on you, I noticed that your right eye, just at the top of your pupil had a brown spot in what I always thought was pure blue. I remembered it because Kenny has a similar green spot in his right eye in almost the exact same spot but with his dark brown eyes his stands out more.”
He looked to be in deep thought when he continued “You and I spent quite a few days just sitting and talking and I learned quite a lot about you, like that scar on your left forearm, or that small birthmark on your neck.”
“Wow, I guess you really did… I mean do know me well.” I replied.
“How is this possible? You look like you are about in your twenty’s at least now.” He knelt down in front of me and put his hand on my knee, just like he used to anytime I sat and talked to him about a problem.
“Well, I’m not sure where to start cause up ’til now, I just assumed I was going insane or that this was just a bad dream or something.”
“Why don’t you tell me inside the building, we need to get that hand cleaned up before you get an infection?” He stated as he waved for me to follow him.
While inside the school, I spent the better part of an hour retelling the events of the day since waking up this morning. I have no idea if he believed all that he was hearing but, just like he always did, he listened and thought. Leo was a sweet old guy who would give the shirt off his back to a total stranger if they needed it. No questions asked. He was always there for me to talk to if I needed it, well until he stopped working here about a year from now.
Once he was done patching my hand up and I finished telling him everything I knew, we went back out on the steps and sat down. ‘Just like old times’ I thought to myself.
“Well Mikey, I have to say that is one of the strangest stories I have ever heard but, I think I may have a theory. If you don’t mind a bit of speculation.” He said with a serious look on his face.
“Hehehe, you’re just using big words to sound like you know what you’re talking about,” I said grinning, remembering having said that to him a few times when I was younger and he shared some of his thoughts with me which earned me a chuckle.
“No, I don’t believe you will ever change.” He said with a big smile shaking his head. “Mikey, you believe in God, don’t you?”
“Sure I do, I mean I’m not a regular churchgoer but, I do believe. Why, what are you thinking?”
“Son, the lord has some strange ways about him. He has a reason for doing everything. We may not always understand right away why he’s doing what he’s doing but, I believe he has a reason for everything.” He paused, probably waiting for a response from me.
When I just shook my head, sort of in disbelief he went on. “Maybe he needs you here to fix something. Do you remember doing anything wrong, or something bad happening at about this point in time in your own past?”
‘Well, there’s an interesting thought.’ I wondered to myself. ‘I can’t remember anything right happening in the summer of 1980.’
“Don’t tell me what you are thinking because if there was I probably shouldn’t know. But if there was, he may be giving you a chance to make things right. You followin’ me?”
“Yeah, but there were a few things that happen this year that is completely out of my control, as an adult or a kid. I can’t think of anything that I could have done to make any of it better. Besides, how do I know exactly what it could be?” I asked because I honestly had no clue.
“Your answer might just come from yourself; all you need to do is wait for him to ask.” He said pointing to a small figure just clearing the opening to the gate.
“Leo!” Little Mike yelled; as he made his way over to us.
“That little one there may just think I am insane, or even stalking him now,” I muttered to Leo low enough so Mike couldn’t hear.
“Mikey!” He yelled. “Why don’t you come on over here and sit with me, I need to talk to you?”
Little Mike looked at me, and then at Leo before setting the kickstand on his bike and walking up the stairs towards us. His eyes locked on me with an expression on his face that I knew to be hiding fear or anger. He then sat down on the opposite side of Leo and put his hand on his shoulder.
“How ya doin’ Leo, haven’t seen you here the last couple of days.” He said giving him a grin.
“Oh, I’m fine. I only work three days a week now that school is out, just like last year.” He said as he ruffled Little Mike’s hair. “Mikey, I’m not sure just why this is happening but, do you know this man over here?” He asked while pointing over to me.
“I think so, Leo he knows a lot about me. In lots of ways, he’s just like me. I’m not sure though.” He said as if his time away gave him enough time to think things over.
