Chapter 1: Bar
'What if it just ends up like the other one in the end?' your mind offers you whilst your eyes are glued to your cellular, ass planted on a stool in front of the counter. The flickering neon light above you, reading "Salty Outpost" only seems to add to your anxiety.
Your eyes gaze disgustedly over the design in the middle of your screen once more after making another note of the light fixture above you. It's only then that you realize staring at the abomination is going to get you absolutely nowhere. You place both your hands on your face and run them up into your hair, giving it a brief little fluff to allow in some of the stuffy air to cool off your scalp. It's refreshing, even though it doesn't necessarily help at all.
Before you can go back to stressing again, you look at your half-empty glass of booze in front of you, feeling sorry for yourself. You've walked all the way here in hopes of escaping the tensions work has to offer, only to open your phone and allow it to plague you some more. If only you had the nerve or funds to chuck the thing across the room. But part of you knew this would happen. There was nobody to contact from your phone, so you could have easily left it charging at home. But repeated failure was something that weighed heavily on your shoulders, so you needed to make sure absolutely everything about your proposal was perfect before you could show your face at work the next day.
"Somethin' wrong, sweetie?" asks the bartender from behind his post as he poured a shot for another customer.
You resist the urge to gag from the man's tacky attempt to flirt with you. Hooking up with someone was the last thing on your mind at all. "I'm perfectly fine, thank you," you answer him, making sure not to give him the gift of eye-contact.
He seems to understand and doesn't respond to you, causing you to gaze down once more at your phone. With a frustrated sigh, you finally give in and turn it off. With nothing left to do, you place your elbow on the countertop and rest your head in it, reaching for your drink with the other hand to sip it.
As the cold venom slides down your throat, your eyes scan the aged brick walls of the stark building and you're starting to get the feeling you should leave as soon as the rest of your booze has been given a proper home in your gut. You lift the glass to finish it off and start gulping it down only to be startled as a broad figure sits down beside you. You tried not to appear as you felt, but when your poker-face met the man now sitting in the stool beside yours, you couldn't help but stare, wide-eyed.
The first thing your eyes are drawn to is the muscles that look like they've busted through the sleeves of his shirt, connected to a broad set of shoulders. He's wearing a cap that shadows his face from you. All you can see is the cascade of long, blonde locks down his back which is tied twice; once at the base of his head, the other at the end of his ponytail.
You shift uncomfortably in your seat after looking away. You feel so tiny compared to him, having never seen such a huge person in your life.
The shadow covering the rest of his face is at last revealed as you notice his head turn slightly toward you and, feeling you have no other choice, you fall for the deadly bait of direct eye-contact. He dons a pair of gorgeous blue eyes framed by some hair falling around his almost perfectly structured face. But what happens next leaves words completely astray from your lips.
"You can really put it away, huh?" His voice was none at all like you were expecting. It was rough, sure but so too was his accent. He definitely sounded foreign, perhaps from the east. He smiles, seeming to mock your astonishment after realizing he's not going to get an answer from you. "Is there something on my face?" he asks with an almost mischevious tone.
Even knowing he's just fooling around with you, you can't help but feel like you might have offended him by staring. "No, sorry," you say as heat rises to your cheeks. "You just startled me, that's all."
The mysterious man catches onto your apprehensive behavior and his smile grows wider. "I guess that means you have to let me buy you another," he answers in his thick accent.
You understand enough of what he said to catch onto his game too and sigh. Even cleverly worded, the flirting still makes you cringe. "I really shouldn't..." you trail off.
"What? Why not? Didn't you come here to drink?" He seems genuinely astonished that his smooth-talking isn't working.
"I wish I did, honestly," you say.
"If you didn't come here to drink, then why are you here?"
You look down at the cup of melting ice in your hands. Perhaps if you get lost in the sight of the frozen water slowly deteriorating, you just might get so lost that this man and all of life's troubles could never find you again.
"I don't know..." you finally answer and slide yourself off the stool you were sitting in and pull out your purse to leave money for the drink and service.
Before you can place down the cash, a larger hand lands on the counter in front of yours, money in its grip. You follow it back to the blonde man and look at him hopelessly. "Please, sir, you don't have to do that." Your voice sounds desperate, but all that's returned to you is a smile.
"If you aren't here to drink, you shouldn't have to pay for it, am I wrong?" he says. "And, my name's Terry, not sir," he adds.
You allow yourself to give him an appreciative smile and slowly slip your money back into your purse. Or, at least you make it seem like you did. "Well... thank you, Terry. It was nice meeting you and all, but I should really go." Your eyes travel to the pocket hanging wide open on the leather jacket he was wearing and as you begin to walk away, you slip the twenty into it. Thankfully, it seems as though the stranger, or... Terry, as he called himself, did not notice your slick little maneuver and you were able to easily escape the situation.
"What the hell is your problem?" a different voice calls from behind you, but it's one you recognize and it holds your feet in place, only to turn and face who had spoken. It was the bartender from earlier and he was looking straight at you.
You can honestly say this astonished you and the confusion on your face tells the man you have no idea what he was on about.
"I'm sorry?" you say, staying in place.
The confrontation earns a few stares from some guests at the bar, both near you and the bartender, others searching for who he was talking to. "Don't play dumb. You don't acknowledge my existence but you allow this guy to buy your drink? Gimme a break, woman. People like you don't deserve to breathe."
The force of his words would be enough to knock you off your feet had they been physical. Perhaps they weren't, but they hurt as if they were. You didn't understand what you'd done to make the man so upset.
Terry stays sitting on the stool, but you hear his voice come over the near-empty bar. "You shouldn't talk to a lady that way... it's not her fault you're ugly."
You slap a hand over your mouth, eyes agape as you realize Terry was making the situation no better for either of you. You were glad he had stood up for you, but you hadn't expected the insult to come pummeling the bartender back like a barrage of devastating strength.
The other man rolled up his sleeves and cracked his knuckles all while your feet prepared themselves to make a run for it if things got rough. "Listen. She ain't no lady, blondie... that right there's a pig."
Terry stayed sitting but slowly rose from his seat and you watched as his height slowly overshadowed that of the bartender. "I suggest you watch who you're calling a pig." You could almost feel the glare radiating off his blue eyes, being shaded by the brim of his cap even though you couldn't see his face. "She has every right to talk to whoever she wants to... if you think you're entitled to be acknowledged by someone, well... I guess that just makes you the pig, doesn't it?"
You heard a few 'ooh's echo from within the bar and already you can feel the tension building between the two men. You wished men didn't have to be so competitive. One of them was not going to make it through the fight that would inevitably ensue and it could all have been avoided too. You felt guilt wash over you, knowing someone was going to get hurt.
Faster than you could blink, you saw the bartender's fist go flying across Terry's face and you gasped. "Stop!" flew through your lips.
"Watch your mouth, chink."
An uncomfortable air settles in the bar while the racial slur floats around within it. You can feel something far more displeasing settle around you as Terry recovers from the blow dealt to his face.
"So..." he trailed off. "Not only are you disrespectful to women... but you're a racist too." You heard the sound of fabric ripping as Terry yanked the bartender over the counter and toward himself. "People like you don't deserve to breathe."
The next thing you knew, the bartender was on the floor, having been slammed against it. Terry did not follow up with anything else after that and you assumed it was merely a warning for the man to stop while he was ahead.
"Go back to Japan," the man spits after getting up. Now they are both standing outside the bar counter with Terry facing your direction.
You didn't know how to make this stop. You knew if you stepped between them that you had a chance of getting hurt. But if you didn't...
Within seconds, you were standing between them. "Terry, don't fight him, just go. He could call the police on you for disrupting this place."
Not only were tensions high between the two men, but the same with a few other guests who seemed just as fit for a fight, and they were staring straight at Terry, half-risen from their seats.
Terry didn't even give you so much as a glance to acknowledge you'd even said a word. His eyes were simply glued on the other man who was approaching them. "Get out of the way, bitch," he says fist rearing back and before you can register what's going on, his fist is mere inches from your face, only to collide head-on with it, sending you to the floor.
Once there, you immediately hear raw force clashing with flesh and grunting following shortly after. Holding your cheek, you look back to see Terry had managed to land a clean blow to the bartender. Despite the fact that he had punched you, you still didn't want to see the violence unfold.
You watched as two other men walked from their seats and began approaching Terry from the sides which he took quick notice of. You didn't understand why they were siding with the bartender though.
The fight unfolded so quickly, it had to have only taken about a minute for blood to start flying from lips and noses and you were astonished to see Terry single-handedly taking them on. Once he finished punching one, he would launch a kick toward another.
But despite the fact that Terry seemed to have the upper hand, he was still outnumbered, so once one got their hands on him and he began trying to escape, another came up and restrained him for the third to start bashing his face in. Each time a fist collided with his face, you could feel the hurt in his grunts and cries of pain, knowing you couldn't just run away.
You reached into your pocket and dialed the phone number for the cops. Your voice was shaky as you reported the incident, describing the location as well and while you did, the two other men noticed and backed off, heading for the doors.
But the bartender seemed not to care and, now that he was unrestrained, Terry kicked out his leg and knocked the man backward, staggering him for a few moments so he could return to his feet, his fists raised. He watched while the bartender ran back for more, only to receive another kick, this time to the stomach, sending him back once again. This time, Terry rushed forward and caught the man mid-air with two simultaneous punches that came out so fast, the bartender didn't fly back from the momentum until the second punch made contact.
The bartender didn't get back up after that and it seemed safe for you to approach Terry. "Why didn't you back off when the others did?" you ask over the sound of his panting.
"'Cause..." he breathes between a gasp and wipes some blood off his lip. "I couldn't let him get away with that mouth..." Terry looks at you. "But now that the cops are on their way, we should get out of here."
You give him a worried look. "Are you sure? You're hurt pretty bad... shouldn't we wait for them so you can go to the hospital?" you ask.
Terry shakes his head, some misplaced hair falling over his face. "For this?" He gestures to his face. "No, I'll be fine," he assures you.
You sigh, knowing you'd regret just leaving him on his own with how damaged he was. "Come with me."
Chapter 2: Burn
Your eyes are downcast as you watch your thumbs graze one over the other repeatedly, attempting to flush away the building anxiety with every tick of the clock on the wall adjacent to you. You're due to present your latest piece of work to the art director for Stylistic Magazines, the company you work for.
While going over every word you'd planned on saying in your head, you begin to recall the events that took place after you and Terry left the bar the previous night.
"You were really something back there..." your softspoken voice rings out between the walls of your bathroom. With a cotton ball pinched within your fingers, you gently dab Terry's busted bottom lip with peroxide, ignoring his little grunts and complaints that it hurts. "Still, you took a fair beating..."
You toss away the used cotton ball and pull out another, pressing it to the orifice of the bottle and tipping it to soak it.
"Seems like a small price to pay to get you to take me back to your apartment," he says with a smirk.
"Hold still," you scold him, ignoring the remark once more as you begin dabbing a split open bruise which had blossomed along his cheekbone.
"Speaking of prices..." he trails off, playing the same "completely-ignore-the-other-person" game as you. He then shuffles through his pocket and pulls out the twenty you'd slipped in, placing it on the vanity beside him. "Did you think I wouldn't notice?" There's a sense of cheekiness in his tone.
You return to him an exasperated sigh. "Forget it. You can just go home and all those wounds can get infected for all I care," you say and tightly cross your arms.
Terry just grins at the annoyed look on your face. "I'm supposed to be the one making sure you're safe, not the other way around. You don't need to worry about me," he says. "What's your name, anyway?"
"You're good at that..." you mutter, disregarding your last comment and continue sterilizing the wound on his cheek.
"I'm good at a lot of things, what did you mean specifically?"
You groan from his arrogance and roll your eyes. "Changing the subject," you answer.
"Thanks... I suppose then you're rather good at playing hard-to-get." This makes you pause and look into his eyes, letting out the ghost of a little laugh through your nose.
"I don't even know you," you say.
"I can respect that," Terry replies. "But..." he trails off. His body leans over you a bit, his hand gloved in leather landing on your cheek. "Does that reflect how you're feeling right now?"
You feel your heart skip a beat before it causes your chest to swell up, creating an uncomfortable, yet blissful sensation inside. It takes every fiber of your being to will yourself to keep your composure, knowing that losing it would just be feeding into his antics. To break the moment he was clearly trying to create, you lift your hand and hit the underside of the visor, knocking it off his head.
"Hey!" He reaches his hands up to try and catch it, but by that time, it's already fallen off his head and to the floor.
"I guess you'll never know," you reply smugly.
His gaze returns to you after leaning down to pick up the fallen accessory. "You're not going to make this easy for me, are you?" Terry asks.
"I don't know what you mean by 'this'," you answer him. "I'm (F/n), by the way," you say, referring to his previous question.
The smile that was once on Terry's face returns, this time wider, accompanied by a chuckle. "It might be too soon to say this, but I think if I were that guy, I'd have tried to fight me too," he says. "Though." His face softens. "I wouldn't have tried to damage such a delicate flower." His hand arrives upon your cheek once more and you feel his thumb stroke the matching bruise on it. "Are you okay?"
Probably like any other girl this man had ever come across, you found yourself admiring his pretty pools of blue which were focused only on you, and standing this close to him, the opportunity to gaze upon his tanned skin which contoured the curves of his muscular shoulders was nearly impossible to ignore. The longer the two of you stood like this, the more you could feel the danger it would reap. The warning signs were unmistakable: the fast pulse rate, the loss of air in your lungs and the uncontrollable glances at his full lips.
Your gaze slipped down past his bust, noticing how the wrinkles in his shirt around his toned abs rippled down toward his waistband, knowing you shouldn't.
"My eyes are up here, you know." Terry's voice startles you and your eyes snap back up to his.
"I'm fine," you quickly say to answer his question and nudge his hand away with your own. But when you do, you feel his fingers wrap around your wrist. Not enough to hurt you, but firmly enough to keep you from escaping.
His expression is intense and uncomfortable as it stares at you, but somehow you feel at ease, even though every other part of your body is telling you how much danger you're in. But your mind continues to ask, "Is this really a bad thing?"
His larger form overshadowed your own and his other hand took hold of your face. You find yourself unable to stop him too, watching as his face grows so close to yours that you can feel his breath on the bow of your lips.
"I hope this is okay..." That's the last thing he says before his mouth covers yours and you respond almost immediately, surprising even yourself, not only him. You close your eyes, melting into the warm caress of his lips which were softer than you thought they would be.
Both your hearts are pounding and, feeling your free hand hanging awkwardly to the side, you decide to lift it and rest it upon his chest. You're hardly able to register his pulse racing just as fast as yours with every nerve in your body focused on the man whose lips are beginning to devour yours.
Feeling your comfort as you place your hand upon his chest, Terry works up the nerve to then slide his large fingers into your hair from your cheek, duly noting the shudder that rides your skin as he does. Tentatively, he tastes your lower brim with his tongue and you find yourself answering his request for access, opening your mouth with a low moan.
You feel his hand release your wrist, sobering you a bit to what had led into the situation, but not enough to tell yourself to stop. The gentle dancing of his tongue against yours is what eradicates your clarity once more and as he does so, you feel his hand return to your skin, only this time, it's gliding down your side, securing itself onto your waist.
You can't recall the last time you'd felt so enticed by someone before or been shown so much attention. You do miss it, but is it really what you want right now; what you need? But before you could ponder it further, you're surprised when your back meets the cold wall of the bathroom and Terry's lips finally allow you to breathe, only to take away the opportunity as they land on the crest of your jaw. No sooner than this does his thumb sneak up your shirt, touching the skin beneath it. Your chest heaves the shaky breath it had been craving as you hear Terry's lips smacking, followed by the chilling yet fiery sensation of them going down your neck and stopping at your collar bone.
You open your eyes to see where the two of you have ended up, only to close them and part your lips to gasp softly when his tongue trails up your neck, returning to the base of your jaw. Your hands fall around his shoulders, fingers shuffling into his hair, snagging on the parts being held together by the hair tie, preparing to accept what was next.
"You're not listening to me, are you?" A voice snaps you from your thoughts and your attention is immediately focused on your coworker, Anna, who was standing beside you.
"What?" you ask, starting to register how flushed your face is.
"As I thought," she answers with an exasperated sigh. "I know you're nervous and all, but there's no reason to be getting so worked up over it."
You sigh with her, unsure of how to respond. You and Anna had been friends for just about the full six years you'd been working at the place and was probably one of the only people in the world you had left to confide in for things such as what was really on your mind. But you choose to keep your mouth closed about it, knowing she would only overreact if you told her anything.
It's pretty sad, you reason, that something such as that is something to freak out over like some highschooler with uncontrollable hormones.
"I just don't want to fail again," you tell her. "Wilson was really upset last time the art director didn't approve my proposal."
"That tool can suck a fat one, both of them," Anna says, causing you to cringe. She was never afraid of speaking her mind, even if the wrong ears were in the vicinity.
"Morning ladies," a warning voice says, startling your coworker. She turns to find Mr. Wilson standing there with a "best boss" mug clutched in his hand. "I hope you're ready today, (F/n). You can't afford to be goofing off. And you." His glaring eyes shift to Anna. "Get back to work." He walks off toward the conference room after that.
