Never Ending Ride

The Never-Ending Ride

Book one:  The Early Years

Chapter 1:  The Meeting Time

The sickening, rancid taste in his mouth sent notice that “yes, life still existed.”  As his eyes slowly managed to focus on his surroundings, Dale tried to lesson the pain and numbness in his left arm.  Swinging his head that direction he found a girl pinned to his shoulder, hair wildly array, and sleeping in the death-like stupor that indicated perhaps the nights festivities had been either a success or an excess, depending on point of view.  Slipping himself out from under the sleeping woman and carefully gaining his feet, he crept around and over the various semiconscious forms surrounding him on the floor and eased outside.

The early morning dew of the chill morning covered everything in a glow of twinkling sunlight highlighting the still rising day with a cascade of color.  Just exactly what the young biker wanted in his extremely hung over state.   Walking gingerly over to the old Harley leaning next to the willow tree he made use of the surrounding fauna providing a great sighing relief and further clearing his cloudy head.  As he turned the “woman of the arm” staggered roughly out of the building barely avoiding the other moving forms of the waking revealers.  “Hey lover, what next?” she said throwing her arms around his still aching neck.  Dale struggled to stay upright and growled in a low tone, “Food maybe, if I live to bring my ole girl here to life,” slapping the old Harley “Baby” across the seat and splattering wet droplets into the air while thinking “What was this girl’s name?”   Seeing her in the light he got the impression of youth but for the hard eyes giving the impression of far more years of experience than should be.  What was her name?   She stepped partly around the willow and slipping the tight jeans down to her ankles found her own morning relief.

Corky was working his way up the bank with that amazing face splitting grin under a large projecting nose and thick glass lending no mistake to who it was.  “Hey man, “ he says, “When you say there is a party, there is a party!”  “I didn’t even know where I was until right now”, grinning even wider, “What’s the plan man?”  The young woman came out from behind the willow.  “Hey all.”  she spoke to the air.  Corky gave Dale a sidelong glance through those thick glasses, and Dale raised his shoulders in slight resignation.  Throwing a leg across the old bike he flipped the bicycle kicker pedal out and got ready to battle the 96-in Baby to life.  “Taking me with you lover?”  the woman spoke.   “Sorry love,” Dale said flipping a thumb in Corky’s direction, “I road him out here Saturday, and he gets a ride back.  “We’re headed for B-Ville and food if you find a way in,” he finished.  He slapped the choke and gave Baby a couple of primer kicks, then choke off and ignition on he came down hard on the peddle bringing a short bark out of the pipes.  Rolling the engine carefully around to TDC again he gave another strong kick through and Baby rumbled to life.  The hard idle of the stroked Harley dominated the hilltop as Dale stood the bike up and kicked the stand back.  Corky slid onto the small “bitch” seat and Dale footed the clutch down and slid the gear shift into 1st.  Bouncing down the hillside and up onto the main gravel road, Dale accelerated and shifted up through the gears bringing the old bike to a solid thunder of sound.  They bounced out the four miles or so of gravel, slid slightly sidewise as they turned onto the paved road, and Dale really turned the throttle and let Baby take her head.

As the speed increased the cobwebs blew out of his mind and every cell in his body seemed to wake up and rejoice at the new day.  As they rocketed out across the open country road Dale was thinking “This is what it is.  As long as I have an open road and “the ride” life is good” This was the simple satisfaction with life that he had been born with. Even before his first bike there had been that driving need for the road.  No destination, just the pure sweet joy of the ride for it’s self.  Having spent the last five years of his young life bouncing from flat track to flat track, always looking for the next ride, or working in the shop turning out custom bikes for other riders, Dale was as happy and satisfied as a young biker could be.  Life was good.

Crossing the corporation limits of Bentley, Dale let go the throttle and the Harley dropped into the earth shaking thumping idle that rattled the windows of the houses they passed by.  Up over the hill of West Main and down through two lights, “Caught them both green”, Dale flipped a quick U-turn and brought Baby to a stop on the corner in front of a small greasy-spoon restaurant.  The silence was deafening as Dale cut the ignition and Corky slid off the back.  “Damn dude, I forgot you were back there”, Dale said, “I hope I didn’t freak you.”   “Froze my ass off is all,” Corky replied, “I don’t know how you do the cold.”  “I’m really sorry Corky, but it’s not cold yet dude, though it will be soon enough.  Come on, I’ll buy us some breakfast,” Dale said.  “No way man, you turned me on to another hell of a time.  I owe you and I buy.” Corky said with another of his famous grins,   “Let’s eat!” moving toward the door.

As they banged the old door of the place open all heads turned their way.  The little restaurant was crowded with ”locals” all of which seemed to be upset that “biker trash” like this would disrupt their morning ritual.   Scanning the crowd, Dale found no threat worth a worry and an open booth on the near left side.  He slid in to the far seat letting Corky have the other and giving himself the view of the door, the big front window to the outside, and Baby gleaming in the morning sunlight.  The waitress, Karen, a tall, rather too thin, but nice looking girl with long auburn hair and doe-like large brown eyes, sat a large steaming cup of hot chocolate in front of Dale and glanced at Corky saying, “What’ll you need?”  Plastering that ever-easy smile back on his face, Corky looked up into Karen’s pretty eyes and said, “A lifetime enjoying your company would be all I would ever need.”  Grinning even wider and pausing, “But if not that then coffee sweetheart.”  With a slight glare of distain Karen replied, “You want anything else with the coffee?”  Corky, looking a little chagrined said, “I’ll just have whatever Dale has.”  Turning back to Dale with a much softer look on her face Karen said, ”The usual or something special?”  “The usual would be great, thanks.”  She gave him another smile and turned back toward the kitchen.

“Is there any girl you haven’t banged into loving you in this town?” Corky shot a little scornfully.  Dale bored a stern look into Corky and growled, “Back off, she has had a tough time of it and is very definitely carrying her own load.  She has earned, if nothing else, respect, and I won’t see her get any less.”   “Hey chill man,” Corky said leaning back and throwing his hands up, “I didn’t mean anything by it.  Just bullshitting, you know?”    Karen had managed to commit the ultimate sin in small town Ohio, and gotten herself pregnant while single and at an early age.  Of course the guy that helped her with that little chore hadn’t been seen since, and she had supported the offspring and herself, on her own, while braving the scorn and disfavor of the locals and her family.  Her only real help had come from Dale, who came up with extra money when it was needed, baby sat for those few much needed nights out, or if nothing else by just lending his ear when she needed someone to hear, and a shoulder when she just needed that.   There had never been a physical relationship between the two.  She had offered, maybe out of some idea of obligation, but he had eased it off saying “I won’t risk a good friendship over a few minutes of physical pleasure.  I plan to see you find a partner that loves you and treats you the way you deserve, and to watch that relationship bloom into something long lasting and beautiful.”  There was perhaps a little of the idealistic dreamer in the young biker, or perhaps a lot.

As he looked up from Corky, Dale saw the girl from the party coming in the big old door.  Her face lit up with a not unpleasant smile as her eyes spied him and she came over to the booth.  Dale stood up and let her slide in beside him.  “Hey again lover.” she smiles again.  His mind flashed through the memories of the last four days, working Friday, racing Friday night, races Saturday morning and night, and the Maddog party Saturday night till today.  This was Tuesday morning.  There she was in his mind, outside the party alone when he and Corky had rode in.  What was her name?  Tammy!   Tammy, as the memories started to clear, that was it.  He said “Hey Tammy.  You made it back into civilization I see.  Hungry?”   “I’m starving.”  She replied.  Dale caught Karen’s eye and she came back over to the booth and took Tammy’s order.

“You heading out to the trailer?”  Corky asked Dale.   “Nah, I’ve got to head down to the shop.” Dale replied, “Need to get Albert’s bike finished up and out to him today.”  Corky replied with an amazed look, “You got it done?  Man, it was pretty rough last time I saw it.  I can’t believe it’s done already.”  “Well, you know that was four weeks ago, and believe it or not when people ask you to do a job for them they actually expect you to do it when you agree to,” was Dale’s reply with a smile.  “That’s really fast, though.” said Corky, “That much work would take me all year!”   Corky wasn’t much for work of any kind, and they both knew it and knew the other knew it.  Dale saw Corky’s face fall as Karen delivered the steaks and eggs in front of them.  He said quickly “Hey, this is still my party, this is my bill.  You can catch up later.”  Corky’s face showed relief even as he replied, “Are you sure man?  I owe you.”  “No problem,” said Dale.

As they tore into the steaks, Corky asked “How did you do this weekend anyway?”    Dale dug into his jeans and pulled out a small wad of paper and two checks.  “Looks like third and second, $400 and $900.  Track was muddy as hell for the night run but the morning was pretty cool,” said Dale.  “Man, I wish I could do that.  That’s a bunch of money for just a few hours!  Would freak me out too much though.  I don’t know how you guys even stay on the track without killing each other!”  Corky finished.  “You wouldn’t think it was so easy if you were out there running with me every morning at 5 am or had to pay some of my medical bills,” Dale replied “I think flat tracking is about done around here anyway.  Seems like nobody but the riders is really interested anymore.  And the riders aren’t where the prize money comes from.”  “You would ride if you had to play to do it and you know it!” grinned Corky back.  Dale grinned back and finished up his steak while saying “You’re probably right, but no prize money, no sponsors, and no sponsors, no ride.”

They finished up and Dale dropped three twenty’s on the table and headed for the door.   At the door he paused and threw a hand up to Karen getting a quick smile from her and a few glares from customers in between.   He knew Karen would be both bitching and appreciative of the big tip the next time he saw her.  The three of them moved out next to Baby sitting on the corner.   Looking at Corky Dale asked, “Do you need a ride the rest of the way home?”  “Nah,” replied Corky, “I can hoof it from here.  You going to be at the trailer later?” he asked.  “Yeah, after I finish with Albert.  I haven’t been down there for a couple of months.  Usually needs a bit of shoveling out after I’ve been gone so long.” he said with a grin.  “I may see you down there then.  And thanks again for the party and the ride.  Later” said Corky.  Dale slid across Baby and flipping on the ignition, came down on the kicker and she roared back to life.  Tammy leaned in and barely making herself heard over the exhaust said, “Am I going with you lover?”  Dale flipped his thumb back toward the bitch seat, and as Tammy sat down he slid Baby into gear, throwing his left hand up at Corky he lifted his foot off the clutch and shot up the street.   Two blocks down he hung a left and another three blocks later, into the alley and stopped in front of the large overhead door of a big block garage.  There was a very large man with a mass of startling gray hair and a much younger pudgy-faced man standing in the doorway drinking coffee.  Albert and Tod.

Albert was saying to Tod, “See, he told me Tuesday morning, and it’s Tuesday morning.  You can bitch all you want but you can depend on him.  His word still means something.”  “Yeah, but if he would just get his ass in gear and be here everyday he would be rich by now,” replied Tod, “He’s letting all that talent go to waste while he just spends his life catting around on that old bike like he doesn’t have a care in the world!  We could own this town if he just wanted it!”  Dale walked slowly past them giving a little grin and nod to Albert and the one finger salute in Tod’s direction.  “Hope I’m not too late for you, Albert.  Come on,” he said as he headed past all of the cars in various levels of disassembly and on into and the right rear corner of the shop. Albert, Tod, and Tammy all followed.

It was dim in that corner of the garage, with a large set of red toolboxes stacked together, a compressor and rack of air tools next to it.  To the right of these a 21-inch chrome spoked wheel and part of a Springer front-end shown out from under a well-worn tarp.  Dale bent down and taking the front corners of the tarp in his hands, rose and pulled it back over the bike revealing the living jewel beneath.  Albert’s breath came out in an auditable whoosh as his eyes fell on what was already his new love.  The square shafts of the Springer swept back from the 21” in a 5-ft graceful arc, with the twisted forward struts merging up into the round Bates headlight just at the handlebar mount level.   Six bend pullbacks led your eye down the twelve inch stretched frame on through the 5-gallon custom molded tank and into the luxurious King/Queen leather seat.  At the end of the King/Queen, a homemade and beautifully chromed, twisted square sissy bar finished the line.  The paint was a breathtaking combination of 47 different hues of brown with an elaborately detailed, airbrush inlay of a stagecoach and highwaymen blended tastefully throughout and looking as though the images would come alive at any moment.

The power plant, having started as a stock’66 shovel/pan, was now highly detailed, with no flaws, and polished, but without a lot of chrome.  A pair of obviously custom made pipes, highly chromed, started their trip from the highly polished shovel heads and made their way down along the frame, then sweeping up along side of the sissy bar to turn back and finish in twin fish tails.  The combination of the detailing and the overall flow of the design suggested speed and power even while sitting static in the dark garage.  Dale broke the mood with, “I’ve stayed as close as I could with your ideas Albert, just a few changes here and there.  I hope you approve.  I did add one feature that may piss you off a bit, but trust me, you’re not getting any younger and that bad knee needs a break.”  Reaching across the seat of the bike, Dale made sure the shifter was in neutral, flipped a toggle switch on a small panel and then hit a button on the left handlebar.  The bike instantly thumped to life, and sat rattling the shop with a sound that could not be mistaken for anything but pure power.  Dale barely rocked the throttle twice in quick succession and the RPMs leaped and dropped with amazing snap.  Dale killed the ignition and asked, “Will she do Albert?”

Albert’s face was lit up with the joy of a small child on Christmas morning.  He stepped a little closer to the bike, hand outstretched and hovering just above the top strut of the Springer.  His hand gently traced the line of the strut up past the handlebars and down to the tank, jarringly startled when he actually touched the tank, not realizing just how deep the paint actually was.  Albert stood upright and turned to Dale but still had not uttered a word.  Dale said “Damn Albert, don’t you like her?”  Tammy broke the silence of the three with “Man, that is a really bitching bike.  Did you do this Dale?”  Albert suddenly came alive erupting with, “Did he do it?  Who else could do this?  My God, Dale, I’m speechless.  I don’t know where to start to tell you how I feel.  This is the greatest thing I think anyone has ever done for me.  What am I going to do with her?  There is no way I can possibly ride her!  She needs to be on display somewhere!”

“Now I don’t want to hear that shit Albert!” Dale replied, “She is made to ride.   I lightened and balanced the Stroker flywheel, had the cams custom ground, ported and polished the heads, re-engineered and ported and polished the intake.  It took a while to get the Weber just right and balance the exhaust, but I think she’s there.  She’s made to ride the long haul and get you there and back.   I guess I can take it you approve of her then? If you do, we need to settle and get you going so I can get out of here.”  He added with another grin and a quick glance at Tod.

