Although summer vacations for little boys seem to go on forever, Labor Day inevitably arrives, marking the end of sleeping late and playing all day. But for six year old Tommy Castle, the September date looming was more than the mere prospect of returning to school. It was the day he’d have to begin the second grade without his best friend.
He and Joshua’s summer began like most of the children’s in Miss Abbey’s first grade class. The bell that announced the long break from of learning letters and adding numbers beckoned their anxious feet out the door. With big grins on their faces, they ran straight to waiting buses and parents parked along the sycamore lined lane bordering the small grammar school. Driving away from their school the smiles remained as images of sand castles and fireflies came to mind.
But on August ninth, a different bell sounded, motioning Tommy and those around him in the sweltering pews to fall to their knees. Another bell and they arose as the minister dismissed them with his cliched words. This time, no one ran out the doors stained with martyrs and saints, instead formed a line. Hundreds of mourners placed a single rose upon the small casket until it appeared as an overgrown garden and there were more than enough tears for all the red petals to drink in. A mother barely held up by a father, clung to the white sealed tomb, crying out in unearthly groans for a son denied the chance to grow up.
Several miles away a young man heard a different bell, this one announcing lunch. More than the food he found impossible to swallow, his appetite for alcohol and amusement had since disappeared. Yet pangs, stronger than hunger begged for another time long ago. A time when superheroes and ice cream were the only things that consumed his once innocent mind. But the scene, right before his life passed from his own hands into the state’s, could not be taken back or done over a different way. Playing it out over and over in his tortured mind, a group of young boys riding across a dusk shrouded street, screeching brakes, and the twisted frame of a red bicycle. Time’s delicate hands were now tied, unable to extend him a do-over. What prisoner number 586777 could not see was the next set of frames. One of a grave marker resting upon fresh packed soil and another of another little boy who raced across that same street now sitting alone, the scene of his friend lying in blood running over and over across his broken heart.