“Who’s Misty?” Horse asked.
“Gary’s new girlfriend,” I replied, reaching up to explore my split lip gingerly. Even talking hurt. “I actually kind of like her. She packed her stuff and took off. Not as stupid as me, got out quick.”
“You feel like a ride?” Horse asked Picnic.
“Sounds about right,” he replied.
“Let me get her cleaned up, make sure she doesn’t need a doctor first.”
That worked for me.
I drifted in and out after that. Cool water dabbed my face. Horse stuck some pills in my mouth and then held up a cup of water for me to swallow. Jeff sat next to me, holding my hand as the pain faded completely. Good pills, I mused. Definitely not Tylenol. Bikes roared and then I drifted away. When morning came Jeff called in to work, told them I’d been in an accident and would probably need several days off. He tried to get me to eat some breakfast but I couldn’t handle the thought of food. I decided to just lie in bed feeling sorry for myself. Around ten I heard the rumble of bikes again, but this time the whole crew didn’t come inside, just Horse. He walked in and sat next to me on the bed without saying anything.
“I’m pretty tired,” I said, refusing to look at him. I felt so stupid, so embarrassed. I knew Gary could get violent. They warned me at the Women’s Center not to go back by myself, but I’d felt so silly being afraid to visit my own house. “I think you should go.”
Horse stroked a finger along my collarbone, one of the only visible places on my body without ugly purple bruises.
“He’s not going to hurt you again,” he said.
“It’s not your problem, Horse,” I replied. I didn’t want to talk to him. I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep, forget for a little while about what had happened.
“It’s not your problem anymore either.”
Something in his voice caught my attention, so I forced myself to look up at him. His eyes were bloodshot and the muscles in his unshaven jaw clenched. He lifted my hand and kissed it very softly. That’s when I saw his knuckles.
They were completely torn up, crusted over with blood.
He followed my gaze, shaking his head slowly, offering me a strange, sad little smile.
“Don’t ask the question unless you want to hear the answer,” he said. “I’ve gotta go, we’re on a long run. California. If anyone asks, you were in a car accident, okay? Don’t go into it any further than that, as soon as you give out too much information or complicate a lie, it’s harder to keep up with it.”
I nodded, closing my eyes again.
I didn’t even consider asking how he hurt his knuckles.
The Reapers passed through again a week later, heading back home. By then I was up and moving, although I still hadn’t gone back to work. Denise had come out to visit me—armed with chicken noodle soup and a basket of fresh veggies, including about twenty pounds of zucchini—and declared that I couldn’t watch kids looking like a punching bag. I’d scare them. She promised to hold my job for me though, which I appreciated greatly, and even offered to give me overtime once I was presentable again to make up for the lost income. Her kindness made me cry.
Now I sat outside the trailer in a camp chair, reading an old romance of my mom’s and listening to the roar of a bike coming down our driveway.
The others weren’t with him, and I didn’t know what to say as he walked over to me. I still felt stupid and self-conscious. Not only had he seen me at my lowest, but I still looked like hell. Thankfully I’d been right in my initial assessment of the damage—nothing broken, nothing permanent.
“You look like shit,” Horse said helpfully as he pulled up a lawn chair next to me. He sounded almost cheerful, which annoyed me. I glared at him and he smirked. “Still got a sweet butt though.”
I went from annoyed to pissed.
“Don’t call me that,” I snapped. “I don’t like it.”
“I know,” he replied. “That’s why I do it. You’re cute when you’re pissed. Kind of like a wet kitten. Gets me hard.”
My jaw dropped. Horse leaned back in his chair, running his fingers through his dark, messy hair, grinning at me with that perfect mouth, stubble so long it had turned into a short beard. The man looked extremely pleased with himself.
“Hear from the ex?” he asked.
I shook my head, deciding not address the “gets me hard” comment.
“Glad to hear it, I don’t think he’ll be bothering you again,” he replied. “The guys will be here in a couple hours. They’re grabbing some food, we’ll camp here tonight before heading home.”
“Um, that sounds good,” I said. “Does Jeff know?”
He shook his head.
“No, I just wanted to check on you,” he said. “Is he around?”
I shook my head.
“He went to the casino with some friends, said he might crash at Krissy’s tonight.”
Horse’s face didn’t change, but I felt a distinct chill. Well, fair enough. I didn’t like Jeff going to the casino either. He must have work for them he hadn’t finished yet. Jeff had been going downhill fast the past few weeks, and I couldn’t seem to do anything to halt it or help him.
“Don’t let that stop you,” I added quickly. “You guys are welcome to stay here, especially if you’re bringing your own food.”
I meant it too. Even though he’d scared the hell out of me that unforgettable morning, I felt safe around him, especially now. When I’d been hurt, he protected me. I knew he’d done something nasty to Gary. I supposed I should be upset about that, because violence never solves anything. But Gary deserved whatever he got and then some.
“You want anything to drink?” Horse asked, taking in the empty plastic cup sitting next to me on a plastic milk crate. I smiled at him, trying not to wince as it pulled at my split lip.
“You got it,” he said, snagging my cup and carrying it inside. He came back out with a second one for himself. We sat companionably for the rest of the afternoon, talking about all kinds of things. I learned he’d grown up in a biker family and his father had been one of the first Reapers. His sister was married to Bam Bam. When I’d first met them, the MC had seemed like a gang of thugs, but the way Horse described it was more like a family. A crazy, loud family that fought a lot and occasionally went to jail, but still a family.