This story contains cussing, graphic depictions of violence, and sexual situations. If you're not mature enough to handle it, go read something else.
I really mean it--explicit situations. Proceed at your own risk.
And thanks to Red Ogress for suggesting the title. This story is dedicated to FoxFire because she absolutely, positively hates Asphalt Jack McCyber.
And now you can join my brand-new email group at http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/KLCtheBookWorm_Readers/ and get notices of updates as soon as I can update. Or ask me questions or talk to others readers.
She stood up out of the water and felt it sheet down her muscular and curvaceous body. She faced the shore, a secluded area with a grassy spot right under a large oak tree perfect for reclining beneath. Three males were already taking advantage of the shade.
"Even us interplanetary heroes need time off now and then." The tan mouse stretched out on his back. His black leather vest fell open and gave an unimpeded view of his fur-covered sculpted abs and pecs.
"There ya go, darlin." The largest one with grey fur and an eyepatch said to his motorcycle as he finished polishing it. "Pretty as a one-two punch."
"Speaking of knockouts." The white mouse finally noticed her, and sat up with such an expression of appreciative lust, it made Charley blush inside her dream self. His two companions turned their attention to the water. It was a shame that they weren't in bathing suits, though the tight jeans left nothing about their physiques to the imagination.
It's just so... real. She could feel the sun drying her shoulders. Warm and cool currents in the water churned around her legs. It's the weirdest sex dream I've ever had. And it did feel sexy having three gorgeous males staring at you. I know them. I know their names. Just a little longer. What are they going to do?
But as she tried to remember, the dream vanished. Fighting her disappointment and a strange panic, Charley opened her eyes. Sunlight streamed through the window to the right of the bed, tossing a pattern from the blinds onto the white wall. She could see the navy blue comforter over her feet at the end of the bed. When did I buy that? She didn't remember. She also didn't remember the modern-looking, black vanity with chrome handles on the drawers and molding around the large circular mirror. A tall dresser on the right wall matched it.
This wasn't her furniture. This was not her bedroom. A muscular arm suddenly slid over her stomach underneath the sheets. She shrieked and jumped, ending up on her feet three feet away from the bed.
A man groaned while sitting up. "Charley? Baby, what's wrong? Did I pinch you?"
The face was familiar underneath the bright red beard. He had been smooth-shaven the last time Charley had seen him, that rainy day when they had broken off the engagement. The brown eyes gazed at her sleepily, but slowly changed to wary. "Jack? Jack McCyber? Where am I? What are you doing here?"
"Oh damn." He ran his hand through his long hair. "The doc said this could happen. What's the last thing you remember?"
It was hard finding something. She hadn't seen Jack since they broke up, but it seemed so long ago. "Breaking up, you were going back for your second year of college." Her voice lost strength as his expression grew more concerned.
"We've been married four years now," he said gently, "five years come December."
"Married?" Charley echoed. A row of diamonds set in a gold band was wrapped around her left ring finger. "Why can't I remember that?"
"You hit your head." Jack climbed out of the bed wearing a pair of navy blue silk boxers. He had gained some muscle since high school. He walked around the bed and Charley caught a glimpse of herself in the vanity's mirror. She didn't look any different. A dark green, silky nightgown with spaghetti straps draped her slim figure. A large piece of gauze was taped to the upper right corner of her forehead and her chestnut hair fell over it. She touched it gently before Jack blocked her view of the mirror and grasped her arm. "The doc said the best way to deal with amnesia is for you to get back to your normal routine."
"And my memory will come back?" She infused her voice with more confidence than she felt. "Just put me in the garage, I still remember how to spin a wrench."
He winced. "Charley, there is no more garage. The Last Chance burned down."
"The Last Chance is gone?" She felt dizzy.
Jack gripped her arm harder. "It happened right after your father.... You do remember what happened to your father?"
"Yes," she answered softly.
"It happened a few months later. It brought us back together. I realized I couldn't lose you." He moved quickly, wrapping his arms around her and moving in for a kiss.
Sudden fear struck Charley. She pulled away. Jack sighed as he let her go and stepped back. What am I afraid of? Jack and I have done more than kissing before. I have to say something; he looks upset. She reached up and caressed his cheek, combing his close-cropped beard with her fingernails. "I'm sorry I can't remember. But this is so weird. Weirder than the dream about giant mice."
"Giant mice?" He frowned and his hands curled into fists by his sides.
"Yeah on motorcycles. Where did I come up with that?"
"Hannah must be making you watch too many Disney movies." His laughter was strained. He moved to one of the doors on the west wall, opening the closet.
"Our daughter, Charley. Surely you remember our daughter?"
"Jack, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." She sat down on the bed before her knees gave way.
"No, I'm sorry." He knelt in front of her. "I'm not being very understanding. We have one daughter, Hannah Charlene McCyber. She's four years old. You stay home with her since she isn't in school yet." He gently squeezed her hand. "Do you want me to stay home from work? I can, it's not a problem."
