Parker Sterni’s writing comes from a stream of consciousness. Delivering what he sees and observes daily to the paper by the way of the pen. He holds no home and no four walls have ever coaxed him enough to stay around for long. Wondering, Observing, and Writing is what he enjoys. That and a whiskey sour every so often.
THE BALLADER & THE FINANCIAL ADVISOR
School times shadow over summer was slowly closing in on the children of the San Joaquin Valley. It had been an uncharacteristically warm summer and as August’s breeze shifted and the thought of autumn slowly blew in, the kids let their spirits fall momentarily because before they knew it, the ground would be cold and they would be eye deep in a sea of homework. “Hey, we still got two more weeks of summer you sorry sap. We are only wasting time if we sit here and mope about it” Ben boasted loudly to Sam, who sat defeated by the idea of the fleeting summer on his front porch. Ben didn’t have a front porch at his house and Sam, who was his best friend, did. So Ben was always at Sam's front porch and always thought it was a neat thing to have an ‘outside living room’ as he always called it. Ben was tall for his age and on the bad side of ugly, the kids at school had always called him Big Bad Ben. Ben never did like this and mixed with his short fuse and temper, he was always getting into fights at school. He swore to himself if this upcoming year in grade nine didn't bring anything new, he just wouldn’t go to school all together anymore. He didn’t take much merit in math, nor science, nor reading, and especially not writing. Didn’t think it made much sense to write things down when you could just speak ‘em and get the point into the other person's brain a whole lot faster. Sam, on the other hand, didn't mind school so much. He was a smart and reserved kid, and usually ended up talking Ben through most of the homework. What Sam had in brains he lacked in size, he was about half the size of Ben and wore big thick glasses that were constantly dropping down off of his face. Sam’s father was a scientist and was married to his work more than he was to Sam's mother, who left before Sam could even get her face embedded into his memory. His sister, Jannet, sometimes would talk of their mother's beauty, but mainly just spoke of her eyes. When their mother left, Sam’s dad packed it all up and moved to Clements. Once In Clements, his father threw himself even more intensely into his work. He was a soil scientist and would help the local farmers with their farming techniques and picking what crops would grow best by looking at the soil content. He also helped with watering techniques, showing how less water was actually more effective and beneficial for certain crops. Sam’s father bought a huge chunk of land that happened to house the shack in which Ben and his father laid their heads, and that's how the two boys met. They had spent the whole summer together as they always had, collecting soil samples for Sam's Dad. Which the boys, to make more fun, pretended was gold ore they had mined from the mountains of Montana. Other days, to beat the heat, they would spend it down at the river which divided the town East and West. They had spent most of the summer there; swimming, picking berries, catching frogs, or watching fireflies dance against the evening sky. “So, what do ya want to do today then?” Sam asked as he stood up and threw a rock he had been studying into the front yard. “Well, your dad need any more dirt? What is it he does with all that dirt anyway?” Ben asked. “No, he doesn't need any more dirt. He ain’t even here anyways, went to Sacramento for work.” “They have nice dirt up there?” “You know that ain’t all he does right?” Ben looked at Sam confused and shrugged it off. He had definitely thought his father just collected dirt. That's all Ben had ever seen him do anyway and Ben always wondered why he needed so much dirt and what he did when he was done with it and why there wasn't a big dirt mound in the backyard. “What are you two doing, gossipin’?” Sam's sister Jannet said as she walked out onto the porch from the house. “No Jannet, we don’t gossip, that's what girls do” Sam snapped back at his sister. “Well what are you two doing then? I need help taking that spare wood into town for Mr.Johnson. He said he wanted to make a bookshelf out of it or something. If you two load it up and drive into town with me I’ll give you each money for an ice cream from Mrs. Adenberry.” So that's what the boys decided they would do for the day and they raced off to the wood pile and started tossing it into the back of the truck. Clements was a small town, five streets in total, one grocery store, A butcher that Mr.Gentry owned and worked at, Mrs. Adenberrys ice cream parlor that she ran out of her house; it kept her busy when her husband was gone for work in the summer fighting fires. A bar or tavern, that if you sat outside and watched the front door long enough you would either see a fist fight between brothers or someone throwing up on themselves. But this morning in town it was a calm and quiet one. As the three drove into town to drop off the wood the unmaintained muffler of the truck backfired and the engine sputtered. The noise it made marked the end of that quiet morning. The towns folk started to stir and make their way out of their houses to see what the cause of that terrible sound was. Once they all saw it was just the Kenwoods noisey truck they took no interest in and continued about their day's work. “Town’s so boring’ there is never anything going on here, all anybody does is try to get a bit of gossip out of you then they take your money for whatever it is you went in to buy” Ben said. “Well Ben, that's just what being a grown up is like” Jannet replied as she gave the boys each a dollar for ice cream. “I ain’t ever gonna grow up then.” Ben boasted as he and Sam ran off towards Mrs.Adenberrys place for ice cream. “Morning boys, don’t you think it's a bit early for ice cream?” Mrs. Adennberry asked the two. “But we worked really hard for it.” Sam pleaded. “Oh, well what did you do?” “You see all that wood in the back of my dad's truck. Ben and I loaded it all up by ourselves for my sister to sell to Mr. Johnson” Sam said energetically as he pointed to the truck. “Hmmmm...and now you're just going to let her unload it by herself?” Mrs. Adeenberry questioned. “It’s Mr.Johnson wood now, he can unload it” Ben popped up to which Mrs. Adenberry gave both kids a very stern look with her piercing blue eyes. So the two boys ran off to the truck again and helped Mr.Johnson unload the wood. Then the boys walked back to Mrs.Adenberrys house and she greeted them with a smile, “What flavor can I get you boys.” As the boys sat with their ice cream on Mrs.Adeenberys front porch, they watched the main street and the town slowly come to its steady pace. Old man Robbinson was out across the street watering his garden, Patsy was painting the trim of her new book store, and the fruit carts from the surrounding fields were starting to show up to sell leftover fruit from that night's pickin’. “So you boys excited for school to be starting” “Heck no, are you crazy Mrs.Adenberry? Why would we be excited for school to start?” Ben said through a mouthful of ice cream. “Well aren't you two going into ninth grade now? That's when everything starts to change and gets more