Shhhh, John Has A Secret Oct12


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Shhhh, John Has A Secret

Or Andrew solves the mystery

Fiction based on a GRAIN OF TRUTH

The time has come thought John as he pumped his bike up the last and steepest street that led to his home at the top of the Mission Viejo hill. He had been waiting what seemed like ages for this last, but very important piece. The weight of it in his backpack made the climb that much harder, but the thrill of finally having it put a twinkle in his blue eyes and made the work more worthwhile.  Now I can finish, He thought, finally.

The three months since he first got the idea seemed like a life-time ago.  Strangely the time had also passed really fast. Now he worried that he did not have enough time. 

He rested the tip of one scruffy tennis shoe on the street to steady the bike while he paused for breath. As he wiped the sweat from is freckled face on his sweat shirt sleeve and brushed his short sand colored hair from his forehead he looked around.

The street was quiet.  It always was this time of day, with most everyone at work or school.  There were no cars in sight, other than a worker’s Pick-up  parked about a block further on.The homes that lined the street were all big, nice and new.  Mostly two story and painted a variety of whites and beiges. Most of the residents had lived here long enough to have finished their front yards and lawns with small new trees and shrubs, as a courtesy to their neighbors, although several had piles of sand and gravel in the street or drive way, indicating a rear yard under construction.

Appreciating the quiet empty street he whispered, “Good Deal.”  He was hoping no one saw him sneaking in again, when he should be at school.  A gardener’s truck rumbled by and up the hill seeming to pass him by unnoticed. 

Rested he put his weight to the pedal and continued the climb.  Since the move, his legs had grown more muscular and firmer.

But he looked forward to six months from now when he would get his own driver’s license then no more pumping up this hill every afternoon.  He wistfully thought, if I can wangle a car out of Dad. Nearly all of his earned allowance and gifts from his grandparents had been going into his car super-fund ever since he grew out of wasting it on Micro-Machines, his babyhood love.

John knew his chance of getting a car was zero if he got caught cutting school.  But this was something he just had to do.  The thought of it haunted him day and night until he made up his mind to just do it and see how it goes.  Maybe it was impossible if so he would find out and need not be embarrassed as a failure if he kept it a secret, which meant not working on it when anyone was home.

His two oldest brothers Tripp and Grant were away in college.  Not being caught by the third brother, Andrew, who was in High School, while he was still in Jr. High was what made it possible to keep it from him, as he was a Soccer player and had after school practice.  Being the baby brother was what made it possible at all, as none of them would think he could do this project…he wasn’t even positive, himself, but he had to find out.  Well, he just had to that was all he knew.

At first it was pretty exciting.  Working when Andrew was still in school or late at Soccer practice and Mom and Dad were both at work made him feel like… not really James Bond, it was more like a… high wire circus performer.  And so far he had been able to pull if off, but it wasn’t easy finding time at home by himself, and that was what he needed most. However he grew tense as time grew shorter.  With weekends obviously out, cutting school was his only choice.  It was going to take some fancy doing to get away with that.  He pumped the bike harder as the house was now in sight.  

First he hid his bike at the side of the house in their dog, Panda’s, run.  Panda became so excited by anyone coming in so soon and unexpectedly at this time of day that she began to jump and bark.  That would never do! A nosey neighbor, like the one next door might hear the dog and report a break-in or something.  People were all into this neighborhood watch stuff around here.  He soothed Panda,

“There, there Pandi, girl, You know me. I know you want to play, but I came home to do some work, and I have to get crackin’ or I won’t get finished in time.

John had come home in the middle of the day several times this month and a couple the month before. So much time was necessarily wasted waiting for mail orders to deliver.  He had them sent directly to his Post Office so they wouldn’t come here and be seen by anyone else in the family. But then he had to check regularly to accept them and pump them up the hill on his bike. Although the most important parts were very small.

“You hungry Pandi?”  John had been pouring some of the large bag of dry food from the tall metal container into her dog dish. It worked to keep her quiet.

“I haven’t got time to play now, Pal, John explained to the Big shaggy Sheep dog.  She seemed to remember the days when the boys were younger and all four of them were home most of the time. Now it seemed that they were always coming and going … mostly going. When all of the boys were together they were a noisy, playful bunch with friends by the dozen.

Pandi took advantage of the unusual early feeding and tanked up, then settled down for a little snooze. 

John entered the kitchen from the garage side and chucked his well worn book bag into its usual place on the floor then went directly to the refrigerator for a cold Sprite. He brought his precious new addition to the project up stairs to begin to work.  

The room that his missing brothers had once occupied, still did on holidays, had a small kitchen ladder folded against the wall.  John placed it in the middle of the room and stood on the top of it to lift a square in the ceiling that covered the access to the attic.  He carefully slid it aside and hefted his package inside, then set the sprite beside it to use both arms to lift himself up and into the attic room.

