It’s almost eight o’clock when I pull my motorcycle around the back of the shop, bringing it right up to the curb at the edge of the small parking lot. I kill the engine and then wave a greeting to my teacher, Mr. Aikens, who’s sitting on the back step, tapping his pipe.
I hang my helmet on the handlebars, then walk over and take a seat beside him. “Good morning, Mr. Aikens,” I greet him, as I pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
Mr. Aikens flicks a match and holds it down into the bowl of his pipe, puffing gently until it catches. When I lean towards him, he lifts up the match and lights my cigarette. “We’re not supposed to be smoking out here, Fury,” he says with a chuckle. “I’ll let you slide this time, though, what do you say?”
“You’ve been letting me slide for two years, sir. I figure one more day won’t hurt, will it?”
“Won’t hurt at all,” he agrees. We sit on the stoop and smoke in silence for a minute, the chill in the morning air causing our smoke and our breath to blend into a sparkling haze.
“Cold morning to ride that motorcycle,” Mr. Aikens observes.
“It’s going to warm up later. I just finished rebuilding it over the holiday and couldn’t wait to bring it out to show it off.”
“Looks like you did good work putting that junker back together.”
I grin over at my teacher, pleased with the rare compliment. Mr. Aikens is a retired diesel mechanic and all-around handyman. He’s normally so laid-back he seems about to fall over, but he’s extremely critical of what he calls ‘half-ass rigging’ on our projects.
“Thank you, sir. I couldn’t have done it without some of the things you taught in class.”
“Hmph.” Mr. Aikens snorts around his pipe-stem. “I’m glad to hear it. Got a special project for the automotive technology group this semester, and you’ll need to be at your best for this one.”
Before he can explain any further, he takes his pipe and begins tapping the ash out of the bowl on the step. More students were pulling into the parking lot, and as they start getting out of their cars, Mr. Aikens moves up the stairs to head inside. “Come on in when you’re ready, Fury, and we’ll get started with the introductions.”
“Introductions?” I ask, but the door is already banging closed behind my teacher.
All of the guys in my class had been here for the entirety of this school year, if not longer. If we were getting a new student, I hoped they had a solid pair of stones on them. A lot of these old country boys I had class with liked to play rough with each other and had only started leaving me alone after I thumped a couple of them.
I grind out my cigarette on the step and go into the garage to size up the new guy for myself.
Inside, I hang up my leather jacket but leave on the new cut Deacon had given me on over my t-shirt. My classmates were already gathering around a car that had been pulled into the garage, and I drew closer so I could hear Mr. Aikens over their excited chatter.
“…will be joining our class this semester. As you can see, she’s been gracious enough to bring us a project. Miss Sheridan, why don’t you tell everyone about your car?”
I had been eyeing the old rusty hulk parked in our garage, just like the rest of the class, when my attention was suddenly distracted by an angel descending upon us. As she stepped forward, her long blonde hair floated around her shoulders. Her lips were slightly parted in an excited smile as she faced the class, and her blue eyes sparkled in the overhead lights as she looked around, casting her spell over all of us.
“Hello everyone, I’m Sasha,” she says, her melodic voice instantly bringing a hush over the normally rowdy group of guys surrounding her. “And this is my Mustang! I’ve been working on her with my dad in our spare time for the last few months. When I moved out here and saw that this school offered an automotive technology class, I got in touch with Mr. Aikens to see if the class might want to help me with the body work. I’m hoping that it will be a good learning experience for all of us, and I’m really hoping that you guys will help me turn her into something special!”
“Oh man. I can’t wait to strip her down. Yo, Chase, how long do you think it will take?” Robbie asks me.
“You think you’re ever going to get a single stitch off of her?” I growl, heat rising in my face at the thought of Robbie fucking Davies even laying a finger on this goddess.
“Nah, Mr. Aikens probably won’t let us do it personally.” Robbie sighs. My flare of anger sputters in confusion before being completely snuffed out by a chuckle.
“Oh man, I see what you’re saying, Robbie. Go ask her and Mr. Aikens. I’m sure they’ll let you help out with it. I’m going to see if I can too.” I slap him on the shoulder to get him moving and push my way past a couple of the other guys to approach her.
