The Rabbit

“I’m going to the compost bin. I’ll be right back,” Blake Jorgenson said to his wife.

“Okay. I’m almost done with the tea. We can have a cup on the back patio if you want. It’s a beautiful morning.”

He grinned, “Sounds good.”

Blake stepped out the back door with his pail of breakfast scraps: eggs shells, coffee grounds and a banana peel. He stopped and took a moment to breathe in the lovely scent of a nearby climbing yellow rose bush. Ah, roses so sweet! he thought poetically to himself. Wasn’t life grand?

He was feeling wonderful. A warbler chattering away in a nearby clump of honeysuckle seemed to echo his jaunty mood. Morning dew sparkled on the lawn and the sky was glorious robin’s egg blue. It was the last week in June and the sun was shining, the temperature a pleasant sixty-five degrees. It was going to be a perfect day.

Blake was an avid gardener; it was not only his hobby but his passion. He planned to spend the morning working in the front yard, weeding and hoeing the many gardens he’d planted there over the years. It was the sunniest spot on his property and that’s where all the sun-loving flowers were planted: delphinium, garden phlox, coneflower, sunflowers, daises and black-eyed Susan’s to name but a few. When he was finished in the front, he’d move to the backyard, where he was now, to the shady gardens and do the same with the hostas, ferns, wild ginger, Solomon’s seal and foxglove. He prided himself on the gardens he and Alicia maintained. They’d won a disappointing second place in the Long Lake garden contest last year and he was ready to do battle.

“Not this year,” he’d told his wife a few months earlier at the beginning of the season, “No siree. This year we’re going to kick some ass. We’re going to win!”

He hadn’t noticed when Alicia had turned away, rolling her eyes at him. Sure, she liked to putter around with the flowers, but that was all. She could have cared less about the garden contest and didn’t care one whit about winning. And she certainly wasn’t like her competitive husband, who had waited and dreamed and plotted all winter long for the chance to wipe last year’s second place debacle from the books.

Blake happily sauntered from the back door to the far side of the garage where the compost bin was located. Suddenly a movement to his right caught his attention. Thinking it might be a robin searching for a worm he glanced out into the yard. It took a moment to locate the movement and when he did his blood pressure suddenly sky-rocketed, his good mood vanishing in an instant. “Shit!” He dropped his pail and ran back to the house yelling, “God damn it, anyway!”

Alicia hurried to meet him as he burst through the backdoor, “What’s the matter? Is it your heart? What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine, but I’m not okay. I’ve got to call Toby.”

“Why?”

“That damn rabbit is back. I can’t friggin’ believe it.”

“Why call Toby?” Toby McCourt was Blake’s best friend.

“He’s got a trap. I’m going to catch the blasted thing and when I do, that’ll be all she wrote for mister bunny rabbit. Mark my words. That thing is toast.”

Alicia sighed a heavy sigh, thinking, “Good grief, here we go again.”

Toby’s trap was called a “Havaheart.” It was a rectangular wire mesh box-like contraption that an animal was enticed into with food. Once inside, a trip-lever shut the door so the animal couldn’t get out. The idea was that the trapper could then take the animal far away and let it go to run wild and free in some woods or fields somewhere; anywhere but where they could do damage and destruction to humans. Toby used his to trap squirrels. He was a gentle and compassionate man who drove twenty miles away to the other side of the Minnesota River down near Jordan where he set the unharmed animal free. Blake wasn’t sure he’d be that kind and considerate with the rabbit.

“I might just drop the whole thing in the middle of Long Lake and be done with it,” he told Alicia when he returned home from Toby’s, hauling the bulky Havaheart, “I’ve had it with the damn thing.”

The “Damn Thing,” the rabbit, had been the scourge of Blake’s for a couple of years right up until last year when it had mysteriously disappeared. “Yea!” Blake had said earlier that spring as he prepared his prized gardens for the garden show judging (only to awarded the gut wrenching second plate silver metal. It still grated on his nerves.) “Maybe a fox got it or something. Hopefully, the stupid thing is dead. Good bye and good riddance is what I say.”