excitin’.” “No offense Mrs.Adenberry, but the teachers say that at the start of every year and every year it's a let down” Sam said, putting an end to the talk of school. “Well how is your Pa doing then Ben?” Mrs.Adenberry asked. “How do ya mean?” “Well, does he have any work?” “Sometimes, when he wants to. Usually he just spends his time digging for Mr.Kenwood or tending to his crops or whatever Mr.Kenwood needs done really. Mr.Kenwood says he is real knowledgeable with fixing stuff and building things” “Hmm” Mrs.Adenberry said then fell quiet. “But he is doing good, we are doing good. Don’t worry about him, don’t worry about us. We still got a nice house and such” Ben said defensively to Mrs.Adenberrys sudden silence. The two boys got bored with the silence and when the ice cream was done they paid Mrs.Adenberry and then they went running to the middle of town where there would be more people around. “Ain’t you just do what you said you never would?” Sam asked Ben inquisitively. “How do you mean?” “Well, you said you ain’t ever gonna be a grown up because all they do in town is sit around and gossip and spend money. But thats all you just did, so that makes you a liar” “Don’t you call me a liar, what I did was different. It wasn’t gossipin’. I was just talkin’ to Mrs.Adenberry and I’d talk to her about a bunch of stuff for a bunch of time if she wanted to know about it because I like the way she looks at me with her blue eyes when I tell a story.” Ben said. “You’re a gossiping liar” Sam said and Ben punched him in the arm. The boys kept walking through town looking for things to do when they heard a new fancy smooth running engine coming into town, it was the McNash’s. The McNash’s were the wealthiest family in town and had no problem flaunting that title. Their father got his money from his father and his father got his money from his father before that and so on and so forth all the way back till when money was invented. People around town called them ‘Business Opportunist’ because they didn't start a business and grow it and provide a good for the community. Instead they sat and waited, watching like vultures for a business to start to fall under some stress. Then they sat and waited even more methodically. Letting the owners panic and fear of losing everything they had worked for sink in. Then finally, Mr.McNash would slip into the business and offer to pay off all the debt of the business he had encountered for sixty percent of the business rights in return. Having no interest in the day to day running of the business Mr.McNash just wanted the majority rights of it, promising not to interfere and just wanted the rights and to help finance the place. The owner, having no other real option or saving grace would always fold over to the McNash’s. I’d say about half the businesses in town were now owned and financed by the Mcnash’s and everybody in town despised them. But no matter how much they despised the McNash’s the town had no other option but to keep giving them money making them fatter because they owned all the essential business for life. It was a dirty cycle, the only place you could go without putting money into the McNash’s pockets were Mrs.Adenberrys ice cream parlor and Mr.Gentrys butcher, but that is just because Mr.Gentry has no other employees to pay but himself and everybody needs meat to feed their family. But Mr.Gentry gave enough of that clean money he earned back to the McNash’s because all he lived off of was beer and potato chips that he bought from the grocery shop next door and that was owned by the McNash’s. So as that fancy new car pulled into town everybody stopped and watched where it was headed. Mr.McNash parked in front of the bank and walked briskly inside while his son stood by the car and waited patiently. “Looks like Dave is back from his fancy summer camp” Sam said. “Well I liked it a whole lot better while he was gone” Ben replied. “I wonder if he had fun.” Sam said “Why?” Ben replied. “Come on, let's go talk to him,” Sam said as he headed that way and Ben followed against his will. “Oh, well if it isn’t the ugly giant and his four eyed companion, what brings you two boonies into town?” Dave said as the two boys walked up to him. “Hey Dave, how was your summer camp? Sam asked. “Good, it was in Colorado. I got to ride horses and pan for gold” Dave replied. “Wow, did you find any gold? Like real gold?” “Ya, obviously. Geez, for a kid of a sicentest you sure do ask a lot of dumb questions” “You don’t have to call him dumb, he was just asking you a question” Ben said. “Anyway, while I was away my father had his workers dig out a big lagoon in our backyard. Connected it to the river and the lagoon’s water is a whole lot warmer then the stupid river and there is a tree in it that you can jump out of and has a rope swing attached and it's gated off and private. I’m having a party there next week for the end of summer.” Dave said while Ben and Sam just sat there silently knowing something more was coming. “And you two aren't invited” Ben finished saying as his father, who had finished up his business at the bank, was walking back to the car. “Oh Dave are these some of your friends from school?” “Nope,” Dave said as he climbed into the car and they drove off out of town. “What a prick,” Ben said as he watched their car drive away, kicking up dust. “My Dad says you shouldn’t talk like that,” Sam replied. “Why not? If he is acting like a prick I should be able to call him a prick” “I don’t know why, he just says you shouldn't… But, he was acting like a prick. Can you even do that, fence off part of the river and make it private?” Sam asked. “Beats me, seems like that family makes everything private, I’m sure it's real nice though, nicer than it sounds. Everything they have is nice, even the hedges that surround their house and don't let anybody look in are cut nice. But I can ask my Pa if it's legal and all, fencing off the river. He knows a lot about the river and said he’s been as far north to where it starts and as far west as to where it dips into the ocean.” Ben answered back. “Well regardless of whether or not it's legal, I'm sure we could swim up from our place and check it out, it's not that far” “That has to be about a three mile swim Sam. There is no way we could swim all of that even if we trained all summer.” Sam realized Ben was right, they couldn't swim it, and decided to go buy some cherries from one of the stands across the street with the leftover money from ice cream. The two then sat on a bench and spit cherry seeds into a tin cup they found, waiting for Sam’s sister to finish up her business in town. “You two ready to head back? We are taking Paisley and her dog home so you two will have to ride in the bed of the truck. But no hanging onto the side and leaning out as far as you can this time. If you die on my watch I’m gonna be really pissed at you both.” The boys didn't mind riding in the bed of the truck, they acted like they were soldiers escaping a combat zone. Dodging bullets as they whizzed past their heads all while laying down cover fire for their fellow soldiers racing to the bed of the truck in order to escape the battlefield with them. Janet watched them jump around in the back of the truck through the rearview mirror and just shook her head in embarrassment, but as she watched their heads bop up and down through the mirror she