Face Value

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Part 1: Treasure the Present Chapter 1: The Night Ride of Face and Fame

With a final cry of elation, I coasted in and halted my motorcycle next to my brother’s. He gave a slight wave as we both took off our helmets.

Exhausted and slightly dejected, my brother Fred and I were about to pack up and go home for the evening. It had been a day of intense racing, facing off against some of the best guys in school. I had come very close, but had not managed to emerge victorious out of any of the races.

The cool night air that had refreshed me was beginning to take on a biting chill and nothing sounded better to me than a nice warm bed and a steaming mug of cocoa. However, a burning desire still lingered in the back of my mind.

I can’t let the summer end like this. It’s almost time for me to leave home and I might not get another chance for ages.

The moon shone full above our heads, awaking that werewolf inside me-the creature who just had to win. Suddenly, an idea crossed my mind. “Hey Fred,” I called over to my brother, “are you beat yet?”

Fred turned around slowly while running his fingers through his dark hair, massaging his scalp. “Not really. I was kind of disappointed that it had to end this way. That lucky son of a gun should be put away for his own good, if you ask me.”

The last race had been won only by a lucky and dangerous stunt on the part of the victor. Must have been someone without a mother at home to worry about him.

Frank shrugged and got back to packing up his gear, but I still was not satisfied. “Hey, what do you say to another quick round at the canyon, just you and me? One of us has to win racing one on one—no funny business. What do you say?”

He stood there his eyes locked on me for a good minute as if he was contemplating something difficult. He glanced back towards the canyon and then inside the pocket of his leather jacket. Finally, he took a deep breath and sighed. “Alright, Frankie, but we got to make it quick, because I have to meet someone tonight.”

His words piqued my curiosity. “Meet someone? Like what kind of someone?”

He chose his words carefully. “Um, no one. Just a, uh, some …girl.”

Fred’s shyness startled me. He was not one to be bashful about bragging about a new sweetheart he had picked up. “What kind of girl, bro?”

“Well, just a girl. How many different kinds of girls do you know?”

Fred’s cheeks were genuinely turning red. I was going to milk this for all it was worth. “Plenty, Fred,” I chuckled a little under my breath. “What is this, a date? Studying for a history exam with Lorraine again? Come on, bro. Just tell me.”

Seeing that I wasn’t going to let up, he shook his head and threw up his hands. “Alright. Truth is, I don’t know exactly who I’m meeting.”

My interest level shot through the roof, “You mean, somebody set you up on a blind date?”

“No,” he replied hastily, “not exactly. You see, somebody left this with a note in my bedroom.”

He reached deep into his jacket pocket and produced a shiny, golden locket in the form of an intricately carved mask, the king that hangs over a stage in a theater. The locket took on a luminous quality in the moonlight and immediately I felt my cheeks become warm and my blood turn icy.

Fred the lady-killer strikes again.

“Something else isn’t it?” he continued in awe, “It came with a note. I’m supposed to meet the person who gave this to me at ten o’clock tonight in front of the fountain at Eden Park downtown. I can’t imagine who would have given it to me.”

I stood there, my jaw slightly agape, with the funny feeling gnawing at the pit of my stomach that I had seen that locket somewhere before. I glanced at my watch, “Well, it’s only eight fifteen,” I mumbled, “if we get going right away, we could be back by nine, which would give you just enough time to get back to the park by ten.”

Fred stood there silent in the shadows, still torn. “Aw, I don’t know Frank,” he said, “couldn’t we settle this some other time? I mean, the mountain isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we. Couldn’t we just call it a night?”

“Fred, I don’t know when we’ll get another chance,” I stared into my brother’s face pleadingly, “School starts next week and you know how busy junior and senior years are. Most of the guys are parking their bikes in their garages for good now. Come on, we won’t stay long. I’ll just race you to the Blob.”

The Blob was a huge rock formation half way down the canyon, which we affectionately named due to its huge misshapen appearance. The proposition seemed to soften Fred, and finally he relented, “Okay, but just as long we are back by ten.”

He reached into his pocket and gazed at the locket one more time, “I’ll see you at the base,” he called softly before strapping back on his helmet, saddling up his faithful iron steed, and rocketing off towards the beginning of the trail

Not wanting to be outdone, I too, slammed on my helmet, leapt aboard my bike, and launched off after him.

