A second story from the image prompt for Writers Unite! Write the Story’s December 2020 project. I hope you enjoy it!
A Special Ride
D. A. Ratliff
It was a fluke. Jake Riley was supposed to be at this friend Will’s house for the afternoon, but Will’s mom was baking Christmas cookies and said she needed their help. A phone call from the hospital sent his mom, a Cardiac Cath tech, to work for an emergency, so Will went to his grandparents, and Jake walked home.
Icy snow was spitting in the air, and he picked up his pace, hoping his mom would take pity on him and make cocoa. He was a few houses away when he saw a delivery van from the local sporting goods store parked in front of his house. The driver raised the truck’s roll-up door as his mom walked out of the garage to join him. He ducked behind a tree, hoping his mom wouldn’t look around.
Jake’s heart thumped in his chest as he saw a bicycle in a rack on the truck—not just any bike. It was the black mountain bike he had wanted for months. The driver took the bike out and rolled it into the garage. His mom signed a receipt and closed the garage door. He waited until the truck left and then continued home.
He dropped his school bag on the entry floor. “Mom, I’m home.”
His mother appeared at the kitchen door. She appeared flustered. “What are you doing here? It’s only six. I thought you were at Will’s making cookies?” She glanced toward the door to the garage.
“She was on call and had to go to work. She dropped Will off at his grandparents, and I walked home. We never got any cookies baked.”
“Oh… well, so sorry, no cookies, honey. Maybe we can make some tonight or tomorrow. Take your bag upstairs. I know you left it in the entry hall. Your dad will be home in a bit, and we’ll order our usual Friday night pizza since you’re here.”
Jake trudged upstairs, took a quick shower, and managed to play a bit of a video game. When he heard the garage door come up, he knew his dad was home. He closed his laptop and headed downstairs.
He stopped short of the kitchen door when he heard his father. “He came home early? Did you get it hidden?”
“No. I came in to check the washer, and then go back to put it in the storage room, but I didn’t want to go into the garage and have him come looking for me. So, I thought better to wait until one of us can keep him out.”
“Yeah, smart move, Leigh. Glad we decided to get him the bike this year.” He paused. “I remember when I was fourteen, I got a new bike for Christmas. My dad and I took a ride together after breakfast. He died the following winter, and we never got to ride again.”
“Jeff, we should’ve gotten you a new bike too. Jake would love it if you rode with him.”
“I don’t need a new bike. I guess I should drag my old bike out of the shed, but….” He took a deep breath. “Never rode it again after my dad died. Just couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.” He smiled and kissed Leigh. “Gonna change now… order that pizza, I’m starving.”
Jake raced up the stairs and into his room before his dad had a chance to leave the kitchen. His heart raced as he thought about his dad’s words. He had seen that old bike in the shed—chain rusty, seat cracked, and tires flat. He had no idea his dad hadn’t ridden his bike since his grandfather died. He sat down on his bed, angry that he rarely thought of his biological grandfather. His grandmother had remarried, and Pops was the grandfather he knew. Pops had adopted his father when he was sixteen, and he changed his name to Jeffery Dawson Riley to keep his real dad’s name too.
Thinking back, he always thought his dad didn’t have time to ride bikes with him. He was just a kid, and he had Will to ride with, so he’d never considered his dad might want to ride with him. Will’s dad was a doctor and rarely home, so it worked out for both of them.
He went back to playing a video game when his mom texted him. Pizza will be here in a bit. Come on down. He found his mom in the kitchen.
“Hi, honey. Can you take the plates and napkins into the den? We’re going to eat in there and watch a movie.”
“Sure, Mom. Where’s Dad?”
“Uh…. He’s in the garage, putting away the paper towels and toilet paper I bought this morning.” She reached for her purse, which was sitting on the small desk in the kitchen. “Here is five dollars for the tip. After you take the plates in, wait for the pizza. Should be here any moment.”
The pizza arrived as Jake heard his dad enter the kitchen. His mom told him to take the pizza to the den, and his father followed with drinks. They settled on a new action thriller movie on a streaming site while they ate.
Jake’s thoughts kept drifting to the mountain bike in the garage. He was excited. He wanted to join a bike club at school, and the bike was perfect. But his dad’s words echoed in his head. “Never rode it again after my dad died. Just couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.” He wished he could ride with his dad.
Late that night, as he drifted to sleep, what he needed to do came to him. Sleepily, he decided that tomorrow, he would put his plan into motion.
Will followed Jake into the kitchen. “What was so important that I had to get over here now?”
“You have to help me get Dad’s old bike out of the shed.”
“Because he got it for Christmas when he was fourteen, and he only got to ride it once with his dad. Then his dad died, and he never rode it again. I want to fix the bike up so he can ride with me.”
“Why don’t you get him a new one?”
“I can’t afford a new one. Not even sure I had enough money to get this one fixed. But I wanna try. Come with me and help me get it out while Mom and Dad are gone shopping.”
They left footprints in the dusting of snow on the ground as they walked to the metal storage building sitting next to the rear fence. Jake had taken the key from the keyboard in the laundry room, and after fiddling with the lock for a bit, he got the door open.
