Authors: J. J. Knight
Tags: #New Adult Contemporary Romance, #MMA, #boxing, #fighting
Eve sits next to him. Killjoy pulls the back cushions off a padded bench along one side of the plane’s interior. It converts into a bed. They place the stretcher with Colt on it and fuss with how to secure it.
“Come over here,” Eve says and gestures to a seat on the other side of her. “We’ve told Buster that you’re coming with us to the island, but you may want to text your colorful friend before we take off.” She frowns at the phone. “I’m not sure what sort of service you have, but Hawaii operates a little differently.”
I nod and tap out a quick message to Zero. A lump fills my throat. I’m leaving everybody and everything I’ve ever known to be with Colt and his family. I won’t have Buster and Nate. Or a job. Or anything of my own.
I glance over at Colt. He seems so relaxed. I worry that they are jumping the gun, that he should not have left the hospital. Everything is spiraling so out of control.
The trainers find seats. The engine powers up as a man in a crisp white shirt and navy pants pulls up the door.
Just when I think I’ve settled into a new phase of my life, yet another one begins.
The flight is quiet, long, and tense. A young woman brings us lunch, lean beef and vegetables. I try to eat. The trainers check on Colt periodically to make sure he is comfortable. I wish Doc Simon was with us.
My phone quits working about an hour into the flight, so I am alone with my thoughts. The Cure puts on a set of reading glasses that makes him look like a completely different man and peruses several fighting magazines.
Eve has an electronic reader but only occasionally glances at it. Mainly she watches Colt. Her maternal love flows out of her so strongly, you can almost see it curling through the air to touch him.
I fret over details I don’t know how I will attend to. I doubt I will have access to my own bank in Hawaii. I wonder if I will train too, or if I should bother.
I feel dependent on everyone else. I hate it.
One of the trainers stays close to Colt as we land, holding his hips so he won’t shift painfully against his injuries. We touch down awfully easy for a big hunk of metal landing on asphalt, but I have nothing to compare it to. Maybe it’s always this smooth.
The most bizarre vehicle is waiting for us when we come down the steps of the plane. It’s long and windowless, like a hearse from a really old funeral home. But it’s painted pink and green, with giant flower stickers plastered all over the sides. Zero would love it.
Eve laughs when she sees it. “Really, Geoffrey?”
The Cure shrugs. “Not a lot of options on this island. No private ambulance to hire. I couldn’t exactly shove him in a taxi.”
“What is it?” she asks.
“Some hippy-dippy florist delivers flowers in it,” The Cure says. “She let us rent it.”
The trainers carry Colt to the flower car. Across the back doors is painted “Flowers by Zandalee.”
The Cure leads Eve to another car that is pulling up, a gleaming black sedan. “The nicer homes in Kahaluu weren’t available on such short notice,” he says. “I’m afraid this house will be a little rustic.”
Eve laughs. “I’ll be fine.”
I don’t want to ride with them, so I head toward Colt. The trainers are squeezed in the front of the hearse, so I climb into the back. Killjoy is there too, making sure Colt doesn’t move around too much.
“This will probably be the bumpiest part of the trip,” he says grimly. I sense he doesn’t approve of this move. None of us have had a say. The Cure does what he pleases.
“Did you even know we were going to Hawaii?” I ask.
“I got the call late last night.”
“Is anyone else coming?”
Killjoy shrugs. “No idea. Probably a new team will assemble here.”
A girl with giant pink sunglasses and long flowing black hair peers in from the back and closes the doors. She must be Zandalee. I can barely see Colt and Killjoy in the semi-dark. The only light comes from a smallish window between this compartment and the front seats.
“How long do you think we’ll be here?” I ask.
Killjoy adjusts one of the straps across Colt’s chest as the car lurches forward. “I have no idea.”
I hold Colt’s hand, warm and relaxed. He is breathing evenly, but sometimes his face contorts, as if he is in pain.
The small window gives me my first view of Hawaii. The road is narrow and crumbles on the edges. We must be at some private airfield, as there isn’t any fancy terminal. We’re practically on the ocean.
