The Greenbrier neighborhood was awash with brilliant white and pink dogwoods. The sun filtered through the trees as Emily made her way to school. Hilda trailed her as they navigated the curving, narrow roads.
“You’re getting stronger, Em.” Hilda said as Emily locked her bike to the rack outside the main entrance to the school. “How do you feel?”
“Great, but I’m not in racing form yet.”
“What about when you’re not riding?”
“I only have a dull throb in my head and kind of a twitchy feeling in my arms and legs. It goes away if I can do something physical. A lot less than last week.”
“Good. Any nightmares or panic attacks?”
“Nothing like that. I relived the crash in my dreams in the hospital, but nothing since going home.”
“Also good. Just don’t be scared or surprised if you have a flashback at night now and again. It’s normal, and it will get less and less.”
“Is this like PTSD?”
“You had a terrible crash. Yes, it’s like that.”
“I guess you’ve seen a lot of that.”
Hilda nodded. “I’ve had it, too. It doesn’t stop my life.” She motioned toward the door. “Don’t be late.”
“OK. Bye.” Emily hefted her book panniers and ran into the crowd of students getting off a bus.
Hilda rolled out the driveway to her shift at the UVA Hospital. It made her feel good to be able to spell Katharine Dempsey from having to follow Emily to school every other day. She liked the girl, so bright and positive. It made her smile just to think of the way Emily approached almost everything she did.
That week, Emily had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Morgan right after school. Katharine was pleased when Hilda volunteered to accompany Emily to the appointment, because it conflicted with a final class in the PhD seminar. It was one of Hilda’s days off, so she was at the bike rack when Emily emerged from the main doors. They blew down the bike lane on the John W Warner Parkway and followed the bike lanes up to West Main Street to the UVA Medical Center.
“You’re doing great, Emily,” the physician said after the usual prodding and questions. “You can resume normal activity now.”
“I don’t need an escort to school?”
“No. But don’t plan on returning to the race circuit this summer. Build back slowly. There is still some healing going on in there. A full recovery by September is certainly possible.”
Emily’s face fell.
“Can’t I race at all?”
“Not competitively. You need to keep getting faster and stronger, but I don’t want you to push your body to make a finish line and tear down the progress you’ve made.
“Looks like you’ll have to race against yourself, Em,” said Hilda.
“Well put, Nurse Paisley. Does that make sense, Emily?”
“I guess. It just seems like so long.”
Dr. Morgan looked at Hilda, as if asking for an idea.
“Em, you can ride with your mother or even me. There’s no shame in beating Katharine Dempsey. I’ve seen you two on the road.”
“It’s like a whole summer of training rides.”
“Maybe we can make it interesting. Let’s discuss it with your Mom.”
Emily shrugged with resignation. Dr Morgan thanked Hilda for her involvement with Emily and encouraged them both to keep working together.
“What was that about?” Emily asked, as they unlocked their bikes. “’keep working with me’?”
“I may be a friend, Em, but I’m still a nurse. I think he trusts me with you.”
“Oh, yeah. That makes sense.”
“Hey, it’s early. Let’s get a Frappuccino at Starbucks.”
Studying for final exams consumed Emily’s attention for the next few weeks. Hilda was asked to work full-time as the University closed out the academic year and prepared for finals, then Beach Week. For many undergraduates, this consisted of an alcohol-hazed week at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Most made it back safely, but there was an uptick in Pegasus missions and ER admissions from parties and automobile crashes.
During the week between finals and Graduation, Emily rode around Albemarle County, often with Taniqua or with Hilda. Taniqua finished a growth spurt in the spring, and had lost her skinny, gawky look. The rising sophomore walked with confidence now. Her skin shone with health, and she had no extra fat anywhere. The cycling did what it usually does to a woman’s legs.
“Are you doing anything special this summer, Tani?” Emily asked, as they sipped ice tea outside the Jackson home. Mrs. Jackson had just left for work.
“Mom gets two weeks in July. We usually go to Tennessee for a family reunion.”
“Davidson County. A place called the Hermitage.”
“Are y’all that Jackson?”
“Uh-huh.” Tani took a sip of her tea. “Weird, isn’t it?”
“So, is this a reunion of all the Jackson descendants?”
“A lot of them. My great-great-great-something grandfather was a blacksmith on the plantation. My dad was named Aaron for him.”
“Wow. That’s special. Like me being a Daughter of the American Revolution – which I’m not, of course.”
“Now that’s weird, but it makes sense, kind of.”
They fell silent for a moment. Emily was first to speak.