“Mikey, there are a few people in my life that I would never turn my back on. My family, and a few of my close friends. I consider you to be one of my close friends.” He said while looking in his eyes. “I don’t think he just knows a lot about you, I think for some reason, he is you. Or maybe even just a part of you. You followin’ me here?”
Little Mike started into his eyes and listened. I remember when I was a kid; I always thought this man walked on water. His word was law, always straightforward and nothing but the truth. He would have been one of my favorite teachers but, he never set foot in a classroom; except to clean it.
“How? I mean he can’t be me, can he?” Little Mike asked as I continued to silently watch the wise old man work his magic.
Leo spent quite a bit of time, relaying the story I had just told him of my day up ’til now. Then, gave him his own thoughts as to why I was here. In terms he better understood. Even mentioning that I may just be here to help with something a higher power thought my younger self-needed my adult strength to handle. His explanation was sheer genius in my mind. “There is no way I could have explained it like that. Leo, I owe you one…”
“But, how do you know he’s me? I mean, for sure.” Little Mike asked.
“Because I never forget a face. Besides, you feel comfortable sitting here with me don’t you?”
“And if someone were to sit here right now and pretend to be me, lookin’ and talkin’ like me; you would feel that the difference. Wouldn’t you?”
“Well sure, No one could replace you. Even if they tried I would just know.” Little Mike stated in defense of his old friend.
“Well, I ‘just know’ that when I look into the eyes of your friend here, I see the same soul I see when I look into yours. He may be out of place here, but I ‘just know’ that he is the end result of a few years added onto yourself. Listen to him because he may have something you need.” Leo put his hands on his and my shoulders as he stood up.
Little Mike just sat there and looked up at Leo, then over to myself before saying “I’m sorry I ran off like I did. I guess I was kinda scared cause you knew so much about me.”
“That’s okay kiddo, in your shoes I guess I would have done the same thing.” Then after thinking a bit, with a half-smile, I added: “Well, I guess you proved that I would, didn’t you?”
“Hehehe, yeah. You sure you didn’t see it coming?” He said with a miniature grin of my own.
“Well,” Leo broke in. “I have to be getting home now. Mike, if you need me for anything, even just to talk you know where I am. Mikey, same goes for you.”
Little Mike got up and gave Leo a tight hug around the waist saying “Thanks, Leo, I’ll let you know how it goes, okay?”
I gave him a knowing smile and a wave, then looked ahead at the fence and gate, wondering exactly what that ‘Anything’ I may need help with would end out being. The door closing behind me made me look over just in time to have little Mike sit down on the steps next to me.
“Whatcha thinking?” He asked.
“I guess about everything. I don’t know why I’m here or even how to find out. If Leo’s right, then I need to find out I think.”
“Well, how did you get here?” ‘Ahhh, the million dollar question.’
“I don’t know. The day started out pretty normal. Once I got to the school where I met up with you it all seemed to get weird I guess, Leo explained it best.”
Little Mike just sat with his arms resting on his knees staring at his arms.
“Lemme see your arm.” He said, with a sort of curious tone.
“OK,” I said as he grabbed my left arm and turned it so the palm of my hand was facing upward.
“Hmm.” He said as he looked at my forearm, and then back at his.
Once releasing his grip, he returned to his original position without a word. I looked at my own arm and realized just what it was he wanted to see.
“That scar, is that what you were looking for?”
“Yeah, I guess Leo is right, isn’t he?” He asked while poking at his own arm.
I just shrugged my shoulders in response.
“Mike and Mikey…” I muttered out loud. “I guess that should aid in some confusion with our names,” I said with a chuckle remembering Leo’s last words before leaving.
“Yeah, does anyone still call you Mikey?”
“Well, some of my friends do, Ma does every once in a while still but normally it’s ‘Michael’ or ‘Michael Jeremie’, some things never change,” I said with a smile thinking about whenever my mother wants my attention in a hurry, the middle name gets thrown in.
“Yeah,” Mikey said with a giggle. “and if she adds the last name, do you still run?”
“You know it. Like I said, some things never change.”
