Home > Taming Cross(4)

Taming Cross(4)
Author: Ella James

These old Kawasaki Triples make for a comfy ride. Lots of leg room. Easy turns. It'll be like getting on a 9-year-old roan after being thrown from a stallion, I tell myself as I wrap my hands around the handles. I try to wrap my hands around the handles, but I'm going on muscle memory, and the muscles of my left hand don't do shit. I look down at my half-curled fingers.

“Fuck.”

Chill out, dude.

I grit my teeth, then pull a small steel bar up from the spot where it’s locked against the left side of the Mach’s neck. On the end of the bar is a black leather band, sized just right to slide about halfway up my forearm. My fingers don’t work, but if this works the way I think it will, I can jam my forearm into the band, and since the steel bar holding it has a thick base that’s welded in two spots between the left handlebar and the little dashboard, I can effectively hold the handle by using the weight of my left shoulder to press against it. My right hand will be doing most of the work, so it’s risky business, but it’s the best that I can do.

I lock the steel bar into place, curl the fingers of my left hand, and push my wrist into the thick leather band, sliding it halfway up my forearm as I lean down over the bike's handles. Usually, I'd push a bike out of the garage before mounting, but I need to be on the thing to be sure I’ve got my arm in place.

With a deep breath, I throw my right leg over. It feels awkward as shit, because I'm a leftie and I used to get on with my left leg first.

Now it's wobble time. I get up on the tips of my toes, scuffing up my old John Lobbs, and hit a button on my key chain that makes one of the garage doors open. I barely make it down the slight incline to the cement slab behind the building. I scoot, on my toes, over the oil-stained cement, over the spot where I've worked on so many bikes along with Wil and Napo, the other two members of Team Cross Hybrids.

Guilt nags me. I've heard from both of them, and I know they'd like their old jobs back, but I haven't offered. Shop's closed—for now, at least.

I'm scowling as I balance on my left arm, using the fingers of my right hand to poke at the garage remote attached to my key chain. I can hear the warning beeps of the alarm, telling me I've almost taken too long. Nearly eight minutes to get a bike out of the garage. This is why the damn shop’s still closed.

I stare out at the field that stretches behind my building, then turn to my right to look at the backside of the row of shops next door to my freestanding building. Downtown Napa, California, is quiet and peaceful, which makes me want to fucking scream. My neck is tight and my hand feels weird and the panic is still just below the surface. I remember when Napa used to seem too tame. I could do anything. The roads and the shops all seemed so small. Even the vast vineyards in Napa Valley seemed small. I wonder how long it would take me to get down to the valley now, driving the Mach one-handed. Probably forever.

The garage door closes behind me, and there's nothing else between me and the road. I look down at the band around my left forearm and suck back a few deep breaths. Like this is the fucking Sturgis Rally. Like I'm green as grass.

I don't have a watch, but I can tell I'm late already, and I'm annoyed that it bothers me.

I hear my phone ring. “Satisfaction” by the Stones. Lizzy. Great. I look down at myself and feel like such a helpless freak. There's no way I can answer the phone in my pocket. Not if I want to keep this bike upright.

I wonder why the hell she's calling, and I tell myself I don't care. I can worry about Suri and Lizzy later—and I know I will, when I get back to the shop tonight. I wait another second for the burst of the tingling pain that starts in my neck and shoots down my arm and sometimes up the side of my face. Neuralgia, they call it. Otherwise known as a ‘suicide headache’. But at the moment, I feel okay.

I bite down on my lip and jam my forearm as tightly as I can into the leather band, straightening out my elbow so I can lean into the band with the full weight of my left shoulder. Without any more stalling, I white-knuckle the handle with my right hand and ease my thumb onto the accelerator.

The ride to my parents’ house is short and heart-pumping enough to make me worry that in addition to all the other shit, maybe I lost my balls in the accident as well. By the time I glide through the massive, black iron gates and slow the Mach in their tree-lined, semi-circle drive, I'm drenched with sweat and gritting my teeth.

I wobble a little as I try to balance the bike using my toes. I hiss another curse as I squeeze my eyes shut, wishing I was the kind of guy who could just let things lie. But I refuse to let them off so easy. I refuse to let my father get away with what he did. I refuse to be complicit in this kind of sick shit.

I glance at the massive graystone, built to look like an English manor house. My gaze tugs in the direction of the regal double doors, and at that moment, one of them swings open.

I can barely breathe as I wait for the familiar combed-over black hair, laughing blue eyes, hook nose, thin lips. Renault is the man who raised me, a Frenchman who introduced me to classic rock, bought me my first box of condoms, taught me how to puff on a cigar. He drove me to junior high school dances and showed me how to loop a tie. I feel breathless as I wait to see his face—and then the shadows flicker, and instead there is a stern-looking woman with tightly upswept gray hair and sharp blue eyes. It takes me a long, baffling second to realize it's my mother.

Of course it is. Dark blue dress—Dior, her favorite—paired with silver heels and diamond-pearl earrings that sparkle in the porch light. But her face looks tired and her posture sucks, like she's forgotten how to play the part of Derinda Carlson, governor's wife.

I get off the bike as smoothly as I can, parking it in the flawlessly manicured lawn, and don't allow myself to look away from her as I step slowly up the porch stairs. I wonder briefly where Renault is, but once I’m close enough to take in the full context of my mother, the only thing I can think is why. I wasn't a model kid, never did great in school, but I don't think I was unusually difficult. For most of my childhood, I did whatever they asked, went wherever they went, usually decked out in a mini tux or a little suit, my hair clean cut, my mouth stretched into a big fake smile.

Even after I dropped out of school and opened my shop, I played the dutiful son, waving at campaign stops. Smiling at every camera. Giving perfect quotes to newspaper reporters.

My mother reaches out to…I don't know what—pat my shoulder or something?—and all I can think is: WHY? But I know the answer, don’t I? I found out about Missy King, the Vegas mistress my father had sold in Mexico, so my father gave the order to sever ties. But how could Mother follow it?

She tries to embrace me, but I step aside. There's something on her face, and I think it's contrition but I just can't care.

When I fail to meet her eyes and accept her hug, she drops her arms down by her sides and wears her campaign face. She smiles a little, tilts her head so those stupid earrings sparkle, and she sweeps her hand back toward the foyer.

“Cross. You're looking well.”

It's so ridiculous, so utterly crazy, I'm not sure what to say. But when has that stopped a Carlson? I nod. “Likewise.”

I walk through the door she holds, and find the foyer seems smaller than it did a year ago. The chandelier doesn't sparkle, just reflects the glow of gaslight; the floors don't gleam; the imported rugs seem to have faded. As I follow my mother down the hallway, past the parlors and the library, I'm surprised to find it doesn't look like she's redecorated anything. When I lived here—even when I lived in the guest house, before I fled to Lizzy’s mother’s house—my mother changed the décor weekly. A new pillow here, a new rug there. Even when she and Dad were spending most of their time at the Beverly Hills house, there was always an event to host or a party to throw. The lack of change now gives me the impression that no one’s been here this last year.

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