The Book of Broken Hearts
The law of probability dictates that with three older sisters, a girl shall inherit at least one pair of cute shorts that actually fit. Agreed?
Bzzz! Thank you for playing! Please try again.
If these things could talk, they’d be all, Hi! We’re Araceli’s old cutoffs! And I’d go, Congrats on fulfilling your destiny, because you totally cut off circulation to the vital female organs! High fives!
Actually, they were so tight up in there that if they could talk, it would sound more like, Umph mphh mphh hrmm.
“Ready to do this?” I killed the engine and smiled at Papi across the front seat. He didn’t say one way or the other, just squinted as I leaned over to do my lip gloss in the rearview.
“You look old, mi querida.”
“Says the guy who microwaves his socks?”
“They were cold.” He shrugged. Seriously. Like I was the crazy one in this operation.
“Lucky you didn’t start a fire.” I hopped out of the truck and hooked the leash on Pancake, our golden retriever, who was suddenly doing this shake-rattle-and-roll dance with his dog booty—pretty adorable.
I de-wedged my sister’s ex-denim and turned back to Papi. “Ever hear of dressing the part? If they take us seriously, maybe we won’t get screwed.”
He appraised Araceli’s shorts and the strategically ripped Van Halen tee I’d pilfered from Lourdes’s castaways. “Jude Catherine Hernandez. I’d like to see anyone ride a motorcycle in that outfit.”
I stifled an eye roll. Viejito hadn’t ridden a bike in thirty years. I, on the other hand, was totally up on this stuff. I’d bookmarked practically every Sturgis video diary ever posted, and thanks to a few Red Bull–and-Oreo-fueled YouTube all-nighters, I was approaching expert status in the vast and shadowy realm of motorcycle culture.
Leather, chains, and flagrant bralessness? Bring it.
Papi squinted at me again. “You look like—”
“Your favorite daughter? Tell me about it.” I slipped an arm around his waist. Aside from my unequivocally pro-undergarment stance, I felt at least 87 percent biker-babe legit as I navigated Fifth Street, shoulders tucked neatly under the arm of a man old enough to be my father.
Okay, in all fairness, he was my father, but still. Manufactured authenticity? Phrase of the day, people!
“Duchess Custom Cycles.” Papi read the sign just as I caught our mismatched reflection in the glass. He’d insisted on wearing an insulated flannel shirt and his complimentary THANKS FOR SUBSCRIBING TO THE WESTERN CHANNEL, PARDNER cowboy hat, despite the fact that it was five hundred degrees outside, and I would’ve gotten more coverage from a skein of yarn and some duct tape.
Sweet Jeremiah Johnson, what a pair!
Papi opened the door, and I hobbled in with Pancake, still trying to coax out those unforgiving shorts. People probably thought I had some kind of medical issue, which was ironic considering the whole reason I’d gotten myself into this rollicking high-plains adventure in the first place.
Despite its royal moniker, Duchess met my research-supported expectations. Dusty. Grimy. Wallpapered with scantily clad women draped over motorcycles. I so blended in, but once the door shut behind us, my nose was assaulted by the tang of motor oil and sweat, and my mind flashed through all the things I should’ve been doing the summer after graduation: dorm-supply shopping. Summer theater at Upstart Crow. Sipping frozen Java Potions at Witch’s Brew and flirting with the East Coast kayakers who flooded Blackfeather, Colorado, every June.
Papi’s warm hand on my shoulder tugged me back to reality. We’d reached the service counter. A glass door behind it offered a view of the garage, a wide concrete space scattered with bike parts and rags and grease-smudged mechanics.
The guy who emerged through the door had a small mouth hidden behind a dried blond shrub of a goatee that made me think of the tumbleweeds that cruised Old Town all summer. He wiped his hands on a dingy cloth as he greeted us, eyes lingering judgmentally on my shirt.
Jeez. I guess Pancake was just being nice when he gave my outfit the patented three-bark approval this morning.
“We need some info on restoring a vintage panhead,” I said. “And a mechanic who can work at our place. Blackfeather Harley thought you could give my dad a better deal.”
The guy’s smile warmed when I said “dad,” and I relaxed. But only a little, since my shorts were still trying to ride off into the sunset via Butt Cheek Pass and it was a challenge to stand still.
“We can sure try, darlin’.” He spoke around a gnawed-up toothpick that had probably been in his mouth since the seventies. “Name’s Duke. Whatcha got?”
“Sixty-one Duo-Glide. Bought her in Buenos Aires from the original owner in seventy-eight.” Papi rattled off the specs, right down to the odometer reading and the customizations he’d done before he biked through the homeland when he was seventeen.
The story was a sock rocker for sure—I hadn’t even heard it all yet—and Duke’s face lit up at the telling.
This was the Bear Hernandez everyone knew and loved. Not the guy cooking his socks or forgetting the way home from work. Papi’s eyes shone as he spoke, and my heart thumped hard behind Eddie Van Halen’s face.