also had a smile on her face as she admired the boys’ childhood shamelessness and joy. They dropped off Paisley and her dog a couple miles out of town and the boys climbed back into the seats inside of the car. “Hey, why didn’t the dog just sit in the truck bed and us sit in the backseat?” Sam asked as they pulled into the dirt road that took them to their house. “Well, I didn’t want to bore you with our ‘adult talk’ and I knew you two would have more fun in the bed of the truck anyway” Jannet replied with a smile and Sam and Ben smiled too knowing she was right. They got back to the house just as the sun was beginning to make its dive below the trees and the cool evening breeze began coaxing everybody to simmer out of the day's work and sit and watch the sun's final dance of the day. So Ben decided he best be headin’ home and Sam shouted out after him to ask his dad about it being legal and all to make part of the river private, and to meet him back at his house tomorrow after breakfast time. Ben hollard back that he would and turned around and walked toward his house which wasn’t too deep in the Kenwoods property with a smile on his face, happy to have such a friend like Sam. While Ben was walking back to his house, he spotted the abandoned junk house that was across the street and Ben got to thinking about his house and that junk house and Ben knew nobody was living in that junk house. But it might have some stuff in it that he could use for his house. So Ben ran across the street and started scavenging around in the junk house. He found a few pans he thought he needed, and one really cool mug that he decided when he started drinking coffee he would only drink it out of that mug. As he started his way back to his house, he noticed two folding chairs leaning up against the side of the house and he took those as well. Now Ben’s father wasn't mean spirited by any means. Just prideful and steadfast in what he believed in. That steadfast loyalty and the ways he defended it got him a pretty bad reputation around town. See, a little after Ben was born way before Ben himself could remember. His Ma got real sick. Sick with one of those sicknesses that the doctors got no idea how to take care of. But she was a fighter, even if she didn’t know what it was she was fighting. She fought real hard for a real long time, everyone in town thought she was gonna beat it but by and by it ended up getting worse and she ended up losing all her hair and went completely bald. Well, one day Ben’s Pa was at work and he overheard one of the other boys talkin’ about how sad and ugly his wife looked in those dish towels she would wrap around her head. As if it was foolin’ anyone to the fact that she was bald. Now Ben’s Pa thought those words coming out of that man's mouth were liable to have him get his teeth kicked in, so he did just that. Kicked that man's teeth in so bad that the dentist decided rather then put all the broken teeth back in that he might as well just knock the ones still in his mouth out and give him all new teeth. Even though Ben’s Pa’s boss agreed that what he did was fair as he saw it, he still had no other option but to fire Ben’s Pa. Ben’s Pa kept this a secret from his dying wife for her only wish was that her son would grow up easy and not have to struggle. So everyday Ben’s Pa left the house as if he was going to work and some days he would find work mainly picking strawberries in the fields for twenty-five cents a pound. Most other days he would waste his time on street corners or benches or in the tavern. But every weekend he would be in that house taking care of his loving wife, every last second of it. She passed on and the house in town seemed to much for just him and Ben, held to many painful memories too. So he bought a little shack on what is now the Kenwoods land and when the Kenwoods bought the land and moved into the main house Ben and his Pa came with it. If it wasn't for Ben then his father would have surely made a good desperado.
Ben got home and found an old rug stashed away in the back of a cabinet and raced outside to lay it down just to the left of the front door. Then he grabbed the two folding chairs that he had gotten from the junk house and set them on top of that rug and sat down to watch the sunset and wait for his father to come home. His father looked like a shell of a man as he walked up to the house with his shovel thrown over one shoulder and a burlap sack held in his other arm. “Hey Pa, I put some beans and bacon on the stove. They are probably warm by now, and we still have some bread that ain’t too stale from last week still.” “Hmm” his father replied as he sat down in the chair next to Ben. “And what is it that we have going on here with the chairs, and where did you find this rug?” “It's our new front porch.” Ben said and his father let out a little chuckle, “What's in the sack?” Ben asked. “Some Potatoes and a small bag of cherry and apple seeds. Was planning on tilling the dirt patch in the side yard and planting them. Then in two years we will have some fresh fruit right in our yard.” The two then just sat in a shared silence “You want some beans?” his father asked. “Yes please, and some bread.” His father got up and brought back two plates, one with bread and one without. Then he sat down next to Ben, opened his beer and started eating his beans. Ben looked down at his father's plate. It was significantly two scoops smaller than his own helping so Ben ate in silence and left a couple scoops on his plate and when they were both done eating he stacked his plate on top of his fathers. “What type of work you do today?” “Fencing. Off till Mr.Kenwood comes back home though. I finished all the work he wanted done while he was gone already. Thinking of getting the land ready to plant those seeds tomorrow, sooner they are in the ground sooner they will grow.” His dad’s eyes fell quiet and Ben had grown tired anyway, so he went inside the kitchen and started to clean the dishes and put them away where the belonged and when he went outside to grab the plates the pile of beans he had left for his dad on his own plate were gone and his dad was in the side yard already starting on tilling the land for the seeds he had gotten. Ben finished the dishes and placed a beer on one of the chairs for his father, who he knew once he had one beer and went back to work would want another when he was done, and then Ben crawled into bed and went to sleep. Ben woke up and the sun was already high in the sky and he got up with some awkward stretching and yawning. Then he stumbled outside to sit on his ‘front porch’, which he was proud of. When he got outside his Dad was working on the land and Ben knew he would be working all day so he went back inside and put some coffee on for his father then changed out of his shorts he slept in and made his way outside again to head to Sam’s house. “Pa, I put some coffee on for ya. I’m gonna go to Sam’s house.” His father nodded his head and then turned to his work. Ben took off walking but quickly turned back and ran back because he forgot something. “Hey Pa, You know if it's legal to make part of the river private property? Like say you dug out a big lagoon and you’re gonna make that lagoon private and the river bank along that lagoon. That legal?” “Well, if it's on your property I reckon you could, now they wouldn’t be able to make the river