"The doctor said I should get back to normal right? I think I can handle a four-year-old." Her world felt topsy-turvy. A kid? What the hell am I doing with a kid? I have enough trouble trying to make them behave. Them? The elusive them's identity flittered away.
"Are you sure?" Jack asked softly. "Alright, let's introduce you two." He pulled on a pair of pajama bottoms. Charley wrapped a matching green robe around her body and followed him out of the bedroom.
The hall went across the width of the entire apartment, made a sharp turn and ended in a living room. The well-cushioned sofa and recliner were made of black leather. A Harley-Davidson blanket was spread across the back of the sofa, with white pillows placed just so. The black metal and glass entertainment center was filled with the latest electronic gadgets. Some expensive Harley-Davidson artwork and a metal etching of a motorcycle as long as the couch hung on the white walls.
A little girl lay on the beige carpet in front of the television set. Her elbows were propped onto one of the white pillows as she gazed enraptured by the cartoons on the set. She scrambled to her feet as they walked into the room. She wore a Mickey Mouse nightgown and her bright red hair was still tangled in slept-in ponytails on both sides of her head. Charley's heart skipped a beat when she saw her own green eyes staring back seriously.
"Hannah, you remember what I told you?" Jack asked sternly. "Mommy is fuzzy on what she does around here. So you have to help her. Can you do that?"
"I can do dat, Daddy." The little girl wrapped the end of her ponytail around her fingers. "Hello Mommy," she said seriously as her grip on her hair tightened. "Does yer head still hurt?"
"No, it doesn't." Charley smiled at Hannah and was rewarded with a dazzling smile in return. "Should I cook breakfast?"
"I'll grab something on the way to work." Jack kissed her cheek before she had a chance to react. "And just let the answering machine take all calls, okay?"
"Okay," Charley turned back to Hannah while Jack vanished down the hall. "What do you want for breakfast?"
"Cereal." Hannah shyly grabbed her hand and pulled her across the living room. Halfway though the room, beige and white tile began. A glass table with black pipe legs and matching chairs were set up in front of the window. The kitchen was tucked in the recess of the L-shaped room.
Two bowls of Capt'N Crunch and Jack running out the door later, the woman and girl sat quietly at the table. Charley twisted the loose, diamond-encrusted wedding band on her finger. I can't believe it is gone. The Last Chance was what her father built for his family, where he had raised her after her mother had walked out on them both. Where her grandmother had come every night to read her a fairy tale and tuck her in. Where her father had taught her everything about engines and motorcycles, designing and riding them. I can't believe I didn't rebuild it.
"Are you okay, Mommy?" The small voice woke Charley up from her musings.
"Yeah, Hannah, yeah. What do we usually do now?"
"We need to go pick out the food. Dat goes with the coupons." She pointed to the refrigerator.
Amidst a collection of magnets was a shopping list pad filled out in Jack's handwriting. Charley stared at the otherwise blank fridge. "Hannah, don't you like to color?"
"I love colorin'."
"You don't have any pictures on the fridge?"
"Daddy don't want 'em dere."
"Oh," Charley said softly. She remembered finding boxes of her childhood drawings her father had kept. And all those years she thought he had just thrown them away. "Go get dressed while I take a shower."
"I had a bath last night. Don'tcha 'member?"
"Then go get some clothes on and I'll comb your hair."
"Okay." She dropped out of her chair and ran back down the hall.
Charley shook her head as she cleaned up breakfast and retreated to her bedroom. She pulled the wedding band off her finger and stared at her slightly tanned hands. Something tugged at her mind, but it refused to surface. "Oh give it up. You can't make it come back any faster."
She shrugged out of her robe and nightgown and ran her hands over her firm stomach and hips. "Well, I've certainly kept my figure." She remembered one of her friends that had a baby right out of high school, and how she lamented the fact she couldn't wear a bikini again because of stretch marks. Charley's giggles stopped as she ran her hands across her stomach again. She didn't have any stretch marks.
She met the eyes of her reflection. The little girl in the living room had the same eyes and same face shape. And she had Jack's shade of red hair. "If I didn't give birth to her, who did?"
Her hands slowly peeled off the bandage. The skin was unblemished beneath it. Charley shivered, turning away from the mirror, and jumped into the shower. "What's going on?"
This question still lingered in her mind as she dressed, fixed Hannah's hair, and drove the dark-green Toyota Corolla she found in the apartment building's garage to the supermarket. She shoved it to the back of her mind as she rearranged the mid-calf, dark blue skirt after climbing out of the car. Her feet squirmed to make the black leather flats fit more snugly. "I feel like a Stepford wife," she muttered. But apparently, she had thrown out all her jeans in some time past that she couldn't remember.
"What's a step ford wife, Mommy?" Hannah asked as the seat belt released and she climbed out of the car booster seat. The four-year-old was dressed more comfortably in a lavender T-shirt, dark purple denim overalls, and a pair of white tennis shoes.
