It took a while, but eventually the adrenaline burned away, leaving him feeling drained. He pulled off at an overlook near the peak and scanned the valley below. The twinkling lights of Birch Falls winked back at him; the river shimmered like a dark, pearlescent ribbon in the moonlight.
Johnny took a deep breath, drawing in the chill, clean air. He missed being up here, surrounded by nothing but forests and sky. At one time, he’d spent every summer at the nearby lake with his family. The memories made him smile. He and Michael would leave the cabin at dawn and hike all over this mountain. They’d build elaborate forts, then spend the day playing Army or being spies. Lina would always try to tag along, and they’d try to sneak out without her.
He could still picture her standing there, eyes wide, clutching her stuffed Snoopy, begging to go with them while their mother tried in vain to talk her into doing something else. Neither he nor Michael had ever been good at denying her when she looked at them like that, and more often than not, they’d given in and taken her with them.
Now look at them. Their parents were gone. Lina was married to a biker and one of his best friends. And Michael, well, Michael had taken the whole Army thing to heart and become a goddamned Ranger.
And him? He’d taken over the construction company their father had started. Business was great. Better than great, actually. Not only was it the only place within hundreds of miles that specialized in eco-friendly new construction, his initial forays into the renovation business were looking extremely promising as well.
On paper, he was in a good place. He loved Birch Falls, was surrounded by his family and awesome friends, he had a successful, thriving business, and plenty of female companionship whenever he wanted it.
So why the hell did he feel like something was missing?
He stared out over the valley, watching the lights blink out one by one as people called it a night down below. The question hung in the air, dancing solo. Clearly, the answer wasn’t going to show up anytime soon.
Johnny toed the bike back away from the edge, and started it up. Weariness rippled through him. It had been a hell of a long day. A recent string of bad weather had set them back on their timeline, and he and his guys had been busting their asses to make up some time. As much as he loved the instant gratification he got from construction, sixteen hour days of taxing physical labor took their toll after a while.
Suddenly an hour’s drive down the mountain didn’t seem that appealing. Maybe he’d crash at the cabin instead. Lina had the place all cleaned up and nice, and it wasn’t like he had anything to go home to, anyway. The house would be empty until Michael decided to drag his ass home. If he even came home. Michael came and went as he pleased. Johnny wasn’t sure where Michael spent many of his nights. He didn’t ask, and Michael didn’t volunteer the information.
No longer feeling the need for speed, Johnny kept it within relatively normal limits this time. That sharp edge of adrenalized clarity had dulled significantly, and wrecking his bike (or himself) wasn’t on the agenda. The cabin was only a couple of minutes away, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Murmuring a near-silent thanks at the absence of Lina’s Jag or Kyle’s Harley, Johnny parked his bike in the garage. He loved his sister, and Kyle was cool, but Lina would immediately know something was up and start worrying like a mother hen. And even if she didn’t, Johnny had no desire to be around the newlyweds tonight, not when he was feeling so unsettled.
He let himself inside, surprised to find a light on over the sink and soft music playing. Lina must have left it on; sometimes she did that on the weekends to make it appear as if the place was occupied, especially in the peak summer season. It discouraged potential weekend squatters, not that there were many of those.
Johnny headed straight for the kitchen where he popped open a fresh beer. Now that he was in for the night, he didn’t have to worry if he ended up getting totally, unabashedly shit-faced. He was long overdue.
His eyes brightened at the fully-stocked fridge. He hadn’t even realized he was hungry, but seeing all of his favorite deli meats reminded him that he hadn’t had anything since that burger after work. And she’d even sliced up tomato and lettuce!
Johnny pulled out all of the ingredients for a super-sized Dagwood sandwich and laid them out on the counter. Grabbing the universal remote, he flicked off the soft rock station. He’d never been a fan of the stuff to begin with, and in his current funk, the sweetly romantic lyrics were pissing him off. He switched to some teeth-rattling hard rock. Yeah, that was more like it.
Head bobbing along with the bass, Johnny finished one beer and started another while he munched on his sandwich and looked around. Lina had done a nice job cleaning up the place. For a couple of years after their parents’ untimely deaths, it had sat, unused. Michael was off playing Army for real and Lina had been away. Johnny hadn’t been able to bring himself up here alone.