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Tina sat on an empty bench in the park as she waited for her sister to respond to her text. The park wasn’t too crowded today, though it never was crowded, and everyone seemed drowsy. Even the pigeons who liked to harass you when you had food seemed to lull around under the shade. The food vendors waved plastic fans in order to cool themselves down and Tina wanted one as well.

Her brow was slick with sweat and she was sure she was getting pit stains. Tina was sitting in the shade, though it didn’t really help, and looked around for her sister’s infamous pink bunny ears. She sighed as she saw no sign of her sister and looked around for anything suspicious. She was on the good side of town, yet that didn’t keep her from being on edge.

She really wanted to go shopping today considering it was her only free day for the next two weeks. She normally didn’t like to shop, but she was going on a date with Jimmy Jr. soon, and she wanted to look her best (in all areas). Today was going to be a day to get out of her comfort zone because they were going shopping for “sexy” and “alluring” lingerie just in case Tina got past 3rd base.

Louise, though you wouldn’t believe it, knew a lot about this stuff from countless hours of watching movies and shows she wasn't supposed to see. For instance, she found out about BDSM through 51 Shades of Grey, though later learned it wasn’t a total representation of the community. So, by far, Louise was more comfortable and knowledgeable about this stuff. Tina, on the other hand, liked to stick to her Erotic Fiction. She could imagine what was going on, but it was more comfortable to her than seeing it and watching it. She was more awkward about doing some of those things with someone else, even if she wrote herself doing those things in her fiction.

“Boo!” Louise yelled from behind Tina. Tina jumped and ended up falling out of the bench while Louise laughed. “Damn T, I got you real good!”

Tina fixed her glasses on her face after she pushed herself off the ground. “Louise!” She breathed out a sigh of relief, though she was still irritated, “Why didn’t you respond to my texts?”

Louise shrugged as she walked around the side of the bench and stood by her sister. She wore blue jean shorts that went down to her mid-thigh, a green shirt with the figure of Kuchi Kopi on it, and white hightop converse. Her hair cascaded freely down her back and her pink bunny ears sat atop her head.

“I was busy.” Louise expertly avoided the question and instead directed her sister's attention to the task at hand. “Now, let’s go shopping.” She motioned her head to the side telling her sister to come along. As they made their way through the practically empty park Louise looked around and smiled

“What are we looking for today?” Tina watched her sister curiously as she asked the question. Louise was oddly happy.

Tina lowered her voice to a whisper even though no one was around, “Lingerie. Just in case I get a touchdown with Jimmy Jr.”

Louise thought for a second, “Do you know what type?”

Tina looked taken aback by this, “Type? There’s more than one?”

Louise scoffed and rolled her eyes as they passed a couple kissing on the bench. They were not being very subtle about the groping they were doing. “Yes, T. There is more than one type. Sexy, playful, regular, kinky.” Louise stopped walking and turned towards her sister. “Do you even know what Jimmy Jr’s kinks are?”

Tina blushed and walked ahead of her sister. This was the weirdest conversation she’d ever had. Without her knowing it, she was groaning, “Ughhhhhhhhhh….”

“T. T, it's fine! Chill! If you don’t know that's okay! Let’s just buy you something sexy yet not risque for your first dose of lingerie. If you feel more confident we can always go shopping for other things. Do what makes you comfortable. Don’t do it just because Jimmy Jr. wants to, do it because you want to.”

Tina sighed, “I don’t know.”

“Don’t know what? The lingerie thing? The shopping thing? If you want to do it?” Louise crossed the street as she said this and some passerbyers gave her some stares. Tina’s cheeks flared bright red.

The two sisters walked into the lingerie store- one more hesitant than the other. Tina clutched the strap of her purse nervously while Louise sauntered up into the place as if she’s been here before. Tina was embarrassed and totally out of her element.

Bras and panties of many colors, sizes, and types all screamed at her for attention. Some bras were lacy and see-through, others were literally strings that covered up nothing, and others were closer to normal bras. The neon pinks, greens, and purples made her eyes hurt and also embarrassed. She would never wear something like that. The windows were tinted from the inside to allow privacy. The store smelled of vanilla and the lights were bright and some colors of blue, green, and .orange. The chairs were leopard print and one was shaped like a high heel shoe. Tina wanted to sit in it.

As Louise sauntered into the store they were quickly greeted by an associate, “Hi ladies! My name is Reagan. How may I help you today?” The woman was a natural blond but had the tips of her hair dyed purple. She wore a nose ring and bright pink glasses. Somehow she fit in with the vibe of this place.

“Hey, Reagan. We’re here for my sister, not me this time.” Louise hugged Reagan and smiled at her.

“Louise, you’ve been here before?” Tina was surprised, who knew her sister wore stuff like this often. She would definitely need a lesson in body confidence from her sister.

“I came in here with Logan when we were going out. You wouldn’t think it, but he was pretty kinky.” Louise walked towards a rack of black lacy bras and started shuffling through them.

“Hmm.” You learn new things every day. Logan being kinky didn’t really surprise Tina, she had accidentally seen his search history one day and boy was it interesting. Louise never ended up having sex with Logan because of his immaturity and the fact that it just “didn't seem right” according to her sister.

“What cup are you?” Reagan directed Tina towards some racks.

“I’m a 38D.” Tina stared at all the different styles and types of bras as she answered. Oh my Jericho, does that underwear have a bunny tail on it?

“Hey, T. What do you think about this?” Louise pulled out a light pink bra with black lace. It wasn’t see-through but still looked sexy.

Tina walked over to her sister and looked at it, “It’s nice.” She could feel her cheeks redden and she felt uncomfortable.

Louise came closer to her sister and whispered, ”It’s okay, T. I got you. Choose what you like and you can try it on. If you don’t like any or don't feel comfortable we can always leave.”

Tina breathed in and out. No, she could do this. She would not quit. She convinced herself she was more confident than she actually was. “I-I can do this. Jimmy Jr’s ass has been haunting me since I was 13. His ass is grass and I’m gonna mow it.”

Louise laughed and patted her sister on the back. “That's the spirit, T!”

 

Tina walked out of the store happier than she expected. They had her size, what she was looking for, and her sister made it the best experience possible. If it wasn’t for her sister, even the thought of going into a store like that would have sent her into a panic.

“Thank you, Louise. I can’t wait to show Jimmy Jr.” Tina clutched her bag close to her and had a smile on her face.

Louise proudly raised her head up and the sun reflected off the sunglasses she had resting on her head. “Move some grass girl. I gotta go, but be sure to call me with how it went. If you need a hype man, you know who to call.” As she finished her statement she brought the sunglasses over her eyes and saluted a goodbye.

Tina’s phone buzzed as she stood outside the store doors. She fumbled inside her purse for her phone. When the screen lit up she saw her boyfriend had texted her. She opened the text message:
❦Jimmy Jr.❦

Hey, I have to cancel.

Why? Is everything alright?

Andy and Ollie got hurt. Got to
bring them to hospital. I’ll make
it up to you I promise! Love you!

Hope your brothers are okay!
Love you too. ♡

Tina sighed and put her phone back in her purse. She looked down at the things she just bought and suddenly felt like throwing them away. After the rollercoaster of emotions she just went through, it all turned out to be for nothing.

She walked slowly and sadly down the street. Her mind was on autopilot while her heart sobbed. She cursed herself for being this emotional over a date, but she couldn’t help it. Her emotions got the better of her and, just like always, she wore her heart on her sleeve and ended up getting hurt again.

