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Authors: J.M. Miller

Tags: #Contemporary

The Line That Binds (24 page)

BOOK: The Line That Binds
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“Well,
Holyfield
,” Carson said. “It doesn’t change anything. You still can’t play any games tonight. You’re grounded.”

“For how long?”

“The rest of the week,” Carson replied, laying a hand on Gavin’s shoulder, walking him inside.

“Two fights in one week? Is your brother going to start a club or something?” I joked when LJ returned to the garden.

“I doubt it. He’s not the type,” she answered, fixing her earphones back into place. “He must have found some courage today.”

 

 

 

Monday was the worst. It ranked up there with the day I’d realized my mom was using drugs, and the day she left us. It was painful, mentally and physically. Headaches and the noisy high pitches came in waves and spanned the whole day. At home, I’d heard Gavin’s voice ask for the courage to defend himself. That happened right after he’d explained the fight at school. I’d instantly remembered his voice on Saturday, asking for the confidence to talk to girls. I was convinced it was a coincidence, but my mind was so chaotic I couldn’t think straight. The pain was killing my focus, and my sanity.

After hearing Gavin’s voice again, and dealing with Dad and Ben’s joint lecture about motorcycle safety, I was more than ready to end the day. My phone no longer had Web access, but it still had music so I plugged in my earbuds later to relax. It drowned everything out, sedating my mind. I used the technique at school on Tuesday too, listening whenever I had a chance during classes, at lunch, and in the hallways. The headaches remained dull and I survived lunch without fainting.

Later that afternoon, I found out Gavin had been in another fight at school. He knew it would happen, and he could’ve avoided it, but he chose to fight. Somehow, he’d found the
courage
to fight. It was exactly what his voice had wanted the day before. Now I knew it wasn’t coincidental. The voices’ requests were being granted somehow.

It was real. It happened.

And I had no idea how.

The headaches raged through the rest of the week, but at a much more tolerable level. They seemed to be weakening. I kept listening to music, unsure if it played a part, but unwilling to test the theory by stopping. It also helped me distance myself from Ben at work, though it didn’t fully stop his efforts. Whenever I had to talk to him about my next task, he would sneak in a random joke or ask me how I was feeling. It was difficult to ignore him; he was charming and witty. But since he’d agreed with my father, I didn’t know how to feel about him. It made me think he was trying to score points by piggybacking on my father’s cardboard concern. I didn’t need another artificial guy in my life. I’d had enough.

The grounds looked stunning for an early wedding on Saturday. During the week, we’d finished the bulb planting for next spring, mowed, and trimmed back the bushes lining the estate’s entrance road. I stared over the courtyard’s wall from my bedroom window and watched another bride and groom say vows under the trellis. Later, when the reception ended over at the event house and I’d finished my weekend homework, a truck drove out back to Ben’s house. It had antlers mounted to its dented hood and three bikes tied upright in the bed.

“Are you coming out to watch?” Gavin’s voice screamed up the staircase.

“Watch what?” I responded loudly, peering through my bedroom window as the truck stopped in front of Ben’s house. Spaz and Izzy jumped out of the deer truck and Ben emerged from his house to greet them.

“I’m riding today. Are you coming out?”

“I think I’m going to pass,” I answered.

“Hey.” Gavin peeked through the door, donning his new boots, unfastened. “What’s the deal? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just … I don’t know.” I frowned at him.

“Come on! It’ll be a blast. You can watch me fall like an idiot.”

“Just be sure to wear a helmet, okay?” I asked, glancing through the window again while Ben and his friends unloaded the bikes.

“I’m not that big of an idiot. Anyway, since Dad is at work, I figured you’d want to hang out. I know you’ve been hiding when he’s home. Plus, what about Ben?”

“What about Ben?” I glared at him over my shoulder.

“I don’t know. I saw him earlier. He asked me how you’ve been.”

“I see him every day. Why would he ask you that?”

“I don’t know. Why
would
he?” Gavin asked, lifting his brow.

I scowled at him. “I’m not in the mood for head games, Gav.”

“Are you in the mood to watch me bash my head?”

