Authors: Amy Sparling
The sun blinds me as I swing my bike wide around the berm of dirt, turning to the west. I drop down to third gear, the bike screaming in protest at the reduced speed. I knew it was going to happen eventually, but dammit if I wasn’t hoping for ten more minutes of riding before the setting sun blinds the hell out of me on the track. I stand on the pegs and drop to second gear, riding slowly over the massive jump, dipping the visor on my helmet to block out as much sunlight as possible. Then I pull off the track and ride back to the garage.
The garage is a massive metal barn, used to store dirt bikes. Mostly those of paying customers, but I keep my bike here instead of at home, which is just down the street. My parents own The Track, a place aptly named because that’s just what it is-a motocross track. They rarely hold races here because it’s mostly a practice facility. My dad and his best friend Park are old has-beens in the professional motocross world. They turned their knowledge into a training course and usually it’s badass.
But summers kind of suck because now I have to work.
As I hop off my bike and prop it up into the storage space, I can practically hear Dad’s words now.
“Son, you’re sixteen now. Your lifestyle isn’t cheap. It’s time you worked for your money instead of having me hand it to you.”
Then, of course, Mom had stepped in the last time Dad brought up the topic of me working at his business.
“Honey, he’s just a kid. He needs to focus on school work.”
“Not in the summer,”
Dad had said.
And now here it is, the first week of summer break before my junior year of high school, and I’m already working.
I rip off my helmet and sling my head, letting sweat fly off in all directions. After a day of working at the track, I’d only been able to ride for fifteen minutes. Last summer I spent all damn day out here, working on my technique, getting faster with each lap. Now that I’m forced to work for ten bucks an hour, I’m starting to wonder if my dad doesn’t want me to go pro when I’m eighteen.
He tells his clients all the time that practice is everything. And now I’m stuck not being able to practice.
I head into the main building and find Dad in his office, staring at his computer screen as if it had personally offended him. “What’s up?” I say.
He runs his thumb and index finger across his forehead and shrugs. “Taxes are kicking my ass. I’m gonna have to get your mother in here to fix this.”
I snort. “She’s going to love that.” Dad always tries to do legal tax stuff by himself but Mom always has to bail him out. She’s the one who graduated with a Master’s in accounting after all.
“Tell me about it,” Dad says, rising from his chair. “How was your second day of work?”
“It sucked,” I say, grabbing a water bottle from the mini-fridge in Dad’s office. “I only got to ride for fifteen minutes.”
“Riding isn’t part of your job description, kid.”
I roll my eyes and he grins. “You’re worried about not getting enough practice huh?”
“Of course I am. You always say you gotta ride your heart out to make it pro.” I finish the water and crunch the plastic bottle in my hand.
Dad shakes his head. “How about this. You work three days a week, and you ride four days. That’s plenty of practice to make it big.”
“Thanks,” I say, feeling like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. “Can I have tomorrow off?”
Dad laughs. “Nope. It’s peewee lock-in night and I’ll need your help.”
Damn. I forgot about that. The peewees are what they call little kids who ride dirt bikes. Like four to seven year olds. The Track has these lock-ins during the summer where the kids will ride all day, then lay out in sleeping bags in our entertainment room and watch TV and eat pizza until the morning when they’ll ride all day again.
I used to love lock-ins when I was little. I already practically live here, so sleeping over was even better. Now I have better things to do than sleep next to snoring little kids. I say goodbye to Dad and head down to the front office where I’ve stashed all my stuff into one of the tiny employee lockers. I’d promised Emma Clarke I’d be off work by six and it’s almost six-thirty. The girl hates being kept waiting, but damn if that’s not what she does to me all the time.
There’s a few parents in the front office, signing up their kids for the lock-in. Luckily, some chick who works the desk is here so I don’t have to do anything. I’m still not sure what her name is, but she’s kind of hot for being like thirty-something.
I grab my phone and find two missed texts from Emma. One simply says
It’s six o’clock, asshole.
The other is a kissing face emoji.
I really don’t get this girl. But I get her lips on mine, so I keep putting up with all of her hot and cold mood swings.
I text back
Just got off work, want me to pick you up after I shower?
And a phone dings from across the room. Shit.
I look up and my eyes find hers. Bright blue eyes, perfect blonde hair, and one hell of an evil glare.
“Hey,” I say, putting on a smile as I cross the room and give her a hug. She remains stiff in my arms, so I pull back. “What do you want to do tonight?”
