Liberated from the confines of the halfway house tyranny, Lloyd rode the Triumph with the wind in his hair and the morning sun on his face; the drone from the vertical twin motor was a constant companion that propelled the vintage bike and its rider at the posted speed limit.
He relished the thrill of two-wheel travel, his mind telepathically linked to the bike’s handlebars, which responded to the slightest downward pressure on either side. He pressed left, and the bike leaned left. He pressed right, and the bike responded accordingly, its four-hundred-pound weight moving with the grace and agility of an all-star running back.
Miles of hot pavement rolled under the Triumph’s wheels and tingled Lloyd’s senses with sweet persuasion. Above him, tattered wisps of foamy white clouds hovered on a boundless canvas of azure sky more breathtaking than anything he had ever seen. Or anything he’d ever imagined in prison.
Never ride faster than your angel can fly, his dad would preach in his brain-bowl helmet with a broken chin strap. And in a way, Lloyd felt like maybe his dad was riding with him—or at least keeping tabs on his prized possession from somewhere beyond the grave.
Despite the turbulent airflow swirling about his chest and head, Lloyd enjoyed the sensory overload from his immediate surroundings.
He applied the brakes when he reached a pock-marked stop sign tilted sideways by the edge of the road—a victim of shotgun joyrides and gale force winds from a tropical storm the year before.
Throughout the residential area, ubiquitous blue tarps sheltered damaged roof tops with missing shingles and exposed plywood panels. Corrugated shutters covered windows of vacant homes built on tiny parcels carved side by side on prickly, sun-baked lawns while their snowbird owners enjoyed the cooler weather up north until the first autumn chill drove them back to their seasonal retreats.
He turned right and continued in low gear until he found the familiar entrance to the trailer park community he once grew up in.
He rode to Josh’s unit and killed the engine. A pair of sandhill cranes squawked above him as they flew over the property.
He dropped the kickstand and leaned the bike toward a blue Geo Metro with missing hubcaps and a broken antenna. He swung his right leg over the seat and unzipped his leather jacket. A light breeze greeted the sweat-soaked shirt that clung to his muscular physique.
A woman’s silhouette appeared behind the trailer’s screen-door, her long hair draped on the front of her shoulders. Thin bands of smoke ascended from the cigarette between her fingers.
“Can I help you?” Sheila Jarvis asked behind the screen. She drew a long breath from the Marlboro Light and parted a lock of hair from her emerald eyes.
“I’m looking for Josh Sullivan. Does he still live here?”
“Who are you?”
“Josh doesn’t have a brother.”
“That’s what he told you?” Lloyd pointed to the Geo. “That’s his car.”
“How do you know?”
“He was drunk when he broke that antenna in half. He tried to hit me with it when I took his keys.”
Sheila blew smoke through the screen. “How come he lied about you?”
“I’ve been gone a long time.”
“So has my cherry. That doesn’t mean I forgot my first time.” Lloyd watched her eyes as she looked him up and down. “You don’t look like him. He’s not here.”
“Do you know when he’ll be back?”
“He comes and goes.”
A baby cried inside the trailer. A long, high-pitched wail that screamed I’m hungry.
Sheila opened the screen-door far enough to flick her cigarette butt. “I have to go.”
Lloyd turned to leave. “If you see Josh, tell him I was here.”
Sheila disappeared inside the trailer and returned with an infant in her arms. She pointed to the faded red ’69 Mustang pulling in beside the community mailbox. “Tell him yourself.”
Lloyd watched his lanky six-foot, six-inch brother unfold himself from the two-door coupe with mag wheels and rusted rocker panels.
“What are you doing here?” Josh asked, a full head taller than his older adopted sibling.
Lloyd reached his arm around Josh’s back and hugged him.
Josh reciprocated with an awkward embrace. He looked down at Lloyd through dark sunglasses. “When did you get out?”
“Two days ago. I made parole.”
“That’s great.” Josh squeezed the bridge of his nose and invited Lloyd inside the trailer.
