I was drying the glass in my hand as I watched Tank go. His jeans sat low on his hips and hugged his ass perfectly.
Barbara’s words repeated loudly in my ear “give him a chance.”
They were the same words he’d spoken to me on the beach.
The same ones he was about to speak again. It was three in the morning. I’d been serving drinks for more than twelve hours and before that I’d been taking care of my mom all day. Right now all I wanted to do was crawl into my bed just to get up and do it all over again tomorrow. I’d have to be up by seven in order to get to my mom’s on time to make sure she took her morning medication.
I wasn’t lying when I told hank I was exhausted. I truly was. My average night’s sleep consisted of five hours if I was lucky.
Tank was a good man. He was the type of man that a woman should want to end up with. I knew that. I wasn’t like the old ladies who hadn’t known their men when they met. I knew Tank was one of the good ones. That wasn’t the problem.
But he’d need taking care of too. Men always needed taking care of. And I didn’t have anymore room for people who needed to be taken care of. I took care of my mom, my sister, the soul suckers, the club and lastly myself. I was currently last on my own list and I couldn’t add another person to it.
Was I in love with Tank?
Not yet. But I wasn’t naive enough to believe that if I gave him a shot it wouldn’t happen. And quickly. That’s the type of guy he was.
He was long gone now but I was still staring at the door he disappeared through. My mind was spinning. Part of me hoped he’d come rushing back in and sweep me into his arms and carry me to his bed. That part was pretty loud right now. But the other side, my logical side that was clearly right knew we didn’t have time for an old man. I was at max capacity as it was. How would I fit old lady duties into my life? There simply wasn’t time.
And besides that, I still had so many questions.
What made him want me as an old lady?
How long had he wanted me? Even while I’d been fooling around with Hawk and maybe pregnant?
Why hadn’t he said anything sooner?
That was why I couldn’t talk to him tonight. In my exhausted state I would forget all the arguments I had about why it was a bad idea.
Once I was finished cleaning I turned the lights out and walked down the hall to my bedroom. I lived in the club house rent free and Prez still paid me for bar tending. The cooking and cleaning I did because the guys didn’t have anyone else. They’d starve or drown in dust if I didn’t do it.
It felt like a fair exchange for a rent free place to live.
I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow
My alarm went off at seven. I groaned sleepily. Four hours was not enough sleep.
I showered and got ready in less than ten minutes. When I walked out of my room, Boomer and the newest prospect who I didn’t know the name of yet were up mopping the bar room floor. I was only responsible for the bar and what was behind it. The prospects did everything else.
“Morning,” I said before heading to the kitchen.
I put three of the breakfast burritos I’d made the day before in the microwave.
When they were done I added cheese and salsa and half an avocado to mine before taking a bite and walking back towards the bar. “There’s breakfast burritos warmed for you guys,” I told them as I walked towards the exit.
I walked passed the line of bikes. Noticeably, there were four missing. The first three in the line were predicable. Prez, Hawk, and Bender almost never stayed at the clubhouse anymore. They were all always here during the day, as were their old ladies, but they never stayed late into the night and retreated to their homes before it got too late.
The other bike that was missing?
He’d slept even less than I had.
Where had he gone?
It was a question I was desperate to know the answer to, but one I had no right to ask.
Quickly, I climbed into my car and headed to the other side of town.
Barbara would be there; she still lived with our mom. She would have checked on her when she got home last night, but she’d definitely still be sleeping. She wouldn’t be up until at least noon.
I didn’t have that luxury.
I pulled up to the rundown house and climbed out. It was in need of more than just a coat of paint. There was only one of the three steps that could be stepped on to climb to the porch. The screen door was hanging on by a literal thread. The front door only opened with the key if you jiggled it a certain way.
And that was just the outside.
The inside was even worse. The floorboards had nails coming out of them; there were tiles missing in the bathroom. There were so many safety hazards.
That was one of the reasons I’d been so happy I hadn’t been pregnant with Hawk’s kid. He would have seen this and he would have pitied the way my family was forced to live. He would have wanted to help.
And I was too proud.
Did that have anything to do with me keeping Tank at arm’s length?
The first thing I did was go into my mom’s bedroom and check on her. She was laying in the same position she was every morning, the same position Barbara had put her in when she put her to bed. Her body was so small and frail. She kept losing weight, no matter what we did. She didn’t have any muscle mass left and was just skin and bone. She used to be so vibrant and strong. I saw her almost every single day, but somehow it always took me a moment to recognize her, to find my mother in the woman I was looking at.
“Morning mama,” I called to her as I walked closer to the bed. She didn’t answer; she never did.
Sitting on the edge of the bed I shook her gently to wake her up. Her eyes fluttered open. Her expression was the same as every morning, confused. Her baby blue eyes, that neither I nor my sister inherited, were cloudy now. They used to be crystal clear, wide open and full of a mother’s love. Now they were clouded and just stared off blankly.
“Hi,” she said. Her voice came out hoarse and she was already out of breath just from speaking the one word.
“Do you want to shower today?” She shook her head no. I wasn’t surprised. A shower was exhausting for her. And she’d showered yesterday. “Okay. Then I’ll just get you cleaned up and into a fresh pair of clothes. Okay?”