It wasn’t exactly a room, but a gloomy, visible space covering most of the house, but  was cramped very low on all but one of the sides. His Dad had required the workmen to cover the insulation with plywood so he could use it for storage.  So far most of the intended stuff was still in the garage waiting for the day some boy-power was available to bring it up.

A few pairs of skis and boots lay helter-skelter a few feet away where John had shoved them to widen his work space.  There were no windows for light, so John had hung a florescent unit on the ceiling over his make shift work table, built across two saw horses with two by fours and plywood.  Thick pads of newspapers covered the table and bits and pieces of his work laid out in neat order. Cleanliness was very important.

He shivered with delight as he unfolded the wrapper in the most import part. He ran his fingers over the smooth glass, but instantly thought better of it and wiped the oily prints off on the inside of his sweatshirt.

This beauty was the last piece because it was the most expensive and he had to save up for it.  John looked at his watch to calculate how long he had to safely work, then set a beeper to warn him.  He was aware of how time could fly quickly by when he got interested in his work.  He could not take a chance of getting caught up here.  That would blow the whole thing. This was his and his alone and John wanted to keep it that way.  A lifetime of sharing with three older brothers and having so much that he received being hand me downs for the third time, made him desire to have something of his very own made by himself.  This was that something!

He pulled out the short stool from under the table and sat down.  After looking each piece over carefully and making sure he had not forgotten anything, he drained the Sprite and tossed the can into a nearby box and went to work.

At the buzzer he covered the table with a bed sheet for protection and turned out the light and putting each thing back into its proper place went to the T.V. room and opened up his book bag to complete his homework.  

His older brother, the one who looked the most like him, or as they said, the one he looked just like, except he was taller and two years older, came into the room carrying a cold drink and tossed his book bag on the coffee table.

John looked up from his busy work to acknowledge him,

“Hi Andrew, Did Soccer practice end early today?”  Andrew stood thinking then asked his brother.  “Have you noticed anything wrong with Panda lately.”

“No.  I just got here and didn’t want to go out to see her until I got this school stuff out of the way. What do you think is the matter? ”

“I am getting worried that she might be sick. I always feed her as soon as I get home.”  He snagged a couple of his Mom’s homemade cookies from the covered plate on the counter and sat down. “Ummm, Mom’s peanut butter cookies sure are good,”  He mumbled through the crumbs.  “Anyway” he continued telling his little brother,” Lately she has not been interested in her food. You know how she always fights you for the sack while you’re trying to pour.”

“Umm Humm.”  John wondered how to explain it without admitting he was feeding her to keep her from barking when he sneaks home.  “Maybe  it’s the heat!”

“It has been hot, but she is just not interested she barely looks up when I come in.  What happened to my old bouncy greeting?”

“She’s getting older.”

“Think I should mention it to Mom for a Vet visit or something.”

“Let’s Just us keep an eye on her for awhile.  Mom’s new job at the hospital is giving her enough to think about just now.”

“Maybe it’s because Panda wonders where the other two guys went.”  Andrew said as he picked up the remote and turned on the T.V..

“Hey! I’ll bet that’s  it.  I feel a little different myself since they went to college.”

“I noticed that too, Bro.  But you’re not off your feed about it I notice.”  Andrew laughed.”But you are different.”

John got up and took three cookies from the counter.  “How so?”

“You used to be all through with your home work when I came in.  Now you’re just getting started.  What’s up with that?”

John munched on the cookies as he answered.  “Maybe I’m just getting older and slower too.”  He glanced up at Andrew to see if he was buying it, before he grinned, “Maybe my home work is getting to be much harder.”

John decided to get off of the school subject.  “How’s your Soccer coming along?”

“Have you made any eye stopping plays lately?”

“As a matter of fact I have.”  John sat up Indian style and gave his brother his full attention.

“Good tell me about it.”  While he listened with his head nodding up and down his mind wandered to the attic and what he would do tomorrow.  With this last piece he was almost finished.  And then the dog will miraculously get her appetite back.

Oh darn,  John remembered,  “Tomorrow is Saturday Can’t work on Sundays either. 

Then, Monday is our music lesson. That puts the whole thing off another three whole days.  Too bad but it can’t be helped.  John was absolutely sure that none of the excuses he had been using for school would carry over to his music lessons.

“John, Yo, John!”


“You okay?”

“Sure why?” Andrew shook his head, 

“Come back to the present.   Geez! You haven’t heard a word I said. You’re sure acting weird lately.

“Like you’re not weird all the time!”  John retorted.

No Soccer practice today, Andrew remembered. It’s Monday.  He put the car in gear  and headed for the Junior High where John as supposedly attending school.

On Mondays he had to drive them both to their music lessons a disadvantage to being the older one with working parents.  

