There was an orange motorcycle parked in Nicole’s garage. She stared for a moment, trying to make sense of what she was seeing. She had never owned a motorcycle, and neither did any of her friends. At first she thought someone had broken in, but quickly realized the idea was silly.
Burglars didn’t leave things behind. They stole things.
Nicole got out of her car and approached the mysterious vehicle, utterly perplexed. She had only been in Arizona for two days, and she hadn’t told any of her friends that she was leaving. The only spare key to her home was at her father’s house, and that was nearly four hours away. She dialed his number anyway.
“Hi. How’s it going, Dad?”
Nicole skipped the rest of the small talk. “Hey, did you happen to stop by my house on the way home?”
“No, I’m still with Grams here in Prescott. Why?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll call you later, k?”
Nicole hung up and stepped into the garage. She didn’t know much about motorcycles, but she could tell that this one was old-fashioned. The paint was worn in some places, but she could clearly see the word “Laverda” printed on the side.
Then something strange caught her eye.
There on the top of the leather seat was her name. The text was neat, but it looked like it had been scratched into the material with a sharp object.
Nicole took a step back and felt something hard beneath her heel. Lifting her foot, she saw a little metallic sunflower attached to a key. She picked it up. If the key was here, and her name was on the motorcycle, clearly someone was giving it to her.
Nicole stuffed the key into her pocket and went back to her car to grab her duffel bag. As she headed inside to unpack, her thoughts were buzzing a hundred miles per hour. She wondered if her friends had somehow heard about Grams. Maybe the gift was their way of trying to comfort her. If that were the case, it seemed like an odd gift to give someone who never even talked about motorcycles. Her only experience in that area was from a college boyfriend who had taught her the basics of riding, but that had been years ago.
Nicole was about to toss her shoes into her closet when she stopped short. Her thoughts quieted, and her grip on the doorknob tightened.
Nicole didn’t have a roommate. She didn’t have a pet, and she most certainly didn’t have neighbors who would barge into her home and make a racket like the one she had just heard. She yanked a vase from the dresser and held it up like a baseball bat.
As Nicole searched the house, her heart thumped so hard it hurt. There was a weird sort of vibe in the air, almost like she wasn’t alone. The feeling was uncomfortable, and it gave her a serious case of the creeps.
Then she heard something that made her whole body tense up. It was an ear-piercing metallic scraping that reverberated from inside the garage.
Nicole wielded her makeshift weapon and cracked open the door. The motorcycle was still there, but it had been tipped over and pulled halfway across the cement.
Her heart leapt. She was positive that she had closed the garage, but it was open now, gaping for anyone in the world to enter.
Nicole didn’t like games like this. If someone was trying to surprise her with a gift, they were doing a crappy job of it. If they were trying to scare her, she’d had enough. Without waiting another moment, she returned to the room for her shoes.
The motorcycle had to go somewhere else.
She wasn’t sure where she was going to take it, but anywhere would be better than here. Nicole needed to rest. She had come home from Arizona early because stressful situations almost always led her to drink. She couldn’t do that. She wanted her one year sobriety chip.
Nicole lifted the motorcycle and started it up. “Just like riding a bike,” she said aloud.
• • •
As Nicole rode, the golden hour sunlight peeked from behind the trees. She took a deep breath, and before long, her stress levels plummeted. She twisted the throttle, deciding that a cruise down the highway might do her good.
She was taking the final turn which led to the main road when, out of nowhere, the motorcycle began to lag. She tried to accelerate, but it pulled against her, releasing a low groan and eventually slowing to a stop. It wouldn’t start up again.
Nicole cursed herself for being so stupid. Now she was miles from home without her cell phone and the sun was setting.
She considered her options. If she walked back, it would definitely be dark before she got there, and she didn’t trust these neighborhoods at night. Her only other option would be to borrow someone’s cell phone and call a ride.
Nicole glanced across the street and saw a television through the window. The program was instantly recognizable. Jeopardy. This meant it was probably an elderly person’s house. She figured it was her safest option.
After working up the courage, Nicole crossed the street. She rang the doorbell, listening to Alex Trebek’s muffled voice as she waited.
An old woman opened the door.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” Nicole said, “My motorcycle broke down and I was hoping to borrow a phone.”
The old woman frowned, glancing over Nicole’s shoulder to see the bike.
“I was worried about walking home at night,” Nicole continued, wringing her hands.
“Wait here,” the woman said. She closed the door, and a brief moment later, returned with a cell phone in hand. “You aren’t trying to rob me, are you?”
“God, no,” Nicole said, “and I’m really sorry to bother you like this.”
The woman handed over the phone.
Nicole paused, realizing that she didn’t have any of her friends’ numbers memorized. “You don’t happen to have the number for a taxi, do you?”
“You need a ride?” the woman asked, motioning to the car in her driveway.
“Oh, I couldn’t ask you to do that.”
The woman waved her hand. “Let me get my purse.”
“Wow,” Nicole said, blinking in disbelief. “Thank you so much, ma’am.”
