“We're running with the shadows of the night
So baby take my hand, it'll be all right
Surrender all your dreams to me tonight
They'll come true in the end”

Pat Benatar – “Shadows of the Night


                            Chasing Smoke
Friday – April 28, 1989



It was late Friday afternoon and TJ was buying.

This was the fifth time in the last four months that I’d been along with TJ when she bought and the third time that I’d been with her when she bought from this particular seller.  Something about her seller just kind of got to her, creeped her out, and after meeting him for the first time I could understand why; the guy was a real lech who tried to be anything but so here I was, again, with her, buying from him again.  When I asked her why she did business with this guy if he creeped her out she told me that he had good stuff, really good stuff so I just shrugged my shoulders and chose not to argue.  Besides, beggars can’t be choosers but choosers don’t have to be beggars or so someone had told me a few years ago.

TJ was buying in front of Delchamps in the old strip shopping center just off Highway 98 in Oak Grove.  I sat there on my black and chrome ’85 Yamaha Maxim 400 cruiser.  Gloss black and mirror chrome and flat machined aluminum, chrome megaphone mufflers slightly blued from their duty handling the exhaust temperatures, key on the brass with black etched “Nobody does it better” fob in the ignition, handlebars turned full to the left, kickstand down, and leaning to the side as I sat on the Yamaha with my arms folded.  I was counting time and keeping a lookout for the blues or any other kind of trouble that TJ, and subsequently I, didn’t need.

Black button up short sleeve mission shirt, black fingerless driving gloves, faded Levi’s, and really-needed-to-be-polished black harness boots.  Ray Ban Aviators, gold frames, green lenses … the brown protective hard case attached to the Yamaha’s gas tank with a strip of Velcro.

Black Arai full face helmet hanging from the right rear view mirror … another almost identical black full face Shoei helmet hanging from the left rear view mirror … my spare helmet; the one that TJ always wore when we rode. 

Both with smoke black visors.

I looked around the mostly full parking lot.  Heat pulsed in visible waves from the still hot asphalt and shimmered in dancing thermal spirits across the hoods and roofs of the parked cars and trucks. The decades old exterior speakers at Delchamps were playing out a scratchy version of The Rolling Stone’s “Waiting on a Friend” and Mick Jagger was crooning out the lyrics to the story of my life.

I'm not waiting on a lady …
I'm just waiting on a friend.

Ten months …

I reckon it had been about ten months now, give or take, that I’d known Tuesday Joy Curtis … I’d known her since July of last year when Flynn and I had almost run her over with my ’79 Pontiac Trans Am late at night out near the trailer park on Richburg Road where the sharp curve met Sandy Run Road.  I’d known her long enough to be allowed to call her “TJ” and that was something that she had told me the first night that we were together that I’d have to earn the right to do over time.  I can’t tell you what I did to earn that particular right but I guess I had earned that right, somehow, sometime, in the last ten months because she let me call her TJ and she had for about half a year now.

It wasn’t exactly a rite of passage … or maybe it was … but for her or me I couldn’t tell.  Maybe I’d earned something with her … or maybe I’d just somehow passed some kind of test that she gave to all the guys she met in her life.  If so, it had been a lot less obvious than pulling a really sharp old sword from a stone would have been.  These last ten months together … especially the last six in particular … those were some really good memories.

Lots of good memories … in ever increasing amounts and here I sat while she traded green for smoke; the makings for handrolled to support a habit that I could understand but a habit that she and I didn’t share, the latter by personal choice.  If TJ and Flynn had anything in common it was that each had this extraordinary ability to make connections with providers of some seriously fine homegrown which I simply had to take their word for.  Lately Joy’s network of dealers had rivaled that of Flynn’s for number, price and quality and he’d started just paying her to keep him in stock rather than go through his own connections.  I guess Flynn had done this because 8-Track had become increasingly hard to deal with on anything other than a semi-irregular basis and if there was one thing that Flynn didn’t like or put up with it was needless drama from his sellers.  Having a seller that liked a lot of drama was just looking for trouble, he once told me.  I don’t know what happened between Flynn and 8-Track but there had been some kind of falling out while I was at Hinds two years ago … the kind of falling out where Flynn didn’t buy from 8-Track any more … didn’t even talk to him or talk about him anymore.

