Forecast: Mostly sunny and Rita-free, with a small chance of Heinrich.
Rick backed Caroline Lee’s Subaru out of her driveway under a bright early morning sky. A few cottony wisps of clouds trailed off to the east. The air felt fresh and new, with none of the sultry humidity that sometimes blew in from the south. He did not need an app to forecast a beautiful day.
Really, the weather was just the final touch to Rick’s happiness.
He grinned wide. I get to spend the day with Gus.
Not much else mattered: not his father’s intense annoyance, not Rita McKee and Willy Kohler lurking in town, not the enforced company of Joey, Marta, and Jared, and least of all, the day of lost work.
I get to spend the day with Gus.
He turned the car towards Guttmacher’s Auto Service. He’d planned to pick Jared up there. Meanwhile, the scene at the shop the day before replayed itself in his mind.
“What the hell do you mean, you have other plans for Saturday?” Heinrich’s words still set his ears ringing.
“I promised I’d help a friend out with something.”
“Too bad. Cancel it. I committed us to taking Rita out for lunch. Should have happened yesterday, so this is the raincheck. It’s my last weekend here, you know.”
“I’m sorry, Dad. If you’d asked me about it sooner, I could have made some other plan. I’m supposed to be somewhere else Saturday. Besides, I thought you and Trudy were going to Waukesha with the Shunkes.”
“Well, I told ‘em I couldn’t go. This is too important. Trudy and Sarah will probably make a hen’s day trip out of it.”
Rick looked at the floor and shook his head. “I hate to disappoint you, Dad. I’m booked.”
“You can’t tell me there’s anything vital and significant on your agenda.”
“I made a promise.” Rick repeated.
“Well, you can un-promise. Bet all you did was promise to go fishing. Or did you just promise to bring the beer? Is that it?”
“Goddamn it, boy, sometimes I think I’m doing all the heavy lifting here. You want to get a woman, by god you have to work at it a little.”
“Jeez, when haven’t I been working? Seems like it’s been a pretty full week to me. And do I have to remind you that a chunk of that work has been for Rita’s rentals?”
“Don’t get smart. There’s just one job that counts right now, and it’s one you’ve messed up time and time again.”
Rick’s head jerked up. He glared at his father. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, come off it. You don’t seem to know the first thing about courting a woman. How many have you let one walk away?”
“Are you going to start in on that again?”
“What about that nice girl Trudy set you up with after college?” Henirich sneered. “What was her name? Kirsten? Kristy? A couple of dates with you, and she’s off marrying that Weber kid, Evan.”
“Whatever. And then that sweet paralegal who worked for Hogenkamp. What’s her name now?”
“I don’t know.”
“It sure as hell isn’t Ernst, I can tell you that.”
“We just didn’t get along.”
Heinrich Senior snorted. “What was the matter with the Moeller kid; Betsy, wasn’t it? You were plenty friendly. But no, you couldn’t manage to get her to the altar, either.”
“Is that what all this is about, Dad? Getting me married off?”
“And getting you established and finally getting started.”
“What do you mean, started? What have I been doing for the past twenty years?”
“Not setting up a household; not starting a family; not having anyone to pass things on to; anyone can see that. You’ve screwed up every chance you had.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Hell, I wish you had screwed up,” his father went on without hearing. “Put a bun in someone’s oven and presto, problem solved. I wouldn’t have minded a quiet ceremony and a new grandbaby.”
“So it’s all about keeping the Ernst family flag waving in Eagle Lake, isn’t it? It’s all about what you want. Even though you get to retire to Arizona eighteen hundred miles away, I can’t live my own life. You couldn’t give a damn if I was happy or not.”
“Look, son, I get it.” The old man’s voice was pleading. “Not every woman is going to light you on fire. But for Christ’s sake you just can’t give up on every last one. And believe you me, Rita may just be the last one.”
“Well, I’m not interested.”
Heinrich scowled. “It doesn’t matter if you’re interested or not. It’s past time you grew up, settled down and started a family. I’m not giving you a choice here. We’ll get things straightened out. You’re coming to lunch with Rita and me on Saturday, or I swear, you’ll regret it.”
Rick remembered his ears burning. He’d had enough.
“No. I said no, and I mean no, Dad. I’m not sixteen anymore. I’m still your employee, and you can tell me how you want your business run. But you don’t run my life, and you don’t get to play matchmaker with me and Rita McKee.”
