Isaac released me to light a cigarette.
“That cool cat is Reuben. He’s not a club member in the traditional sense. He is more of an . . . adoption.” He drew on his cigarette and released a breath of smoke.
“Reuben doesn’t play well with others,” he explained. “I’m not sure he’s wired right. He just likes to hang out, and we like his company. So, we’ve welcomed him to the family.”
Reuben looked like Finch from American Pie and, according to Isaac, they had a similar personality and style. While his friends drank beer from red plastic cups, Reuben drank whiskey from a tumbler. When his friends drove American heavy metal classics like Dodge, Ford, and Chevy, Reuben got around in his mint green Vespa. While his friends preferred the more casual look of jeans, tees, and a cut, he chose dress pants, button-up shirts, and a bowtie. He walked to the beat of his own drum and didn’t care what anyone thought about it.
According to Isaac, Reuben was his own story. He was particular. Precise. He liked things a certain way and would make no apologies for changing things until they were exactly how he liked them.
He was also lethal.
Or, so it was rumored.
“Once, we were driving past the skate park and Reuben spotted some guy mistreating his dog. We pulled into the parking lot and confronted him. Poor dog, it was terrified of this loser. I told the guy I was going to take that dog off him, but the sonofabitch pulled a gun on me, pressed it against my forehead, and told me he was walking away with it.
Two days later, that motherfucker washed up on the riverbank with a gunshot wound under his chin. That’s Reuben’s signature. He says he likes to look them in the eye as they are leaving. Psycho sonofabitch.”
“I don’t know what to say about that,” I said. And I truly didn’t. I couldn’t stand animal cruelty, and I believed that the devil kept a special part of hell free for animal abusers, but I also couldn’t condone what Reuben had done, even if it was oddly calming to know that someone so psychopathic could actually be on the side of the good guys.
“Not long after, I visited Reuben at his house and he introduced me to his new dog. It was the same dog from the park. I didn’t ask questions and he didn’t offer an explanation. But I’ll tell you what, that dog fucking loves him.”
Isaac was a good storyteller but was prone to embellishing his tales. I had to take what he was saying with a grain of salt. There probably was a dog. I knew how much of an animal lover he was. But as for a dead body, who knew?
I looked across at Reuben who had taken a seat at one of the barbecue tables with a plate of food. I watched as he unfolded his napkin and placed it across his grey-suited lap, and then straightened his bowtie in the shine of a steak knife.
Yeah, okay. There probably was a body.
I looked at Isaac, who winked back at me.
Ok, maybe there wasn’t.
Isaac left to grab another beer, leaving me alone to take in my surroundings. I watched him walk away, a serene smile on my face as I took it all in. Here, I could be content. With him. With these people. This life. I would be lying if I said this didn’t feel right. That here, amongst the leather and the smoke, and the rumble of Harleys, I felt just as much at home as I did in the gleaming, sterile halls of the hospital. If not more. And because of it, leaving weighed heavily on my chest.
I exhaled deeply in an attempt to steady my feelings.
When the band started to play Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Southern Ways,” the crowd cheered.
I glanced around at my friends, my family, and couldn’t help but smile.
Everyone was dancing, laughing, and having a good time. Across the makeshift dance floor, Isaac and Cherry joined Caleb and Brandi in dancing to the band, even Grandma Sybil and her boyfriend were breaking out the moves on the dance floor. To the left of the stage, Joker twirled and dipped Abby.
My heart felt light and my smile grew even bigger when I saw little Brax and Vader’s little girl, Shelby, dancing to the music.
Suddenly, tomorrow’s flight seemed too close.
I stood up.
I didn’t want it to end this way.
I scanned the crowd for Cade and found him standing at the bar looking every bit as fuckable as ever as he ordered a drink from Randy. My heart took up a gallop as I approached him.
“Give me one last dance?” I asked.
I offered him my hand.
In that moment, my heart wanted to be free. It wanted to enjoy what it wanted to enjoy.