Book: Outside The Ropes

Previous: 3: Small Kindness
Next: 5: I Could Imagine

“I'LL WEAR A BAND AID OVER THE cuts. Johnny told me on the phone I could work today!” It had been three weeks since I worked and I was going crazy sitting around Nan’s, not to mention my need for a paycheck. My face had healed surprisingly fast for the most part, but I still had visible bruising and scabbed over cuts on my lip and eyebrow.

Louisa stretched out her sigh, eyeing the almost empty restaurant, avoiding eye contact with me. “Perhaps you can do dishes tonight, but we can’t have you on the floor.” She clicked her tongue and her leathery hand floated to rest on my shoulder. I tensed, uncomfortable with the sudden contact. “Are you sure you’re up to working?” 

I stepped out of her grasp and met her soft gaze. “I’m fine. Thanks, I’ll go roll silverware.”  

The walk here panicked me more than I had anticipated, and I was still a bit edgy. I concentrated on keeping my face neutral as I made my way to the kitchen; my ribs ached constantly, but it was nothing I couldn't handle.

The kitchen was bright and noisy, a stark change from the dim interior of the restaurant.

“Hola, Regan,” one of the chefs yelled from behind the grill.

Unable to recall a name, I nodded in greeting and gave a half smile. I pulled a stool up to the stainless steel table and rolled silverware sets in napkins, letting the mindless, repetitive task relax me.

Trichelle leaned her willowy arms on the table in front of me. “Hey, I’m glad you’re back. How are you feeling?” 

I shrugged and gave my typical response. “I’m fine.” I continued rolling the silverware, hoping to end the conversation.

“Well, you've been popular around here. The police showed up the other day wondering how to get a hold of you. Have you spoken with them?”  

I nodded. James drove me to the police station last week. They had a few follow up questions for me and told me they'd already made two more arrests.

She pulled her hair back into a ponytail as she spoke, “The cops told us it was that stupid Knockout Game. Makes me sick that these teenagers are so fucking ignorant. I heard the game's killed people in other places. Stupid YouTube.”

“The Knockout Game” was a dangerous game that went viral on the Internet. Only I had been too stubborn to get knocked out, so it became a beating and mugging. I couldn't decide what was worse: knowing they targeted me because I looked weak, or that I could've ended it by rolling over and playing dead.

“Damn, you’re lucky it wasn’t worse.”

Lucky? Is that really what she said?

I took a breath, testing the pull on my ribs, and let out a short puff of a laugh. “Yeah, real lucky,” I snapped, and stood up with my hand pressed against the ache on my side. The silverware was done.

Trichelle paused, staring at me for a moment. “Um, right, well... You also had some other guys stop by looking for you. Did they get in touch with you?”  

I walked past her to rinse the incoming dishes. The dinner rush was just starting, and the kitchen buzzed with activity. Plates clanged and fried food sizzled, usually making my mouth water, but the tingle of dread overpowered it.

“I haven’t talked to anybody. Who were they and what'd you tell them?” Nobody here knew Nan, so at least they couldn’t tell anyone where I was staying.

Her lips curled in a sultry smile. “I don’t know, but there were two of them. An older guy and another about our age. They're both cute, but the younger one's really hot, like, he had the prettiest eyes ever--”  

I cut her off. “Trich, who were they?” I stopped rinsing the dishes and crossed my arms, pinning her with my gaze.

She smiled, unfazed by my attitude. “Oh, right. They left a card, I’ll get it for you.” She grabbed a tray from the pile and leaned out the kitchen door. “I just have to get this table first, I’ll be back.” She winked as she disappeared through the threshold.

She came back later with a card for “The City Center Boxing Club,” but apparently they never explained who they were or what they wanted. I got the impression she was too distracted looking at them to ask.

“Really, you should go see that boy; I’ll go with you. Mm, I’d do anything to see those eyes again.” She leaned back on the table next to me, a tray crossed over her chest. “God, I’m telling you Regan, you've never seen anyone with--” 

“Don’t you have work to do? Because I do,” I fired at her, letting the frustration show on my face.

She swallowed. “What the hell's wrong? If you don’t want me to go, just say so. Is he a boyfriend or something?”  

