Hitting the mat stings a lot more than most think, but I didn’t feel it anymore. “Kierra, give it a rest. You’ve already defied physics. You don’t have to prove physics wrong.” Blood dripped onto the blue mat. It looked like wet ink droplets. My hand ran across my nose quickly before Liz saw, wiping the stain on my black shirt. “You’re going to kill yourself if you keep it up.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t care when I’m dead.” I sat down on my knees, letting my racing heart slow to a steady heavy bass rhythm. “Toss me a water.” Liz was already sidelined, cooling down with stretches.
She rolled backwards to the wall and grabbed my store bought water and her pink metal water bottle. An easy toss sent the bottle flying in my direction. Giving into the burn of my muscles, I lay down on my back after downing half the bottle. “So what are you wearing tonight?”
“This isn’t good enough?” a grin spread over my lips as I teased her. Liz thought I was socially impaired so she regularly turned me into the third wheel with her and her boyfriend, Brent. You might think this is embarrassing, but Liz and I are practically sisters. We hang out more than we work and always more than she sees Brent most weeks.
However, some of it isn’t entirely by choice. We’re dancers. No. Not strippers. Dancers. Liz and I have been dancing since before we started walking. We had been friends since we met in Baby Tumblers. Soon as we were able to talk we were in ballet.
Ballet was everything. So much of everything we both ended up being home schooled by my mom. Our playground was the studio. We were in ballet for six years before Liz’s mom put her into gymnastics to get rid of her for a few more hours each week. A week of begging later and I was enrolled with her. We were ballerina rhythmic dancers from then on. It wasn’t long and we discovered hip hop and contemporary.
You see, Liz loves dancing. It’s going to make the girl famous one day. I, on the other hand, am obsessed. When I’m awake, I’m either dancing or studying dance. When I’m asleep, I dream about it. If I’m unable to do any of the three, I think about dance.
“Don’t tease me, Chick! You know what, I’m not even gonna risk it. You’re coming home with me so I can know you pass standards when we go out.” I laughed as I stretched my leg up over my head and eased it back to touch my toes to the mat.
“Whatever, but I’m taking the bike.” Oh. My bike is my other true love. You’ll see what I mean. “Are we going to Buba’s?” Buba’s is not a fat man grease factory, it’s a night club. It’s one of our usual dance spots.
“No, not tonight. Brent wants to shoot some pool with the guys so we’re going to Devil Dogs.” Uhg. Brent was a good guy, don’t get me wrong. But I sucked at pool. Brent was twenty, just three short months away from legality, not that his age stopped him. He worked at the wharf. Five-nine with dirty blonde hair, and copper colored eyes.
The two seemed good together. They’d been together for two years. Liz was a young and tiny Kate Hudson with Bambie eyes.
We’ve never really matched each other. She’s naturally blonde and pale. The perfect Ballerina Barbie. I’m naturally olive tan and this year so far my hair’s been two-tone with dark maroon underneath and black capped. My eyes are denim blue and more anime than doe eyed like hers.
Liz was fifteen before I could convince her to get her ears pierced. I was fifteen when I bought my first fake ID to go get a tattoo. A butterfly the size of my thumbnail on my neck angled low behind my left ear. I have nine piercings ranging between my ears and belly button.
We weren’t best friends because we both danced or because opposites attract. We were best friends because we’d always been there for each other. She was there for me when my parents died in a car crash when I was twelve. I was in the car. They said I was lucky. I didn’t understand how watching your parents die could possibly be lucky. Still don’t. I was there for her when she needed to get away from her stepdad and the many abusive boyfriends that followed. I was even there when her brother called her on her eighteenth birthday. He needed bailed out of jail. We were best friends because no matter what happened, we took care of one another.
Liz probably sounded like the quiet sweet little girl next door. Yeah. She wasn’t. She could win an award for world’s best sorority girl, if she went to a college with a sorority that is. Neither of us could afford to go to Julliard so we said screw it. Instead, we taught a large multi-genre dance class together on Wednesdays, and due to a competition that was a few months out, we held extra classes two more times a week.
Tuesday nights we taught Latin dance for beginners and intermediate ballet Sunday nights. Outside of that, I was a tutor and Liz a waitress. It all paid the bills.