itself private but a lagoon on their own property sure I don’t see why not” “Shucks” Ben said and turned around and started walking back to Sam's house. On the walk Ben ran across the street into the neighbors orchard and picked a few apples, eating one on his walk to Sam’s but making sure he still had two so he could offer them to Sam and Janet when he got to their house. When he got to their house Sam was sitting on the porch waiting and when he saw Ben walking up he sprung up and ran towards him. “Did you ask? Did you ask? Is it legal? can he do it?” Sam sputtered out as he clumsy ran toward Ben alsmot tripping over himself every couple of strides. “You want an apple?” Ben replied, holding out an apple. “What? No, what did your dad say?” “It’s legal he said, the lagoon can be private if its on their land but the river out front we can still use” “Shucks” Sam replied and then took the apple that Ben had stretched out to him. “I just really want to go off that rope swing, what if we just where super nice to Dave and asked him really nicely to let us come to the party and bought him a great gift” “Sam we can’t give in to him. We have to stay true to who we are, plus that kids a prick. I ain’t gonna be nice to him ever. Hey, did I tell ya I made a front porch?” “What do you mean you made a front porch?” “Well it isn’t as fancy shmancy as yours but it’s still a front porch. Want to see it?” So the two boys raced off back to Ben’s house to see his new front porch on the way there Ben came up with a great idea as they approached the junk house. “Hey, what if we just built our own rope swing off of one of those low hanging branches at the river bend towards the end of your land?” “You think we could?” “Sure, can’t be that hard. I know a good knot and I think that's all it is. Make sure you have a good knot and can lift up your legs high enough to clear the ground and then we would be good.” “Alright, where are we gonna get some good rope?” Ben pointed to the abandoned junk house. “I ain’t going in there, There’s rats and spiders” “Oh stop being such a girl Sam, I’ll go in if you really don’t want to. But you have to hide in the bush and be the lookout and whistle like a bird if anybody comes because nobody really likes us snooping around there” “But I can’t whistle” “Well what can you do?” “I can yell” “No you can’t yell because then that person will know we are there. You have to make it sound natural like something they would always be hearing” “Hmm, Oh I could break a branch” “You don’t get it, I’m just gonna run in really quick and hope nobody comes. You stay here and be quite” So Ben looked left, then right, then left again, and when he was certain nobody was coming he ran into the junk house and scavenged around a little then he came across a rope that he judged was thick enough and long enough then he ran back out to where he left Sam. The two continued walking down to Ben’s house but threw the rope in the bushes anytime anybody came around that was working on the fields. When they got in eye sight of Ben’s house Ben threw the rope into a tree because he didn’t want to have to explain what they were doing with a rope to his father and then have him tell them they couldn't do it. But when they got home his Dad was gone. “Well here it is. Go ahead, take a seat.” Ben said pointing to the two chairs sitting on the rug that was the front porch. Sam sat down with a smile on his face and Ben followed. “It’s nice huh?” “Ya its nice, I really like the rug, it really pulls everything together,” Sam replied. “Well, thanks. Should we go make this rope swing now?” “Ya, let's take the back way along Mr.Crockers grape vineyards. I want to pick some because they are really sour right now and I like how they make my face pucker.”
So they went off along Mr.Crockers vineyard and picked some grapes that were not ripe yet and still sour and laughed at each other's faces that the grapes caused them to make. They eventually made it to the river head and studied the overhanging tree branches. After arguing over which one to pick they decided on one about six feet out and fourteen feet up from the bank and they ro sham bowed to see who would have to climb the tree and tie it off. Ben won and Sam was sent off to do it, complaining that he couldn’t do it because he didn’t know how to tie the knot that Ben insisted he use. So Ben made Sam tie the knot seven times on the bank while he watched him and talked him through how to do it. Sam started up the tree with the rope wrapped diagonally around his body. Ben standing at the base of the tree promising to help break Sam’s fall if he should slip. “Why are you stopping? You need to go higher. It's not gonna work that low” Ben shouted up “Well, I’m scared and I don’t want to go any higher” “You have to, it won't work there. Take a few deep breaths and go higher” So Sam nervously shuffled higher into the tree until he felt it slightly bowing under his weight. He was well over the river now and if he did fall he would just have to focus on getting his feet underneath him to hit the water first, but other then that he would be fine. So Ben sat down leaning against the tree on the bank and watched Sam tie the knot. “Perfect knot. now come down and lets try this bad boy out” “How am I going to get down, should I try to climb down the rope?” “No you won’t be able to hang on all the way down and you’ll slip and burn your hands all the way down till you fall into the river. Plus even if you did have the strength to lower yourself to the bottom then you'll just be hanging over the river and have to get in anyway.” “I can swing myself to the bank” “No, you won’t be able to. You're not Superman. The only way I see it is you can climb back down or jump” So Sam weighed his options and decided he would just climb back down. “Good call, I wasn’t gonna say anything but if you did jump we had no idea how deep the water was or if there were any dead trees in it” “Gee thanks for not saying anything” Sam replied sarcastically. “Well, I was going to say something if you did decided to jump” “Don’t lie you wouldn’t say anything” “I’ll go check now.” Ben waded out to the middle of the river which had a slight current in it but nothing to major. He dove down in five different spots and felt around and only came across a couple of sticks that he pulled out and moved. When he got back to the bank they both stood and marveled at their new rope swing. “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?” Ben asked “I don’t know, but this is gonna be way better than having to share it with a bunch of other people at a party. It’s our own personal rope swing in our backyard.” “Well do you want to go first?” Ben asked Sam nodded his head and Ben grabbed a stick long enough to stretch out over the water and grab the dangling rope. He pulled it in and handed it to Sam who grasped it firmly ran back as far as he could then ran towards the river. Jumping and lifting his feet as he reached the edge of the bank. Sam swung out as far as his frame would carry him, then as he felt his weight shift back toward the bank he let go and plunged into the river below him. Ben was so excited at his chance to go next he almost fell into the river grabbing the rope on its back swing. He fumbled it into his hands and ran back as far as he could waiting for Sam to exit the river. As soon as Sam’s last foot left the