Though, now she was worried about Andy and Ollie. What happened? Are they okay? Is it serious? Is that where Louise went off to? So many questions and not enough answers.

Tina suddenly looked up and realized she was somewhere she didn’t recognize. She turned around in a circle and gulped as she realized she somehow wandered into the bad part of town. She felt her blood go cold and her heart beat faster with anxiety. She swallowed and decided to pull up the navigation app on her phone and find her way back. She did another quick scan of the area to make sure no one was around before she pulled out her phone. She clutched her keys in one hand and made sure that the pepper spray she had was nearby.

The area was filthy, to say the least. Garbage ran rampant through the street. Plastic bags rolled through the street like tumbleweeds while plastic cups and cartons were smashed and rolled over on the sidewalks and road. There was a suspicious water bottle filled with yellow liquid that Tina assumed was pee. Graffiti littered the walls, though Tina honestly thought the graffiti was cool. Shards of glass littered back alleys and a scream sounded in the distance making Tina flinch and drop her keys.

Wind howled around her and as the sunset the building’s shadows became menacing. Tina finally got the directions towards her apartment when a glass bottle broke from behind her. Instead of turning to look, she bolted down the street frantically. She tried to follow the navigation app onto the main road, but it must have been wrong because now she was more lost than ever.

“Look, your dad’s a deadbeat. Your mom’s a whore. Who do you think you are?” An angry voice bellowed from down the street. Tina peaked around the corner of a building, trying not to touch it anymore because it was strangely sticky.

 

“Aren’t you going to speak up? Or are you too scared?” a man mocked.

There were four men in total. Three men stood in a semi-circle around another man who was against the wall. The three men were dressed in stained undershirts, ripped jeans, and sweatpants and two out of the three were holding empty beer bottles. The other man against the wall Tina couldn’t see very well, but he was definitely taller by a few inches from the other guys.

“Back off before you get hurt. This is your only warning,” the man against the wall growled out. His voice was gruff and sent chills down Tina’s spine.

The three men laughed. One of the men holding a beer bottle itched his oily brown hair. “Only warning my ass. How much damage can you do?”

The man without the beer bottle lifted his fist up and smirked. “You’re one against three and everyone knows you aren’t that good at fighting.”

Tina wanted to intervene, but she knew she would never stand a chance between four angry men. It was wiser just to call the cops and watch from a distance so she didn’t get harmed as well. Tina turned around to go back the way she came when her foot grazed an unbroken beer bottle. The bottle clinked as it rolled against the sidewalk and Tina cursed herself.

“Who’s there?” There was a pause and Tina froze. “ Hey Lonnie, go check it out.” That’s when Tina decided to run.

“Hey! Stop!” Feet pounded down the road behind her causing her to run faster.

Tina really wanted to start freaking out, but she needed to save her breath and energy in running for her life. Her purse and shopping bag banged against her sides as she gripped the pepper spray in her hand tighter. Suddenly she felt this heavy force upon her bag and she tripped and fell to the ground.

She cursed in pain as her hands and knees were scraped against the cement. Her glasses hung halfway off her face and the items she just bought lay about the sidewalk. The man on top of her was crushing her lungs and she felt suffocated. Pure terror and adrenaline ran through her veins as she struggled to get her elbow free and swung back. Her elbow collided with the guys’ face. The man yelled as he jumped back just enough for her to get her other arm out and start to crawl away.

The man grabbed her legs and pulled her back, cursing at her for hitting him and calling her names. Bits of her hair cascaded into her face as she desperately kicked at him. She blinked rapidly as tears started to cascade down her cheeks. She clawed at his hand and he cursed as he let go to cradle his hand. She took the opportunity to kick him in the neck and sent him falling backward.

Behind the man who just assaulted her was another menacing figure. “Back off! Back off or I’ll pepper spray you.” Tina reached behind her and grabbed the keys next to her on the ground. She pointed it at the man who put his arms up in surrender.

The man’s face was brutal-- his lip was busted, his cheeks had cuts on them, and a splatter of dried blood was on his chin. His tousled brown hair stuck on his neck with sweat and his eyes were intense- like a blaze fueled by adrenaline and gasoline. He stood at about 6 feet tall (about 182 cm) and his clothes were torn. He wore a black tank top and ripped blue jeans and his arms were cut up and bleeding.

He looked down towards the man on the ground and back up towards Tina. The man was coughing and about to sit up when the gruff looking man raised his boot covered foot and slammed his head back into the cement. Tina flinched and closed her eyes as the gruff man did this, though her arm still aimed the pepper spray.

“Are you alright?” The gruff man’s voice was surprisingly soft and hinted at an accent, though Tina couldn’t place it.

He reached out his hand to Tina who stared at it for a second. He gave her a soft look and leaned down more so she could teach his hand. She dropped the arm holding the pepper spray and took the man's hand. She still had it at the ready, but she knew she wouldn’t be able to stand up on her own right now with how much she was shaking.

He pulled her up slowly and made sure she could stand before he let go. He backed up a few paces when he realized how tense she was. He wiped his brown and bleeding lip with the back of his hand as he looked her over.

“I’m fine,” Tina mumbled coldly as she leaned on the side of a building for support. Her heart was pumping furiously and she felt on edge. The adrenaline running through her veins prevented her from feeling the pain in her legs. My heart feels like it pooped its pants.

“You’re bleeding pretty bad. Do you need help getting back to the main road?” The man’s voice tried to be soothing, but the pain laced through his voice made it sound eerie.

“I’m good. I’ll be going now.” Tina turned around and walked the other direction. As her heart calmed down, so did the adrenaline in her system. Her legs started to shake and the cuts on her hands and knees started to throb. She leaned against the building and looked back towards where the guy was still standing with a shy smile on his face.

He jogged to her until he was a few paces away, respecting her personal space. “Let me call you a cab.”

Tina sighed, “Sure. Thanks. But, if you try anything I will pepper spray you.” Tina was honestly bluffing so hard right now. She could feel herself trembling and her eyes and cheeks were wet with tears.

The man rustled through the pockets of his jeans until he found his phone. He also pulled out a little packet of tissues and handed it to her as he dialed the number. She reluctantly grabbed it and started to dry her eyes and stop the bleeding on her hands. Her hands started to shake from the pain and so she stopped. She felt like a mess.

“Cab will be here soon. May I ask your name?” He ran his fingers through his hair and it stuck up at odd angles. He leaned against a street pole with stickers all over it and stared down the street and then back at her.

“Tina,” her voice wavered but she responded curtly.

“Tina? As in Tina who went to Wagstaff?” The man turned his head to the side curiously. The blood started to dry on his arm and lip. Who was this man?

“Oh look, cabs here.” He pointed at a yellow cab that rolled down the street. He walked her to the cab, a respectful distance behind her, and when she got in he leaned through the passenger window. “Take care of her Quincy.” He then tapped the side of the car and walked away. Before she could ask for his name or how he knew the driver's name the car sped off down the road.

“Where to miss?” The cab driver was a female with bright red hair. She had on braces and wore her hair in a braid. Her eyes were bright and friendly.

Tina relaxed into the seat and thought for a second. Where does one go when they are both injured but need to report an assault “Hospital.”

As the lady drove down the street she handed Tina a box of tissues a small makeup mirror. She smiled and looked into the rearview mirror, “Ya gotta cut on your forehead.”