"A horror movie you're not going to see for a long time yet." Charley grabbed hold of her small hand. They left the car in a parking space in front of the supermarket's building with money in the meter for two hours. Enough time to finish the shopping before earning a ticket.
Charley heard the bike engines as they passed on the street and paid them no attention. But Hannah stopped in her tracks and turned. "He's gonna get hurt!"
She turned to see what her daughter was talking about. A man on a red motorcycle popped a wheelie to execute a flawless 180. The car right behind him--now right in front of him--honked desperately. The red bike's front wheel briefly touched the ground as the powerful engine revved. Charley pulled Hannah closer. The bike accelerated. Ohmigod! He can't be serious. There's not enough room! The bike sailed over the car, inches from contact with its roof. He landed with a cocky slide to point his bike directly at the building. The car continued to drive away, increasing its speed to get away from the madman. Two more bikes roared back up the street.
"Wow! Mommy, did you see that?" Hannah's eyes shone brightly as she alternated her gaze between her mother and the biker.
Charley remembered when her eyes first lit up like that. But she had been safely in the stands of an arena. This guy might drive on the sidewalk next. "Yeah, he's good but stupid. And I think his friends are coming to tell him that. Let's go inside."
"I thought only mommies and daddies could tell you when you were bad." Hannah craned her neck to look back at the bikers.
"His type never listens, so everybody has to tell them." The automatic glass doors slid open in front of them. Charley released Hannah's hand when she pulled the metal buggy free from the rest. The little girl trotted beside her as she guided the buggy over the tile floor and around the metal shelves.
"Why are we getting so many?" Hannah pointed to the shelf of hot dog wieners that Charley had nearly emptied into the buggy.
"I don't know," she answered honestly as she started putting the packages back. I just automatically came to the meat department and straight to the hot dogs. It's not even on the list.
She studied the list more intently after that, not paying attention to the other shoppers. She and Hannah moved from the meat and produce department into the long aisles of shelves that filled the store. They moved up and down the aisles, pausing to consult prices, coupons, and the shopping list. Household cleaners, canned vegetables, juices, and she thought the insane biker from the street was following her shopping list. But he vanished when she looked again. Charley bit her lip. Now you're getting paranoid. Maybe he just thinks I'm cute. She shook her head and stopped the buggy next to the shelves. "Do you like this cereal, Hannah?" Charley considered the box that she pulled off the well-stocked metal shelf.
There was no answer. She glanced away from the brightly colored box. The white-tiled floor next to her was empty. She blinked but the red-haired child didn't appear. "Hannah? Hannah!" The box bounced against the floor. Charley's head swiveled from one end of the aisle to the other. Another cart, pushed by an elderly man, rolled around the display. Her heart thundered in her chest. There was no Hannah. No, no, no. I can't lose her, I can't. She's just a little girl! She ran back down the cereal aisle, leaving her cart behind.
The old man's cart swerved into her path, trying to angle closer to the shelves. She grabbed the large metal basket on wheels and shoved it aside. Ignoring his angry protest, she swept past him and around the display at the end of the shelves. Then, through the pounding in her ears, she heard the sweetest sound she felt she would ever hear again. "Yer followin' us." Hannah, hands planted on her hips confronted a man. They stood in front of the display of canned vegetables two aisles down.
The guy, wearing an odd-shaped helmet and green belts crisscrossed over a white shirt, backed up a couple of steps. "I don't know what you're talking about, kid. I'm shopping." He grabbed a can from one of the bottom rows. It jerked out so quickly a shock wave rippled up the pyramid of cans. Hannah scampered back as the cans toppled over. The biker threw his arms over his head helplessly as the cans crashed down. He stepped back, right onto a can. His booted foot rolled out from under him and he landed on his butt.
The red-haired girl waited until the cans stopped falling before stepping close. "Yer following me and my mommy. What do you want?"
Charley finally found her voice. "Hannah!" She hurried forward, the black flats slapping against the tiled floor.
The four-year-old girl turned around. "Mommy, the guy who jumped over the car is followin' us!"
"Mommy? She's your mommy?" The biker on the floor asked bewilderedly.
Hannah turned back to him. "Yeah. Haven't you seen a mommy before?"
"Hannah, come here!" Charley stared at the biker as Hannah trotted to her. Another image flashed before her eyes. This biker sprawled on his back with his feet and legs against the wall of the Last Chance garage. Charley shook her head. The garage was gone.
Hannah tugged on Charley's skirt. "Mommy? He's been behind us everywhere in the store."
Charley scooped her into her arms and carried her back to the cart. "Don't you know not to talk to strangers! You scared Mommy."
"I didn't mean to."
Charley set Hannah in the built-in seat of the cart. She couldn't slip away from there. "You shouldn't talk to grown-ups you don't know. And you definitely should stay with me, okay?"
"Okay, Mommy. But what 'bout him?" Her slightly pudgy hand pointed.
