Dylan struggled to keep on Ted’s wheel as he wove his way up the steepest climb. The ground was mostly frozen, a little thawed, mushy and slippery here and there where the sun made its way through the pines and warmed the ground. At one point his foot slipped from the pedal, but he managed to keep enough momentum going that he didn’t have to stop. He didn’t mind holding Ted back. In fact, he felt like Ted needed to ease up and relax. When they reached the top of the climb, Dylan called out from behind, “Dude, I need a break. Can we chill on the Strava crap?”
“If I were going for the Strava, I would be back at the car already,” Ted joked. Dylan sat crooked on his skinny steel top tube and pulled his backpack off. Ted lowered his dropper and relaxed. He had learned the hard way on his road bike not to sit on a carbon top tube. “What did you pack in there, some Colt 45? Flask of whiskey?”
“Good old-fashioned water,” Dylan replied. “I’m on a health kick.”
“New year’s resolution?”
“Something like that.”
“Got your eye on a girl? Shouldn’t you, I don’t know…decide where you want to live first?”
“Funny you say that, I have a bad history of letting women decide where I’m moving next.”
“You already have your dream job, I don’t know why you would want to leave.” Ted smiled. He knew how to push Dylan’s buttons. Made a sport of it. If there were a way for Strava to keep track of such things, he would hold all the records his ex didn’t.
“Here’s a good reason,” Dylan replied. “I went into the shop, just to let them know I ended up not going out West for vacation, that I could cover some hours if anyone wanted, and The Boss decided to supe up his workbench while I was gone. Freaking raided my bench, dude. A bunch of tools were in the wrong place, some were just plain missing…all the sockets and shock-rebuilding tools have been relocated.”
“He likes to come in once in awhile and play bike shop. He’s never going to use them, and now I’m going to have to hunt through his cluttered toolbox to find shit every time I need it. And the topper, dude, someone wound my personal torque wrench up and left it that way. I mean, I really only use it when Type-A people like you are standing around watching me work on their bikes, but it’s the principle, man.”
The Type-A comment was just a little jab, a counter-punch to Ted’s. In reality, if it weren’t for Ted, he wouldn’t keep up with the latest gadgetry and trends as much as he should. New rim widths, All-Mountain vs. Enduro shock travel, neon helmets made of honeycombs, all that.
They were just getting back on their saddles when the sky opened up and started spitting hard and sideways snow. Dylan got a text. Broke his own rule and took time to read it. “They want me to come into the shop tomorrow.”
“Probably this snow. Time for you to build some Fat bikes,” Ted said.
“Peeps be all about those Fad bikes,” Dylan replied.
“What did you say? I said Fat bikes.”
“Yeah. That’s what I said. Fad bikes.”
“Fad bikes…There’s another name for them, Ted, but it might offend someone of your sexual persuasion.”
“That’s funny because Andy and I were thinking about getting a pair of them.”
Dylan thought about how great that would be, with the salesmen sitting around twiddling their thumbs and the shop sitting on an overstock in this relatively snowless winter, for him to just show up to work for an hour and sell Ted and his partner Andy a pair of Fat bikes stocked to the hilt with Blutos and 1×11’s.
“Let’s get out of here, I’m freezing.”
They both descended a bit slower than usual. The snow was flying right around Ted’s clear lenses, and Dylan, who hadn’t owned sunglasses since his ex claimed them, couldn’t see a thing. The snow smacked into his eyeballs and collected on his lashes. By the time they got back to the car, Dylan couldn’t feel his fingers and toes. He dropped his bike next to Ted’s Subaru and jumped in. Ted started the car. Dylan turned on the seat warmer. “Holy cow I’m cold…”
“You’re not going to try to make out with me, are you?” Ted teased. Dylan winced. This final barb stung his heart and took it back two weeks to him lying on his back on the ice of the Sycamore river…
“Yeah, I want to hang out,” he had texted to his friend Diane. “But, I am on thin ice right now…”
He had managed to scoot himself onto what seemed like a thicker section of the ice. His head was pounding. If Diane didn’t show up, he told himself, he would try to roll his way to the embankment. It couldn’t be too deep there, but getting wet from the waist down and riding all the way back to his mother’s house was not an option.
It wasn’t nearly as long as he expected before he saw a light bouncing around the trail towards him. Thinking it was too soon to be Diane, he decided to call out anyway. An angry park ranger would be better than frostbite.
Diane followed his voice, almost stepped over the edge and fell.