“Now just a goddamn minute, Junior –”
Rick barely noticed his father’s use of Junior, reserved for when the old man was seriously angry. But he was angry, too. “Listen, Dad. I understand you want me to settle down. Do you even know what the hell that means? It’s not like I have much of a chance to whoop it up and get wild running things up here. You want someone carrying on the tradition, okay, fine. I’m doing my best. But there’s nothing between me and Rita, no matter how much you want there to be. I’ve told you over and over, I’m just not ready for that.”
“You’ll never be ready!” Heinrich bellowed. “Time and time again you’ve let some perfectly fine girl slip through your fingers. If I let you take your sweet time, I’ll be playing your damn wedding march on my harp with the rest of the angel chorus!”
“Take it easy, Pops –”
“Take it easy? Who the hell are you telling me to take it easy? That’s all you ever do is take it easy!” The old man was turning a dangerous shade of red. A vein stood out at his temple. “One of us has got to have the get-up-and-go in this operation, and is sure as hell isn’t you.”
Rick struggled to keep his tone even. “You know what, Dad, maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m dragging my feet. You sure seem to care about this a whole lot more than I do. But I never made any promises to you or to Rita for tomorrow, or for any other time. You made them for me, and without my knowledge. You want to go to lunch with Rita McKee? Fine. Go right ahead and enjoy yourself.But the fact of the matter is that I made a promise to someone else and I’m going to keep it. Now if you don’t mind, I still have a list of actual work that needs doing.”
With that, he’d stalked out of the shop and left his father standing pop-eyed and sputtering.
Rick smiled grimly as he drove along the quiet streets of Eagle Lake on that Saturday morning. He couldn’t remember his father ever being left quite so strangled for words. One thing was certain: that fight wasn’t over.
But it was over for the moment, and that’s all he cared about. I get to spend the day with Gus.
He turned left where Main hit Union Street. Rick wondered briefly what Heinrich Senior would tell Rita. A right off Union took him down to West Lake, where the service station stood.
Rick pulled in off the street and stopped the car so a tall, lanky redhead could get in.
“Morning, Jared.” Rick greeted the teen.
“Hiya, Mr. Ernst. Thanks for asking me along.”
“Not a problem. I kind of felt I owed you for when my father cancelled on you the other day.” Rick put the car in gear and pulled out again onto the street. He headed back across town to the east.
“That’s okay. I understand.”
“Well, you’re very forgiving. Just the same, maybe we can keep this little trip between ourselves?” Rick asked.
“Sure. Um, why?”
“I’m not sure we want your employer to know I’m taking you off on an outing. He thinks you’re working on a job with me.”
“Oh. Oh, I get it.” The redhead grinned. “No, he wouldn’t like that.”
Partway along Union Street, Rick pulled into a parking lot next to Stan’s Bakery. “I thought we’d stop for something to hold us on our drive. Any flavor doughnut you like best?”
“Do they have double chocolate dip?”
“Guess we’d better find out.”
The delay in selecting a dozen of Stan’s finest, plus ordering a big to-go vat of hot chocolate, set the pair back a few minutes in their schedule, but Rick figured the detour was worthwhile. With Jared cradling the box in his lap, Rick was behind the wheel again, steering toward the North Shore Road.
It was hard enough not to tear through town, but Rick found it impossible to keep from speeding along the winding, narrow two-lane byway. Caroline Lee’s little car handled a whole lot better than his truck, but too much impatience would only spell sure disaster. As he turned left into the Cedarcrest drive, Rick hoped Gus and the Takács children would not have been waiting too long.
He shouldn’t have worried.
Only the girl was standing by the kitchen door when Rick pulled up. Her hair was pulled back. She wore sturdy shorts and a bright crimson t-shirt emblazoned LAKERS in tall white capital letters, with “Eagle Lake Hockey” subtitled beneath.
Rick got out of the car, and Jared followed suit. “Hiya, Marta.” He greeted her and smiled.
“Hi. Joey and Gus will be out in a minute. Joey’s being slow.” She rolled her eyes.
“Like your shirt. Where’d you get it?”
Marta looked away. “Got it in town,” she mumbled.
“Wow. Didn’t know the hockey boosters were selling those downtown, did you Jared?”
Jared studied his shoes.
The kitchen door burst open, and Joey emerged. Instantly, the boy turned and hollered through the screen: “Gus, they’re here!”
“Geez, Joey, did you have to yell like that?” His sister exclaimed.
“Hi, Jared!” The youngest member of the party bounced down the steps and over toward the tall teen.
“Yo, Jo. What’s up?”