The landscape became a blur as I raced down the trail past the “Danger: Falling Rocks” sign, past the entrance to the canyon, and almost past my brother who was still speeding down the trail just in front of him. My older brother had a head start, which I quickly made up for with a few well-placed maneuvers through the jagged rocks dotting the terrain. Soon we rode neck and neck: Frank and Fred, the daring duo. Our loose jackets flared out wildly as the wind whipped frantically through our hair. Just so that we could keep the competitive banter alive during the races, Fred and I had installed headsets in our helmets.

Stealing a glance over at me Fred yelled, “No sweat, eh, Face?”

“My pulse hasn’t even risen, Fame,” I replied with mock derision.

The nicknames came as second nature. Our parents hadn’t meant to turn our initials into words, but there it was. “My adrenaline hasn’t even started to trickle…”

I was cut off short by a low outcropping of rock that I had to duck in order to keep from bashing my skull. The blood rushed to my face.

This isn’t going anywhere!

Try as I might, I couldn’t shake my pursuer. His bike and mine wove in and out of the formations of rock like a needle guiding thread. The race continued at this maddening pace until, finally, I caught a glimpse of our target in the distance: The Blob.

I’ve got to try something bold or there are no guarantees

Hey,” I called out to Fred, “did you know I have my pilot’s license?”

Fred cocked his head to one side and yelled back, “No. Why do you bring it up?”

Before I could answer, I showed him. I located a sharply-inclined ramp that provided a vital, but dangerous shortcut and launched myself into the air. The rush of elation hit me hard and I had the terrible urge to throw up my hands and sound a war whoop.

Resisting the urge, I kept both hands gripping the bike until I finished my triumphant flight and my tires made jolting contact with the dusty earth. “Yeah! A perfect flight, with only a little turbulence.”

It wasn’t until I heard a strange whirring noise behind me, like the spinning of an airplane propeller that I glanced to see if my brother had followed. A brilliant, eerie luminance filled the starry night and temporarily stole my vision. Disoriented, I blinked furiously to try to restore my vision. I cut the throttle and tried to regain control of my vehicle, but before I could manage it, my front tire skipped on a large stone and I flew from the bike.

I skidded to a halt and lay on the ground wallowing in agony. My entire left side was one huge welt of road rash, and I knew I must have cracked a rib or two because of the sharp stabs of pain that occurred when I breathed. I tasted blood from the corners of my mouth and removed my helmet to wipe it off with my sleeve. Just then a flurry of panic swept my thoughts.

Fred! Where is he?

As I turned around, the world took on a slow motion feel to it. My blood turned to lead in my veins as I watched my brother take the ramp after me.

Fred! No! How did he get so far behind! You weren’t supposed to do that!

Despite my mental protestations, I lay helpless as I saw my brother fall short, smash brutally against the opposite wall, and plummet to the depths below.

In an instant, the wind escaped my lungs as surely as if I had been at the receiving end of sledgehammer blow. Numbly, my heart wrestled with my brain to comprehend the event I had just witnessed. Suddenly, the scrapes and bruises on my arms became the least of my worries as a tortured cry escaped my chest and my heart broke in two.

The cry echoed off into the silence, and in despair, I sunk to my knees, threw my head in my hands, and wept.

After that, all I remember was the shame. The dreadful feeling that this was my fault. I should have let my brother run off on his little romantic escapade.

He’d probably still be around. We’d both have lovely families and I’d take my children over to see their Uncle Frank. My own selfishness robbed all those years from me in a single night.

The police came in and searched for the body the next week, Even though they eventually came up with Fred’s battered remains, strangely, his motorcycle never showed up. They took my account of the story, but, mostly, they wrote it off as if I was crazy.

“What do you want us to believe, son? That aliens attacked your brother? Be reasonable. You and I both know it was just bad circumstances combined with poor judgment and a little bad luck. Your brother shouldn’t have been doing what he was doing, and neither should have you…”

Nobody’s words really ever brought me comfort. That is, until Christine Daely entered my life. She and I first hit it off at a meeting of the Drama Club of which she was president. I admit, I joined the club mostly to get the chance to be near her, but I soon found theater interesting enough.

From the beginning, we seemed meant for each other. I found it so easy to talk to her about the subjects that were most important to me. While others offered hollow apologies and shallow advice, she offered me genuine sympathy and undying support. We dated through high school and college, then finally married and started a family.

However, despite my happy life, I couldn’t truly let go of the memory of that fateful night and the feelings that it invoked. Every year on the anniversary of the accident, I made it a tradition to hike the trail to the accident site to pay my respects to Frank.

I figured 2010 would be as uneventful as any other year. That year, however, I learned firsthand that certain things are best left buried in the past.

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