Liz held up to her promise. Back at her house after we’d each had showers her hair got curled while mine got straightened. She begged me to wear a skirt and some sparkly silky top but I won with a pair of black camo shorts a hot pink tank top and one of her black see-through, mesh, off the shoulder dance tops.
Devil Dogs was busy, but Brent’s friends had a pool table before we’d even got there. Mike and Corey. Mike loved hitting on me but only because he hadn’t nailed me yet. Corey was afraid of girls. They were both good looking guys and fun to hang around. I loved dating. There was just no time for it. Neither were my type anyway. My lack of dating was one of my friends’ favorite ways to tease me.
“So come on, Liz. You know our little Kierra better than anyone else. She keeps turnin me down. What am I missin?” Mike leaned over the table to take his shot as he casually taunted me.
“Sorry, honey, you just ain’t her type. I keep tellin you.” Liz smiled almost wickedly, giving me a wink. Brent leaned against her with one arm draped over her shoulders. He grinned over at me with a half lit laugh. Brent had started drinking before we’d gone out. He usually did.
As usual, I ignored them. My gaze moved over the room for the hundredth time that night, scanning past another table two rows from ours. It wasn’t exactly intentional but I’d been looking over there all night.
Our eyes would lock. He’d smile. I’d try not to. We’d look away. Liz came up and took my hand to dance. Our hips locked together twisting to the side. Our hands, still twined, rose as she spun in a circle on her toes. The girl wore heels everywhere. She was nuts. I stuck with my Ed Hardy high-tops often as I could.
Liz’s arms looped my neck, leaning close to me. “I see you scopin, Chick. Damn, you got good taste!” I laughed, grinning like an idiot. “He’s watching. Come on!” she squealed in excitement.
“Liz, no!” My heels dug into the carpet as she dragged me just past our pool table. Making things worse, I watched his buddy’s elbow nudge him and motion with his head to us before signing with his hands. I knew sign language pretty decently but I had missed what his friend said that made him laugh. He looked back at me with more interest than before. “I’m gonna kill you, woman.”
“You’re gonna owe me!” People were already backing up away from us. Liz was well known almost everywhere she went. Believe it or not, of the two of us she’s the exuberant one. At least the song was hot. Rihanna really could talk that talk.
See the difference in ballet and hip hop is not just the music. It’s the lines. Ballet is soft lines. Hip hop is hard lines and hard pops. I like to mix things up. My favorite was to mix contemporary and hip hop.
Soon as her voice came on after the first count I did a walk over back hand spring slowly. Without hands. As I came up on the land, Liz came in behind me. Her hips could move in any direction like an inverted bobble head. Grabbing my hips, she guided mine with hers. When she dipped low, I twisted my torso nearly around almost a hundred and eighty degrees and dropped my shoulders back.
My hands ran through my hair as our hips rocked and she slid up me like a snake on a pole. The DJ spun in another track and cut in the next song so the two rang together in perfect flow.
Have you ever had it happen where the perfect song comes on and you don’t even think? Your body just moves. Right there in Devil Dogs, you would have thought Liz and I were on stage.
As usual, Mike came up and took Liz’s place as Brent grabbed her bouncing hips and kept her against him as he waited for his next shot. Anyway, I was done. Turning my back on them, I grabbed my Red Bull can and used it to hide my hand wiping the trickle of blood away from my nose. As I waved goodbye, Mike played the puppy face, which he did well but it only made me laugh. It was all in good fun.
My feet kept twisting as I stood at the bar, waiting patiently with a five in my fingers. As I stood there, I kept pressing my hand to my nose, checking for blood. The bartender was having way too much fun with this song. One shot two shot three shot four, he flipped a bottle of vodka around while filling shot glasses. I couldn’t believe it but the guy was moon walking to Eminem behind the bar. He grabbed two shot glasses and set them in front of me.
“No. I just want a Red Bull.” The bartender ignored me and filled both glasses. He slid one past me to a guy who came up next to me. The bartender took the other shot as he went on about his business. I sighed, thoroughly annoyed and thoroughly ignored. “Asshole.” It was another ten minutes before he bothered getting me a drink.
