Visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, can Harddrive find his way to the sweetest meaning of the holidays?
The holidays can be a joyous time, but when you have experienced a profound loss, they can also be filled with bittersweet memories. Take a trip down memory lane with a colorful, old-school biker, Landon Shoemaker, known throughout an active network of motorcycle shops and clubs as Harddrive.
With a long history twisted round with the Rebel Wayfarers, he has known Davis Mason since before there was a RWMC. Catch sight of the world our Rebels inhabit, seen through the filtering lens of an outside perspective, as Landon recognizes that family extends far beyond blood, and learns how well forgiveness can heal when it flows both ways.
18+ due to mature content.
Ever since we first met Harddrive way back in Slate, I’ve been wondering exactly what his role was within the series. We saw his easy way with the customers in his shop, and witnessed his patience with Andy as they worked their way through an afternoon of bike shopping. Both of those things gave me a sense that the man was good, and I believed he was a biker in the way it was intended to be. Hard and unyielding, but passionate about the scoots. He was not a metro-corporate motorcycle riding man who claimed the title of biker, Harddrive just WAS one, living the life.
Then in Gunny, the man surfaced again, unnamed, but I knew it was him. He’s the one who found the fork for the Vincent that Gunny was working on, only asking for a photo in payment. All about the scoots, man.
Finally, in Mason, I learned for certain that the Indian motorcycle Slate was so proud of had indeed once belonged to Mason. Full circle. Kinda like life. Like Erin would tell us, it was “Karma, baby.”
But, it wasn’t until Hoss when I for sure knew so much more of his story. When I learned that Dixie, my favorite bartender in the whole world, was his girl. That’s when Harddrive got underneath my skin, and had to work his way out and onto the page to give me peace.
So, here you go. This is Harddrive’s story, filled with so much loss and pain given through complicated misunderstandings, and him owning the decision every single day to not pick up that phone. Owning, and hating it, even as he believed he was doing the right thing.
I hope you enjoy reading the story half as much as I did discovering it. Muuwah. Big kisses to all of you, and a very Merry Christmas.
Dedicated to those of us who need a reminder that when you love, truly love, it is never too late to reconcile. Be open to possibilities that surround you, always ready to accept blessings, regardless of origin.
Landon Shoemaker sat in his favorite chair, which was positioned the perfect distance between the heat radiating from the hearth’s brightly blazing fire, and that damn chill that always settled nearer the log walls of his house this time of year. Relaxed in a way that working men understood, he had put in a good bit of work today and earned himself a good rest. Lifting the bottle held in his hand to his lips, he drank deeply, the yeasty overtones of the beer not registering as he sat, staring at the flickering flames through watering eyes.
No celebration tonight, he thought, glancing over to where the Christmas tree had stood in past seasons, his lips twitching sideways in disappointment as he stared at the empty corner for a long minute. Hard to believe the year had slipped away from him again, but here he sat, on his own. The sole surviving member of his generation.
No family in the house. Back in the early part of the year, he had buried his brother, Rodney. His sister, Isabel…well, she had been gone for a long time. Gone long before she died, even. He had family left, products of his marriage, but his kids and their children were off living on their own in Billings and Fort Wayne. Not that he begrudged them their choices, but on a night like tonight, he would give a lot to see them crowding around the fireplace. To watch the grandkids rip brightly colored paper off boxes, their faces shining as they shouted with laughter.
He turned slightly, cutting a glance towards the matching chair next to his; both still pulled up in the middle of the room and angled so any occupants could easily carry on a conversation. That glance stuck on the empty seat for a long minute, and then he finally turned back to the fire and sighed. No anything tonight.
No kids meant no reason to decorate, so there was no holiday clutter anywhere in the room. No shine of glitter, no scent of evergreen. Hell, anymore, he did all his shopping online and simply had things shipped directly to his kids and grandkids, so he didn’t even have any presents stacked and ready to distribute.
Lifting the bottle again, he took another drink. No one to play Santa for. He grinned crookedly at the rueful memories. Wars had been waged in this very room over who would wear the enormous red and white hat on Christmas Eves in the past, the winner granted rights over distribution of the presents. The expression slowly faded from his face as he thought of the stocking cap folded and still stored securely in the box of decorations up in the attic.
Shifting restlessly in the chair, he rolled his neck, listening to the tendons creak and make snapping noises. Stiff and tired, he was feeling his years tonight after working all day. The day before Christmas in Wyoming, you wouldn’t expect people to be out doing their shopping at a bike store, but regardless of the forecast, the snow held off and shoppers had come in today in droves.
His store in Cheyenne sold bikes, gear, and parts for most of the major domestic brands of motorcycles, and a few foreign ones, too. His salespeople had worked the floor while he watched from his vantage point through the lofted office’s window, grinning as the shirts and jackets fairly flew out the door. They had sold dozens of various chrome accessories, and he smirked now to think about it. One good thing about the brands he sold was seldom dealing with post-holiday returns, unlike some other stores. Enthusiasts enjoyed owning the best, and it was a point of pride for him to cater to that.
He yawned wide, his jaw cracking much as his neck had, and then he snorted a laugh when his belly joined in, growling loudly. Mentally composing a list, he went through the contents of his refrigerator, discarding various supper ideas until he reached the same conclusion he normally did when finally considering eating about this time of night. Pushing on the arms of the chair, he jackknifed to his feet, declaring to the empty room, “Cereal it is.”
When his wife was here, she would have had his head for considering breakfast cereal a meal, but she hadn’t been here for a long time, not for years. He swallowed, his throat suddenly tight, remembering the Christmas Eve dinners she would put on the table. Simple fare, but good, and always accompanied by a mug of her spiced rum, served with a sweet kiss.
