Lourdes cupped her hands tightly around the paper to-go cup that steamed beneath her nose, warming her face from the bitter cold. The city loomed tall and grey around her, the clouds closing the everyone in, like ants in a glass box.
Christmas was coming, but the city was bare of decorations. Corners that would regularly have sparkling lights wrapped around the poles and displays in the corner windows of shops, all prepared for the consumerist demand of the season, instead were draped in ash and sawdust. Chunks of concrete littered the ground, like a giant game of bocce played by Greek gods.
Lourdes remembered the splendor of her city last Christmas, standing on the same corner, sipping mulled wine from a paper cup instead of weak tea. She, and everyone around her, had been so happy, celebrating time with family and friends.
Today, the streets were barren, and the wind kicked up clouds of dust and ash, sweeping through the corridors between buildings.
She shouldn’t be out here. It wasn’t safe.
Just as the thought passed through her head, she heard a dull roar that grew louder with every second. She knew her mother would kill her if she found out what Lourdes was doing, who she was meeting in the semi-darkness on a street corner where another bomb could strike at any moment.
It wasn’t likely, but it was possible. She had thought the unthinkable impossible, yet here she stood, surrounded by the proof. Nowhere was safe.
The roar grew louder and louder until it filled her ears and her head like a rushing wave in the ocean, curling over itself, eager to return to shore. Almost as eager as she was for the arrival.
The thunderous bikes rode into view, breaking out of the dust cloud and into her vision. Leading them was the most tricked-out motorcycle she had ever seen, every inch of it still somehow spotless, despite the dirt all around them; in their hair, mouths, noses, eyes.
Lourdes was less interested in the bike, however, than the figure who rode it. Shrouded in scarves and black leather, Jack climbed off the motorcycle so gracefully, he may as well have been dancing ballet rather than dismounting a hulking bike in a bombed out city. He pushed his goggled up onto his forehead and unwrapped the scarf from the bottom half of his face, circles of clean skin around his eyes and bottom half of his face, making the rest of his face look oddly tanned. He swiped a hand over his face, smudging dirt across his eyes and mouth.
Jack grinned at Lourdes, his teeth blindingly white amidst his dirt-stained features.
“How’s my girl?”
“As cold and dirty as I was the last time you saw me,” Lourdes laughed, throwing her watery tea at a storm drain and dropping the cup, running to leap into Jack’s arms.
The rest of the bikes had pulled up behind Jack, the men sliding off their bikes with almost as much ease. They all began to stretch out or have a drink or joke with each other.
Jack watched them for a moment, a crooked smile adorning his face that Lourdes completely loved. She tugged at his arm and he turned back to look at her, the glint in his eye the only thing around her that sparkled.
“My mom is going to murder me if she finds out I met with you again.”
“Don’t tell her. I sure won’t. And if she finds out, let her know she has to get through me if she wants to hurt you.” Jack wrapped a leather-clad arm around her shoulder, pulling her close and kissing her forehead.
“So, how bad is it out there, really?” Lourdes asked, leaning into him, trying to remember how it felt to be near him and commit as much of it to memory as possible.
“It sucks, not gonna lie,” Jack said, shaking his head. “It’s a wasteland, basically. Nothing but rubble for miles. And a lot of pissants stirring up trouble and hurting people unnecessarily.”
“Don’t you do that sometimes?”
Jack frowned. “Is that what you think of me? No. I only hurt people when necessary. To protect people. Like you.”
“Sorry,” Lourdes said.
“No, don’t apologize, this world is crap and it’s going to make you think stuff like that. Lots of people out there are killing each other for less than a scrap of food.” Jack sighed and ran a hand through his hair, making it stick up straight, stiff with sweat and grime. “You know, when they first mentioned all this terrorism crap, I thought it would be a big deal for all of five minutes, just to give the news its big story that would draw everyone in and make us all scared for our well-being. But then it just kept going, the bombs kept falling and…” he trailed off, shaking his head.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t spend our five minutes together talking about sad stuff.”
“Five minutes?” Lourdes caught herself whining a little but she couldn’t help it.
“Yeah, we can’t stick around here. Anyone sees us and calls the cops, we’re going to jail. Or worse. You know how bad it is right now.”
Lourdes nodded. “I know.” She grabbed his face with both hands and pulled him down for a kiss.
“We’re like that damn Romeo and Juliet play we read back in school. Only we’re not gonna die, alright? And you are definitely not allowed to kill yourself if anything happens to me.” Jack kissed her forehead quickly, then pulled his goggles back down around his eyes and wrapped his scarf back around his face to keep the dust out of his mouth while he rode.
“I love you, Lou.”
“I love you too,” Lourdes said as he leapt back onto his bike and with one circular motion of his hand in the air, had gathered up the rest of his men and lead them off down the street, dust covering their tracks and swirling around Lourdes.
She stood rooted to the spot until even the faintest rumble had faded from her ears.