Back when the boys were younger the teacher came to their house to tackle the job of teaching…  trying to teach four little boys to play the piano.  Andrew’s only job then had been to show up, hopefully with some practice time behind him.  If hadn’t found the time to practice, his only hope was that Mr. Quigley would was as confused as he looked about which boy was which, and would simply tell their mom that all of the guys needed more practice.  It all worked out okay in the end, because just before a recital a lot of catch-up practicing occurred around the clock, as none of them was willing to go up in front of all of the Aunts and Uncles nor certainly not those critical cousins and make total fools of themselves. Only the grandparents were full of praise no matter what.  In any case, when it was a tie the edge always fell in favor of the baby of the family, which John had quickly learned to take advantage when possible.  

The two of them now had a different kind of lesson, which they had chosen for themselves.  The two had decided that they wanted to play the Bagpipes.  Over the years they have between them all had fun with the trumpet. Bugle, sax, drums, violin and even harmonica.  Their living room looked more like a music school than a model house.  Anyway as this new venture in the world of music was their own idea they had to carry it out both by finding a teacher and getting themselves there.  Everyone who heard about it was appalled, amazed and impressed so they had to enjoy the unique pleasure of doing something for themselves.  Both boys envisioned themselves marching with other players wearing those sexy Kilts with knee socks.As beginners they practiced on a small recorder like pipe called a Cantor.  Andrew pulled up a John’s school and waited.  A couple of years ago he had attended this school.  He thought the kids today looked much younger than when he was here. 

One of John’s friends pulled his bike to the open window and stopped. 

“How’s John?”  he asked.  “I haven’t   seen him for ages, then I heard he was sick.   Hope it’s nothing serious… or contagious.”  He laughed as he waited.  Andrew was confused as to what to say.  He got as far as “Fine”, when another kid whizzed past and this one pulled away to catch him.  Besides the question he asked, was the same as the one Andrew had come here to try to find out himself.

“Hi Andrew!”  a pretty brunette girl called from a bench by the tree.  “I hope John is having a good time.  Tell him to call Maria when he gets back.  I hope he is having fun.”  The bus came and she disappeared with it.

A moment later, Tim Johnson waved and shouted, “Tell John to get well!”

Andrew waved back, but he was getting more confused by the different messages.  

  Even John knew now that he hadn’t gone about this right.  He couldn’t be at school at all or he would be seen by the friends who thought he was sick or on vacation.  Giving different reasons to various people was not the best idea, but happened when he had been seen and made up a something for the moment.  He needed a Master  reason for everyone.  Next time… Well he was almost finished with this one and then there would not be anymore next times.  Or he would have kept notes of who got which reason.  He spotted Andrew’s car and made a dash for it as soon as he was pretty sure no one was looking.

Suddenly the passenger door opened and John crept in, tossing his back pack in the back.  “Let er roll, driver!” he announced, “I’m here.”  Ordinarily Andrew would have had a snappy reply.  The two f them played a constant game of “one up man ship.”, but his sudden appearance and odd demeanor wanted an answer.

“Which is it, John?” he asked “Are you sick and dying or on vacation.?”

“I’m ready, let’s go.”  He urged, Andrew pulled away.  “I’m fine. Come on go!” Careful not to be seen, John ducked out of sight.  Andrew pulled away from the curb and headed for their music lesson.  As the school faded behind them,   Andrew asked again, “Okay.  What gives?”

John replied in a dead-pan voice, “I don’t know…What gives?”  Waiting for the punch line to the joke from Andrew.

“You are very funny!  But I want to know.  Why do your friends think you are sick, while others, say that you are on a trip?”   All the while you act as if you are a Secret Agent sneaking, around undercover.  Just tell me why?  Simple answer please.”

John just shrugged, and replied, “I don’t know maybe they are giving me too much homework.”  Andrew could see that innocent questioning face in the rear view mirror and watched as John sat up taller and looked out the window.  After some  thought,  he added, then there is our music and the Boy Scouts and golf, my share of our large yard plus of course surfing. Anyway who wants to know?”

“ Maria said to call When you get time.”  John covered his pleased look with a change of subject.  He pulled out his practice Cantor and realized he had not practiced all week because of… well just because.  Anyway, there was still fifteen minutes. 

Tuesday morning Andrew came to a conclusion.  John was up to something and he, Detective Andrew, was going to sleuth it out.  He found his brother in the kitchen standing in front of the open refrigerator packing lunch snacks into his back pack.

“Like a ride to school this morning?” Andrew asked as he looked over the snack selection.

John was startled and curious.  What brought that up?  He wondered.

“Nah.” He srugged. “I’ll take my bike this morning, so I’ll have a ride home.”

“I’ll bring you home.”  Andrew countered.

“I thought you took Kathy home.”

“Not every day!”

John was beginning to feel trapped.  What could he say?