It was just Mike and Corey at the table when I got back. Great. I looked around but my little blonde was nowhere to be seen. Neither was her favorite Neanderthal.
The other guy was still at his table. He was playing pool and off in his own world, which was good because I stood nearby, watching him. He was good. Really good. When he played, his brow got all heavy set and serious as he focused. It was like nothing but that table existed. No people, no sounds. Just the table.
His friend played total distress at his loss when he sunk four before the eight. Neither of them said a word. All they did was sign. It was fascinating to watch. His friend’s head bobbed with the music as his foot tapped the floor off beat. Hm. So he wasn’t deaf. His friend caught my eyes and gave a big cheesy smile and a wink. Ah hell. Beatless caught me.
I gave a partial waive and tried to seem interested in something else. Mike and Corey’s games lasted a lot longer than theirs had. The rhythm impaired guy at the other table waived for my attention and pointed at the table. His friend looked up and smiled, holding out his pool cue. I shook my head before looking back over to see Corey scratch. “Damn it!”
“That was the eight. Chick, you’re up!” Mike seemed pleased with a mischievous grin spread over his lips.
“You know I suck, right.”
“Don’t tease me.” My eyes rolled. “I’ll tell you what, Kierra. I’ll let you play slop, and I’ll call my shots. If you win, I’ll back off you. For a while anyway.” He grinned. “If I win, you gotta let me take you out.”
“How long is a while? A year?” Tempting offer if I could get lucky enough to win. However, Mike wasn’t that good. I had a moderate chance.
“Shit. I was thinking a month.”
“How bout three?”
It hadn’t started well for me. I got to break which was good but it hadn’t worked in my favor. I sunk nothing. Worst yet, I had an audience. The guys at the other table were watching… and snickering. My eyes narrowed. They realized they were caught. Beatless went on with his next shot.
The other one held up a glass and pointed from it to me. He wanted to buy me a drink. Really? I fought the burn in my cheeks down as I held up my M marked hand. He smiled and shrugged. I held up my empty Red Bull and shrugged back before pretending to take a drink. He shook his head and went on with his game.
Mike and I were at a temporary stalemate. He couldn’t hit what he called. I couldn’t hit anything. Corey was eating a burger and cracking verbal shots at Mike as he watched. I guess it worked. Mike sunk two in a row. Shit. I stood there chewing my lip nervously. I missed my shot and scratched.
When I was done, Beatless and his friend were silently talking and watching, but not me. They were watching our table. He looked up at me with a slow smile that could have melted the iceberg that took down the Titanic. Pointing at me, he crooked his finger. Hell no. My brow arched skeptically.
His hands went together to say please. Awe. Damn it, stop that, Kierra! I shrugged and pointed to the pool table, circling my fist over my chest. ‘Sorry’ his hand held over his chest as he tried to look heartbroken. Cute.
Not long later, I was seriously close to losing against Mike. I was nervous. Okay, I probably seem like a real bitch but I just didn’t want to go out with the guy. Mike’s a good friend. And coming from a girl’s point of view he’s not bad looking and he’s funny. This is the point of view before dating Mike. Afterwards, most girls think he’s nothing more than a hound dog. Chase em, date em, screw em, lose em.
It’s not like I’m a prude. I’ve had boyfriends. I’m not a virgin, and I like guys. But I burned out on the life of speed-dating early. The year after my parents died, once I crawled out of my self-loathing depression, I discovered the world of boys. I wasn’t clingy. I was worse than Mike actually. I couldn’t tolerate one guy more than two weeks.
By age seventeen, I was running out of guys in North Carolina, and I was burned out on dating altogether. I moved out of my aunts to her huge relief and used my inheritance to get me moved back into my mom and dad’s old place. It was weird at first, but it was home. And best of all, the basement had been turned into a studio for Liz and I when we were kids and it was huge. After that my only social life was Liz, her friends, and my dance classes.
It’s been two years since I’ve been on a date now. I’m perfectly happy with that. Perfectly happy, I lied to myself.
My hand ran through my two-tone hair anxiously when I felt someone pull the pool cue out of my other hand from behind. “Hey.” In place of the pool cue, a freezing cold can of Red Bull was placed in my hand. My brow furrowed as Mr. Tall Dark and Quiet turned away from me and to the table.