I smile at her as she turns from our teacher and locks eyes with me. “We wanted to say thank you, and introduce ourselves.” I hold out my hand to grasp hers. She’s got some calluses on her palm and a streak of grease on her arm that disappears under the sleeve of her tight sweater. For a moment, I wonder how far up that smear runs, and what it would feel like to rub her clean. I force my gaze back up to her eyes, determined not to think about what else is going on under her sweater. “I’m Chase, Chase Fury. This is my friend, Robbie,” I tell her, jabbing a finger behind me.
“This car is amazing,” Robbie says, not even turning to face Sasha. “Please let me help with the body work!”
“Of course!” she says, with a smile that chases every bit of the chill from my morning ride right out of my body. “What about you, Chase Fury? Do you want to sign on for this project too, or are you going to stick to the normal coursework?”
When she speaks to me, my gaze fixates on her lips, and what I’m sure must be a voice gifted from heaven above. “I want to stick with you…your project,” I stammer, realizing I’m staring again. “Miss Sheridan, was it? I didn’t hear your last name clearly during the introduction.”
“Sasha, Sasha Sheridan. Please don’t call me Miss. It’s just too strange coming from a guy in a leather vest,” she replies with a laugh.
“Yeah, Chase, what gives with this thing?” Robbie asks from behind me. “What does this patch mean—‘Prospect’? Oh, wait…Prospect…oh shit, Chase, sorry man, I didn’t realize!”
“It’s all right, Robbie, calm down,” I reassure him. Poor kid thinks I’m going to slap him upside the head for insulting my cut. Which I would do, in a normal situation, if someone actually meant it. Out here at school, though, most of my classmates don’t know the significance of it, and just think it looks strange.
“It’s a bold fashion strategy, Cotton,” Sasha drawls in an odd voice. “We’ll have to stay tuned and see if it pays off!”
Robbie laughs from behind me, and as I turn to him with a scowl, he says to Sasha, “I got that reference, good one!”
Sasha smiles at my confusion. “You ever seen the movie Dodgeball?”
“No,” I reply in a gruff voice, annoyed that Robbie got the joke.
“What, never? You too cool for movies, Mr. Fury?” Sasha teases.
“Of course not,” I protest. “Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw…” I trail off, feeling my face flush slightly.
“Saw what?” Sasha prompts.
“Uhm…Harry Potter,” I mumble.
Sasha steps back and looks me up and down, taking in my dirty jeans, scuffed up combat boots, and the Motorhead t-shirt I’m wearing under my brand-new cut. Cracking a grin, she says, “I love Harry Potter! Those stories really appeal to all types of people, don’t they?”
Before I can answer, Mr. Aikens interrupts us. “You guys can talk more while you’re working. Sasha, you’ve had a chance to talk to your classmates. You can pick two at a time to work with you, we’ll rotate around so everyone gets to be a part of the project. Who do you want to start with?”
Every guy in the class gets quiet as Mr. Aikens makes this announcement, practically holding their breath to see who will be the first to get to worship this angel. I don’t realize I’m doing the same, right up until Sasha nods at me.
“Let me get this one, and his friend, Robbie, over there, to help me get started.”
“All right, Chase, you and Robbie use your time today to go over the car with Sasha and let her give you an overview of the work it’s going to need. Then we’ll have a lesson for the entire class about the tools you’ll use, and…”
Mr. Aikens’s words are drowned out by my pulse thundering in my ears as Sasha walks past me to her car. She’s tall, just a few inches shorter than I am, and when I breathe in her sweet apple scent, I feel an electric surge throughout my body, a jolt so powerful I visibly twitch. With a shudder, I get control of myself and turn to follow her.
Her Mustang is parked over our pit, which Robbie has already climbed down into. “I’m going to check out the undercarriage and try to see what kind of work we’ll need to do!” he calls up to us.
“Where do you want to start?” Sasha asks me as she climbs into the driver’s seat, then pops the hood.
“Well, let’s take a look at…good Lord,” I gasp, lifting the hood.
Sasha grabs a spotlight from the toolbox, then comes around to stand beside me. “Yeah,” she agrees solemnly. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Chase, you gotta check this thing out!” Robbie calls from under our feet. “The axles are new, and so is the transmission. This thing is beautiful!”
“You should take a look at the engine!” I yell down to him. “That is not a stock motor,” I tell Sasha, looking over to see her smiling at my reaction.
“It most certainly is not,” she agrees. “That’s a 475-horsepower coyote crate engine my dad bought me for my seventeenth birthday. I installed the supercharger, right there.” She shines the spotlight across the engine. “I mean, I had to get some help at my dad’s garage to do the whole installation with the new transmission, but it’s coming along well. My dad had the idea of bringing it down to the school to complete the body work. He thought it would be a good way to break the ice since I’m new around here.”
