A Little Bit of Death


"Do you think you'll ever replace Mom and get married again?"

I stopped walking, knelt down in the sand so I was eye to eye with Tina. I took her in my arms. "Honey, your mom can never be replaced. I may find someone else, but what your mom and I had was special, and no one will ever replace those memories. Why are you asking all these questions?"

"Grandma said you're pining away. She said you should be moving on with your life. What does pining away mean?"

"It just means I'm still holding a torch for your mother. There's nothing wrong with that, and when I'm ready to move on you'll be the first to know." I gave her a big smile, which she probably couldn't see since it was getting pretty dark. We gave each other a big hug, I got up from the sand, and with our hands entwined we walked back home.

It was an easy but busy week. On Wednesday we had dinner at my parents' house, where Tina made it a point to tell my mother that she had ridden on someone else's bike the weekend before.

"You're going to get your daughter killed, you know that, don't you?" my dad said in disgust.

"Dad, I know how you feel, but it's no different than Tina riding her bicycle in the street." He mumbled something and left the dinner table.

"He'll get over it eventually, you know how stubborn your dad can be. He's only looking out for the two of you," my mom said, touching my hand. "And it would kill him if something happened to either one of you." I knew she was right, but nothing was going to happen.

I hemmed and hawed about going on the ride Saturday. I had things to do around the house I'd promised myself I was going to get done. But getting out on the open road with friends, that was something special. Tina asked if she could go, that in itself presented a problem.

"If Nadine doesn't come, you're going to get stuck on the back of my bike. Do you think you can handle that?"

"Nadine said she's coming and that I can ride with her," she insisted stubbornly.

"Okay, I'm just asking you, what if she doesn't show?"

"She'll be there." She gave me another one of her Lana looks—I let it drop.

"Nadine, Nadine," Tina yelled, rushing over to her as she was putting her helmet into the trunk of her bike. "Can I ride with you again today?"

"If it's okay with your dad, then it's totally fine with me." She looked over towards me for some type of response.

"Nadine, I don't want Tina to become a pest by taking advantage of your good nature."

"Steve, like I said, no one has ridden in that rear seat since I bought this bike. I would love having her company. It will be enjoyable having someone to talk to while I ride."

"Well, okay, if it's no trouble then I guess you've got yourself a passenger for today's ride."

She was dressed, as usual, all in black from her boot cut jeans to her tee shirt that had a hot babe on it and said Daytona 2008. This time she was wearing black sunglasses with a big CC on the sides, and her usual black Harley hat. She always looked like she had just stepped out of a Johnny Cash song.

It was a poker run put on by another HOG Chapter. We had five stops and got one card at each, followed by a barbeque at the final stop.

Crap is what I got; not even one pair. When I found Tina and Nadine at the final stop they were both grinning ear to ear.

"You guys want to grab a bite to eat?" They looked at each other and started to laugh. "Am I missing something?"

"We got a straight flush, queen high," Tina said, looking at Nadine. "And the payout is somewhere in the area of two hundred and fifty dollars." At that point they started holding hands and jumping up and down. Tina was anyway.

They won, and then gloated about it the entire time at lunch. A new outfit, complete with shoes and the accompanying accessories was discussed. I didn't even win one of the fifty or so door prizes.

"Steve, would you mind if I took Tina shopping on Sunday for a couple of hours in the afternoon?" With Tina's eyes wider than I'd seen in months, what was I going to say? No?

"Nadine, I don't want her to be a bother to you." I was trying to let her off easy if Tina had talked her into it.

"No bother and besides, we've got this money burning a hole in our pocket, don't we, girlfriend?" Tina was wild, and having more fun than she'd had with just me in ages. I gave her our address, grabbed Tina and headed out on my bike.

"Her husband died in an accident when they were on their bike, that's why she walks like that. I asked her how she could get back on a motorcycle after what she went through. You know what she told me? She said she still likes to ride because it brings her closer to Greg when she does. Dad, that makes no sense."

"Honey, you still have all those stuffed animals Mom gave you?"

"Of course," she replied quickly.