We both leaned back on the steps and stared off into the sky for a few minutes in silence. Myself just rolling my thoughts around and I’m sure Mikey doing the same.
“Well Sport, what’s the plan? I guess we have some catching up to do and a mystery to solve now.”
“Well, um, are you hungry?” He asked with a grin.
‘Yes. I am glad to see that my priorities are all in order, no matter what my age.’ “Yeah, there’s an idea. What you in the mood for?”
“Well” He seemed to think for about a minute, “Ma said there was some tuna in the fridge at home. We could eat there and maybe talk a little. Then we can figure out what to do afterward.”
“How ’bout this, you up for a ride back to the school so I can get my truck. Then I’ll drive us back to the house.” Then with a smile, I added “Actually, wanna see if you’re tall enough to ride the mountain bike? I did promise to give you a try.”
“Wow! Really? Cool! I’ll be real careful, I promise.” He said as he jumped to his feet directly in front of me.
I reached out and ruffled his hair and said “I know you will be. Normally, no one rides it but me. It’s sort of a rule of mine but, I guess I’m not really breaking that rule with you now am I?”
With a much brighter smile, Little Mike ran over and picked up his bike and walked it over to me. “This was your bike too wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, once a long time ago. Funny but, I never thought I’d ever see it again.”
He smiled at me and tilted the bike toward me, “You get to do better, you get to ride it again too.”
A part of the bargain I hadn’t contemplated. I accepted the handlebar and he ran off toward the swings while yelling back “I’ll go get yours.”
While he was gone, I took the chance to look the bike over. “Yup, it’s been a long time,” I muttered to myself as I ran my hands across the frame. Not only is this like the bike I had, it was the same bike. I had no idea how many miles I had put on those tires, how many times I derailed the chain doing something stupid, how many times I just jumped on it and rode, with no real destination in mind. “Well, I may drive a truck now but, I still just go for the sake of going. I guess I haven’t changed much over the years.”
While kneeling down, apparently now talking out loud to the two-wheeled legacy, Mikey rode up on my bike and stopped right next to me.
“Something wrong?” He asked ready to pounce off the mountain bike and inspect his for damage.
“No, not at all. Just remembering some of the things I did while on this bike. Everything I learned and saw while riding it. I guess it’s still got a spot in my heart.” I replied knowing to anyone else, I would sound like an idiot.
“Yeah, does this bike mean as much as that one?”
“In a different way. That bike used to belong to another 10-year-old boy. He and I became best friends and still are today. He’s almost 20 now but, once he got a new bike, that one got forgotten. When I found out he was going to get rid of it, I asked him for it. That bike and the work it needed back then were the first things we both spent time on together as friends. I have since completely rebuilt it but, I brought it back to life to keep some of those memories alive.”
He sat there with his toes stretched to touch the ground even while off the seat, and rubbed its handlebars. “Was this one in bad shape?”
I just chuckled, knowing that the only real original parts left were the handle grips, frame, and the seat. “You could say he was really rough on it. I always wondered if he beat it up just so we would have more time to ourselves to work on it.”
Mikey smiled and said, “I’ll be really careful then, you did a great job making it look like new.”
“Thanks, actually I’m not one bit worried. I know what a promise from you means, and even know you haven’t started being really rough on bikes yet.”
“Well, I do ride it a lot. I think I might wear the tires out someday.” He said in defense of his bike pampering, I’m sure.
“No, I mean some of the things you will eventually learn on this bike. Let’s just say it’s got a long way to go yet.”
“Like what?” He asked looking like he was going to learn it all today. “I already do jumps and stuff with it.”
“Hehehe, I’m not sure if I can still do it on this bike. I may need to use mine to show you something I know you think you just can’t-do right now.”
With that, I sat on the Stingray and realized that other than the seat being a little too low for me, the bike was standard sized. “Well, maybe not. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a little too small.” Then I started to ride in a circle around him.
