Robert Tolkien Plays Hooky (Part III) – A Team PCPB Original Story
Carrie and I walked in silence, hoping to find something on foot. The bus may have taken us to the big city, but it was big enough that we were far from anything worthwhile. I thought the point of taking buses was to be around important stuff! Carrie broke said silence: “So, what do you want to do?”
It was tempting to recreate the buzzard scene in The Jungle Book and repeatedly ask “I don’t know – what do you want to do?” Of course, temptation wasn’t too far from reality: “I don’t know! I thought we’d be able to drive somewhere fun!”
“There are fun things to do around here!”
“We could go to the park.”
“I go to the park every day! It’s where I practice football!”
“What do you want to do?”
I tried to listen to my brain, but my stomach spoke up. To keep Mom convinced I was sick, I didn’t eat breakfast. And that was catching up on me. “I want to get something to eat.”
“That’s a good start. Where do you want to eat?” Carrie asked.
“I’ve been wanting to go somewhere nice: Like Olive Garden.”
“The nearest Olive Garden is 10 miles away.”
“How about somewhere we can at least sit down – like Wally Waffle?”
“That’s even further away.”
“God, those places seem so close!”
“That’s because you drive!”
“What is around here?”
Carrie was looking through my phone. “There’s McDonald’s.” I scowled – nothing against McDonald’s, but that’s normal day food. This was a fun day. “You can sit down at McDonald’s.”
So there we were at McDonald’s. Okay, I didn’t think we’d be going to some fancy-schmancy restaurant where I would have to wear a tuxedo (Come to think of it, I don’t think there’s one of those in the tri-state area), but I thought at least I could sit down and make a battle plan for the day. I was surprised that none of the employees asked about me and Carrie being off school. I guess our money’s as good as anybody else’s money.
“You think you could have paid for my meal, Robert?” Carrie asked.
“Money’s been tight for me. I foolishly bet on the Undertaker beating Roman Reigns.”
“Didn’t you once say you were going to end the Undertaker’s streak?”
“Yeah, I thought I was going to make my WWE debut, but they kept putting it off, and putting it off. It’s politics. It’s all politics.”
“I’m sorry… But a gentleman always picks up the tab for a girl.”
I knew what Carrie was getting at. I didn’t care to go in that direction with her. But saying something was better than saying nothing: “I’ll keep that in mind…”
“So what do you want to do?”
“What I want to do is moot. I’ve only got what’s around here – and that ain’t much.”
“You want to go to the park?”
“You suggested that already!”
“Come on Robert, didn’t you make a backup plan in case Simon couldn’t make it?”
“I did not! Robert Tolkien flies without a net!”
“Since you have no safety net, what do you want to do?”
“We could go to the movies. Lake theater isn’t too far away. I’m sure they’re playing…”
“It’s not that far away if you DRIVE. We can’t drive anywhere!”
“I can walk really fast!”
“But I can’t.”
I drew a sigh – it’s not often that I admit defeat. “Let’s go to the park.”
Carrie and I wolfed down our burgers, and in no time we were at the park. It wasn’t that different from the park I always went to, same trees, same lake, same grass. And I didn’t even have the old pigskin to throw around. (I’m tasteful enough not to make a joke about Carrie, thank you very much!) About the only thing that was different was the emptiness. Since the kids were in school and the adults were at work. Carrie and I had the park to ourselves. The problem was that there really wasn’t anything. This wasn’t quite Career Opportunities. And Carrie sure as HELL wasn’t Jennifer Connelly.
“Alright,” I said. “We’re at the park. What do we do now?”
“Wanna go on the swings?”
“Aren’t we a little old for swings?”
Carrie had a pretty astute point. I remember being really into swings when I was a kid. Growing up, the swings were THE playground feature. Though now that I’m a little higher off the ground myself, going up and down wasn’t quite the thrill it once was.
“Is this what you do when no one’s here?” I asked. “Just swing on the swings?”
“I don’t always have to be by myself.”
“You go on the swings even when there are people?”
“Not if there are, like, kids waiting in line. But sometimes it’s fun to swing.”