She hobbled over to her purse. “Gloria is fine.”
“Thank you, Gloria.”
“What’s your name, girl?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s Nicole.”
“Relax, Nicole. I could do with some fresh air.” She glanced across the street. “You gonna leave that bike there?”
Nicole had completely forgotten that it was still parked across the street. “Uh, yeah. I’ll come back for it later.”
“It’ll be stolen,” said Gloria. “This neighborhood’s rough.”
“It’s fine. I was trying to get rid of it anyway.”
Gloria eyed the motorcycle. “Looks like a nice bike.”
“I know,” Nicole said, “but I think someone’s using it to play a trick on me.”
Gloria unlocked the car door and they both got inside. “Now I’m curious.”
Nicole wasn’t sure why, but before she knew it, she had told Gloria everything. She started with her trip to visit her dying grandmother and retold all of the events that had led her here.
“So you have no idea where the bike came from?” Gloria asked.
Gloria nodded. “I’m sorry about your grandmother. Any chance she’ll pull through?”
Nicole shook her head. “The doctors say she’s brain dead.”
Gloria sighed. “I had a coworker who also overdosed on his insulin by accident. He was luckier than your Grams though.”
“Yeah,” was all that Nicole could say.
“How old is your Grams?”
“Around your age.”
Gloria frowned. “What’s her name?”
“I used to have a friend named Shelly,” Gloria said, “but we drifted apart when I moved out here to be closer to my kids.”
“Where are you from?” Nicole asked.
Nicole’s eyes narrowed. She hadn’t mentioned that her Grams lived in Prescott. “What was your friend’s last name?”
“Mclean,” said Gloria. “Why?”
“Oh, my God.” Nicole covered her mouth. “That’s my Grams.”
Gloria gave her an incredulous look. “You’d better come inside, Nicole.”
Gloria and Nicole spent hours sharing stories about Grams. It turned out that she and Gloria had both gone to the Willow Hills Baptist church in Prescott. They had worked together on several service projects and formed a strong bond. Sadly, they had fallen out of touch since the move, but Gloria admitted that she still missed Shelly from time to time.
By the end of the conversation, the two women were in tears. Neither of them could believe the strange twist of fate that had brought them together, and when Gloria finally drove Nicole back to her house, she made her promise to visit again.
• • •
Later that night, Nicole woke with a start. Her neck was sore, she was damp with sweat, and her heart was slamming in her chest.
A commotion in her garage had woken her, and she was certain it hadn’t been a dream. This time she went to the kitchen and pulled a big knife from the block, gripping it so tightly her hand shook. She opened the garage door and peeked out.
The orange motorcycle was back. It lay on its side, resting peacefully as though it belonged there. The sliding garage door was open again, gaping wide at the edge of the darkness.
Knife in hand, Nicole stepped out into the driveway. She looked up and down the street, but there wasn’t a sign of life anywhere. Slowly, she backed into the garage and closed the sliding door.
A chill crept across her arms and down the front of her legs. Someone had the key to her garage. There was no doubt about it now.
Nicole decided it was time to leave.
She headed inside to grab an overnight bag, but stopped when she spotted a piece of paper peeking from beneath the bike. She knew she should ignore it, but it wasn’t long before curiosity got the best of her.
She unfolded the paper. At the top of the page was a phone number. The first three digits were 928 which she recognized as an Arizona area code. The next line had four words printed on it.
HALL CLOSET. ADIDAS BOX.
Nicole pushed the creepy vibes out of the way and deliberately replaced them with frustration. She went back into the house and grabbed her cell phone, ready to end the game once and for all.
To her surprise, the number was already saved in her contacts as “Grandpa Phil.” She stared at the name for a moment before she called, wondering if her grandfather could be behind all of this.
Just when she was sure the call would go to voicemail, Grandpa answered the phone. “Nicole?”
“Hey, Grandpa. Sorry to wake you.”
He cleared his throat. “Oh, it’s okay, sweetheart. I just dozed off for a second. I’m still here in the hospital with your parents. Chuck’s here too.”
Nicole wasn’t sure what to say. “Is Grams still hanging in there?”
“Yeah, still breathing,” he answered. “Making lots of sounds, too. Almost like she’s got phlegm.”
Nicole’s shoulders slumped. He was still with Grams. Even under normal circumstances, there wasn’t much of a chance the old man would be capable of orchestrating this whole stunt. Then she swallowed hard. Whoever was doing this had his phone number.
“You okay, Colie?”
“I’m fine,” she lied. “Just worried about you.” That part was true.
“It’s all right,” Grandpa said. “Your mom’s going to stay and help me figure out the funeral arrangements and whatnot. I know your Grams had some ideas written down at one point, but she’s got a whole load of junk in the house. It’s gonna take me ages to find it.”
Nicole’s breath caught. She looked down at the paper clenched together with the knife in her hand. “Grandpa,” her voice was trembling.
“Did you look in the hall closet?”
“Not yet, why?”
She steadied her voice. “Maybe you should check there. I know Grams has a bunch of old shoe boxes in the closet. Try the Adidas one.”