"When you look at them and hold them, do you think of Mom?" She wasn't so quick to answer this time. "It's just like Nadine riding her bike. It was something they both loved to do, and when she's on her bike, she's remembering all the good times she and her husband had together. It brings her closer to Greg like the animals bring back memories of your mom."

We were now talking about something I didn't really want to get into tonight. It still brought back memories, both good and bad, I had started to try and suppress so I could begin to move on with my life. After putting Tina to bed I spent the rest of the evening on the rooftop deck looking out towards the ocean remembering how and why we'd bought this house.

Sunday morning Tina was up by eight, showered and dressed by eight thirty, and done with breakfast by nine.

"Nadine said she'd be here by about ten, relax, it's just the mall." She gave me this ugly look like I'd sprouted another head.

When a guy needs something he goes shopping with a purpose. If it's a shirt he finds one he likes and buys it. Hell, most guys don't even try it on. And washing it before you wear it? Please. As long as it still doesn't have the pins in it, it's worn the next day.

Women, on the other hand, and I know this from personal experience, don't shop, they look. They can go to the mall looking for one thing and come home with five different items; and maybe not even the thing they went there to find. To them it's a form of recreation. You don't know what you're going to find, but when you do, you have to have it. I'll never understand the female mind. I used to tell Lana to put her credit cards on the counter and back away with her hands in the air. Did she listen to me? Hell no. All I heard is 'shop till you drop' as she and my mom walked out the door.

Nadine pulled up in a newer model Mustang. "The girl must have money," I thought to myself, walking out the front door to take a look at her car.

"Nice, very nice."

"It was a bank repo. I got it for what was left on the loan, in other words, a steal. I'm glad it's an automatic because there would be no way I could handle a stick with my bum leg." Tina was already behind us, purse in hand, chomping at the bit.

"We won't be too awfully long, unless we see something we really like, then you'll probably have to send out a search party." I slipped her a fifty and two tens.

"Just to make sure you guys don't run short." We exchanged a smile with that line. Two minutes later they were gone, and I started working on the new bathroom floor.

I hate doing floor tile in a confined space because of all the intricate cuts you end up having to make. I was about half done when I heard the commotion. There was a lot of laughing as two women, or should I say one woman and one preadolescent had made it back from the mall. Wiping off my hands, I went out to see what they'd bought.

"Dad, it was so cool, everything was on sale," Tina announced, showing me her four bags of clothes. "I can't believe how much stuff I got." I looked over at Nadine, who just raised her shoulders and shrugged.

I picked up a bag and before I could get a look at what was inside Tina pulled it away. "Dad, that's my underwear bag."

"Sorry, but if you'll remember, when we went shopping last time we bought you underwear."

"Not like this," Nadine said with a big wide grin. I didn't want to know any more at this point.

They kept going on and on about what they'd bought, and even what they hadn't. I looked at my watch.

"It's getting close to supper time." I looked at Nadine. "You're more than welcome to stay and eat with us. We're grilling something, that's about all I can tell you. We'd loving having you join us, wouldn't we, Tina?" Tina could hardly contain herself. "Please stay, Nadine," Tina begged.

Nadine was looking unsure. "I probably should be getting out of your hair." Since I couldn't convince her, Tina did, or maybe I should say, Tina didn't give her a choice. "No, you just have to stay, please," she continued to beg. Who could resist those eyes? Nadine acquiesced; thanking us, she said she would be glad to join us.

I did chicken and baked potatoes on the grill while the women made a tossed salad.

Looking around Nadine seemed intrigued by our home. "Lovely place you have. How long have you lived here?"

"Just under four and a half years. We sold our condo just off the downtown, and with my folks, brother, and sister we bought this place. They rent out their units most of the year, but Tina and I live in ours full time."

"It must be heaven living so close to the ocean?"

"It really is, and if your leg's not bothering you too much I've just got to show you the rooftop deck with its panoramic view." I think if she had to crawl she would have made it onto the roof.

Looking to the west the sun was setting over the intercoastal waterway. The colors—well, let's just say they were something out of a travel brochure and leave it at that.

"Oh my God, it's beautiful up here," she gasped, taking off her sunglasses and hat, shaking her shoulder length jet-black hair, and pulling it back behind her ears. "I think if I lived here I'd never want to go back downstairs."