Mike looked amused more than annoyed. But only slightly more. Mike turned to Beatless. “Trevor man, your boy’s stompin my game!” Okay. Trevor, not Beatless.
“Sorry, dude. Sean’s a persistent shit.” Sean. Good to know. Sean ignored them both. He focused solely on the table. First shot he tapped the cue on the opposite corner pocket. It was in. Another tap on the wall then the side pocket. Banked. He missed the next but barely. Mike took one and scratched. He didn’t get another shot.
Once Sean was done, he leaned the pool cue against the table and turned towards me. His hand held out for mine. He looked confident if not for the quiet doubt in his eyes. My hand laid into his hesitantly. The warmth of his hand spread up my arm, tingling, as his fingers wrapped firmly around mine.
Sean led me over to a table in the corner. ‘You sign?’ His brow arched curiously as he asked with his hands. I nodded, moving my fist. ‘Yes.’
‘That’s awesome. How did I get so lucky?’ His smile stretched wide. It wasn’t teasing in the slightest.
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s rare I meet very many people who can sign. Let alone someone so incredibly beautiful. What’s your name?’
‘Kierra.’ It took me a minute to spell it out right. ‘You’re Sean?’ He nodded. ‘For a guy who doesn’t say much, you talk a smooth game.’
‘Beautiful and brutal. Ouch. You know I was afraid you might be interested in my friend. You kept turning me down.’
‘No way. I thought he was the one that had trouble hearing. Guy’s got horrible rhythm.’
Sean laughed and nodded. ‘He always has. You obviously don’t though.’
My hands hid my face a second before running through my hair. I know I shouldn’t have been embarrassed, but I couldn’t help it. ‘My friend saw you looking at us. She likes to show off. In fact, she lives for it.’
He shook his head with a slight grin. ‘Never noticed her. I was looking at you.’ His hand reached out slowly and let his fingers brush the back of mine. Fighting a smile, I rested my chin in my other hand just as someone slammed into me from behind.
Sean jumped up just as I did. “Liz, what the hell?!” Her hands clung to mine so tight it was painful as I turned to look at her. She reeked of alcohol. “Oh God what happened?” Blood trickled down from her forehead leading to a bright red swollen cheek. “Liz, who did this?” My first thought was Brent, and the second thought was where I would hide his body when I was done with him.
She was stammering and jerking on my arms as she backed up for the stairs, dragging me with her. I forgot about Sean instantly. “They’re gonna kill him, Kierra! You’ve gotta help me!” I bolted with her so fast that my barstool had toppled over.
We shoved past people as we ran. I knocked into one girl so hard she fell down. I didn’t pause as I yelled sorry and pushed past the crowd coming into the bar to get outside with Liz. She held my hand in hers as we ran around the side of the building and to the back lot.
Liz let go and hit the wall as I kept running. You see most dancers are very small. Over all, we’re very petite. However, most of us are strong as hell. I wasn’t exactly an exception. In fact I was strong even for a dancer.
I ran up and jumped fast and quiet. My foot hit the meat of his calf muscle so hard that he buckled and hit his knees on the ground as he yelled out. Three guys were beating the hell out of Brent. To my incredible luck, the biggest one jumped up and grabbed me by the shoulders. My knee came up but missed his groin. I still nailed his thigh bone hard. Lifting me right off my feet, he slammed my body down on the hood of Liz’s Honda. The thunder of the metal seemed to bellow in my ears.
Pinning me down with his body, he grabbed my hair in one hand and my throat in the other. Strangely, I thought I could hear the fight get louder. My fists beat on him but he barely even flinched. The guy took a hit like a pro. It hurt my fists and his head more every time I hit him but I was getting weaker each millisecond. My head was throbbing. In seconds all I could focus on was that I couldn’t breathe and my head was going to pop.
My hands wrapped around his large wrist, nails slowly digging into his skin, desperate to peel him off of me. And then he was gone. I was left gasping so painfully it took a moment to realize he was pulled off of me by force.
Sean was there hitting him over and over again. I’d never seen two guys in such a slugging match. The guy he’d pulled off of me was much bigger than Sean. No matter how much Sean threw at him he fought back. Then someone screamed the cops were coming. Maybe it was stupid but I jumped into the fight wrapping myself around Sean’s shoulders. Someone else grabbed the other guy almost at the same time.
