But this was me. The new me. A single mom, grocery store clerk in khakis and Converse. And if he asked me out on a date and eventually kissed me again, this would be the woman he'd be kissing.
I hadn't been about me. Not for a long time. Maybe never. I had been coasting in life for so long, I actually didn't know who me was.
I just knew right now most of me was being a mom and a grocery store clerk.
So the LeLane's uniform it was.
I threw open the door and kept walking in as my eyes adjusted to the dim.
They'd just done that when I heard, "Fuck, you movin' in?"
I turned my head right and saw Joker at the bar with three other people. One was the lanky guy from the first time I'd been there. The other two were a man and woman. Both looked about my age. Both looked a lot like the goateed man I met the first time I was there. They had to be brother and sister. Though, she was with the lanky guy. I knew this by the casual way his arm was flung around her shoulders.
They all were outside the bar, Joker was behind it.
"I believe the tally is now seventy cents," I returned.
Joker put both hands to the bar, spread wide, leaned his weight into them, and dropped his head.
He was handsome even in a pose of frustration.
"Seventy cents?" the girl asked, and I stopped taking in Joker's handsome and looked to her.
"He owes me a nickel for every curse word, a dime for every bad one," I explained.
At my explanation, without hesitation, the girl burst into laughter. It took a moment for the two guys to process it, in fact, they looked so surprised by this, I wasn't sure they were going to process it. But once they did, they joined her.
Joker lifted his head and glowered at them before he turned that glower to me.
"Clean sheets, clean clothes, Butterfly," he stated irately. "So you're here today why?"
I stopped by their huddle and I did it with my gaze on him.
"First, would you introduce me?" I requested.
"Shy, Tab, Rush," he said shortly and rudely. "Now why you here?"
I ignored his rude introductions and looked to the group.
"We didn't officially meet. I'm Shy," lanky guy said, also ignoring Joker's rudeness.
"Hey," I replied.
"Tab," the girl said. "Tabby, Tabitha, take your pick."
I nodded, smiling, "Lovely to meet you. I'm Carissa."
She smiled back.
"Rush," the last one said. "Tab's my sister. Tack's my dad."
I nodded again. "Right, I can see the family resemblance. Lovely to meet you too."
He smiled as well.
I was already smiling.
"Yo," Joker called and I looked his way again. "You wanna answer my question?"
I put my hand on the bar. "I'm getting the impression you don't want me here."
"Seein' as yesterday you went through my shit, all a' it, I'm just needin' to know what to brace for today," he replied.
"I hardly need to clean your room every day, Joker," I retorted.
"Least there's that," he muttered.
"I'm actually here to meet Big Petey," I shared. "Tyra phoned and said he looks after her sons and might be willing to take on Travis at a reduced rate to what my daycare center charges
"Reduced," Rush muttered and my eyes went to him.
"Yes," I confirmed. "It'd help out a lot. Daycare is very expensive."
"Big Petey loves kids," Tabby told me. "Ty-Ty is my stepmom, and Ride and Cut are my baby bros. Pete looks after them all the time. He loves it. They love him."
I had to admit, that was a huge relief. I needed a break on the daycare center fees and therefore was there to explore that option, but I had to admit to some trepidation about what biker childcare would entail.
Though her little brothers' names surprised me. They shouldn't have, considering the ones I'd heard before, Joker, High, Shy, Rush, etc., but they did. "Just so you're prepared, Butterfly, reduced means free," Joker said.
I looked to him. "Sorry?"
"Reduced would be free," Shy reiterated. "You can offer, but Pete won't take your money."
Not this again.
"But-" I started.
"Don't fight it," Tabby said in a soft voice that had a tone in it that got my total attention. "He's old enough to be a grandfather, but his daughter died before she could give him grandbabies. He loves kids. Loved his daughter. It messed him up losing her, as it would. But it wasn't helped that when he lost her, any chance of his legacy died with her. He's a woman's man, and I mean that in the sense you would guess I mean, but also in the sense that he's a man with one child, that child was a girl, he loved her to pieces, and she's gone. He'll like you. He'll wanna help out like he'd wanna help his daughter if she needed it. And if he offers it, you can give him lip for a while, but accept it. You're doin' more for him than he is for you. Seriously."
My voice was also soft when I replied, "That's very sad. And I thank you for sharing it. But he really would be doing more for me than I would for him."
"Not to be blunt, babe, but you a have a live son, he has a dead daughter. Do you think that's true?" Tabby asked.
I looked into her eyes a moment, feeling my heart twist at her words, before I whispered, "Point taken."
She grinned. "Good."
"How's the car runnin'?" Shy asked.
I turned to him and smiled brightly. "Good. Thank you for that. It was really-"
"Don't mention it," he cut me off, firm but gentle.
I shut up.
"When you get your kid back?" Rush asked.
"Monday," I answered.
"We're havin' a thing here, Compound, Saturday night. You're welcome," he told me and my world lit.
A thing, I was guessing, meant a party.
A party that Joker would likely attend. And no one could be surly at a party. "Really?" I asked excitedly.
I would have sworn I heard Joker make a noise like a swallowed grunt but I ignored him.
"Yeah," Rush answered over Joker's noise.
"That'd be so cool, you could come," Tabby said. "It gets rowdy but it's a great time. And we girls need to let our hair down, you hear me?"