“Darn it, dark in here. Will, turn on your phone light. I think the bike is in that back corner.”
The light showed Jake that he was right, but there was a lawnmower, snow blower, and a lot of garden equipment in front of it. “Gotta move this stuff. Help me. We need to do this quickly.”
After a few cuss words that their moms would yell at them for and a skinned knuckle or two, the boys managed to get the bike out and everything put back. Will had leaned the bike against the shed while Jake relocked the door.
“Man, Jake, this bike is a mess. It’s rusty, paint peeled, tires cracked.”
“Yeah, I know, but I want to get it to the bike shop and see if Mr. Mason can fix it.”
“It’s a week until Christmas! He can’t fix this in a week.”
“Gonna try. Now, how do we get it downtown?”
“No… how about Ray? He’s home from college, isn’t he? You think he would take us? Can you ask, please?”
Will made the call and twenty minutes later, his brother Ray drove up in a red pickup. He helped them load the bike, and they headed to town. On the way, Jake texted his parents they were going to get burgers with Ray.
The City Bicycle Shop sat on a tree-lined street on the outskirts of town. Jake and Ray got the bike out of the back and went inside. A small brass bell attached to the door tinkled, bringing the owner out from the back room.
“Hey, boys, what can I do for you?”
“Mr. Mason. This is my dad’s old bike, and I want to get it repaired before Christmas. Can you do it?”
Mason didn’t say anything as he walked around the bike. Jake’s heart was beating out of his chest. He had $247 in his savings account, and he was scared that he wouldn’t have enough money. He managed to eke out, “How much will this cost?”
The shop owner smiled. “You getting this fixed up for yourself?”
“No, sir. It was my dad’s. He got it for Christmas when he was fourteen like I am now. But his dad died, and he only got to ride with him once. I accidentally found out that I got a new bike for Christmas.” Jake took a breath. ”I want to get his bike fixed so he can ride with me.”
“You got a budget you can spend?
“I have 247 dollars.”
A slight smile crossed Mason’s face. “I can probably do it for under 200. Want the original color?”
“Yes, sir. Can you have it done by Christmas Eve?”
“Gonna be tight, but I’ll try. Let’s get some info before you leave.”
Christmas was in two days, and he was supposed to pick up the bike on Christmas Eve. Ray was going to drive him, but he needed to get the money from his savings account, which meant going to the bank. Since he was on vacation from school, he didn’t have to worry about skipping, but getting downtown was another. He told his mom he was going to Will’s and then walked seven blocks to the main road and waited for a city bus to take him to a branch bank.
He walked into the lobby, his stomach churning. He had never been to the bank by himself, but he was here for a reason. He stepped up the teller window and presented his bank book and his school ID. As grown-up as he could, he announced his intentions. “I would like to withdraw the money from this savings account.”
The teller looked up the account. She shook her head, a woeful smile on her face. “I am so sorry, but your father and mother are on the account, and it requires one of their signatures to withdraw these funds. I am sorry.” She pushed the bank book and ID back to him. “Perhaps one of them could come with you.”
Jake’s heart was in his throat. He only nodded, grabbed the items, and fled the bank. Once outside, he sat on the curb, fear overwhelming him. He had to figure out how to pay for the bike. But how…. He was staring into the distance, racking his brain for what to do. He didn’t hear the soft footballs of someone approaching.
He looked up to see Pops standing over him. “Pops, I uh…“ He scrambled to his feet. “Hi.”
“I don’t see your parents’ cars. Are you here alone?”
Jake could only nod, and his grandfather pressed him. “What are you doing here?”
Tears welled in Jake’s eyes, and the story spilled out. His grandfather listened without comment until Jake finished.
“So, the bike is now at the shop, and you are going to need to pay for it?”
“Yeah, I—I just wanted to do something for him so he could ride with me.” Finally, the tears spilled from his eyes, and Pops pulled him into a hug.
“Let’s go see what we can do. I’m your grandfather. Maybe I can be the other signature.”
Inside the bank, Pops told him to sit in one of the chairs while he talked to the manager. To Jake, the wait felt like an eternity as fear overwhelmed him. The sense of dread faded a bit as Pops motioned him to join him at the same teller window. Pops was smiling.
“I told the bank manager the money was for you to buy a present for your father, and it was a secret, so he’s going to let me sign with you.”
Five minutes later, they walked out of the bank with the money Jake needed and his nerves intact.
“Let me take you home. But before we do, do you have a present for your mom?”
“I got her a scarf and hat. Haven’t done any more shopping, and I don’t have the spare money.”
“Get in the car. I’ll spot you the money for another gift for your mom.”
Jake was pacing the floor. Mr. Mason told him that he would have the bike ready at four-thirty and be there on time as he closed the store for Christmas Eve. He told his Mom that Will’s mom wanted him to stop by and get his present and some cookies, and Ray and Will were going to come to get him. Fact was the gifts were already in Ray’s truck.
It was just after four when Ray pulled up. Jake called out. “Ray’s here, back soon,” and rushed out the door. He nearly slipped on the side as an icy rain was falling. He jumped in the cab.