Flynn was like that … do him wrong once and he wrote you out of his life.

For good.


I don’t know if Flynn picked up that bit of personal philosophy from me, because that was the personal philosophy that I lived my life by, or if he’d had that mindset as his own philosophy before we met.  I could see it going either way, honestly, at this point.

My mind snapped back to the here and now.

The lech.

Yeah, the lech.

The seller that TJ dealt had been dealing with for the last few months was some older, mid-30’s guy in a white ’83 Mazda RX-7, dark glass sunroof, diver down tag on the front bumper, a red and white “DIVE DESTIN” bumper sticker on the back bumper and a SL100 sticker on the back window glass … the latter making me question his taste in music and radio stations or rather lack thereof.  I’d noticed all of this when TJ and I were riding around the parking lot looking for her seller and she had pointed out the white Mazda about three quarters of the way down the third row.  I’d rode around the rear of the Mazda before parking across the lane in front of it where I could keep an eye on her.

The Mazda was dirty … didn’t look like it had been washed in maybe a week or more.  There’s a stethoscope hanging from the rear view mirror … which I guess is better than seeing a set of handcuffs or some bandannas hanging there both of which were really popular with the younger crowd these days. 

The driver’s wearing dark sunglasses, expensive ones; the kind you buy on vacation at a dive shop in Destin.  He’s handsome, in that kind of self-aware handsome that some guys have in that they’re good looking and they know it and they’re not afraid of using that to their advantage and the kind of guy that gets mad when his advantage doesn’t work for him the way he thinks it should.  Cody was like that, but Cody didn’t broadcast that he was an asshole to the world like this guy seems to do.  This guy is a pretty boy … too pretty for his own good and it’s going to get him in bad trouble one day when he’s either caught with the wife of a very jealous and powerful man or he has an affair on his own wife and she takes him through a divorce where he loses everything he owns and still owes her by the month. 

Neon green scrubs hide the fact that he’s probably in better shape than me.  He has that exercise-Nazi look to him, the kind of person that runs and swims and bikes and dives to compensate for other shortcomings in their life, somehow figuring if a woman sees a guy like him working out hard and sweating a lot and being really active that he’ll attract a temporary mate or at least earn a one night stand. 

He’s probably got a gym bag behind the seat …

He laughs at something he says … it looks forced.

TJ smiles … it’s practiced.

This guy looks like he can’t wait to put his hands on TJ.  He’s already turned sideways in the driver’s seat and he’s got his right hand on the back of her seat … the passenger seat.  If his arm and hand had been a snake it would have been coiled and ready to strike.

He’s a medical professional of some kind … not a doctor … maybe an ER nurse flunky or one of those perpetual traveling nurses … the kind of always mobile nurse that never stays in one place too long because there’s always offers in other places and the grass is always greener or the sun is always brighter in another state, at another hospital, in another ER somewhere out there.  Get what you can while the getting is good then move on when the locals dry up because your bedside manner is a far cry from your good looks and people just get tired of you and your pretty boy attitude after a while so you move on where you can restart the “me” show and be in the spotlight again, if only for another year or two.

Hit and run, that’s his kind, and TJ is in his headlights.

I think he looks like a walk-on extra from “E.R.” …  He’s not Anthony Edwards ugly but he’s not George Clooney handsome either, somewhere in between but closer to Clooney than Edwards.  I don’t like him because he’s the kind that uses what he has to prey on others, to get what he wants.  His kind isn’t very deep … all that he has he has to play close to his chest because he’s so superficial.  TJ says that this guy’s only saving grace is that he’s got top end stuff and he doesn’t try to cheat her on the price.  She also says that every time she buys from him he bathes in cologne before they meet … the kind of cologne she can’t stand … the kind of cologne you wear when you really want to pick up a girl but you don’t have the charisma to do it.  I’m surprised there’s not a Harley Davidson decal in his back window … that would have covered all of his masculine inadequacies … but having a HD decal on a Mazda RX-7 might not get him points with the “ride American” rent-a-life crowd.