It had been a while since I'd been on the roof to watch the sunset. Towards the end, I would pick up Lana and carry her up to the deck many a night to watch the sun go down and listen to the waves behind us breaking on the shore. I got a pang of sadness.

We spent the better part of an hour on the roof looking, listening, and talking.

"Look at the time," Nadine announced, glancing down at her watch. I've got to get home, put this stuff away, and get ready for work tomorrow. I want to thank you both for a lovely day."

"Nadine, I want to thank you for taking Tina shopping. I'm not much of a shopper, and I am pretty sure you were a lot more fun to shop with than me or her grandmothers."

We made it back downstairs in one piece. And with a bunch of hugs and kisses on the cheeks, and with the roar of her Mustang's engine, Nadine was gone.

"I had so much fun today." Tina was floating on air.

"I hope you didn't spend all her money."

"Nope, we split the two hundred and fifty, but somehow we seemed to get more than that." She shook her head. "I must have added it up wrong." I smiled at her.

I took a shower, got my clothes ready for tomorrow, and went to say goodnight to Tina.

"Dad, for some reason Nadine thought you were divorced. I told her about Mom, she said she was sorry for my loss. She told me she knows how it feels to lose someone you love."

"Honey, did it make you uncomfortable to share that with a stranger?"

"Dad, Nadine isn't a stranger, she's my friend." What could I say at that point?

We saw a lot of Nadine and our HOG brothers and sisters over the next six months. When we went on weekend runs Tina was always sitting behind Nadine. At times I would glance over to the two of them, thinking I was looking at Lana and our daughter—Tina seemed happy again.

We weren't an actual couple; it's just that everyone assumed we were. We were good friends who did stuff together. Over the next couple of months when someone invited Nadine or me, they took it for granted the other would be there too. Nadine came over for barbeques at our place and even invited us over to her place one night after a run that ended close to her home. It was a cute three-bedroom house in a gated community in Orange Park she and her husband had purchased just prior to the accident. Although she didn't talk much about him or about herself to me, she and Tina became thick as thieves. I was sure Tina knew more than she was letting on.

It was ninety-two degrees when our run ended at the dealership. I felt like my legs were cooking sitting on my bike at every stoplight that took more than thirty seconds to change. In a sleeveless tee shirt, jeans, and heavy boots, I was looking forward to stripping down into a pair of light shorts and sandals. Nadine, with Tina sitting behind her, followed me back home. We pulled into my driveway and saw Tommy and his family were already there. Tommy didn't rent out his unit in the summer. Introductions were made, cold brews and sodas were opened, and everyone kicked back enjoying the shade on the back deck.

"Nadine, if you want to get out of those heavy jeans, I'm sure I can find a pair of shorts for you to put on," Ruth, Tommy's wife, told her.

"I'm fine," she said, taking off her riding boots and slipping on a pair of sandals.

I joined in on the conversation. "Come on, Nadine," I urged. "Put on some shorts and we'll go over to the beach and walk in the water to cool off." I felt a painful pinch on my arm at the same time Nadine declined my offer. Tina met my eyes and mouthed the word 'NO'. "Tina, why don't you give me a hand taking out something to put on the grill for tonight. Folks, we'll be back in a minute."

"Bring out a few refills when you come back," Tommy shouted. We walked inside and up the stairs to our place.

"Dad, she's self-conscious about the scars on her right leg and doesn't want anyone to see them. That's why you never see her in shorts."

"They can't be that bad."

"Their pretty big and kind of gross, Dad. I've seen them."

"When?" I started to ask.

"Remember when we went clothes shopping? I caught a glimpse of them in the mirror. She said they're not painful, but she still has a hard time bending her leg. I think she's more frustrated than anything else, and being a woman, well you can figure that one out."

"That's crazy. She's beautiful. So what if she's got a few little scars—no one's perfect."

"You tell her that because I'm not going there."

