All or Nothing
Riina Y.T. © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Picking up my bike keys might have been the most irresponsible decision I ever made. But, I pep talked myself, over the years you collected enough experience so there’s no need to worry. After all, I was confident in my riding skills. I might even make it on time if I left right now. Already packed and dressed in my biking gear, I’d been pacing restlessly around the room for the past twenty minutes or so, going through all the options left.
I couldn’t afford a last minute plane ticket, and the Greyhound was already fully booked. I’d checked, reloading the website repeatedly to make sure it wasn’t a glitch. Not wanting to hitchhike with a total stranger and risk ending up in the middle of nowhere, likely in a million pieces, the only way I’d be able to make it home now was my motorcycle. The current conditions weren’t so bad here in Allentown, but I was fairly certain the roads would be a real pain farther east.
Sure, I could call my parents and explain my situation, and they’d probably do everything humanly possible to arrange a flight for me or something. Maybe send one of my uncles or brothers-in-law to get me. My pride wouldn’t let me dial their numbers though. I was an adult now, independent and all that, as much as one gets to be at college anyway. I’d feel like a failure if I ran to Mom and Dad, asking them to fix this, like I’d let them down. And besides, a big family like ours didn’t have the luxury of wasting money on an expensive plane ticket or an unnecessary roundtrip to Pennsylvania.
Maybe I was being irrational, but I never wanted to be a disappointment to them, and Mom would never forgive me if I missed Christmas with the family. Everyone would be there: my aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. If I’m being honest, the holidays were a nightmare for my introverted self, but I never failed to put on my best smiles for Mom and Dad. A couple of hours with my extended family was as exhausting as a twenty-four-hour lecture on criminal justice would likely be, but I’d sit through our dinners—noisy kid cousins and all—any day. There was nothing more important than family in the Bellotti household.
I startled when my phone vibrated between my fingers. Impatiently swiping my thumb across the glaring screen, I prayed the message was from someone who’d read my Facebook posts. Instead, a text from Mom asked if Cody and I were already on our way. I couldn’t tell her the truth or else she’d worry too much. Cody was on the other side of the hall, lying in bed with a high fever and an ear infection. Both of us were from Connecticut, so we’d arranged to carpool for the holidays like we did in freshman year. I never imagined I’d end up stranded on campus.
Ignoring Mom’s message, I opened the Facebook app for the nth time to make sure I hadn’t missed a reply or instant message. I’d asked for a ride, posting to my profile and the group site for my sociology class, hoping someone was still around campus and planning to head east. Nothing. Luck didn’t seem to be on my side.
All right then. I slid my phone into the breast pocket of my leather jacket, pulled on my gloves, shouldered my backpack, and with a last look around the silent room, switched off the lights and stepped into the eerily empty corridor.
The late afternoon air was crisp, and I caught my breath the moment I stepped outside. Snow crunched and squeaked underfoot as I hurried along the sidewalk. A gust of wind whipped wild flurries against my face, and my nose froze right along with the naked winter trees lining the roadside and everything else around me.
As soon as I reached my motorcycle, I set about getting everything ready for the road. The metallic-blue Yamaha was my first; my one and only love. Thunder, I’d named her, because she was loud and fast and had been a birthday present from Dad when I got my license at sixteen. During my last visit home, he’d gotten her a new set of winter tires and some neat accessories. He loved spoiling my bike, and I’m sure I must’ve gotten my love for motorcycling from him, much to Mom’s dismay. She was constantly worried something might happen to either of us, as if cars were much safer. Similar to the fear of flying—irrational but a primal and elemental emotion.
Gusts of icy wind blew wickedly against my face, and I huffed a curse. The cold was already creeping in, despite my layers and layers of winter gear. I’d also exchanged my enormous suitcase for my MOTOTREK backpack, bringing only a handful of my favorite pullovers, jeans, and very few necessities. I still had most of my things back home, so there was no need to overpack.
I’d already set Thunder up for a little ice and snow when the temperatures had begun to drop more rapidly. We hadn’t had much snowfall yet, but looking her over now, I was quite positive she’d ride smoothly. My bike had never let me down before, and I was counting on her to get me safely to New London even if we’d encounter harsher conditions along the way.
