This is part 2 of a 3 part short story. If you haven’t read it, please start with Part 1: The Bet
Part 2: The Shortcut
The bet made, Gus jumped on his bike and pedaled away, not waiting for Billy to catch up. The sun was sinking faster than it had ever done, and Gus was not going to lose his new slingshot.
Gus had begged for that slingshot for nearly a year. And for the same year, his mom had insisted that he wasn’t old enough. Even as responsible as he was, she said, she was sure no good would come of it.
Then, just last week, on his eleventh birthday she had finally relented. As he opened his gift, she made him promise that he wouldn’t make her regret her decision by breaking the neighbors windows or shooting the cat.
And now Gus had gone and gotten himself into it by betting that very slingshot. If he lost it to Billy, she might very well shoot out the neighbors’ windows, though Gus guessed that would mean shooting out her own windows, so she would probably have some explaining of her own to do.
As Gus pedaled toward the ramp down into the quarry, Billy shouted at him over his shoulder. “Hey, where are you going? You can’t go in there!”
Gus knew it was a bad idea, but if he had to pedal all the way around the quarry, he knew he’d never make it home in time to win the bet. He needed a shortcut, and heading straight across the flat gravel basin of the quarry instead of winding his way through the tree-lined path around its lip would, he hoped, save him a big chunk of time.
As he leaned into the long slope of the gravel ramp, Gus started to pedal, picking up speed fast as he went along. Glancing over his shoulder, he could see Billy just beginning her descent behind him. Gus could hear the wind whooshing in his ears and the flap-flap-flapping of the corner of his jacket catching in the wind, held back from flowing out behind him only by the straps of his backpack holding it down. He listened to the crunch of the gravel under his tires, and for a moment, he felt very much like a super hero.
Then he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to stop where the path doubled back on itself ahead. He pushed back on his pedals, stopping his tires cold, but his bike continued to slide toward the ledge and a steep fall to the pit bottom below.
In desperation, Gus leaned hard to his left and laid his bike down on its side, sliding hard on his right leg.
The added friction brought him up short of the fall, but his jeans were badly ripped, and he suspected his leg was as well, though he didn’t dare look. His ankle and his knee were throbbing as well from where he’d landed on them.
Gus very much wanted to cry then, but he could hear the crunch of Billy’s tires coming up from behind, so he bit the inside of his cheek and held it in.
“You ok?” she said
Gus nodded silently, worried his voice would betray him and loose the tears he was holding back.
“We can call the bet off if you like. We’ll just walk the rest of the way.” she said as she moved closer to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
Gus stood up, pulling his bike up beside him, and without a word he got back on and started pedaling away. He was tired of being the baby. His older brothers always got to do things without him. He was the youngest of his friends. Everywhere he went, someone was always “looking out for him”. Gus was going to win the bet if it killed him. If he let Billy take mercy on him now, he’d never live it down.
As he pedaled across the gravel basin of the quarry, his leg throbbed, and he realized that his arm hurt too, where he’d landed on it. As his anger and embarrassment, and the adrenaline of the fall faded, Gus realized just how many parts of him hurt, and he was forced to slow down. A moment later, Billy caught up to him.
“Are you angry at me?” she said.
He was angry, and he took a moment to respond. “No, not at you. At myself. It was stupid to come down into the quarry. If my mom knew I was down here, I’d be in worse trouble than if I lost my slingshot AND got home late. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“I think it was very brave.” she said. “I’ll bet even Jeremy and Tommy wouldn’t have cut across the quarry. I never would have guessed you’d do it.”
Then she smiled at him, and suddenly he didn’t hurt so much anymore.