THE HELMET

I saw the question in his eyes even before he offered me the helmet. I looked down at it with a quizzical expression and then up into his gaze, twinkling beneath a fringe of windswept hair. Defiance begged with me to resist but something in his attention compelled me to accept. My hand courageously stretched forth and gripped the strap as a hint of a smile touched his lips. It was only a slight twitch, not enough to warn me of his humor at my internal struggle, but evident to his triumph.

He did not immediately release the strap and my fingers lightly brushed his as it came loose into my hand. I settled behind him on the motorcycle, affixing the helmet to my head. He kick started the engine and my breath caught in my throat for an instant before we were propelled into traffic. The tenor of the city seemed so much more terrifying from this perspective, the taxies more ruthless, the pedestrians ignoring our flight as we sped down packed streets and avenues, the skyscrapers whipping overhead.

I felt my hair come free of its restraint and attempted to tame it, giving up entirely and gripping the seat until my fingers turned white. I didn't want to hold on to him, to admit I was terrified, but in that inhuman fear that pulsed through my veins was something else, something powerful. Exhilaration. I now understood why Jack rode a motorcycle. It was that same daunting temptation of death, of defiance, of risking everything in a single venture, a compulsive need for excitement, the same passion that drove him to ruthlessness in the courtroom.

A taxi cut us off and we swerved. The movement caused my hand to lift from the seat and close around his waist. He reacted without meaning to; he stiffened as though my arm around him was unfamiliar, then relaxed. I wanted to let go, to release the hand from his heart, where I sensed the steady beat. I took a breath, breathing in the numerous smells of the city—the smog and backfire of taxies, of hot pavement and salted pretzels—and closed my eyes. I smelled something else too—ink and folders, documentation and cologne. Just the faintest trace of it, against everything else vying for my attention.

We slowed and I opened my eyes. The street on which stood my apartment filtered past in the descending twilight. He drew up before the building without being told which it was and his foot fell to the pavement. He turned to look back at me as I shakily removed the helmet. My hair was a mess, strands rippling across my face as I handed it back to him. He reached forward and tenderly brushed them behind my ear. "Thank you," I said. It sounded wrong and somehow inadequate, for he had given me a glimpse into his world. "That was… enlightening."

"Perhaps now you understand." It was said so simply.

"I do." My voice caught in my throat and I hesitated before saying again, "I do, Jack."

His eyes flirted with me as I stood awkwardly on the sidewalk. He then offered me the helmet. It was such a simple gesture yet I knew what it meant. The acceptance of that offering was monumental but seemingly insignificant as I took it from him.

"Goodnight, Miss Kincaid," he said, and rode away. I watched him down the length of the street and then went into my building, still holding the helmet.

I had the feeling I would be using it again.