water and touched down on the bank Ben took off full sprint, mimicking exactly what he saw Sam do. Ben's frame carried him much farther and when he let go at the start of the back swing and hit the river he created a bigger splash. This rotation went on for the good part of an hour. No real conversation happened, just different tones of Oohh's and Ahh’s as they took turns skillfully falling into the river or standing on the bank watching. Sam changed the game by hanging onto the rope for the full duration of the backswing coming all the way back over the bank again before going out a second time and then releasing the rope, falling into the river. Ben then mimicked that and they both had fun doing that before it became too repetitive and they looked for something more exciting to do with the rope. “You think we could jump out of one of those lower hanging branches and swing around the tree into the river. You know get that drop feelin’ in our stomachs?” Sam asked pointing to a branch hanging about five feet below the branch that the rope was tied off to. “Ya I think we could, I’ll climb up onto it and you pass me the rope.” So Ben made his way to the branch by scaling the tree and then shuffled his feet out along it until he got out to a good place to jump. Sam threw him up the rope and Ben fiddled with it in his hand passing it back and forth from hand to hand and gripping higher or lower trying to figure out which way would be the best way to grip it for when he jumped. Sam hollered up and suggested he ties two different knots on the rope so he could brace his hands against them when he jumped out. Ben thought this was a genius idea and sat down on the branch and tied off two knots in what he thought was an appropriate hand placement then he stood up ready to jump. “Wait! Don’t forget to jump out so you swing smoothly toward the water” Sam shouted. Ben nodded and gripped the rope firmly. “Wait! Don’t fight the swing let your arms hang straight when you jump out” Sam shouted out again. Been nodded again and set his feet to jump for a second time. “Wait!” “Would you shut up and just let me jump” Sam fell quiet, Ben took a deep breath then sprung out from the branch and straightened his arms. The weightless feeling came into his stomach as he dropped. Then everything tightened and the rope pulled him out toward the water. Ben felt like he was flying at fifty miles an hour and as his feet passed over the bank and he prepared to let go, SNAP. Ben's body went tumbling awkwardly into the river. When he came up Sam was laughing uncontrollably and Ben looked up to realize the branch above him holding the rope had snapped and it was now floating down the river with the rope still attached to it. Ben took off swimming towards the branch fearing losing the rope. But when he grabbed it and was in too much of a struggle to swim back up stream while dragging it so he let it go and watched it float away down the river. When he got back to the bank Sam was still chuckling and Ben splashed water on him to shut him up. “Man that was so much fun until the branch snapped” Ben said. “If you could have seen your arms swinging and flailing as the branch broke and you plummeting in then you would understand how much fun I had just watching” “Well we have to make a new one. Let’s hurry back to that old junk house and see if we can find another rope” Ben said and the two went off. Sam still mocking how Ben looked as he fell in. They got back to the junk house and Ben must have pulled the whole place apart twice trying to find another suitable rope. But they were all too thin so he walked out defeated back to Sam. “Well why don’t we just buy a new one?” Ben asked “With what money” Sam replied “True… Well, we could go steal a bunch of lemons from Mr. Romero’s orchard and then sell lemonade in town until we have enough money for a new rope” “Why don’t we just sell the lemons? Less work that way” “Yea but I kinda feel bad just straight up stealing and selling Mr.Romeros lemons that he was already going to sell” Ben said. “But if you add water and sugar your conscience is clean?” Sam asked. “Yep” “Well alright then tomorrow morning we will go steal some lemons then hitch into town and sell some lemonade.”
So the next morning as the sun was starting to shine the two rendevode at the cross road of the Kenwoods property and Mr. Romero’s. “I think we should probably grab around twenty” Sam said “Should we just pick from the trees closest to the crossroad that way we don’t have to go in closer and risk getting caught by someone?” “No, that would be too obvious they would notice the trees near the crossroad would have less lemons and surely think it was us taking them. We have to go deep into the middle and only grab one or two from each tree that way it doesn’t look obvious.” So the two slowly snuck deeper into the field and started filling up their bags with the lemons. When the bags were full they turned and ran full speed all the way back to Sam’s house. They ran so fast that if anybody had seen them they would have assumed they were running from a murder scene. They got back to Sam’s house and his sister Janet was still asleep so they quickly started mixing the ingredients together in a small barrel they had found in the backyard. Rushing through the process they ran out of the house with four lemonade filled mason jars and a sack full of squashed lemons that they decided would be best to just bury them. That way they couldn’t be caught with them. Once the whole was dug and the discarded lemons thrown in and filled back up they started walking towards the road to hitch a ride into town. Pretty much every car on the road was headed into town as it wasn’t a very populated road and the farmers liked to stick to the dirt roads when just going short distances. They wouldn’t have been walking for a quarter of a mile before they saw the first car coming and stuck out there thumbs. As the yellow pick up started to slow down and pull over to the shoulder of the road to pick them up the boys felt their hearts drop to their stomachs when they saw who was in the driver's seat. “Hey boys, what are ya up to? Headed into town?” Mr. Romero said. Ben swallowed his pride and nodded his head yes. “Well pile in then” Mr. Romero said as he popped open the passenger side door and the two boys climbed in with their now shameful jars of lemonade. The boys tried to keep the car ride short and quiet but Mr. Romero must have had a lot of coffee that morning because he was more talkative than ever. Asking about their fields, school, and really just anything in general. The boys tried shoving the lemonade jars as close as they could into their bodies hoping that they would just blend in and not come into conversation. “What do ya boys plan on doing in town today?” Mr.Romero asked. Sam who was now sweating and trembling with guilt blurted out “We are selling lemonade” as he thrusted the mason jar forward. “Ohh hoo hoo, I do love me some lemonade. Pretty smart of you two boys. Savin’ up for something special?” “Nope, nothing special just thought it would be fun” Ben replied as he shot Sam a piercing glance trying to tell him to shut up. “I should make some lemonade myself, seeing all those bruised and dented lemons just sit in a bucket till they rot and don’t do anybody any good. Say, the next time you boys want to make some lemonade to sell just come