Just as expected, Anna stays put with her arms crossed before turning her head back to you. "I'd take that coffee cup and shove it up his ass," she mutters.
"I thought you said you liked him..." you reply at last.
"Give me a break, that was three years ago!" she retorts. "I found out he's just a tight-lipped asshole in the end, so it doesn't matter."
"Is trying to settle down with someone at this point even worth it?" you ask her. "We're almost thirty, you more than I."
"Ugh, don't remind me," groans Anna. "What makes you say that though?"
"I don't know, most people expect you to be married by the time you're twenty-three, we're a bit behind, don't you think?" you ask.
Anna snorts which leads into hysterical laughter. "That's fair, at least for you, considering you haven't gotten laid since, what, college? End of high school? Sweetie, any marriage by the time you're twenty-three isn't worth the paper it's printed on," she explains.
You laugh nervously with her. "Yeah, I guess," you say. "Sometimes I wish society didn't have so many standards, then maybe my parents would actually talk to me."
The air hangs in awkward silence after that remark. "Well... before you can delve any deeper into that depressing shit, you should maybe go so you're not late for your presentation, okay?" Anna pats your shoulder gently. "You've got it this time. If not, they're conspiring against you, I'm calling it. You're gonna do great," she says.
When you walk into the conference room it seems things start to blur for you. The sound of the art director's voice is nothing but white noise and your boss? It's as though he doesn't exist at all. The last thing you remember from the meeting was the art director promising an email indicating whether or not he accepted your proposal or more simply, whether or not you'll be having a job once this is all over.
When the clock struck seven, it was time for you to leave. You took the bus to get back to your apartment, and since it was quite a distance away, like normal, you let yourself doze off with your head pressed against the window.
A daydream starts to swallow you, a certain smell you recall from the night before becoming quite real to you. And a loud siren wakes you from your slumber. The next thing you know, the sun has gone down and the bus is nearing your stop. Just when you feel you've calmed down from the scare, another siren, followed by a horn flies past your window.
The bus comes to the corner where you're meant to get off, but you nearly miss your opportunity to do so. Your eyes are focused as far up as you can see through your window to one of the skyscrapers outside. The bus had pulled up just enough past the building marking the corner of your stop so you could see the building about a block away. You hear the screeching of the wheels as the bus begins to move again but you quickly get up. "Wait! Wait! I need to get off!" you shout and rush for the door, purse clutched against your chest.
"Should have been paying attention," the driver rasps as you descend the stairs to the sidewalk. You ignore him as your feet dash along it. A right turn, a straight run past the few pedestrians still roaming the streets; you begin to inhale carbon monoxide. A left turn and another; you hear the sirens again. You run straight and see the lights, inhale the smoke, feel the residue of water as it sprays from the blaze of embers above.
Your mouth hangs wide, your eyes glued to the window from which the flames are flying. Numbly, you pace toward the lobby of the building, listening to glass crunching beneath your flats, dodging fallen and burnt debris. You're met with police tape preventing you from going any farther.
"Sorry, you can't go past here," an officer states firmly.
You stare directly up at the burning building. "That... was my apartment," you say, knowing the devastation that's about to hit you.
"I'm sorry, do you have anyone you can call?" asks the officer.
You stare at him blankly. Everything was burning... and all he could say was that he was sorry? You pull in as deep of a breath as you can take, pulling in the residue of your belongings with it, and breathing it out like the fire. Walking away, you pull your phone from your purse, staring at the dial pad with no expression at all.
Your first thought is of Anna and you begin to tap the digits of her number, pressing the phone to your ear after doing so. She answers after four rings. She was probably doing something like not witnessing all of her belongings burning away to nothing.
"Hey, (F/n), what's going on?" she asks, sounding chipper.
"Hi." Your voice completely contradicts hers and she's immediately alarmed to it.
"Did something happen?" Her tone is different in an instant.
"Um... yeah..." you say and chance another look up at your window, flames still dancing around in it.
"Hey, it's really loud on your end, what's going on?"
"All my stuff is burning, Anna... I don't know what to do," you finally say, teeth biting down on your lower lip.
"What? Oh my god. Are you joking? You sound so calm, are you okay?" Worry begins to rise in her tone and again, your tones are different. Your silence urges her to speak once more. "Is there anyone you can stay with for the night?" she asks.
You feel your soul break. "That's what I was calling you for..." you say.
Now it's her turn to be silent and you feel your hopes shatter like the glass of another apartment, one beside yours. "(F/n), I'm sorry. I really don't have enough space here for you. Listen, is there anywhere we could meet? I could give you money for a hotel for a few days."
You breathe in her words and breathe them out as she did to your own. "No, it's all right... I can do that myself," you answer.
"Hey, it's gonna be okay, all right? I'm sure your insurance will cover all of this, you'll be back on your feet in no time," Anna says.
You purse your lips. "Yeah, I know," you say. "Thank you anyway... see you at work."
"Sorry I couldn't be of any help." You hang up on her with that and finally work up the nerve to chuck the damn cell phone to the sidewalk.
You cover your face and let yourself cry into your hands, any questions of where you're going or how you'll get there melting away into your sobs. Letting yourself fall down onto the sidewalk, you ignore how the pain radiates up into your knees and keep crying until something stops you, something that had happened that morning.
You lift your head from your hands, brushing your hair from your face and reach into your purse after unzipping it. Shuffling drowned by the noise around you indicates your shuffling through useless receipts and wrappers until you come across what you were looking for. You pull out the folded up sticky note and unfurl it to reveal another set of numbers written upon it and pick up your phone. In the moments leading up to your eyes landing upon the cracked screen, you had forgotten that you whipped it against the sidewalk mere seconds earlier. Your relieved expression leaves you when your eyes land upon it, but it quickly returns, to your own delight, when it lights up upon lifting it.
Breathing a sigh of relief, you unlock it and begin copying the numbers from the wrinkled sticky note, pressing the call button. With each ring, you hear a soft chiding in your head, asking you what the hell you're doing and why. When you hear the voicemail prompt come up, you end the call and agree with that voice. "What was I thinking..." you trail off. Despite the dismal cloud forming in your mind over the situation, you still perk up when your phone starts buzzing in your palm. You answer faster than you meant to and press the object against your ear. "Hello?"
"Ohhh, I recognize that voice." A ginger laugh accompanies the statement.
"Hey, Terry..." you say. "Um... are you free right now?"
Terry can hear the apparent distraught in your voice but sees no issue in messing with you. "Hm... I'm not sure. I've got a pretty tight schedule, but I think I can squeeze you in somewhere."
You resist the urge to hang up the phone and choose the hotel instead, but instead, you sigh to express your frustration. "Can you just meet me at the bar that's down the street from the one we went to last night?" you ask.
He seems to take you a bit more seriously after that. "Yeah, I can do that. Is everything okay?" he asks.
"I'll explain when we get there. I'll meet you by the door, see you," you say and don't allow him another word before hanging up.
Kneeling there on the sidewalk, you continue to wonder if calling him was a good idea in the first place. Did he even have the capability to take things seriously? You think back to the fight in the bar and reason he must have at least one stiff bone in his body. Though, the brief memory does take you back to his golden locks hanging down in your face and his lips against yours. But the thought is quickly shoved into the back of your mind.
Once you scrape yourself off the ground, you wipe the tear stains from your cheeks and pocket your cellular, only to begin your trek down the sidewalk toward the bar.
Chapter 3: Punch
Eye-straining fluorescent light shines down from a street lamp above you as you lean against the contemporary bar you had arrived at about fifteen minutes ago and you’re starting to doubt your plus one is actually going to arrive.
The whole time, you’re doing your best not to invite negative thoughts into your mind. But one thing that continues to plague you is the nagging notion that you should be calling your mother. You’d been holding your busted phone in the palm of your hand, just staring at the blacked-out screen, fragmented by the force of it smashing against the sidewalk.
A pang of sadness causes your eyes to sting and when you shut them an unintentional tear escapes between what you thought was tight enough barriers to suppress what was boiling inside. You hadn’t spoken to your mother since she kicked you out when you were seventeen. That was almost twelve years ago and you missed her dearly.
You give up the ploy to call your mother if your emotions worked you up enough to do so and slip your phone back into your pocket along with your hands to keep them warm from the nipping breeze that was starting to weave through the buildings in the city. You wouldn’t be surprised if you looked up and saw snow beginning to fall. But you didn’t have to, seeing a few flakes already colliding with your pathetic excuse for a jacket and melting on impact.
You breathe out a slow breath, watching the air be carried away with the snow. The light above you flickers, causing you to look up, and when you do, your body starts when you notice Terry standing there. “Geez!” you yell in a whisper. “You scared me nearly to death!”
He’s wearing a pair of casual blue jeans, the kind that sort of hugs your legs but isn’t skin tight like the kids nowadays wear. A leather jacket hides his upper half, similar in style to the vest that had adorned his body the night before, only more fitting for the weather. He still had that stupid hat covering the origin of his ponytail and the bruises on his face were there too. “I don’t see why, didn’t you say you wanted to meet me here?” he asks.
You sigh. “Better late than never, I guess,” you mutter and turn toward the entrance to the bar.
“You never specified a time,” he argues, a chuckle laced within his words.
“You can make it up to me by buying all my drinks tonight,” you answer, swinging open the door, half hoping it would hit him for karma’s sake. To your dismay, it doesn’t though and he follows behind you.
“Whatever you say.”
You’re greeted by a nicer interior than the bar you had visited the other night. There’s live entertainment playing off in the corner, not loud enough to disturb any of the guests. You choose a booth adjacent to the little stage and Terry slides himself in on the other side.
“So what is it that you’ve dragged me all the way out here to tell me?” he asks. “You sounded pretty upset over the phone.”
You sigh and let yourself slump back into the booth, first removing your coat and purse. “Drinks first…” you groan, running a hand through your locks. The way Terry looks at you while you do this makes you briefly question whether or not he’s daydreaming about doing the same. But you’re hardly in the mood to play games with him.
“Fair enough,” he says and gets up after discarding his own jacket. “I’ll be right back.”
You watch while he walks toward the front counter to start off the night, but your attention is removed from him and brought to the stage. You recall the song being sung as one of the popular ones that played at least five times over the course of your entire high school prom. Though, whoever was singing it wasn’t doing it a shred of justice. You danced your ass off that night with all your friends and the boyfriend you had at the time and nostalgia only serves as another punch in the face. But before you can feel its effects, Terry has already sat down beside you again with a pair of drinks for the two of you. Your mouth almost waters as he slides one to you.
Before speaking, you lift the cup to your lips and chug nearly half of it before setting it down again while wiping your face. “Thank you…” you breathe out.
“That bad, hm?” he asks and takes a sip of his own.
You shift your weight to your elbow which rests upon the tabletop. “You have no idea…” you assure him.
“Oh? Hit me then,” Terry replies once he’s finished with his pathetic— in comparison to your own— sip.
“My apartment was, and maybe even still is, in flames,” you tell him. “Everything but what’s with me now is gone, most likely.”
You watch on almost in amusement while his eyes grow wide and his jaw goes slack. “Oh, wow. I wasn’t expecting that,” he says. “Well, don’t go acting like it’s an accomplishment now, are you okay?”
You take another big gulp of your drink and see Terry stood up beside your side of the booth once you lower the glass. “It’s easier if I say yes,” you quickly say and try to inconspicuously slide over so he can’t sit beside you. He notices though, almost laughing at your attempt to be discrete but nothing is said of it. He simply forces you to scooch with the weight of his body and drapes his arm across your shoulders.
“Give it a rest. It’s obvious at this point you’re stressed out about the whole thing. But what confuses me is that you decided to call me instead of someone else,” he says.
“Don’t give yourself too much credit, I never said you were my first choice…” you bite back and cross your arms.
“But I was the first one that cared enough, huh?”
His words sting with the truth. “You’re a cocky bastard…” you mutter.
“Ouch,” he responds. “You know, it could be worse… you could be stranded in the middle of nowhere with no gentleman like myself to buy you drinks.”
You roll your eyes. “There’s always that… it is starting to sound like a better alternative though.” You glance over at him.
“Funny, but you’re not very convincing,” he says and gets out of your side of the booth, returning to his own. You quickly understand why he did that because the moment he does, you miss the warmth he offered. Your thoughts only prove his point. You sigh to will them away and realize he’s probably reading you. So you quickly change the subject.
“Whoever’s singing really sucks,” you say.
Terry shrugs and stretches before putting his hands behind his head, looking over to the stage. “Yeah, I remember that song playing a bunch of times at the senior prom when I graduated. I’m a sucker for country music,” he says. “At least it’s almost over.”
“Yours too, huh? Wouldn’t it be crazy if we somehow went to the same school?” you ask.
“We did,” Terry replies with a grin once his attention is toward you again. “You didn’t know me, but you dated one of the popular guys on the basketball team. Everyone at that school knew who you were because of it, take that however you want to,” he adds.
You lean forward, cocking an eyebrow at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Your expression scrunches a little more while the grin on his face spreads and he shakes his head, letting his hands fall back onto the table.
“A lot of people hated you for that, mostly girls. But I was just jealous of him,” Terry says. “I’d call that poetic justice if only he were still around to see me now.”
“Oh yeah? You’d call it poetic justice just ‘cause you fucked me once?” you say a bit more harshly than you meant to. “You’re really pushing it…”
He laughs off the comment like you were expecting and you don’t regret your tone anymore. “Maybe, it was good though,” he says.
You sigh again and he knows you’re silently agreeing with him. Even you couldn’t lie and say he was wrong, even if he was an asshole sometimes.
Eventually, four pitchers of beer were shared between the two of you and, unironically enough, you were both starting to get a little tipsy. Your tough exterior had melted away well after the first pitcher had emptied and you found yourself laughing too many times at just about any random thing that came through Terry’s mouth. By that time, the two of you were standing outside again underneath the street light just talking. You had chanced a look at the time on your cellphone, noticing that it was almost one in the morning. “Shit, it’s late…” you murmur and unlock your busted phone which you’d all but forgotten about. But with your little buzz, you couldn’t bring yourself to care about it even after it was brought to your attention again. “I should probably start finding a hotel.”
Terry looks at you like you’ve just said the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard. “A hotel?” he asks.
“Yeah…” you answer.
“So, you called me up so you could just have a few drinks with me before you… go find a hotel?” he asks.
Now you’re even more confused. “I don’t get it…” Was it the booze?
Terry laughs a little bit. “We’re on our fourth pitcher of beer and you still can’t work up the nerve to just ask me?”
“You called me so you’d have a place to stay.”
This catches you completely off guard and you shake your head, a little flustered even. “No, I…”
“Why don’t you cut the shit and ask if you can stay at my place?” he asks. The cussing shocks you, but only for a short moment as you realize he’s probably as fucked up as you are and he’s working with a bit less of a filter than usual.
The thought of staying with him seemed controversial to you though. It seemed almost a little more ideal than staying by yourself at some hotel, but was it even a good idea in the end? There was no telling what might happen if you did that or if it would be a mistake or not. Terry seemed trustworthy enough not to barge in while you were naked in his house or something or never allow you any privacy.
He was more respectable than that, at least that was the vibe you were getting from him so far. “Would that be a problem?” you ask sheepishly.
“Is it a problem for you to ask?” he shoots back and suddenly you understand his ploy once again, the remaining grin on his face only confirms your suspicion.
You give in, not really caring at this point. “Can I stay at your place?”
And with a smug look he answers, “yes, you can.”
With that out of the way, you’re relieved that you have somewhere to crash for the night without having to spend your money. “Thank you,” you say.
“You’re welcome… but I want you to do me a favor first,” Terry replies.
You groan, having known there might be strings attached. “What’s that?”
What he says next catches you completely off guard. “I want you to hit me.”
You stand there, completely dumbfounded by his response and your brain sizes up the man before you like it has before. He’s huge; bigger than you previously allowed yourself to comprehend. “What?”
“I want you to hit me,” he repeats.
“Are you crazy? Why?” you ask.
“Not crazy, just a little drunk,” Terry answers. “Just do it, you’ll feel better when you do.”
You turn your head away from him. “This is stupid… my hand would probably shatter on impact,” you say.
Terry goes silent and you look at him again, seeing that he’s still waiting for you to take your best shot at him like he’s some kind of punching bag. At this point, giving in is starting to get a little old, but you do anyway. “Where do you want it?” you ask and slide your purse off your shoulders.
The smirk returns to Terry’s face. “Yeah, there you go. Surprise me,” he says.
You’re still hesitant about this, your mind taking a quick little walk back to when he probably hospitalized that bartender, but you still raise your fists to his judging eyes.
You swing a wide, clumsy roundhouse toward him and hit his jaw in a spot where he hadn’t been bruised, or at least you hoped. You jerked back from the recoil and held your hand in pain and he too yanks away, holding his face— which you weren’t expecting— as he cusses a few times.
“Sorry,” you say apologetically while still holding your hand.
He waves his hand at you while he’s doubled over, leaned against his legs with his free one. “No, that was good,” he grunts. “How did it feel?” His head snaps up to look at you.
“It hurt…” You glance at your own hand which seems to ache worse from the cold.