She nodded already exhausted.
Standing from the bed, I walked to the bathroom to get a basin full of warm water and a washcloth. When I walked back to the bed, I did the same thing I did almost every morning. Pulling the covers back, I exposed her tiny frame. “Let’s sit up,” I said while pulling on her shoulders and helping her sit so I could take her night gown off. Once it was off I washed her face with the warm water. I dried it and out lotion on her before moving to wash the rest of her body.
Her eyes closed, she hated this. She found it so demeaning, needing to be washed and dried and changed and fed. But there wasn’t another choice for her.
She had multiple sclerosis. And it was one of those wonderful American tragedies. She didn’t have health insurance. She never had. Which meant that when her symptoms started showing up; she ignored them.
By the time it got so bad we had to call an ambulance for her, the symptoms were irreversible. Somehow the hospital had made sure we were able to afford her medication, but that was all we could afford. There was no money for a home health aide or physical therapy. When she came home from the hospital, she couldn’t walk at all anymore.
Once I had her chest washed I moved lower. Releasing her brief, I washed gently between her legs. After I was finished I dried her off and folded the adult diaper she was wearing and helped her roll to her side. As quickly as I could, I used a fresh wash cloth to wash first her back and finally her bottom. She hadn’t pooped which made things easier. I pulled the soiled diaper away before replacing it and rolling her back on her back. Once the diaper was in place, I grabbed the fresh night gown and helped her put it on.
I cleaned up the bath supplies and then grabbed her wheelchair. I situated it facing the bed so that I’d only have to turn her ninety degrees to get her into the wheelchair.
Once she was seated in it I continued on with her morning routine, brushing her hair and teeth. When we were finished, I brought her to the kitchen.
“What do you want for breakfast, mama?” I asked her. She looked at me but didn’t answer. “Bacon and eggs? French toast? Pancakes? Oatmeal?” She needed to eat more protein but at this point I was satisfied when she ate anything.
“French toast,” she said softly. She wasn’t whispering, but she literally couldn’t speak any louder.
I made quick work of cracking eggs and adding milk, vanilla and cinnamon to the mixture. While the griddle heated I soaked the bread. “Do you want some peanut butter on them? Maybe a banana?”
After I put the soaked bread in the warmed up pan, I sliced a banana and put it into a different pan, sprinkling it with cinnamon and loading it with butter for extra fat and calories.
“Do you want milk or juice?” If I asked her what she wanted the answer was always I don’t know. I’d learned to give choices. As few as possible until I got an answer.
“Chocolate or regular?”
When everything was done I loaded the French toast with maple syrup, grabbed the chocolate milk and sat next to her.
Feeding her took a long time. She ate slowly and insisted on taking bites small enough for a nine month old baby.
It was exhausting.
I cut each bite and made sure each one she took had banana, peanut butter and maple syrup on it.
She’d never finish it all. I’d be happy if she finished half of it.
Which she did.
I left her in the chair while I cleaned up. I turned the radio on to get favorite eighties station. It had taken her a long time to be able to listen to music again. It was one of her favorite things to do- sing and dance along with the radio. She couldn’t do either of those things anymore. Listening to music used to make her sad. It didn’t anymore.
She moved her hand in a rhythmic motion to the music. It wasn’t pretty and she couldn’t hold the beat, but it was the best she could do.
After I’d finished cleaning, I grabbed her medications. She couldn’t swallow them so I had to crush them with a spoon inside a plastic bag and feed them to her with applesauce.
She swallowed them easily.
“TV?” I asked her. I wanted her to be able to enjoy more of her life, but she refused to go outside, even to sit on the porch. She was embarrassed.
So I sat there with her for the entire morning. We watched law and order SVU and to my surprise, there was an episode I actually hadn’t seen before.
As I was watching, I fidgeted with the phone in my hand. I was itching to text Tank. I wanted to know where he was and what he was doing when his bike was gone this morning.
I was jealous and I didn’t like the way it made me feel.
Was he with someone else? When he’d walked away I’d assumed he was going to bed, but maybe he’d left after I’d gone to bed, sought out the warmth of someone else. The warmth that I was refusing to give him.
I wanted to give it to him.
At twelve o’clock on the dot, Barbara came out of her room looking worse for the ware.
“Morning,” she said heading straight to the coffee maker.
“She’s had all her meds. She just needs lunch and dinner.”
“Okay. Did you talk to Tank?”
“No,” I said. She transitioned quickly from our mother to Tank. Despite everything that was going on with my mother, Tank was the abnormality in the situation. Taking care of our mother was an everyday thing for us. But Tank, him wanting me to be his old lady, that was the anomaly.
“Are you going to?” I looked at her. She meant well.
“Are you going to tell me what happened between the two of you?” I asked. Club rumor was that they’d slept together a few years back and then Barbara had come out as lesbian. The guys had messed with Tank endlessly, saying he’d turned her lesbian. It obviously hadn’t happened that way. Nobody could change another person’s sexuality by sex.
“I told you, we didn’t sleep together.”