Clutter was everywhere. A box fan blew air at the thrift store furniture beside a stroller and an infant car seat. A blanket with baby toys covered the floor beneath a plasma television. On the opposite wall, a broken window air conditioner protruded near a black cello case on wheels.
“Do you play?” asked Lloyd.
Josh shook a crumpled pack of cigarettes and offered a smoke to his brother.
“I’ll pass,” said Lloyd.
“Since when?” Josh rubbed his teeth with his tongue. He followed Sheila and the baby toward the back of the trailer. She carried a bottle of formula and a burp cloth.
Lloyd watched as Sheila cradled her baby in her arm and tested the formula on her inside wrist. He could see her whispering at Josh—knew she was asking about him.
Josh bolstered his reply. “I didn’t know he was coming.”
Josh closed the door on Sheila and returned to the front of the trailer. “The baby’s not mine,” he told Lloyd. “I hooked up with Sheila after she got pregnant with her ex. I didn’t realize at the time…” He lit a cigarette. “Can’t smoke near the baby.”
“That’s smart,” said Lloyd.
Josh twisted two cans of Bud from the six-pack holder in the fridge and tossed one at Lloyd who caught the errant pass high and right. “Did you play ball in prison?”
“What was it like?”
“Like no place you want to be.” Lloyd savored the flavor of cheap beer. Even the crappy stuff tasted better than the prison hooch he choked down on occasion. “You’re still driving that same piece of shit?”
“I’ve had it since high school,” Josh recalled. “I still remember hiding in the back when Mom drove us.” He shared a laugh with his brother.
Lloyd snorted beer through his nose. “You asked her to ride in the trunk.”
Josh nodded. “That turd on wheels was the worst part about going to school. I told Mom I’d rather walk to the prom.”
“You never went to the prom,” said Lloyd. And in the same instant, he regretted the comment. “You didn’t miss anything.”
Josh dropped his cigarette in his beer can. The burning tobacco fizzled. “It’s not my dream car, but it runs.”
“Funny how things change.”
“Serious… Is that Dad’s bike outside?”
“I got it running.”
“I’ll trade you,” Josh offered.
“You don’t know how to ride.”
Josh lit another cigarette. “That never stopped me before.” He wiped the edge of his nose. “Sheila lets me drive her car for errands. I drive the beater to work.”
“Are you still working hard or hardly working?”
“I did construction for a long time. The builder let me go last year when the market took a dump. I was making eighteen an hour with overtime. People would camp out to buy a house that cost three times what it was worth. Now you can’t give them away.”
Lloyd stared at the baby blanket on the rug. “What about school?”
Josh ignored the question and gathered toys from the floor by the baby swing. “You haven’t changed in eight years.”
“Ten,” Lloyd corrected him.
“You still look ripped. Must have pumped a lot of iron in prison.”
“What was the food like?”
“Did you get in fights?”
Lloyd crumpled his empty beer can. “Where should I put this?”
“Under the sink.”
Lloyd pushed the can in the trash. “Mom asked about you.”
Josh nodded. His cigarette bounced in the corner of his mouth when he talked. “That must have been the booze talking.”
“When’s the last time you saw her?”
“She’s sick, you know.”
Josh dumped the rest of his beer in the kitchen sink. “You wanna see something cool?”
“Will it get me arrested?”
Josh put his fingers in his mouth and pulled his dentures out. He flashed a toothless grin. “Don’t try this at home.”
Lloyd stared at his brother.
“Pretty cool,” Josh mumbled with a toothless grin. He wiggled his jaw and popped the dentures back in. “It’s hard to talk without them.”
“The meth rotted out my teeth. My front ones were in pretty bad shape. The dentist had to pull a couple molars in the back. It hurt like hell for a week.” He bit down to seat the dentures. “I feel like an old man sometimes, but at least I can chew again.”
“Do you still get high?”
