Niro + Andi – Chapter One
- Andi’s first year of college
My phone screamed through the quiet in my room. It had to be past three in the morning. Whatever was on the other end of the call couldn’t be good.
I reached for my cell on the nightstand, sliding to accept the call without glancing at the screen, eyes still closed, a part of me still chasing sleep.
“Yeah?” I rumbled into the receiver.
Andi was calling at three in the morning, her voice shattered splinters of sadness all around.
My stomach knotted as I folded up in bed, reaching to turn on the light. “Andi? What’s the matter? What happened?”
Andi was pure softness. She kept her bleeding heart right there on her sleeve. I’d once caught her sobbing over a baby bird that had drowned in a bucket of water it had likely been trying to drink out of.
She could have been driving and tried to avoid hitting an opossum, but killed it.
She could have witnessed a couple having a break-up fight.
You never knew with her.
But she felt it all.
And she felt it down to her soul.
It was one of her most endearing traits, something I envied at times, something I felt deserved to be protected at all costs. Hell, I damn near applied to her college just to go with her, to be able to keep protecting her.
Two things stopped me.
One, my future didn’t involve a college degree. Bikers tended to get by just fine without one in our neck of the woods.
Two, it wasn’t my place to protect her. It wasn’t my fucking place. I’d been trying to tell myself that since we were young teenagers, since I realized my feelings for her were more than just friendly. It wasn’t my place. I had to let her go. Go to college. Go away from me.
I simply had to let her go.
She wasn’t mine.
She would never be mine.
I had to live with that.
“Tell me something happy,” she demanded, sniffling.
That was her favorite phrase.
Tell me something happy. Or Tell me something that made you smile today.
Sometimes she wanted to hear it because she was trying to get you—or in most cases, my grumpy ass—to see something good in your life. But just as often, she wanted to hear it because something had upset her, and she needed the pick-me-up.
This, clearly, was the latter.
“Your mom took in seven baby bunnies. Someone’s dog brought them to the owner one by one, and she couldn’t find the nest to put them back. So now she’s raising them.”
“That’s not happy,” she told me, sounding sadder than ever. “The poor mama was probably looking for her babies.”
Yep. That was an angle I hadn’t considered. And I was out of other ideas.
“Tell me what happened,” I demanded instead.
There was a long pause, long enough for me to check to make sure the call was still connected. Then, with a cracking voice, she told me.
“He broke up with me.”
I was already off the bed, grabbing my jeans from the day before off the floor, pulling them up, sticking my feet into shoes, grabbing a t-shirt.
“I’m on my way.”
“You can’t come here,” she told me, trying to hold in a sob. “It’s hours and hours away.”
“I have hours and hours to spare,” I told her, all ideas of sleep or work in a few hours forgotten. “I will text you when I’m close, okay? So you can unlock the door.”
“Okay,” she agreed, hanging up.
“Hey, Nugget,” I called, rousing the small copper poodle mix from his chosen spot on one of Andi’s sweatshirts covering his massive dog bed, liking to be close to her smell. “Your Mom is sad. We have to go cheer her up,” I told him, moving off into the main area of the compound I was calling home while I prospected. I grabbed his leash as he followed behind me, tail—and his entire butt—waggling like he knew where we were going.
He has to stay with you, Andi had insisted when she had been packing for school. You’re the one who helped me save him.
Which was partly true. She had rushed into a half-frozen stream to save a cold, emaciated Nugget, fallen, and whacked her head off a rock. I had rushed in to save her. Then went back for the dog, knowing she would never forgive herself for not being able to save him.
I wasn’t supposed to have a pet at the clubhouse. Least of all an anxious little ankle biter who howled and shook when there was thunder or fireworks, who had a penchant for eating shoes, who sometimes pissed when he got too excited. But since Andi was the daughter to one of the patched members—as was my father—they’d made a concession.
It was sappy and pathetic to admit, but I wanted him because it was a part of her I got to keep. And also an insurance that I would see her again.
I grabbed the keys for the club’s SUV, knowing I would get an ass-kicking for taking it without asking, but figuring that was a problem for the future, then hopping in, and making my way.
Hours and hours away was actually only two. Stony Brook was in New York, just a stone’s throw from our hometown in Navesink Bank, New Jersey.