Once the lady checked a bloodied and shaking Tina into the hospital, Quincy the cab driver left Tina on her own. As Tina waited for a nurse to come get her, she pulled out her phone and called her father’s restaurant.

“Hello! This is Bob from Bob’s Burgers. How may I help you?” Her father's comforting and familiar voice sounded from over the phone and Tina finally allowed herself to sob.

“Dad,” she hiccuped. “I need you to come to the downtown hospital. I got attacked.”

“Oh my God, LIN!” Her dad’s voice yelled from the other end.

“What! Bobbie! What’s wrong with you!” She heard her boisterous mother yell back.

“It’s Tina. She’s in the hospital. Close shop.” Her dad yelled back. She could hear him rustling around with things.

“My baby’s in the hospital!” Linda tripped and fell onto the counter. The plate in her hand crashed to the ground. “Tina, baby girl, mommy’s comin’!”

“Tina, we will be there soon. I’ll call Louise and Gene and tell her what happened. I love you and I’m so glad you’re safe.” Bob choked up at the end. She could practically feel the pain and worry in his voice.

“Love you too.” She hung up her phone and let the tears fall down her cheeks. Quickly a nurse rushed over and started gently asking Tina a bunch of questions. Tina responded as best as she could considering she was sobbing and shaking. She wanted her family. She wanted her boyfriend.

 

“Okay, Tina. Looks like you’re going to need some stitches in your head. I don’t see any signs of a concussion. The shaking will go away in a couple of days once you settle down, though we will get a therapist to check in on you before you leave. We’ll bring your family in soon, just sit tight.” The nurse smiled and looked back up from her file. “You’ll be fine sweetie. I promise.” She tapped Tina on the shoulder and then left the room.

Soon, her boisterous family and loving family barged into the area she was in. They pulled aside the curtains and rushed her. Her mom enveloped her in kisses and questions. Her dad talked to the nurse but kept his gaze on his injured daughter. Gene held a few pieces of candy in his hand that he snuck in for his sister and Louise was also enveloping her sister in a hug while she tried not to cry.

“Oh Tina, you worried me sick!” Linda hollered as after she blew her nose.

“Us. You mean us.” Bob corrected as he tapped his foot nervously against the tile. He sat on the bed next to Tina and had one of her hands in his. He lightly held it and stroked the top of it in a soothing manner.

“At least you’ll have cool scars!” Louise tried to make light of the situation but you could tell her emotions were in a state of utter chaos.

“And a cool story.” Gene popped a piece of the candy in his mouth and offered some to a less shaky Tina.

“Yeah.” Tina nuzzled into her father's side and rested her head on his shoulder. Her body was sore and her emotions numb. She just wanted to sleep.

“We love you, T.” Louise crawled into bed next to Tina’s legs and hugged them softly.

“I love you too.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Louise sat on her sister’s bed and watched as Tina took some pain pills.

“I’m fine, Louise. I promise.” Tine tried to comfort her worried sister, but Louise wasn’t having it.

“Well, I’m staying over to make sure.” Louise huffed as she put the sheets on her sister and tucked her in.

“Louise, you have class tomorrow! You can’t miss that!” Tina insisted and sat back up in the sheets. Louise gave her sister a look that said “Really? After I just tucked you in.”

“It’s fine T. I can always call in sick and tell someone to get notes for me.” Louise fake coughed to prove her point.

“No, Louise. This is your career you’d be messing with. You’ve worked hard to get here, don’t give it up- don’t give up a day of learning just for me. I’m fine. I’m alive. I’m safe and healthy. Go. Do. Your. Thing.” Tina argued back politely.

Her head was starting to hurt. She was mentally and physically tired and she just wanted to sleep. She loved her sister dearly and wanted to give her some peace of mind. She could tell her sister was just as scared as she was but would never admit it.

Pots banged from the kitchen and Louise sighed. Her brother was currently in the kitchen making her some “stress cookies” so she can eat them later. Gene always knew what type of foods cheer her up. Plus, it gave him an excuse to root around in her kitchen.

Louise sighed and shook her head. “Fine, T. But if you need anything And I mean anything. Call me.” She pulled Tina’s phone out of her pocket and handed it back to her. “I made myself your emergency contact, so if anything happens it will call me.”

Tina took her phone back and looked at her sister incredulously, “When did you get my phone?”

“You handed it to me and told me to call Jimmy Jr and tell him what happened. He responded and said he’d be over here as soon as he could to be with you. Apparently, his dad gave him a lot of trouble, even though it was the twins who hurt themselves.” Louise patted Tina’s leg and stood up.

“You sure you’re okay?”

Tina nodded, “I’m okay. Thank you for coming to be with me.”

Louise crossed her arms gently and looked away for a few seconds. She took a deep breath to steady herself before she turned back towards Tina. Louise bent down and kissed her sister’s forehead reluctantly. She paused for a second before turning back around. “I love you, T. I’m so glad you’re safe.”

Before Louise turned away, Tina could catch her wiping away a stray tear. “I love you too, Louise. I’ll call you later after your classes so we can hang out.”

Louise cleared her throat, “I’d love that.” She walked out the door and shut it quietly. It was so quiet in the apartment that Tina could hear the conversation in the hall.

“Is she alright Louise?” Linda whispered loudly.

“Yeah, she just needs her rest. I’m coming by later to check on her again.” Louise said with a straight voice. For someone so small she was the feistiest and most put together out of all of them. Tina wished she could be as confident, but maybe one day she would.

“Okay, well did you tell her that if she needs any food to call me and I’ll come and make her food. Anything she wants. I’ll even buy that cat food you all like.” Bob’s deep voice echoed throughout the hall. She felt safe with her family here. She didn’t want them to leave, but she was an adult and so were they. They had lives- classes to go to and businesses to run. She could handle her fear. Maybe.

“Gene! Come on. Stop rooting through Tina’s fridge and let’s go.” Linda yelled and was quickly met with a shush from Louise.

“Don’t disrupt my cooking genius mother! I’m on a roll.”

Tina fell into a light sleep as her family lightly talked and eventually left her apartment. She was lulled into sleep by their presence- their comfortingly loud voices. The smell of freshly baked cookies reminded her of their presence and protection.

She didn’t dream at first, but then her skin started to crawl. She dreamed of shadowed figures reaching out to grab her. Shadows were everywhere and the only color was a figure in a mask quickly approaching her. She blinked and suddenly it was right in front of her. The mask they wore was bright red and designed to look like a demon. The mask's mouth opened and it spilled out blood and soon hands reached out from all sides and grabbed her. She screamed and struggled to escape their grasp. The demon laughed and soon the mask people multiplied until they surrounded her.

She woke with a startle. Sweat beaded on her brow- the back of her shirt soaked with sweat- and her stomach suddenly squeezed in fear. She felt hot, nauseous, and like ghostly hands were still holding onto her. She quickly turned on the lamp beside her bed and put on her glasses to see if anyone was there or if hands still grasped her limbs. She swore she felt eyes on her, but there was no one there. The ghostly touch on her skin remained and suddenly she started to cry.

“Ha.Ha.Ha.” She started to hyperventilate and she curled herself into a ball. She felt like the room was closing in around her. Like she was swimming in a sea of thick goo and was being pulled under. Her body swayed from side to side as her vision went spotty and she sobbed louder with fear.

