...if you haven't yet, please read The Big Tease, Part One first...
Jenn’s motorcycle jacket is a little loose.
Two years of choking grief will do that to a girl. She’s been sober for a week to make sure it isn’t the booze and pills making her feel so desperately alone.
Nuke came to see her once in the hospital after they repaired her femur with a gross amount of titanium. It had been broken in two places and bent under her in the crash. When he asked if she needed anything she asked for a gun to kill herself.
He didn’t come back.
Six months of surgeries and rehab get her back to work. Sleeping pills and alcohol take the memories away, at least for a while.
Insurance paid out Jenn’s Shadow and a nice smelling man Terry knew brought her papers to sign until his apartment is hers. At first she’s surprised her shoot first brother had life insurance but he always shot first when it came to his sister. Dollars don’t make up for being alone. They shared a soul and Terry took it with him.
The used 600cc sport bike Jenn rides is the fastest thing she’s ever taken down the highway. The last owner put a lot of money into it before he knocked up his girlfriend and had to sell. It’s black and orange and covered in flames and sexier than anything Jenn would ever dare show on the outside.
Today it carries her south to a liquor store she frequents; out of town enough that anyone local won’t see her stocking up.
Free from the last knot of cars Jenn finds a lone semi slowing for the lights at Northwest Bay Road south of Parksville. The speed limit drops to sixty as the highway descends in both directions toward the intersection usually filling it up with cars like a giant bowl but today it’s just her and the truck. A gas station covered with a big red roof is on her left but all her attention is on the rig. It gears down noisily on the hill and she has to do the same to avoid nailing it from behind.
The number on the trailer gets Jenn’s attention first, prompting her not to run the light ahead. It has a T and a K. Terry Klein. And an eight and a two, the age they were when he died. Not eighty-two; they were twenty-eight. The trailer itself is dirty. Even its plates attached high above haven’t escaped the brown layer of filth brought up by its wheels.
Jenn glances at the stop line as she pulls up next to the cab, getting the toes of her boots on the pavement. Mirrors say nobody is set to plow into her from behind as lemony diesel exhaust makes her nose wrinkle. Having the highway to herself in the summer smells great. Other vehicles at the red light not so much.
“Nice bike,” comes from up and to the right.
Inside she cringes. Nobody is supposed to talk to her today. It’s her day off and she’d planned a quiet drunk; the only regular companionship she has left outside of work. Interaction on the liquor store trip makes Jenn’s drinking problem more real than she’s prepared for.
The driver should be looking ahead for the green and thinking about where he’s taking the dirty trailer or if he’ll need the restroom in Nanaimo or if he can wait for Duncan. Maybe the air conditioning isn’t working and he misses the wife and kids; bills and the dog.
Once her visor is out of the way she turns, drawing her eyes up the clean black door of the rig and past a pair of painted on gold wings to find a muscular arm bound in a tightly sleeved black t-shirt.
“Nice truck,” Jenn echoes without thinking. It’s one thing to keep her eyes down and her mouth shut out of shyness. It’s quite another to be rude and not answer. She hopes the lame reply is enough to end the conversation and presses her lips together, making her eyes wrinkle and giving the illusion she’s smiling inside her helmet.
His big ringless left hand closes around on the metal bar holding the mirror. Absently he strokes it, first away then toward the body of the truck. Jenn feels her mouth open, tongue just touching the tips of her front teeth and his bicep flexes, pulling his short sleeve tighter. It slides again along the chrome before closing completely and holding fast and her heart seems to stutter as her gaze reaches his smile; warm and genuine even though she can’t see his eyes through his dark lenses.
“Yeah?” he answers leaning a little closer. Curly shoulder length dark hair perfectly frames his jaw and Jenn is aware she’s leaning in response, getting her right foot flat on the ground as the motorcycle tilts between her thighs.
As her pulse gets going again Jenn inhales his male scent making her skin prickle under her heavy leather jacket like sweat breaking out only her skin stays dry. It’s just a little painful and feels so, so good. He smells of straw and sun but underneath there’s something raw and dangerous; a far greater lure than the quick buzz and blackout she still half looks forward to. It’s the scent of rebellion and she sets her jaw against the challenge. More than anything she’s overwhelmed with the urge to crush it.
“Bet it’s nice inside,” she ventures with a quick glance at the traffic lights to try and hide the heat flushing her cheeks. The cars turning left from
Bay Road don’t even have an amber yet.
The trucker looks her over. Not the degrading leer Nuke used to get away with. This guy seems to size her up more as an adversary and less like a piece of meat as he pushes the sunglasses onto his forehead.
Why can’t he be imperfect? Jenn wonders. Or less gorgeous? And what in hell are you doing flirting at a red light? You’re a bank teller, idiot. Nice bank tellers don’t flirt!
Eyes so brown she can’t make out the pupils bore into hers and she stands a little taller, straightening her motorcycle upright and holding her head high, doing her best to look confident and tough. For a brief second his expression is a mix of power and fear, mirroring the adrenaline and shaky nerves dueling inside Jenn then the warm smile returns.
“You want to see,” he states and calls out a couple of street names north of Duncan.
A horn honks behind, startling Jenn as she feels her motorcycle roll backwards. Quickly crushing the handbrake with her right she continues to roll as his rich laughter fills her ears. It’s the illusion of reverse caused by his truck pulling ahead for the green. The horn blares again as the motorcycle stalls and Jenn gets her trembling thumb on the starter. If he hadn’t stopped her heart already she’s sure the horn would have.
Jenn gets her motorcycle going, revving the motor too high as she mistimes the clutch and throttle for the shift to second. She’s going well over a hundred long before she’s out of the sixty kilometer an hour zone, focusing only on getting some distance between herself and whatever the hell she’s set up with the handsome stranger.
The next few kilometers are a blur and she pulls into a Nanaimo mall, stationing herself at the far side of the parking lot. The kickstand is barely down when she drops onto the grass beside her stall and rips her helmet off venting the laughter that’s turned her knees to rubber.
Two years ago Terry would have pulled up between her and the truck and given the guy a ‘hey buddy.’ The only men he approved of came figuratively pre-neutered or he offered to do it for them. It made dating hard but he’d headed off a lot of trouble. In spite of the predictably nice men who passed his inspection the one relationship which lasted more than a couple of months failed miserably.
Jenn watches the highway until the black truck with the dirty white trailer passes by continuing south then looks at the nearby coffee shop. She and Terry used to sit at one of the tables out front for hours at a time. Stuffing her helmet over one of the mirrors, she lets herself in and buys a coffee before taking a seat at their table. Terry’s seat is empty so she closes her eyes and imagines him there.
Instead of the expected protective brother vibe she can almost feel his hand on her back, nudging her forward.
The coffee smells good so she wraps her hands around the paper cup and blows softly on the surface.
“I don’t know,” she whispers to him as she puts the cup down. “He’s not like anyone you’ve ever wanted around me.”
The breeze cools her skin and she realizes she’s crying. Maybe it’s simply the movement of tears running down past her cheeks but she imagines her brother’s fingers under her chin.
Hold your head high.