To my disappointment, the Cubs did choke in the playoffs and we didn't win the video contest. Sometimes adversity hits and you have to get back up. I was bummed out, because I thought we did a great job. Otto perked me up and said "Hey, life happens, you just have to rise above the stuff, man." "Yeah, this coming from a guy who will do anything to win." I was being sarcastic in my tone and the gang laughed. Except for Twister. "But Otto, does want to win." I shook my head in disbelief. "That's the whole point of everything, dude!" We biked down to the beach for some surfing. It was a fine October day, at about 78 degrees Fahrenheit. My birthday was actually today, and I totally forget about it.
So, what happened next was totally unexpected. An hour after we surfed, they took me to the Shore Shack, where the lights were just pitch black. Otto, Sam and Twister were by my side, but no Reggie. I could nary see a thing. Then everyone shouted "SURPRISE!" I was so shocked, that I accidentally tripped over one of the chairs adjacent to my body. Reggie picked me up, and there was about the biggest chocolate cake there. I don't know why it was there, but Ray said "Didn't you forget it is your birthday today! Happy 12, Aaron!" Ray gave me the first gift. It was a picture of the whole Ocean Shores gang, including Ray and Tito and inscribed in it was "To Aaron: Follow your dreams and never give up. May happiness follow wherever you go in life. –Otto, Reggie, Twister, Sam, Ray, and Tito."
Next was a present from Otto and Reggie. It was a custom made skateboard with stars on the back of it, with a red and black deck and my name inscribed in cursive in the middle of bottom part of the skateboard, which had the color pink on it. It was truly amazing. "Otto and I spent our year's allowance, and thought that might be something special to you. I also arranged a special session with Conroy on how to skateboard at anytime you want to." "I don't know what to say, Otto and Reggie. This is really special to me, and it is something I will treasure something for the rest of my life."
Suddenly, I lost all consciousness. I saw an apparition, that said to me "Aaron, it is time for you to go back home. Home to where you belong. Where your family is. Where your life is." I started to cry. Everything was perfect as a kid, I said. Then the spirit said, "No, nothing is ever perfect. Life isn't perfect at all. I hope you learned that friends and family are crucial to your success and also to your happiness." Then I woke up, crying my eyes out. It was as if they knew I had some sad news.
"Ray, Tito, thanks for having me here. But, I have to be honest here. I am not who you really think I am. I am not 12, but rather trapped inside this body as an adult. I was brought back here, by a spirit, to solve my life's problems. And now that I have gained a year's worth of experience on how to deal with what life throws at me, I have to go home, guys." I couldn't control my tears anymore. "You meant a great deal to me in my personal growth. You guys took me in when no one else would. You knew I was different from everyone else, but you accepted me for who I am and saw the good inside me."
"I love you all very much. And goodbyes are not forever. I will come back and visit someday." "We know, Aaron. Don't be sad. It's a trek I myself have made, more than once..." I biked back to Ray's house to pack up my stuff and return to the forest, from where I came from. Before I could leave, there were the four that I saw a year earlier. They too, showed tears in their eyes. Otto walked up to me. "Aaron, you have shown me, no matter what bad things happened to you, that you have the strength and determination to get back up and inspired us to do the same. Now it is our turn to give you the strength. Because we are friends forever." He gave me a pendant that had a Rocket symbol on it and I placed it over my neck.
I then, walked in the portal that brought me to this place. I was finally home, finally back in my adult body, in my own place. "I love you guys." I cried that over and over again, and then my cat Rocco was there to greet me with about the loudest purr you could ever imagine. I put him on my lap and started petting him. There, next to the couch were all the gifts given to me. But, mysteriously, there was also a helmet there, just like Otto's! There was a note inside of it.
Age is just a number, but friends are forever. 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change.' You are always going to hold a special place in our hearts. You have overcome a lot of things and you should be proud of yourself. Don't cry for us, we will always be a call away. Your friends, -Otto, Reggie, Twister, Sam."
Enclosed in there were some cell phone numbers, so I could talk to each one of them. I finally stopped crying and remember all the good times we had for the past year and knew, no matter how old I got, there would always be an inner child in me. Then, I got a phone call from my brother. "Where have you been? It has been two days!" Two days?! "I can't believe that. I thought I was gone for a year." Must have been a dream! "Yeah, bro, you have been drinking too much Pepsi these days." I had to laugh. "Let's meet for lunch, you won't believe my story." It was a story of stories, one for the ages. Like they say, life's not a destination, but a journey.