Authors: Ruby Reid
“I understand,” Alex said. “And you have my word. I’m here to stay.”
The only noise in the night in the moments that followed was the crackling of the campfire.
“Can I ask why?” Jameson asked. “I’m just trying to make sure you’re where you want to be, kid. This can be a long, rough road. And if there’s any chance that there’s something better out there for you, I want to know that we’re not holding you back. In Chicago, shit is going to get real.”
pissed Alex off, but he hid it well. In fact, it didn’t bother him because of the unexpected sentiment coming from Jameson. “Well,” Alex said, “my life has already been rough. I know pretty well that the straight world has nothing for me. Friends come and go. So do women and jobs and success. Things here in the club seen more normalized. The friendships I’ve made here are tight. It’s the first place I’ve ever felt like I belonged. And I don’t think I’ve ever trusted anyone as much as the friends I’ve made here.”
“Do you trust me?” Jameson asked.
“That’s good, kid. Because I trust you more than just about anyone else in the club. And maybe it’s
of that kind heart of yours. I just don’t want that kindness to get you in trouble one day. You know?”
“I understand,” Alex said.
Jameson smiled and held out his closed fist for a fist-bump. Alex obliged and the two men shared a smile over the campfire.
“Glad to finally get that in the air,” Jameson said. “Now go on home or wherever it is you lay your head. I’ll see you in a week in Chicago. Go live it up between now and then. Shit’s going to get real in the Windy City, you can trust me on that.”
“Will do,” Alex said.
“And one more thing,” Jameson said. “Try to stay available this next week. Do what you want, but expect a call from me. I might have you run a job for me on your way to our new home.”
“Of course,” Alex said.
He gave Jameson and Karla a wave as he got up and walked back to his bike. He looked back only once and saw that Jameson and Karla were snuggling up, Jameson running his fingers along the low collar of her shirt. Alex was pretty sure the tent set up in the shadows would be shaking within five minutes or so.
He mounted his bike and headed out. He went down the dirt road and then found the secondary road that would lead him to the highway and then, twenty miles later, to the apartment he would no longer be living in come next week.
He smiled as he accelerated on the highway. The wind, the night and the absolute freedom all around was like nothing else the world could offer him. It was moments like these when he knew life would never get any better. If he wanted to outlive the dark secrets from his past, this was the only way—on his bike, driving through the night like he was trying to beat the dawn.
Alex used the first day of his week off from club duties to sleep. He had no job to worry about. The only source of income he had was selling stolen bikes and classic cars to unknowing parties. He could make just a single sale every two months and consider it a good year. It just so happened that he had made three sales last month alone and, if he chose to, wouldn’t have to work for the remainder of the year.
Being only August, that gave him a nice span of time to do anything. Of course, a lot of that time was devoted to club details: recruitment, helping other members with personal matters, and basic maintenance and upkeep of the three clubhouses they had in the Reno, Nevada area.
So he slept for fifteen hours, waking up at four o’ clock in the morning and lounging around his apartment until eight o’ clock. He finished stacking up his boxes, waiting for the U-Haul that would take all of his belongings from Reno to Chicago. His new place in Chicago was only marginally better that his current heap, but he was excited to be moving. Reno, like most every other place he had ever called home (and there were quite a few of them) had nothing for him. The process of moving was a pain in the ass, but he had never been emotionally involved in any of the moves he had made. He was just looking forward to getting back out on the road.
He was pretty sure most of the guys in the club felt the same about the move. There were a few members that were staying behind and, thus, severing their ties with the club. These were chiefly family men that had no other choice. Jameson had respected their wishes and had even given them monetary bonuses for their dedication to the club. Alex assumed this was why Jameson had stopped him last night to make sure he, Alex, was where he truly wanted to be.
Alex was thinking of those men as he waited for the U-Haul. He wondered what it must be like to have that option—to either stick with the club and follow them to their new turf in Chicago or stay behind and remain in their nice homes with their loving families. He almost envied those men for the ability to stay with their families. He cared nothing for their 9-5 jobs or their nice homes in pretentious neighborhoods…he just wanted the family aspects. That was something he hadn’t had since his tenth birthday and it was something he found himself missing more and more the older he got.
