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Stalking through the thick jungle, hyperaware of my surroundings, with my twin Sith lightsabers in hand but not yet ignited–I did not wish those fiery red blades to give away my position–I moved in deadly silence towards the men I must kill. My companions were near me, but I ignored them. As an apprentice to the Dark Lord, I knew that the main focus of this battle would soon be upon myself. Exactly as I would wish it to be.

“So what’s your plans for spring break?” asked Martin.

That distraction, as we all were moving in to try taking on the Madalorian bounty hunters outside of Dromund Kaas, was not welcome. But not unexpected either. When playing Star Wars: The Old Republic (hell any game really) with my oldest friend Martin Chandler him kibitzing crap that had nothing to do with the game was to be allowed for. Like Greg’s eating chips with his mic on through half the game.

Or me drinking Mountain Dew with a noticeable slurp, or so I’ve been told….

“Heading down to the coast. Going to go get a jump on my summer tan, try to stop looking like I’ve been brushed with white out.” With my two red lightsabers at the ready, I moved forwards when I saw the main boss reappear.

“Well, don’t forget to drop in on Mom. You know she sees you as the son, who went to college, which she never had.” I could hear that he was both joking and not at the same time.

With a roll of my eyes at his crap, I was about to promise I would when all hell broke loose. Some newbie jack ass running from a fight trained a whole line of things into the side of us. The died. Most of them ran off but not all. With that addition, and the Boss we were trying to kill and the re-popping Madalorians it suddenly became an epic slug fest. For a frantic few minutes I was a blur of twin red blades, a living lightshow of Sith saber death. Then, when the last bad guy had dropped and I was picked up my loot, I had a chance to answer.

“When you talk to your mom, let Wendy know I’ll drop by.”

“Sure. She’ll be happy to see you,” he said then went off on a long tangent about the latest high rise building he was working on. So he kibitzed, while Greg ate chips and I slurped Mountain Dew and we fought our way through the endless digital jungles of Dromund Kaas to the capital of the Sith Empire.

Our average wild Saturday night.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

The lack of vibration after hours of sitting on the rumbling seat was an odd feeling. Swinging a leg over the back of my white Hayabusa, I stretched my back and unstrapped my helmet. Resting it between the tank and the handlebars, I stuffed my gloves in it, popped my stiff neck, and unzipped my jacket. I did a couple of quick squats to loosen up cramped muscles and pulled the heavy leather coat off before I started to sweat. Hanging it over my shoulder, I walked past carefully planted rows of yellow flowering Irises to the front porch covered in container gardens.

I was raised my hand to knock when I noticed a large black cat looking up at me from the bottom pane of the eight-panel glass door. Pressing the doorbell instead, I smiled to see the old shadow run off like a dog to fetch his human. When Martin’s mom, Wendy, opened the door I held out my arms knowing a hug was coming. I was not disappointed. She all but crashed into my chest.

“Oh, John! It is so good to see you.” Her arms around me were tight enough I could hardly breathe. And what air I did manage to pull into my lungs was so laced with her perfume I felt scent drunk.

“It’s good to see you too, but I’m going to need those rib bones intact,” I said after a moment, and then wished I hadn’t when she turned me loose. She had felt very nice in my arms, something I noticed only after she was gone. She held the door open for me and took my jacket from me, without asking, as I passed her.

“John, you’re such a naughty boy, showing up out the blue like this. Could you not have called me to let me know that you were going to be coming by?” She gave her head a shake, her short hair hardly moving “The house is a complete wreck and I’m a mess. I’ve spent half the morning working in the backyard. You’re lucky, I just did have time to take me a shower, before I started to make me some lunch, or you would have to put up with me stinking. As is my hair isn’t fixed, and I have no makeup on. Naughty and inconsiderate.” She shook her head again at my smile. “What are you grinning at?”

“You look beautiful and the house looks ready for a photo shoot in Home and Garden magazine. Besides, I thought Martin was going to tell you I was coming by? He said he was going to.”

“Oh, him. He has all the memory of a rusted spaghetti colander.” She was suddenly hugging me again. “It has been forever and a half-dozen years since I saw you.” Wendy began to guide me towards the open door into her kitchen. “You simply have got to come tell me what you have been up to. I was about to fix my lunch, you still love grilled cheese I’m sure.”