She folds her arms across her chest, her fake nails sparkling as much as the rings on her fingers. “You mean what
I want to do.”
“I don’t understand.”
She rolls her eyes and takes in a deep breath. “Did. As in, the past. Because right now, I am sick of all of your lies, Jett Adams. You are such a prick, you know that?”
The woman behind the counter calls my name. “Take your drama outside, please.” She shoos at us with her hand and I grab Emma’s arm, pulling her outside.
“Look, I have to work now. I can’t be at your beck and call anymore. I still want to hang out, so tell me where you want to go.”
Emma flips her hair over her shoulder with such precision that I have to wonder if she’s practiced that move in front of the mirror. “I don’t want to go anywhere with you, Jett.”
Her lips flatten into a thin line and she turns on her heel, digging a hole in the gravel walkway. “Call me when you decide that your stupid dirt bike isn’t more important than me.”
I should probably let it go, but I’m a little sick of having shit thrown in my face when I’ve made my expectations clear.
“Listen Emma,” I say, moving in front of her so she’s forced to stop prancing away from me. “Dirt bikes will always come first in my life. And don’t give me that look. I told you this weeks ago.”
Her eyes turn up to the sky like she thinks I’m just
stupid, and I kind of feel like walking away from her right now. She’s not worth the effort. She’s hot as hell, with a killer body, but still not worth the effort.
“I told you I’m not settling down and I have no desire for a girlfriend,” I say, because she clearly needs the reminder.
“I never asked to be your girlfriend, now have I?” Emma says, hands on her hips.
“Look, I like you and we have fun, but when you start bitching at me like I’m some sort of shit boyfriend, that’s when I draw the line.” I’m still covered in sweat from riding so I lift the front of my T-shirt and wipe it over my face. Emma’s eyes dart to my abs and I get probably way too much satisfaction from that. “I don’t want a girlfriend and right now you’re acting like one. So why don’t
when you’re looking for some fun.”
She huffs. “Fine.”
I meet her stony gaze with a look of apathy. “Fine.”
Mom stops me when I walk in the kitchen. “I need a favor,” she says over a frying pan. Looks like she’s making fried chicken which is one of my favorite meals of all time.
“Can it wait a bit?” I ask, reaching for a piece of cucumber from the salad on the table. “I need to shower.”
“Sorry, it can’t wait.” Mom ducks into the fridge and digs around, emerging with a block of cheddar cheese. She holds it out to me. “Becca needs this, apparently they only have Colby jack and Park hates Colby jack.” Mom smiles. She is what my friends call a MILF, but really I just see the woman who raised me, working and going to college full time while somehow managing to tuck me into bed every night when I was a kid.
“Sure thing,” I say, grabbing the cheese.
Becca and Park are our neighbors, though their house is kind of a ways away since we both have a ton of land and the Track between us. I hop on the small pit bike in the garage, crank up the motor and drive it over to their house. I’ve known these people my entire life and they’re kind of like second parents to me since they never had kids of their own. Park used to be a professional motocross racer as well, but he didn’t have nearly as bad of a temper as Dad did. I’m not really sure why he quit racing, but I think it has something to do with Becca.
I walk up the steps to their massive wrap around porch and knock on the door. The Victorian house is something like five billion years old and although they’ve renovated the interior, Becca insisted on keeping the outside of the house original with its intricate wooden decorations and huge old windows.
“Come in, come in,” Becca says, yanking open the door.
I hold out the cheese. “I just need to drop this off. You don’t want me in there, I stink.”
She smiles. I notice she’s kind of dressed up compared to usual and her make up is all done. She must have done another craft fair thing. “Sorry, you’ve got another job to do,” she says, taking the cheese.
I follow her into the kitchen and out the back door to the patio. Park is standing at the grill, talking to some woman I’ve never seen before. Another girl, probably about my age, sits on a patio chair, staring at her fingernails which are plain and natural, not all done up with rhinestones and polish like Emma’s.
The girl looks up at me and I offer her a smile. She looks away.
Okay then, be a bitch.
“What’s up?” I ask Becca. She turns to her husband.
“Which one tastes better?” He asks, holding up two pieces of hamburger meat.
I eat one and then the other. “I don’t know, the first one?”
“Told you!” Park says, pointing to his wife. “I am the best meat seasoner.”
“Ugh,” Becca says, throwing me a look. “Kid, you’re supposed to like mine better.”
I shrug, wondering if they’ll ever stop calling me kid now that I’m no longer one. “Sorry, you should have warned me.”