It took some effort, but he pushed those thoughts aside.
Walking around the island that divided the kitchen from the rest of the open plan room, he made quick work of preparing his bowl, then leaned a hip against the front of the sink and ate standing, as was his custom these days. Gaze focused outward, staring through the dark panes of glass, he saw the snow the forecasters promised for Christmas had finally started falling. Tomorrow morning would find a fresh coat of white; pristine, it would patiently wait for kids with new winter gear to ski and sled. Their eager and tireless legs creating new tracks through the snow; those tracks plotting lines of experiences they would carry with them for the rest of their lives. Memories built to last.
Rinsing the empty bowl and putting it into the strainer, he turned from the window and his gaze swept the room. Mentally weighing the benefits of sleeping in what would at first be a very chilly bed versus the already warm recliner, he slowly made his way back to the chair, grabbing a hand-knitted afghan off the back of the couch on his way past. Dumping the covering on the seat, he quickly settled a couple of fresh logs on the fire, adjusting the existing fuel before putting the screen in place. Back in the chair, he draped the blanket across his legs, and then pushed the chair back, settling in and getting comfortable. Soon, the only sounds in the room were the crackle of the burning logs and the soft, deep breaths of the man sleeping in the chair.
“Rodney,” he yelled, waiting for his older brother to catch up, nose pressed to the large window overlooking the sidewalk on which he stood. “Come on, slowpoke. Look at this, would ya?” The two brothers stood side-by-side in identical poses of excitement and admiration. “Would ya look at this,” he said again, slowly, hearing the expected noise of approval from beside him.
They were staring into the car dealership where one of the salesmen had just rolled one of the biggest and prettiest motorcycles he had ever seen right in front of the wide picture window. The bike was shiny, so shiny he thought he could comb his hair using the reflection from the gas tank, and the salesman was using a handkerchief to polish the backs of the already gleaming mirrors. “Did you ever see anything like it?” Rodney asked, and he shook his head.
“Boys,” he heard, and both he and Rodney automatically took a half-step back, because this voice belonged to the owner of the dealership. They both knew firsthand that he didn’t like smudges on his windows, but instead of the expected scolding, the man asked them, “Do you boys want to come inside and get a good look at the motorcycle?”
Twisting, Landon looked up at the man whose big belly was doing a poor job of hiding behind his buttoned suit coat and nodded, answering for both of them. “You boys can help me out. I need a picture of someone on the bike for my newspaper advertisement. Let us see if you boys will fit the bill.”
For the next thirty minutes, he and Rodney were in second Heaven after the man lifted and placed them astraddle the bike’s seat, leaving them there while the photographer fiddled with his camera and lights. Landon even got to lean far forward, putting his hands on the straight handlebars, making vroom noises and pretending to drive the big bike. He had reverently touched the logo attached to the side of the gas tank, the headdress on the Indian man’s head bumpy underneath the pad of his finger. Rodney played with the fringe on the bottom of the seat and the photographer took several pictures of them, the bright flash attached to his camera momentarily blinding the boys each time.
Landon shifted in the chair and looked owlishly around, blinking as if startled by something. With a sigh, he settled back into the chair, drifting back into sleep.
Delores stood in the space between the motorcycle and the porch of her parent’s house, looking back at him with her fingers resting on her lips. She lifted and held them in front of her mouth, pretending to blow him a kiss. He reached up, catching it from the air and pressed his hand to his heart. Watching her walk inside he sat for another moment, waiting for the front porch light to be extinguished. Once the light was off and darkness had crept in around the small house, he kicked the bike to life, carefully walking the vehicle backwards out of the gravel driveway.
Riding back to Cheyenne in the dark, he thought back over the songs she had chosen to play on the jukebox at the diner tonight. Keeping his eyes on the cone of light stretching out in front of the bike, the headlight illuminated the lonely road as he sang his favorites loud and long. Pulling up behind the garage where he worked, he parked the bike underneath the stairs that led to his apartment. Stepping off the machine, he stretched with a groan and then trotted up those stairs, still humming under his breath. He had decided tonight, with her sitting beside him, hand in his, he was going to marry her. She was it for him and being with her gave him every feeling he had ever wanted.
Opening the door, he saw the envelope that had been pushed underneath onto the floor and stooped to pick it up. There was an official looking seal in the corner, but no postage stamp. He ripped the letter open, letting the envelope flutter to the floor as he read the words that would change the course of his life. “You are hereby directed to present yourself for Armed Forces Physical Examination…”
Dropping slowly into the upright chair near the door, he ran his hand across his face. Drafted. He had been drafted. He wasn’t opposed to serving his country, not at all. This was exciting, and he wanted to share this moment with Delores. He knew her parents wouldn’t look kindly on him roaring back into their driveway at this time of night, but he just couldn’t hold it in until morning.
Rodney was already overseas, an enlisted soldier in the Army. Their parents had passed away several years ago, and Isabel…well, she was wherever she was, which wasn’t here.
That left only one person he could think of that he could talk to, one person he could count on no matter what. Back straight, he jerked to his feet and looked around the apartment, thinking that everything now looked different, changed. Or at least it should. He had been drafted. A soldier.
Slamming the door shut behind him as he ran back outside, he shoved the letter into the pocket of his jacket, started the bike and recklessly pulled back out onto the road. Driving fast and hard back to his hometown, he slid the bike to a stop in front of his best friend’s home a little after two in the morning.
There were still lights on in Mike’s house, and he suddenly wondered if he was the only one who had gotten news. Running up the back steps as he had a million times over the years, Landon burst into the kitchen to find Mike and his parents gathered around their kitchen table. They were all three somber-faced, sitting with what looked like a copy of the same letter he had received resting on the table between them.
