(Author's notes on this story are on my home page)
"Just a little closer" Derek mumbled around the flashlight caught between his teeth.
Only the bottom half of the young man's body was completely visible, the other half was mostly swallowed up, consumed by the engine compartment of the small aircraft he was working on. With a ratchet in one hand and a bolt in the other, he struggled to replace the last of the mountings holding the brand new alternator inside his small Cessna. His entire body seesawed on the fuselage of the aircraft, his toes only occasionally touching the top step of the wooden stepladder he was using for his repairs.
He finally managed to work the bolt into the mounting hole, causing him to grin around the flashlight protruding from his lips. Fitting the ratchet down over it, Derek slowly drove the bolt into its receptor, making quick movements back and forth as he worked the tool in the tight confines that the engine compartment allowed him.
It seemed though, every time he started ratcheting the bolt in, it would start crooked and he would have to back it out again. He frowned; beads of sweat were starting to form on his forehead as the exertion was taking a toll on him, the exertion and his inability to breathe properly in such a contorted position. He shifted forward, his heels coming up to behind his knees as he tried to get as close as he could to where he was working.
An older gentleman was watching all of this with a bemused smile on his face while leaning against the wide doorway of the sizable hangar. Floyd Wilks watched his son working on his plane, just as he had done when he was the same age. The number of years since that time was apparent in the lines on his face and the color of his hair; salt and pepper not all that long ago that had now gone way to mostly salt.
Floyd was terribly proud of the kid, now grunting and working his feet back and forth, all adding to the illusion that a carnivorous airplane was consuming him. He and his wife had their only child late in life, Floyd himself now being almost sixty-five. He saw things coming full circle for him; now long retired he watched his son grow into a man with the same love for aviation that he did, his son in his last few weeks before he would ship out to start basic training in the Air Force.
He wondered if Derek would enjoy the same long military career that he himself had, or would he just stay his six years and leave. It didn't matter all that much to Floyd, he just hoped that his son would be happy with his choice to follow in his footsteps. Either way, Floyd would be content.
Indeed, if there were any regrets that he had it was that Floyd and his late wife, Tabitha, only had a single child before Tab's untimely death from breast cancer when Derek was four years old. Possibly one other; Floyd was terrified of his long slow descent into old age that would occur once his son was out of the house, leaving him alone – the house's sole inhabitant for the first time in almost forty years.
A loud whoop of delight broke Floyd out of his revelry as his son successfully ratcheted that last bolt into place and immediately began extricating himself from the confines of the Cessna 182's engine compartment. Derek swung his feet back down, trying to use them as leverage as he pulled his upper half up and out of the plane. Too late though, he realized that both his feet were on the end of the ladder which immediately toppled from the instability.
Derek clawed at the aircraft but found his hands only grasping at air as he fell. In his mind, the five feet to the ground passed by in slow motion as he suddenly found himself face first on the concrete floor of the hangar, the smell of oil and dust in his nose that was now flattened against the unforgiving cement slab. He groaned as he rolled over to find his father right above him, grinning madly.
"One day you're going to break your neck, boy." Floyd Wilks said, extending his hand out for his son.
Derek groaned as he was helped to his feet, rubbing his now-throbbing forehead. He reached down and picked the stepladder up, folding it before gently leaning it against the fuselage of the aircraft. He felt his father's eyes on him as he went about closing and locking down the engine compartment on his plane.
Finally finished and satisfied that all was in order, Derek looked back over at his father. "I thought you were headed back home to start dinner?" He asked.
Floyd's big grin returned, sometimes that grin reminded Derek of the Cheshire Cat; illogically, he kept expecting that the rest of Floyd Wilks would simply fade into non-existence leaving only the grin behind in his place. The grin was his father's trademark and Derek, in his approaching adulthood, conveniently ignored the fact that he had that same hereditary smile.
Just when Derek was sure that the question was going to go unanswered, the grin faded a little, revealing a little bit of the anxiety and creeping loneliness that was behind it. "I don't know. I just figured that I would wait for you to finish up here and we could drive back into town together."
"What about my car?" Derek asked. "How am I going to get back here tomorrow?"
Floyd just waved his hand, dismissing the question. "Don't worry about it, I will bring you on back tomorrow. In the meantime, the car will be just fine, nobody is going to steal it."
That was certainly the truth. Derek drove a rolling trash-heap of a car; the old '82 Takuro Spirit had seen it's share of action. At times it seemed like it was one big rolling pile of Bondo and salvaged parts. This was fairly typical of Derek, he would rather have something old and falling apart that he could tinker with than something brand new that requires no work on his part to keep it functioning.
Derek finally smiled and nodded his acquiescence. Deep down he sensed that his father was having a far harder time accepting his looming departure for his own career and whatever was lying beyond than what he was really letting on. So he took whatever chance he had to spend extra time with his father, and true to form, neither of them really talked about it.