Last time they did business he told TJ that she was his favorite buyer … I imagine she is because TJ really isn’t hard on the eyes at all and her six foot two Amazon frame really fills up the passenger side area of the little Mazda RX-7.  His arm on the back of her passenger seat, his fingers tapping the seat material lightly … it kind of looks like one of those hairy little spiders, the kind that have the eyes that spin around before they jump on their prey almost so fast you don’t see them moving.  He’s got long spider leg fingers … jumping spider fingers.  I bet he wants to put a finger in TJ’s long hair, twirl it around his finger, play with her hair while he’s making small talk with her before they actually cut the deal … it would be like getting to second base with her … if he could just touch her … touch her hair.

He’s talking not dealing and that’s a problem for me because when I’m with TJ and she’s buying I like to do business quick.  Say a few words, buy your stuff and get mobile again.  It’s my own version of hit and run and it lessens the overall percentage chance of things going wrong by reducing the total time that we’re exposed doing what we’re doing.  TJ’s almost that way as well … but she’ll talk just to be pleasant or if she thinks it’s going to get her something or somewhere like a little bit of extra handrolled or a discount on what she’s buying. 

Me, I’ve got no time for small talk. 

He’s a seller. 

He’s got something to sell and that’s about the extent of the importance of him in my life. 

Flynn is a lot like that now. 

I think that his falling out with 8-Track had something to do with that … I remember going to buy handrolled from 8-Track with Flynn and we’d spend hours there talking to the old guy, talking about Vietnam, planes, guns … you name it.  That guy had a lot of stories, not many of them happy ones but now all that was apparently done with and Flynn didn’t have the time of day to give to any of his sellers; it had strictly become a business deal with him now.

High speed low drag. 

Get in, get your stuff, get out. 

I look back at TJ and her seller sitting there in the little Mazda.  He’s got the engine running, the AC blowing and he’s still talking to her.  The creep is feeling her out, seeing what he can get from her other than money, seeing if she’s got anything to trade other than cash for what he’s got to offer.  He’s obviously trying to sell himself over his product and he’s selling himself for a lot more than he’s actually worth.

TJ isn’t buying him … she’s buying his stuff … but that doesn’t stop him from trying and while he’s trying the minutes on my watch are stacking up.

I watch them from behind my Ray Bans.  My head turned slightly to appear to look out across the parking lot while my eyes are cut towards the Mazda so I can watch him.  He looks at me, probably sizes me up and comes to an opinion of me, decides I’m not in his league, then turns back to her.  His hand moves a little closer to her on the top of the seat, like he’s shifting to get comfortable in his own seat but from here it’s nothing but obvious. 

I’m pretty sure that TJ notices it as well because she adjusts her posture in the passenger seat, moving herself to about the same distance as separated them before.  She’s just blocked his smooth move like he was an amateur.

A part of me flashes white in jealousy … part of it is in anger … and then both emotions are gone, cooling as quickly as they flared hot, flushing away and I’m left trying to figure out why because both emotions were beyond simply being watchful.  Both of what I felt was felt more out of … ownership … trespassing … taking what was … mine?

TJ wasn’t mine … but did I want her to be?

Could she be mine?

I sighed and looked around the parking lot.

These thoughts.

These same damn thoughts again.

I’d been having these thoughts again, often lately, and I didn’t know why.  There was a part of me that wanted to act like an animal, like a caveman … like I had in my past but the rational part of me could always outpower that devolved part of me.  I smiled because just two years ago I’d be making some serious mistakes with TJ.  Now I was older, wiser, more experienced.

Now I was more prone to thinking with my big head than my little one.

So many people came into my life … interesting people … story-worthy people … and then those people were gone … just gone, sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly, and each time they left they took a piece of me with them; a piece I could never get back and a piece I couldn’t keep them from taking no matter how hard I tried.  Just as quick as they were part of my life they were suddenly just memories, ghosts … and dust.  Sometimes these people would leave behind artifacts; memories that I’d collect in a box under my bed, letters, notes and trinkets that I’d keep to remember them by in the years that marked their absence in my life.  I guess one day TJ would be just another memory in my life … ten years from now. 