He shakes his head in disapproval. “Inside,” he clarifies.
You look down at your hand once more, your gaze lingering there unlike before. “Strange…” you answer finally.
“A good strange?” Terry asks.
You look to the side and sigh. “This is dumb, can we leave now?” you say to change the subject. Even if he invited it and perhaps it was warranted, you still feel bad for hitting him.
“You’re too remorseful about it, hit me again.” Now you’re getting annoyed and don’t mind taking up the offer to strike him once more. This time, your fist collides with his stomach while he’s bent over.
You listen to his grunt of pain and watch his hat slip off his head. “That time?” he asks.
“A little less…” you say and rope your purse back around your shoulder. You walk forward to help him stand up straight while grabbing his hat from the snow, wiping it off. You hand it to him.
“There are better alternatives than drinking… ones that give you the same feeling, maybe even better,” he says as you hand him the hat and he secures it back on his head.
“Are you okay?” you ask him a bit worried when you see some blood trickle down his lip.
His gaze returns to you. “I’ll make you hit me again if you keep acting as though you regret it,” he says. You couldn’t be more confused by his antics and write it off simply as him being too drunk to understand what was even going on. But once you’re quiet, he rewards you with an arm around your upper half, your body pressing against his. “Follow me, m’lady.” With that, he begins leading you down the sidewalk away from the bar.
You’re grateful now at least to have his arm around you since your coat really offers no relief from the cold.
The two of you complete a walk that takes about twenty-five minutes before you finally arrive at your destination and it’s nothing much to look at. His home is a small rundown cookie-cutter home, one that looks much like the others on the same street.
It’s a bit better upon going inside, though it isn’t decorated with very much nor does it have much furniture. But you can’t bring yourself to complain since all of your belongings are now gone and moments later, it hits you that you have no other clothes other than what’s on your back.
“So, you have two choices: you can sleep on the couch with that throw blanket there,” he points to the blanket in question, “or you can come in my room and sleep with me and my comforter,” Terry says.
You give him a challenging look and pull away from him. “I think I’ll choose the couch,” you reply, earning yourself another grin.
“If that’s what you want,” he teases. But Terry’s face softens to a more serious one and he closes the space between you once again, only to wrap both his arms around you. Surprisingly, it doesn’t crush you, but it’s warm and comforting. “Good night, (F/n). I’m sorry about what happened today,” he says softly. “Have good dreams.” With that, he pulls away and turns to go into his bedroom, removing his hat as he does while starting to let down his hair from its binds.
Your eyes follow as he leaves until he’s gone and you look down at the couch and blanket you’ve been left with. You hated being stubborn sometimes. But you felt it would be more worth it, in the end, to show him you could restrain yourself. Unlike him.
So that’s what you did. Though cold and alone and uncomfortable, you took the couch and blanket that were offered to you and covered yourself with the thin fleece. Just to add insult to injury, the blanket also smelled exactly like the one you were resisting. As you close your eyes, a quiet “fuck you” leaves your lips and hangs in the otherwise silent air until you’re asleep.
Chapter 4: Regret
Mom, I am lonely.
I think I learned that when Dad left; how to turn the anger into lonely the lonely into busy. So when I say I've been super busy lately I mean I've been falling asleep watching SportsCenter on the couch to avoid confronting the empty side of my bed. But my depression always drags me back to my bed... until my bones are the forgotten fossils of a skeleton sunken city, my mouth a boneyard of teeth broken from biting down on themselves. The hollow auditorium of my chest swoons with echoes of a heartbeat. But I am just a careless tourist here. I will never truly know everywhere I have been. Mom still doesn't understand
Mom, can't you see
That neither can I
In honesty, even nearly drunk out of your mind you didn’t think your will power could stand a chance against staying at an incredibly attractive man’s house. And thus it was almost inevitable that you’d end up in his bedroom at three in the morning with the inability to sleep to start fooling around with Terry. Minutes later, the two of you are completely naked, clothes scattered all around the floor like they were nothing at all. This time you were on top of him, his large, warm hands resting on your hips while his thrust up into yours. It was strange seeing his hair all the way down, but that was the last thing on your mind.
All you could think about was the pleasure that was setting your body on fire as though it were a live wire. Every time you felt him rubbing against your dripping insides, your mouth would release another moan into the bedroom and of course, hearing him make noises was uplifting. Parts of you you’d previously thought dead felt like they were reigniting for the second time. Both your bodies were coated in sweat which glistened in the moonlight flitting through the sheer curtains.
His name left your lips and yours left his. You never wanted the passion between the two of you to end because goddamn did it feel far too good to stop. Your body collapses on top of his once you’re tired but he keeps going, the heat between you keeping you warm.
Your lips connect in what’s probably the seventh kiss that night, but it never gets old. He becomes the key that sets free the butterflies trapped within the cage of your mind. Everywhere he touches makes it seem like he has dozens of hands which dance around your most sensitive places, the space between your lips and legs sparking flames each time they touch.
“Terry, I’m getting close,” you whisper softly between the kisses to which you receive a responsive grunt.
“I know, me too…” he says back.
It was like gravity no longer existed within the next few moments as his body is suddenly over your own, his warmth leaving you only briefly. His cascade of locks dangles into your face before they’re moved aside and your lips are captured once again as though rescued from falling. As your mouths exchange parting touches Terry resumes the dance taking place down below your waists. Your hands raise above your head like you’re falling. Tiny explosions go off in your stomach and you can’t help but feel like you really are falling. At this point the fumes coming off of you both had you doped up on euphoria; as such things were upon you both.
You come together, your walls squeezing him, willing him to finish as well though regrettably, you can’t feel it at all. You watch his reaction once he pulls away from your lips and you can’t stop thinking of how attractive he looks in his peak moment of pure bliss, his eyebrows furrowed, his jaw slack while he lets out one final moan.
Your breaths mingle as you gasp for air and you’re feeling the lowkey regret beginning to creep up on you. Terry pulls out of you for the last time and sits up to discard the rubber which was meant to prevent the exchange from tying the two of you together in genetics. After that, he lays back down beside you, his strong arms holding your naked body close.
“I wish you didn’t fuck so good…” you say once you have enough air to speak again.
You feel his chest heave as he chuckles. “That would have made for a bad time, wouldn’t you think?” he asks.
“If that were the case, I wouldn’t be in here in the first place…” you argue, but it’s too late to keep the conversation going and you close your eyes, deciding to get comfortable instead of returning to the couch.
It seems like Terry’s in no mood either because he doesn’t respond after that, only holds you until you’re asleep for the second time that night.
The only thing that could have possibly ruined another incredible night was the morning afterward when it all set in. You stare blank-faced at Terry’s ceiling whilst tangled within his grasp with one single thought circling your head: I shouldn’t have done it again. I shouldn’t have done it again.
But you liked it, your thoughts whisper treacherously back. At this point, you didn’t know what was wrong with you. You could have gotten away with a one night stand. But after two? Would he be disappointed if you weren’t committed to this pathetic cry for affection and love? The thought scared you, of having to commit. You barely knew this person in the end, so you didn’t know what you were getting so worked up for, but you also didn’t know what kept you coming back for more, or what kept driving you away, for that matter.
Why was this such a bad thing, you question to absolutely no one. But your deep-seated fears quickly remind you exactly why it’s bad as it brings you pictures of your burning belongings, the tears you cried during your first break up, your second one, and of course the expression on your mother’s face when she told you to never come back. Your hand is absentmindedly grasping onto Terry’s arm for comfort, but you notice it once your imagination sees it slipping through your fingertips like sand. It’s that exact inevitability that drives you so far from him, but the warmth and kindness that he offers which kept you in his arms and made you accept his stupid offer to let you stay with him are what makes you return.
You do wonder how he feels though. You wonder if he woke up the day before regretting everything he did, no matter how much he seemed to initially enjoy the time you shared, how his eyes sparkled with passion and lust when they looked at you. You wonder if he regretted taking such a terrible beating for you, and you wonder if he’ll regret it all over again once he opens his eyes and sees the terrible mistake he’s made.
You did hope he wouldn’t think you a mistake, though it would be pretty hypocritical of you to assume he wouldn’t. You don’t know what to think anymore. All you know is that whatever is going on between the two of you needs to stop before somebody gets hurt.
His stirring beside you brings you back to reality and you feel him pull you closer to himself. With a sigh, you remove his hands from your body which his sleeping body allows since he’s still fast asleep. Once you manage to silently get out of bed, you begin walking around the bed in search of your clothes so you can dress. Once you’re dressed, you look out the window of the room, noticing that it had snowed a good six inches overnight. A glimpse of it takes you back to your childhood, back when you were in grade school. You’d come home every day and throw on your snow pants and get all bundled up so you could have snowball fights with the children on your street and build snowmen with…
Your face is buried into your hand for a brief moment as the face of someone specific pops up in your mind. You hated nostalgia with a passion because it always reminded you of what you no longer had.
You leave the room quickly after that and decide to go in search of some coffee. To your luck, you manage to find some within one of the kitchen cupboards. As you watch the water fills the carafe, thinking you should probably be checking your emails for any word on your proposal. Not that it really matters, you think. You feel kind of hopeless and the slight hangover you’re feeling doesn’t exactly help your case. Once you get the coffee brewing, you walk around in search of something to draw with.
Drawing was always one of those things you did whenever stress ate away at you and it seemed you were at your best when you were stressed out. When your life hit rock bottom, at least for the first time, that was when your skills made a drastic improvement. Sometimes you think it’s the only reason you have your current job.
As you start to walk around the house, you find another room and open the door to it. It’s relatively empty as the rest were, but it has a bed inside and you feel like you got played. He had a spare bedroom this whole time and you completely played right into his waiting arms.
You hated yourself for that and after briefly scanning the room for paper, you shut the door, feeling really stupid.
Soon you come across what you were looking for near the kitchen counter. It’s a pad of lined yellow paper with a pen lying beside it. It wasn’t exactly ideal for drawing, but you figured since there was nothing else to use that it would be fine if you used it.
Your mind wanders away from reality as you stare at the paper and the only thing that brings you out of it is the sound signifying that the coffee has finished brewing. Not only that, but its smell is sobering too. You get up and pour yourself a cup of the brew, letting the exposed smell waft into your nose. But you prefer it with creamer and sugar and begin to rummage around for both of them. It doesn’t take long for them to be located, and once they’re finally in your cup, you can enjoy the much-needed drink.
But just as you’re at last able to take a sip, the sound of the front door opening behind you startles you and you turn around. It’s no sooner than this that a man walks inside like he owns the place. He seems slightly shocked to see you there, but makes no mention of it and continues to the hallway like he knew who you were. When he turns the corner, you notice him carrying a punching bag across his back and realize that this person looks strikingly similar to Terry.
It suddenly explains the second room you found, but you still wonder how he and Terry are related to one another. Your first guess is some kind of family member, but you can’t be sure.
Being left to yourself again, you sit down to continue your drawing, only to realize the image you’ve been working on is starting to look a lot like Terry. You roll your eyes at yourself with a sigh and decide to just keep going with it. After all, it’s not like it looks terrible.
Minutes later, you’re startled again as the man from before comes into the kitchen and begins rummaging through some cupboards. “Did you make that?” he asks. His accent confirms that he’s definitely related to Terry. You don’t really want to be rude to him though so you play things safely.
“Uh, yeah. You can have some if you want to,” you offer, smiling at his back which is turned to you.
“That’s fine. I’m about to have a protein shake anyway,” he says. As if to further his point, he starts shaking a bottle with a brown and white mixture inside. As he does this, he turns to look at you. By then, you’d resumed your drawing but you look up when you notice his eyes on you. “He’s getting really annoying taking all these girls home,” he says like it’s no big deal.
It piques your interest though. “Oh? So there’s more?” you ask.
“Sorry if you thought you were special, but after you leave, he’ll probably forget you existed,” he says in a dry tone.
You glance down at the drawing on your paper. “Uhuh…” you trail off, tapping the pen against it. “I sort of figured… that’s kind of what a one-night stand is.”
The other man shrugs and goes back to shaking his cup. Once he’s finished, you know he probably won’t respond to you as he starts chugging the contents of the bottle. Your eyes linger upon the yellow notepad until another distraction comes to pass: Terry enters the kitchen. He’s only wearing pants though, making your situation a little worse.
“Oh, hey, you’re home,” he says to the other guy then looks at you. “He wasn’t bothering you, right?”
You shrug and shake your head. “No more than you do,” you say, earning a smile from him.
He walks past his near-identical twin to the coffee maker. “I knew I smelled something good,” he says and gets out a cup for himself. He seems to be in a good mood as he pours the coffee into a plain mug.
“So uh… who exactly is this anyway?” you ask, gesturing to the other guy who’s just finished his shake.
Before Terry can answer the question, he answers it for you. Well… more or less. “Why does it matter to you? You’ll be out of here within the next hour,” he says rather rudely.
“Actually,” Terry quickly interrupts him. “(F/n) here currently has nowhere to stay so she’ll be here for a few nights.”
The other rolls his eyes. But it didn’t take that to realize your presence to him was a nuisance. You and Terry watch as he leaves the room before locking eyes with each other. He smiles, but it’s less confident than normal and you ignore it by going back to your drawing. You feel the urge to defile the whole thing by morphing the head into a giant dick. But you have too much respect in the drawing itself to do something so terrible to it.
“Sorry about him. That’s my brother Andy,” Terry says as he sits down across from you.
“He seems pretty wise,” you say passively. “Apparently you’ll forget about me once I leave.” You watch his face, waiting for his response but he doesn’t seem fazed at all.
Terry rolls his eyes. “He’s just being an asshole,” he says.
“Is that what you say to everybody else?” you shoot back.
“No— look, this is all coming out completely wrong. I get it, okay? I do bring people home on occasion, I’m not going to lie to you. But you’re different. I thought you might’ve known that,” he explains.
You sort of feel like messing with him for whatever reason after that. You can’t be too angry at the predicament since it means you’ll have an easier time letting go of him once it’s time. It would be best simply to laugh it off and pretend it doesn’t bother you, even if it does… a little. “Why, because I got to have you twice?” you ask him.
“No, because I actually like you,” he says back. You’re having a little too much fun.
“You had to like them enough to screw them, right?” you ask and finally let a smile come onto your face.
The smile is enough to blow your cover and he smiles back. “Well, I liked you enough to screw you twice AND let you stay at my house.” He sips on his coffee and sighs. “That hits the spot.”
You go back to drawing and feel his eyes on you again. “What are you doing? Drawing?” he asks.
“Maybe,” you answer and glance at him. You’re glad you saved the face for last so at least now you have a reference. “Have you ever considered cutting your hair?” you ask, drawing a few strands which hang into his face.
“Why, you don’t like it?” Terry asks and tilts his head a bit. The way he leans over the table toward you is a nearly priceless pose and facial expression. You wished you could draw him at the speed it takes to snap a photo. He had so many unique angles and expressions. You sketch something quick off to the side while he’s waiting for your response. But as he’s about to lean back, you stop him.
“Wait, stay still,” you say and get down the baselines for his pose.
“So you are drawing,” he replies.
“Your hair is frustrating to draw is all.” You refer back to his previous question.
Suddenly he seems intrigued and smiles a little bit, slightly ruining the image of him that you had in your head but you don’t seem to mind as much.
You flip the notepad to show him your doodles and his smile widens. “Wow, you’re really talented,” he says. “I can tell you really pay a lot of attention to detail…” You watch his eyes as they linger on his build in the drawing.
Your gaze trails down to the drawing and you sigh inwardly, knowing what you promised yourself you’d do. “Listen… I don’t think we should keep doing this… I think it might be best if I go stay at a hotel instead of here,” you tell him.
It catches him off guard and his eyes snap to you. “What? What do you mean?” he asks.
“I mean I can’t keep having sex with you. I don’t want this to turn into a whole friend with benefits thing. It would just be better if we were just friends instead. So I should go,” you explain, not daring to look at his reaction.
“Hold on, why does it sound like you’re blaming me for all of this? The first time I asked if it was okay. You could have stopped me and I would have. The second time YOU were the one that initiated it. So I don’t get where this is coming from,” he argues back, his voice forcing you to look at him.
“No, no, that’s not it at all. You’re right, the whole thing is on me. I just think it would be too tempting if I stayed here with you. Not unless there was somewhere else for me to sleep,” you reply.
Terry shakes his head and places a hand on your shoulder. “Hey, I get it, okay? I don’t want you to have to waste your money staying the night at a hotel so just stay here. As long as you agree that we shouldn’t be doing things at night then we won’t do anything. That’s all you had to say. I thought things were going just fine the way they were,” he explains.
“I know, I know,” you say and rub your temple in frustration. “I just haven’t been myself lately is all and I don’t think I’m in the right state of mind.”
“I understand,” he replies. But for some reason, you can see what looks to be hurt in his eyes and yet his trademark smile returns. “It was a plus and all, but it’s not like I couldn’t live without it,” he says then turns back to look at your drawing. “So, what do you do for a living anyway? I hope it’s something art-related because I might have to kill you if you were letting such talent go to waste.” You can tell by how far he’s pushing it that he desperately wants to change the subject.