Charley looked over her shoulder. Another biker, in an odd-shaped helmet and a black leather vest, ducked out of their aisle. She swallowed but it didn't ease the tight feeling in her chest. Hannah's right. They're following us. They saw us on the street and came into the store after us. Why? Would he have grabbed Hannah if I hadn't found her? Her heart pounded. What if they have something to do with my missing memory?
That last thought ended the shopping trip. After paying for what they got, she quickly loaded groceries and child into the Corolla while keeping a wary eye on the automatic doors. Movement down the street caught her attention. Another biker swung his legs down off the handlebars of his purple Fatboy and sat up straight. He wore the same type of helmet that the other two inside did. A red, blue, and black chestplate was fitted over his grey shirt. And if the proportions of the bike were right, he was practically seven-foot-tall. He and his bike were parked next to two more bikes: a black-and-chrome Softail and the red racing bike (who's make she couldn't readily identify) that had jumped the car. But just looking at those bikes conjured up images of parts, engine details, and weapon systems. I've worked on those bikes.
Charley slammed the car door shut. Her hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles blanched. But the Last Chance is gone, has been gone for four years. Jack would've said if I worked in another garage. So I couldn't have worked on those bikes. But how come I know them so well?
She slowly eased into the flow of traffic, keeping one mirror fixed on those bikes. The other two bikers exited the store and, after a hasty consultation, they jumped on their bikes and moved into the traffic lane. Who are these guys and why are they following me?
She turned a corner. The bikers followed, a few car-lengths behind. They are following me! Well, I'm not going to show them the way back to the apartment until I know why they're after us. She turned the car again and rode up the ramp onto the freeway. By the time she got in the furthest left lane of the overpass, the three bikers had merged into the flow of traffic.
Hannah peered out of the windows of the back seat, twisting in her booster seat. "Mommy, where are we going?"
"We're losing those guys. Hang on." Charley shot down the left-side offramp. This offramp had an easy U-turn lane to head back in the freeway's other direction. She floored the accelerator. The car weaned from the left to the right lane. The car shot down the next offramp, crossed under the freeway, and headed toward Lake Michigan. Stopping at the red light, she looked over her shoulder at the freeway in the sky. The three bikers shot past the offramp she just took. "Bye-bye boys."
"WOW!" Hannah's bouncing was held in check by the seat belt. "You should be in the races!"
Charley grinned in relief as the light changed. "That was pretty good driving for four wheels."
Charley laughed. "I was always a better driver than your Daddy. They called him Asphalt Jack in high school."
"The black stuff on top of roads. Your Daddy spent more time on it than on the back of a bike." Hannah giggled at that description. Charley's laughter continued as she drove down the street. The mirth died when an imposing tan-and-blue skyscraper came into view through the windshield. Her heart pounded. She wanted to turn the car and peel away. Her skin crawled as the hairs on her arms raised. Her stomach clenched. She forced herself to turn the car and drive past it.
She watched Hannah in the rearview mirror. The little girl stared up at the building pensively. "Don't like it," she said quietly. "Bad place."
"I don't like it either."
Tears brimmed in Hannah's bright green eyes and Charley longed to take the little girl in her arms. "Get us away, Mommy, please."
"We're leaving, Hannah-baby. Right now." The speedometer inched up, and Charley steered around the block.
Hannah's encounter with the bad skyscraper turned her cranky. Charley put her to bed. She wasn't sure if four-years-old was too old for naps, but she knew she couldn't deal with whining right now. Once Hannah was tucked in and the groceries were put away, Charley fixed herself a mug of root beer. What do I do now? Sit around trying to find my lost memories, of course. Her fingers itched to wrap themselves around some metal. In desperation, she started exploring the apartment. A fancy computer system was stashed in a closet converted into a micro-office. That's where she found paper and pens. At least it gave her fingers something to do.
While her fingers drew automatically, her mind wandered back to the building. I have never been so creeped out about a place. Maybe that's where I had my accident. But that doesn't explain why Hannah got so upset. Unless she was with me. Why didn't Jack say anything about that if she was?
Charley stared at what she had drawn. Motorcycles, specifically the bikes of the men who had followed her and Hannah from the grocery store. Her mouth went dry. The details she had sketched weren't possible from the glimpses she'd had of the machines. She held the sheet of paper in her shaky hands, and remembered those bikes inside the garage.
She was inside a neat and orderly double-bay garage. She knew it was the Last Chance: the beige walls, the office door there, the tire shelf mounted on that wall, the swinging door to the kitchen, the trapdoor to the master bedroom in the ceiling. She had her hands deep in the body of the red racer. She tightened the last bolt without jostling any of the sensitive weaponry. "There! Okay, tuck it in."
The red racer beeped. The silver triangle-shaped wings that stretched above the bike folded and pulled into the section over the rear wheel. She grinned and pressed a new button on the crankcase. The wings easily popped back out. "Well, did I get them right, girls?" All three bikes beeped enthusiastically.
She circled around the bike, critically studying the hang-gliding style wings. "I know that's what you had originally, but I don't like it. Doesn't let you use the boosters efficiently. The front wings do, but the balance is off, and you can't stay in the air long." She chewed on her bottom lip. "I guess it's back to the drawing board."
