Authors: Hope Conrad
He just wasn’t my
I used to be part of a motorcycle club. Nailed MC. Its members were guys I’d met when I was twelve years old, and we’d been friends ever since. Up until I went to prison. After that, I refused to see them. Told them to forget about me. When I had gotten out, I had wanted to make it on my own, even if it meant living in this shit hole. I hadn’t wanted to rely on anyone else, and thankfully I’d had savings left over from my pre-prison days.
Every day I was tempted to reach out to one of them—Jericho, Slate, Axel or Davis. Every day, I’d considered Jericho’s offer to give me my old job back at Nailed Garage. But other than asking Slate to find Katie for me, I’d stayed away. I didn’t want to burden them with my shit and potentially take them down with me in the process.
I can’t jeopardize the promise of working in a bookstore next to a woman who smells like lemons and thinks I have goodness in me.
For that, I’ll take all the fucking help I’m offered.
Without a word to Trevor, I walk into my bedroom. I throw an empty duffel on the bed, then rush to the tall black dresser and grab a few days’ worth of clothing. I stuff them in the bag, along with some of my books, including the one I bought today, paying no attention to Trevor as he leans against the doorframe with the bong once again in hand.
“You can crash here,” I say quietly. “I’ll tell my parole officer I’m staying someplace else.”
I don’t answer. I just throw the duffel over my shoulder with a quick swing.
“Shit, you’re going to them? To Slate and Jericho? You know they think they’re better than us, Street. They always have. You really want their charity?”
I lock eyes with him, and feel myself go dizzy with the weight of my anger. “I don’t
their charity. But they’re my friends, and I’m prepared to take it now. You want my help, Trevor? That’s the only way you can get it. Because they’re not willing to help you. I am. I’m just not willing to flush my life down the toilet again to do it, and you shouldn’t want me to.”
We stare at each other before Trevor’s gaze skitters away. “I won’t stay long. I’ve got some leads. I’ll only be here a few days, so no need to contact your parole agent.”
I nod. Hesitate. Then I hold out my fist and Trevor bumps it with his.
“I’ll catch you later.” I head out, and I walk down the dingy hallway of the rundown apartment complex, thinking of Katie and bolstered by the knowledge that I’m doing the right thing. The smart thing.
I shake my head as I make my way to the steps and rush down them.
I’ve always thought of obsessions as dangerous.
But my obsession with Katie just might save me.
My fingers are curled around the steering wheel as I take a slow left onto Richland Avenue. Richland divides the city of Darsbury in half, where everything north is considered the good side of the city, and everything south is considered the exact opposite.
It’s not the biggest city in the world, but it’s big enough to house both a prison and a community college. Many consider it a big town, but even with the population hovering around sixty-five thousand, it still feels claustrophobic somehow.
I would have done well in a little hamlet in the middle of nowhere, where I couldn’t spot the nearest neighbors with a pair of binoculars. Unfortunately, the smaller the town, the smaller the pool of available opportunities. I was born into poverty, and have never been able to escape it.
I still dream that my daughter will have a different upbringing than I did, but every morning I leave her to go to school, then to work, I feel guilty. I constantly remind myself that the time I spend away from her is time spent trying to make the best of a bad situation, and trying to give her a comfortable life where she’ll be met with plenty of opportunity for success.
I take a right turn onto Meridian Drive—the road I’ve lived on my entire life—and immediately spot the swirling blue and red lights at the end of the drive where the road comes to a dead end right outside my sister’s trailer that sits less than fifty feet away from mine.
As the long row of trailers slip past me in a blur, I narrow my eyes on the scene ahead and pull against the curb. The first thing I spot is him.
My ex boyfriend, Brett.
He’s waving his hands around in the air like a maniac, typical white trash, screaming something unintelligible while a female cop with her hair pulled into a pony tail pushes her hand against his chest.
Behind another pair of cops, both men, is my sister. She’s cradling my six-month-old daughter, Riley, in her arms. Through all the chaos, the only thing I can make sense of is Riley crying.
I jump out of the car and rush to my sister, but one of the male cops, the taller of the two, rushes forward to stop me. When he throws his arm out to protest, I push him out of my way.
“This is my house,” I exclaim. “What the hell is going on?”
“Are you the mother?”
“Yes. Now tell me what the hell is going on!”
The truth is that I don’t need him to tell me. I already know. Brett’s up to the same old shit he’s always up to. It wasn’t his choice to exit Riley’s life, but my leaving him and taking my daughter with me had been a direct consequence of his actions.
“Is this man the father?” the cop questions and points to a still-frantic Brett.
“Un-fucking-fortunately,” I huff. “But he only has limited visitation.
visitation,” I emphasize. “He’s not supposed to be here.”
The cop frowns. “I think he just wants to see his daughter, Ma’am. Maybe you should let him.”
“Oh, you think so?” I push the sleeve of my shirt to my shoulder. “See these scars? These are from him. I don’t want him around me, and I don’t want him around my daughter. He can come on his supervised visitation day next month, but that’s it.”
The cop takes in my scars and I have to turn my head away from the sympathy yet also the disdain that wells up in his eyes. Disdain that comes from knowing Brett had abused me yet I’d still stayed with him. Still had a daughter with him. I can’t even judge him for his disdain. I feel it for myself. I was a victim, but I allowed it to happen, and now I have to live with it even though I’m so tired of this hold Brett has on me. The hold he’ll have over me my whole life because of the daughter we share.