It’s not long at all before we’re in a neighborhood. The houses are nothing like I expected. Dilapidated. Rundown. Even the nicer ones are still made of plain materials. Wood siding, maybe a little edge of stone or brick. I almost feel like I’m back in my stepmother Retta’s old neighborhood.
We come to another street, a little nicer in that the homes are bigger and have flowers in the beds out front. Ahead of us, the black car pulls into the driveway of a two-story clapboard house.
The flower hearse stops on the street. There isn’t a curb, just the road running into the patchy grass of the lawn.
I feel more comfortable here. It’s like a dose of reality.
The back doors open, and sunlight pours in. Colt stirs a little. I jump out so the trainers can climb in to remove the stretcher. But instead of leaving him strapped on, one of them unfastens him while the other injects him in the arm.
I lean against the door, watching. Colt wakes up, startled. He looks around in confusion until he sees Killjoy.
“Welcome to your tropical vacation,” Killjoy says.
The doors to the other car slam. The Cure is fumbling with a pair of keys. Eve walks carefully over the broken sidewalk up to the door. It’s almost funny seeing them in such a humble situation. I feel like maybe I have an advantage for once.
Colt tries to sit up. “Careful, Gunner,” one of the new trainers says. “You’re not feeling any pain, but I assure you, it’s there.” They help him into a seated position. “Take your time.”
I wait for Colt to notice me. I know the minute he does. His face relaxes, like finally there is something he wants to see. “I guess we got kidnapped,” he says.
“I thought we needed a little getaway,” I say.
He studies the roof and sides of the car. “Am I in a hearse?”
Killjoy busts out laughing. “We thought we’d skip a step in case you didn’t make it.”
Colt lifts his hands to his head. “I think somebody slipped me a Mickey.”
The trainer speaks up again. “We sedated you for the trip. You’ll feel a little groggy for a while.”
“More like hungover.” He shakes his head a few times.
“Getting out of here is the tricky part,” the trainer says.
Killjoy bends over and scoots out. “Would have made more sense to wake him up after,” he says.
I have to agree. Just bending over while trying to get out of the back will put pressure on his belly.
“We’ve got this,” the trainer says.
I decide not to watch, already feeling sympathy pain in my stomach. I wonder how good these trainers are after all.
The wind kicks up. My hair blows all around. I push it back. The air is different here, cool, heavy, almost salty.
Palm trees soar so high you can see them in every direction over the rooftops.
Colt finally makes it out and sits on the bumper of the hearse. Sweat has broken out across his forehead.
“No more coddling by those hospital physical therapists now,” one trainer says. “It’s comeback time.”
They force Colt to walk unassisted across the uneven yard. He hangs on to the rail as he negotiates the three short steps to the door.
Killjoy and I both have the urge to help. I can tell by his tight fists, the same as mine. We’re trying not to intervene.
I can see that these trainers are going to push him, put him in situations where he has to function, has to do everything like normal.
I hope they know what they’re doing.
Colt and I are given a room on the second floor. This is clearly another test for Colt, who has to negotiate the stairs slowly and painfully. Halfway up, he’s shaking. I picture him tumbling down the hardwood planks, and my dislike of those trainers flares hot.
Eve sits in a living room down below, trying not to watch. She doesn’t like it either.
But The Cure and the trainers laugh over glasses of bourbon, their ice tinkling. I stay close to Colt.
After what seems like years, we make it to the upstairs. Inside our room, a petite woman in her forties tucks clean sheets on the bed. “Almost done here,” she says.
We pause in the doorway to watch her work. Her light brown hair is twisted into a messy knot. She is deeply tanned, and long twisty silver earrings swing to her neck.
She’s in jeans and a flowery cotton shirt that billows out as she bends to smooth the bedding. When she turns to look at me, I feel some kinship, like I’ve met someone whose station in life matches mine.
Colt heads for the bed. I dash to his side, holding on to his arm as he lowers himself down. I know this is one of the hardest things, getting in and out of bed. I remember rolling off the mattress after a day of ab work. Sometimes just turning over can wake you up with pain.
“Can I help?” the woman asks. She pauses in the doorway. Her brow is creased with concern as she watches Colt painfully shift positions.
