Kiki had to get out, get going , or she’d punch a hole in something. This two-bedroom house was as cramped as a coffin and nearly smelled like one, as the aroma of fried food saturated the walls. Mari had told her to stay close, dinner was almost ready. but who wanted to wait around inside as her sister stir-fried green peppers, onions, and potatoes—again?
In her room, Kiki laced her neon green tennis shoes as quickly as her fingers could maneuver the frayed strings. She grabbed Yoneko, her cotton tabbycat puppet, and scrambled to her feet. Too quickly. The blood all rushed from her head. She steadied herself against her closet door and waited for the sensation to pass. Slow down, slow down, for Pete’s sake. Then with tiny steps, she ventured into the hallway.
Her sister Maria lanky figure still wearing the tea shop’s frilly apron stood in front of the stove. With her back to Kiki, she turned vegetables over with a spatula and hummed some song—probably from the last century. Mari liked those old romantic songs by the Beatles and Bob Dylan because, as she put it, they had meaning for her heart.
Kiki held her breath; she was good at that. One, two, three. She’d held it for ninety-nine seconds once. No way could anyone, especially not that braggart, Angie Smithfield, compete with the record she’d set. Still holding and counting to herself, she made no sound as she slipped toward the screened back door. She opened it cautiously, making sure not to bang it against the frame.
Quiet as a mouse. If Mari knew what she was up to, the game was over. Mari would yell, then Kiki’d yell and do what Dr. Conner said she must not do—throw a clenched fist at her bedroom wall.
There, dimmed by the fading sun on the crooked driveway, stood her best friend—her maroon bicycle. She tossed Yoneko into the wire basket that wobbled by the handlebars, hopped on, and released the kickstand with a swift push. Just a little cruise before it was time to eat. Just down the street and around the corner. Exercise was good for her. hadn’t dr. Conner told her that?
She pedaled fast and then slow, pretending she was a cyclist on some reality TV show, going for the prize. With the evening breeze in her short-cropped black hair, she smiled. Riding was almost as beautiful as hearing the choir at church sing the benediction about God being close to us, like our very breath. When she rode, it didn’t matter that she was often a girl in the shadows watching others her age gather to talk about boys, leaving her out.
The dry mountain road curved around, and the climb was steep. but once she passed the Ridge Valley Apartments, the road sloped and she could coast down it with ease. To the left, right, suddenly she was in town pedaling past the hardware store, the tearoom, the Smithfield Funeral home, and then a right curve by Russell brothers Auto Repair Shop.
She’d watched these men, greasy with car fluids, jack up a Chevrolet or Ford in the two bays and use their tools to fix what they needed to. They had so many shiny tools. her fingers itched to touch them, to use them on her bike. One of these days, she’d ask them—ask the man who always wore a beige shirt and John deere ball cap—if she could borrow a tool or two. her bike’s front wheel was squeaky, especially after she cruised in the rain. but now a sign on the shop’s glass door read “Closed.” That meant everyone had gone home. She edged her bike to- ward the parking lot, a wide section to the left of the shop. Today it was barricaded by four bright orange cones, cones standing tall in a line where the lot met the leaf-blown sidewalk.
Past those cones was a spacious place to ride, without a parked car or truck in sight. She bet she could go fast. The space called to her; she could hear it. She would just ride around it, the autumn air in her face. She wouldn’t hurt anything—those cones probably just meant they didn’t want people parking there when they were closed. She heard music in her head—not one of Mari’s ancient songs, but one of her own that sang , Kiki is the champion, Kiki rides faster than the wind.
She pedaled quickly into the lot. Immediately her bike slowed, grew sluggish. She pedaled harder. What was wrong? She looked at the pavement. For Pete’s sake, it was soft and gooey, like the oatmeal Mari made for breakfast on chilly mornings before school. She pumped her legs hard; that always made her bike sail. But today it was only getting the front tire stuck. She tried again, but the bike teetered to the left. To regain balance, she dropped her feet from the pedals onto the ground. Like the tires, her shoes made fresh imprints into the pavement.
She saw all the faces that could get mad, grow red with frustration. “Yoneko,” she said to her puppet, “we gotta get out of here.” her tires were coated