By Lucien Maier
Edited By Temperance Penrod
His frustration level was at its peak. They had been on the road for four hours and it had taken its toll on him. The kids had barraged him and his wife about where they were? When they would arrive? Along with countless bathroom and snack stops.
It all seemed endless, now don’t take it wrong, Jonathan would not give up his family for anything. Some days though it was overwhelming. No matter what he did they wanted more, the more he answered the more they asked.
So when a group of five motorcycles passed them he could not help but look longingly at them. One of the guys gave him a salute as he passed and they disappeared down the road. However, they had left something behind.
Jonathan day-dreamed about riding away, but that did not feel right. He would never leave, but the roar of the pipes had gotten into him.
Now on a good note Jon was no longer frustrated. He was preoccupied day dreaming and before he knew they had arrived at his wife’s family home. His wife and he had not been doing all that well lately.
It just seemed they didn’t have the team attitude they had a couple years ago. She fell into her mother’s and father’s embrace, he could see the relief in her. She had needed this. It was one of the reasons he agreed to the road trip.
He hated her seeing her stressed and sad, but lately it seemed like the only thing he could do was add to that stress. When her parents had encouraged them to take a long weekend and come out to the ranch, they had jumped on the chance.
The kids played outside as Jon loaded the bags into the guest rooms in the house. He looked out the window of the bedroom he and his wife would be staying in. He looked out over the fields. The barn called to him.
Before he could much thought into it he was called downstairs by Maggie, his Mother-in-law. He walked down the stairs and she hugged him. “Come on let’s get you a cup of coffee.” She smiled and pulled him into the kitchen.
His wife Nikki and her father Stan sat at the kitchen table with their own cups. Maggie sat him down at the table and got him a cup of coffee. They sat and talked for a while, the kids came storming in the house and Jon almost lost his temper.
The frustration and anger was plain, even though he only said. “Please slow down kids. Not so loud.” Jon tried to keep himself in check. His father-in-law had noted it. Maggie huddled the kids together and got to making them something to eat.
Stan finished his cup. “Come on Jon, I could use your hand on some things.” He rose to his feet. Jon finished his cup and followed him outside.
They worked throughout the ranch, doing this and that. Stan walked into the barn, they walked to the back and he pulled a tarp off some fence posts. “We gotta load these into my truck. I will go get it if you want to start hauling ‘em out.” Stan said and disappeared.
Jon pulled a post and carried it to the doorway. He returned the pile. He grabbed a post but the back end of the tarp was still hooked to it. He grabbed the tarp and flipped it back hard. Behind the pile of posts sat a motorcycle.
Jon looked at it as best he could but he could not see much, the pile of posts was in the way. Jon rolled up his sleeves and started to work. He wanted to see the bike, ten minutes later Stan pulled his truck up to the door and found a pile of posts. In fact it looked as if most of them were already hauled out here.
He walked into the barn and he had been right there were only two posts left in the barn. Jon however, was not focused on them at all. He was was leaning and laying over the old bike to get a better look.
“Travis’s bike.” Stan said.
The words hit like a hammer in Jon’s ears. ‘Oh no.’ He thought to himself as he scrambled to get away from the bike. “Oh Stan I am so sorry, I saw it back there, I just couldn’t help but take a look.” Jon stammered out.
Travis had died right before Jon had meet Nikki in college. He had never heard either of his in-laws talk about Travis. Nikki had been in mourning, but had been pushed to go to school by her folks.
Nikki had fallen in love with Jon, because he had meet her and instantly been there for her as she worked through her grief and school. The years had passed but, Jon had never really heard his new parents talk of Travis.
Stan took a deep breath. “No, no, its alright. You don’t have to worry about me. But you better watch out for Nikki and Maggie, they never liked that thing in the first place.” Stan said, a little sadly.
“So I can look at it?” Jon asked trepidatiously.