The old man was still in there somewhere—I knew it.
The bike would bring him back. We just had to get her running again. A few replacement parts, paint job, good as new.
I handed over my cell to show Duke the picture.
“Wow,” Duke said. “You had her in storage all this time?”
“Sí. She’s been idle since . . .” Papi squinted at Pancake as if the answer were written in those big brown dog eyes. “Pretty sure Reagan was in office last time I rode. She won’t turn over. Brake lines were going too, if I remember right.”
“The tires are all soggy,” I said helpfully, “and some of the pipe things on the side are loose.” I tugged my shirt down over the strip of belly that showed whenever I took a deep breath. Pipe things. Soggy tires. Apparently my extensive research didn’t cover the technical terms.
Duke inspected the photo. The paint was fading, she was caked in rust and dirt, but it wasn’t hard to imagine her glory days. Baby blue and cream, chrome that must’ve gleamed like white light. She was probably strong once, really tore up those Argentine mountain roads.
And then my parents got married. Moved to the States. Had Lourdes. Araceli. Mariposa. And eight years after that, me.
Out in the garage, an engine growled and the mechanics cheered. Pancake whimpered and curled up at my feet.
Harleys. It was hard to picture Papi riding one of those things, but I guess he was pretty hard core back in the day. He had a posse and everything: Las Arañas Blancas. The White Spiders.
“Queridita.” Papi grinned when the rumbling stopped. “That’s the sound of happiness, yeah?”
Actually my idea of happiness involved less machinery and testosterone than your average Harley offered up, but I returned his smile. Despite my wardrobe malfunction and the general dangers of hanging out with Papi in public these days, we’d already enjoyed a fine breakfast at Ruby’s Mountainside Café and managed to walk all the way from the truck to Duchess without Papi trying to steal a car or kiss another man’s wife.
Real bang-up day so far.
“Good news and bad news.” Duke returned my phone. “Good? She’s a real beauty, and we can definitely fix ’er up.”
Papi was suddenly looking out the front door like he needed to know the exits, needed a quick way out, and I held my breath, hoping that whatever came out of Duke’s mouth next didn’t spark one of Papi’s meltdowns and send him running into the street.
Mom would kill me if I lost him again. She’d seriously crush up my bones and throw me down the side of a
mountain, and the Holy Trinity of my all-knowing sisters would stand there shaking my ashes from their hair and rolling their eyes about how even postmortem I couldn’t follow directions.
Keep him close to home, Jude. Keep him calm and focused.
But they weren’t there when I found the bike in the storage barn last week, when I cast off boxes of Christmas decorations and old report cards and peeled back the dusty blue tarps and asked Papi to tell me all about it.
They didn’t see the light in his eyes, flickering on after months of darkness.
And other than a little dignity and the ability to walk normally for a few hours on account of these shorts, I wasn’t planning to lose anything today.
“The bad news?” I asked.
“Time and money, honey.” Duke swished the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “Repairs, paint, accessories . . . that’s a helluva restore. I’m not sure we can beat the big boys much on price. Hate to say this, but you’d probably get a better deal tradin’ up, gettin’ the old man something newer.”
Heat flooded my face. “He’s not old.”
“It’s she. And a sixty-one’s goin’ on more than fifty years, darlin’. Not a lot of miles left, if you catch my drift.”
I catch your drift, all right.
I looped my arm through Papi’s and leaned on his shoulder. Pancake let out a soft whine.
“We aren’t trading up.” I’d already been through all that with Blackfeather Harley. “Look, I’ll be honest with you here, Mr. Duchess—”
“Duke. We don’t have a ton of cash. What if we use rebuilt parts?” I met his gaze and held it, hoping this wouldn’t require any waterworks. Calling up a few tears was an option, but the biker-babe mascara made the prospect less appealing.
He stroked his goatee, hopefully considering our predicament. At least, how our predicament looked from the outside: Sticker shock. A girl trying to help her daddy with just enough babysitting money to cover the basics.
“Problem isn’t just parts.” He was still going to town on that toothpick, which seemed like some kind of motorcycle guy code; I’d seen it in the videos. “It’s labor. Only got one guy experienced on vintage bikes, and he ain’t that cheap. Ain’t that available, either—he’s booked till fall. When you lookin’ to get ’er done?”
“I’m going on a road trip in August,” I said. Fingers crossed Zoe and Christina hadn’t finalized plans without me. “So, before then?”
Duke sucked in a breath. “Gonna be tight. For an off-site gig, at my lowest rates, I could only spare my junior mechanic. He’s not completely certified yet.”
I peered into the garage. Guys were stationed at different motorcycles and dirt bikes, most of them dressed in jeans and raggedy T-shirts, bare arms coated in grime. The
conversation was muffled by the glass, but their easy banter was unmistakable.
Duke thumbed through the glass at a dark-blue bike, most of which had been stripped to its steel bones. A guy knelt before it—a little younger than the rest, maybe, but equally sure of himself. One arm was deep inside the bike, the floor around him littered with tools and rags.
