Authors: Ruby Reid
Besides, he was distracting her from Mark, whom was currently asking her a question about what she was reading. He nodded to her Kindle as he asked.
“Just some boring old memoirs,” she said. “The life of Emily Dickinson.”
He smiled at her and, as if he had rehearsed it a million times, said:
“Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me…”
The carriage held but just ourselves,”
He shrugged. “I might have taken a poetry module in college.”
“Impressive,” she said.
“I’m glad you think so,” Mark said. “Some might call it sad.”
She laughed and shook her head. “No, no, not at all.”
God, he’s great to talk to,
she thought. And while she then tried to observe the way his mouth worked when he spoke (in order to get a better representation of what it might feel like for him to kiss her), she kept thinking of the blonde guy at the bar. She looked back to him and saw that he was speaking to the slender-looking man he had come in with. From their black leather jackets and the unkempt-but-cool nature of their hair, she assumed they were bikers. Something about this intrigued her, but she had no idea what it was.
“…so what do you think?”
She realized that Mark was asking her another question and she hadn’t heard him. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I totally blanked out there for a minute. I’m so sorry. What were you saying?”
“I was asking if you wanted to get out of here,” he said. “Nothing presumptuous at all. Maybe some coffee. Or a nightcap at my hotel bar?”
He looked innocent enough and while the better part of her told her to decline the invitation, there was something exciting about it. This went beyond meeting a man to get over Stephen; this went into the realm of having done nothing exciting and reckless since college.
She knew she would accept the invitation, but didn’t want to seem too eager. She decided to make a game of it, to stretch things out a bit to see how Mark reacted.
“I don’t know.”
“Your call,” he said. “Again…there’s no motive here.”
“Yeah,” she said. “But you’re quoting Dickinson to me. Next comes Poe and absynth and then it’s all over.”
He grinned and said, “My hotel bar doesn’t strike me as the type of place that keeps absynth in stock.”
She shrugged and smiled back at him. “Then, sure. I’d love to.”
When she answered, she looked briefly back to the bikers at the bar. The handsome blonde one that had seemed so interested in her wasn’t there anymore. A small part of her was very sad about this. She’d liked the attention, as sad as it seemed.
“Which one?” he asked. “Coffee or bar?”
She smiled and, when she answered, gave just the right hint of flirtatiousness to not seem overzealous. “Let’s start with coffee and see what happens.”
“Fair enough,” he said and motioned for the waitress to bring the check.
Amanda smiled. He heart was beating like thunder in her chest and she realized she hadn’t felt this anxious about spending time with a man since…hell, since she didn’t know when. It was more like meeting a boy in secret in middle school and wondering if you’d get kissed.
When they got up to leave, Mark placed his hand ever so lightly on her lower back. And it took just that for Amanda to know good and well that coffee would not last long and that she would be taking him up on that nightcap.
Four beers in, Alex realized that he had to pee something awful. He told himself he’d have just one more beer because the motel was half a mile up the road and he wasn’t sure how the cops were in this area.
“Gotta head to the john,” Alex said, slapping the bar.
“Have fun,” Slim said, working on his fourth beer and staring absently at the TV.
Alex walked to the side of the bar and to the small hallway that held the restrooms. As he reached the door, he went for the knob and found it locked. Someone on the other side of the door gave a muffled “
Alex frowned. The restaurant was a small one—not a chain, but not a hole in the wall, either—and he was surprised the restrooms were a one-john affair. With a sign, he shrugged and headed back to the front of the place. He passed the hostess and walked out into the night.
He walked slowly along the sidewalk at the edge of the parking lot, heading for the back of the restaurant. What he was about to do wasn’t a big deal to him; he’d urinated in parking lots before, often in daylight. So relieving himself behind a restaurant in the dead of night didn’t bother him in the least. Besides, he and Slim were about to wrap up a fifty dollar tab, so he figured he had every right to piss behind their dumpsters.
He came to the back of the restaurant and slid behind the trash area. He unbuttoned and relieved himself. As he did, he thought of Chicago and what it might be like to start over in a new place. He knew he would be a permanent member of the club, so starting his entire life from scratch was out of the question. But there was something about going to a new place where no one knew you…something about the idea that if you wanted, you could almost be someone else.
