Loading... Chapter Nine
Owen rummaged through his closet looking for a helmet, swearing it should still be untouched in a box since moving in. Luckily, it was. His bike sat outside on the tiny balcony, tucked tightly against a chair from a long discarded patio set. The cover collected so much city grime that he coughed while pulling it off. God only knew how long it had been out here. But today, it had a new purpose thanks to Andreah. Even if he wasn't so sure of the details just yet.
Owen walked the bike out of his apartment, balancing the helmet precariously on the handlebars as he locked the door. Thankfully the elevator saved him from dragging it down four flights of stairs. Once on the street, he clicked on the helmet. It felt dreadfully clunky and he would have risked not having one at all if Andreah hadn't demanded he bring it. The insistence seemed out of character. She seemed the sort to boycott helmets completely outside of work.
He rode under half a mile to the address Andreah gave him. At the arched mouth of a park, Andreah stood with a few others who were perched on their bicycles. "Hey," Owen said, as he pulled up to them and dismounted. Andreah had on a black hoodie with thin gray stripes, her brown hair pooled into the hood that rested on her shoulders. "I don't think I've ever seen you on a bike without your cute little reflective vest."
Andreah leaned forward, one foot still outstretched to serve as a kickstand. "Brought my other bike too. Doesn't even have a dumb sign from work on it."
He hadn't even realized until she mentioned it, but she was right, it was nice in more ways than the missing advertisements. Actually, the lot of them had nice bicycles. Owen smiled, really as a means to hide his nerves as he glanced over the others with her.
"So uh, what did you want to show me?" Owen wrung his now free hands before steadying himself on the handles again. His guess of them riding around in Jackson Park, while cute in an old retired person way, now seemed weird with two other guys joining them.
"Have you heard of alleycat races?" asked one of her friends who sported an undercut.
Owen shook his head, glancing to Andreah for help. The fact that he didn't even know the names of her friends made him nervous. Any second he felt like they'd comment that his Walmart bike wasn't good enough to ride with them.
"We race around, passing various checkpoints and using, or doing, anything we can to get there faster," she said. Owen gave a half nod, not fully getting it still. "It's like parkour, except on a bike, and instead of flips you break traffic laws."
"Alright." Owen grinned. "I'm game."
"Yeah?" asked her other friend. He had strayed a little from the group doing small hops as he rode a few feet and back.
Andreah's piercings caught the last of the evening sunlight as she smiled with pride in her choice to invite him. "The first checkpoint is Madison Square Park. You have to reach there before you can finish at Manhattan Mall. Skipping the checkpoint is a no-no."
Owen nodded along as his eyes drifted to see who all was participating. There was more than just the four of them. This was far more organized than the random outing he expected.
"Don't worry," Andreah interjected, causing Owen's attention to snap back to her. "This is all for fun. And you're not the only newbie, so you probably won't come in dead last." She winked.
"Least you don't have any foam pits to get stuck in this time."
Andreah let out something reminiscent of a giggle. It sounded so out of place coming from her. Owen grinned back, enjoying a small slice of the night that was just theirs before the racers joined in around the starting line.
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Bone Diggers (Paperback out now!)Science Fiction
When everyone IRL lies, the only person you can trust is an NPC. Dirty little secrets can't be hidden behind player avatars, because Bone Diggers like Owen expose the lives behind the code. When his two worlds blur, he must decide which is more impo...