Just Another Day

When I get out of bed, I can smell the oatmeal cooking in the kitchen. I'm hungry, but I hate oatmeal and I have plans with my friends. So, I think I can skip that for one more day.

I quickly pull on my clothes and stuff my homework in my backpack, then go out to the kitchen and put my shoes on.

"Bye Dad!" I yell as I walk quickly to the front door.

"Whoa there kiddo!" He waves me over to where he is standing in the kitchen stirring the oatmeal, "Where're you going?"

"Out with the crew."

He looks at me skeptically, but nods and shoos me away. I run out to my truck and throw my bag into the passenger seat, slamming the door behind me. I turn left onto San Vicente at the end of my driveway and head down to the crossroad for Olivia's house.

When I get to her house I honk loudly three times: our agreed upon signal for my arrival. I see her face appear in a window upstairs, then it disappears and the garage door opens. Soon, she runs into the garage, toppling over a stack of boxes as she goes. She jumps out of the way of the boxes and her stack of homework flies out of her hand. She bends over and picks up her papers, then re-stacks the boxes.

"What was that about?" I ask when she gets to the car.

"Those boxes nearly killed me! I could have died!" she says, grinning at what she obviously thinks is a joke. I take off down the road to Emma's house.

"But what really happened?" I ask as she stuffs her homework into my backpack.

The smile falls off her face "Fine, be that way. The boxes on the shelf were stacked kind of precariously and I may have slammed the door a little hard."

"Yeh, you do that to my truck too."

"Well, no one can close these damned doors if you don't slam them!" she exclaims, reaching over to the radio to change the station, landing on a rap station we usually put on to make fun of each other's dancing. She starts jigging along to the music as we drive down McKean.

We turn right onto Harry Road at the end of McKean and then up the big hill to Emma's house. On the way, Olivia calls Emma and says "Get Max, meet us at the end of your driveway." After the call she places her phone in my backpack, leaving it unzipped for Emma and Max's stuff as well.

When we get to the end of her driveway, we can see her running down the road with Max trailing behind her. They squeeze into the back seats and we head down the lane towards Safeway. Both of them stuff some papers into my backpack. Emma also puts her inhaler and phone into my bag, and Max adds his phone and water then zips it up.

At the stop sign to turn right onto Camden, there is someone waiting to cross the street. I wait patiently as he walks across road.

"Whoa! Isn't that Ray?" Olivia says. Instinctively, we all duck our heads at the sound of his name.

"Ugh," Max grunts, "Don't let him see you; he'll want to come."

"We'll be fine," I say, hoping I'm right and he won't see us. I keep my face down and watch as he walks by.

As he passes the truck, he glances in- as any pedestrian might do. I put my hand over my eyes as if I am shading them from sunlight and watch him. He doesn't appear to recognize any of us, and keeps walking down the path. After another car passes, I turn out onto Camden.

When we get to Safeway, on the corner of Camden and Almaden Expressway, we go in and buy sandwiches for the day.

"Should we get candy too?" Olivia asks as we walk in the door.

"Yeh! Go get the Cadbury eggs! They're in the back with the sale stuff still, by the back door in the meat department!" I say, excited at the thought of the wonderful chocolate. She runs off with Max to go pick out the candy while Emma and I head over to pick out the sandwiches. We meet up in line to pay.

At the register, I pay for everyone's food so we can get my employee discount. When we get back to my truck they each pull out a couple dollars to pay me back.

Finally, we get back on the road, travelling about five miles out of town, to the edge of the forest.

We pull over and sit there for a minute to eat our food and plan our next move. Some people say the forest is haunted; but I'm invincible, so why worry?

Emma keeps resisting going into the forest, saying that we need to do our homework. She pulls her blond hair back into a ponytail and once again says "It would be better if we just did our homework like we planned."

"Emma! It's always way more fun to just go with the flow!" Olivia chimes in enthusiastically. We all laugh to think of Emma's sister, Flo, being here making some stupid joke about her own name and going with the flow.

"You're just scared of the ghosts, Emma. Where's your sense of adventure?" I say excitedly.