The purple Fatboy beeped softly and rolled up to her side like a big, loyal dog. She patted its crankcase. "At least you three appreciate what I do--unlike your riders." She quickly put the covering metal back on the red racer. "Let's get you two done, and then I can go back to the specs." All three bikes beeped and revved in approval. She glanced over at the bench where the hand-drawn specifications were carefully laid out. She kept such detailed records just in case she ever had to rebuild the bikes completely--not a pleasant thought, but given how the guys rode them--and to learn as much as possible to apply to her own designs.
The phone's trill jarred Charley back to the apartment. She dropped the sketch onto the table and hugged herself. The answering machine picked up. "This is Dr. Karbunkle," a wheezy voice said through the speaker. "I was just calling to check on the patient." His chuckle made Charley leap for the phone, but the line was dead by the time she answered it.
What exactly did she plan on doing? For some reason, she had the violent urge to throw the phone out the nearest window. She dropped the receiver back into the cradle and hugged herself again. Her hands rubbed up and down her arms, trying to warm away the goosebumps. What the hell? Why am I so... scared? It's just a doctor checking up on me. Her stomach went queasy. The fear was forgotten when she saw the black and chrome clock hanging in the dining area. "Crap! Supper!" She dove into the kitchen. A frantic search through the pantry and cupboards yielded enough food and utensils to start cooking.
She half-heard the footfalls on the tile floor behind her. "Hi Mommy, I wanna help."
"Go clean the table off, okay?" Charley peered under the lid of a boiling pot.
"Okay." That didn't keep Hannah occupied very long. "Mommy, you drawed the modorc... modorc... modorbikes?"
"Yeah, Hannah-baby, Mommy can draw. Why don'cha color it for Mommy?"
"Okay." Charley peeked on her a few minutes later. She had the sheet of paper on a thick, plastic clipboard on her lap. Her crayons were scattered on the beige carpet around her. Her bright-red head bent over the sheet. "Dis one is wed," she muttered to herself. "The man dat knocked over the cans, he roded on it." Charley smiled and left her alone.
The front door unlocked and opened while Charley was putting the finishing touches on supper. "Hello Daddy," Hannah called out.
Charley heard Jack put away the stuff he took to work. She didn't pay much attention to the living room until Jack growled inarticulately. Something plastic crashed against the wall as Hannah cried out, "My dwawing!"
"Where did you get this?" Jack screamed. Charley dropped the bowl of peas on the counter and rushed into the living room. Jack grabbed Hannah's arm, jerked the little girl to her feet, and thrust the sheet of paper in her face. "Where!"
The child sobbed. "Mommy!"
"Let her go, Jack! What is wrong with you?"
He let go as he whirled to face Charley. "You lying slut! How long did you wait till running after them?" The skin on his face turned as red as his hair. Charley stepped back. He closed the gap between them. She leaned away from his fist around the crumpled drawing. "Where did you meet them?"
"Dey followed us at the store!" Hannah answered in a tear-thick voice.
Jack whirled around. "Don't protect her! You belong to me! Not to those freaks!" He lifted his arm above his head, fist curled shut.
Charley grabbed his arm. "Don't you dare hit her!" Hannah's green eyes darted from parent to parent before she bolted. A door slammed down the hall. Jack shook himself loose. "I saw those bikes at the store when we went shopping and I drew them when we got home. What is wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with me? You're the one who can't get enough of those furry freaks! Dreaming about them, drawing them, sleeping with them! But you belong to me!" He whirled around and his fist came down.
Charley felt herself falling back as blackness drew up. The blackness slowly faded but left her not wanting to move. Her left cheek throbbed. She was face down, bent at her hips, on top of something soft and a little too tall to let her kneel comfortably.
Hands grappled with the waistband of her skirt. "We're just friends," Jack muttered. The button popped free, the zipper jerked open, and the seam ripped apart. "I don't feel that way about you anymore." Fingers inserted themselves between her skin and the waistband of her pantyhose and panties. "No, not when you have something fuzzy to curl up with." He peeled them down her legs, leaving the material bunched around her ankles. "But you belong to me."
He finally released her. She pushed herself off the bed and landed on her butt on the carpeted floor. She scooted away from Jack, but he paid her no attention. He stepped completely out of his pants and in his boxers walked toward the dresser. While his back was turned, she crawled into the bathroom en suite.
She locked the door and slid down it. She couldn't stop shaking. Stumbling to the shower, she stripped out of the ripped clothes and got under the warm water. She scrubbed her skin red, finally stopping before making it bleed. She sat on the floor of the shower. "They'd kill him. God, I want them to!" The mysterious they again. Was it the bikers Jack hated so much? She dried off roughly, trying to erase the memory of his touch. She wiped away the condensation fogging the mirror. A blackish-blue spot covered her left cheekbone. She set a washcloth soaked in cold water against it. Hopefully, it would reduce the swelling and discoloration.
