He’s following me. There’s no denying it now. I let go of the steering wheel to rub my sweaty palm on my skirt. My muscles feel stiff. With any luck, this is only anxiety and not another MS relapse.
I noticed the guy on his Harley-Davidson shortly after I left home an hour ago. Despite the many turns it’s taken to reach Tsawwassen, he’s still close behind and growing closer. Through my rear-view mirror, I watch him swerve into the fast lane, pass a vehicle, then dart back into my lane. I know this is the man I passed on the Barnet Highway yesterday afternoon. It’s the same motorcycle, the same black leather vest over tanned muscles.
My fantasy isn’t supposed to invade my real life. The thought of a forty-two year old, married mother of three riding into the sunset with a drop-dead gorgeous biker is ludicrous. Yet somehow he found my house and now he’s here, smirking, like he knows I’m watching him. What does he want?
Given the number of police cars blocking the highway yesterday afternoon, I first thought there’d been a terrible crash. As I drove closer, though, I spotted a gang of bored looking bikers lounging by their hogs. One pair of vivid blue eyes stared at me as my old Buick followed the slowing procession of cars. The man’s blond curls, muscular build, and tight jeans had brought a quick burn to my face. As I returned his stare, adrenaline rushed through my veins with a force I hadn’t felt in years.
Late last night, a Harley rumbled down our street. This morning, it happened again. Was I licking my lips with as much subtlety as a Penthouse centerfold when I passed him yesterday? The thought makes me cringe. Still, the attention is kind of exciting. When I was younger, healthier, and bolder, men ogled me all the time.
At the Boundary Bay border crossing, the customs officer asks the same questions he always asks on my bi-monthly excursions, then lets me leave B.C. to enter the United States. The biker is three cars back. I watch him slide his sunglasses down the bridge of his nose, then peer at me. When he taps his helmet once, then points his finger in my direction, I hit the gas and keep going until I reach the Point Roberts Post Office minutes later.
After my parcels have been mailed, I step outside, then freeze. He’s parked next to my car. Straddling that huge machine, his arms are crossed and he’s staring in my direction. As I walk toward the car, my heart thumps and my already overheated back oozes sweat.
“Hello, April.” He grins. “Do you always drive to the States to mail stuff?”
Whoa! How does he know my name? “Canadian post offices don’t sell American stamps.” Pushing back my hat, I peer at him. “Have we met before?”
He nods. “Guess where.”
His silky voice is patronizing. I spot the tattoo on his right bicep: a serpent coiled around a dagger dripping with blood.
“Maybe something’ll click over a coffee.” He removes his sunglasses. “You game?”
Hardly. He could be a rapist. “How did you know where I live?”
Again, he grins. “I’m not here to hurt ya, April, if that’s what’s worrying you.”
Lots of things worry me these days, and I’m ashamed of the coward I’ve become.
The guy is gorgeous, though; sexy, charismatic; the type of man I’ve been fantasizing about for years. I probably should be embarrassed about this, except that my fantasy life has helped me survive many hours in doctors’ waiting rooms and frustrating days of recovery after a relapse. Maybe this is why part of me wants to have coffee with him, or maybe it’s simply that I could never resist a mystery. Funny thing though, he does look vaguely familiar.
“There’s a café I’m stopping by anyway.” I open the car door. “The owner’s a friend.”
Come to think of it, this man resembles someone I met three years ago, when my dwindling social life still had some spark.
“Are you a stripper from that nightclub on Davie Street? Because you dress just like him.” I can’t believe I said that. Where is this bravado coming from?
His smirk vanishes. “I don’t dance.”
Big surprise. As he follows me to the café, memories of nights out with friends and harmless flirtations in bars come to mind. Why can’t I place him?
Inside the café, cloth placemats and fresh flowers decorate glass tabletops. Familiar faces wave when they see me. Vivaldi plays through the speakers. I know this piece. It’s called “Summer”. Jim gave me the Four Seasons album eight years ago. He’d hoped it would help relax me, ease the periods of pain, which it has on occasion. I choose a table near the cash register.
“You haven’t told me your name.”
He removes the helmet and shades. “Lee.”
“First or last?”
I sit down. “And your last?”
He sees the café’s owner beckoning me. “What’s he want?”
I’d like to answer that it’s none of Lee’s business, but ticking off a biker would be risky, to say the least. “To discuss business. I make some of the crafts Samuel sells here.” I nod toward the hand-painted hats and T-shirts displayed behind the counter.
“That explains all the butterflies on your clothes.”
I forgot that I’m wearing my latest creation. Feeling like an idiot, I remove my hat.
