I STOPPED IN Grand Forks. At least, that’s what the sign told me. I had no idea how many miles of four-lane flat-top were behind me. Exhausted as I was, I still knew what day it was.
I started out before sunup when the early morning air had been cool. As the day wore on it got a whole lot hotter. I hadn’t burned any daylight to get here, and now it was getting on into late afternoon. The sun was lower in the sky, but the heat that had built during the day hadn’t cooled in the slightest. I would find little relief when I rode on into the darkness of night.
The heat and distance having gotten the better of me, I sought refuge in the shade at a gas-n-go and drank water in an attempt to keep hydrated. I needed the break from the day’s relentless sun and hot, dry wind. I needed to stretch my legs too.
All day on a motorcycle will do that. Coming out of the southern high desert and riding hard in the heat across the Great Plains will make it worse. I wasn’t ready for the hundred-and-a-half I needed to do to get home. It was only another couple hours, but all I wanted to do was stop right here. What I needed was an excuse.
That’s why I was so interested in the beater shaking and rattling across the parking lot in the direction of the air pump. Its windows were down. Obviously the air conditioning wasn’t doing its duty – if it was even working.
Rusty hinges squeaked when the driver forced the door open and closed and my attention was no longer on the heat. It was all on the woman who got out. She was young. Maybe mid- to late-twenties at the most. Pretty, too, in a plain way.
Her hair was dark – my nemesis. Dark hair and dark eyes had a habit of always getting in my way if I wasn’t afraid to let it. Most of the time, I let it. Not always, though.
Both sleeves on the white shirt the woman had on were neatly rolled up against the heat to just above her elbows. Well-worn brown shoes matched dark slacks. I figured she was probably on her way to start her shift as a bartender or a waiter.
She made a grab for the air hose and stooped to fill the left front tire. She couldn’t quite get it to take air. Being the perfect gentleman that I am, I saw an opportunity. I ambled over and offered to help. She explained that she was on her way to a wedding reception and was already late.
I took the hose from her.
In her haste to get to work she must have forgotten about those rolled-up sleeves. As she stood, I could see the track marks running the length of both forearms. They were healed over and scarred – definitely not fresh by a long shot.
From of the corner of my eye I knew she had seen me notice the scars.
I looked up. “Are you all right?” It was the best I could come up with under the circumstances.
She smiled. “I am now.”
I finished what I volunteered for. The woman thanked me and the door squeaked again and closed and she drove off.
I saddled up and rode the rest of the way home in the heat.