Breathlessly, his voice filled with equal parts fear and excitement, he asked, “LeRoy, you too?” Mike nodded, and Landon sank into one of the chairs at the table.
No one spoke for a long time, and then lifting his chin, the senior LeRoy said, “Proud of both of you. This is not a small thing; it is a life-altering moment. Our boys, going over to the hellhole that is Vietnam. You gotta make sure you come back whole, come back to us. That means you’ll need to watch each other’s backs, become brothers in every way that matters.”
A dog barking in the distance woke him, and he sat up, throwing the afghan to one side as he rose to tend the fire. Standing in front of the window again, he drank a glass of cold water, watching the snow falling outside. The wind had picked up and was pushing the white stuff around, drifts beginning to build around the bases of the trees in the yard. He tried to remember how much they were supposed to get, but couldn’t put a figure on it. Six inches or two feet, the depth didn’t matter since the store was closed tomorrow.
Vietnam. He hadn’t thought about those years in a long time. After basic training, he and Mike had wound up in the same Navy unit and as Mike’s father had requested, the already good friends became inseparable. He had come back from overseas after four long years to find Delores had married the local pharmacist, a man who hadn’t been drafted because his skills were needed back home. They had three kids, and by all accounts, lived happy lives together still.
He grinned because Delores hadn’t been the one for him after all. He should have realized that when one of his first thoughts upon being drafted was to talk to Mike, not caring enough to brave her parents and their potential wrath. No, the woman for him wasn’t Delores, and he was damn glad he had figured it out. It had been Erin who knocked him for a loop, stole his heart. He sighed, thinking, Holds it still to this day.
Erin had walked into his life not long after he had gotten home and he fell for her in a big way. Strolling into the shop beside her big brother, she had walked around, fingertips grazing across the sleeves of the shirts on the rack. He was close enough to hear her soft hum when she touched the leather jackets, and that sound did it for him. He was a goner. He grinned again, thinking, A goner with a boner, because hearing the sound she made in the back of her throat gave him a stiffy every time.
Daily, for about a year, he asked her to be his wife. He would show up at the lunch counter where she worked, buying sodas he didn’t drink just so he could talk to her. Every day her reason to refuse was different, some of them downright hilarious, saying things like she couldn’t accept on any day that ended in a “Y.” As the days and weeks crept onwards, he finally realized she was enjoying the wooing as much as he did, the sweetly-worded rejections her way of stretching things out. He grinned now, thinking about how she made him work for that yes, but it was work he had been happy to do; Erin out in front of him, a worthy prize at the end of the path showing him every day that she was worth it.
They did everything together, every minute that wasn’t required at work, he spent by her side. There were bike rides and drive-in movies, Stampede Days parties and Sunday church with her folks. He kept plugging away at what he wanted until he finally wore down her resistance and she gave in. He thought people over in Billings might have heard his shouts of happiness when she finally turned her sweet lips his way, whispering the word he had so hoped to hear. LeRoy had been his best man, standing up at the front of the church with him as he watched his beauty walking up the aisle to put her hand in his. He sighed, looking over at her chair, frowning at the still-empty state. Always empty these days. He missed his wife.
Sitting in the chair, he stared at the fire for a time and then reached over, picking up his current read. Tipping the recliner seat back, he propped it in his lap and looked through several pages of the hardcover book, laughing at the captions listed underneath the black and white pictures of motorcycles and men, grinning at the faces of the ones he knew. Chuckling at all the things the writer had gotten wrong, he idly flipped back through the pages and then let the book fall shut. Tucking the peusdo-documentary into the chair beside him, he thought about all the men he had met over the years, the ones who ran through his shop, in and out within moments of days, and then he thought about the ones who stayed in his life. Closing his eyes, he slowly relaxed again, not even knowing when he drifted back down into sleep.
“Hey, honey. Look, Harddrive, that kid’s back.” Erin called him using his road name, and he walked to the front of the show floor, peering through the windows and across the highway. Sure enough, the wiry boy was standing and staring at the building, leaning against the same old, beat up pickup he usually drove. About once a month, the kid would come and park, standing and staring at their shop for a time before he would climb back into the truck and drive away.
“Come on, kid,” he muttered. “Come on in. Give it up, boy. Why don’t you come on inside here, come talk to me. Come and tell me what you need, son.” After a moment, he hooted, yelling back at Erin, “Hot damn, baby, here he comes.” The kid was walking across the highway, head on a swivel trying to inventory the line of bikes parked in front of the building. This was the kind of thing he lived for, the privilege of turning someone on to the lifestyle and the scoots. He had a feeling about this kid. You didn’t come back again and again like he had been without having something calling to you. He loved sharing his passion for the bikes with people who gave a shit and from what he had seen, he suspected this kid would definitely give a shit.
Nearly two hours later, Landon was about out of tricks, having gone through his entire inventory of new bikes and most of the used ones without seeing anything other than polite interest on the kid’s face. He had found out the kid was named Andy and was from a little town just north of Cheyenne where he lived with his grandparents some of the time. He had a nice egg saved up, expected to pay cash for whatever he bought, which meant this kid had been working for a while with this as a goal. Eying Erin’s silhouette in the big window, he grinned. He could appreciate a man with a goal.
Harddrive walked them around to the back of the shop, where the rougher bikes were stored. These were the ones that had plenty of road miles on them before being traded in, and there wasn’t a new model in the bunch, but it was what he had left. He had virtually given up finding anything when he suddenly saw it. That interested spark he had been looking for. To test it, he deliberately passed over the bike the kid had his eyes fixed on, and saw the look of displeasure flash across Andy’s face when he realized what Harddrive had done.
