“Anna? Where the hell are you?”
Alina. Her recorded voice said I was in trouble.
It was barely a month since Paul’s last message. Who knew how many times we’d shot the same motorcycle rallies without crossing paths. He photographed two page spreads of models on custom cruisers and I captured lifestyle pieces about lawyers on two wheels. Once we found each other it only took a few nights to scare him off.
And I was sure Paul left something behind one of those nights. Which didn’t matter. Certainty waited in a little box in my backpack.
“You know what day it is,” her tone didn’t lose any firmness as it came from the little speaker. “Call Dad. I did. Don’t screw it up again. I don’t care how late-”
Easy for her to call him up from half way across the country to say she loved him and missed mother too. It was three hours later in Toronto than on Vancouver Island so he wouldn’t keep her on the phone. I had no excuse for avoiding him. Dad lived three blocks away.
I dialled. It was only nine and he’d still be up.
“Dad? It’s Anna.”
“Hey, what’s up kid?” He did a poor job of making it sound like a phone call from me wasn’t a big deal.
“Take your time, Sweetie.”
“I want wontons, Dad.” They’d been Mom’s favourite.
“That place up the road still in business?”
“Yeah,” I answered. I was a regular there. He hadn’t set foot in the door without her.
“Pick you up in ten?”
I pulled a knit hat over my long blonde hair to keep the heat in. At least it wasn’t raining. It had been ten years earlier when Dad had taken his inconsolable daughters to the lone car at the far end of the hospital parking lot. In spite of the cold drops washing the tears from my face I remembered the taste of salt.
The street light at the end of my empty driveway lit the air I exhaled. It wasn’t cold for the first week of October but it was humid. The figure of my father on foot approached from the south. I went to meet him.
“Is something wrong with your truck?” I asked as he gave me an awkward hug.
“Mm mm. I only use it for work now.”
We walked past my house then a block over before getting on the road to the Chinese food place.
“It hasn’t changed a bit,” he commented as we got our seats. Like dinner in a jewel box Mom used to say. Gold and red lanterns hung everywhere, some waving their tassels as they caught the breeze from the ceiling fan. Dark carved wood and bold wallpaper decorated every surface. A candle in a plastic mesh covered red glass holder flickered in the middle of our table.
“Neither have you,” I replied. “You look good.”
That got a smile. He was still trim in spite of having an appetite like mine.
“You want a beer or something?”
I thought briefly about Paul and the lifestyle change I had coming. “I don’t drink much these days.”
“You’re a good kid, Anna.”
“So are you, Dad.”
He and Mom were eighteen when Alina came along. Me less than a year later. She ran a daycare to make ends meet while he got his electrician’s ticket. He was a smart hard working man and within a few years had a crew of a dozen and Mom stopped replacing kids as they left. He was forty-four now; a year closer to Paul in age than me.
“I thought this would be harder you know,” he said as he pushed his flat bottomed spoon around the fat wontons and singled out a piece of pork. “We spent as much here as the whole rest of the food bill. I’m glad you and Alina got her good looks. My Allison was such a pretty little thing. You were already taller than her when she passed... never expected you two to shoot up like weeds.”
I nodded and wiped my cheek.
“Nearly caught up to you,” I laughed. He was six foot one.
“In town long this time?”
“Mm mm,” I shook my head. My mouth held a whole wonton. “Ride out tomorrow. A month, maybe six weeks. Got a couple of big magazine shoots booked in California. Then I’m going east through to Florida for another job.”
“Yeah, Dad,” I dropped my eyes as I felt my cheeks warm. “Boys can’t catch me when all they see is my tailpipe disappearing into the sunset.”
“Suppose not. Sorry to pry.”
“You’re not,” I sighed. “Some days I really need her. If I ever have kids I want to be just like her.”
“I think we both know exactly how much that would please her, Sweetie.”
Dad refolded his paper napkin and wiped his eyes.
I held his elbow all the way to my house. He didn’t seem to mind and hugged me a little less awkwardly at my door. I locked up then watched the headlines run past until exhaustion took hold.
Sleep found me with my legs shoved under the laundry pile that shared my bed.
I expected to have my eyes closed until well past noon. Instead I found myself looking at the dark ceiling just as tired as when I turned in. There was nothing but the steady sound of my breathing for a minute as I drifted off.
A loud thump drove out any sleepiness I had left.
“Damn it... bitch!”
The rattle of my uncooperative door knob accentuated his swearing.