Over the next two hours casino oyna I was pampered in a way that I had not been since I left for college. Hell, even before that, since the last time I was at her house. The one across the street, where I had grown up. Looking around this kitchen, I could spot things from her old house’s kitchen. She saw me looking.

“Missing the old place?” she asked then nodded. “At first, I did some as well. But then winter gets here and I’m walking around in shorts in December and I just have to say, nah, not so much.”

“I can understand that. I wondered if I was going to have to carry a shovel around with me this year just to go from class to class.” I shook my head and sat back sipping the lemonade she had given me. “It felt as if it was never going to stop snowing.”

“Nope. No saying the S-word around me.” Wendy gave a shiver. “I’m done with that white stuff for good. No more frozen hair, slick icy roads, and temperatures in the single digits. Yuck to all of that mess. Nope, I’m a transplanted Floridian now and I’m not going back. Snow Bird, thy name is Wendy”

Laughing, I looked out the sliding glass door at the beautiful garden she had planted, with already blooms filling it. I gestured with my head and she nodded. Taking my glass we walked out back.

“It looks like you’ve been busy,” I said.

“Oh, I have been. I love it here, even on the coldest days I can just put on a windbreaker and I can still get things done.” She led me to a bench half-hidden in a massive rose covered arbor. “Really though, a lot of what I’ve been doing is simply pruning and cutting back. The last owner didn’t care about the garden and let it overgrow. So I did my hands full, but now, well now it’s just a matter of making the small changes I want and then tweaking things, the way I like them, as they grow in.”

I hid my smile from Wendy. She may have moved but she was still the same. The world moved to her drummer, or it didn’t move. Be it flower gardens, trained “butler” cats, or even stray young teen boys who’s own parents didn’t give a tinker’s damn where he was or what he was doing so long as he wasn’t under their feet. Martin was right in a way, she was more like a mom to me at times that to him. My friend was too much like his father. Jason Chandler and his son both were “Not willing to be managed by a woman.” as they both have said in my presence more than once. But then they both had spent years with her doing everything for them, the exact opposite of where I had been when I first met Wendy,

I wondered, as I listened at her explaining to me she was needing to get her gutters replaced, how Mr. Chandler liked life without her “managing” him. It had been better than two years since their divorce. I bet by now some “managing” might be a comfort to him. But who knows, or cares, I had never much cared for Martin’s dad. Not like I had for Wendy. Come to think of it, at times, I didn’t care for Martin all that much either. Yeah, he was a friend. Yeah, he was one of those guys you could call at two in the morning to help hide a body–if for some reason the need should ever arise–but he still treated his mother as if she was a kitchen appliance. A fixture around the house to be ignored till it broke then simple replaced.

Like his dad had replaced Wendy, by now I’m sure.

“You alright, John? You look tired.” She reached up and brushed my hair back from my eyes, and smiled. “And you need a haircut.”

I chuckled at Wendy’s mothering, appreciating it probably far more than her son ever had. “It’s just been a long week. We had ever kind of test under the sun scheduled just before the break. Then I had to pack, stop by the house to see Mom. Then the ride down today.”

“How is your mom?” The disapproving tone was hidden, but not by much. Wendy and my mom had not been on great terms since Wendy got chastised by her for me being invited on too many Chandler “family” vacations. Mom had felt a family vacation should only be family. Wendy told her I was under her roof enough to qualify as adopted. It had not been a good response.

“Busy with her crafting stuff.” I shrugged. “She’s happy, and she says dad’s not as stressed as he was when I was living at home, so her life is easier.”

“It’s sad that you and your father don’t get along.” She reached across to where my hand was lying on the table and placed hers on top of mine. “I almost wish you had the kind of relationship that Martin and his dad have.”

“I’ll pass on that, thank you.” I rolled my eyes which made her smile then shrugged “Dad had his plans for my life. I found my own and they do not mesh with his ideas of what’s a good life. Well, I’ve done well so far. I’ve already picked up enough in six months, working nights, to be worth five years training in a class room. Yeah, it’s tough but hey, what isn’t, right? Computers are not what they were ten years back; you can’t learn to work with them now the way you did back then. Dad doesn’t get that. The product is changing canlı casino too fast. By the time you’ve learned something in class it’s already yesterday’s dust-collecting trash. To be in the frontlines of what’s going on you have to be assembling it as the newest hardware comes out. What?”

