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Mike met Cleo Little the day she nearly ran him down with her bike while wearing a Spiderman mask. He had slayed his Chem One final that morning and with that beast and his sophomore year in the can, Mike was free to lift celebratory beers with his buddies over at Pinkie Master’s, the local dive bar on Drayton. He headed over through the park toward the fountain when he heard the whirring sound of something moving up fast behind him. A red-faced blur on a bike with playing cards clipped to the spokes barrelled down on him. Mike jumped out of the way, hotter than this summer day in Savannah.
“Hey!” he yelled, “Hey, what’s your problem?” and launched his half-empty water bottle as hard as he could, hitting the rider square in the back. The resounding pop dimmed the success of the perfect land as he flinched in spite of himself.
As a kid, Mike had mastered the fine art of dodging objects thrown by those inclined to use children as target practice when angry and here he had gone and done the same. “Keep running,” his father would yell, loping after him, drunk as forty hells, “It’ll only hurt worse when I catch up with you.” Mike would circle back around and spring out behind him like a feral cat, “Yeah, well here I am, come and get me” and off he’d run before his father had the chance to figure out what in the Sam Hill was going on.
Cleo stamped her left boot on the sidewalk and spun the bike around so fast she nearly hovered above the seat. She hadn’t been knocked around since her days in foster care and by God, she wasn’t about to be knocked around now, especially by losers like this guy, she thought his name was Mike, a college kid who hung around with privileged sorts who pissed every night away at Pinkie’s while she slung drinks at the bar and cleaned toilets after the frat boys closed the place.
Scooping up the water bottle, she bent over the handlebars and began pedalling, first slow and deliberate, then faster, faster, quickening the revolutions until the pedals whirred invisible, totally transparent much like Cleo felt behind her mask, unseen by choice but beautiful with intensity, charging at oppressors who counted her out or sometimes didn’t count her at all, people like this peon who stood dumbstruck in the path of a speeding bike clipped with Hello Kitty playing cards thwack, thwack, thwacking the spokes, sparks flying off the clothespins, this guy named Mike about to be run down by a girl wearing a Spiderman mask. She stood high in the saddle and let out a bloodcurdling banshee cry, aiming the bike directly at him. Mike didn’t budge. At the last possible second, Cleo veered sharp to the left and flew past him, front tire shaking, purplish pink handlebar ribbons streaming at half-mast, her silk dress rippling and waving like a flimsy flag. Whipping back around, she slammed the brakes hard at a line drawn in the concrete, glaring at Mike though the mesh eyeholes of the Spiderman mask. “You are a first-class asshole!” she screamed, crushing the water bottle into his chest.
Mike’s eyes never left hers as he reached into his back pocket to retrieve the Hello Kitty playing card he found outside Pinkie’s a couple of nights back, bent and thrashed,the way cards wear when clipped to bike spokes. “I believe,” he said, “this might belong to you.” Cleo lunged for it, but he tugged back just out of her reach, twirling the card through his fingers like a Vegas magician, teasing her a bit before she snatched it out of his hand. She mounted her bike and shot off across the park into the street. Mike megaphoned both hands around this mouth and shouted after her, “Who are you?” and she replied by flipping him the bird.
Mike watched her grab hold of the back of a Toyota pick-up to hitch a ride, pedal-free. Her ebony hair had escaped the confines of the Spiderman mask and tossed about in a tangle as the truck pulled away with Cleo in tow. Mike didn’t know her name, but was fairly certain he knew where this strange girl was headed. If he cut down Bull to East Harris and east toward Drayton, he very well might surprise himself and be Pinkie Master’s first customer of the day when the bar opened at four.