nerves. We passed several road signs that promoted ‘going green’ and ‘recycling.’ Another sign
boasted Winthrop’s claim to fame: Home of the World Famous Green Links Heath Food line.
An ancient gray truck with Nevada plates lumbered up the road. We passed it on the left side
like it was standing still. The old dude driving the clunker stared at me through the open
window, a cigarette clenched in his yellowed teeth. Just as much smoke billowed from the cab
as sputtered from the exhaust. I wondered how the truck made it that far from town…or the old
dude for that matter. Neither he nor his truck modeled ‘going green’ with all the pollution they
Any other time, I’d have ignored his stare, but it made me uneasy, more so after the gut-
wrenching incident moments before. I reassured myself it didn’t mean anything—no different
than all the other stares I’d received though my seventeen years.
I pulled off the highway into a run-down gas station on the edge of town, a half mile past the
faded wooden ‘Welcome to Winthrop’ sign that likely would topple over in the next stiff breeze.
It didn’t surprise me when Arloe hopped off my bike and flew around the side of the mini-mart
toward the ladies’ room. She didn’t even wait to take off her helmet. Her urgency made me
laugh because I’d always kidded she had the bladder of an ant. What amazed me was that she
hadn’t asked to stop at all in three hours on the road. For her sake, I hoped the bathroom didn’t
require a key.
The midday sun blazed hot, yet the intense heat didn’t seem to affect the flies swarming
around the overflowing garbage can placed between the two retro pumps. As I stood up, my butt
peeled in layers from the leather seat. My jeans and boxers fused to my legs from sweat. I’d
never traveled that long a distance on my bike before without stopping, and my aching legs paid
Even after I took off my sweltering black helmet and hung it on the handlebar of my once
black, now gray-looking bike, the slight breeze didn’t give me any relief. In fact, it was worse.
The breeze simulated a blow drier set on hot, pointed at my face.
A few stray flies abandoned the trash and went on the attack, buzzing around my sweaty head
and biting my arms. I hoped the attraction didn’t indicate I smelled worse than the trash. One
black fly landed on my right bicep inside of my new dagger tattoo. My hand nicked the
annoying pest, but it had already bitten me and buzzed away. The skin around the tattoo
immediately tingled and itched. Damn. I ran my hand across my hair. It was sticky and wet
because I sweated faster than the air could dry it.
As I staggered toward the door to pay for a fill-up, I tried to stretch the stiffness out of my
legs while I pulled areas of my soaked jeans away from my skin. Halfway across the parking lot,
the heat from the asphalt felt like it had eaten through the soles of my boots. It wouldn’t have
surprised me if they melted like crayons into a waxy puddle.
The desert excursion proved interesting at best, so far. My dark blue jeans had lightened by
two shades of dust, my white T-shirt had darkened by two shades of dust, and sandy grit
crunched between my teeth even though the helmet’s face shield had been down the whole time.
When I pulled open the glass door of the mini-mart, a rusted cowbell clanked across it. The
metal made an ear-splitting slap, and I expected the murky glass to shatter or at least crack, but it
didn’t. I slinked through the door thinking I’d attracted unwanted attention, but the place was
almost empty. The top of the attendant’s head showed behind the counter, but my presence went
unacknowledged. What did I expect in a town of fifty residents that boasted a twenty-foot
rattlesnake fashioned from beer bottles as the main attraction? I ducked into the first aisle. The
half-stocked shelves carried very few of the usual mini-mart snacks but a lot of the Green Links
Health Food products. A half-filled refrigerated section stretched across the back wall.
I walked up the second aisle before approaching the faded, red counter, covered almost
entirely by paper ads and signs. The middle-aged attendant relaxed on a wooden barstool with
her feet resting on a two-foot stack of magazines piled on the floor. She slumped over to browse
through a magazine spread out on her lap. The tabletop, portable fan behind the counter blew
her frizzy hair all around. It made an annoying click each time its blades completed a rotation.