“We’re all right,” I tell her. “I assume there is ice and water in the kitchen?”
“You want some?”
I lift Colt’s legs onto the bed. “That would be good.”
“I’ll fetch it.”
I pull Colt’s shoes off and open a closet to find a place to store them. Inside are several sets of Colt’s workout gear, including the blue shorts I remember so well from when I first knew him. I reach out to touch them, folded neatly in a storage cube.
The woman returns with a glass and takes it over to Colt.
He swipes at his eyes. “Thank you, Jo,” he says.
The woman freezes. I turn around. Is he delirious? Does he think that woman is me? Fear curdles through me that maybe he isn’t as right as he seems.
Ice cubes rattle in the glass as the woman’s hand shakes. I watch her, wondering why Colt’s mistake has made her so anxious. Colt accepts the cup, and she turns to me. Her eyes move to the frog pendant around my neck. “Oh my God,” she says and flies from the room.
I don’t know which way to go. To Colt, who is maybe confused and needs help. Or after this woman, who seems so upset.
I choose Colt. “Did you think that woman was me?” I ask him.
He takes a sip of water. “Sorry, I just assumed it was you. Something about the angle of her chin, maybe her neck.” He reaches out a hand to run a thumb along my jaw.
I lean against him. He seems fine. The lights aren’t on in the room, although the window lets plenty of sunshine in. And I could understand what he saw. There was something about her that was familiar.
Voices are rising from downstairs. The Cure is one of them. The other sounds like that woman.
I’m terribly curious now. I squeeze Colt’s arm. “I’ll be right back.”
The floor squeaks as I peer down the stairs to the living room. The woman is by the door, an oversized quilted handbag on her shoulder. “I can’t do this job after all,” she tells The Cure.
But The Cure is blocking her way out. “I specifically asked for you,” he says. “You’re the one I want here.”
And then I see it. It’s like Colt said. The jaw. The neck. It’s mine.
The woman glances up the stairs and sees me. “I just can’t.”
So she’s going to reject me again. I don’t have anything to say to that.
The Cure won’t move out of her way, so she whirls around to head toward another part of the house. I hear a different door slam. She’s gone out the back.
I return to Colt’s room and dash to the window. After a moment, I see her, walking along the road. She glances back periodically at the house like she’s afraid someone will follow her.
“What’s going on?” Colt asks.
I can’t believe it might be true. But it sounds exactly like something The Cure might pull. I turn around and lean against the sill of the window. “I think your father may have found my mother.”
“I was wondering why the hell we were training in Hawaii,” Colt says. “Are you going to go after her?”
I look out the window. She’s still walking, but now she seems uncertain. Then she stops and sits on a big rock at the end of someone’s drive.
“She left me in the hospital as a baby,” I say. “Why would I want to go after her?”
Colt shrugs. “To find out why?”
I sit on the bed. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Come here,” Colt says. He props himself up against a pillow and holds out his arms.
I crawl over to him. It’s such a relief to be able to curl up next to him without bed rails and tubes.
My head settles on his shoulder, and his arms come around me. He kisses the top of my head. “Why don’t you go ask my father about it? He probably knows her whole story by now. He’s stupidly good at uncovering anything you want to hide.”
There’s no doubt about that. Colt gives me one more squeeze and pushes me away. “Go ask.”
Purposefully seeking out The Cure. My favorite thing.
I head downstairs. The trainers are apparently staying somewhere else, as they are saying good-bye. “See you at the facility in the morning,” one says to The Cure.
Eve sits on a faded flowered sofa, looking like a queen visiting peasants.
The Cure closes the door. When he turns around, he sees me. “Got Colt all settled?”
“They put him upstairs? Really?” I ask.
“The trainers’ idea,” he says. “I like their style. They’ll get him back in shape in no time.”
“He’s barely out of the hospital,” I say. “And probably should still be there.”
The Cure shakes his head slowly. “No, he should have been out days ago. I’ve consulted with the best of the best.”
There is no arguing with that man. I stop on the last step of the staircase. “So, who was that woman you hired?”
The Cure glances over at Eve. She rises from the sofa. “Did something about her seem familiar to you?” Eve asks.