“I guess we all have fun our own way.”
“You’re not having fun?”
“But look at it this way. At least we’re not in school.” Sometimes that just wasn’t good enough.
Carrie and I were swinging for a while. She eventually stopped and asked, “Robert, do you wear a watch?”
“No – I don’t need to know the time. I just go with the flow of the world. Besides, cell phones have clocks on them.” I said that last part in a bit of a mocking tone. Carrie’s face indicated that she was not cool with that comment.
“Have you thought about checking said cell phone clock?”
I whipped out my cell phone. (Cue music sting.) It was three o’clock. Since that statement means nothing out of context, I will elaborate. My mother got off work from the dentist’s office at four. So there was no way in H-E-double-hockey stick that Carrie and I would make it back to my place in time. Also, how in God’s holy name did Carrie, and I spend that many hours at the park?
Carrie and I rushed pretty damn quickly to the bus stop. I learned one thing, when Carrie said she didn’t walk that fast, she was right! Sadly, no amount of hurrying could make that stupid bus come any quicker. While Carrie and I waited, that gave us time to talk about what I’d tell my mom. “Why don’t you tell her we were studying at my place?” Carrie pondered.
“I was sick, so I went over to study at your place?”
“Okay, you’re smart. You cured your own ailment and decided to treat yourself and your friends to a day on the town?”
“I’ll still be in the doghouse for making you skip!”
“You could say it was my idea!” I gave her a look. I think we both knew miss… is perfect the right for an odd ball like Carrie? Either way, Carrie was a straight… Okay, she wasn’t a straight A student, but she never had her homework late, played in a band and got along with teachers. Then there was me – I got a Saturday because I did an impression of one of my teachers right in front of her.
“Come on, Robert! Think of something! This is what you do!”
The bus finally arrived. Unless by some miracle Mom got caught up in traffic or something, there was no way in Hell Carrie, and I would make it back in time.
Carrie and I made our way back home. It was a strange paradox. I wanted to hurry to be home before my mother, but I also wanted to pace myself because I didn’t want to face the consequences if she was there. Each step was bringing me closer to my fate. Carrie tried to grab my hand under the guise of comforting me. I always swayed my hands or did something to avoid that.
We arrived at home. My mom’s car was in the driveway. Can’t blame a guy for trying…
“If you want me to face your mom with you I will,” Carrie pleaded. I think she just wanted to spend more time with me.
“No, I don’t think having you around will help my case. I got to do this alone,” I said obviously trying to get rid of Carrie.
“Goodbye.” Carrie’s energy was replaced with this somberness I wasn’t used to hearing from her. She must have known I was marching to the gallows.
As Carrie walked away, I was actually sad to see her go. I guess I thought the longer I could have her around, the longer I could cling to the fantasy that this was my dream day off. Instead, it was time to face my density. I entered my house. My mother was right there at her computer desk. I took a breath and stood firm.
“Mom, you’re probably wondering why I’m here. You see, I started feeling better and by sheer force of will…”
“Bobby, I knew you were faking.”
That comment stung in so many ways. I was tempted to ask how she could figure it out. But the answer was pretty obvious. I wasn’t on my game this morning. I guess that’s what happens when you act under pressure. So I decided to ask a different question: “If you knew I was faking, why’d you let me stay home?”
“Not gonna ask how I knew you were faking?”
If that were anybody but my mother, I would seriously tell her to FO.
“Bobby, you’re getting older. I’m not always going to be there. Sooner or later you have to answer for your own actions.” And that’s all she wrote. No lecture, no yelling, no sentimental sitcom music.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how my Mom really wasn’t shoving rules down my throat anymore. I mean, I didn’t have total freedom to whatever I wanted. Sure, I got yelled at for playing my music too loud while mom was trying to sleep, but she said nothing about staying up past my bed time. After years of having a one pop a day rule, I realized there were plenty of nights where I could sneak in a second Dr. Pepper without penalty.
Though she did have a point: Sooner or later, I would have to face the world and make my own choices. But after stepping out into the world and finding out there wasn’t much to it, I was hoping it would be later rather than sooner.