Albert was pulling a well-worn checkbook out of the inner pocket of his leathers and shaking his great head.  He said, “Give me the price, and if you don’t want a check I’ll run right up to the bank now and get you the cash.”  Dale said, “Check is fine, and I think I could live with $2400 Albert,” and started to add, misreading the sudden look on Albert’s face, “But I know that’s a bit more than I told you before and if you can’t…”  Dale tapered off as Albert burst in “My God, Dale, that’s not enough for all this!  I gave you boxes of wrecked parts and you’ve given me back a wonder!  Are you sure that’s enough?  It’s got to be more than that.”  Dale replied, “That’s what I would like, Albert.  I’m glad you like her.”

As Albert wrote out the check, Dale pushed the bike out through the big door with Tod and Tammy following.  Outside in the now, near noonday sun the bike gleamed like a living thing ready to go on the hunt.   Albert came out and handed the check to Dale.   “I will never be able to thank you enough for this, Dale, and I owe you big!”  “Just get on her and ride Albert.  That’s all I need for thanks.  I’m real happy you like her and I know she’ll have a good home.”  Dale replied.  Albert grabbed Dale’s hand, and Dale laughed and pushed him toward his bike.  “Get down the road Albert!”  Dale said.  Albert almost gingerly slid his big leg across the bike and sat down.  The child-like look was back on his face with a huge smile.  He leaned down and flipped the ignition switch, hit the button on the bars, and the bike was alive.  The grin spread further.  As Albert footed the clutch Dale leaned in and said “Tell me her name when she whispers it to you, Albert.  Later on.”   Albert sent back another thanks, slipped the bike in gear, and thumped down the alley.  The three of them stood there and listened as Albert made his way up through and across the town, and continued listening until the sound faded as it went down 800 Hill and was gone.

Dale turned to Tod and handed him the check he had just gotten from Albert.  “Here dude, put this in the shop fund.”  Tod replied, “Thanks, that will help.  You did a good job with that bike.  I wish I could get you to do a few cars for me.”  Dale countered, “Now you know if you’re in a bind and need some help you just need to ask.  But cars aint bikes.  It’s just not the same.  Really not my thing.  I’m headed for the trailer.  Haven’t been down there for a while.”  “You’re gonna have to grow up someday you know?  I’ll catch you later,”  Tod finished with a grin.  Dale moved towards Baby and said to Tammy, “You still with me girl?”  Tammy didn’t say anything, just slid onto the bitch pad as Dale started the bike.

They made one quick stop at the gas station at the edge of town for go juice and a friendly hello, across to the Hilltop for cigarettes, bread, lunchmeat, cheese, and a cheap bottle of wine, and then down the same hill Albert had went earlier.  Any tension or thoughts of problems left Dale with the wind as they flipped a right and accelerated onto the interstate.  The old Harley roared past the light traffic of heavy trucks as he made it to the next exit and shot off a ramp that looked like it was dumping him in the middle of nowhere.   It was, I suppose.  At the bottom of the ramp a quick left and short hop of 500 yards or so around a curve brought him to a heavily rutted dirt driveway leading a short way up the hill to an old worn out house trailer.  Dale road through what little grass there was up past the trailer, flipped a u-turn and coasted to a stop in front of the door.  As he dug a rock out to put under the stand the door opened and framed an old women’s stern and well wrinkled face.  The face bore echoes of a hard life and untold stories.  “Hey old woman,” Dale said with an open smile, “Did you miss me?”  An almost smile threatened to break the woman’s hard look as she replied, “Thought you had fell off that damn thing this time for sure.   You haven’t been round here for 4 months!  Those worthless kids you let in here when you’re not around have the damn place a pigsty!  You really need to run them kids outta here!”  She was climbing down the steps and heading down the driveway as she spoke.  Dale said to her back as she hit the main gravel road, “It’s ok, I’ll bitch at any I see while I’m here,” and then added with an open chuckle, “And you be nice to that old man of yours for once.”  She gave him a gesture without looking back and proceeded out of sight around the curve.

“Who is that old women?” Tammy asked.  “I don’t know her name.  She lives up towards Morrisville somewhere and sometimes she just shows up and stays awhile.  The few times I’ve talked to her much she claims she has an old man up there that she needs to get away from every once in a while.  She’s harmless and you have to admit she breaks the monotony,” Dale said grinning.  “Who are the “kids” she was talking about?” asked Tammy.  As they went in the door of the trailer Dale responded, “Well, it’s kinda known that this place is open and people that need a place to stay for a while, or want to party without hassle, or just want to chill a bit, show up now and then.  There is kind of an unwritten rule that everyone cleanup after themselves and donate what they can to the place.  But that doesn’t always work quite that way.”  He finished with a sweep of his hand indicating the mess in the kitchen and living sections of the trailer in view.  There were dishes piled on every flat surface. Fast food bags, Pizza boxes, beer cans, wine bottles, clothes, and all kinds of other trash pretty much spread out all over what they could see of the trailer.

“Let’s see if the other rule worked at all,” Dale said as he led her back through the narrow hallway.  At the end of the hall a sliding door led to a small bedroom.  Compared to the rest of the trailer this room was a palace.  One big comfortable looking feather bed, an old wooden milk grate, an old stereo in one corner, and an open no-door closet in the other, were all you saw as you scanned the room.  This room was supposed to be off limits, and the difference shown in its condition.

Tammy sprawled out across the bed as Dale moved over to the milk crate and dug out an 8-track shoving it into the old stereo.  Pulling a seed tray out of the crate he sat down on the bed and pushed it and a small bag of weed toward Tammy asking, “Do you twist?”  As she started rolling Dale stood and said, “I think I’ll see if they left me enough room to get in the shower.” Grabbing a pair of cleaner jeans from the closet, he strolled back out through the hall and into the very small bathroom.  The wonder of it was that the shower was at least clear enough that in just a few minutes Dale was shivering as the icy cold spring fed water washed the weekend’s dirt and grime away.   That spring had always provided an abundance of cold water, but the chill in it now hinted at the approaching winter.  The time to begin considering lighting the water heater or moving to a warmer climate had arrived for sure.  Dale left the shower and quickly toweled the goose bumps dry, slipped into the clean jeans, and walked back into the bedroom.

Tammy had finished her task and was waiting for a match for the fat joint dangling from her mouth.  Dale hit the end of it with his Zippo and stretched out across the bed next to her.  As she passed him the joint he said, “The water’s cold but there’s plenty of it if you need a little.”  Taking a long deep drawl, he passed it back.  “So what do you do?”  he asked.  “Oh, I just ride and party.” She said following with a long giggling laugh.  He had another flash of “how old is this girl?”  He had never met anyone that he couldn’t at least give a good guess at the age of.  The lines around her pale blue eyes hinted of a bit of mileage in the past, maybe 25 or so, but at other times she seemed as simple as a child.  He shrugged it off as another mystery to be explored and pulled the wine and cheese out of the bag.  Mysteries could be fun too.

He took a long pull on the bottle, passed it to Tammy, and broke a chunk of the cheese off for himself.  He passed the rest of the cheese along and laid back again as he got the bottle back.  The weekend’s excesses were starting to demand his attention with a seeping ache creeping up through his muscles and a general weariness enveloping his body.  “Are you crashing here or is there somewhere you need to be?”  he asked.  She moved closer to him, looking him in the eye saying, “I’m here with you lover.” and smiling.  The closeness to her reminded him just how long her weekend had been too and he quickly said, “Hey girl, you’re far tougher than me.  I’m just ready to crash for a while.”  She pouted a coy half smile and said, “Maybe later then when you get your strength back,” following with a long laugh that sounded amazingly like Janis Joplin.  Dale liked that and joined in the laughter while thinking  “Yeah right.”

Dale awoke about 10 o’clock to the sound of an old VW wagon pawing its’ way up the washed out drive.  He sat up and found Tammy rapped up in an old quilt and snoring softly.  Taking the bottle he walked out to the living room just as Corky came in the open door.  “Hey dude, was you sleeping?” said Corky as he moved inside.  And as Dale started to reply and pass the bottle to Corky “she” came up the steps.  The sight of her took his breath away.  She seemed everything he had ever dreamed of, the long legs, the long silky brown hair, and the face of an angel.  Their eyes met, and she smiled, the dimples on her cheeks forming a frame around the most beautiful smile he could imagine.  He bent to scoop some of the mess from the battered old couch and went to throw it in the big can outside the door.  Noticing the can was gone he dumped his handful on a pile in the kitchen and motioned them to sit.  When he turned back, Tammy was coming down the hall rapped in the quilt and looking for another light.

Dale scooped another hand-full of mess out of the big overstuffed chair and sat down facing Corky and “the vision.”  Tammy sat across one leg and the arm of the chair.  They made small talk as they passed the bottle and joints around but Dale found himself having trouble following the conversation.  He remembered saying to Corky “Boy you’ve gotten much better taste in women than you used to,” and getting poked in the ribs by Tammy.  “What is wrong with me?” he thought, “I’ve never felt like this before.”  He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and it seemed to be hard to breathe.  He barely caught the question when Corky asked if it was all right for them to crash there.  He gave them a, “Hell, Yeah,” and Dale and Tammy moved back into the bedroom, and in just a short while he was listening to the quiet snores of Tammy again and the sounds of Corky and “the vision” getting much better acquainted in the living room.  His mind was stirring like a small boat in an ocean storm.   He didn’t even know this girl he thought.  What could be so new and wild that it would totally unravel his senses?

About 4:30 in the morning he had had enough.  Dale slipped out of the bed and quietly padded down the hall and through the living room.  As he passed Corky, Corky raised his head and muttered something Dale didn’t quite catch.  Dale made a quiet comment about Corky’s “frog looking legs” and stepped down through the door and over to “Baby.”  He dug an old worn pair of tennis shoes out of the war bag and sat down on the cold steps to pull them on.  It was a burr, cold morning, with the sun just starting to make faint streaks across the eastern sky.  There was a heavy frost on everything in sight.  He hoped that his morning run would clear the mess out of his head.  He hated the running necessitated by his racing and the act had often had the effect of clearing his mind.  There was 8 miles of gravel before you reached the state road at Spidell, and when he reached it, he was no closer to an answer than when he started.  “What was it about this one girl?”  He turned back and sprinted toward the trailer 8 miles away.

As he climbed the steps and went into the trailer the morning chill no longer affected him, but Corky was sitting up, smoking a cigarette and shivering on the far side of the couch with Dale’s leather jacket wrapped around his shoulders.  Dale pulled the door shut behind him and said, “I’ll see if we have any heat.”  He moved back into the hallway and tried the ignition on the fuel oil furnace with no success.  He slipped quietly into the bedroom and pulled another blanket out the closet, then, dropping it off with Corky went out to check the fuel tank.  Even in the early morning light Dale could see that the fuel tank was not only empty, it was dry.  There would be no heat from there.  Going back inside and closing the door he cleared some of the mess away from the electric stove and turned all the top burners and the oven on high.  He left the oven door slightly open and sat down in the living room.

Dale lit his own cigarette and talked quietly to Corky.  “Where did you find her?” he asked nodding toward the sleeping beauty.  “She lives in Bentley,” Corky replied, “You’ve seen her around I’m sure.”   “If I had seen her, I would remember,” returned Dale.  “What’s her name? Does she ride?” he asked.  “Her name is Jean, and you got me about the riding.  I don’t, so how would I know,” Corky said stubbing out his cigarette and reaching for another.  Dale found it hard to keep his eyes off the girl sleeping quietly on the couch.  “Your acting pretty weird dude.  I’ve never seen you like this.  What’s up with you and this girl?” Corky queried.  “I don’t know, man,” was the reply, “something about her stirs a part of me that I’ve never known before.  It’s kind of freaking me out!”  “You! Freaking out! Well you got it bad then dude.  I’ve never seen anything freak you and I’ve seen you do some wild ass shit!” was Corky’s reply.  “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”  Dale said, “Or maybe I’m just tired as hell and need to rest the bones some more.   Think I’ll go crash for a while and see if that helps.”  As he stood he continued, “Share some of that blanket with her asshole.  She has to be as cold as you!”  Dale moved back down the hall with Corky replying “Oh man!  You got it bbbaaaddd!, hahahaha.”  Dale turned into the small bathroom again and stripping the jeans off was back in the now truly freezing water.  This might have been the shortest shower Dale ever took.  Padding barefoot and naked back into the bedroom, Dale started to climb over the sleeping Tammy, paused, and then dug in the closet and came out with a pair of brown underwear.  He pulled them on and then slipped into the far side of the bed and under the quilt with the girl.  She stirred a little when his freezing body came in contact with hers, but never opened an eye.

Despite the turmoil in his mind Dale was shortly sleeping soundly, though his dreams were lost in visions of the beautiful Jean in his living room.  A few hours later he awoke to Tammy setting astride him and trying to start a little morning action.  “Shit girl, I gotta piss.” He said as he gently moved her to the side.  He stepped over her and headed back into the hall.  It seemed even colder now than when he had gone back to bed.   What next?  Snow?  Bathroom mission accomplished he headed into the living room and sat back down in the chair.  She was awake.  She was sitting partway up digging in an empty cigarette pack and looking a little sleepy around the edges yet (though to Dale’s eyes she looked a wonder.)

He passed her one of his cigarettes and flipped the Zippo to the end of it for her.  She took a deep drag and slid a little deeper into the blanket.  “Cold ain’t it.” said Dale regretting it as it came out of his mouth.   She nodded in agreement and Dale found himself longing for the sound of her voice.  They sat in silence though, smoking and shivering.  Tammy came out of the hall wrapped in the quilt and slapped Corky on the foot as she sat down in Dale’s lap again.  She bummed a cigarette and as Corky sat up Dale passed them out all around.  “Man, I am freezing!” said Corky, “Did it snow or what?”  Dale chuckled with the rest of them and to Tammy’s “No shit dumbass” comment but found it almost impossible to focus again.  “I’ve got to get away from here for a while and find a way to get my head straight.” He thought to himself.  Out loud he said, “I’ve got some running to do, and I’ll try to get some fuel oil delivered while I’m out there.”  “Do we need to leave?”  It was Jean speaking with words like music.  “No, no” Dale replied, “You can hang as long as you want.  If you guys are going to be here for a while I’ll get some grub?”  Tammy said “I’m going to need to run over to Bentley but I don’t want to crawl on that bike in this weather.”  Corky spoke up “I’ve got to go over and take mom’s car back, I’ll drop you off, and we can find a way back if you want.”

