Authors: Kyle Mills
Science without religion is lame.
Religion without science is blind.
TRAGIC HEART ATTACK AT THE TENDER YOUNG
age of fifteen and a half, Jennifer Davis thought. That’s what the headlines would say tomorrow.
She stood up on her pedals, but had to sit down again when the back wheel of her mountain bike lost traction. Less than halfway up the last climb of the race, her lungs already felt like they were full of hot tar. Worse, she could hear the unmistakable crunch of tires closing in on her from behind.
Jennifer glanced back over her shoulder, ignoring the flaring color of the sunset as the light filtered through the Phoenix smog, and focused on the face of the rider behind her.
The good news was that he looked like he was in bad shape. His mouth was wide open and, despite the dry cold of the desert, the sweat was literally streaming off his nose.
The bad news was that she felt like he looked.
The angle of the hill eased off a bit and Jennifer stood up again. This time her tire held and she was able to accelerate slightly, struggling to stay out front.
The panting behind her grew louder as the rider began to close the distance between them. Jennifer grudgingly eased her bike right to allow a lane for him to pass, and then dropped her head and pedaled with everything she had.
About twenty-five yards from the crest of the hill, when he was only inches behind, he gave up. She heard a gasped obscenity and the unmistakable click of gears as he downshifted.
Jennifer remained standing, in case it was a trick or he got a second wind, but when she looked back again, he was off his bike, pushing it slowly up the hill.
At the top of the climb, Jennifer leaned forward and rested her arms against her handlebars. A small but enthusiastic crowd lined the narrow trail, and she coasted carefully through them.
She could see her parents threading their way through the throng as she passed under the checkered banner that announced the finish line. When her father jogged up alongside her, she draped an arm around his shoulders and used him as a crutch as she slid off her bike and fell to the ground.
“Great job, Jen! I thought that guy was going to get you on the hill!” She closed her eyes and listened as her father picked up her bike and rolled it off the track.
“Honey? Are you all right?”
Jennifer opened her eyes and looked into the plump face of her mother hovering over her. “Fine, Mom. No problem.” She turned to her father. “How’d I do, Dad?”
“Fourth place, looks like to me. Just out of the money.”
Jennifer let out a low groan as she stood and began pushing her way through the crowd, shaking various hands and stopping briefly to talk and laugh with friends and other racers.
“We’ve got a surprise for you, honey,” her father
said as they broke free of the crowd and headed for the parking lot. Jennifer slowed and then stopped. Her father just wasn’t the no-specific-occasion gift-giving type. Surprises were usually a bad thing. Her eyes followed his outstretched index finger to a white Ford Explorer in the parking lot. Three people stood next to it. Two of the three were waving.
“Oh Dad. You didn’t.”
“What? The Taylors have really been looking forward to seeing you race.”
Her mother smiled. “They really have, honey.”
The Taylors had lived two doors down from them for as long as Jennifer could remember. And for as long as she could remember, they and her parents had been conspiring to get her together with Billy, the Taylors’ football-playing, cheerleader-chasing, Budweiser-swilling moron of a son.
As they neared the parking lot, Mrs. Taylor rushed up to Jennifer with her arms flung wide. She thought better of the big hug she had undoubtedly been planning when she saw the amount of mud caked on Jennifer’s jersey. Instead, she adjusted an imaginary flaw in her rather tall hair and opted for a distant peck on the cheek. “Wow, that was really impressive, Jennifer. Very exciting.” She turned to her semicatatonic son. “Wasn’t it, Billy?” He snapped out of his stupor long enough to generate a weak smile.
There was a short lull in the conversation while everyone waited to see if he would actually speak. When it became obvious that he wouldn’t, her father said, “We thought we’d go out and grab some dinner before we drive back to Flagstaff. What do you think, Jen?”
“Are you kidding? Look at me!” Jennifer took off her helmet and held her arms out to give him a better view. She was spattered head to toe in mud. A gash above her knee, suffered on the first downhill of the race, was still oozing blood. And to top it off, her hair had taken on the shape of her helmet.
Her father didn’t look impressed. “We’ll just tell them you were in a mountain bike race. They’ll understand.”
She assumed that “they” referred to the maitre d’ of a really, really snooty restaurant, who would look at her like she was a homeless person and then grudgingly get them a table because her father was the largest car dealer in Arizona.
Jennifer sighed and walked over to her parents’ Cadillac. Leaning into the open window, she pulled out a small backpack containing a change of underwear, a pair of shorts, and a sweatshirt.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” she said, walking toward a white van with
painted in red across the side.
“That work?” Jennifer asked the young man sitting on a lawn chair in front of the van. He put down the hopelessly misshapen wheel he had been contemplating and picked up the end of the hose lying next to him.
“Sure, Jen. You want to spray off your bike?”
“My parents want to go out for dinner.”
He examined her carefully and fished a beer out of the cooler next to his chair. “It’s gonna be pretty cold.”
She tossed her pack through the window of his van and waved him on. “Do it.”
“Okay, now I’m ready,” Jennifer said, wearing her clean clothes and drying her hair with a heavily stained towel her friend with the van had loaned her. She bent forward and shook out her damp, unnaturally blonde hair. “Hey, Billy. None of this grease is coming off in my hair, is it?”
Her question had the desired effect. Billy looked appalled.
“Well, I thought it was a very nice dinner.”
Jennifer rolled her eyes.
“Watch the road, honey,” her mother cautioned. “They’ll deduct points on your driver’s test.”
Jennifer reached over and turned the volume of the radio all the way down. “Mom, Billy and I have known each other our whole lives. He’s a jerk. And he thinks I’m a jerk. My history teacher says that most people faced with a common enemy, in this case you guys, develop at least a teeny bit of a friendship. You’ll notice we haven’t.”
Her mother’s chins drooped. “They’re such a nice family, I don’t see why you’re so resistant …”
Jennifer craned her neck and looked at her father, who had retreated to the far corner of the back seat. “Help me out here, Dad.”
He ignored her and continued to peruse the road map lying in his lap, apparently oblivious to the fact that they were half a mile from home.
Jennifer turned back before her mother could get on her about her driving again. “Try to follow me here, Mom. Billy likes the cheerleader type. Girls with long red nails who can squeal at just the right pitch when he makes a touchdown. Besides, I
a boyfriend. And he hasn’t been lobotomized.”
Jennifer flipped on the blinker and turned the car into their driveway. She sped along the winding drive and escaped the car before her mother could start in again.
As she pulled her bike off the top of the car, she tried to ignore the cold and her mother’s pouting form walking toward the house. It looked like the guilt was going to get pretty thick tonight.
Jennifer wheeled her bike into the open garage and leaned it against the wall. “You want me to pull the car in, Mom?” she yelled at the open door that led to the kitchen.
No answer. Yeah, this was going to be one serious guilt trip, she thought, jogging up a short flight of stairs and stopping at the door. The lights inside the house were still off. “Did we blow another fuse? Dad? Do you want me to check the box?”
She froze at the sound of her father’s strangled voice. The rhythm and force of her heartbeat increased until she could almost hear it in the silence following his shout.
She took the last step into the house hesitantly and edged up to the washing machine so she could see into the kitchen. “Dad?”