She told me as much but Tank had never denied it to the club and not even to me. I also hadn’t asked.
Maybe I should.
But if he wanted me to be his old lady wasn’t that something he should volunteer?
“Then what did happen?”
She stared at me blankly, the same look I’d given her just moments ago. I waited for her to answer me. But she didn’t.
“Talk to him. Give him a chance.”
I took a deep breath not knowing what to say to her.
I needed to talk to him anyway.
“I gotta go,” I said. I wasn’t going to answer her.
Walking back into the living room, I saw my mom sleeping in front of the TV. She was sleeping more and more these days. I kissed her forehead, not wanting to wake her. “Love you, mama,” I whispered. “I’ll be early,” I said to Barbara as I walked by her. It was Sunday which meant the bar wasn’t open to the public and I could leave the guys to fend for themselves. Barbara always worked the overnight shift as a nurses aide on Sunday which meant I stayed with mom. She’d been going to school to get her nursing license for years but she could never seem to get all her coursework done, not with how we had to take care of our mom.
Maybe I could get Carrie to help her?
I’d have to ask.
Phone in hand I pulled it out texted Tank.
Me: Wanna talk?
His response was immediate.
Tank: yeah. where r u?
Me: on my way to the clubhouse.
Tank: meet u there
Climbing into the car I headed to the club house. By the time I got there, Tank was straddling his bike, helmet already on. I parked and went right to him, taking his offered helmet. I should have figured out sooner that he was into me. These guys didn’t let anyone but their old ladies on the back of their bikes. I’d only ever ridden with Tank, not even with Hawk. But that made sense, we were never in love. It was just sex.
If, and that was a big if, if I gave Tank a chance, would be not be hung up on the fact that I’d been with Hawk?
As soon as I had my helmet on and my arms tight around his waist, he was speeding out of the parking lot. I held on as he took the familie path out of town.
But quickly the road became unfamiliar and I didn’t know where we were going. We weren’t heading up the mountains and we weren’t going further into the valley. We were heading west away from Rodeo City.
When we hit the county road and suburb turned to country, he slowed the bike down. After about five more miles of the wind blowing in our faces, he pulled into a dirt driveway and up to an old farmhouse.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“You bought a house?” I asked.
“Had it for years,” he shrugged. “Since my first year with the club.”
“I never knew.” He’d been with the club for years, close to four now.
“Nobody does. I come here when I can’t sleep. I fix it up.”
“Is that where you were this morning?” I asked. “I didn’t see your bike when I left,” I explained. I didn’t want him to think I was creepily stalking him.
“Yeah.” Tank took my hand, his much bigger one completely enveloping mine and guided me towards the front door. “Unlike everyone else, I listen to prez when he talks. Real estate is a good investment.” I laughed at him. As far as I knew, only he and the top three had houses. And the others and all waited until they had old ladies. But Tank hadn’t, proving himself the smarter one. “The inside is almost done, but the outside needs a coat of paint. I just can’t decide on the color.”
“It’s a farmhouse. It has to be white,” I said simply. He only nodded. Tank was less talkative than the other guys in the club, and they weren’t a chatty bunch to begin with.
I was relieved when he didn’t say anything. I was worried he would say something similar to what Bender did to Carrie or Hawk to Charlie or Prez to Rachel. Something about it already being their house too.
I was far from ready for that.
“Wow,” I exclaimed when we walked through the front door. “It’s beautiful in here. You did all this yourself?”
“Yeah. Construction degree, remember?” I nodded at him. It was a beautiful combination of old school farmhouse style with modern touches. The kitchen was my favorite. It had a big white sink, classic farmhouse style. But it had stainless steel appliances and a seven burner stove with a double oven.
“You did a really great job.”
He didn’t take the compliment well and just shrugged his shoulders.
“You wanted to talk?”
“Well, actually, you did,” I said. “Last night.”
“Right,” he said shyly. He lifted his arm and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. I watched his muscles flex and tense. Tank was big, the biggest of the guys. It was easy to see why they called him Tank. He had rust colored hair. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a redhead, but technically he probably was. It was probably much redder than it looked, but it was hard to tell since he always had it buzzed. His beard was full and a little darker, than his head and only had mixed copper coloring to the groomed brown strands. He had deep brown eyes that I’d looked into countless times. I liked looking into them.
“You know,” he began. “I’ve listened to Prez, Hawk, and Bender talk about how they won over their old ladies countless times. I’ve head the speeches and the grand gestures and the proposals and all the stupid shit they did. Except Bender, he’s smarter than the rest.”
“And probably the only one you should be taking advice from,” I said with my eyebrows raised.
He nodded and laughed lightly. “I know.” He cleared his throat before continuing. “But I don’t want to have to do that. I don’t want to have to convince you that you should be with me. I want to be with you. You’re amazing, and I can’t believe nobody has tried to make you an old lady yet. You take care of everyone else and put yourself last. I know you think I’d just be someone else for you to take care of. But you’re wrong; I want to take care of you.”
As he spoke he’d moved closer, invading my space. I was forced to look up at him. He was so much bigger than I was.
“Will you let me take care of you, babe?