Looking Back by Naomi Porter

1

Eve

Happy birthday to me! Twenty-one—the legal age for everything. Daddy couldn’t control me anymore, though I knew he would try.

Good girls knew the truth. Down deep, we were dying to be liberated—or I was anyway. A taste for danger and darkness lurked in me. I watched suspense and horror movies while my girlfriends were into rom-com. I listened to angsty music instead of love songs.

Tonight I was ready to take a walk on the wild, outlaw side. I knew just where to go to celebrate this momentous occasion: The Bullet. It was a popular watering hole owned by the local motorcycle gang. Several of my friends who were older than me frequented the place… friends of the female persuasion. Most men hated the bikers, while the women swooned over them.

Me?

I was undecided about how I felt. How could I judge these men if I’d never spoken to one? They looked dangerous and made all kinds of noise on their Harleys, which irritated Daddy to no end… and Bastion Township’s residents. But I never judged a person by sight or sound alone.

From time to time, my best friend, Mickey, called me a wicked, dirty bitch. She loved me just the same. We were as different as oil and vinegar. No matter our differences, we’d been like sisters since kindergarten. Inseparable. Loyal and devoted.

So, of course, Mickey was celebrating my birthday with me.

I admired myself in the full-length mirror on the back of my bedroom door. I pushed my tushie out, twisting from left to right. “How does my ass look in these jeans?”

It looked damn good to me, but I needed a second opinion.

Mickey didn’t even look my way. “Who cares what your butt looks like? Men like tits.”

I scowled at my best friend. She was playing with her Double Ds. She was skinny as a rail, so her chest looked ginormous. Lucky bitch.

“My ass is my best asset.” I was a generous B cup with extra padding. Unlike some women, I didn’t have legs or curves for miles, but I was proud of my behind and lips.

Men didn’t usually notice lips right away. It was either our ass or our tits. It pissed me off because I had a big brain in my skull. I was a caring person with a great personality, but the guys I knew didn’t care about any of that.

“Don’t sell yourself short, Eve. You have a lot more to offer than a perky butt.”

I smiled and shrugged. “Do you really think I have a perky butt?”

Mickey rolled her eyes. “The right guy will worship the ground you walk on.”

“Ha! In Bastion Township? Men are too cavalier and cocky in this one-horse town to worship anyone but themselves.”

“It’s those damn bikers. They changed the men around here.” She pushed her boobs up and pulled the V-neck of her shirt down. Mickey showed more skin from her chest alone than I did on my entire body. Although, I had to admit she looked hotter than a five-alarm fire.

However, Mickey was spot on in her assessment. Ever since the Knight’s Legion, a motorcycle gang, claimed Bastion as theirs, my hometown had changed. Personally, I found the bikers totally hot. Mickey liked farmers. To each her own.

I slapped my bottom. “Well, this is as good as it’s going to get. What do you think?” I twirled in a circle, swaying my hips with attitude, something I had in abundance.

Although my bedroom screamed princess with the sugary-sweet pink walls and eyelet comforter on my twin bed. It even had a sheer white canopy. I was desperate to redecorate my room. Make it more grown-up—more me. I just didn’t have the heart to change anything. It was one of the last things my momma had done for me before her young life ended.

“Gorgeous, honey. So where do you want to celebrate your twenty-first birthday?”

I paused, grinning like a fool for dramatic effect. Mickey had no clue what I had in mind for tonight. She’d never think I’d want to hit up the biker bar.

“The Bullet.”

Mickey’s jaw dropped, her light-blue eyes bugging out. “You’re joking, right?” She was a natural blonde, but her hair was black this month. It made her eyes pop even more.

I shook my head and shimmied my shoulders. “Nope.”

“Eve, it’s owned by that biker gang.”

“Yep. I know. Someone at the gas station called it a club, not a gang. Not sure what the difference is.” I tucked money and my driver’s license into my pocket. I didn’t like to carry a purse. “And I want to get a tattoo tomorrow too.”