Liz was screaming and pulling Brent off another. The third was unconscious, collapsed on the ground. The one Brent was on was barely conscious and groaning as she drug his stumbling ass backward. Liz got Brent shoved into the backseat as I pulled Sean around to push him into the front passenger seat of her car. Liz shoved her keys into my hand as I heard sirens.
We were at my house in five minutes. It should have taken twenty. By then, Brent’s adrenaline was positively gone, therefore he was passed out. Liz wasn’t much better off. Sean helped me get them inside and on the couch.
In twenty minutes I had them patched up. I had the blood and makeup scrubbed off Liz’s face and a Band-Aid on her eyebrow. Brent was much worse off. It took lots of iodine and a couple stitches to fix him up. I’ve had experience before. Luckily he was passed out for this part.
Once I was done, Sean helped me haul them both to the room that had been declared Liz’s long ago. She didn’t live here, but she kept clothes here and it was a safe place to crash when she needed it. I stripped their shoes. The rest they could suffer with.
‘Sit at the counter.’ Sean smirked as he complied. There was a gash above his eye on his forehead. It looked like he’d taken a few punches by a brick wall. I cleaned up the mess of their first aid supplies before walking over to him.
‘I’m all right. You don’t have to worry about me. You should sit down.’ I leaned on the counter while opening an iodine swab. His hands placed on my hips. Before I could argue, Sean lifted me up and set me on the counter. “You need to sit down,” his voice sounded like warm honey.
He was right. My head was pounding and I was dizzy as hell. The swab fell to the floor as I swayed and grabbed his forearms when he lifted me. “Whoa,” I breathed out. His hand came up to my cheek, gently lifting my chin. There was no need for me to look, I could feel the bruises. His mouth puckered into a frown as he opened a small antibacterial wipe and ran it along my upper lip and up to my nose.
‘I’m fine.’ My hand pushed his away. ‘Please let me do this.’
“I can read lips, Kierra.” Sean grinned as his fingers slid into mine, linking our hands together to keep me from signing.
“Fine. Please let me do this.” He smiled faintly and nodded. His hand let go of mine and placed onto my waist as I reached for another iodine swab, pulling the wrapper off carefully. He didn’t flinch once while I played doctor.
“Does it need stitches?” He watched my mouth and nothing else.
“No, the cut’s wide but not too deep. I’ll put some blood-clotter on it. That should stop the bleeding.” I was gentle as I sprinkled the powder and carefully pat it down. My hand placed to his temple as I blew on it lightly.
“You’re quite the doctor.” His hand came back up to my chin lifting it slightly. “How do you feel?”
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t meet his eyes and it took everything I had to keep my hands from shaking me to the core. “I’m okay.” His hands replaced to my hips as he pulled me off the counter and put me back to my feet. My hands grabbed his arms as I steadied myself and my knees nearly buckled.
Sean sighed heavily. Turning my back to him, he held softly to my ribs as he walked me forward. “You really need to sit down and relax.” We sat down on the opposite ends of the couch, facing one another. When I tried to pull my feet under me, he gently took my ankles and laid them over his legs. “I’m sorry you got hurt. I should have tried to be faster. I had to tell Trevor I was leaving.” His eyes lingered on my neck, reaching out to inspect me again. His fingers were surprisingly light against my throat.
“Sean?” His brow arched slightly as he waited for me to continue. “Why did you help us? You jumped into a fight for people you don’t even know.”
Slowly, his knuckles brushed my neck until his hand was cupping my throat gently. Without really thinking about it, I leaned into his hand. It didn’t hurt. Somehow, it made my neck feel better.
“I just reacted. I should have been faster. I’m sorry.” Slowly a grin spread over his lips. “You know, I have never seen a girl do what you did. You didn’t even hesitate when you jumped that guy. I’ve got to say it was kind of hot.”
My cheeks went red as I laughed. “Just kind of? Damn, and here I thought I’d accomplished something.”
“Well I thought you may throw me out if I said it was incredibly sexy.”