She had to make it.
I was about to check on the new heated handles when the sound of heavy footsteps startled me. I turned fast. Cold wind blew in my face, and I jumped at the shadowy figure stepping closer. I looked up into a pair of familiar azure eyes and cursed silently.
Of course, it was Carter Mc–freaking–Cormack. The universe must have it out for me.
He was all dressed up in startling whites and silvers, and fluffy brown fur lined his coat. A cascade of snowflakes danced around his perfect, diamond-shaped face, reluctantly making their way down to earth. Behind him, frosted trees danced to a wild breeze, and with his snow-white and furred coat he reminded me of a handsome ice prince right off the pages of a fairytale book.
“Hey, Remmy,” he said casually and stepped closer out of the shadows of the trees and into the yellow glow of the streetlamp.
“Carter? What are you doing here?” I tipped my head back, blinking snowflakes out of my eyes. Not only did he have a few inches on my five foot ten, he was also broader and stronger. Seriously though. What was he doing here? Carter was the last person I’d expected to run into. I was sure he’d been long gone by now like everybody else. Home. Surrounded by family, Christmas cheer and…his boyfriend. Ugh. I couldn’t stop the jealousy rocking through me every time I thought about him and Travis together.
Carter blinked. Then his eyes widened. “Whoa, Remmy! What happened to your hair?” He lifted a hand as if he was about to reach out but stopped halfway and dropped his arm to his side.
Oh boy. Carter was also the last person I wanted to see me with bright blue-green bangs plastered wildly across my forehead. My cheeks were heating fast, and I swallowed with difficulty. I shouldn’t have been this embarrassed; I was used to people staring at me because of my colorful choices when it came to clothes and accessories, but the result of my latest dye job had surprised even me. The turquoise came out pretty intense.
I shrugged, stammering, “I…Um…You know.” Self-consciously, I brushed my fingers through the thick flop of freshly dyed hair and shoved it out of my eyes, back under the helmet. The attempt was useless; my bangs were long, but not long enough to stay put when I wanted them to.
“Color happened,” I added, hopelessly mumbling a weak explanation when he kept gawking at me with those wide, brilliant blue eyes. I shivered, but it had nothing to do with the cold this time.
Carter opened and closed his mouth a few times, but all he said was “Wow.”
I shook my head and fought back a grin, biting at my lower lip. Carter was pretty damn gorgeous, and even more so when he didn’t know what to say.
Eventually he said, “Your hair is turquoise.”
It was a statement, his voice flat, devoid of any emotion, so I couldn’t tell whether he might be amused, stunned, or disgusted. I swallowed. Embarrassment hit me hard, which surprised me. As a rule I didn’t give two shits about what someone thought of me. I didn’t care whether they approved of my hair color or life choices. But this right here¾Carter’s wide eyes and yet unreadable expression¾got to me like nothing else.
“I know. I know. I look like one of those freaky toy trolls. Now can we please not talk about my hair? Okay, thanks. Great.” I wasn’t a master of social interactions on a good day, and right now, I sort of panicked, knowing I sounded snappy but didn’t have the energy to care.
Carter silently stared at me for another moment, his eyebrows lowered, before saying, “I hope you’re not planning on going anywhere on this thing.”
A glance between the Yamaha and me.
“I was, actually,” I said, taking a step closer to my bike. I bobbed my head, instantly feeling stupid for doing so. One corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile, and my flush increased. “I’m off to see my family. You know, for the Christmas holidays?” I waved a gloved hand around, indicating the snow-covered streets as if to make a point. Not like Carter lived under a rock or could’ve missed any of that, what with the startling white surrounding us and the deserted campus. I wanted to smack myself.
Tightening his gray woolen scarf, Carter peered at me, expression turning suddenly serious. A shiver ran down my spine, and I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold or not. Carter said, “Honestly? I don’t think that’s a good idea, Remmy.”
