As 6:00 rolled around the following evening, Ann still wasn’t sure if she would just pack up and run, run away from this place and never look back, or stay and fulfill her obligations. She never ran from her obligations. She promised to finish decorating the new office for her employer, and she would see to it that it was done.
She had also consented to self-defense classes tonight, and she wasn’t about to back down from that obligation, either. Oh she wanted to run, make no mistake. She wanted to run so she never had to see the pity in his face, or the disgust when he someday saw the scars from the Monster, or from how incredible their lives could be had they met at a different time in life. That all scared her, and she wanted to run scared.
But she wasn’t a coward. Not anymore. So self-defense class it was. She made sure to get home early so she could be dressed and waiting for him at the gym ten minutes early. She somehow managed to accomplish this, and she sat fidgeting in the reception area. She picked up one magazine after another and paged mindlessly through them. She looked out the street and paced the room until the old man behind the reception desk left the room. She then noticed how ridiculous her behavior had been and forced herself to sit like a normal human being and wait for her turn.
At exactly 6:00pm, a steady stream of men poured out of the gym. Finally, the old man behind the desk reappeared, and at 6:05 Tucker finally strolled out. He followed the men to the door. She kept a careful eye on him. When the old man headed for the door, he said something to Tucker, Tucker mumbled something in return and helped the older man out the door. She sensed they were close friends and had shared a secret joke. Then Tucker lifted his hand and locked the door. The click of the lock echoed in the now empty and surprisingly silent room.
When his eyes met hers, she was fully aware that she and he were the only ones in the room and awareness settled in her belly. The room somehow shrunk, the walls got closer, and she felt every beat of his heart despite the paces between them.
They had been together alone before, but this time was different. Was he going to see her as some weak wimp that needed his help, or could he even to see her as capable of learning? She felt the shock of feeling pathetic, and she focused on Tucker, on his every movement, trying to read his thoughts.
His eyes registered pain, and she knew the answer was that she looked pathetic to him. Crap. This is not what she wanted. She will just have to show him how strong she can be. She straightened her back, pushed her shoulders back, stood up and greeted him with a strong handshake.
What the hell? A handshake? Ok, maybe she went a bit too far. He took her hand and instead of shaking it, hauled her into his arms. This surprised her. He hugged her tight, and she let it happen. As soon as she felt the heat pf his body throughhis shrit and felt his powerful arms gently around her, she relaxed. It could be ok.
“Thanks for coming,“ he said. “It means a lot.”
This surprised her even further. He doing her yet another favor ‘means a lot’ to him? Some things she’ll never quite understand. He took her hand and led her around. He showed her the front reception desk, the locker rooms, the exercise equipment, the running track, and then he led her to the stairwell.
Down the stairs they descended to the boxing club. There were two sets of locker rooms down here, water fountains, and then it opened up into a much larger room with multiple boxing rings. There were exercise bikes, jump ropes, bags hanging from the ceiling, and many more things she was unfamiliar with. It was dimly lit compared to the upstairs that had windows streaming sunlight, and it smelled slightly of leather, plastic and sweat.
As she looked around, the nerves set back in. She was so out of her element. She could never fit in here. She didn’t even know where to begin.
Over in a corner was a large wrestling mat. “If you would like to, this is where I’d like to teach you some self-defense. I am impressed that you know some of the basics – I could tell from the marks on your forearm last week that you know how to defend your face – it’s a lot better to absorb a blow with your forearm than it is with your face. Nice job.”
“Oh,” she blushed all the way down to her toes. She didn’t realize he had noticed that.
“You are also familiar with the make a lot of noise theory. Your screams are what drew me in your direction last night. I am thankful that you were able to think that clearly despite the situation.”
Oh this was not getting any easier. He heard her screams. Not cute. Not romantic. Utterly humiliating. She found herself unable to make eye contact. Her eyes looked anywhere but at him and tried to shrug off the intended compliment.
“Clearly you’ve practiced running fast to safety once you get away. All your time spent dedicated to distance and speed running most definitely can pay off in difficult situations.”
She basically wanted to crawl under a rock. Maybe under the wrestling mat and just hide there til this was over.
“Ann, look at me, please.” he said, his voice commanding yet gentle. It took a monumental effort, but she tried to do as he asked.
“Those are compliments. You are much stronger than you realize. I hope you feel it. I want you to prove to yourself how amazing you are.” Well, shit. When she felt her eyes trail back to the floor, he took the step that was between them and tipped her chin up to look him in the eye.
He brought the other hand up and circled the area that had become an egg in the first attack. He brought his hands down to her arms and inspected her elbows for healing, her forearms, her hands. “All of this, and you didn’t say a word.”
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