The attendant ran her knobby pointer finger along the page while she read. She must have
reached the end of the article because she looked up and pushed her wire-framed, granny glasses
down on the bridge of her pointy nose. “Kin I helps ya?”
This time, I stared. Her dental work looked like she’d tried to stop a bowling ball with her
face. She lacked every other tooth, and the remaining few resembled gray and yellowish nubs.
She only needed a wart on her chin and a long black dress. The broom already leaned up against
the wall behind her.
I placed a twenty on the counter. “Yeah, I need a fill-up.”
The attendant slid off the barstool and set the magazine down. The legs on both her and the
stool creaked and wiggled. She tugged at the bottom of her black, oversized tee and pulled up
her baggy jeans. They hung pathetically off her emaciated frame and were frayed at the bottom
where they dragged the floor. She picked up the money, sniffled loudly, and wiped her nose on
the back of her vein-popping hand. “Which pump?”
I gazed out the huge, front window. The station only had two pumps, and my bike was the
only vehicle around for at least a mile. I bit my lip and choked back the smartass comment that
popped into my mind. “Pump two, please.”
Witch Hazel pushed a gold button on the ancient cash register and the drawer barely slid
open. With the swiftness and grace of a baboon wearing a baseball glove, she placed my twenty
in the drawer. I tried to figure out how that register could possibly be connected to the pump
when she enlightened me. “Go on and pump. Lemme know how much it comes to, and I’ll give
ya your change back.” She slammed the drawer closed. She looked me up and down. “You
ain’t from around here, are you?”
I wiped my forehead on the sleeve of my T-shirt, exchanging a layer of sweat for sand. “No,
how’d you guess?”
She pointed from the cubic stud in my nose, to the gold ring through my eyebrow, and at the
three tattoos on my right arm.
She smacked her cracking lips and turned away, only to pick up the magazine and plop back
on the creaky barstool.
I’d already forgotten about the cowbell, and it smashed into the glass again when the door
closed behind me. As I headed over to my bike, Arloe came from around the corner, swinging
her helmet back and forth by the chin strap. She smiled like she’d won the lottery.
I pushed the nozzle into the gas tank and flipped the lever, unable to hold back my grin. “Feel
Arloe hung the bright purple helmet I’d given her on the bike’s handle and snuggled up
against me. She smelled sweet from the freshly-applied cherry lip gloss. When she smiled, her
eyes sparkled as much as her pink, shiny lips. “Lots.” Arloe ran her hands through my damp
hair to spike it up and took a step back to admire her handiwork. “But now I’m thirsty. Can we
get something to drink?”
She had me so totally captivated that when the pump clicked off, I jerked. Arloe smirked,
but I pretended not to notice and replaced the nozzle. “Sure. Witch Hazel will hook us up
She stared at me with her eyebrows lowered and shoved her hands in the back pockets of her
acid-washed, body-hugging jeans. “Who?”
I shrugged. “Never mind. Bad joke.”
She gently slapped my hand. “Racer, stop.”
Without realizing I’d done it, my stubby fingernails had scratched the area around my dagger
tat to a bright red. I shoved my hand in my pocket.
While she examined my bicep, she grimaced. Her smooth fingers glided along my skin, but
her voice had lost its sexy edge. “Racer Roane. You should’ve gone back to the tattoo shop.
It’s been two weeks and you’re still messin’ with it.” She leaned back and stared into my eyes.
“Maybe it’s infected…or the ink was bad.”
The first two tattoos never bothered me like that one had, and it did concern me. I just didn’t
want Arloe to know it. Besides, I couldn’t do anything about it now anyway.
Arloe pulled her silky hair back into a ponytail and swatted at a fly that attacked her face.
I shooed the fly away and pushed a few stray strands of hair from her eyes. “Just think, you
could be in Spain taking classes right now, but you gave up the opportunity for all this.”
She surveyed the empty desert and turned back to me, holding my calloused hands in her
delicate ones. Her eyes showed determination and a spark of renewed energy. “No, I gave it up
for you. For us. We’ll see Spain one day. Together.”