Brad sits on the steps watching the sun rise. He wonders if Rick is really going to show up. The clock inside says 6:45 a.m. In fifteen more minutes, he can call him a liar and go back to his least favorite place in the world: school.
Steve steps out of the front door and looks at Brad nervously, “Be polite, Brad. This is his house, and if something goes wrong on the boat, listen to him because he’ll know what to do.”
Brad lowers his baseball cap. “I’m not a kid anymore; I know that.”
Steve looks at the fishing rod and remembers how they put it together last night. It was the most fun he’s had with Brad in years. He thinks about saying how good of a job they did putting it together, but he’s afraid he’ll push his luck. Every moment with Brad feels so sensitive. It’s like their lives are full of land mines, and he never knows when a bomb will go off and their lives will blow up.
Instead, he surprises himself by saying something much deeper. “We know you’re not a kid anymore, but don’t want to lose you before you’re an adult.”
Brad stares down the road, pretending not to hear the comment.
Rick’s truck turns the corner and drives into their driveway. He turns the engine off and greets both men with a handshake as he steps out of the truck. Brad focuses all of his energy on watching him. There’s something different about this man, Brad thinks. He’s cool, but he’s not pretending to be cool. It’s kind of weird to see him move around in this world full of uptight people. Rick lifts his sunglasses and looks at Brad, “I was worried I wouldn’t see you this morning.”
Brad holds the rod. “Where should I put this?”
“In the truck bed; my house isn’t far from here.” Brad glances inside the truck, looking for clues that reveal who this guy really is. But all he sees is a few lawnmower parts and a work jacket.
Brad climbs into the passenger seat, and Rick turns the key, shifts gears, and they roll backwards into the street.
The reflection of the neighborhood swirls in the windshield as they cruise toward the highway. Rick adjusts the radio station, and Brad immediately notices how nice the stereo is. Rick must have bought it as an upgrade. The guy knows his music, he thinks.
Rock music streams through the speakers, and Rick asks, “This music cool with you?”
Brad nods, “Yes.”
Traffic flies past on the highway, and Rick decides to start a conversation. “Even though my life has changed a lot and I work with machines, music is my first love. The first thing I wanted to do after I got out of prison was buy a nice stereo and listen to all my favorite songs again.” He smiles reflecting on the memory, “Getting out of that cage was the greatest feeling…” He glances at Brad, “Want to hear something funny? Back in my old days when I used to smoke a lot of pot, I used to think that all the lyrics of songs were written just for me to hear. Like God had hidden messages for me in rock and roll songs. For a long time, I thought I was the center of the universe and drugs were my tool to help me figure my life out. Turns out I was really just high all the time.”
Brad tries to hide his smile. This dude is kind of weird, he thinks, but cool. At least he’s not trying to be cool. Those type of people tick him off. But cops are sneaky, he thinks, and this guy could be an undercover cop looking to bust him at any time.
Wind shakes the cab as they exit off the highway onto a freeway ramp. They slowly merge into a stream of cars and Brad looks at the other driver’s faces. Everyone’s dressed the same way. They all look like they’re on their way to work. Everybody looks tired and drained; nobody looks inspired or happy. Rick eases off the gas as they blend into the river of commuting cars. “You know what the best part of owning your own business is?” Rick asks.
“People think it’s the money. But it’s not the money. The best part is being the ultimate boss and leader of your life. When you are the leader of your life, you get to create every inch of your reality. If you don’t like your life, you get to change it.”
“Remember this advice: At all times you’re either building your own dream, or you’re building somebody else’s dream.”
Rick points out his window, “Look at these people driving past us on their way to work. How much joy do you see in their faces? It looks like a funeral procession to me. Most people spend most of their lives working for a paycheck to pay off their debts and make their bosses’ dreams come true. The trick is to become a leader and make your dreams come true. Create an adventure with your life so you feel like you’re always living, rather than dying for eight hours a day. Turning your dreams into reality will lead to more happiness than money ever will.”
Brad listens closely. He evaluates every word.
“But do you know what the hardest part of being a leader and owning your own business is?” Rick asks.
“The never-ending responsibility that comes with being a leader. It can kill you if you’re not prepared for it. It’s scary being a boss because people are always looking at you to improve the quality of their lives. If I let them down, I feel like I’ve failed as a leader, and I hate that feeling. The pressure is always on. If I slow down, my dreams will wither up and die. Always being stuck between success and failure is a lot of pressure to live under, but the reward of being in the driver’s seat, moving toward your destiny, is worth it to me.”
The song on the radio changes. “I was wondering if I could ask you a question so we can know each other better before we get on the water.” Rick asks.
“What do you want to know?”
“Nothing deep. Just a simple question.”
“Go ahead then –”
“Do you think you’re a good person? I only ask because the news tried to make you look like a bad kid, but you seem like a good kid to me. I want to hear your side of the story.”
“The news is a bunch of lies.”
“I don’t trust the news either. That’s why I’m giving you a chance to explain yourself. Everyone I meet gets 100% of my trust. It’s then up to each person to damage my trust in them.”
Brad thinks about the question. “Yeah, I think I’m a good person. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t know me.”
“Good, because if you told me you’re evil, then we probably wouldn’t have much in common. Why do you think you’re a good person?”
Brad lets the question splash into his mind like the words are water and his brain is a sponge. “I’m a good person, because I don’t try to hurt people.”
Rick passes a car on the freeway. “That’s a good answer. I used to say that a lot too, but looking back on it, I did hurt a lot of people. When I went to prison, my family would tell you that I hurt them in ways I never thought I could.”
The truck cab starts to feel like a cage, and Brad can’t escape. He adjusts his seat-belt. This better not turn into a lecture. Brad shakes his head. “I’m different than you.”
“You dealt drugs. I’m not doing any of that now.”
Rick feels the insult sting and forces himself to remain calm. “That’s not how my story started. That’s just how it ended.”
Brad grabs his door handle, “If you’re going to lecture me all day like the psychologist at school, then bring me back home now. I’m sick of listening to people like you. If you’re going to be different, then act like you’re different.”
Rick stares ahead amazed by how Brad just asserted himself. The kid’s smarter and stronger than he assumed. He’s got a fighter’s attitude inside him which he’ll need to succeed.
The give and take of power and control go back and forth inside the truck, and Rick doesn’t want to lose him now. They’re testing each other, and finding out how real the other is – how far they can be pushed before they snap.
Rick eases back his tone. “Fair enough. But then I want you to be more open with me so I don’t have to force conversations out of you.”
A green sign in the ditch reads: “WOODFISH LAKE 3 MILES.”
Rick pulls off the highway and re-evaluates his speed as they coast down a country road. They’ve both had their moments of being patient, and aggressive, and Brad’s shown himself to be a dynamic young man. Just don’t rush it, Rick tells himself. Slow and steady wins the race, and he doesn’t have to push him to solve all his issues in their first hour together.
A horse pasture blurs past them on the side of the road. Rick points at a barn on the hill as they go by. “I almost bought that property before I bought my place. It was either become a cowboy or a fisherman after prison, and I chose fishing.”
The road curves up a hill, and a mailbox appears beside the road. They pull into Rick’s driveway and stop beneath a canopy of oak trees towering over Rick’s home.
“We’re here.” Rick says.
Brad looks up at the trees, and the giant home. The branches sway in the wind, and he can almost see the blue water of the lake behind the house. He’s not sure what to think about all of this yet.