“Not in the that corner, let’s load up the posts and pull the thing out.” Stan said, smiling. They loaded up the posts and Stan helped Jon pull the bike out into the middle of the barn.
“He must have really loved it.” Jon said picking out the custom touches that Travis had put in the bike.
“Oh yeah he thought he would be big bad biker one day. That kid had a lot of heart.” Stan said a tear appearing in his eye. “He would be happy to see your interest in it.” Stan said.
“Thanks for showing it to me. Let’s put it back and we can go get those posts in.” Jon replied.
“Nahh, let it sit there for a piece. Come on.” Stan said and they loaded the posts into the truck. They went out to put them in.
They were working on the first post. “You look heavy son.” Stan said as they were putting the post in the ground.
“Well I guess I have gained a few pounds.” Jon said laughing.
“Not what I meant son. You look like you have been carrying a weight around with you since you came. I see it in how you react to Nikki, how you’re dealing with the kiddos. Family is not always the easiest road for a man.” Stan said.
“Oh god Stan,” Jon broke, the tears started from his eyes. “I love ‘em all so much, but I always feel like I am at the ragged edge of things. Like nothing I do is enough. I know Nikki and the kids don’t ask for too much, but sometimes I just don’t think I can live up to it.” Jon said, through the sobs. “Like when we were driving down here the kids are crazy in the back, and Nikki is stressing, and this pack of motorcycles go by. And you know what I thought to myself?” Jon said. The tears racking him.
“You wanted to run away with the bikes.” Stan said laying a hand on his shoulder.
Jon dropped in the a flurry tears. “How could I?” Jon asked the wind.
“You and every other family man Jon. You think I have not taken that car ride?” Stan said hunching down next to him, He laid a hand on his shoulder. “I know that I have thought that many times, when I was younger.”
“Its wrong. I should be stronger.” Jon sobbed.
Stan put his arm around him now. “No! It ain’t wrong. It’s normal. What’s wrong is hiding it until you do pick up and go. Jon, after Travis passed on Nikki shut down. Hell all of us did. When she went off to college her mom and I have never been so worried for her.”
“We would get letters home and at first we were more and more worried. Until.” Stan said and trailed off.
“Until what?” Jon asked.
“Until your name started showing up in the letters. That first Thanksgiving she brought you home, I remember thinking that you had actually brought our daughter back to us. In turn Maggie was able to let go of some of her hurt and she was able to come back to. That all started because you saw a sad girl in a coffee shop and wouldn’t give up on her.” Stan said.
Jon sat up. He did love Nikki, from the first moment he saw her. “I still love her Stan, and I love the kids with all my heart. Please don’t think I would run,” Jon tried but he was cut off by Stan.
“Now listen Jon, I can see how much you love them far more than I can see how much weight you’re carrying. Its ok to have doubt, Nikki didn’t pick you because you would never fail. She picked you because she knew no matter how bad the storm, you would always have her and the kids first in your mind. And you do. Don’t be so god damn hard on yourself. You have built my daughter a wonderful life and beautiful family.” Stan sat there and held Jon for a while and let the man crumble.
“Come on son, let go get some lunch.” Stan said quietly after he had regained himself. They loaded into the truck and went back to the house. As they ate at the large table, Jon started to smile again.
Stan had been right his family was amazing. He swore he would try to see past the day to day grind, and appreciate that. They helped clear the table and Jon and Stan walked back outside toward the barn.
As they got closer Jon started to veer off toward the truck but Stan kept heading for the barn. “We not going put the rest of those posts in?” Jon asked.
“No, we got a motorcycle to get running.” Stan said and smiled at him.
“Ahhh no Stan, I just wanted to see it.” Jon replied.
“Well, now I wanna see if we can get it to running.” Stan said with a knowing smile. Stan and Jon happily worked the afternoon away in the barn. Jon had been a desk jockey all his life so working on the bike was all new, but very liberating for him.
