Lucas’s teeth and brain jarred with every bump and scrap of the sporty blue Subaru as it bounced and wobbled through the washed out gravelly Paia Bay Beach parking lot. It was his first time returning to the Paia Youth and Cultural Center—affectionately known as the “PY," a fun house-like space for local kids to drop in and hang—since winning the surfing contest and becoming friends with two pro surfers. Well, friends on social media, but it’s pretty much the same thing nowadays. The Subaru bore the scar of a deer strike on its right front fender. Even though it’s a busy parking lot with all sort of tourists and local traffic, there should be no mistaking Lucas’s arrival. And he fully expected a hero's welcome.


His mom pulled over near the long pavement driveway that led to an open garage of the PY. Friends and acquaintances stopped doing what they were doing. They put the pool ques down, stopped painting, filming, and picking out their boogie boards. Whereas some might feel self-conscious with more and more eye balls turning their direction, Lucas embraced it. Liked it even—he couldn’t quite explain what was happening, but a light tingle ran throughout his body. He felt lighter even. The attention was intoxicating.


He grabbed his backpack, which was stuffed with a clean change of clothes, short fins, and a towel that hadn’t dried long enough, and opened the car door. Seeing everyone make their way out to greet him put a smile on his face—he’d smile less with the braces, but this was too good. He couldn’t hold back the grin.


“Have f—” Slam. His mom was probably trying to say “Have fun,” but Lucas, kicking the door shut with the back of his foot, cut her off. She rolled her eyes, gave a smile and returned to navigating pot holes. Lucas found himself surrounded by hands looking for high fives and fists looking for bumps. Tall palm trees swayed in the Trade Winds, clinching tightly to their coconuts.


“You would have lost.” A menacing voice carried over the adoring crowd—hushing the vibe. “You’re lucky my dad is a photographer and I couldn’t compete.” The crowd closest to the garage slowly parted, revealing a shadowed figure emerging in the wide opening. He was barefooted, tall, showing signs of muscles, and flipped his golden surfer hair back revealing a face that was losing it’s youthful softness. It was Aiden Voss. Though two months shy of his fourteenth birthday, he’d already managed both skate and surfing sponsorships. 


The euphoria Lucas felt vanished—imagine an elephant shrinking to the size of a mouse. Maybe even smaller as Aiden crept forward. If the PY was like the summer version of Hogwarts, Aiden was Malfoy—sneering and sizing up Lucas.


“Why does it matter if your dad’s a photographer?” asked Lucas.


“He’s a photographer contracted for the Bali photoshoot. Wouldn’t look to good if his son had won, now would it?”


Lucas thought about showing some empathy, but quickly remember how Aiden had just trampled his moment. “I think he is more worried your face will break his expensive camera equipment.”


Had Lucas been wearing a shirt, this would have been the moment Aiden grabbed his collar and pulled him forward and up close. Instead, Aiden shoved him, nearly causing Lucas to lose his balance and fall backwards. Lucas regained his footing, ditched his backpack, and took a swing at Aiden’s face. Aiden easily blocked and maneuvered behind Lucas putting him in a headlock… pulling him to the ground. Lucas squirmed and tried to break free or at least get a hit in. But no luck. 


“Hey! Hey! What’s going on out here…” Immediately, Lucas could feel the pressure around his throat relax as he gasped for air. “Aiden, let Lucas go,” yelled Sarah, one of the new interns hired to keep things exactly like this under control. 


Lucas thudded to the concrete as Aiden loosened his grip and reluctantly backed off. Sarah rushed to help Lucas up, but he brushed her help away and got to his feet. His palms scraped and his ego bruised.


The hero’s circle had faded leaving only his friend Kai Noa, Dylan Taylor, and Dylan’s younger brother Jayden Taylor. They helped dust him off as they entered the PY where Aiden had exited.


“So, have you decided who your gonna bring to Bali?” asked Jayden.


“I get to bring three friends… seems kinda obvious.”


“Us?! The Core Four?”


“Yep! The Core Four.”


Jayden was big into reading and films. He’d always admired the “High Five” from Ready Player One—relished being referred to as one of the “Core Four.”


“Hey, little man,” the moment ruined again by Aiden, who was once again ominously creeping toward Lucas.


“Dude, what?” shot back Lucas.


“There’s a pretty good shore break. Let’s go settle who’s the best once and for all.”


“You’re—” Dylan cut Lucas off from finishing “on,” and pulled him to the side near the cubbies at the back of the garage. Below the surfboards hanging from the ceiling, Dylan tried to talk some sense into Lucas.


“Bro, you’re a week away from the biggest trip of your lifetime. It’s a shore break. One broken arm and it all over. No Bali, no glory.”


“Yeah, but I gotta defend my honor.”


“What are you? A knight?”


“No, like a man. He put up a challenge and I’m not scared.”


“I know you’re not scared, but you’re stupid.”


“Wait, you don’t believe I can beat him and prove I’m better than his smug ah…,” he refrained from cussing.


“What? No. I just don’t think it matters and you’re losing sight of what does. I know you’d love nothing more than to go out there and best him, but I also know you’d love to go to Bali, right?”




“Well, I heard a pastor once say, ‘Sometimes we have to give up things we love for things we love more.’”




“Yeah man, don’t go making a permanent decision based on this temporary feeling.”


Jayden chimed in, “Yeah, it’s like when Gandalf said, ‘This too shall pass.’


“Gandalf didn’t say that, idiot.” interrupted an eavesdropping Aiden. “He said, ‘You shall not pass,’ like, you shall not pass this moment without getting your butt kicked.”


The Core Four turned with glaring eyes. Lucas took a step toward Aiden, his fist no longer clinched and his heart-rate slower. “I will say hi to your dad.” And with that bit of snark, the boys headed for the back door leading to the beach. They playfully shoved one another as they jogged to the rock jumping area known as “Jeffery’s.” (Jeffery is a sea turtle; probably long since eaten by a tiger shark by now.)



How do you handle or deal with people like Aiden Voss in your life?

When's the last time you felt you had to prove yourself?

When has a friend kept you from doing something dangerous or stupid?