These were fanciful thoughts he sometimes allowed himself to get lost in. It hurt to know the entire course of his life could never change, but he was also proud to be a part of something as sturdy and reliable as the club.
That made him think about how close he had come to telling Slim about his secret. Now that the moment had passed, Alex found it terrifying to know that he had almost spoke it out loud. He felt that memory rolling around in his mind, as if letting him know it would be there forever, hidden and tucked away from the rest of the world.
Alex finished up, zipped his fly and then walked out from behind the dumpsters as if he had every right to be there. But there was no one to spot him as he walked back into the parking lot. This edge of the parking lot was dead, occupied by only two cars. The light was almost no-existent and—
He heard the sound, just barely, to his left. It was coming from one of the cars parked at the far edge of the lot. There were actually three sounds: a brief and muffled moan, a man’s curt voice quietly whispering something like
and then a soft punching noise. Alex thought nothing of this at first, assuming it to be two men having some sort of physical confrontation. Alex knew all too well that it happened a lot in bars…particularly in the darkened corners of their parking lots.
But when he snaked the most casual look in that direction, he saw the woman. It was the woman he had seen in the bar. She was being pulled into the car, and there was a man’s hand around her mouth. This wasn’t some cutesy little dating game…not some weird foreplay. This was a woman in serious trouble.
Without even thinking, Alex walked quickly over to the car. He could hear the jingling of keys and another soft sound that made Alex think of what a solid right handed punch sounded like when it landed in someone’s stomach. The overhead light in the car was off, but the driver’s side door was open. As Alex approached, the door started to close. He got there just in time, catching the door before it could slam shut. He kicked out his right foot, his boot catching the door before it could close.
The tall man he had seen in the bar with the woman looked up at him from the passenger seat, his right hand still clamped over the woman’s mouth. His left hand was resting almost casually on her breast. If Alex thought he might have made some mistake and interrupted a very strange masochistic foreplay, the horror in the woman’s eyes told him otherwise.
“Who the hell are you?” the man asked.
The guilt in his voice was as clear as a bell, and that was all Alex needed. He reached into the car, grabbed the man by his left shoulder, and dragged him out. He threw the tall man to the ground hard and looked into the car to the woman.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Y-yes,” she said, beginning to cry. She was slapping at the door handle, but her nerves were too frazzled to open the door.
“Do you know him? Did you want him doing that to you?”
She couldn’t even speak; she continued crying and simply shook her head. Her right hand still fumbled for the door handle.
Alex heard the man getting to his feet and rushing at him from behind. He wheeled around and saw that the man was in the midst of delivering a kick that had been meant for his legs. Alex sidestepped it as if it were nothing, almost like a matador dodging a bull. He then turned quickly and caught the man as he missed, placing his hands on the man’s shoulders and pushing him hard into the car. The man cried out and stumbled back a step on the rebound. Alex met him with a hard right handed blow to his kidneys.
The man dropped to one knee and let out a groan. Alex could have let it go then, but there were few things he hated to see more than a man being rough with a woman. He looked to the woman, now getting out of the car and facing away from them for the moment. Alex took that split second to deliver a hammering right hook to the man’s face.
That was all it took. Alex saw the exact moment when the man’s lights went out. He collapsed over onto his side, his head striking the pavement. It was perhaps the easiest bar-related fight Alex had ever been involved in. Of course, this tall drink of water pales in comparison to some of the unsavory characters he had taken down before.
Alex walked to the other side of the car and saw that the woman was stumbling as she tried to walk away, having finally managed to get the door open. She was still crying and she was walking as if she were drunk. But Alex recalled the punching sounds he had heard as he had come away from the dumpsters. She’d been punched at least twice in the stomach by a man that was easily twice her size. That’s why she was stumbling.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
He kept his distance, standing three feet away from her. A stranger had just tried to rape her or kidnap her and he was sure she wasn’t in the mood to trust another stranger. It was odd to him how quickly this sort of caution popped up into his head. He was not accustomed to understanding the fragility of people in such a way.
