“I can’t do it, Dad,” Max said with his massive blue helmet on his head. Max looked sideways away from his dad. His eyes were focused on all the other passersby. He gave a sharp exhale the way any 8 year old would to his parents.
“Yes you can,” Pedro, Max’s dad said.
Max sighed again and rolled his eyes in secret.
“I’m gonna be right behind you. I’m not going to let you go,” Pedro said from behind him.
Max looked across the field and saw his wife, Maxine, preparing burgers at the picnic table. Pedro could tell Max was distracted. “You looking at your mom. Don’t look at her. Keep your eyes focused on the path in front of you.”
Max couldn’t help, but to look at his mom for comfort. Pedro grew tired over the lack of trust that grew between them. Pedro grasped his son’s shoulders to shake him out of his trance. “Look at me. I got you, son.” Max shook his head and bowed forward. “What’s that look for?”
“Nothing,” Max said, gripping his handlebars. “Just forget it.“
Pedro stood upright. “Alright, take five.”
Pedro followed the smell of burgers and charcoal. “How’s he doing,” Maxine said.
“Cut the nonsense,” Pedro snapped. “What are you telling him about me?”
Maxine blinked. “I beg your pardon.“
“That look he gave you. What did that mean?”
“I legitimately don’t know where to begin answering you on that.“
“Why don’t you just tell me the truth,” Pedro demanded.
“The truth is, insecurity doesn’t look good on you, Pedro. If Max gives me a look you don’t understand, it’s probably because I’m at home with all the time. That’s what happens with time in a relationship. You just… learn things about each other.“
“Don’t do that, Maxine,” Pedro yelled, waving his hand in the air in disgust.
“I’m not doing anything, Walter. Just preparing lunch.” Maxine looked over Pedro’s shoulder and flashed a smirk. “You probably want to catch your son. He’s booking it.“
Pedro spun around and saw his son sailing across the dirt path with ease. Pedro’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. His son was riding a bicycle! Pedro sprinted as fast as he could, arms outstretched, calling after his son, but something was wrong. Very wrong. Max wasn’t slowing down. He was picking up the pace! His son even pushed his weight on a pedal to push off faster!
“Hey! Come back here,” Pedro yelled, charging down the path.
Max slowed down with his brakes and waited for his dad to catch up.
“What the hell was that,” Pedro screamed.
“What’s what, Dad,” Max responded in a normal voice.
“It seems like you know what you’re doing,” he said, panting hard with his hands on his hips.
“Because I do know,” Max answered. “I’ve known how to ride a bike for almost two years now.“
“Two years? Are you serious right now?“
“You skipped lessons with me,” Pedro said loudly enough so the park could hear him.
“Inside voice, Dad. And there was nothing to skip because lessons never happened.”
“What else are you hiding from me,” Pedro insisted.
Max silently handed him a bottle of water. Pedro smacked it out of his hand swiftly.
“Loads of stuff,” Max said calmly. “You’re never around.“
Pedro scoffed. “I’m never around? You must be joking. That house you live, eat and sleep in. Who does it belong to?“
“Uh huh. That car that brought you here. Who name is it on? Hmmm?”
“You know, Dad, just because it belongs to you, doesn’t mean life just stops until you come back.”
“Come back? I’m out here bustin’ my butt trying to make sure you don’t have to struggle.“
“Thanks Dad. No struggle bus over here,” Max said flatly.
“Who taught you? Huh? Out with it. Was it your mom?”
“It was Carlos’s dad.“
“No. His dad. And yes, him. And don’t worry about evening the odds. They already moved last year.“
“I don’t believe this. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Max shook his head.
“Hey! I asked you a question!”
“Tell you what,” Max spoke out forcefully. His father stood wide-eyed that he interrupted him. Max hadn’t made any eye contact. “Didn’t tell you that I learned to ride a bike without you? Or I didn’t tell you that life is just better when you’re not around.” Max turned to his father and peeled his helmet off his head. The father and son stood side by side in the bike path. They were alone in the middle of the woods. Pedro stood above his son, but his head hung low with the weight of his son’s words. “I didn’t tell you because ego is a real thing. Sometimes it just gets in the way.”