“What the hell is wrong with you? I don’t know who they are. I got jumped, and you didn’t think to ask strangers why they came looking for me? Go do whatever the hell you want, but stop talking to me about it!” I pushed away from the sink and went out the back of the restaurant, escaping her look of hurt and confusion.

She didn’t get it. Maybe hot guys would come to her work just to see her, but not me. These people wanted something. I tried to breathe away my anxiety, but the cool evening air only reminded me of that night. The darkening sky was closing in on me, pain in every shadow. I stepped back into the bright kitchen and shut the door on my panic.

Trichelle hesitated when she returned to the kitchen later.

I gave a ghost of a smile and swallowed my pride. “Hey, I’m sorry. I’m- I don’t know, I haven’t been myself lately. I’m sorry for snapping at you.”

“It’s okay, I get it,” she said with pity in her eyes as she lifted plates of food onto her tray.

She didn’t get it, not even close. “Do you think you can give me a ride home tonight?”  

Her smile was genuine. “Sure.” She walked out of the kitchen with her tray raised high.

***

The heavy doors of the police station slammed behind me, cutting off the wind whipping through my shoulder length hair. Running my fingers through my knots, I approached the window for assistance.

“What’s your business today?” the uniformed man behind the glass asked.

“I need to see Detective Andres.” Still shivering from the cold outside, I pulled on my book bag straps, redistributing the weight to my other shoulder.

"Andres? She's on juvenile crime, I think. Hold on." He was talking to himself as he picked up the phone beside him, fingers pressing a few buttons. "Hey Fields, this is Ritter. Is Andres in?" He lifted his chin to me. "What's your name?" 

"Regan Sommers.”

"A Regan Sommers is here to see her." He sat back in his chair, swiveling it from side to side. "I see. Alright.” He hung up, cracking his knuckles. "You have an appointment? Because she's gone for the day," he questioned with a raised brow.

I hadn’t thought this through, just stopping by on a whim while running errands. I felt stronger than I had since the attack, and with a little extra pocket money from the pills I dealt with my lost keys. Now, I had my possessions from my locker and P.O. Box in my backpack. Anything of value that I owned was on me. Even as little as it was, I had to fight the urge to cradle my bag in my arms.

“No, can you just tell her I stopped by. She can reach me at work.”

“Wait now." He raised his hand. "Someone’s coming down from her office; you can give them the message.”

"Thanks." I stepped back, standing off to the side of the small lobby.

Another lady came in, stepping up to the window, and I turned away.

The heavy security door opened, and an officer in uniform stepped through.

“Hi, I’m Anthony Fields.” His warm hand shook mine with a firm grip.

He was a head taller than me, I'd guess six feet with broad shoulders, but his smile put me at ease.

“Mr. Ritter told me you were here for Detective Andres.” He encased my hand in both of his and took a step closer. “I had to introduce myself. I was the responding officer that night. It’s good to see you now. You have healed exceptionally well.”

My eyebrow shot up; it seemed an odd compliment. “Um, Thanks.” I pulled out of his grip.

“Is there something I might help you with? I know you came for Andres, but I’m well informed on the case.” He crossed his arms over his chest, but his unassuming smile stayed on his face, showing off his perfect teeth.

A little flustered by his attention, I retrieved the card from my pocket and handed it to him. “Some guys came to my work looking for me. They left this card.”

He nodded as he looked it over. “This guy, Silas Tillman, he was one of the men that found you. His friends called the police.”

It wasn't till the brick of anxiety lifted from my chest that I realized I'd been carrying it around. I sighed with relief as more questions bubbled in my mind. “Do you know why he would be looking for me?” 

His lips slid into a crooked smile that showed off a cute dimple; I averted my eyes to the floor.

“Probably the same reason I wanted to introduce myself.” He ducked his head, catching my eyes with his warm brown ones. “It’s hard to see something like that and not want to know how it turned out.” The sympathy on his face made him look young. I had thought he was late twenties, but now I wasn’t sure.

I nodded, unsure of how to respond to that.

He handed me the card back. “Was there anything else you needed?” 

“No. Thanks.” I slid the card into my pocket and turned to leave.

He walked ahead and held the door open for me. I glanced up at him as I passed by. “Thanks, again.” Something about the way he smiled at me made me uncomfortable, but not in a bad way, just unexpected.

I heard him follow behind me, but peeked over my shoulder to be sure. His smile stretched when we made eye contact.

