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Ezekiel Nicholls crossed the city limit line of the small Oregon town he swore he would never set foot in for the rest of his life, driving the same back roads in his Escalade that he had torn down astride his Harley in the opposite direction twenty years ago. The two-lane straight stretch of asphalt that cut through the fields that use to be dotted with cows and sheep was now the road that gave residents access to the new housing complex. As he drove under the overpass, running the amber light of the new traffic signal, he had to wonder if he was in the right town, Oak Hills had changed so much since the day he had left. There were three new fast-food chains with easy access to the interstate on and off ramps and the single story eye-sore of a motel had been torn down and a new three story hotel had been built in its place to catch the weary travelers. The corner lot where the drive-in burger joint he used to hang out in had been demolished to make room for a small espresso stand, a donut shop and an insurance office. The outskirts had changed but as he drove further into town, some things were still the same.
The grocery store was still offering items at ten percent off and further down the road, the mom-and-pop shops were still open, keeping the residents happy with the essentials. St. Ignatius’s was still having bingo on Friday nights and the time and temperature still flashed on the bank’s reader board along with the current loan APR but the twenty-four hour convenience store that he used to buy his beer in late at night without the fear of being carded had been converted into a pizza parlor. As he drove his luxury SUV down the main street that was lined with pickup trucks, cars and small domestic SUVs, he felt out of place once again, but he wasn’t going to let it discourage him. He had come back to Oak Hills for his high school reunion even if he had only read about the gathering on-line. He had never been Mr. Popular so he wasn’t expecting to reconnect with anyone; he was more or less just coming back in hopes of catching a glimpse of the girl he left behind.
Zeke had to slam on the brakes, skidding to a halt at the intersection where a second traffic signal had been added to the main street, and he waved in apology at the driver of the other car as he turned in front of him. He let out a quick, short breath, waiting for the light to change before he continued on his way through town, passing by the park where several members of the alumni were already starting to set up for the reunion’s barbeque tomorrow afternoon, the banner that was tied between two trees flapped in the hot June breeze welcomed back the graduates. As he looked around the town at all the changes, he had to wonder what would have happened to him if he had stayed.
He let out a long breath as he drove by the park, still wondering why he even bothered coming back to a town where he’d never been made to feel welcome and he seriously thought about turning around and driving back to Los Angeles and he almost did when he received a sideways glance from a local he couldn’t even remember. While some things had changed, others still remained the same and one in particular was that outsiders still weren’t welcome in Oak Hills, or maybe it was just him. His stomach growled, reminding him that he had been driving for fourteen hours on several cups of coffee and a three two-biter McDonald’s cheeseburgers and the least he could do before he turned back around and high-tailed it out of town for a second time was stop and have a decent meal in a sit-down restaurant. He maneuvered his SUV into the turning lane at the intersection that use to have the only traffic signal; the road would connect him to the interstate along the back road of an even smaller town, and waited for the green arrow.
The Coffee Cup was still open after all these years and he parallel parked his Cadillac along the curb in front of the beauty parlor, raised the windows and killed the engine. He caught his reflection in the rearview mirror and quickly combed his fingers through his wind-blown brown hair that, even though he was thirty-eight, was already starting to gray at the temples, smoothing down the locks that were a lot shorter now than they had been when he’d left. He climbed out and shut the door, stretched the kinks from his back as he waited for the car to pass before he jaywalked across the street. He stepped up onto the sidewalk and looked in the window at the two couples that occupied the small diner in the late lunch hour and then at the white board hanging in the window that listed the day’s specials.
He pushed open the door and stepped inside, the aroma of fresh brewed coffee and roast beef instantly wafting around him, and he push the door shut to keep the summer heat out. The overhead fans whirled, circulating the air as the ancient air conditioner in the corner hummed loudly, dropping the temperature by ten degrees. The décor hadn’t changed much since the last time he had set foot inside the diner his mother use to wait tables in, and even though the place could use a coat of paint on the walls and new countertops to replace the illegal bahis chipped and worn Formica, the place still felt homey. He smiled at the elderly couple in the corner but the other two people never looked his way. The cook was in the kitchen eyeing him curiously over the high counter and the lone waitress was wiping down the table of the booth that had just been vacated. When she heard the bell above the door jingle, she said without looking up, “Have a seat wherever, Hon, and I’ll be right with you.”
