Nine had never felt as much humiliation as he did when he sat himself upon the dinky-ass bike.
The stifled laughter from Twelve encouraged the reddening of Nine’s ears, and with a deepening desire to drown himself in the creek trickling along next to him, he closed his eyes.
“I’m only doing this because it might be necessary for our plan,” he stated clearly, for the record that was the genius duo’s eidetic memories.
“Well, you look great, Nine.”
The cheerier one of the two had been aghast when Nine had admitted that he couldn’t drive. It was incredibly regrettable, but probably imperative that Nine do this. Twelve had been established the getaway driver long ago, but in case of emergency, somebody had to be able to take the wheel.
It didn’t help his morale as he sat on the Hello Kitty bicycle.
The sky was bright. Few clouds passed overhead, and the ones that did blot the darkening blue were stained with vibrant pinks and oranges from the setting sun. Summer’s breeze was forgiving against the boy’s skin, which was breaking out into a nervous sweat.
“Okay buddy, we’ll practice some balancing, yeah?”
“Don’t treat me like I’m a kid.”
Curtly, he had to retort, but he obeyed Twelve’s instructions with as much grace as one could. The recluse was hidden from eyes, for which he was grateful, because his wrestling with the winking cat was awful.
“Why did you even get this? It’s useless.”
“It was the only one available in the donation bin. It’s not like I wanted to put you on a cute bike like this, Nine! Heh. Smile.”
He frowned deeper as the brunette snapped a photo with his phone.
“Man, you suck at this. You’re telling me you can do quadratic equations in your head, assemble bombs, kill a man with your bare hands – but you can’t sit on a bike?”
With no witty response, he merely muttered with a touch of shame, “don’t talk about that in public.”
Twelve reached down, having to crouch slightly to accommodate the shortness of the child-sized bike. He grasped a pink handle, avoiding the rainbow tassels, applying steady pressure to hold it in a vertical place. Nine, also having grown to a considerable height, cramped himself to fit his large feet on the grooved pedals. There was no need for communication – the two had known each other for long enough, and somehow, Nine trusted Twelve not to drop him. He sat, supported for a short while, until Twelve broke out into a goofy smile.
“Ready for me to give you a push?”
He glared in response, earning a chuckle. He pried a clenched hand from the handle to adjust his glasses, and then readied himself. It was easy enough to understand – he knew all the necessary functions and principals for something as simple as riding a bike to launching an atomic bomb – but applying theories wasn’t as easy as he’d hoped. With wobbly pedals and a firm shove from his companion, he managed to propel himself forwards for 1... 2… 3 meters – before toppling hard, to the left, onto a patch of dying grass. He was unscathed, but a burst of guffaws from Twelve stung just as much as a cut would’ve.
His partner was at his side in a flash. He could see Twelve’s hair, brown and messy, flopping down his round face in the sky as he stared upwards, tangled in the mechanics of the Hello Kitty bike. Concern was written in his features.
“One more time, I guess,” Nine sighed, to relieve the pained expression on Twelve’s face. He added, while getting up, “I’m fine.”
Twelve grasped Nine by the elbow and pulled, helping the boy up. He dusted off his shirt and, with a soft smile, asked,
“Not lying to me or anything, right?”
Nine hesitated for a second, because he had been lying. Night terrors had begun to take a hold of him, and an incessant ringing would sometimes invade his brain until he wanted to scream, but he had kept those things to himself. He nodded vaguely, more of a shrug than an agreement.
Someday the other would find out. But on this summer night, Nine wouldn’t break the fragility of peace, and picked the bike up off its side. Twelve placed a strong hand back on the handles and gave Nine a relaxed grin.
“One more time?”
“One more time.”