“You want to stay for dinner?” she asks, motioning toward the patio table. “These are our friends Dawn and Keanna.”
I’m not sure which name belongs to which person, the hippie or the super thin girl that looks like she wants to burn the place down. Mom’s cooking at home of course, but I could eat a burger and then eat Mom’s chicken. I’m about to agree to stay for a bit when my phone beeps.
Sorry for the BS earlier. Let me make it up to you . . .
Damn, just a few words on a phone screen and I’ve practically got a hard on already. I swallow. “Sorry, I wish I could stay but I’ve gotta head home.”
Ugh, rich people. Could this house be any bigger? The furniture any nicer? These people have a full kitchen inside the house and then another one
of the house. We’re sitting on a massive wooden deck with extravagant patio furniture, a grill and a granite countertop kitchen outside. There’s even a bar and a flat-panel television mounted on the wall.
Our hosts have music playing from invisible speakers in the roof. It really is a beautiful summer night, and the smell of burgers on the grill has my mouth watering, but it’s hard not to feel a tinge of resentment that some people get to live this way every single day.
Like that guy who just came over here with a block of cheese. Tasting burgers like it’s no big deal, like family and friends and free meals come all the time to him. Hell, having a block of cheese in the fridge like
no big deal—even that is hard for me to comprehend.
Becca just spent the last five minutes talking about him. His name is Jett apparently. What kind of name is that? It’s something rich people name their kids, I guess. Becca goes on and on about what a great kid he is. Did she not see that he’s around six feet tall and his arms are absolutely ripped? That doesn’t exactly say “kid” to me.
I tune out most of the polite chatter after the man of the house, a guy named Park, gives me a burger. Becca had said her last name was Park and now her husband’s name is also Park so that’s kind of weird. I don’t bother asking what the deal is, because it’s not like I’ll see these people again after tonight.
I load up my burger with extra cheese and mayo, ketchup, pickles, and even lettuce. Screw it, I put everything they have on my burger because it’s available and after one bite I realize this is way better than any dollar menu burger I get with Dawn. I even crumple some potato chips inside and then smash the bun on top to hold it all in. The food is so good; I can’t even think straight.
And then Mom starts talking and my senses go on high alert. She’s got that dreamy look in her eyes and I steady myself for whatever embarrassing thing she’s going to say next.
Only, when she speaks, it’s not really that bad.
“I am loving Texas so far,” Mom says, grabbing another handful of potato chips from the bowl in the middle of the table. “When we moved here from Arizona, I knew I didn’t want to settle down in another large city, you know? I wanted something small, more low key with friendly people.”
Becca nods along in agreement and it takes a lot for me to keep my mouth shut. Dawn in a small town? Yeah, right. They are the bane of her existence. She’s always talking about how we’re going to hit up every major city and sell her art there. Why the sudden change of heart?
“That’s what I love about Lawson,” Becca says. “We’re only forty-five minutes from a big city in case we need something, but we’re far enough away that we have all this wide open space.”
Mom nods. Then her lips turn down and she shakes her head slightly, like she’s disappointed in something. “It’s a shame, really. I was hoping to settle in and stay here, but it looks like we’ll be leaving in the morning.”
“Why’s that?” Becca asks, refilling my sweet tea from a pitcher on the table.
“Are you gonna eat that, babe?” Park asks, nodding toward the rest of her burger. She shakes her head and slides her plate over to him.
Mom makes this big dramatic sigh. “Well, my art is my way of living, of course, but if we’re going to get enough money for a down payment and first month’s rent, I need a job, you see.”
Oh god… this is where Mom begs these kind new people to get her employed. My stomach tightens.
“And the great news is that I found a wonderful art consulting job that has a generous sign on bonus and it would let me work from home.”
Wow. I did not see that coming.
Becca’s eyes brighten. “That’s wonderful, Dawn!”
Mom shakes her head “Unfortunately, I have to do the interview and paperwork in person, and it’s down in Corpus Christie which is about a six hour drive from here if I’m not mistaken. I wish I didn’t have to drag poor Keanna with me, but I can’t leave her in a hotel alone.”
This is the first I’ve heard of Mom’s fancy new work from home job offer. But I’m not about to question her in front of these people. Mom tends to lie about nearly everything, especially when talking to strangers. But I’m not sure what her angle is here. What’s the point in lying about something like this?
“Why don’t you let Keanna stay here?” Becca says. “That way you won’t be dragging her to your interview and she won’t be left alone in a hotel. We have plenty of room here.”
