There was that familiar ache that I loved so much—a burn in my chest that spread to the rest of my body. There was just one other feeling I loved more. Well—two, if you included the high of sex.
A constant state of numbness was my euphoria.
You couldn’t tell. No one could.
My feet thudded against the pavement. Sweat dripped from my hairline, down my neck, and onto my bare back. I shut my eyes, urging the numbness to kick in. I wanted to feel it everywhere. Not just in my body but everywhere. Maybe I should quit basketball and take up smoking weed as a hobby. I laughed to myself—Dad would love that. Another reason to kick my ass.
I rounded the corner with my eyes still shut. I knew that path in the park better than I knew my own home. Which is why I was running at two in the morning on a Saturday night. Sunday morning? Whatever.
I was five steps past the corner—the numbness had just started to seep in—when I bumped into something. My eyes sprang open, and I found myself staring at someone on the ground.
“Fuck, I’m sorry,” I huffed, trying to level my breathing. I rested my hands on my knees, waiting for the thumping in my heart to calm itself. My skin stung and my muscles throbbed from the impact of our bodies. I was six foot three, and my frame matched the constant training and rigorous workouts it endured. Her—I couldn’t tell what she looked like—but I knew this much: if the collision had hurt me, it must’ve almost killed her.
She slowly came to a sitting position, resting her ass on her heels. Her head was bent, and her loose blonde hair formed a curtain around her face. She lifted her hands, palms up, and examined them. Blood.
“Shit! I’m so sorry.” A wave of panic whooshed through me. Squatting in front of her, I took her hands to study the damage. She yanked them away and sniffed, straightening her legs out in front of her. Her short-ass skirt left nothing to the imagination.
“Dammit,” she whispered, her head still down.
My gaze moved from the hem of her skirt to her knees. Blood.
“Fuck, I’m so sorry,” I said for the third time.
It was dark, the only light coming from the moon and a lamppost fifteen yards away. I wanted to see her face, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask her to look at me. “Are you okay?”
Before she could answer, a rustling from the bushes interrupted us.
A guy stepped out, close to my age. He looked rough, rougher than the kids I hung out with—and I use that term loosely. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, then eyed it. Blood. His eyes narrowed. Looking down at the girl in front of me, he seethed, “You fucking whore!”
Slowly, she stood up.
I swear I could actually hear the clicking of the pieces as it all fell into place in my mind.
Him—with his fat lip, torn shirt, and undone fly.
Her—now fully standing. The top of her tank was ripped, exposing one bra-covered breast.
I watched as her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed to slits, but then fire flamed in them as she yelled, “Fuck you!”
He took a step toward her with his hand raised.
Before I knew it, I was between them, gripping his forearm, my other arm behind me, wrapped around her waist. I could feel her shallow breaths against my back.
“Who the fuck are you?” he demanded, trying to pull away from my hold.
“Blake. Who the fuck are you?”
He laughed once, a snarl on his lips and a challenge in his eyes. “What are you, her bodyguard?”
I lifted my chin and squared my shoulders. I towered over him, eying him down. I knew I could take him. Easily. “I don’t know, dickface. Does she need one?”
He tried again to withdraw his arm. I grasped it tighter. Then a cynical laugh escaped him. “Good luck. She’s a fucking tease—dresses like a whore but won’t even suck dick.” He looked around my shoulder at her. “You cock-teasing slut!”
Something in me snapped.
Blood rushed to my ears, and the numbness I’d hoped for was well and truly gone. My arm—the one previously wrapped around her—moved fast. My fingers had formed a fist and would have made contact with his face—
Would have—if not for the tiny blonde girl standing in front of me. Between my intended target and me. With her entire body weight, she pulled my arm downwards, her eyes widening. “Don’t,” she said. “It’s not worth it.” Her voice was quiet, but her expression screamed for me to let it go. I was so surprised by her actions that I dropped Dickface’s raised arm.
Glaring at the guy behind her, I tried for an even tone as I warned, “You got three seconds to get out of here before I beat your ass.”
Her warm hands were now pressed against my chest, their pressure causing me to inhale sharply. My eyes fell to hers. They were pleading.
I heard “fuck this” and then heavy footsteps thumping against the pavement, the sound growing gradually more distant. My eyes, though, they never left hers.
After what felt like forever, she looked away.
I blinked for what seemed like the first time.
She suddenly noticed that her hands were still on my chest. “Shit. I’m sorry,” she said, pulling them away and hiding them behind her back.
I swallowed. It was thick and embarrassingly loud, louder than the beating of my heart in my eardrums. “Are you okay?” I asked her. Bending slightly, I finally relaxed enough to catch my breath.
“Yeah, are you?”
Straightening, I studied her warily. She was a mess. Scraped knees. Disheveled hair. Shoe missing. I looked away when I caught sight of her purple bra, openly exposed from her torn top.
She cleared her throat.
I returned my gaze to her once she’d crossed her arms over her chest, hiding herself. She bit the corner of her lip, but everything else was still. There was no movement, not until she slowly raised her hand and wiped her cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered.
My eyebrows bunched. It’d been a while since I’d heard such genuine sincerity. “It’s no problem. Really.”
She tried to smile and then adjusted her top while taking off her remaining shoe. Then she just stood there, barefoot and shivering. One arm at her side, holding her one and only heel, the other covering her breast. “Well, thanks for saving me.” She laughed softly, jerking her head toward the path behind us. “I better get going.”
I nodded, chewing on my thumb. Then some sense kicked in, and I stepped in front of her, blocking her from walking away. “You shouldn’t be walking anywhere alone, especially—” I cut myself off. “Dressed like that” was definitely the wrong thing to say. Instead, I opted for “especially this late at night.”