I grabbed for a blanket then went for my dresser since the blanket would only wrap around my legs and trip me. Top drawer. Gun. Bottom drawer. Rounds.
The next crash was dishes accompanying the heavy thud of my table going over. Fighting the urge to bolt to the bathroom and do something about the looseness in my stomach I neared the kitchen to see the open window, table toppled over pinning a chair to the wall and broken glass on the floor.
“What the hell?” the angry voice said.
Another step and I could see a man struggling with the door. He was half a foot taller, dirty blonde hair down to his shoulders. The dent in his forehead matched the edge of the counter and blood ran freely from the wound to my floor.
The gun went up; elbows locked. My instructor’s words echoed in my ears as his phantom hand rested on my hip. “I’m not letting you leave until you hit something.”
The intruder froze for a second as he took in the gun then with a low growl he charged. I fumbled, unable to find the trigger, as he grabbed my wrists in one hand and pushed me into the hall. He was rough and I was too off balance to fight. Crushing my wrist he got me against the arm of the couch and it only took a second to force the gun from my hand.
Then I was face down on the sofa with nothing but my panties between me and his zipper. With the cushions muffling my cries I felt him grab for his belt.
“Why you do that?” he growled. My empty gun hand twisted up between my shoulders. The other was trapped uselessly under my stomach. Then his knees came up sinking into the couch and knocking mine apart. “Why, bitch? Why you pull a gun on me?”
East coast? Not Canada east coast either. His breath stunk of booze and stale tobacco and I watched a lazy drop of his blood hit the back of my sofa. With his full weight on my shoulders I heard his buckle open.
Thank God, help.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Get out of there, man,” a second voice insisted. “We got what we need.”
From the kitchen window they had a good view of at least half of what was happening on my sofa.
And his damn buddies were better than no help at all.
“Take it easy,” the would-be rapist muttered as his weight came off.
The ceiling spun past as I landed on the floor and crawled into the end table just in time to see him get to my door. In a short second he had it open and was gone.
I pulled in a few weak breaths as I picked up the phone and pushed in Paul’s number. Just past the area code I broke down. Next to me my gun was unusable; the trigger guard still in place.
Paul wouldn’t be coming to my rescue. Maybe a couple of months ago he’d be my first call but not tonight. A few one night stands didn’t make him responsible for running to my rescue. Not even maybe getting me pregnant. Until I was sure about that I wouldn’t be calling him from three states and a whole other country away.
I pressed my palms together to make them stop shaking and decided there was nobody I trusted to look after Anna Creed but Anna Creed.
“Just like old times,” I whispered as I called 911.
Sun exposed the burglar’s blood on my kitchen floor. My upstairs tenant Mrs. Desmond had been moving around for over an hour. As the coffee machine started to grumble and spit I took the little box from the drugstore to the bathroom.
I had the rest of the night to think about exactly how late I was and figured I was the last time I saw Paul. Just like me to lose track of time. I picked up the test stick and looked at the two blue lines.
Then I double checked the instructions.
They said think about finding Paul because he never did anything to hurt you. Then figure out how you’re going to pack a baby on a motorcycle as you float around photographing one rally after another until you have nowhere to go and have to come home. Think about getting a car and a real job and how you’re going to do it alone because you won’t let anyone close enough to help. Think about it Anna.
The instructions were right.
Mrs. Desmond let herself in as I returned to the kitchen. She was armed with a plate of cookies and the Nanaimo newspaper as she stepped over the blood spots on my floor.
“Good morning, Mrs. Desmond,” I told her as I kissed her cheek. “I’m so sorry you were disturbed last night.”
“If he’d gotten into my house he’d have been just as sorry,” she shook her head as she looked at the blood.
“Yes,” I remembered her choice of words with the policeman who insisted on checking her.
I put the kettle on for her tea as I started on a cookie and she scrubbed up the mess at my front door. Something was missing from the sill; a small picture of my sister Alina and me in a little frog shaped frame, our heads centred in his spotted back. I couldn’t imagine the bastard taking it but there it was.
We chatted as I ate and she read the paper then I made a few phone calls to cancel the work I had booked. Every time I went in the bathroom the test was there on the counter reminding me I wasn’t alone any more.
As night grew close the urge to run from my intruder and the stick on the counter became too much so I packed for a couple of days and hit the road.
There’s nothing like a full tank of gas and nowhere to go.
