Lucas and Sarah walked north along 34th Street, her left hand in his right. It was the first day of summer break, both looking forward to a summer of sun and fun. At least under normal circumstances, that was the plan. For Lucas, he was going to spend the first six weeks of summer shivering in the cold vacuum of deep space. Lucas told her about the camping trip the day after he learned of it and Sara made it clear she was not happy about her frequent caller dropping out her life for such a long period of time.
As they approached Minnehaha Parkway, neither broached the subject of Lucas leaving next Monday for camp. Instead, they talked back and forth about things that only mattered in the worlds of fourteen-year old’s. After crossing the 34th Avenue bridge, Lucas guided Sarah down a grassy hill to the path that ran alongside Minnehaha creek. Once on the path, Lucas gazed across an open expanse of grass towards a baseball diamond set into the corner of 34th Avenue a nameless cross street. Several kids were engaged in a game of pickup baseball, and many of them Lucas recognized. They were his little brother’s friends and classmates.
“Anyone you know?” Sarah asked.
“Looks like friends of my brothers.” Lucas said dismissively.
“Want to join them?” Sarah followed up with, taking note of how intently Lucas watched the game.
“Nope, I am right where I want to be.” He responded, reclaiming her hand and gently pulling her along the path.
“Thought you didn’t like sports?”
“I don’t like playing in a league. I’m not very good. When we get together for pickup games at that field over there, none of us are very good, so it doesn’t matter.”
“Sure you don’t want to join them?” Sarah asked once again.
Lucas stopped and gently pulled her towards him, “I only have a few days left with you. Baseball will always be there.” Lucas looked deep into Sarah’s cinnamon colored eyes. “You, I am not so sure of.”
Sarah’s eyes widened at Lucas’s accusation, then softened as she realized there was no animosity in his statement, just fear. Fear of losing him. Her lips parted as if she was going to say something, instead, she pulled him along, and started walking down the path.
“I am not going anywhere, you are the one leaving me,” She said teasingly.
“It’s camp Sarah.”
“Ask me,” Sarah said interrupting Lucas.
“Ask you what?”
“You know, ask me?’
Lucas looked sidelong at her trying understand what she was getting at, then it dawned on him. She had been playing the aversion game for so long, Lucas basically gave up on her ever going with him. He dropped her and stopped. Sarah took one more step, the turned and walked back to him.
Lucas took both her hands, and immediately felt his heart start to pound in his chest. In his head played out a multitude of scenes of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie brown at the last second. She would not do that to me, Lucas though in an attempt to assuage his nerves.
“Sarah,” Lucas began, then bit off the rest of his words.
Sarah looked at him, her beautiful cinnamon colored eyes locked on his. She blinked twice, then tilted her head in that way that absolutely drove Lucas nuts. Her dimples deepened as she smiled sweetly at him.
“Sarah,” Lucas swallowed the lump from his throat, “will you go out with me.”
“Yes,” she answered without hesitation, “I will go out with you.”
Lucas was dumbfounded. So often Sarah answered that question with, “no,” her, “yes,” left him unsure what to do next. All he could do was look into her eyes, as he felt his heart filling with joy. Slowly he let his hands slide from hers and placed them on her hips. Gently he pulled her towards him and pushing his fears aside he leaned in to press his lips against hers.
Sarah pulled back, putting the tips of her fingers to his lips.
“No,” she said gently, “not yet.”
Anger rose in Lucas with a fury that surprised him. Sarah saw it, and stepped back. Her reaction instantly cooled his anger. It was Sarah, he reminded himself, she will never warrant your anger.
“I am confused Sarah. You said yes. Doesn’t that make us official boyfriend – girlfriend?”
Seeing him quickly suppress his anger allowed her to drop her guard. Lucas once told her he sometimes lost his temper, but seeing him quench it so easily was comforting. He was in control of his emotions, unlike her brother.
“I want to save the intimacy until you return from this camping thing.”
“Isn’t it more likely that I will return if you give me something to remember you by.”
“I did,” she shot back, tilting her head mischievously, “I gave you the title, Sarah’s boyfriend.”
Lucas chuckled despite himself, “You are a funny girl Sarah. Fine, no intimacy until I return. I have waited this long for you, I can wait a little longer.”
Lucas looked at her marvelous lips framed by those cute little dimples. He desperately wanted to taste them, but today was not the day. He shrugged, took Sarah’s left hand in his right, and pulled her gently along the path. She quickly fell instep beside him offering quick sidelong, loving glances.