But, now, a year later, apparently it was not dead. Now it was back, hopping around in his yard, and it had Blake’s blood pressure up in the danger zone.

“Blake, sweetheart, you’ve got to calm down,” Alicia told him, as he stalked his property searching for the perfect place to set the trap, “You’ll give yourself a heart attack.”

Blake was a recently retired product development specialist for Heartland Incorporated, an electronics control manufacturing company. He’d worked there for nearly forty years, as long as he and Alicia had been married. He’d been a dedicated employee and was a devoted husband. He was also fiercely competitive, and he wasn’t going to let a measly cottontail rabbit ruin his changes at winning first place at garden show this year. In his words, “No friggin’ way.” He’d already picked out a nice spot on the fireplace mantel to be home for the shining golden trophy, much to Alicia’s chagrin.

After an hour’s contemplation, and trying various locations, he finally decided to place the trap in the front yard, in the middle of his favorite flower bed. He baited it with fresh romaine lettuce, sliced radishes and succulent baby carrots. The mixture looked so delectable that Blake fought back an urge to eat some. “Nope, save it for the rabbit,” he muttered to himself, “I can’t wait to get the damned thing.”

With the trap and bait in place, he impatiently waited. One day went by. A second day passed. A third. Nothing. At the end of the fourth day, with still no rabbit, Blake was starting to calm down somewhat and to think, “Maybe the blasted thing has moved on to another neighborhood to terrorize another gardener.” Or, now that he was thinking about it, “Maybe something even better has happened. Maybe it got hit by a car and is dead.” To that end Blake got in his brand new Ford Focus and took a drive around the neighborhood looking up and down the streets to see if he could find evidence of the smashed remains of rabbit’s demise. He found nothing.

But that was fine with Blake. At least the rabbit wasn’t in his yard or his flower beds, or anywhere nearby. Apparently. He allowed himself some cautious optimism. His bachelor buttons had just popped up in his front yard garden and were growing with enthusiasm. They’d be the final colors of blue and pink and white to fill in amongst the deep violet delphinium, the terra cotta coneflowers, the yellow sunflowers and the deep fuchsia and reds of his phlox. The judging was next week. He and, more importantly, his garden, were ready. “First place, here we come,” he told Alicia, “No doubt in my mind.” To which his poor wife sighed and, again, rolled her eyes.

The next morning he took the breakfast scraps to the compost bin. On a whim, he decided to take a little stroll to the front yard to check on the trap. He walked on yesterday’s ¬†freshly cut grass along the side of his house, reveling in the beauty of natural world and the fact that, with the rabbit seemingly nowhere to be found, all was right with it. He turned the corner to the front yard and let his eye run over the riot of color, the beautiful combination of flowers of all types and varieties. He’d definitely win first place this year. Easily. Then he happened to glance at the Havaheart, tucked carefully among the bachelor buttons. At first he didn’t believe what he saw. He had to blink twice to make sure it was real. Unfortunately, it was. There, sitting calmly and unafraid on top of the trap was the rabbit. His nemesis. Blake stared, his blood racing to his brain, his heart pounding. He put his hand to his chest to ease the pain. It subsided, fortunately, but he was frozen in place, a combination of anger and numbness stopping him in his tracks.

The rabbit, a doe, a big female, sat staring back at him. She calmly munched on the new growth of the bachelor buttons growing right up beside her. She was taking her time, all the while watching the man clutch his chest, speechless and consumed by rage. Munching, munching, munching, she was, enjoying every bite, in no hurry at all.