Josh pressed his tongue against his gum line to adjust the fit. “I’ve been clean for three years. After you were busted I hit a wall and started chasing the wrong crowd. I was good at that, I guess.” He avoided eye contact with Lloyd. “Nobody wants to grow up and be a junkie.”
“No worries,” Lloyd reassured him. “That’s behind you now.”
“You need a place to crash?”
“I’m good for the next sixty days. The state has me chained to a halfway house. Part of my parole agreement.”
“It’s better than the alternative.”
Josh shoved his hand in his pocket. “You need some cash?”
Lloyd shrugged. “I’ll find work.”
Josh pulled out a crumpled Jackson and offered it to his brother. “It’s all I have on me.”
“Put your money away.”
“I didn’t come here to ask for money.”
“It’s not a handout. It’s a loan.”
Lloyd took the bill. “I’ll pay you back.”
Josh smoked his second cigarette to the butt and snuffed it in the sink. “Sheila’s got a girlfriend I could hook you up with.”
“She’s got a nice body.”
Sheila entered the room with one hand supporting her baby’s soggy bottom and the other on his back. “We’re out of diapers,” she blurted.
“I bought two boxes this morning,” said Josh. “They’re in the trunk.”
“Can you get them, please? My hands are kind of full right now.”
“In a second.”
“When are you going to fix the AC? It feels like Hell’s Kitchen in here.”
“Put a cold washcloth on your face.”
Sheila cradled her baby. “It’s not me I’m worried about.”
“I’ll fix it tomorrow.”
“That’s what you said yesterday.”
“I had to work a double shift.”
“You didn’t have to watch the football game.”
Josh tapped Lloyd on the arm. “I’ll be right back.”
“You need help?” Lloyd offered.
“I got it.”
Lloyd wiped his forehead. Despite the fan blowing, he could feel the sweat dripping down his face. “What’s his name?” he asked Sheila.
Sheila dabbed the burp cloth on her baby’s mouth. “Logan.”
“He has your eyes.”
“He has his moments. I never planned on getting pregnant.”
“How old is he?”
Sheila stared at the cross tattoo on Lloyd’s forearm. “Twelve weeks.” She also noticed his boots and the bulge from his ankle monitor. Lloyd watched her face change as the pieces suddenly came together. “When did you get out?”
Lloyd opened the screen-door.
Josh balanced two boxes of Huggies on his arm. “I bought the good ones like you asked,” he said.
Sheila rolled her eyes. “You got the wrong size again.”
The infant cried in fits and starts.
Sheila countered with a gentle bounce and a vigorous pat on the back. “How come you never told me you had a brother in prison?”
“Ahh… probably because it was none of your business.”
The baby screamed.
“I’m on parole,” Lloyd confessed.
“For what?” asked Sheila.
“Doesn’t matter,” Josh defended his brother.
Sheila switched the baby to her other shoulder. “You promised me you were clean.”
“I am,” Josh argued.
“Then what is he doing here?”
“He came to see me.”
Sheila rolled her eyes. “Exactly.”
“What does that mean?”
Sheila tore a fresh diaper from the box and carried the baby away. “I think your brother should leave.”
“Not to me.”
Lloyd let himself out. “I’ll catch up later.”
Josh followed him to the driveway. “Wait up.”
“I’ve got a long ride back,” said Lloyd. He threw his leg over the bike and centered the front wheel. Then he keyed the ignition and started the motor.
Josh looked back at the trailer. “She gets like that when she’s on the rag. You just have to tune her out.”
Lloyd checked the view in his mirrors. “It’s cool.”
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” said Lloyd.
Josh pulled a business card from his wallet. “I manage a car wash in Plant City about forty minutes from here. We could use some extra help. The pay sucks, but it’s better than nothing. If you come by early, I’ll introduce you to the owner.”
Lloyd kept the bike in neutral. “I’ve got a curfew at ten.”
“We close at seven.”
Lloyd rolled the bike backwards. He pulled the clutch and notched the transmission in gear. “I’ll think about it.”