Twenty years from now. 

Thirty years from now.

But what if she wasn’t just a memory ten years from now?

What if somehow we were still together years from now when all those tomorrows bunched together to form three decades ahead; a thought I found that I really didn’t have a problem with … and the thought occurred to me; was TJ what I was looking for in a woman?

I could spend a part of my life with a woman like TJ, but could I spend the rest of my life with her and was I even looking for a woman?

I wasn’t lonely … at least I didn’t feel lonely.  There wasn’t this big void in my life full of desire and physical need where companionship was the only thing that would ever fill it.  In fact, I was pretty happy just being all by myself, truth be known.  Hell, after all I’d been through with Pam and Marie and Debby Lee … right then I didn’t know, I just honestly didn’t know, if I was looking to get seriously involved, to commit myself to anyone else anytime soon. 

If I’d learned one thing about women in the last five years it was that women were expensive … not just in the money you spent on them but in the time you lavished on them, in the promises you made them and in the narrow boundaries you had to live your life within after you committed to them all in order to keep them in your life. 

I had come to realize that everything in life was a compromise … friends, lovers, friendships, relationships, even family and at this point in time I could honestly say that I was really, really just totally fucking sick of having to do any amount of compromising for anyone in my life no matter who they were or what they may have to offer me.  Compromising, to me, meant giving up something for something or someone, meeting in the middle to make both sides happy but it had been my hard experience so far that compromising was done more along the lines of me giving up everything I had to offer and someone else giving up very little in return.

Fuck compromising. 

I was done with compromising for the time being and maybe for the rest of my life and I felt like a good, long extended stint of being in life for me, of looking out for me and just me, was long overdue, selfish and greedy as that may sound, but that’s exactly how I felt right then.  I remembered what I’d given up to be with other people in my past and where it had gotten me?  Nothing but trouble, heartache, a jaded soul, empty pockets, wasted effort and time given from my life that I could never have back.

And what did I have to show for all the effort that I’d ever put into relationships?

Nothing but dust.

Yeah, from where I sat on my Yamaha right now, being alone wasn’t so bad.  In fact, being alone was damn near the thing I wanted most in life.  The price of being with someone else was too high for what little benefits I got out of any relationship.  Like someone … care for someone … love someone … get hurt by someone who you trusted but who couldn’t in turn be trusted.  It was the story of my life … at least so far it was … and I didn’t see that particular story changing any time soon no matter what I did so why go to all the effort of just giving myself more of what I really didn’t want and certainly didn’t need.  That really didn’t make any sense to me and the more I thought about getting involved with someone again the stupider the idea sounded to me.

As for TJ …



I really didn’t know what TJ and I had between us but there was something definitely there when we shared our time together … call it a warm, glowing spark for want of a better description and we did share a lot of time together, especially lately.  I liked TJ’s company because she was fun to be around and she didn’t make me feel like I was chained up inside a box; she didn’t put any restrictions on me when I was around her and I didn’t feel like I was confined when we were together.

I liked that.

I liked that a lot.

TJ had her own views on things, her views and opinions were often thought out with more effort than I apparently put into my own views and opinions and she didn’t take crap off of anyone, man or woman.  So far we’d been very guarded in our growing friendship … separate but inseparable … an open-closed friendship with invisible boundaries that TJ had built for herself, maybe out of necessity, maybe from something that had happened to her in her past … or maybe the boundaries were mine, built for the exact same reasons.

There was a curiosity between us but so far it was a strangely professional curiosity.

Together we were two tigers, in side by side cages that we had built for ourselves, pacing each other, occasionally pawing at each through the bars of the cage but never getting closer than the bars on our self-built cages would allow us to get and for now, I guess I was satisfied with what we had and apparently so was she so I’d never pushed what we had and she didn’t push it either.

I guess that in and of itself was some type of compromise.

“You’re chasing smoke, Shields.” Flynn’s voice said in my head.