Circling back to the red and white Indian, he remembered with fondness the day that particular scoot had rolled onto the lot. Nearly exactly like the one in the framed picture of him and Rodney back when they were eleven and twelve, the bike had come in underneath one of the roughest looking dudes Landon had ever seen.
This guy had looked like he spent half his life sitting on a motorcycle, and he handled the Indian like he breathed, totally by instinct…light and free, without having to match thoughts to deeds. But, in contrast to how he rode, the dude had carried a burden of worry that you could almost touch, it was that heavy. Mason, he had called himself, and then when they were filling out the paperwork Harddrive had found out it actually was the dude’s name. Davis Mason, an officer in the Rebel Fiends out of Chicago, had traded in the aged bike on a much newer, more popular brand. Motoring off at the end of the day with a shit-eating grin on his face, ass on a growling monster of chrome and steel, leaving behind the Indian for the next owner.
Cheyenne wasn’t a biker town per se, but there were enough clubs around town that he knew what a decent club looked and sounded like. He had asked around, and the young man who traded in the Indian was a better than decent guy. He was just a guy who had gotten hooked up with assholes, and needed to get away from them in the worst way.
Harddrive heard a few years later that Mason had been successful in extricating himself, and had started his own club. From all accounts, he did right by his members, which wouldn’t surprise anyone who knew him, since he had lived through the shit his previous president had pulled.
These days, all the clubs in town knew of Mason and his Rebel Wayfarers, a club whose reach seemed to be growing every day. It was a pleasure to sell this bike, from that man to this kid, more especially when he felt the same vibes from Andy that he had Mason. Full circle, or as Erin would tell him, ‘Karma.’ He helped Andy load the bike into the back of that beater truck, strapping it down tight, talking through the process of unloading. When he handed over the jacket Andy had bought, he felt the pockets bulging and knew Erin had been at work, gifting the kid with goggles and gloves to round out his wardrobe.
She walked up, wrapping her arm around his waist as they watched the truck pull out, headed north. “You done good, old man,” she said, digging her fingers into his ribs to make him squirm. She tipped her head back for a kiss and he obliged her, deepening the caress and wrapping his arms around her. “Wanna fuck?” she asked playfully when he pulled back and he grinned.
Before swooping back in for another kiss, he threw his head back and shouted into the shop, “All you motherfuckers need to get the hell outta Dodge and my shop, because I got a needy old lady who wants to get her some good time lovin’.”
There was good-natured laughter all around, and when he raised his head from hers again, they were alone in the shop. One of the men leaving had even turned the sign over to Closed. He lifted Erin in his arms and carried her up to the office overlooking the sales floor, her holding on tight, their gazes locked. Setting one knee on the couch, he laid her back on the cushions and watched avidly as she pulled her loose-fitting shirt over her head, exposing her bare tits. He leaned in, cupping one with a palm as he covered the other with his mouth, pulling at her nipple with his teeth. His name rolled from her lips as she raised up, offering herself to him. “Harddrive.”
Waking with a start, he sat up in the chair, looking around. Standing abruptly, he walked up the short hallway to the bedroom, a shiver running over him as his sock feet hit the floor, which was much colder this far away from the fire. Opening the bedroom doors one by one, he glanced inside, the moon reflecting on the snow so brightly he didn’t need to turn on lights to know every room was empty. Damn, he thought, I could have sworn I heard Erin.
Back in the great room, he looked at the clock on the mantle to realize it was nearly three in the morning. “Fuck,” he said, his shoulders dropping, “you ain’t gonna be worth anything at work tomorrow, dirtbag.” Then he snorted, muttering, “Oh, yeah. Christmas Day, fucking shop’s closed.”
Settling back into his chair, he fussed with the book for a minute, then draped the afghan across his legs again, tucking it underneath his thighs against the inescapable chill invading the room. “Shoulda just gone to bed, the fucking mattress would be warm by now,” he grumbled to himself, half turning onto one hip and stretching his neck out. Eyes closed, he listened to the logs shifting as they burned, lulled back into sleep by the quiet noises in the house.
“Beautiful mama,” he said, leaning in close for a kiss. “Love you, honey. Love you. Your mom is going to bring Barry to the hospital to see you and our pretty Dixie. You up for some kiddo chaos?”
Erin lifted her head, meeting his mouth with a smack. “You know it, baby.” She grinned, exhaustion from the hours spent laboring to deliver their second child lining her face, but what shone clearest was her happiness. “I’m in little boy withdrawals, need me a fix.” Cupping one hand around the back of his neck, she pulled him down for another kiss. “Or I could get me a fix of my big boy.”
“Shameless huzzy,” Harddrive groaned, kissing her hard and deep, cupping one breast through the shapeless drape the hospital offered patients. Tweaking her nipple, he pulled back when she laughed against his mouth. “What?”
“I’m leaking.” She giggled and he looked down to see a growing patch of wetness around the nipple he had been fondling. “Go get our daughter, let’s see if she’ll latch on.”
Walking back into her room with baby Dixie, he stood holding her until Erin had arranged herself, exposing one breast before she accepted the pink wrapped bundle into her arms. Settling their daughter against her chest, she smiled and leaned her head back on the pillow when the child began nursing.
“Beautiful mama,” he whispered again, and then from his position on the bed beside her rested his cheek on her shoulder. He watched as she cupped the back of Dixie’s head, fingertips stroking through the cap of dark hair their girl had been born with. “Love you, Erin. Love of my life,” he said and she kissed his cheek.