“Wow, thought you weren’t coming?”
“Sorry, dude. This weather is getting worse. Let’s get there so we can get back.”
A sinking feeling came over Jake, scared they had waited too late. The icy rain turned into sleet, and the road was becoming slicker by the minute. As they passed by the park where there was little traffic, the truck began to slide. Ray tried to keep the truck under control but hit an icy spot. It careened off the curb and over the embankment into a thicket of bushes, landing on its side.
Pops and Jeff’s mother, Emily, arrived, followed shortly by Leigh’s parents, Gordon and Cheryl. They were placing gifts under the tree when Jeff’s phone rang. His shocked expression told all something was wrong.
“That was the police. Ray’s truck skidded on the ice near the park and landed on its side. Officer said the kids are fine but on the way to the hospital.”
Leigh began to cry, and Jeff hugged her. “They’re fine, a few scrapes and bruises, but fine. Just taking them to the hospital to get checked out. We need to go get him.”
Pops spoke. “We’ll finish dinner and get the rest of the presents under the tree. You go get our boy.”
The grandmothers busied themselves with finishing dinner while the granddads got all the presents under the tree. They had finished when the doorbell rang. Pops opened the door and smiled broadly. “I am happy to see you.”
An hour and a half later, Jake and his parents returned. He was sporting a bruised shoulder and cheek and a small cut above his eye. His grandmothers fussed over him until he blushed bright pink and pushed them away.
“Stop, I’m okay. It wasn’t Ray’s fault. The roads were getting icy.”
His mother nodded. “We know it wasn’t his fault, but we don’t know why you were out near the park?”
Jake glanced toward Pops. “Ray was going to pick up something.”
She hugged him. “Just glad you are okay. Hungry?” He nodded. She kissed him gingerly on the forehead. “I’m so glad you are okay.”
Jake held back as the family headed to the dining room to talk to his grandfather. “Pops, we didn’t get to the shop in time.”
Pops put a finger to his mouth. “I have it on good authority that Santa took care of it.”
“Mr. Mason had to go home, but he wanted you to have the bike, so he dropped it off here. I hid it in the bedroom we’re sleeping in.”
“Pops!” Jake threw his arms around his grandfather. “Thanks.”
Christmas morning was a surprise for Jake. The bicycle he expected was not under the tree, nor was his dad’s. He woke up and remembered he hadn’t paid for the repairs, so he had tucked the money from the bank into his robe pocket. He suspected Pops had paid Mr. Mason.
They opened presents, and Jake was pleased but confused. When there were no more presents, we looked toward Pops, who only winked at him. Then his mother approached and handed the savings bank book to him, which he had returned to the drawer without marking the withdrawal. He swallowed hard. He was in trouble.
“Jake, we know that you were saving money to get a new bike, but we had other ideas. We want this savings account to go toward a car for you in a couple of years. Your dad and I and your grandparents have contributed to the account. You now have a thousand dollars in the account, and all of us, plus what money you earn, will keep depositing to the account so that we have a down payment for a car for your senior year in high school.”
He couldn’t breathe. “Mom, no—no, I can’t…”
Pops interrupted, “Jeff, Leigh, don’t you have something to show Jake?”
“I believe we do.” Jeff left the living room and returned with the shiny, black mountain bike adorned with a red ribbon. “Merry Christmas, son.”
Jake hugged his parents and sat on the bike. “Wow, I love this. Thanks.” He looked for Pops, who had left the room.
“Dad, Mom, I have a confession to make. I overheard you talking about the bike last week and Dad, about how you got a bike for Christmas when you were fourteen but only rode with your dad once. So…” His voice broke. “I decided to do something… I took your bike from the shed and had it fixed.”
Pops rolled Jeff’s bike into the room to surprised gasps. Jake was shaking, so afraid his dad would be angry. He watched as his dad walked to the bike and ran his hand along the handlebars. “It looks like it did when I first got it.” Tears streamed down his face, and Jake ran to his dad, who hugged him tightly. Jeff looked over his son’s head toward his stepfather. “Pops, you have been my father longer than I had my real father. You have given me nothing but love and care over the years, and that means so much. Please forgive me for this moment when I can bring my father’s memory to my son.”
“Jeff, you are my son, but this is the right thing to do, and know that this was Jake’s doing.”
Jeff hugged his son again. “Might be a bit icy this morning, but it’s going to warm up this afternoon. Then we go for a ride.”
After breakfast, Jake found Pops. “The money, that day at the bank…” He pulled the money from his robe pocket. “This was from you and not my account, wasn’t it?”
“They weren’t going to let me help you, so I did the next best thing.”
“You paid Mr. Mason last night.”
Pops laughed. “No. When he found out you didn’t get there because you were in a wreck, he told me he never intended to charge you. He was a boy who rode bikes with his dad, and you brought back those memories for him.”
Jake handed Pops the money. “Hold this for next Christmas. Who knows what we might need to buy?”
The sun was out around two p.m., and father and son rolled their bikes to the sidewalk.
“I sure am, Dad.”
And off they rode.
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