When she was finished, she lightly jumped to the ground and leisurely hopped away, turning every now and then, keeping an eye of the crazy man standing nearby with his eyes bugging out, silently moving his mouth, speechless. Then she spied a delectable delphinium. She stopped next to it, daintily bit it off at the stem and started eating, savoring every bite, watching as the female who lived with the man ran out to help him. She put her arm around his shoulder and slowly they made their toward their home.

When they had gone inside, she hopped past more of the man’s succulent gardens, so full of good food. For now, though, she ignored them. She was heading for the yard next door. At the back of the garage she’d dug a borrow for her nine babies. They’d only been born last week. She was still feeding them her rich mother’s milk. Soon they’d be old enough to go out on their own. Then she would teach them the ways of the world and how to survive: where the safe places to hide were and where to find food, like this particular garden, this lovely banquet of healthy food, so abundant and tasty.

But that was still a few weeks away. Until then she’d be busy, feeding mostly, both herself and her babies. She was glad there were so many flowers nearby. The man’s garden held the best food in the area; in fact, the best food she’d ever eaten. She was sure her babies would grow strong and healthy from it. Her milk was good. The garden was big. The food source was almost unending. There was no doubt about it, she would definitely be back, if not this afternoon, then tonight. After all, she had a growing family to care for. She had a lot more eating to do.

Advertisements

The Pink Motor Scooter and the Light Blue Vespa

Jenny adjusted the chin strap of her pink helmet. She checked the map one last time and put it in the back pocket of her cut off jeans. She checked her watch. It was 3:20 pm. Good. She had enough time to go where she wanted and get back before her parents got home. Then she kicked-started her pink motor scooter, shifted into low and sped off. She drove through the tree lined streets of her Minneapolis neighborhood and out to highway 12. Then she headed west. The wind rushing past her face felt clean and refreshing. Her scooter’s top speed of forty-two miles per hour gave her a feeling of power. She loved it. The freedom of being on the road was what she needed. It felt good to getaway.

Forty-five minutes later she stopped at the only stoplight in the small town of Long Lake, seventeen miles west of her home. She paused a moment before taking a right and driving down a short street to Lakeside Park. She got off her scooter near a clump of lilacs, took off her helmet and shook out her long blond hair. She clipped the helmet to the handlebar and walked across the sandy beach to the lakeshore and out to the end of the public dock. She sat down and took off her socks and black boots and set them aside. She dangled her feet in the refreshing water and looked around, feeling herself finally relaxing.

The lake wasn’t too big, maybe a mile long and a quarter mile wide. There were fishing boats, sail boats and even a kayaker or two out on the sparkling blue water. Overhead, a few gulls floated on a light breeze. Nearby, some ducks swam in circles, looking for food. Watching the scene, Jenny felt herself calming down even more. She lay back on the dock, it’s wooden planks warm against her shoulder blades. She rested. But not for long. Soon her memories returned.

Damn him. Damn that friggin’ Randy. Why did he have to do that? Jenny suddenly sat up and reached in her pocket. She took out her wallet and opened it. Inside was a photograph of her boyfriend. Check that. Former boyfriend. The jerk had the audacity to come up to her at lunch today with his arm around that skanky Belinda and say, ‘Sorry, Babe. It’s over.’ Or something like that. All Jenny remembers now is his smirky smile and his friggin’ red lips, the lips that kissed her so passionately just a few days earlier on Saturday night. Well, to hell with him.

Jenny took the photo of her now former boyfriend’s smarmy face and methodically ripped in two. Then she put the pieces together and ripped them in two. Then, again. Then she dropped them in the water and watched as a school of sunfish quickly swarmed to them and nibbled at their edges, then, just as quickly, finding nothing of interest to eat, they darted away and disappeared.

Jenny laughed, “Yeah, go ahead and take off. I don’t blame ya’.”

