|Henley Street Bridge, Knoxville, TN|
Half My Blood
Copyright © 2015 by Lauren Gilley
Blood has been one of the primary flavors of my life. It isn’t now. Now, it’s been over a year since it flowed across my tongue, all salt and heat, dark copper chocolate. You don’t grow up at the mercy of a man’s fists without knowing well the taste of your own blood, welling up from the splits in your cheeks, and tongue, and broken lips. The taste was never what frightened me – it was the sight of it. The way it shines in the sun when it’s wet, glassy on top. It stops my heart every time – looking at spilled blood.
But last week, I found a place at the top of a page in Moby Dick, a little dark stain where the paper had cut Michael’s finger. Not my blood. Not Mama’s spilled in dark rancid stains on the rumpled sheets. Not Abraham’s in the snow. Dewey’s on the blade of the knife. Jacob’s steaming on Cassius’s muzzle. I can still hear the dog ripping into them sometimes, if I close my eyes and think about snow.
But this was Michael’s blood, and it had spilled on accident, and it was just a little spot.
My husband’s blood.
The blood that makes up half of the little girl in my belly.
The Henley Street Bridge
The Henley Street Bridge
For Aidan, it wasn’t the University of Tennessee’s sprawling brick campus, but the Henley Street Bridge that stood as signature monument in his hometown of Knoxville. His father’s empire crouched on the banks of the Tennessee River, and if he stood at the shore, the brackish smell of water filling his lungs, he could look upriver and see the bridge, its soaring arches black silhouettes against the ragged orange of the sunset. It had never been the posh university scene to which he’d belonged, but to the industrial, dirty-handed river side of the city. In a way, it felt like he’d grown up in the shadow of that bridge. His ancestors hadn’t been the ones to build the school – they’d built the concrete and steel miracle of infrastructure instead.
He had no illusions about his bloodline.
He didn’t kid himself about the picture he presented to the citizens of Knoxville. He knew what they thought of him; no golden boy, him, no. A little wicked curiosity from the young women, censure and fear from the old. Men both admired and hated him on sight. No matter what Hollywood pretended, outlaws would never be in style. It was impossible to be popular when your arms were orange and blue and red and black with ink.
It was early evening as he hit the bridge, a molten sunset sliding over the city, flaring in car windows and glinting off street signs.
Behind his shades, Aidan surveyed the opposite bank, and grinned to himself as he gunned the throttle and shot across the river. His Harley always sounded a little different when he was on the Henley Street Bridge, a strange echoing with all that space between the biker and the water, separated only by the asphalt under the tires.
The water was jewel-toned in the fading light. The breeze was strong against his face, whistling over his ears, pressing little lines into his skin – aging him, just as it had aged all his brothers.
It was wonderful.
Too soon, he was clear of the bridge and heading into the bustling heart of the city. He had nowhere to be; he was just cruising. Coming back from an errand Ghost had sent him on – “Go see what Fish is up to” – and one that was clearly just busy-work at that, he felt no rush to be back at the shop. Merc was there; Merc was the best mechanic they had, and didn’t need overseeing. Aidan planned on getting back in time so he could let his brother-in-law knock off early, go home, have dinner with Ava and the baby. And he, single to his bones, would work OT, pick up some extra change, have just enough dough to buy half-decent wine to try and bribe Jenny Newsom into a date. And by date, he meant hooking up on her sofa.
He had no place to be, and was enjoying the wind in his face, and the sights and smells of his city.
It was his city, wasn’t it?
People would have argued with him; said Knoxville belonged to the Vols, to its law-abiding citizens. But like any marriage, could a man claim ownership if he hadn’t seen and embraced the dark parts? He didn’t know; he’d have to ask one of his married brothers about that. Not Mercy, though, because his sister was just his sister, and didn’t count among his notions of married women. Regardless, he felt at least a part-owner of Knoxville. And he loved this city.
It was with regret that he coasted to a halt at the next red light.
In the left-hand lane alongside him sat a putrid yellow Mustang convertible. He mentally berated the driver for both the color and his choice of a drop-top; hideously uncool. Nearest him, in the passenger seat, a girl shook out her windblown blonde hair and turned to him with obvious interest, a dazzling smile splitting her suntanned face.
Aidan smirked. It never failed; the ladies loved the bike.
As he watched her, the blonde leaned over the door of the Mustang, giving him a view down her shirt; she was squeezing her breasts together for effect.
“I like your bike!” she called over the grumble of car and Harley, grinning again.
He grinned back. “You wanna ride?”
She laughed and sat back, tossing her hair. “I dunno…” She gestured to the driver next to her.