“Thought you’d be into Halloween themes,” he remarks. “You like Halloween, don’t ya? Dressing up, throwing parties.”
“Did we meet at a party?”
He shakes his head and grins again. Jerk.
By the time I’ve convinced Samuel that butterfly designs will sell this summer, Lee’s nearly finished his coffee.
“That all you do?” He watches me sit down. “Make crafts?”
Another offensive question. I smile anyway and adopt a friendly tone. “How do you earn a living, Lee, and does it have anything to do with the cops’ roadside chat yesterday?”
“I fix Harleys.” He leans forward. “I asked you a question.”
This guy’s really starting to annoy me. “Yes, all I make is crafts, when I can.”
“What’s that mean?”
I reach for my coffee. “I have health problems.”
“What kind of problems?”
I stare at him. “It’s not something I feel comfortable discussing with strangers.” Or anyone else these days.
“Try me. I don’t shock easily.”
I bet. Maybe answering him will stop the inquisition. “I have multiple sclerosis, MS.” There it is. The same blank look I’ve seen a million times. I really hate that look. “The type I have only causes serious problems once in a while.”
His eyes still on mine, Lee props his hand under his chin. “How long have you had it?”
“I was diagnosed ten years ago, not long after my third child was born.”
“What’d you do before the crafts thing?”
At least he’s changed the subject. “I ran a daycare in my home.”
Lee looks out the window, toward his bike, yet his gaze is distant. If I can get him to talk about himself, maybe he’ll reveal where we met.
“That’s one beautiful hog, Lee. A fully dressed Electra Glide, isn’t it?”
“You know about Harleys, do ya?”
“A tiny bit. A boyfriend back in high school rode one. Best thing about that relationship was his bike.”
“And now you’d love to ride off into the sunset because suburbia’s too damn boring, right?”
Coffee sloshes onto my fingers. I’ve told only one friend about that dream, and she wouldn’t blab it to anyone. I wipe my hand on a paper serviette. “My life is fine.”
“Wouldn’t you want your old life back?”
“My old life brought me here and I hate looking back. Hate self-pity even more.”
“So, you’re having a real blast, are you?”
“Let’s talk about you.” I scrunch the serviette. “Where do you live?”
He takes his time answering. “Alberta.”
“Are you here on holiday?”
He looks away. “Family stuff. . . my brother.”
“What about your brother?”
Lee retrieves his helmet. “Too bad about the MS.” He strokes my cheek with a rough, warm finger. “You’re still a babe, though.”
His eyes clamp onto my T-shirt, as if he can see through the fabric. To my horror, I giggle and my face begins to burn. Lee drops ten bucks on the table, then marches out the door.
. . .
For two days I’ve tried not to think about him, but each evening a Harley roars past my house. Maybe he’s still waiting for my memory to kick in. Although this fantasy has become too intrusive, I don’t want him to go away until the mystery is solved.
As I step out of the plant shop carrying a box filled with bedding plants, I spot Lee parked four stalls from my car. Again, my heartbeat quickens, but I’m not sure if the cause is excitement or trepidation. Seated on his bike, he smirks while I stroll toward him, hoping my petunias won’t topple out of the box.
“Planning to buy plants, Lee?”
“No. Are you hoping I’m here to see you?”
“Yes, actually. I want you to tell me about your brother.”
His smirk vanishes. “So, you’ve finally figured out how we met?”
“No, but since you’re asking that question, then I gather our connection has something to do with him.” Lee doesn’t respond. “What’s his name?”
He starts the Harley. “Danny.” Lee peels out of the lot.
. . .
Barnet Marine Park isn’t crowded. For the first time in two weeks, the air is mercifully cool and the clouds threaten rain. I love this peaceful place. Burrard Inlet provides a natural border to the park. The other side of the inlet is mountainous and undeveloped so that wilderness, and somehow freedom, feel just within reach. Wandering past the picnic and beach area, I head down the wide dirt path that parallels the inlet.
No one wanted to join me for one of the many walks the doctor suggests I take. The kids have busy social lives and Jim was asleep on the sofa when I left.
Poor Jim. When muscle pain, dizziness, and fatigue forced me to bed, he made supper after work, then drove the kids to various activities. He still takes good care of us, but then he’s always preferred staying home to hanging out at bars. He never begrudged my nights out with friends. Jim once said he liked the way I came home all charged up after a fun night out. He hasn’t had a reason to say that in a while.
During my first relapse, friends helped us out, but they have their own families, their own problems. Even close friends have faded away, along with the fun-loving fireball I once was. Disease, worry, pain, and doctors’ offices haven’t brought out the best in me.