“I love you.”
* * * * *
Lucas was a bit surprised when they pulled up to the church and saw that no one was there. He thought for sure the Galactic Federation would put up a better front.
“You sure this is the day?” His mother asked as she pulled out of the alley onto the churches small rear parking lot.
“You signed the permission slip mom,” Lucas knew better that to get lippy with his mom.
He looked at the clock on the dashboard. It showed 6:23 AM, and he translated that to 7:23 AM. Daylight savings passed a few weeks ago, and normally his parents inability to change the Caprices clock inspired him to go out to the car and fix it himself. Yet, he was busy lately with training and solidifying his relationship with Sarah.
“Maybe were just a little early,” Lucas said fumbling with the knobs on the radio as he tried to remember how to change the clock.
“Well I have to get to work. You will be fine waiting here I hope.” She said in her usual impatient manner.
“I will be fine mom.”
“If someone messed this up, you can get your crap home…right?”
“Yes mom,” Lucas responded thinking back to a Sunday afternoon when his troop returned from a particularly cold camping trip. He called and called and called the house looking for someone to come pick him up. He was cold and tired, and did not feel like walking home in the cold damp drizzle that fouled his already crappy mood. Finally, his scout master needed to lock up the church, and shoed Lucas out into the damp. Lucas trudged home with an over loaded pack on his back and an equally stuffed duffle bag shifting between hands as fatigue set in.
Despite the burden pulling his shoulders back and the canteen poking him in the kidneys, the mile walk home did nothing to warm him up. When he finally walked in the back door, only buffy was there to greet him. Her enthusiasm did little to help his chill. It was unusual for the house to be completely empty, especially on a Sunday afternoon. Lucas dismissed the problem of missing brothers, cousins, and parents. Instead, he decided to address the problem of the chill that thoroughly set into his bones.
He ran a hot bath, stripped down and climbed in. It did not take long before fatigue and the warmth that slowly penetrated his flesh lulled him into sleep. Lucas could not tell you how long he was asleep, but he will never forget what woke him up. His step father pulling him up out of the tub by his hair.
“I will be fine,” Lucas said pulling himself from his reverie, “if no one shows up I will just walk home,” he told his mom as he pulled his backpack and duffle bag out of the back seat.
“Have a good trip, we will see you in six weeks,” and with that she pulled the shift lever into drive and drove off.
Lucas watched the burnt orange Caprice station wagon roll silently down the alley. It’s brake lights flashed as it reached the end of the alley, then the right signal flashed and his mother pulled out into the street and out of sight.
Lucas looked around, and decided he would plant his gear by the churches back door. He dropped his duffle bag up against the tan brick wall and writhed the frameless backpack off of his shoulders. His parents refused to spend the extra money for the framed backpack all the other Boy Scouts carried off to camp. It dropped to the asphalt next to his duffle bag looking a lot like a newly fluffed blue bean bag chair with shoulder straps.
He checked the Timex he received for his birthday then dropped himself down onto the duffle bag, propping his back against the churches cool brick wall. A swirl of mixed emotions spun about within him. He was of course excited to spend the next six weeks living and breathing the life of the Terran Defense Force, but he knew he would miss home.
Maybe not so much home, but the fun and freedom summers allowed him to have. Going back to bed after finishing his paper router as opposed to going to school. Pickup baseball games with his friends and his brother. Exploring distant reaches of Minneapolis on his ten-speed bike with John Peterson. Climbing the arch of the Old Soldiers bridge. All without any schedule. Much of it on a whim.
“Oh, glorious summer.” Lucas said aloud to himself.
Now his life was more structured than it ever was. He was a soldier, or at least training to become one. For the foreseeable future, a clock will dictate Lucas’s life. Training, drilling, classroom instruction. Then when the training is over, waiting for an alert.
Lucas saw the plain white Chevy van before it finished its turn into the alleyway to his left. The church sat on the corner of the block so the alley began on the other side of the church from where Lucas sat. The van moved at a casual pace, taking its time creeping up the alley, the only sound coming from it was the crunch and pop of rocks and twigs under the tires.
Portia sat at the steering wheel. She offered Lucas a broad smile as she brought the van to a stop in front of him. Lucas stood and stared at his HAM a bit surprised by her presence. Though it was difficult to pick out details through the vans windows, her alien features were clear to Lewis.