“That’s him in the bandanna,” Duke said. “Good kid, knows his stuff. But like I said, barely got his training wheels off.”
“Doesn’t look like a kid to me.” I subtly shifted my hips. Damn. These cutoffs were on a mission; my ability to concentrate was becoming seriously compromised. “Besides, we don’t care how old he is. Just that he can do the work for cheap.”
Papi nodded, but his eyes were still far away.
Duke tapped on the glass and waved the young mechanic forward.
The guy got to his feet, wiped his hands on a rag that hung from his back pocket. His head dipped low as he opened the door and I couldn’t see his eyes. Just stubble. Dimples. Scar across the bottom of his chin. His arms were etched with jagged white scars too.
Dangerous stuff, this biker gig.
“How long you been working on these bikes?” Duke asked him.
“Eh . . . forever?”
“Here, smart-ass. For me.”
“Like, two or three months, I guess. Why?” All his attention was on the boss, but my skin tingled like I was being watched. Not in a creepy way—a familiar one. Like maybe I’d seen this guy before, but with the bandanna and the grime, I couldn’t place him. Definitely not from school or summer theater. Someone’s cousin, maybe?
“Not ready, junior.” Duke was totally baiting the poor guy. “Not for a sixty-one hog.”
“You kidding me? A sixty-one?” He finally turned to face me, a grin stretching across his face. His dimples were kind of disarming full-on, but I stood my ground as he looked me over.
My skin heated under the scrutiny. I really wished Zoe had helped me prepare this morning. I didn’t even like Van Halen, and she would’ve smartly pointed that out.
Dressing the part? Really, Jude. Someday your theatrics will be your undoing.
“Sixty-one panhead,” I finally said.
His eyebrows jumped in either surprise or appreciation. Maybe both. “You ride?”
“She’s mine,” Papi said, his mind returning from its little side trip. “And as far as I’m concerned, if you want the job, it’s yours.”
The mechanic started yammering at his boss in Spanish, deep and low. Puerto Rican, the accent was, faster and less meandering than the Argie stuff I’d grown up with.
He was trying to convince Duke that he could do the job. Needed the dinero for some big bike trip this summer.
“Gentlemen,” I said. The mechanic looked up at me again, but I kept my eyes on Duke. “We’re not asking for a museum piece. We just need to get this thing rebuilt. So if he can help—”
“I can help.” He turned back to Duke, his scarred forearms flexing as he gripped the counter. “I rebuilt my own hog last year.”
“That’s an eighty-seven, kid. Sportster besides.”
He shrugged. “Aside from the kickstart, mechanics ain’t changed much.”
“Duke, please,” I said. “We have to get this thing running.”
Without permission, those on-call waterworks pricked my eyes. Maybe it was ridiculous to put so much hope in restoring the bike, in believing it could really fix Papi. But it was our last shot—the one thing the doctors had overlooked, the faint glimmer of maybe that the medical research and case studies had somehow missed.
I cleared my throat and tried again. “What I mean is . . . it’s imperative that we complete the restore as planned.”
Papi shook his head, his smile finally returning. “My daughter . . . she has a way with words.”
Duke eyed me skeptically, but he was clearly under the spell of our father-daughter charms. Even the toothpick stopped shuffling. “Okay, what the customer wants, the customer gets. Even if it’s the kid.”
“It’s the kid,” Papi confirmed. He was beaming again, totally back in the moment. “You’re hired.”
“You won’t be sorry.” The boy shook Papi’s hand and then reached for mine. I pressed my palm to his automatically, but as my skin warmed at his touch, something clicked inside, something familiar and dangerous, and I jerked my hand away and stared at it as if I’d been stung.
My cheeks flamed, but before anyone could question my bizarro reaction, Duke grabbed the boy’s shoulder. “You’d better be ready for this, Emilio.”
My head snapped up, jolted by a flash of recognition. “What’s your name again?”
“Emilio.” His lips formed the word, each syllable sliding into my ears with a rush of memory and white-hot guilt. Those caramel-brown eyes. Black hair curled up around the edge of that smudged bandanna. He wasn’t smiling now, but the dimples were still there, lurking below the surface like a dare.
I’d been warned that those dimples would be my undoing. Trained to avoid them most of my teen life, a feat made easier when he’d bailed inexplicably out of Blackfeather High two years ago, a month before he was supposed to graduate.
Yet there he was. More grown up, scruffy along the jawline, filling out his T-shirt in all the ways he hadn’t before. Practically almost ogling me.
That real bang-up day I was having?
Crash. And. Burn.
The only guy in all of Blackfeather who could help—the guy we had just so desperately hired—was the only guy in all of Blackfeather I was bound by blood, honor, and threat of dismemberment from every female in the Hernandez family to unilaterally ignore.
I’m not kidding about the blood part. There was an oath and everything, carefully scrawled into an infamous black book that once held all my sisters’ secrets.
I almost laughed.
Of course it was him.
Emilio fucking Vargas.