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12.30.2011

You Pedal, I'll Steer (part 7)

We last left John learning that old lady Hatten could turn children into zombies if they looked her in the eye and got an eyeful alright! Now, on top of that, he still had to learn to ride that stupid bike....

You Pedal, I'll Steer (part 7)
I was doing much better on the bike. I’d been balancing well enough and could steer, too. I just needed to combine the two so that I wouldn’t fall off and die. It was drizzling that Saturday morning so we only planned a couple of practice runs because I didn’t want to miss all my favourite cartoons.
On the third run, Alec told me to pedal faster . We were going straight along and it felt steady. “Are you still holding tight?” I asked.
No answer.
“Alec?”
No answer. Time to panic.
“Alec?” I looked over my shoulder. He wasn’t there. Suddenly, the whole bike felt like it was made of tin foil and would crush under me any second. It started to shake and wobble. I wanted to jump off but was too scared to even stop pedaling. It was like I was riding a ticking time bomb that would explode any second.
“Steer!” shouted a voice way behind me. “Use the brakes! Pedal backwards!”
Head for the sand, was all I could think, just don’t fall over on the boardwalk. I pointed the bomb towards the edge but the boardwalk was raised at least  three feet above the sand at that place. So when I sailed off the side I was airborne, pedaling away helplessly for a couple of seconds like Neddy the Nut. I came down with a smack, twisted the front wheel and rammed my chest into the handlebars. The bike threw me over the front and then rolled on top of me. Wow, that hurt.
Alec came running up and pulled the wreck off of me. “You okay?” He hauled the bike off me and looked it over. I lay there like a corpse.
I couldn’t blame him for checking out the bike first. We didn’t own it and didn’t have any money to fix it. But I’d heal all on my own - hopefully. I sat up clutching my chest and started rocking back and forth trying to decide if I was hurt. “Is it okay?” I asked through clenched teeth. My knee felt like it was on fire.
“The handlebars are a bit crooked. Otherwise, it’s fine.” Alec said while he straddled the front wheel and straightened them out. Then we checked me out. I had a blood oozing gash on my knee and a scrape on my ribs. Just looking at my knee made me almost faint but, strange to say, the fear of falling off felt worse than the pain from the scrapes.
I looked at Alec. “You said you wouldn’t let go.”
He looked real sorry. “Sooner or later you got to let go. Besides, I didn’t think you’d go right off the side.”
“You could have told me.”
He laughed. “You looked pretty funny flying through the air pedaling your old legs off. You should have seen the expression on your face!”
“Shut up.”
“No, you shut up.”
We whacked each other’s shoulders and he helped me roll my pants back down over the cut so I could limp home. 
For some reason the house was buzzing early that morning. Everyone was up running around so nobody noticed us sneak into the cellar and wash up in the big sink. The cut wasn’t too bad so we didn’t tell anyone. It would spoil our secret. Besides, just for a second there, I felt the freedom of riding a bike even if I did fall off. That made me a wounded hero.