By the end of the afternoon they were putting the carburetor back on the bike. Jon, with Stan’s direction, had taken it off and apart. While they waited for the parts to soak in the solvent tank they had worked together to clean up the bike and adjust the chain.
They had taken all the parts out of the cleaner and put them back together. Jon tightened the last bolt and looked up to Stan for approval. “Looks as good as when he was riding it.” Stan said with a laugh.
“What now?” Jon asked.
Stan laughed. “Well you get on it and start it!” he replied clapping him on the shoulder.
Jon did as he was told, although his heart was in his throat.
They were sitting on the porch watching the kids play. “I am worried about him Mom. He seems so distant.” She said to her mother.
“I can see that. But what he seems, ain’t always what they are. When a man pulls away from you a lot times it can have nothing to do with you. Can I ask you a question sweetheart?” She asked.
Now Nikki knew this was her mother’s way of preparing her for a hard truth. “Of course.” Nikki said, she said bracing herself.
“Jon is an amazing family man. He works hard everyday, and he makes sure you have the things you need. But in all the years I have known you two together, I never seen him do anything for him. He don’t golf, he don’t fish, he don’t hunt. What’s he do for himself?” Maggie asked.
Nikki sat. She wanted to answer, but she had none. “Nothing really I guess. I think the family is what he sees as his first priority.” Nikki answered honestly.
“He needs something for him honey.” Maggie said before she could finish they both heard the old motor turn over and come to life.
Smoke poured from the barn and the two women and three young daughters all ran for the barn. As they rounded the corner there sat Jon on the the old bike trying to listen to Stan’s instructions.
“Now kick it down to first and let out the clutch.” Stan said.
Jon let the clutch out and the engine grabbed hold and started to push him forward. He looked up and saw the excited faces of his three daughters, and the two not so excited faces of his mother-in-law and wife.
However, when he cleared the door The young girls all cheered and clapped as he wobbled down the road. When he turned at the end of the drive and headed back he looked up and that was when Nikki saw it.
She could barely contain tears, Jon was smiling, from ear to ear. “Looks like your dad done found his hobby for him.” Maggie said elbowing her daughter.
“He couldn’t have taken him fishing?” Nikki asked, but in spite of herself she was all smiles.
Jon returned to the barn with the cheers and claps of everyone egging him on. When he stopped he forgot to put his foot down and the bike tipped to the right. He fell off and rolled away laughing.
Stan got the motor shut off and in between laughs said. “You gotta put your feet down son!” Which brought a whole new round of laughter.
The next few days were simply bliss. Jon spent his time helping but if he had a moment he was back out by the bike working on it, or riding it further and further each time. His sadness had no hold over him.
The day they were set to leave. Jon seemed a little sad again, after breakfast he walked out to the barn to say goodbye to the bike, however it wasn’t there. Jon was going to ask but decided to let it go. He was already trying to figure out a way to convince Nikki that he needed to buy one when he got back.
He went back up the house to say goodbyes, and then he realized where the bike had gone. Behind their family SUV sat a small trailer with the bike strapped down on it.
“Honestly Jon, I have never seen you so happy, did you think I was going to make you leave it here?” Nikki said as he embraced her.
The years again started to go by, but this time Jon was not so on edge. He had gained his balance on that trip. Jon never felt like he wanted to run away again.
Years later they sat on the porch, “I am glad he included her, I am just saying that I don’t really like thinking of my granddaughter riding that bike.” Maggie said, looking down the road.
Stan laughed. “Well honey that ain’t nothing new. You didn’t like it when Travis got it. I am sure you were none too thrilled when Jon pulled it out the barn that day. But it made them happy, that my dear is what life is about.” Stan said and kissed her on the forehead.
As if on cue they saw two bikes and an SUV pull into the drive. Jon swung his bike around and Jenny his daughter swung her bike and parked next to him. The suv came in behind them and the family poured out of the car.
Maggie stood up and looked at the smiling faces of her family. “Yeah, I guess it is.” She said and walked down the porch to join in the welcome.