“No actually, I can’t let you leave.” I moved closer to him slowly. One hand reached up to brush his forehead. “See you might have a concussion. I can’t let you be alone. Unless you’ve got a girlfriend waiting for you that could take care of you?”
His hands placed onto my hips and pulled me into his lap, angled so he could see me. “No girlfriend I’m afraid. Guess I have to stay. Unless your boyfriend is going to come in any minute and kick my ass?”
“You’re afraid to get into a fight?” He grinned mischievously and shrugged. “There’s no boyfriend.”
“Good to know. So tell me where you learned to do all of that? The first aid, the stitches… Beating the shit out of guys three times your size?” Smiling, his fingers slid up and down my arm lightly. Carefully brushing the purple bruises.
It was sort of a long story so I tried to focus on signing while I spoke. More importantly, I tried to focus on what I was signing. It had been a couple years and needless to say I was rusty. “I’ve learned by necessity. I had a tendency to get hurt a lot growing up as well as surround myself by other people who got hurt a lot. Stitches aren’t hard if you don’t think about what you’re sewing.”
“Why so many injuries?”
“I’m a dancer for one thing. For another, I used to get into a lot of trouble when I was a kid. Which incited many accidents.”
“Lucky for your friends.” One hand came up and brushed the hair from my face. “Not too many people would throw themselves into a fight like that just to try and protect someone. I hope they appreciate how fortunate they are to have you in their lives.”
“Look who’s talking.” He smirked, dropping his hand down onto my own, which was shaking too much to make any sense I was sure. His hands were hard, calloused, very warm and dry. “I’ve known Liz all my life. I’d do anything for her.” I looked down at our hands for a moment. “Where did you learn to fight like that? I kept hitting that guy but he never even flinched.”
“Yeah I noticed that.” He seemed lost in thought for a moment on that note. “I’ve been fighting most my life. I’m a boxer. Well, was a boxer. Joined the Marines. Boxed for the Marines before I got deployed,” Sean explained.
“Iraq?” I asked. He spoke very clearly. Sometimes his voice lacked normal influx but it was obvious he hadn’t been deaf all his life. This obviously proved that.
“Afghanistan. Shkin Firebase or Firebase Lilley we called it.” Sean tensed a little. His hand around mine had tightened but I don’t think he realized it.
“Is that where it happened?” He knew what I meant. He nodded tersely. “Forget I asked. I’m sorry.” My other hand circled my chest. I wanted him to know I really meant it.
“It’s all right. I’ve been out now for a year. I was Tech Ops Communications. We were under attack. Not an unusual occurrence on that base, mind you. I was at my desk with my Sergeant. Then suddenly there was an explosion. My Sergeant was dead, plus three others and six were critically injured. They said I was lucky. I lost my hearing. Most others lost body parts or their lives.” He shook his head. His hand pulled away from mine and ran over his face.
Reaching out to touch him I pulled his hand down. ‘Do you want some water?’
“No. I’m fine.” He forced a tight smile as he looked at me. “Really. I’m all right.” His hand brushed my cheek. “Who taught you to sign?” His arms went around me, pulling me closer to him.
“My mother. She was a teacher. Since it was obvious my life was going to be focused on dance and the strict hours of public school were holding me back, she started home schooling me, and eventually Liz, too. Mom left teaching professionally because she’d lost most of her hearing in an accident when she was thirty so she taught me sign as she learned it. Tried to teach Liz but she just never caught on.”
“That’s awesome that she’s so supportive. She must be really proud of you.” My whole body tensed. He picked it up instantly. “What did I say?”
‘She’s dead.’ My hands could say what I couldn’t. ‘She and my father died when I was twelve. It was a long time ago. It’s not that big of a deal.’
“Yes it is.” He laid his head back against the wall, but he kept his face angled so he could look at me. “I’ve been there so you don’t have to lie to me.”
‘You lost someone?’
“Mom had cancer. Died when I was eight. Dad shot himself on their anniversary three months later to the day. So it was just me and my two sisters. We moved into my granddad’s. He was a drunk but still a decent guy. He lost my mom right after our grandmother. He kept us out of foster care but that was about all he was capable of. It broke him. All he could manage was to stay alive for us. We were all he had. That he couldn’t do more seemed to make him worse over the years. Eventually my sisters moved off, got married and had their own families. I think it’s been at least three years since either of them has stepped foot in North Carolina.”
