Once Upon a Sure ThingBy: Lauren Blakely
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This is the big moment.
I’m focused like a hawk on the finish line, the black-and-white checkered flag in my crosshairs. I’m ready to own it.
But the prize won’t come without a fight. Our fiercest competitors steer their dingy into the stern of my boat, trying to take Jackson and me down in the middle of Conservatory Water in Central Park.
That won’t do.
That won’t do at all.
A surge of adrenaline rushes through me. Jamming on the controller, I gun the engine on the speedboat, powering ahead.
“Take that,” I mutter as I jet away from the wily ones in the nick of time, gliding under the flag mere seconds before those ferocious twelve-year-olds can catch the twenty-nine-inch radio-controlled speedboat that just bested all others.
I high-five my teammate, Jackson, triumphantly. Victory tastes so damn good. “We did it! I knew we could pull it off.”
He beams. “You’re the man, Miller. You are one hundred percent the man.”
Minutes later, the race organizers hang a medal around my neck, and I whisper a grateful thank you before they give Jackson his medal too.
This medal is a thing of beauty, and I love it. Because I love games and fun and enjoying every single second of, well, everything.
Rubbing my thumb over the gold, a rush of emotion blasts through me, that wild sensation like I’m a bottle of soda about to do the Diet Coke and Mentos dance.
There’s only one other feeling that comes close to this.
I haven’t had that feeling in years, and probably never will again, so I do my best to shove it aside.
I grab our boat, and Jackson and I head out through the park, the cool autumn breeze rustling the trees.
“What’s next? Do we graduate to the Hudson River?”
I laugh. “I was thinking the Atlantic. We can race RC boats through an ocean, right? Now that’d be a helluva thrill.”
Jackson claps me on the back. “It’s almost the same as playing in front of thousands in a stadium.”
“Oh yeah. Exactly the same,” I say, deadpan.
But then, my chest starts to ache, immediately and insistently. That’s odd. Because it feels like a pang.
Like I’m missing something.
I like racing boats with Jackson.
I dig that we won this competition. Yet, there’s something I love more.
Something that gives me an even greater high.
That’s what I miss.
I sigh heavily.
“You okay, Miller?”
I quirk up my lips, considering the question. “Ever listen to Depeche Mode?”
He arches an eyebrow. “Aren’t they like fifty years old?”
I scoff. “Please. Their heyday was in the 1980s.”
“You’ve been alive that long?” he asks as we cross over an iron bridge.
“I was alive and well in the 1980s, thank you very much.”
Jackson scratches his smooth, seventeen-year-old jaw. He hasn’t started shaving yet, lucky bastard.
“It’s hard for me to picture the 1980s, since it was another century. Also, it’s weird you were born in another century. You must feel so ancient.”
I tuck the boat tighter under my arm. “I’m a fossil. I’ll be eligible for carbon dating in a few more months. Anyway, I find myself listening to Depeche Mode and The Smiths when I’m not entirely content with something in my life.”
“Dude, that’s deep. Is this when you drop me as my big brother?” he asks, in a worried voice.
I shoot him a look like he’s crazy. We’ve been paired up in the Big Brother program for ten years. “You’re family, man. I’ve been keeping you out of trouble for a decade.”
He laughs. “It was your influence, was it?”
I laugh too. Jackson never needed much help to stay out of trouble. He just needed a person, since his dad is out of the picture and his mom works two jobs. “Of course it was my amazing influence.”
“Also, if you dropped me, I’d have to start acting out. Put the napkins on the wrong side of the plate and whatnot. Answer a question in class without raising my hand.”
I shudder. “I can’t even handle that kind of rogue behavior. But no, something else is making me tune into those bands. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a happy camper. But I’d be happier if I had one other thing in my life.” I take a deep breath, girding to spill out what I just realized. “Maybe Campbell was right.”