“You never talk about your father. Is he around?”
“That must be his picture next to the flag in the living room. I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK. I was too young to remember him. He was killed in Iraq.”
Emily cast about for something to say. “It’s not easy. I remember my dad dying. Sometimes I wish I had been too young, like you.”
“You’ve got Mr. Dempsey.”
“Mark is great. Mom and I were in pretty bad shape, and he changed everything.”
“I wish my Mom could find someone again. She works so hard. With her hours, I don’t know if she’ll ever meet anyone. She says there’s not many good men around, but I keep hoping.”
Emily’s phone rang in her jersey. “Hi, Mom… You’re home early… I’m at Tani’s. We just got back… OK. Be there in 15 minutes …. Yes, ma’am, 25 minutes.” She rang off and stood up. “Gotta run. Mom’s home and wants to go out with me as soon as I can shower and change. And she doesn’t want me to race home.” They giggled at that, thinking of the speeds they had already reached on their ride that day. They carried their glasses into the kitchen.
“See you Saturday.”
“Yeah. Big one.” Charlottesville High School graduation still attracted so many people that it no longer fit in the high school auditorium. The arena at the University would be packed.
Memorial Day weekend. Tourists replaced the throngs of students on the Corner, but there was still a sense of calm having the crowds of intense young people missing. Emily and Hilda locked their bikes to the rack outside Starbucks and paused to cool off and catch their breath.
“Whew! That was a bear of a ride.” Hilda wiped her face, stretched to her toes and bent back, while Emily held on to the bike rack and stretched her legs. “How do you climb that fast?”
“I’m not sure,” said Emily. “I have always been able to climb hard. I think it comes from my mother.”
“She is amazing. What did she do to get like that?”
“She’s was into Extreme Sports when I was young. I remember going with Dad to single track races in the George Washington National Forest and triathlons at Virginia Beach. She has a box full of trophies and medals for cycling, running, snowboarding – you name it, she’s done it.” Emily held the door for Hilda. They walked up to the register and ordered grande Frappucinos. They each picked a banana from the basket, too.
“And your father?”
“He did triathlons. That’s how they met. Mom won the IronMan that year – and had a faster time than he did.”
“Well, she won the women’s race, but still came in third overall. Dad was right behind her, to hear them tell it.”
“You spring from a helluva a great gene pool.”
“I guess.” Emily blushed a little. They took seats in the comfy chairs by the big window, where they could keep an eye on their bikes outside. “You’re no slouch. You were right with me going up Afton Mountain.”
“Having no panniers does make the old bike feel like a road racer. I could get used to riding around without a load, you know.”
“But you go so fast. Most of the touring cyclists I remember in Kansas never went over about 20 kilometers per hour.”
“I like to push myself.”
“I love hearing your stories of all the places you’ve been. I would love to do that, too, someday.”
“Ride around from job to job. Seeing the world, but still riding my bike.”
“It is fun, I admit. It’s why I do it.”
“Now that Nurse Bennet is back, what are you going to do?”
“Not sure, Em. I like it here, so I put in for a couple of temporary positions at UVA and at Martha Jefferson Hospital. There are private practice physicians advertising for nurses, too.”
“You mean you’ll stay?”
“I didn’t say that, but I would not mind coming back, or maybe taking another job here for a while. Nothing starts before September, so I have all summer off. I could keep the apartment and come back.
“What about you? Are you all going anywhere this summer before Moving Day at the University?”
“There’s talk of going to the Northern Neck for a while, but Mom has agreed to work some summer session classes, and Mark is still settling in with the company. He has a lot of changes to make in his first year.”
“The Northern Neck is where Mark’s parents live, right?”
“Uh-huh. Are you going to tour this summer?”
“I think so. I’d like to ride to Montréal, It’s a beautiful city, and Québec is glorious in the summer.”
“All those cities: Washington, Philadelphia, New York. Exciting, but it sounds more dangerous than scenic.”
“I know a route that goes to Norfolk, up the Eastern Shore to New Jersey. I take a hydrofoil to Manhattan and a ferry to Long Island, then ride to Port Jefferson. There, the ferry goes to Connecticut. By following the Connecticut River all the way north, I can get from here to Montréal without ever staying in a big city — unless I want to visit the Big Apple or Brooklyn.”
“Amazing. I wish I could tour. I love riding long distances, and we still have all my camping gear from Girl Scouts.”
“Are you serious? What about your racing?”
“I can’t do that this summer anyway, but I do worry about what touring would do to my racing form.”