“I’m a graphic designer,” you reply. “I’ll have to go back tomorrow. I had today off thankfully,” you say. But work is something you’d rather avoid since it’s still on the line and now it’s your turn to change the subject. “It snowed a lot last night.”
He turns his head toward a window to look out at the snow for a brief moment. “Yeah, it’s nice. It reminds me of when Andy and I were kids,” he says. “Though, we never really had much of a childhood.” He laughs at this, though you wonder what he means.
“Yeah… my sister and I used to play in the snow all the time after school,” you say before looking down. “Those were the good days…” you trail off.
“Where is your sister now?” He’s hit the nail on the head and there’s no way he doesn’t realize what he’s done as soon as he’s done it.
“Hell if I know…” you reply and take a sip of your coffee. It’s a bit cooler now but it’s better than speaking again.
“Were you two not close?” Terry asks.
You shake your head. “We were, I just haven’t spoken to her since my mother sort of disowned me…”
Terry seems to notice the crestfallen look which so happens to grace you at that moment because his expression is evidently concerned. His hand gets closer to yours but he doesn’t notice it and he’s leaned a little closer to you. “Don’t you think maybe you should try to get in touch with one of them? Family is important, you know?” he says.
“If only you understood…” you trail off. “My mom and I were always at odds with one another, it was like she always disagreed with everything I did. The thing that really ticked her off was that I had no plans to get married to anyone after I graduated from college. She kicked me out after that as a way to somehow encourage me, but you can see how well that went.” You don't know why you were telling him all of this or how it was so easy to do so. But maybe it was just how lax Terry looked while you explained everything, his attention was fully on you while he was leaned against his hand. “Well anyway, I haven’t spoken to either of them since then… part of me wishes I had them back in my life, but I don’t want all the conflict to come back,” you finish.
He takes a moment to ponder everything you’ve said then looks at you fully. “It sounds like a tough situation… I can see where it would be hard to make a move,” he says. “But as I said, family’s important. I don’t know what I’d do without Andy. Maybe your mother really misses you, maybe she regrets what she did too. And it sounds like you and your sister weren’t on bad terms, so maybe you should try to reconnect. I’m sure it would help since you’re going through a hard time right now.” He stands after that and tips back the rest of his coffee only to begin heading back for the kitchen. “Andy and I grew up in poverty for most of our childhood but we were adopted by a really kind man named Jeff.” His head turns back to you for a brief moment. “But he was murdered in front of us a little while after that… so it’s only been us since then. We’ve struggled and we argue a lot, but in the end, we’re all each other has, you know?” You hear a gentle clang as he places his mug into the sink.
Now you find yourself listening, intrigued by the story he had to tell. It was crazy to you to think that there was so much to Terry that nobody would have known just by looking at him. He was a lot less shallow than you had originally pegged him to be. “I see…” you trail off. “I don’t know, maybe I’ll work myself up to it someday. But that aside, I really should try to get to a store today. I’m gonna need at least a few outfits for work and some other things,” you say.
“Oh sure,” Terry says. “You want me to help you pick out some bras and panties?” He looks back at you with a grin on his face, leaning back against the counter, but he only gets a glare in return.
“Watch it,” you warn him.
“It was only a joke,” he replies with a laugh. But you can tell it was only half true. Terry knows you’re not having any of it too but he doesn’t seem to care. “I’ll go get dressed and then we can head out, okay?” He leans away from the counter after that and you watch with menacing eyes as he returns to his room.
You wait about ten minutes for him to dress and when he emerges, he’s carrying with him what appears to be a spare jacket and your purse but he’s not wearing his hat. He places both down on the table one at a time. “I figured you might need this seeing as how we’re going shopping… and this is so you don’t freeze to death,” he says.
You can already tell by looking at it that the jacket is going to be far too big for you. But you’re appreciative nonetheless and stand up from your chair to put it on. He quickly sees the reason you were looking at it so apprehensively. “So, it’s a little big, but you’ll thank me when you aren’t frostbitten,” he says.
“Yeah, thanks I guess,” you say then sling your purse around your shoulder.
“You look good in leather anyway,” Terry says and begins leading you to a side door.
You’ve come to realize that ignoring him is usually a better option than going back and forth with him and so this time, you choose the initial. You’re led into a musty-smelling garage which seems pretty cramped with stuff and realize that this is probably where all the items belonging in his house have been stationed. But one thing— the jewel of the entire room— sits in the middle of it all. It’s a beautiful royal red-colored Harley Davidson with a pair of helmets perched on the seats. “You’re kidding, right? A Harley?” you ask, looking at him as he grabs the helmet sitting on the back seat.
“Would you have preferred a crotch rocket?” Terry asks and beckons you over to him. Once you’re in front of him, he places the helmet over your head, lifting the visor while he helps with the buckle.
“No, I’m just shocked is all,” you answer. If it weren’t for the piles of stuff in the garage, you would’ve assumed he had sold everything to afford that ride. You still wondered how he did.
He turns to put on his own helmet once yours is secured then goes to the garage door and opens it, letting in the pristine light coming off the snow outside. It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust to it, but once they do, you noticed Terry had wheeled the bike out into the driveway which wasn’t plowed at all. You’re hesitant to step into it with your fabric boots, not at all equipped for such conditions, but he beckons you out anyway.
“Have you ever ridden on a motorcycle?” he asks you as he hops onto the front.
“Uh…” you trail off as you approach the backside of the bike. “No, I haven’t.”
Noticing the unease in your voice, Terry looks back at you. You can’t see it because of the helmet, but you can tell he’s smiling. “It’s completely safe, don’t worry,” he assures you and pats the seat behind him. “You don’t have to hold onto me if you don’t want to, but you can if it’s more comfortable that way,” he explains.
So as not to waste any more time, you sit down on the back, searching for some kind of handle. “Wait so… if I don’t hold onto you, I just… sit? What if I fly off from the speed?” you ask, causing him to laugh.
“That’s not how that works, just hold onto me, you’ll see,” he says.
The sound of the engine rumbling beneath you immediately puts anxiety inside of you and instinctively, your hands latch onto his shoulders. You feel him laughing, unable to hear it through the helmet and the engine.
You watch him look around, checking the mirrors and to ensure your feet are on the pedals. Then he lifts the kickstand and the motorcycle rolls slowly down the driveway.
“Are you sure this is a good idea with all the snow? What if it slips!” you shout over the engine.
“It’ll be fine! I do this all the time!” he yells back. “Ready?”
You take a deep breath, trying to calm yourself down. “As I’ll ever be,” you reply.
With that, the two of you drive off to the right and speed up down the street. The experience is exhilarating but the bothersome cold distracts from the dangerous aspect of it. When you stop at a stop sign, he looks into one of the rearview mirrors at you. “You all right?” he asks.
“Um! I think so!” you shout again, only to feel him laugh in response.
With that, the two of you sped off down the road.
Chapter 5: Melody
It was about a twenty-minute ride to the mall, scary at first, but you eased into it as he had said. Terry chooses a parking spot near the front. Even with the coat that he gave you, you're beyond freezing and can't wait to get inside. You both seem to be on the same page and rush inside once he belts down the helmets to ensure they won't be stolen.
You both let out a sigh of relief once the heating of the mall hits your skin. "That's better," you say.
"So, what do you want me to do? I can walk around with you or I can hang out in the food court until you're done, whichever you want," Terry replies.
For a moment, you consider your options, the sound of people bustling around serving as a minor distraction to the process. "You can come with me, it's fine," you reply.
The two of you find your way through the mall, weaving through its plentiful patrons with bags in hand, sometimes knocking one of you in the kneecaps with them. But it doesn't seem to bother you very much.
It feels strange in a way to be guiding someone who seems like they'd be more of a leader through the mall. The only thing that tops the cake of anxiety with a cherry is the fact that the two of you look nothing alike and for that reason, could easily be mistaken for a couple. There's not a shadow of a doubt in your mind that if brought up, Terry would milk the assumption for all it was worth, but you, you wouldn't know how to even respond to such a situation.
Thankfully, the duration of your trip through the different stores leaves nothing to be said on the matter, but no one had to. You could tell by the assuming stares from other customers and cashiers that they just put two and two together. Maybe it was just you thinking too much, or perhaps it was only the passing glances of those people admiring the eye-candy beside you. Either way, you were uncomfortable and regretted not leaving him in the food court. It was too late to make him go back. Besides, it seemed like he was having fun accompanying you, or as you saw it, drawing everyone's attention to you.
At last the dreaded moment was upon you. As you sheepishly rounded the next corner of the mall, you cringed at the bright pink and hearts glaring back at you with a big black sign that read "Victoria's Secret". A cheaper alternative might have been something like "Macy's" or "JCPenney" but either way, the embarrassment would have remained all the same.
Now you're standing in front of the store with a few other of your bags from the trip in hand, just waiting for some smart remark to leave Terry. "Have you ever wondered who Victoria is? Or what her secret is?"
Your eyebrows raise and you hold back the grin disgustingly creeping its way onto your lips as this certainly had been the last thing you'd expected to come out of Terry's mouth while looking at the gorgeous model plastered on either side of the trim. "No, Terry, I have not," you reply and look over at him, only to see that he looks completely fine with everything that's happening.
Once he notices your eyes on him, he meets them with his own, thumbs hooked casually through the loops on his jeans. "So, are we just going to stand here gawking at the hot ladies on the walls or are we going in there?" he asks.
You pull your eyebrows together and ask, "we?" Your head shakes in disapproval. "You're not going in there with me." While your mind couldn't possibly resist the fleeting thought of him trying on an oversized bra of his own, there was no way you were letting him go in there with you. Although, this did provide your lips a small crease, completely obliterating any amount of seriousness meant to come from your statement.
"What? Why not?" he asks as though there was any chance under the sun that you would have allowed that anyway.
"WHY?! What would you know about... women's undergarments, huh? You'd do nothing more than mess with my head in there," you hiss back, placing your hands on your hips.
Immediately he starts laughing, knowing you have him completely under your thumb. "You're an intellectual, I'll give you that," he says. "I was only kidding anyway, I'll wait out here."
Like usual when he mentions something regarding his ritualistic behavior being a joke, you completely disbelieve him and the look he receives from you makes it evident. It's your only parting gift to him before you leave your bags with him and walk into the Victoria's Secret like it's home.
As it is with every other store, an employee greets you just as soon as you begin browsing through their selection, asking if they can help you find anything, to which you kindly reply that you're just looking. Fire or not, it had been quite some time since you had gone shopping for these sorts of things for yourself. You walk around, feeling the padding of the different selections, trying to see which ones would fit and feel the best.
But of course, the nagging feeling of eyes upon you lifts your head toward the gaping entrance to the store where literally the entire mall can see you feeling fabric molded for different breast types, more specifically Terry, who is eyeing you with a teasing grin.
You're about to show him your best death glare when you hear a voice beside you that makes your stomach fall to the floor. When you turn your head, you're face to face with Anna while your skin is trying its very best to regain the color it had lost at that moment.
"Hey, I thought I saw you here," she says, her expression full of pitiful worry for you. Her response to your plea for help the night before still left a sour taste in your mouth.
But as much as it would have been far more preferable over staying with Terry, causing your feelings toward him to grow far more complex, the only thing most prominent on your mind was the dread you felt in realizing she could have seen you making eye contact with him.
To your indescribable dismay, she follows your former path of sight to the absolute hunk sitting on the bench outside the store. He could have passed for any other dude in the mall if it weren't for the fact that there were bags beside him with logos advertising shops someone like him would never visit, and you curse the fact that she would notice a detail as small as that. The slow craning of her head back over to you is like a countdown to the actual apocalypse and you wish you could completely disappear by the time her eyes locked with your circumventing ones.
"(F/n) (L/n)," she says in that accusing tone of hers. "Why were you looking at him?" she asks.
"Looking at who?" you ask behind a contrived face as if any of this would be enough to sneak past the jacked bodyguard that was Anna's notorious conniving.
Catching you utterly off guard, she grabs your face and forces you to look directly at Terry, to which he returns an almost knowing smile to you.
Once your cheeks are released from her grasp, she stares at you with a look you can only describe as pure evil. "You know him, don't you?" She's figuring it out all at once and you don't know how many more brutal punches to the gut you can take, you're almost on the floor.
"Uhh..." you stammer, your eyes refusing to travel to either hers or Terry's. Thankfully this display doesn't go on for much longer and you're dragged out of his line of sight. But it doesn't make the situation even slightly better as you know she's about to chew you out for keeping someone who looks like HIM a secret from her.
Her eyes are like knives in your very existence, purging you from it. "You didn't end up going to a hotel last night, did you? Who is that?!" she exclaims excitedly. The image of her jumping up and down like a child on a sugar high is so prominent, you can basically see it at this point.
You're trying to keep your apparent association with him as discrete as possible, but something about the predatorial look on her face tells you that no matter what you tell her, she's going to mark you with a stamp that says "Big Fat Liar" in big red letters on your forehead and assume the absolute worst. "You're making this into a bigger deal than it needs to be, he's just a friend," you say in the most unremarkable tone you can muster. But apparently, nothing can squeeze past her impenetrable defenses.
"Oh, please, if he was just a friend, you wouldn't have been trying so hard to hide the fact that he was sitting there all stoic like the come-hither alluring man that he is," she says. "Spill, now," she demands.
"Don't!" You give her a ripe punch to the shoulder. "Don't talk about him like that!"
You could have told her the truth of the whole thing, but when it all came down to it, you didn't know exactly what you were. Friends, sure, but what after that? Nothing, you hoped.
"All right, all right, so we met in a bar and he got beat up really bad so I took him back to my apartment to help him but things escalated and, we well--"
"(F/n)! Are you kidding me?! And you never said anything?!" Anna exclaims back and you clamp your hand over her mouth to shut her up because it seemed her octaves were only going to escalate every time she spoke.
"Listen, it's not like that anymore," you quickly shut her down. "I told him I didn't want to do things like that with everything that's been happening lately and he respects it, so we're just friends."
Before you can stop it, Anna frees herself from your hand, looking like she's about ready to scream her lungs out from the rooftops. Thankfully, it's not nearly as dramatic as you thought it would be. Perhaps she realized she was obtaining disturbed looks from every other customer in her vicinity. "So let me get this straight, this man, is not only entirely gorgeous, but he's kind enough to let you stay with him and gracious enough not to throw himself at you?" she asks.
To avoid things getting any more complicated, you nod your head yes, though, he was far more than a hair's breadth away from being anywhere close to gracious.
"Are you insane?!" Her ear-splitting banshee scream returns with a vengeance. "If I were you, I would jump at the drop of a pin! What's his name?"
You do your best to try and ignore the eyes around you staring in annoyance at the little scene she's causing and you figure you'd better calm her down before someone kicks you out. "It's Terry," you reply. "Now please, could you calm down? People are looking at us and I really need to finish up here and go."
Anna pushes her thumb against her lower lip as she did when she was in thought. "Terry, hm..." she says. "All right, fine. But just so you don't keep your man waiting." She sends a devious smile your way, knowing this is just bound to piss you off. To make matters worse, she also starts walking away from you.
You sigh, knowing nothing you say will change her mind on the situation. You wish things could be as simple as she had said, but unfortunately, they could not. It wasn't as though you were new to stumbling in places like these as though the path of life was just ripped from beneath you like nothing more than a rug for the pure laugh of it. But this felt like you were poised for tip-toeing across a thin wire with no safety net to catch you if you trip and fall into the bottomless drop awaiting you should you do so.
You run a hand through your hair as if it would clear your mind of any and all thoughts on the matter. It only helps a little though. The rest comes as you go through the store with no distractions to ruin the peace you'd started to feel, ironically, in a women's underwear store.
When you find what you're looking for, you take a short amount of time to try them on in the changing room then check out. You feel the tranquility that once brimmed inside drain away like pulling the plug on a bathtub as soon as your eyes land on Terry. He's not doing anything annoying like usual, in fact, he just seemed to be mindlessly looking around at all the pointless things around him until you emerged from the store. "Ready?" he asks, adjusting his lax posture so he looks prepared to stand.
"Yeah," you reply simply and watch him get to his feet.
"So that friend of yours..." he says as he gathers all your bags in his hands and you immediately feel every part of your confidence crumble into the void, rendering it purposeless to you. It's like he can see this metaphysical happening as he laughs. "She's really something, huh?"
You groan and place your hand over your eyes, squeezing both your temples in frustration. "What did she say to you?" you ask, knowing Anna definitely talked to him after she left your side in the store. You can't believe that with an overanalytical mind such as your own, you failed to see the latter as a possibility.
He cracks up once again, his face starting to get red from laughter. "Nothing, nothing, she's just a character. Probably your exact opposite," he says, though you know he's lying, at least about Anna not saying anything to him.
"Whatever," you snap back at him. "I think I'm done here, so we can go."
Terry's face softens from the intensity of laughter then pats your back, minding his own strength. "Relax, it's nothing, really. And I was thinking I'd buy us lunch before we leave. I don't know about you, but coffee's not gonna keep me held over for long," he says.
