It had been a long time since the club had thrown a real rager. Things had been milder since Prez got married. Then Hawk and Bender got engaged and it got even less wild.
If it weren’t for the drama their old ladies brought with them, in the form of their exes, things would be down right boring.
And I couldn’t deal with boring. I needed a distraction. I thought I’d done a good job at hiding my feelings for Brenda, but Carrie had caught on. The Pride was too damn observant. Nothing got past them.
I wasn’t exactly sure what she thought was going on but I was sure she’d given me more credit than I actually deserved. Because truthfully, nothing was going on. Nothing but me silently pining after her, unable to take my eyes off her and begging her to give me a chance.
She’d sworn off all the brothers after her pregnancy scare with Hawk. I’d wanted her then. Hawk would have done the right thing and made her his old lady, but then he would have missed out on Charlie. And I was prepared to step up and do the right thing for her. I would have made her my old lady, even then. Even while she’d been pregnant with another man’s kid, I would have wanted her.
I was a fool because it’d taken me so long to realize that she was the perfect woman. And I couldn’t believe nobody else had made her an old lady yet, only proving all my brothers were stupid too.
Shaking my head I pulled myself back to the present. I couldn’t believe it had been a year and a half since Jenny died. Prez’s kid was like eight months old or something. And Charlie was showing. Carrie wasn’t pregnant but her and Bender were disgustingly happy and planning their wedding. It’d been about two months since Bender proposed on the beach. Two months since the night I finally told Brenda how I felt. Since the night she shut me down.
After Bender had proposed to Carrie we’d stayed at the beach late into the night. We’d drank and laughed and basically did whatever we did in the clubhouse only with the ocean next to us. Greaser had started a bonfire and Brenda had been quietly sitting next to it, a drink in her hand. She didn’t always get to enjoy the parties; in fact, she rarely did. She was too busy being our bartender, cook, maid, and mother figure to the younger guys. But there hadn’t been a bar there that night and Carrie had insisted she enjoyed a night off. I’d watched from afar that night as she danced with the old ladies; they’d had to drag her from where she’d been sitting. She wasn’t one, but in my opinion she was still the most valuable woman to the club.
She’d drank and laughed and shimmied in the fire and moonlight as I’d watched her. In a totally non creepy way.
Okay, it might have even a little bit creepy.
But I couldn’t help myself. It felt like I was in one of those country songs my dad always played on the farm while I was growing up.
Her auburn hair had spun freely as she twirled and danced. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Her head fell back and she laughed and then she’d snorted loud enough for me to hear. The pride had gone into fits of laughter then, Liza falling into the sand as she tried to control her laughter. Charlie had tried helping her up but it had resulted in her falling into the sand too. She’d landed softly which was good since she was pregnant. I’d been sitting next to Seal while our top three stood close to their women. When they’d realized how drunk they were, the intervened, whisking them away and into the tents they’d set up on the beach. Although I still wasn’t sure what Charlie’s excuse had been. She hadn’t been able drink.
While the other old ladies had been carried away, Brenda had just kept dancing. All by herself.
We’d danced plenty of times at the club, but I’d never slept with her. At the time I’d had no idea if she knew how I felt about her or not. If Carrie had been able to pick up on it, she must have.
I’d been wrong.
Finishing my beer, I’d tapped Seal on his chest, indicating that I was out. Walking across the beach, I walked towards her.
“Wanna dance?” I’d asked.
“Sure,” she’d offered me a half drunken smile. With my hands on her hips I’d pulled her close, squeezing tightly. Someone’s playlist had been playing through a blue tooth speaker and when the song changed from upbeat to slow, I’d slowed my steps and pulled her even closer, completely flush against me.
Her arms had been wrapped around my neck as we stumbled lightly in the sand. The music had changed suddenly and Ride by Chase Rice came on. Turning I’d seen Carrie throw me a drunken wink while Bender had tried to wrestle the phone away from her. I shook my head at her but silently thanked her for the effort. I’d decided then that I was going to have to remind her that she hated every minute of Charlie trying to forcing her and Bender together. But it’d worked on for them.
I hoped it worked out for us too.
The song had worked it’s seduction magic. At least on me.
Brenda’s cheek pushed against my chest while her hands played with the nape of my neck. I’d bad to suppress a groan. The feeling of her delicate fingers against me had almost been too much.
When the song had finally ended I’d leaned away from her. “Take a walk with me?”
“Sure,” she’d answered.
She hadn’t protested when I’d grabbed her hand and started walking towards the shoreline. The full moon had lit up the night sky, and all the stars were visible.
I’d never been a romantic guy, but in that moment, I’d found myself wanting to be. I’d sat in the damp sand, pulling Brenda down with me. She’d settled between my legs and leaned against my chest.
“You’re so beautiful,” I’d whispered to her. She’d turned her head, hazel eyes assessing me. Her brows had furrowed together cutely, a wrinkle forming between them. She’d held completely still as I’d dipped my head down to capture her lips.
They’d tasted just as sweet as I’d always imagined they would. She’d let out a surprised gasp but pushed her lips back against mine. I’d cupped her face and swept my tongue against her lips, needing access to her mouth. She’d moaned, but quickly hit the brakes.