“Taking some risks.” Lucas said to himself.
Barely two second passed before Portia’s smile turned into a stern look and she impatiently waved him over. A couple more seconds of indecision gripped Lewis as he looked from Portia, down to his gear, then back at the van. Another wave from Portia spurred Lucas into action.
He grabbed up his backpack and slung it onto his back before reaching down for the shorter carry handles of his duffle bag. Since no one else was in the van, he went to the sliding white door on the side, grabbed the handle and pulled the door open. Lucas tossed his duffle bag on the bench seat and shrugged his backpack onto the floor in front of the seat, relieved to be rid of its burden.
“I sure hope you’re not so indecisive in the cockpit,” Portia said, flashing him another smile, “sit up front here,” she said pointing at the seat on the opposite side of the engine cover from her.
“I sure as hell didn’t expect to see you,” Lucas responded, then tugged the sliding door shut. He trotted to the passenger door, pulled it open, then climbed up into the passenger seat.
“Whom were you expecting, Fasbo?”
Lucas glared at her beaming face trying to adjust to her flagrant attempts at humor. “What has gotten into you?”
“It’s nice to breath real air and feel real gravity for a change. Does wonders for the mood.” She replied as she dropped the van into gear. Portia gassed the van with enough force to push Lucas back into the seat.
“This standard Galactic Federation issue?” Lucas asked, looking around the van for any peculiarities.
Portia made two right turns, circling the block and diving the two blocks towards 34th Ave. At the intersection, she signaled and turned right onto 34th Ave.
“We picked a vanilla looking van knowing that in the middle of the day, these things are all over the place.”
Lucas acknowledge in his own mind that she was right. It was a plain jane white passenger van with windows all the way around. Behind him sat three rows of bench seats. Vans like this one are all over the place for moving students, workers, and large families around. Seems color was not an option for this type of van, they all came in white.
As the van passed through the intersection of 34th and 50th Lucas strained around Portia to get a look at his house to blocks down 50th. He didn’t expect to see anything, but for some reason he needed just one last look. At this early hour of the day, none of his school mates would be out and about.
“You are coming home,” Portia said reassuringly.
“I know,” Lucas said as he sat back into the seats cushion and looked out at the road laid out before him. Then an odd thought accord to him. “You planning on taking a flight from the airport to the space station?”
Lucas asked the question knowing that 34th Ave lead directly to the airport. In fact, it ended at a gate that lead right out into the Air Force reserve section of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.
“Sort of,” Portia replied.
A few minutes later, the van came to a controlled intersection and Lucas glanced over at Nokomis Drug. Instantly he realized there was going to be a six-week gap in his comic book collection. Nokomis Drug was his go to drug store if he wanted a more obscure Marvel title, or he could not find a particular book in the stores close to home.
Portia accelerated through the intersection. It was approximately six blocks to the overpass that crossed over Hwy 62 before ending at the airport gate.
“This thing fly?” Lucas asked looking over at Portia.
“It uses the same anti-gravity propulsion as your pod.”
“You don’t think a white Chevy van with an alien and a fourteen-year-old boy lifting off the runway and flying off into space won’t attract attention.”
“Were not going to take off from the runway, we are going to fold out to the stratosphere, and count on stealth technology to keep us from getting noticed.”
“God, I hate folding.” Lucas groaned.
“It’s cold,” Lucas shot back, “and people die.”
“It’s only cold in a fighter ship,” Portia started quietly, careful of Lucas’s grief, “power for a stasis field is better used for weapons and shielding. Here in this disguised shuttle pod, or your own pod, there is no need for such things. Therefore, we can provide a stasis field that protects the passengers from the unpleasantries of fold space.”
“It keeps fold space from encroaching on the occupants. They are common, and necessary on a battle cruiser, and your shuttle pod, but nonexistent in your fighter. Again, it’s about resources.”
The van bounced onto the bridge that crossed over Hwy 62, and before Lucas could look down onto the freeway, he felt the familiar sensation of folding, without the bitter cold. Before he could count to six, the van was arcing out into space from Earth’s upper atmosphere. The windows were no longer transparent, instead, nano tech created a protective armor over the already stronger than glass transparent allow.
“Is it possible to get a comic book subscription delivered to my room up here. I would really hate to lose a month in any of my series.”
Portia smiled fondly at Lucas, “I will see what we can arrange.”
Lucas returned her smile with his own, settled back into vans bucket seat and contemplated the future.