My front wheel hits the gravel. Wham! I skid into a drowning ditch, splashing goopy crud onto Mario. Cornfields align with my left and right. Both knees are skinned scarlet. I start crying, mostly out of joy. I can give up! It is also because my daughter is out of town, and I have no one to get me.
Churning past 7-Eleven, a mile before, I longed for a Slurpee. It just was not an option with CamelBak sports bottles mounted to our frames. Mario began pedaling backward, and I kidded, “You need a kiddy trailer for me.”
He flat-out agreed with a “Where do I find one?” His competitive side was getting to him. My wipeout was not only wicked, but the timing was the best.
Mario doctors my wounds with the first-aid kit that is tucked in the soft pouch beneath his seat. “I’ll get us a ride there.”
I shake my head, feeling the burn and still panting like I am asthmatic. “No, you go ahead.” I smile, and my upper lip gets caught up on my top front teeth, in dire need of some thirst-quenching fluids, as I lie, “I’ve got Tabitha, my roadside assistance.”
He helps me up with a look that I can’t quite read. “No bed and breakfast?”
“I don’t think so, Mario.”
It is kind of understood. A mutual parting of ways. He is half on his lithium grey Trek, ready to catch up with the others. “I can’t just leave you here.”
My cellphone is on hand. “I’m okay. Go.”
As I watch him lean over his handlebars, speeding away like Lance Armstrong in his heyday, I refuse to panic. The fact that Josh owns a truck and could stow my bike… When I call him, I just tell him like it is.
“He left you there? What if I wasn’t around?”
I readjust the ripple in one of the butterfly bandages. “I would’ve sucked it up and started pedaling home.”
“Just stay put. If anyone stops, say a state trooper’s on his way. You could be dragged off, never to be heard of again.”
“You’ve been watching too much Forensic Files.”
After we disconnect, I picture him posting signs with MISSING in a glaring red, knowing how accurate I am in thinking Josh would be the one to do that for me. At least Tabitha has some recent sporty shots of me in her photo gallery.
I wipe my nose on my shirt, the Lycra team jersey, which Mario gave me to look the part. The only thing that gave me away—up until now—was the silver Schwinn ten-speed, left behind by my roommate in college when she dropped out. It had lived outside, chained to the gum tree by our apartment for so long that it was flecked with rust, and the black tape around the handlebars had been unraveling ever since. I didn’t see justifying buying a brand-new one if it was something I wasn’t going to take up.
Batting away sweat bees, I remove my scuffed-up Bell helmet with the cool LED light in the back and comb through my hair with my fingers, noticing my right knuckles’ abrasions. Had I been debriefed on the more-hills-than-valleys route beforehand, I would have never agreed to this. The neighborhood Thursday night rides hardly prepared me. Besides, my idea of a road trip is renting a van with a built-in TV, taking turns at the wheel, and stopping at fast-food joints.
I am sure Mario is consumed by the fact that he is the only rider without a partner and has booked the anniversary room, having a veranda that overlooks the working farm and vineyard, all for himself. I bet he won’t even text me, probably figuring if he doesn’t get an AMBER alert about some stranded biker along a desolate stretch of a road, I am more than likely sitting safely back at home. Thinking about not even getting a blocked caller-ID call with nothing but breathing on his end, just to be sure though, makes me feel even more abandoned.
Josh arrives within a half-hour, despite how vague I have been about directions—“Keep coming down Junction Nine until you see me.” Had I called my ex-husband, he would not have spoken to me. But Josh shows up with tunes cranked and a Beef Jerky for each of us. My knight and shining armor in his gleaming Silverado, coming to save the day—again.
I have traveled light. Shedding the neon fanny pack with the reflective piping that Mario had given me for that reason, I drop it onto the WeatherTech floor mat, before reclining my seat.
Josh turns down the radio. “So, what’s in the bag?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” A spicy tunic for bedtime, a meshy outfit for the ride back, Tilly the troll doll with the spastic orange hair, carrying an ‘I Luv U’ sign… Something Tabitha always packs up for me, whenever we are to be apart. I didn’t know she slinked it in there this time until Mario reached inside to see what I had in store for that night, only to pull out Tilly. I put my hand over my mouth as he nose-dived her back in there, probably thinking it was a present meant for him later. One that he wasn’t quite ready for. I zipped my pack back up. “Don’t worry, Mario. I’m not getting psycho girlfriend on you. It’s my daughter’s.”
“Okay, sure…” But not having any children, I don’t think he understood, nor do I think that he believed me. I had wanted to tell him Something more on this getaway, and he had prematurely unveiled my plan of attack. Yeah, right! Like I would ever use a downscale version of the Heat Miser to express a deeper affection towards anyone! When he became more attentive to his spokes than me, cleaning them off with the front of his shirt as I struggled to lower my seat, I just knew that he thought that I was misinterpreting where we were at in our relationship.
I put my feet up on Josh’s dash, hoping to trigger a soft spot in his heart for me, having a fair amount of blood showing through both bandages. Although he would never say it, I think he cares more about the clumps of dirt that fall from the treads of my Shimano cycling shoes. That’s when the curiosity that he seems to have about this guy, who I had been biking away with for the weekend, intensifies. “Who’s this nimrod who left you anyway?”
Brushing my mess into my hand, I let down the window and chuck it along the same road that had given me such a hard time only an hour ago. “Mario. My personal trainer.”
He lets out a laugh. “Mario Bridges?”
Although not expecting him to have heard of him, I go into defense mode. “Yes, and don’t be quick to judge.”
He can’t get that grin off his face. “I know the guy.”
“Let me guess. He’s the personal trainer for Parker and Weston.” It would’ve made sense. Josh has a killer workout room just off of his office.
“I represented him in a sexual-harassment suit. If he hadn’t gotten off, it would’ve cost him the entire Icon Fitness chain.”
“Who sued him?”
“His tanning-booth attendant. He’d strip naked after hours, then walk to his bed to tan. Started asking her out. Her parents freaked.”
“Unbelievable.” That explains why he wanted the cougar, who wasn’t on payroll, over the towel and water-bottle girls. He saw me coming!
I could still be up for a weekend away in the country if only Josh weren’t so stubborn. My ex-fiancé might not ever give in, so I have to take what I can get. Stopping at 7-Eleven, so I can buy us two Slurpees, will just have to do.