“It’s tempting.”

“Good, but don’t wait too long. I’ll be a pro after an hour or so,” he stated before leaving the room.

I watched from the silence of my room for a while. Ben, Spaz, and Izzy all talked around the bike as Gavin tested the seat. Ben pointed at things on the bike with exaggerated hand motions that made me smile. It looked adorably silly. Spaz and Izzy got on their own bikes, demonstrating turns and techniques.

After Gavin’s first jerky takeoff and stall, they traveled to the back of the property where Ben usually rode. I went outside for a closer view, sneaking out to the barn to remain hidden. I climbed up the loft’s ladder then wove around stacks of boxes and machine parts to get to one of the two small windows. The interior shutter was closed so I swung it open for a view of the makeshift track. I took a seat on a box in time to see Gavin stall the bike again.

Later, when he finally completed a full lap on the track, my eyes began to wander. Half of the loft was like an extension to the basement, with boxes of old papers, baskets, and miscellaneous junk. A medium box with the word “Rina” written on the top sat below the base of the window.
Mom
. I unfolded the cardboard flaps to a picnic basket, complete with a red-and-white checkered liner and a double flip lid. It was filled with pictures and cards. I picked up a picture of Janine standing beside a much younger version of my mom. Both of them had their hands pressed to my mom’s extended belly, and the same picnic basket sat at their feet. There wasn’t a date.
The belly had to be me.
If it were Gavin, I might’ve been old enough to remember this visit.

I dug through the rest of the picnic basket, finding a yellowed handkerchief embroidered with the initials CS and an antique brass skeleton key with an oval finger grip and beveled notches.

“No, that was awesome,” Ben’s voice traveled into the barn. “Everyone flips over the handle bars when they first learn.”

I closed the basket and crouched beside a folded table to hide where I could still see them.

Laughter erupted from all of them. “No, but seriously,” Ben spoke again. “You did really well for your first time.”

“Yeah I agree, man. It took me a lot longer to work it out,” Spaz said.

“Really?” Gavin asked in a hopeful voice, walking the smallest bike inside.

Izzy laughed. “Don’t let him fool you, Gav. He still needs lessons.”

“That’s funny coming from a girl who stalls on jumps,” Spaz replied.

“That was one time! Don’t even get me started on your outtake reel,” Izzy snapped and playfully jumped on his back.

“It was good,” Ben said to Gavin. “We’ll have to go out again tomorrow, but it’ll have to be after the scheduled bat mitzvah.”

“Okay, yeah. That sounds awesome. Thanks so much for everything, for letting me use the bike and the gear.” Gavin sounded so excited. Hearing the happiness in his voice made my heart fill with joy. I never expected it to happen here, but I was thrilled it had.

“No problem. You gave me an excuse to store the crap over here with Ben. My mom has been on me about making room in our shed to store other junk.” Spaz said, scratching his head as he stared at Ben’s bikes parked on the opposite side of the barn.

“Speaking of your mom, we better get going,” Izzy said, removing her riding jacket. “She’ll flip if you’re late to babysit your brother again.”

“Hang on,” Spaz cut her off, still staring at the bikes. He strode over to the dirt bike, and Ben dropped his head, like he knew what was coming next. “Dude! You installed passenger pegs on the Honda?” His hand slid down the rear fender and grabbed the new peg, flipping it down for show.

“Yup,” Ben replied in a flat tone as Izzy jumped up and down. Her long, brown ponytail flitted back and forth as she rushed over to the bike too. She touched the peg gingerly as if it were worth a million dollars.

“What happened to, ‘There’s no way I’ll put passenger pegs on my 450’?” Spaz asked, crossing his lanky arms.

“You planning to take someone for a ride, Benj?” Izzy asked with a smile that nearly consumed her whole heart-shaped face.

“Maybe,” Ben mumbled. “Come on. I’ll help you throw your bikes in the truck so you’ll leave me the hell alone.”