He looked down at me with a slight smile. “It was a long time ago. Still a big deal.” His hand came up and brushed through my hair. “So what happened?”
“Car crash.” I cast my eyes away from him. Anywhere but at him. ‘I was in the car. They said I was lucky.’
“Life sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?” All I could do was nod. Of course next to him how could I complain? He’d been through so much more. “So do you have any other family?”
I nodded. Taking a deep breath I continued with my hands but at least this time I could say it. “My brother, Chris. He wasn’t there. That day he was at his friend’s house. And my aunt. She took us in. Heh, not that she was very happy about it. We weren’t the greatest kids to have around after that.”
“Grief can change a person.” I shrugged which made him chuckle. “Are you always so tough?”
“I’m not tough.” I shook my head like the idea was baffling.
“You are. But you don’t have to be. At least not all of the time.”
We sat and talked till the sun rose about anything and everything. Family mostly, old stories of past times that we’d all but forgotten in trying to forget the bad with it. We hadn’t meant to really. But before I knew it I was yawning and it was getting light out. I lay down against his chest watching the sky change colors. I don’t remember falling asleep. I just remember lying against him with his chin resting on top of my head and his arms around mine.
Only when I finally woke up, he was gone.
“Morning, sweetie.” Liz kissed my cheek and stole the cup of coffee out of my hands.
I grabbed another mug and turned back for the pot as she climbed onto the bar stool. “Hey, honey.”
“Uhg, I feel like hell.” She sipped on the coffee while reaching for the half empty bottle of aspirin on the counter. Next to that was a bottle of Aleve, a bottle of IB Profin and a mecha sized bottle of Tylenol. I’d already popped some myself.
After I got my coffee, I pulled a bottle of water from the fridge and tossed it to her. “If you’re hung over, drink that before the coffee.” I’m experienced. I don’t drink any more though. I sobered up when I realized what it was doing to my dancing. Ironically I got sober and Liz learned what partying meant. I didn’t approve but I had no room to preach.
Fortunately, she did listen to me about this sort of thing. She downed the water and then went to work on the coffee. “How’s your head, Lizzy?”
“Freakin hurts. Feels like I got clobbered by a baseball player tryin out for the all-stars.” Liz laid her head down on her arms stretching a big yawn. “You know, Chick, I’m really sorry about what happened last night. Least you didn’t get hurt, right?”
Liz wasn’t very observant, and I loved that about her. I could relax that way and not worry about her noticing some things. My neck looked awful and she probably wouldn’t ever see it. But, what she lacked in observation skills she made up for in persistence. “So what happened with that hottie anyway?”
“Well… how much do you remember exactly? In fact start from the time you left the bar cause you two disappeared pretty early on.” Brent grunted his morning hello through the hall as he sleep-walked to the bathroom for a shower. Brent kept clothes here, too, since I was usually their DD.
One might question why not just have them move in. But I don’t want a roommate. I don’t want to stress on them owing me money. I don’t want to stress on their mess. I don’t want to deal with fridge space debates or what’s mine is mine – what’s yours is yours crap. I don’t want to deal with any of that. I’m selfish with my living space. Guests only.
The house was big enough for it though with two small bedrooms, one master bedroom which was mine, and a huge bathroom. One of the bedrooms Liz had claimed with a full sized mattress and a closet, the other was overrun with boxes. Boxes I had hated packing in the first place and boxes I hadn’t gone through since. It was what was left of my mom and dad’s stuff. All dad’s awards he’d won as a journalist. The trophies he’d won as a kid playing sports of all kinds. My mom’s books, and her fine china. Her sewing machine was set up in the only space in the room that had been cleared with a giant stack of bolts loaded with fabric. I used it to make and fix clothes for my girls for dance competitions, recitals, and had even made a few things for myself.
Liz sighed heavily, taking a slow drink of coffee. “Well… we’d had a couple drinks.” They always snuck liquor in. “And well, Brent wanted to fool around so we went outside to my car. We were sitting on the hood, just making out. Then these guys came up and I heard them but we ignored them.” Coffee break. “And then they started yelling at us. Me mostly. And you know how Brent can be with other guys.” Jealous. Possessive. Cave man-ish. Yup, I knew. My eyes rolled and she laughed. “Hey I like ‘em a little jealous.”