“What happened to Soccer practice?”

“We never get started right away.  I’ll have time to run you home first.”

“I don’t want to put you out. Besides I planned to go hit a bucket of balls at the golf course on my way home.  You know to get ready for that end of school tournament.”

John congratulated himself for getting out of it so gracefully.  With the conversation ended, he put on his back pack and headed quickly for his bike before Andrew could think of something else.  Not that he would mind a ride, but that would mean walking home and wasting my work time so close to the finish.

“Something smells fishy! Andrew told himself, staring blankly into the open fridge.  That is for certain. He looked at the clock.  If he hurried he could drive to John’s school and get there before him and do a little checking.  He looked at the half gallon milk cartons that filled the door of the refrigerator.  He wanted to take a swig from one but didn’t.  No time to get a glass.  Darn those big plastic things !  We don’t have four boys here these days.  Mom should go back to quart size again.  He chose a few things for lunch and rushed out.  John had already coasted down the hill.

Andrew Walked into the Office of the Junior High.  He stood in the back ground for a few seconds until he spotted a girl he used to know.  She walked in stuffed her book bag under the counter and took her place at that counter to begin her first period as an Office Helper.  The phone rang and she answered it.  It seemed to be a parent reporting a child absent for the day due to illness.  After noting it on a pad, she looked up and smiled at Andrew.

“Hi! How’s High School going?”  she asked.  Andrew shrugged a so so reply.  She sauntered from the telephone to him and asked with pleasant joking expression,  

“What can we do back down here in Junior High for you?”  Andrew smiled back and asked her,   “How long before you catch up with me at the High?”

“Next semester.  I can’t wait.  Tell me the truth will I like it?”

“Of course, High is made for the good looking brains like you.”

“So what can I help you with now?”

“I’m here to help out my Mom.  My brother has missed some days of school and she wants to know how many.  She just lost count and wants to keep better track.  He should be back soon though.

The girl gave him a no problem smile and pushed a pad for him to write the students full name on it for the computer.  Andrew looked at the ceiling for a brain function and finally wrote John Patrick.  Then stood patiently as she typed it into the computer.  “I have so many brothers I mix up the middle names.”  He explained his slowness at remembering John’s.

As she waited for the computer printer to spit out the answer, she asked about the older brothers,  “How are the ones in college doing?”

“Who knows?  They don’t get home often.  So our parents go to see them sometimes… John and I don’t.  We’re still tied to too many things here to leave.”

She dropped the printer page in front to him and he took it without looking at it.

“Thanks from my Mom.  See you in High!”  he folded the page and walked back to the car, which he had parked a block away out of sight.  He drove away before looking at it.  John would recognize his car if he saw it.  He almost told the girl to not mention to John that she had seen him.  But didn’t.  The words sounded strange even to him, so he took the chance that their paths would not cross.  He pulled into the market lot and with his motor running, he took out the page to see what it had about John’s days out of school.  

Wow!  Look at this!  He had missed his afternoon classes for… he was counting the dates, but he was present in the morning classes.  How did he arrange to be sick every afternoon?  One thing was certain he was not on vacation.  What crazy mixed up days his brother had been having. It did not make sense.  He slipped the page into a handy folder and thought to label it “The John Mystery”  But no, if John saw that he would read it. So he called it “English” instead.

John had been dutifully going to all morning classes, going in late and sitting in the back, so as not to be noticed by his friends, then popping out first

He spent the open period and lunch doing paper work out of sight and turning it in for the next classes he would soon miss.  It all felt rather like fun at first, but now it was getting to be a strain and he often wondered why he was working so hard to keep this a secret. I’ll be going straight after this, he decided, sneaky was work not enjoyment.  He wasn’t at ease until he was at least halfway home.  But safely out of sight up in his attic work shop he forgot the outside world, as he worked like a beaver to meet the deadline. 

Andrew left school a little early and drove to John’s School.  He walked to the bike rake planning to check to see if John’s was still there, but the sheer number of bikes surrounded with a myriad of kids discouraged him.

No wonder Private Eye Detectives always smoked.  Standing around trying to be invisible was major boring.  He wished he had brought a candy bar or some gum or something.  A dog wandered up and sniffed his foot as if he was as tree or post.  At least he fooled a dog.  He nudged it away instead of petting it as he usually would.  He didn’t want to stand here for all of this time only to miss John because he bent to pet a dog, who now decided he was as good as a tree and lift one leg. “No, get! Go!” 

He stampedhis foot and the dog began to bark.  “Oh Geez! Now what?”  he quickly left for a new location.  But it was to no avail.  Most of the bikes were claimed and the riders were gone and no John.   Then he remembered John talking about golf.  He drove past the golf course and could see most of the outside holes from the car.  So he drove to the club house where the Driving Range was close by.  No John.