She shot me the stink eye. “What’s going on with you?”

“Oh, puh-leeze. My daddy has kept me under lock and key my whole life. I’m tired of it. I want to be free to live the way I want.”

“He’s the law; that’s why.”

“Don’t remind me. Sheriff Hendricks.” I made a gagging face. My daddy was newly appointed. If I thought life had been boring before, it was now as exciting as a funeral.

“Eve?” My brother, Johnny, rapped on my door. “Hey, Eve?”

I sighed. “Come in.”

The door flung open. My little brother stilled for two seconds, then gaped. “Damn, girl! You look fine.” He wolf-whistled and pretended to check me out. It would have been gross and wholly inappropriate if I didn’t know he was faking it. He wanted something. Johnny would say or do anything to get what he wanted. “Where’re you off to?”

“Out, twerp,” I sang, with a flick of my hand to shoo him away.

He pouted. “But…”

I put a hand on my hip. “What do you want?”

Johnny was a senior in high school this year, and captain of the hockey team. He was a cutie, with thick blond hair that looked like a mop, perfect for the hockey hair his teammates sported. My mother would hate it if she were alive to see it.

“Can I borrow your car?” He flashed his adorable puppy dog eyes.

“Hell no.”

“Aw, come on, Eve. Please? I’m hanging out with the guys tonight, but I’m grounded from my truck.”

“Precisely why you can’t take my car. Drinking and driving is dangerous, Johnny.” He, of all people, should know better after Momma was killed by a drunk driver.

God, he looked pathetic when he clasped his hands together. “I won’t drink. I promise.” If he dropped to his knees and begged, I might crumple to his pleas.

“Is that what you said last weekend when you begged Daddy to let you go out with the team?”

“Must you be a bitch?” he snapped.

“Yes, I must.” Smartass. I was only looking out for him. He and Daddy were all I had left in the world. And Mickey.

“You can take my car.”

I nearly broke my neck, turning toward Mickey. “No!”

“Mick, you’re the best!” He reeled her in for a bear hug. “I’ll be careful. Promise.”

And then he did it. He planted his lips on hers for a more-than-friend kiss.

I might have even seen a bit of his tongue. Ew!

Mickey gasped when he released her. She stumbled back, her face flushed.

“Shit,” I muttered.

She held out her keys. “Wow, Johnny,” she whispered, fanning her face like a Southern belle after her first kiss at a debutante ball. Sickening. “Make sure you bring it back in one piece.”

“I will, Mick. Thanks!” He jiggled the keys with a ridiculous lopsided grin on his baby face, then darted out the door.

I glared at my traitorous best friend. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

She blinked rapidly, clearly still coming down from that kiss. “No. What?”

“You just let him win. Now he’ll think he can win every time.” I shook my head, floored at what she’d done. “You never let a man win.”

“Sorry, but your brother is a hottie. He can kiss me anytime he wants.”

“Ew!” I just might hurl. “Let’s go. I really need a drink.”

“What are you going to order?”

I smiled coyly, having thought long and hard about my first legal drink. “An appletini.”

Mickey clapped excitedly. “Ooh, that sounds yummy.”

“I heard it’s sweet, so I should be able to drink it down no problem.” I snapped my fingers in the air. I didn’t want to look like a first-time drinker.

Lord knew I hated the taste of alcohol. Something sweet should be all right. I was so not the party girl. Even in high school and after graduating, I never even sampled booze. I hated the shit for a long time, blaming it for my momma’s death. But I should’ve been hating the driver, not the liquor.

Which brought me to tonight. I wanted to experience how the other half lived, the half my father had forbidden me to engage with: bikers.

“Come on, Mick!” We ran out of the house and into the brisk September air. In about a month and a half, winter would be upon us, then stick around for nearly six freaking months. I loved my state, but even I got tired of our long-ass winters.