“Wake up boy!” Davis slapped Connor’s feet to make a spot for himself on the side of his son’s bed and sat down.
“What? Am I supposed to be somewhere?” Connor murmured in a groggy tone.
“Not yet, ” Davis bent over to lace up his steel toed work boots, “But later today you and Daisy need to come to work. So wake up.”
“Da-a-a-a-a-d, ” he moaned. “It’s still the holidays. I don’t have to go back to school yet.”
“School holiday yes, work holiday no. Palmer has got its annual New Year’s Eve party come ‘in up. There’s a lot of clean ‘in to do. You two need to be at work at 3 o’clock sharp, got it?”
“Yea. Alright. I got it.” He pulled his pillow up over his head to muffle more moaning as his father left for work. Connor wanted to go running with the gang in the afternoon, everybody was going. Having to be at Palmer by 3 really threw a wrench into his plans.
“Maybe the gang would move the time up and run in the morning instead of the afternoon,” he wondered to himself. “I’ll have to call ’em and find out.” He got out of bed and shook his sleepy legs. He twisted to the left and then the right giving his back a good crack, “Aaah.” After a few more stretches to get the blood flowing, he started making phone calls to his friends.
It turned out that everyone could make the switch. So at 8 a.m. Connor was knocking on Daisy’s front door. “Hey Day, let’s go girl!”
Daisy said good-bye to her Grandparents and they left for the boardwalk.
At the boardwalk, Mark held hands with Susan as she chattered on and on about something that had happened to her over the holidays. Andy leaned against the platform railing with one arm loosely across Maria’s shoulders. Grace was to their left, sitting on top of the railing, while Willie leaned up against her, completely satisfied with his comfortable position. Everyone was laughing as Susan told her tale.
The teens were in high holiday spirits but the mood of the boardwalk was very different. Shops were closed for New Years. Except for the Maxwell bunch, the place was vacant. The sky was brooding and heavy with clouds. The water was a dark gloomy grey backdrop behind the chatty circle of friendly kids.
Connor knocked knuckles with Andy, Willie and Mark. “How’s it going, man?”
Andy looked up at the sky. “It’s probably good that we moved our running time up because it looks like it’s gonna storm big time. There’s gonna be no chance to run later on.” Everyone looked up at the dreary sky and nodded their heads in agreement.
Mark punched Connor in the arm. “I heard you got your Dad’s car for Christmas, man! That’s great! How’d ya talk him into that one?”
“I never tried to talk him into it. I think he just got tired of having George drive him to meet Peggy when I had the Firebird. He’s ditch ‘in George. That’s what I think.”
Everybody eyed their companion and grinned with understanding.
“When’s the big day for the happy couple anyway?” Andy asked.
“June 30th,” Daisy answered dreamily then added, “Peggy wants all of us girls to be in the wedding as bride’s maids and she wants you guys to be the ushers. George will be the best man, of course.”
“I like George. He’s a nice guy. He’s been hang ‘in around my Mom a lot. He had dinner with us and Maria on Christmas,” Andy shared.
“He’s pretty cool,” Connor agreed.
“Mom has had too many bad boyfriends. I wish she could settle down with somebody who would be nice to her, like George,” Andy confessed.
Everyone agreed that it was about time a nice guy came into Cindy Victor’s life.
“I think George would be absolutely perfect,” giggled Daisy.
Thunder boomed loudly from a distant place and everybody jumped with excitement at the sudden, untamed sound.
“We better get started,” Mark suggested.
“Yea and don’t stop at the end. Let’s loop around and come back down. Maybe we can miss the down pour,” Andy instructed.
Due to the weather, they skipped stretching out. They took formation quickly, guys on the left and girls on the right and were off.
After a short warm up distance of about a half mile or so, Andy pulled out from the group hollering, “Let’s take it up a few notches! I don’t like getting wet!”
Everyone picked up their pace in unison. A flash back of Grandpa Joe’s military photos popped into Daisy’s mind. She always had thoughts of Grandpa’s military days when her friends ran in perfect sync with each other.
