It takes perfect balance and precise movements to carry the package my mom sent me to deliver. “Precious cargo,” she told me, though how anyone could think a bowl of soup could be given such high priority is beyond me. I mean, come on. It’s soup. And chicken noodle, at that. Yuck.
But I knew there was no arguing with her, so instead, I pulled my bicycle out of the garage and helped her strap the covered container onto the back of my bike. Once we were sure it was secure, I climbed on and was about to push off when mom spoke up. “Be careful, Micah. Remember –
“It’s ‘precious cargo,’” I said. It’s quite possible that I used air quotes to emphasize the sarcasm that laced my voice. “Mom, I’ve got this.”
She placed her hand on my cheek and gently rubbed her thumb back and forth. Her deep blue eyes reflected the sun as she stared deeply into mine, a pair that has always matched her own. “I love you, you know.”
I rolled my eyes and tried to pull away, but mom placed her other hand on the opposite side of my face and gently rocked my head from side-to-side. “I wuv you,” she said as if talking to a baby, and I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I love you, too mom.” She seemed satisfied with my response as a smile appeared on her face, spreading from one ear to the other. She dropped her hands to the side and stepped out of the way. “I promise I’ll be careful. I know how important this is to you.”
“Thank you. But you never know what it could do for you,” she added. It was a weird thing to say, but not completely out of character for the woman who has raised me these past fifteen years.
I pushed off with my right foot, steadying my bike as I turned out of the driveway and began my trek across town. Before I made it too far down the street, I took a quick glance behind me and saw my mom watching, her arms crossed, and a smile still on her face.
I’m not sure exactly how far I had traveled before I stopped my bike. The sun shone as if its’ life depended on it, heating the world and everything in it – me, especially – to an uncomfortable temperature. Sweat poured down my face and arms and made places I’d rather not talk about bothersome. I had to take a break and cool off if even just for a few minutes.
I surveyed the area and knew from my surroundings that Fredrick Douglas Park was just a few blocks away. Would I be able to make it there without succumbing to heatstroke? There really was no other choice. Fredrick Douglas was the best resource for shade, and though I knew it would still be hot, it would at least give a slight reprieve from the incessant sun.
I took a swig of water and swallowed, appreciating the cold that filled my mouth and trickled down my throat. With new resolve, I pushed off for the second time today and headed toward the park.
I had heard about how people lost in a desert would spot a water source where there was none, their mind playing tricks on them as it mixed with the heat, but what rose up in front of me was no mirage. Of that I was certain.
What stood in front of me was a sight to behold. Okay, maybe without all the dramatics, but the dark areas where the sun was forbidden to touch was a welcoming sight. I pedaled faster – still aware of my special package – and found a shady spot beneath a group of trees that overlooked a large grassy area. I took my time dismounting and then leaned my bike against a tree. When I was positive my bike would not fall, I grabbed my water bottle and sat down.
I rolled the bottle on my forehead and then cooled off each cheek before taking another swig of water. Once I was satisfied, I rested against the tree and closed my eyes. “Thank you, God,” I began to pray. “Thank you for –
My eyes snapped open just in time to see a Frisbee heading straight for me, followed with lightning speed by a large black dog. I scrambled to my feet and ran to protect my bike. Or, rather, the soup. The trajectory of the Frisbee – and the dog that seemed to be attached to its path – was dangerously close.
For some stupid reason, I reached out and caught the round flying object. Realizing what I had done, I tried to toss it in another direction, but the black bundle of determination was faster than my reflexes. Before I knew it, I was on the ground, pinned beneath a black lab.
“I’m…so…sorry.” A voice panted out. “Jasper, get off.” The lab did as he was told, and I was greeted by a kind face and an outstretched hand. “Here, let me help you up.”
“Thanks,” I said, and allowed the stranger to help me to my feet.
“I really am sorry,” the girl said. “I didn’t expect the Frisbee to go so far.”
“It’s fine.” I waved off her concern. “No harm done.”
A few strands of hair the color of the sun blew in the breeze that had recently picked up, and she tucked them behind her ear. She looked to be around my age, but I don’t remember seeing her before. “I’m Daphne,” she offered.
“My family just moved here a few weeks ago.”
“Welcome to Freeport. Will you be attending Freeport High School in September?”