She only nodded but finally looked at him. Alex could see no signs that the man had punched her in the face. The way she was partially doubled over, Alex assumed the punches had been to her stomach.
“Do you need a doctor?” Alex asked.
She seemed to think about this for a moment and then shook her head again. She was trying not to cry and was doing a decent job. But Alex could see the shudders tearing through her.
“Is there anything I can do?” he asked. “Do you need to call someone? Do you have a ride?”
“My car,” she said, nodding towards the other end of the lot. “I’m okay. I can drive. I can…,” and then she started crying. More than that, she was weeping with full force.
It was the most awkward ten seconds Alex could remember experiencing in his adult life. He was attracted to her—he had known that from the moment he had first seen her inside—and he wanted to do something to help. But what could he do other than offer assistance and ask her simple questions?
“Do you have a cell phone on you?” he asked.
“Yes. In my purse. In his car.”
“Wait here,” he said.
He walked back to the car and found her purse on the floorboard of the passenger seat. He grabbed it and took it to her. She took it slowly, looking from it and then to him as if they were both to oddest things she’d ever seen. Alex thought she might be very close to being in shock.
“Do you want to call the cops?” he asked.
She again slipped into a fugue-sort of concentration but then shook her again. “No. It was just a mistake on my part. I don’t…”
She almost started crying again but was able to stop it this time. She looked to him and gave a thin smile. It was clear that she was thankful but there was still fear in her eyes. Alex understood completely.
“Thank you,” she said.
“I saw you inside,” she said, as if it were a casual conversation. Alex didn’t hear any accusation in her statement. If she had caught him checking her out, she was choosing not to say anything.
“Yeah. I saw you, too,” he said. He suddenly felt very out of place. He was usually in control of any conversation with a woman. But he was at a loss here and had no idea how to get to the next stage.
there was a next stage. She had just been assaulted, so there was no way in hell she’d take kindly to a stranger trying to hit on her.
Well then don’t hit on her,
some smaller voice inside of him said.
“I’m Amanda,” she said. She looked like she wanted to extend her hand for a shake but kept it by her side.
“I’m Alex. It’s nice to meet you, but I wish it were under different circumstances.”
She rolled her eyes and gave him that thin grin of hers again. Seeing this, Alex thought she was going to be okay.
“How is he?” she asked, nodding to the car she’d just come out of.
“He’ll be out for a while. Did you know him well?”
“No,” she said. “God…it sounds awful. I just met him tonight. He seemed like a good enough guy and—well, he turned out not to be.”
“Did he hurt you?”
“A little. He hit me in the stomach twice. He nearly missed one time, though.”
“Do you…” he stopped, embarrassed at how uncomfortable this was making him.
“Do I what?” she asked. She seemed interested and was very aware of his discomfort. Somehow, she was now taking the role of the one being cautious.
“Do you need to talk about it or something?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t think so. This just sucks. I think I just need to get home and take a bath. I need to forget this ever happened.”
“Yeah, that might be for the best,” Alex said.
The parking lot seemed quiet as she gave him another smile. She then cocked her head, as if sizing him up, and stepped forward. She wrapped her arms carefully around him and gave him a hug.
“Thank you,” she said. “I have no idea what he would have done to me if you hadn’t shown up.”
“Sure thing,” he said, suddenly glad the restroom had been locked.
She broke the hug and looked up to him earnestly. Her eyes were brimming with the tears she had been trying to hold back over the last few moments.
“I feel like I need to ask if
need anything,” she said. “It might sound dramatic, but you might have very well saved my life. I have no idea what that asshole was capable of.”
“A cup of coffee, maybe?” he asked. And as soon as it left his mouth, he snapped it shut.
Where the hell did that come from? I don’t even like coffee all that much.
She looked at him, perplexed. But her gaze wasn’t one of annoyance or fear; instead, it seemed like bewilderment. She looked him over and he knew she was analyzing him based on the motorcycle jacket he was wearing and likely his windblown hair.
“Where?” she asked.
The look on her face made Alex think she was just as surprised at her answer as he had been by the question he had asked. The entire scene continued to get weirder and weirder.