“Who are you?” I ask, even more amazed by this angelic woman.
“I told you, goofball, my name is Sasha Sheridan,” she says with a roll of her eyes.
“I got that part,” I chuckle. “I mean, tell me about yourself. Look around, there are no women in the automotive technology program here. You should be, ah, I don’t know, like a fish out of water. But you, you’re a straight-up killer, a shark among goldfish. This car is damn impressive!”
“What can I say? I love Mustangs,” she tells me, blushing and turning her head. “My dad owns a bunch of Ford dealerships up the East Coast. He moved down here a couple of months ago to set up a new location, and the rest of my family followed him over the Christmas holiday. My dad and I both love cars. He’s done a few restoration projects in the past. This one is for me. We used the garages at his dealerships to do a lot of the initial work and get this baby running, but it still needs a ton of body work. So, like I said, my dad thought it would be a good idea to bring it over here and use it as a conversation starter, help me meet people.”
“I’m not sure if your daddy is going to like the kind of people this hot rod will attract,” I observe.
“People like you?” Sasha teases.
“Oh, god no,” I protest, watching her smile slip slightly at the rejection. “Your parents would love me to death,” I add, immediately bringing back her blush. “I am, after all, a perfect gentleman.”
“Yeah, right.” She snorts out a laugh, then immediately covers her mouth in embarrassment.
“Shine your light over here a moment, please,” I tell Sasha as I notice something down in the engine compartment. “Has she been vibrating some when you open her up, or cruising on the highway?”
“Yeah, actually. When I get it up to speed, it’s like trying to drive a bull,” she says, leaning in with the spotlight.
“See that slight cracking right there?” I tell her, pointing down the side of the engine compartment.
Sasha steps closer to me, trying to see, then passes me the spotlight and leans over to get a better look. When she does, her sweater presses against my bare arm, and I realize her breast is resting on the back of my hand. I jerk my arm back as if it burned me.
“Shit, sorry,” I blurt out.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” she replies with a laugh, the curse word falling from her mouth so naturally that I just stare at her in shock. She grabs my hand and pulls me back towards the car. “Stop acting like you’ve never seen a woman before and show me what’s wrong with the freakin’ car.”
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” I mumble, before shining the light back down into the engine compartment. “That crack right down there? The engine mount is broken. That’s causing the vibration. Probably just an age issue. All this power needs more support than this old frame can provide.”
“For now,” Sasha adds with a grin.
“For now,” I confirm. “I’ll start writing it up for the class. We can pull the engine and figure out what it will need to repair the body, then with some grinding, welding, and painting, you’ll be ready to take this monster down to the short track.”
“How long do you think it will take, overall?” Sasha asks me.
“Eh, with this bunch of yahoos? Probably a few weeks. Mr. Aikens will want to use every piece as a test, watch and see.”
“That’s fine. I would really like to have it done before the end of February, if possible. That’s when I turn eighteen, and having the Mustang finished has been my dream for a while. How about you?”
“You mean, how old am I? Or what car do I dream of? I just turned eighteen a week ago, right after Christmas. As to the second part, I use my dad’s old truck sometimes, but whenever it’s not freezing outside, I ride my bike,” I tell her with pride.
“What, like a ten-speed? You ride that all over town?”
I just stare at her for a long moment before I realize she’s not screwing with me, and that this is a serious question. “No, goofball,” I finally reply with a laugh, throwing the charming insult back at her. “My bike, my motorcycle. Do I look like the Lance Armstrong type?”
She steps back and puts her hands on her hips, looking me up and down. “Not really, no. You look like you’ve got all your parts.”
That makes me blush, because my first thought is that she’s referring to Armstrong only having one ball. Was she checking out my package? Is it that noticeable in my jeans? Without thinking, I blurt out, “Do you want to see it?”
Her mouth falls open in shock before she breaks into a huge grin. “Do you really think this is the best place for you to show off all your parts?”
“No, I meant my motorcycle!” I protest, certain now that she was checking me out. I’ve had girls flirt with me before, but none have ever left me so flustered and off-balance. “Come on, it’s just out back,” I tell her, hoping the cool morning air will clear my head a bit.
She follows me outside and down the stairs to where my bike is parked against the curb. I swing a leg over the seat and stand it up, then ask her, “What do you think?”
