Uncaged Love The Boxed Set #1-5(2)

By: JJ Knight

“I SAID, whatcha got under that hood?” His voice is raised now, pissed off. He can’t believe I’d ignore him.

They’re moving away from the bike. I’m screwed. I’ve got a vacant lot, then a shut-down strip of shops ahead. Nobody is walking my direction.

There’s plenty of time to catch me. If I can just get to the light at Cesar Chavez, I’ll be home free. Lots of people walk on that street. I won’t be so alone with them. I consider whether or not I should run.

A man comes out of the store, way out of his league for this part of town. He’s got a leather jacket and jeans that cost a month’s rent. His golden blonde hair is cut in the messy way that takes expert hands to get right.

He throws his leg over the bike. For a minute I think I’m safe, as the boys’ attention is drawn back. I hunker down in my hoodie and walk as fast as I can. The roar of the motorcycle drowns out anything the boys might say.

I’m at the end of the lot when I feel a jerk on my elbow. A strong arm whips me around.

“You dissin’ me?” It’s one of the boys. His face is tan, like he hangs outside all day. Little nicks along his jaw probably come from shaving with cheap razors. He makes me think of a weasel, long-nosed and beady-eyed.

Once he has my attention, he relaxes a bit, looking from side to side at his friends. “See, she’s liking me better already.” He sticks out his tongue to show off a gold barbell. “How ’bout you and me take a little walk? Get to know each other better?”

I yank my arm back, and he laughs. The Harley behind us quiets to an idle, then rumbles as Golden Boy pulls onto the street.

He rides alongside us, and I can see he’s looking. His helmet is turned our direction.

“Sweet ride,” Weasel Boy calls out. He tries to entwine his arm with mine, but I jerk free and try to walk away.

The other boys laugh, and this pisses him off. He steps in front of me. The motorcycle continues on by, and they all focus back on their girl prey.

“Come on, baby, don’t be like that.” He reaches for my hood like he’s going to pull it down.

I don’t get it, I really don’t. Why is he interested in me? Why is their day improved by messing up mine?

I try to shove past. We’re in the middle of the sidewalk. They can’t actually do anything.

But his hands closing on my shoulders are too familiar, too rough. The heat rises, and I can’t stop myself. Without thinking, I’m a whirlwind, all bony elbows flying at their faces, bellies, knees. I aim for soft spots that’ll drop them.

I can’t hear anything. The world is silent inside my hurricane. Faces are a blur as I spin around.

Then a roar fills my ears.

Golden Boy is back, his bike falling to the sidewalk as he pushes through. He grabs my arms. I’m pinned hard against his solid body.

I think I’ve traded one disaster for another, but he whispers, “Let me get you out of here.”

The boys stand back. They’re suddenly kids, and this is the man.

Weasel thinks about stepping up. His lips are curled around some insult. But one of his friends wraps an arm around his neck and pulls him back.

Golden Boy lifts his bike and swings a leg over. “Get on,” he says.

The hurricane is starting to collapse in on itself. I feel like a top that’s done spinning. I’m suddenly exhausted.

I manage to get on behind him, but I don’t know where to put my hands. I try to clutch the seat between my thighs, but as soon as the Harley leaps forward, I have to grab the man.

He’s hard and muscled beneath the jacket. I’ve never held a stranger like this before.

My daddy, long ago, sometimes let me ride his back like a horse. I was always afraid to sit up, so I wrapped my arms around him. That memory is the closest thing to what I am feeling now.

My throat tightens. I haven’t thought of my daddy in years. He died on an oil rig when I was eight. I pretty much haven’t been happy since then.

Although this is close.

The wind whips around me, pushing the hood off my head. I want to laugh now, free of the bad scene. I don’t even know where this guy is taking me. It could be someplace worse. Some other fate.

But for a minute I don’t care and just look at the city blurring by in a wash of color. The poverty and neglect disappear. Only impressions remain. A green tree on a boulevard. A little girl in a red coat. A long blue banner fluttering on an awning.

We pull up to a light and the dismal surroundings come back into focus. Golden Boy flips up his visor. “I’m headed to the gym a couple blocks up, but I can take you somewhere first.”

“The gym’s fine,” I say. I’m a little sad the ride is over. It’s been the best part of the day. The year, maybe. Heck, probably the best moment since I arrived in LA three years ago, seventeen and fresh off the bus from hell.