"I don't care, either way," Max says, leaning back against the seat with his bright white arms crossed against his chest. He reaches up quickly to push his glasses farther up his face.

"We all already agreed to go! Come on!" Olivia says.

Finally, she succumbs and we all decide to go in.

I put on my backpack as we all climb out of the truck and make our way into the forest.

"Somebody else is going to take this after a while, right?" I ask, pointing to the backpack.

"Sure," Olivia laughs.

As we go, even though it is only midday, it gets darker and colder and quieter presumably because the trees are blocking the sun and making it hard for wind to pass through. The forest gets so dark that it is difficult to make our way. We stop at a large redwood to decide how far we are going in. The air smells oddly of water, though I can't hear a stream near us and it hasn't rained in this part of California since January, about five months ago. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I can start to make out the trees around us which extend to what seems to be hundreds of feet in the air. It reminds me somewhat of forests in horror movies. I lean against the redwood, feeling the bark against my back.

"We should just keep going; no one wants to get stuck in these dark woods, right Emma?" I say pointedly to her.

She rolls her eyes, "Yeh, let's go."

"Just until we get bored of being in the dark," I say.

"That won't take long," Max chimes in.

We take off again and walk for maybe an hour or so. All of a sudden the forest gets deathly quiet and still. The rustling of our own footsteps seems to be the only noise.

Soon we come to a clearing of sorts. It becomes even quieter when we stop walking. Emma's worry is etched onto her face as she looks nervously around us without making a sound. Max seems to be just fine still, although he is standing a little closer to Emma than usual. Even Olivia seems to be a bit tense.

I look around, trying to assess our location. To our right is a cave hidden behind thick bushes. To the left, in the top of this big redwood tree, there is a small, broken tree house. Straight in front of us, in the distance, sits a mansion surrounded by beautifully kept lawns. We can all hear the sound of children coming from within.

"Should we go up to the mansion?" Olivia asks.

"I dunno," Emma answers, "Might be kind of rude…"

"Meh, whatever you guys decide," Max says. He goes to find his water in the bag on my back as he starts hiccupping, which adorably sounds like a baby pig's squeal.

All of a sudden, we hear a loud noise come from the cave.

We all look over to see a bear emerging.

"So, to the mansion?" I say.

Without another word we all start running for the mansion. In the back of my head I remember being told that bears run much faster than humans, but it doesn't matter, we are almost there. Max pulls ahead, like a white burst of energy zooming past me, his brown hair billowing behind him, his glasses jumping around on his nose. Olivia is beside me now; her black hair is whipping the air behind her as she runs. I can see how her Marine training has changed her physical abilities, because I used to be able to outrun her.

And then I hear it: the coughing and wheezing. I had forgotten all about Emma's asthma. Ahead of me, I see Max disappear into the mansion. Olivia and I stop as quickly as we can, nearly falling as we do so. When we turn, I see Emma on her hands and knees coughing and wheezing. The bear is quickly approaching as we sprint toward her.

"EMMA!" Olivia yells, "GET DOWN! BE DEAD!"

She doesn't mean it, but we all know that playing dead could help save her.

Olivia reaches down and picks up a large rock as we pass it, hurling it at the bear as we reach Emma, who is still on the ground struggling to breathe. As Olivia continues finding things to throw at the bear, I take my backpack off my back and pull out Emma's inhaler from the front pocket. I shake it a couple times and hand it to her. She places it in her mouth and inhales, taking deep breaths. When she is finished, she keeps it in her hand and takes a moment to recover. I stand up and start taking things out of the backpack to throw at the bear, which has stopped advancing right at the edge of our throwing range. Max will probably kill me later if we survive, but the first thing my hand finds is his phone. I throw it, and it hits the bear squarely on the nose. It roars angrily, and starts to run toward us.

"BOOM!" The sound of a shotgun going off behind us stops the bear in its tracks. Its ears prick, as much as a bear's ears can prick, and it growls shortly.

We all turn to where the gun went off. A tall man stands behind us pointing his shotgun right at the bear, he has a New England Patriots beanie on and the pom-pom on top is flopped to the side.