The guy was dark-haired, and looked like he lived in a gym. Tight t-shirt and Oakley shades. Typical prick.
Aidan gave a dismissive snort she probably couldn’t hear. “Fuck him,” he said. “He’s got a goddamn yellow car.”
He couldn’t hear her laughter, but could see it in her wide smile and convulsing shoulders.
And then her boyfriend noticed what was going on, and shot Aidan an ugly scowl across the car. He said something to the girl Aidan couldn’t hear, and the girl tossed her hair and shot him back a dirty look of her own.
Aidan couldn’t wipe the smirk off his face.
The boyfriend glared at him again, and then came the most universal invitation known to competitive mankind. He revved his engine.
It didn’t sound bad – clearly, he had a V8 under the hood on his yellow travesty of a muscle car. But all the major US automakers had long since leashed their muscular beasts, and it wasn’t the indomitable throaty growl of Mustangs long past. It sure as hell couldn’t compete with the sound of Aidan’s pipes as he answered the revving with one of his own.
Cross-traffic was slackening in the intersection in front of them. The light was getting ready to change.
The douche in the car gave Aidan a level stare over the top of his girlfriend’s head. The blonde turned and folded her arms over the ledge of the open window, openly watching Aidan, grinning like mad.
Aidan had no doubt that if he whooped this guy’s ass bad enough, that girl would be on the back of his bike in a heartbeat.
He sent his competitor a challenging grin. His hands tensed, fingers twitching inside his leather gloves. The soles of his feet tingled in anticipation.
The cars were stopping at the balk line.
Green light coming in five…
He cranked the throttle.
The Mustang growled in answer.
The Harley’s rear tire screamed; Aidan could smell the acrid stink of burning rubber, and knew he was kicking up a vaporous cloud of smoke.
“Eat shit, dickhead,” Aidan called, and the blonde’s mouth opened in silent laughter, painted lips stretched wide over white teeth.
The thing civilians didn’t understand about a Harley Dyna Super Glide is that it was fast. They always expected to get whipped by crotch rockets, but they never counted on the sinister black Harley showing them up.
Aidan got the jump on the Mustang, thanks to lightness alone, and then his engine put the leashed fuel-efficient V8 to shame. If it was Holly McCall’s Chevelle SS he was running against, he might have had a problem, but not now. Now, he flew off the balk line and laughed as the Mustang surged along his flank, trying to catch him.
He and Tango had raced at this light before, from it to the next one, and it was a little over a quarter mile, and arrow-straight. He knew this stretch of Knoxville road like he knew the tattoos running up both arms; he could have run this race with his eyes shut. And so he risked a glance back over his shoulder, to see the blonde’s hair whipping around her head, to see the driver glaring at him, lips moving as he muttered curses. Aidan grinned at them, and thought he saw the blonde wave at him.
Then he faced the road again…
Just in time to see a tow-headed little boy dart off the sidewalk and into his path.
The world stopped.
It simply ceased to exist.
His friends, his family, his club. His bike and his tats and his favorite gloves curled tight around the grips, the flaring chrome of his handlebars. The beers he wanted to drink, the pool he wanted to shoot, the girls he wanted to bed. The things he wanted to prove to his father. All of it gone, in that instant. He wasn’t Aidan Teague – the biker, the Lean Dog, the son, the stepson, the half-brother, the club-brother – but a weapon bearing down on the oblivious child chasing his dropped toy out into the street.
In the vacuum, in those few seconds when he lost all touch with himself, Aidan noticed so many details. The woman on the sidewalk, obviously the boy’s mother, lurching after the boy, face contorted in a horrified scream. The faces turned toward him on the other side of the coffee shop window, their features blurred by glaring sunlight. The pale whitish streaks in the boy’s hair; hair pretty enough to belong to a girl, styled in an unfortunate bowl cut. The grit and glass-glimmer of the pavement. The sweat trickling down his temples, his head too hot beneath his helmet.
A photographic moment, one that seemed to last hours, rather than seconds.
I’m going to kill him, Aidan realized.
The boy turned his head, and the sunlight fell on his soft-featured face, eyes glinting like blue marbles as they opened wide at the sight of the bike bearing down on him.
No, Aidan thought. I’m not. And he lurched heavily to the left, swerving into the other lane. The Mustang’s lane, he remembered, the same moment something clipped the back of his bike and a shudder went through the machine.
The last thing he saw, before the blackness closed in, was the bright blue dome of the sky overhead, arching over the building roofs, pouring sun down into his eyes. It was beautiful. It felt like he was flying.
And then nothing.