All the rage, p.8
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       All the Rage, p.8

           T. M. Frazier
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  I might have even described him as such.

  I wasn’t.

  Shrugging I decided to try my hand at the whole truth thing Smoke had been so gung-ho about. “I didn’t want her here, so I made her go away,” I admitted.

  Nolan laughed, although I couldn’t tell if he really thought what I’d done was funny or if he was just laughing because he couldn’t believe it. His unruly hair was long enough to push behind his ears, which was exactly what he did. It fell over his jaw-full of stubble, revealing the even more prominent dimple on his left cheek he’d had in his school picture.

  “I saved you yesterday,” I blurted, growing uncomfortable under both his gaze and the silence.

  Nolan huffed. “Yeah, then you ran the fuck off.”

  “You pissed me off,” I admitted, clutching my bag tighter to my chest. “On a scale of one to ten, it wasn’t the most pissed off I’d ever been. But I’d give it a strong six.” Nolan’s eyes followed my movement and landed on my cleavage. I moved my bag again until it was covering my chest completely.

  Nolan cleared his throat. “How exactly did my drowning piss you off?” he asked. It was dark inside the house. Musty. The only light was coming through the living room sliders, which had no covering. Everything from the faded and chipped white wicker furniture, to the small TV on a stand in the corner, was old and dusty. A wayward beam of sunlight illuminated the massive amount dust as it cycloned around in mid-air. I felt my throat closing. I waited for whatever was mutating in that house to trigger some unknown allergic reaction in me and for a second wished I had one of those pen needles I could stab into my thigh when the anaphylactic shock took hold.

  My chest grew tight. A pit in my stomach grew. I had the urge to clear my throat. Or cough. Or breathe into a bag. Great. The house was old. Asbestos poisoning was a good possibility. So was lead.

  I steadied my eyes on Nolan and tried to focus on his dimple instead of death by dust microbials. “Your pool is disgusting.”

  “My pool?” Nolan’s forehead creased and he rubbed the bridge of his nose between two of his fingers. “You were on the phone. You were talking to someone and letting me drown and then you saved me. What the fuck was all that about?”

  I shifted from one foot to the other. “Ummm… I was trying to call for help but couldn’t get a signal…”

  I was calling Smoke to see if I should just let you drown. You’re alive, so obviously my end of the argument didn’t hold up.

  Nolan raised an eyebrow at me. There was no way he believed me. I didn’t believe me.


  I quickly moved on, “I came back here to check on you and to talk to you about something.”

  “I still don’t understand how a pool made you so pissed off,” Nolan said, unable to follow me to the new conversation I was trying to lead him toward.

  I bit my bottom lip and looked down at the grimy floor. This was going to be harder than I thought. But if Smoke wanted me to tell this kid the truth then fuck it. It would be completely his fault when his stupid plan backfired. What was the worst that could happen? Nolan would get suspicious? Job over? I might get to end this fiasco early. It didn’t sound so bad.

  I let out a frustrated growl. “Okay, so here is how it is,” I said, letting my shoulders fall as well as my pretenses. I almost took a deep breath before catching another glimpse of the dust storm in the living room. Instead I opted for several short breaths. I removed the bag from my shoulders and walked over to the open kitchen, flinging it onto the counter, which looked like it had been recently cleaned, or at least wiped down so I used it as my safe place.

  Nolan crossed his arms over his expansive and well defined chest, causing the veins over them to move and his biceps to bulge. His forearms were bigger than my legs.

  He cleared his throat.

  “Oh, right. My name. I go by Rage, but I lie and tell everyone it’s short for Regina, but it’s really just a nickname I was given as a kid because I’ve had… have issues, anger-type issues. That’s of course on top of the small case of OCD, mild to sometimes major germaphobia, and hypochondria. Oh, but that last one’s been totally better since I deleted the Web MD app from my phone. I don’t tell people my real name because frankly, I’d just rather not go there.” I looked over to Nolan to make sure he was still with me. He was, his eyes following my every movement.

  This truth thing wasn’t so bad. So far, so good.

  Pushing off the counter I ventured out of my safe place and made my way around the small square space. I surveyed the framed pictures on the walls of family, mostly an elderly couple and a younger version of Nolan. There was a massive amount of knick-knacks covering every available surface, which was all covered by a layer of dust turned dirt. The kitchen, dining room, and living space were all crowded together into one tiny area.

  “Keep going,” Nolan said, urging me on. “Don’t stop now.”

  “I was nearby when I saw you drowning,” I started. “And when you fell in the pool, my first thought wasn’t to save you,” I said, pressing on a few keys of a small out of tune piano in the corner of the room.

  “No?” Nolan asked, although he didn’t sound surprised.

  I shook my head, my ponytail swishing from side to side, lightly smacking against my shoulders. “Nope. My first thought was of your gross pool. Of what invisible thing could be lurking in there just waiting to make its way inside me and kill me, like a bomb on a timer. Have you heard of brain-eating amoeba? It’s totally a thing. Look it up. Just not on Web MD. One swim in infested water and some one cell son of a bitch is suddenly up your nose and eating away at your brain. Your very own parasite zombie apocalypse which you don’t even know about until your nose bleeds and you keel over dead.”

