“Hey, Lin, congratulations.” It’s Nick.
Lindsey closes her eyes, gripping the phone, gears spinning. First survival instinct: hang up. She never did get around to signing up for that caller ID her lawyer recommended during the divorce when Nick was harassing her, threatening her and her friends, accusing her, cursing her…. But somehow her fingers are frozen, like her voice, and she just stands there.
“Lin, you there?” His voice so casual, like they’d just talked that morning. “Lin?”
“Oh.” She clears her throat. “Yes.” Not sure what’s she answering.
“Well, I read your essay. It’s terrific. Just wanted to say….” He trails off, sounding oddly indecisive.
“You mean The Whiplash? I just realized it was coming out today, I need to get a copy.”
“You haven’t seen it yet?” He laughs. “You are one of a kind, I have to give you that. Everyone here’s talking about it. I knew you had it in you!”
Right. Like when he’d talked her out of writing stories because she didn’t have “what it takes.”
He’s still talking. “You could do some environmental pieces for the agency, branch out. So get your butt in gear and pick up a copy.”
“I’m on my way.” Exit line. Take it. “Bye—”
“Wait.” Another pause, then, “Word is, you got fired from the hospital. Those assholes! Something about a friend they messed up on? What’s going on, Lin?”
She can’t trust him. There’s always some catch. She has to remember not to give him any information he can use to pull her into his manipulations. “Nick, it was nice of you to call, but I don’t want to talk about it. You… take care.” She starts to hang up again.
“Wait, Lin! Don’t—” His voice sharpens, then he lets out a gusting breath, lowers the volume. “Just, if you’re in a bind, don’t be afraid to ask. I could front you some money.”
She stares, startled. “Oh. That’s—” She’s started to thank him, but remembers that’s another dangerous hook. He wants her gratitude. Always wanted her dependence.
She steadies her voice. “I appreciate the gesture, Nick, but that won’t be necessary. I have to go now. Goodbye.” She carefully hangs up.
Her ears are ringing, and her gut feels empty, sick. A hot flash gears up, flames licking through her, sweat breaking out on her face and back. “Shit. Shit.” Just his voice is enough to trigger the old panic. “Damn it!”
She rips off her shirt, takes some deep breaths. This is ridiculous, he was trying to be civil—maybe—and she should just be calm and detached and cool. But she’s not there. Yet.
She throws on her bike shorts and sports bra, grabs her helmet, and she’s out the door. Once she’s on her bike, pedaling fast down the creek road, she can remember the essay, let herself feel the excitement again and banish Nick’s voice claiming a piece of it. She’ll do her favorite loop around the harbor and then pick up some copies of The Whiplash on her way back.
She takes her usual route to avoid traffic, over the creek bridge and along a gravel trail that brings her out behind the tech college parking lot. From there, she zips onto Marine Drive so she can drop down steep Salish Street to the harbor loop.
The turnoff onto Salish is still blocked off by a construction detour barrier, she’s been dodging it all week while they fixed potholes. Lindsey gives a quick glance for lurking cop cars, then darts around the barrier onto the cracked sidewalk, bounces over the curb and skirts the patch jobs that look like they should be okay by now, anyway. At the bottom of the drop, she slows just enough to check for rare cars, sees only another mountain bike coming from the trailhead parking lot by the reclaimed industrial beach. She lets her rear wheel go into a controlled slide to carry her around the turn, dropping a foot on the inside in case she needs a pivot, but she’s got the momentum and it carries her on.
She’s cranking along past warehouses and along a spur rail line when the other bicyclist overtakes her, surprising her as he pumps past. He’s panting, covered with mud, really pushing it.
Lindsey blinks, then tightens her grip on the handlebars and pushes harder, too, thinking she could use the aerobic burn, see if she can pace this guy.
She rounds the curve past some parked boxcars and over the tracks, then sees up ahead there’s another road barrier at the stop sign giving onto the main industrial harbor drive. A couple cars also block the way, except for a narrow slot through, and some people are standing around. A cry goes up as the cyclist ahead of her shoots through.
Lindsey frowns, glances behind her to see two more mountain bikers strung out behind her. They’ve both got numbers pinned to their skintight jerseys.
“Oh, boy.” Lindsey barely has time to register the mud-spattered number pinned to the biker ahead of her, too, as she sweeps toward the open slot and arms waving her through.
“Go, go, go!” People are chanting as she zooms past, still cranking along in the wake of the first cyclist.
Now she sees the banners draped along the route, the parked cars, the people cheering. She’s blundered into the second-to-last-leg of the annual Snow-to-Sea relay race.
Looking for a place to pull over, she shoots another glance behind her and sees the other racers aren’t catching up, she’s in the clear, so suddenly she’s just riding the adrenaline rush. What the hell! She grins at the spectators lining the route and waving her on, cranks harder and is about to overtake the first biker as she nears another barrier and people with flags waving her through the slot and a turn toward the handoff to the kayakers for the final leg of the race.
A cop car is parked there, lights flashing to add to the festive color.
People are cheering. “Yeah! Go for it! Go, girl!”
Lindsey sails through, grinning, raising her hand to flash a Peace sign. Then reverses it: V for Victory.
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