“I’m off work now,” he explained, quickening his pace to walk beside me.

I lowered my head as I jogged down the steps.

“Where are you parked?”  

“I took the metro.” I pointed towards the station across the street and pulled my hood up on my jacket. The sun sank behind the buildings, turning the sky a dusky pink. I needed to hurry to make it to Nan’s before dark, but Officer Field’s smile had me frozen.

He tilted his head. “Let me drive you home. Save you a fare and some time.”

My heart quickened with excitement, but getting involved with a cop was a bad idea. I took a few steps back, still facing him. “That’s okay. I already paid for the day pass.” I waved as I spun away from him.

“Wait.” He jogged to my side and fell into pace next to me.

I bit my lip to hide my smirk as I walked to the crosswalk. A part of me, the part that led me into trouble, hoped he would pursue.

“If you insist on riding the Metro, I’ll ride with you.”

I whirled towards him. “Why?” 

“Because I have some questions I need answers to.”

That wiped the smile off my face. Maybe he wasn’t flirting?

His smile was slow to come. “Like, are you dating anyone? Where do you like to eat? Would you go there with me one day?” 

And my smile was back. I looked at the dimming sun, hating my new fear of the dark. “Would you've really ridden the metro with me?” 

“Yeah, I still will if you want to. But I’d prefer to drive.”

***

"Where to?" he asked as he pulled out of the parking lot.

There was no way I could show up at Nan's in a police cruiser; I hadn't expected him to take it home.

“Um, I have to go to work soon. Did you, maybe, want to go get something to eat before my shift?” I attempted a pretty smile, even fluffed my mousy blonde hair for good measure, hoping to appear like I was only flirting.

“How much time do you have? I need to go home and change if we go out to eat, do you mind?”  He stopped at a red light and directed his good boy smile at me.

Letting go of my nerves about Nan’s, I smiled back with a raised eyebrow. “You’re inviting me to your house already? A little forward Mr. Fields, don’t you think?” 

I laughed as he turned an unexpected shade of pink.

He looked down at his hands as he responded, “I can’t go out in uniform when I’m not on duty.” He lifted his shoulders, like his jacket was uncomfortable, as he pulled out into traffic. I almost felt bad for teasing him. “But if you have to be at work soon, we can get fast food and eat in the car.” He glanced at me. “Not much of a first date though.”

I rolled my eyes to the roof. This was a bad idea, now he thought we were on a date. “I have about an hour, let’s go with fast food.”

 

We parked behind Johnny’s Restaurant, our meal spread out on our laps.

I dipped my nugget in sweet and sour sauce, unsure of how to break the silence. We hadn’t done much talking. It was a little awkward sitting in the front of a cop car with an officer dressed in his uniform.

He cleared his throat. “How do you feel? You look like you’ve healed well, but are you in any pain?” 

I touched the rough scab on my eyebrow. “I'm good. My ribs are still sore.”

He stretched his arm out and cupped my chin, his thumb gliding over the cut on my lip. “That doesn’t hurt?” His touch was warm and desire clear in his eyes.

I shook my head and parted my lips, taking his thumb into my mouth. I grabbed it between my teeth and sucked, tasting the salty mix of French fries and skin.

He sucked air, pulling his hand away as if I'd bitten him.

The moment had been fueled by lust, but the way he turned pink made me suspect he was new to this game. I couldn’t help but smile at his embarrassment.

He paused before taking a bite of his burger, his voice strained as he spoke, “I’m glad you’re feeling better. I've been worried about you since that night.”

I ran my hand through my hair several times; he was obviously trying to ignore what just happened. I would play along for now. “What’s going on with the case and the boys that were arrested?”

He shook his head and shrugged with agitation. “All four had their arraignment hearing the day we brought them in and posted bail. Their court date hasn’t been set yet; the case is still being built against them. I wish I could give you more news, but the system is slow.”

My insides coiled with disgust and anger; those boys were out free to do what they wanted. “Could you fill in the blanks for me? I don’t remember much of that night.” I looked out the passenger side window at nothing. There was a large brown dumpster in the shadows of the stained brick wall of the restaurant, but I wasn’t seeing it.

He picked up the remnants of our meal, stuffing it into the bag it came in. “By the time I arrived, Silas had you wrapped in his jacket and you were unconscious. And Gage and Dexter Lawson were with two of the boys responsible.”

