"I want to take you for a ride on the bike," he declared, his eyes intent on me, a whisper of excitement curling up at the edges.
It came out of nowhere. Our conversation consisted of the usual topics and always, always I tried to figure out where I stood and where I wanted to stand. It was one of those days where summer transitioned into fall and our friend group's plans bled from one fun thing to the next on the weekend. Scraps of surrounding conversations filtered into my awareness but nothing could distract me from his gaze.
How did he manage to do this to me? We were still only a few months into this equilibrium and at least every week he'd do or say something that made me question whether he wanted something more again. He made me question my very sanity. I didn't want to be hurt but I wasn't ready to let go of him entirely either.
"We could go right now," he continued. It was a dare and maybe it was a message. We couldn't leave this gathering together and not be plagued by whispers. Maybe that was part of the problem. For every sweet thing he did, a friend would squeal, "I really think he likes you again!" and I'd wonder. But I also couldn't forget the phone call where he said he couldn't do this, that he didn't want to lose me but he realized he wasn't attracted to me after all.
I tried not to think about that phone call.
I tried not to think about what a motorcycle ride would mean. There was no doubt I'd go. He wasn't anything close to a bad boy but my heart forever trended toward those with an edge. Give me a tattooed, bearded man with a bike and I'll be content. Or in this case, one out of three.
"How about tonight?" I countered. We were all going to a cookout and it would give me a chance to swing home and change into something else. Too many people had gotten road rash over the years for me to want to test that fate. "I don't want to ride when I'm wearing shorts and flip flops. And I'll need a helmet too."
He should have thought of this before he ever asked but I pushed the doubt back into the recesses of my mind. He sought me out. He wanted to take me for a ride. He didn't make this offer to any of our other friends.
I wore jeans to the cookout, a thrum of nerves beating in my stomach. After we'd eaten, he came over and asked if I was ready to go. I followed him out to my car, where I changed into sneakers.
I looked at him expectantly for a helmet but there wasn't one. He made excuses. He hadn't wanted to drive all the way back home to get it. Granted, it was a longer trip for him but he chose to get coffee with a few friends during that time instead. He chose something else over me. Again.
He would wear his helmet- it only made sense in his eyes- and told me nothing would happen to us in my hometown. This wasn't 100% true. Accidents could happen anywhere, anytime, and they certainly did here.
I should have put my foot down. I should have walked away from the blurred lines of our friendship.
But I wanted to be the girl on the back of a bike. I wanted to forget all my worries for even an hour as the world rushed by. It could simply be him and me. Full stop. I hoped I wouldn't live to regret it.
I wrapped my arms around him and felt the muscles of his body beneath my fingers. I should have held on tighter once the bike began to move but I needed to keep space between us and remember. How many more ways could he show me I didn't matter enough? And still, knowing all I knew, I wanted him to want me. I deserved better and yet I wanted the thrill of a motorcycle ride to take me back to the day he first asked me out and the time he surprised me at work.
The temperature dropped as we rode down familiar streets. I wished I'd grabbed a jacket but the day had been sunny and warm. I shivered and took in the roar of the motor and the town I knew so well. My hair tangled and darted around my face without a helmet or hair tie to tame it from the wind. It battered me without restraint and I could only take it.
After a while, we stopped by to see some married friends in their new house. He'd wooed her on the back of his bike and they looked at us with knowing grins as we stepped inside. I wanted to tell them there was nothing to see in my wind-whipped hair and rosy cheeks.
This ride meant nothing. I would not hold on to the hope of him. This time I wanted to mean it.