The sound of approaching footsteps distracts me. I turn around to discover an unshaven and exhausted looking Lee hurrying to catch up. Since he hasn’t cruised by my house over the past three days, I thought he’d left town. On the drive here, I was too busy obsessing about the growing stiffness in my back to pay attention to much else.
“You spend a lot of time by yourself,” Lee remarks. “Must get lonely.”
I notice how the inlet’s dark green water deepens to black in places. “My family doesn’t like walking. Anyway, it keeps me fit and healthy, I hope.”
I suppose I wouldn’t have added that last bit if I hadn’t wanted him to know. Sharing my fear about the significance of this latest pain is somehow safer with him than it is with family members. Lee won’t get all emotional about it. He’ll never now how grateful I am for that.
“Doctor says that after ten years, there’s a fifty percent chance my condition will worsen.”
“Guy’s a real optimist.”
“He’s just trying to prepare me.”
“You sound calm about it,” Lee says.
Lightening flashes in the eastern sky.
“You used to be a lot more passionate about stuff, April.”
“How would you know?”
Thunder cracks in the distance. His silence is maddening.
“I used to overreact to a lot of things, Lee, but it didn’t help my health any more than drinking and smoking did. I’ve learned to chill out, make better choices.”
“And give up on fun.”
“I didn’t say that. I have my crafts, my family. I pretty much do what I want with my days, which is more than most people can say.”
“As long as the doc approves, right?”
“He’s one of the best in his field. I’d be stupid not to follow his advice.”
“You’d be stupid to live like some old lady who’s terrified of getting sicker.”
Before I can stop myself, an angry sigh escapes. “Look, if you’re here to find out if I remember meeting your brother Danny, the answer is no.”
Lee gazes at the dirt path. “He said you always treated him nice. Talked to him about stuff.” He looks at me. “Tymchuk. Danny Tymchuk.”
Instantly, memories of a small, withdrawn boy crystalize. Danny was in my daycare group until my pregnancy and illness forced me to close. He had few friends, school was a struggle, and his mother worked two jobs to support four kids. Only two things interested Danny: Halloween and motorcycles. We enjoyed making scary costumes together, talking about Harleys. Danny wanted to grow up and ride, just like his big brother did. I look at Lee.
He came to pick up Danny once. Lee’s hair hung below his shoulders then and he was thinner, not the kind of body that would have attracted me. When he showed up that day, an elated Danny ran into his arms and Lee gave him a big hug. I’d never seen that little boy so happy.
The wind rustles branches. When raindrops begin to fall, we turn and head back toward the parking lot.
“I’m amazed you recognized me on the highway the other day,” I tell him.
“It was your purple Buick. I don’t forget weird paint jobs and hot looking women. Besides, Danny always talked about ya and all those field trips you took the kids on.” Lee pauses. “He was hoping you’d open up again after your kid was born.”
“So did I, but I had a major relapse after Noah’s birth. Doctor thought that running a daycare while caring for a newborn, plus my other two, would be too much.” Ahead of us, picnickers swiftly pack their things. “How is Danny?”
Lee’s expression darkens. “He’s in jail.”
He charges ahead with strides so quick I can’t keep up.
. . .
What Lee didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, tell me is now front page news in our local paper. Danny’s been convicted of second-degree murder. Two years ago, he stabbed a teenager. Although Danny was also sixteen at the time, he has been tried as an adult.
Once again, Lee’s Harley drives down my street, but I don’t know why. The mystery is solved. He can’t have the hots for this sickly middle-aged body, can he? After all, he’s just a fantasy and I’m simply a distraction from the bleakness of his brother’s trial.
When his Harley stops outside my house, I find myself frozen in place, not from fear or pain, but from a desire to see him, to learn why Danny wound up taking a life.
His knock is loud. Although the stiffness I felt a couple of days ago has subsided, a different kind of rigidity invades each limb on my way to the door.
“Wanna go for a ride?” Lee barely smiles.
A real ride with my fantasy guy? Why not? It’s just one ride. Anyway, my fantasy’s never been sexual. Riding’s been the main appeal, the freedom it represents. Maybe Lee’s lifestyle is what really draws me to him, plus his commitment to his brother.
Since Jim’s at work and the kids aren’t due back from school for five hours, I grab my keys and sunglasses. “Where does your gang go when you’re alone?”
“Around. Most of them stayed in Alberta.”
The bike feels magnificent. I love the power, the noise. I tighten my arms around his waist. We don’t talk, not even at the stoplights. Turning right onto Sunnyside Road, we head toward Belcarra, a quiet community surrounded by forest.