Then, the doorbell rang. Tina tried to get up, but she couldn’t muster the strength. She was stuck. She was scared the people had come back for her. Why me?

The panic settled in and Tina felt like pulling out her hair. Her body was on overdrive and everything seemed to be too loud, too soft, too hot. Too hot and tight. The pants were too suffocating. The ghost hands were still on her. She took off her pants and threw them across the room in a bundle. Then, she pushed away the sheets and a loud bang followed as Tina’s phone fell onto the floor. A yell escaped her as she scampered back on the bed.

“Tina? Tina! Is everything alright?” A familiar voice lisped out. She froze and once she recognized who it was. The door to her bedroom opened and her boyfriend ran inside frantic. His eyes quickly settled on the frightened, shivering, and sweaty girlfriend.

“Tina? What’s wrong. Speak to me.” Jimmy Jr. spoke soothingly and walked towards her. The sheets lay on the floor and the phone screen cast an eerie glow around the room. “Babe. You’re safe now.” Jimmy Jr. slowly approached his girlfriend’s bed and crouched down on it. He opened his arms and she flew into them sobbing.

“Shhh. It’s alright. I’ve got you. I’m right here.” He settled more on her bed and pulled her into his lap. She was shivering, from how cold it was in her room or from fright he didn’t know. Hands clutched at his shoulders and she wrapped her legs around his torso. Her head nestled in the crevice of his neck as she sobbed.

“I was so scared.” Tina felt her boyfriend start to rock her and run his hands soothingly up and down her back. He kissed the top of her head and repeated the words “breathe” and “you’re safe now.”

After a period of time, the world seemed to return to normal. The ghost hands disappeared from her skin and she didn't feel like she was baking in an oven anymore. Her lungs finally felt full of air again, though her breath was still shaky, and her head was clear. She raised her head up from Jimmy Jr’s neck and sighed.

He caressed the hair and pushed it away from her face so he could see her. “There’s my beautiful girlfriend. Are you okay?” His voice was soft as he pulled a blanket over them. They were now both cold and they were too comfortable to get the blanket off the floor.
“I’m a lot better now. Thanks.” Tina was sitting in between Jimmy Jr’s legs and his arms were wrapped around her. It was like she was wrapped in a warm cocoon. She felt safe in his arms, comforted, and felt like nothing in the world could touch her.

“Do you mind me asking about what happened today? You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

Tina breathed in deeply and began telling him what happened- from why she was out with Louise, to how she got lost and finally explaining the stranger who saved her. Now, thinking back, he looked oddly familiar. Maybe it was the flash of excitement and familiarity in his eyes? Maybe it was his accent that reminded her of someone long forgotten?

Jimmy Jr. sighed after she finished and turned her to face him, “I’m so sorry, Tina. At least you’re okay.” His face had no trace of emotion on it, and even the sympathetic look he tried to give her looked forced. He looked beyond tired so maybe that was it. But shouldn’t he be worried about her?

He then stood up from the bed and stretched. Tina already missed his presence next to her. She sat cross-legged on the bed and watched as he pulled out his phone and typed up a message. She wondered why he hadn’t asked her more about the guy who saved her. He probably had other things on his mind considering his brothers were just hurt and his dad is going through another girlfriend.

Tina shivered from how cold it was in her room. When Jimmy Jr. had gotten up, he had pushed away the covers and thus uncovered Tina and himself. He stood beside her bed glued to his phone, completely oblivious of how cold she was and sighed again.

“Who are you texting?” Tina asked as she stood up to stand beside him. She really wanted to be back in his arms.

“A friend. He was asking for my help with something.” Tina thought the answer was vague, but maybe Jimmy Jr. was just tired. They both have had a busy day.

Jimmy’s phone buzzed again in his hand and his eyes furrowed. He looked from his phone to Tina and back and sighed. “I’ve gotta go.” Those words were like a blow to her chest. “And, next time I’m here, I wanna see that lingerie you got. I bet you look hawt,” He emphasized the hot part before he bent down and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. “Glad you’re safe, Tina.” He turned towards her bedroom door and left, yelled a goodbye before the apartment door shut. Tina was now left all alone in her cold, dark, shadow-filled bedroom.

Sleep eluded her and she was wide awake now more than earlier. There was no way she would be getting any more sleep tonight. Nightmares and ghost hands floated in the shadows waiting to get to her.

She made her way, shivering, to the window and pushed aside the curtains. The morning sun blinded her and flooded the room in a soft yet blinding light. The ghosts in the room disappeared and the shadows shrank away into the dens they came from. The morning sun was just coming over the horizon- considering it was 6:30 A.M. The shadows slowly disappeared from the city as it rose and Tina felt better. The fewer shadows the better.

Tina took a deep breath and, even though she was shivering, felt it was better to be cold than have her sweating again. She already knew she smelled from how much she was sweating before and would have to take a shower. The hair on her head felt like a tangled mess and without pants on, her legs were covered in those cold bumps.

The day was new and so was Tina. A little banged up, a little bruised, a little scared, but she was fine. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself.

Her phone buzzed from its place on the floor and Tina sighed. She felt like she was missing a piece of herself after Jimmy Jr. left. She missed his warmth, comfort, and fresh cologne. Her phone buzzed again and Tina sighed. She turned away from the window and made her way through her destroyed room.

In the light you could clearly see her discarded pants crumpled up on the floor, the sheets tossed haphazardly on the ground in a fluffy, heavy, and big mess. The phone lay screen upon the ground casting some light into the room around her. When she picked her phone up and stood she finally got a whiff of how she smelled and made a disgusted face.

“Damn. No wonder Jimmy Jr. needed to leave so quickly if I smelled like this,” Tina joked self-deprecatingly to herself as she opened her phone to read the email.

It was an email from her old high school titled “Bring me Back. Bring me Back,” which sounded similar to a lyric in the Queen song “Love Of My Life.” The body of the email read:

“Dear Alumni of Huxley High School,
It is with great pleasure that we announce the 5-year reunion for the class of 2010! We know it feels like time has flown by since you’ve left Huxley and it truly has! The reunion committee of the class of 2010 has decided to hold your reunion at the high school on Wednesday the 25th of August from 6-10 P.M. Dress appropriately in formal wear. Suits and ties and dresses. No ball gowns, please. There will be plenty of time to catch up and to tour the school. See how it has changed! We hope this email finds you well and if you have any questions email us at huxleyhs@huxleyhs.edo.”

Sincerely,
The Reunion Committee.”

Wow! It’s already been 5 years since I graduated! Tina started to reminiscence on all the friends she had lost contact with. Tammy, Jocelyn, Zeke, Henry Haber, Lenny DeStefano (even though they never really talked), and so many others. She wondered what they were all doing. Tammy was probably a model by now. Jocelyn was probably a news anchor. She did have an interest in it since middle school. Henry Haber was probably still in law school. He was really smart and loved to argue with people. Zeke was probably a chef since he always had a passion for cooking. Tina didn’t know, however, what Lenny would be doing. He was always floating around between groups and activities, so he could be doing anything.

Tina walked into the kitchen, her bare feet cold against the cold kitchen floor, and looked for the cookies Gene had made earlier. She was hungry and the perfect comfort food was cookies dipped in milk. Hopefully, Gene didn’t drink all her milk.

 

Meanwhile. . .

 

“L!” A man bellowed out from behind the office doors. His voice was smooth, deep, and had a slight twang to it.