"Get outta here Mr. Bill!" The man yells.

The bear grunts back to him.

"NO. Leave," the man points back to the woods, not moving his gun from the bear.

The bear grunts again and then ambles back to the woods, taking a few quick glances back at us. The man does not move his gun from the bear until it has reached the woods and disappeared.

"Sorry about that," he says, resting his gun, "It happens sometimes when the kids have friends over. He's never gotten anyone though."

The man chuckles and checks the safety on his shotgun.

"Tom Brady?" Olivia says in amazement. The name rings a bell for me and suddenly I understand the Patriots beanie.

"Yeh that's me," he chuckles again, "Come on up to the house, kids. Your friend is waiting there for you."

He starts to walk up to the house and Olivia goes to follow him.

"Are you okay Emma?" I ask, holding out my hand to pull her up to her feet.

Emma nods in response, still breathing hard and holding onto her inhaler. Together we slowly make our way up to the mansion.

We walk in behind him and follow him to the kitchen, where we see Max sitting, sipping a cup of tea, with three children- who I can only assume are the ones we heard earlier and Tom Brady's.

He looks at us and smiles, "Hi guys."

"You left us!" Olivia says, "There was a bear!"

"Well you're okay now, aren't you?"

Emma coughs.

"Let me get you some water," Tom Brady says and pours a cup of water for each of us.

"Why did you call the bear Mr. Bill?" Olivia asks.

"Haha. That's a funny story. The kids came up with the name a couple years ago when he first moved into the woods. He used to be a lot more aggressive, which is why I got the shotgun. Sometimes he would come after the kids and I would fire a warning so he would leave. After a while he stopped trying to do it and he would just show up sometimes to watch. A little weird, I must say, but as long as no one gets hurt it's okay. He's kind of become an extended member of the family now."

"What happened after Max ran off screeching like a little girl then?" Olivia asks.

Tom Brady smiles, "He ran up here screeching about a bear. I let him in, grabbed my gun, and ran out to save you guys."

"And then he missed out on all the excitement while he was here sipping his tea. Like a true Brit," I say, laughing at Max.

"Hey. Tea is good. And you're a Brit too. You like tea too."

"Mhmm," I smirk.

"Hah! It's like that time we played soccer in the dark and he slept through it even though it was his idea!" Emma reminisces. We all laugh, thinking back to that night.

"Hey! You should have known I wouldn't play futball!" He says defensively.

We all nod in agreement.

"Mister Brady, would it be too much to ask for a ride back to our car?" I ask.

"Please, call me Tom. And, that would be no problem at all."

"Thanks, Tom… Brady."

He chuckles and leads us out to his car.

"Try to avoid the bears next time, kids," Tom Brady says as we say goodbye to him and get into the truck.

He drives back up the road as we pull out on the way back to town.

"So, uh, what happened after I got to the mansion?"

"You mean after you ran off screaming?" Olivia hisses. Her fist raises and Max leans away, trying to make is seem inconspicuous.

I reach over and lower Olivia's hand, "Emma had an asthma attack and we went back for her. Then Tom Brady came out with his gun and saved us. You didn't miss much, really."

"Good you guys didn't die then. If you had I might've felt bad."

Olivia rolls her eyes and looks out the window.

"It's good you made it to the house though, Max. Who knows what would have happened if you hadn't," I look pointedly over at Olivia.

After another minute, Olivia relaxes a bit and starts to jig along to the music again; she reaches over and turns up the volume. After a while a song comes on that we all know and we start dancing and singing along.

"Well I'd say this was a pretty successful day over all," I say, "I mean, we didn't die. And, now we have a pretty good story! … Not that I was in any danger of dying anyway, hah!"

I can hear their eyes rolling at me.

"We all know it's true," I say as I pull over into Emma's driveway.

Olivia moves her seat to let them out and then climbs back in, "Yeh, we should do this again sometime guys. We'll use Max as bear bait next time though."

Max flips her the bird as I drive off.

She rolls down the window and sticks her head out, "RUDE!"

I roll my eyes as she sits back in the seat with her hair whirling around her face, she laughs, "You're right. Today was pretty great."