Zeke pulled off his black framed wraparound sunglasses and tucked them into the breast pocket of his pale blue oxford button-down shirt and walked over to the stools that lined the front counter. He was half way across the dining room when the waitress turned around and started walking towards him and he gave her a quick once over. She was wearing a pale pink T-shirt with a modest scoop neck that clung to her small breasts and black capris length pants, a half apron tied around her waist and comfortable sneakers on her feet. But when his gaze settled on her still beautiful face he stopped dead in his tracks as a rush of long forgotten memories came flooding back.
Twenty years earlier…
Zeke backed his Harley-Davidson Sportster into the corner parking spot, dropped the kickstand and turned off the rumbling engine. He pulled his helmet off and sat it on the seat between his splayed thighs, tugged his leather gloves off, tossing them into his helmet and dragged his fingers through his unruly shoulder length brown hair that hadn’t seen a pair of scissors in almost a decade. He dug a packet of cigarettes out of his leather motorcycle jacket and shook one out, putting it between his lips and lit it with a Zippo, even though he knew he was clearly in defiance of Oak Hills High School no tobacco policy. He blew out a long stream of smoke as he snapped the lid shut, tucking the lighter and cigarettes back into his pocket as he stared across the parking lot at the four teenage girls standing on the walkway in front of the gym, talking and laughing and flipping their long hair back over their shoulders, more particularly at the one with the mahogany hair that was facing him, her back to the brick wall.
He’d had his eyes on her for the past three years and, as of last week, she had just turned eighteen. Her name was Catherine Devereux but everyone just called her Cate. She sat two seats in front of him in World History, smelling like flowers, looking like sin and completely oblivious to his existence. But he knew of hers. She would always walk, or rather sashay right past him whether it was in class or in the halls, her head held high with her little snobbish nose in the air, leaving in her wake an aromatic scent of expensive perfume. She would never look his direction, she was too good for him, and she made sure he knew it, after all he was the badass of Humboldt County and she wouldn’t be caught dead talking to him. He had followed her home one day, just to make sure she wasn’t putting on a false impression, and when he saw that she lived in a two story sprawling house at the top of the hill overlooking the entire town, the long driveway lined with oak trees that were just as majestic as the house, he knew that he didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever gaining her attention. So he had no choice but to admire her from afar.
He just sat there astride his motorcycle, smoking his cigarette and watching Cate as she stood chatting with her equally snobbish friends. She was looking sinful as always. Her hair was pulled back from her beautiful face in a braid this morning, the end reaching the middle of her back, and with the late spring heat that was soon to arrive with the afternoon sun, she had on a knee length black frilly skirt with little blue flowers on it that swished around her thighs and a light blue sleeveless silk blouse, the ends tied in a knot just above the waistband of her skirt, showing off a scant inch of her taut little tummy and white canvas Keds on her bare feet.
She always hung out with the same three girls–he didn’t know any of their names–and they were all snobs in their own right with teenage bodies that were built for one thing only; every respectable guy in school had more than likely enjoyed a ride a time or two. And then there was Cate. She didn’t flaunt her body in revealing clothes that pushed the dress code like the other girls in the group did but what he could see of it, he marveled in. She was five inches shorter than him, had long, sleek legs that he couldn’t remember how many times he had imagined wrapped around his hips, a trim waist that he could probably easily encircle with his hands and firm breasts that would be just big enough to fill his palms and eyes the color of forget-me-nots. She was–in his eyes–absolutely perfect and completely unattainable by the likes of him.
“Nicholls!” an authoritative voice yelled from the steps of the school.