Dale went back down the hall and pulled on his jeans and boots.  Grabbing a shirt he came back out and snatched his leather from Corky.  He tossed back a quick “Catch ya later, stay warm” as he went out the door.  Baby was a solid sheet of frost.  Dale squatted down beside her and pulled the breather off to beat the ice out of it against the rear fender.  “Man, this will be fun” he thought to himself.  He ran his finger through the carb intake, blew warm air into it, and then leaned her over to let the water run out and replaced the breather.  Laying his leather across the steps he straddled the bike and kicked her through 5 or 6 times to get the thickened oil started moving.  It was like trying to stir molasses outside in February.  Dale kept kicking until he was sure he had pumped at least a little oil up into the top end.  As he rested before the next step he could hear the sounds of laughter coming form inside the trailer, or more importantly, her laughter.  The sound gave him a not totally unpleasant feeling through his chest.  He almost went back in.

Chapter 2:  The Revelation

Flipping the choke on, he gave her another good primer kick and then with the choke half off and ignition on he launched himself on the kicker and she was running.  Dale adjusted the throttle up a bit and let Baby sit and warm up thinking all the while “Will wonders never cease?”  He was remembering a perhaps mistakenly taken trip to Alaska in the winter and hours spent kicking his leg off trying to get Baby to run.  Thick curls of light blue exhaust spun up around the frosty frame of the bike and water dripped from the still warming metal.  He grabbed the leathers from the steps, pulled them on and reached into the war bag to pull out a pair of heavy leather gloves and a set of well worn goggles.  With the goggles propped on his forehead and gloves tightly on his hands he slid across the bike, flipped the stand back and coasted down the slick dirt drive around the VW.  When he hit the gravel road he dropped the bike into gear and idled out and under the Interstate bridge.   Turning up the hill he accelerated slowly and stayed on National Road rather than hitting the Interstate.

As he topped the long hill Dale brought the bike up to 50 mph or so and thought that would do for this freezing weather.  He leaned back and let the smooth vibrations of the bike stir his soul like an evangelistic preacher on a weekend retreat.  As a feeling of “rightness” settled over him, he concentrated on his thoughts of the girl.  His mind passed over all of his past relationships, even the drug induced and short-lived marriage.  In all of his short experience he had never been affected by anyone the way Jean seemed to.  He knew in his heart that she had done nothing special to cause this turmoil.  But just her existence seemed enough to totally knock his concentration and self control.  “Get it together dumbass,” he thought out loud, “You’re not going to let a pretty girl get into your head and screw you up!”   But he worried that it was already too late.

As he neared the Panther Lounge, Dale dropped his speed a little and shot off the side road to the right.  Up the short hill he hung another right and crossed over the Interstate.  About 5 miles out this country road he pulled into a narrow driveway on the left leading up through the trees to a small green house.  The house of “SaltyDog.”  Salty was sailor, turn landlubber, turn biker.  He had spent 16 years at sea before moving to this remote Ohio location, marrying a short pleasant but rather homely local girl, and discovering motorcycles.  Dale had helped Salty find enough parts to put together a ’72 shovel he had bought as a basket.  Salty, unfortunately, had assembled his dream in the small bedroom at the back of the little house and imagine his surprise when upon completion he realized  there was no way to get it out of the room.  Dale entered through the side door with a “Where is he?” to Salty’s wife who just gave rolling eyes and gestured back down a narrow hall.  “I told him it was too late in the season to worry about it any way but he won’t listen!” she said as Dale moved on.

Going down the hall, Dale couldn’t imagine getting a unicycle out of here, let alone a full size motorcycle.  At the end of the hall, Dale made a hard left into a small bedroom and there they were.   The room was about 8-ft long by 6 ½-ft wide, with a window centered in the outside wall, a small sliding door closet in the right corner, a 10-ft long girder finished motorcycle setting diagonally corner to corner, a small box of tools near the door with most of the contents spilled out across the floor, and squatting behind the bike, Salty, with a embarrassed look on his bearded face.

Standing up and striding across the bike, Salty extended a callused hand to Dale with a slight smile twinkling in the corner of his eyes.  He said, with a look of chagrin, “I really didn’t think about getting her out when I was building her,” as Dale shook his strong gripping hand, “I was already out and riding her the whole time.  At least in my head.” he added with a larger grin.  “Hell salty, I have a friend over in Bentley that near killed us both getting a big block Chevy he had built for his Duce out of a 3rd floor walk up,” Dale answered with a big smile.  “Let’s think this little problem out.”  Dale stepped over the bike and looked at the window and closet.  He said “I think that if we pull the window and slide the rear wheel into the closet she’ll go out the window ok.  Maybe a might tight, but she’ll go.”  He dug around on the floor and came up with a screwdriver.  Using it he pried the molding from around the bottom window, tipped it out and removed the sash ropes.  He handed the pane to Salty and turning, gave a good pull on the top section and it joined the other.  With the window out of the way, he eyed the whole thing again.  “We need to lose that 4-ft sissy bar and the handle bars, I think,” said Dale.   Salty grabbed a couple of wrenches from the floor and the sissy bar and bars were soon laying with the windows.  Dale slid the closet door open and finding it empty pointed Salty toward the front of the bike. Straddling the back of the bike, Dale started lifting and sliding the rear wheel into the closet while Salty worked the front of the bike toward the newly opened window.  With the rear wheel wedged now in the back corner of the closet the front tire was now just 14 inches to the left of the open window.  Dale moved up front with Salty and together they lifted the girder above their heads and sliding the tire to the right until they could rest it on the window’s sill.  Dale moved to the back of the bike again and together they shoved her out until the frame was resting on the sill.  Salty started up the hall to get around outside for the next move.

As Dale heard a faint, “We’re getting her,” from Salty and as the bang of the side door reached him images of Jean were flashing through his mind.   Shaking his head like that would shake the images, Dale thought, “Corky was right, I really do have it bad.”  When Salty yelled ready from the far end of the girder Dale stooped down and grasp the lower legs of the Jammer frame.  Using his legs, he picked the bike up and walked it toward the window until the rear tire hit the sill.  With an audible grunt he jerked the bike up, pushed it on through the window, and finally leaning out, to the ground.  As he stood up the stabbing pain shooting up through his back told him it might have been better to re-think the leaning out part.  As Dale picked up his leather and started out the hall he could hear Salty outside cheering.  Passing through the kitchen to the side door Salty’s wife commented, “I suppose he’ll have pneumonia next now.”  But she was smiling as she said it.  Dale cleared the door, and Salty had his bike propped under the tree next to “Baby.”  As Dale pulled on his leathers, Salty was shaking his hand again a spreading thanks like spring rain.  As he stepped across Baby Dale said, “Do your self a favor Salt.  Go put that window back in before you finish your bike and keep your ole lady happy.”  Salty smiled and returned, “That sounds like the kind of advice I should listen to.”  Baby roared to life, and Dale was out the drive and down the road in a thunder of dust.  When he hit National road again he hung a right and headed her for St. Vincent.  The day had gotten warmer at last and the ride was starting to ease the new pain in his back.  By the height of the sun it must be around 1 o’clock, plenty of time to make the rest of his stops.

When he topped the hill into St. Vincent, Dale dropped to an idle and then flipped into the First Union Bank parking lot and shutdown at the main door.  Walking inside he got a wave from Stone, the bank manager (though he couldn’t use that name here) and moved on back into his office.  Shaking hands, Dale eased down into a chair and pulled a fistful of checks out of the inside pocket of his leathers.  Grabbing a pen from the desk he started sign each check and flipping then over to Stone.  Patches had had a bad run-in with a very large truck and had been in ICU for the past weeks.  The club that Dale had prospected for several years back had setup an account for donations to help him, his wife, and five small children at this bank.   Stone said “Are you sure this is the way you want this?” as he started to tally up the checks.  “Just tell me when we get to where we need to be.” Replied Dale.  “That will do it Dale.  This pays their bills easy enough for the another six months and that should be well long enough for him to get back on his feet. What did Patches do for you that earned this much debt?”   “He’s in a bind and has always been a real friend when I needed one.  You call me if anything else comes up and thanks for helping me out like this,” said Dale.   As Dale stood, Stone shook hands again and said “Take care of yourself.”

As Dale walked out of the office, he stopped at the teller’s window and cashed the three remaining checks, $250, $500, and $210.  He guessed his little planned vacation would have to wait for a bit.   He was still feeling quite a bit of pain in his back as he climbed back on Baby outside.  He fired up and dropped down another block, stopping at a gas station he topped off the tanks and grabbed some cheese crackers and ice tea.  Back on Baby he thumped a short distance on down to the park entrance, turned in there and ran down to the benches just above a small pond.  Shutting down he got off and stretched out a bit on one of the benches to enjoy his feast and ease his back.  It was a peaceful scene lain out before him, the calm cool water and rustic setting fitted the mood he was in.  He noticed an old couple slowly walking up the sloping hill from the pond.  They must have been in their 80s at least, each slightly bent and leaning against the other, but holding hands and whispering as they came.  Dale thought they fit well into the quiet background.  As they drew closer Dale nodded and said, “It’s a pleasant day, isn’t it?  Maybe one of the nicest days left before winter.”  They both looked his way, and the old woman smiled.  It was a wonderful smile that gave Dale a glimpse of the true beauty the woman must have had in the past and the inner beauty she still held today.  The old man helped the women carefully to the bench opposite Dale and then sitting close to her, himself replied, “Oh I think We’ll have a few more off and on before the snows start.”  Dale could see in him the shadows of the strength he once held and more.  There in the eyes was the kind of feeling Dale had been having since meeting Jean.  “How long have you two been together?” Dale suddenly asked.  The old man replied, “I have had 64 of the most wonderful years you can imagine,” and turning an eye toward his love, “With I know the best yet to come.”  The woman smiled her pretty smile as they looked lovingly into each the others eyes.

Dale felt the quivering spasm in his chest again as he realized they were displaying what he had been feeling.  Jean had stirred emotions in him that were echoed by the feelings the two were showing him now.  Could that be possible?  He had only just met her, and she wasn’t even with him.  He stood, and as the old couple’s eyes turned his way, he said, “You are truly blessed and an inspiration.  I wish the best for both of you.”  The old woman spoke and her voice was wonderfully rich with the years of her life.  “And bless you, too, son.  You know my Raymond use to ride one of those not much different than that one.”  “Yes, That is a good looking bike, young man.  It brings back many good memories.  I had a fine ’20 Harley, and with my Anna at my back there was nothing to come between us,” said the old man turning again back to the woman.  “You would be welcome to take her for another ride if you want.  I would be happy to loan Baby, indicating the bike, “To you for as long as you want.” Said Dale.  Both of there eyes turned to Dale and glittered, then looking back to each other the man replied, “They are wonderful memories of wondrous times, but we no-longer need that path.”  Looking back at Dale he continued, “But thank you son, if nothing else than for the thought.” smiling again.  Dale smiled and wished them continued happiness as he climbed back on Baby.  Dale looked again at the loving old couple and for just a second the face of Jean over bound the face of Anna.  Dale had unusual but not unpleasant vision of himself and the girl, Jean, sitting together like these two in another 60 years.  He tried to shake the thought from his head and started the bike.  He made a gentle u-turn and threw his hand up in goodbye to the two as they waved back to him.

A straight shot back through town and down the hill, he bounced onto the Interstate head west with his head full of vision.  He let Baby have the lead and sat the 21” on the now blurring centerline only passing with slight negative pressure back and forth on the bars.  Eighty-six miles later he slowed and caught the last exit for Z-Bar-Ville, his mind now clear and a decision made.  He was in love with Jean, like it or not.  As he shot back up the ramp headed back east he was saying to himself, “Ok, I’m truly in love with her, and she barely knows I exist.  I can live with that and keep this little secret to myself.  I’ll just try to enjoy as much of her company as I can and never let on how I really feel.  Maybe it will wear off in time.”  But as he thought the last he had a sudden vision of the two back in St. Vincent.  “Ok, maybe not.” He shrugged.

Just before the Washburn exit he remembered he had promised to bring back grub and took the ramp.  Hanging a left at the stop sign he shot under the Interstate and into the parking lot of the carry out.   He went in and bought a couple of summer sausages, homemade bread, and a couple of bottles of Lambrusco.  Going back outside and tying it all on the war bag he was soon racing eastward again with the white line truly blurring.  The temperature was starting to drop quickly as the sun started out of the sky.  As he took his ramp he was telling himself, “I can be cool.  I can enjoy whatever time I get to be around her, and no one need ever know just how badly I have fallen.”  As he road up to the trailer, Dale noticed the lack of lights.  He said out loud, “Good, I’ll just have a peaceful evening alone,” even while his insides were suddenly queasy and he seemed to have lost the urge to be alone.

As he tore the grub and wine from Baby the door of the trailer opened behind him.  He turned, and she was there framed in the door.  Dale honestly felt his heart stop for a few beats.  Her long hair was cascading down over someone’s blue tee shirt and the shirt flowing down to those long, tanned legs.  Even in the early evening twilight she shined to his eye like a flare.  He noticed how she was shivering, and cussing himself hurried into the trailer and pulled the door shut.  “How you doing?” he said as she dove under a blanket on the couch.  “Cooold,” she stuttered slightly.  She added, “You must be froze!”  “Nah, not too bad for me.  How about something to eat?” he asked.  He turned and started into the kitchen before he noticed that the light was coming from a couple of candles and someone had been cleaning.  There were still piles of dishes on every flat surface, but all of the trash was gone.  As he dug out what looked to be a clean pan from the cupboard and sat it on one of the still glowing red burners he said, “You been busy!  Thanks.  It always gets trashed bad when I’m away too long.”

