A Man on an Island Ch. 01byTaLtos6©
***This is the prequel to "A Red Maple Leaf and Ten Orchids". This is relatively short and it's about the struggles of Cale Taylor - the older brother of Josh Taylor, who is the male protagonist in the other story. This takes place a couple of years before Josh meets Kayla Fraser, but the two stories will come together as A Red Maple Leaf moves ahead very shortly. 0_o
The strident blare of the alarm clock pulled Emma to the surface of consciousness against her will. Her mind wailed like a little girl's voice momentarily in protest and the thought struck her as funny, so she gave voice to the thought in the best imitation of herself at nine years-old that she could manage.
"Awww-I-don't -WANNA-get-up!" she said, before reaching to try to hit the snooze bar, though if she was unsuccessful in reaching it, she was quite prepared to beat the snot out of the thing. She went through at least a couple of alarm clocks every year. She managed to silence the offensive device on the first try though, but as she tried to drift back below the surface; she hung on a nagging feeling, and gave it up. Sitting up, she was reminded of the reason for the feeling.
She looked sadly at the mess left by the loud and melodramatic fight with her girlfriend Sherri. To top it off, her body decided to chime in that she felt like shit, so that it wouldn't be outdone.
She'd been hours late for their date the evening before, and Sherri had had enough, finally. The mess was all that was left of her relationship now, outside of the ache in Emma's heart. She got up and slunk to the kitchen to fill the kettle for coffee.
Her first thought was to book off sick at work and then spend the day trying to find Sherri, and do whatever it took to make this go away. But it seemed like they had these blow-ups almost quarterly, and she had tried to reach her girlfriend for hours to tell her that there was no way she could leave the floor. She'd been the only member of the triage staff there for hours. It wasn't even her job, but she'd had a few years of experience at it before her transfer, but with nobody else, she'd just stepped back into the role.
There had been several no-shows in the staff, and her hospital's physical location meant that they were the hospital of choice for the paramedic crews bringing in the human wreckage from the highway. They'd eventually had to take themselves off the availability list and the crews had been redirected elsewhere.
But Sherri wouldn't have understood anyway, she realized as she washed her face. She ran some hot water and wet her brush to drag it across her short hair. At least this was a godsend, she thought, it took maybe eight seconds to get her hair looking good. The kettle clicked off, and Emma made herself some instant. As the first of the caffeine reached her bloodstream, she found that she was bothered by a few more things.
Despite her best intentions, Emma did find some time to feel sad, and that led to a bit of self-pity, and from there it was a short slide into misery. She sat in her kitchen and cried a little, but it came to her as a sudden surprise that after the last of Sherri's several explosions, Emma really didn't have it in her anymore to be miserable for too long. After a few Kleenexes, she found that she felt a lot better, and almost perked right up, having made the decision that this was the end of it for her.
She decided against wasting days of her time stroking Sherri's enormous ego. She'd learned from the last time that Sherri wouldn't take any of her calls for days. Emma sighed and decided to just hang this one up. It was too weird a relationship anyway. Sherri spent months coaxing Emma into a dominant role, and then took pleasure in ripping her down for the slightest misstep.
No, she thought, enough is enough. She had some time this morning. She could either spend it feeling miserable as she had last night, or she could force herself to get a grip and turn the page. She knew that work would keep her busy; she just needed to find something that would have the same effect until it was time to go in.
She decided that the mess could wait until tomorrow, knowing that if she started tidying up now, she'd only end up on her bed crying again. She dressed quickly and opened the apartment door. She decided to change the lock, and since she'd never cared much about the style, she'd just change the whole damn thing and then drop a key with Mr. Cameron, the landlord. Emma didn't think her ex would come back ever, but to her mind, this was making a statement more to herself. She jumped into her car and headed for the hardware store.
Cale listened to the beat of the engine cradled in the frame below the fuel tank and thought about his daughter as the road slid by under his feet. At 19 she was just trying out her wings, but he wished that she'd just take his offer and enroll in the local college. Samantha was his daughter, and he naturally worried for her. She always seemed to get comfortable in any situation. In his opinion, it caused her to settle for things too easily. He wished that she had more drive.
