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Age 13


The glass was cold against my face as I watched the city fly by. The streetlights were bright, hovering over well-cared for sidewalks, casting the tall buildings in a soft orange glow. The grass was manicured to perfection and even the parks looked spotless. 

So unlike the tiny town I’d just escaped in North Carolina.

My eyes trailed the varying government offices and lifted as the capitol building came into view. Richland was supposedly a safe place, and surely the town itself was, but I knew we wouldn’t be staying inside it.

Mom just kept driving until the lampposts thinned out, and the asphalt turned into dirt. She slowed her speed as we passed by a few houses with motorcycles parked in front. Then within the span of a few more scattered homes, we turned into a thin driveway.

I knew what would come next and tried to adjust my expression, so nothing slipped through. Nothing at all that would betray that this life was getting old, and I was sick of packing my things into a shitty duffle that had to be kept closed with safety pins because the zipper broke three clubs ago.

Mom parked our chipped, four door sedan sticking out like a sore thumb against the myriad of well-maintained motorcycles. I turned my head to catch her gaze before either of us made a move. It was our thing. We never spoke about this life, or what it did to either of us, and I never asked why she insisted on only living with clubs. This was our silent pep talk, with one look we both knew we’d get through this just like we’d gotten through all the others.

Her blue eyes landed on mine.

People said I looked just like her. Same silky black hair that nearly kissed the top of my butt. Same dark blue eyes. Same nose and mouth. The only difference was my freckles. She didn’t have any, and she wore all her secrets in the lines of her face. The ones near her eyes were from bullshitting people, the ones creeping up on her forehead were from the bills we could never pay, and the ones near her mouth were from laughing with me.

Seeing them had me smiling at her. Regardless of how shitty this life was, at least we had each other. She was my entire world, and while it was exhausting that she chose to live with motorcycle clubs, at least she’d never left me behind. At least she’d die before ever letting anyone touch me.

Her smile said all the things she’d occasionally whisper to me when it was just the two of us. Sorry that this was happening again. Sorry that we couldn’t have a normal life not covered in leather, chrome and immersed in danger.

I gave her the same smile I always did. The one that said I was fine. I really was, being almost fourteen and about to start high school, I’d manage. New town, new house, new club. Rinse. Repeat. 

We exited the car, grabbed our bags and walked in through the front door. Classic rock blared from the speakers, and there was a ring of smoke hovering in the air. Pine floors ran under our feet, which mirrored the paneling along the walls. Flags from various military branches were pinned up, mixed in with several photos of their club's history. A few leather couches faced the front room, which seemed to frame a large flatscreen that was playing an MMA fight. The men sitting on the couches ignored us as we walked in, their focus solely on the match in front of them.

Several women were around the room too, most of which were stationed in the men’s laps, while several others were hanging with the men playing pool, closer to the bar.

I followed my mom as we just kept walking through the space until we were pushing into a small office right off the kitchen.

Mom rapped her knuckles against the door, which had the woman inside peering up from a pile of papers. She had short hair, cropped just above the ears, her gray eyes looked hard like she accepted zero bullshit from people.

“You the new patch with Miles?” The woman faced us and stood up from her desk.

Mom nodded. “I’m Wanda Pruitt. This is my daughter, Penelope.”

The woman’s assessing gaze flicked over to me.

“Well, come on then, I’ll show you around. You can drop your bags here for now. I’m Gene by the way.”

Mom let hers fall to the floor, flicking a quick look to me. I knew what she was telling me with that glance, but my nose flared in silent dissent. Everything I owned in the entire world was inside this bag. If someone came along and stole it…I felt like I’d just disappear from the face of the earth. I gripped the shoulder strap of my bag as Gene moved down the hall. Mom cleared her throat, her last warning. I let my bag slide down my shoulder until it was dropping on top of hers. 

“That’s my office. I’m the kitchen manager—overseeing the shifts and everyone who helps. There’s a roster over here for duties.”

I followed my mom as she followed Gene.

“You’re patched, so you living with Miles?” Gene looked over her shoulder, her brow raised. 

My mom nodded. “Yeah, but he said we needed to check in here first, said the patch would be here.”

Gene nodded. “Got in yesterday. This here is the club kitchen.” Gene pushed on a swinging door, leading to a massive industrial kitchen.

There sitting atop one of the far counters was a boy my age, eating out of a chocolate pudding cup. He had hair that reminded me of one of the wheat fields I’d seen in Nebraska. His eyes were warm brown, like cream soda. He watched me like he’d never seen a girl before, like I was some exotic bird that just landed in the kitchen, and he wasn’t sure what to do with me.

I’d missed what Gene said to my mom, but I heard her bark out a command, which was aimed at the boy. He set his pudding cup down and hopped off the counter, his deep-set jaw flushing pink the tiniest bit.

“Jameson is Mathias King’s son. Mathias is the president of The Chaos Kings. Not sure how old you are, Penelope, but you’re likely around the same age as Jamie here.” Gene gestured at me with a nod of her head.

Jameson just stared at me like he didn’t know how to speak.

Gene shoved the kid’s shoulder lightly. “Say hello, Jamie.”