My breath caught when he stepped closer. Nervously, I clasped my hands behind my back, squeezing my fingers. Carter’s unexpected presence left me dumbfounded and feeling like I’d stumbled into a theater in the middle of a movie and missed something incredibly important. Didn’t help that he was insanely good-looking. He hit all my buttons and knew how to turn me into a mumbling mess just by existing and breathing the same air.
“Why not?” I challenged, straightened, and moved forward, refusing to back off, despite how much his intense gaze sent my heart racing. What the hell’s all this about? No matter how intimidating he could be, I wouldn’t let him judge my riding skills without having seen firsthand what a great motorcyclist I was. It was one of the few things I felt good about when it came to myself. “What makes you think I can’t ride my bike a few hundred miles with a few snowflakes falling?” I lifted my eyebrows and stubbornly crossed my arms in front of me.
How I loathed the rush of self-consciousness I got around him, resulting in me being uncharacteristically irritable. My warming cheeks were probably crimson by now, making my embarrassment soar. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to chill the hell out and stop blushing like a teenage girl meeting her crush for the first time. Sadly, that was pretty much what he did to me.
Every. Damn. Time.
“Few snowflakes? Dude, no offense, but no one with more than three neurons would ride their bike in this weather. It’s gonna get worse; trust me. And you’re planning to go where exactly? It’s snowing, for heaven’s sake. Do you know how cold it’ll get on that bike? Not to mention the ice on the roads…” Carter shook his head like I was hopeless and he couldn’t be more disappointed with me. “Do you want to get yourself killed?”
Whoa, what? For a dozen heartbeats or so, all I could do was stare at Carter.
“I won’t get myself killed!” I protested, feeling more and more childish with this exchange. “I know what I’m doing.”
His eyes narrowed again, making me wish he didn’t look so damned cute. Carter opened his mouth to reply, but I beat him to it. “I’ll have you know I am a four-season rider, thank you very much. I’ve got electric gloves, grips, vest, and even socks to keep me warm.”
My mini rant was met with silence.
“And anyway, why would you care?” The words slipped out before I could hold my tongue. Ugh. Something about the way his eyes examined me, looking me up and down, as if he was accusing me of a crime I hadn’t committed, was getting to me.
Part of me was flabbergasted he would come out here to lecture me, making sure I didn’t get myself killed—as he so nicely put it—in a snowstorm two days before Christmas. Carter had no reason to give a damn. The more logical part of my brain reminded me what a nice guy Carter was, and this is what any decent human being would do. You know, trying to stop a fellow student from getting themselves killed over winter break. He’d probably pull this move on anyone. I couldn’t allow myself to believe it was me he was concerned about.
“Of course I care. We’re classmates,” Carter said matter-of-factly, like that alone was reason enough to justify his actions. And of course it was. When I remained silent, he threw up his hands in a comical way. “Seriously, Remmy? We’re friends. Why wouldn’t I want you to survive Christmas?” He tried for humor, but when I didn’t return his charming smile, his expression tightened. The wind picked up and more snow fell.
I was stunned into speechlessness. We weren’t friends. Carter and I went to the same parties and met when both our groups of friends got together for activities outside of school. We often saw each other in passing, and there were glances, a nod “hello,” and we’d talked once before class, but nothing more. It was always kinda awkward for some reason. Sometimes I thought I’d seen something in his eyes, a spark of amusement when he looked my way, which only increased the level of my anxiety. I never, ever, dared to initiate an actual conversation. I was too shy to approach him, not even in a friendly, completely innocent way. And Carter never quite lacked in the boyfriend department, so I’d only make a fool of myself if I tried to, God forbid, flirt with him. And then there was that one incident…
I mentally chastised myself. Feeling silly for my defensive reaction and embarrassed over having this ridiculous argument in the middle of the parking lot, I struggled to come up with a response.
What I managed to say was: “I have no other choice! How else am I supposed to get home? My ride isn’t happening, and I don’t want to be stuck on campus over break.” It came out rather high-pitched and I sounded a little whiny to my own ears, but I was cold and frustrated. Maybe Carter was right, and riding my bike was the worst idea.