He snapped his Uncle Henry off his belt and started cutting slices of the summer into the pan.  He added a little olive oil from beside the stove and then dumped in one of the bottles of sweet and sour that he had found in the cupboard with the pan.  She said, laughing,   “They took off this morning and never came back.  I just needed to do something other than sleep.”  The sound of her laughter was sending chills down his sore back.  He loved it.  “I’m sorry about that,” he answered, “I thought you were going with them and they were coming back.”  He flipped the summer slices in the pan once and carried it into the living room.  He actually stumbled a bit there.  He was suddenly afraid to sit down beside her.  Afraid!  He sat the pan down on the floor by her feet and went on back to the bedroom to bring the cheese, weed, and tray.  She was coming out of the kitchen when he came back out with a couple of forks she had found somehow and she sat back down on the couch and wrapped back up in the blanket.  Grabbing one of the bottles of wine and suddenly not trusting himself, Dale sat down on the floor next to her feet and leaned back against the couch.  As he was opening the bottle he said, “Try those while they’re hot.  They’re pretty good.”  He sat the bottle down next to the pan and started rolling joints.  She said, “Here, you have to try them too.  They are good.”   He looked up, and she had one of the slices in front of his mouth.  As he slid the slice from the fork their eyes met, and he found it hard to chew or swallow.  Her eyes seemed as deep ocean pools sucking him into the special place of their existence.  He turned his head back to the joint quickly and said, “Thanks, they are pretty good.  So, what brought you down here to the ice box?”  “Oh, I ran into Corky and he said he thought there would be a party down here so I came along,” she answered.  Lighting one of the finished joints he said, “I don’t remember seeing you before in Bentley?”  He drew deeply on the joint and passed it to her.  Their fingers touched briefly and he jerked like it had sparked.  “Get control he thought.”  As she hit the joint he took a pull from the bottle.  “I remember you, “ she said passing the joint back, “You worked at the Standard Oil a long time ago.  I used to come in there with my boyfriend.”  He offered the bottle and said, “I can’t believe I don’t remember that.”  “I was younger then,” she replied.  He wondered briefly how old she was, couldn’t guess and didn’t care.

For the next four hours it continued much the same.  Only when Dale noticed that Jean seemed to be getting tired did he suggest that maybe it was time to turn in.  She did seem tired and curled back on the couch when he said it.  His heart aching at the thought of moving away from her, Dale got up and picked up the leavings of their small feast.  It would have been a feast for Dale even if it had been one small cracker.  The quiet time with Jean had been time in paradise for him.  He worked his way back into the bedroom and felt around in the dark for his bucket of candles.  He never had wired lights back here.  Finding the bucket, he fished out a couple and hit them with the Zippo.  Lit, he sat them down on the milk crate.  As he turned he saw another blanket in the bottom of the closet and snatched it.  He went back out to the living room and spread it out over the other one Jean was under.  He heard a quiet “Thanks,” and replied, “No problem.  It is chilly.”   Going back up the hall he went into the pitch-black bathroom and felt his way to the shower.  Stepping out of his jeans and that brown underwear, he stepped into the dark shower and hit the water.  The cold of the water sent a physical shock through his body and left him breathless.  There seemed to be shards of real ice crystals slicing into his soul and threatening to cut the skin from his bones, but he stayed in long enough to wash away at least a small part of the frustrated urges that had been building up all evening.   Killing the water and stepping out of the shower, Dale found a towel and tried to rub the goose bumps off with little success.   He reach down for the jeans and found the brown underwear so pulled them on instead and headed out to the bedroom. At the hall he paused, stepped back into the living room and said, “Hey, if you get too cold in here you can join me in the back.  I won’t bother you if you don’t want.  Night”  “Night,” she replied.  Dale padded back up the hall and sliding the door shut, crawled under the quilts and into the chilled feather bed.

Dale thought he would go right to sleep but he couldn’t stop the images from twirling around in his head.  He was replaying the entire evening word by word, minute by minute, and even second by second.   He felt like he had just had the most magnificent time in his life, and yet, it had been from a few simple hours of conversation with a woman.  But, oh, what a woman.  “Love at first site?  Bullshit, I don’t believe in it,” Dale thought.  The real things in life all had a price.  A commitment had to be made.  Work had to be done.  But did he believe that now?  The feeling that had struck him so solidly that night when she first walked into his life had grown now into a raging torrent of passion threatening to burst its way through his soul.  No one had ever affected him this way.  There had been many others.  Short term flings full of fun, excitement, and adventure.  Longer termed, much more meaningful relationships that had resulted in what would undoubtedly be lifelong deep friendships. But not a one of all the people Dale had been involved with had ever generated the kinds of feelings Dale had for Jean.   “How can this be happening?” he asked himself.  “I’ve only known of her existence for a few short hours.”  “There should be nothing that can change a man this much and so quickly.”  His thoughts flickered briefly back to the loving old couple in the park that day.  “Could that be it?” he thought, “Is what I see in her the fact that I can see us together as that old couple?  With a full lifetime of love unwavering behind us and yet still looking forward to the love yet to come?”  Dale turned deeply into himself searching for an answer to all of the questions roiling through him but no other thought seemed able to penetrate into his mind other than thoughts of Jean.  What had Corky said?  “You got it bad!”  “May he never know just how right he is,” Dale thought.

There was a soft tap at the door and as Dale’s heart threatened to stop yet again, he rose up and slid it open.  “I’m cold,” Jean said standing just outside the door.  Dale couldn’t manage to talk but motioned her in with his hand and a lift of the quilts.  He slid over across the bed to make room as she sat down and closed the door.  Pulling that old blue tee-shirt up over her head, she tossed it back on the headboard and then thrusting her long lovely legs under the quilts while pulling them up to her chin she lay back and snuggled down.  Dale lay on his back just a few scant inches away, and the emotional mess that had dominated his existence for the last two days was gone, gone and replaced by an overwhelming emotion, and that was the puzzle.  Fear!  How could that be?  Dale was no stranger to the feeling but why was it here now, and why was it so strong?

You couldn’t live the kind of life Dale had without being well acquainted with fear.  The minor fear of pain about to be felt, fear at that instant before impact when the ride was about to go bad, the adrenalin generated fear that accumulated when a fight was on the verge of starting or a stunt was about to be done and your body was calling its’ resources to action, fear of death, but never had the emotion been so strong and why would it be here now?  Living most of his life out on the edge and generally away from the comforts of “civilization” Dale had many times shared a bed for heat.  There had never been a problem. You were just helping each other be more comfortable for a few hours and maybe enjoying some closeness and companionship.  And there had never been any fear.  Dale thought, “I said,  “Hey, if you get too cold in here you can join me in the back.  I won’t bother you if you don’t want,” “I won’t bother you if you don’t want!”  Is it that now I don’t trust my own words?”  That had to be it.  I just don’t trust myself enough this time that I fear her being this close.  He had never had a problem in that way.  It was beyond his capacity to even think of forcing or taking advantage of someone else.  He had more respect for life and the individual’s freedom of choice than to even entertain such thoughts.   But, where else could the fear be coming from?  Jean rolled over on her left side and sliding up to Dale, nestled her head against his right shoulder and intertwined her fingers in the hair on his chest.  He lifted his arm gently over her head and then beneath the quilts to her back, drawing her even closer to him.  She let out a small “ummm” sound and moved her head a little closer to his neck.  A calmness and contentment filled Dale as he opened himself to the warmth and softness of her being.  Her slightly musky scent filled his nostrils and created a feeling of oneness and joy.

Jeans hand began to softly stroke through the hair on his chest and Dale responded by beginning to gently explore the softness of her back.  He would have been content to enjoy the feelings now washing over him for the rest of his life.   The happiness he had before now paled to nothingness in the light of this new sensation of pure unabashed love washing through him.   It filled him to the bursting.  He needed nothing else.  Jean reached across his chest and pulled herself even closer to him nestling her face into his neck.  The desire and need that surged through his body was almost crippling and he slowly turned up on his right side and bringing his left arm across, his eyes met hers’ glittering in the pale candlelight.  She was gazing back at him with a beautiful half smile and look of both contentment and want.  He kissed her, a gentle motion meant to learn, taste, and explore and moved back to delve in the deep pleasure of her eyes again.  “I thought you said you would leave me alone,” she spoke in a quiet husky tone.

With a slight start of panic he replied, “If that’s what you want, then just say it.”  She kissed him long and fully and he reveled in the taste and feel of her.  He wanted to experience all of her and started by kissing his way down and around her neck.  He found a special spot just above her firm right breast and paused there, gently working the spot with a flickering tongue.   She pulled hard at him and thrust her hot pelvis into him.  He reached up and kissed her full on the mouth again while crushing her to him closer still.  She had turned more on her back as they embraced and he started his exploring journey back down pausing to sample each exquisite breast, then moving again down the center of her and finding her belle button, he dipped in for a taste, then on to the magic and warmth of that special place of mystery.  He found the button that he was seeking and passed his tongue over it with the whisper like touch of a Nat’s eyelash causing her hips to thrust violently up at him.

He began to draw circles around it with his tongue, not quite touching, but so close as to simply hint that touch was possible.  She continued to thrust up at him, trying to make more solid contact, but he resisted nimbly and returned to the ritual.  The lips parted like the first time opening of wings on a beautiful butterfly gleaming with wetness, and he plunged his tongue in deeply to sip the sweet, sweet nectar.  Working his way around the lips and across the button he could feel the mussels in her legs increasingly tighten and spasm.  At what seemed just below the point of no return he would slow down, make her relax, then began again.  The building and falling was causing small sounds of frustration to escape from her as she urged him on.  Finally, fearing that she may be considering this too much like torture, he urged her through to a gloriously massive climax.  Her release was almost violent, with great surging movement as the almost unbearable delight coursed through every cell of her body.  He buried his face deeply into her warm moistness and held her as tight as he could.  When her breath returned it was in short raspy gasps and he moved up to her face and kissed her soundly.  She returned the kiss like a wild animal in heat, pawing at his back and neck with shaking hands.

He entered her slowly taking unimaginable pleasure in every slight movement.  He started a slow rocking motion with his hips, and she answered in kind building a rhythm that generated more and more waves of mutual pleasure.   He alternated the directions from side to side and up and back, sometimes using a rolling motion in response to her urging.  At long last he felt her nearing another release and eased his self-control to try and join her in a union of liberation.  As she began to release his own orgasm started to build and before hers finished he was there.  Waves of unimaginable and never before experienced ecstasy flowed through both of them for seemingly ever, until finally after several minutes, they collapsed together in a still intertwined heap, gasping for air.  Dale was holding her so tightly he was afraid he would hurt her, but couldn’t let go nevertheless.

They lay there, with Dale whispering quiet meaningless nothings for quite a while.  Dale finally rose up and dug out two cigarettes, lit them, and then laying back down, passed one to Jean.  They lay there smoking in almost silence each trying to adjust to what had just happened, trying to understand an experience neither had dreamed possible before.  In not a very long time they were at it again.  Each consecutive joining let them learn more about the other and was consequently better than the one before.  They continued until the candles were burned out, and the sun was peaking its’ way through the window.

Jean had finally fallen to sleep a bit earlier, and Dale was lying there staring at her beautiful face in admiration.  All of the conflicted emotions that had ruled him for the last two days were gone.  He was truly at peace.  The world was good, life was good, nothing could ever be wrong again, not when he had found such a phenomenon as Jean.  He reached the realization that his life would have to undergo some major changes.  Now that he knew he was meant to join in a lifetime relationship with Jean, his old life would have to be put aside.  He couldn’t ask her for commitment while he still risked everything every time he got on a track.  He also knew that he would have to find something more stable to do for income, something more structured that they could depend on, something 9 to 5 like he had thought he would never do again, at least before Jean.  He would just have to adjust his life to a different course for Jean, and the part he saw Jean having in it made it all seem right.  It never dawned on Dale that perhaps Jean didn’t share such feelings, no smallest doubt crept into his thoughts, it couldn’t.  Nothing, for him, had ever been more right.

Around 10 am Dale heard the sounds of someone entering the far trailer door.  He rose gently trying not the waken Jean, stepped over her and pulling on those brown underwear again slid the door open and moved into the hall.   Corky and Tammy were standing in the living room just inside the door starring back at him.  “What the fuck lover?” came from Tammy followed by Corky’s, “What gives dude?”  Dale starred straight into Corky’s eyes and replied in a low clear and even voice, “We’ve changed partners bro.”  Corky starred back silently for a few seconds then gave a very slight nod of understanding and sat down on the couch.  As Dale turned into the bathroom Tammy was moving down the hall and starting to rant.  While he was finding morning relief, she came in and hit him three or four times in the back hard enough to bring back the pain from the day before.  “Just what am I supposed to do?” she queried.  “Do whatever you need to do,” he replied, “Join Corky, chill and hangout, hit the road, whatever you want to do is yours, but this is, how it is and that’s the end of it.” He finished firmly as he squeezed past her in the narrow room.

Entering the hall and turning to the bedroom his eyes met Jean’s on the way out.  She gave a very small smile and went into the bathroom.  He went on into the bedroom with Tammy following, sat down and lit a cigarette.  He sat smoking silently while Tammy continued to rant.  When she pushed him back on the bed he shoved her away and stood up saying, “Fuck woman, mellow out and let it rest!”  Pulling on his jeans he went back out to the living room.  Jean was sitting in the big, overstuffed chair, so Dale sat down on the couch with Corky.  He was a slightly disturbed that Jean had seemed to avoid making eye contact with him.  Tammy stood at the end of the hall staring at all of them, finally silent.  When Jean did raise her eyes to meet his, a very slight smile graced her lips and she glided from the chair coming to rest in his lap, her lips locked to his in a passionate embrace.  She nestled her head into his neck and he stood up with her in his arms and carried her back into the bedroom.  Sliding the door closed with his foot, Dale rested Jean on the bed and then slipping off his clothes they were soon lost again to the mutual joy of each other.  From the sounds emanating from the living room Tammy had come to peace with the relational changes too.  Dale didn’t even notice.