He finally looked at me but didn’t smile. I got the sense he didn’t like me, which made me feel strange. Boys seemed to be fond of me well enough from the places I had lived; they’d have crushes and leave flirtatious notes for me, but they always made it somewhat obvious if they were interested. 

This guy was handsome…but he was hard to miss, while also being difficult to place, like a thread of gold fraying loose from an irreplicable garment left amongst an ocean of leather and denim.

“Jameson, say hello, stop being rude.” Gene gripped his shoulders and moved him closer to me. 

He blushed again then waved. “Hi.”

Gene rolled her eyes. “He and another boy will show you around, they’re the only two in the club. Luke Holloway, he’ll be in your grade at school along with Jameson.” She kept her hand on his shoulder and made sure he was watching her. “Penelope is club now, be sure to look out for her.”

Jameson nodded, then Mom and Gene walked over to another part of the kitchen, and I was left near Jameson, who was looking at me again as if he wasn’t sure why I was there.

“You—” he started, then ducked his head. “Your mom is patching with Miles?”

I nodded. My mom had met Miles during a ride with her then boyfriend, Jay. It was a big rally of some kind, and I knew Mom wasn’t happy with Jay, or the club we were with. They were rough with their women and rarely loyal. It was the first time she’d broken down and reached out to my grandparents to see if they’d take me in for a while until she figured something else out.

Six months I had lived with them. Sat straight at the dinner table, went to church, didn’t say a word when they called my mom a whore. I stared off into space and collected wildflowers. With each one that I found, I’d make a wish. People said that’s what dandelions were for, but I hated the idea of blowing my wish to the wind. No, I kept mine tucked inside a journal.

I’d wish for my mom to come back.

I’d wish for my grandpa to stop shaking his head every time he looked at me.

I’d wish for my grandmother to stop shaming me for what I wore.

I’d wish for a permanent place to live, a big house with a willow tree in the yard.

I’d wish for a good life. One with love, happiness and hope.

Eventually my mom came for me, and we drove all the way from North Carolina to Richland, Virginia. I didn’t ask how she got away from Jay. She never told me how she was able to leave so many clubs, it was all buried under the same silence that ate up so many of our conversations. This was our new life, and I wasn’t complaining. Mom liked Miles and said he’d be good to us. I wasn’t holding my breath.

“Miles is a decent guy; he’ll treat you both good,” Jameson finally said after a few awkward silent seconds. My gaze cut to his swiftly as a tiny piece of my anxiety fluttered out.

I needed that reassurance, and he didn’t even seem to realize it.

“What grade you going into?” He walked over to the fridge, and I followed.

“Ninth…How about you?”

He handed me a chocolate pudding cup from the fridge. “Same.”

We leaned against the counter; he still seemed standoffish. Like maybe I was annoying him simply by breathing next to him. 

It bugged me.

Looks wise, he was instant crush material. I was positive he had girls pining after him, but why didn’t he seem to like me?

I was about to open my mouth, probably to say something stupid to get his attention, when another kid our age walked into the kitchen.

“Oh good, there’s snacks. I’m starving.” He stopped as soon as he saw me.

He had dark brown hair that was a little long and hazel eyes. He wasn’t bad looking either, but my eyes slowly slid to Jameson. I wanted to know who this kid was to him.

Jameson gave me a wary glance before digging into the pudding cup he’d left earlier.

“Who are you?” The kid walked forward, giving me a flirtatious smile.

Something in my chest seemed to absently kick and silently scream for Jameson to notice. To say something…to make it obvious that he’d met me first, but he only kept his gaze down.

“Penelope Pruitt,” I replied, flicking my gaze between the two of them.

The boy slid onto the counter, forcing his legs to nearly corral me in. “I’m Luke, and you’re really fucking pretty.”

Jameson’s gaze remained on his now empty cup. Nothing, no ire, no frustration.

My nose flared in annoyance.

Fine, maybe he needed a nudge. I put my hand out. “Nice to meet you, Luke.”

Luke smiled again and held my hand for far longer than he should have.

Once I let go, Jameson shoved away from the counter and tossed his empty pudding cup in the garbage. Then without so much as a wave or a goodbye, he exited the kitchen, taking some small piece of me with him.

Why didn’t he like me?

“Don’t mind him, he’s a nerd stuck living in a motorcycle club. He’ll inherit it someday from his pops, but the kid has no clue what to do with it.”

“You guys friends?” I was curious because I didn’t get that vibe.

Luke shrugged. “More like brothers…we weren’t given a choice to be friends. Both our dads knocked up their old ladies at the same time. We were both born as club royalty. I like him fine, but he gets annoyed with me. We don’t always get along, but because he’s club, I’ll always have his back.”

I nodded, trying to understand.

“Just avoid him if you can help it. He doesn’t really like anyone. He’s a bit of a loner outside of doing stupid shit with me.”

I dipped my face, staring at the pudding cup he’d given me.

Why did one simple interaction seem to have made such an impact on me? I was already searching for ways to see him again or to get him to tell me why he didn’t like me.

He’d only just met me; he had no reason not to like me.

I could make him like me…I smiled at the little sweet treat and peeled the cover back.

Decision made, Jameson King would like me, and I’d make sure he never stopped. 

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