I shook myself out of my brooding thoughts.  Half the money that TJ was handling this time was Flynn’s throw into the deal and really, TJ was buying for two this afternoon because the stuff that TJ could get her hands on was better than even what 8 Track could get his hands on … or so Flynn had said ... and Flynn and 8-Track had gone back a few years before whatever it was that had happened between them, at least two years before I knew Flynn.  TJ had connections, different connections, some better than Flynn and some he’d never even heard of before but then when it came to chasing smoke TJ seemed to be a connoisseur and Flynn really wasn’t that picky as long as he was getting what he wanted when he wanted it, the price was right and what he got did it’s job.

Movement out of the corner of my eye catches my attention and I move my head just a little so I can see what’s going on. The guy shifts in his driver’s seat again but doesn’t get any closer to her but his hand is still on top of the passenger seat.  I still don’t like the way the guy looks at TJ … His expression says that doing repeat business with her was going to eventually get him in her pants and his attitude said that giving her more than what she paid for is going to put a favor on her shoulders that he could call due when the liquored up, short skirted, boot sliding, double-wide, trailer park refugees or the vacuum skulled, binge drinking sorority girls at Roper’s all failed to realize what a damn fine gift to women he was. 

TJ’s too smart for that. 

She’s playing this guy like a song on her Sony Walkman and he’s too stupid to know it.  I smile because I can tell that he’s giving it his best, putting on the pretty boy show, but she’s just stringing him along and he’s eating it up because he’s too stupid to know any better.  He’s probably never encountered someone like TJ … she’s a shark with tits and lipstick and she’s giving him just enough so that he gives her what she wants without her having to give him anything other than a tease of a maybe.

I know this because I’m watching them … I’m watching the deal go down there in the parking lot of Delchamps and when he reached over behind her seat to get the stuff she turned and looked at me, just a quick, reassuring glance while cutting me one of her sly smiles and giving me a slow, practiced wink.  That smile and wink told me “Quit worrying … I’ve got this.”

I loved to watch TJ when someone tried to play her … she was smoke in their hands … maybe she was smoke in my hands as well.

“Woman like that can’t be caught … can’t be held … she’s going to wind up being smoke in your fingers …”

TJ had a presence and she knew how to use it to her advantage.  I couldn’t help myself … watching TJ did things to me … made me want to break my own rules … made me want to make mistakes that I swore I’d never ever make again …The kind of mistakes that you only regret years later in life … the kind of mistakes that leave the kind of scars that no one else can see, the kind of scars that take decades to heal … if those scars ever actually do heal, and the kind of mistakes that visit you in haunting dreams years after the person in your dream is long gone.


Flynn and I were sitting in his Cameo White ’69 convertible Pontiac Lemans outside the package store there near 49 and Burger King.  TJ had hopped out with our money and our wants, willing to run in and buy for all three of us.  I watched her through the big front windshield of the Pontiac and the wide store front windows of the package store.

“Give you a bit of advice?” Flynn asked.

“Sure.” I said, nonchalantly, not sure why Flynn would be wanting to give me any advice or about what that advice might be on.

Flynn tapped out one of his Marlboros from his pack, using his Zippo then turning his head and blowing a drag out of his nostrils then using his cigarette to point towards TJ for emphasis.

“You’re playing with fire with that one … and if you’re not careful you’ll end up just chasing smoke …” Flynn had said.

“Huh?  What?” I’d asked.

Flynn took in another drag and leaned his head back into the head rest, closing his eyes and running the fingers of his hand through his salt and pepper hair.


“Who?” I asked, still not following what he was getting at.

“Her.  Tall Girl.  She’s smoke.  Seen it before.”

I looked at him and stared blankly as Flynn turned his head slowly to look at me.

“Look, Shields.  What you think you might have with her … what she thinks she might have with you … what each of you think you’re going to have with the other … It’s not what you two think it is.”

“What do I have with her?” I asked, curious for Flynn’s viewpoint and observation.

Flynn nodded, seemingly to himself like I’d just given him some kind of permission to tell a secret that had really been bothering him for a while now.