"It's a bad world out there, Charley." She could hear Chuck Davidson's voice echoing in her mind. "And I won't always be there to look out for my little girl." He gave her ponytail a playful tug. "I want you to promise me that you'll never stay with a man that hits you."
"I promise, Daddy," she echoed her remembered self.
"A man that hits a woman is the lowest form of scum there is. You are too strong, too smart, and too pretty to stay with an asshole that can't appreciate that." His face reddened, but she knew he only used language like that when he was upset. "You understand?"
"I understand, Daddy."
It had been a long night waiting for morning. The locked bathroom door shuddered under Jack's pounding. "Come on, Charley!"
She didn't move any closer to the door. She sat wrapped in a towel on the tile floor and tightened her hold on the shower cleaner spray she had found under the sink. Just let him try something. This stuff should be as good as mace.
"Fine! But it doesn't change anything. We're leaving Chicago, so you better be packed by the time I get home from work!" He gave the bathroom door a final kick.
She waited until she thought she heard a faint door slam. She eased the door open, spray bottle aimed to fire. The bedroom was empty. "Sure, I'll pack, dear. You just run along to work and save your ass." She quickly put on some underwear as she searched the bedroom. She found a pair of suitcases in the bottom of the closet. The most sensible underwear went into the suitcase. The pieces of sexy lingerie went on the floor, and she stomped on them. "Damnit! Still nothing but skirts and blouses." Charley growled as she pulled on a black T-shirt and a long denim skirt. She slung the green nightgown and robe into the suitcase, followed by three skirts and three blouses. Everything else in the closet festooned the room. "I'm buying some jeans!"
A tap on the bedroom door interrupted Charley from grinding her make-up into the sheets of the bed. "Mommy?"
"Yeah, Hannah-baby. Where's your daddy?"
"He went to work."
The doorknob refused to turn in Charley's hand. Jack had locked her in. "The stupid bastard. Hannah, go wait for me at your bedroom door."
"Go, Hannah!" The little girl moved away from the door. Charley hiked up the skirt to her waist. The kick put a dent in the wood right above the doorknob. She kicked it again. The door shot free of the doorjamb. She sat down on the corner of the bed and massaged her foot.
Hannah peered in the door. "Mommy?"
She ran into the room and crawled onto her lap. Charley wrapped her arms around the little girl and rocked her. "You were screaming last night, Mommy. You scared me."
"I'm sorry, baby. When I'm hurting, I scream."
She lifted her head and gently touched Charley's cheek below the bruise. "Daddy hurt you bad. He shoulda hurt me. I was the bad girl." Her lower lip trembled.
Charley squeezed her tight. "You were not a bad girl. Your daddy is the bad one."
"But dat's why Daddy hits 'cause I was bad."
Slowly Charley started breathing again. "Hannah-baby, look at me." She found strength in those so-similar eyes. "Your daddy wanted to hurt us. Hurt us badly. Not because of anything we did, but because something is wrong with him. And we are not staying here to let him hurt us again." She gave her a final hug and slipped her off her lap. While Hannah watched, Charley filled the second suitcase with the little girl's clothes, rifled through Jack's files and grabbed anything labeled with her and her daughter's names, and snatched all the children's videos from the entertainment center.
Hannah clutched the Cabbage Patch doll with yellow yarn hair to her chest and poked some large pieces of green plastic with her foot. "Daddy broke my crayon box."
"I'll get you a new one." Once they were both dressed, Charley led her out of the apartment. Even though her memories were still missing, she knew this was the right thing to do.
Her daughter let her drive around about thirty minutes before asking the inevitable question. "Where we going, Mommy?"
Charley paused at a red light to think over her strategy. She had been seeking those bikers, she realized. Her chances of finding them were less than zero. And Hannah needed a bed for tonight. Besides, what makes you think they can help you? "We're looking for a new place to stay."
"Oh. Without Daddy?"
"Yeah, without Daddy." Charley drove the car down the street. A lump formed in her throat. This was her old neighborhood, well what was left of it. A lot of buildings were partially demolished. Why had she come this way? Had she wanted to see everything that was missing from her life? What filled the Last Chance's lot now? She swallowed hard and continued driving. I can't run away from everything. Still feels like I'm coming home. She took a deep breath, looked at the familiar spot on the block, and brought the car to a screeching halt.
Hannah rocked in her car seat and grabbed hold of the plastic. "Are we at the new home now?"
Charley didn't answer. She stared at the tan, two-story building, the slightly faded signs of a bike on outstretched wings and the larger "Last Chance Garage" above the two garage doors. Her shaking hands finally opened the car door. The bricks were rough and solid underneath her fingers. She kept her hand on the building, not trusting her knees, as she walked to the office door. The alarm was on, but her code deactivated it. The door was unlocked.
