Authors: Amy Sparling
I’m off work on Saturday morning and Dad and Park have both taken the day off as well. This is some kind of summer miracle because now it means I get the track all to myself. No dodging around slow kids that my dad is trying to train, or getting into races with idiots who think they’re faster than me. No one is ever faster than me on my own track.
I head out to the track’s garage where I keep my bike, my heavy riding boots clunking along the concrete floor. The outdoors smells like warm air and wildflowers and since it’s seven in the morning, it’s just cool enough to feel the last few seconds of nighttime chill before the sun heats it all up.
I grab my helmet off the wall and pull it on, buckling the strap beneath my chin. My heart isn’t racing, not exactly, but it’s beating with an enthusiastic rhythm because finally, finally, I get to ride alone. Just me and the bike on the track I know by heart.
My bike cranks up with only one kick of the kick starter, which is nice because I haven’t been on it in a couple of days. I check to make sure it’s full of gas and then I ride out of the garage, feeling all of my stress and anxiety dissipate with each turn of the piston.
The track is supreme this morning. The dirt is wet and tilled up from the tractor, perfect for pinning it around the hairpin turn. A good rider never sits on their dirt bike; we have to be standing, knees and elbows bent, guiding the bike where we want to go. Sit down even for a second and your lap time just got slower.
My muscles throb as I ride. The familiarity of the movements come back to me, but my body has had a break for two days so it screams in protest. I grit my teeth and push harder, faster, letting the racing modified engine of the bike accelerate with all its got.
When I’m on the track, I’m not Jett Adams, the prick who hurt Keanna. I am a racer, an athlete. I am one with the bike. And I know that sounds lame, but it’s true. The only time I can forget about the stresses that plague me are when I’m on a bike.
So why can’t I stop thinking about her now?
It’s been a week. I’ve ignored every text from Emma, and even ignored the flirty Facebook chats with Ryann and Beth, two girls whose brothers race with me. I’ve had a flirty back and forth with both of them for weeks now and I’ve ignored it all. For the first time in my life, I don’t want to mindlessly hook up with someone.
I want to have a talk with a girl. Share secrets and feelings. Make her feel special and safe and protected, like I did that night I drove Keanna home from McDonald’s. I want to hold her hand and show her off to the world. All she wants is to forget I exist.
I pin the throttle as my bike jolts forward and then I slam on the brakes to take a sharp turn. All of the shitty, horrible things I’ve done come back to me. All of the hookups that I’ve never called back, the kisses I didn’t mean, the girlfriends I stole from their boyfriends. Those are the things that make me feel like shit.
Carrying Keanna’s bags shouldn’t be one of them. I wasn’t trying to hurt her. I was trying to make her think I’m strong and chivalrous and kind. Maybe make her think she’s not alone in this world even though her shitty mother has left her in that exact position. But all it got me was a cruel glare and a warning never to talk to her again.
I push on, riding around and around the track until I am exhausted and my body screams for me to stop and take a break. I need water. I need food. But the pain of pushing myself to my athletic limits makes me feel good in this twisted way. Finally, I pull off the track.
The closest water bottles are in the mini fridge in the front office, so I pull my bike up to the door and hop off, leaning the handlebars carefully against the brick wall. Racings bikes don’t have kickstands. My chest is heaving and I rip off my helmet, setting it on the bike seat.
I drop my hands down to my knees and concentrate on breathing slowly. This isn’t exhaustion from a lack of endurance. I am in excellent shape. This is something different, something I hadn’t known I could experience.
I stand and pull off my jersey, then the neck brace and the chest protector, all of the equipment that’s expensive as hell and meant to keep my body from getting hurt in the event of a crash. Too bad it doesn’t help at all for what’s inside of me. If they made heartbreak protectors, I’d buy fifty of them.
It’s hot as hell outside and still humid since it’s only around nine-thirty in the morning. Luckily, my chest is covered in sweat so it helps cool me off. I head into the office and the cold blast of air conditioning makes goosebumps prickle across my skin.
“Hey there,” Becca says cheerfully.