  Nolan remained silent like he was waiting for me to continue. But when I didn’t say anything, he finally spoke. “You were pissed off at me…because of the pool?”

  I sighed. “How did you not get that from ‘Clean. Your. Pool’?” I threw air quotes over the last three words I’d spoken to him before hightailing it to urgent care for a round of preventative antibiotics. Followed by a trip to the swim shop where I tossed my bikini into the garbage and walked out wearing a brand new replacement.

  Through the back sliding glass doors, the tiny house made up for its size and condition with an undisturbed view of the Gulf. The sun began its decent, falling quickly behind the small waves. “I’m here for the summer,” I said, still staring out the window. A young boy ran by the deck chasing a Frisbee. “I’ve seen you around, noticed your leg.” I readied myself for what I was about to say next. “I need a place to stay for a little while,” I looked around the room and back at Nolan. “And you look like you could use some help around here.”

  Nolan didn’t look convinced. “And you’re uncle thought it would be a good idea for you to have some help.”

  “You know my uncle?” Nolan asked. There was a small trace of alarm in his voice, but it vanished as quickly as it appeared.

  “No, I just know someone who talked to him recently. Said you might be okay with me staying here in exchange for helping you out.”

  “What kind of help?” His eyes again traveled down the length my body. “Besides, what makes you think I need help?” he asked defensively.

  I looked at the ceiling and then to the floors. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe the six inches of dust on your fan, your floors, and every other surface in this place. Maybe the mold growing in the corner, the slime growing in your pool, the girl with the tongue ring at your door in the middle of the afternoon,” I challenged, unsure of why I threw the girl into the list. So I quickly added, “Do you know how dirty a tongue ring can be if not properly—”

  “She has a tongue ring now?” Nolan asked, cutting me off.

  I had the sudden urge to push him back into the pool. “I’ll clean this dump. I’ll cook, although I’m better at baking.” I stepped up behind his chair and wheeled him into the kitchen to show him how great I could be at th
e whole assisting him thing. “I tell you what, I’ll even make sure you don’t drown in the pool for the duration of the summer, if that helps you out any.”

  “You running away from something, Rage?” Nolan asked, catching me off guard.

  “No, I stopped running a long time ago.”

  Nolan was quiet for a moment. I came around to the front of his chair and he extended his hand out to me. “Well, then. I guess it’s nice to meet you, Rage-not-your-real-name, germaphobe-hypochondriac with anger issues, no last name, not running from anything anymore. I’m Nolan, recently injured, ex-fuck buddy decided to become a cum dumpster online, lost my hockey scholarship, wallowing in self pity, alcohol most certainly is a food group, Archer.”

  I stared down at his hand like he was wielding a knife. Nolan reached forward like he was going to touch me and I jumped back. “Easy there, tiger,” he said, unclipping the small plastic bottle of hand sanitizer from the strap of my bag, generously applying it to his palms and between his fingers.

  Why isn’t he telling me to get the fuck out after all I’d just said? Maybe he’s more demented than I am.

  Probably not.

  “Let’s try this again,” Nolan said, extending his newly sanitized hand. “I’m Nolan and everything I just said before.”

  My stomach flipped. I was about to change my mind and tell him to forget everything I’d just said and leave when he said, “Go ahead, shake my hand, germaphobe girl,” he challenged. Whispering, “I dare you.”

  Challenge accepted.

  Grabbing his outstretched hand I’d fully intending to shake it quickly and take a step back. But when my palm met the heat of his and his large fingers covered my hand, I lingered for a moment too long. I made a move to pull away, but he clutched my hand tighter, pulling me down so my nose was almost touching his. When he whispered to me again, his cool breath blew against my cheek. His words, so low and quiet they were almost inaudible.


  Lucky for me I had excellent hearing.

  Unlucky more like it.

  He released my hand suddenly and I stumbled back. Turning away I again moved over to the sliding glass doors and focused my attentions out the window. Nolan chuckled, following me across the room. I rubbed my thumb over my palm, which was still warm from his touch. The air conditioning must have been as broken as the rest of the house because the room grew impossibly warm.

  I should probably check my temperature.

  Darkness encroached on the orange sky as the moon and sun changed shifts. This is just a job. A job just like any other. You always finish your jobs. You can do this.

  I wasn’t going to let anything distract me from the task at hand, not even the words Nolan whispered to me. The words that left goose-bumps scattered across my skin and my words stuck in my throat. Maybe I’d heard him wrong.

  But I knew I hadn’t.

  “It’s cute how you thought I was actually going to let you go.”

  Smoke had been wrong about him.

  Nolan Archer was anything but ordinary.



  “That’s not a bike,” Nolan announced from the doorway of the open front door. I’d just parked Delilah next to his Jeep. I smacked a mosquito that landed on my neck and reminded myself to go buy bug spray and citronella candles and maybe some of those zapper things that make the loud noise when it electrocutes mosquitos. Mosquitos were responsible for the plague. Or maybe that was rats. Either way, the mosquitos had to go.

  Yes. A zapper was a must.