Usually, when people tell you to relax, the exchange doesn't go over well with you. But the mentioning of food seems to have a surprising opposite effect on you and your mind immediately goes on a tangent of wondering what you'll eat. Food was often the best remedy for stress aside from drawing. "I'm glad you brought it up, I probably would have forgotten such luxury existed if you hadn't," you say and walk ahead of Terry, having inadvertently entrusted carrying all of your belongings to him.
The two of you made your way back to the main entrance where the food court was situated, not only that but most of the mall's patrons. You attempt to find a table that's as secluded from other people as you can and force Terry to weave through all the other tables while doing so. When at last you find a decent enough table, you sit yourself down as though you've just walked a marathon, disregarding Terry as he places all your stuff down by the table. "So, what do you want to eat?" he asks. The so-called strain of carrying all of your bags didn't seem to bother him, so you mention nothing of being sorry for making him haul it along for you.
You look around for a moment to consider your options, your eyes landing on what seems to be the best option. "Hmm... Five Guys has good food," you say, and he doesn't seem disapproving of it. "Get me a cheeseburger and some french fries... please."
He smiles at your ever so humble request. "Your wish is my command," he replies then walks away toward the restaurant you pointed out.
To your surprise, the rest of your time at the mall passed by rather uneventfully and when you finished with your lunch, you and Terry returned to the parking lot and packed all of your things into the satchel bags on the side of his motorcycle.
The ride home was just about as cold as the ride there, if not colder, so you're glad once he brings the motorcycle back into the garage and your helmets are removed.
As he finishes wrapping up the protective gear and taking out the things you bought, you gaze around the garage once more like earlier, wondering how all the items inside ended up here, or why. You decide it couldn't really hurt to ask.
"Hey so... how come you have all this stuff in here?" you ask. "It looks like stuff that should be inside," you add.
Terry looks over at you as he slings the last bag around his forearm. "All this? Eh, it's some of mine and Andy's stuff from our old place. It may not look like it, but this is an upgrade from what we used to have. We moved in a few months ago but I guess we never got around to actually unpacking it," he explains as he walks inside.
You follow after him but you can't help but feel an urge creeping upon you that you shouldn't allow that stuff to sit any longer. It needs a place. "Why don't I help you move it all in?" you ask. "The place is a little empty, you know. It'd make it a little homier in here, don't you think?"
Once inside, Terry places all of your bags down on the couch then looks at you with his hands on his hips like he's about to scold you and you kind of like the thought because for once you don't have to be the one to scold him. At least not yet. "So, you make me haul all of those bags around the mall, buy you lunch and now you want me to do more manual labor?" he asks. You can tell he's joking with you though.
"Hey, you offered to buy me lunch and you never complained about the bags until now," you point out. "Besides, doesn't this count as me doing you a favor?"
He rolls his eyes with a smile on his lips. "Eh, why the hell not. Since you're motivated... and it has been sitting in there for a while now," he says.
"Yeah, see? Plus, you gotta work off all that food now. Don't wanna lose all those muscles now, right?" You backhand his chest but his grin remains, which means you're probably going to regret feeding into his hubris.
"I think you might be the only one thinking that," he taunts you then removes his coat, stretching almost as if that was the only reason he took it off like it was to pull your chain a little more. "But yeah, you're right."
That might be your new most hated thing about him, how he teases you then quickly loops back to the actual subject of the matter like he never said anything. You really wish you could punch him again. But the bruises on his otherwise flawless skin beg you not to.
You decide to get to work with the whole thing and it takes you about two hours to begin making visual progress with it. If you didn't know any better, you'd have thought you were digging through your own emotional baggage.
Just as you're beginning to get cold and tired, you pull something out from one of the boxes that you weren't expecting to find, given the rest of Terry and Andy's stuff, most relating to sports or martial arts. But this was something you wouldn't have been surprised if Terry said the thing was thrown into the box by mistake somehow.
"An acoustic guitar?" you ask, leaning to the side to check who the box belonged to and sure enough, Terry's name was plastered on it.
You see his head peak up from the other side of the diminishing pile of stuff then watch while he walks over to investigate your findings. "Oh, I remember this thing," he says, reaching for the guitar and you hand it over to him. "I wonder if I still remember how to play..." he trails off, finding a box to sit on.
"Wait, really? You played this?" you ask.
He adjusts the guitar in his grasp, placing his fingers between some of the frets, pressing on the strings. "Yeah, some time ago, I dipped my feet into the music scene a little bit... well... I guess that's a bit of an understatement..." he trailed off, starting to play a few notes, but the guitar was horribly out of tune and you could tell by its condition that it had to have been played a lot. "I used to play this thing and practice until my fingers bled from cutting them on the strings," he said.
"There's no way you can forget something like that," you say and find a spot on the floor of the garage to sit, not wanting to risk falling through one of the boxes nearby should you have chosen to sit on it. Things like that always seemed to happen to you. "Try to play something."
Terry sits there for a moment while playing the strings so he can tune them, seeming to be in thought of what he should play. "Ah, you know what? Remember that song we heard over at the bar last night? I do know how to play that," he says and your heart nearly explodes out of your chest.
"Can you sing?" you ask him.
Terry tilts his head a bit and shrugs a shoulder. "I used to be able to, but I haven't practiced this stuff in quite some time. So, sorry if it's bad," he says.
"Well, you never know unless you find out, right?"
Terry begins to play a few notes, messing up a few just to test the waters and soon you begin to recognize a few. "Hm... I think I got it..." he says and finally, the sound of that beautiful guitar graces your ears in the melody you recognized so well.
(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auduturb0vc quick break from the story from author-chan! If you want to follow along with Terry's song, click the video link above ^-^ if not, I'll do my best to illustrate to you, my lovely reader-chan's, this beautiful song!))
You're surprised by his rhythm as he begins to play, even tapping on the upper bout with his palm when necessary. The next sound to grace your ears would be the orchestration of his voice humming the beginning of the song, something you hadn't anticipated before and suddenly you wish he had been the one on stage singing the other night.
"My heart is weak..." he begins the lyrics in the husky and beautifully monotonous voice which almost mirrors that of the original artist, his little accent adding a unique sort of flair to it. But it doesn't end there. He continues to maintain a near-perfect rhythm to go along with the lyrics to the song and you're suddenly eager to see how his voice will carry you through the melody.
"Tear it down piece... by... piece... leave me to think... deep in my structure, I think I still love her, but I need some sleep..."
Your utter disbelief for his musical inclination is something that punches you hard across the cheek several times, and you find your mouth parted in awe of him. He seems to hold one surprise after the other, you don't think your heart can handle all the times he keeps making it skip a beat like he's playing it like the strings of that guitar.
"You've taken my breath away, now I want to breathe..." he continues softly, licking his lips on the pause so he can keep on smoothly. "'Cause I cannot see... what you can see... so easily..."
He seems to notice your wonderment and admiration from his peripheral vision because he starts to smile while he's singing, almost like he's singing to you. Then the hums begin again and his eyes close like he's drifting off into the gentle refrain, letting the sound of his own voice bury him deeper like the waves of an ocean, and you feel the need to do so as well, rocking yourself back and forth with the beat of the song, unable to even think about the fact that he's now playing the song on guitar with his eyes closed, like it's in his nature to play it so perfectly.
As the hums continue, you feel your heart drop to the floor, knowing your favorite part of the song is about to hit you like a truck in the tones of his voice. "Leave me in peace... caught in my memories; lost underneath... deep in my structure, I feel a rupture from where she should be~"
You think you just lost the air in your lungs and you even feel a tear come to your eyes as the nostalgia you felt whilst listening to the terrible singer back in the bar comes back with a terrible vengeance.
"You've taken my breath from me... now I want to breathe... cause I cannot see... what you can see... so easily..."
But losing your breath was only the first part.
"I thought my demons were almost defeated but you took their side and you pulled them to freedom~! They know my secrets and won't let me go... won't let me go... I thought my demons were almost defeated but you took their side and you pulled them to freedom~! I kept your secrets and I thought that you would do the same...~"
The beat of the song kept going gently with the sound of the guitar strings and finally you open your eyes to see the reality of the situation once again: Terry is singing to you.
"Take me away..."
Chapter 6: Fight
You wake up early the next morning to the sound of an alarm in your ears which, to your dismay, must wake you at the early hour of seven in the morning. Neither you nor Terry are very thrilled about the whole thing, both of you stirring with a groan, only you know you have to wake up and turn it off so he doesn’t start whining. Thankfully, despite falling asleep in the same bed with him, you resisted any urges that may have come upon you during the night.
Unfortunately for you, he starts complaining in place of the alarm you had just shut up while you’re starting to get ready to leave.
“Do you have to wake up so early…?” he groans softly and nestles into the covers more, which you can only hear from the fabric of the blankets rubbing together, given it’s near pitch-black outside still.
“Quit your whining, you sound like an old man… and it’s not that early, I’ll be to work by eight-thirty. I start at nine, but I have to take the bus,” you explain.
“Mm…” he hums softly. You feel like maybe he’s fallen asleep again so you can resume getting ready in peace, that is until he speaks again. “What time do you get out?” he asks.
“Around seven, but with the bus, I’d be back around eight,” you answer.
“Hn… see, if it wasn’t so cold out, I’d offer to bring you on the bike…” he says.
As you start slipping off your clothes to change, you reply, “I’d rather not listen to you complain about how early it is and how cold it is… but you could pick me up on the way home.” You say this as though he’s the one offering.
“Sorry, can’t,” he says quickly and you see his eyes peel open from the corner of your own, hastening the speed at which you dress. But it’s too late, you can already feel his sleepy eyes looking all over you. “I have stuff I gotta do.”
You look over, kind of shocked he said this. Terry? With stuff to do? It was unthinkable at this point with how much free time he had. Unless… “Was that sarcasm?”
“Wish it was,” he answers. “You think I got that Harley doing nothing?” he asks you. You pause, almost feeling bad for assuming he was just some nobody in the world. “Well, you’re absolutely right.” And suddenly you don’t feel bad as he gives you a half-assed tired laugh. “I collect unemployment. The truth is, I was gonna hang out with some friends tonight.” As much as getting a ride from him would have been far more favorable, you can’t help but feel like a proud mother to hear he has a life outside of you. “You should join us. It’ll be fun.”
You roll your eyes and finish putting the rest of your clothes on and, as if he’s no longer interested, he closes his eyes again. “No thanks,” you reply.
“Was worth a shot. But maybe when you come home and hear how much fun we’re having, you’ll change your mind,” he says.
“Unlikely,” you reply. “I’ll see you later,” you add and leave the room after that to finish your routine in his bathroom to greet your brand new toothbrush. You’re not sure how Terry has managed to be around you the past day or so since you hadn’t had a toothbrush in all that time and are utterly overjoyed once the minty freshness of the toothpaste hits your mouth like an oasis after a torturous walk through a desert.
Once finished, you leave the bathroom and enter the kitchen, noticing the light’s been turned on. Sitting beneath it at the table is Terry’s brother with a half-peeled banana in his hands. The two of you lock eyes almost immediately, even if it hadn’t been your initial intention. “Morning,” you say quietly and head for the coffee maker.
“Coffee again?” he asks you, having followed your movements with his eyes toward the machine on the counter.
You don’t look at him, continuing to gather the few ingredients it takes to make your much-needed drink. “Absolutely,” you say. “Coffee’s essential if I’m gonna stay awake today.” You pour the measuring cup full of coffee grounds into the maker and begin the brew.
“Why not try sleeping more?” Andy says, his voice slitting your throat, though you try to ignore the twinge of anger you feel. You’re trying at least to be nice, but you suppose acts of kindness usually go over the same with both him and Terry: it doesn’t get through their heads and they just keep doing what they’re doing until you’re forced to retaliate. “Or maybe you could start working out at night.” At this point, you’re not sure if he’s trying to be helpful or just referencing the fact that your stamina is inferior to his own.
“Or I can just keep drinking coffee,” you turn your body in his direction with your arms crossed and despite your stiff exterior, Andy seems completely calm as he chews on another bite of his banana.
“Well then, have fun with your future heart attack,” he says then gets up. He walks toward you and now you’re not sure if he’s about to break your neck or not. To your relief, he merely tosses the banana peel he had into the garbage.
Your hands fall away from your chest and rest on your hips. “Listen, what’s your deal, banana boy? I’ve been trying to be nice, you know? Why do you hate me?” you ask.
“I don’t know what you’re getting all puffy for or why you’re expecting us to get along. I just find you particularly annoying, is that not allowed?” His eyes consider you and your pathetic attempt at being even remotely threatening toward him and then as if to mock you, mirrors your posture.
You feel his dagger disguised by words jam its way into your chest and you can’t help feeling disappointed in yourself like it was an invited blow. “Listen, it doesn’t really matter to me how you feel about me. I just don’t understand why,” you say.
He hums like the answer is self-evident and gives up his power struggle with you, knowing he’s already won. Andy slings a punching bag around his shoulder after walking back to the table to retrieve it. “If you don’t care, then why bother seeking an answer?” he asks, his head craning slightly back to glance at you.
Your own words slice through your plan to figure him out and you could face-palm because of it. It’s like you’ve been purposely set up to fail. “Well, I don’t. But since we’re living in the same house for a while, wouldn’t it be better if we were at least pretending we get along?”
Andy throws you a pitiful laugh which you’re sure struggled to pass through his lips in the first place. “I don’t see a point in that…” he says then fully turns to you and you sort of feel trapped even though he’s all the way on the other side of the counter. “To me, you’re just the chick my brother’s fucking, nothing more, nothing less. There’s no reason we have to get along or even pretend we do.”
Luckily, the soft beeping of the coffee maker behind you yields you a chance to make it out alive from yet another stab in the chest. You choose not to argue with him, even if he has the wrong impression of you. As he says, there’s no point trying to convince him otherwise, because, in the end, you don’t mean much to him. You’ve never been much of a people-pleaser in the first place so the unspoken agreement to simply ignore one another goes without saying.
To your surprise, you’re on your way before he is. At least, you’d assumed he was going to be heading out, anyway. But once you depart, Terry exits his bedroom, looking like he’s absorbing the sun as he breaks into a huge stretch, mouth parting in a yawn that’s just as big. He enters the kitchen like the smell of coffee had lured him there just as Andy does, having returned from his bedroom to do whatever it was that kept him from leaving before you.
“Is (F/n) still here?” Terry asks as he finds a seat on top of the counter.
“No, she left,” Andy replies. His goal seems to be escaping before his brother can start talking about you. But regrettably, he doesn’t make it to the door in time.
“You are being nice to her, right?” Terry taps his fingertips rhythmically on the counter below him, speaking to his younger sibling in a chiding manner which earns him a sigh. He rolls his neck halfway, dropping his head to give Andy an annoyed look. “Seriously, come on. I think I finally found somebody I like. Can’t you at least try?”
Andy finally turns to him from the door, looking far from what one might call “compromising”. “Give me a break, Terry. I’m getting really fed up with this routine you have going on. I’m not just gonna pull a smile for any broad that happens to come through the door hooked around your ankles. I respect myself more than that. I respect you more than that. Not everyone is deserving of kindness, and frankly, I don’t understand what you see in her at all. How can you suddenly be interested in someone who’s not only mooching off you for a place to stay but only likes you for how you look. She’s no different than anyone else you’ve screwed,” he explains.
Terry slides himself off the counter. “But that’s the thing, she’s not,” he answers before running a hand through his hair. “She’s not just throwing herself at me like girls normally do. She seems like a genuine person. I don’t know what it is, I just feel like we connect on a deeper level. When she talks, it’s like she doesn’t want anything to do with me, but I can just feel it: she’s lonely, she needs someone to be there for her, she needs a connection-- like me.”
Andy rolls his eyes at his older brother as he paces the kitchen, practically fawning over you and thankfully he doesn’t see the expression of irritation. “Or that’s just you getting ahead of yourself like you always do,” he says. “Sounds to me like you’re just getting a rush from the thrill of the chase. I don’t think it’s worth chasing a girl you met in a bar.”
“We actually met in high school,” Terry corrects him.
“I knew that name sounded familiar!” Andy suddenly bursts out, scaring his brother nearly to death from the sudden transition to loud voices from a quiet atmosphere. “You never met her in high school, your stupid ass was always too scared to talk to her even though she was dating one of your friends. I remember now because you never shut up about her,” he groans. “Great, just when I thought I’d finally escaped from that mess,” he murmurs. “We’re meeting tonight, right? In the same spot?”
Terry’s attention is suddenly pulled from you to Andy, and his look turns quickly from infatuation to seriousness. “Yeah, why wouldn’t we? We do every weekend,” he says.
Andy shrugs. “Oh, I don’t know if you forgot, but you did just invite the apparent Aphrodite herself to our home, so I wasn’t sure if you were just fine with her potentially screwing up that pretty little face of hers once she wonders where all of the ruckus is coming from,” he says.
Terry laughs at his depiction of you, however fake it might’ve been. “Nonsense, I’d be fine if she stumbled upon it. After all, it’s not like I’ve broken the first rule. And her face would be fine. I always participate and I’m still apparently Eros in the flesh,” he says, adding onto Andy’s little analogy of Greek gods.
“Nice one, dumbass. You realize Aphrodite ended up with Ares, right?” Andy says as he shakes his head, turning toward the door again.
