TODAY IS THE DAY
Pete sat up and pulled the ear buds out as soon as he noticed his mom standing in the doorway to his room. It seemed she had been there awhile gesturing and talking to him as he was listening on his iPod to his favorite jam song “Ain’t No Better Way” by the country band tAke iT or LeAVe It. It was loaded with guitar riffs, and he was lip-synching and miming with his air guitar. “Say what, Mom?” he asked, flashing an apologetic grin.
She smiled and repeated herself, now with her son’s full attention. “Peter, your dad and I are heading out to do some errands. I wanted to make sure you were going over to Mr. Alouette’s house today.”
Peter placed the ear buds in his pocket with his iPod. Time’s up, he said to himself as he reached for his sneakers.
“He was out in his yard,” his mom said. “I waved to him, which reminded me of your offering to help him today.”
“I’m all over it, Mom,” Pete answered as he tied his sneakers. “I was just psyching myself up to go. His house is pretty dank in there. It’s almost creepy the way he keeps everything.”
Myra sighed and nodded, adding, “I know. But it was good of you to offer to give him a hand. He’s been struggling since his wife died and he moved into that little house next door.” She reached out to close the door to his room, paused, and said, “By the way, I think it’s about time the Halloween decorations come down.”
Pete glanced around his room at the cobwebs and clutter zones she was referring to and grinned at the motherly hint. “Ha ha, Mom. Good one.” She smiled and closed the door, leaving her son to contemplate his day.
Pete pulled on a sweatshirt that had been hanging on his doorknob. He looked around the room, sighed, and muttered, “Maybe later.”
The house was quiet now with everyone gone as he walked into the kitchen. Looking out across the yard, he put his hands on the window frame, leaned forward, and peered through the glass at his neighbor’s house. There were no lights on over there he noticed. It was early yet, and maybe the old guy was still sleeping, he thought. “Well, I’ll go over and see,” he exclaimed. “The sooner I start, the sooner I’ll be done. It’s Saturday, and there are places to go and people to see.”
It was a big weekend in town, as the two rival high schools were competing in various sporting events. Tallies of the track and field events, cross-country meet, and field hockey games were now over. It was a tie; both schools were equal in points. Tonight’s football game would be the deciding factor. He could not wait to go. The place will be packed, he thought. And then there are the parties afterward. It was all planned. “Okay!” he said. Pushing back from the window frame, he walked out the backdoor.
Whistling to himself, he made his way to his neighbor’s house and rang the bell. No answer. He knocked. No answer. He waited a moment and rapped on the door again, more firmly this time. The door finally opened, and a smiling Mr. Alouette appeared.
“Young man! Come in. Come in!” the old man replied cheerfully. He stepped back and gestured to Pete to enter. “I am sorry I didn’t answer right away.” He closed the door and turned back to Pete. “Well, you’re here and right on time.” Pete stared at him blankly. He hadn’t known that there was a time set up for him to be there. His confused look made the old man smile. “Don’t worry. My time is any time. I have all the time in the world,” he said, throwing up his arms. “Your mother is a great lady, and your dad, well, you folks are good neighbors. I thank you for helping me today.”
Pete could only nod in reply. Maybe he had been mistaken in his first impression of his neighbor as just an old man with too much junk in a house that needed more than a paintbrush.
“I know there are things I need help with today. Down in the basement are boxes that I must go through.”
Pete noticed the man’s jaw suddenly became fixed. He seemed firmly resolved about getting to the boxes today. What could be in there that was so important? I’m sure it’s just a lot more junk he thinks he needs to hang on to. Maybe when we get to it I could convince him to throw some musty old things away.
The old man glanced around at the clutter. “Well, we’ll get to that soon enough,” he said and waved his hand. “Follow me.” They navigated through the maze of stacked items in the hallway and into a backroom. A small light glowed in the corner. It was the dial on an unusual radio. Pete had never seen a radio as large as this one. In his world, things were getting smaller, such as his iPod tucked neatly in his five-pocket jeans. This was the type of set a ham radio operator used. “Welcome to my world!” Mr. Alouette said, beaming from ear to ear.
Pete approached the radio with awe and enthusiasm. He had never witnessed anything like it before. The speaker crackled, and he could hear voices broadcasting. He realized that he was listening to radio operators from all over the country. “I was in here when you came to the door,” said Mr. Alouette. “I apologize for not answering right away. Sometimes I get so involved in what I’m doing I forget what time it is. I know my wife could be very patient with me at times,” he said wistfully. “Some things just don’t leave you when all is said and done. Maybe someday you will understand, young man. Young people need to remember. My radio was my life at one time. It saved me and my men on more than one occasion when hell rained down on us.” Pete had no idea what the man was talking about but nodded as if he understood.
“Well, enough talk about all this.” He waved his hands as if to dismiss the thought. “If you think you may have any interest maybe you would like to sit in on a few chats with me and some folks.”
“I would like that, sir,” he answered, now full of curiosity. He realized that there was more to his neighbor than what he had thought.