L made his way towards the heavy mahogany door. Bodyguards stood plastered on either side of the door and watched as he passed. Guns strapped to their sides and faces half-covered by a mask. The man pushed open the door and was met with a blinding light that spilled in through the windows. The room was filled by the natural light of the morning, which was the only light in the room beside the computer sitting on the desk emitting an eerie glow.

Dust particles floated in the light making L’s nose twitch and he looked around to see where his boss was. His eyes roamed over the multitude of books stacked in random piles. Plastic water bottles filled the trashcan along with a bloody rag, antiseptic wipes, and some bandages. His eyes finally glazed over the desk and that's when he saw his boss.

Behind the desk sat a looming figure with a broad figure. The man who called him in was covered in shadows giving the room a rather dramatic effect. The man thought it suited the atmosphere.

“Yes?” L made his way in front of the desk and stood still. Hands lay on his sides and gaze straight ahead.

“Clear my schedule for the afternoon of the 25th. I have plans.” The man behind the desk turned the screen off and stood up. He turned towards the window and walked towards it. His shoulder-length brown hair shone in the light.

“Ye, sir.”

“Get me a suit, black preferably, and a haircut appointment. I’m going to be meeting someone very important.”

“Anythin’ else?”

The man turned towards L and thought for a second. “Get William in here. I need to discuss some business with him. Tell him to bring the files on the Viper gang and Jimmy Pesto Jr.”

“Yes, sir.”

Chapter Text

Tina stood in front of her mirror and held up two dresses to see which one suited her more. The dress in her left hand was light pink. It hugged her curves and then bellowed out into a ball gown type shape. It kind of reminded her of a mermaid tail. The dress in her right hand was dark blue and, like the previous dress, hugged her curves and was lower cut. It showed a little cleavage, but it wasn’t like that bothered her. She felt both dresses would make her look stunning and she really wanted to impress Jimmy Jr.

“Tina, I would just go with the blue dress.” Louise sat on her bed and was tossing and catching a stress ball Tina kept on her nightstand.

“I agree. It brings out your eyes!” Gene commented as he gave the dresses in Tina’s hand a once over. “On the other hand. You normally don’t wear pink. Plus, it would make you sparkle under those lights girlfriend.”

Tina sighed, “I just don’t know what to wear! They both seem right!”

Louise put the stress ball aside and looked at her sister. “You have 3 seconds. Choose the dress you like the most. 3….2…”

“Blue! Blue! I choose blue.” Tina hung up the pink dress in her closet and looked in the mirror again. She would look pretty- gorgeous even. Would it impress Jimmy Jr.?

“Do you need help doing your makeup or hair?” Gene shut her closet door and held up a pair of shoes that would match Tina’s dress.

“Um, sure. Make me look like a hot super star.”

“Like Madonna. Got it.”

“I’ll provide the music and eat the food in your fridge!” Louise put on a random song and walked off to Tina’s small kitchen in her apartment to eat something.

Louise wasn’t interested in the process of getting her sister ready, she wouldn’t be able to help her sister, so she would offer advice when asked or offer criticism when needed. She knew her brother could handle it considering he had a keener eye for fashion than anyone else in the family.

About an hour later the bedroom door burst open and Gene yelled, “Drumroll please!”

Louise slapped the counter quickly in the beat of a drum and watched as her sister- gorgeous sister- walked out her room.

“Ho-ly CRAP!” Louise stood up in shock and briskly walked over to Tina. She gave her sister a once over. “Did you replace our sister with a supermodel?” Louise looked at Gene in shock and he smiled in triumph.

“Nope. Just refined what was already there. She’s a fox now. Rawr.”

“That's not the sound that foxes make,” Tina corrected punctually.

“What does the fox say?” Louise asked sarcastically.

Tina was about to answer when the doorbell rang. The siblings all looked at the door and then back at each other. Louise wrung her hands together tightly in excitement. Gene ushered his sister forward and made sure to grab her purse for her. They left their sister to answer the door and mouthed ‘good luck’ as they went into the bedroom to clean up the mess. But, let’s be honest, they were mostly there to eavesdrop on the conversation.

Tina took a deep breath and then opened the door. She knew she looked beautiful. Gene had curled her hair to make it look effortlessly beautiful. He had put on a little mascara, blush, and eyeliner to bring out her eyes. The eyeshadow was a light pink since Gene was going for a more natural look, and her lips were a light red. Her dress was dark blue, almost navy, and her heels were black. She was confident in herself, for the first time in a while, and she was proud of herself. She just hoped Jimmy Jr. liked her outfit as well.

The door opened to see Jimmy Jr. with his hair tousled and his dress shirt wrinkled. He looked like he just threw on the clothes and didn’t try at all. But, Tina thought he looked… nice? He always looked nice Tina thought in order to hide her slight disappointment in his lack of effort.

He didn’t even look at her when she opened the door and was busy texting someone. He hummed, “Good. Let’s go. We’re going to be late if we don’t head out soon.” He then turned away and walked down the hall. Tina was shocked into place. She couldn’t believe how he’d blown her off.

“Bye Louise. Bye Gene. Thanks for all your help!” Tina closed the door to her apartment and didn’t bother locking it since her family was still inside. She sighed and walked alone down the hall towards the elevator. Jimmy Jr. was still texting and didn’t look up when she stopped beside him. She huffed and tried to get his attention, “So, what do you think of the new dress I bought?”

“It's good. You look nice.” His eyes were glued to the screen.

Tina gave up on conversation and decided to be lost in her thoughts. This was not how this was supposed to be going. It was supposed to be like a Fifty Shades of Grey moment where he swept her off her feet and kissed her until her lips were raw.

Tina blew a piece of hair out of her face and hit the lobby button on the elevator. The elevator slowly went down and the entire time he didn’t talk to her. What was so important?

“Jimmy Jr.”

“Hm.”

“Why won’t you look at me or talk to me dammit?” Tina whisper-yelled as they walked out the front door of the lobby and into the brisk autumn night.

“I’m busy Tina. I’m dealing with my father right now. You look pretty. Is that what you wanted to hear? I’m going through a lot right now so just leave me alone.” Jimmy Jr. finally put his phone away, but now he was storming off and angry at her for something that was his fault.

She hurried after him, but the heels she was wearing made it hard to run. “Look if you wanted to be left alone then you should have told me and we wouldn’t have to go to our reunion. We can just not go if that’s what you want.”

Jimmy Jr. huffed and unlocked his car. “We’re going. I’m meeting people there anyway.”

Jimmy Jr. had now killed her mood as well. She now didn’t feel pretty, or gorgeous, or confident- she felt average. I guess I’m not meant to be happy.

 

The bump of the bass could be heard from down the street and there were already throngs of people waiting to get into the gym doors. The people were dressed in arrays of dresses, tuxes, and pantsuits. Tina shut the car door and walked ahead of Jimmy Jr. because she wasn’t going to handle his bullshit. If he wanted to be in a mood she would let him but he would do it alone.

She walked as confidently as she could towards the line of people waiting to get in and saw some familiar faces. Lenny DeStefano had a girl under his arm and he laughed heartily at something she said. He seemed truly happy and Tina was glad. Most of the people were either unrecognizable or she had forgotten them.

She stood alone in line and nervously draped her chest-length hair over one of her shoulders. A breeze suddenly blew causing her hair to move about and tangle. A shiver ran up her spine as the cold wind blew around her and she hugged her arms close to herself.