Feeling much, much better, she checked her watch; 4:50 pm. Better get going. She went back to her scooter, put on her helmet and started it up. She drove up to the corner and took a left, heading for home, narrowly missing an old lady in a burgundy Prius. “Damn, better watch myself,” Jenny muttered as she gunned the motor and drove away. She had begun thinking about that new kid in class, Jeffrey something or other. He was tall, had long hair and a smile that seemed to look right inside of ¬†her. “Now he’s someone I can see myself with,” she smiled to herself, “It might be fun getting to know him, maybe even take him for a ride sometime.” She twisted the throttle to get as much speed out of the little scooter as she could and leaned into the wind. Her thoughts were consumed with that new boy, Jeffrey. She couldn’t get home soon enough.

Freja Ann Jorgenson gasped as the young girl on the pink scooter sped by, narrowly missing the front bumper of her newly washed car. “My Lord,” she said to herself, her right hand resting on her chest just above her heart, “That young lady almost ran into me.”Freja looked in the review mirror and watched as the little scooter disappeared down the road. Kids these days. What can you do? She smiled and shook her head with a forbearance toward youth that came with age. That might have been her at one time. After all, she’d been young once herself .

The light changed and she eased the accelerator pedal down. She was heading home after working her shift at Great Harvest Moon coop. She had some fresh free range eggs she wanted to cook into a nice omelet for dinner for Ralph. Her mouth started watering just thinking about it. “Maybe I’ll have some, too,” she thought to herself. “Add in some mushrooms and fried onions; a little cheddar cheese, too. That would be good.” Her mouth began watering even more.

She pulled into the driveway, parked the car, crossed to the back patio and went in through the back door. Their tidy, bungalow felt cool to her warm skin. A secure feeling. She smiled a contented smile, “I’m home,” she called out, “Ralph, are you here?”

“Downstairs.”

“What’re doing?”

“Looking through some old photos.”

Again? She smiled and shook her head. Oh, well. They were both seventy-six years old. They’d been married for fifty-five years and had lived in their home for the last fifty of those years. They knew each other as well as two people could possibly know each other. There were probably worse ways he could spend his time. “I’ll fix us some dinner, okay?”

“Sure. What’s on the docket?”

“I’ve got fresh eggs from the coop. How does an omelet sound?:

“Sounds fantastic. Need any help?”

“No. I’ll give you a yell when they’re done.”

“I’ll be here.”

“Funny,” Freja thought to herself and went about preparing dinner.

Half an hour later, they were finishing up their evening meal, each of them savoring the omelet Freja had prepared, not to mention her homemade strawberry jam she’d brought out to go along with the fresh muffins she’d decided at the last minute to whip up. Ralph dabbed the sides of his mouth with his napkin, sat back, sighed a satisfied sigh and asked, “So how was work today? How was the coop?”

“It was fine, but driving home was a little scary. I almost had an accident.”

“What! What happened?” Ralph exclaimed and leaned forward, concerned, “Are you all right?”

“Yes, yes, yes. I’m fine.” Freja waved a hand to indicate she really was fine, “It was down by the lake. At the stoplight. A young girl pulled right out in front of me. Land sakes, I almost hit her.”

“But you’re okay, right? You’re sure?”

“I’m fine. I was a little shaken, but I’m okay now.”

“That’s good.” Ralph sat back and was quiet for a few moments, thinking. Then he asked, “What kind of a car was she driving?”

“It wasn’t a car. It was one of those motorcycle things. Small.”

“A motor scooter?”

“I guess, yes. A motor scooter. It was pink. A pink motor scooter.”

“Pink?”

‘Yes. Pink.”

Ralph looked at his wife fondly. She watched as his eyes moved away from the present to somewhere back in time, “Remember when we first started dating? I had that light blue scooter? That Vespa? Remember that?”

Freja cast her memory back with her husband to those long ago years. Back when they were young and lived just down the road from each other on their parent’s west central Minnesota farms. Back then Ralph was tall and thin and handsome and strong. He could work his father’s field all day long and still find time for courting her late into the night. They had been friends in grade school, sweet hearts in high school and then husband and wife before either of them finished college at the University of Minnesota. Freja had been a third grade teacher her entire working life. Ralph had been an engineer in Minneapolis at Twin City Tool and Die. They’d raised four children. They were grandparents to seven boys and girls. Life had been good to them.