“Thank you,” she said softly and he pulled his gaze away from the sight of her cradling the life they created together, looking into her face. She lifted her other hand, cupping his cheek in the same way she held their daughter’s head. “First you, then a boy, now a girl. My family is complete, Landon. Love you so much, old man. My happy ending.”
He woke with a sigh this time, the sweetness of that memory cut through with the pain that his wife wasn’t by his side anymore. “Fuck,” he muttered, “stupid old man.”
Standing, he moved the screen and jiggled the logs in the fire, settling them more securely and creating a cradle for new wood. Reaching in with the fresh fuel, he set the logs into place, using the poker to ensure they were secure. Putting the screen back in front of the fire, he stretched as he stood, looking around the room with a scowl. Pictures of his family seemed to mock him, the timeline of their history marching across the walls.
There was one of their wedding day, her draped across his lap on the bike in her short white dress, arms thrown around his neck as he kissed her. The picture froze them in place, his hand modestly on her waist. But, he could remember the shouts and catcalls of the men gathered around them as his hand raised from that position to cup her breast, her giggling into his mouth the whole time as she bent her knee and hooked her calf around his back, holding onto him as he held onto her.
Taking her back to the apartment over the shop, loving her sweet and slow, fucking her with both his eyes open, so he wouldn’t miss a moment of her. Moving her into that same apartment, where she quickly turned the single room efficiency into a cozy home, filled with the personality of the woman he loved.
He looked at the picture for the grand reopening of the shop under the new name, Harddrive’s Bikes and Gear. It was one of his favorites. Even though he had argued against the expense of hiring a photographer at the time, now he was glad for Erin’s foresight. He loved it because the picture showed them standing, arms around each other, looking up at the signage with nearly identical grins. Right after that picture he had picked her up and swung them in a circle, her squealing the whole time about her skirt.
It wasn’t until later he found out that her concern wasn’t for folks seeing her panties, but because she hadn’t been wearing any. That night, in their much larger apartment over the store, he had threatened to take her panties off with his teeth. That statement had been greeted by peals of laughter as she stood on top of the mattress in front of him. Playfully inching the full skirt up her thighs, she teasingly flashed her bare pussy at him with a grin before jumping off the bed on the other side, initiating what turned out to be an extremely short game of keep away.
That had been the night he planted their son in her womb, his body raised over hers on arms that trembled with fatigue and strain. He loved watching her when she found that place while he was deep inside her, so he stayed up and over her until she did. Leaning down to nip at her breast, feeling her fingers thread through his hair, guiding him to the other nipple where he licked and twirled around it with his tongue. So fucking good together, she wrapped him up with her arms and legs, fucking him back as she climaxed hard. “My woman,” he had grunted, thrusting deep and holding as he came, groaning, his cock jerking inside her.
Reaching down, he adjusted his hardening cock, because thinking of fucking or making love to Erin always had that effect on him. He hadn’t been with a woman since she left because no one else held a candle to her in his eyes. He knew from their mutual friends that she hadn’t moved on either, and at least once a day he thought about calling her but never had the courage. The fear of what she would say weighed heavily on him because when things went sideways for them, they did so in a painful way.
Climbing back into his chair, he pulled one heel up onto the cushion, resting his wrist on top of his bent knee. Mindlessly snapping his fingers as he watched the flames, he sighed. Glancing back up at the pictures, he could trace the growth of their children, Barry and Dixie; looking at kindergarten class shots next to photos of the kids on their dirt bikes, arranged beside holiday and family dinner pictures, winding up with graduation. Their breakup hadn’t come until after all of that, and because the pictures were her thing, they abruptly stopped right before Barry got married and Dixie moved away.
Stretching out his leg, he leaned back in the chair, flipping the blanket over his legs once again. Damn woman, he thought.
“You sure this is what you want, darlin’?” Staring at his daughter, he waited for her answer. That damn quick smile flashed on her face, full lips a legacy of her mother as Dixie nodded. He frowned, shaking his head. “Damn far away, baby girl. He won’t stay around here instead?”
“Daddy,” she scolded, reaching out to lift his hand and thread her fingers between his. “You know Keith’s work is based out of Indiana. He was just up here for a job.” She shrugged, squeezing his hand. “I love him. He’s got to go back home, and I want to go with him.”
“What did your mama say, Dix?” He tried to ignore the hurt that came with that question because it was another hit to his heart, acknowledging Erin wasn’t living with him anymore.
“She told me to follow my heart,” Dixie said softly, eyes on his face, concern evident on her features. “I wish I weren’t going before you and Mom patched things up.”
He pulled his hand back, making an abrupt movement. Turning his head, he looked out the window and could feel the scowl that settled on his face, brows pulling together painfully. “Don’t let our troubles stop you from finding your happy, darlin’.” He sighed, and then turned to look at his daughter, forcing a smile on his face. “We’ll either settle our shit or we won’t. You gotta live your life, and your mama’s right, you gotta follow what feels right. If Keith feels right, if this is the path you’re settled on, then you have my blessing. Love you, baby girl, so much.”
“You never told me what happened—“ she stopped when he made a noise. They stared at each other for a minute, and then she shook her head. “Alright, Daddy, but you know I love you, too.” She stood and moved toward him, crawling onto his lap as he wrapped his arms around her, something he knew she had seen her mother do all her life.
“Baby girl,” he whispered, pressing his lips to the side of her head, the pain from missing Erin compounded by the knowledge his daughter was leaving.
He lay there staring at a ceiling he could barely make out in the light reflected through the windows, having rolled onto his back during this sleep cycle. That memory was from nearly twenty years ago, and to this day he had never told either of their kids what happened. Stupid argument over nothing, escalating to a disaster of his own making because he was too fucking hardheaded to explain or apologize. “And not a day goes by that you don’t fucking regret it, old man.” His mutter was loud in the silence that draped through the house. “Fucking ghosts of the past, coming to visit on the eve of the holiday that started it all.”