on over to my place I got a whole mess of lemons that fall off the trees that I don't sell you can use.” The two now felt like complete fools and Sam even thought about coming clean about the whole thing because he didn’t know if he would be able to swallow all this guilt that had built up inside of him. But Ben kept that gaze hard on Sam and Sam didn’t say anything as the chugged away into town. They got into town and Mr.Romero pulled off of the main road and put the car in park so the boys could get out and as they quickly scrambled to leave the increasingly awkward situation Mr.Romero stopped them. “You know what boys, I think I'd like to buy a jar off ya. How Much?” “You want to buy a whole jar of lemonade off of us?” Sam asked. “Ya, all this talk of lemonade has got me rather thirsty, how much?” “Mr. Romero, You can just have it. A show of our gratitude for taking us into town.” Ben said as he handed out a jar. “Nonsense, here is five dollars. You boys have a good day” Mr.Romero said. Then he grabbed the jar from Ben and placed five dollars in his hand. Walking off with what was essentially his own lemonade. “What just happened?” Sam asked. “I have no idea.” Ben said.
The boys always felt bad about that five dollars Mr.Romero gave them. That was until about three years down the road when Mr.Romero started his own Lemonade franchise and it grew and grew into a rather extremely successful business. Made him a whole lot more money than that original five dollar investment. Hell it’s so popular even today I bet you yourself have had it once or twice. Anyway, once the boys had gotten the five dollars for the jar they had too much guilt sweltering inside of them to sell anymore of the lemonade. Also five dollars would be more than enough to buy a suitable new rope. So they went around town and gave away the rest of the lemonade for free. When they got to the hardware store they realized they couldn't use the money they had been given by Mr.Romero it felt dirty, to ugly, to go through all of that lyin’ just for some rope for a rope swing. “I don’t think I can buy it,” Ben said. “I don’t think I could either” Sam replied “So what should we do with these five bucks then, Burn it?” “No, I don’t think burning it is a great idea. Why don’t we just save it in cause we decided to use it some day” “Well who should hold onto it? Ben asked. “Neither of us. We should bury it in a jar that sits equal amounts of footsteps from our houses. It’s the fairest way I can think of.” Sam replied. “Sounds fair to me, let's go back now and bury it. The sooner it's out of my hands the better I’ll feel” “Alright well let's head back then” “Oh! Do you think on the way we can run into Leon’s fields and grab some cherries off his trees? I bet I can spit one farther than you!” Ben said. The two then hitched back to their houses and buried the five dollars exactly one hundred and thirty four paces from both of their front doors. It still sits there today, within the month both of the boys had forgotten about it. But Ben was right; he could spit a cherry seed farther than Sam. Two days passed by and two days of lounging around came with it. Today was Thursday and there was a sense of excitement in the air. Sam’s dad was going to be arriving back from Sacramento today and when he called yesterday he had said that he had a special gift for Sam when he got home. So Sam and Ben were up on the front porch spitting cherry seeds and jumping up excited with every dirt cloud on the road hoping that it was Sam’s dad’s car kicking it up. Around twelve they grew bored with waiting and decided to go climb some trees. Which they did for a good while until Sam fell out of one and hurt his arm and wanted to go home and get some ice. When they got to the house, Sam's father’s car was in the driveway and Sam took off running into the house to see his father but came out quickly, disappointed, with a note in his hand. “He had to go into town for work” Sam said as he read, “But the gift is on the porch. Go ahead and open it” Sam ran to the porch where a tall box was propped against the door and wasted no time ripping it open. Once the box was open and they had a pile of discarded cardboard on the ground Sam held in his hands a BB gun. “Woah, he got you a gun.” Ben said. “It's a BB gun.” “What does that mean?” “It means it can’t kill ya. It’s just got little metal BB’s in it used for shooting tin cans and stuff.” Sam answered back. “Well if it can’t kill ya, could ya shoot me?” Ben asked. “Well ya I could but it's still gonna hurt and make you bleed and I'm sure my dad would take it away from us. We need some cans and we can shoot them.” “I got a bunch back at my house we can use” Ben suggested. So they started the very normal walk to Ben’s house. Rolling around on the ground with the gun pretending to be in a jungle combat zone crouching and taking aim with every corner and step making sure it was clear. They got to Ben’s house and grabbed five cans and one glass bottle which Sam argued would just shatter when hit with the BB and Ben didn’t understand why that was a bad thing so they took it anyway. They set the cans up by the river, some low on the ground some high in tree branches but all of them about twenty five yards out from the bunker of downed trees and rocks they created. They sat there, semi crouched, semi leaning against the wall of the branches they had. Taking turns with the gun trying to shoot the cans. They hit them all and increased in skill with each swap off. Ben grew tired with the predictability from the pinging noise the can made and wanted to see something break or blow up. He wanted to shoot the glass bottle. Sam thought it was a bad idea and said they could only try to shoot it if it was going to be a true and noble shot. So Ben jumped out of the bunker grabbed the glass bottle and swam across the river to the other bank where randomly a small patch of bamboo was growing. Ben slid the bottle onto the top of the smaller stalks then swam back across the river. “We ain’t ever gonna hit that” Sam said. “Maybe you aren't but I plan on hitting it first shot.” Ben said. He didn’t hit it first shot or third or even before the sun started going down and they had to leave. But as they walked home for the day Ben swore first shot tomorrow that bottle was gonna break. They ran out of BB’s shooting at it the next morning and when Ben grew tired from throwing rocks at it from the bunker he joined Sam who was jumping out of the tree. It was Friday now. “School starts Monday,” Sam said. “Ya” “So I guess this is the last weekend of summer then” “Ya, guess so” “So I guess Dave's party would be this weekend then” “Ya” Ben replied. The sun was still climbing and Ben had no desire to sit around on the last friday of summer and be depressed because they didn’t get invited to some stupid party that he himself didn’t even want to go to. But he knew it deeply affected Sam who was too kind for his own good and only just wanted everyone to like him. He cared so much about what others thought of him that Ben considered it a fault in Sam. So he racked his head on how to fix both of his problems while Sam sat silently pouting on the stump. “What if I told you I figured out a way for us to go to the party even though we weren’t invited?” Ben asked. “Well I’d say you were talkin’ crazy,” Sam replied. “But I ain’t.” Ben said, then stood up. The