The shorter of the male cops steps up to me. “We’re going to take him into custody and charge him with drunk and disorderly,” he assures me. “I’ve taken a statement from your sister and suggest you file something with the family court before your ex’s next visitation day.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the female cop twist Brett’s arm and throw him against the hood of the police cruiser. I can’t even pretend the sight doesn’t fill me with a sense of satisfaction. Brett is forced into the back of the cruiser, and any satisfaction I previously enjoyed by his predicament fades as he lifts his dark gaze. I grow uncomfortable. His anger is unwavering and I’m taken back to every time he raised his hand to me.
I know he’ll do it again if ever given the opportunity.
* * *
After the police take Brett away and the chaos fades back into the same quiet existence to which I’ve grown accustomed to, it’s just me, my sister Dee, and Riley in the quiet serenity of my trailer.
The living room is clean, and Riley sleeps peacefully in her white bassinet in the center of the small, but tidy living room. In the background, the television displays the news on mute. Lights from the TV fill the room with flashes of color.
It’s been an hour since the police left, and about twenty minutes since Riley fell asleep. As if Brett’s surprise visit hasn’t been stressful enough, finals are coming up, and Riley is catching a cold. I wonder if I’ll ever catch a break.
I look over to my sister with her back hunched, and her elbow resting on the arm of the couch. She’s exhausted. She too has a busy schedule. She works the night shift in a factory, and somehow finds the time and patience to babysit Riley while I’m balancing school in the morning and afternoon shifts at the bookstore. She’ll go home, have dinner, work, sleep from two until nine, then be back here at quarter to ten so I can head to school. I’ll be back at six thirty, and the whole cycle will start over again.
Dee’s always wanted to be a mother, but she’s unable to conceive. I think that’s the reason her last boyfriend left her. It’s a tragedy. She always finds the good men, but they never stick around. I always find the wrong men, and they
She adores Riley the same way I do, and I’ll never be able to thank her enough in this lifetime or the next. But I always try.
“Thank you,” I say and pat my hand on her knee.
“For what? I love that little girl as if she were my own.”
“Thank you for that and everything else.” I force out a sigh, and just the thought of Brett makes me want to scream. “Thank you for taking care of the situation today.”
“I’d shoot that man dead in the chest before I let him take Riley out of here.”
That forces an uneven smile out of me. “I’d load the gun.”
“You know you have the worst taste in men,” she points out and shakes her head. “I told you from the beginning he was bad news.”
I groan and throw my head against the tattered couch. “Don’t remind me.”
“From now on, when you meet a man, bring him to me before you make anything official. If I don’t approve, then he has to walk out that door faster than he came in.”
“Deal,” I say with another forced smile and reach out to shake her hand. Even as I do, I think of Street. He’s not good news. If he ever came around, Dee would take one look at him and she
“I should get going.” She shakes her wrist and checks the brown, faux leather watch wrapped around her arm. She stands, raises her arms over her head and yawns loudly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Thank you, again,” I say as she steps to the front door.
“Don’t thank me.” She wraps her hand around the doorknob. “And don’t feel guilty about not being here all the time for Riley, and don’t feel guilty because I spend my time here when I’m not at work. You’re providing for her future, and knowing that someday that girl’s life won’t be as hard as ours was is more than enough to balance out whatever it is that I’m sacrificing.”
“Goodnight, sis. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
And then she’s gone, and it’s just me and the ticking of the clock watching as my precious girl sleeps, and I should be focused on trying to get some rest, but all I can think about is him.
All I can think about is Street.
Despite my intentions to call my brothers from Nailed MC, my pride interfered. I’d have to explain that I had abandoned my own place to let Trevor stay there. I knew I’d get shit for it, shit I deserved, but shit I still didn’t want to hear. I decided to sleep on it before making any decisions, which meant spending some precious cash on a shitty place to stay, at least for the night.
A ceiling fan spins above me in slow circles, hypnotizing me as I lie in a full-sized bed in a run-down motel on the edge of town. The light above the sink flickers on and off, as if a bug is flying into a lantern. I’ve long disposed of my shirt, and relax in nothing but my white boxers.
Here in this room, it’s hotter than the fires of hell. It’s almost winter, and it’s a chilly night outside. But within these walls, the heater only works on the highest setting.
There’s a strong musky odor rising from the carpets and suffocating me as I struggle to shake Katie out of my mind. I don’t want her here, not even in my head, given what a dirty, craptastic place it is.
But it’s no use. Katie stands before me at the foot of the bed.
And she stares at me, like she always stares at me.
* * *
The showerhead sputters, alternately raining hard and soft over me. The hot water lands against my head, and like a river, it flows over my naked body. I bow my head against the laminate lining of the wall, and Street’s here with me.
His fingers run down my bare side and claw into my hip. His head nuzzles against my neck, where his breath, hotter than the water, burns against my flesh. This isn’t the first time he’s appeared to me, but it has never felt this real before.
He doesn’t say a word.
He doesn’t need to.
I know exactly what he wants.
And I want the exact same damn thing.
* * *
My rough hand moves along the surface of my skin. My palm drags across my hard nipple, and then down the trail of my abdomen. One hard ridge after the next, I make my way to the lining of my boxers and stop when I see her standing there again.