Shifting he looked at the fire, decided it was good enough for now and turned to his other hip, letting himself roll back down the hill into sleep.
“What was the one thing I’ve always told you I could never forgive?” The question whipped his head around and he stood looking at his wife, his hand on the arm of a woman attempting to straighten her clothing as she leaned one shoulder against the wall. Erin advanced toward him, placing one slow and careful foot in front of the other. “The only thing I asked you for, and you can’t manage that one thing.”
“Erin, baby—“ he started but stopped when she shook her head, hair flying around her face, the ends nearly snapping with the violence of her movement.
“I’ve looked the other way when the boys around the shop danced with other partners, keeping my mouth shut so the only way their spouses and old ladies would find out was on their own. But, I told you, Landon. I said it and I meant it. If you stepped out on me, if you dipped your wick into a different well, then we would be done.” She swept her hand towards the woman who stood there silently, eyes wide, head swiveling between the two people in the hallway with her. “This is our son’s wedding, Landon. Quite the statement you’ve made.”
Erin had always been stubborn, and she was mad enough that anything he said now would only make things worse, so he stood there, mouth closed, biting back the words he wanted to spit at her because it wasn’t what it looked like. But, he could tell from the look on her face she wouldn’t hear him, even if he said the words. And, even if she did hear him, she wouldn’t believe him because he had laughed about the boys fucking around, joined in the randy joking about their escapades outside of their marital vows.
She turned on her heel and stalked back up the hallway, pausing at the end for a moment and turning to look at him. “I’ll keep my mouth shut for Barry’s sake because this is his day. But, I’ll be sleeping elsewhere tonight, and tomorrow I’ll come get my clothes. You keep everything, old man. I don’t want anything to remind me of your cheating ass.” She turned the corner and was gone, silence flooding in to fill the space behind her departure.
“Shit,” the woman said softly, eyeing him with a shocked expression on her face.
“Yeah,” he answered, not looking away from where he last saw Erin.
“You want me to tell her what happened?” Her voice was softly sorrowful because this was a fucked up situation if ever there was one. Unwanted, Erin’s brother Angus had been rubbing up on this chick, leaving his wife sitting and waiting for him at their table at the wedding reception, and her not one speck wiser. Harddrive had run off his brother-in-law and then stayed to make sure the woman was okay. That was what Erin had walked into, not the tail end of him getting a taste of strange.
“She wouldn’t believe you,” he said curtly. Turning to look at her, he asked, “You okay?” She nodded and he sighed. “Might be a good idea if you left,” he suggested and she nodded again. “You need me to find you a ride?” Wordlessly she shook her head and he had his turn nodding. “Take care,” he said, turning to walk up the hallway, shivering as he passed the place Erin stood when she first started speaking.
“Fuck.” He yelled this, waking with a start. Every fucking time he dreamed about that night, he fought to turn things, struggled in the hope that he could change the outcome, but wasn’t ever able. It played out the way it had in real life, the last words Erin spoke to him scored in his brain. A nightmare. Sure, he could have called, but dammit, she should have known he would never do that, never fuck around on her. For twenty-three years, he had thought about picking up that fucking phone every single damn day.
“She could have called, too,” he muttered, shifting his ass to one side as he drifted back to sleep.
“Papa.” A soft voice called his name, and then there was a little body climbing into his lap. Wrapping his arms around the warm child, he blew out a deep, relaxing breath. “Papa Shoe, you’re squishing me,” the giggle came from underneath his chin, and he grinned, not wanting to wake from this dream.
“Shhhh.” That whisper came from nearby, the voice tantalizing familiar. “Let Papa Shoe rest. Why don’t you nap with him?” Shifting around, he pulled the now slack body against his side and let sleep roll over him again.
“Dad, I think we need to expand. Billings is a good market, and it would give me a chance to make a difference in a way I don’t think I can in Cheyenne. You have the trade sewn up here, but Billings is an opportunity to look forward. We can shift the track the business is heading down, expand things, get into custom bikes.” Shifting foot to foot, Barry stood in the kitchen of the log house he and Erin had built, the house their kids had grown up in. “I already found a building, and Gunny’s got me hooked up with a wicked talented mechanic. HBG2, what do you say?”
Looking at his son, his heart swelled with pride at the confidence his boy showed by bringing this to him. He knew that since Erin had left him, he had developed a bit of a reputation of being a hard-ass.
All the local cops knew him because his bar fights were the stuff legends were made of, so much that they dreaded seeing him pull into the local biker bar. More than once he was allowed to sleep off a drunk in the empty apartment over the shop instead of being taken to the local jail, mostly because even LEO didn’t want to deal with him. For Barry to brave his shitty attitude showed balls.
“I think you’re full of shit,” he said and watched the muscles all along Barry’s jaw jump as he clenched his teeth tightly, anticipating his father’s next words. Harddrive was happy to disappoint for once and grinned broadly. “But I like the particular brand of crap you’re selling. Grab a chair, let’s get comfortable, sort out this opportunity.”
By the end of the day, they had hammered out a tentative business plan and timeline, and that was the beginning of their expansion. Beginning with one new shop in Billings, Barry first made that location a success. He put in long hours and worked like a dog to make sure things were all handled in a way that shone the best possible light on them. Customer service issues were few and far between, and now they had expanded further, opening shops in Sturgis, Omaha, and Denver. Five stores, all of them profitable, because of his son’s hard work.