When I wandered my destination was anywhere beyond the submerged Discovery Tunnel and its thirty-six kilometre long plunge through the cold waters of the Strait of Georgia. Its completion two years ago simplified my ability to get around. Rather than use my secret travel to jump to somewhere near Vancouver and a ferry ride home the completed roadway let me jump all the way there.
My disoriented arrival would occur precisely when I left so I used to think it was like teleportation. But as I became bolder with jumping and the distances grew it was clear a lot more was going on. My motorcycle showed every single kilometre and my back and wrists complained about riding the whole distance. I figured it wasn’t teleportation after all. I rode, arrived and travelled back in time with a blackout thrown in for good measure since I didn’t remember a damn thing between the start of the trip and my arrival.
And then an unavoidable eighteen hour coma.
‘Jumping’ was my first secret. I never told a soul, even my sister. Alina never believed in any of the usual childhood things I loved: Santa, the Easter Bunny and Ichabod Crane. For me there were real monsters under the bed, recurring dreams of my neighbourhood in flames and dialogue with my bossy reflection in the mirror. Alina had Nova, Untold Stories of the ER and a shelf full of second hand textbooks she bought at the Salvation Army.
That was until our mother died. I was left with burning dreams and my bitter reflection and Alina lost herself in the physical stability of real world.
The woman in the mirror was my second secret; showing up irregularly in the bathroom mirror to give me some distasteful way of avoiding a future fuckup. And now my third secret, one I couldn’t avoid or keep quiet, occupied my thoughts.
I was pregnant by a man I barely knew and was less certain how to find.
Northern California was the closest Paul ever came to saying where he lived and Vancouver Island was all I told him about my home. I mustered the nerve to call him once after he broke it off and a pleasant American voice told me his number was out of service.
But tonight’s trip wasn’t about wandering. No matter how hard I tried to soak in denial my life had direction and my first stop was Paul. He’d moved on, his message said, but from me and not from his child.
I knew Paul was done with me. My middle of the night ‘episode’ our last night had wrapped things up better than anything I could have done on purpose. I needed to tell him about the baby and give him some time to decide where he wanted to fit. I didn’t expect to set up house with him. I’d tell him that. I also didn’t want him to hold back with his kid because another man was hanging around. I’d tell him that too. Not that there’d ever been anyone but Paul Richards.
I paid the toll and three other motorcycles pulled in behind, their headlights filling my mirrors. The tunnel was busy even at night and the steep twenty-eight dollar cost didn’t stop riders from either the Island or the Lower Mainland from making the crossing to see some new stretches of highway.
Four toll lanes merged into two just before a sinking left into the artificially lit cavern. I pulled out as I nudged up my visor. In the tight confines of the tunnel a spill could put me into the cement walls if I got caught between two cars and had no place to go.
As I sped up the flash of yellow lighting was almost audible intensifying the roll of my tires on the road. Every reflective surface shone against the regularly spaced lights strobing with a tangible pressure as I changed lanes around dusty reefer truck. The riders who’d followed me through the toll booths changed as well taking station in my wake like we rode together. I didn’t like the idea of being obligated into small talk or politely putting up with their pickup lines at the next traffic stop but I liked the idea of weaving between the crowded lanes to get ahead of them even less.
Half way through the tunnel I took advantage of a small break in traffic to get over into the slow lane. I dropped a gear letting the transmission slow me below the speed limit and watched the three headlights in my mirrors. Rather than pass they fit in behind, squeezed in too close considering the gap was only safe for one. Another check of my mirror showed the cars in the fast lane weren’t going to let me in for a while but all I needed was a small break to get my privacy back.
I felt the pressure of engines on either side and instinctively moved to the very centre of the lane. Two of the riders squeezed past with just inches of air between my bike and theirs.
If they said anything at the next light one of them would get the mini tire iron in my tank bag right in the headlight; maybe even in the helmet depending how much time I had to cool off. The third remained behind as his friends paired up in front which seemed a lot safer than three abreast though just as dangerous.
As if they knew I was looking for escape the one ahead to my left dropped back enough that I couldn’t change lanes without hitting his rear tire. So much unwelcome male got my heart beating and I felt pinched like the night before between the burglar and my sofa. In response I moved closer to the shoulder and the guy up front backed off.
There was no reason for these three guys to herd a lone woman rider. Normal men wouldn’t do that. If I stopped overreacting I’d figure it out. I’d be through the tunnel and riding the highways of Washington State in a couple of hours.
Paul, Paul, Paul pressed into my skin with the throb of the passing lights and the pounding of my heart, each beat closer to the exit and the freeway. It was the rider ahead to the left who took the biggest risks with the limited space.
