The springs of the minivan protested as it traveled the rutted old dirt driveway. Brittney silently wondered how her childhood home had held up over the intervening years. Deep forest gave way to unkempt brown withered grass surrounded by a potholed gravel driveway.
Early morning sun filtering through the trees revealed the remains of the porch she had stormed off of 20 years earlier. Missing roof tiles lay scattered among broken slats. The railing supported by just a few remaining posts sagged in unison with deep waves in the old house's roof supports.
'I don't know why your father's lawyer said it had to be done today, there's not much to look at' chimed Brittney's husband Justin from the drivers seat.
'It could have been on the cover of any house and garden magazine when I was a child' replied Brittney. 'I agree, it's not much to see anymore. But, I'll bet the garage behind the house is still in tip top shape.
My father had some strange priorities'.
Silencing the minivan's engine augmented the isolated feel of the surroundings. Humidity regained hold in the summers heat as the cool air escaped from the opened doors. Mounting the first warped steps memories struggled to the forefront of her consciousnesses.
Fights over her choice of friends and clothes gave voice inside her head. The heated exchanges with her father caused rifts that time had never repaired. She felt that in light of her mother's recent tragic death, he had become resentful of her. She hadn't spoken to the man since the day she left. Announcing to the front door as if it could relate the message to him, 'You never gave a damn about me did you? Bikes, rallies, whiskey and that damn patch was all that mattered to you wasn't it?'
As if responding, hinges groaned in protest as she pushed open the front door. Glancing around the living room she saw the overturned coffee table and the broken vase still littered the floor where she had thrown it in heated argument years before. 'Couldn't even clean up, since I wasn't here for "chores" could you?'
All her perceived injustices came flooding back to her. Recent heated exchanges with her own teenage daughter suddenly rang familiar to her ears. 'We are not the same,' echoed down the hall as the voices in her mind responded, 'maybe more than you think'. The dialogue between thoughts and voice were interrupted by Justin's reply 'what did you say?'
Waving her hand toward the backyard she curtly responded 'Go check the garage will you?' Stung by the sudden dismissal in her tone, he headed out to do as asked, leaving her alone to her thoughts.
Walking down the long hallway she noticed that nothing had changed in the house. Though older and faded, pictures along the wall were still crooked as they had been years before. The realization that no one had entered this part of the house in years started to become apparent.
Entering the kitchen brought further proof to her eyes as she noticed the table was set just as she had done so that night all those years ago. 'What did you do, close the doors and never enter again?' she asked. The voice in her head responded 'Certainly appears that way.'
Entering her childhood bedroom the only change was what looked like an old upright gun safe in the corner. Well worn grooves in the floor told the story of many years travel to the safe. The bed had a depression at the foot as if someone had sat there for long periods of time. 'I don't understand.'
Reaching into her pocket she retrieved the letter her fathers lawyer had given her when the will's reading was done. Unfolding it, she read the three numbers. That was all had been written. Looking towards the gun safe she knew it had to be the combination to it. Dialing them on the safe, she became aware that the numbers corresponded to the date 11-27-92, the day she had left home.
Swinging open the door, the well greased hinges were absent of sound which told her this had been a well-used safe. Stacks of letters sealed with rally and commemorative pins filled the safe almost to the top. Removing the top envelope, she unclasped the pin and opened the contents: flyers for a recent rally held in Prescott, Arizona several months earlier. The dates read August 12 and 13. It had been the same town and date of her recent college graduation. 'Bet you didn't even know I was there, did you? she said aloud. Unfolding the enclosed letter caused a picture to fall to the floor. The writing on the back said Masters degree in Finance with top honors. Overturning the photo she saw that it was of her giving her valedictory speech. 'What the hell, you were there?'
Grasping a stack of letters off the top, she began checking the dates and locations. Most dates matched pivotal moments in her life, some did not. The first was a letterhead from her place of employment.
Inside was a letter addressed to her father:
To Dan "Scooter" Wilson:
I have received the letters and recommendations you have sent.
I agree she is highly qualified and would be a perfect fit for employment here.
She will be hired for the position.
Love and respect Brother,
John 'Cowboy" Peters
See you at church.
'What the hell, my boss is a patch-holding Hellrider?' Opening further letters revealed the high school Guidance counselor, the admissions director at college, various teachers, professors all were Hellrider members. Yet more envelopes showed correspondence with many of her former employers. And ride pins matching the dates.
'My God, I wish I had known'
Now she was intrigued as to the dates she didn't recognize. She found more letters addressed to her father:
Your daughter's car broke down outside of town.
Roach and I provided assistance and got her going again.
We are still looking out for her as asked.
She still don't care for bikers, but accepted the help begrudgingly.
Love and Respect
Roach and Popstart
P.S. Here's the pin for that day.
'Are you kidding me, them too?' She opened yet another.
My daughter Vicki assisted Brittney in her selection of a wedding dress.
She looks fabulous.
The dress she wanted was sold to her at half cost and we are forwarding the bill's
remainder to the club as instructed. Enclosed is a photo of her in the dress.
The clubs pin maker has been instructed as to the design.
Love and respect,
P.S. "our Daughter" is making us all proud!
'Our daughter, what could she mean by that?'
Retrieving the pin attached to the photo, she saw the it was indeed in the shape of her
wedding dress. The photo had slight water damage from faint droplets.
The source of the droplets burst forth in her minds eye. 'Oh Daddy, you cried?'
Others followed with similar writings; assistance carrying groceries...another pin. Help moving furniture...pin. No matter how inconsequential the help. In all aspects of her life where a little help was needed, it was provided. Mostly by 'prospects' of the Hellriders. And a custom-made pin for every single event.
The club and her father had always been there for her. She had never known. Believing herself to be self-made and fiercely independent she had always considered herself bereft of family ties. The realization of her 'family' had weakened her knees, landing on the well sunken spot upon her bed.
She understood it all. He had followed her directive, "Don't ever contact me again" But, a fathers love can't be constrained. He did all that had been available to him.
Reaching the final letter in the safe, she saw it was addressed to her:
I tried to honor your wishes. But as you now know, I couldn't completely. I love you too much.
I'm proud of the woman you have become. I even like the man you married. And damn! What amazing grandchildren I have!!
They will make mistakes in life, just be there for them. That's all one can do. You will love them in good times or bad. Don't let anger separate you.
As time moves forward you may have many questions and or regrets in life. Don't, as it took me a lifetime to understand. Regrets are yesterdays choices. Todays are the ones that matter.
If I can make one final request of you, please check behind the back gate before you leave.
Tears fell from her eyes staining the letters as she carefully refolded and inserted the contents, reattached each pin and closed the safe. Holding a photo of him, she spoke, 'Daddy, your grand-daughter is in trouble, but, I suspect you already knew. She is as I was at her age. I won't allow her to make the same mistake. I promise.'
Reaching for her phone, she placed a long-overdue call. 'Heather, it's Mom. When I get home, you and I really need to talk. I love you.'
Walking towards the garage her husband Justin met her on the path. 'You were right, honey, his garage is immaculate. He has a helluva bike back there. Looks like that's all he ever cared about.'
Brittney grabbed Justin's shirt, pulling him close to her face, 'Don't you ever speak of my father like that again!'
Stunned Justin just stood there as she opened the back gate. Her heart skipped a beat at what she saw: over two hundred motorcycles and hundreds of bikers applauding her arrival.
'Who the hell are they?' he asked. 'That', she replied 'is my family.'