“Yes,” she said, “Yes, I do remember that scooter of yours. I even remember that you let me drive it sometimes. It was fun. Whatever happened to it?”

“Don’t you remember? I sold it after Eddie was born. We used some of the money to help us buy this house?”

“Oh, yes. That’s right.”

Now she did remember. She remembered riding on the back of that scooter, arms around Ralph’s waist, holding him close as the fresh summer night breeze cooled their warm, passionate bodies. She remembered the ticking of the engine as they lay in the grass, deep kisses leading to deeper passion. She remembered it all with the warm fondness of a lifetime love still cherished.

Ralph watched the change coming over his wife and had an idea. “Do you want to see some photos of that old Vespa? I’ve got some downstairs.”

Freja came back to the present and smiled at her husband, “Yes, Ralph, I’d like that. I’d like that very much.”

“Good,” he said, rising from the table, “You stay right here. It’s my turn to do the dishes. Let me get them out of the way, then I’ll go get the photo albums. I’ll bring them up here, okay? We can look at them here on the table.”

Freja sat quietly remembering the past while Ralph cleared the plates. In her mind she saw the two of them together so many years ago, young at heart, riding that light blue Vespa down those old dusty farm roads. Her memories came flooding back. She smiled.

Suddenly she stood up, “Let me help with the clean up tonight, Ralph. Then you can get those photos while I get us some ice cream. A little treat for us. How’s that sound?”

Ralph smiled and gave his wife a hug, feeling in her warm embrace the years of their marriage ever present, his love for her just as strong as it ever was.”Ice cream sounds wonderful,” he said. She hugged him back. They set to work on the dishes, both of them pleasantly drifting back in time, riding down those dusty back roads, already reliving the memories they’d had with that old blue Vespa.

 

Blood Work

I watched the blood swirling around in the sink. “My god, there’s a lot of it,” I thought to myself, “Way more than I expected.” I took hold of the bar of soap, lathered my hands and kept washing them, extra vigorously this time, trying to get more of the blood off. The bright red color running down the drain looked like the aftermath of my ill advised decision to let my son chose the color of his bedroom walls many years ago. ‘I’d like blood red, Dad,’ he’d said. I had agreed, much to the disappointment of my wife. And anger. I never did get that roller brush clean. And, as I recall, it took three coats of Glidden’s Sea Green semi-gloss to cover it all. (Plus the entire next weekend.)

Anyway, the blood wasn’t washing away very quickly. Where did it all come from? I’d read a lot of books on crime. In fact, I was sort of a student of the macabre, so I knew that the human body contained around a gallon and a half of the stuff (about the size of the bucket you might use to wash your car) and it seemed like that’s the amount I was washing off my hands. Man, I’d never expected there to be so much.

I was in the bathroom, right off the kitchen. The sink was porcelain and the raspberry juice red of the blood contrasted with the sink’s sparkling white. I wondered briefly if the blood would stain it. Shit. Once more thing to worry about.

The more I washed and tried to clean my hands, the more of a mess I seemed to be making. Blood was splattering everything: up around the faucets, against the white tile backsplash and down the sides of the sink, dripping onto the pristine white tile floor. Geez, I’d be cleaning up forever.

I glanced in the mirror as I washed. My face looked every bit of its age of seventy-one. My eyes were tired looking, bags drooping underneath. The hair on my head was thin, nearly gone, my beard was wispy and scraggly. I looked the kind of guy who would be washing blood from their hands after committing a violent crime. Not the best image to be confronted with at this stage of my life. Not at all.

Suddenly, there was a pounding on the door. Bam! Bam! Bam!

“Grandpa. Grandpa. What are you doing in there?”