“I remember her now I think,” I shouted with a smile just before riding off away from him. I turned back in his direction and stopped long enough to yell, “Watch this!” before slowly rolling in his direction. Then with an upward jerk and some force on the pedal, raised the front wheel to chest height.
“Oops…” I said as it came right back down. “Gotta get used to it I guess,” I yelled to Mikey as he watched on. Then once again, I started out at a slow roll and lurched the front wheel in the air again, this time riding a wheelie right up to him before letting the wheel drop back down.
“Oh! Cool! I thought that bike was too heavy for that!” He said with a huge smile on his face.
“Nope, it just takes practice. You’ll learn eventually and believe it or not, it won’t be until you learn to stop trying so hard.” I said while trying to stop grinning.
After explaining the brakes and index shifters on the mountain bike to Mikey, we set off for the truck. I settled into a nice pace just far enough behind so I could watch how he fumbled with the gears and got used to riding a bike of a kind he had never seen before. At the same time, I settled back on the seat of my old best friend, noticing little scratches and remembering where they came from. The scuff marks on the handlebars where the mirrors used to be until I took them off. “Always did hate the look of mirrors, on any bike” Although smaller than what I was used to now, the bike was still comfortable and fun to ride, even now.
Once we got to the path just before the black train bridge, Mikey came to a skidding stop on the gravel.
“Mike, do you want to stop back at the fort?” He asked with a grin.
“You wanna try and jump that thing, don’t you?” I asked with a chuckle.
“Um… No. I um… just thought you would like to hang out for a while before we went home, that’s all.”
“Okay, just remember though. Keep it in a low gear and don’t pull up too hard. It’s not as heavy as it looks.” I said doing my best not to laugh.
With a big smile on his face, he said “OK!” and bolted off across the bridge with me right on behind him.
Once we got to the other side, I backed off a bit to better see his landing, which wasn’t bad at all. I wimped out this time, knowing I wasn’t used to a 20″ bike anymore and really didn’t care to plow into him.
“Hehehe, this bike is cool. It’s big but light enough to go almost anywhere.” He said as I came down the embankment.
“Yup, that’s why I like riding ’em.”
Mikey set my bike down in the grass so I followed his lead and did the same.
“C’mon, I wanna see something,” He said with a look that told me I was about to be tested again.
“Yes, Sir!” I said with a mock salute, which earned a snicker from my pint-sized Cap’n.
Once back inside, Mikey re-opened the window flap while I closed and latched the door. Then we plopped back down on the makeshift seating as we were earlier.
“So” I started “Exactly what was it you wanted to see?”
“Well, this is kinda dumb but, I have a place where I hide stuff in here I don’t want anyone to find. Do you know where it is?”
“Hmmm… are you testing me?” I asked knowing exactly why he chose his hiding spot. We each had our own spots in here for private stuff and only the three of us knew where they were.
“Well, I just wanted to see if you remember, that’s all.”
“Fair enough I suppose, but I gotta warn ya, there isn’t much you will forget when you get to be my age,” I said with a smile as I rolled off of the cushion and pulled it away from the wall.
Mikey sat and watched as I lifted the loose piece of wood out of the flooring and pulled out a small wooden box.
“Satisfied?” I said as I handed the box to him and replaced the false flooring and cushion so I could lie back down once again.
“This is so weird; do you remember what I keep in here?” He asked while patting the top of the box now in his lap.
“Hmmm… That’s a bit harder.” I said as I closed my eyes and thought back to old memories of putting some of that stuff in there. “Your Cub Scout card, a bunch of old coins your Aunt gave you cause you were collecting them, the spare key for your bike lock, thumb tacks for the pictures in here, ribbons you won at the horse show and a letter from a certain girl you have a crush on. Did I get everything?”
“Wow, yeah everything except for my wallet.” Which he pulled out and waved at me.”
“Well, that doesn’t count cause sometimes you have it with you, but normally there’s a little money in it for soda and stuff,” I said with a smile.
“It’s empty right now though.” He said as he put it back in the box. “You still remember Christine?” He asked staring right at me.
