“Lena, we’ve been over this a hundred times already—”
“Actually, we’ve been over it six, and if you would listen I could propose to you why the investment is necessary and worth the cost—”
“It’s not in the budget, Lena.”
“It never is, is it?”
Principal Walters stares at me from across his desk. He’s an older man, graying, with frost-blue eyes that peer at me over the rim of his gold-framed glasses. This is an argument that Principal Walters and I have been having since I was hired at this high school. I think that we should have better textbooks—in fact, I’ve spent extensive time researching and compiling a list for the man of all the books that we need in order to get up to a decent education standard. Principal Walters, however, doesn’t feel that the investment is worth it. I get the same comments every time I bring it up.
It’s too costly.
The students have learned just fine with the books that we have.
We have other things to concern ourselves with.
We’ll talk about it next year.
We never truly talk about it next year. Principal Walters puts it off and puts me off every single year, and there’s never anything that gets done about it, because all Principal Walters has for me is excuse after excuse, as though that’s supposed to make teaching any easier, or give me the resources that I need in order to get things done. Sometimes I think that he enjoys holding the fact that I have to go through him in order to get the things I want done. He’s the one with all the saying power in the school, after all, and all I am is a teacher.
That fury is still there as a small smile graces his thin, wrinkled lips.
“Lena,” he says, his tone patronizing. “We’ve been over this. This isn’t up for debate.”
There’s dismissal in the statement. I sit there for a few more moments, and I contemplate sitting there and being stubborn.
It’s late, though. And I’ve already wasted enough time in Principal Walters’ office. I still need to head home. There are papers that need grading, and no one else is going to do them but me.
“Fine.” I’m resolute as I stand. “I’ll remember what you said about talking about it another time,” I tell him.
“I’m sure you will.”
Principal Walters’ mouth twitches, but he says nothing more. I leave him in his office, snapping the door promptly shut behind me. I hope it rattles the stupid diplomas he has hanging on his walls!
It’s been a hell of a week. Between Principal Walters, the students being distracted by the upcoming dance (meaning they have no room in their heads right now to deal with any sort of English lesson coming from me), and being the only person remotely concerned about my students’ futures, I’m burned out.
Insufferable man … how do you even become a principal if you don’t care about the students?!
I head back to my classroom. I can at least get another hour of work in before I really need to be off campus. I sit in there and pore over the cost of a bulk order of all the English I’d need—not only for myself and my students, but the whole department as well. The results are as abysmal as they always are; my savings account has already taken a hit in buying extra materials … It’d take a miracle to come up with this money in time for it to actually matter.
Groaning, I give up for the evening. It’s already getting dark outside, and I need to get home. That is a totally different ball game in and of itself.
I may or may not … have a car. Another expense my savings account will take a huge hit for. And quite frankly, I’m not looking forward to the choice between books for my students and a car for myself.
Don’t let anyone tell you being a teacher is a lucrative business.
About a half an hour later, I’m well on my way home. It’s considerably darker out now, and probably not very safe. I’m a bit stubborn in that respect; I could easily take public transportation, but I like the fresh air of the evenings after a long day of work. It helps me think and clear my head, which is especially important when it comes to the most recent problems I’ve been facing.
I think that I’m making a little headway on that, moving numbers around in my head so that I can possibly, maybe, hopefully, figure out what I need to do—
When I hear a low, rumbling engine behind me.
No, a bike.
It’s dark out, and I’m alone. This road is all but deserted, a side road that leads down to where my house and a few other family homes are. It’s one of the few places in Milwaukee that’s out a ways. I like it for the privacy; right now, it’s really not serving me well.
My pulse races as I realize that the sound of the engine is getting closer, but it’s going slow.
It’s things like this that scare the shit out of my mother when I talk about my walking home instead of getting a ride. Scenarios like this that I roll my eyes over, and her overprotective speeches that follow.
“A young woman shouldn’t be out late at night like that on her own. What about all the bad, crazy people out there?”
I’m more independent than my mother would like, and it’s why I have a can of mace in my pocket, just for situations like this. I slip my hand in my pocket as I continue to walk along, hoping that this person is just lost and will figure out where they’re going sometime soon so they can stop scaring the shit out of me.
I glance over my shoulder.
Panic settles in a little more. What does this person want? Why can’t they just drive past me like a normal person? I can see the headlines now.
Local Teacher Run Down Slowly by Creepy Biker Dude
My mind goes wild with how I’m going to experience death by bike, when suddenly the engine cuts behind me. Oh … Oh no.
I’m in terrible flats. No support. I can’t possibly think to run, let alone outrun someone bigger than me.
I clutch the can of mace tighter in my pocket and pick up the pace. Boots thud behind me, closer, closer—
I turn around when I feel a hand come around my arm. I spray before I can really take aim, and I hit!
… sort of.
Mace hits and sprays off a shiny visor instead of catching the biker in the face. Before I can act quickly enough to flip his visor and try again, his other hand grabs for my mace, taking it away from me. He slides it into his back pocket, out of my grasp.
In the middle of the ire that I feel over this, there’s something I recognize about this person. Maybe the build … or the leather vest he has—the patches seem familiar. I don’t get a lot of time to contemplate this when he laughs at me.
