Nolan: Return to Signal Bend (Signal Bend)

Nolan: Return to Signal Bend (Signal Bend)

Susan Fanetti

To eveyone who’s been on Nolan’s side since he was a boy.

I hope he became a man you can be proud of.

One word

Frees us of all the weight and pain of life:

That word is love.

~ Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus


The cold was bitter, but the sky was clear, and Nolan rode into the night.

He liked riding in the cold, liked the feel of the wind so sharp it might almost cut his face. It braced him, made him feel like he was vying against the elements and holding his own.

It wasn’t winter yet, officially, but the cold had come in fast and hard. There had been little snow or ice, however, so he’d kept riding, even as his Night Horde brothers, especially the older among them, garaged their Harleys and started driving trucks everywhere.

Nolan rode up Highway 68, over the hills and around the bends, alone on the road, no company but the stars. Often in the night he just rode, with no destination in mind, no purpose but to get right with his head for a while. But on this night, he knew where he was going.

When he arrived where he’d been headed, he pulled off onto a narrow gravel lane mounded in dead leaves and rode slowly under a canopy of the skeletal trees from which they’d fallen. At the end of the lane, he parked and walked into the dark. The light of the star-filled sky was enough to guide him; he knew the way by heart.

He walked to the top of a hill and sat down on the frozen ground. From this vantage, he could see most of Signal Bend spread out below, beyond the rolling expanse of acres of sleeping farmland. Over his head was that infinite dome of starry sky. He lay back and crossed his arms under his head.

“Hey, Ani,” he whispered.

He hated this night. Four years ago on this night, he’d lost the first woman he’d loved. Maybe the only one he ever would.

The date on her headstone in California was two days later, but that didn’t matter. It was on this night four years ago that he’d woken to find her dying at his side. It was on this night that he’d held her as the light faded from her eyes. It didn’t matter that machines had kept her body going longer. Analisa had left him while he’d held her.

While they were together, she’d gotten a tattoo on her back, an inscription: We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands. Those words had been important to her, especially as she’d known her death was closing in. Since she’d gone, and he’d come home, Nolan rode out here on clear nights, where the stars filled the sky and seemed to nearly touch the ground, when he needed to be alone and remember.

On the anniversary of the day they’d met. And on this day. And sometimes just because.

He hadn’t had her love very long. Just a few months. And now, four years later, it seemed like he would never want anyone else’s.

Lying on the dead grass, the cold leaching up from the earth and into his bones, Nolan stared up at the stars. He didn’t talk; he wasn’t up here to have a conversation, and he didn’t really believe she could hear him, anyway. He just felt close here, and it was enough.

Well, not enough. Not at all. But all he had.

When the cold finally got to be too much, and he could feel his body going stiff, Nolan sat up. Pulling off a glove, he opened his coat and dug under the neckline of his thermal, catching a leather cord between his fingers and pulling it into the open. A little silver star, studded with diamonds. Analisa’s father had given it to him at the cemetery. It had been her mother’s, and then hers. Now it was his.

He kissed it, whispering, “Love you, babe.” Then he put it away, zipped up his coat, pulled on his glove, and stood. After one more look up at the stars, Nolan turned and went back to his bike.

He hated this night. There was only one day of the year he hated more.


“Morning, Mom.”

Nolan leaned in and kissed his mother’s cheek as she stood at the range, frying sausage patties in a cast-iron skillet. She was burning them, as usual. The smell of burnt meat wrestled with the strong aroma of cinnamon. He figured there were Pillsbury cinnamon rolls in the oven, too.

“Hey, kiddo. Not in the mood for the Friday night scene at the clubhouse last night, I guess. You doing okay this morning?”

His mom knew what last night was, and what he’d needed to do. Normally, he lived at the Horde clubhouse, but he kept his room here, too, and sometimes he just needed to be home, to wake up to his mom and his little brother and a marginally decent breakfast.

Friday nights were party nights at the clubhouse, and the day after Thanksgiving was a big blowout party. The last place on earth Nolan could have dealt with last night.

“Yeah, I’m good.” He picked up a patty from the stack of paper towels on the counter beside the range and popped it into his mouth. He liked burnt sausage; he’d been surprised when he’d found out they came any other way.

As he poured himself a cup of coffee, a din arose from the other room. His little brother, Loki, was at his drum set.

“LOKE! NO!” their mom yelled. “Not before breakfast!” The din stopped, and she turned a long-suffering grimace on Nolan. “I still can’t believe you did that.”

He’d gotten his brother the kit for his tenth birthday that summer. Nolan grinned innocently back at his mom. “What? He loves ‘em. And he’s getting okay at it. He’d be better if you’d let me get him real lessons. Couple years, who knows? You two could start a band.”

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