He opened the back door at dawn and slowly closed it behind him to keep from waking the others. Fresh air, on his cheeks and in his lungs. And just now you could feel the weather changing.
He wore a light jacket but by the end of the day he wouldn’t need it anymore.
He looked down at the monitor on his wrist to make sure this was real. Tuesday, March 24. The green circle on the screen of his watch was proof. The boy leapt off the back porch and ran around the side of the house and came back around rolling a bicycle. Just now the sun was giving enough light to see and the spring birds sang in the trees above. One thing came to mind: the hill. He’d need to get there before the trains started running at 7.
The boy anchored his foot on the pedal and shot into the middle of the quiet street, and here he was like a bird, soaring, weightless, free as could be. Today belonged to him. He could ride wherever he liked and nobody could stop him.
It was A-Day.
A few miles down the road he came to the top of the hill and looked down. This was the one. He’d been thinking about this hill for a month. Last month, he came to this place and couldn’t muster the courage to go down. The train tracks ran across the road at the bottom, but it was still half an hour before they’d be running. He had time. Plenty of time.
For 25 days he had laid awake in bed looking up at the ceiling, promising himself that he had the courage to go for it. If he reached deep enough, he could be brave enough. This was the month.
He looked down at his watch just to be sure. A green circle. This wasn’t a dream.
He gripped the handlebars and took a big breath.
The speed was no problem at all, but the turn that came right after the tracks made him pause. If he wasn’t careful he’d slide and rip up his knees. But so what? That’d be better than another month of kicking himself for chickening out.
“Now,” he said.
The bike rolled forward but then a siren sounded. He braked and looked behind him to see a cruiser pulling up.
He checked the watch again. Green. He would be ok, but his heart raced. He rolled the bike towards the officer who stepped out of the car.
“Morning,” the woman said. She wore a mask so he couldn’t see much of her face, but guessed she was young, maybe twenty or thirty.
“Hi,” he said.
“What are you up to?” She motioned for him to come closer, so he did.
“Riding my bike.”
“What’s your last name?”
“Starts with an ‘A’?”
“Yes ma’am,” the boy answered.
“Can I see your monitor?”
She gently took his hand in hers. She turned his arm so that she could see the screen, and the green circle. She took a tablet from her belt and scanned the screen. A minute passed with her scrolling and reading on her tablet.
“It’s an exciting day for you,” she finally said. “What’s the plan?”
“Just riding my bike. I may go swimming later. I don’t know.”
“You working harder on your math equations? I saw the note your teacher left.”
“And you have a booster coming up, which would make sense, based on what I’m seeing with your behavior this morning. Is that appointment already scheduled?”
“Yes ma’am. I think so.”
“It looks like . . .” she scrolled. “Ah, yes. The 7th of April at 10am. Very good. Ok, Jalen Aguilar. I think we’re all set. Have a wonderful A-Day.”
She lowered her mask and gave him a smile.
He felt good. He felt as if everything was working how it was supposed to. Fresh air, on his cheeks and in his lungs. The officer got back into the cruiser, and the boy rolled his bike to the side of the road so she would have plenty of room to drive off.
He waited. But she didn’t go anywhere. She waited, too.
He looked down at the watch and saw that he only had 10 minutes until the train would start running. If she didn’t leave soon he would miss his chance. Another minute passed with neither of them moving, until finally she rolled the window down.
“Where are you planning to ride your bike, Jalen?”
“Just around,” he answered.
“You weren’t planning on riding down this hill, were you? It’s a very big hill.”
His heart raced. He couldn’t lie, but he couldn’t say yes.
“It’s a very big hill,” he repeated in agreement, the words rising against his will.
“Do you need to get to the bottom of this hill?”
He should have said no but he nodded. He should have said he was going the other way. Then he could come back a few minutes later, but he nodded.
“Well why didn’t you say so, you silly boy?” she asked.
She stepped back out of the cruiser and approached him. She tightened her mask and bent down close to him.
“It’s a very big hill, isn’t it Jaden?”
He looked over and nodded.
“I’d hate for you to get injured on your Freedom Day. Wouldn’t you hate that, too?”
“Yes,” he said softly.
She rubbed her thumb on his cheek.
“Part of being free is making good decisions. Luckily, I’m here to help. And I already made a note on your profile, so that way we won’t have this trouble anymore. We’ll know every time you come here, and someone will be along shortly to make sure you don’t get yourself hurt. Come on and get inside. I’ll take you down.”
She picked up the bike and loaded it into the back her cruiser.
He sat in the front seat and she offered him a piece of candy as the car rolled down the hill, slowly.