I nod as I walk and I stop short when I realize she’s not in here alone doing Saturday morning paperwork. I swallow, my eyes focused on Keanna. She’s wearing a pink sundress with thin straps that make her shoulders look frail and somehow cuter than normal. Her air is in a messy bun, with strands hanging in her face and all I want to do is push it out of her eyes. Let my fingers trail along her skin . . .
The whole world seems to slow down until it’s just a vortex with Keanna and me trapped in the middle. I watch her eyes go from startled to somewhat friendly and then straight back to anger. It’s almost like she forgot she was mad at me for a second. Too bad she didn’t forget forever.
“How was the track?” Becca asks, her face turned down toward the papers she’s organizing. She’s too busy to have noticed those few seconds of awkwardness that passed between me and her houseguest just now.
“Good,” I say, suddenly forgetting every other word in the universe.
“Water?” Becca asks, leaning over to the mini fridge by her desk. She takes one out and hands it to me.
“Thanks,” I say, wondering if I’ll ever find the ability to say more than one word now that Keanna is here looking like a damn angel.
I look at her as I bring the water bottle to my lips and she watches me, her eyes gazing down to my bare stomach before she looks down at the front desk.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, trying to sound friendly.
Becca answers for her. “I gave her a job. Since I’ll be gone for some craft fairs soon I figured she could do what I do so that I don’t have a ton of work waiting for me when I get back.”
“Great idea,” I say, pulling out a barstool right next to the one Keanna’s sitting on. There are only two stools behind the front counter but Becca is standing over by the computer so I had to seize the opportunity.
“Need any help?” I ask her. Hopefully she won’t tell me to fuck off in front of Becca and maybe, just maybe, I can win back her friendship.
“Not yet,” she says, keeping her eyes on the paper. It’s a parent’s manual that my mom typed up a long time ago because she got sick of explaining the rules of motocross to dumbass parents.
“Hey, I can totally help with this stuff,” I say, tapping the paper. My finger comes dangerously close to hers and she doesn’t recoil, which must be a good thing. I give her a smile. “I know everything about motocross.”
“Everything?” she says, somehow peering down at me even though she’s shorter than I am.
I nod, feeling the cockiness return to my smile. “Everything.”
She leans back, straightening her shoulders and pursing her lips. “Okay then. What year was the first professional motocross race?”
“Uhh . . .” I bite my bottom lip and then shake my head. “Damn. I don’t know. Like the seventies or something?”
Keanna’s stern expression softens and I’m reminded of how angelic she looked while asleep in my bed. “Remind me never to call you when I have a life or death motocross trivia question.”
I laugh. “When would you ever have a life or death motocross trivia question?”
She shrugs, playing with the pen in her hand, drawing circles in the air. “I don’t know. But it could happen.”
“It could totally happen,” Becca says, reminding me she’s still in the room. I look over at her and she puts a hand on her hip, pretending to be disappointed in me. “My own godson doesn’t know the first professional motocross race,” she says, shaking her head. “What an embarrassment.”
“Okay then, when was it?” I ask, putting Becca on the spot. She looks at Keanna and then back at me.
“Hell if I know!”
We all burst into laughter and when I look over at Keanna she’s looking at me. And for the first time in a long time, it doesn’t seem like she hates me quite as much.
Laughter feels good, even if it is awkward as hell. Being around Jett is fun and I hate myself for thinking that. I’m supposed to hate him! Especially after seeing him in the pool with that girl. I bet he’s spent every day this past week with a different girl, each one more beautiful than the last.
“Damn, I’m out of coffee,” Becca says, frowning into her empty mug.
“Want me to get you some more?” Jett offers. “One sugar, no creamer?”
“You’re a doll,” Becca says, handing over the mug.
I try to focus on the manual in front of me, but a catch the scent of Jett’s deodorant as he walks behind me toward the coffee maker in the other room. Okay, the guy is covered in sweat—thinking that his armpits smell good is like the stupidest thing ever.
But damn does he look great in those black and blue dirt bike pants, his abs glistening from sweat. Without his jersey on, the riding pants sit low, revealing the V of his hips, the faint white line of skin where his tan stops. I draw in a ragged breath and try to make sense of the words on the paper.
