Esther toyed with a surprisingly light motorcycle helmet as she watched Mike chat with the young salesman behind the counter. Since they needed to stop for ‘some gear’ for her as he called the pile of stuff that was accumulating on the counter next to him, Mike had decided he might as well get his motorcycle serviced. So, they had a couple of hours to kill.
After dinner at a small Mexican restaurant near the hotel, they had come back to their room. Esther blushed at the memory of the loving that had followed. After making the life altering decision to hop on the back of Mike’s motorcycle and follow him around the country, she had been emboldened. It was as if each mile that she travelled away from Sebida freed her.
Freed her from what though? Nothing could extinguish Tommy’s memory. In fact, since Mike showed up at her door just days before Halloween offering a ‘strong back’ to help with her annual party that the children of that small town lived for, she had felt almost closer to her son. She frowned at the thought.
She had lost Tommy well before the IED blast killed him. She supposed it was natural. Children grew up and went away from home. College. Careers. Families of their own. While Tommy’s family had been the Corps, she saw now that nothing had been the same since he went away to college. That house and her life had been empty. His death only made the finality of that more clear.
After the rape, she still stumbled over those words, even after a quarter of a century. After the rape, she had clung to the one thing that gave any purpose and meaning to her life…her son. She had spent his whole life pouring herself into him…to the exclusion of all else. Oh sure, she had teaching, but that was just a job. A way to pay the bills, put food on the table and give her child as many of the things he wanted as she could afford.
It was not even that she was trying to make up to him for the father he never knew. No, it went deeper than that. And only now was she beginning to realize the disservice she had done to her son…and herself…by never moving beyond that one drunken experience. By never building a life of her own, by living only through his little eyes, holding him so close that perhaps she squeezed some of his own childhood and youth out to feed her own?
She swallowed the lump that had risen in her throat, making it hard to breath. She swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand to clear her vision. As she sent a silent prayer pleading for her son’s forgiveness to the universe or whatever was out there. She could not change the past. And there had certainly been plenty of good in it too.
But she could not help but wonder what Tommy would say to this sudden change in her. Hopping on the back of Mike’s Harley was certainly something completely out of character for the woman who had spent her whole life trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations. And trying to live down the one time she had failed. Or perhaps more accurately the only other time in her life when she had acted on impulse.
She sighed, this time was certainly off to a better start than that drunken fraternity party.
Mike frowned as he pondered his next move. That whole exercise had taken far longer than he expected. It had made complete sense to have Esther serviced while they stopped at the Harley shop in Houston, but over half the day was gone. And New Orleans was still a good five or six-hour hard ride from here. And the real Esther was not used to that kind of a rough ride.
He bit his lip to keep from smiling at the thought of ‘rough rides’ of a different kind. He listened as she whistled that unfamiliar tune once more from the bathroom. It was comforting. Hell, just her presence brought him solace that an old Devil Dog like him could never have imagined.
For as long as it lasts…he reminded himself again. She will see through it all to the truth one day. The broken, fucked up little boy. He inhaled and added ‘selfish bastard’ to the list because until that day came he was going to take every single minute of peace and respite that woman offered. And treasure them all for the gifts of Fate they were…undeserved though they may be.
He checked his phone and smiled at the text message from Senor Hernandez. Maria had scored in the top ten percent on her SAT, whatever that was it seemed important to the man who had suffered enough heartache. Lupe had another boyfriend but he and Senora Hernandez liked this one, said he had a future. Even Hector seemed to be settling down, focusing upon graduating high school and getting into the Marine Corps, the same way his cousin Manny had.
The pic that was attached of the dark blond toddler with the all-too-familiar smile caused Mike’s chest to tighten uncomfortably and those damned clouds to blur his vision. Miguel looked so damned much like his father, the young man who had been the last of his Marines to die on Mike’s watch. The last of too many. Then again one was one too many.
He sighed as hollow as it sounded at least the Hernandezes had Miguel, their grandson something, a piece of Manny. She did not even have that much. He looked at the bathroom door once more as he came full circle back to the dilemma that had consumed him for over six months…
What was he going to do about Esther? How could he possibly keep his promise to Tommy to look after his Mama when every time he looked at her he felt like some damned teenager with a bad case of puppy love?
As if to solidify his thoughts, she appeared smiling in the doorway, “What now, Sergeant Mike?” she teased.
What now indeed.