“You’re feisty, aren’t you?” His voice is muffled beneath his helmet’s visor, but it doesn’t change the fact that I can hear how he’s making fun of me.
“Let me go.”
“You gonna spray me again?”
“… no …”
The man laughs again. He keeps my wrist in his grip, though he lowers it as his other hand comes up to flip the visor of his helmet. I finally see his face—
He’s incredibly handsome.
Deep sapphire eyes peer down at me from below a sweep of honey blond hair. He’s got this mature look about him, with a bit of a youthful glow that makes him a damn catch. I blush—I’m staring way too hard, but I didn’t expect him to look like that.
“Listen, doll.” He pulls me from my foggy thoughts, reminding me that he’s not some dashing knight but a creep on a bike who just spent the better part of the last five minutes freaking me out. “I’m not trying to hurt you. Impressive reaction time, though. If I hadn’t had my visor, I’d have a mouthful of pepper shit. So, kudos. Now, I’m gonna let you go, and you’re gonna behave. All I want to do is talk.”
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to believe him or not. Who follows and sneaks up on a person in the middle of the night just for a talk?
I pull my arm from his hold. My wrist is warm where his leather-gloved hand held it. I rub there as I stare up at him. He’s got at least a foot, maybe even more, on my own height.
“You know, if you wanted to talk you could have been less creepy about it. I don’t mind talking to people when they approach me normally.”
The man laughs again.
“I didn’t want to ride up on you like a hellion. Pardon me for trying to be polite.” He holds his hand out. “Booster Wylde. President of the Wylde Ones.”
I have no idea what this man is talking about, nor who he is, introducing himself like that. I can only assume that he means he’s a part of a motorcycle club … or gang … or something like that.
Oh boy. This sounds like trouble. Exciting—but trouble.
“Okay …” I look back up at Booster, not taking his hand. “So, what did you want to talk about … Booster?”
He loses the smirk when he realizes I’m still hesitant, and not totally impressed with his introduction. Honestly though, what does he expect from me? Gushing?
“I want a chat with you, but not here.” He nods back to his bike, a few feet away from where we’re standing. “I’ll ride you into town and we can have a little discussion over drinks.”
My brow raises. He isn’t asking. Then again, he’s also not hoisting me up on his back like some kind of barbarian either, so there’s a small win there. I suppose.
I glance away from Booster, down the road. I think about this as logically as possible.
He spooked me, but didn’t hurt me. He wants to ride into town for drinks and to talk about something. Granted, it could all be a lie. Maybe he thinks that I’m some dumb naive girl and he’s just going to snatch me up.
But I don’t see any other options presenting themselves to me.
“Well? I don’t have all night, and it’s chilly out here. Drinks’ll be on me.”
Pretty presumptuous for a guy that snuck up on me in the middle of the night. But … drinks are on him. I could really go for one of those …
I draw my jacket a little tighter around me.
“O-okay,” I concede. “But I get my mace back. Or no deal.”
Booster tilts his head, thinking about it. Something of a pleased grin spreads across his face, and he reaches into his back pocket. I manage to catch the can of mace when he unexpectedly tosses it to me.
“You got it. Now come on. It’s already late, and we have a lot to talk about.”
I’ve never been on the back of a motorcycle before. They’ve always been one of those exciting but dangerous, taboo things I’ve never let myself get involved in.
Now, however, I’m sitting on the back of Booster’s bike, wrapped tightly around him. The wind whips through my hair and chills me—prompting me to wrap tighter around Booster’s body. I hate to admit it, but … well, he’s solid, and it’s a little distracting. I wonder if this is why so many good girls go bad—this is an adrenaline rush that I’ve never experienced before, and it almost makes it easy to forget that I was plucked up from the road on my way home by a stranger. A stranger whose interest or need of me I still don’t understand.
The reminder comes rushing back in when we hit town and Booster brings me to a bar that I’ve never been to. It clearly caters to the biker sort of clientele—there are so many outside, and thumping, loud rock music blares from inside. I’m a little breathless as I slide off Booster’s bike; I’m very much out of place here, where the men are in jeans and leather and the women are clad in skimpy clothing. My pencil skirt and deep blue blouse/black jacket combination from school looks woefully out of place, I’m sure, and all the adrenaline rushes out of me.
Instinctually, I press nearer to Booster once he’s off the bike. I draw my jacket around me more.
“Don’t worry,” he tells me. “No one’s gonna fuck with you. Come on.”
I don’t know Booster, but there’s something in his tone that makes me believe that that’s true. I nod.
“All right. Lead the way.”
I follow Booster in. The music is louder when we get inside, pounding off the walls and mixing with laughter and shouts. The air is fogged with cigarette smoke; the floor, sticky with spilled beer, holds the occasional crunch of broken glass beneath my feet as Booster leads me back to a table set a little bit away from all the others. I wonder if it’s his table; he’s the president, after all. Maybe he’s special here.
I look around, not feeling completely comfortable here. Eyes flicker over to us as we sit, and I don’t think I like the attention—no matter how much Booster claims I’m not going to be messed with.
I hope his talk is quick.
I’m way out of my element.