Mickey flipped a bottlecap into a high arc. It wobbled and rocked as it toppled into the dusty street before his house. He leapt after it, retrieved it, and returned to the top step of his front porch.
The house sat at the end of a short dirt road, leading to a launching ramp into the Danvers River, an estuary off Salem Sound, some twenty miles up the New England coast from Boston. There was only one other house on the street, named Peyton Way, and it sat directly across from Mickey's. The other two houses actually faced Bayside Street, a paved road that followed the river.
There was never much to do down here, if you were not boating, and Mickey was the only ten-year-old in the neighborhood. Still, he liked it. Especially on perfect, sunny Saturday mornings in the spring.
The bottlecap took another odd flight into the street as a stranger turned the corner and strode straight toward Mickey. Mickey watched him as he approached, seeing something familiar in the white hair and weathered old face. He even remembered the worn Greek Fisherman's cap, but couldn't remember where or when.
"Hi, Mickey," the man smiled warmly, "is your Dad home?"
"Yup," Mickey nodded, thumbing over his shoulder.
The man stepped past him and knocked on the door. In a moment, Mickey's Mom answered and Mickey rose and turned to watch.
"Hello," Mickey's Mom smiled and pushed the screen door open, "come on in. I'll get Don."
In a few minutes they all sat around the breakfast table and the man removed an envelope from his pocket and opened it.
"Today's the day," the man smiled, unfolding a paper and handing another paper to Mickey's Dad.
"Is it already? What's today's date, honey?"
It suddenly all came clear to Mickey. He remembered this man. This was the man his Dad had sold his boat to last year. This was the man his Mom and Dad had been arguing about last night. Today was the day the man was supposed to come and pay for the rest of the boat. No one had seen or heard from him since he left with the boat last year. Mom had yelled at his Dad for being so trusting. She cried and said it was a stupid thing to do. Dad kept telling her to calm down and wait until tomorrow, and if the man didn't come, Dad would go looking for him.
But here he was, and Dad was smiling.
"I hope that's okay," the man nodded toward the piece of paper Mickey's Dad held.
"Sure," Dad nodded and handed the paper to Mom, "is this okay, Hon?"
Mom smiled and laughed a funny laugh, then nodded and said "yes."
"Why don't you and Mickey get cleaned up and ready to go out," Dad smiled, "we should put that in the bank and do a few things."
Mickey went to his room and got his baseball hat and ran to his mother's room, while the two men talked downstairs. He couldn't hear what they were saying, but they laughed and it sounded good.
"Some good pants, please," his Mom frowned at him, "and change that shirt. You wore it yesterday."
Mickey rolled his eyes and trudged back to his room. He changed into his school clothes and went downstairs, as he'd heard his mother go down the stairs while he was changing.
His Dad was outside saying goodbye to the man. Mickey joined them, wondering where his Mom was.
"Maybe I'll see you out there sometime," the man said as he started up the street, "if you get another boat. So long, Mickey."
"Bye," Mickey waved, wondering what the man's name was.
"We'll see," his Dad said to the man, "other plans for this money, right now."
The man turned and strode away, not looking back again.
"Who was he, Dad?"
"A friend of Steve's. You know, Steve Wright? He has two little girls about your age. Amanda and Patti Wright."
Just then, Mickey's Mom drove the car around the house and stopped before them.
"You want to drive," his Dad asked, opening the passenger door.
"Might as well," his Mom answered, "in you go. Buckle your seatbelts."
"I can't see in the back with a seatbelt," Mickey complained as he squeezed into the back.
"Buckle up," his Dad said sternly, "if we get hit and you go flying through the windshield, you see real good for about two seconds, then you don't ever see anything again."
Mickey trudged around the bank while his Mom and Dad took forever at the window, then scampered to the car when they were done. The next stop surprised him. It was the Schwinn Superstore. The must have had every bike in the world here.
"Why are we going here," he asked, his eyes wide as he climbed from the car.
"It's your birthday, sweetheart," his Mom smiled, "did you forget?"
"Whoa! Awesome! Am I getting a bike?!"
Mickey turned and bounced several times, shaking his fists in the air.
"Any bike you want, buddy," his Dad grinned, "start checking them out."
Mickey turned and ran along the line of bikes outside. They were all adult models and too large for him. Inside, he ran quickly to the center of the store and surveyed the bikes around him. In an instant he'd spotted the smaller bikes and made a beeline to them.
It did not take long for Mickey to find what he wanted. A beautiful blue twenty-inch Mountain bike. He wrestled it free of the other closely packed bikes and into the isle, where he instantly threw his leg over it and seated himself. His toes just barely reached the ground.
"That didn't take long," Mickey heard his Dad laugh behind him as he approached.
"This is the best, Dad," Mickey said, beaming.
His Dad looked at the price tag, then checked some other prices.
"Look, Mom. It has dual action brakes, a kickstand and a pump, handgrip shifters, and it's a twelve-speed. It's the best."
"It's only a hundred and sixty bucks," his Dad said, indicating the other bikes, "some of these run six and seven hundred. You can get anyone you want."
"I want this one, Dad," Mickey said, "Shawn had one of those and when it got broke he couldn't fix it because it cost too much, and Ricky had one that cost a thousand dollars and it got stole. I want this one. It's the only one with this blue color. It's the best."
"You've got it," his Dad laughed, tousling Mickey's hair, "and you've got good sense, too."
"Why don't you guys get some? Then I can have someone to go riding with."
Mickey's Mom and Dad looked at each other and started laughing. They talked and hemmed and hawed, but eventually, the three left the store with three bikes, the larger two being identical models to Mickey's in blue and red.
They also bought helmets, gloves, knee and elbow pads. It began as protective equipment for Mickey, but he insisted they get theirs, too.
When they arrived home, the natural thing to do was go riding. Mickey led them everywhere he normally walked, but that he knew the other kids rode. He never heard his mother laugh and scream so much as he led them along wooded trails, through gullies, along the swampy edge of the golf course, where he and his Dad both fell in, much to the hysterical delight of his Mom, and finally along the hard-packed sand of the beach leading back to their house.
His Mom made them stand outside while she washed them off with the garden hose, laughing just as hard as she could. Mickey's Dad finally got the hose away from her and squirted her, too. They all had a great time.
Inside, once again clean and dry, they sat down to a small cake and a private birthday party for just Mickey and his Mom and Dad.
"This is my best birthday ever," Mickey said after blowing out the candles.
"For me, too," his Dad grinned and nodded.
"I haven't had so much fun since I don't know when," his Mom said, "I hope you don't mind us hogging your birthday instead of having a party with all your friends."
"No," Mickey smiled, "that's why it was the best, cause I got you for my birthday this time."