Chapter 3:  The Loss

About two o’clock everyone seemed to be stirring again, Dale went out to the kitchen and started some more of the summers on the stove.  He kicked the door of the trailer open, stepped out, and found the weather to be much improved, sun shining and temperature up around 60, the air as clean and fresh as any before it.  His eyes scanned the reclaimed hills around him catching glimpses of the occasional deer and rabbit scurrying though the fields.  He looked up the hill to where his aunt and uncle had their own trailer and noticed a stream of smoke coming up through the stack from their wood-burning stove.  They had become his stand-in father and mother after he had reached an impasse with his own father and moved on for himself years ago.  He loved them dearly; especially his aunt who had the same type of free spirit and open mind that he possessed himself.  He thought perhaps that she was cursed with the same “total recall” memory as he, (he had never asked), and the fact that she was a “reader” same as him, reading everything and anything in print and then ready to debate the subject at the drop of a hat, had bonded them tightly together.  He had read every adult book in the Bentley library before he reached 14 and he had always imagined that she had topped that feat by eons.  They had spent thousands of hours locked in deep discussions over topics ranging from religion through the weather, each not caring which “side” of the debate they were on, just enjoying the debate for itself.  She had taught him how to achieve deep meditation, control his own body, manage pain, concentration, and thought, and they simply and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s companionship.  He had an old 2 ½ ton Chevy mechanics truck stashed up there, a massive white monster of a thing that he had used when he had worked on the heavy equipment of the coal mines.  In his mind he was already trying to map out things to do and one of them on his list was that he needed something with heat to haul these people around, especially Jean.  He had other rides stashed up there but they all needed some little thing before he could reliably count on them.  He left the door swinging open to let a little of the outside heat into the yet chilly trailer and went back in.

Going into the kitchen, he stirred the summers a bit and listened to, but did not join, the conversations of the other three.  He was still mapping out plans in his head but every time Jean spoke his ears would perk up like an Irish Setter on point.  She didn’t talk much, not at all compared to the other two, but he keyed on every comment she made.   “Yes I’ve got it bad,” he thought, “but I like what I’ve got!”  He turned the stove off and taking the pan into the living room, he sat down at Jean’s feet.  She said to the others as she reached into the pan, “Hey, get some of these.  These are pretty good.”  Her soft eyes were locked to his as she blew some of the heat from the slice.  He could see so much in those eyes.  He opened himself to her, trying to read what the eyes would tell.   He got the impression of a fun loving spirit, a yearning for something new or better, and a strange sort of innocence that mixed with an almost unreadable hint of deep old pain. Some misunderstanding, wrong, or deeply seated hurt was readily apparent just under the surface and yet she didn’t really seem to be aware of that herself.  It was almost like there were two different Jeans locked in there.  One, free and fun loving, enjoying life and reaching for freedom, and one lost in an old long pasted terrible emotional pain.  It made him a little angry that someone at sometime had hurt “his” Jean.   He wanted to strike back at whoever had dared, but he had also seen in her a strong hint of just how close and private she was keeping her inner self from the world and maybe from herself too.  He had learned just how self-destructive that could be from all of the pent-up emotions he had kept inside himself from the years of failed relationship with his father.  But he had pretty much convinced himself that “If he could just somehow manage to bring her, to feel for him what he felt for her, then together they could overcome any problem either of them might have.”  It was a foolish thought, but the love that had overwhelmed his senses had also driven out any doubts he might have had about his vision of their relationship.

While they were still eating and talking, Dale got up and giving Jean a short kiss said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”  Giving Baby a little pat across the seat as he passed, he walked down the drive and then up over the hill past his aunt’s to where the old truck was parked.  While he was going through the usual routine of checking oil, water, and whatnot, his mind was leaping ahead starting to formulate plans for the future he was already seeing for himself and Jean.  His upbringing had left within him very specific ideas of just what it took to have a happy and long lasting relationship, specific ideas that he had never really believed in until now.  He saw them as partners, sharing in both good times and bad, standing together united against anything that might challenge them on the way through life.  He was no fool.  He openly knew that Jean had not demonstrated any real sign that she even remotely shared in the feelings he felt for her.  But his love for her, that had so quickly taken control of every aspect of his being, would not allow a single doubt be entertained.  At his very core he “knew” that with love, security, and patience she would come to feel for him as he did for her.  He fired the old truck up and dropped down the hill and back up to the trailer.

Leaving the truck running and locking the maxi brake, Dale climbed out and went inside.  “If I’m going to have this extended family for a while I need to get to town and pick up a few things,” he said scanning them all, “You guys want to go or is there anything you want?”  Corky jumped up thinking he would go with him, but the two girls decided they would rather stay there.  They did want something other than the summers to eat though and some trash bags, dish soap and cigarettes.   Dale and Corky were soon bouncing towards Bentley.  Once he dropped off Corky, Dale headed down to the shop.  He said a “Howdy” to Tod as he started loading his tools into the truck.  “You know that little skinny girl that runs around with Ted Hanson?” said Tod.  “She was in here early this morning looking for you.  Said she really needed to talk to you if I happened to run into you.  She’s would be down at Hanson’s Carryout I guess,” he finished.  “Guess I better stop down there and see what’s up then, thanks Tod.  I’ll see ya.” Replied Dale.

Dale stopped the truck in front of the carryout and saw that Vickie, the girl that Tod had referred to, was the only one there as he went in the little shop.  She turned and their eyes met as he entered and hers instantly starting to fill with tears.   She crossed over to him and he bent down to meet her embrace as she sobbed quietly into his shoulder.  “What’s wrong Vickie?  Tell me girl.” He said softly.  “Oh Dale,” between sobs, “Patches died early Thursday morning.”  The news hit him like a blow.  Patches.  Dead.  His mind filled with images of that great warm face, smile lighting the way down the road for anyone that had ever met him.  Of his quiet humor and even temper that had so many times eased an edgy conflict.  The faces of Pam and the five little kids were there too and he agonized over their loss.  He very gently pushed Vickie back a bit and fighting back tears of his own said, “My God, Vickie.  Patches is dead.  I feel like the world has stopped.  He’s gone,” he trailed off.  Vickie nodded and was trying to dry away some of the tears with an already wet paper towel.  “We are all supposed to meet at the house 11:00 Saturday for the funeral run.  Apple sent the word.” She said.  “Are you going to be alright?” he asked.  “Yes but I’m worried about you.  You two were as tight as it gets.  Are you ok?” she asked.  He tried an almost successful smile and replied, “You know I will be alright.  I’m always alright.”  She hugged him again and he bent and kissed her on the forehead.  “Thanks Vickie.  I’ll be there Saturday.”

Getting back in the truck he was two miles out of town before he remembered the grocery list.  He spun the truck around and headed into the Food Mart.  He had to fight to focus his mind enough to remember everything on the list.  That done, he drove back out to the trailer and pulling the groceries out, went inside.  They had found some dish soap for sure.  The piles of dishes were cleaned up and put away, and the trailer looked a lot better than it had when he left.  He decided to put on a happy face and placing the groceries on the bar he called out, “Damn fine job ladies.  Almost looks like I’m in the wrong place.”  Silence.    He was alone.  It was like getting hit another low blow.  He walked back to the bedroom, sat down on the bed and lit a cigarette.  There were no thoughts left in his mind now, just an overwhelming pain.  He lay back and let the tears flow.  There seemed nothing else.

About 2 o’clock he got up and walked to his aunts.  There was no one home there but he used the phone to call Tim Hostman and let him know he wouldn’t be racing this weekend.  Tim had heard about Patches and offered some kind words that didn’t help a bit.  Dale thanked him, hung up, then called Pam, Patches’ young wife.  Apple answered the phone and said Pam was finally sleeping.  He said they didn’t need anything when Dale asked and that he was glad Dale had got the word.  Dale said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning then Apple. Send for me if you need me.”   He hung up the phone and went back down to the empty trailer.  He didn’t go in, but sat down on the steps and lit another cigarette off the spent one he still had burning.  The pain was oozing through his pores.

He sat there for about a half hour, his mind cloudy and unfocused, and then squinting back into the trailer at the clock over the bar he straddled the bike and kicked Baby to life.  Down the drive he spun Baby around in almost a complete circle and roared up the gravel road, the back way to Bentley.  He took every corner like he was on the track, full throttle and sideways.  When he hit the blacktop he maxed the carb and shot down Olivet Hill at well over 130.  He was airborne over the narrow bridge landing with the front brake locked a short 15 yards away from the hard left that followed the bridge.  Fully broadside and full throttle again he ground pounds of metal from the open primary as he leaped out of the turn and swept through the next three.   He held that speed well past the corporation limits of Bentley, going far enough airborne over the dairy hump that he would have cleared three or four cars before the old rigid frame crashed bouncing back to the pavement.   Throttle dropped, he was at an idle going past the police station and on up to the light.

His mind had cleared a tad from the concentration needed to survive his wild run and he realized that his destination was going to be the little house Jean had talked about down on Prince Avenue.  He hadn’t thought he had had a target in mind when this ride started, but now knew that his subconscious had sent him this way.  He found the house across the street from him and flipped a u-turn up onto the sidewalk killing the ignition.  Stepping up on the small porch, he rapped on the door.  The old man that answered the door was a wonder.  Dale judged him to be at least 70 years old, with friendly smiling eyes full of great adventure and stories.  Dale had learned long ago to take careful stock of people when first meeting them, and that the older a person was the more they had to offer.  His whole manner gave him a great sense of ease.  He was already beginning to like the man before him.  Dale stuck out his hand and taking the old man’s said, “Hi, I’m Dale.  Does Jean live here?”  The old man replied still holding Dale’s hand in a firm well worn grip,  “Yeh, come on in boy.”

As the old man led him to a chair in the tiny living room, (still holding on to his hand,) Dale scanned his surroundings.  The room was packed tightly with every kind of thing you could imagine fitting in such a room.  Every flat surface, every space without furniture, the whole room was full of “stuff,” with path like runners that allowed you to walk through.   Dale thought, “I don’t think I ever seen the trailer look like this,” but said to the smiling man, “And what’s your name sir?”  The man grinned wider at that and answered, “Don, but all you young’ins call me Pap.  You call me Pap.”  “Ok, Pap it is then,” returned Dale with a grin of his own, “Is Jean around?”  “No, no I don’t think she’s here.” Pap said, but was interrupted by a spine chilling shrill voice from deeper in the house somewhere.  “Who the hell is it?  No, Jean Lynn isn’t here and she better be getting her ass home too!” said a woman as she slid into the room.   A very large heavy women with short greasy black hair her moved to the nearly covered couch and landed herself there without bothering to move any of the mass that blocked her seat.   Dale studied the woman carefully.  The eyes moved constantly around the room never making contact with his own for long.  There was something hidden just beneath the surface of them, not far, but just slightly out of his reach.  He did know one thing though.  For all the ease he received from the old man, this woman left him with the feelings of dirt and something evil.  He hoped he was misreading.

Dale stood saying, “Well I guess I better get going,” and shoving his hand back to Pap, “It was really nice meeting you, Pap.”  Pap got up and followed him to the door.  At the door Dale turned to the woman and said, “If I see Jean I’ll let her know you’re looking for her.”  “You just tell her to get her ass home!” she shrilled back.  A thought sprung to being, and he almost said, “Yeh, but to our home not yours.”  With Pap’s, “You come back anytime boy,” echoing in his ears, he stepped out and waved another goodbye to the old man, firing up “Baby,” was gone.

As he rolled up into the middle of town he was trying to come to grips with the feelings driving him.  He knew part of it was that he hadn’t yet let himself deal with the loss of Patches but it seemed to him that the larger part of his unease was from not being with Jean.  He felt completely empty inside, like he hadn’t eaten in several weeks, a void with something important missing.  He flipped the bike down the entrance to the park when it came up, and as he dropped down the last hill he spotted Jean, Tammy, and Sam, a tiny girl he had seen at a few parties, walking up the hill toward the first shelter house.  He killed the ignition and coasted to a stop in the shelter.  “Hey lover.  You gonna give me a ride?” said Tammy as the girls came in from the other side.  Jean seemed to be looking anywhere but at him, which surprising to him was causing an ache to form in his chest and increasing his general feeling of unease.  Sam stepped up to him where he sat on the bike and said, “Take me around the park?”  He fired Baby to life and with her on the bitch pad, idled around the ball fields and tennis courts.  When he came back around to a stop, Sam jumped off, and Tammy slid on.  Dale’s eyes were glued to Jean trying to find hers, but she didn’t even glance his direction.  He was amazed at the almost physical pain growing inside him.  Tammy was screaming in his ear, “Ride me uptown!”  Slapping Baby back into gear he spun a quick u-turn and shot out the park exit and back up to town.  He hit the first light red and sat there lost in his thoughts until when it turned green, and he started forward only to have the front of the bike leave the ground.  He fought the bike a bit and then with a glance back saw a large blond women holding onto Tammy’s hair and being drug behind him.  He burped the throttle and she fell free then he shot on down past the police station and stopped at the light at the next corner.  “What the fuck was that about?” he called over his shoulder.   “I don’t even know her,” was the reply.  “This is your stop he called back.  Get off!”   Tammy slid off and he hardly noticed the pouting look as he launched Baby through the red light and headed out of town.

He kept increasing speed until as he passed the corporation limits, he was flat out with the valves rattling.  A couple of miles out the state patrolman coming at him hit his lights before Dale could even tell what he was.  He never backed off.  He blew through the next little town only slowing slightly to make the offset intersection, and through the next, much the same and then back into it hard on the next country road.  The cars and trucks he came up on disappeared out of sight behind him in a moving blur of motion and sound.  A couple of them ran themselves off the road in an attempt to escape the roaring Harley.  He topped the hill where the coal trucks crossed to get to the tipple and then in the next hard right Baby gave up.  The turn had one of those little warning signs that recommended a speed of 15 mph, and Dale went into it at well over 100.  He threw the bike on its’ side in a forlorn effort to do the impossible.  The rear wheel broke loose and went skyward in huge leaping bounces and on the last landing Dale manhandled the bike back upright and aimed for the bank he was going to hit anyway.  He flashed through the barbed wire fence taking out at least two of the locust posts supporting it and the bounced up over the bank high in the trees with their limbs cutting him like live electric lines.  He burst into the field on the other side of the trees fighting madly to regain some control of the ride.   Nearing the far side and more trees he dropped the bike on her side and squatting on her, slid to a stop.

He lay there gasping for breath and fighting the raging adrenaline that steamed through his system.  “What is wrong with me? This isn’t me, what has happened to the me I know?”  “This can’t be.  Nothing affects me like this ever.  I am in control, am always in control.”  Thoughts tumbled through his mind in a seething mess mixing with confused emotions and frustration.    He needed somebody to help explain what was happening to him.  He needed somebody.   For the first time he felt truly alone.