They lifted sober faces, focusing straight ahead now. There was a light, misty drizzle that accelerated into a light shower. The rain gave them an additional reason to run faster. When they hit the end of the boardwalk they circled the center bench and ran straight back the way they came.
“Pick it up guys!” Andy yelled.
The simple shower turned into a drenching down pour.
“We all want to beat the rain but the rain is faster,” Connor thought to himself. Nature always seemed to speak to him and give him ideas about God. It was speaking to him now. “You are fast Connor, but I am faster… race Me. Pull out of formation and race Me.”
Connor pondered the words that he thought he was hearing, then grinned. “Was God wanting to actually race with him? Wow, how cool!” He continued to listen.
Thunder boomed suddenly like the shock of a gun in a race, and Connor automatically took off at top speed. He pulled out of formation and passed Andy without even noticing him. He was now racing with someone else!
Connor’s sudden burst of speed exhilarated Andy and the rest of the gang. They all copied him and pushed to do their best. They stretched, pushed, and pressed to catch him. For the first time ever, Andy could not catch Connor!
They were elated when they finally hit the original starting spot. Running in circles with their hands on their hips, breathing deeply, they slowed down. Turning their faces up into the pouring rain they laughed at their soaking state.
Connor spread his arms out wide. “God likes to run with us!” He yelled with all his youthful strength.
Everyone listened to Connor’s praise as they stared up in awe at the dark, pouring sky.
Andy slapped him on the back. “That was fantastic! How did you do that?”
Connor’s shining, wet face turned in Andy’s direction, noticing him for the first time since the booming crack of thunder told him to go. “I think I heard God say, ‘Race Me!’ So I did!” Uncontrollable laughter burst forth from Connor and he shouted some more. “It was great!” he yelled out to God and all the world around him.
The rest of the group ran around playfully stomping in puddles and chasing each other energetically.
Connor grabbed Daisy around the waist and spun her in circles. They laughed together enjoying the rain until they were out of breath. When he put her down he gave her a traditional victory kiss (No need for the water bottle tradition since she was already sopping wet). Then Connor stood still, just holding her in the rain. He could feel her steady heart beat against his chest. Her heart had a calming effect on him. Finally, he exhaled and relaxed. He turned to his friends, “Well you guys, it’s been great but we have to go. Daisy has driving lessons and then we have to go to work.”
He knocked knuckles with each of his wet friends and they all sloshed through the rain to the cars.
“Hey Connor, since you have this great car now… can you give us a ride to Grace’s house?” Willie grinned hopefully. “We don’t really fit in Maria’s car.”
“Sure, get in.”
Grace and Willie got in Connor’s car. Andy, Mark and Susan got in Maria’s car. Connor dropped Willie and Grace off at Grace’s house. Then he returned to his apartment building with dripping wet Daisy at his side.
“Give me a call when you’re dressed. We’ll go to Shop-Smart and eat in the deli then drive around the parking lot for a little while before work.” Connor kissed the side of Daisy’s head as they parted in the apartment hallway.
Daisy and Connor made their way through the holiday shoppers of Shop-Smart to the back of the store where the deli was located. The line was long and the place was crowded but after some time, they managed to order a large sub sandwich and find a booth.
Connor smiled and stuck out his hand. “Let’s pray, babe.”
She took his hand and bowed her head.
“Dear Lord, thank you for this food and this time together. Thank you for Your peace and Your strength. We ask that you help the police catch Mr. Adams soon, amen.” He passed Daisy her half of the sub sandwich and took a giant bite of his half. “Mm… good. I was starving…”
Daisy just held her sandwich with a studied look on her face. “Connor.”
“Hum?” He looked up with chipmunk cheeks full of sandwich.
“God spoke to me too. While we were running…,” she hesitated to continue.
“What’d He say?” Connor stopped eating and stared at her curiously.
“He told me not to be afraid. Why would He say that? I mean, I’m not afraid. So why would he bother to tell me not to be?” She fumbled with her sandwich, unable to decide which end to bite.