Several kids standing and waiting for a turn hadn’t seen John either.  The counter man said “Little John?  No I haven’t seen him for months.”

Andrew just had to stand and enjoy the view.  No wonder John liked to come here so often.  The wide and long expanse of bright, almost too good to be real, grass green expanse surrounded by a forest of deep green trees, especially planted to keep the balls that sailed over the fence from going past to the highway and perhaps hitting a car, had patches of color where ever possible filled by rainbow hued flowers.  Above, today anyway, the cerulean blue sky had not a single cloud to mar the grass with shadows.

So this was where his brother came, while he was playing serious Soccer with his eyes forever glued to the ball.  I may just take this up on the next off season. The gold course looked almost like a picture postcard, but for the trees bending in the breeze.  The people stood motionless, as if placed there like the play set of Star Wars people set around by giant children.

Andrew did not see John anywhere and mulled the problem as he strolled back to the car.  Okay what do we have?  Brother skipping school in the afternoon, missing golf, lying to friends, None of which fit the John he knew. Why?  The worry about  what he was up to changed to …is he in trouble?  A different sort of concern.  The sleuth game became more serious.  Next stop home.  Maybe I can find some answers there.  Back at his parked car, he tucked the golf info into the English folder with everything so far about John.  

Six blocks later he was in front of the Boy Scout building… a long shot but he stopped and went in.

Mom and Dad had been pushing John to finish his assignments for making Eagle, so they could have a double Court like they had for Tripp and Grant.  He had finished everything he needed to make Eagle Scout, so if John would put his mind to it he could be ready in no time. Reserving the room and ordering the refreshments plus mailing out the invitations to friends and relatives was rather expensive, so if you have four boys it was helpful if they could double up for the Ceremony.

Andrew pulled into the lot and went into the low building where the boys all met.  A younger group of Scouts were in the process of making plans for a camp out, as soon as school was out for the summer.  He went on past to another meeting room.  No John.

Andrew was back getting into the car when John’s leader pulled up.  Mr. Jamison recognized the Volvo and approached. 

“Andrew, how ya been?  Your Eagle things are all ready, but where has John been?  The time is growing short for his Eagle review.”  He shuffled through a folder he was carrying and pulled out a sheet. “Well, as Long as I have you this is the sheet John needs to complete.  Tell him to fill it out and bring it in as soon as possible.  I’ll need your family to firm up a date as soon as they know.  We are booking for November already.”  Andrew took the sheet and held it, not knowing quite what to say.  He didn’t want to get his brother in more trouble than he might already be getting himself into.

“Thanks.”  He said, with a friendly smile, “I’ll pass it along.”  He tucked it into the English folder.  Next stop home.  The older Volvo chugged up the hill 

John stood up and rubbed his neck and stretched his back.  The make-shift  stool and table were not the most comfortable. Most of the time he had been too involved to notice, but they would be dismantled now and stacked back where the pieces belonged.

He turned to admire his work.  “I think this is going to do real fine!  Yes siree, real fine in both places.”  He whispered to himself.  It took longer and cost more than expected.   But, I’ve done it by myself.  Well so much for patting myself on the back.  I have to do a few more things to get it wrapped and packed and… what?  He thought carefully, then he dashed down the ladder and to the garage where he had to work fast to be done before Andrew came home from Soccer. 

Andrew pulled back into his regular spot in front of the house.  He got out and casually checked the mail and went into the kitchen by way of the garage.  The trip to the Mall had been useless.  Almost useless, if he had counted a few of John’s friends, who sent messages by way of Andrew.  The few he had seen admitted that he was last seen in the morning at school.  

The dog, Panda, got up at once and began to jump for joy, seeing her second boy of the day.  In the kitchen he tossed the mail on the counter and then a colorful post card caught his eye  The picture was of strawberries and peaches and plums next to a row of waiting glass jam jars.  Hmm, he turned it over to see that it was addressed to John.   “Your project has been accepted.  Please deliver to building # 9 between Noon and 2 P.M. on….. July 24th” was filled in by hand.  Andrew stared at it for a few seconds.  If it was a clue he didn’t see how.  He dropped it on the stack of mail as he turned his attention to the kitchen.  Nothing but crumbs n the cookie plate and the last of the orange juice was gone.  Not a clue as he had finished both himself, only this morning.  A peek into the family room did not find John’s back pack, nor did the living room.  He looked out at Panda’s run and the pool.  No John there. If he didn’t come home where was he?   

He walked around to the stairs and up to the bed rooms checking each room.  The bunks were all empty as well as the bathrooms.       