As Lee speeds up, my body and spirit soar. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. Leaning with him on every curve feels completely natural, as if this is what I was born to do. I can’t stop grinning.
He turns the bike onto a dirt road and we ride deeper into the forest. As the dirt road narrows into a footpath, foliage brushes against my clothes. Lowering my head, I press myself against Lee’s back. Why are we heading this way? Dumb question.
When we reach a clearing, he turns off the motor, then removes his helmet. Inhaling the smell of leather and tobacco, I try to hide my nervousness.
“So,” he turns around, “you’re finally feeling something. Ya look scared as hell.”
“Is that why you brought me here?”
“I think you wanted to feel something, or you wouldn’t have come with me.”
I start to reply when his fingertip touches my lips. “See, I’m offering what you ain’t gettin’ at home.”
“Look, I came with you because I want to know what went wrong with Danny.” I struggle to control my fear and irritation. “When I knew him he was a sweet, gentle child. What happened?”
He lights a cigarette, then glares at me. “Take off your helmet. Ya look like a geek in it.”
Removing the helmet, I step away from him. “I read about Danny’s trial in the newspaper. How long will he be in prison?”
Lee stares at dry pine needles blanketing the ground. “Don’t matter. He’ll be dead before the year’s over.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I won’t be there to stop him from trying!”
My stomach knots while he paces around the bike. “What went wrong?”
“Doc said he’s manic-depressive or some crap.” He shakes his head. “Whenever Danny stopped taking his meds, major shit would happen. After he was nailed for the stabbing thing, he said he’d rather die than do time.”
“Was he on medication then?”
“Doubt it.” Lee gives me an accusing look. “He started going downhill after you closed the daycare.”
Guilt settles in my chest. Is this what he wants? “What about your mother and sisters?”
“They couldn’t deal with him. He only had me.”
“And your gang, of course.” I don’t like the way his eyes narrow.
“What about them?”
“It’s just that your lifestyle doesn’t exactly promote peace and stability.”
Lee throws his smoke on the ground, then grabs my arm. In an instant I’m pinned against a tree. A knife glistens at my throat.
“I did the best I could. I kept telling people that but no one would listen! Danny told me he was taking the bloody meds! What was I supposed to do?”
“Okay, you were trying to help him. I get it!”
The knife vanishes and he releases me. I bend over and gulp down air. Slowly, I straighten up and wipe sweat from my upper lip.
“Maybe I could talk to him.”
“He won’t see anyone. Besides, what could you do? He’s not the kid you remember.”
“If I can’t help, then why am I here?”
He shrugs. “You knew him. He said you liked him. He liked you. I can see why.”
Lee’s expression changes as he looks me up and down. He moves closer, then pulls me toward him. “Danny always said you were a lot of fun. Are you still fun, April?”
Our eyes lock. “I’m not what I was either, you know that. So what’s this really about?”
“I told you, you’re a babe. One who needs a little passion back in her life.”
I push away from him. “I have a passion for staying alive, for not hurting people. For not being hurt.”
He peers at me, as if trying to gauge my sincerity. “Here.” When he hands me the helmet, I exhale the air I’d been holding.
“Someone will make sure Danny takes his medication,” I say, needing to change the subject. “Provide some counseling maybe. It could work out.”
Lee climbs onto the Harley. After I join him, we ride without speaking until he pulls into my driveway.
“Riding with you was all Danny ever wanted. I’m glad he lived his dream for a few years, at least.” I hand him the helmet. “If he really wants to ride again, he’ll find a way to get through this.”
“What about you?” He looks at me. “Did you live your dream today?”
I choke back a sarcastic laugh. “A little.”
“Didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, right?”
The sadness on his face is surprising. “Actually, the ride itself was amazing. No worrying, thinking, just freedom, power . . . joy.”
He nods, smiling a little. “Better get yourself a bike.”
For once, the smirk is mine. “Doctor wouldn’t be too thrilled.”
“Then don’t invite him along.” His gaze is serious. “You’re not the one in prison, are you?”
I study him. “Ride by myself?”
“Would you rather come with me?”
“I belong here.”
“For now, maybe, but keep your options open, babe.”
Gazing at Lee’s Harley, my heart begins to pound. “I read an article once about biking clubs for women.”
“What? It’d be a great way to meet new people.”
“Whatever. Next time I’m in town, I’ll show ya the best rides the Lower Mainland.”
I still have that article. In it was a picture of a woman about my age, driving a shiny red Sportster. She looked so happy, fearless.