The yellow flag means to slow down because another rider has fallen on the track up ahead of you.
Yeah, okay, my focus is gone.
Jett returns, walking slowly because he’s filled the mug up to the top.
“Ya’ll got any food around here?” he says, putting a hand on his perfectly chiseled abs. “I’m starving.”
“Ooh!” Becca says, her eyes lighting up. “Key, go take him back home and give him the cupcakes.”
Becca has taken to calling me only half of my name. It’s like we’re old friends after only a week, but I kind of like it. Mom never gave me a nickname.
“Cupcakes?” Jett says, looking more than excited.
“Yeah, we made like five hundred of them last night,” I explain, as I think about what Becca just said. She wants me to take Jett over to her house, alone, to give him the cupcakes. Can I handle that?
“Okay that sounds awesome, and I will be eating four hundred of them, but can we get real breakfast first?” Jett says, running a hand through his hair. Because it’s sweaty, half of it sticks up. “Too much sugar will make me sick. I need protein.”
“You could go to Sherry’s Café,” Becca says, and I guess she’s trying to be helpful but
is she suggesting that I go alone to a restaurant with
? That’s a thousand times worse than taking him to her house.
Jett nods. “Good idea. Want me to bring you back some waffles?”
Becca sips her coffee. “You know it.”
“How do you have all of her food and coffee choices memorized?” I say, if only to buy some time before he asks me to go with him.
Jett shrugs. “She’s my Second Mom. Also I’ve been a slave to both of my moms since I was old enough to walk. They’re always having me get them crap, the lazy be-yotches.”
Becca rolls her eyes and reaches into her purse, which is under the front desk in a cubby hole for employees. “Here’s some cash. Ya’ll two go have fun.”
“Hey, second mom?” Jace says in this overly cool way. “I don’t want your money. You’re embarrassing me in front of the pretty girl.”
Becca snorts and shoves the money back in her wallet. “Suit yourself.”
Am I the pretty girl in this situation? Oh my god, why does he do this to me?
Jett turns to me with this hopeful look in his eyes and it hits me now that he’s actually worried about me agreeing to go with him. “So . . . wanna get breakfast?” His voice is low, his eyes focused on mine as he stands in front of me, his gorgeous muscled chest on full display.
I swallow. My head tells me to yell the word no and slap him in the face. But my heart says, “Yeah, that’s fine.”
His blue eyes light up. “Yeah?”
I nod. “Yeah.”
He grins. “Cool. Give me like two seconds to shower and change clothes.” He holds up two fingers. “It’ll be fast.”
I nod and he takes off jogging down the hallway to where there’s a gym with a locker room. Becca had given me a tour of the facility earlier and it’s pretty cool. There’s offices, a big lounge area with TVs, a daycare for little kids, and a gym with all of the same equipment you’d find in a real gym. There’s also a few storage rooms like the one we’d seen Jett in on my first night here, making out with that girl. She definitely wasn’t the same girl in the pool. I wonder how many girls he’s made out with in all of the various rooms of this building.
And then I hate myself because I kind of wish I was one of them.
“Thanks for coming with me,” Jett says, glancing over at me while we’re stopped at a red light. Once again I’m in the front seat of his truck, the scent of leather and hot boy an intoxicating mix that confuses the hell out of me.
“Yeah, well I didn’t really have a choice.”
He tilts his head. “You could have said no. But I’m really glad you didn’t. I want to make it up to you.”
I lift an eyebrow. “Make what up to me?”
I can see his Adam’s apple bob while he focuses on the road ahead. “You know . . . that night . . .”
Oh, it’s fun messing with him. I bring my eyebrows together. “Huh? What night?”
He fidgets with the steering wheel as he drives. “That night I carried your bags and disrespected you . . . you know . . .”
I chuckle. “Yeah, I know. I just wanted to hear you say it.”
He leans his head against the back of the driver’s seat. “You’re so mean to me.”
He slows and turns into the packed parking lot of a café that looks like a log cabin on the outside. We park and then then he cuts the engine and turns to face me. “Look, I am sorry. And I want to make it up to you. It means a lot that you came here with me today.”
