“A New Friend to the Rescue”

 

It was nearly dark, and the lights on the top of Deputy Johnson’s squad car could be seen for blocks. Something serious had happened in the neighborhood. “Perfect, Dad won’t notice I’m late.” Or so Ben thought until he realized the car was parked in his driveway.

He pedaled even harder, jumped the curb in front of his house and slid to a stop at the foot of the porch. Sitting on the bottom step with a worried look on her face was Tali, his friend and next-door neighbor. “You’re in big trouble,” she said.

Tali sits at the desk in front of Ben in their sixth-grade class. When Ben’s buddies ask him to hang with them in the back of the class, he shrugs, “I’m okay here.” Sometimes, when Ms. Adams isn’t looking, Tali lets Ben peek over her shoulder to see the answer to a math question on a test. She knows it’s wrong, but there’s something about Ben that tugs at her heart. She even helped him build the tree house in the giant cottonwood tree in his back yard.

Why is the squad car in the driveway?” he asked. But before Tali could answer, he heard these words:

“He’s here!”

The screen door swung open slamming against the stop. Standing there, silhouetted against the lights of the living room, his 6’1” broad shouldered dad seemed like a giant. And the giant wasn’t happy.  “Benjamin, where have you been? The whole neighborhood has been looking for you, including Deputy Johnson.”

“See ya later Ben,” said Tali, then she darted for home before the fireworks began.

“Sorry Dad, I lost track of time. I was at that old hangar by the airport. Grandpa Jimmy said it was okay if I looked around. There’s an old airplane in there, and he let me crawl around and…”

“I don’t care about that. I’m tired of your excuses. You were supposed to be home hours ago. Your Mom’s been worried to death. Now get in here and give her a hug. Then, I want you to apologize to Deputy Johnson and head to your room. I’ll be up in a few minutes. And, I want to know who this Grandpa Jimmy character is.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Ben squeezed past his Dad standing in the doorway. He was in way too much trouble to notice the faded blue pickup pulling in the driveway. The squeaky brakes brought it to a stop just behind the squad car. The headlights went out while the engine pinged as it resisted the bid to quit running. The door screeched like a rusty gate as it opened. A thin man with a white beard wearing a wrinkled olive-green flight suit with lots of patches stepped out. Ben’s Dad walked down the steps of the porch and to the driveway to meet him.

“Hi, my name is Jimmy,” he said, reaching out to shake hands.

“Hi Jimmy, I’m Mike, how can I help you?” he said as he gripped Jimmy’s outstretched hand.

“I’m guessin you’re Ben’s dad.”

“That’s right,” Mike said, trying not to show his surprise at Jimmy’s vice-like grip.

“Well, I own the old hangar at the airport across the creek. Ben came by earlier and I showed him around. I got to talkin about planes and wasn’t paying much attention to the time. I figured he was in trouble when he ran out of there like a hound chasing a fox. So, I followed him hoping I might explain. Just wanted you to know, if Ben’s in trouble, it’s my fault. He seems like a real good boy.”

“He is, just loses track of time now and then. And I appreciate your coming by Jimmy. It explains a lot.”

“Okay then, I’ll be on my way.” He turned and walked to the truck, grabbed the door handle, then paused and looked back. “Oh yeah, Ben’s welcome to come around the hangar whenever he wants. Kinda nice to have someone listen to my stories. And don’t worry, he can’t hurt nothin in that old place.”

He grunted as he stepped up on the high running board and into the cab. He scooted across the seat and grabbed the door with both hands where the window was rolled down. The inside handle had been missin for years. He slammed it hard, at least three times before it would stay closed. After a few false starts, the motor finally submitted with a belch and a backfire. He waved, backed out and in a cloud of blue white smoke disappeared down the street and around the corner.

Next morning, Tali was sitting on the steps waiting for Ben. She often waited for him there cause it was quiet and peaceful. Not so much at her house. Some mornings her parents began arguing early. She would pull the covers over her head and cover her ears, hoping they would stop. But like a screeching alarm clock without a snooze button, the arguing seemed to grow even louder. This was one of those mornings. She dressed, grabbed her backpack and escaped through the back door to Ben’s house. When he came out, she wiped the tears from her cheeks.

“You okay?”

“Yea, so what did your Dad say?”

“He was pretty mad. Told me no stopping anywhere after school for the rest of the week. Said he had a whole list of special chores just for me. Said it would take me a week to get through them. I guess that’s my punishment.”

“Well, that’s not so bad.”

“That’s what I thought. I was expecting worse.”

“I’ll help you with the chores.”

“Thanks, but I think my Dad would say that’s defeating the purpose. Oh well, it was worth it, cause I got an awesome idea.”

“What’s that?”

They jumped on their bikes and started pedaling for school.

“Can’t tell ya yet, gotta make sure of somethin first.” Ben liked keeping Tali in suspense. He knew her curiosity would keep her wondering all morning.

Ben, Tali and three other friends always eat together in the cafeteria at lunch time. They sit at the same table in the same chairs every day. On one side are Ben, Jold and Willy, and the other Tali and Kate. Kind of a friend’s club. Tali wasted no time. “Okay Ben, tell us your awesome idea.” The others chimed in, “Yea, Ben, what’s this great idea?”

I’m calling a top-secret meeting Saturday morning, ten o’clock sharp, in the tree house. Promise… I’ll tell ya then. But it’s for sure my best idea, maybe the greatest idea ever for a sixth grader.”

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