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Lost Rider

By:Harper Sloan

sweet and sorrowful over the speakers in my truck.

“Hey,” she says softly. “You almost here, Mav?” She sniffles a few times and I silently curse Clay for playing the Quinn card.

“Hey, hell-raiser,” I say with a sigh, wishing I wasn’t driving and I could go to the nearest liquor store and spend the next few hours blissfully drunk. “I’ll meet you guys at the church. I’m still an hour or so out.”

“Okay, Mav. Love you.”

“Love you too, darlin’.”

I wait, knowing Clay isn’t going to miss a chance to get back on the phone after getting what he wanted by using our sister.

“I’ll see you there, Mav.” He lowers his voice, probably so Quinn won’t hear him laying into me. “Don’t fuck this day up. You don’t want to be there, I get that, but things weren’t like they were when you left. You didn’t want to hear it before, but it’s time. Get over your pride and make sure you show up, if not for him—do it for Quinn. Don’t let her down when she needs you the most.”

I don’t respond, instead disconnecting the call, shutting off the stale AC, and rolling the window back down. The steady hum of my tires against the hot asphalt is the only thing I hear as my thoughts consume me yet again.

It’s been a decade since I last stepped foot in Pine Oak, Texas. Other than Clay and Quinn, there was nothing left for me there.

That’s a lie.

My foot jerks on the gas as the whispered thought floats through my mind. I can’t let myself go there. Not when there is so much unknown in my life. Not since the one way I’ve been able to find peace in my mind is now gone—and the other is the one thing I can’t allow myself to hope for anymore.

I kept in touch with my brother and sister over the years, but Clay’s right—I didn’t want to hear shit about the goings-on. There was only one person other than them that, at one time, I would have soaked up any mention of, but pride stopped me from ever asking, the regrets eating me alive too much to bear. Not for the first time, I wonder how things would have turned out had I not been so hell-bent on escaping.

With every turn of my tires, the dread in my stomach multiplies and the pounding in my skull grows louder. My skin flushes hot then cold as my breathing speeds up. All this time away, and just being close to home makes me feel trapped all over again, which makes not a damn bit of sense seeing as the one man who held the keys to my metaphorical cage is dead.

I told myself all those years ago I would never look back. Nothing would ever make it worth coming back to this hellhole.

That’s a lie.

“Goddammit!” I bellow, the sound harsh and a little panicked even to my own ears.

Yeah, I used riding as an excuse to get away from Pine Oak. It wasn’t a lie, per se; the need to ride has always been an inch just below the skin, something I couldn’t ignore. It was what I used to leave, my excuse to escape. But there was one thing I might have actually wanted more than even riding—and, because I ran away from it, I’ve spent every day with the ghost of regrets licking out of the shadows.

I left to chase my dreams—but I also left to escape him, knowing that after the hell he put me through my whole life, leaving to do the one thing I knew he despised so much would be a giant fuck you to him.

Ironically enough, the same man that helped push me out is now dragging me back.

Looks like the old man was right when he said one day I would be crawling back with my tail tucked between my legs. A failure that would be begging him to take me back when I couldn’t make it out on the circuit.

“Well, laughs on you, ain’t it,” I grumble, reaching out for another smoke.

I might be crawling back, but it damn sure ain’t to beg him for shit. I can still see his face when I said my parting words to him.

Over my dead body.

Only it’s not my dead body, it’s his.

The thing I’m struggling with the most, though, is the deep regret that’s filled me since I found out he died. And fuck if that doesn’t piss me off more, because if I was honest with myself, I would know that it isn’t the loss of my career that has been eating away at me. Instead, all I can focus on is the fact that, even at my peak, I wasn’t good enough for him to be proud of me.

No matter what, the silence from him over the years said it all. He couldn’t give two fucks what I accomplished out there on the circuit.

It took me a long time to realize that I had been pushing myself for so long to prove to him I was worthy, but even when I fucking knew it wasn’t worth it, something inside me still wanted to matter to Buford Davis.

All those lost dreams and unmet goals will die right along with the little piece of hope that I’ve been carrying around for years, unknowingly, but fuck if that little piece didn’t make itself known in the past few days.

So, like it or not, with no career left and the summons from home that I couldn’t ignore, I’m headed back to Pine Oak. A town that I always feared would suck me back in. The same town that is now the only future I can see in front of me, since the dreams I left to chase are just as dead as the man that drove me from my hometown in the first place.

Irony, ain’t you just a bitch.

Ten Years Ago

I should have known she would be here. Hell, if I’m honest with myself, I came here because I knew she would be. Right or wrong, I can’t help the pull I get when it comes to Leighton. She’s the only thing that can calm me when I feel like I’m spiraling out of control and fuck it’s so selfish and unfair of me to put that kind of unspoken pressure between us—especially now.

My heavy booted feet take me from the wood edge and into the clearing at what I like to think of as our pasture. The flowers are blooming bright this time of year, the bluebonnets that her mama loves so much surround her as she lays gazing up into the blue cloudless sky.

She looks like an angel.

Even from the distance between us I can tell she’s upset. Leighton is always ha