He also wished that he might have been allowed to have an actual relationship with her during her formative years, but his ex had done an excellent job of precluding that. It was a long time ago now, but she'd managed to gain sole custody and from about the time that Sam could understand the spoken word, her mother had told her side of it. All that he was left with was a rather distant voice whenever he called Sam's cell -- unless she wanted money. He tried not to think about how close the apple had fallen to the tree.
Coming back to himself, he went back to just enjoying the scenery. He could to recognize a lot of the crops in the fields. A smell came to him directly, instead of through dashboard vents. Somebody was spreading manure.
Well, he thought, that's part of being in the scenery too.
The big twin rumbled on contentedly between his calves. The break-in would be complete by the time he got back home, and he reminded himself again to check the oil when he put it into the garage. He'd been riding for decades, but this was his first Harley. He'd always admired them for their quality and value, but had never had the money for the price of admission. He was very happy with his choice.
Out of their long product line, there were few models that appealed to him and his style of riding. He liked a bike that he could push occasionally and that would respond to it, but he knew that he wasn't twenty-one anymore either. Personal comfort had risen in his mind when he'd made this choice.
As much as he loved riding, he was no longer enamored of bikes that kinked his back and neck or made his wrists ache afterward, no matter how prettily they howled and sang to him, begging for permission go supersonic. He now wanted a machine that could move out with a will, if necessary, but if he wanted to ride a long day, he insisted on a machine that he'd still be in love with by sundown.
He came to the entrance to his street, but on a whim, he cancelled the turn signal, and blew right on by. He didn't have to be anyplace today. He felt like a coffee and a bite to eat, anyhow. He slowed well below the posted speed reduction at the school and checked his mirrors.
Cale purposely entered the S-curve late. He dropped a gear, and deliberately flicked the beast on its ear, rolling on a bit of gas as he did so. The iron horse responded instantly, and thundered its enthusiasm as it came back to the posted limit within a second. He held it right there on the money. It was a school zone after all -- even if it was out in the middle of nowhere with no houses within about a half a mile, and even though the school and its yard were set well back from the road.
Cale pulled up at the flashing red light in Everton. Seeing some traffic, he tried to find neutral to make the wait more comfortable. Looking at the instrument console, he saw the bright green 'N' flash as he went past it into second. He pressed the selector, and got the same response going into first. It took three tries before it finally stayed lit. He put his left boot down and shifted his butt on the saddle. He hoped that would eventually get easier as it wore in. The farmer on the big John Deere nodded as he turned left in front of him. Cale had no idea who the man was, but acknowledged the gesture with a slight wave. He selected first gear, and let out the clutch to continue south down to Highway 98.
Such a nice day.
Checking his fuel gauge, and decided to fill up, pulling up to a pump in the station at 98 and the top end of Highway 60. One of the things that had always appealed to Cale was the deliberateness that a stop required, far more than was necessary with a car. There were just too many ways to screw things up on a bike.
He'd actually seen a guy pull up for gas while distracted, and forget to put down the stand. He'd just gotten off as he leaned it onto the stand that wasn't there. That mistake had caused a bit of damage to both machine and rider. A downed bike could be a bitch to pick up again too. The girl that the young man had been checking out did pay attention, but it hadn't been what he'd had in mind. Cale himself wasn't concerned about his image, but there could be few things more humbling than committing an error like that.
His tank full and the bill paid, Cale set about his personal mental checklist before heading out again. There was a thirty-something woman with an exasperated expression on her pinched face with a pack of kids waiting impatiently behind him to get to the pump. He didn't much care. There were seven other pumps that she could be at, all of them unoccupied. He'd had no idea that he was tying up her personal favorite. It was more important to him to remember all of the details. He'd hurried once at a gas stop to be considerate, and later found that he'd ridden 30 miles without having done up the chinstrap on his helmet.