“You and Tall Girl … you’re both smoke … you’re like … two candles … in a dark room … burning hot right there next to each other … but once the fire goes out all that’s going to be left is two slow wafts of smoke, going up, tangling up with each other, getting to be just one big cloud of smoke and then fading out to nothing.” Flynn said, using his hands to gesture as he spoke.

I turned to stare at him, not sure if I heard or understood what he had just said.

“You’re chasing smoke, Shields.  Woman like that can’t be caught … can’t be held … she’s going to wind up being smoke in your fingers … and you’re going to get burned … probably burned bad, trying to catch her and hold her.”

I nodded, more out of just being polite for the effort that Flynn had just gone through to put some kind of hippy logic on me than from really understanding what he was trying to say. 


Still, I thought about all that he had said as Flynn drew another drag.  I sat there in silence, staring at the floorboard of the passenger side seat of the Lemans.  I don’t know how much time passed as I was lost in thought but finally I lifted my head and saw that TJ had our stuff and was at the register checking out.

“Maybe.” I said.

“Figured out what you have with her, yet?” Flynn asked, his best used car salesman smile on his face now.

“No.” I said, laughing softly, because I really hadn’t given it much thought.  “Still, she’s not the first time that I’ve played with fire.”

Flynn laughed and flicked his spent cigarette out into the parking lot.

“Yeah, but has playing with fire ever really worked out for you before?” Flynn asked, that used car salesman smile still on his face as he turned back and looked at me.

“No.” I said, being painfully honest with myself as I shook my head and we both laughed.

“No.  It’s never once worked out … not for me, at least.”

Flynn nodded.

“Yeah.  Well, take my advice … If you don’t want to get hurt on this one, and trust me, a woman like that can hurt you really bad for a long time after she’s gone, then I’d keep my distance if I were you.  You may think she’s fire now but she’s really smoke.  All you’re doing, here, tonight, is just chasing smoke and even if you do catch her you’re just going to get burned and she’ll slip through your fingers and be gone forever.”

“Chasing smoke.” I said, thinking about it.

“Trust me.  A woman like that … she’s smoke.  All you’re doing is chasing smoke.”

“Sounds like you speak from experience.”

“Yep.  That I do.  Hard, bad experience with someone just like … her.” Flynn said, nodding, and left it at that.

I didn’t pry because something told me right then that I really didn’t need to pry.



TJ was smoke; ever since I’d first met her she’d been like smoke.


Almost … ethereal.

Long legs.

Long hair.

Those dark eye lashes.

Those two witchy pale blue eyes … mesmerizing.  When she looked at you she wasn’t just looking at you she was staring into your soul like she could see all of your secrets that you had been keeping.


Maybe I really was just chasing smoke.

The loud metal on metal sound of a dry hinge of the passenger side door of the Mazda RX-7 opening snapped me out of my deep thinking.  TJ shut the door to the little sport Mazda then slung her backpack over her shoulders and walked across the parking lot to where I sat on my Yamaha.  I noticed that the guy in the RX-7 watched her walk away as well … his eyes firmly fixed on her ass as she slowly strutted across the hot asphalt.

Some people, like him, were easy to read.

Some people, like TJ, were not easy to read.

Ten months we’d been hanging out together.

Ten months and she was still smoke wafting, maybe even slipping, through my fingers.

“All done?” I asked as she threw her long legs over the Yamaha’s seat behind me, the cruiser bouncing slightly as she jostled her six foot two Amazon frame into position behind me.

“All done!  Let’s go!” Joy said.

Thinking about TJ had a way of making you lose yourself in a whole lot of what-ifs and maybes.  I cleared my rambling, troubled thoughts.

“Hey?  You okay?” she asked, adjusting her backpack, a trace of concern in her voice.

“Uh.  Just …

“Thinking?” TJ said, nodding.


“Uh huh.  You think way too much.” TJ said smiling some knowing smile to something only she was privy to.

“Well … I know a whole lot of people that don’t do much thinking at all.” I said.

“Yeah, there’s that too.” She agreed, laughing.