CHAPTER 5

Turned out all the excitement that morning was because Mom was going away for six weeks to Scotland. I kind of forgot but not really. I’d been dreading the day and then it snuck up on me. When we came up from the cellar after cleaning off my knee, Mom and Dad were rushing around packing and writing lists and ordering everyone around. Eric was on the phone, Jeff was bringing down bags, and Kate sat on the lower landing looking like she was going to cry. Gulliver sat by the front door so he could be the first one out.
“I’ve frozen six Sunday dinners for you,” Mom explained to him. “During the week, there are plenty of things you can forage for suppers, but you can at least look forward to a nice Sunday dinner.” Mom was a great cook but I wasn’t sure if Dad could boil an egg. She spotted us. “John and Alec! There you are. You should have been back ages ago. I’m just about to leave.”
“Do you have to go?” I asked.
 “Don’t worry, dear, I’ll call and write letters and be back before you know it.”
I started feeling the way Kate looked. We watched Dad load luggage into a neighbour’s car. We didn’t have a car of our own any more. He took the streetcar to work
“This means Dad’ll be in charge of everything.” Alec said as we sat down on the porch. “That’ll be different.” He said it like it wasn’t a good thing. Alec often wondered if it was better to get a smack from Dad - whop and it was over - or listen to an endless lecture from Mom. She could waste a whole hour telling you why you shouldn’t be bad. But with Dad you could go back to business as soon as he clopped you. I’d never got a smack from Dad. Just the thought of it made me do what I was told.
Eric came back up from the curb and looked straight at Alec.  He had one long black dangerous eyebrow that lowered over his dark eyes. “When Dad’s not home, I’m in charge. Got it?”
He got it all right and he didn’t like it.
“You boys be good.” Mom said.  She scooped us all into big goopy hugs and kisses. “I expect you big boys to look after Kate and John. If you need anything, you have the numbers on the fridge...” she started repeating all the stuff she’d said five minutes before. I decided to be stiff and show her I didn’t care if she was leaving us but when she wrapped her arms around me I got scared she would never come back . I clung to her skirt and wouldn’t let go.
“Don’t worry, John. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Then she and Dad plunged into the taxi in a flurry of goodbyes and I-love-you’s. As soon as the taxi pulled away, Eric turned to Alec and said, “You’re mine, Footsie. Now, get me some coffee.”
This was going to brutal and it looked like a showdown right off the bat until Jeff called from the street, “Leave him alone, Er. The gang’s all down at Kippy’s. Let’s blow.”
Eric looked torn as though it was going to be a tough choice between seeing his girlfriend or beating Alec up. But they left and Alec mumbled what he should have said and what he’d say it next time. When he finally stopped shaking he said, “Let’s go work on the bike.”
Kate headed off to a friend’s and we bounded down the cellar stairs with Gully leading the way.
“Did you tell Mom about the race before she left?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I thought I’d wait until it was just Dad. He’ll be a piece of cake.”
The words Dad and piece of cake didn’t belong in the same sentence. ‘Stay out of Dad’s way’ or ‘Don’t let your father catch you doing that’ were more like it. But, Alec knew what he was doing.
Down in our secret bike lab we were cooking up an awesome weapon, more powerful than a go cart and as unique as Super Car. Up until then, we had dirt for luck. Last week we used the front wheel off my trike with the pedals still attached. As soon as it started to roll, the pedals spun faster than my feet could keep us and I nearly got my legs torn off. 
Another one we tried was to turn the whole thing around so that the back wheel steered and the front one had the chain. We swapped the handlebars with a rudder stick like on a boat and Alec sat on a saddle we hooked on the crossbar with one hand behind to hold the rudder while I pedaled. I started pumping and we were moving!
But not for long. I could barely pedal for both of us because I’d only been riding since yesterday and steering from the back wasn’t easy so the whole thing collapsed with us in it and we scrapped that design. Even though I was getting scraped up a bit, I wasn’t as scared of trying out these bikes as I was of learning alone.
We heard Dad come home upstairs and kept on working.
“This time, let’s take the long front forks off Jeff’s and attach them to the girls’ bike. Then we fix the back forks to this reversed bike we just crashed.” He started dismantling the handlebars.
She didn’t ride it much, but I was sure Kate would notice and make a stink. “We’ll get in trouble,” 
“She never rides it anyway,”
“That won’t stop her from telling Dad on us,” I said. He didn’t answer. “Where will I sit?”
He took one of the seats that was lying on the floor and held it up where the frame dipped down in front of the regular seat. I still wasn’t sure what this plan was but I did whatever he directed and by the time we were getting hungry we had another prototype. My seat was low down with my feet stretched out front and Alec sat on the regular seat right overhead. He’d pedal from up there with his hands on my shoulders and I’d hunch down and steer from underneath with the front wheel way out front like a dragster. Our only problem was the back wheel was on forks and so both wheels could turn. The other problem was that Alec had to pedal for both of us and we’d never win a race that way.
“I’ll tackle those problems while you go fix us some sandwiches,” he said. “I’ll have tuna or baloney.”