“It’s different. Like being a Mack truck hauling cargo instead of a sports car. You can get up to speed, but slowly. After time, the fast-twitch muscles make room for the stronger, slow-twitch muscles.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking about.”
“Well, keep thinking about it. And talk to your parents, because if you want to learn how to tour, you can come with me.”
“Really?” Emily almost knocked over her Frappuccino. “Oh, Hilda, that would be awesome!”
“I think it would be fun for both of us.”
They said goodbye outside at the bike rack. Emily raced up Rugby Road back to the Greenbrier neighborhood, while Hilda slowly biked the few short blocks to her apartment near the Medical Center. After a shower and slipping into the long night shirt she preferred for lounging around the house, she started assembling the ingredients for a lasagna casserole. She was invited to the Bennett’s for supper and had insisted on bringing it. Suzie only put up token resistance. Little Antoine was already four months old. Hilda looked forward to playing with him. She heard the familiar warble of a Skype call on her phone on the counter. Wiping her hands, she tapped up the screen.
“Hey, Jack, what’s up?”
“Hello, gorgeous. You’re a sight for my eyes.” Jack looked relaxed. Trim and tanned, with a smile that stirred Hilda in all sorts of places.
“You look like you’ve been getting some sun. Retirement agrees with you.”
“Not much changed since I hung up my uniform. Ted brought me aboard as a special investigator. It keeps my clearances and access active. When we’re not working the coast of the Bay checking leads, I’m out fishing with Joe. That’s a lot of sun exposure.”
“So, what’s the threat assessment this week?”
“It’s lower for now. Hassan and Abdul were identified in Montréal by facial recognition at the airport. The RCMP is checking whether they were going or coming and where.”
“You know that’s where I’m planning to ride this summer.”
“Yes, but at least we know they can’t get at you this week. We’ll find them before you get there. Greg Sprouse says it’s quiet there.” The local FBI Resident Agent was a regular visitor at the ER while Hilda was working there. Hilda had been surprised to find out how many security and intelligence assets were devoted to Central Virginia. It made her feel safer for having chosen to work in Charlottesville.
“Yes, thank God. I’ve been riding a lot with Emily – you remember the girl I met in Kansas?” Jack nodded. “It keeps me extra alert having her around. Speaking of which, are you still planning to meet me heading north?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. It already feels like years since my retirement ceremony last week. I like having you around.”
“Would you mind some extra company this time?”
Hilda nodded and smiled. “She can’t race this summer, and she is thinking of touring with me to Canada. It’s a big choice, because it will change her conditioning and her cycling form to tour that far. She also has never left home for so long by herself. I told her to discuss it with her parents and make her mind up slowly.”
“Well, I think that would be swell. I’ve never done a group tour before.”
“Three people is hardly that, but we wouldn’t have the privacy we usually do.”
“She gets her own tent, I hope.”
“Of course. She a rising college student, not a little girl.”
“I think it would be great to have her along. Besides, after all you’ve told me about her, I’m dying to meet her. I checked her out online. She is hot!”
“She was jailbait in those pictures, Jack.” Hilda put on a mock scolding tone. “She only turns 18 next month.” Jack laughed.
“I was referring her racing form and what I read in the articles.” He made an innocent face. “She had some amazing wins until that accident in March.”
“True. I did not tell her this, but at her age, she could always retrain and return to racing, probably even a little stronger.”
“Why not tell her?”
“She is so excited about the idea, that I did not want to influence her decision.”
“OK. Anyway, I’ll be happy either way, as long as you’re along.”
They chatted some more about the Rathburns and Hilda’s job search, then rang off. Hilda returned to the casserole, singing an aria from Die Fledermaus. While the casserole baked, she checked job listings one more time, then changed into a green dress and a white shell with low-heeled pumps. With the casserole safely wrapped in an insulated carrier, she walked to West Main Street and caught the bus to Belmont neighborhood where Marcus and Suzie Bennett lived with little Antoine.
Hello, readers. JOIN THE TITLE CONTEST.
You have probably noticed that this blog has turned into a serial novel. You can expect Hilda, Emily and Jack to continue to ride through the story to new adventures.
I could use some help. Based on what you have read so far, what would be a good title for this book?
The winner gets a free copy of the book, whenever it comes out. The judge will be the editor or publisher; their decision will be final, of course. If the editor or publisher goes with a title that no one else picked, I’ll send a free copy to the last two titles in the final round.
Submit your entries by posting comments here or by email to email@example.com. Thanks in advance.
Until next time,
Smooth roads & tailwinds,