The line quickly moved forward and she was almost up the steps when a limo pulled up along the road. Everyone started whispering as the limo slowed in front of the school and came to a halt. A man got out of the passenger's seat dressed in a chauffeur’s outfit and opened up the back door of the limo. A tall man of around 6’3 (190 cm) with dark brown hair that was slicked back emerged from the limo. He straightened up and fixed his black suit and tie before nodding to the man who opened the door. His confidently long strides and serious demeanor made people’s heads turn. His handsome face was shadowed by the light and seemed to make all the women whisper. Tina imagined that, if they still lived in the 19th century, the woman would have popped open their fans and started fanning themselves.

The light seemed to avoid him; the streetlamp he walked under flickered and came back to life after he passed from under it. He strode past the line and, as he passed Tina, gave her a smile and a nod and continued walking. Tina felt heat rush to her cheeks and she suddenly slapped both her hands against her cheeks. Tina couldn’t figure out who that was, but man was he hot. She could just tell- just like she could tell which boys had a nice ass.

Once she made her way inside, she was immediately greeted by the sounds of loud music playing on the speakers. Strobe lights were playing inside decorated the walls in splashes of red, blue, pink, green, and yellow. There was a refreshment table in one corner of the room with circular tables and folding chairs around them. In another corner was a line for the DJ who was taking requests for songs. The middle was filled by dancing adults and for some reason this reunion felt more like a prom but for adults in their mid-twenties.

Tina felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to see Jimmy Jr behind her. She gave him a small smile and he returned the gesture. He sighed and looked away before he grabbed the back of his neck awkwardly and turned back to her.

“Look, Tina. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have treated you that way. You really look beautiful and I shouldn’t have been such a prick.” He grabbed her hand softly and brought her away from the door and further into the dark room.

“Can’t you just speak to me instead of ignoring me? I’m not really angry anymore, but I’d like to now these things. You can’t just keep hiding things from me and expecting me to go along with it.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know! Today was just a rough day. I’ll explain it later. I’m really sorry. I just want you to know that. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

Tina sighed and rubbed her temples, “We are a couple now. Two people. Not one person who doesn’t talk to the other one about their feelings and keeps them away. Got it?”

“I will be more open. It’s just hard to. I will do better. How about, when we go back to your place, we can watch that movie you’ve been wanting to watch?”

Tina smiled softly and grasped his hand that held hers. She squeezed his hand and he smiled back. “Thank you. Just try to remember that your moods don’t just affect you, but everyone around you. Now, let’s enjoy our night shall we?”

Jimmy Jr. smiled and held out his arm for Tina to take. She happily took it and they walked away into the darkness of the gym. Though, what Tina didn’t see, was the handsome man in the corner watching her and Jimmy Jr’s encounter.

 

Tina watched as her boyfriend talked and goofed around with some old guy pals. Tina, who wasn’t in that circle (or really any circle for that matter) stood beside her boyfriend with a polite smile on her face. She laughed when the group laughed and smiled when they smiled. She wanted to be there for Jimmy Jr. and make his day better. She was honestly surprised he hadn’t gone out onto the dance floor yet. He was probably saving it for a slow song so they could dance together

“Ladies and gentlemen! Are you all having a good time tonight?” The DJ’s voice boomed through the speakers and the crowd cheered. “Alright alright alright! Now, the time for a slow song is coming up! Grab your partners and let's get dancing.”

“Jimmy! Let’s dance! We have to catch up!” A blond girl came over and grabbed her boyfriend's arm. She looked suspiciously like Jocelyn.

“Omg, is that you Tina! You look soooooo CUTE!” Jocelyn moved from Jimmy Jr. to Tina and looked at her up and down. “Damn girl you glew up! Who did your makeup? It’s totally on fleek!” Jocelyn was in Tina’s face and her eyes were sparkling in awe and admiration.

“My brother helped me. He’s really good at this kind of stuff.”

“Jimmy Jr. I’m borrowing your girlfriend!” Jocelyn grabbed Tina’s arm and gently pulled her towards the concession table.

“Tina its’ soooo good to see you! It feels like it's been forever!” Jocelyn poured herself some punch and then asked Tina if she wanted some. Tina nodded and Jocelyn filled up her cup and handed it to her with a smile.

“Thanks! It’s great to see you too! You look… awesome!” Tina wasn’t the best at complimenting her peers, but she tried.

“Thanks! I just got my nails done too! Since it’s fall I got little glittery leaves painted on them!” Jocelyn showed a hand to Tina and it was definitely sparkly.

“Wow! Those look so good!”

“I know right!” Joceyln shoved a cookie in her mouth and took a sip of her drink. “I’ve missed you so much! How are you and Jimmy Jr. doing?”

“Oh, we’re doing good actually! We’ve been dating for a straight year and a half now.”

“Only a year and a half? You guys were supposed to be, like, the hit couple! We all bet on it! What happened?” Jocelyn walked with Tina around the concessions and they picked up random things and put it on a small plate.

“Oh, well. We’ve been on and off dating since we graduated. But, this is the longest we’ve lasted! I think it’s going really well!”

“Well, as long as you’re happy Tina! You deserve it girl!” Jocelyn’s head perked up and she looked at something over Tina’s shoulder. “I have to go, be right back.”

Tina tried to follow Jocelyn into the crowd but lost her. Tina took another sip of her punch and then grabbed a cookie off the table. She didn’t look to see that it was cranberry cookies and not chocolate chip. She gagged at the taste and tried to find a napkin. Once she found one, she was in the process of spitting the disgusting cookie into the napkin when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She crumbled up the napkin in her hand before she turned around and just hoped she didn’t have cookie on her face.

“Hey, T-Bird.” Tina dropped her napkin on the ground in shock.

“Zeke?” The handsome man’s face was suddenly illuminated by the strobe lights. Colors of red then green and yellow made him fully visible in the light. He was the handsome man who everyone, including her, gawked at. Holy crap did he have a glow up. He is over 6ft tall (190cm) and his hair is slicked back to reveal a scar on his cheek. He has stubble on his jaw and a family ring glittered on his right ring finger. He had a belly, but honestly, abs were overrated anyway. The true art form was the butt.

He looked like that guy who saved her in the alley. Except, Zeke was cleaned up, had his hair slicked backed, and was wearing a suit and not shorts and a white shirt. Plus, those cuts on the guy’s cheeks weren’t there on Zeke’s face.

“Wow… you look….” Tina was at a loss for words. Well, she wanted to say he looked like Ian Somerhalder with his shirt off, but Zeke’s shirt wasn't’ even off. Plus, that probably wasn’t an appropriate comment.

“Oh, please girl. Yur’ the one who looks exquisite!” Zeke smiled at her and brought her in for a hug. It was like hugging a teddy bear. A warm, fluffy, comforting teddy bear.

“Zeke, it’s so good to see you! It’s been a while hasn’t it!” Tina watched Zeke’s mannerisms and noticed how they were different from when she last saw him years ago. He was confident, stood tall. His eyes were constantly watching around the room and he seemed to emit this overwhelming alpha sense.

Zeke smiled a genuine smile and his eyes softened. “It’s been too long T-Bird. So, how have you been?”

Tina was about to answer that question when the DJ came back on again. “Okay dancers. Time was a slow song. Get a partner and I want to see you all having some fun!”

You say you’ll be down in five.

The smell of your perfume.

“Would you do me the honor of dancing wit me?” Zeke extended his right hand towards her.