“The sky, dork.” Joey laughed.
His sister sighed, annoyed already.
“Gus coming?” Rick asked.
“In a minute,” the boy answered.
“You guys ready for this?”
Joey shrugged. “It’s a music festival. I’ve been to lots of them with mom and dad.”
“What’s it like?” Jared asked.
“Boring,” Joey said, making a sour face. “Boring, boring, boring.”
“Oh. That good, huh?” the older boy looked dismayed.
“We get there, we stand around talking and talking for hours, and then we sit and listen to a concert. And then there’s more talking. Last year, in Chicago, we were at this –”
“Okay, Joey, we get the point,” his sister interrupted.
“—and Mom got into this argument with this woman; she played the cello. They stayed and talked –”
“But the concert, the music, it was cool, right?” Jared asked.
Joey shrugged. “It was okay. Beethoven is Beethoven.”
“But this isn’t a classical festival, moron. It’s acoustic.” Marta poured scorn on her younger sibling.
Rick turned to Jared. “There’s a difference?”
Gus took that moment to appear in the door to the lodge. “Sorry I’m running a little slow.” He smiled in apology.
The pianist wore a lightweight white shirt and a Panama hat with a black band; dark blue chino shorts complemented tanned, well-shaped legs.
Rick’s mouth suddenly went dry.
Gus turned to pull the door closed. He tried to juggle the keys in his hand, the satchel over his shoulder and a paper grocery bag he carried wedged under the arm with the cast on it.
“Hiya, Gus. Can I help you with any of that?” Rick stepped forward.
“Thanks, Rick. Can you take the bag?”
“Sure thing. What’s in here?”
Gus locked the lodge door. He faced Rick with a sheepish smile. “I thought we’d want something to eat on the way. I got some granola bars, dried fruit, and cheese.”
“Wow. Sounds, um, healthy. At least healthier than what I brought.”
Gus raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Which is?”
“Doughnuts. From Stan’s in town. Have you been there yet?”
“No, but something tells me I’ll get there sometime before the summer’s over.”
“Take a look. Do you think I bought enough?” Gus asked.
Rick opened the bag and peered in. “Looks good to me. I think Jared and Joey will polish off anything we don’t eat.”
“I call shotgun!” Joey yelled.
“No way, runtolino!” His sister roared and sprinted for the car.
“Hey, hey, whoa,” Rick overrode everyone. “Seniority rules. Gus is up front.”
“Yeah, dumb-butt,” Joey crowed. “But I’m not getting in the middle in the back.”
“Um, I’ll take it. I don’t mind,” put in Jared, smiling.
It took a minute or two to adjust seats and get everyone comfortable. Only the redhead seemed a little scrunched in the seating arrangement, but as he was wedged in next to Marta on his left, he didn’t seem concerned. A moment later, and they were on their way.
Rick sped out of the drive and took a right, back onto North Shore Road.
“You know where we’re going?” Gus asked.
“Yup. I checked the map last night.” Rick smiled. “No problem.”
Rick swung into a curve. The car hugged the road far better than his old truck ever did. A glance at the rearview mirror showed the outward force had made Jared lean into Marta. There were no complaints.
“What’s this festival supposed to be like?” Rick asked.
“I’m not sure. I know there are several groups listed as playing.”
“What time do things get going?”
“We’ll get there in plenty of time,” he said, nodding.
At the intersection of North Shore and Harding, he turned left, rather than his usual right into town.
“Hey! Why did you go this way?” Joey shouted from the back.
“It’s the way to Daffodil.”
“But the map on my phone says you should have turned right back there.”
“Oh, no. Your phone must have got it wrong. This is the way I always go.”
“Oh? You’ve been to this event before?” Gus asked surprised.
“No, I’ve never been to a music festival in my life,” Rick replied, turning right onto Waldweg Drive.
“But you said you always go this way.”
“Well, if I’m headed east, out of Eagle Lake, sure. Like when I go fishing in the national forest, this is the way to drive. Anyway, I’ll hit Route 18 farther out this way. Fewer lights.”
A few minutes later, Rick pulled up at an intersection with a well-traveled highway. “Here we are,” he said, signaling a left turn. “The road east.”
He pulled the car out onto the wide road and accelerated. The spruce and pine forests on either side began to hurry by.
“I’m hungry. Can I have a doughnut?” Joey asked.
Gus looked down at the food on his lap and around his feet. “Don’t you want some fruit first? Maybe a fig or an apricot?”
The boy rolled his eyes. “Do I have to?”
