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Now and Then

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What a beautiful day.

I want to add the cliché ‘not a cloud in the sky,’ but that’s just not true. Where’d that expression come from anyway? The idea that the beauty of a day can be judged by the number of clouds is just silly. Cloudless skies are boring. They have all the character of a blank canvas.

Today the clouds are wispy, like cotton pulled too thin. They drift languorously by like all of the other scenery both near and far.

The usual roar of my assent to the castle is cut to a purr. It’s a surprisingly complex sound—more like a series of sounds—full of chatters and scrapes, pops and pings, ticks and taps that all mesh up, creating a weird sort of melody around the grumble of the exhaust. I assume the mechanical music is normal. I’ve probably just never heard its subtleties with that bucket on my head.

Funny, I can actually see the appeal of riding without a helmet, but I’ll never go there, not for anything other than this. And that’s not because of the usual safety concerns, though they’re there. I just can’t think of anything less appealing than having a big juicy bug splatter my face.

All of the extra sounds must be normal because nothing feels off. A faint hum transfers through my palms, legs and all those other assorted parts, growing ever so slightly hummier the closer the part is to the machine. Considering that, the lack of inertia and the tipsy nature of the beast, it’s strange how planted I feel.

Sunlight beats down on my shoulders, warm and heavy in contrast with the breeze that rolls over my skin. The breeze could be breezier and I’d be more comfy. All it would take is twist of my wrist, but I won’t for too many reasons: them, her, me…

Yes, I agree I’m not dressed for this. A bikini top, tennies and cut-offs aren’t exactly appropriate riding gear. But really, what does it matter what I have on so long as I’m good?

Speaking of…

My shorts are soggy. I stand up on the footpegs to allow a little of that almost nonexistent breeze to flow over my damp, sticky skin. Vinyl seats are just wrong.

And if Xander saw me doing this…

He doesn’t understand. None of them do. And I don’t plan to clue them in. I’m more comfortable in my own skin now than I’ve ever been. They should be able to see that, if they really care. The reason is a promise I made to Willow. What we agreed is really none of their business. It’s strange—way stranger than any of this—but I wouldn’t break that promise for the world. It’s just too good for me. Her taking care of me. And all I have to do in return is take care of myself.

Deal of a lifetime.

That was it, the magical ingredient. What I was missing. I felt like I cared enough to take care of everyone else—weight of the world and all—but who really took care of me?

She does. And I can’t risk that. So no more crazy. Now I look before I leap.

A few girls hang out on the lawn sunning themselves or reading or both. It’s good day for that. And I’m really happy for them.

Whatever. Point is, there’s no one out here who’ll gripe at my mostly naked self for riding my mostly naked motorcycle a quarter mile up the hill on a private driveway. This is nothing more than the jauntiest of jaunts.

God, I’m starting to sound like her.

What it was that made me think that stripping all of the plastic panels and doohickeys off of Bernie might’ve been a good idea, I’ll never know. All I got for my trouble was more dirt. Dirt that wasn’t hurting anyone. It was harmless, hidden dirt, but I just had to go there.

I should probably be self conscious about this. Bernie isn’t the prettiest thing even covered in plastic. Without it she’s a real stunner. And I’m no prize myself. I’m sure my legend has truly exceeded me.

And they’ll see what they see and say what they say.

Me? I have it on good authority that that evil-in-a-can stays put better if you get the chain warm first. That’s all this is about. Nothing more than a purely utilitarian attempt to follow the directions for once. Can’t say I’ve had much luck with that in the past, but I keep trying.

One of the girls waves and I take that as my cue to sit down. It’s easier to return the gesture that way—what with the leaning down to keep my hands on the controls—removing one of them would just be—

Is it sad that I care so little that I don’t bother to figure out who it is I’m waving at?

Probably.

Not really. There are so many of them—too many for me to keep track—what with all of their comings and goings.

It’s enough for me to just worry about myself. I’m about ten minutes and another quarter-mile from dealing with the nastiest substance on Earth. This stuff makes all of the ook and the gook of demons seem positively tame.

Oh, and I have to take a stand down from the garage to lift Bernie’s chubby butt up too. That’s more fun than I should be allowed to have. At least I know which one’s which now, with the hooks and the hanging. I need the one on the right. I used to get them mixed up all the time. One bent-metal-tubing sculpture isn’t that much different from the other. They’re both made to do the same thing, just at different ends.

The devil’s always in the details.

Whose idea was it to make grease sticky? Can I hurt them? Despite its hair-spray-like quality, the stuff flings off and gets all over everything. Including me. I glance at the black stripe smeared half the length of my forearm.

All it takes is one wrong spritz to undo all the good I’ve done. The stuff’s just gross. Stringy and gross.

I tried to do something about this before I motored, but even with all the soap and that scrungy thing, I barely made a dent. Next time Team Evil gives up a hostage, I’m gonna suggest we coat them in chain lube. Dunno what the Geneva Convention would have to say about that, but I wouldn’t last a day—what with the sticky and the greasy, not to mention the smell. I’d totally crack.

To get rid of just this little bit I would’ve had to go inside and scrub myself with hot water and dish soap. And I didn’t want to disturb Will. The last time I saw her, she was up to her neck in books and alternating between nibbling on her pen and jotting down notes. Interrupting her would’ve broken our agreement. The other one. The unspoken one. The one where we give each other enough space to do what we need to do. We’re both a lot less crabby that way.

So I have grease on my arm. It’s decidedly unlike me. But I’ve decided that there are lots of things that they think are decidedly unlike me that are decidedly like me after all.

It’s a thing. Another thing I learned from Willow. My life used to be all about the latest bad. I lived moment to moment, consumed by how I would deal. I was eating myself alive until I learned that it’s not the big things that are important; it’s the little ones.

It’s not that I don’t still worry. I just try to live each day enjoying it as much as I can. The things I enjoy are rarely big, but lots of little ones can make up for that.

Like the one that’s coming up. I’m almost out of road. The dead end directly ahead of me isn’t quite a cul-de-sac. More like a wide spot. Something that most people would walk a motorcycle around. I veer right to give myself room, but I don’t bother to slow down. It’s more entertaining that way.

Whether I steer or counter-steer—I’m not really sure. Bernie just does what I tell her. This is as much about how I place my weight as anything I do with her.

And look at that…my naked knee is way too close to the pavement. That lasts for a few seconds. A quick, graceful swoop and I’m headed back the way I came.

I’ve had my fun.

Been having it. The sort of fun we all used to have as kids, but as adults, we forget. Washing the grime away is really just an excuse for playing in the hose, making bubbles and getting messy.

Messiness is definitely fun…provided it’s followed up by a whole lot of cleanliness. And I have just enough time to finish up and take a nice hot bath before I have to leave for my manicure and facial.

Will assures me that balance is good.

Still, who’d’ve imagined that I could ever enjoy an activity where the required equipment includes a toothbrush and rubber gloves?

I didn’t.

At first I was seriously tempted to get someone else to do this—I get help with everything else—but the idea that couldn’t even do something as simple as adjust and lubricate the chain bugged me.

That’s how this started.

Motorcycle maintenance, sans the Zen.

I got the idea from reading the blurb on the dust jacket that I’m about a thousand miles in one direction shy of Zen. I’d have to hit the Chunnel and keep going. Actual Zen might happen somewhere around Bulgaria, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath.

One day, maybe.

Could be I’m missing the point, but I don’t think so.