A grin appeared on my haggard face. “There’s no one here,” I said, talking to the closed door, still scrubbing furiously, “No one here but us vampires.”

Giggles on the other side from Lari and Lori, my nine-year old twin granddaughters. It was Thursday afternoon, my day to stay with them after school until my son and his wife got home from work.

Lori called out, “Grandpa, please, please, please, what are you doing?”

“Yeah,” Lari said, “Tell us, tell us, tell us.”

I decided to come clean (pun intended) and tell them, “I’m washing off that blood we got at the hobby store. I’m sort of making a mess in here.”

“You mean fake blood, don’t you, Grandpa?” says Lori, “It was fake blood that we bought.”

“Let us see. Please, let us see,” Lari called out. Then, more pounding. Bam! Bam! Bam!

I could picture them jumping up and down outside the door in joyful glee. It made my heart glad. They were good kids. I cast a quick glance at myself in the mirror. At the sound of their voices, I swear my eyes became brighter and the bags under them seemed less, well, baggy. Even my beard seemed fuller. My granddaughters had that way about them, making me feel younger. (Looking younger? Well, that surely was all in my imagination.)

“Just a second.” I grabbed some paper towels from under the sink and dried off my hands, leaving red smears and smudges all over the place. “Come on in,” I opened the door.

The girls are identical red heads. They’ve got long hair, green eyes, freckles, the whole bit. One thing they enjoyed doing together was playing practical jokes. Today after they’d gotten home from school we’d gone to our favorite store, Phil’s Magic Emporium, and made some purchases. The plan was that we were going to surprise their parents when they got home from work today with something to do with fake blood. We’d also bought some other things.

The girls looked at the mess in the bathroom and let out a collective, “Yuck!”

“I know,” I said, “I think the fake blood is going to be too much of a mess to work with. What do you two think?”

While the girls pondered my question, I finished washing my hands. Then I gave them each some paper towels, got some spray cleaner and we cleaned out the sink as well as everything else within a five foot radius. (I ended up using a lot of spray bleach. A lot of paper towels, too.)

When we were done, Lori said, “I think you’re right Grandpa. I don’t think Mom or Dad with would like the blood.”

“But we did get some other stuff at the store. Remember Grandpa,” Lari said, starting to get excited all over again.

“Yes, we did. They are so cool. Should I go get them Grandpa?” Lori asked.

I’d been so busy trying to clean up I’d forgotten. I’d let each of the kids pick out something else, just in case the blood idea didn’t work out, which obviously it didn’t.

I played along, joking with them, “I’m getting old and forgetful. What else was it we bought again?” I scratched my chin to emphasize my forgetfulness.

The girls ran into the kitchen, giggling and pulling me along. On the counter was a shopping bag and they opened it, each taking out a treasured purchase.

“Here, Grandpa,” Lori said, holding up a rubber slab of fake vomit.

“Here’s mine,” Lari said, holding up a clump of fake dog poop.

I laughed. They were just the kinds of things I’d have bought way back when, back when I was their age. God, I loved my grandkids.

I warmed up to the task at hand, “Those each will really surprise your parents,” I told them, laughing.

They both grinned back at me, “Will you help us put them someplace, Grandpa?” Asked Lari.

“Please,” Grandpa, “Lori said, “Someplace special. Pretty please?”

“You bet I will,” I told them, “Let’s go find a couple of really good places.”

“Goody, goody,” they both said in unison.

Then they each took me by the hand and off we went, and all I’ll say is this: We were able to find a couple of really good places; their parents were truly surprised later that evening when they got home from work.

Oh, and all three of us are grounded from the Magic Emporium for the next six weeks. But what the heck, it was worth it.

 

Friends

Dave was sprawled on the couch watching the evening news when an incoming text beeped. He glanced at it and sighed, “Shit, JT, what the hell?” He set his phone down without looking at the message. “Man, just give me a moment to myself,” he was thinking, “Just let me chill and unwind a bit.”