The pain of the bike lying on his left leg finally forced him to move.  He kicked out, got up, stood the bike up, and checked out the damage, which was lighter than he expected, and then started trying to get her running again.  Baby was upset with him and made him earn his ride home.  Forty minutes of kicking and another twenty riding put him in front of the trailer again.  He stood there examining the poor bike and the earth and grass packed tightly into every opening.  “I’m sorry, Baby,” he said, “You deserve better than this.”  He went on into the trailer and shut the door.  This had been his place of sanctuary for a long time, a place to rest, a place for quiet contemplation, but now the silence seemed to scream at him, the walls closing him in blocking off the outside world.  Snagging an almost empty wine bottle from the bar he went back to the bedroom and lay down.  While he finished off what little was left in the bottle he let his mind go back through the past few days.  The memories brought back all of the joyous feelings he had discovered from meeting and spending time with Jean, flickering though their first intimate night, and ending with the pain that now filled him.  “It was my own fault,” he told himself, “I was planning “our” future without any regard for her feelings or needs, or the opportunity to decide for herself.”   He had let his overwhelming love for her block out any common sense he might have otherwise had and denied the possibility that she would feel any differently than he.  Though he now firmly believed in “love at first site,” the idea that both the people involved could experience that same thing was now laughable.  Laughable if it didn’t hurt so much, anyway.  “I guess what I need to do is back off and let life go where it will.   Leave her to find herself and go on with what he needed to do,” he thought.  But deep in the center of him he knew that even if he never saw her again he would remember that love for the rest of his life.  There would never be another Jean or one that could come near to replacing her in his heart.   He would just have to live with that.  He said a silent prayer for Patches, Pam, and the kids and rolled over into restless sleep.

When he awoke the sun was just starting to creep into the bedroom window.  Dale lit a couple of candles and dug around in the closet until he found a not too worn pair of jeans and shirt.  Padding out to the kitchen he retrieved the shampoo out of the bag and headed in for a shower.  Feeling clean and at least alive again he found a comb and started working the rats out of his thick blond hair, then braiding it tightly down his back as he went back into the bedroom.  He pulled on an old pair of jeans and a tee-shirt, stuffed his feet into his boots, and picked up the better pair going outside.  He stuffed his “good” clothes into the war bag and taking out a screwdriver, he knelt down and began working the packed dirt and grass out of the bike.  He held himself in a vise like lock of self-control in preparation of the day to come.  A few stray thoughts of Jean, images of her beautiful smile, her soft laughter, the scent of her, the taste of her, where was she, how was she, were all that broke though his concentration.   He went backwards up the off ramp to get on the eastbound interstate (there was no east bound on ramp,) and was soon rolling toward St. Vincent.  He took the second exit and then went into the little car wash on the left.  He used the nozzle on both Baby and his boots finishing them both off with the “hot wax” option.  Jumping back on the bike he went up through town to a small Laundromat and going inside he shoved his “good” clothes into a machine.  There was one other person in the place and Dale recognized her as one of the two sister owners of a small lunch counter up in the middle of town.  Debi or Connie would be her name.  She was setting in the far corner with large pink curlers in her hair and reading a thick romance novel of some kind. Glancing up she smiled at him.  He gave a nod and a “good morning” back to her and went outside to smoke.  Sitting on the steps of the entrance he admired the morning sky, pale blue with white steaks lancing through it, and just enough wispy clouds to break the monotony.  It was going to be a fine fall day for Patches.

The girl came out of the door behind him with a “Is this seat taken or can anybody use it?”  “As free as it gets,” he replied.  Glancing back up at her as she sat down beside him she had lost the curlers inside somewhere and he now knew her name was Connie.  The success of their little lunch counter was partly responsible to the two great looking girls running it, and Connie was the better looking of the two.  She stood about 5’11”, with long blond hair, a very appealing oval face, a body like you would see on a California beach ad, and beautiful, very pale blue, almost white eyes that grabbed your attention and held it.  Add to this the fact that both of the sisters were well educated, very intelligent, and very conversational and you could easily realize why they had every man with fire left in his veins eating at their lunch counter as often as they could.   Dale had been in there several times in the past, and Debi had rode out to Legend Valley with him and other friends once for a “Dead” concert.

She slid over against him while digging deeply into the left breast pocket of her denim shirt.  Pulling out a joint she looked in his eyes with a raising of her eyebrows.  Dale hit the end of the joint with his Zippo.  They sat there passing the joint and talking about every subject that came to mind as the morning sun warmed them.  At some point the conversation turned to the book she was reading.  Dale asked “So, are you into the hot steamy romance novels?”  “Oh yes,” she replied, “It’s my biggest weakness.  I love getting lost in a fantasy world of the perfect couple living a perfectly idealist life lost in love and each other.”  He laughed lightly, “You sound a little bitter Connie.  Don’t you believe that love can really happen in the real world?”  “Not like in the novels,” she replied, “In real life there is always something to interfere with any relationship.  Making a living, problems from the outside, problems from people getting inside, it’s like a never ending battle to just survive let alone getting any relationship to grow and last.”  She finished with, “I’m not really sure that love even exists anymore.  I’ve thought I was in love twice now, and those turned into a real mess.  I’m not sure the pain that might come with a mistake worth the risk when you balance the love that might be if it is right.”  He turned to her and there were tears glittering in those lovely eyes.  He gently laid his fingers across her lips, brushed her hair back off her face, and said, “Hey now, pretty girl,” and adding a smile continued, “We can’t have you giving up on love.  Think of all the young studs out there that would lose their only chance at happiness.” He finished smiling wider.  She sniffed a little and he went on.

He told her about the old couple he had met in the park, of how learning of their love had enriched and inspired him.   “I know I’m not doing it justice when I describe it but it was an almost magical thing to see and feel.”  “If one such love can exist, then how can we doubt that it will happen again and again, and that we too have a chance of finding such happiness and completion?”  He pulled out a small bag and paper and said, “Here, roll us another one while I go get my junk into the dryer.”  When he came back out and sat down with her he rubbed her back a bit saying, “So, what do you think?”  She gave him back a slight smile and said, “I think you’re a bigger romantic than I am,” grinning wider, “You gave me one example, now it was a great one, a wonderful story, but I was waiting for more.  Something about your loving parents, the love of your life, something more to prove that I’m wrong.”  He lit the joint for her and said, “Ok, but this will be harder.  I’ve met that special love of my life and met her only a few short days ago.”  She had a hard look of skepticism across her face as he continued.  “No, no, I know how that sounds but this is real.  A few days ago if you would have talked about love-at-first-site I would have argued against it with all of my being.  There was no such thing, love took time, took learning, commitment.  There was no way possible that love could just spring into being on its’ own.  I knew what love was. I had friends that I loved, family.  Then I met Jean and found out just how wrong I had been.  She walked into my life with another man and it didn’t make any difference.   The very site of her changed something hidden deep inside me, something that had never stirred before no matter how close I had been with anyone.  She became in that first instant everything I ever needed or wanted, my inner ideal of beauty and form, the very reason for my being here had to be for meeting and being with her.  I had thought myself happy and content with my life until I met her.  I was enjoying the very act of living, of meeting new and interesting people, seeing new things, enjoying the close companionship of my friends, living life to the fullest, right on an edge I preferred.  And that, welling of love is still growing inside of me.  It just keeps getting stronger and stronger with every moment I get to spend with her.  It even grows when I’m away from her.  It’s growing even now here with you.  The more I learn to know her, the more the love grows.  I’ve learned more about myself, and my emotions than I had ever dreamed possible.  Maybe it is a dream.  But if it is, I hope it never ends.”

He paused.  Focusing on his feelings for Jean had brought them all boiling back to the surface and emotions were washing over him in waves of joyous elation mixed with agonizing pain.  He looked at Connie, and she was crying again, though it seemed different than before.  “Did I make a dent pretty lady?” he asked.  “It’s better than the books.  It’s better than anything I’ve ever read or heard.  Are you sure?  How can you sure be that it is truly love that you’re feeling?  No, don’t answer, I can see the answer in your eyes.  But there’s something else there too.  There’s pain there that you’re trying so hard to hide, something I think you’re leaving out of your story.  Come on now, you have to finished the story now that you started it.  I can’t start the book without finishing.” She finished with a broader smile and a poke in his ribs.  He told it all, from their first intimate night’s wonders to the coldness he’d gotten from her when he saw her last.  When he finished they were both wiping the wetness from their eyes.  She asked, “What are you going to do now?”  “I guess I’m just going to play it as it comes.  I know I can’t force her to be something she’s not, I haven’t the right if I could.”  “Why don’t we go up to the house, we can talk some more,” she said pointing across the street and up the hill.  “No, I need to get going.  I have to escort one of those friends I mentioned on his final ride today.” He replied.  He briefly told her about Patches, his family, and the times they had had.  As he rose he said “You’re one of the special ones, Connie, and I hope you find what you’re looking for someday, that special love that we all should have.”  He bent and kissed her on the forehead.  “I’ve really got to hit it.”  He went inside and digging his now well dry clothes out of the dryer, he started to change.  Connie had followed him in.  She came around the washers and put her arms around his neck saying, “I’m going to tell you something, Mr. Dale, you are the one who’s special.  I know better than to try to talk you out of taking your chance with Jean, I’m not sure I should if I could, but I’m telling you right now if it gets to the point that you need someone else, I would want to be that someone.  As a matter of fact,” she led him over to the window and pointed up the hill, “If you just need a friend to talk to or someone to hold to help you through today that’s my house right up there, third one down on the far side.”   Dale smiled at her, moving back and finishing dressing.  “Connie, I really like you and…” She interrupted, “I know, don’t say it, I’m smarter than to try to compete with Jean after what you’ve said, just remember where I am.  And I’ll tell you something else, Dale.  I think love can be built with respect, hard work and commitment too.  It doesn’t have to happen the way it did to you.  And, as much as I hate saying this, I think you and Jean will work it out.   You’re too easy to love for it not to happen.”  He started to speak but she cut him off with, “I know, I know, I’ll let it go but you damn well better remember me, and if it ever goes too wrong, come give me the second chance.”   He smiled at her as he grabbed his stuff and headed for the bike, her following behind.  As he packed his old clothes into the war bag Connie said, “And listen again, if you need a friend tonight, just stop.  I’ll have the light on.”  He cradled her face in his hands.  “You are one of the special few Connie, one of the few.” He said kissing her gently.  He fired up Baby, blew her a kiss goodbye, and headed for Bartow.

Chapter 4:  Endings And Beginnings

The street dumped him on County Road 15, and that led him into the center of small Bartow.  He angled across the railroad tracks and continued up 15 for about a ½ mile then pulled into the yard on the left.  There was a side porch with ramps up both sides and an old Knucklehead Harley sitting on it under two signs, one reading “Goldie’s Place” and the other “Baby’s Place.”   Apple was in the yard, and as Dale started to shut the bike down he shook his head and waved him forward pointing up on the porch.   Dale felt a pang as he reached the porch and shut down Baby in her usual parking space.  “Maybe it will do Goldie good to have Baby near though,” he thought.   He went into the living room, and Apple was already there.  They embraced.   “How is she?” Dale asked.  “She’s in the bedroom.  Go to her.” Came the reply.  “How are you holding up?” Dale asked.  “I’m holding.” Apple answered looking unsure, “I’ve been here since, you know since, trying to help with what I could.  He was a good man Dale.” He finished with his eyes moist.  Dale took his hand, “Yes he was, and he will be missed by anyone who knew him.  You’ve done well, Apple, and I know he would have appreciated it as much as I do.”  Apple replied, “It’s nothing.  You know Pam and me grew up together and you know how I feel about her and Patches.”  Dale squeezed his hand and then, steeling himself, he worked his way back through the halls.

The bedroom door was slightly ajar, “Pam” Dale whispered as he slipped the door open.  The small woman rose from the edge of the bed.  She tried to smile as she moved toward Dale saying, “Dale, I’m so glad you made it.  I was worried that you wouldn’t hear until,” He took her into his arms and they held each other as she began to sob quietly into his chest.  “Oh Dale, he’s really gone.  I miss him so much already.  How can he be gone?   I need him with me.  I need him.” She said.  “I know, I know, it’s already hard.  You just need to remember where he has gone and know in your heart that he will be waiting for you when the time comes to join him again.  And know this, you will never be truly alone.  You’ll have the kids and all the people he touched with you.”  “I think Robby is old enough that he should ride with us to the cemetery.  He will remember more than the other kids.  You are going to ride for Rob, (Patches), aren’t you?” looking up at him, “Rob would have wanted you too.” She said.  “I thought maybe Apple should have that place, but of course I will it it’s what you want.” Dale replied.  “Apple has been a real help, but Rob would have wanted you.” She answered.  “Then I’ll go make sure Robbie gets here, and everything is ready.” He replied, “Are you going to hold up?  Is there anything?”  he asked.  “How can I not make it with all of this help?” she managed a little bit of a smile and he hugged her again and moved out through the living room to the porch joining Apple.

He lit a cigarette.  There were maybe 200 bikes parked in the yard and along the road now, yet except for the occasional newly arriving bike it was eerily quiet in the hollow.  “She wants me to ride for Patches.  I would like you to ride for me if you would.” He said without looking at Apple.  “You know I will.” Came the reply.  “She wants Robbie with us, too,” he finished.  “My sister has the kids, I’ll fix it with her.” Then, “Are you all right?”   “If she can be all right I can,” Dale said with a glance at Apple, “You’ve been a big help.”  “I’ll get it done then,” said Apple, and he moved off.   Dale scanned the faces in the crowd.  There were many he didn’t know, many he had only met once or twice somewhere on the road, and a few he had memories of.  There were women carrying food and whatnot into the house, and down by that dilapidated leaning garage there were four men working at cleaning up the old trash pile.  Dale smiled to himself thinking of all the times Patches had talked about cleaning that up.  His thoughts turned to Jean.  He wondered where she was, what she was doing.  He wished she could be here with him now.  He missed her badly and was worried that he may be missing her for a long time yet to come, maybe forever.  He saw the old station wagon that belonged to Apples’ sister stop down by the garage.   Little Robbie came bounding out with the wide eyes only a six-year-old could have for all the people and bikes invading his home.   His eyes landed on Dale on the porch, and he came running across the yard and up the ramp to leap into Dale’s arms yelling, “Uncle Dale!”  Dale hugged the little man and said, “Hi ya boy, boy have you been growing.”  “Look at all the bikes, Uncle Dale.  Have you even seen so many?  Is there gonna be a run, Uncle Dale.  Do I get to go Uncle Dale?  Look at them Uncle Dale!” the boy said pointing all around.  Dale hugged the squirming boy again.  “Yes, there is an important run and yes, you get to go.  You’re going to ride with me and your Mom.  Will that be ok?” he said.  “Oh boy. Me and Mommy are going to ride with you on Baby?   Is Daddy coming too Uncle Dale?” the boy asked.  Something caught in Dales’ throat.  He knelt down standing the boy up in front of him.  He saw Pam standing just inside the screen door.  Looking squarely at the boy he said, “Robbie, God had something important that he needed your dad to do, and your dad had to go be with God.  You remember, God, Robbie?”  The boy nodded his head with his lip quivering.  Dale continued, “Well it’s going to be a really long time before you see your dad again Robbie, but I want you to remember, he will always love you, and he will always be there for you somehow.  You may not see him, but you can feel him there if you try.  And someday you will get to be together again.” He finished, taking the boy in his arms again.  Pam came out, knelt on the porch, and Robbie ran to her.  He was saying, “Daddy had to go be with God, Mommy,” as Pam looked up at Dale and mouthed “Thank you, thank you for both of us.”  Apple came up the ramp and said, “It’s time if you’re ready.”   Dale nodded and stepped across the old Knuckle.  He retarded the mag and kicked her through a few times, then came down hard and she was running roughly.