With her smile, that had prompted my question, making her eyes sparkle she gave my hand a squeeze. “You’re passionate about it. If I knew nothing else, I would know that you had made the right decision just by that. Take your own path in life, John. It maybe the road less traveled, and yes I’m afraid that your father is right that it will be harder the way you’re going, but then you will see and do things that those taking the safe route will never see. I never could get Martin to understand that. But then he stopped listening to me years ago.”

Remembering when my friend had begun to talk about Wendy the way he does now–the way his father always had–that she was manipulative, overbearing and a controlling “bitch” I nodded. “Yeah …”

“So. What’s brought you all the way down here?” she asked to change the subject. “I’m sure it’s not lunch with me?”

“Spring break, the beach,” I grinned. “Girl watching, cruising the coast on my bike and I want to spend some time lying in the sun.”

“And drinking no doubt?” she said with a slight disapproval. “I know college boys on Spring break … what? Your generating didn’t invent partying, you know? I was in Fort Lauderdale every year when I was your age. Now, where are you staying? You know I have a room here you can use, but I’m figuring your wanting some hotel room, somewhere down near the beach, so you can drag bikini girls there for some long nights, am I right? A bit of hot nookie?”

Her grin was infectious. One of the things I had always liked about Wendy was that she was so different from my mom when it came to talking about sex. With Mom it was a nonexistent subject, to be discussed only if my girlfriends might be in danger of making her a grandmother too soon. Wendy would give me advice on how to talk a girl into bed, and then give me a box of condoms and say go have fun.

“That’s the plan. I might take you up on that room by the end of the week though.”

“Once you’re done getting your … freak … on?” she said with a grin. She reached over and ruffled my hair with her fingers. “Well, go get to it. Don’t let me keep you here till all the good ones are taken.”

“But I was enjoying your company,” I said with a flirty grin.

“Get, you tease. I’ll see you later in the week when you’ve had your fun. Hell, I might even put you to work.” Standing up she held out her hand and pulled me up. I found her in my arms again, her body all warm and soft against me. When I held her then, I did not care if she broke a rib or two. I really didn’t.

“I’ve missed you, Wendy,” I said not letting go.

“I’ve missed you too. It’s so good to have you here.” She looked up at me. “But I’ll be here when you’ve had your good time. Now go live it up. You will never be this young again.”

She walked with me out to my bike. Made the customary head shake and gave me the standard “You’re going to break your fool neck on that thing” speech I’ve been hearing from her since I started to ride at fourteen. Then she gave me a peck of a kiss on the cheek before I put my helmet on and cranked the Hayabusa.

Wendy waved as I drove off, heading toward the beaches.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

My visor up, to give me some air to help stay awake, I leaned the bike into a curve on Highway 10 then straighten out. I had to fight the inner urge to let the white Hayabusa have its head. The bike was only really happy at one-hundred and twenty, or above. But I was far too tried for that kind of fun at the moment. Five days of drinking, sun, riding, (and enough sexual fun to leave me cocksure) had taken its toll, even on a man my age. I wanted a cool shower to ease the sunburn. A soft bed with even softer sheets and some simple food. Homemade food. No more fast food, greasy nightmares.

Most certainly no more oysters.

Down the off-ramp, I let the red-signal-blinker lie for me and tell the world that I was sober. Not that I was even close to that. I still had a buzz from the drinks at Flora-Bama I recently left. And it was far too late at night (early morning) for me to be on the road–on this police attention-attracting bike–with a buzz. But then I had already checked out of my hotel yesterday. My saddle bag was as full of sand as clean clothes.

The bright lights of a Tom Thumb drew my eyes. Oh, yes. Coffee and a bathroom, sing to me your song of the morning. Pulling in, I saw two Harleys, cocked to their sides, by the door. As I was shutting off my bike a blonde girl in dark faded leathers came out, followed by another who could be her twin.

Nope. Was her twin.

They both eyed me as I swung my leg off the bike and took off my helmet. I gave them a nod and a smile. Honestly, that was all kaçak casino I could manage at the moment. This week of bikini chasing, (and several times catching,) had left me jaded. True not so much that a pair of Harley riding twins, in leather, was not an appreciated sight. I’m tired not dead after all.

When I came walking back out, with a barrel of coffee in one hand and a Krispy Kreme in the other, they were still there.