“I think it would be a good idea.”
Gus pulled out a package of dried apricots and another of figs. “Here. Can you pass them around?” He asked, handing them back to Jared.
“Sure thing.” The sound of plastic packaging being opened sounded in the little car.
“Is there anything to drink?” the youngest member of the party inquired.
“There’s hot chocolate,” Jared said.
“Should we trust you to pour in a moving car?” Rick asked.
“I can do it if he can’t,” Marta interjected.
“Let me!” cried the younger boy.
Marta took control of the travel cups. She held one ready for Jared to pour into while he wrestled the giant travel box into position.
Rick glanced in his rear view, watching the redhead fill a hot cup with steaming liquid. The boy had a steady hand. He relaxed.
“Driver first,” Gus announced, and took the cup from Marta’s hand. “You want it now, Rick?”
“No, thanks, just put it in the cup holder.”
“I’m next,” Joey put in.
Seven miles later, everyone had a full cup of chocolate and something to eat. Marta and Jared were conferring about something quietly, while Joey watched the spruce trees zip past the window.
“You need some more fruit? Maybe a granola bar?” Gus asked Rick.
“Not yet. How about you?”
“I was thinking about seeing what you brought in your box.”
“Are they good?”Gus asked.
Rick shrugged. “Guess you’ll have to be the judge.”
Gus opened the other doughnut box. “Wow. Someone like chocolate much?”
“That would be me,” Rick admitted.
“And me,” said Jared. “Are you handing out some of the double chocolate ones?”
Gus looked over to Rick, as if to ask permission.
He nodded. “Absolutely.”
The older teen took one of the dark iced confections from Gus, broke it, and gave half to Marta. “Try this.”
Her eyes went wide as she bit into it. “Oh, my god,” she exclaimed through her mouthful, “that’s incredible.”
Gus pulled another one from the Stan’s box and took a bite. He closed his eyes, and chewed deliberately. “Mmmmmmm. Death by chocolate. What is this, dark chocolate custard?”
“It’s awesome, isn’t it?” Jared enthused. “In a chocolate doughnut with dark chocolate icing and chocolate sprinkles.”
“Messy, but pretty good.” Rick commented.
“Yes. Good and messy. Where did my napkin go?” Gus searched around his seat for the missing item.
“Can I have one?” Joey called out.
Miles of forest passed, punctuated by the occasional field or farm.The trees began to thin out a little, and became interspersed with neat, low houses. They passed a disused looking set of storefronts, and a white painted structure with a sign Faith Baptist Church.
“Time to turn soon,” Rick commented.
An expanse of blue water appeared on the left. The car slowed.
“Oh, what lake is that?” asked Joey.
“Lake Neptune,” Jared answered. “This part of the state is full of lakes.”
Rick couldn’t help smiling as he navigated along their route. From time to time he glanced sideways at Gus, who seemed mesmerized by the passing forests.
But he took care not to let his gaze linger. It wasn’t so much that he needed to watch the road as he didn’t want to get caught staring. That kind of disaster didn’t bear thinking about.
Neither did Rick want to dwell on the bitter fight he’d had with his father, or on the reckoning they’d have to go through later when he got back to Eagle Lake.Nothing was going to spoil this day.
I get to spend a whole day with Gus.
He was still smiling when Joey asked: “Where are we?” The boy seemed to notice that the forest had retreated again. “What lake is that?”
“Little Wolverine Lake. We’re just coming into Antler. Watch out for our turn, it’s not far.” Rick told him.
“You know all the lakes in the state of Wisconsin, don’t you?” Gus smirked.
“No, just the ones within a day’s drive of Eagle Lake.” Rick replied.
“What’s the fishing like in this one?”
“Not too bad. Pike and Walleye, some Bass. But it’s got a lot of day fishermen out on it, like Eagle Lake does. If I was going to drive an hour, I’d go north, I think. I haven’t seen Gemini Lake in a while.”
They passed what could only be a public school. Piles of building supplies out front revealed an ongoing renovation.
“Left turn in a second,” Rick murmured.
“How did you know?”
“I’m not sure. I just do.” The turn signal clicked its regular tic-tic-tic-tic.
And then they were headed east again on a narrow county road, out of the Village of Antler. Soon the forest hemmed in the road again, though now the conifers gave way to birch and poplar trees. The sun filtered through lighter greens, and the world seemed brighter.
Even so, there seemed to be very few signs of habitation. Only the pavement beneath the wheels of the car gave any clue this route saw plenty of travel. The rough and uneven condition of the road told the observer that much of the traffic was lumber trucks.