Pam slipped onto the “Queen” part of the seat behind him then pulling Robbie up, sat him between them.  Dale pulled the clutch in, and then kicking the bike in gear dropped down the ramp and across the yard to the far side of the road headed for route 250.  In neutral, he stopped and waited there.  It was just a few short moments until Apple pulled up beside him on Baby and giving him the nod that all was ready.  Dale started forward, uncomfortable being on the right, his place was over there where Apple was riding “Baby.”  But this was Patches’ place on the run and Dale would do whatever it took for Patches.  They kept a slow speed all the way out the through hollows and when they started up the last hill before the highway three bikes from back in the pack shot around them.  When they reached the top of the hill, the three had traffic stopped and the pack made the right turn and headed on to the cemetery.  There was no danger of Dale getting lost on this trip.  He had been here many times before, way too many times.

At the entrance to the cemetery, Dale led the pack down through the stone covered hills and up around to stop in front of the little Chapel.  He shut the bike off, put it on the stand, and got off, taking Robbie in one hand and Pam in the other.  With Apple joining them they walked toward the bronze casket on the stand at the foot of the Chapel steps.  There were five wooden folding chairs setting in a row in front of the casket, the two farthest on the right held Pam’s parents.  Dale st Robbie in the first chair on the left then helped Pam in the next one.  He motioned for Apple to take the middle one, and then more sternly when he resisted, then standing next to Robbie with the boy’s hand back in his he waited as an apprehensive preacher came out of the Chapel and the rest of the friends and family moved up behind.

The preacher was looking back over Dale’s left shoulder, and he turned to look that way.  There were bikes setting as far as you could see back down around the turn of the main highway.  There were still a few people working their way up to the group.   Dale patted Robbie’s hand and then, extended it to the preacher.  “Don’t worry, they won’t be much longer.” Dale said.  “I’ve just never done this, like this, before.  Robert must have been a well loved man,” the preacher replied.  “Yes he was that.  He was as kind and good a man as you will ever meet.” Dale continued, “They know him as Patches not Robert.  That might help.”  He shook the preacher’s hand again, and then went back to stand with Robbie.

The preacher did what every good preacher does at such occasions, reading scriptures that he hoped would ease the pain of the loss and promote understanding, others that he aimed at building hope for the future.  He couldn’t talk very much about Patches himself, not knowing him or having never met him before his passing, but he did make comments going something like, “from the amount of friends present…” and other such.  All in all it went fairly well but Dale was having a hard time remembering what was said.  His thoughts were running through all of the times he and Patches had enjoyed together.  Somehow even the hard times they had experienced seemed more like shared adventures between soul companions.  He was going to miss him.  Of course there were also his thoughts of Jean.  He was becoming more accustomed to the fact that Jean was going to be ever in his thoughts no matter what.   He guessed that it was just a new part of his life that he would have to adjust to.  The preacher was paying his respects to Pam and Robbie.  Dale walked up and laid his hand on the bronze box.  “See you later, old friend.  Save me a place in the next run,” he thought as the six friends lifted it and started down the hill.  As he stood there, Robbie came up and wrapped his arm around Dale’s leg.  Dale squatted down and put his arm around the boy.  “Is my Daddy in that box, Uncle Dale?” Robbie said looking up at Dale.  “There is, a part of him Robbie, but the most important part of your daddy is with God now,” replied Dale.  Robbie was looking around at the faces of the people moving up to his mother.  “Uncle Dale, Daddy told me big boys don’t cry, but those boys are crying.  Why are they crying, Uncle Dale?”  Big boys do cry sometimes Robbie.  They’re crying because they love your daddy, and they’re going to miss him just like you and your mommy are going to miss him.  Just like I’m going to miss him.  It’s not bad to cry for someone you love.” Dale finished.  “Did Daddy cry, Uncle Dale?” the boy asked.  Pain racked him as Dale’s mind flashed back to another time and another loss, a hospital hallway and the death of both his parents, a scene on a deserted Pennsylvanian mountain road with Patches cradling a dear friend in his arms, tears streaming down his face.  Another in the delivery room for the birth of this boy, tears of joy cascading down his cheeks as he held his new son up for the world to see.  “Oh yes Robbie, your daddy cried.”  He picked the boy up and stood saying, “Let’s get you and your mommy home.”

As he neared her, he caught Pam’s eye and said, “I think I should get you two home.”  She nodded assent and handing Robbie to her he moved up to the bike, Goldie.  Apple brought Baby to life as Dale came down on the kicker.  With Pam and Robbie securely behind him he kicked the old bike in gear and retraced his route back to Bartow and the porch on the little house.  No one but Apple followed.  Dale knew that the rest would be along later but they were giving Pam the opportunity for some quiet time with the children and their grief.  Shutting the bike down on the porch, Dale stepped off and found Robbie asleep in his mothers’ arms.  He gently took the boy and Pam whispered, “Put him on my bed.”  When he returned to the porch Pam was still sitting on Goldie, Apple on the floor next to her.  “He’s really gone?” Pam said looking up at Dale.  It was both a question and a statement.  Dale squatted down next to her and the bike taking her hand.  “You know he would still be here if he could.  He would have never left you and the kids. He loved you too much.”  “I know how much he loved me Dale, and I know a great part of what he gave up for that love,” she continued, “I know more than you would ever imagine about him and you, too.  You two were so much alike.  You both had something pulling at you, a calling trying to lead you somewhere else.  Don’t you think I knew how he battled that part of him.  As open and giving as he, was he could never let me into that part of him.  It was the one thing he just couldn’t share.  You have the same demons in you Dale.  You’re filled with so much love and yet, at the same time, so much loneliness.  I only hope you find someone to share them with before they consume you.” She finished.  “I may have found that someone he thought. Only to have lost her before it could begin.”  He gave her a wane smile and said, “Pam, you just know us too well.” Then quiet for a moment, “Pam, I need to,” his words dropped off.  She could sense the need to be gone in him, that calling from another place that had so worried her about her husband.  She said, “I know Dale.  I’ve always known.  Just be careful and please come back when you can.”  They hugged long, each sharing strength for the other, in their common grief.  Apple stood as Dale stepped across “Baby.”  “Pathfinder, (Dale’s club name,),” Apple said, “You come back to us.”  They clasped hands and then Dale hugged his friend without saying a word.  He came down hard on the kicker, and then with a nod to the two he slipped the bike in gear and road down the ramp and out onto the road.  When he glanced back Apple and Pam were holding each other on the porch.   They will be all right he thought, they will all be all right.

He retraced his route of the morning, though to him, the morning seemed a misty memory of a long time gone.  Climbing the hill past the Laundromat he spotted the house Connie had pointed out across the street.  The porch light was on, but he didn’t stop.  He couldn’t.   He stayed on National Road, riding slowly, the big Harley barely above a hard thumping idle.  When he finally reached the trailer the sun was dropping down behind the far hill.   He stepped off the bike and sat down on the trailer steps lighting a cigarette.  He tried to blank his mind, to reach that inner quiet place where thought couldn’t penetrate.  It wasn’t in him.  Pam’s words echoed in his mind and the truth of them bit him afresh.  He loved his life.  Loved the people he shared it with, the adventures that sprang up every day, the enjoyment of experiencing his very existence.  But there was something missing.  Something like a great void, a puzzle that required a certain combination to fill it.  There was a hole in the center of him.  A hole that he had never admitted to himself existed.  A need that he had never acknowledged, a want he had never fulfilled.  And Jean filled that hole.  He knew it as much as he knew anything about himself.  She was what he needed to be complete.  The memories of her at the park flooded back into him.  The cold hard look, the sullen indifference, all cut into him like strong acid on clean metal.  The pain of it felt as though it would consume his very soul.  Dale tried to shake the images and thoughts out of his head.  He went into the trailer, back to the bedroom, and finally was very shortly sound in a restless sleep of exhaustion.

There was a car, a loud car with bad exhaust, idling below the trailer on the main road.  Dale awoke in almost total darkness.  He felt his way up and to the living room, found and lit one of the candles, and then found the clock over the bar.  It was just about 20 minutes after 2 in the morning.  As he moved toward the door the car was moving off toward the interstate.  He reached for the doorknob, and the door opened from the outside causing him to jerk back.  There on the steps in the darkness was Jean’s beautiful face.  The shock of it had him speechless and she said, “Hi.” And tried to make her way up the three short steps.  He reached out, and catching her hand, helped her inside then leaned out to pull the door closed.   She hadn’t stopped moving, but was working her way down the narrow hall to the bedroom.  Dale grabbed the lit candle and followed her his mind trying to adjust to her presence.   He caught up with her in time to help her sit down on the bed.  He lit a couple more candles from the fire of the first one, and sat down with her.  She was more than a little drunk or high, and had a world of fun and good humor in her eyes.  “Have you got a cigarette?” she asked.  He dug a couple out of his pack, lit them, and then passed one over to her.  “So what brought you back down here to the farm?” he asked with humor.  Her eyes locked to his and with that special little smile of hers she said, “I missed you!”   She took his head and drew his mouth to hers, crushing him to her in a passionate kiss.  “Oh I’ve missed you more than you should know,” he replied returning her passion.  She tasted of beer, but elation surged through him, not from the words, but from the eyes.  For the briefest of seconds there he had seen the wonder hidden deep inside her.  The deeply submerged love and passion that swan hidden within her.  There were other things hidden in there, a roiling collage of mixed up emotions and memories, but at the heart he had glimpsed her pure beautiful soul.  The revelation staggered him, and his love for her again expanded to fill him.

The cigarette in her right hand touched his ear, and he pulled back.  “Let me twist one up for us,” he said.  She nodded agreement as he moved off.  Busy at his task he tried to make small talk.  “So, where was the party at?” he asked.  “Oh, we just rode around, drank a few beers, burned a few,” she replied and continued, “I thought I might see you somewhere.”  “I had to help a friend,” he replied, “What if I hadn’t been here tonight?”  “I knew you’d be here, I was coming,” she said with a big smile.  He laughed with her at that.  She was probably right.  “Who were you partying with?  You should have asked them in,” he said.  “It was just Zimmer.  He was going out somewhere,” she replied.  The eyes changed.   He saw it.  It was like suddenly there was a different person behind them.  The effect puzzled him.  He tucked the joint behind his ear and lay down beside her.  “I really did miss you,” he said quietly.  She turned and kissed him again.  She slid her hand up under his shirt and stroked his chest.  He kissed her again then reached down and unfastened her jeans.  Going up on his knees he pulled off his shirt then helped her peel down the jeans.  As she lifted her legs for him to clear her ankles he saw that Zimmer had been luckier than he had thought.  A pang of emotion struck him.  It wasn’t jealousy exactly, they had no firm commitment to be sure, it was more a feeling of disappointment.  He dumped the jeans off on the floor, pulled the quilt down underneath her, and then slipping his own jeans off lay down beside her and covered them both up.  She snuggled up close to him and he nibbled a little at her neck.  She was soon sleeping quietly with the beautiful smile that so overwhelmed him, still on her sweet lips.

After a while, Dale sat up cross-legged next to the sleeping girl.  He took the joint from behind his ear, and lighting it, sat admiring her in the under the dim candles.  He looked inside himself and found that the empty void was not quite so empty now.  It felt so right to be with her, so natural.  He opened himself further, going down to where he had suppressed all the pain relating to Patches.  He embraced it, brought it out to the front of his mind, to understand it and grieve.  He focused on all of the times they had had together, both good and bad.  He remembered his voice, something of a gravel timber, the competitions they had had with each other, secrets they had shared, shared loves, and shared pain.  He remembered the joy of his laugh and the anguish of his tears.  His excitement and pride in his family, his terror and grief at the loss of his mother and father.  He remembered, and he accepted, as always.  She made little sounds in her sleep as he watched.  At one point he almost woke her up, as it seemed she settled into a nightmare.  But a few soft words from him, and a stroke through her hair must have changed the dream, and she drifted back into a more restful sleep.

He was still sitting in much the same position when she awoke shortly after ten.  Her eyes flickered open to find his glued to hers.  She turned her head slightly to the right and loosed a low groan into the pillow as Dale said quietly, “Good morning pretty lady.”  She didn’t say anything, but smiling wider at him she reached up with both arms and pulled him down next to her, nestling in as close to him as she could.   He began to massage her back and shoulders through the tee shirt, working tenderly at the tight mussels underneath.  He basked in the warmness of her, the tender but strong feelings of love working through him, the “rightness” of his being here with her.   He felt as though if time suddenly stopped at this moment, he could happily stay here for eternity.  He pulled back just a bit to look at her beautiful face and found her sleeping soundlessly again.  He pulled the quilt up over then both, and snuggling closer yet, joined her in her dreams.