Instead of gushing over it, or saying anything at all, she walks a full circle around me and then kneels down by my leg. “I think that it’s unique, I’ll give you that. This wasn’t put together in any official Harley-Davidson factory, was it?”
I lean the bike back over before I dismount, then sigh in chagrin. “Is it that obvious? I couldn’t afford even a used one working part-time around here, so I salvaged parts from all over to rebuild this thing. Tell me the truth, is it an embarrassment?”
“No, god no,” Sasha says as she stands up. “Are you kidding? I mean, yeah, it won’t win any awards for style, but mechanically, you did a great job. Did you do all this yourself, even painting the tanks and fenders?”
“Yeah, the club has a garage with all the equipment I needed, even an airbrush for the touch-up work.”
“The club?” Sasha asks with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah, the motorcycle club I’m prospecting with,” I confirm, turning around to show her the ‘Prospect’ patch on the back of my vest. “The Savage Kings. They’ve got charters all up and down the East Coast, but the local group are the originals. My uncle is the president.”
“Your uncle…is his name Bishop or…?” Sasha asked.
“Deacon,” I reply with a laugh since her guess was also a church position. “Deacon Fury. He actually just invited me to prospect with them this morning. I’ve got to go out to meet with him later today.”
“Deacon! That was it! My dad was telling us about him over dinner the other night!” Sasha says, catching me by surprise.
“How does your dad know my uncle?” I ask her in confusion.
“My dad was down here getting ready for the opening of his new dealership, when a group of guys on motorcycles roared onto the lot. He said they made him nervous at first, but that a man named Deacon introduced himself as the president and wanted to welcome him to the neighborhood. My dad thought it was going to be an extortion racket or something, but he told us the bikers were actually cool and invited him to set up a booth at a charity event they have coming up, so he could show off some cars. They also told him about the towing company and salvage yard they run nearby,” she explains. “My dad liked the guys so much, he signed contracts to let them handle any towing and repossessions he needs done out here.”
I snort at that. “Well, if he needs those services around here, he probably didn’t have much choice. The club has a bit of a monopoly in the area for that kind of work.”
“At least they were nice about it!” Sasha laughs, picking up the helmet I left hanging on the handlebar. “So, when are you going to take me for a ride?” she asks, plopping the helmet on her head.
I walk around to her and gently lift the helmet back off of her. “I’ve never had anyone ride with me before,” I admit. “I don’t even have an extra helmet. Would you really want to risk riding with someone like me?”
“I don’t know the risk,” she says with a mischievous grin. “Because I don’t know anyone like you. I tell you what, let me hold your phone and I’ll give you my number. That is, if you want to hang out sometime and let me learn more about how ‘risky’ you are.”
“I’d like that,” I tell her. God, if the club could see me fawning over this woman like a damned fool, they’d revoke my offer to prospect. I hand her the flip phone I carry around, and she quickly punches in her name and number.
“When should I expect a call?” Sasha asks. “I’m new here, and with all the attention I’ve been getting…” She trails off as her phone begins to chime in her pocket.
She pulls the phone out of the butt pocket of the tight jeans she was wearing, her forehead crinkling as she stares at the unknown number on the screen. Then, looking up and noticing that I’m still holding my phone open in my hand, she smiles and answers the call with a flourish. “Hello there, this is Sasha speaking,” she drawls, her voice echoing back from the speaker in my hand.
“Hi Sasha, this is Chase,” I reply, stepping closer to her. We’re so close our toes are almost touching, and our two phones begin to break up in static. “I was just calling to see if you would be interested in going for a ride with me tomorrow. I’ll need time to get you a decent helmet, but assuming this weather holds, tomorrow should be a good day for it.”
“Then it’s a date,” Sasha responds with a smile, ending the call and sliding her phone back into her pocket. “It will be good to get to know each other outside of class. I’m going to try to be all business in there while we’re working on my baby. Come on, let’s get back in there and get our plan written up for Mr. Aikens. You seem like you know what you’re doing, Chase Fury, and together, I think we can make something beautiful.”
“I hope so,” I tell her as I linger a moment, letting her get ahead of me. I watch her walk up the stairs before I draw out a cigarette, needing a smoke to help calm my nerves. I’ve hung out with my Uncle Deacon at his clubhouse and seen the kinds of women the Savage Kings keep around. None of them have ever made me feel a fraction of what Sasha has in only these few moments. “We’re not just going to make something beautiful,” I vow to myself. “We’re going to make something eternal.”