“Tank,” she’d whispered. “I swore off brothers.”
I knew that. The entire club knew that.
“What if I wanted to make you my old lady?” Her laughter had been loud before she clamped her lips shut, realizing I was serious.
“You’re serious?” I’d nodded. “You’re insane.”
I’d tried to keep her close but she moved away from me and out space between us. Space I hated.
“I’m not insane.”
“They were right.”
“Who was right?” I asked. I felt my own eyebrows furrow together as I looked at her.
“Carrie and Charlie and Rachel. They kept dropping hints. They kept saying how ridiculous it was that I wasn’t an old lady. They’d asked if I could ever see myself with one and with who. I’d said Brick.”
I snorted at her humor. Surely The Pride had gotten a good laugh out of that one. She would pick the gay brother. “I’m serious. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile.”
“If that’s true, why am I just hearing about it?” I hadn’t gotten time to answer her before she was continuing. “You can’t pull the same crap that the others pulled- the typical biker when I know I know bull shit.”
“Why not?” I’d challenged her.
“Because you’ve known me for years.”
“But I’ve known since I’ve known. Meaning when I knew I knew.”
Her eyes had widened. “No Tank. The answer is no.”
“Give me a chance, please.”
“I can’t.” I stared at her. “You’re my best friend, Tank. I can’t lose you.”
I hadn’t gotten the chance to say anything else, hadn’t gotten the chance to tell her that she was my best friend too, that she would never loose me before she was taking off back towards the bonfire. Grabbing fistfuls of sand I’d tossed them towards the water in frustration.
She’d shut me down.
And now, two months later, I was still pining after her, less discretely than before. And worse, I was internally warring with myself.
A woman saying no meant I should back off. But my brothers hadn’t done that. And it’d worked out for them.
I was sitting in a booth with Seal and Echo watching her. I wasn’t being discreet either.
I was sure all the old ladies knew what had happened between us on the beach. Whenever we held church, they had their own version of it and the ones who weren’t pregnant drank while they laughed and talked about their old men.
“I need another drink,” I said. Sliding out of the booth, I grabbed my empty whiskey glass and carried it back to the bar.
Barbara was bar tending with Brenda tonight, like she usually did when the club was open to the public. Barbara was free and Brenda was serving drinks to some girls who barely looked old enough to be here. I could have gone up to her. Despite what the club thought there was no love lost between us. Instead, I waited for Brenda to be free.
When the two girls she’d been waiting on walked away, I moved closer and leaned against the bar. I held my glass, shaking it. “Can I get another?”
“Sure,” she said. When she took the glass from me, our fingers brushed together and my body reacted like I was a fourteen year old boy all over again. One who’d been unable to control my raging hormones.
She turned her body and walked to the other side, where my favorite whiskey was stored. She kept it hidden just for me. Even after I’d blown it and she’d walked away from me on that beach she still made sure my favorite booze was stocked.
“Here ya go,” she said.
“Thanks, babe,” I smiled at her. She smiled softly at me.
I wished I knew how she felt. Sometimes I’d catch her looking at me and could swear she felt something for me too. It was probably just wishful thinking.
I’d been in a downward spiral ever since she shut me down.
I wasn’t good enough for her.
She deserved better.
Of course she didn’t want me.
I was unlovable.
The words echoed through my mind as I watched her. There were actual paying customers in line behind me, but she was still standing in front of me. Her eyes looked down, avoiding my staring. She had something to say, but she wouldn’t say it.
“Catch ya later, babe.” I winked at her. I was treading carefully, but I hadn’t given up. I couldn’t give up on her. Not now. Maybe not ever.
I went back to the booth Seal and I had been in with echo. Echo had vanished, probably with cinnamon or Cherry or Daisy, but he’d been replaced byBrick. The three of us were the odd ones out. Seal was still pining after the Mexican president’s daughter we protected close to a year ago. He hadn’t gotten over her yet and hadn’t touched anybody else since we’d been back. And it wasn’t for lack of options. Brick didn’t have anybody else who was gay around, not that we knew anyway. And I was infatuated with Brenda. We were three sorry bastards, pining and alone. Well Brick may not have been pining, but he was still alone.
The three of us sat silently and watched as the crowd got drunker and drunker. The pride danced while their better halves watched with hungry eyes. I watched Brenda the same way, but she wasn’t mine to watch.
That didn’t stop me.
I kept going back to the bar for booze, and each time I went I stared longer and longer at her. The drunker I got the worse it got. By the time she called last call just before three in the morning, I wasn’t even pretending to be discreet anymore.
The pride was long gone, having been swept away by their old men just after midnight. Most of the single brothers has paired off with a soul sucker or one of the many women who’d walked through the doors. Brick had gone to bed and so had Seal.
I watched as Brenda ushered out everyone who didn’t live in the club house and didn’t have an invitation to stay.
She walked back behind the bar, completely ignoring me. I watched as she and Barbara stood close together, whispering lowly. Barbara looked at me and then whispered something again. Barbara and I were close, always had been. Hopefully she was talking me up to her stubborn sister.