Zeke plucked the cigarette out from the corner of his mouth at the sound of the principal’s voice and dropped it to the ground, crushing it out with the toe illegal bahis siteleri of his lace-up motorcycle boot. His gaze instantly shifted from the girl of his dreams to the man of his nightmares as he came marching towards him hell-bent for blood, his blood. The head honcho had had it in for him the second he stepped foot through the open door of the front office when he had transferred to Oak Hills his sophomore year and the harassment only got worse the day he rode past the front of the school astride his Harley. He tried to keep his nose clean and stay out of trouble but trouble usually found him and this morning was no different, the man was a festering thorn in his side and he couldn’t wait to dig it out. He shoved his hand through his unruly hair, pushing it back from his face as he blew out a long stream of smoke from the side of his mouth. “Principal Williams,” he deadpanned, staring the man down with cold coffee-brown eyes.
“Don’t you take that tone with me, you hooligan,” Anderson Williams snapped. He was responsible for over two hundred students that walked the halls of the high school and this was one student he kept a close watchful eye on, waiting for the moment he would mess up so he could expel him, even if graduation was only ten days away. He was a troublemaker, pure and simple, and he didn’t have the time to deal with Zeke nor did he have a welcome place in his school. He wanted him gone. Period.
“I’m just sitting here, minding my own business, waiting for the bell to ring,” Zeke said. He stood up and swung his leg over his motorcycle, straightening to his full height of six feet, smirking when the man, who was the same height as him, quickly cowered backwards. His height and size wasn’t intimidating, half of the football team was bigger than him, so he knew it had everything to do with the jagged scar on his right cheek that made the older man take a step or two backwards. He told everyone it was from a knife fight when in fact it was from being backhanded by his old man and falling against the jagged edge of a broken lamp when he was ten. And a lie was a lot better to tell than the truth, besides it usually got people to leave him the hell alone.
Anderson crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Zeke. He didn’t have the right to stop students from smoking, but he had the right to enforce the policy as long as the student was on school property and the parking lot was part of that area. Everyone followed the rule, except for the one that was out to give him a coronary from too much stress, usually with the argument that he was smoking in his vehicle–which wasn’t subject to the rule–even though his vehicle had no doors. “How many times have I told you, no smoking on school property?”
Zeke looked at him, one eyebrow raised. Like he was supposed to know? “Counting right now? Five hundred and sixty-one,” he answered, tight-lipped.
“Listen here, you punk, I want–” Anderson said, jamming a finger at the chest of the hard-headed eighteen year old but was quickly cut off by the shrill ringing of the first school bell.
Zeke picked his helmet up and shoved his hand through his hair, glaring at the principal. He didn’t have to say the words, he knew he wanted him gone, but he had made a promise to his mother that he would graduate and that vow was the only thing that kept him from leaving town this very second. “Don’t worry, in ten days, I’ll be out of this fucking hell-hole of a town and you won’t have to deal with me anymore,” he swore as he shoved his way past the principal. He strode across the parking lot and when he reached the walkway he looked up, surprised to see that Cate was still standing there, alone, and hanging on his every word. He wasn’t the least bit surprised that, when he stepped up on the sidewalk, she turned on her heel and hurried down the breezeway with her nose in the air.
He snorted. The principal wasn’t the only one that wanted him gone.
Cate was standing along the breezeway outside the school gym making plans with her friends for the Memorial Day weekend when she heard the heavy rumble of a Harley engine as it rounded the corner, the even louder rumble as the engine was revved at it sped down the straight stretch before finally turning into the parking lot and she discreetly turned her attention from her friends to watch the only student that rode a motorcycle. A leather and denim clad rebel that she hadn’t been able to take her eyes off for the past year.
She watched as he backed the motorcycle into the narrow spot where he always parked, the breezeway had a clear view of that portion of the parking lot, the rumbling engine silenced with the turn of a key and she sank her teeth into her bottom lip when he pulled off his helmet, that full head of brown hair the color of fine chocolate falling down to brush his leather-clad shoulders. She watched as he dug a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket, lighting one, and she could have sworn that she felt his hot coffee-brown eyes on her as he sat there astride his motorcycle. She didn’t care for the fact that he smoked, but just canlı bahis siteleri that he was a badass and disobeyed the school’s strict rules had her convincing her friends to talk outside where she could secretly watch him, even if for the briefest moment. He was, in two words, absolutely gorgeous and someone she didn’t dare associate with unless she wanted to royally piss off her mother.