Sitting inside the big Cadillac that was a huge contrast from his own car, Derek stared out the side window. He watched his own reflection superimposed on the scenery as is rolled silently past. The trees in Kent, Ohio were a dark and vivid green; the sign that spring had given up its last breaths as summer had stepped in to take its place. The day itself was warm. Warm and humid, not a good sign this early in the season; it almost assuredly meant that it would be absolutely unbearable come mid-summer.
Both father and son rode on toward home in an almost uncomfortable silence, but it was Floyd that first decided to break it. " What does Amanda think of you going on into the Air Force next month?" Floyd asked.
Derek shrugged, an action that looked much more self-conscious than he would have liked it to. "I don't know dad. Her and I just haven't been getting along too well these last few weeks. I know that she doesn't want me to go, but I guess I just figured she'd be a little bit more understanding about it."
Derek sighed and shifted a little uncomfortably in his seat. "I don't know dad. I remember one day when I was certain that Amanda and I would get married, you know?"
Floyd knew. His son and his next-door neighbor's daughter had been inseparable as children and that friendship had flourished into their teenage years where they spent their entire high school existence romantically involved. But now, just as spring has passed on into summer, the two kids (Floyd did and probably always would think of them as kids) were starting to pass away into a sobering and unforgivingly realistic early adulthood, just as casually and inevitably as the seasons changed.
Time is unforgiving, this Floyd knew. He could see the childhood of his son zip by him like a movie played at double or triple speed. And here at the end he felt cheated. No matter how much he tried to make each moment leading up until now count, it didn't prevent it from being over.
"I know." Floyd finally said. "The only thing that I can tell you is…just do whatever will make you happy. That girl's got a good head on her shoulders, and so do you. If it's meant to be, the two of you will figure out a way to make it work."
Derek didn't reply, but instead kept looking out the window at the encroaching summertime.
The evening passed in a companionable silence. The two cooked dinner on the grill outside, a couple of mammoth sirloin steaks grilled medium rare, and then ate outside in the fading daylight. They didn't speak any more of the future, but only about the inconsequential; the weather and the summertime, and whether old mister Harmon across the street would stay in the house after his wife had died a few weeks past.
Their conversation circled in, as always, on aviation and soaring in a clear blue sky.
Derek Wilks certainly took after his father, and his grandfather for that matter, when it came to his love of flying. Floyd had his son in a cockpit ever since he was barely old enough to walk. Derek could fly a plane before he could drive a car, or even ride a bike for that matter. And here at seventeen years old, he had already had his pilot's license for a couple years now.
Floyd had related to Derek, as he already had a dozen times by now, his plans to fly south and explore the Caribbean islands for a few months after his son had gone to the military. He would never do this, Derek knew, because there were literally hundreds of grand aspirations that his father had always talked about doing and yet never really got around to. No, he was certain; Floyd would simply remain in the house and think of all the things that he should be doing and yet never get the initiative, or the courage, to get out and do.
This bothered Derek, but he could not and would not allow his father's depression and loneliness to prevent him from getting started with his life. And even if he wanted to, there was no way his father would ever allow him to.
Their silence was finally broken near the end of their meal as a young blond woman came around the house into the back yard and encircled her arms around Derek, giving him a kiss on the cheek. Floyd stood up and began gathering dishes, busying himself as his son's long time girlfriend arrived.
"I'm going to head on in and clean up." He said, giving a knowing smile and an imperceptible wink to Amanda as he went inside.
Floyd sat in his armchair, doing the crossword puzzle out of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and only peripherally listening to the eleven o'clock news as he heard the back screen door slam shut. Derek had been outside with Amanda for over four hours. Floyd had seen them out the kitchen window as he was doing the dishes; at first they seemed angry and standoffish with each other but by the time he turned off the light and headed to the living room, all appeared to be well as they stood in the back yard, embracing each other. All appeared well and Floyd very much hoped that it was, he had known Amanda and her parents for a long time and he didn't want to see the girl get hurt.
His son came in and sat down on the couch, putting his feet up on the table as he became engrossed with what was on the news. Floyd watched him for a few minutes before his curiosity finally got the better of him. "Everything okay?" He asked.
"Shh dad, I'm listening to this." Derek said, causing Floyd to direct his attention to the television set.
The news was reporting a quarantine of some pissant town in Texas; a talking head from the CDC was busily feeding a press conference their daily dose of the "don't worries". The story peaked his interest somewhat, he had recalled a few times in the past that quarantines had been imposed, but not within the last few decades. And definitely not in the generation of television news jackals that will tell you anything you could possibly want to know, as long as it involves death and/or tragedy.