“Ah,” said Grandpa. “She told you this?”
“No,” Nicole ripped a dry chunk of skin from her lips, “but take someone with you when you’re looking, okay? Take Chuck.”
“You okay, Colie?”
“Yeah, but I have to go. We’ll talk soon.”
‘Love you, Colie.”
“Love you, too.”
Nicole needed a drink, but there wasn’t anything in the house. She checked her phone and saw that there were still about thirty minutes before the liquor store closed. There wasn’t room for reason now. She just went inside for her keys and left.
• • •
Nicole’s hands were shaking as she pulled out a glass and sat at the table. For a moment, she just stared at the bottle, reading the label over and over. Several minutes passed this way until finally, she poured the drink. She glanced at her phone, knowing she should call her sponsor, but instead, she let out a choked sob and raised the glass to her mouth.
Before the alcohol could touch her lips, there was another monstrous crash from the garage. Nicole jolted and the glass slipped out of her hand, spreading liquid across the table. She stood to catch it before it ran onto the floor, and in doing so, she knocked the whole bottle off the table. It crashed to the floor and shattered.
“Damn it!” Nicole exclaimed. “WHY?”
She barged into the garage, ready to strangle whomever was torturing her, but of course, no one was there. There was only the motorcycle and a knocked over shelf where it had somehow driven itself into the wall.
She didn’t stop to wonder about how it had happened. Nicole just grabbed her keys, slipped on her shoes and left to spend the night at her friend’s house. It had been a couple of months since they had talked, but at this point, it was her only choice.
• • •
The next morning, Nicole’s mother called.
“Hey, Colie,” she said, her voice heavy. “Grams passed early this morning.”
“I’m so sorry, Mom. Are you okay?”
Her mother sighed. “I’m not sure yet. How are you?”
Nicole decided that it wasn’t the best time to talk about yesterday. “I’m okay. Just had a rough night.”
“Nicole,” she said, her mother’s tone turning more serious, “can I ask you something?”
Nicole squirmed in her seat. “Sure.”
Her mother paused a moment. “Are you pregnant?”
Nicole was taken aback. It was the last thing she had expected her mother to say. “No. Why?”
She sighed again. “Just before Grams passed, she became coherent for about two minutes. First she wanted to see Grandpa, then she looked right at me and…” Her mother’s voice was full of emotion. “She asked if you would name the baby after her.”
Nicole felt like she couldn’t breathe. “I’ll call you later, Mom.”
• • •
The next week, Nicole pulled up to the Heritage Memory Funeral Home in Prescott, Arizona. She was holding a bouquet of flowers and an envelope.
When she went inside, Nicole found her mother sniffling in front of a flat screen television that was playing a slideshow of pictures from Grams’ life. “This is for you, Mom,” she said, handing her the flowers.
A tear rolled down her mother’s cheek. “You didn’t have to do that, baby.”
“I know, but I wanted to cheer you up.”
She wiped her eyes and smelled the flowers. “Thanks.”
“Also, I have some...interesting news.”
Her mother’s eyes went to the envelope in her hand. “What news?”
Nicole wasn’t sure how to say it, so she decided to cut to the chase. “A few months ago, I was hanging out with some friends at a party, and I met a guy there. He was cute.”
Her mother blinked. “Okay.”
Nicole tapped her palm with the envelope. “Anyway, one thing led to another, and well, here.” She held it out.
Her mother furrowed her brow, took the envelope and opened it. “Immediately a huge smile spread across her face. “Nicole! You’re pregnant!”
“Shh, Mom!” Nicole said, swiping the ultrasound photo away with a grin.
“How far along?”
Her mother gasped and touched Nicole’s belly. “What! Where?”
They spent the next several minutes giggling, chattering and wondering what the hell Nicole was going to do. Nicole wasn’t sure how she would sort out the details, but she knew she wanted to keep the baby. She had loved her from the moment she heard her heartbeat last week.
“See?” said her mother. “Grams had a sense for these kinds of things.”
Nicole nodded. “Trust me, Mom. I’ve thought about it.”
“So? Are you going to name her Shelly?”
Nicole rubbed her belly. “Of course.”
Her mother giggled and placed her hand on top of Nicole’s. Then she put her arm around her daughter and they both turned to watch the slideshow of images on the television.
There was a picture of Grams with a grandbaby, a picture at a barbecue, and a picture with her two dogs. When the image changed again, Nicole’s jaw suddenly went slack. “Mom,” she whispered, her eyes growing wide as she gaped at the picture on the screen, “who is that?”
Her mother smiled. “Grams, of course. Probably around your age here.”
Nicole swallowed. “Is that hers?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “From what I’ve been told, she used to ride that thing everywhere she went. I can’t remember what kind it was, but it would probably be a classic if it were around today.”
Nicole’s eyes welled with tears, and she squeezed her mother’s hand. “It’s a Laverda, Mom.”
“A Laverda?” she asked. “How do you know that?”
“Trust me, Mom. I just know.”