One Saturday Josh and Stephen decided to dig out their off road motorbikes and practice some motocross. Enjoying the perks of work on a successful series, they had money to spend and a need to focus on something other than nineteenth century dialogue. Josh hadn’t competed since his tragic accident years earlier during a race, when a teenager died after being hit by Josh’s bike. The accident had happened in the blink of an eye, as those things often do; and had sent Josh spiraling into depression, despair and drug use, but his friends convinced him to get back on the horse and give it another go. Both Josh and Steve were motorcycle junkies, and so they tuned up their bikes and purchased some colorful new leathers. The next weekend they made some adjustments to their bikes to accommodate some freestyle riding, or FMX, which Jessie found hard to watch and of which she was fairly certain Jonathon would not approve – his two lead male cast members on their Honda CRF 450s going for big air over dirt jumps. But the sport was addictive, and the boys were hooked.
About a month into the new shooting season of Drifters, the gang drove east an hour and a half to the mountain-hugged town of Agassiz so the boys could practice on a local course. It was a gorgeous windless blue sky autumn day; the drive alone was worth the trip. Leaves of rusty reds and burnt orange lined the route, sentry to the small party of friends cruising casually along with their coffees and salty snacks of crunchy cashews and roasted almonds. The majestic snow-capped mountains were a more onerous guard. Like the leaves, they stood watch along the way as if they were protecting the boisterous group throughout their journey. Everyone was in good humor. The shooting of Drifters season two was off to a great start, and the reviews from season one were heartening. Besides, what could be better than a group of good friends hanging out together on a pleasant crisp fall Saturday?
The group convinced Jonathon to let them borrow one of the show’s production vans so they could all travel together. Carter brought his new girl, Ashley, a quiet, pleasant addition to the gang. Stephen invited Sophie; Maggie and Sue-Lyn tagged along in the backseat, picking on the others and harassing Josh about his driving. As they approached the motocross track, the discussion turned to the sport. It was a dangerous activity even for guys like Josh and Stephen who, having raced in their younger days, were now out just for the fun of it. Josh was quiet as the discussion centered on known accidents, like Cam Sinclair’s badly broken femur in Las Vegas, and Jim McNeil’s death during a practice at the Texas Motor Speedway. It was a fact of life that injury followed riders of the sport, whether they were into racing or freestyle events. It wasn’t lost on any of them that the Agassiz track was near a landmark called Cemetery Road, but they were all so happy on that particular day that the road’s name became a joke and in no way a portent of things to come.
As the guys unloaded their heavy bikes from the trailer behind the van, the girls dropped their compostable coffee cups in nearby square covered wooden garbage bins and wandered around the site. Maggie elbowed Jessie and pointed towards a white sign with black lettering.
“Black bear area – Beware. I love British Columbia, but I can’t get used to the bears.” She edged a little closer to Sue-Lyn.
Jessie grinned. “You wouldn’t have liked Charleston, then. We shared the city with alligators, four kinds of poisonous snakes, and black widow spiders.”
Maggie looked at her friend, somewhat astonished. It was rare for Jessie ever to mention Charleston. Even Jessie looked slightly taken aback, surprised at how easily the reference to the historic city had left her lips, as Sue-Lyn hooked an arm in her co-star’s elbow. Jessie looked up at Maggie and shrugged. The slight admission was a good sign – maybe life in Charleston was indeed behind her.
The girls wandered over to the racetrack and watched some younger riders spray up dirt. They got a kick out of a little boy of maybe three or four, on a child’s tricycle, circling the viewing area with a pronounced verbalized “Rrrrrrrrrr”.
“Just wait until he gets a motor,” Sophie announced dryly.
Sue-Lyn piped up. “Boys and their toys. Starts in diapers, does it?”
Sophie giggled and added, “Hey if it keeps my man happy to get out on the track once in a while then I’m all for it, since it usually means he’s in a good mood afterwards and I can convince him to go listen to some jazz or take me out to a French restaurant.”
They were attracting unsolicited stares. Although Jessie was on some level accustomed to it, it was new for the others. Drifters had become a big deal in the Fraser Valley, and there was a buzz around the track now that the show’s stars were hanging around. Jessie inched a little closer to Maggie. Although she regularly fought against Charles’ and Matt’s urging to keep some security close at hand, she rarely took advantage of it, and instead preferred to wander around on her own. At the same time, on the occasions that she did venture out in public alone, Jessie usually tried to disguise herself to some degree. And she was rarely in the company of others who would draw notice to her. So at Agassiz the attention was different, and so was somewhat of a revised experience for her, as well.