Barry had called him a couple weeks before Thanksgiving this year, talking about heading further south, maybe looking at New Mexico for their next shop. The key in every location was getting the right mechanics and managers in place. Mason and several of his Rebels had proven instrumental in giving them leads on good men and women. He had proven to be a good friend to have in many ways.
As a good club should be, the Rebel club membership was far more like family than friends, and Harddrive had been humbled and honored at the sendoff the club had given Rodney when he passed from lung cancer several months ago.
Harddrive’s brother had slipped into the life after Vietnam, too. Rolling wild and crazy through his days, never settling in any one place for long, at least not until he found the Rebels. He took a road name, Bingo, but had never taken an old lady, claiming his poetry was a jealous bitch. That man could string words together in a way that surprised Harddrive every time he listened to one of those poems read aloud. There were commemorative signs on the wall of every shop with lines from Rodney’s work etched into them, words and plaques set in place on the day each store opened. It was a way for him to have his brother with him, no matter where Bingo rolled.
Having Mason be involved in the club his brother was in proved interesting, and lucrative. Between the friendship he had with Mason, and the brothers Bingo had in the club, the Rebels called Barry for a hell of a lot of bike-related purchases. It seemed they were shipping parts across the country nearly every week, and he would never admit it to Barry, but it meant his damned, pain-in-the-ass computer inventory was a benefit. The kid had good ideas and kept pushing him into adopting things that hadn’t even been thought of when he opened the first shop.
Then he got a call from Bingo, telling him their sister had shown up in Fort Wayne, stoned out of her gourd, with a half-dozen kids in tow. They had both lost touch with her years before, back when her relationship decisions put the family at risk. She had left town with that deadbeat boyfriend, dropping out of sight along with five thousand dollars of their parent’s savings.
After reconnecting with Bingo, over the next few years, she popped out three more kids, the dads never staying in the picture for long. Then he got another phone call because Bingo found out she got cancer. Mother of nine, her body worn to pieces by life and the disease.
Bingo had been living in Chicago at the time, patched into the Rebel’s mother chapter, but Mason gave him the go ahead to charter a new one in Fort Wayne. Named him president and gave him the chance to run things there. Gave him an opportunity to be there for Isabel, try and ease her way. It wasn’t long before they buried her, and Harddrive had made his first trip to the Fort, as the locals affectionately called the town.
There he had heard stories about Andy; finding out the kid had stumbled into Mason’s bar in Chicago years before, still riding the Indian motorcycle Harddrive had sold him. The same one that Mason had traded in years before that. Now called Slate, the kid wasn’t a kid anymore, and the word through the grapevine was his experiences during his travels were writ large on his skin. Twisted and good, his life seemed wound up in Mason and the Rebels, both coming and going.
Then came a call from Mason. Bingo was in the hospital, diagnosis lung cancer, the prognosis grim. He made the trip to the Fort again, flying in this time because he wanted to ensure he got there before Rodney went under the knife. He had very nearly picked up the phone that night, stalking in restless circles around the hospital waiting room, the desire to hear Erin’s voice ricocheting through his head like a pinball machine gone insane.
A hard and shitty thing to have to go through alone and Mason had known this, sending men down to wait with him. Bear and Gunny were there, already known to him because of their passion for building and restoring motorcycles. He had met Hoss and Road Runner, an interesting pair of men because, like Bingo, they shared a creative bent, Hoss a painter and Road creating art out of food as a chef.
Bingo came through that surgery okay, and before he returned to Wyoming, Harddrive saw him set-up in a home with a couple who seemed determined to adopt the man and their sister’s kids. Bingo had taken responsibility for the rug rats when their sister died, circling those peewees with love and support, making a good life for all of them. Harddrive watched the care Jase and DeeDee took with his brother and it eased his mind considerably when he had to go home, knowing that even if he was traveling down a hard road, Bingo was surrounded by people who loved him.
Then came the final call. A conversation he had expected, but dreaded. He and Barry headed out immediately, riding into Fort Wayne two days after getting word that Bingo had died. He hadn’t been thinking sensibly when he left, or he would probably have taken the truck instead of the bike, because once he got into the wind and had a minute to quiet his mind he realized he would need to bring the kids home with him. Then, after arriving in Fort Wayne, he found things were rather different than he expected because that same couple who had loved on Bingo wanted to take on the entire passel of Shoemaker kids in a permanent way.
He found himself relieved he didn’t have to uproot the kiddos, because they had been through so much in their young lives. He was determined to be a big part of their growing up from here out. He made arrangements to keep an open line to Jase and DeeDee, laying plans to talk to them and the kids every week. Those few days had been filled with reunions and memories, as he and people who knew Bingo shared recollections and stories about the man.
Dixie and Keith came to the wake at the Rebel clubhouse the night before the funeral. He had watched with pride as the men of the club treated her with great respect, knowing that came from them knowing the goodness of her heart, and the commitment of her old man.
Then his mood had soured when he saw Angus, his wife’s brother, standing near the bar inside the clubhouse. That stupid, cheating motherfucker had always managed to land on his feet, and seeing him hooked up with Mason’s crew only proved his lucky streak hadn’t ended. Listening carefully, he heard the Rebel members calling Angus a different name, Pike. The man’s road name was after a fucking fish, and Harddrive shook his head at how right someone had gotten that particular moniker.
After a few minutes, he decided to take the bull by the horns, forcing a meeting to keep from having awkwardness later. Slapping his hand on Pike’s shoulder hard, he saw the startled fear chase across his face when he recognized Harddrive. “How the fuck are you?” Harddrive asked, his disbelieving gaze catching for a moment on the President patch on Pike’s vest.