Is floatin’ down the stairs, you’re fixin’ up your hair like you do.

She smiled and yelled over the music, “I’d love to.” His hands were big and muscular and easily enveloped hers. He led her gently out onto the outskirts of the dance floor and gently wrapped her in his arms. She looked around for Jimmy Jr. and saw him dancing with Jocelyn towards the center of the room. They were laughing about something and he seemed to be in a better mood.

I know that I'll be a mess. The second that I see you

Zeke pulled her closer so they were almost touching chests and grasped one hand in his and put her other hand behind his back. She followed suit and she suddenly became hyper aware of how close they were to each other. He smiled down at her and she could suddenly smell his cologne. Like clean air, cardamom, bergamot, and lavender. Manly, yet not overwhelming. Her heart started to flutter.

You won't be surprised, it happens every time, it's nothing new

“So, how have ya been?” Zeke asked again, but this time he whispered it more in her ear so she could hear. His voice sent shivers down her spine and suddenly she was cold. She moved closer to Zeke for warmth.

“Good! Besides that time I got attacked, but other than that good,” Tina was trying to focus on not resting her head against his chest. It just seemed like the perfect head rest and felt it would be nice. She wanted to touch it- not to be pervy- but because it seemed comforting.

It’s always on a night like tonight

She became slightly aware of Zeke’s hand that slowly moved across her back. “You got attacked? In the bad part of town right?” Zeke spun her and she laughed a little. He seemed to like her laugh because he smiled down at her. The smile made her heart flutter again.

I thank God you can read my mind

“Yeah, how did you know?” Tina looked up at him through her glasses and he smiled nonchalantly and shrugged.

Cause when you look at me with those eyes. Tina’s gaze grew curious.

“It was almost like a knight in shining armor was there to protect ya.” Zeke now looked like he was having fun playing with her. He started laughing and his belly moved up and down as he did. She thought that was cute, but she was more curious about why he was laughing. “You was so ready to pepper spray me it wasn’t funny!

I-I-I’m speechless

I’m speechless, Tina thought as she stared at Zeke in shock. She suddenly felt pale and the blood ran cold. She suddenly felt light headed. She had suspected it was him, but she didn’t want to say anything and be wrong. He was the man who had saved her. He was the one who pulled her from her hell.

Staring at you standing there in that dress.

What it’s doing to me ain’t a secret

Zeke looked at her pale face and knew he had to get her outside for some fresh air. He gently took her hand in his and put a hands on the small of her back. He led her away from the sweltering heat of the people dancing and outside onto the track area where other guests were gathered. He sat her down in a chair and pulled one right in front of her.

 

Did she look like a goddess from Rome or what? Zeke thought to himself after she had sat. She was beautiful. Gorgeous. Damn, he really needed to stop crushing on her and help her.

“Water. I need water.” Tina mumbled as she rested her head on the table. Her glasses clinked against the table and she started groaning like she used to in middle school. Damn it, Zeke thought, why is she so cute even when she’s freaking out.

“I’ll be right back, T-Bird. Here, take my jacket in case you get cold.” He took off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. It engulfed Tina’s small frame and it was a welcome distraction.

Tina put on the oversized jacket and wrapped it around her closely. It smelled like Zeke and helped her calm down a little. To focus on what she could see, smell, touch, taste, and hear. She needed to ground herself before she lost herself. Zeke saved her.

But, why was he in that part of town? What happened to him to make him so beat up and possibly involved in a gang? Why did he not say something sooner? Or even contact her to make sure she was okay?

Man, this situation is so unreal! It’s almost like a friend fiction story I wrote back in middle school and high school. Except now the main love triangle is Zeke and Jimmy Jr and I! She knew from experience that there were going to be surprise twists at every corner (including people making out.)

“Here’s your drink. Are you feeling any better?” Zeke sat down in front of her and handed her the cup of water. She gulped it down and watched as he surveyed her. His eyes stayed on her face and watched as her brain comprehended the situation. This was odd, very odd.

“Thanks, Zeke.” The cup clanked against the table when she set it down. She didn’t turn to look at him just yet. Zeke had changed since they had graduated and Tina was going to find out how much.

Chapter Text

Zeke sat straight in the plastic chair and watched as Tina’s mind worked through the situation at hand. Her lips were pursed and her eyes were squinking in concentration. He wondered what was going through her head right now.

What the hell am I supposed to ask him? How does one start off a conversation about how you saved my life but are you in a gang? Also, why was Zeke there and why didn’t he say anything? Normally people change during high school, so what caused him to change so drastically between then and now?

Tina knew she would have to start this conversation off somehow, but just couldn’t figure out how to do it without seeming rude or odd.

“T-Bird, are ya feeling any better?” Zeke sat at the edge of his seat and tapped his fingers on his knees. His brown hair blew around in the cold wind of the night.

Tina buttoned up Zeke’s jacket as the wind blew around them and she wished she had a hair tie for her hair. She pushed the hair behind her ears and then turned to look at Zeke square in the face. She took a deep breath to steady herself, though unsuccessful, and spoke. “I’m fine now. You really dropped a huge bomb on me.”

Zeke laughed and his mouth quirked up in an awkward smile. “Sorry girl. Didn’t mean to freak ya out. I just felt I should tell ya that your suspicions are correct.”

“Well, I would have eventually approached you about it. Maybe in about 5 years after I had time to mull it over a bunch, but I would do it eventually.” Tina knew her statement was correct because she wouldn’t have approached Zeke until she was sure he was the one. I mean, she’s already awkward enough and didn’t want to be wrong and become even more awkward. She seemed to live around awkwardness constantly… but why make it any worse.

“Well, darn. Guess I shouldn’t have told ya then.” Zeke slapped his knee and then gestured to the cup. “Do you want more?” Tina shook her head. He picked up the cup and threw it away in the trash can for her. Once he returned she asked him what he meant by regretting telling her. “The mystery is solved. Now you won’t be constantly thinking about that handsome knight who saved you for the next five years.”

Tina scoffed but a smile crept onto her face. Zeke was always a flirt. “Can we walk the track. I want to talk to you but there are too many people around.”

Tina and Zeke's eyes scanned the patio around them. There were a handful of people around: some smoking, some making out, and some were slow dancing (awww… cute!) But still, there were too many people around to have a private conversation. Tina got up and Zeke pushed in her chair for her. They walked beside each other down towards the track and onto the infinite loop of the track.
“Before we start talking I have to make something clear.” Zeke’s stride was long and Tina was speed walking to catch up.

His demeanor suddenly seemed chilly. His posture was erect and his whole presence changed from calming to a sort of overwhelming confidence and alphaness. Now that she knew who he was, this presence was both familiar and shocking. His voice even changed a little. His twang was gone and so was his way of saying things. The sudden change in him was odd and uncharacteristic from the Zeke she knew and somewhat disliked in her past.

“What I do is very secretive. I can’t tell you much, but I will tell you what I can. But, knowing this, you can not tell anyone of the information you learn. You may want to tell friends, family, or a boyfriend. You can tell no one. This is for their safety as well as yours. My job is dangerous and so please ask questions that won’t put you in harm’s way.” His gaze was straightforward while he spoke but towards the end he looked down at her for confirmation of her word.

“I won’t say anything stupid. Got it.” Tina mulled over her words for a second before she asked her first question. Her heels clacked against the track. “Why didn’t you say something sooner? It’s been a month and I only just found out you saved me.”