“Yeah. I’ll be a junior. I’m not thrilled about attending a new school two years before graduation, but I wasn’t really given a choice.”
“Well, if it’s any consolation, I’m in the same grade as you. I’d be happy to show you around.”
Daphne studied my face, her thoughts hidden behind her chocolate eyes. She seemed to have made a decision about whatever it was she was thinking about, because she smiled and said, “I’d like that. Thank you.”
I smiled back and then realized the time. “I’m sorry, I have to go. I promised my mom I’d deliver her homemade chicken noodle soup to my grandmother, and I can’t keep her waiting. Um…could I get your number? Maybe we can get together again before school starts?” We exchanged numbers and agreed to meet up again soon.
Once more I climbed onto my bike and began to pedal off, determined more than ever to finish this delivery. I secretly hoped that I could return to the park on my way home and Daphne would still be there.
The second leg of the trip flew by. I rode up the driveway to my grandmother’s house, a white ranch with gray shutters. I unstrapped the soup container from my bike and climbed up the front steps to the light blue front door. Grandma has an “open door” policy, so I opened her door instead of knocking and walked right in, a blast of cold air greeting me as I entered.
A series of sneezes met my ears and I walked into the living room where my grandmother rested beneath the multi-colored blanket my mom crocheted for her a few Christmases ago. Used tissues were everywhere, and Grandma reached for another before the next sneeze forced its way out.
“God bless you,” I offered. She jumped at the sound. “Sorry,” I laughed.
Her eyebrows met, and she shook her finger at me before joining the laughter. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Mom didn’t tell you? She sent me to bring this.” I held up the container of soup. “I protected it with my life.”
Grandma laughed harder which produced a bout of coughing. When the coughing subsided, she asked, “Is that your mom’s chicken noodle soup?”
“It is. Though I don’t know why anyone would like this stuff.”
“Well, it may not be to your taste, but it is perfect for a cold. It also shows how much your mom cares. I’m sure she does the same for you.”
“Not with soup.”
“No, no of course not. But I’m sure she knows exactly what helps you.”
I thought about that for a moment. She’s not wrong. Mom has always known just what I needed in any situation. Even when dad died, she was the one who made sure I was comforted. It couldn’t have been easy for her, but she never turned me away. She’s a selfless woman. And she never asks for anything in return.
Grandma eyes me, and I know she can read my thoughts. We come to a silent agreement.
“I’ll go heat this up for you, Gram. Do you want anything else with it?”
“A glass of water would be wonderful. Thank you.”
We spent time talking and laughing as she ate her soup and I cleaned up the tissue mess around her. She told me stories of her past, some I hadn’t heard before, and a few included my mom as a teen – those I couldn’t wait to share with mom when I returned.
The clock on my grandmother’s wall chimed four times, catching me by surprise. Sometimes I forget just how much I enjoy spending time with Gram. But it was getting late, and I needed to get home for dinner. I finished cleaning up the dishes and poured another glass of water for Gram at her request then said goodbye.
As I walked toward the front hall, Gram called out. “Micah?” I turned and waited for her to continue.
“Thank you for today, and thank your mom for the soup. It really helped.”
“I’ll do that.”
“And, Micah? You have a lot of your mom in you. I’m sure you don’t realize it, but you are just as selfless as she is, and I admire that in you.” I don’t know what to say, so I thank her and head outside.
My ride home is cooler with the sun no longer directly overhead. I ride toward the park but don’t stop. I have no doubt Daphne is no longer there, but that doesn’t stop me from smiling at the memory of our meeting. Maybe I’ll text her after dinner so we can make more concrete plans.
In the matter of what seemed like minutes, I turned down my street and parked my bike in the garage. I unstrapped the now empty soup container, glad that I no longer had to be careful, and walked through the garage into the kitchen.
Mom’s back came into view. She was stirring something on the stove, and by the smell of oregano and basil, I would guess her famous spaghetti sauce. I walked up behind her and threw my arms around her waist, placing my chin on her shoulder.
She placed her hand on mine, and we stood there silently. Words at that moment were unnecessary.
I decided to ask my subscribers and my followers on Instagram and Facebook to give 3 words – one noun, one adjective, and one verb – to help me with writing exercises. This story came from one of my followers on Insta. The words? Bicycle, Shady, and Sneeze.
Do you have 3 words for me? Send them my way and I’ll try to write a short story or flash fiction from them.