Nadine had to be about five feet eight in her stocking feet, and from what I could gather probably weighed in at about one thirty, though I couldn't be sure about that. It was kind of hard to judge because she never, and I repeat never, wore anything form fitting Her black tee shirts were loose and her jeans were not the new fashioned tight ones with the straight legs. Most of the time she wore a black Harley hat covering her long, jet-black hair, which she always wore in a ponytail tied back with a leather braid of sorts. She couldn't have been much older than twenty-eight, though I never asked. And she was good-looking, well, I though so. She wasn't a runway model but was sure easy on the eyes, and I found myself looking at her more and more lately, almost studying her on occasion. The only reason I hadn't thought of her in a romantic way before was because everything about her said, BACK OFF. Previously more than one guy in the group had gotten his pride handed back to him a little bruised when he tried to hit on her.

I came back with three more Coronas and a menu that no one objected to, especially since I was supplying the food and cooking it.

Dinner was nice and really laid back. I opened a bottle of wine with dinner, Nadine begged off saying wine and riding don't mix. It was starting to get dark when Nadine asked if we could go topside and watch the sunset.

I agreed saying it was a great idea, and asked everyone up to the roof since it was getting close to sunset.

No one else joined us, saying if you'd seen one sunset, you'd seen them all. Like last time, Nadine had some trouble climbing the stairs. I was going to joke about putting in an elevator just for her, but thought better of it. On the roof deck we sat down in the two loungers waiting for the colors to explode.

"I could sit here forever," she said, looking over at me. "It's so relaxing listening to the ocean and watching one of God's marvels unfold right in front of your eyes. It makes me feel so small and insignificant in the scheme of things." She was right, and the sunset was beautiful as usual. She looked at ease, then when she saw me watching her, her guard went up again.

I reached over and gave her a big hug, and for the first time she hugged me back. I think I would have tried to give her a real kiss, but I chickened out not knowing how she would react. When we released each other she gave me a confused look. Did I overstep my bounds or did she want more? I too was confused.

There was no ride scheduled for the following weekend. She told me if I felt the urge to give her a call. After that she was off.

"You dating her, or is this a friend with benefits type of thing?" Tommy asked when we were alone.

"To tell you the truth, I'm really not too sure. The three of us hang out together. I'd probably like to get to know her better, but every time I make any advances, she clams up and puts up this ten-foot concrete wall between us. But one thing's for certain, she sure as hell likes Tina."

"Well, then, stupid, ask Tina what her problem is? Maybe she just doesn't like ugly, stupid, men."

"Ha ha, look who's calling the kettle black. At least I had the guts to stand up to Dad and buy my Harley."

"Stupid decisions like that don't count. Now, if he had told you not to do something in advance, and you went against him that would be something." We looked at each other and laughed. We both knew that would never happen.

That night, before I kissed Tina goodnight, we had a little talk.

"Honey, why does Nadine seem put off by me? Did I do something to offend her? If I did, I don't have a clue what it was."

"Dad, she does like you, she even told me so herself. It's just that she'd kind of a private person, that's all." She looked away at that point.

"Okay, spill it. You know something you're not telling me."

"Dad, I promised Nadine I wouldn't tell, I gave her my word." She had Lana's concerned look in her eyes—I had to let it slide.

"I'd never ask you to betray anyone's confidence. Just tell her that if I offended her in any way I'm sorry. Okay?"

"Sure Dad, but I don't think that will be necessary." With a big hug and a little tickling we both called it a night—for Tina, that is.

With a glass of wine in my hand, I found myself up on the rooftop deck again that night. Memories flooded into my brain as I talked to my wife, looking for a little insight, I guess. Tears didn't flow, but I felt my eyes well up. I still missed Lana terribly. And as far as I thought I had come, it only took me thinking about the good times to bring on another bout of remorse and sadness. I loved Lana and always would, but that night I finally realized I had to move on if I was going to remain among the living. I wasn't closing that chapter of my life—more like I was moving it into those memories I'd treasure until the day I died.

Sunday I finally finished the bathroom floor and started resurfacing the kitchen cupboard doors. With a dust mask on, Tina helped me sand the totally flat ones while I handled the more intricate ones

The week was flying by when Thursday I got a call from Nadine.

"Dad, Nadine is on the phone and wants to know about this weekend," I heard Tina scream up the stairs at me. I picked up the extension.

"Hi Nadine, I was just thinking about you." So maybe it was a little white lie, but she had crossed my mind more than a couple of times during the first part of the week.

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