Jared and Marta were soon involved in a hushed discussion of their own again.
“Can I get some more hot chocolate?”
“Coming right up, Jo.” Rick heard the redhead say. He really was good with the younger one.
Every now and then, a house or farm would flash by, but the woods still dominated the view as the minutes passed.
Rounding a turn, the forest suddenly changed to closely planted pines, marching along at uniform height.
“Christmas trees!” Joey cried out.
“That’s what they call a tree farm,” Rick told him.
“They look too tall to be Christmas trees,” Gus commented.
“They might be topped for Christmas trees, or they might be cut for lumber after they get taller.”
“Oh. I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
“It’s just a farm. They raise trees, not cows or corn, that’s all.”
Suddenly, Rick swerved and the car bounced as it hit an almighty frost heave, where the winter’s cold had actually moved the solid ground beneath the pavement.
“Sorry about that.” Rick apologized. “I missed seeing that one.”
“That’s all right. I needed the excitement.” Gus laughed. “Hope nothing broke.”
“Uncle Gus? I kind of spilled my cup.” Joey said from the back.
Rick heard Marta comment: “Oh god, Joey, you got it everywhere.”
Gus twisted in his seat to have a look.
Rick cringed inwardly a little. He hoped he’d be able to clean it up later.
He heard Jared say: “Here, let me help.”
Rick mentally blessed the lanky redhead any number of times during the next few minutes. Through glances at the rearview mirror, he watched him wield a succession of napkins to clean up the worst of younger boy’s spills.
“Jeez, Joey, every time you eat, you need an environmental cleanup,” his sister grumbled.
“He’s not so bad,” Jared commented without rancor.
“You live with him, then.”
“I’m sticky.” Joey announced.
“Spilled chocolate and doughnuts can do that.” Rick grinned. “We can probably get you cleaned up when we get there.”
“How much longer?” Joey asked.
“I don’t know, maybe about under half an hour.” Rick answered.
“Sorry about that,” Gus muttered.
“It’s okay. Can’t blame Joey. There’s not much to look at but trees. It can’t be much fun feeling sticky, either.”
Gus was silent through the next few miles as the road turned and twisted. “You were really good to do this, Rick. Thank you.”
Rick smiled and glanced to his right. “It’s no problem at all, Gus. I’m happy to.”
“I’m so glad you’re the one driving. I’d never find my way there, let alone get home again.”
“Hey, I’m just taking the back roads because I know them. You could manage the long way around on the better marked highways.”
Gus laughed, a wonderful sound. “You don’t know me well at all, Rick. I have no sense of direction whatever.”
“How do you manage in the big city?”
“It’s laid out in a grid, so I can figure that part out when I have to walk in my neighborhood. I do a lot of that. Otherwise, I take a cab or an Uber most places if someone isn’t driving me.”
“What about a GPS?”
“Can you believe I can get lost using one of those?”
Rick looked over to see Gus’ sheepish smile, and his heart skipped a beat. “You… you’re kidding.”
“No, it actually happened. I was in Prague, playing with the Czech National Symphony. The hotel was close to the Municipal House, the concert venue, and it was a nice day. I thought I could clear my head and walk it. I got out my GPS, programmed my route, and …” Gus left his story unfinished.
“And I got completely lost. I don’t know how, but the route disappeared on the screen, and I took a couple of totally wrong turns. I tried asking the phone to redo the route, but the traffic noise kept interfering.”
“So what did you do?”
Gus laughed again. “I stopped at a café, and this very nice waiter drew me a map on a napkin.”
“Wow. You speak the language?”
“No, not at all. That was part of my problem – I must have misread some of the signs. Anyway, this guy spoke some English; they get a lot of tourists, I guess. He offered to call me a cab, but I was too stubborn. He was really very friendly. If I’d had time, he would have brought me a drink, I think.”
“You made it to the concert on time?”
“Yes, with a few minutes to spare. Thank goodness my concert dress was at the Municipal House beforehand.”
Rick shook his head. He couldn’t imagine performing like that. Suddenly, he became aware of the road ahead; he recognized a landmark and hit the brake.
“Something wrong?” Gus asked.
“Nope. Just another turn coming up. Almost missed it.” Rick turned right onto an even narrower road, not even bothering to signal.
“Well, I’m glad you’re not lost, that’s all I can say.”
No, just distracted. Rick couldn’t help smiling to himself.