TODAY IS THE DAY
They never did get to the boxes in the basement. Mr. Alouette showed Pete other areas of the house, talking nonstop as they walked. It seemed to Pete the old man’s mission was to tell him things and share stories. Perhaps he felt that he needed to tell someone about his life and all that the years had brought to him. Pete realized it was an oral autobiography.
The afternoon was getting long, and before Pete knew it, the time for the start of the game was getting close. He apologized to Mr. Alouette, telling him of his plans for the evening. “Not to worry, young man. I seem to remember those days myself. I do recall lots of good fun on and off the field. We’ll save all this for another time. If you could come back, perhaps when you’re free, say, next Saturday? I must get to those boxes in the basement.” The old man now seemed more determined than ever to accomplish this one big task.
Pete tried hard not to show his eagerness to leave. It had been an interesting afternoon with his old neighbor, but he was anxious to get to the game. “Sure! Sure, Mr. Alouette. I can be here next Saturday right about the same time if that’s okay with you.” Pete thought he heard the old man sniff a bit. He saw him quickly put his hand up to his eyes as he squeezed them shut.
Mr. Alouette walked to the door and opened it. “Enjoy your evening. Have a bit of fun, just not too much fun. I don’t want your mother to call me looking for you!” he said with a chuckle. “Or heaven forbid, the police!” He laughed at his own joke, and Pete felt the sad moment he had just witnessed vanish.
“Well, you have a good evening too,” Pete said. He headed back to his own house.
Wow, he thought to himself, recalling all that he discussed with his neighbor. Some of it had really grabbed his attention. The whole idea about talking with others from around the world, how cool was that? Definitely, he thought. I can’t wait to sit with him and talk on that radio.
Pete ran upstairs taking the steps two at a time and pushed open the door to his room. Uh oh. Nothing’s changed. Pete sighed, knowing he would put off the inevitable sprucing up once again. Still thinking about the conversations with Mr. Alouette, he quickly changed his clothes and made a mental note to himself to follow through next Saturday.
Descending the stairs, he nearly tripped over his sister who had bent over to pick up the contents of her spilled bag. “Oh hey, Ugo with the Uggs.” He loved to tease her about her fetish with this particular brand of boots.
“Back at you, monster boy,” she replied good-naturedly, referring to his obsession with sci-fi movies. “Where are you headed all jazzed up for, a night on the town?” She eyed his hair, which he had styled into the latest hot look with a bit of gel.
“You know it’s the big game tonight, right? Well, I’m meeting up with Devoe, I mean Dave, and we aim to bring some vocal persuasion to the night. It’s gonna be the best!” Pete looked once again in the mirror above the hall table set at the foot of the stairs and touched up his hair, smoothing the sides back into place.
“Forget Dave,” Kara laughed knowingly. “I bet Rianne will be there and looking for you, hot shot!”
Pete felt his face flush a bit at his sister’s little taunt. Rianne, he knew, was going to be there. He finished getting his coat and gloves together knowing it would be chilly when the sun went down. “I’d better get going, K. I got Dad’s car tonight, so look for it in the parking lot when you get to the game. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Or not,” she replied.
Pete understood that football and anything near a stadium were some of his sister’s least favorite things. He paused a moment and asked, “Hey, just this one time, we could use your girly screams and as many of your friends as you can get to amp things up. How about it? I’ll spring for some pizza later on,” he added, trying to change her mind.
“Well-l-l-l, maybe,” she said, pondering his request. “If and I mean if you see me there, then it’s a deal.”
“Okay, I’ll see you later!” Pete said matter-of-factly.
He quickly rushed out the door just as his sister yelled one more time, “If!”
TODAY IS THE DAY
The game proved to be too much for their opponents, and Delmar High School, home of the Ravens, ended the rivalry in victory. Packed cars and pickup trucks filled with fans began leaving the parking lots, horns blaring. The crowd of people, young and old, continued to stream out of the grandstand headed to their various vehicles. There were groups of young people everywhere yelling victory shouts, fists pumped in the air.
Pete, his friend Dave, and some of the others were laughing and carrying on, tackling one another in mock fashion as they had just seen on the field. They were excited to be on the winning side, as the curse had been broken. After seven long years, the Ravens had finally won. The trophy would go on display proudly in the school’s lobby for all to see. It was a grand time for the town on this Saturday evening in October.
True to his word to his sister, Pete and Dave headed into town and to Lou’s Best Italian Pizza. She had been a good sport bringing her girlfriends, and they cheered mightily right up to the end of the last quarter. Pete told them to meet him at the pizzeria for their payoff.
“Did you see Big Beau sack the quarterback? I wonder what he said when he helped him up?” Dave was animated talking more about the game and details of every play. They continued down the main street now filled with cars and people and loud music blaring from every corner. Dave leaned out the window and screamed, slapping the car door as Pete steered into the fray. Suddenly, out of nowhere, another car ran a stop sign. With its engine roaring and tires squealing, it came right at their car and struck them broadside where Dave was hanging out the window. Screams filled Pete’s ears as he tried to avoid the collision, but it caught them unprepared, and he watched in horror as his friend was engulfed in the twisted wreckage. The look of unbelievable despair on Dave’s face would haunt Pete forever.
Later at the hospital, Pete sat and waited for answers. His friend was...
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