David diligently watched the road from his vantage point in the driver's seat of his father's beat up old truck as Francis chattered endlessly on about the virtues of their new place on the outskirts of a city that was barely big enough to have outskirts in the first place. He could tell that there was an underlying sadness to the blithe nattering that was entering his right ear and flying directly out the other side. On the one hand, he knew that his dad was excited about his brand new venture. As he often did, Francis jumped right on new things before he had a chance to even think them through. On the other hand, they were leaving a childhood home for both of them.
David hadn't worried at all when Francis had announced his involvement in the design and planning of a new cohousing community about an hour drive away from their already fairly suburban existence. He figured that Francis would give up on it as soon as it had lost its novelty. As long as it kept his father happy, and his grandparents happy by proxy that was fine by him. Gram and Gramps were always pleased when their son went out and made new friends since his entire existence since the age of sixteen had revolved around providing for his child.
David didn't know the whole story. It wasn't something that anybody in his family liked to talk about at any great length, and for a while he didn't realize just how young his father was. Francis was always just 'Dad' to him. It wasn't until one fateful career day that David realized that being raised by a single father in a tiny one bedroom apartment wasn't the 'usual' way things worked. He didn't particularly care as a kid, but as he grew older and became more self aware, he wasn't immune to the whisperings of the people around him. Gossip was the bread and butter of his town, and he knew quite well the shocked looks of pearl clutching concern from the volunteer moms in the classrooms when he stood up straight and informed them that he had no mommy. He'd started taking delight in riling them up as much as he could, much to Francis and his grandparent's consternation.
That career day when he was eight years old and wondered out loud why his dad never volunteered was when he learned that Francis's job at the time consisted of emptying out grease traps and frying up burgers at a local diner. Francis had never been ashamed; he'd merely done everything he could, including multiple jobs at anything and everything under the sun in order to make it on his own as a responsible human being in society. But when everybody else had parents in who were doctors and firemen and important business women in nice suits, David couldn't help but show his disappointment, and Francis couldn't stand to see that look on his son's face. It was at that moment that he stumbled with both feet, onto his career path.
They had been camping out on Sapphire Lake. It was a picaresque spot of woodland near the city of Verberg and one of Francis's favorite spots to take David on their 'Adventure Days'. He was always sure to save up so that he could take his son out for a little father son bonding time, and those days numbered among David's favorites. Camping trips to Sapphire lake not only were affordable but fun. From swimming around the lake to running amok with the other children on the playground, there was nothing David enjoyed more. He made friends with everybody he met there and was, by all accounts, a model citizen. That was until, Cecil Loams.
Cecil fancied himself an explorer of sorts, and one day led David off on an intrepid expedition down an unmarked path and into the wilderness that surrounded the undeveloped park side of the lake. It had taken two hours to for the park rangers to locate the boys and return them to their panicked parent and nanny respectively. That little adventure had netted David a month of grounding and a stint 'volunteering' at the park, where he and his dad reported for the subsequent weekend to walk around and pick up the garbage that had found its way onto the ground.
As far as a punishment, it didn't work out quite as expected. David eagerly followed the park ranger around asking her questions and happily grabbing wayward plastic detritus with a trash grabbing tool that he dubbed 'the claw' and depositing it in his bag. He called himself 'nature man' and spent the rest of the day pretending to be a superhero, avenging crimes against the outdoors. He and Francis only had to be told not to pretend their 'claws' were swords once.
It was, after that day, that Francis made a decision. He enrolled in the local community college, moved back in with his parents after a long conference with them at the weekly Sunday dinner. What it came down to was Francis deciding to start on his path to become a full-fledged park ranger, an announcement that did make David and his grandparents sit up in their seats.
David proclaimed that it was awesome and offered Francis the "Highest of Fives!", a maneuver which involved him standing as tall as he could upon his tip-toes with his hand outstretched as far as he could reach. Francis would pretend he couldn't reach, say "Too High!", and fall on the floor with one hand still raised in defeat after which David usually slapped Francis's hand and giggled like a maniac.
