The next day seemed to drag on. Tucker could not wait until six when he finished up with his last coaching appointment and would hopefully get to see Ann walk through the doors.
When it finally rolled around, he found himself at the front desk, watching out the window for her to appear like a six year old waiting for his ice cream cone.
Six fifteen, six thirty, and still no Ann. His heart began to sink a little. Maybe she wasn’t as into his lifestyle as she had lead on. Fair enough. It wasn’t for everybody.
At seven, he locked the doors and walked home. As he walked past her building, he noticed her car still wasn’t in its usual parking space. Maybe she had ended up working late. He had never given her his number, so it was quite possible that she just couldn’t get ahold of him.
As he neared his home, he took one last look back. To his surprise, her car pulled up to the gym. He watched as she hopped out distractedly and when the door was locked, her shoulders visibly sagged and she made her way back to her car, and off she went. Not for home. Also not for his home. Interesting.
He had gotten into the habit of grilling his supper, and tonight was no different. He had also gotten into the habit of putting an extra burger on the grill, and again tonight was no different.
She surprised him when she attempted her run for the first time since her injury the previous week. When she reached his block, she surprised him yet again by actually stopping at his house. She came right up his drive without preamble and apologized for not making it sooner.
“I get it. Stuff happens. No hard feelings.” He tried to reassure her. Only for some reason it had hurt. He tried not to, but he did have hard feelings.
“Well, if your offer of running partner is still good, I would love some company,” she asked. He had made that offer a few times while trying to catch her attention. He knew he could keep up, but that it wouldn’t be easy. Just being around her though was so tempting that he nearly said yes.
“I’m beat. Today was filled with back to back lessons. Maybe next time” he fired back. It didn’t feel as good rolling off his tongue and he had hoped.
“Well, uhm, Ok. I really am sorry,” she managed to mutter out as she backed up. She had a different look in her eye. He should have noticed earlier. What was it? Fear? Maybe she was just tired from their late night previously and then early work schedule?
Her eyes darted around nervously, and she turned to head back out.
Why was he being such a jerk? He would have loved to take her up on that offer any other day. As she made her way down the street, full speed as usual, he thought it over. She didn’t deserve this. He was a bigger man than his slightly bruised ego at the moment.
Damn it, he wasn’t going to do this, not to her. He shut down the grill. He could be a jerk tomorrow in the gym, not now to this beautiful woman.
He donned his shorts and tennis and took off in the direction he had seen her go many times. She had mentioned the park in their conversations, so he left the sidewalk for that trail when he came to it. When he reached the woods, he heard an unusual sound. He slowed to listen, and he could hear somebody wrestling, muffled screams floated through the air, and he knew something wasn’t right. He picked up speed and when he rounded the corner he saw the scuffle. It was his precious Ann being pinned down by some prick.
She was sure giving it to him. That’s right Ann, kick his ass! He picked up the pace the final few meters til he was close enough to pull the offender away from his precious girl. Ann screamed as she stood up, a sound he hoped to never hear again in his life, a sound that he knew was etched into his brain for life. “It’s him!” she repeated between heavy breaths, “It’s the same guy. He tried,” heavy breath, heavy breath, “He tried to…” and then the tears came.
“Call 9-1-1” he demanded, and she took out her cell phone and obeyed. He may have been a little rougher than necessary with the scrawny bastard, but that scrawny bastard had gone after Ann.
What seemed like an eternity later, the police arrived and had the attacker in custody. Tucker overheard parts of her story to the officer, “He had attacked me last week, in this same spot…. I should have known better…. I just thought it was random or a mistake… I am so dumb… how many others has he attacked? I don’t understand….”
His gut went sour. This. This disgusting creep hurt Ann before. Why did he let him that jackass so easily? He’d sure like to whoop his ass again. When the officers were finished, they asked Ann if she’d like a ride home. Her eyes were swollen from crying and she had a few fresh scrapes on her elbows and hands. And she looked so scared, so delicate. He couldn’t take it. “I’ll walk her home” he found himself saying.
She somehow seemed relieved at this. She had a slight limp, but it was just from the old injury, nothing new. They left together in the direction of his house. He appreciated the time with her, but she said nothing. “What happened?” he asked. Silence. “Are you ok?” Silence. “I’m sorry for being such a jerk.” Silence. Then tears. Lots of them. Not knowing what else to do, he just stopped, turned to her and cradled her in his arms. She stiffened at first, but then relaxed, and eventually she cried sobs into his shoulder. His heart ached. What had she endured previously, and never said two words about? Does she always take the world on herself? Why didn’t she tell him what happened last week? He suspected there was more to this story, but he didn’t know what.
When her sobs subsided, she pulled back, wiped her face with her hands and then started heading back down the street, limp, her eyes forlorn. So upset. And he couldn’t seem to help her. He just turned and followed her.
She went straight past his house and headed to her apartment. He followed her still. When he offered his arm, she hesitantly took it. When they got to her doorstep, she just muttered “thanks” and left him there. He caught the door, and she stilled. “My gym. 6:00 tomorrow. I will teach you some basic self-defense. No strings attached.”
She never turned around, but she nodded her head once and continued on her way. He let the door go behind her and headed straight to his gym. All the old feelings from his last month in the military came flooding back – of missing the clues, being two minutes too late, and feeling helpless and stupid. He didn’t like how he had felt or how he had acted then, and it was no better now. He jogged the short distance to his gym. He had a little extra energy to burn off before he imploded.
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