“In case you forgot, I am your father.” Pedro had struggled to say this. He hadn’t felt this way ever. Had it been buried that long? This feeling. He had always been in control, but with Max without his helmet, without protection from falls, Max appeared that much more aggressive to him.
“A very hands off father,” Max said plainly. “Which is fine actually. I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t really know what happened at work for you where you have all this free time, but I promise you, I’m fine.”
Pedro stood as the words shot through him and washed him. All Pedro could do was nod slowly. Max shook his head again and rode off with his helmet on the ground.
“What have I done,” Pedro whispered to himself.
Pedro stood at the bank of the lake with his feet bare in the shallow water. The sky was set on fire from the orange hue of the bleeding sunset. He had lost track of time as he took in the serene lake. It was the only thing peaceful he could experience at that moment in time.
“Dad? What are you doing,” Pedro heard a familiar voice say. Max had walked down the hill to see his dad by the shore.
“It’s something you’ll learn to do when you’re older: contemplating,” Pedro said, facing the setting sun.
“Dad,” Max said with a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry.”
“If your mom said to come down here and apologize, don’t.”
“But, I feel bad…”
“I don’t feel great,” Max said with a shrug.
“That’s fair,” Pedro said with a tilt of his head. “What was it like? Riding your bike for the first time,” he asked, turning his head to see him.
“It was… functional, I guess.”
“Functional, huh? Geez you sound like a robot.”
“You mean I sound like you,” Max said with a smile, Pedro hadn’t seen in years. He almost thought he was looking at an old picture of himself.
“Funny,” Pedro said as he snorted out. “My first time riding was painful. I did the one thing I wasn’t supposed to do. Look at the bike. I had an empty field and I found the one small tree that was as big as me. Took me down. I was so mad at my dad. He kept laughing at me.”
“You rode into a tree,” Max asked innocently.
“Yeah. What are you going to give me a harangue?”
“A what? No, I… rode into a tree.” Max’s head hung low in shame.
“You did? Which one?”
“The one on Miller Road,” Max said, pointing into the distance.
“The sky tickler tree?”
“No! The weak pathetic little tree. The one at the fork in the road.”
“That one?” Max looked up at his father, waiting for the lambasting, but he grabbed his son’s shoulder and pulled him close. “That’s alright, buddy. You did your best!”
“Stop it,” Max said, fighting off his father’s attempt to mess up his head of hair. “I am sorry. I went to the park and all my friends were riding bikes and it drove me nuts that I didn’t know how. Carlos was the only one who didn’t make fun of me. So, his dad showed me.”
“I should be apologizing to you.”
“Why do you suddenly have more time now?”
“Perspective,” Pedro said, eyes fixed on the sunset, before taking in his son. “I saw a picture of my dad and it reminded me how we struggled as a family, but the time we spent together was better than the struggle. So, I made some changes and now, I got this excellent memory to remember you by.”
“Was it worth it,” Max asked.
“I’m sure you’re going to be complaining about me in therapy when you’re older because of things I didn’t even realize.”
“You’re not so bad yourself. Come on! It’s time to go!”
The two waddled out of the water, but Pedro picked up a black flat rock on the sandy bank, and slung it over the surface of the water, sailing in high fashion. Pedro stood and watched his rock leap frog across the lake.
Max’s mouth dropped open. Dad cracked a smile as he looked at his son through the corner of his eye.
“Come on,” Pedro waved his son over to him. Max stayed behind and knelt down, searching for flat rocks. Pedro smiled a big one when he heard the plop in the lake.
“Dad? I know we have to go, but can you show me how to do that?”
Maxine had caught the attention of Pedro at the top of the hill. She smiled and nodded.
“Do what,” Pedro asked, turning around to see his son with a handful of pebbles.
“That thing you just did? With the rocks?
“Oh! You mean skip rocks?”
“Yeah! Skip rocks!”
“Well, you’re halfway there,” Pedro said as he snatched one off the wet ground. “You got a really flat one,” he pointed at Max’s hand. “That’s good. It’s the other half that is just as important: how you throw it.”
“Like this?” Max instantly tried imitating his dad when he threw his rock across the water.
“No. Like this. You see it’s all in the wrist!”