Izzy and Spaz laughed as they all walked out of the barn. I watched from the window as Gavin helped load the two bikes in the truck. I thought about slipping out, but I knew they’d probably spot me so I waited. After Spaz’s truck honked and took off, Gavin gave Ben a single wave and walked to our house. Ben stood in the same spot for a minute that seemed to last an hour.

“Come on, move,” I whispered, willing him to leave so I could sneak out.

When he spun around quickly and strolled back to the barn, I ducked out of sight under the window. A locker opened and closed downstairs then everything went silent for another lengthy minute. I breathed slowly and peeked out the window again, checking to see if he’d left.

“You can come out now,” he called with a soft laugh.

I waited, not willing to accept that he knew where I was.

“Do I have to come up there and get you? Are you stuck under some boxes or something?”

“No,” I said, standing and peering over the open floor.

He stared up at me, tossing a helmet between his hands. His lips quirked into an amused smile. “Did you enjoy the show?”

“It was entertaining enough. How did you know I was here?” I replied and moved to the ladder with the picnic basket. When I hopped off the bottom rung, he was standing within a foot of me. I backed against the ladder, extending the space between us. After our bike ride Monday, I knew being close to him made lines blur. That couldn’t happen right now.

“The window shutter’s open.” He gave a head nod toward the loft.

“Oh.”

“What’s with the basket? Did you pack a snack?” His fingers flipped one side of the lid open and his body leaned closer to see inside.

“No,” I breathed out. “I found it upstairs. It has pictures of my mom and Aunt Janine.” He was so close, all of my senses reacted. I could smell the mint on his breath as it whispered its gentle rhythm to my ears. I watched his lips crack an easy smile and I licked my own, wondering if the mint behind his breath tasted as good as it smelled. These feelings were easy enough to stifle during the week because I’d kept my distance. But he was so close now. It was impossible to ignore.

“It’s weird that you found that out here, but Janine did have a habit of moving things and forgetting them. She used to call Pop to help her find stuff all the time. After Janine died, the housekeeper, Claire, found things everywhere. She’s the one who boxed most of that stuff in the basement.” He smiled wider and backed up a little, then looked into my eyes. “Look. I’m glad you don’t have your earphones in today because I wanted to talk to you.”

I shifted sideways to create more space again. His statement was a reminder why I needed to stay away. “Don’t worry about it. There’s no need to apologize.”

“What? No,” he said with a smirk, glancing around the barn before looking back to me. “I wasn’t going to apologize. I know you’re pissed about what happened Monday, and maybe I was wrong to say something with your dad there since it probably came across as me taking his side, but I stand by my words. Actually,
I
was a little pissed that you didn’t tell me you passed out before getting on my bike. We’re lucky nothing happened. But I’m willing to give you the benefit of doubt.”

“You’re so kind,” I replied irritably. “I take it I should apologize to you then?”

“No, I don’t want an apology. I just want to know if it’s happened again since Monday.”

I glared at him. “Why do you want to know?”

“Well, I want to make sure you’re okay.” His brows arched as he spun the helmet between his hands. “And, if you are okay, I wanted to ask if you’d go for another ride with me.”

I shook my head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Ben.” I turned and walked toward the door.

“LJ, wait. Look, I’m prepared to offer my masculine arms to help clean the basement again if you’ll just take a ride with me,” he said and I turned back toward him. “Since you were right upstairs, I’m sure you heard Spaz’s comment about the new pegs on my Honda.” He tilted his head toward his dirt bike with a shy shrug. “What do you think?”

“I don’t think I need your
sissy arms
for anything, but the help wouldn’t hurt.”

“So that’s a yes?” He ignored my jab completely.

“I suppose.” I knew I shouldn’t. I knew that this would lead to things better avoided. But for some reason I didn’t want to tell him no.
He installed pegs for
me
.

He arched a seductive eyebrow with a smile. His dimples appeared and lured me in further. When I stepped to the bike, he reached out and handed me the helmet. “This is going to be a little different. To be honest, I’ve never had another person on a dirt bike. Some of the trails get pretty narrow so I need you to hang on just like Monday. And you’ve been okay, right? Definitely no fainting?”

BOOK: The Line That Binds
3.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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