“Listen. All you have to do, I think, is hold out a big stick so I can pull myself in. Every time I try to sit up the ice starts to crack.” He heard her giggle.
“How did you get out there?”
“Crashed into a tree. Fell over. I guess.”
“Give me a minute,” she said. Her light disappeared for a few seconds, then shone along the surface of the ice.
“Diane, what are you doing?” Dylan lifted his head. “Oh man.”
Diane lowered her small frame onto her hands and knees, crawled a few feet, then lowered herself onto her belly and inched her way over to him. She placed her arm around him.
“Hi.” Her perfect young white teeth flashed in the moonlight.
“Hi. Nice of you to join me. I was totally unaware that you were bat-shit crazy.”
“Guilty,” she said, grinning.
“I’m sorry I called for your help,” he said. He was truly sorry he called for her help. The ice beneath them seemed to move.
“No problem. I was on a bad date. Some guy my mom tried to set me up with. Jealous?”
“I’m feeling a lot of things right now.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “Let’s just enjoy this moment. The sky is beautiful. We’ll get out of here. Or…we could just let ourselves fall through the ice. Together. Would that be so bad?”
Dylan thought about it a moment. Then he looked up at the stars and tried not to think of anything. “Could be worse.”
Diane made the first move, said she still wants to see New York City, thus deciding they shouldn’t die. They managed to get close to the bank before the ice gave way and they were knee deep in the freezing water. Both cursed like sailors as they walked the trail back to her car, she carrying her flashlight, he his bike.
They jumped into her car and cranked the heat. Stripped off their soaking wet shoes, socks and pants. Diane took a deep breathe. Exhaled like she was blowing invisible smoke. Dylan stared at his knuckles as he held his hands in front of a vent. Still felt light-headed. Probably concussed.
“Nice legs,” Diane joked. “I haven’t been pantless in a car with a boy since high school.”
“Wow, that’s like, what, last year? I haven’t been pantless in a car since the Clinton Administration.”
“Well, that’s sad enough to do something about,” Diane said. At that, she took off like a rocket, kissing him so hard their front teeth clattered. There was a mad scatter to the backseat. They kissed more. Laughed at the absurdity. She jumped on top of him. Then something terrible happened. He started thinking.
He pushed her back just a touch.
“Listen. Whoa. Let’s just…whoa.”
Then they kissed more. But his mind went into Jeklye and Hyde mode. “Wait.”
“Why?” she asked.
He thought about the black sheepishness of it all…the guy in his thirties with no 401k hooking up with a young woman and ending up fathering a child with someone who just a few minutes ago was ready to let herself drown in a freezing river, who still wants to go out into the world and have some adventures. How many of his friends have gone through this? Wouldn’t this just make for great fodder for his older siblings? Here he is trying to enjoy a small slice of life and a fun little tryst with a beautiful young woman but all he can think about is the pleasure his brother would get calling his sister to tell her that their black sheep brother knocked up a 20 year-old-girl.
“You’re afraid? You’re always afraid, Dylan.” She lifted herself and sat up and away from him. “You’re always running. Where to next, out west? And what are you going to do there?”
“Hopefully find a real job. Something that would make my family proud.”
“They are proud of you, from what I see. Why don’t you start your own shop?”
“I don’t have the money. And besides, I don’t want to end up working seven days a week ten hours a day.”
“Dylan, you already do that. And for little pay. You could work for yourself. You just have to commit to some risk. No reward without risk, Dylan. Don’t let fear freeze you up.”
Her face shone like a mirror in the moonlight. He looked at her wishing he could see his reflection, wishing he could be more like her…
“I can’t. I can’t,” he mumbled.
“What? Dylan, you are talking to yourself again,” Ted said, snapping his fingers in front of Dylan’s face. “Dude, you are frozen in place. Let’s load up the bikes and make some hot totties.”
Dylan looked out the passenger window at his bike, lying prone on the ground, collecting snow, just as his Voodoo had back home while he was in the back seat with Diane. It’s the one thing that was always there for him, the bike. When he was let down by drunk parents, stoned teachers, greedy bosses, judgemental interviewers, self-serving lovers, it was always there, saying “Screw capitalism. Screw their definitions of success. Forget about taking your yuppie-hippie-hipster-unvaccinated-unappreciative-gifted future wife and children to the organic farmer’s market. Let’s just ride. Let’s just ride.”
The Reluctant Wrench is a continuing work of fiction. Names, customers, characters, businesses, ex’s, places, beers, events, incidents, and employers are either the products of the author?s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Except for the East Coast commentary. It truly is overcrowded and smelly.