The lighting changed from yellow to more widely spaced white indicating we were a kilometre from the exit then with a subtle pop there was black sky above and regular street lights.
Once the highway widened to three lanes the other riders took advantage of the space and took off a couple of hundred yards ahead though they kept to my lane. Fine with me. I moved over two lanes to the left to pass but they swerved through traffic to stay in front.
I thought with some space between us I’d feel safe and alone but I didn’t. Not like the night before when the break-in was over and big girl Anna could pretend she’d run the burglar off herself; more like the night I met Paul when he casually walked me past the door to my room and hid me around the corner. We’d both noticed a man in the parking lot. With his frozen attention on us in a wash of moving motorcycles and leather clad bikers the threat in his stare couldn’t have stood out more if he was waving a gun.
Paul knew the guy and said he was trouble. I worked under an assumed name and Paul was worried about the damage to us both if word got out that he and his competition were cozy in her hotel room. Now with three men stalking me all I wanted was Paul, his body tight over mine against the wall of my noisy Rivertown motel.
I knew the him now too. The man in my house had been the same one in the parking lot. His hair was longer and even with the blood covering his face there was no mistaking he was the same guy. So far away in distance and time it took a repeat of the feelings to make the connection. Paul and I hadn’t been as discrete as we thought. Nearly forgetting about the three in front I tried to calm down as fear from the night before ebbed and my arms grew heavy with fading adrenaline.
As I got my bearings the three dropped back, one rider rolling off the throttle to swing into my path. I did the same, moving over to the centre line to avoid rear ending him. My horn whined a warning as he got back in position. Granted a small break in the heavy truck traffic to my right I made a dangerous double lane switch between two big rigs and into the very right hand lane.
I glanced at the glowing green street sign telling me the exit for Peace Arch was only half a klick ahead and was so fixated on looking for the exit lane to open up I nearly rode into the rear ends of my three pursuers. They’d passed the trucks ahead and dropped back.
In unison we exited though they kept me pinned to the shoulder and once clear of the interchange the only light around us came from our rides.
Next it was the rider two ahead, the other one on my side of the lane who dropped back sliding past the one who tried to hit me the first time. I swerved out of his way just in time. He matched my speed and pushed in dangerously close.
Fuck this, I thought. I knew the roads and even in the dark I’d lose them. Taking a chance they left me enough room to get out I snapped my wrist down and pulled into the other lane as they did the same, the lead rider swung out blocking my way. Then the other two pulled next to him so I couldn’t get around. I slowed right down and dropped behind as they got in position out front. It was like they knew what I would do before I did.
One of the men dropped back quicker than I could slow down and get some distance.
“Take it easy,” he yelled. His voice chilled me. Too scared to brake and turn around or do any more than hold the throttle still I kept rolling as the burglar pulled ahead.
Paul was right; the man was trouble the night we met, in my house and now on the highway and I needed Paul protecting me again.
I made up my mind to make it to Paul as the lead bike went down. We were maybe doing sixty kilometres an hour and the feel of gravel under my tires told me why he’d lost control. The other two bikes’ tail lights brightened and I feathered my brakes to stop as hard as I could without skidding.
The rider up front slid under his bike as the other two went down on top of him. I still had enough control to get over by a wooden building. There was a shout, then another as my bike stopped and I crouched behind it. My helmet came off as did my pack so I could run when I decided which way to go.
I wracked my brain to remember which dirt road we’d turned on but there should be nothing: no dirt, no unlit exits, just cement barriers all the way to the US border.
There was a brawl; more men than the three riders in the lights pointing every which way. Then a gunshot so I ran about thirty feet and found an alley.
“There! Down that way!” a man yelled as I bolted into the blackness. Someone was on my heels. He didn’t slow down one bit as he hit and the ground flew up to meet me. His full weight came down, forcing the air from my lungs as my shoulder slid out of place and my chest flexed. My scream added to the shouts.
A knife flashed in the moonlight above then his crushing weight was gone. The sun was up and there was nothing but icy silence. I was alone on the cold ground between two wooden buildings. Daylight. The sun had replaced the moon and I wasn’t sure if I’d been there all night or if I had yet to even leave home. How far back in time could I have gone? My right eye was swollen and as I looked up at the walls and sky above me I realized that somewhere after the terrifying ride and being attacked in the alley I’d jumped. Slipped away in time to escape the falling blade.