“Good, man. It’s good to see you,” Pike said, holding out his hand for a shake. His gut churning, he gripped the hand of the man who cost him his marriage, cost him decades of loneliness and pain. “Rodney was a good person, Landon, I was sure sorry to get the call.”
Lifting his chin in response, fury rising to fill him, Harddrive stepped back and dropped his hands to his sides. Staring at the man in front of him, he opened his mouth, then clamped his lips closed, shaking his head before he turned away. He hadn’t gotten two steps before a hand gripped his bicep, pulling him to a stop. He heard Pike’s voice, soft in a way that would keep the words private. “I’m sorry, brother.”
At that term coming out of that mouth, he jerked his arm out of the grip and whirled, staring into Pike’s face. Spitting out the words, he asked, “Is it four or five marriages now? How many you ruin, man? I ain’t your goddamned brother. You saw to that. You know what? Why don’t you stay the fuck away from me. You got nothing I need, and you sure don’t have any condolences I’ll believe.” Stalking away, he saw Mason watching their exchange, a considering look on his face.
Fortunately, those were the only words he had with the man, and the service the next day was conducted with all honor and respect. Then came the military gun salute, and the awarding of the flag. He had asked DeeDee to take it for safekeeping. The entire ritual was filled with moments when he wished like hell Erin was beside him. She and Rodney had been good friends, and she would have loved to see how he would be missed by these worthy people. He hoped like hell that one of their kids had thought to tell her about him passing.
Tears stood in his eyes as he held one of his nephews in his lap at the graveside, overwhelmed at the sheer number of people who had come to bid farewell to his brother. When one of Bingo’s poems was read over the casket, it was all he could do to hold it together.
“Papa.” The child’s voice was complaining again. “I want to stay with Papa Shoe.”
“Shhhh, baby.” Now he recognized the voice for certain, knowing his Dixie-Girl had spoken from nearby, and he shivered briefly at the chill as his grandchild was lifted from his lap.
That chill didn’t last long because his lap didn’t remain empty.
Taking a deep breath, he smelled his wife’s favorite perfume and felt a smile curl the corners of his mouth. Wrapping his arms around her, he held her tightly, nuzzling the top of her head as she sat with him like she had done so often, sharing the recliner in front of the fire. He reached down, pulling the blanket up and over her legs too, tugging it high on her shoulders. “What are you doing, old man?” He smiled at how well his imagination had filled in her voice, giving it a rasp and thickness he only heard when she was close to tears.
“It’s cold out, Erin. I don’t want you to get sick, baby,” he said, slipping his arms underneath the blanket and wrapping them back around her. “God, I love you, baby,” he whispered, feeling her fold herself against his chest like she always did. “Missed you every single fucking day.” He swallowed hard, thinking to himself that he would be crying in his sleep next.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, and he shook his head, but she kept talking to him. “Angus called, Landon. He told me—“ she stopped when he shook his head again.
With a heavy sigh, he told his wife, “I could call you. Hell, I could tell you. Coulda told you a thousand times over the years. Wanted to, even. But, he’s your big brother and he always took care of you as best he could. He’s your blood, and I ain’t gonna take that from you, Erin. I love you too much.” He hugged her tightly, shifting in the chair. “I’m sorry, too. So much time gone, days we would never get back, gone.” He kissed her forehead, smiling. “Lovin’ this dream, old lady. Lovin’ feeling you. Missed this so fucking much.”
“Why is Mama Shoe crying?” Damn, Dixie’s boy is loud when he wants to be, Harddrive thought, shifting in the chair again, the weight on his lap anchoring him in place, Erin’s breath soft and warm on his neck as she nuzzled against him.
He froze, finally realizing that he wasn’t asleep. His house was no longer silent, there were voices in the hallway where the bedrooms were, water running in the kitchen sink, and Keith cleared his throat over by the fireplace. “Mama Shoe’s just happy,” his son-in-law said, and Harddrive took a deep breath, pulling in the scent that always told him Erin was nearby. My baby’s home, he thought, and took another experimental breath, finding the same intoxicating result.
Opening his eyes, he flicked his gaze at Keith, who stood by the fireplace with little Landon Junior in his arms, both of them looking at where Harddrive sat in the recliner. There was a decorated Christmas tree in the corner, the base piled high with colorfully wrapped boxes and bags. Evergreen draped the mantle, the pictures there carefully arranged amidst the greenery.
Barry walked into view, handing Keith a mug of what looked and smelled like coffee, his youngest daughter hanging onto his leg, her ass on the top of his foot as he shuffled along. Harddrive grinned, remembering the days when he would have a kid on each leg in exactly the same way.
Without moving his head, he peered down at his lap, gasping aloud when he saw Erin nestled against his chest, crookedly covered by the blanket he had pulled over them. Licking his lips, he started to speak, then swallowed hard, suddenly unsure of himself. This was what he had wanted every time he let himself dream, Erin back in their home, his arms, always in his heart. She fit into his lap as if no time had passed, the gray now threading through her hair not diminishing her beauty one bit. God, I love her, he thought, arms tightening around her. My old lady.
“Landon,” she whispered, and he shushed her gently, stroking up and down her back, his hands memorizing the curves he remembered so well.
“Doesn’t matter, baby. Not if you’re back. If you’re back, then my heart is healed.” His eyes slipped closed, and he said, “Kiss me to seal the deal?” Her fingers fluttered along his jaw, drawing his face down to hers as she kissed him, her lips hot and demanding against his. Breaking away, he opened his eyes, staring down into her face, watching as she smiled with trembling lips. “Hell, yeah,” he said with a grin. “My old lady.” He took her mouth again, tasting her this time, loving the sounds she made in her throat. “Love you, baby. Merry Christmas, Erin.”
2015 © MariaLisa deMora