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“Got big shit going on. Gotta keep a low profile,” Gus answered flatly. “And cause that’s just kind of fucked up in general.”

“Dude,” Skid said, rubbing his eyes. “I’m still drunk from last night or this morning or whenever. I’m sorry, it was fucking stupid. Just don’t fucking tell Chop okay?” He bent over to pick up his shades and I seriously thought about kicking him in the head. But then I calmed down a bit when I thought about all the stupid shit I’d done when I was first patched in, shit that would have brought hell down from my old man if he ever knew. “This one time and one time only. That’s all you get. Your only pass. You pull shit like this again and you’re dealing with Chop on your fucking own and I won’t be there to come to your rescue.” I straddled my bike.

“What was all that talk about the ring?” Gus asked. “That’s the first time I heard about it. Did I miss something I’m supposed to know about? Am I supposed to give away a ring too? Cause I don’t have one as nice as the skull one you gave her.” Gus was always eager to learn and the possibility that he might have missed something made him look twitchy.

“No man, that was all fucking bullshit. A ring in exchange for her not calling the fucking law or her mommy and daddy to tell them what the big mean bikers did,” I said.

“Creative,” Gus said, pulling on his riding gloves.

“You gave the girl your skull ring? Didn’t that thing have a diamond in it?”

“It sure did, and you’ll pay me back every fucking penny.” I turned on the engine, the roar of the bike coming to life between my thighs.

I laughed all the way home at the look on Skid’s face when I said he owed me.

I never thought about that day or that girl again.

Until seven years later, when it all came back and bit me in the ass.

CHAPTER TWO

Thia

Seven years later…

Silence.

Scarier than any gun blast or cannon fire. Louder than thunder and ten times more terrifying.

Carrying one of Mrs. Kitchener’s famous apple pies with one hand and holding onto the handle of my bike with the other, I navigated the rocks and holes on the narrow dirt road that led up to the small farmhouse I lived in with my parents.

Every day when I got home from my part-time job at the Stop-N-Go I was greeted by the bickering voices of my parents. With no other houses around for miles their voices carried over the tops of the trees and I heard them well before I saw the light in the window.

Before my little brother died I’d never heard them fight at all. When Sunlandio Cooperation decided to import their oranges, canceling their long held contracts with my family’s grove, the bickering turned to full-blown hatred filled screams.

I set my bike down in the dirt, carefully shifting the pie from one hand to the other. Unable to bend down to retie my shoelace that had come undone on the ride, I shook out my foot as I walked, making sure not to trip over the hanging strings.

Chills broke out over my damp skin causing it to prickle with little bumps, making the little hairs on the back of my neck and my arms stand on end like I was moments away from being struck by lightning.

That’s when I noticed it.

The silence.

“Mom?” I called out, but there was no answer.

“Dad?” I asked as I swung open the screen door. The lamp on the side table was on, the lampshade tilted on its side like it too was questioning what the hell was going on.

I heard a scuffle from the back room. “You guys back there?” I asked, setting the pie down on the counter. I made my way down the hall, pushing open the door to my parent’s room, but it was empty. Same for the only bathroom and my room.

At the end of the hall, the door to my brother’s old room was cracked open. My mother, having kept Jesse’s room as a shrine to him since he’d passed, had always kept the door closed and whispered when she was in the hall like he was in there taking a nap and she didn’t want to wake him up.

“Mom?” I asked again, slowly pushing open the door.

“Come on in, Cindy. We’re in here,” she said cheerily. It was the first time I’d heard my mom’s voice take on a happy tone in years, although I hated that she’d called me Cindy.

It made my stomach roll.

Something was so wrong I almost didn’t want to see what was waiting for me on the other side of that door.

And I was right.

I didn’t.

Because there was my mother, sitting in the old rocking chair she used to read to Jesse in, clutching his favorite dinosaur, rocking back and forth and back and forth, clutching the stuffed animal to her chest and nuzzling up against it.

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