Monday, February 20, 2012
Miss Sally closed her folder. “This is a good stopping point,” she said, glancing at the figure in the doorway. “Professor Ball is here for science, so I’ll turn things over to him. Don’t forget your homework: pick a story, identify its central conflict, and explain why it’s important.” She stood and motioned for Charles to come in.
The schoolroom was the former workout room. It had tall windows that welcomed the morning sun, and blinds for when it got too bright. The teacher and student desks, pilfered from Ben’s old school, were lined up along the windows so they only needed artificial light on rainy days. Sometimes, Stefan and his boyfriend would come to use the exercise bikes, sweating and puffing as quiet as possible while the kids had class.
“Give me five or ten minutes,” said Charles, as Miss Sally left through the glass door. “I want to organize my thoughts a little, and I’m sure some of you could use a bathroom break.”
Caitlin flipped her notebook shut and stood. “Yeah, I need to pee,” she said in a low voice. Lily giggled, but she and Ashley both got up and followed, flanking her about a half-step behind. The boys brought up the rear, talking between themselves. Caitlin thought about how much things kept changing — just a few weeks ago, it was Ashley up front with Lily and herself following, but now she was in the lead. How — and why — did that happen?
Their bathrooms were the public clubhouse bathrooms, almost directly across the hallway outside — left to the pool, right to the staircase, straight on to the johns, as Sheldon once said. There were no windows, but Caitlin and Ashley turned on their flashlights and hung them on sconces the grownups installed near the mirrors when they put in the composting toilets. This gave the bathroom a dim light, enough to see what needed to be seen.
“Have you guys picked out your story yet?” Lily’s voice reverberated off the tile walls.
“Not really,” said Caitlin. “Right now, I don’t care. I just hope Professor Ball finishes his lesson early. I am so bored!”
“And what’s after science class?” Ashley asked; Lily joined her in a sing-song answer, “Skate class!” They both giggled.
“Yeah, whatever,” Caitlin said, finishing up. “It could be gardening for all I care. I just want to get outside.”
The other girls said nothing, in silent agreement. This was the nicest day they’d had so far this year, after all. No jacket required for once, even inside once the sun had warmed things up. It seemed wrong to be cooped up indoors on a day like this. Just another way things have changed, Caitlin thought — back Before she would have watched TV and snacked, regardless of weather. And skating? skateboarding? Never in a zillion years. True, she had worked hard at it to begin with, just to get Cody’s attention and approval, but now she worked at it because she was good and wanted to get better. Let them think what they wanted.
Cody had a surprise waiting for the kids: a low ramp, made from a sheet of plywood and some scrap lumber. The high side stood maybe two feet off the pavement. It had a brief platform, about a foot wide between the slope and empty air.
“I’m not quite up to building a quarterpipe,” Cody explained. “This’ll do, until we can get over to the skate park. Anyway, a ramp’s a little easier to start out with, and it’ll give you an idea of what to expect.
“We’re gonna start by rolling off with our skateboards. When you’re comfortable with that, we’ll practice doing some turnarounds. That should get us through today, and we’ll try a couple other things with our skates later.” He laid his stick on the narrow flat area on top, letting the front wheels rest on the slope. The rear wheels hung in a little gap between two of the boards. “Just put your back wheels here in this gap, it’ll keep your stick from rolling before you’re ready.” He stepped up and placed a foot over the back wheels. “Look forward, lean forward. When you get to the bottom, put some weight on your back wheels so the front don’t try to plow into the asphalt. Okay? You got your armor on, and you won’t go fast enough to worry about it anyway. Give it a little nudge and you’re off, just like this: ready-fire-aim.”
Cody rolled down the ramp, hit the pavement, made a wide turn in the empty street. He gave a kick and rolled back to rejoin his class. “Just like that. When you come off the ramp, straighten up and you’ll be fine. Who’s first?”
To his surprise, Ashley and both boys joined Caitlin in volunteering, and Caitlin looked nearly as surprised as he felt. “Huh. Well, I guess we’ll go in alphabetical order: Ashley, Ben, Caitlin, Sheldon. Lily, you stand at the bottom and watch what they do. If they don’t wipe out, just do what they do when it’s your turn.” She nodded and moved to stand where Cody pointed.
Ashley shifted on her board and it started rolling. She wobbled a moment, but stayed upright and rode it out. She rolled off the ramp, then took a wide turn like Cody’s but picked up her board and walked back when she’d slowed enough. Ben got fixated on the bottom of the ramp and fell. His pads kept him from getting hurt, and Cody gave him the “eyes up next time” sign. Caitlin rolled down like she’d done it all her life, then stopped with a showy braking maneuver Cody had shown her outside of class. She kicked her board up, caught it, and carried it back, looking a little smug. Sheldon rolled down and away without trouble. He still had trouble slowing and turning, so he rolled until he could stop, then turned around and kicked his way back.
Lily looked a little nervous. “You see that mailbox way down there?” Cody asked her. She nodded. “Good. Keep your eyes on it until you’re off the ramp. You saw Ben wipe out, right? He was looking at the pavement, and you go where you look. So don’t look down. Just do what you do on a driveway.” She nodded again, mounted the ramp, rolled away.
She stayed upright and yelled “I did it! I did it!” as she continued to roll away. Like Sheldon, she had difficulty braking and turning. She rolled to a stop and walked her board back with a big grin.
“Not bad, guys!” Cody grinned. “Ben, you wanna try again? Just watch the mailbox like Lily did, okay?” He nodded, mounted the ramp, rolled down and this time stayed on the board. He made his turn and came back.
“Cool. You know how I made you guys practice that one-eighty? Now you’ll do something useful with it. Lemme show you.” He rolled up the street a ways, stopped, turned around. “Now I’m gonna come up the ramp. When I stop, or almost stop, I’ll kick around and come back down.” A few strong kicks sent him up the street; he rolled about halfway up the ramp, turned and descended. “You’ll want to know how to do this when you’re on a halfpipe.”
“We’re not as fast as you, Cody,” said Caitlin. “How are we gonna get up enough speed to do anything?”
Caitlin was up to something, but Cody had no idea what. She had a good point, though. “I could pull you on my bike, I guess. You wanna go first?”
Cody picked up his mountain bike from the grass and rode up the street, Caitlin following on her board. “Okay, just hang on to the rack, then let go when I tell you, got it?” Caitlin nodded and Cody got them going.
“Now!” Caitlin gave a grunt and a hard pull on the rack before letting go, hitting the ramp faster than Cody intended. As she reached the top, she ollie’d and sailed over the narrow platform, drawing shrieks from the other girls. She landed off-balance and fell, hitting the pavement on her side, her skateboard tumbling up and over the curb.
Cody left his bike on the street and ran to her, cursing. “You okay?”
“I think so,” she said, clambering to her feet. “Ow.” She felt her left shoulder. “I think I scraped it up.”
“Road rash!” Cody said.
“Abrasion,” said Ashley. “We need to clean it and get you to Rita.”
“Just clean it,” Caitlin snapped. “I wanna try again.”
“I don’t want you trying to ollie off the ramp again, okay?” Cody looked serious. “You scared the shit out of me. Just up and down this time. Promise?”
“Fine.” Caitlin hissed as Ashley reached under her sleeve, the wet-wipe stinging her scraped skin. “This is how you learn though, right?”
“Yeah, but maybe on colder days when you can wear a jacket. Then you won’t get scraped up so much.”