I handed TJ her black Shoei helmet.  She pulled her long hair back, put the helmet on, cinched the chin strap tight then leaned forward slightly, her feet on the rear pegs and her legs up next to mine sliding along mine and tucking in close, her crotch to my ass, her hands running across my hips, up my thighs to finally hold tight around my waist.


Feelings in me stirred.

Feelings I hadn't felt in a long time.

Feelings for her.

My fire for her smoke.

The old speakers outside Delchamps started playing The Cars “Just What I Needed.  I recognized it immediately from its instrumental lead in; it was an eleven-year-old song from way back when I was young and just starting to discover rock and roll on the radio.  I’d been 9 years old when that song came out.  That had been a pretty good year for rock and roll on the radio, a damn good year.

“I don't mind you comin' here
And wastin' all my time
'Cause when you're standin'
oh so near
I kinda lose my mind”


I mouthed the lyrics silently as I looked around the parking lot again.  The song suddenly made me think of what TJ and I had and I chuckled softly … I guess I didn’t mind spending time with her because when we were together I thought about her … a lot … and I guess I just realized that.  TJ took up a hell of a lot of my thoughts, especially lately, and I wondered where all of that was going.  Funny how an old song from your youth can suddenly put hazy things perfectly into sharp perspective, unfuck your thoughts and just make everything so … clear.

"What?" she asked, looking at me.

"Nothing." I said.  "Just an old song I liked when I was younger."

"Still like it?" she asked.

"More so than not, I guess." I said and she nodded and that was about the extent of her interest in that.

I stole a glance at TJ in the rear view mirror.  She was looking off into the sunset.  Flynn was right … all I was doing was chasing smoke … a woman like TJ was beyond my reach on even my best day.  I had nothing to offer someone like TJ other than a ride here or there and a shoulder to bitch on when her life hit a rut or two.  Reality can hit you like a sledgehammer sometimes, brutal impact for when truth hits home.  I turned the key in the ignition, flipped the red kill switch to RUN, stabbed the electric starter button and the air-cooled inline twin stuttered to smooth, synchronized life, growling out a low, deep growl through the megaphone style exhaust tips.  I lifted the cruiser off its side lean, worked the clutch with my gloved hand and kicked the transmission down into first gear.  The RPMs rolled on steady as we rumbled away.  TJ leaned with me, leaned into me, leaned against me … her arms going up around my chest, her hands spread against my chest while her legs gripped me tight as I made our way through the parking lot.  The exhaust note mellow, deep … echoing off the spaces between the parked cars.

TJ was twenty-seven years old.

I was nineteen years old.

I’d be twenty next month and I had this nagging feeling that I’d have to make some sort of decision about where TJ and I were headed sooner or later since I felt that she was more or less pushing me in that direction … a tease here, an innuendo there, a tug every now and then in a direction I wasn’t expecting.  Right now I was content with what I had, with what we had but that wasn’t going to always be the situation.  For right now TJ was just a really good friend … with the hint of being more maybe later.

Maybe we were both chasing smoke, in our own way. 

I felt TJ next to me, her body next to mine, and right then it really felt like I wouldn't mind getting burned bad by her if only for just the chance to be with her and then if only for a little while.  I looked back in the Yamaha’s sideview mirror just once and I saw the lech in the RX-7 watching us ride away and I smiled because I knew that guy was probably really wishing he was me right now because right now I had more of TJ than he would ever have and I think that we both knew it.

We were almost out of the parking lot when TJ leaned her helmet to mine, touching.

“Hey!  Want to go to Rocket City?” TJ said, helmet to helmet, her voice carrying as much through sound as vibration induction through the helmet.

“Rocket City?  Serious?” I asked.

“Yeah!  My treat!”

“Yeah!” I said as I nodded and the truth was that I was starting to get hungry.

Rocket City was a local 1950’s themed diner with some pretty good food where the waitresses  wore roller skates and got into character.  Hell, why not?  I could use something to eat.  I angled the Yamaha back into the parking lot and headed towards Rocket City.

It was late Friday afternoon and TJ was buying.