It was also something he had never admitted to anyone—much less Jameson or anyone else in The Unknowns. Hell, he was barely able to admit it to himself without feeling undeserved pity.
He was thinking about this while sipping his coffee when a knock sounded on his door. The U-Haul was apparently here, an entire fifteen minutes earlier. Yet when he answered the door, he was pleasantly surprised to see Slim on the other side, waiting for him.
“Seven thirty,” Alex said, genuinely shocked. “That’s pretty early for you, isn’t it?”
“Yeah it is,” Slim said. “But I figured I better get a start if I’m going to ride with you.”
“Really?” Alex said. “I thought you had to finish out the week at work.”
“Screw that noise,” Slim said. “I called the boss this morning and told him I quit.”
“How’d he take that?”
“Not good. But I’m sure he won’t have a problem finding some other monkey to change oil and rotate tires.”
Alex wanted to hug the man. He had planned on driving to Chicago on his own. Jameson and Karla would be behind, taking care of last minute wrap-up errands in and around Reno. And the other club members had shady under-the-table matters they needed to deal with in their final days in town as well. To know that he wouldn’t be making the two-day trek on his bike alone was beyond relieving.
“That’s great,” Alex said. “You sure you can just pack up and go like that?”
“Everything I need and little personal keepsakes are all stashed in my single backpack,” Slim said. “I’m starting over in Chicago. I’ve been saving up over the years and think I can start a nice little life there.”
Across the street, the U-Haul was pulling into the apartment complex parking lot. Alex watched it creep into the spot directly in front of his apartment, anxious to get going. He couldn’t get his few boxes of belongings on that van fast enough.
“Want a hand?” Slim asked.
“Yeah, that would be great,” Alex said.
They worked together with the two-man U-Haul crew and had everything packed up in less than fifteen minutes. As they moved the boxes, it occurred to Alex that he could also have moved in the same way Slim was moving. There was nothing of real value in the boxes that he was having hauled to Chicago. But there was something about holding on to old furniture and books, keepsakes from every period of his life that made him feel more human. It made him feel like maybe there
something for him in the world and he just hadn’t discovered it yet.
When the packing was done, Alex and Slim watched the truck roll back onto the highway, headed for Chicago.
“Just like that, huh?” Slim said.
“Just like that.”
Slim clapped him on the back as they walked outside and Alex locked up his apartment for the very last time. “Ready to ride?” Slim asked.
“Always,” Alex replied, walking towards his bike and feeling freer than he ever had.
On Wednesday night, Amanda ended up at a restaurant, sitting in the bar area by herself. She had been placed at a corner table and was sipping on a martini. She had always told herself that she would never dine alone and while she considered drinking alone in a public place equally depressing, she allowed it tonight because it had been a spur of the moment decision.
feel awkward as she sat in the corner by herself. She had her Kindle with her and was reading a book off and on as she sipped from her drink. Her hair was done nicely and she had on just enough makeup to hide the blemishes in her cheeks that she always seemed to be fighting off. She’d been sitting there for an hour and had noticed the place starting to get packed for what she assumed was the late dinner rush.
She’d caught at least two men looking her way but one had been with his wife (she could tell by the wedding band on his finger) and the other had only been looking at her out of sympathy—at the poor woman that was having drinks by herself.
Honestly, she didn’t really care. She knew that in order to get back into the dating scene after what she had been through with Stephen, she was going to have to take steps she wasn’t used to. That meant making herself vulnerable and uncomfortable. The good thing about tonight was that she had made up her mind about one thing: she would consider
sort of contact a success. If she met a decent enough guy that was pleasant to talk to and that was it, then success! On the other hand, if she met a guy that seemed to stir the heat inside of her (a heat that had been running under her emotions like lava beneath the ground for far too long) then she might just give in to that as well.