Around two o’clock he awoke as Jean slid from the bed and padded down the hall to the bathroom.  Dale sat up and dug around in the bed until he came up with his cigarettes, then taking one out, he lit it and settled back lightly.  Jean came back into the room and sat down cross-legged on the bed wrapping part of the quilt around her.  Dale leaned forward and kissed her then said, “I said good morning pretty lady.”   He passed her the lit cigarette and dug another out for himself as she replied in that wonderful voice, “Good morning.”   “You were rubbing my back.” She said.  He made a circling motion with his finger in the air and she moved closer and turned her back to him.   He began working her shoulders and neck with his hands.  “Boy I was happy to see you come in last night.  You really made my day for me.  What have you been into?  What did you and Zimmer get into last night?”  He asked making small talk.  “Zimmer?   I wasn’t with Zimmer last night.” She spat out as he felt her shoulders tighten.  Her reply and stiffness caught him off guard.  He remembered every word of their conversation.  Maybe she had been way more drunk that he had thought?  He tried to quickly change the subject.  “Hey, I forgot to tell you.  I stopped by your house and I think met your mom and dad, maybe.  Older guy, really nice with a great smile, and a younger big woman with black hair?”  “Yeh, that’s my mom and dad, or step dad anyway.” She replied continuing, “What were you doing up there?”  “Well I was looking for you of course.  I thought we could go get into something.  Your mom said if I saw you to tell you she wanted you to stop by,” he said cushioning the actual words her mom had used.  She pulled away and smashed her cigarette into the ashtray on the headboard.  When she turned around to him the change in her startled him.  It was the eyes again, mostly.  While only a few moments ago they had been filled with a kind of soft contentment and tenderness, they now shown brightly with coldness and pain.  His mind raced to search out the reason for such a drastic change.  “Was it his prying comments about Zimmer, his talking about her family, his meeting her family without her?”  Somehow he had greatly upset her, and he didn’t even know how.  He leaned forward to kiss her and received a short, very cold response.  He had the feeling of almost panic within him.  “I’m hungry.” She said and he replied, “Hey, I got some stuff in the kitchen from the other day.  Let’s go see what’s out there.”  Dale stepped out of the bed and started pulling on his jeans as Jean went out into the kitchen.  When he joined her, she had dug out a box of macaroni and cheese and a pan.  She filled the pan with water and sat it on the stove turning on the burner under it.  “There’s hotdogs, hamburger, and sausage in the fridge,” he said.  She dug that hotdogs out of the fridge, and finding another pan, filled it with water and set it on the stove with the other.  “Hmmm, boiled hotdogs.” Dale thought.  He sat down at the little kitchen table as she worked.  “Hey, I wanted to thank you and Tammy for the great job you did cleaning up the trailer the other day,” he said.  “There was a dead bird in the sink!” she exclaimed looking at him and rolling her eyes.  “Hehheh, it doesn’t surprise me,” he replied, “I hadn’t been here for quite a while and it gets a little rank when I’m gone to long.  Too many people moving through I guess.  Thank you for the help with it.  You must have worked hard,” he finished.  “It was gross,” was her response.  She had found some instant coffee somewhere and had dumped some of the water from the now boiling pan into a cup.  She emptied the box of macaroni shells into the pan and sat down in the other chair sipping the coffee.   Dale watched her eyes as she drank the coffee.  The coldness he had seen before wasn’t quite as strong but the pain was still there.  He felt the need to help her someway, to ease whatever was troubling her so.  But he didn’t feel he had the right to intrude.  Maybe, he hoped, when he learned more about her he would be able to help her.  He was ever the optimist, and any real problem he faced had always been just another challenge to overcome.  Although he felt a little unsure of himself, a very rare thing for him, he was confident that with the love he held for her inside him he could overcome whatever was necessary.

“I guess I better go home for a while sometime today,” she said over the coffee.  “I’ll run you over anytime you’re ready.  Do you think I might go with you?” he asked finishing with, “I would really like to if you don’t mind.”  She starred over the coffee cup, her eyes showing more doubt and question now, than pain or coldness.  She finally nodded her assent slowly.  Dale smiled and said, “Great!  It’s a date then.  Just let me know when you’re ready.”  He got up and used his Uncle Henry to slice open the hotdogs and drop them in the water.  He fished one of the macaroni shells out of that pan and finding it done, held the pan over the sink to drain.  Pan back on the stove, he got some butter out of the fridge and stirred it and the powdered cheese into the shells.  Jean was pulling plates and silver ware out of the cupboards and drawers.  Dale tried to get more conversation going as they ate.  Jean did talk a little, some more about how she remembered him from working at the gas station, things her boyfriend at that time had said about him, things her sister Sam had said (he hadn’t know Sam to be Jean’s sister,).  They moved into the living room and talked a little about mutual friends or acquaintances they shared, parties they had been to, about anything that came to mind trying to learn more about each other.  Just before dark Jean said, “I guess we better go to Bentley.”  She didn’t look like she wanted to go though.  Dale jumped up and headed back into the bedroom.  He grabbed a clean shirt out of the closet, pulled on his boots, and then went back out to the living room and opened the door for her.  “You want to take the bike or the truck?” he asked.  “The truck,” she replied.  He escorted her round the front of the truck and helped her up in, then went back around and got in himself.  As he started the old truck Jean slid across the bench seat against him close enough that he had trouble shifting it into gear and backing down the rough drive.  It was all right though; it was just where he felt she should be.   Backing onto the main road, he shifted forward and drove slowly up the back road to Bentley.  By the time the crossed the Bentley corporation limits the truck was toasty warm.   Dale made his way up through town and down the street where Jean lived.  He turned into the alley next to the house and eased the truck into the back yard under a low spreading tree.  There was an big old Plymouth Fury III parked right up against the back of the house next to what looked like a small screened in porch.  He shut off the truck and they got out.

Jean took his hand in hers and led him in through the door on the small porch to a kitchen lit with a single bright overhead bulb.  It was much like entering from the front of the house. There was a path to follow through piles of “stuff” everywhere around you leading through a very narrow hall to the living room.   Just in the hall to the left was a notch of sorts with more stuff and what looked like a day bed stuffed against a window to the alley.  At the far end of the hall almost to the living room there were narrow stairs going up to the right, and everywhere stuff.  As they entered the living room Sam was coming down the stairs with a wide grin on her face, Pap was half sitting half rising from the old couch and shaking his fist at the wrestlers on a small TV, and the large women was glaring from a chair on the right.  Pap started to set back down and spying Dale said, “Hi boy, get over here and sit down.  Do you like the wrestling?”  Dale moved over to the couch and sat with the old man his eyes on Jean.  The large woman who hadn’t even glanced at Dale now made a kind of “Humph” noise and then in a hard edged screech said, “So, you’re home are you.  Do you think you can just run all the time?  You had better straighten your self up missy.  Who do you think you are…” and continued on.  The pain in Jean’s eyes hit Dale like a physical thing, knocking the wind out of him and standing the hairs on his neck.  It was like he was standing on a razor blade, but he held himself in check.  This was Jean’s mother and he had no right to interfere, hard as it was, at least for now.  He tried to shake his first impression of her, but the evil nastiness still seemed right for her.  Jean didn’t answer or say anything but turned and headed up the narrow stairs with Sam close behind.  As Jean disappeared the woman turned her stare at Dale and repeated the humph sounds.  Dale didn’t let his gaze waver nor did he allow any of what he was seething within him show through.   Pap broke the tension with “Ah, did you see that?  He can’t win without cheating.  He shouldn’t cheat like that huh boy!”  Dale turned his eyes to the TV and tried to concentrate on the show.  He was enjoying the old man’s exuberance, but the woman had him on the edge of the blade.  He could still feel her glaring at his back as he chatted with Pap about the men on the screen.  The hour got later and after many fleeting looks at the empty stairs Dale decided it might be time to go.  He rose from the couch and began to say his goodbyes to Pap, but Pap wouldn’t hear of it.  He led Dale into the tiny nick by the kitchen saying, “Now you just lay down here and sleep.  It’s too late to go out running around.”  Dale tried, “I don’t want to put you out.” and other such tripe but Pap would have none of it.  Dale started cleaning a spot on the little bed while saying, “Ok Pap then thanks.   I’ll see you in the morning.”   He heard their feet coming down the steps as he sat down.  Jean’s pretty face, the eyes now showing more of that pain and coldness he had seen earlier, came around the corner of the hall followed closely by Sam.  She handed him a blanket and said, “Good night.” as he reached up and stroked the side of her face.  “Good night.   I’ll see you in the morning.” he said and fought hard against the urge to add I love you.

Dale lay there with his head against the window listening to the sounds of the household tramping off to bed.  A car roared through the alley right beside his head and he started, then eased back down.  He was thinking through everything he had experienced tonight, trying to sort out impressions and his emotions.  He was really becoming fond of the old man already.  Some of the stories Pap had told while adding color to the wrestling show had held Dale’s rapt attention.  Jean’s mother however, he reminded himself he still needed her name, left him with a bad taste in his mouth.  He was going to have to find someway to adjust to her for Jean’s sake he guessed.  He reasoned he couldn’t expect to make progress with Jean if he couldn’t get along with her mother.  He knew in his heart he would find some way, he had too.  It was for his and Jean’s future.  Somehow, despite the turmoil in his head and the cars going past him he was soon sleeping lightly, his dreams, like it seemed were always now, of Jean.

Dale sprang awake his senses reeling.  It was late, he didn’t know the time, but it “felt” late.  Jean’s mother was looming over him in the dark corner.  Dale sat up and digging out a cigarette, lit it, while watching the woman in the dark.  “What do you think you’re doing with Jean?” the woman asked.  “I’m just enjoying her company and maybe trying to help out a bit.  She’s really very special and I’m really fond of her.” was his reply.  “I heard em up there.  She thinks she’s going with you, but she’s not by God.  If she goes I’ll lose my food stamps and money and you can’t have them!” her voice was now the sound of nails on slate, “You’ll not be taking my stuff!  No, by God, you can’t have it!” she finished.  Dale stood as she got louder and she stepped back a bit.  Keeping his voice low, he replied, “I don’t want your money or stamps or anything else, you’re welcome to them, but I’ll tell you what I haven’t told her.  I love her, that’s right I love her, and if she somehow comes to love me, I will do everything in my power to give her a home and a happy life.”  He steadied himself as he realized he was also getting louder, continuing, “I don’t know or care about any money or stamps, or any of the other stuff, but I do care about Jean.  I’ll support anything she wants or needs and you can keep whatever it is you’re worried about.” he finished.  With a finger waving inches from his face she shrilled “She won’t go, she won’t.  If they come and she’s not here I’ll turn her in again, by God, I will!  And if you think you’re gonna keep seeing her, you better be getting some money to me!” she moved off into the hall still mumbling.  Dale stood there with anger seething in his veins.  She was more concerned with money and stamps than with her own daughter, that much was crystal clear.  He found himself hating her for it.  He didn’t know who “they” were, or half of what the woman was bitching about, but he knew that “turn in” didn’t sound good.  Maybe he was wrong.   Maybe he just didn’t know the woman well enough to understand what she was trying to say.   A mother didn’t put money or anything else above her child.  He had to be wrong.   He needed some time to talk to Jean.  He needed some time to think.  Hell, he needed Jean.

He somehow managed to drift back to sleep after the woman stomped back through the house.  He awoke to Pap’s face staring into his.  “You sleeping boy?” the old man was asking.  “Nope, I’m awake Pap,” Dale returned, rising up out of the bed and following Pap to the kitchen.  “You drink coffee boy?  Make us some up.   I got to warm up my car,” Pap said as he went out the back door giving Dale a look at the still dark and cool morning outside.   Dale dug around and found a small can of coffee and an old coffee pot.  He looked down into the pot, there was nothing moving in there, filled it with water from the sink, and dumping the last of the can into the basket plugged it in.  He found two cups and washed them in the sink, interrupted by the loud sound of the Plymouth coming to life outside.  Dale dropped the cups and rushed out the door to help Pap with whatever problem he was having.   As he cleared the door he saw Pap stepping out of the car and dropping a brick on the accelerator.  Pap came past him and into the kitchen so Dale followed.  “Isn’t that a little hard on the car Pap?” Dale asked.   “No,” was the reply, “It warms up faster that way.”  Dale had visions of what the cold motor was doing to itself out there and what would happen if it somehow jumped into gear.  He couldn’t help smiling to himself a bit though.  Pap said, “I’m going to turn the news on boy.” And went on through toward the living room.  “I finish the coffee and bring it in,” Dale replied as he finished washing the cups.  When the coffee was ready he search around for sugar or something to add to the mix, gave it up for lost, and carried the cups into the other room.  Pap was back on his couch with a local station test pattern on the TV.  He handed a cup down to Pap saying, “I couldn’t find any sugar or whatnot if you need it Pap.”  Pap sipped at the hot black liquid, and grimacing, said, “Damn, that’s strong boy!” and took a larger swallow.  “You get up this early every day Pap?” asked Dale, sipping his own mess.  “I got to go uptown today,” he replied.  “I don’t think they even let you uptown until at least six,” Dale said smiling.  “You’re gonna sleep your life away boy!” Pap finished, and then added, “What do you do for a living boy?”  I build motorcycles for people mostly Pap.” Dale responded.  “You know about cars to?” Pap asked.  “Yeh, a bit,” Dale said.  “I’ll get you to look at mine sometime then,” Pap said.

As they were talking Jean’s mother lumbered out of the back followed closely by a young blond headed girl that was new to dale.  Pausing at the foot of the steps she called out loudly, “Come on and get up now or you’re gonna be late for school again.”  She turned and said to Pap, “I’m going to town.”  She pried the front door open and they stepped through, banging it shut behind them.   In not too many minutes, Sam came bounding down the stairs, and with a quick smile at Dale, vanished back toward the kitchen.  A few minutes later Jean was coming down those same steps.   When she came into Dale’s sight she was dragging sleep out of her eyes but her face lit in that amazing smile of hers.  “Good morning sweetest,” Dale said with his own smile.   “Good morning,” she responded heading back the direction of her sister.  “Man, she lights up a morning,” Dale said half out loud.  Pap tapped him in the ribs and said, “They’re trouble boy, they’re trouble.”  “I know Pap, but what would we do without them?” Dale replied.  The old man’s smile split his face as he turned back to the news.   Sam came out of the back and burst out through the front door with a, “Bye Daddy,” back over her shoulder.  Jean came in the room soon after and asked, “Ready?”   As Dale stood Pap said, “You leaving already boy?”  Dales said back, “Yeh Pap, It’s that time I guess.”  “Well you come back soon boy.  We can watch the wrestling again,” was Pap’s response.  As they were moving toward the kitchen Dale added, “I will Pap, and Pap, do you want me to take that brick of the gas petal for you?”  “Nah boy, it’s warming up,” he replied.  Jean led him out the kitchen door, past the thunderous car, and they both got in the old truck from the drivers side.  Dale started it up, and while it was warming asked, “Where to?”