He turned at the call of his name. A breeze blew across gently, cooling the sweat on the back of his neck. He shivered. “Hmm?”
Takashi placed his hands on Hikaru’s bike, gripping the handle bars. The pong of beer blasted into Hikaru’s face. He gagged.
“Ruby’s staying at an Air BnB in your neighbourhood. Make sure she gets home safe.” He wobbled.
Hikaru wanted to argue. ‘But she’ll have to ride my bike. It looks like it’s going to rain. She isn’t my responsibility.’
Hokuto handed the briefcase over and stumbled away, murmuring over his shoulder a goodbye.
“Oi, Hokuto. Wait up, we’re heading the same direction.”
The large group broke up and disappeared into the night until Hikaru and Ruby were the only ones left in front of the bar. There was a dull murmur from inside the building from other groups of people still drinking.
Ruby adjusted her shoulder bag. “Shall we?”
Hikaru nodded his head, threw his leg over the bike seat and steadied himself. “Hop on.”
“Hop on the back.” He placed his briefcase into the front basket.
His jaw clenched. Any attraction to her evaporated quickly. “And how do you intend to get home?”
“Walking.” She answered like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“The bike will be faster.”
“But you’ll have to work harder with another person riding. That isn’t fair.”
“Don’t worry about it.” In his mind he judged her physical appearance. ‘Surely she doesn’t weigh that much. She isn’t small, but that’s not fat from what I can tell.’
“Stop arguing with me.”
“Then just agree with me and walk.”
Hikaru was buzzing with irritation now. His jaw was getting harder to unclench, his hands tightening around the handle bars, and there was a headache pounding behind his eyes. ‘Breathe.’ “It is easier for me to ride the bike rather than walk it.”
“It will be harder to push it with a person on the back who is doing no work.”
‘Impossible!’ If he could unlock his jaw he would’ve called her an impossible woman, but he was just that frustrated he couldn’t un-tense himself.
“Don’t be stubborn.” She countered.
“I’m stubborn?” He lost the tension as he stared at her in disbelief. “What does that make you?”
Now she was getting annoyed. Her lips thinned into a straight line, she folded her arms and tapped her foot. “I am not stubborn.”
“You’re the very definition of it.”
She gasped. “Hey, I’m trying to be nice and not give you extra work.”
“Ha! Could’ve fooled me.”
“So you want me to weigh you down?”
“Yes,” he sighed. “That’s what I’ve been saying.”
She manoeuvred around behind him.
Hikaru wasn’t going to offer help. ‘She can damn well do it herself.’
Then there was the gentle warmth of her hand on his shoulder.
He gasped in surprise. It felt nice. Real nice. The anger subsided and he became all too aware of the warm woman moving, the bike shifting as she sat on the back, the slide of her hand down his back so it rested on his waist.
Below his waist woke up.
‘She’s touching me.’
Hikaru was frozen on the spot.
The warmth bloomed over his skin, tingling. Making promises. Promises that would never be fulfilled.
“Do you have a spare helmet?”
He snapped into reality. “No. I don’t wear one.”
“Well that’s stupid.”
The tingling was there and not going away; that was his body. His mind on the other hand groaned. ‘Is she going to fight me on everything?’ He ignored the statement.
Kicking the stand, he pushed off, using his foot to balance as he moved them forward, getting used to the uneven balance.
The bike wobbled.
He gave a final shove and propelled them, moving faster to maintain balance. Soon, he was pedalling steadily down the street.
The tingling was pleasant.
They went over a stone that jolted them.
Her hand slipped round further, fingers curling into fabric.
He fought the urge to tighten the muscles of his belly.
Heat was flooding his face.
Blood was being diverted south.
‘This isn’t good.’ But it felt amazing.
“Do you bike to school every day?”
He blinked. Her voice quivered. ‘Was she scarred?’ Her hand hadn’t let go of his shirt. “Most days… So you don’t have to worry.”
“What do you mean worry?” She sounded defensive.
He wished he could turn around and see her expression, but his eyes had to stay on the road and watch the buildings fly by. “You’re holding on like you’re afraid I’m going to lose control.”
“Oh,” she released the shirt and the hand disappeared completely.
He missed the warmth immediately. A chill replaced it. “I didn’t mean you had to let go.”
“Do you want me touching you?”
He paused before answering. “Do what you want.”
A moment passed. Hesitating, he felt it and it tickled as her hand hovered and bumped onto his waist just before she decided to place it back there firmly.
They continued in silence into the residential area.
“Take this right,” Ruby directed.
Together they leaned into the turn, speeding along. They had to go fast, or else Hikaru would lose control. He pumped his legs.
“At the end of this street. The house with the green car in the drive.”
Hikaru lifted his feet from the pedals and coasted the rest of the way. Closer, he applied brakes gently. Not used to a passenger he pulled them too hard and jerked them to a stop just outside of the house. The wheels whined.
Ruby slammed into his back. Her hand dislodged from his waist.
“Sumimasen.” He stabilised the bike before looking over his shoulder.
“It’s alright.” She looked up and smiled. “I didn’t need the helmet.”
The bike rocked as she hopped off. Politely, he didn’t watch as she straightened her dress.
“Arigato.” She bowed to him.
“It was nice meeting you.” She started up the driveway. At the door she turned and waved.
He waved back and waited a little longer, ‘just to make sure she’s safe.’