“Sure, I still think about those days. Well, for you not so long ago I guess.”
He seemed to think a little before putting his wallet back in the box. “Did you ever see her again?” He asked, making me wonder if I should tell him. I mean can’t I mess up the future by telling him stuff like that? Wait… Aren’t I messing it up just by being here?
“Well…” I answered slowly, trying to buy a couple more seconds as I tried to come up with an answer that worked. “Let’s just say she will eventually let you know she’s doing well and misses you.”
He handed me the box and I tucked it back into its hiding spot. Once I laid back down I noticed Mikey was lying on his side with his head propped on his hand, just staring at me.
“Watcha thinkin’?” I asked while mimicking his position.
“I know you are me, well sort of but, even though you know all about me and stuff…” He kind of stammered out, as if not knowing how to put what he was thinking in words.
“Like we are the same person in our own time, but here and now we are just two guys hanging out, like just friends?” I asked to try to help him along.
“Yeah, I mean I never just hung out with an older guy before, and it doesn’t matter that we are somehow the same person, it feels like we are just friends.” He added making me think a little.
“Well put Mr. Avery,” I said with a grin. “As long as I’m here then, we are friends. I have no idea how to answer the How’s and Why’s to my being here and honestly don’t care right now. I do know that we are two separate people right here and now, so we can be friends. If that’s OK with you.”
“Yeah, that’ll be cool,” He said with a smile and he held out his hand offering it to me to shake. “Pals?” He asked.
I took his hand and gave it one solid shake while answering “Pals.” trying to remember the last time I confirmed a friendship in such a way.
We both sat back with smiles on our faces when mine faded fairly quickly.
“What’s wrong?” Mikey asked. “You look like you forgot something.”
“Well, I didn’t really forget something…” I said as I pulled out my wallet “… I just thought of something that might be a problem.”
“What’s wrong?” Mikey tilted his head a little as he asked, showing genuine concern as to what might have been bothering me.
I opened my wallet and pulled out all of the money that was in it. Then began to thumb through it while letting out a little “Whew” after going through it all.
“I remembered that I just got paid yesterday, and I just thought about how they started making some of it look a little different. But it all is good here by the looks of it.” Thinking it odd that I got all old bills from the bank, but at the same time thanking my lucky stars that I did.
“The money looks different in the future?” Mikey asked, making me chuckle.
“Yeah, they made them harder for people to make fake ones; if I had any of those I wouldn’t be able to spend any of it here and now,” I said as I stuffed my wallet back in my pocket.
“Oh, that would be bad, huh?”
“Yeah, cause then I wouldn’t be able to take you over to Dairy Dream and buy you and I an ice cream on the way back to your house,” I said with a grin remembering that I used to love going there on special days before it closed down for good.
“Really? Awesome!” He said as he jumped up and started to close the window flap. “Wanna go now?”
“Well, I guess we can unless you would rather head right back to the house,” I said not looking to him for a response as I unlatched and opened the door.
“Are you kidding?” He almost shouted. “I haven’t been there in a long time, I love that place.”
Mikey beat me out the door and almost sprinted around the tree, giving me a good laugh. While I was latching the door I heard him yell “Hey! What are you doing with my bike?
I froze for a second to hear what was going on.
“You mean my bike Avery, right?!?” The semi-familiar voice demanded.
I quietly snuck up to the tree and saw just what I thought I’d see. Two of those damned teenagers that used to live down the corner from me. They used to love torturing the kids in the neighborhood. Never really physically hurting them but teasing or stealing from them just to prove what men they were.
‘This is gonna be fun’ I thought to myself as I heard the tallest of the two add “Don’t you like my nice new red bike Avery? Looks good don’t it?” He said as he sat on the seat, Mikey just stood there frozen, not knowing what to say.
“Yeah,” I said loudly as I stepped out from behind the tree. “Nice and red, just like your face is going to be after I beat you like the little girl you are for it, right in front of your friend there.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
To Be Continued…