“I don’t know,” he took a swig of his tea, “Maybe there’s something come ‘in you don’t know about.”
Daisy’s eyes enlarged. “You think something scary is gonna happen?”
Connor watched Daisy’s expression move from puzzled to alarmed. “Now, you see that?” He pointed his finger at her. “You see how easy you changed your emotion? I just said m-a-y-b-e something was gonna happen in the f-u-t-u-r-e and you’re ready to have a panic attack. How should I know what’s gonna happen?” He shrugged his shoulders. “But no matter what happens, God told you, don’t be afraid.” He went back to his sandwich.
Daisy’s expression moved from alarm back to puzzled again. “Hmm.” She finally took a bite of her sandwich and chewed slowly. After a while she spoke again. “He told you you’re strong.”
“Well actually, He said I’m fast but He’s faster, Race Me.” Connor pushed up his sleeves and proudly displayed his muscles. “Look at those bad boys!” He slapped his biceps. “I’m fast and I’m strong!” At that, Daisy giggled with all her heart. Her outburst gave Connor a huge amount of pleasure. He couldn’t help but laugh too.
When they finished eating they walked back out to the parking lot and Connor tossed her the keys. “Don’t kill me babe, I still got a lot of living to do.” He laughed at his own little joke.
Daisy rolled her eyes as she got in the car.
The Firebird was a standard vehicle, but it had a stick shift between the bucket seats that you used to put it into park or drive or reverse. Connor explained this, and a few other driving tips to Daisy, while she started the engine.
She carefully pulled out of the parking spot and drove around the perimeter of the lot. As her confidence began to build, so did her speed.
Her mounting speed made Connor a little nervous. “Speed bumps, speed bumps, speed bumps coming!” His voice got louder with every word.
Daisy ran over some speed bumps going way to fast. After a brief airborne moment the car returned to earth with a gigantic bang. The banging car scared Daisy even more than Connor’s hysterical yelling did. She floored the brakes which caused the car to slide sideways and skid noisily to a halt, leaving a rather long line of black tire tread marks on the pavement.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” Daisy chanted, nearly in tears.
“It’ll be okay, babe, everybody does that once,” he assured her as he tried to catch his breath. “But, uh, you have to understand, there is a reason for speed bumps. Whenever you see speed bumps coming, you need to slow down. Okay, babe?”
“Okay, I’m sorry. Should I stop now?” she asked meekly.
“No, no, you can keep going, but just watch out for the speed bumps.” Connor leaned back in his seat and tightened his seat belt.
Daisy drove around the perimeter again, at a snail’s pace this time.
“That’s much better. Why don’t you go down that back road over there?” He pointed to a road shooting out the back.
She drove slowly through the small, quiet, residential area behind the store without incident.
Connor looked at his watch. “You’re doing great. Now go back to the parking lot.”
She did so perfectly.
“You’re not too bad.” He smiled and relaxed a little more. “I think you could drive to work. Why don’t you try?”
Daisy left the parking lot again. She went down the street to the Palmer Company which was just a few blocks away.
When she finally got the car parked exactly the way she wanted, in the middle of the white lines, she looked over at Connor quizzically. “Do you think I could pass a driving test?”
“You did great, but uh, just for confidence sake you should practice a little bit more. Plus you need to learn some of the laws. I’ll have to get you a book for that. Maybe tomorrow, okay?”
“Kay.” She played with the steering wheel and pushed some buttons on the dash. “What do these do?”
Connor laughed at her playfulness while he un-pushed everything she pushed. “This one pops the trunk. This one is the gas tank cover. This one pops the hood.” It suddenly dawned on Connor that there might be more to sharing a vehicle than he had originally thought. “Let’s get inside. Dad’s gonna be look ‘in for us. He says there is a lot of cleaning to do.”
They hopped out of the car. Connor pushed the hood of the car shut then went to the back and shut the trunk on the way inside the Palmer office.