“I was busy with work. Plus, I wanted to give you time to heal and rest.” He started to relax and the tension in his shoulders lessened. “I heard you were in the hospital. You’re okay now aren’t you?”

Tina still felt on edge around this sudden change, but felt it would be better to say nothing about it for now. “I’m better. There wasn’t too much physical damage. It was more mental and emotional harm than anything.”

Zeke sighed, “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help ya sooner, T-Bird. When I saw ya there it really threw me fer a loop. I wish I coulda done more.”

“Why were you there anyway?” Tina noticed he was slipping back into his twang.

“Business mostly.”

“Do you normally do business in a dirty shirt and shorts?”

“No. I had changed out of my business attire when they attacked me. Didn’t want to anger them too much since he had a gun pointed to my chest.” Zeke said the words so casually.

What the hell happened to him? It’s like he’s desensitized to violence! “Well, thank you for helping me. I would’ve been in worse trouble if you weren’t there.”

“Ahhh, it’s no problem. Anythin’ for you T-Bird.”
Tina was trying to figure out what else to ask him without it sounding rude. So many questions ran through her mind and her curiosity was hardly quenched. Tina was about to ask Zeke what type of business a gang member finds themself doing (even though she knew he probably wouldn’t answer the question) when he started talking.

“So, T-Bird. I saw ya come in with Jimmy Jr. Are you guys finally dating?” Zeke was interested to hear what Tina had to say. Files said one thing, but coming from the actual person was a different story.

Tina felt a blush crawl to her cheeks and she couldn’t help the smile that crawled on her lips. “Yes, we are. We’ve been going steady for a while now.”

“Are you happy?”

Tina paused and couldn’t help remembering the fight she had with Jimmy Jr. earlier. Every couple had their quarrels, but for the most part their relationship was steady. “Yeah. I mean, we have fights every now and then, but what couple doesn’t? I’m just glad we are able to talk problems out and be honest with each other.”

“Well, you deserve happiness. Speaking of which, what are ya doin’ for a job now?” They had almost made it halfway across the track by now.

“Oh, I’m currently interning at a publishing company. I want to be a writer, but I want to get my masters first and so I’m balancing school and work. I guess my passion for writing in my diary all those years sparked an interest in writing professionally.”

Zeke tried to read Tina under the low-light of the track lamps they passed under. She was never that expressive with her emotions, but sometimes if you looked into her eyes deep enough you could tell what she was thinking. Though, the glare her glasses cast made it difficult to see her eyes.

Tina felt it was now appropriate to turn the conversation back to him. “Zeke, why did you join a gang?”

Zeke laughed and put his hands up, “Getting right to the point with your questioning. I like it. But, sadly, I can’t answer that. Long story.”

Damn it. “Well, how come you’ve changed so much since graduating?”

“I’ve changed? You’ve changed T-Bird!”

“Have I?” Tina looked down at herself and didn’t see much of a change. She did grow out her hair, but that’s about it.

“Yeah! I mean, look at ya!”

“Well, we must not be seeing the same person because I haven’t changed that much. You’re the one who has suddenly grown thick muscles, a nice butt now, has scars all over, and exudes confidence! I just grew out my hair.” Tina took her hair in her hand and took it over one shoulder as if to emphasize her point.

“You think I have a nice ass.” This wasn’t a question, but a statement that Zeke seemed amused with. A genuine smile crept onto his face and he started to laugh. “Damn girl, you never cease to amaze me.”

Tina was about to respond when his phone rang. She felt a vibration in the jacket she wore and hurried to find the phone in his jacket. He rested his hands on her arms and she stopped. He had stopped walking and opened up his jacket that was draped on Tina’s shoulder. He pulled out his phone from an inside pocket and answered it.

“Hello?” He walked farther away from her and his voice was deep and low in volume.

Tina faced the school building and watched as the lights danced through the window. The beat of the music was soft against the night sky and Tina had to strain to hear it. She wanted to give Zeke privacy on his call, even if it possibly was about murdering someone or stealing things. Her moral compass was sad that Zeke had gone down this path and what freaked her out, even more, was that he probably had killed people.

Zeke. The guy who told her “whatever floats your scrote” and fixated on the “boobies” and the museum. The same guy who wrestled Jimmy Jr. and loved to hang out with friends. This is the same Zeke who now was tall, muscular, and had more secrets than she had sexual fantasies. It was just a shock.

“Look, T-Bird. I gotta go. It was good seeing you again. Just know that, from now on, no one should bother you or your family again.” Zeke slipped his phone into his pants pocket and smiled at her.

“What do you mean?”

“Can’t answer that. But, tell your boyfriend I said hi. If you need anything, call this number.” He slipped a card into my hands and then saluted with two fingers.

Before I could say anything, he walked away into the night leaving me with more questions than answers. I flipped the card over and it was just a number. No name. No address. Just the bland print of a phone number. Tina all too late realized she was still wearing his jacket and tried to find him again but she knew she would have no luck. Guess she would have to call him to return his jacket.

 

Once she got back inside to where the party was she slipped off Zeke's jacket and draped it over her arm. It felt like an oven in the gym with all the people inside of it and she didn’t know how she was going to find Jimmy Jr. in all this mess. She walked around for a bit and then finally made her way to the dance floor.

Soon, the Michael Buble song Sway started to pound through the speakers and she soon saw Jimmy Jr. standing near the edge looking around. She smiled and walked up to her boyfriend. Currently, his back was towards her, and when she tapped his shoulder he turned around and smiled down at her.

“Tina I’ve been looking all over for you.” Jimmy Jr. took her hand, the one not holding the jacket, and kissed it.

Tina’s smile grew wider and she couldn’t help but release a small, giddy laugh. “I’ve been outside talking to Zeke. He says hello by the way.”

“I’m assuming that’s who gave you the jacket. Guess we will have to return it to him. For now though,” he twirled her around and took the jacket from her grip. Tina smiled and allowed her boyfriend to lead her onto the dance floor. He let go of her hand to tie the jacket around his thin waist and then quickly took her hands and started moving with her. She was an awkward dancer but Jimmy Jr. didn’t seem to mind.

The pace of the music was upbeat, smooth, and she allowed Jimmy Jr. to lead her smoothly across the gym floor. He sang in her ear softly as she laughed and just relished in the moment. He was a smooth dancer and had only improved since taking those dance classes in college.

They danced the night away, or at least until the party was done, and they left before the announcements of everyone’s achievements since graduation. They sang the way home and then they cuddled on her couch as they watched TV. Life was nice. Yes, sometimes they fought, but who didn’t. No one was perfect and Tina had to remember that. This wasn’t a fanfiction.

 

~~~~ Zeke ~~~~~

 

“So you want me on security detail from now on?” She responded as she sat on the chair’s arm. She stared at her boss who stood staring out the window into the night sky. He was such a worrywart.

“Yes. Befriend her. Keep her and her family safe. I won’t have her getting hurt again. I can tell the event still haunts her and she doesn't’ deserve that.” After a pause he added, “No one does.”

“Okay, so when do I start?” The blond woman asked as she stood up to stretch. Her bare feet slapped against the wood floor but she would rather go barefoot than wear those heels any longer.

“Tomorrow. And, Jocelyn, keep her oblivious.” Zeke turned to face his old childhood friend and she could tell her looked desperate- scared for Tina. If her boss wanted it. She would do it.

“Of course.”