Another thing to consider was the fact that she was modestly attractive. This was not a conceited notion, but one she had learned to graciously accept ever since her Senior year of high school. She had always taken care of herself but she was also not waifish and sickly looking. She was one hundred and thirty-five pounds, had breasts that rivaled those of just about any pin-up, and had a lower half that looked wonderful in just about anything she wore. It had always been her face that she had been uncomfortable with. It was a very plain face, highlighted by her thin and defined lips and large brown eyes.
But she was looked beyond that tonight. At some point, she thought all women had to accept their bodies as they were. She knew she had it better than most but felt selfish for being so vain. Getting over that, she supposed, was also a huge step towards getting back out on the dating scene.
She was broken from her self-reflection when a waitress came by, a sympathetic look on her face. She looked to the empty martini glass and said, “Another?”
“Please,” Amanda said, and watched the waitress take the glass. She made the decision that if she had not attracted anyone by the time her next drink was downed, she would call it a night. She could get drunk at home for a lot cheaper and feel a lot less foolish in the process.
She started to look back down to her Kindle when a figure approached her table. She looked up and saw a tall, relatively attractive man standing across from her.
“Hey,” he said cheerfully.
“Hey,” Amanda said.
This is it,
she thought. And with that thought, she realized that she was putting
too much emphasis on a chance meeting at a bar. She pushed it all behind and did her best to stay true to herself—to bring her true personality to the center.
“There’s no way for me to say this without coming off like a creep,” the man said, “but I’ve been over there at the bar for the last half an hour. I saw you and noticed that no one has come back to claim this seat. Is that because there
no one coming to claim it?”
She shook her head. “Nope. Just me.”
“Oh,” he said. He was quiet for a moment, as if giving her the opportunity to invite him to take the seat. She grinned coyly when she realized that was
what he was doing.
“Would you care to take it?” she asked.
“I actually would,” he said. “It’s lonesome over there at the bar by myself.”
“By yourself, too?” Amanda asked.
“Yes. I’m in town on business for three weeks. I know
in this city. So if you’d let me, I’d like to buy your next drink.”
As if on cue, the waitress bought Amanda’s second martini to the table. The man waited for her to leave and then took his seat.
“Ah,” he said with a smile. “Fate?”
“In a drink?” Amanda asked. “Doubtful. But nice line.”
Smiling, he reached a hand across the table and said, “I’m Mark Comber. Pleased to meet you.”
Amanda took the offered hand and looked into his eyes when she shook it. He was handsome and had a gaze that said without any sort of doubt, he was fun-loving. “Nice to meet you, Mark. I’m Amanda Randall.”
And that’s how Amanda kick-started her love life once again. There were no fireworks or grand gestures, but that was alright with her. There was a man smiling at her, wanting to get to know her. That was enough for her right then and there.
She spoke to him, finding that he was very easy to talk to. He was a definite improvement over Robert. Also, in the back of her mind, there was some part of her that liked the fact that he was only in town for three weeks. It almost made him like a test of sorts…a way to ease her toes back into the dating waters. There was no threat of commitment to muddy the water. Beyond that, of course, there was the physical thing to consider. She wasn’t even sure about the sex part yet. The thought of sex was certainly intriguing, but she felt certain that she might change her tune once things started to get hot and heavy. Would Stephen come to her mind? Would she feel guilty right in the middle of it and—
she told herself as she sipped from her martini and had the longest conversation she’d had with a man in two years outside of the grief counselor she’d met with for six months. She was pleasantly into the conversation and found after an hour and a half of chatting, that she liked Mark quite a bit.
She was so enthralled with him that she didn’t see the two bikers come into the bar on the far side of the restaurant.
Alex and Slim had made a little over four hundred miles on that first day of riding. They had considered closing out the trip and potentially getting to Chicago around four in the morning. It was a grand idea that made them
immortal, but actually
it was a different thing altogether.
In reality, they had stopped at a restaurant for a late dinner and decided that they’d stop at the motel just up the street and catch some shut eye and a cheap continental breakfast the following morning. They stretched for a bit in the restaurant parking lot, shaking the wear of the road off of them. They walked inside, their hair blown back from the ten hours of wind they had driven through, and walked right past the hostess. The ambled up to the bar as if they owned the place, plopping down at two stools directly in front of the bartender.