“Until Eros swoops in and shoots her with his arrow.” Andy is unsure if Terry’s making up the story for the sake of irony or if he really is that stupid. Though, he’d rather go with the latter since even he has to agree that his brother can be a real idiot sometimes.
“I’m done talking about Greek mythology with you. I’m going to the gym,” Andy replies, saying nothing more as he leaves the house, abandoning his brother within.
Terry leans back against a wall, ignoring the cold that slices through him as his bare skin makes contact with it. His head tips back, eyes closed as you come to mind and a fanciful sigh wedges through his lips. If love were as easy as shooting Eros’ arrow, he’d have done it in a heartbeat but it’s unfortunately so out of the question, it’s not even fathomable so he doesn’t even try to imagine it. Though, he can’t be sure if “love” is really the right word for it. At least not yet anyway.
You’d arrived at work about three hours ago without catching sight of Anna or Wilson. Wilson was a bit less important since the email you’d soon receive would come to you about the matter for which you were stressing before he did. Still, despite it all, you’re strangely at peace and you can’t discern whether it’s because you’re sitting by your lonesome in your office with nothing to do or that the coffee you had that morning was hitting differently. You were sure it was the first thing you mentioned though. But still, it’s nice to just sit and not have to think about anything, even with the inevitability that you will at some point start to wander off while playing a game of solitaire on your computer.
Your cheek is smooshed against your fist as it rests on the desk space beside your computer. Your face is blank as you realize you’re about to run into yet another pointless game and your cursor absentmindedly begins setting its course for the “restart” button.
It’s not like you’re necessarily stressing over it, but more like accepting the fact that at this point your life has become a game of solitaire; constantly dancing around the restart button until you get another chance to play, knowing that you will naturally run out of moves. You’ve just had yet to come across a game with the cards dealt in your favor.
Before you can continue making the stupidest analogy probably ever, the moment you’ve been dreading all day falls upon you. Your door clicks open, pulling your attention from your fresh game and toward the person who intruded. It’s Anna, looking like she has more information to spill than you’re comfortable with.
She walks over, sitting down in one of the chairs in front of your desk. “I found your boyfriend’s Facebook page,” she says and at this point, you don’t even have the mental capacity to act like you’re surprised. She pulls out her cellphone, holding it in front of her like she’s about to announce breaking news. “Terry Bogard. He went to Eastman High, and after cross-checking my references, it’s the same high school you went to. He has a younger brother named Andy Bogard. He was born on March 15th, 1991-- the same year as you-- making you both the same age. His brother is a year younger than you.”
You slouch further in your chair as she dumps every bit of personal information about the man you’re staying with, an uninterested look on your face. The only thing that could shake you is the pain coursing through your back from your posture that you don’t have enough energy to correct.
“Hmm… March 15th… I guess that’d make him a Pisces. (F/n), what’s your zodiac sign?”
You rub your eye as her chipper voice makes your head pound. “Anna… I don’t even believe in astrology. You’re not getting anywhere with this, it’s not gonna happen with him.” You say this monotonously, hoping it will convey your uninterest in the conversation.
“But why?” she groans hopelessly. “He’s literally everything you need. He’s handsome, charming, funny, and he obviously cares about you too!”
You run your hand over the rest of your face, letting it sit in your palm at last. “I don’t need a boyfriend right now. I need to get myself in order before I can start worrying about someone else,” you say.
“Okay, but do you at least admit you like him?” she asks, keeping the smile on her face even if she can feel your eyes bearing into hers.
“Anna, did you come here to do anything work-related, or did you just come here to bother me?” you ask her, completely disregarding her question.
Anna pulls an indescribable expression of disgust at you. “Ew, why do you sound like Wilson?” She gets up after that. “Look, I’m just trying to help you here. You’re always saying how you don’t want to die alone, well the chance not to is right in front of you and you’re not grasping it,” she says as she walks toward your office door.
“Well, who says I need to jump at the first chance I get?” you ask.
Anna’s eyebrows draw together, watching your pathetic form before shaking her head at you and walking out.
There was only a brief period of time after she walked out where you could definitely say you missed her presence and for a moment, you cautiously considered her words. Could anyone really blame you? You honestly missed the feeling of being attracted to someone. Perhaps that was the only real reason your mind could fathom why you’d ever be drawn to someone like Terry, aside from his looks which really meant nothing at the end of everything. Or maybe it was that you longed to be in love, though, you couldn’t seem to imagine what something like that might be like.
The movies depicted things like that so simply. Like it could all happen as soon as you lay eyes on the person in question. But it just wasn’t so, at least not for you, and if not, you had yet to have such a feeling strike you.
Once the moment passed, you quickly wrote it out of your mind. You counted it among the ranks of useless stressors that you simply just didn’t need at the moment, annoyance that would first strike your nerves like a pin-prick before blowing over your skin like the wind as it carried the snow outside your cubicle window.
By the end of the workday, you clock out feeling as you did when you clocked in: completely counter-productive. Descending the stairs to the parking lot feels strange. Normally, the thoughts surging through your head by this time of day are what you’ll have for dinner or what you’ll watch on TV when you get home. But you don’t have a home anymore and it’s not as though this fact is foreign to you. Regardless, it feels strange that you can only imagine those luxuries in flames.
Once you reach the lobby from the stairwell, your eyes meet with Anna who is sitting on a bench by the front exit. A surge of desperation reaches your legs and despite your wishes to crash into a pile of dust when you get home, your pace quickens so you can make it past her without her stopping you. The energy to do so eludes you and you can feel every muscle in your legs crying in pain.
“Hey, (F/n)?” Unfortunately, you are unable to make it past her and, suppressing the urge to snap back and tell her you’re not in the mood, you stop and slowly turn to her.
“I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry about earlier,” she says to your unassuming surprise and causes your previous desire to escape to fade into patience you didn’t think still existed.
Your eyes linger on hers and, after a glance over at one of the hanging analog clocks to make sure you’d be able to catch the bus, you sit down beside her, suddenly feeling your own need to apologize. “I think I was a bit harsh,” you reply, your head facing your lap.
You feel Anna’s hand collide softly with your back which in turn forces your eyes toward hers. “Listen, you don’t need to make it out like you’re the one to blame here. I was trying to look out for you, you know? You always seem so… sad, you know? You could really use a light in your life…” she trails off and you bite your lip as you start to feel a bit of anger resurface from earlier. “But…” You release your bottom lip from its prison between your teeth. “I know you don’t need me to tell you that, and you also don’t need me to tell you who or what that light should be.”
The rage inside drains away once she speaks fully and you suddenly begin to understand her point of view. As much as Anna could be annoying, she was all you really had to rely on and in turn, you would have wanted her to rely on you for things too. “I get it, you just wanted to help. I guess if it were me in your shoes, I might have reacted the same way… though I might be a little jealous.” You laugh at the end of it all and turn your head back toward your lap.
You notice her face brighten from the corner of your eyes and she laughs with you. “And you think I’m not?” Anna replies as you look over to see the grin on her face. “Hey, if you don’t go after him, feel free to pass me his number.”
You’re not sure why but your mood completely changes after she says this. But, like the subject of falling in love, you choose to avoid it and stand up instead. “Sorry, but I have to catch my bus,” you say to her, body facing the glass door surrounded by steel.
And in that moment, Anna’s look pries you apart, eyes gazing at every disgusting thing you tried so hard to cover and you can feel it. What you feel is buried beneath a mountain of other emotions, so deep you’re not even sure what to call it, but you know she can see it, and she can probably name it too. You thank whatever god might be looking down upon you that she chose not to use an excavator to destroy everything but what lies in a lower place and scream from the rooftops her findings like a mad scientist in search of Oak Island’s secrets.
She sends you a smile and a wave, and with that, you depart, leaving the building as a shock of cold air hits you through your new coat, which you quickly scramble to zip up. Your feet carry you mindlessly toward the same bus stop you always got on and off at, knowing this time your destination would be far from what was once familiar, taking the shape of an unknown wasteland with nothing waiting for you when you arrive.
Once you find an empty pair of seats past an isle of tired and probably irritated people, you let your own tiredness and irritation relax into the poorly-cushioned seat, suddenly understanding what each and every one of them felt like. Though, their faces were only a minor observation to you apart from the thousands of things racing through your mind even if it felt completely empty. You tried to suppress these thoughts you were having in favor of paying attention to where you should be getting off. But you lose yourself again when you pass by the stop you used to depart at. You gaze through the window, watching as the bus eases away from your stop, noticing the tall building in the background with the one blacked-out window which you remembered to be your own, scorched on the edges from the fire.
You feel the grief of all your loss wash over you at that moment and avert your eyes to the seat in front of you. Still, despite it all, that grief grabs you by the throat, plunging your head below an ocean of sorrow and you let it escape the confines of your mind. Though tears leave your eyes and caress your cheeks while wrenching pain gores your chest, you let nothing escape your lips, not a gasp, not a wail, not a sob. You stay utterly silent, and when the bus finally reaches your stop, your time for lamenting is over. You gather your purse over your shoulder and walk down the aisle toward the door, though, it feels more like a walk of shame for you.
After descending the stairs from the lit-up bus to the darkness outside, it leaves you behind, standing beside a small pile of snow, probably kicked up from a passing plow truck. Even though it’s only about eight at night, it’s nearly pitch-black outside like the feeling of midnight.
It’s about a fifteen-minute walk back to Terry’s house and when you come trudging up the pathway to the front door, the first thing you register is that there is no light whatsoever shining through any of the windows. You would have ignored this were it not for the fact that he said he would be having company over around this time. Regardless, you open the door and walk inside, greeted by complete silence and even more darkness than what met you outside. At least there, you had the company of flickering streetlights and the sound of the wind.
You fumble through the dark in search of a light switch and once you find it, you navigate to Terry’s room so you can change out of your clothes. Upon clicking on the light in there, your eyebrows draw together when you notice Terry isn’t there. Slightly paranoid, you turn your head to look behind you, only to find nothing there, which you had expected.
“Terry?” you call out softly. But, as you’d anticipated, you received no response.
Sighing, you go to kick off your pumps only to jump at, not only the sound but feeling of a slam below you. Not wasting any time with the shoes, you charge out of the bedroom, shoes clicking against the floor as you do. “Terry?! Andy?!” you call out, hoping desperately that maybe one of them would answer.
As you begin pacing the house to find the origin of the crash, you stumble across a door down the hall from Terry’s bedroom, adjacent from Andy’s. As you get closer to it, you can hear what sounds like yelling and even cheering as even more minor impacts reach your ears and rumble below your feet.
Steeling yourself for what’s to come, you lash open the door, only for this yelling to get louder. Below you are a descent of stairs leading into what you can only assume is the basement. A wall shields your eyes from what on earth could be causing such a commotion, but it falls away about midway down the stairs so you can just barely see the feet and shoulders of people fading in and out of view.
‘Is he throwing a party?!’ is all your mind can make of such an alarming scenario. You don’t waste a second storming down the stairs, shoes slamming on the wood and silencing the crowd of people which was soon revealed to you. “Terry?!” you shout over the remaining murmurs. The crowd of men parts and stares at you, allowing you to see what’s happening in the middle of it all. Your eyes widen they focus on only Terry with a bloodied face, pinning down a stranger on the concrete flooring who looks to be far worse than he himself. “What the fuck is going on down here?!” you shout from sheer astonishment.
All you can smell is sweat, blood, and warm air and all the faces peering back at you belong to men ranging from sizes big and small; black, white, and mixed.
Terry doesn’t even look astonished or ashamed of you finding him in such a position, in fact, he even smiles like this is all normal. “(F/n)! You made it!” he says as he gets off of the man below him, walking toward you. “See? I knew you’d want to join in on the fun.”
You look him up and down and step back slightly. “Fun? You call this fun?” Your eyes dart around to the crowd again, even managing to pick out Andy’s face among them. “You’re beating up a person!”
Terry brings the back of his wrist up to his brow and wipes off some of the sweat and even blood that had accumulated there. “Yeah, he loves it,” he says with a smile. You’re still bewildered as to why all of these people, and even Terry, are staring at you like you’ve just objected to the most perfect wedding imaginable. “You should join us, you look stressed.” He attempts to approach you once more, but you’re too frozen by your feet to pace back and his hands land on your shoulders. “Welcome to Fight Club,” he says.
“There is no way I’m going to stand in a crowd and watch people beat each other up,” you quickly reply and shimmy away from his hold.
“Who said anything about watching?” he asks.
“Eighth rule of Fight Club: if this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight,” someone in the crowd recites like it’s part of religious scripture. That thought alone is enough to send chills down your spine.
“Sixth rule: no shoes, no shirt,” another calls out to whom Terry violently whips his head toward, nearly thwacking you in the face with his ponytail.
“That rule doesn’t apply to a lady,” he snaps at him before he’s silenced and his face returns to yours with a pleading look upon it. “Come on, (F/n). This is your chance to let loose.”
“Let loose or get completely obliterated!” you hiss back at him.
“Relax, if it gets too bad for either side, you just say stop or tap out and the fight ends. Will you just give it a try? You’ve been so stressed out lately. It’ll be good for you,” he says.
You look at him with a furrowed brow, the crowd of men around you watching on in silence as they wait for you to make a decision. You’re unsure if it’s the pressure of their eyes on you or your own obligation that makes you decide this is a good idea whatsoever. “I can’t believe you’re convincing me to do this…” you say and slide off your shoes.
Terry throws up his hands in victory with a huge grin on his face. “Yes! Now, before we continue with the fights, would anyone care to recite the rules for her?” he asks, turning to the rest of the group.
From within the crowd, you see a hand shoot up and its owner steps forward, only for you to see that it belongs to Andy. “The first rule of Fight Club is: you don’t talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club,” he begins, and by the second rule, you pull an annoyed face. But then comes the third rule. “The third rule of Fight Club is: if someone yells ‘stop’, goes limp, or taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two to a fight. Fifth rule: one fight at a time. Sixth rule: no shirt, no shoes… which I guess doesn’t fully apply to you… seventh rule: fights will go on for as long as they have to. The eighth and final rule, which you already know: if this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.”
You and Andy lock eyes with one another as he speaks and you bow your head in acceptance of what he’s told you. “All right then, with that established… who would like to fight (F/n) on her first night?” Terry asks. But the crowd of men remains silent, no hands raising, no voices heard. “Really? No one? Why?”
One of the men finally speaks up, a tall, lanky looking man, though nothing about his current appearance can tell you where he comes from or where he might work. “I can only speak for myself, but I don’t want to hit a girl,” he says.
“Well then, I guess you’re first, huh?” Terry replies and moves toward him. “(F/n), get over here.” He coaxes you toward the middle of the crowd of men after forcing the man who spoke out to join you.
The two of you stand there locking eyes with one another, both looking as though neither of you wants to be there. You’d never been in a fistfight before, nor had you ever had any desire to do so either. You can’t see why anyone would ever want to either, but apparently, at least most of the people here had one reason or another for being here. You didn’t know your own though. You could have simply left, but you didn’t.
You raise your slim hands toward your face, balling them into fists. You were using a stance you remembered rather vividly from the fight Terry got into with the bartender and you can almost feel his smirk from behind you.
“Get on with it you two,” you can only assume Andy says since you can’t see him. His voice is rougher than Terry’s, but they have similar accents.
Suddenly everything that’s going on dawns upon you and you can hardly believe you’re in this situation. Your breathing hastens as you internalize all the faces staring at you and your hands begin to shake. Maybe you can just get it over with though, hit lightly and the other guy will get the memo. You’ll cheese your way out of it. The look on the other guy’s face makes it seem like you could get away with it too. So, you approach him and hit him with a light punch to the arm.
You hear a few snickers around you, laughing at the fact that you barely staggered the other guy. Unbeknownst to you, Terry is studying you intensely. After all, he knows you can hit harder than you’re showing off. But this fact didn’t even come to you, your mind was on plenty of other things. All of the embarrassment of being stared at and pitted against a man suddenly drains out of you when he retaliates with a full-force punch straight to your face, knocking you back with a grunt of pain. You see a flash of red as your blood flies from your lips and you’re utterly astonished as a mound of cheers pile up on all sides of you.
You don’t know why, but when the man hit you, all you could feel aside from the pain was an inexpressible rage forming from the crest of your cheek where he struck and radiating throughout the rest of your body. Once you stumbled to a more stable stance you wiped the blood from your lips, chancing a quick glance at it before narrowing your eyes at the man in front of you. It felt like a piece of your trust in this stranger had just been chipped away.
You run forward to close in faster than before and strike back. Your fist was aimed in no particular way and you hit just above the man’s brow, making him stagger a bit but he comes back with a roundhouse punch, aimed right at your head. You raise your arm just in time to block it but it collides pretty hard with your arm. It was still recovering from the pain that came blazing up it from the impact you made with the raw bony structure of his face.
Soon, you can’t even remember who threw the first punch as your fists slam into one another one by one. You both stumble apart for a moment before diving back at one another, wild screams drowning your pants and growls as you exchange harsh blows with each other.