idea and prospect of saying it outloud excited him too much to sit and explain it. “Alright so we know the McNash’s house is too far down the river to swim” “Ya it’s past town” “Right, So we need something that can stay afloat longer than we can to get us there. Like a boat” “But we don’t have a boat” “Right again Sam. But what if we built a boat or raft. Those bamboo sticks across the river would be a perfect base and easy to tie together because they would lay flush with each other. We can get that thin rope we found in the Old junk house to tie them together with, then tomorrow morning we can just put the raft in the river and float all the way to the house and the party.” “How would we steer it?” Sam asked. “I don’t know Sam, that’ll be your job to figure out” Ben was jumping up and down now excited that he got his idea all the way out and Sam hadn’t shot it down. He took off running to the junk house to get the rope and a knife “Come on Sam we have to get it built before sun down” Ben yelled out as Sam followed quickly on his heels shouting out objections and thoughts. Ben didn’t care what Sam was shouting, those things would be something Sam would have to build if he wanted it done. Ben would build the raft like the one he had in his head and he knew no matter what it looked like, as long as it floated, Sam would be with him on it tomorrow morning when they pushed off. Cutting the bamboo proved to be harder than anticipated, What Ben thought would only take one swift chop turned into a multitude of big uncoordinated blundering chops to get one stalk to fall. But once a few had fallen Sam could start tying them together. Sam notched each piece of bamboo with his own knife which allowed for the bamboo to sit cleaner together and allow for vertical stalks to be put on for a mass which would provide shade and speed that Sam instead was pivotal, even if it was only for character. By dinner time the frame was complete and tied together the only thing still needed to be done was to collect a sheet and hang the mass. Sam had found a piece of driftwood that was wide enough to be used as a rudder. All in all the raft looked and felt a whole lot better than Ben had originally anticipated. Ben made Sam promised on his life that he would get a sheet for the sail and the two boys made their way to their separate homes. Ben was up before the sun and went off to the river to make sure everything was perfect before they pushed off for the long journey. Sam found Ben throwing rocks from the bunker at the glass bottle that still hung mockingly on the bamboo. “Gettin’ closer?” Sam asked. Ben hadn’t heard Sam come up and was startled from his voice as he threw the rock and it sailed way right of the bottle. “Did you get the sheet?” Ben asked. Sam bent down and unzipped the backpack that was on his shoulder and pulled out a white sheet with black markings all over it. Ben grabbed it and unfolded it. “What is it?” “I don’t know, I just drew it. Thought it would look cool” “It does look cool,” Ben agreed. Sam had painted a lot of symmetrical tribal like symbols on the sheet and in the middle of it was one that looked like a teepee with rays of light rising over it. “You know like Bob Dylan sings on that record of my dad’s we listen to ‘Ships with tattooed sails’” Sam said. “We are really gonna look like pirates now” Ben said smiling. The two set up the mass and hung the sheet from it. It laid droopy on the shore and wasn’t as convicening and strong as they expected it to look but they had no time to lose and lowered the raft into the river. But once it hit the river a slight breeze came by and caught the sail and propelled the raft forward. Ben who was still holding onto the raft fell in clumsy and Sam ran along the bank eventually jumping onto the raft headed toward the party. The first section of the river had a lot of small rapids and as the raft approached the first one Ben’s whole body tensed, fearful the raft wouldn’t hold up. But the raft charged through the rough water with ease and the boys ended up aiming for the rapids whenever they came across them for a welcomed speed boost as well as a bit of fun. Everything on the river was forgien, each turn held the prospect of having some new grand discovery. They found native grapes growing on one side of the river and blackberries growing on the other. The blackberries had thick thorns and bramble guarding them making them harder and more irritating to pick so they ended up with less of those then the grapes which they could easily take by the bundle. Both of them were equally out of season and unripe tasting extremely sour. The grapes had seeds in them which caught the boys off guard, they skinned one with their teeth to observe it. Without the skin on it the grapes looked alien. A see through fruity meat with a dark center that was the seed. Sam commented on how it was funny that the part of the fruit we enjoy is just there to protect the seed which is usually just spit out in distance competitions. Ben thought that Sam had a delicate way of looking at things and cared very little for studying the grape and got the joy from eating it and his face puckering up at the sourness. At one bend of the river they saw a magnificent bald eagle spring from its nest and circle above them. They watched in amazement as the great bird towered above them and studied them as they studied it. Another stretch of the river housed a half submerged car and Ben insisted that they go ransack it and see if they could find anything cool. When they had maneuvered the raft to the car Ben leaped onto it. The metal had been sunbaked and was frail and when Ben’s weight landed on it it bent under him. He almost fell in but had enough balance to straighten himself out. There wasn’t anything worth much on the car. Just some old papers and losing lottery tickets. Ben was about to jump back over to the raft when the hood medallion caught his eye. The medallion had been half submerged in the water and half out so it held two different colors of metal, so Ben ripped it off of the hood and pocketed it. Then jumped back onto the raft. About two hours into the journey they looked up at the sun and judged it was about noon and it was hot. The two boys took turns jumping into the river to keep cool and eventually they got comfortable enough to just lounge around. They knew they hadn’t hit town yet because they hadn’t seen the county dump that backed up to the river and signaled they were about a mile out of town. “Ya think school will be any different this year?” Sam asked. “I don’t know, maybe?” Ben said. “My dad says highschool is important because it sets the tone for what you do for the rest of your life. You find out what you want to do after in life there” “Well that sounds cool and all but I'm pretty sure it's just english and math and science but harder than last year.” “Ya I guess that's true too” “Sam, I don’t really want to talk about school. We can talk about it Monday once it starts. For now I kinda just want to enjoy the river and the boat we made” “We did make a pretty cool boat didn’t we” Ben nodded his head in agreement as they kept on floating down the river. The dump came around one of the next corners and there were a couple of homeless winos fishing from the bank. Ben asked if they caught anything and they shook their heads no before the boys had drifted too far past them to