“Anyway.” My hand did the rolling through the air to get the ball rolling motion. I wanted to know who started the fight. Who threw the first punch?
“They just kept harassing us. Brent yelled at them to get them to shut up. Then they came over. It happened quickly after that.” Both hands clung to her coffee cup as she stared down into the black liquid. “Brent shoved one guy. Another grabbed me up. He bent me over the car with my face smashed into the hood. He was humping me like a dog to rile Brent. Then all hell broke loose.”
My hands placed over hers gently. Liz had lived through hell. She’d lost count of how many times she was raped growing up. She dated big guys with big tempers because they could protect her. It was at the top of her priority list for boyfriends. Possessive big bastards who wouldn’t let another soul touch her.
She explained the jumbled version of what she remembered. She came and got me because she couldn’t find Mike. Wrong, but close enough I guess.
“Brent beat the hell out of some dudes.” Sort of. Sort of not. “The cops showed up and everyone ran.” Almost. Thanks to my driving skills we were gone before the cops pulled in. She remembered me patching her and Brent up, but barely. She did not remember Sean being here at all, or that he carried her in from the car and into the bedroom. Good or bad? Tell her or don’t? I told her everything in extensive detail, every second except me being hurt. She didn’t need to feel guilty. She ‘awed’ in all the usual places and was almost outraged when I told her I woke up alone. She was a good friend.
“What a prick. I mean yeah, totally epic moment before he bailed on you and all. But leaving without a note. Without anything? Did he even give you his phone number?”
“So we can call each other and chat all night?”
“Text! You dork.” Her eyes rolled at my stupidity as she walked over to the coffee pot for a second round.
“No, Liz. He didn’t leave me any way to get a hold of him.” My hands ran through my hair with a soft sigh. “Just forget it. It doesn’t matter. Like you said, an epic moment yeah. No moment lasts forever. Sides I don’t have time for that shit. The girls have the competition with Explosion in a couple of months. We’re not anywhere near ready yet. We don’t even have the choreography down yet.”
“Hey at least I know you’re not a total cold fish. And don’t fret your cute little ass on Explosion. We got this, boo!” Liz laughed while I glared. “Don’t give me that look. I mean it! At least the guy was hot. And a solider. Damn.”
“Marine. Not a soldier. And yes, I know he was. I’m so glad you approve.” Sarcasm alert. This was embarrassing.
“Oh come on, Kierra. Last week someone in studio asked if you were gay. They wanted to give your number to their cousin.”
Unable to resist myself, I chuckled with a grin. “Was she cute? No fugly chicks, all right.” Liz balked at me before we both started laughing.
“Seriously though. You’re not mad at him? I mean, sweetie, he bailed on you. After what all you guys talked about that’s really screwed up.”
“What’s screwed up?” Brent kissed Liz’s cheek then my forehead before grabbing a mug from the counter and draining the last of the coffee pot.
“That guy from last night ditched her when she fell asleep.”
“Oh. That sucks. Sorry, Chick.” Brent wasn’t very receptive of some things, which was a good thing for me this morning. “I don’t really remember him though.” Of course he didn’t. Brent didn’t want to acknowledge that someone else had helped him. If he’d known what I did, he would have denied it tooth and nail.
“It more than sucks, Brent. It was a real asswipe move.”
“Did you screw him or something?” Liz smacked his arm. “Damn, Liz! I’m just saying, most guys cut and run after they get laid. If he thought it was a one-night stand that’s prolly why he bailed.”
“It wasn’t like that. We didn’t sleep together.”
“Okay well then did he think he was gonna get some?” Liz smacked him again. He jumped but I laughed.
“It’s all right. No, I really don’t think he did. We didn’t screw around or anything. We just talked.”
“Well I dunno, K. Some guys are assholes. Listen I know his buddy, Trevor. He hangs out at the pool hall a lot. If I see him again, I promise I’ll say something.” Liz had a strange look in her eyes. If I could call it anything it would have been determination.
Literature with Unhindered Arts by Jacquelynn Faye