Alex noticed right away that the few people situated in the bar area gave their biker attire weary stares. Alex shrugged it off. He had gotten used to that long ago and it no longer bothered him at all. He caught the gaze of a business-type group having dinner in the far corner and even gave them a nod.
The place was mostly dead, being Wednesday, so they were served promptly and were drinking their beers two minutes later. They spoke briefly, mainly to plan out the following day’s ride. When this was done, they zoned out over their beers and watched the baseball game that was on the TV behind the bar.
Actually, Alex wasn’t really watching. He’d never liked baseball; he was more into rugby and soccer, high speed games that require endurance. He simply stared at the screen and felt something stirring in him—maybe a sense of being compelled to do something. Slim was his best friend in the club and they’d shared a lot of secrets together during their time on the road. Surely Slim would provide an ear if he, Alex, ever decided to exorcise the one secret he had never been able to tell anyone. He
to tell someone. Hell, he had gone to church a few times over the last few months just hoping that God (if there was one, which he was still not sure about) might move him to talk to a pastor. But no such prompting had ever come and his secret lay buried in the graves of his memory.
If he ever told
about what he’d done all those years ago, it would be Slim. Slim would understand.
He felt his tongue loosening, ready to tell him. The idea of getting it out in the air, of actually verbalizing it, was both relieving and terrifying all at the same time. He took a swallow of his beer, fully ready to reveal the secret he had been living with for the last seventeen years of his life.
And then he saw the woman sitting in the corner.
She was holding a mostly-empty martini glass and speaking with a tall man. They were engaged in what was apparently a humorous conversation because they were both laughing. But Alex didn’t care about the conversation they were having. And he didn’t care about the man she was speaking to.
All he cared about in that moment was her. It was weird because if he was being totally honest, there was nothing staggeringly noticeable about her. Her hair was blonde and caught the moody bar lighting in a sexy sort of way. Her lips were thin but her smile was wide. And there was a sparkle (although Alex hated that word, it was the only one that fit) to her face when she laughed.
She was beautiful in a sensible sort of way. Alex knew he was staring at her but did everything he could to stop himself. He blinked and turned away, his attention back on the baseball game. Not two seconds passed before he was looking at her again. This time, she saw him looking. He didn’t look away instantly, but let their eyes lock for a moment. She looked away first, flustered and awkward.
Alex then did something he was slightly ashamed of. He looked to her left hand, looking for a wedding ring. He saw none and was slightly angry with himself when he delighted in this. Apparently, the tall man was a boyfriend at best…nothing substantial or concrete.
Not that it really mattered in the long run. In the course of his time with The Unknowns, he had taken his fair share of women home. Some of them had been wearing wedding bands and he had never had any issues with it. He figured if the women weren’t being satisfied at home, that was the husband’s fault. Why the hell should he feel guilty about a lame ass husband’s wife taking him to bed?
But that didn’t matter now, anyway. This woman was unattached. She was—
Slim’s voice slapped him out of his stupor. He thought he was blushing and was glad the bar was dimly lit.
“Yeah?” he said, trying to act as if he had not been zoned out over a woman he had just seen for the first time. He sipped from his beer as a sheer act of normalcy.
“Tired?” Slim asked. “You looked like you were in LaLa Land there for a moment.”
Sort of felt like it, to tell you the truth,
he thought. But he said, “No, I’m good. Just thinking about Chicago.”
Slim nodded, tapping the bar to let the bartender know it was time for a refill.
Alex gulped the remainder of his own drink and did the same. He looked to the woman sitting in the corner one last time and kept his eyes there until she looked his way. When she did, he broke his gaze first this time and made himself find something to talk with Slim about.
But the entire time, he was aware of the woman in the corner, keeping tabs on her so he would know when she left.
Amanda was trying to decide if the guy with the long blonde hair at the bar was a creep or if he was just stoned. He kept looking at her and she did her best to pretend not to notice. He was devastatingly handsome, but there was something in his stare that was like ice. The third time she saw him looking her way, she decided that he was either tired or working on one hell of a bender.