A few minutes later, the trees gave way to wide fields. A farm appeared on the right; cows grazed placidly.
“It’s really pretty here,” Gus murmured.
“I guess so.” Rick agreed.
“Are we close?” Joey asked.
“Soon,” Rick reassured him.
They came to an intersection with a wider highway. A gas station and restaurant stood on the far corner.
“Would you mind stopping there?” Gus pleaded. “We could get Joey cleaned up, and maybe use the bathroom.”
Rick drove across the highway and into the parking lot.
“What are we doing?” Marta called out from the back.
“I wanted to use the restroom, and maybe get your brother cleaned up after his doughnut disaster.” Gus told her.
Rick backed the car into a parking slot.
“Come on, Joey, let’s go find the restroom and get rid of your stickies,” Gus said.
“I’ll come too,” Rick added. It wasn’t really necessary, but he told himself he needed to stretch.
The restaurant restroom was about what Rick would have expected; the owner had invested in cheap fixtures, and the place smelled as if they had broken down at least once in the past week or so. Still, there was a sink, soap and paper towels.
“You go take care of yourself, I’ll deal with this.” Rick told Gus.
Rick tried not to be aware that Gus was just on the other side of a flimsy partition, very likely with his shorts down. He tried to distract himself. “C’mon Joey, let’s get cleaned up.”
He ran the water warm, not too hot; pulled some paper towels and got them wet, then added a bit of soap. These were handed over to the boy. Joey proceeded to wash and make himself more presentable. Rick helped point out a few spots that escaped the youngster’s attention.
Gus emerged from his stall.
“Can I go now?” Joey asked.
“Yes, okay.” Gus nodded. The boy hustled out.
“You all set, Rick?”
Out in the parking lot, Rick and Gus were met with concerned faces, however.
“I think we have a problem,” Jared said.
The teen pointed to a greenish puddle of liquid underneath the front grille of the car.
“Oh, no! What’s the matter?” Gus asked, worried.
“Looks like a radiator leak.”
“Is that bad?”
Inwardly, Rick cursed himself and ground his teeth. I knew I should have gotten Caroline to have her hoses checked out. Now I’ve made a mess of things. Rick closed his eyes and took a deep breath. No. Nothing is going to ruin this day.
Outwardly, he remained calm. “Let’s open up the hood and find out.”
A moment later, he joined Marta and Jared, peering into the engine to determine what was the matter. It didn’t take long to find the culprit. Sure enough, the radiator hose was split, and fluid dripped from there onto the ground. Well, hell.
“Is there a garage near here?” Marta inquired.
From a distance, Rick heard Gus ask: “Do we need to call a tow truck? How far away are we from a town?”
He straightened up and turned to Gus. “It’s a problem, but not a huge emergency. At least, I don’t think so.” Rick beat down the sense of impending disaster that threatened to spill over onto his face.He turned to the redhead. “Think they sell duct tape in there?” Rick gestured with his head toward the convenience store attached to the restaurant.
“Let’s find out.”
About an hour later than they’d planned on arriving, Rick slowly guided the car along the access road to the festival. Plentiful bright yellow signs had directed them to Daffwoods Acoustic Festival. Even though it was well before noon, many others had followed the same signs earlier.
Cars lined the road on both sides, making passage tricky.
“Guess I’m just as glad I don’t have my truck here today.” Rick made a wry face.
“Well, I’m amazed we made it at all,” Gus commented. “You and Jared are miracle workers. I had visions of spending the day waiting for a tow truck.”
“It was just a radiator hose. And Jared did most of the fixing.”
“We made a great team, huh Mr. Ernst?” Jared chipped in from the back. “You, me, and Marta.”
“How did you know where to find an auto parts store?” the girl asked. “There was like, nothing near that restaurant place.”
Rick shrugged. “Local knowledge, I guess.” Rick hit the brake to let a family group cross the lane in front of them.
“I’m just surprised so many people are here,” Gus said.
“We’re maybe ninety minutes from Green Bay. A good day trip, if this is your thing. And it looked like there was an RV camping site back there.”
The car crept forward again. A volunteer with a large yellow flag waved Rick into a field in which to park.
“Sorry,” Rick murmured as they jounced and bounced over the uneven ground.
A few minutes later, as he emerged from behind the wheel, he shivered despite the sun’s heat. Butterflies danced in his stomach. Disaster had been averted. He smiled.
I get to spend a whole day with Gus.
My thanks to @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday for their unfailing kindness in helping to make this a better story. If you have thoughts or reflections to add, I am always glad to see them.