Her stomach flip-flopped. The desk still faced the outside door so the person sitting behind it could watch both doors. The filing cabinet in the corner hid the safe. Posters of motorcycles covered the walls. Charley rapidly walked through the office and into the garage bays. Nothing had changed, not since her father died, not since that memory of working on those almost-living bikes. Charley's stare moved all over the garage as she hyperventilated. He said it was gone. She repeated it out loud. "He said it was gone." The large garage bays suddenly swam. "He lied to me. He lied to me!" She ran to the garage door switch and sent the metal door rumbling up.
"Mommy, you okay?" Hannah asked when Charley climbed back into the car.
"Yeah. Mommy didn't think this place was still here." She parked inside, and let the garage door close as she got Hannah out. The familiar smells of oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, and the heavy detergent she used to keep it off the floor welcomed her. She was home. "Come on Hannah-baby, let's explore."
The kitchen hadn't been remodeled since her father had built it. Why should it have been? Everything still worked. No one had repainted the crisp light yellow walls or replaced the white lace valance across the small window above the sink. The appliances were that dark beige color that was so popular in the early 70s. The recycle bins were filled with glass bottles and soda cans all emptied of root beer. A pot of water that had been used to boil hot dog wieners was still on the stove, but other than that the kitchen was spotless.
The stairs were still in the corner next to the back door. Charley let Hannah climb up in front of her. They reached the living room, and the little girl darted around the couch and headed straight to the TV set. "We shoulda packed the bigger one."
Charley moved around the table and chairs set and placed her hands on the back of the green and brown couch. The material was just the right blend of roughness and softness to keep you warm like your favorite blanket. And also covered with fur--grey, white, tan. Where did that come from? She glanced around the room again. Three doors led off the living room. The furthest one from the stairs was the guest bedroom.
Nothing too personal in here at all: just the bed, a repainted dresser, and a nightstand. The bed was made up with an ivory quilt with a star design made out of pastel colors. Charley blinked back tears.
Hannah jumped onto the bed and bounced as she sat. "Pretty blanket." She petted it.
"Your great-grandmother made it." Charley took a deep breath.
"Well, she was my daddy's mommy, so that makes her your great-grandmother."
"Oh." Hannah swung her legs. "Does she live here?"
The tears really threatened now. "No, not anymore." She looked around the room again. With a few personal touches, it would be perfect for Hannah. Move the storage closet to make room for her clothes. Maybe hang up some fairy tale pictures. Get her a small desk that she could color at.
Charley moved back into the living room. The other bedroom was less sparse than the first. The queen-sized bed had a patchwork quilt made by her grandmother spread over it. The closet was filled with black jeans and blue work-shirts with the less practical outfits pushed to one side. A hot biker babe outfit hung in front of a nearly strapless green gown. A small jewelry box filled with earrings sat on the dresser top. A door led straight into the bathroom. The shelves were neatly filled with a woman's toiletry needs: towels, one very small bottle of an expensive perfume along with hardly-used compacts of make-up. Another door led back into the living room.
"Mommy, look, you've been to Disney World." Hannah pulled a metal-framed picture off the nightstand next to the bed. She took the hefty frame from the girl. It was chrome-plated with the words "Best Friends" molded all over the metal. And it surrounded a four by six snapshot of her, dressed in one of the blue work-shirts and black jeans outfits, with the mice creatures from her dreams beside her, all laughing and smiling at the camera.
She gripped the picture frame. It had to be a trick of some kind, costumes or something. But she recognized the green straps the white humanoid mouse wore across his chest. That would explain why he didn't take him helmet off in the store.
"Mommy, you sick?" The small hand tugged on her skirt.
"You belong to me! Not to those furry freaks!" Charley felt nauseous and lightheaded remembering what Jack had said. She sat down on the toilet seat lid. "Hannah, put this back."
"Okay, Mommy." She trotted out of the bathroom with the inexplicable photograph.
How could she forget something this weird? How could she've believe Jack that the Last Chance was gone? How could she have let him...? She shook her head.
"Mommy, who lives here?"
Charley looked up. "We do. This is our new home."
Her daughter frowned thoughtfully. "Okay, I like it. Can we have lunch now?"
"Yeah, how 'bout we go eat in a restaurant?" Charley smiled as Hannah jumped up and down. "Mommy just needs to change first." She put on a pair of black jeans and a work shirt. She found a pair of dark brown cowboy boots in the closet as well. After she was finished, she studied the look in the mirror. The foundation and powder felt caked on her face, but it covered the bruise. At least strangers on the street wouldn't stare. She brought the pair of suitcases up from the car next. Hannah set her doll beside them, admonishing it to watch their stuff.
Downstairs in the garage, Hannah spied another door. "What's in here?"
Charley darted after her. It was the downstairs bathroom, impersonal enough for the public to use. The washer and dryer stood next to a shower stall--so handy when she didn't want to track something yucky through the apartment. The toilet and extra-large sink were on the opposite wall. And opposite the door, the large frosted-glass window made an excellent escape route. "Come on, you. Let's go eat."
Hannah dove into the clothesbasket next to the dryer. "Who has feet dis big?" She held up a white sock long enough for her to use as a stocking.