She had first seen Zeke through the glass of the front office door when he registered for school in the middle of her sophomore year. His hair wasn’t quite as long then as it is now and he had been a bit scrawnier like most of the fifteen/sixteen year olds that year, but over the course of the summer that he had turned eighteen, he shot up three more inches and gained weight in the form of pure muscle. His style of clothing had never changed and she didn’t mind in the least, faded blue jeans and either a black or white T-shirt, a black leather jacket and heavy soled motorcycle boots. In the past year those jeans had gotten tighter along with the shirts, pulling over taut, rippling muscles that had every good-girl swooning and every boy pissed off with jealously. The bottom edge of a tattoo extended out from under the rolled sleeve of his T-shirt and that scar on his cheek only added to his dangerous appeal, making him that much more enticing.
She always walked passed him with her nose in the air, not because she wanted to, but because she had to. She knew that if she looked into those eyes of his, her legs would turn as limp as noodles since he already had her stomach twisting into a knot and her heart pounding in her chest every time he was in close proximity. She only had one class with him and she tried to get there as early as she could so she wouldn’t have to walk past him, smell the pure masculine scent that oozed out of every pore, but he always beat her to the room, forcing her to walk right by him, step over his long legs that blocked the aisle. Damn assigned seating.
She knew he left the campus for lunch so the only time she really got to admire him was before school and any time she passed him in the hall because he was always gone as soon as the final bell rang, the fading rumble the Harley’s engine making his departure known to everyone. She had always wondered just how many girls enjoyed a private ride on the back of his motorcycle and then a ride on his privates, but none of the girls she talked to would admit if they ever had, after all he lived on the other side of the railroad tracks in a trailer park and the upper crust just didn’t associate with the bottom of the barrel.
Cate heard the principal yell at Zeke, much like he did every morning, and she didn’t even realize that her friends had walked off, snickering at her for staying behind to watch and listen to the argument that was about to ensue between the head honcho and the school’s troublemaking badass. She wanted to come to Zeke’s defense, he wasn’t harming anyone or damaging property, but she would just make a fool of herself and piss off the principal more and wind up in detention or worse, suspended ten days before graduation. She sucked in her breath when Zeke stood up and swung his leg over the seat, waiting and wondering if he was finally going to take a swing at the older man after all the months of continuous harassment, he had already been suspended three times this year for fighting. She didn’t doubt that he could hold his own but–
Did she just hear him right? After graduation he was gone? Everyone in town always made it hard on him and they didn’t trust him just from his looks alone but she had a feeling that under that tough exterior was someone with a big heart that was just misunderstood, but then she could also be completely wrong about him and he had a massive chip on his shoulder. When he looked up at her, she felt her pounding heart leap into her throat and when he stepped up onto the sidewalk and took a step towards her, she quickly turned on her heel and hurried back inside the school so she could get to class before the second bell rang.
She was probably the only one in town who didn’t want him to leave. And she didn’t dare say a word otherwise.
Zeke was just minding his own business, enjoying a late-night double cheeseburger smothered with grilled onions when trouble found him once again.
The Memorial Day festivities had been in full swing at the city park with the opening dedication of the town’s memorial wall and everyone had gathered there to remember the fallen, well, everyone except him. He wasn’t working at the feed store with the holiday weekend so he rode into town to grab a bite to eat at the drive-in diner and he parked his motorcycle along the curb and sat down at the sidewalk table to enjoy his burger, fries and Coke in peace and quiet. Or so he had thought. He was halfway through his burger when a black Mustang bounced rather than turned into the drive-in, its tires screeching on the asphalt as it slid to a halt diagonally in the farthest parking bay, the passenger side door flying open before it had a chance to come to a complete stop. He couldn’t see the girl as she scrambled out but he recognized the driver as he shoved himself out from behind the wheel, George Hunsaker, the star quarterback of the football team who was getting a full ride to an out of state college in the fall.
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