However, the people at the motocross complex were friendly and down-to-earth. Before they knew it, the girls were lined up at the freestyle track watching their boys practice while Carter, his sleek black hair pulled back in an appealing ponytail, engaged the locals in a serious discussion to help him understand the rules and stunts of the sport. His sense of humor immediately dispersed any thoughts of tension or ego that the regulars might have perceived would attend Jessie and her cast mates, and soon he and all of the girls were enthusiastically engaged in learning about FMX. Soon they comprehended the benefits of two stroke engines versus four strokes, which bikes were the best and why, modifications made to bikes for freestyle and, lastly, the prestigious kiss-of-death stunt, and who on the competitive world circuit accomplished it best.
Soon Maggie stopped looking over her shoulder for bears, and Jessie took a personal inventory and discovered with pleasure that she was content and at peace. Life with her friends was almost the normal she continuously sought. They were caring, unassuming and nice to others, and she genuinely loved being in their company. She found herself relaxing more than she had in years and was almost surprised at the comfortable state to which her soul had arrived, finally, in the strange lifetime of turmoil and fame she’d been handed.
After a while, bruised and beat from the constant jarring his body was absorbing from the bike and the introduction to the demanding FMX skills, Josh took a break. He moseyed over to the girls and dropped down on a wooden bench beside Jessie as she watched Steve take a lesson with one of the sport’s more notable riders. Jessie took Josh’s dirty white leather gloves from him and for a pleasurable moment lingered over their softening newness. After a moment she laid her hand over his.
“Eww, you’re all sweaty,” she teased, squeezing his warm moist fingers.
Josh took that as a cue to lean over and brush his three-day whiskered face against her smooth cheeks. Then, as she giggly recoiled from the bristly pinpricks, he placed a big hand behind her head and forced her to hold still while he gave her an exaggerated smooch.
Jessie wrapped her arms around her man and held him tight. She loved the feel of his body against hers, and admitted to herself that the white leather padded motocross gear and boots were in fact tantalizingly sexy. But then again, she grinned to herself, everything Josh wears is sexy. She was crazy about him and was still amazed that they had finally found a way to be together. Life was good.
At day’s end, with no injuries sustained with the exception of a few expected blue bruises, and a few crazy new tricks learned, the gang piled back into the van for the hour and a half ride west back to Vancouver, hauling the tired mud-splattered bikes behind them.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t see a bear,” Maggie threw in offhandedly, frowning, which stirred up a hornet’s nest of retorts and responses.
“You’re such a hypocrite!” Carter scolded her, his arm around the demure but smiling Ashley. “You didn’t want to see a bear and now that you’re safe you’re wishing you’d seen one.” Disparaging, he shook his head.
“Well, I know you guys wouldn’t let it attack me, so it would have been okay to have seen one!”
Sue-Lyn threw in her two cents. “From a distance, you mean!”
“A safe distance of what, like a few hundred feet?” Carter kept up his playful banter.
Maggie pouted at their teasing while Josh pointed the van back to the city and Sophie called restaurants to try to find reservations for a late evening dinner.
They hadn’t seen a bear, or any snakes, to boot – but a bear saw them. He’d hidden in the crowd of loyal observers and thrill seekers, watching as the group of friends shared one of the best days Jessie could recall in a very long time. Deuce McCall watched as the production van hauling the bikes pulled out of the parking lot, and he grimaced as he saw Josh reach over from the driver’s seat, place a finger under Jessie’s chin, and pull her towards him for a tender kiss. He was supremely annoyed when Josh gunned the motor, spewing dirt out behind the little troupe so that it arced into the air in Deuce’s general direction.
Deuce would give her a little more time. Now was just for observing, to see if the relationship with Josh would stick. But he had no intention of forgiving her for quitting his employ and his life. His ancestors were wealthy plantation owners with many slaves and that cell memory passed on to Deuce. What was once his was always his. He would get her back when the time was right. And that time was imminent.
Climbing into his rented Ford Fusion, Deuce McCall kicked the dirt off his boots before slamming the driver’s door behind him. He could see Jessie and her friends singing in the van when he pulled ahead of them a few moments later. The Southern gentleman pulled his brown cowboy hat down over his balding head in the event Jessie decided to glance his way. She didn’t see him but, oddly, she shivered when Deuce’s vehicle passed. Josh rested his arm casually on Jessie’s thigh after flicking up the van’s heater in the cool late autumn evening. It wouldn’t do to let her catch a chill.
The robust spectacled trees observed silently again as the two vehicles passed beneath their honor guard – the hunter and the hunted. Leaves, either hanging on until their last breath, or newly departed from the safety and relative obscurity of their hosts, sensed in their spines that a wicked, appalling game was just about to begin. If they could have, they would have cringed.
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