But…my Yamaha was all I had.
“Yeah, I saw your post on Facebook,” Carter said calmly. A familiar softness and warmth had crept back into his voice. While the two of us weren’t friends, I’d heard him talk to people, some of them close friends of mine, so many times I now recognized his friend voice. The one that made my insides melt like ice cream on a summer day. What I wouldn’t give for a little sunshine right now! It was so cold.
“So,” Carter went on, “I happen to have a car and enough space for a few more people. I thought you might wanna tag along?”
“You’re…offering me a ride?” I asked, still processing what was happening here. Carter was such an enigma. By now, anyone else would’ve probably flipped me the bird and left me to drive myself into a ditch and die. Instead, he was offering to take me home. Like I was a friend.
“I sure am.”
“Yes, to wherever.” Carter laughed, a twinkle in his eyes. “I mean, within reason. We shouldn’t venture too far, obviously.”
“Obviously,” I parroted stupidly, stunned. I had a ride.
“I’d hate for us to get stuck on the Canadian border over the holidays.” Carter gave me a hopeful smile, and I couldn’t help but return it.
Stuck in a car with Carter for hours? Now there was a recipe for disaster. I’d be insane to turn away his offer, though, simply because of my unhealthy crush on the guy. And anyway, everyone had a crush on Carter; he was kind and popular, handsome as hell, always in a good mood, constantly laughing and joking around with his friends. He was also openly gay and in a relationship with Travis, who was just as much of a chick-and-dude-magnet as Carter. Yeah, wait, that last part was definitely a reminder why my having a crush on him was reason enough to back off. Could I afford it though?
“Come on, Remmy.” Carter huffed a small laugh. “I hurried down here hoping to catch you before you left, and I’m glad I did. Now grab your bag. We could’ve been on the road by now.” He gave me a pointed look, his impatience clear. “It’s cold, man. I’m freezing my balls off here.”
“Are you sure?” I was warming up to the idea faster than I liked to admit.
“Absolutely. Taking my car will be much more comfortable than riding your bike. You’ll get to sit back, relax, and let me do all the driving.” Carter reached for the backpack sitting on the ground next to my snow-dusted Yamaha. Apparently he was done talking, done waiting for me to make up my mind.
“Um… ” I had nothing. Carter was right, of course. His car would be more enjoyable. Warm and cozy. We’d have music, too, and could stop for food and drinks on the way. Yeah, I’m sold.
“Come on, Rem. Let’s get going.” He shouldered my backpack and flashed me a confident smile. Carter knew he had me. Smug bastard. “We’re both gonna catch our death if we linger much longer. My fingers are already icicles.” He wriggled said fingers, making me laugh.
This was my only chance for a ride home, and if I wanted to make it in time for Christmas, I better get my shit together and act like the adult I supposedly was. Like the adult I tried so hard to be. I groaned inwardly. Okay, I could be civil. Friendly even. Yes, absolutely.
The wind whipped around us, and I wiped at the quickly melting snow blowing against my face, blinking more flakes out of my eyes. Carter’s smile fell away and was replaced by a frown that tugged at my heartstrings. Dammit all to hell. I’d regret it until my last breath if I dismissed this chance of spending time with Carter, getting to know him better.
My voice shook as I said, “We can split the driving and money for gas.”
Carter’s gaze softened and he exhaled, like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. My throat tightened and my head spun, but I couldn’t have been more relieved to see the smile reappear on his pink lips.
“There you go. That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Carter flashed me a grin over his shoulder and started walking across the parking lot.
“Wait a second!” I shouted after him. My cheeks burned, and I spurred into action. Fast as I could I locked and covered up the motorbike, slipping only once, then followed Carter.
He hadn’t gotten far when I reached him, stopping him with a hand on his arm. “We need to head back to my room first.” When all I got was a raised eyebrow, I let out a breath and added, “I’m not going anywhere dressed like this. No way I’m gonna spend the next few hours in my biking gear when I can wear more comfortable clothes.”
“All right, sure.” Carter chuckled. “Lead the way, then.”