Only Tripp and Grant’s room was left.  He almost didn’t open it, as they had not been home for months, but he nudged it a bit and peeked in.  An odd thing got his attention… the little kitchen ladder was standing in the middle of the room. Looking up he saw the trap door to the attic open.  A square of light filled the opening with tiny dust motes reflecting the soft light.  He stepped up lightly and peered into the attic room.  A row of four suit cases blocked his view where they stood in a neat row.  He pulled himself in and sat with legs still dangling down and looked around.  And there stood John occupied by stacking boxes neatly next to the row of suitcases.

“What in the world!”  Andrew exclaimed,John jumped and turned, his eyes wide, as his hand flew to his chest and pressed against his heart.

“Andrew you scared the shit out of me!” He sat down on a small stool nearby.  He took a breath and asked,  “What are you doing home so early? Don’t you have Soccer practice?”  Andrew pulled himself up and into the attic and began walking around and looking at the boxes… mostly old books.  

“The question is what are you doing home at all?  John looked at the stacks of boxes and stammered, 

“I’m helping pop by cleaning out the… uh, garage and putting some of the stuff up here.  Isn’t that what he wanted?”  Andrew stood hands on his hips,
“Let me get this straight.  You skipped school to come home and clean the garage!!”

“Want to help?”  John asked timidly.

“Are you crazy? He lowered himself to sit on one of the suit cases.  John jumped and exclaimed, “Oh, No, Not there!  That case might bend.  Sit here on one of these boxes.  They’re full of books and can take your weight.  No better yet let’s go down.  I’m thirsty.”

“Not so fast little bro.”  Andrew moved to sit on one of the book boxes.  “Let’s sit a minute and talk.  You don’t think I’m buying that silly story do you?”

John lowered himself to his old stool. The former ply-board table top now leaned against the far wall and the legs made of saw horses were back stacked against the back wall.

“You don’t believe me?”  John said with twinkling eyes, “Why not? I thought it sounded pretty good, myself… considering.”

“Why not?  Well or starters you missed fourteen classes in school, you have yet to finish your Eagle stuff and you missed golf for two months.”  John’s jaw dropped as Andrew continued… your friends think you are either on vacation or are deathly ill, pick one. And your home work must have gone to hell as well.

“Nope!”  John said proudly, “I haven’t missed a single Homework assignment!”  I just missed a few afternoon classes.”  He added more timidly.   Andrew gazed around the attic.

“All so you could move seven boxes and four suit cases and a few pairs of skis to the attic?”   

“ The skis and boots were already here.”  John told him his head down.  He had begun to run out of excuses.  Most of his had already been delivered to the teachers and school. He looked back up at his brother, “Do Mom and Dad know about me missing school?”

“As far as I know… they don’t.  Lucky for you.”  Andrew replied,

“How did you find all of that stuff out?” A very relieved John asked. 

“I  went to your school and inquired.”  Andrew admitted.

John looked puzzled.  “Why?”

Andrew didn’t answer right away. He leaned back against the wall and began to wonder himself. “I’m not sure.  You were acting kinds funny and your friends asked me about you and your vacation/illness. I was getting worried that you were up to no good.”

“Me?  No good ?  What kind of no good?”  John was curious, there were only a couple that he could think of and he didn’t do any of them.

“Is skipping school good?”   Andrew wanted know.

“You’re right, I guess, but I didn’t start out that way.  I went home early a couple of times to do something that couldn’t wait… and it just took a lot more time than I expected… I had to see it through, but it’s over now I’m happy to say.”  John stood up and headed for the ladder hole,  “Yep! I sure am glad it’s finished.”

Andrew remained seated.  “Not yet! You left out a couple of tiny details.”

John looked surprised,  “Like what?” 

“Like what you were doing that had to be finished.”  Andrew swept his arms around the attic room.  This was not it.”

Reluctantly John sat back down.  Then he realized something that he had been wondering about anyway.  His face brightened, as he looked at Andrew. 

“I could really use some help now that I am finished here. If I tell you will you help me?”

“It depends.”  Andrew leaned forward, elbows on his knees, hands under his chin, face looking interested.  “I can’t afford to skip any school.  Not if I hope to get into that School of Architecture.

“You won’t have to.”  His face was full of excitement. “Neither will I any more.  And when it’s all over, we won’t be in any trouble… I can promise.”  Then he mumbled softly, “I hope.”  It’s just that I need a couple of rides as it will be very difficult on my bike.  I was thinking of tying a wagon on the back of it.  But with your car it will be a slam dunk.”   John smiled, “You know something, Andrew, I am now kind of glad you caught me at this time.”

“I can’t miss Soccer either .”  Andrew added as part of the bargain.

“You won’t, as we will be going at midnight.”  John stood and turned off the light to leave and to miss the look on Andrew’s face at the announced time. 

The room went into sudden gloom, lit only by stripes of light from the outside air vents and from the square on the floor.  John dropped through the hole quickly out of habit, he hit the ladder then the floor.  Andrew followed complaining all the way.

“But you still haven’t told me a thing… nothing…nada!”