  “Well, it’s my version of a bike. Delilah gets me from A to B just fine,” I said, shaking the dead mosquito carcass off the palm of my hand like it was a pit-bull locked on my wrist.

  “Delilah?” Nolan asked in amusement, his eyes dancing as he watched me win the battle over the blood sucker.

  “Yes, Delilah. Don’t judge her, you don’t even know her. Are you some big bad bike aficionado or something?” I asked, brushing a pine needle off the back fender of my scooter.

  Nolan grabbed the doorframe and lifted himself slightly out of his chair so he could reach the light switch. He pointed down to the area under the house covered with cheap wooden lattice and overgrown vines that was now bathed in light before sitting back down. “Go see for yourself,” he said smugly.

  Peering through the lattice and through the spider webs that were thankfully on the other side of it, there, under the house, in a makeshift storage area, next to the molded and decrepit pool toys and rusted fishing poles was the outline of a motorcycle, covered in a grey, thin spandex type material. “Hooray for you, you have a bike.” I said, turning and walking back up the ramp. “Is that supposed to impress me? I mean, the good thing is that it looks like a Harley, so at least it’s not a pussy bike. But I’m letting you know right now if you’ve got a Honda or a crotch rocket under there that I can’t stay here and our deal is off.”

  Nolan smiled as I pushed on his chair, rolling him farther into the house so I could make my way back inside. “Then I guess our deal is still on because that, young lady, is a Fat Boy.” He paused and looked at me like he was expecting something. “I take it from your complete lack of enthusiasm that you’re still not impressed.”

  I used the throw blanket on the back of the couch to brush the dust off the cushion, which was thankfully covered in plastic.

  Nolan rolled around in the kitchen rustling through the refrigerator before joining me. He rolled over and set one of two beers on the coffee table. He took a large bag of popcorn from his lap and tossed it onto the couch. The other beer, he opened by banging against the corner of the coffee table, adding new marks to the hundreds of other identical ones in the same spot. He handed the open one to me and did the same with the other. When I wrapped my hand around the neck of the cold bottle, his grip lingered and he even tugged back slightly. Our eyes met for a fraction of a second before he released it.

  A shiver ran down my spine.

  It must have been the beginnings of a fever caused by one of the numbers of infections I probably had. I made a mental note to delete the encyclopedia app from my phone as well although since I’d had a virtual hot flash earlier, I was pretty sure the end was near.

  “You know a lot about bikes?” Nolan asked.

  “Uh, a little,” I said, biting my bottom lip. It was only a small lie. The whole truth thing was all well and good, but a few of the MCs were my biggest clients and were therefore off limits and not allowed anywhere near truthville. “But I grew up in a town with a Harley dealership. You know, one of those big ones with a diner in it. Bikers rode through almost every weekend. My friend Cody and I would sit on top of the picnic tables at the truck stop on the side of the highway and watch them drive off the ramp in pairs. We would go to the dealership and learn the names of all the bikes and shout them out as they passed us by.”

  Nolan’s beer was paused at his lips. He looked at me as though he could see right through me even though he shouldn’t have been because what I was telling him was the truth. Well, all except not knowing much about bikes. “What you just said sounds a lot like me as a kid.”

  “You grow up around a lot of bikes?” I asked.

  Nolan nodded. “Bikes. Bikers. Hard to avoid them in this town,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re aware but we’ve got two of the biggest MCs in the state right across the causeway in Logan’s Beach.”

  I nodded and took a sip of my beer, afraid that if I didn’t do something with my mouth the truth about how I not only knew that already, but had been to both the Wolf Warriors and Beach Bastards MCs, would spill out from between my lips.

  Nolan clicked something on the side of his wheelchair that released the armrest so he could slide it down. The muscles in his forearms flexed and strained as he lifted himself up and shifted onto the couch, landing with a grunt against the cushions.

  “Does it hurt?” I asked, pointing to his leg.

  His face was scrunched up in the center. “Nah, thanks for h
elping, though,” Nolan said sarcastically through gritted teeth. Oh yeah, the boy was most definitely in pain.

  “You did just fine on your own,” I pointed out.

  “Yeah, I usually do, but I saw the doctor this morning and he changed out my old cast for this smaller one so it’s sore as fuck from repositioning it. I’m supposed to start using the crutches but haven’t gotten around to it yet,” he said, positioning his foot so his injured leg could rest on top of the coffee table.

  “How did you do it?” I asked out of curiosity. “Hockey, right? Was it in practice or a game?”

  “How did you know that?” Nolan asked, leaning away from me.

  “ ’Cause I can read your mind,” I said waving my hands around in the air like a mystic. I dropped my hands when he continued to stare at me blankly. “You told me. Your introduction. Remember? You’re Nolan something about injuring yourself in hockey?”

  “Oh yeah,” Nolan said, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

  “They got you hopped up on a lot of drugs or something?” I asked, wondering why he was so suddenly distrusting of me when earlier he agreed to let me stay at his house when he didn’t even know me.

  “I’ve just got a lot on my mind.” He offered me a small smile. “It wasn’t in a game.”


  “You asked how I injured my leg. It wasn’t in a game. It wasn’t
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