The apartment was completely still. Turner got up off the couch and padded down the hallway to the single bedroom door, which was ajar. He looked in. “Clem?” he said, but no answer came. The room was empty.
Strangely, he felt relieved. Clementine scared him. He had to figure out where he was going to stay. “My parents are going to freak fucking out if they find out about this,” he thought. Turner returned to the living room and noticed that his two bags of clothes and books were gone. The sun was now properly up, and the room was light. “Oh, shit,” he said. All of his books were neatly arranged in the small bookcase against the wall. “Where are my fucking clothes?”
He went back to Clem’s bedroom, sweating now, knowing what he was going to find, which he did. His jeans and shirts had been neatly hung in the closet, and she’d folded his socks and underwear and put them in a drawer in her chest. The top drawer.
The small kitchen was even worse. A note on the counter, written in a pretty cursive script, said this: “Cereal’s in the cupboard, milk’s in the fridge, see you this afternoon.”
Feeling like a guy who’d gotten drunk, then married in Las Vegas, Turner didn’t know what to do, but he knew he had to find another place. Filled with determination and a clear vision of what was necessary, and an even clearer vision of what would happen if he didn’t do what was necessary, along with each of the catastrophic details painted in brilliant colors and sharp outlines, Turner began what would become the pattern for his life, in other words, when faced with great decisions and impending doom, he hopped on his bike to go for a quick ride.
“To clear my head,” he told himself.
By mid-morning he’d pedaled all over central Austin, through Tarrytown, up around the golf course on Lake Austin Boulevard, and had even meandered along the western edge of town to Camp Mabry. He’d completely forgotten about the dilemma that he’d been so determined to solve. Instead he was sweaty and feeling rather blissful and a touch hungry.
As he headed back towards Clementine’s he then began what would be one of the great sub-patterns of his life, in other words, when faced with a destination that he really didn’t want to go to, he went to the bike shop instead. Uncle Joe had wheeled out the last bike and they were all lined up perfectly, shiny. He recognized Turner and nodded to him.
“Hi!” said Turner.
“Nice day for a pedal.”
“Yeah. Hey, I got a question for you.”
“Where’s a good place to ride my bike around her?. You know, like an out and back type thing?”
“Come on in.”
Turner followed him into the shop, and it smelled like a bike shop, that odor of shiny new bike mixed with turdboxes-on-two-wheels in the service area, a funny mix of musty and fresh that was murdered in its sleep by the modern concept store, where the thing for sale now is a bicycle experience instead of, you know, a bike sold by an experienced biker. “You liking that bike?” Uncle Joe asked. It wasn’t an innocent question, and Uncle Joe watched him carefully.
“Oh, man, it’s the best!” A torrent of “cool” and “awesome” spilled forth.
Uncle Joe smiled, a little to himself. He knew this kid was a live one, and he knew it because his quick glance had taken in the sparkling shine on the bike, a bike which should by now have had some modest layer of dirt and grime on it, and he knew it because, well, he’d seen it all before. He pulled a map out of the rack in front of the register. “This will be a good twenty-five miler for you.”
He spread it out and the fresh map smell spilled out adventure and excitement from the grids and twisting roads. Uncle Joe patiently traced out a route with a pencil. “This will take you to Manor, east of town. About an hour out and an hour back. Put some air in your tires before you go. You’re running a little low. A hundred will do you, there’s a pump outside.”
Turner went out to air up his tires, and as he began a cyclist in jersey and riding shorts pedaled up and waited his turn. He looked different from the other cyclists that Turner had, inexplicably, been paying attention to since he’d started commuting to school. This guy was in his mid-twenties, and he was solid without an ounce of fat on him. Turner looked at his big, muscular calves and his even bigger thighs.
The guy took him in at a glance. Turner felt like he’d just been evaluated, instantly, but he wasn’t sure about what. “Nice bike you have there,” said the guy, sticking out his hand. “Baker. My name’s Baker.”
Turner blushed at the compliment, because his off-the-rack Nishiki was so plainly inferior to the shimmering Italian racing machine that Baker was on. All of his pride at the cleanliness of his bike drained away, and he felt like a little kid in a push-car talking to a race car driver. “It’s just, you know, a cheap commuter bike.”
“No, actually it’s not. Those are pretty solid components. Dia-Compe brakes, SunTour derailleur, Sugino cranks. You could race that bike.”
“Really?” Turner felt suddenly inflated again, then ashamed at having insulted his own bike, of which he was so incredibly proud.
“Hell, yes,” said the guy, as Turner handed him the pump. Baker grinned. “It’s never the bike that needs to be upgraded,” he said. “It’s the legs.”
Turner got a half-block away from the bike shop, pedaling up 24th Street along fraternity row, when he noticed a clicking sound coming from his crank. He pulled up on the sidewalk, got off the bike, and bent down to check it out.
“Hey, look,” someone said. “It’s fuckwad asshole.”
He looked up from his squat into the face of two frat brothers from Sig Ep. One of them grabbed his handlebars and looked at the other guy. “My vote is we take the bike, wrap it around his twiggy fucking neck, and throw them both into traffic.”
The other guy laughed. “Let me kick him in the head first.”
Turner straightened. This was going to end badly. Then a third voice chimed in. “I’d advise you to let go of the bike.” It was Baker, who’d ridden up. Baker wasn’t a college kid, and he didn’t look like one. He looked like a man.
“Who are you?” said Sig Ep the first.
“If you don’t let go of the bike and let my pal go on his way, you’re gonna find out.” Baker started to unclip from his bicycle, the powerful muscles in his arms lightly flexing as he gripped the hoods.
The frat guy holding Turner’s bike released it. “Thanks, dude,” Turner said to his newfound friend.
“Don’t mention it,” Baker said, re-clipping and riding off.
The wheels under the Nishiki were spinning now as Turner raced away. In a flash he remembered that he’d set out to find somewhere to live, but had done nothing more decisive than pedal around on his bike, air up his tires, and avoid getting beaten to a pulp. Then he remembered Uncle Phil’s map. The sun was shining on this warm Austin winter day.
Instead of going right on MLK and back to the apartment, he turned left. “I wonder how far twenty-five miles is on a bike?” he wondered.