“My sister thinks she met you at Bike week, a month back,” said one of them when I got closer. “I think she’s wrong. So Busa-Boy, who’s right? Her or me?”

I took a sip and cleared my mouth of donut. “Well, I was in Illinois last month so I would have to say you’re right. But, I was at Bike Week last year, so there might be some crossing-over-memories from then.” I looked over at her sister. “Not that I think I would forget meeting either of you.”

The sister walked over to me and smiled up at me, eyeing my face closer. “No you wouldn’t. See you next year there then, maybe. Busa-Boy?”

“Sure,” I said, not at all sure these two ladies were not fuckin’ with me in some way. Walking over to my white bike, I swung a leg across and gulped down the last of my coffee while they cranked their Harleys and pulled off. With no helmets on, I noted. As I went to put the key in I saw a braded black and white bracelet handing on the ignition. There was a charm hanging off it, a small brass cross with the word Love Forever imprinted on it.

Looking after them, I saw nothing but red taillights and heard only the rumble of their bikes. And that for only a moment.

“Weird,” I mumbled.

Tossing my coffee cup into the nearby trashcan, I cranked the Hayabusa and sat on its rumbling seat as I fastened their strangely given gift around my wrist. As I pulled on my helmet it tapped the side with a small metal on fiberglass sound, but it caught my attention. I sat looking at it for a moment longer before I drove out the gas station.

I was still pondering that little cross, and the odd way I had gotten it, when I pulled up into Wendy’s driveway a half-hour later. I was still taking off my riding jacket when she opened the door and gave me a smile.

“Breakfast is ready. I’ve been expecting you.” She held open the door for me.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

“Hey, John!”

Holding the phone away from my ear I said a silent “fuck” then gingerly brought it back near my ear.

“Yeah, hey Martin. Deafen me why don’t ya?” Sitting up, I scratched at my chest and looked at the pale white light coming in through my apartment window. Street-lamp light, from the parking lot, not sunlight. Then I had to fight back a yawn. “What’s up?”

“Dude, have you been watching the news?”

I glanced at the digital clock by my bed. Oh, this fucker is so dead. “Martin, it is three-thirty in the fucking morning!”

“Oh … Damn, I forgot about the time difference. Look, I’m sorry, but I’ve got a situation here. I can’t get Mom on the phone.”

My brain did the quick math; since Wendy and I live in the same time zone it was easy even for my half-awake brain cells. “No shit, it’s like three-thirty there too. She’s probably asleep, you know, like I was?”

“I said I was sorry. Look, I’m in Salt Lake City. I talked to mom last night. She’s being unreasonable and now I can’t get her to pick back up when I call.”

“Okay, okay. Hold up. Start at the beginning. What the fuck are you talking about and why are, we, talking about it at three in the morning?”

“Hurricane Ivan! Mom is not going to evacuate.” His voice had a frantic edge. “I tried to tell her to get her butt moving out of there, but she then gave me some story about her car needing something fixed on it and that she would ride out the storm there in her house. Dude, that fucking hurricane is a damn Category Five now! It’s all over the news, that thing just plowed Jamaica into the ground and it’s now going straight for the coast. She has got to get out of there. And I can’t get her on the phone!”

With the phone to my ear, I walked down the hall to my small living room and flipped on the TV. CNN was light up with slideshow-scrolling disaster bulletin boards. I flipped it to The Weather Channel and got an interview, on a calm-looking beach in Destin, with Jim Cantore. He was reporting on the coming storm and the fact it would make landfall in two days.

“Martin, let me let you go. I’ll try giving Wendy a call, see if she will pick up the phone from me.”

“She’s out her fuckin’ mind is what she is. Dude, it’s the same shit as always with her and her ….”

I hung up on Martin and his rant and dug my wallet out my pants by the bathroom door. Reading Wendy’s number off the note, I had made and stuck in their back in April, I dialed the number.

~Ring … Ring … Ring … Ring … Hey, this is Wendy McClair. Sorry I didn’t get to the phone in time, but if you … ~ I muted the Weather Channel as I listened to Wendy’s answering machine play out her apologetic request to leave a number. Then there was the Beep.

“Hey Wendy, this is John. Martin just called me having a conniption fit. Give me a call back, I know it’s early as hell, but I’ll be awake.”

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