You dodged his fist once, which you came upon a brief moment of pride for, then threw another fist at his face. He staggers back once more and you catch a glimpse of his umber eyes before his head tilts back toward you and smashes into your forehead. Fireworks burst in your vision as it blackens for a moment. But to your surprise, not even such a heavy blow as this causes you to give up. If anything, you feel far more determination to win.
Before you can blink more than a few times, there’s a bruise above your eye and blood on your knuckles, though you don’t remember much of the fight itself. All you remember is the sheer adrenaline you received from bringing someone bigger than you to his knees. The only thing that snaps you out of it in the first place is the man pinned down by the pain you’re delivering to his face yelling, “stop!” and it clicks. You snap out of this trance you’d been somehow put into and stop the fist you’d been about to bring down upon the man.
The first thing you register is how hard your heart is pounding, then the pain radiating through your body, coming specifically from quite a few different places on your skin. You feel something run off the bow of your lips, knowing it’s not any kind of snot. The smell of vital fluids and sweat has become much more prominent. When you’re done noticing what’s been done to yourself, you look down at the man below you whose face is barely recognizable from all the inflammation and blood, nose twisted to the left.
Slowly, you get off of the man and your attention is brought to Terry who had come up beside you. He’s smiling widely at you. “Look at you! You killed it!” he exclaims then looks at the rest of the crowd. “Someone get him to a hospital, I’ll be right back.” Then, he takes you by the wrist, leading you through the crowd of men and toward the stairs.
“Terry, what happened back there?” you ask him once you reach the top of the stairs.
“You, (F/n), just got into your first fight… well, what I assume was your first fight,” he says as he guides you to the bathroom. Once there, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and are immediately taken aback by what you see. Your face is not nearly as bloodied as the man, but it’s certainly close. There are blooming bruises dappling your shoulders, arms, face, and neck and you can hardly believe it. As you suspected, blood is streaming down your nose from both nostrils.
The first thing that comes to mind is work. “How am I supposed to show up to work looking like this?!” you exclaim as he fights you to sit down on the lidded toilet.
“Relax, it’ll be fine,” he assures you before rummaging through the cabinet below the sink. He then pulls out a plethora of different first aid items such as bandages, peroxide, and Neosporin, among other things and as he does, it dawns upon you that he’s probably been doing this for a long time, judging by all the supplies he has for the occasion.
You sigh, not wanting to argue with him about it, but it doesn’t stop your anger from boiling inside. Though, you guess you can’t exactly blame him since it’s really your own fault that you allowed yourself to join in on this whole thing. But you’re still in disbelief that Terry would participate in such a… sadistic practice.
As he begins to rub peroxide into your wounds, you feel that anger spike and lash your hand out at him, slapping it away. “Stop, that hurts!” you hiss at him, earning yourself an irritating laugh from him.
“Looks like the tables have turned, huh?” he says. “You’re like a feral animal when you’re all riled up.” He laughs again, only this time it’s different as the cotton ball all soaked up with peroxide meets the wound on your jaw again. “I like a girl with a little fight in her, you know… it’s attractive. You did well. But how did it make you feel?” he asks.
Your eyebrows raise as you give him a dumbfounded look. “Did you really just flirt with me while I look like this?” you ask him and he laughs at you again.
“Why not?” he says while looking at you with his own bruises flecked upon his face.
“Because it’s not getting you anywhere,” you reply, but his face is proving you wrong, though you don’t know it yet.
“I disagree, I got you to shut up about cleaning you up, didn’t I?” he answers as he swabs the blood on your face then looks down to your legs. “Probably not the best of ideas to be fighting in a skirt and stockings…” he says, noticing the bruises forming there too. “And you got most of these clothes yesterday, didn’t you?” He sighs. “Sorry, I’ll replace them.” He stands up straight after that and heads for the door. “I’m going to go tell the others they should leave since it’s getting a bit late anyway, you can clean up whatever’s on your legs and get comfortable until I’m back.”
You nod at him and with that, he exits the bathroom, leaving you to finish treating your battered body. Once finished, you gather the items leftover and put them back underneath the sink, only to leave the bathroom afterward to collapse into bed, after lazily changing your clothes of course. The pain from your exhausted muscles and wounds washes over you like a wave of knives once your body is still and the adrenaline has left your once vibrating veins.
You didn’t know how you were meant to get out of bed and be ready for work the next morning, but until your insurance company got ahold of you, you couldn’t exactly afford to be missing work. Although it was troubling, your mind suddenly thought back to Terry asking you how the whole thing made you feel and the truth was, it was invigorating, as much as it hurt so terribly after the fact.
You’d never fought anybody before, but you wished to do so again. With every punch, you remembered your anger and strife draining away. Surely it would fill within you once again, but at that moment, it was gone, completely. It was like drinking in a way and safer than getting into a fight with any normal person. After all, there was no need to worry about getting too seriously injured or having the cops called. No, it was safe.
When Terry returns, he too collapses onto the bed like a sack of meat, sighing as he does. “As good as it is, fighting takes a lot out of you…” he says with a huff.
“You’re telling me…” you reply. “So… when’s the next gathering?” you ask.
“Oh? So you did enjoy yourself,” he says almost triumphantly. “We meet every Saturday.”
You settle back into the pillow on your side of the bed and curl up underneath the blankets. “I guess you can consider me a member of your club,” you say.
“Ah, but you were a member the moment you walked down those stairs,” he replies. “Fighting is something that runs redder than blood in the veins of each person. We have to do it, whether it be for honor, someone we love… or even just to extinguish the emotions piling up inside. It’s essential.”
You sigh and let your eyelids fall over your eyes. “For once, I think I might have to agree with you…”
Chapter 7: Harm
DISCLAIMER!: If you are sensitive to or easily triggered by graphic depictions of violence, blood, and self-destructive behavior, this chapter is not for you. We're here for an emotional rollercoaster, not for my sweet readers to feel offended or sad!
The sun fights its way through a layer of clouds above, another dark morning for your tired body to acclimate to. Your eyes peel open slowly and just at the moment where your mind becomes consciously aware of your body, you can already tell that today is going to be hell.
All you can feel is fire lancing through your muscles, probably even going as deep as your bones. It mostly hurts in your face and rolling over is like a death sentence. But upon doing so, your body is suddenly stilled by the feeling of something roped around your torso like a boa constrictor. Immediately following that, the tickle of warm breath against the back of your neck brings a chill down your spine and your body tries to jerk away from the feeling.
By now you already know why this is happening: Terry must have rolled over in his sleep and latched onto you like a sloth. But more than it was comforting, it was painful and you fought your way out of his grasp as soon as you could. Though, you were rather shocked that he was strong enough to keep you there even in his sleep and that he had not awoken from the sound of your alarm or your struggling.
You have to admit, it feels rather lonely waking up by yourself, but you’re not exactly sure how you could have grown accustomed to such a thing not even within a week. Before you started staying at Terry’s, you always woke up alone. You’d done so for the past eleven years of your life. How could a pathetic five days of all that time be so monumental in comparison, you wonder.
When you finish dressing and completing your routine in the bathroom, your tired body is dragged further down when you discover Andy sitting in the kitchen once more. But today, he’s holding an apple in his grasp, the crisp crunch of his initial bite almost scaring you as you enter. The image he depicts is almost like a crime boss in the west. His legs sit one over the other while his face presents a cool facade as ever, his glaring eyes locking with yours for only a moment before they leave you as you make your way to the coffee-maker. Not only is he sitting in probably the most threatening position you could imagine from simply SITTING, but he also has bruises and other such wounds across his body, just like you. You know where they came from, obviously, but it doesn’t help the fact that he’s all the more brooding.
For a second, you consider greeting him with a “good morning”, but you’ve already made up your mind not to waste your breath on him and it seems he’s quietly thanking you for doing so. Though, the brief yet incredibly awkward moments of eye-contact are something you’ll have to get yourself used to.
“One day you’re gonna wake up and there won’t be any coffee grounds left because you drank them all,” he says. You’re a bit confused as to why he’s speaking to you though. He just confuses you in general. But you see no reason why you shouldn’t at least acknowledge that he spoke to you.
Your body faces him, but your eyes don’t meet since his are closed as he enjoys another bite of his apple. “Then I guess I’ll just buy more,” you reply.
Andy rolls his eyes after opening them again and stands from his chair. “I don’t have the patience to argue with you today,” he sighs and slings his punching bag over his shoulder, heading for the door.
You’re relieved yet saddened at the same time. Sure, arguing with Andy wasn’t exactly the most favorable way to spend your slowly-withering brain capacity, but it was better than being alone in silence and it’s not like you can just beg him to stay; nor would you ever want to do that.
He’s gone before you can tell him some nonsense about not caring and when the door slams behind him, you hear and feel a jeering voice whispering softly into your ears. That same demon presses hard on your aching chest and again, you’re alone. You subconsciously reach over to grab your other arm and give it a gentle squeeze, digging your nails into it.
Taking a deep breath, you free your skin from your own grasp and return to the task of brewing coffee.
In an hour, you’re departing from the bus that dragged your hollow corpse into the city and as you approach a crosswalk, time seems to go in slow motion for you. There are hundreds of people hustling around you, most of them work-bound and still, you feel the same as you did earlier. But… was it really the same? There were so many people there… the only difference was that you felt connected to none of them, you were only watching the world pass you by.
A loud honk snaps you out of your thoughts and you quickly realize that you’d stopped in the middle of the crosswalk to internalize them. Your head snaps toward the car that alerted you and you raise your hand at them, shouting a “sorry!” as you scurry your way across the rest of the street and hurry inside your workplace so you don’t have to keep experiencing the humiliation of others watching you like you were just another suicidal mad-woman.
The wind follows you inside, messing up your hair a bit before you hurry toward the stairs to get to your floor. Your burning legs take you up the next three flights of stairs and you’re honestly shocked they haven’t broken like a pair of toothpicks at this point. But you have to suppress your groans of sheer pain, which you nearly forget to do. After all, you needed to keep a low profile so nobody would point out the bruises or scrapes showing on the parts of your skin that weren’t hidden by the most discrete outfit you could find.
You almost make it to your cubicle without drawing anyone’s attention, but unfortunately, just as you’re about to twist the doorknob leading you to your office where you could’ve potentially hidden yourself all day, you feel a tap on your shoulder. Before you can properly hide anything with your hair or pull your scarf up just a bit higher, the shock gives you a start and you turn around fully to face the owner of the finger that tapped you.
Your heart races as Wilson’s eyes fall upon you and his expression changes quickly from his normal mundane poker-face to a scrunched brow.
“Oh, good morning, Wilson,” you say, trying to act like everything he’s seeing right now is completely normal.
“Jesus Christ, what happened to you?” You didn’t expect him to immediately point out the elephant in the room. You were hoping to detour him from the subject at least until you could come up with a good excuse for your god-awful appearance. Why you didn’t start thinking of one sooner than that is a mystery to you. But now that your chance to do so has been swallowed up, you’re at a loss for words and a few “uh”s and “um”s tumble through your lips before you quickly jump to an excuse.
“I was helping a friend move some stuff after work yesterday and it didn’t work out as smoothly as we planned,” you say, though, your fumbling for words probably doesn’t support his belief in them, and you can feel it in the way he looks at you that it’s just not cutting it.
“Listen. There are only a few days left until the art director comes back with his decision. So, I don’t care what’s going on in your personal life, but you need to show up to work looking presentable. If you’re going to be the face behind the look of this company, it had better be a pretty one,” he says and hands you a mound of papers. “I need you to copy these for me and there’s no ink in the printer in the other room, so you’ll have to use yours.” With that, Wilson leaves you standing in front of your cubicle, holding onto that same stack of probably useless documents.
Of course he felt the need to pick you out of every other employee in the whole building to complete something so tedious. And of course, there were a plethora of different papers that needed to be copied, so it wasn’t like you could simply put one in the copier and set the number of copies you needed to make.
Sometimes you feel like Wilson gives you work like this to pick on you. Well, you’re half right. You’d brought up the matter with him before, but he simply assured you that you were one of his hardest workers and trusted you to do such tasks, and correctly.
Needless to say, you were holed up in your office for most of your shift. You counted about thirteen remaining papers three hours later and around that time, you hear a knock on your door before Anna enters without your consent. You can instantly read that she’s heard something from Wilson because she doesn’t immediately point out what’s happened to your face.
“Hey, is everything all right?” she asks you. Her face is full of concern, a more genuine type than what you were able to gather when you met her in the mall the other day.
You sigh and move another paper into the document feeder before answering her, though, you don’t make eye contact. “Wilson’s that worried about me, huh?” you ask her. But you don’t believe he would ever come crying to Anna if even he did care about you at all.
“Wilson? No, that new girl was talking to me earlier and she said you didn’t look too good today, she said it looked like a big man in a sleeveless tank went to town on you,” Anna replies and finds a seat in one of the more cushioned chairs by the door. “So, what happened? Terry didn’t do this, right?”
You didn’t mean to avoid the subject at first, as much as you couldn’t exactly disclose any details to even Anna. But her mentioning of a new girl at the office had piqued some interest in you and you turn back to her after feeding yet another document through the copying machine. “New girl?” you ask. As far as you knew, there weren’t any new girls at the office. Then again, you haven’t necessarily been out of your cubicle for the past couple days other than to get there and leave, and also take your lunch break, which you had not yet taken.
“Come on, don’t dodge me…” she says and earns an irritated look from you.
“No, Anna. Terry didn’t beat me up. It’s hard to explain, all right?” you reply and walk across the room toward her.
“And… you didn’t do it to yourself?” she continues.
“Anna, I’m fine, all right?” you raise your voice a bit. “I was just helping him move some stuff yesterday.” You return to the excuse you gave Wilson and thankfully, unlike him, she seems satisfied with the answer.
“Sorry for being nosy,” she says. “Anyway, the new girl’s name is Mary. She started here about a week ago. Do you want to meet her? She seems pretty cool.”
You give her a skeptic look. You never really liked meeting people in the workplace. It seemed too formal for you and was something you’d rather avoid. But this time, for whatever reason, you feel slightly more inclined to participate. You reason it’s better than sitting in your office watching documents print, and perhaps it’d be the proper motivation you needed for you to get something to eat. “Sure, why not,” you say finally.
Anna stands up after that and leads you out of your cubicle and down the hall toward the stairs where most of the newbies started out. They didn’t get their own cubicles and thus had to settle for the ones that were open and organized like rows of data on Microsoft Sheets. A strange analogy, you guess, but it’s enough to describe the setup. You’re led down the outside row of the mini cubicles and find a lone one with nobody accompanying either side of it, though, there was a man on the other side probably doing far more productive than either you or Anna.
The woman sitting there is blonde with bright blue eyes, her short hair falling to frame her face. A green jacket falls around her shoulders, probably to shield her from the horribly under-heated temperature. With all of this gathered, you quickly put together that she is probably one of the most beautiful women you’d ever laid eyes on and, as a fellow woman, you can’t help but be envious of her plump lips, feathered hair, and fit physique.
“Oh, you again,” she says in greeting toward Anna, her eyes only briefly flicking toward you. “Was there something else you needed?” she asks.
“Nothing too important, I just wanted you to meet my work buddy,” Anna replies and gestures to you and Mary’s gaze follows her.
“Hey there, I’m Mary.” She doesn’t seem too pompous for her looks, in fact, she seems pretty chill and you hold out your hand for her to shake.
“I’m (F/n), it’s nice to meet you. Glad you’re here,” you say, though, it’s probably one of the most generic greetings you could come up with. You weren’t really good at this.
Mary laughs at you. “You don’t have to waste time with formal introductions or any of that. You’re a senior here, I know you’ll probably forget me in a day or two,” she says.
You laugh with her though, you’re pretty sure she had you pinned down there and it’s an intimidating thought to consider she may not have been fully joking. “Ah, you got me,” you say with a smile to try and keep the air loose.
“It’s all right, I get it. So, what’s with all the bruises and that?” she asks you rather unexpectedly. If anything was true, it was that she was straight-forward. Even if your wounds hadn’t come from some freak abuse incident or a dangerous fight, you get the feeling she wouldn’t have cared either way. This opens quite the transparent window into this woman’s overall vibe.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” you reply, realizing this excuse probably won’t fly with a stranger who’d probably assume the worst, and it’s not hard to tell by the doubtful look she returns to you. “...I was just helping a friend of mine move some stuff yesterday and we had an accident,” you quickly save yourself.
Anna nudges your shoulder which surprises you for a moment because, in honesty, you’d forgotten she was there. “A boy friend,” she emphasizes with a dubious grin and you suddenly feel the urge in your aching knuckles to punch her in the mouth.
You merely wanted to meet this girl, not give her a glimpse into your personal life within the first few sentences of dialogue between you two. “Oh!” she says, spinning her chair in your direction before crossing her legs, leaning in like she’s interested. You wonder if all girls are like this and you’ve just been kept out of the loop. Things like this never really kept you tentative. “Do tell,” she says.
You shoot a glare at Anna like it’s a sniper armed with a precise scope before looking back to Mary. “Listen, she’s just being dumb, it’s nothing. I should really go. I was about to go on my lunch break and I’m getting pretty hungry,” you say to detour the subject.
“Then allow us to accompany you. I haven’t gone yet either. Mary, you should join us!” Anna exclaims.