“It’s hard to explain.  I’ll show you the whole thing tonight.  I think you will like it when you see it.”  He headed for the kitchen.

Midnight came but the house still seemed to breathe with signs of life.  John peered over the side down to Andrew’s bunk.  He was fast asleep.  Still he sensed that not everyone was. He walked softly across the carpeted floor of their room and into the hall.  The light that peeked under the door of his parents room winked out..  I’d better wait an hour he decided and slipped back to his bed.

Too excited to sleep, he tried to calculate the possibility of starting now.  The attic entrance was in the last room away from his parents.  If he was really quiet, and he’d work in his P.J.’s and let Andrew sleep longer, he could always fake sleep walking if caught and slip back into his bed again.

Softly quietly he entered the room with the ladder, put it in place and climbed up into the attic.  Once inside he found that there was not even enough light when even the outside ventilators were in the dark, to see his own hands.  The white background on his P.J.’s would reflect a little light if there was any to reflect.  He moved carefully so as not to tip anything over, sensing with his fingers along the floor until he touched the first of the suit cases.  He gave thought to trying to drag it to the floor hole and lifting it down.  It was useless.  Unless he had turned on the light in that room, he couldn’t easily find the floor hole again. 

He simply had to have some light so he crawled to the flat wall and felt for the cord to the one he had hung over the table.  However the board that was the table was standing against that wall blocking his ability to use that cord as a guide. So he stood and followed the table top edge until he came to the cord, then he followed the cord to the light and pulled the chain.

The sudden blast of light brought tears to his eyes, which had been straining to see in the dark.  He closed them for a few seconds then opened them again.  “Ahhh that is better,” he whispered.  The four suitcases stood in a line by the hole just as he had left them.  For a minute he worried that the large one would not go through that hole, but of course it would, he had shoved it up and in.

As he packed everything to go he had put almost every piece into the big one as one large case would be easier to handle on a wagon… pulled by a bike.  But now with Andrew’s help and his car, he decided to repack the contents into the two smaller ones.  As he unpacked the large case, he remembered how he had panicked as Andrew almost sat on it.  John didn’t want to even think about needing to replace one of those mail order parts.  Not just the money, but the wait would put him right out of the game this year.

One by one he took the carefully wrapped parts and moved them into the smallest two cases possible until they were ready to go… again.  He left the empty case where it was and  placed these two on the edge of the opening where he could reach them once his feet were on the ladder again.            

Compared to the attic the house was well lit at night he realized by dozens of things that each room had at least one and sometimes many tiny colored lights that remained on when the item was off.  He was tempted to stop and count them, but as that was only out of curiosity, not need, he carried the cases to Andrew’s car.  

Once back in the attic to turn the light off, he spotted a very important part that he had accidently forgotten as he had purposely left it packed, just as it came in it’s own handy carton.  Wow! I need that and almost left it.  He placed it on the edge and turned the light off.  With everything in the car he dressed and went to waken Andrew.  

He looked at the clock on Andrew’s stand it read, 1:20 A.M.  Why does everything take longer than I think it will? He wondered.

Andrew woke with a start.  “What’s the matter?” he asked looking sleepily around for a reason he should be wakened at this hour.  “It’s1:30!” he mumbled.

“Shhh, nothings wrong.  You promised to help me remember?”

“Not yet. It’s too early!”  Andrew protested, as he flopped back down and bunched up his pillow comfortably under his arms.  

“It’s not early. It’s late and will soon be too late if we don’t leave right now.”

“What timezit.”  Andrew slurred into the pillow. John spotted Andrew’s jeans on the floor at the foot of the bed.  He handed them to his sleepy brother with orders to put them on, while he looked around for the tenni’s.   The shoes were under an assortment of sweatshirts.  Andrew had pulled on the jeans and flopped down on the quilt and dozed off to sleep again.  So John pick up one of the shirts and rolled it around the shoes.

“Come on you can finish dressing in the car. Let’s go and for heaven’s sake stay quiet.  It’s the middle of the night for some people, who don’t have something better to do.”

“And we do?”  Andrew still wondered what.

“ I’d go alone, if I had my driver’s license, and I ‘d take my bike if I hadn’t already put everything in your car.  So, let’s get crackin’”

Slowly, as John spoke, Andrew’s brain came to. He remembered that he had been seeking answers and now they were about to be given, so he had better go see what it was all about.   Whatever It was.  His feet found the floor and he followed John’s tugging until out the front door a blast of cold air brought him to life like a cold shower. He pulled on the shirt and looked at the shoes.. “No socks?”

“You won’t need em.”  John was looking up.  “It’s such a great night that we almost don’t have to leave. But it is better up there.”

“Where are we going?”  Andrew asked, “And do they have any food there?”    