He gives me a small but meaningful smile and, dammit, if I don’t find myself smiling back at him.
I draw in a deep breath and stare down at the fabric of my new dress. When I’m sitting here, the hem rises to my upper thighs and suddenly I’m very self-conscious of it. “Look,” I say, letting out a breath. “I don’t know why I’m saying this but . . . maybe . . . I don’t know,” I say, shaking my head. “Maybe we can start over and like, be friends.”
“Yeah?” Jett’s face bursts into a smile bigger than I’ve ever seen. He slaps the steering wheel and then pops open his door. He’s over on my side of the truck before I can gain my composure and suddenly he’s opening my door and holding out a hand to me.
I take his hand and feel a warmth spread up into my insides as he helps me climb down from his massive truck.
“Thanks,” I mumble, running my hands over the pink fabric to make sure it’s all down and where it should be. “I probably shouldn’t wear a skirt if I’ll be riding in this massive thing you call a truck.”
Jett closes the door behind me and takes my hand as casually as if we do this all the time. “Don’t worry. If someone tried getting a look up your skirt, I’d kick their ass.”
I roll my eyes, finding it very hard to walk now that my hand is in his. “You wouldn’t need to do that,” I say.
He squeezes my hand. “But I would.”
When we reach the doors of the café, Jett drops my hand and opens the door for me. I’m glad the awkwardness of holding his hand is gone, but I also miss the feeling of his skin on mine. Maybe it’s just the fact that no one really touches me anymore. It’s not because it’s Jett. Right?
The place is packed, but the hostess finds us a spot near the back in one of those tiny booths made only for two people.
Jett orders a Dr. Pepper and I order a water and when the waitress leaves he gives me a look. “Are you one of those people who hates sodas?”
I shake my head. “I just wanted a water.”
Honestly, it never occurs to me to get anything other than water. Dawn and I rarely went to restaurants, but if we did, we had to be as cheap as possible. We always got water and split an entrée. Mom would say it’s what keeps women thin and then she’d go off about how being thin is everything.
Funny, because I would have rather spent my childhood without going to bed hungry every night.
“Thanks for coming,” Jett says shortly after our food arrives.
“You’ve already thanked me like three times,” I say, stabbing into my hash browns. “You can stop thanking now. I’m having breakfast with you, not curing cancer.”
“I’m just glad you’re here,” he says, unfazed by my poking fun of him. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I can’t stop thinking about you.”
My heart seems to seize up in my chest. “What way am I supposed to take that?” I reach for my water because my throat is suddenly dry.
He leans forward, his eyes like deep oceans that lock onto mine. I am in danger of falling straight through to the bottom. “It means I have a huge crush on you, Keanna.”
Okay, my heart has definitely stopped.
His lips curl up. “And it means I can’t stop thinking about you and wondering what you’re doing and kicking myself for pissing you off. And frankly, being forced to spend time away from you is only making me want you more.”
I swallow. His words just made me into a molten goo, but I need to gain my straight back, soon. I need to pull back the walls that he’s trying to knock down. They need to be reinforced.
I stiffen and sit up a little straighter. “You don’t even know me.”
“But I like what I do know.”
“What about that girl from the pool?”
“What about her?”
His eyes are challenging me, but I refuse to surrender. “You looked pretty content to be playing around with her in the pool.”
“She’s a friend. She came over to ask me about a guy she likes.”
My eyes narrow. “Did ya’ll hook up?”
“Have you hooked up before?”
The openness with which he says it makes me pause. What kind of guy doesn’t start babbling and making up excuses and trying to turn stuff around when you ask a question like that?
I point my fork at him. “Why should I believe you?”
He doesn’t even blink. “Because I’ve never lied to you.”
Where are my metaphorical walls?
They are gone, crumbled and broken, while Jett stands on top of them like some kind gladiator who just won an epic war.
“Why are you telling me all of this now?” I ask, my voice barely above a whisper.
“Because I don’t want to be friends with you, Keanna.” The whole restaurant seems to disappear as his eyes lock on mine. “I want to see if we could be more than that.”