April showers did indeed bring May flowers. The barren plains exploded into a cannonade of colors. Reds, blues, yellows, oranges, and purples replaced the several feet of white snow which was my only perspective for much of the wintertime. There was such a complete metamorphosis of the world around me. I felt new and alive again, my seasonal hibernation was over. We could finally shake the heavy coldness from our shoulders.
Suz celebrated her eighteenth birthday the end of March. Mine had been mid-February, still in the clinches of blizzardville. Turning fourteen hadn’t been a big event for me. Rory was to have his eleventh birthday in a couple of weeks—the end of May. I considered him the fortunate one. He usually had fine weather for his festivities.
For much of the new year, the bot remained stagnant in the barn. I’d gone over the code dozens of times and could find no error. My communications with Otto were sparse; he was busy with the family farm keeping cows happy and warm. I did ask him about getting a new memory core. His response: raucous laughter. So taking that as a “no,” I decided to give things a rest until the weather warmed up. And now it was looking like we could resume our work on the old hunk of junk.
It was Saturday morning after breakfast. Suz was hurriedly getting ready for a date with Otto. Yes, she was still seeing him, and that shocked the daylights out of me. My sister wasn’t the kind to be hanging with one guy for very long. The fact she’d been seeing him several months now led me to think something was going on. She never said much about what they did on their dates. Not that it mattered anymore, she was considered an adult. There was nothing Grandma and Grandpa Cranwinkle could do.
Rory and I were just coming out of the kitchen when we heard knocking on the door. Suz had gone upstairs to assumedly finish primping and prepping for her date. I answered the door, knowing it was Otto.
“Have you got that bot running yet?”
He stepped into the entryway and looked around. “Suz getting ready?”
I glanced over and saw Rory watching our exchange. “Hey, Rory?”
“Can you excuse Otto and me for a few moments?”
“Uh, yeah. I’m gonna go to the barn. Grandpa said I could help plant corn today.”
“Thanks,” I replied and waited until he left. “Otto, can I talk to you?”
“Sure. About what?”
“What about her?”
“Look, I may be her younger brother, but she’s my sister and—”
He put his hand up to stop me. “We haven’t done it…If that’s what you wanna know.”
I breathed a careful sigh of relief.
“Look, I like Suz a lot. But I respect her. We’re both adults, and should she choose to—”
“It’s her decision.”
“Jonah?” Suz said. She was standing behind me. “What’s going on?”
I turned to her. “You and Otto.”
Suddenly I became tongue-tied. “Behave!” I barked and stomped out the door. Crossing the yard to the barn, I went in and found Rory tinkering on the bot. Grandpa had yet to appear. “Suz is gonna get herself in trouble.”
“It’s her life,” he replied, nonchalantly.
“Aren’t you worried about her?”
“Not in the slightest?”
“No. She was mean to me quite often.”
“Still, she’s your sister.”
“And she’s an adult now.”
His words hit me like a slap across the face. Even my little brother had readily accepted her place among the grownups. Why couldn’t I? Outside I heard car doors close and the engine start. The car pulled away and silence replaced it. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am blowing this all out of proportion.”
“Yup,” he said, removing the junction interface.
“What are you doing?”
“Checking things again. Now that it’s warmer, we can work with clearer heads. No need to worry about frostbite.”
Above on the metal roof, I heard the scuffing and scurrying of birds; then the tell-tale “caw-caw” of crows. I was happy to hear them. Spring was my favorite time of year, and I was glad it arrived. We’d been in the Outer States about a year now, and I was feeling like this was home.
Grandpa wandered in and looked over Rory’s shoulder. “Haven’t got that bot working yet?”
“No, Grandpa, we’ve done everything and it won’t work.”
He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “It was your waste of time.”
I spoke up. “What could be wrong with it?”
“I dunno. It’s old and I have no desire to work on bots ever again.” He went to the side of the barn. A large pile of white sacks were stacked against the wall. “Rory, are you gonna help me?”
“Yes, Grandpa.” He put down a screwdriver and went to assist.
As much as I tried to embrace the rural lifestyle, I could not bring myself to perform the arduous task of planting corn. I’m sure Grandpa would’ve appreciated all the help he could get, but I wanted to work on the bot. My mind was telling me I was close to getting it to function.
Rory and Grandpa loaded up the sacks and climbed onto the tractor. The loud roar of the diesel engine starting made me jump. I glanced over my shoulder and saw them. Grandpa sat in the seat, Rory was perched on the left fender next to him. They were talking quite loudly, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Soon, the barn filled with noxious fumes from the exhaust.
I coughed a few times. What were they waiting for? Were they trying to asphyxiate me? Finally, after a couple minutes, Grandpa put the mechanical beast in gear and drove out. I listened as the tractor disappeared down the drive, the racket of the engine slowly dying out. The fumes still hung heavy in the air. I went to one of the back windows, and with some effort, opened it to let the place air out.
As I turned back to the workbench, my heart nearly jumped out of my throat. Dagwood was standing a mere foot from me. How on earth had he entered so stealthily?
“Dagwood!” I said, grasping my chest.
“Did I scare you?” He replied, seeing the color draining from my face. “Gee, you scare easily.”
“How did you get in here?”
“I Indian walked.”
“I got a Great Uncle who’s an Indian. He taught me how to walk real quiet.”
“Ah…Can you do me a favor?”
“Don’t do that again!”
Dagwood put his hands over his stomach and laughed loud and long. “You’re too funny, Jonah!”
I managed a few deep breaths to settle my nerves and went back to work. Dagwood took up position on my left side watching me. “Still not working?”
“Well, that stinks.”
“Yes, it does.” I regarded him. “What are you doing here?”
“Thought since it was such a nice day, you might like to go for a bike ride.”
“Maybe. I don’t seem to be accomplishing anything here.”
“Saw Rory and your Grandpa goin’ out to plant. Aren’t you helping?”
“Not in the mood. I really wanted to get this bot fixed.”
“Why don’t we ride over to Jimmy’s? He might have an idea.”
It’d been ages since we’d been to Jimmy Pineapple’s. The winter locked us down to minimal travel. Now the roads were clear, and I’d wanted to get over there to relieve the ruined bot of some more wiring and maybe a memory core. “Sure, why not.” I put the junction interface and memory core into the bot’s head and covered everything up. “Let me go tell Grandma where I’m going.”
As I left for the house, Dagwood stopped me. “Hey, Jonah?”
“Umm, as I was riddin’ up here, I thought I smelled cookies.”
Something about his observation made me smile slightly. “I’ll see if she’s got some we can take along.”
I left Dagwood on the front porch and went inside, heading for the kitchen. Besides informing Grandma of our plans, I wanted to wash up. The aroma of fresh-baked cookies hit me like a freight train. Dagwood was right. That boy seemed to possess a nose so acute he could sniff out a single cookie hidden in a cornfield.
“Hello, Jonah,” Grandma said as I entered the kitchen. “Did the cookies call your name?”
“No, but they did Dagwood’s.”
She uttered a girlish giggle, something rather odd sounding for a woman her age. “Yes, he’s like a blood hound, isn’t he?”
“I think so. We were gonna ride over to a friend’s house. Is that okay?”
“Is Rory going?”
“No, he’s helping Grandpa.”
She took a gingham check cloth napkin and gently stacked a dozen still warm cookies into it. “For your trip.”
I took the delectable packet. “Thanks, Grandma. We’ll be home before dinner.”
“Have fun, and be careful on the road.”