“Drive us on the road to the back side of Saddleback.”  John pointed to the mountains they looked at from their house. “And no they don’t.  But I packed some.  I’ll give it to you when we get there… where I tell you to stop.  You can eat it while I get everything ready.  Let’s roll!” 

Andrew turned to look where he heard Panda scratching at the front gate with a low friendly growl.  “Oh oh” he said. “Either we have to take her or leave fast.”

John walked over and opened the gate.  “Come on girl, “  He told the big cheerful dog.  “Anyone who wakes up so happy deserves to go.”

They climbed out of the car at 2:17 A.M.  Andrew had no trouble finding the place after John explained it.  They had been there before, both with their parents and again the Boy Scouts when the entire group went for an Astronomy lesson.

In those days they were a family with four boys.  Andrew missed that.  He loved the rollycin’ and roughin’  that the four did together.  Two couldn’t make the same noisy fun at play that four always did.  He parked in the empty lot and put the case where John wanted it and then walked around the area with Panda, sharing the two cinnamon rolls John handed to him.  When they returned to see what was in the large thermos of something hot John set aside, as he went right to work, as only he could do.

“Wow!” Andrew exclaimed loudly, breaking the silence, as he saw what John had in front of him. “Where did you get that set up?” 

John’s big new telescope sat on the cement pad provided for such things by the City Park Department, with it’s carefully hand polished eye pointing at the heavens. Very impressed, Andrew walked around it taking in every detail. “You even have a camera attached! How’d you afford all of this stuff?  There’s a fortune here.  Can I look?’

“Over here.”  John led him to the large clear picture in the window of the special camera picking up the magnified view of the Planet the telescope aimed it’s eye at.  Andrew looked for a long few seconds, then looked back at John. “Jupiter! And some moons, This is more than great!” 

“I built it.”  John announced proudly. Andrew was almost disbelieving him.

“You built it ?  All by yourself?”  He looked everything all over again. “I can’t believe it.  You must have gotten somebody to help.”

“I had loads of technical help on the computer. By E Mail and down at the store where the parts were shipped.  It’s easy to get spoken help, but as for putting it all together it was far more work and took much more time than I had originally planned.  But the closer I came to getting it made, the more excited I was to be there in the attic working.  So school time was the only time I could have to myself. And I simply had to do it by myself.”

“I’d have helped you and so would Mom and Dad.”

“I know.”  John looked down at his feet.  He didn’t quite know how to make Andrew or anyone in the family understand this but… he tried to tell his brother.

I just wanted to find out if I could do something…anything… this telescope, all by myself without any help from… I mean…  Well, I am the baby and I didn’t want to be a baby forever… because…”

 ”I understand.”  Andrew volunteered.  “Don’t forget, before you were born, I was that baby with two big brothers and a super smart Mom and Dad.  Yes I know exactly what you mean. They all love us and want to help us achieve whatever we want to do … but…”

They stood alone in the dark silence of the night, looking up at that far away big Planet Jupiter, from the dark side of Saddleback Mountain, almost embarrassed by the mutual feeling of brotherly understanding.

“Thanks. You do a better job of explaining it. “  John told him.

“I’ve had two more years to think about it.” Andrew smiled.  “What are you going to do now?” He pointed at the wonderful creation as he wondered.  ‘I’d be shouting it out to everyone!”

“Well first I had to see if I could actually build it, then would it work?  I had to test it by myself to be sure it was worth the trouble and expense.  This was that test.”

“You may be very proud of what you have done.”  Andrew told him. 

“I planned to enter it in the County Fair, and they have accepted it.”  John said proudly.

“I know, I saw the acceptance card in the mail, I just didn’t know what it was that got accepted.  Do you plan to keep it a secret until then… what, July or August?”

“I need time to get some really good pictures.” John explained.  “Then I’ll get them blown up to poster size to display with the telescope to show what it can do.  I’ll have a better chance of winning then… don’t you think?”

“But who cares about winning?” This is a wonderful instrument.  Far better than if you just bought what you could afford.  Your work with your money gave you something extra special.”

“Do you mean to tell me you don’t care about winning at Soccer as long as you just get to play?”

“Enter it in the Fair, yes, but something like this is better than winning. So winning isn’t that important.”

“In a way it is important to win.” John pointed out. “You see this is the best I could afford to build.  But if I win the Fair , I can sell it for a pretty good price.  Much more than I spent.  And with the Prize money I can build a finer, bigger and better one next time.”

“But not in secret next time?  I assume.” Andrew wanted to know.

“Oh no! Not a bit in secret.”  John agreed, “And with all of the help I can get from the family.  I’m sure that would be even more fun… now that I have proven

 myself, to myself.”  He looked around and to you and Panda.  Panda sat beside him and licked his hand, happy to hear her name included.   

Spread the word about…THE END OF JOHN’S SECRET

By Beverly Mosier October 2013