Along for the Ride

Author: P Hana

Page 24

   

‘Store-goers,’ I finished for him, without even thinking. He looked surprised, then exchanged a smile with Adam. ‘Exactly.’

‘That’ll be fifteen eighty-five,’ the clerk said, and as they dug in their pockets, pulling out crumpled bills, I took the opportunity to slip out, back to my car. A moment later, they emerged, each carrying a bag, and climbed into the truck. I watched them back out, their lights moving across me as they pulled away.

I sat there and drank my coffee for a little while, considering my options. There was always the all-night diner. Or another loop around Colby. I glanced at my watch: only 12:15. So many hours to fill, and so little to do it with. Maybe it was for this reason that I found myself pulling out, turning in the direction they’d gone. Not looking for Bigfoot, necessarily. Just something.

• • •

It wasn’t hard to find the jump park. All you had to do was follow the bikes.

They were everywhere. Crowding the narrow sidewalks, on racks on the backs of cars, or sticking up from rails on the roof. I stuck close to an old Volkswagen van with a bright orange one hanging off it, following as it turned into a big lot two or three streets away from the beach. As I parked, I could see some bleachers bordered by two huge lights, which were shining down on a row of jumps, ramps made out of logs, and sand. Every once in a while, you’d see someone on a bike rise up above the sight line, suspended in midair for just a moment before disappearing again.

There was also an oval track made up of various types of berms, which some people were circling, and down from that, two large, curved ramps facing each other. I sat in my car for a moment, watching someone in a black helmet ride down one side, then up the other, back and forth, mesmerized, as if someone were swinging a watch on a chain before my eyes. Then someone slammed the door on the Volkswagen, jerking me back to attention.

I was not sure what I was doing there. It wasn’t like it was exactly my scene or crowd. The bleachers were filled with girls who were probably busy comparing lip glosses and mooning over the guys as they rode below them. Further proof: as I looked closer, I spotted Maggie sitting a few rows up, in pink, naturally. I hadn’t looked closely enough to see if Jake was one of the guys currently moving through the jumps, but then again, I probably didn’t need to.

I sat back, picking up my cup of coffee and taking a sip. Cars were still pulling in and parking, and occasionally people would pass by my car, their voices rising overhead. Each time, I felt more self-conscious, reaching for my keys to crank the engine and get out of there. But then they’d move on, and I’d let my hand drop. After all, it wasn’t like I had anything better to do. And at least this way I wasn’t wasting gas.

‘Yo!’ I heard someone yell suddenly from somewhere to my right. ‘Pretty girl!

Where’s the party at?’

I recognized Jake’s voice instantly. Sure enough, when I turned, I spotted him one row over and two down, leaning against a silver sedan. He had on jeans and a red long-sleeved shirt, the tails of which were flapping in the breeze as he took a sip of something in the blue plastic cup in his hand. It took me a minute before I realized he hadn’t even been speaking to me but to a tall blonde who was walking a few rows down, her hands stuffed in the pockets of her jacket. She glanced up at him, smiling shyly, and kept walking. A moment later, he was catching up with her just a couple of cars in front of me.

Crap, I thought, watching as he flashed her that wide smile. Leaving right then would have attracted way too much attention, but it wasn’t like I wanted to sit and watch my biggest mistake in recent memory play out before me either. I considered my options a moment, then carefully opened my door, sliding my feet onto the gravel. I eased it shut, ducking down as I rounded the car beside me, then put another, and yet another between us.

Due to my zigzag escape, I ended up in an area off to the left of the jump park, where there were only a couple of bike racks and a few straggly trees. It was just out of the reach of the bright lights by the bleachers, so I could see everything without being spotted. In other words, perfect.

I leaned against a bike rack as I watched people move through the line of jumps. At first glance, each rider looked the same, but with further study I realized everyone was going at different speeds on their approach, and some stayed closer to the ground, cautious, while others rose up high, then higher still on the next. Occasionally there’d be a smatter of applause or some hooting from the bleachers, but otherwise it was strangely quiet, just the sound of tires on gravel, broken up by moments of silence as they went airborne.

After a while, I spotted Adam and Wallace, sitting on their bikes, helmets off, where people were lining up for the jumps. Wallace was eating Pringles, while Adam was looking up at the bleachers, gesturing for someone there to come join them. Following his gaze, I found Maggie again, still alone, still staring down at the ramps. You can keep looking, I wanted to tell her, but most likely, he’s under those bleachers, not in front of them. Stupid girl.

Just as I thought this, she stood suddenly, like she’d heard me. I watched as she reached up, pulling her dark curls back at the base of her neck, then twisted an elastic around them. She reached into the bag beside her and pulled out a helmet, grabbing it by the strap and starting down the bleachers to the boys waiting below.

I had to admit I was surprised. What I saw next, though, left me stunned: when she got to Adam, he hopped off his bike, offering it to her, and she climbed on, pulling the helmet over her head. He said something to her, and she nodded, then pushed back slowly, flexing her fingers over the ends of the handlebars. When she was about twenty feet back, she rose up on the pedals for a moment, squaring her shoulders, and started toward the jumps.

She hit the first one at moderate speed, kicking up a bit of dust, gaining even more momentum as she approached, then cleared the next. By the third, she was rising up really high, shoulders hunched, the bike seeming to float beneath her. Even from my limited experience, I could tell she was good: she hit the jumps squarely, and her landings were smooth, not clumsy like some of the other riders I’d seen. It seemed to take her no time or effort at all to do the entire set of them, and then she was circling back to where the boys were waiting. Wallace offered her a Pringle, and she took it, flipping up the visor of her helmet to pop it in her mouth.

I was so busy watching this that at first, I didn’t see the figure that had appeared off to my right, so it took a second to realize it was Eli. His hair was loose over his shoulders, and he had on jeans and a green long-sleeved T-shirt. Unfortunately, by the time I processed all this, I’d been staring at him long enough for him to notice. He turned and looked right at me, and I nodded at him in reply, in what I hoped seemed like a casual way.

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