Your eyebrows wrinkle and you frown a bit. You’re not sure why Anna’s acting like this, inviting a stranger into your personal life and not only that but inviting her out to lunch with you both.
“I mean… if that’s all right, I’d be fine with joining you two. In fact, I’d be delighted,” she says.
Though you don’t really mind sticking to your guns, there’s something that forces your mouth to do the opposite of your original intentions, which had been to tell her no. “Oh, that’d be okay. You can come. It’ll be fun,” you say.
Shocked to hear you say this, Anna turns her head and looks at you with a slight grin on her face, probably thinking you only agreed so you wouldn’t seem rude. You thought she might know you better than that. You’d never do that.
But you supposed maybe the thought of making a new friend seemed better than waiting out the rest of your shift in loneliness.
So that’s what the three of you did. After heading to the lobby so you could clock out, the three of you packed into Anna’s junker Nissan, which you’re certain probably hadn’t been properly cleaned in ages, and decided to head to a nearby diner to eat.
Once the three of you were seated, Anna and Mary were finishing a conversation they were having about some topic that had stemmed from talking about Anna’s new shoes. You’d given up trying to follow it once it stopped being relatable to you. You honestly didn’t really know why you were there anymore.
Or maybe rather why they were with you. You didn’t know what to say or do. It was hard to make friends, you quickly realized. The only real reason you and Anna were friends was that she never stopped pestering you when you first met. But did either of you actually have anything in common? Was it the same as you and Terry…?
Before you could elaborate any further on that thought, you hear Mary speak from across the table. “Well, enough about that anyway. So, let’s hear about this mystery guy,” she says to you and your head snaps up from the menu.
“There’s no mystery guy. We’re just friends,” you say for probably the billionth time.
“Ugh! You’re so boring! Just tell her about him!” Anna groans.
You sigh, wishing you wouldn’t have said yes to this whole thing. But you can’t really go back now. “His name is Terry, he’s blonde with long hair and tall,” you say as blandly as you possibly can. But when you do, Mary gains a new expression on her face which you can’t read.
“Wait… Terry?” she asks. Her eyes are wide like she’s just come upon a lump of gold. “Terry Bogard?”
Your stomach sinks suddenly: she knows him. “Um… yes,” you answer cautiously.
“I knew you looked familiar… I just couldn’t put your face to the name,” she says. “See, Terry and I were best friends in high school. Though he graduated a year before me, so we kind of lost touch after that,” Mary goes on. Her blue eyes suddenly travel over to meet yours and they’ve lost the wonderment in them. “He used to talk about you all the time, you know.”
You feel something menacing coming off of her and shift nervously on your side of the booth.
“Huh… small world, isn’t it?” you say, fiddling with the menu.
“Man, I feel like I missed all the fun. I wish I’d known you two back in high school,” Anna cuts in, though, her aura is the complete opposite of what’s happening between you and Mary. You wish you could pull from the suffocating bubble she has around you so you could join your friend, but she’s trapped you there.
“Very,” Mary replies to you, ignoring Anna. “So, he’s still chasing you even after all these years? That guy never gives up. I’ll have to pay him a visit sometime. Maybe I’ll get lucky and catch him at a bar,” she says which makes you swallow hard.
You can feel the burning hatred coming off the glare in her eyes and avoid them by looking back down at your menu. “Maybe,” you say, hoping to get her off your back, but even still, you can feel her staring at you.
You see her lithe body shift in the booth across from you in your peripherals, noticing she’s assumed a calmer yet subtly more threatening position. You feel even more out of place than you did before. She’s way out of your league. She could smear your pathetic body beneath the soles of her feet if she wanted. That’s how you felt at least.
“So, how’d you two find each other again? Well… I guess I shouldn’t say again since you never even acknowledged his existence back then,” her tone is pumped full of venom which lacked in all her previous words, but it seems Anna can’t even recognize it. Why did she never have your back when you actually needed it?
“Ooh… the fried chicken looks delicious,” she says and nudges Mary. “What are you getting?” she asks.
Your attention is diverted to Anna once she says this and suddenly you get the impression that maybe she DOES have your back. Even if she’s unaware of what’s going on.
Mary closes her eyes, her brows furrowed. “I’m not sure yet,” she says and you can tell she’s biting her tongue once her scowl returns to you. It’s easy to tell she knows that you know what she’s trying to get at. It’s all over her face and the way she speaks and even how she waits for your answer, with such demanding eyes. “He was mine and I’ll tear you to shreds if you don’t back off,” was what the story written on her face told you.
“Oh, just in a bar…” you reply. You could have told her many other things to get her off your back or, to be frank, probably make things worse, but the truth was, you just didn’t care enough to rub your experiences with him in her face. It wasn’t like they were things you were proud of in the first place, so there was no point in bragging about it.
Mary folds her hands behind her head. “Yeah, I do miss the guy…” she says, seeming uninterested in the topic anymore. She then leans forward and picks up the menu in front of her to browse the items.
You’re relieved that she’s dropped the subject and the three of you continue on with the afternoon, not leaving much to be said since you were stuffing your faces once the waitress returned with the food and drinks you’d ordered.
“So,” Anna murmurs over a mouthful of food and wipes her face with a napkin. “Has the insurance company gotten back to you yet?” she asks.
Your heart races again. You really don’t want to look any worse than you already do in front of Mary. You know talking about this will only lead to the fact that you’ve been staying with Terry at the end, which is utterly terrifying to you.
“No, not yet,” you say, choosing to keep the dialogue between you as brief as possible.
Anna rolls her eyes, looking annoyed. “That’s ridiculous. You know, you’d think if someone’s house with all their belongings just burned down, you might be a little more urgent,” she answers and your eyes flick nervously toward Mary for a brief moment who looks like she has a look of almost satisfaction on her face.
“Oh wow, your house burned down? Sorry to hear that,” she says. But every other part of her tells you she’s not being curt.
This strikes a nerve with you and before you can think of any potential consequences, you suddenly blurt out, “yeah, but Terry was nice enough to let me stay with him until things work out. He really is a nice guy.” The bottom falls out of your stomach, spilling it onto the floor. It was like setting out on the wrong patch of ice over an ice sheet, the fissure, the ground coming out from beneath you, the knowledge that below you, there is nothing but cold, dark water below you.
Mary looked mortified, however discrete it may have been. You only got a brief moment of satisfaction before the true terror of it set in and you feel like you’re going to be sick.
“I’ll be right back, I’m going to use the bathroom,” you say and quickly excuse yourself from the booth, rushing off to the bathroom.
Anna looks over at Mary with a curious look on her face. “Was she all right…? She seemed a bit anxious,” she says.
“Maybe just some tummy trouble. I’ve got to go as well, so I’ll check on her,” Mary replies with a small smile before getting up to walk calmly toward the restroom. But her facial expression immediately changes once she’s out of Anna’s view and suddenly her walk has a purpose in it. She shoves open the door, eyes searching for you. “You okay in here, (F/n)?” she calls out to you from outside the stall you’d hidden in.
Unfortunately, the only stall with a closed door happened to be the one you were hiding inside. You watch as her feet step in front of it. “Listen,” Mary says, her voice sounding more serious. You hear her body press against the door. “Terry meant nothing to you before you met him… you don’t know what he’s been through. You don’t know anything about him.” You sit in silence as she continues, your heart feeling like the pin-cushion and her: the seamstress. “You don’t deserve his kindness… he would’ve given everything for you. EVERYTHING!” She slams on the door, making you huddle closer to yourself in fear. “And you didn’t even realize he existed… You were so unworthy of everything and yet he still blindly followed you like a lost puppy dog. Only, at least a lost puppy dog once had an owner. He was following a stranger.”
You did feel bad for her. But at this point, you didn’t even feel deserving of being able to pity someone who was far from small, far from something needing pity. Still, despite it all, you can’t help it. You know it must’ve hurt Mary so badly to watch someone she liked so much constantly fawning over someone as worthless as you.
“I’m sorry, Mary…” you murmur softly.
“That’s all you can really say… isn’t it…? How pathetic,” she hisses. “You just keep hiding in there. Maybe flush your shame down the toilet while you’re at it and own up to how terrible you are. You have the nerve to call him your friend and let him cater to you, knowing how much he likes you. People like you disgust me, who take advantage of everyone around them without once stopping to appreciate what you have. Unless we have business at work, I don’t want to see your face and I don’t want to hear you speak.” You watch her feet tread away from the stall after that, hear the creak of the door as it opens then the slight slam as it shuts behind her.
You’re speechless after she leaves. Your blood is rushing through your veins just as fast as your heart can send it there like it’s running a race. You don’t know what to say or how to respond to it. All you know is that the feeling in your stomach has grown stronger, causing you to quickly get off the toilet and lurch your body over to puke in it.
You couldn’t remember the last time you threw up due to anxiety and as you stand in your office, finishing the last of the copies that Wilson gave to you, your mind feels like it’s chained down to a carousel in an amusement park of Hell. It sounds melodramatic, but you can’t stop grooming over the things Mary said to you. The ride back was utterly silent. Anna had probably assumed everyone was too full to hold a conversation, though, you did have the pleasure of receiving one final glare from Mary before you departed to your floors after clocking back in.
Anna was sitting in your office still, even though her presence hurt. You really wanted to be alone and you wished you could just express that to her, at least more obviously than you were. She kept talking and you kept nodding along and returning dry responses to her. You could have told her about what happened, spilled the dirt, but you didn’t want to cause any more drama with her. As she said, it was probably best if the two of you simply ignored one another and pretended each other didn’t exist. Plus, you still sympathized with her and if Anna was on her, you knew she’d make her life a living Hell.
When the last copy finally prints, you have an excuse to leave the room and the conversation. “Hey, can we pick this up later? I’ve got to bring these papers to Wilson,” you say as you gather the copies and original documents into two separate piles.
“Ah, yeah, yeah, sorry,” she replies. “I’ll see you tomorrow, all right?” Anna says in that chipper tone of hers. She heads out of the cubicle before you do, to which you breathe a sigh of relief.
Thereafter, you make your way to Wilson’s office and kick your shoe against his door since you can’t exactly knock on it. “Come in,” his voice says quietly on the other side.
You shift a hand through one of the piles of paper and manage to ease two of your fingers around the knob to twist it. Upon doing so, you’re able to walk in. “I finished those copies you needed,” you say and place the separate stacks atop his desk.
He watches you with what you can only assume is peculiar eyes. After all, most of his expressions look similar. You’re not even sure if he has one to show happiness. And right now, you don’t know if you do either.
“(F/n), I want you to go home,” he says, causing you to look up straight away after placing down the documents.
You stare at him with a dumbfounded look on your face. “I’m sorry, what?” you ask.
“You need to go home,” he reaffirms in a stern voice. “You’re pale as a ghost and it’s making those bruises look worse.”
Your gaze stays on him, but you’re not exactly in any position to argue with him so you simply nod your head and turn your back to him to leave the room.
“I heard about your apartment, you know,” he says. “Maybe it would be best if you took a couple of days off.”
You turn back to him quickly after he says this. “Sir, wait, I really can’t,” you say. “I need the money to take care of myself until the insurance company gets back to me.”
His face wrinkles a bit more and you know he’s pissed that you’re resisting him immediately. “I’m going to give them a call then and make sure they get ahold of you within the next couple of days. You go home and take care of you.” His eyes narrow slightly more. “If you’re not focused on work then there’s no point in you being here.” Just when you thought the guy might actually have a heart.
Still, you have to be grateful for his offer. It just means a bit less in your paycheck when the week ends. Hopefully, by then, you’d have some kind of compensation for the fire anyway, or at least expecting some.
You hesitate for another moment then nod to him again. “Thank you, sir…” you reply. But he gives you a look, telling you that if you weren’t out in the next few seconds, he would change his mind.
With that, you leave his office to return to your cubicle and begin gathering your things. By the time you clock out and make your way to the bus stop, there’s still another twenty minutes before the bus would be stopping at the corner you were at. You decide to sit on the benches inside the transparent little bench area with posters advertising things ranging from cigarettes to “the fastest and most reliable cellphone networks”. It offers little cover from the cold and since it’s nearly five, the temperature is beginning to dip below what it had been earlier.
The passing cars give you a distraction from the thoughts racing through your head, but not for long. Every passing car is another thought, another knife in your chest, leaving you to bleed out everywhere. Yet everyone who passes your secluded little hutch can’t see the puddle of vital fluids spilling everywhere. And thereupon your mind wanders to something that scares even yourself for the moment it comes to you. You ponder stepping in front of one of those moving vehicles.
It’s fleeting, but it leaves an unsettling feeling hanging over you and a bitter taste on your tongue, like licking cardboard.
You try to keep your mind from visiting that place again and luckily for you, the bus pulling up provides the perfect diversion.
You can’t describe a greater feeling than the relief that comes over you when you return to Terry’s just after five to see that nobody is there but you. You only hope there’s no other secret club meeting in the basement again. Your mind briefly entertains the thought of a serious book club, but it washes away and speaking of, you feel a bath is probably in order for you.
You figure you’ll probably feel a lot better once you’re clean and can relax without any disturbances in the bathtub. So, once your shoes are removed, you make way for the bathroom and draw the bath, forgetting to lock the door. You weren’t exactly used to doing it and it wasn’t like it really mattered in the first place.
When all your clothes fall to the floor, you stare at yourself in the mirror, eyes flicking from one wound to another. The running bath drowns out the noise in your brain, which you’re thankful for. But once it’s full, the bathroom is silent again, save for the noise of the fan filtering out all the steam the bath was creating.
Easing your way into the hot water is like torture but heaven all at once. Even though it burns, it gives your body the chance to finally loosen up and you even groan in pain as you move.
You couldn’t calculate how long you just laid there staring at the ceiling, but the water was starting to cool off by the time you realized you should probably actually start getting cleaned up. You reach for the new bottles of soap you purchased the other day and lather your body and hair with it only to dunk yourself beneath the water to wash it all away. When you emerge, the smell of the suds politely greets your nose.
You look down at your hands, noticing you’re starting to prune a bit. The only thing left to do was shave and unfortunately for you, you’d forgotten to buy your own at the store. So, sighing, you emerge from the tub and drip dry on the carpet before going through the mirror cabinet in search of something to use. There were two cleanly shaven men in the house which meant there had to be something. You find two razors inside the cabinet with a box of refills beside them.
The thought of sharing a razor with either Terry or Andy was something you wished to immediately purge so you reach for the box of refills instead. Inside is about three blades, all seeming clean enough to use for the occasion, although, it would likely be a bit difficult to use without accidentally nicking yourself here and there.
You decide it’s better than nothing and get back into the tub to finish the job. As you run the razor along your leg, you prove yourself right, slicing your shin by accident. You grunt initially, but it’s nothing compared to the pain on the rest of your body.
Dunking your free hand under the water, you splash some over the minor cut. But before you go back to shaving, your eyes trail absentmindedly over the diluted drops of blood which roll down the skin of your leg and fall into the water below, creating a tiny burst of red inside it.
You feel a sudden bout of light-headedness as you do this, but you don’t associate the two events with one another. Your heart pounds as you stare at the wound and slowly your other hand moves up to your thigh. Then, quicker than you can stop yourself, the razor flicks over your skin, creating another, deeper cut in your skin. You flinch slightly from the pain but stare blankly while the blood oozes up through the crack in your skin and dribbles off into the water below. It creates more beautiful clouds of red.
You keep watching and even squeeze the wound once it starts to coagulate a bit so it will bleed more. You’re not even thinking as you draw three more lines into your thigh with the piece of metal in your hands, you don’t even notice how deep you’re going. All you care about is watching the blood trail down into the water. By now, the water is beginning to turn a soft salmon color, your blood dancing in the bath with it.
Within only a few minutes, the sound of the fan in the bathroom has gone away, the only thing on your mind is watching the red mix with the once clear water, and before you know it, it’s been dyed a much richer red, perhaps crimson would be a good word for it.
Suddenly you’re conscious of your own blinking and the sound of the fan comes back as the door bursts open, your head turning toward it as it does, only to see Terry standing there, and he sees you and the utter mess you’ve made of yourself and his bathtub.
As mindless as you’d been as it all happened, it sure came to you quickly whenever he saw you because all you can feel when his eyes fall upon you is more shame than you can handle. A cramping ache jams its way down your throat and through your chest, weaving its way into your stomach until you heave and start to cry as he yells, “(F/n), what the Hell are you doing in here?!”
He rushes over beside the tub, not giving two shits that you’re completely naked, and rips the blood-stained steel from your grasp, throwing it to god-knows-where. He lifts you out of the bathtub and wraps you in a towel before embracing you as tightly as he can muster. “What happened? What were you thinking?!” he exclaims, his voice raising it seems each time he speaks.
But you can’t respond. You can only keep sobbing into his chest while he holds you like both your lives depend on it.
Chapter 8: An Update (though probably not the one you wanted)
HI! :0 I know a lot of people on here have been begging for me to update (for the few that actually read this little fic here). But, for those of you still following along and who haven't lost hope, you'll be happy to know that chapter 8 is now in the works!! It should be up within the next couple of days so long as I keep working on it. I thank you all for your patronage and kind words. I promise I won't disappoint!