He’d been home for half an hour, had showered, put on some clean clothes and fixed a plate of fruit: a sliced up honeycrisp apple, a hand full of red seedless grapes and a little chunk of havarti cheese. All he wanted was to chill a little; hang out and relax. He was beat. He had just finished a ten hour shift as what his boss called a sous chef at a local restaurant. Right. Dave grimaced when he thought about his job, because he was under no illusions whatsoever about the work he did; what he did food prep and that was that. Pure and simple. Any idiot could do it. The fact that The Egg and I was a locally sourced, natural foods eatery that regularly made the top ten list for places to eat in the Twin Cities didn’t hide that fact, not one little bit. At least to Dave, anyway.

But, he didn’t mind. He liked the work. Liked that he made enough money for he and JT to rent the one bedroom apartment in the hundred year old brown stone on Emerson Avenue in an older neighborhood of Minneapolis. Liked that he was close enough so he could walk to work in ten minutes and not have to drive his old Ford Fiesta. Liked that he could help pay the bills. (JT made good wages working for Gibertson’s Environmental Services, cleaning high rise office buildings in downtown Minneapolis late at night.) He liked that he could even save some money so maybe he could go to college one day; if he ever decided he wanted to.

But for now…now he had to deal with JT. He fired up his water pipe and took a hit of Raspberry Crush, pulling the smoke down deep into his lungs and savoring it as he reached for his phone, “Let’s see what the guy’s up to.”

He read the text. It was short and sweet. Well not all that sweet. What it said was a cryptic, “Come get me.”

What the hell was going on now? Dave knew JT had had the day and the night off. He knew his friend was going to ride his fat tire bike somewhere. But it was the middle of winter and cold out for christ’s sake. How far could he have gone?

Dave looked out the window. Their apartment was on the third floor of the three story building. It was in the middle of the block, right across from a street light. Through the bright illumination he could make out the snow flurries that had begun to falling earlier in the day. It was beginning to snow harder, now, showing no sign of letting up.

Damn.

“What’s up?” he texted back.

“At RR. Need ride.”

Well, for double christ’s sake. RR was the Red Rooster, a bar in Long Lake. It was the bar Dave and JT would sometimes stop at when they rode their bicycles from Minneapolis to the little town, twenty miles to the west. It was an area of woods and fields in western Hennepin County known for its well kept bike trails. They enjoyed going fat tire riding on those trails. Liked it a lot. But that was during the summer (or spring or fall, for that matter), not in the middle of February. Not in the middle of winter. Not with a foot of snow on the ground and more on the way. What the hell had JT been thinking?

Well, Dave had a guess. JT had developed a thing for the bartender out there. A serious infatuation. At least he had last Christmas when the weather had been mild and they’d both ridden out to check on the trails. On the way home they’d stopped at the Rooster. The bartender was a handsome guy named Jeff and JT had immediately been drawn to him. In fact, he’d stayed drawn to him even though he’d never once been back to the bar to see him. JT liked to imagine the best when it came to relationships, instead of taking steps to show the person how he felt – imagine being the operative word here. He liked to pretend that whomever he’d fallen for was going to reciprocate his feelings. The way Dave saw it, it was easier for JT to just play the game in his head rather than act on his feelings. Except for now. Now, apparently his friend had decided to follow his heart and take things a step further. Yep, the more Dave thought about it, the more he figured that, yeah, that’s exactly what JT had done.

“Jeff?” Dave texted back.

“No. Jeff’s gone. Marybeth.”

Dave sighed. Jesus. When it came to infatuations, JT was an equal opportunity kind of guy. A good looking man or a good looking woman, it didn’t matter. If there was a spark that JT felt, that’s all it would take. Next stop, Love City.