Floyd waited for the story to be over so he could find out the news that he was genuinely interested in. And finally, as the news went to commercial, Derek turned back around to look at his father.
"Is everything okay?" Floyd said, reiterating the question.
Derek smiled and shrugged "Everything's fine, why do you ask?"
This always aggravated Floyd, his son knew damn well what he wanted to know, but was going to force him to unearth each little piece of information like a dentist pulling teeth.
"What's happening with you and your honey?" Floyd finally asked.
"Oh, I think we are going to be okay." Derek said, refocusing his attention to the television.
Floyd nodded, still not happy with the clarity of the information being communicated by his only son. "Really, so she's going to be okay with you being away for a while?"
"Nah, one better than that." Derek said, not turning away from the television, not allowing his father to see the smile on his face. "She's going to marry me."
The elder Wilks opened his mouth, closed it, the opened it again as his son turned to face him, smiling; it gave him the rather comical expression of a fish on dry land trying in vain to draw in oxygen. Finally he managed to regain enough composure to talk in a strangled voice about one octave high than his normal boom. "Boy, are you telling me that you two have been out there for four hours making wedding plans and neither one of you bothered to come in here and tell me about it?" He asked, incredulously.
Derek laughed and shook his head. "Nah, dad. We have only been making plans for about the last three hours, it took me the first hour or so to get up the nerve to ask her. And…" Derek added, grinning mischievously "…to make sure that you weren't at the window watching us when I gave her the ring."
Floyd tried to search for something to say, finally what came out seemed dazed, almost stupid to his ears. "And she said yes?" he asked.
"Yeah dad" Derek replied patiently "she said yes."
The older man just sat in his chair, staring at but not really watching the television, trying to process all of the new information that he suddenly found himself assaulted with. An idea suddenly occurred to him: "Amanda isn't pregnant is she?" Floyd asked, suspiciously.
Derek flushed, rolling his eyes. "No dad, she's not pregnant."
Nodding, Floyd smiled. "Why don't you tell Amanda to come on out here, I want to congratulate her."
Derek looked both shocked and uncomprehending at the same time. "How did you know…" He mouth, barely making a noise.
"Don't you think that I know every single creak of the floorboards in this old house? You thinkI don't know when someone is standing in the dining room?" Floyd said. He was obviously relishing the revenge he was getting on his son for putting one over on him like that.
However, before Derek had a chance to reply, Amanda came out from the dining room, smiling meekly with her hands folded in front of her. She looked immediately both nervous and apologetic.
Floyd stood up, smiling at the blossoming young woman who he had known since she barely came up to his waist. "Come on over here sweetheart" he said, holding his arms open for her.
The girl came over and he hugged her tightly, she readily returned the hug. "I'm really happy for both of you" Floyd said, smiling at his son over the shoulder of his soon to be daughter-in-law.
Lying in bed that night, Floyd found that no matter what he did, sleep was simply not going to come to him. He was alone in the house, he had heard his son slip out the back door a few hours earlier; the boy was good at knowing the right places to step to keep the floor from squeaking, but not so good that he didn't slip up at least once on his way out. There wasn't really any doubt where Derek had gone. He was obviously next-door at Amanda's house, her parents being out of the state on vacation of a couple weeks.
He stared out the curtainless window, the moonlight streaming in and illuminating a large misshapen trapezoid right in the middle of his bed. Floyd was far more permissive with the kids seeing each other whenever they wanted to than Amanda's own parents were. He knew that they had been sexually active with each other since about the time they were fifteen and while he had, at the time, been somewhat angry about it; there really wasn't any point in making their lives difficult after the cat was out of the bag, so to speak.
Stupid decisions were a hallmark of youth, of this Floyd was certain, even though his own youth was now far behind him. However, Derek was far more responsible in his own youth than he had ever been, this is why Floyd very rarely gave him grief for any but the most serious of transgressions. This was not to say that Floyd felt that his son being engaged to Amanda was a bad idea, quite the opposite. Floyd felt that the young lady next door was the most perfect girl for Derek; he would even go so far as saying "soul mates".
The Turner family had moved into the house next door when both their daughter and Derek were six years old. They had invited the two of them over to a barbecue the following weekend. Floyd very clearly remembered the slight, tiny blond girl cannonball into the aboveground pool; her narrow frame sending up pitiful splashes of water. Derek timidly went to go say hello to her, and they had been best friends from that day forward.
Times had not been perfect for them ever since. Both had to endure their own snares and pitfalls of adolescence and puberty. Floyd could recall mediating no small number of petty squabbles between the two of them; but against the odds, both of them came out on the other side intact.
Life was good for right this moment, tomorrow will tend to itself. This was Floyd's last, resolute thought as he got out of bed and walked downstairs to make coffee.