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Ride Steady


PAGE 76

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Further, even if he had to bust his balls, eat shit, walk through hell...

He was going to give it to her.

* * *

Late the next afternoon, Joker had his ass resting on his bike that was parked next to a five-year-old SUV, his arms crossed on his chest, his eyes to the door of the high school.

The last fifteen minutes he was there, he'd gotten looks. He'd gotten questions. He'd given vague answers.

And he'd waited.

The wait was over when he saw Mr. Robinson walk out the door.

Through his shades, Joker took him in. He'd aged, but it was a testament to the man that he didn't look beaten. He'd been through it to get a kid, but he was also a high school teacher. They got paid dick, put up with a lot of shit, had one of the most important jobs anyone could have, and got little respect, and all he looked like was a man who was leaving work, ready to go home to his wife and dinner.

Joker watched him walk to the SUV, and he wasn't surprised when Mr. Robinson clocked him almost the minute he walked out the door. He kept Joker in his sights as he walked the ten parking spots to his SUV.

Joker also wasn't surprised he didn't let a biker hanging in a teacher's parking lot slide like the others did.

He stopped and asked, "Can I help you?"

"Good to see you again, Mr. Robinson," Joker replied.

His head tilted. His eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry, do I...?" he started before his face cleared. "Carson?" he asked quietly.

Joker nodded, pushed up from his bike, and walked to the sidewalk.

He extended his hand.

Mr. Robinson took it, his face cracking into a smile.

"Carson," he repeated, clasping Joker's hand and pumping it. "Yes. Definitely. Good to see you too."

They ended on a squeeze before they broke off and Joker asked, "How're things?"

"Things are things," Mr. Robinson replied, still smiling, saying they were normal but he didn't mind. "You?"

"Things are good."

Mr. Robinson's gaze grew intent as he studied Joker and said, "Good to hear."

"Yeah," Joker muttered, cleared his throat and told him, "Been back a while. Thought about you. Wanted to connect. Wasn't in that place. Now I am."

"That's good to hear, too." He seemed to struggle with what he wanted to say next, won it and asked, "You took off-"

Joker gave it to him easy. "Got my diploma. Took night classes. Now I'm a licensed mechanic. I'm a brother of Chaos and design and build cars at Ride."

"What you wanted to do," Mr. Robinson muttered.

He remembered. All the kids he saw year to year, the man remembered.

"Yeah," Joker agreed.

"Are you married? Settled? Seeing a girl?"

"Yup. You remember Carissa Teodoro?"

At that, Mr. Robinson smiled huge and remarked, "I see she finally got you to notice her."

Fuck. The man didn't miss anything, even shit Joker, who wanted that to be true and paid attention, didn't see.

"Yeah," was all he said. Then he went for it. "Are things really good with you?"

If he remembered Carissa's crush, Joker wanting to be a mechanic, he sure as fuck wouldn't forget where they were the last time they saw each other... and why they were there.

Even if it wasn't his business, Mr. Robinson gave it to him, also easy. "They're fine. We haven't been able to..." he trailed off, cleared his throat and kept going. "We've settled into the we we need to be. We wanted more. But you've got to learn when to let go and focus on what you have." He grinned, it was part sad, part defiant. "Prettiest girl I ever saw, best wife a man can have. It could be worse."

It sure fucking could.

Joker just hoped he could find a way to give him better.

He didn't say that.

He said, "You always had it goin' on."

The grin stayed in place when Mr. Robinson replied, "Glad you agree."

That day, while Carissa was on shift, Joker had worked at Ride. She'd be off shift soon and Robinson had worked all day.

He needed to let him get home to his wife and dinner.

So he reached into his back pocket, took out his wallet, pulled out a card, and shoved his wallet back in while extending the card to his old history teacher.

"Card for Ride. You can call in, ask for me. But my cell's on the back. Just in case you're interested in what I'm building, you can stop around. Anytime. You tell me when, I'll be there and I'll show you."

Mr. Robinson didn't hesitate. "Couldn't keep me away."

That hit him in the throat, and Joker forced a swallow to wash it away before he said gruffly, "Right. Let you go. Call when you want." He jerked up his chin and finished on, "Good to see you again, Mr. Robinson."

"Man to man now, Carson. I'm Keith."

Joker nodded to him. "Keith."

They shook hands again and Keith Robinson lifted up the card. "I'll give you a call."

"Look forward to it."

Robinson gave him a smile and headed to his SUV.

Joker went to his bike.

Mounted on it, he looked left into the cab of the truck.

Robinson was shifting into gear, doing it looking down and also doing it smiling.

He'd worried.

Joker had given him closure. He'd also given him relief.

But back in high school Keith Robinson had given Joker a whole lot more.

And on that thought, the impact of all Carissa was forced to accept due to circumstances struck him so hard it felt like a power punch to the gut.

He'd run away, worked his ass off, ate shit, walked through hell, got his diploma, worked to get his mechanic's license, and come out the other side.

So he'd forgotten how it felt. How deep it ran. How intense the desire was, how extreme the hope was that you'd one day be in a position to give back to those who put brightness in a dark life, cutting through the black.

Unconsciously, even if years had passed, once he'd opened his eyes, he'd set himself on a course of giving back.

And taking in the smile he gave a man he respected, he determined he'd stay true to that course.

No matter what it took.

* * *

When she walked in the back door, Joker was at Carissa's stove, stirring the thickening sauce, dinner around the corner because she'd texted him half an hour ago with I'm off in thirty. Then I'm on my way home. You better be there, sweetie, because I'm STARVED.

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