Ah. So that’s Mom’s angle.
Mom puts a hand to her chest. “Oh, I couldn’t. That’s way too much of an imposition.”
“Nonsense. We don’t mind at all. Do we, Park?”
Her husband swallows a huge bite of food and nods. “Yeah, I don’t mind. She’s welcome to stay.”
My eyes widen. “I . . . No that’s . . .I don’t need to stay.”
Dawn puts a hand on my arm. “Honey, you don’t want to spend six hours in the car only to sit in the car while I do my interview and then have to drive all the way back, do you? The interview will take hours and I can’t bring you in with me, that would just look unprofessional.”
I open my mouth to object, but I don’t want to cause a scene. The thing is, we have never gone more than an hour away from wherever we’re currently staying only to come right back again. That kind of talk sounds suspiciously like we’ve found a home in Lawson, Texas and like Mom actually wants to settle down.
I never thought that would happen. But the idea is kind of awesome. I’d love to stop moving around, maybe get a job and earn some money. Maybe even
consider college after my senior year.
“What do you say?” Becca asks me. “We just got a new TV for the guest bedroom. You’d love it.”
TV? My own room?
Even though it’s only for twenty-four hours, I can’t possibly say no to that. “Sounds great,” I say. Mom’s face lights up like this is the best thing she’s heard all year.
“Excellent!” Mom says. “Thank you both so much. I can tell we’re going to become really great friends!”
After dinner, which came with delicious chocolate cake for dessert, Becca takes me upstairs to show me the guest bedroom. It’s bigger than the last few motel rooms I stayed in with Mom and it takes everything I have not to dance around like a crazy person the moment I step inside the room.
Plush grey carpeting feels like clouds under my worn sandals. The walls are a faint yellow and fresh sunflowers sit in a vase on the vanity. The bed is huge and although I don’t plop down on it like I want to, it looks really comfortable. Also, there’s a massive television mounted on the wall. These next twenty-four hours are going to be the best of my life.
I walk over to a large canvas painting on the wall. Splashes of blue and yellow paint cover the canvas and there’s a quote drawn on in sloppy, paint splattered letters.
“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”
Becca catches me staring at it and walks over. “This is cool,” I say, resisting the urge to touch it.
“Very inspiring,” Mom says with an approving nod.
“Oh, I’m so glad you think so,” Becca says. “This is one of my newer paintings, but I haven’t put it in my shop yet.”
“You made this?” I ask, my mouth falling open. “It’s really cool.”
She nods. “I run an online shop with my paintings. It’s called Becca’s Inspirations. I spent the last decade selling my art online but a few years ago I started doing craft fairs. They’re a lot of fun.”
“You have a lot of talent,” Mom says. “We should partner up sometime. Display your paintings next to my wind chimes!”
Becca nods, and then she gets this sneaky look on her face. “Would you like to see my newest stuff? I haven’t shown anyone yet.”
Mom clasps her hands together in front of her chest. I’m not sure if she’s putting on an act so that Becca will like her, or if she’s really serious. It’s probably a mixture of the two. “I would love to see your work.”
Becca leads us outside and then we take a short car ride to a dirt bike track. She drives us around the back of the main building.
“I have a studio in my house, but I tend to store all of the finished products here,” she explains as she unlocks a back door and leads us inside. Only the emergency lights in the hallway are turned on, so we walk slowly, bypassing a few office doors. “You have to turn on all of the lights at the light panel on the other side of the building,” Becca explains, using the glow of her cell phone to light our path. “Sorry for the darkness, but we’re almost there.”
We reach the end of the hallway and there’s a door ahead of us marked STORAGE. Becca turns to the left and opens a door next to it, flipping on the light. A girl screams and Becca jumps, knocking into me.
“Holy shit,” Becca says, putting a hand to her chest. “You scared me!”
I can’t help but smirk as I watch the scene unfold in front of me. The small room is filled with shelves of canvas paintings, but along one wall is a couch. That guy from earlier, Jett, is scrambling to button up his jeans. His T-shirt is in a pile on the floor, and the bright lights make a spectacle of his tanned, muscular chest. The girl is in her underwear, a hot pink matching set. It’s no wonder that’s she’s beautiful and blonde, pretty much the picture perfect model of what every guy thinks is perfection.
They’re both bright red and mumbling embarrassed apologies. I put my hand over my mouth to stop my laughter.
Behind me, Mom snorts.