Barbara sighed heavily and I recognized the exasperated sound. She was annoyed with her little sister. She wasn’t the only one.
But her stubborn streak was one of her most attractive qualities.
So was the way she took care of anyone. What she didn’t understand was that I didn’t want her to take care of me too. I mean she already did, but I wanted to take care of her. She never let anybody take care of her; she was too busy taking care of everyone else, including her sister and mom.
I was the only one in the club who knew about her mom, and I only knew because Barbara told me. She hadn’t even meant to; it had been a drunken confession.
That might have been when my crush on Brenda began.
How could anybody not love a woman who was as selfless as she was?
I never understood why Hawk didn’t claim her. They’d been fuck buddies for close to a year or some shit. I guess you can’t force love.
But that made me nervous because if she didn’t love me, I couldn’t force her to. But I wanted her too.
Barbara said something in a harsh whisper before walking around the bar. She offered me a tentative, friendly smile before leaving through the front doors.
It was just me and Brenda now. She was looking at me, but I couldn’t read the expression on her face. We hadn’t been alone together since that night on the beach. She’d done everything in her power to make sure that didn’t happen.
Mustering my courage, I stood. I wasn’t afraid of anything- not death, not the cops, not when I had a gun being waved in my face, not even my old man anymore, but Brenda? she scared the piss out of me. “Hey babe,” I smiled at her.
“Hey,” she said. She was wiping down the bar, just like she did every night. She still wouldn’t look at me and all I wanted was for those hazel hues to flick up and meet my eyes. I was afraid of her, but she was afraid of me too, afraid to get too close, afraid she might actually feel for me what I felt for her.
It had started as friendship. After I’d realised I wanted to make her my old lady, I didn’t dive in right in right away. She’d just been coming off her pregnancy scare and had sworn off brothers. I’d assumed she would change her mind eventually and that I could sweep her off her feet when the time came. That hadn’t been the case; she never changed her mind.
So instead, I spent every minute I could with her. I wanted to be more than her friend, but her friendship was something I hadn’t known I’d been missing. She made me laugh harder than anyone else ever had. She had this ridiculous sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to embarrass herself. One time, we’d gone to the diner. She’d accidentally spilled ketchup on herself and instead of getting further embarrassed she grabbed the red plastic bottle filled with ketchup and sprayed it all over her white t-shirt. I’d only been able to laugh as I watched her. “What are you dong?” I’d asked with a shake of my head.
“Food art,” she’d said with a shrug of her shoulder. I’d only stared at her blankly. “What? It looks a lot better with the random ketchup art than just one gross stain.”
“That’s fine,” I’d said to her. “But how are you getting back to the clubhouse? No way I’m letting you on my bike covered in that.” She would have had to push her ketchup covered chest up against me. I loved having her ride with me, but I wasn’t risking ketchup all over my bike.
“Oops,” she said as if she’d just realized her mistake. “Take your shirt off.”
“What?” I’d asked.
“Give me your t-shirt.”
“And ride in just my cut?”
“It’s like a three minute ride, and I’ve seen you ride shirtless countless times.”
I’d give that woman anything. I’d put a stack of bills on the table, enough to pay for both of our meals before standing, shrugging off my cut. I’d handed it to her to hold and pulled my t-shirt over my head.
That was the first time I’d really seen her look at me. She’d definitely seen me shirtless before. Hell, she’d probably seen me naked, but her eyes had raked greedily over my for and that was my first inkling that maybe, just maybe, she returned my feelings.
I’d handed her the t-shirt and taken my cut back. Shrugging it on, I’d turned and walked out of the diner, filled with new-found confidence.
It had been misplaced.
But I was still trying
“Can we talk?” I asked her. She was finished wiping the bar down and was busy restocking the liquor for tomorrow.
“It’s late, Tank. Go to bed.”
She pursed her lips as she looked at me. “Do you have something to say other than asking me to give you a chance?” Her words had come out softly and even as she said them, it didn’t even seem like she believed them, like that wasn’t the question she really wanted to ask. I shook my head. “It’s late, Tank,” she repeated the words. “Go to bed. We can talk tomorrow.”
“Even if I don’t have anything to ask but for you to give me a shot?”
“Even if that’s all. We can talk tomorrow, but I’m exhausted and need to sleep.”
“Okay.” She smiled at me, but there was something off about it. “Sleep well, babe.”
With one last lingering look, I headed out of the bar and up the stairs towards bed.
Stripping myself naked, I flopped down in the middle of my bed, laying on my stomach.
Sleep came, easily.
It always did.
But the nightmares always came easily too.
Predictably, three hours later and barely after six in the morning I woke up, half awake and still in the midst of a nightmare and in a cold sweat.
No! I shook my head back and forth. My body writhed on the bed, the memories assaulting me.
Daddy! Stop! Please don’t!
Be a man! He shouted back at me.
I was looking at six year old me, reliving a memory I’d been trying to erase from my mind for over twenty-five years.
But no matter how hard I fought it, it wouldn’t go away.