Francis worked as a volunteer at Sapphire lake whenever he could during his stint earning a degree, and David did not think this was awesome. He loved staying with his grandparents who were happy to help in any way they could as they had from the day David was born, but Francis was as busy as he'd ever been trying to get on his feet with a permanent career. It left less time than David would have liked for their father/son adventures. He couldn't wait for things to get back to normal. He didn't realize that the normal he knew was never going to exist again.
Francis met the group that was starting up their own cohousing community on the lake on one of his trips to Verberg. He was excited to get started on the project and threw himself into it. Meanwhile, David grew up and he grew his own interests, most of which involved football, a sport that his grandfather had introduced to him. It had gone over much better than anybody thought it would have. David never had been much for team sports before. Little League had never appealed to him, and he never could quite get the hang of throwing without sending the ball off in a tangential direction over the head of whoever he was aiming at. Kicking on the other hand was something he'd taken to like a duck to water, though Soccer wasn't his sport, nor was Kickball. He much preferred the idea of trotting out onto the field every once in a while just to kick a ball once down a field. Being a kid on the small side, he wasn't very proficient at first, but he practiced and worked out whenever he had a chance under the watchful eye of his grandfather.
The first time he managed to kick one through the uprights, was one of the proudest moments of his young life. His grandpa had been there for that moment, as he had been for most of David's moments, therefore it was with shock and displeasure that that he was sat around the dining room table once again at the age of fifteen for more news that would change his life.
His grandfather announced that he was retiring and moving to Florida. They left Francis the house, but he and David didn't stay there for long. Sapphire Pines, the community Francis had been planning near the park where he worked on the lake, was finally ready. They were to move in as soon as Francis could sell the house. For the first time, David felt a resentment toward his father. As far as he was concerned, he'd grown up in that town, and he didn't want to leave it. He had friends there, his first year in high school had gone well, and he'd made the freshman football team. He didn't want to leave everything behind for Sapphire Lake no matter much he had enjoyed the time he'd spent there as a child.
But the decision had been made, their unit was bought and paid for, and Francis promised him that there would be other kids his age there. David was dubious about this. He'd been to a few planning meetings where he sat bored out of his mind, tinkering on his Gameboy while the adults looked at large technical drawings pinned up to a wall in a meeting room at the Verberg Community Center and argued about what kind of central heating system they were going to use. There were rarely any kids there, and whenever there were, they certainly weren't his age. He more often than not ended up being volunteered for babysitting toddlers by well meaning people other than his father.
"David will play cops and robbers with you!" They'd tell their eager children, and who was he to refuse when the kids exploded with excitement in his direction? His dad would try to stop the inevitable. David knew Francis hadn't brought him along to wrangle a bunch of kids but to be involved in the process and learn. That was how they worked, but apparently, to other people, having the word 'teen' as a suffix to his age was an all access backstage pass to the kiddie table.
It was for this reason that he had failed to muster up the same amount of excited enthusiasm for the whole endeavor that his father had. He didn't want to be stuck being the community babysitter, and he didn't want to leave the school he'd just started at, and he didn't want to leave his childhood home, and most of all he didn't want to leave his friends. He knew it wasn't going to be easy to make new ones.
It never was.
He had been sure to air his objections at every turn, loudly complaining until Francis finally offered him up a deal:
A learners permit at the age of fifteen in exchange for no complaining. David wasn't exactly obliging, but he hadn't expected driving to be something his father was going to move on. Francis was dead set against him even looking at the wheel before his sweet sixteenth. So he had grudgingly taken the deal with the provision that he still wasn't going to like the move. He just wasn't going to complain about it.
If he'd have known what awaited him at Sapphire Lake, he might have reconsidered. David was someone who prided himself on being relatively drama free, despite the town gossips' determination to make his and his father's situation feel like some kind of grand scandal that needed to be discussed behind their backs. What he lacked in drama there, Verberg was about to provide in spades.