I paused from cleaning up my trash. “Gage and Dexter?” 

He pushed his light brown hair back. “They were with Silas, the guy who gave you the card. I thought they fought the two boys to detain them, but Gage said all he did was catch them running and they gave up. Their bruises had come from you.” He smiled at me and his hair fell back on his forehead. “I was impressed. That was dangerous, and officially I should say you shouldn’t fight back like that, but…” He shrugged.

I looked at my lap; now it was my turn to be embarrassed.

“I saw the video the boy we arrested last week had. You yelled, and you tried to run, but you fought when you had no other options.” His fingers were light as he guided my chin to face him, his voice even lighter. “I’ve never seen anything like that, like you.”

I didn't want to talk about that night anymore. Lust was back in his eyes, and I had the same desire. My heart fluttered in my chest. We weren’t compatible; we came from two different lives. But I could have this moment with him. I had nothing to lose if I acted on the impulse. It’s not like we had a tomorrow anyways.

Plus, I needed some fun in my life.

In slow motion, I leaned towards him and our lips met. When he deepened the kiss and swept his tongue into my mouth, I raised myself up and crossed the seat to straddle him.

His grip on my shoulders tightened and he pulled back. “What? We can’t do this.” But the look in his eyes said otherwise.

Excitement danced in my stomach as I ducked my head to kiss along his jaw and neck, his stubble rough against my lips and cheek. “Sure we can,” I whispered against his skin.

His head tilted back and his hands dropped to my hips, gripping them as he sucked in air. I knew he wouldn’t stop me now.

He continued with the meaningless words, words to make him feel better about this, like he wasn’t expecting it. “You don’t have to do this. This wasn’t my intention.” But his fingers massaged my hips, over my jeans, under my shirt, and his head stayed rolled back, giving me free rein to his neck.

“Mhm,” I responded as I ground my hips against him. His finger tips pressed into my skin as he tightened his hold. My fingers moved to his belt buckle, undoing the strap.

His hands left my waist and grabbed the back of my head, pulling me into a hungry kiss. He lifted his hips, allowing me to pull his pants down a little.

My heart pounded as he released me and slid them to his ankles. He left his boxers on, his hardness peeking through the front flap. The exhilaration of the moment made me light headed but unstoppable. I was close to bursting with anticipation as I stroked the smooth length of him.

His breathing was shallow as he watched my hand move between us. “This is illegal.”

I moved off his lap, back to my seat, but kept him in my hands, continuing the up and down strokes. I smiled up at him. “So arrest me.”

He shook his head, and I dipped down, sucking him into my mouth.

“Ahh,” he groaned. One hand dipped into the back of my jeans, his other wound in my hair.

He only let me continue for a few moments before he pulled on my shoulders, bringing me back up to him. He kissed my lips as his fingers moved over the buttons to my pants.

I slid them off and he rolled on a condom; maybe he wasn't as new to this as I thought. I straddled him once more and he guided my hips over him, sliding inside me. He pulled his jacket around me to cover us up from behind.

I smirked at the gesture; it seemed pointless, but sweet.

He pulled on either side of the jacket, pressing me to him, kissing my neck as I rocked on him.

When his hands glided up my shirt, I pushed them down, keeping him away from my scars.

He grabbed my hips and moved me faster. I took over the rhythm, muscles straining, and let all thoughts go. Soon he was panting, his orgasm building. He let out a strangled groan as he spasmed beneath me, gripping my arms to hold me still until his body stopped jerking.

Breathless, I pushed off him and slid back to the passenger seat, pulling my underwear and pants back on. When we were both in order, I opened the door to leave. Reaching for my book bag, I gave him one last look over. Even in the shadows of the evening, he was cute, but I was glad to be leaving. It had been an impulsive and fun moment, but it was over now and I didn’t want to deal with the aftermath.

“I’ve got to get into work. Thanks.”

He grabbed my hand before I could back out of the car. “Can I call you sometime?” His brown eyes already muddied with guilt.

I flashed a lopsided grin and shook my head. “I don’t have a phone. Bye.” I closed the door before he could respond. There was no need to pretend like we were anything more than a one-time thing.

I jogged with my book bag into the back door of work, leaving my exhilarating afternoon behind me.

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