"Put that back."
"You said Daddy didn't live here." She dived into the basket again and pulled a pair of boxers out of the jeans and socks.
"Hannah! Do you want to eat?" Charley took the sock and boxer shorts. "Go to the car." She sighed as Hannah left. The white cotton boxers in her hand were made oddly. The fly was normal but there was a hole sewn into the center seam on the butt with a button to fasten the top back to the waistband. She dropped them back in the basket with a baffled sound.
Can this day get any weirder? Charley parked the Corolla at the white, one-story, 50s-style diner. All the stuff at the garage should be the weird stuff, but it feels right. At least Hannah's treating it like one big adventure. The little girl ran to the white table underneath a giant red and white umbrella. I want to make this as normal as possible for her. "Come on, Hannah, we're eating inside."
The old man behind the counter jumped as they walked in. "Charley?" He came out into the customer area of the diner. "Charley? Is that you?"
"Hi, Chef Andy." The thin man wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her like he hadn't seen her in years. His grey moustache tickled her ear. "It hasn't been that long, has it?"
He let her go and looked into her eyes with his blue ones. "Charley, where have you been?"
"Mommy?" Hannah tugged on her hand. "I'm hungry, Mommy."
"Mommy?" Chef Andy looked down at the little girl. He looked back up at Charley. He shook his head to stop from asking the question in his expression. "Couple of specials, and then we'll talk?"
"Sounds good to me." Charley helped Hannah onto a stool at the counter. Andy Steinhaur was an old friend of her father's. Steinhaur's Diner was a fixture of the neighborhood. He quickly piled the hoagies together and set them in front of Hannah and Charley. "You sit here and eat while Mommy talks to Chef Andy." She slid into a booth on the yellow wall opposite the counter.
He wiped his hands on his white apron and sat down across from her. "You've been missing for two weeks, Charley. Your friends have been worried sick."
Charley nearly choked on her root beer. "Two weeks? Friends?"
Andy scratched the bald scalp under the paper soda-jerk hat. "Your friends, my best customers, the ones who don't like Limburger, the bikers that saved my diner. You don't remember them?"
"I don't know what's happened to me. Everything between Dad's death and yesterday is gone."
"That's nearly four years." He glanced at the back of Hannah's head and lowered his voice some more. "What happened to you? I was the last one who saw you two weeks ago, and you hadn't forgotten."
She shoved the paper bin holding the untouched hot dog away. "Jack said I had hit my head, and that's why I didn't remember our marriage or Hannah." She twisted the wedding band on her finger. "But my head isn't hurt, and he lied to me about the Last Chance being destroyed."
Andy's frown escaped from under his moustache. "He lied to you about the other stuff, too. Charley, you've never been married, not to Jack, not to anybody."
"Why would he lie?"
"You had lunch here with him two weeks ago. Now I didn't listen in, but when you've ran a diner as long as I have, you recognize things. Jack had romantic intentions, and you turned him down flat. He was furious and chased after you. And nobody's seen you since."
"But how could he make me lose my memory? And get a doctor involved in a big charade? What was his name? Dr. Karbunkle."
Andy's eyes widened. "Karbunkle? That's Limburger's lackey. He's not a real doctor. But from what your friends have said about him, he could've messed up your head."
"Then he probably knows how to fix it. Where can I find him?"
"In Limburger's building, but Charley." His miserable tone in his voice stopped her from getting up. "Charley, you've never been pregnant."
She gripped the edge of the table. That didn't stop the spinning. "I don't have any stretch marks," she said a little louder than a whisper. "But she is my daughter."
"She looks too much like you to be anything else. But where did she come from?"
Charley frowned. "Maybe this Karbunkle knows about that too."
"You can't trust him."
"Then I'll just poke around his office. I'll be careful, Andy. Can you watch Hannah?"
"Charley, please stay. Wait for your friends. Let them deal with Karbunkle."
She shook her head. "No, I have to do this. It's my life. I can't depend on anyone else." Seeing his worried expression, she relented slightly. "I'll protect myself. Now, will you watch Hannah? Please, Andy, there's no one I trust as much as you."
"Alright, Charley, I'll watch her." He glanced back at Hannah. "She has Jack's hair."
"He's the father, somehow. Don't trust him."
"And I was going to give you the same advice."
Charley smiled as much as she was able and slid out of the booth. Hannah had mustard spread from ear to ear. "Was it good?"
"Bery good." She squirmed as Charley cleaned her face. "We goin' back to our new home now?"
"No, there's things Mommy has to do. So I want you to stay here with Chef Andy. You'll be good?"
Hannah's green eyes studied the grey-haired man wearing the red T-shirt, slacks, and white apron. "You sure you don't need me?"
"Thanks, but I think I can handle it. You'll be good?"
"Yeah, I'll be good."
Charley pressed her lips against her forehead. "I love you."
"Ever had a root beer float?" Andy caught Hannah's attention as Charley left.