Dave and JT had been friends for almost their entire lives, having met back in grade school in Miss Whipholt’s third grade class. Back then parents and teachers called the two boys introverted and socially awkward. Labels notwithstanding, Dave and JT only knew they preferred to not be around a lot of other people. They bonded over a love of bicycles and bike riding. Over time, their small coaster brake Huffys evolved to trek dirt bikes, diamond back mountain bikes and Schwinn fifteen speed racers, until finally, now, to each of them owning a treasured Raleigh Pardner fat tire bicycle. Riding bikes was a pleasant, solitary activity, something they could do alone or together. As the years passed, they did it together, more often than not.

Now in their mid twenties, they were still friends, close friends, best of friends, in fact. Close enough that Dave texted back, “What a bunch of BS.”

Apparently unperturbed by Dave’s response, JT responded with a smiley face. Then, after a short pause, another text pleading, “Come get me?” and another smiley face.

Jesus.

Dave could see it now. JT had ridden his bike out to the Red Rooster on his day off, thinking he’d be able to make it with Jeff. Jeff had been gone. Who knows, quit maybe; maybe even hiding in the back room, but gone nevertheless. So JT strikes up a conversation with Marybeth, a new bartender, and one thing leads to another. It gets to be make it or break it time and MB informs JT that she’s not interested. Maybe she has a boyfriend. Maybe a girlfriend. Whatever…The point is, she’s not interested. JT starts drinking and time goes by. It starts snowing. He’s getting drunk. Suddenly he realizes he can barely stand, let along ride a bike all the way back to Minneapolis. So what’s he do? He sends a text to his pal. His good buddy. Good old Dave.

Dave sat back on the couch and glanced at the television. Colbert was just coming on. He watched for a minute or so and laughed once or twice at some jokes made at the expense of the current president. Colbert was really pretty funny sometimes.

Beep. Another text. “U coming?”

Dave lit up the pipe and took another hit. He looked around the living room, the main room of the apartment. It might not have a lot of furniture but that was all right. He slept on the couch he was now sitting on, JT had the bedroom. There was also a small bathroom and a tiny, galley kitchen. It wasn’t the biggest space in the world, but the price was right and it worked for them. And it was clean. They both made sure of that. No one said that just because you were a guy in your twenty’s you had to be a slob. Both he and JT liked to keep their place neat and tidy and looking good. And it was.

On the table across from him was the television. Next to it was a red lava lamp with a gold base they’d bought together over three years earlier when they’d first moved in; a kind of housewarming gift to themselves. Dave watched the red mass bubble away for a few seconds and then got to his feet. He turned off Colbert, picked up his plate, went to the kitchen and washed it. Then he took out a stick of sandalwood incense, put it in its holder and set it carefully in the base of the aluminum kitchen sink. It’d be safe there. Then he lit it. JT would like the aroma when he came in.

He picked up his phone and texted, “On my way. B there in 45.”

He put on his boots, winter jacket and wood cap before grabbing his car keys. He locked the apartment and made his way downstairs to the parking lot where his old Ford Fiesta was parked. He started the engine and turned on the heater. While the car warmed up he took his brush and stepped outside to clean off the snow. It felt like the temperature was around ten degrees. What the hell had JT been thinking, riding out to Long Lake today? Twenty miles in the winter. Man…Dave shook his head, fighting back a grin. What a crazy guy.

When the snow was removed, he got back inside. The warmth from the heater felt good. Some of the snow on the sleeve of his jacket started to melt. He put the car in reverse and backed up. It usually took about thirty minutes to drive out to Long Lake, but what with the snow and all on a night like tonight it’d definitely take longer. That was okay. It’d be good to see JT. He’d been kind of been missing the guy.

Just before he pulled out of the lot his phone beeped. Dave stopped and checked it. JT had sent a message: a smiley face and a thumbs up emoji.

Dave texted a smiley face back.

Then he put the car in gear and headed out into the snowy winter’s night. Yeah, it’d be good to see JT. It’d be nice to see his friend.