Jimmy called on my window with a stone at half past midnight. He knew I’d be awake. I pulled the window open, shivering at the sudden cold. There he stood on the grass in all black and trouble.
“Brian,” he said, “Get down. Wear black.”
Knowing he wouldn’t leave until I came out, I dressed. With my shoes in hand, I hopped out the window and crashed on my ass in the dew-soaked grass. If anyone else saw, I would have been embarrassed for years. Jimmy just grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. I wiped grass from my jeans, hoping my mom wouldn’t notice. She was making me wear them tomorrow.
“What’s up?” I whispered tugging on my now wet shoes.
He started toward my garage. “We need your bikes.”
Sighing, I followed him. Jimmy found the key under the mat, and we hauled out my dad’s good bikes from the side garage door and headed across the dark yard. A distant highway hummed, but the ghostly streets around us slept.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Summer,” he said.
“Summer ended today.”
Jimmy just laughed and hit the street hard, his feet spinning the pedals. I rushed to keep up. Our tires rolled down the streets smooth and straight while the chains squeaked and creaked. Standing on the pedals, he gazed ahead. Familiar houses passed us by. Yards we spent hours in. Parks we had known for years. Buildings older than us.
And Jimmy kept quiet. Even when we passed Annie’s house. He didn’t seem to notice, just kept glancing between other blank houses and black yards up to the streetlights glowing like embers through the dark. For a moment, the wind caught his sleeve, and I thought I saw a purple spot on his shoulder.
We were a mile away when I asked, “Did you really sleep on the beach last night?”
I gulped. “Did you really bring Annie with you?”
My heart fell to the street. He had told me there was nothing between the two of them. My bike dipped to the left. I gripped the handles to right myself. He didn’t seem to notice.
He said, “Can’t believe we have to wait for another year to get this back.”
“We’ve got Fridays and Saturdays.”
“But we lost every other day. Come tomorrow at eight with a school bell we lose all our freedom and sun.”
As he mentioned it, I felt it. The air was cool. A cool that felt colder than a typical summer night. Chilly, like autumn leaves smelling of the sun’s goodbye. Cold already settled into the streets and trees. Like the world around us accepted the coming freeze. Jimmy rebelled in shorts and a t-shirt.
I asked, “Have we found summer yet?”
“Olympus,” he said. “We’re gonna find Olympus. Make summer last forever.”
“Summer’s over, man.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
I wanted to believe him. So, I pedaled harder and tried to believe it was a normal summer night. Cool like the river on some of the hottest August days. We’d run to that burning sand and then further into the water, excited and terrified to see the girls on their blankets. Annie smiling in our direction, catching both of our eyes. My stomach went hollow. I wanted it back. I wanted next summer already.
I asked, “Did you kiss her last night?”
Jimmy just turned left. I followed, almost glad he didn’t answer. I knew he liked her, but he knew I liked her. Ahead, beyond our downtown rolled the river. It’s black speeding waters, the same waters we swam in everyday last summer, raced south. South with the summer.
Then, I saw the hill leading downtown. I clutched the breaks and called out, but Jimmy was already over the edge and shooting down. Shit. I edged my bike over the hill’s lip but clenched the breaks. Jimmy rocketed, while I squeaked. His dark form faded when I was halfway. He was gonna disappear. I would lose him. I let go. Screaming wind replaced the squeaking as my bike raced. My stomach swallowed my breath. Water welled in my eyes, and just before I ran into the bakery on main street, I squeezed my breaks and turned left.
Jimmy was waiting by the candy shop smiling. Dick.
“Nice speed,” he called out.
I caught up to him. “Could’ve warned me.”
“Knew you would’ve said no.” He smiled. I resisted grinning with him.
The deep city streets kept quiet with the lights shining for only us. I kept to the side of the road, hugging the sidewalk. Jimmy rolled down the middle, zigzagging between the dotted yellow lines. Jimmy slowed down, standing on his pedals.
He pointed ahead. “Olympus.”
A half-finished building stood on the next block. Caution tape and fences barricaded it from the world. Pale concrete and brick rose like bones. Dark sky seeped through the vacant windows. Lights from across the street ignited the walls into a dead rust framing the skeletal building.
Jimmy turned down a side street; I followed. We stashed our bikes behind some bushes near a hotel. Once hidden, Jimmy walked between the buildings toward the construction. My guts swirled; my heart kicked. Shit.
To distract myself, I said, “Are you nervous to start high school tomorrow?”
“I’m nervous for this,” he said and pointed toward the building. He didn’t look nervous.
“We’re not going in there- are we?” I asked. “My parents will freak if we get caught. Yours will be furious. Remember last time?”
“My back is still purple,” he said meeting my eyes. “Stay low, stay quiet.”
We reached the sidewalk, still in the shadows of the buildings. The construction site sat across the street. Carefully, he looked left and right down the street. His legs steady and taut. He rubbed his fingers; mine held my heartbeat.
Jimmy took off across the sidewalk briefly lit in an orange streetlight, staying low and fast. He met the clanking chain link fence and dug his fingers and feet into the metal and began to climb. Shit.
Before I forgot what to do, I ran after him, my feet slipping on the grass, and I crashed into the fence. Jimmy was up and over as I was working on getting up. Metal stabbed into my skin and shoes. I hit the top and jumped. A horrifying rip tore through the air as I landed on the dirt. My first-day jeans: torn.
I scrambled up, trying to forget it. Jimmy was at my side, not looking at me but at the street. He patted my shoulder and took off again across the dirt and dozer tracks. Shit. I followed him. Piles of wood, concrete, and supplies filled the yard. Jimmy ran toward the skeleton of the building and disappeared through the mouth of a doorway.
I followed as fast as I could. My feet stuck then slipped in the dirt. The clomping of mud was replaced with tapping echoes as I reached the cement. Jimmy tore up a staircase. I wasn’t sure if it was my feet or heart drumming through the air as I chased after him.
Jimmy powered forward up the stairs like a shadow. The empty street shone in from an open window. It was still bare. The lights only shined for us. There was no flashing red or blue. No sirens aware of our act. Just us and the night. Our night. The last night of summer. My feet went faster; my breath calmed. This was easy, like we had done it before. I met Jimmy as we raced up the final flight of stairs.
The black sky beckoned us forward out of the concrete cavern. We forced ourselves forward onto the dusty roof. The cool air hugged our sweaty skin. The silent town cheered. We kept running along the boney skull of that young building, jumping and punching the wind. The river roared next to the town, illuminated joyously in our success.
Jimmy said, “Do you feel it, man? That invincibility. That’s summer. That’s Olympus. We rule this place, man. We rule it. No school bells. No rules. Just us.”
I said, “Feels good. Feels like summer.” My hands rose above my head.
“I didn’t kiss Annie,” Jimmy said, “She kept asking me about you.”
I put an arm around his bruised back. We looked from the empty town to the moon to each other, because tomorrow could wait. She could wait till tomorrow. So, we stood as long as we could on that building watching the river, still warm from August, gently flow south.
Geoffrey Carter is a writer, musician, and High School English teacher living in Western Wisconsin where he is constantly seeking new stories.