The Girl On The Bike
Patrick was digging his luggage out of the car trunk when he first saw the girl pedal by on her bike. She was wearing a sun hat but her long brown hair was flying out from behind her and Patrick couldn't help but gawk as she passed. She was riding a refurbished blue Schwinn from the 1960s with the fin fenders and thick frame, a basket hanging off the front handlebars.
Seeing the strikingly beautiful girl was the only solace Patrick could think of as his grandparents led him into the rented cottage on the shore of the lake. He wasn't in a position to argue when his parents told him he was accompanying his paternal grandparents on their two week getaway, acutely aware that his parents were unloading him during a stressful time in the family.
Patrick had been keeping his mouth shut and not complaining for well over a year now, shoved aside and forgotten while the focus was given to his kid brother Wayne who was seriously ill. Patrick didn't ask a lot of questions but it didn't take a brain surgeon to know that Wayne was in dire straits with all the hospitalizations, operations, medications, and relapses that occurred during these past many months.
Patrick's grandparents were nice people but he was pretty sure that they were about as excited to be towing along their sixteen year old grandson on their vacation as he was to be towed along. But all three were doing their best with the situation they found themselves in and Patrick appreciated his grandparents' kindness. They gave him all the space he wanted and needed and they weren't about to micro-manage his presence or doddle over him. They had done their part in parenting and grand-parenting and all they really wanted to do was sit in the sun reading their books and enjoying their peaceful surroundings, trying not to think about poor sick Wayne back home.
The cottage was nice enough. Patrick had his own small bedroom on the second floor. His grandparents took the much bigger room, of course. There was one large room on the first floor, a screened-in porch, and an outdated kitchen, with a serviceable bathroom on the second floor. There was no television or internet – just a radio in the kitchen and an old turntable stereo in the larger room which was also packed with bookcases and shelves stocked with books.
Patrick noted a sign on the wall 'Take a book, leave a book' and he figured most of the collection was left by renters past - battered copies of romantic novels, murder mysteries, old dime store westerns, poetry, biographies, and some sports novels too.
"Why are there so many books?" Patrick wondered.
"Because that's what people do on vacation," his grandmother answered. "Read."
"Good thing we brought our own stuff," his grandfather noted as he scanned the collection. "This is a bunch of crap."
After unpacking and settling in his tiny room and exploring the cottage, Patrick went outside to see what other discoveries he could make. The cottage was close to the lake with a grassy knoll and some shady trees along with a small strip of sandy beachfront, several chairs, and a small rickety old dock. A dented metal rowboat was flipped over on the beach and a canoe was set upside down on two sawhorses. There was a small barn at the end of the dirt and grass driveway, mostly full of clutter and junk, including a couple of bikes which perked Patrick's interest – especially when he noticed the same pretty girl on the bike pedal past the cottage several times during the next few days.
Although Patrick was bored, he had to admit that he was glad to be away from the drama at home – his stressed out parents waiting hand and foot on Wayne, making all sorts of accommodations, arrangements, sacrifices and excuses for Wayne, even during those stretches when he was doing reasonably well and functioning fairly normally. Wayne was the family's center of attention and Patrick felt like the lost step-child although he never complained. He understood the concern and the emotions although he was tired of walking on eggshells and always submitting to whatever was best for Wayne.
Patrick knew that his grandparents didn't want to talk (or think) about Wayne, using the cottage getaway as an escape from the miserable realities of a sick grandson and a stressed out son and daughter in law so he didn't bring the subject up either. He kept himself busy around the cottage but he felt like a third wheel with his grandparents content on lounging around, drinking their wine, and reading their books. Grandpa wasn't interested in fishing or resurrecting the rowboat or canoe for any sort of lake activity so Patrick dragged out one of the better bikes from the barn –an old light weight ten speed. He cleaned it up, pumped air into the tires, oiled the chain and sprockets and he figured it would be serviceable for rides around the small lake.
Of course, Patrick's main intent was to follow the pretty girl on the bike that had passed by the cottage at least two more times. She was about the only sign of life he had seen with the exception of a few boats on the lake and the distant sounds of laughing children further down the lake. The next time the girl whizzed by the cottage on her bike, Patrick was ready. He jumped on his bike and – hoping to look subtle and natural - slowly followed her along the thin road that passed several other cottages and camps. He maintained his distance behind her and he didn't see her glancing over her shoulder at him or acting otherwise spooked.
The lake was quiet, tranquil and peaceful and Patrick was feeling more relaxed than he had in a long time. He loved his family but he was enjoying his alone time away from the crisis's, chaos, and challenges that had become the daily routine at home. Listening to the slaps of the water hitting the shore, smelling the propane as he passed the cottages, and feeling the warm sun and gentle breeze on his face was both enlightening and calming.
Lost in his thoughts, Patrick failed to notice that the girl on the bike had slowed down and it wasn't until he was nearly on top of her that he hit his brakes and swerved to avoid running into her. The bike careened off the road and he tumbled into the brush on the side of the road.
"Are you following me?" The girl asked.
She had stopped her bike and she was peering down at him in an accusatory frown.
"No," he lied. "I was just out for a ride." He picked himself up from the ground, brushed off the dirt from his shorts and lifting up the bike, inspecting it for damage.
"What's your name?"
"Patrick," He mumbled.
"Well, hello Rick," she replied.
"Most people call me Pat."
"Well, I'm not most people and I'm calling you Rick," the girl announced. "So, you're staying in old the McCallahan cottage?"
"Who are those old geezers you're with?"
"Where are your parents?"
"Home," Patrick answered, surprised that she was grilling him. "With my brother. He's sick."
"He had a mass in his stomach. Now elsewhere."
"Oh." She studied him for a moment. "Sorry."
"Yeah," he shrugged, used to the pity looks he got from the neighbors and his teachers at school.
"How long you here for?"
"End of next week."
"I see vacationers like you come and go all the time," she told him.
"You live here?"
"In the summer," she revealed. "I stay with my Aunt. That big white house about five lots down from your cottage."
He hadn't noticed. "What's your name?" He asked.
"How come you stay with your aunt?"
"I guess I'm a summer orphan like you," Lynn replied.
She looked even more beautiful up close, with a few light freckles on the ridge of her pug nose and dark penetrating blue eyes that looked like they reflected heaven out of them. The last thing Patrick wanted to do was act like a goof ball in front of her (maybe too late for that after the bike wipe out!). He wasn't all that used to talking with pretty teenaged girls, especially one like Lynn who was about as different from any girl he had met as he could imagine. He didn't want to flirt with her (for fear she'd punch him) but he didn't want to come across as a loser either.
He didn't want to say anything that would sound stupid or weird her out. He wanted to be charming but he knew he'd probably come across as a dork no matter what he said or did. All he knew was she was as beautiful and natural as the sun shining above them. Patrick felt his heart beating in his chest – and he knew it wasn't from riding the bike. His teenaged hormonal adrenaline had been activated by her very scent and he wondered if he was naturally perverted and evil for even having subconscious thoughts about tasting her lips or feeling her smooth skin.
Lynn must have noticed the panicked look on his face. "Are you okay?" She asked.
"Sure," he said nervously.
"Listen, as a rule, I don't interact much with vacationers and renters," she said. "No point when they're gone tomorrow."
"I understand," Patrick sighed.
"But you're stuck here with the geezers? Nobody else? Nothing to do?"
"Sort of like that," he admitted.
"Okay," Lynn decided. "I'm a sucker for hard luck cases. You can hang out with me if you want."
It was at that moment when Patrick realized there had to be a God.