She backed up, and drove around him making a point of trying to inconvenience him by doing her best to block his exit. She got out, and did her thing while bellowing threats to keep her brood in line. Her sweatpants had the word 'EVERLAST' across her ample rear.
I doubt that very much, he thought, it looks like it hasn't even lasted this long.
The relative ages of the children told him that there was a likelihood that they were all hers, but he was pretty sure there were more than two gene pools represented. He smiled behind his tinted faceshield. He'd had absolutely no idea how important she was. Why if he'd had only known that she was the empress of the known universe...well, ...
He'd have done the same thing, pretty much.
He rolled backward, and pulled back out onto the highway.
As long as she was someone ELSE'S bitch-queen, he thought.
Cale tried to have at least one happy thought every day.
Emma found a style of door handle and lock that she'd always liked -- a bit of a retro look to it, and it was on sale. She was just working her way out of the lot when her eye caught the sign of the coffee shop across the street. She smirked; theirs tasted better than hers any day. A quick lane change and twenty seconds later she was sliding into a vacant spot outside.
She'd just gotten around the corner of the building, headed for the doors when her eyes was drawn to the reflective glass surface of the window. She looked past her own reflection, focussing deeper to see just how long the line-up at the counter might be when she noticed Sherri turning away from the counter, trying to balance the take-out tray and her sandwich. Sherri loved the green tea that they served there and always bought three to take her through the rest of her work day.
Cale pulled into the lot of the coffee shop, and looked for an empty slot away from the other bikers. He had nothing against them, some of them looked vaguely familiar to him. Today he just wanted to be a bit apart from the donut shop-to-donut shop crowd. He saw an open spot on the far side of a dark blue Lexus sedan and pulled up.
He finally found neutral, switched off the ignition, and the bike chirped. He unfolded the side stand, leaned the bike onto it, and pulled off his gloves, laying them onto the tank to hold them in place with his knee. He unsnapped the cuffs of his jacket at his wrists, unzipped it, and reached to his throat to unfasten the helmet. Lifting the visor, he pulled the helmet off, and sat it on the tank in front of him, before he ran his fingers through the mashed graying brown hair on his head. His hair responded only partially to the command, after being in the brain bucket since 7 this morning.
He got off and headed for the doors.
Emma groaned, kicking herself for forgetting a very predictable part of Sherri's day. She should have gone to the one across town, she realized. Not wanting any part of any sort of conversation they might have, Emma spun on her heel and in a quick about-face walked quickly back the way that she'd come. She wanted to make sure that she was well around the corner by the time that Sherri got through the doors. She looked back once to make certain, and as she turned to look forward again, the toe of her shoe caught the crack in the pavement, pitching her forward.
Cale caught Emma just as her balance had passed the tip-over point. Emma looked forward just in time to see his open jacket and the T shirt that he wore below that. Cale caught her a little awkwardly, but was at least gratified that it was her cheekbone that hit his chest and not her pretty nose. He did his best to soften her landing against him.
Emma gave let out a rather undignified grunt on impact, and looked up. "Excuse me, "she said.
"It's ok, as long as you're alright, "Cale replied with a smile, "That's the most fun I've had all week. Are you ok?"
She made no answer to that, but remembered why she'd been in a hurry to leave. Looking back, she saw Sherri walk out the front doors of the place and turn left to get to her car. He noticed her obvious relief.
Emma turned to him, "Thanks, "she said uncomfortably, and went back inside. Cale watched her go, and sighed, before following her in to get his coffee.
He remembered what he'd said.
All week, he thought to himself sarcastically, that had been the first time that a woman had touched him in - well he couldn't even remember. He kicked himself for the stupid remark he'd made. He made sure that he wasn't immediately behind her in line so she wouldn't feel uncomfortable. He looked out through the windows at nothing wondering again why he'd been put here. Just like all of the other times, he came to no answer that meant anything.