I drove it in a blur, giving the middle finger to speed limits, trying to make it there in one and a half.
Andi’s parents had splurged for an apartment just off campus, wanting her to have privacy, to have spare room for them to come visit, to be able to secretly take in her strays to help them recoup before finding them homes. She couldn’t technically keep a pet, but she managed to hold onto some for a little while.
She lived on the fourth floor in a corner unit. I’d texted when I’d pulled into the lot, and I found the door unlocked when I got there.
The apartment had been stark and sterile when I’d helped her parents move her in. Just white walls and gray carpets bought at wholesale. The kitchen was a shoebox, the living space not much better.
I should have known Andi would make it warm. She made everything warm. She’d hung bright, colorful tapestries, scattered dozens of throw pillows around, filled every available space with plants.
Andi herself was nowhere in the common area as I closed and locked the door, leaned down to free Nugget from his leash. Knowing where he was, who lived here, he barreled down the short hall, shooting into the bedroom door.
“Nuggs,” Andi’s small voice called, likely wrapping him up. A low sob escaped her, kicking my right in the chest as I made my way into the doorway, finding her settled in her bed, her blonde hair spread across her pillow, her pretty face snuggled into Nugget’s fur.
Moving in, I kicked out of my shoes, climbing over her on the bed to cram in near the wall, reaching out, dragging her on my chest, my hand going to her hair, sifting through the silky strands.
In high school, Andi had been more concerned with saving animals and getting into veterinary school than dating. A selfish part of me was glad. I wasn’t sure I could stand by and watch her fall for some other guy.
I wasn’t surprised when it got back to me that she’d found someone after only a couple weeks at college. Anyone who didn’t meet her and immediately want to be in her life was a fucking psychopath.
I won’t lie.
It sent me into a five-day-bender that only my hard-as-nails, ex-cage-fighting father could pull me out of, slamming me up against a wall, scarred hand grabbing my chin.
I know you’re hurting, he said, nodding. And I know I taught you to cover hurt with hard. But you can’t throw your fucking life away over this. Get your shit together.
I’d done the best I could.
I’d moved on as well as you could expect while knowing Andi was spending her time with some other guy, time that used to be mine, time that I missed more than I would ever admit.
By all accounts, this relationship had seemed serious.
He was her first real boyfriend.
Likely, her first… everything.
I felt sick whenever I thought about it, gut churning, heart cracking.
I should have been happy for her.
That would be the selfless thing.
Apparently, though, I was a selfish fucking bastard.
We stayed that way in her bed for what felt like forever, the only sounds being Andi’s cries, her sniffling when she tried to pull it together, followed by more cries.
My shirt soaked through before she finally seemed to run out of tears.
“Why didn’t he love me?” she asked, cracking what was left of my heart right down the middle for her.
I couldn’t fucking fathom not loving her, not looking at her and seeing how perfect she was, not knowing your life would be immeasurably better just by being near her.
I would know.
I’d been in love with her since I was two years old.
And it showed no signs of stopping.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, my other arm wrapping her up, holding her tight.
She pulled herself together a few hours later, insisting that she had to get to class, thanking me for coming to ‘rescue her once again,’ then heading out.
She didn’t know it.
I didn’t want to admit it.
But I would never stop wanting to rescue her.
I would never turn away any small chance at getting to be near her, to feast on those scraps of her attention to sustain me through the famine.
With her gone, I leashed Nugget, set him in the car with the engine running, went across campus, found the mother fucker who broke my girl’s heart, beat the ever loving shit out of him for it, then headed back home, back to my life, waiting for the next opportunity to see her again.
It was fucked.
I was fucked.
But when someone had your heart in her hand, what the fuck else were you supposed to do? Move on? I had no idea what that would even look like.
So I did what I could.
I kept living.
I came when she called.
And I pretended it didn’t gut me when she stopped calling so much.
I took care of Nugget.
Until, one day, she came and took him from me.
And I had fucking nothing left.
But the memories.
But the love that refused to die no matter how many different ways I tried to kill it.
So I did the only thing I could.
I did what my father taught me.
I covered it up.
I got hard.
I got so hard that the man I became would never deserve her softness.
I figured knowing she would never want to be with such a miserable bastard would make it possible to finally let go.
It wouldn’t be the first time I would be wrong.
©Jessica Gadziala, 2020