keep conversation. They passed under the bridge downtown and knew that the bulk of the adventure was behind them now and sooner or later they would be upon the private cove that was the McNash’s. Ben realized that he did get a good send off adventure for the end of summer that he had wanted but he also hadn’t the slightest idea what would happen once they got to the party. Ben himself didn’t want to go and wished that the river would run on forever eventually dipping them into the cool water of the Pacific Ocean. Sam desperately wanted to go to the party Ben knew and as one bend in the river curved and gave way to the next straight away the boys were faced with a sign hanging on a tree. Private Property next turn off. NO TRESPASSING. The sign was more welcoming to the boys than uninviting. Ben turned to Sam and nodded to him, Sam then pulled the tiller which steered the boat toward the coves narrow entrance ducking under a few low hanging branches and using some expert steering to not damage the mass. The lagoon didn’t look too fancy or out of place on the river. The man made sand walls that were already starting to erode from the constant lapping of the river against it. There were a couple of logs chained together that sat suspended on the river side in a rectangle that was the designated swimming area. A group of kids were swimming in it, on the shore there was a sand pit with a volleyball net hanging and a BBQ next to it. On the Lagoon side of the peninsula there was a cork tree standing about twenty five feet tall with a branch that hung about ten feet tall that the kids were jumping out of as the rope swung them into the river. Ben thought it looked the same as where they usually hung out on the river just with parents watching and more rules and volleyball, but Ben didn’t like volleyball. They steered the boat toward the swinging tree and bank near it where they could dismount. As soon as they could see everything, everybody could see them. A small crowd had formed and was staring at them following where they were headed to see who it was. Most of them just stood where they were and watched. Timmy, who couldn’t stand still and watch swam out to see what was going on. “It’s Sam and Ben” Timmy yelled out back to the shore once he got close enough to make out their faces. A lot of faces still looked confused even with this information. “What are ya guys doing?” Timmy asked, still treading water next to the boat. “We came to see what all the fuss was about.” Ben said. “And go off the rope swing” Sam added. “Did you guys build this?” “Yes,” Ben replied. “Cool, can I come aboard?” “No Timmy, swim back to shore. It only holds two people.” Ben said. When they got to shore everyone at the party was now crowded around waiting for them, all shouting questions. “Did you make that?” “How far did you come from?” “Was it dangerous?” The boys got to land and stepped off the raft. The kids at the party all crowded around Sam shouting their questions even louder. Ben who didn’t want to or feel the need to explain everything snuck out around the back of the scene. Sam was handling the limelight with ease. Answering questions and asking girls if they wanted to go out on it to see how it worked. Telling everybody the story they wanted to hear. Ben, once away from it all found Dave leaning against a tree. “So you guys figured out a way to get here didn’t ya?” Dave said. Ben looked around confused and lost. “How do you get out of this place?” He asked Dave. Dave pointed up the street and Ben took off walking that way. “What? You aren’t going to stay and bask in the glory of ruining my party?” Dave asked. Ben looked back down on the scene “Sam’s handling it.” he said and turned back to walk away. Ben got to the gate that led outside but it was locked so Ben climbed over it. On the other side, he made his way to the road that led to town, thumb out at every passing car. He got a short ride into town but that was as far as they were going so he got off there and started walking through town. Eyes down avoiding any contact with anybody he knew or would want to talk to him. Once through town he caught a ride in the bed of a truck that was full of hay headed the same direction Ben was. He sat in the bed of the truck and let the wind blow his hair freely. He wasn’t thinking about summer ending or about what Sam was doing at the party. He was enjoying the moment taking note at how long they were driving and trying to put it into perspective for how long they had navigated the river. He decided it was on the high side of ten miles and sat back to enjoy the rest of the drive re-accounting all of that summer's fun. It was one of the best summers of his life he concluded. The next day Sam came by to fill Ben in on what the rest of the party brought and how much fun it was and how Dave really wasn’t that bad of a kid if you got to know him. Ben didn’t pay much attention to it. Asked Sam if he wanted to go throw rocks at the bottle, see if they could hit it before summer ended. Sam said he was going to hang out with his Dad for the day. So they said their goodbyes for the summer and said they would see each other tomorrow morning for the first day of school. That summer the one before they started highschool was their last cloud of innocence over the world. Their last chance to just be kids and not worry about how quickly the world is moving around them. With highschool starting changes came in themselves and everything around them. Sam, whose father insisted he went to college, was in alot of the higher up classes then Ben and was too busy with clubs and homework to ever really hang out anymore. Sam mainly just hung out in town at the library with his ‘smart friends’ as Ben called them. For Ben highschool was no different then all of the school before it, he was a outcast and a dumb oversized giant. No subject came easy to him and without his best friend in the classes to help push him and keep him going he just gave it up completely. He stopped going to certain classes at first, especially math, nobody was going to ask him if he knew the polythagrum theory in the real world. Then he just stopped going to school altogether. Town started expanding almost instantly, new families showed up daily at town. So many so that you eventually just gave up on trying to meet all of them and remember their names. Farmers sold huge plots of land and neighborhoods were put up overnight. Mr.McNash ended up selling keys to his private lagoon to make money off of it which surprised nobody. Ben got in with a group of boys who stole from these new neighborhoods. Stole mainly cars which it seemed like everyone had now. After a couple stints in the back of a police car Ben decided to stop stealing and started working as a car mechanic in the underbelly of the new town. Sam lives in Sacramento, works in an office as a financial advisor. Has his own cubicle with a framed picture of his wife and kids. The two haven't said a word to each other in probably twelve years now. It's not anyone's fault, there is no one to point the blame at. It’s just life and growing up, you lose people in it and it gets messy. Those two will always have the memories of that summer though The frog catching, the rope swing, the BB gun, the sour fruits, seed spitting contest, and the bamboo raft that worked far too well. That is, if they decided to look back on them.