Emma looked casually over her shoulder and noticed that he wasn't right behind her. She felt a bit of relief at that, since she'd almost expected him to try to chat her up. He was looking, at what? She followed his gaze and saw nothing that would interest anyone. She snapped her head around as he began to turn back. She placed her order and after the monetary exchange, was handed her coffee and stood at the counter awaiting her sandwich.
Cale went through his own transaction, and stood behind her, but off to the side. When he was handed his bagel, she was gone. He walked outside slowly to his bike, placing his helmet on the seat, and then walked a bit further to the poured concrete footing of one of the lamp posts in the lot. He set his coffee down on the edge to pull up the tab, before walking to the other side of it to sit on the ground with his back to it. He tried not to think of the folks who came through here with dogs that needed to piss and what they'd use around here as an aiming point.
Emma watched from her car, two spaces away as he sat and began to eat his food. She reminded herself that she wasn't interested in him but found herself watching anyway. When he was done eating, he set down his coffee and pulled out his phone. She saw that he replied to a text message, and then put the phone back in his jacket pocket before fishing out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He lit one, and after getting the pack put away, he leaned his head back against the concrete post and closed his eyes.
Cale found that for some reason, he felt a little sorry for himself today. He was used to being alone, but wished that he was able to get off the island that he had always lived on. An island in a sea of people.
It wasn't very big; he'd been here his whole life so he'd measured it exactly. The thin beach felt to him sometimes as though it were a thousand miles wide. He just was not able to cross it easily. He didn't often feel any attraction to anyone these days -- what was the point, after all? He could be friendly in a social situation, but there had been so many times that he'd stood reaching out across the beach of his island to find that no one ever reached back. Eventually he'd just given up.
He realised that what was bothering him was the woman who had run into him. He'd known this whole thing would happen pretty much this way even before it did. He could have easily stayed where he was to let her fall on her pretty face, but that wasn't like him, and so he'd sidestepped to try to keep her from falling. He supposed that he ought to feel lucky that she'd thanked him or spoken to him at all. It was too bad, really, he thought. In the four and a half seconds that he'd had her attention, he'd found himself liking her.
Fuck it, he thought, so this is what he'd come down to -- wanting to have at least a word with a nice-looking woman who'd landed in his arms randomly, and not even being able to manage that.
He realised that, not counting the small number of women who were acquaintances of his, he could now have relationships that lasted under five seconds. He moved his mind from the path that it was on as he felt one of his eyes just begin a tear.
The sun felt warm on his face. He heard a pair of bikes come in, but didn't bother to open his eyes. He took a pull from his smoke. Stupid habit, he thought, but then everybody needs at least one vice. He didn't drink very much -- maybe a dozen drinks of any kind in a year. He wondered about that. He'd have thought that somebody alone on an island who could get booze would have a drinking problem.
He never went to bars -- that would require the kind of social ability that he lacked anyway -- again, what would be the point?
He felt himself smile, and wondered at that too. He'd intended it to be a bitter smile because that was how he felt, but to his surprise, he just felt a normal smile on his face, and it even cheered him up a bit. He was usually pretty cheerful. But every once in a while he'd have a moment or two of dark contemplation, and then it would pass like a cloud across the sun. He ignored the tear and then slurped his coffee and smoked for a while, trying to decide where he felt like riding to on his day off.
Emma watched him for lack of anything else of interest within her horizon. She saw no ring on his hand. She placed his age somewhere in his forties -- must be divorced, she thought. She'd seen a couple of bikers ride in and notice him on the way by, but he'd showed no sign of awareness of them. At first, she thought he'd fallen asleep or something, but then he'd taken a drag from his cigarette right after they'd gone by.
She stared at the tear on his cheek.
She grabbed her point-and shoot camera from her purse and grabbed a shot quickly before settling down to try to compose a better one. She just got it off before he moved again. A quick glance at the screen on the back told her that the second shot had been good. And then she'd seen him smile. She wondered what thought had brought that on. She found herself liking his smile, closed eyes and all. He'd been smiling at her when he'd caught her, but she'd been too flustered and worried about being seen by Sherri to really notice.