Falling into you, p.10
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       Falling into You, p.10

         Part #1 of Falling series by Jasinda Wilder
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One day soon, those girders will collapse, and her world will crumble, and I know I have to be there when that happens.

  Chapter 7: Cuts; Pain for Pain

  One week later

  I’m perched on a barstool in a midtown hole-in-the-wall bar, strumming my guitar and playing an original song. No one is listening, but I don’t care. It’s enough to play for the love of the music, for the chance to feel the notes fly out and bounce off minds and hearts. I take that back, there is one person listening: the bartender, a girl I knew for a long time and finally hooked up with a couple times a few months ago. We weren’t really compatible, and it turned into an odd sort of friendship, wherein she gets me to play on Thursdays nights in return for a hundred bucks and free drinks and some harmless flirtation that never goes further. Kelly, her name is. Beautiful girl, good in bed, funny, and slings a damn good Jack and Coke. But we just didn’t click in the bedroom. We never really figured out what it was, other than just…not quite right. But we enjoy each other’s company and have some good, much-needed laughs. So she’s listening, and I’m playing for her. It’s a song about her actually, about a girl with long black hair and bright brown eyes and coffee-colored skin and a sweet smile and a rocking body who will never be more than a friend. It’s an odd song, kind of lonely and sad but touched with humor.

  Page 27


  Then she walks in. I strum a wrong note and Kelly frowns at me from across the bar, then her eyes follow my gaze and her eyes widen and she’s smirking knowingly. Nell is surrounded by people, four girls who could all be sisters, quadruplets or something with their identical blonde hair pulled into a ponytail with that stupid bump on top and their yoga pants and Coach purses. Each girl has a boy on her arm, and they’re matching sets as well, muscle-bound juiceheads with idiotic tribal tattoos and dead eyes and cocky swaggers. These guys have their hands on their girls possessively, and the girls seem to enjoy it.

  Nell has one too, and this pisses me off. He’s huge. I mean, I’m a big guy, but he’s massive. And his eyes aren’t dead. They’re quick and alert and full of latent aggression. He’s got the hottest girl in the bar on his arm and he knows and he wants someone to make a move so he can destroy them.

  His hand is on her lower back, on her ass, really, curling around her hip as he guides her to the bar. I see green, and then red. Which is stupid.

  This is bad.

  I’m gonna end up in jail. I make it through the song, but barely. Kelly sends over a shot of Jameson with a waitress. I down it, nod at Kelly. She gives me a questioning thumbs up. Am I good? I nod, lying.

  I’m not good. I’m really, really bad. I’m gonna start a fight tonight. I’m gonna get hurt, and Nell is gonna be pissed and Kelly is gonna be pissed.

  I should leave. I owe Nell nothing. I don’t own her. I don’t have a claim on her. Sure, she never said anything about a boyfriend, but then we didn’t really talk much and I didn’t ask. It didn’t cross my mind.

  I start a cover of Matt Nathanson’s “Come On Get Higher” because I can do that song without thinking. I’m watching, waiting. She’ll realize who’s singing any second, and that’s when things’ll get interesting.

  He’s pushing her impatiently towards the bar and she writhes her back away from his touch, twists her torso to snap something at him. I can’t see her lips to read them, but I can imagine. She steps away from him, but he follows and curls his arm around her waist, tugs her against his side and leans down to whisper in her ear. Whatever he says has her stiffening but acquiescing. Staying tucked against his side. I see her face, and she’s unhappy, but in a long-suffering sort of way. This isn’t new.

  But it only sends my rage burning hotter.

  I finish that song, then decide to up the ante. I clear my throat into the mic and do an intro. I usually just play through without any theatrics, especially when no one is really paying attention, but this is a unique situation.

  “Hey everybody. I hope you’re all having a great time. I know I am. I’m Colt, and I’m gonna be playing a mix of covers and original songs. ” She swivels toward my voice as if pulled by a wire. Her eyes go wide and she stops breathing. “That was Matt Nathanson I just sang, by the way. If you don’t know his stuff, you should give him a listen. He’s great. Anyway, I’m gonna do another cover. This is ‘I Won’t Give Up’ by Jason Mraz. ”

  It’s a little high for my voice, but it works. I don’t take my eyes off her, and it’s then, when I’ve got real reason to sing, that the crowd starts paying attention. Maybe something in my voice shifts, but the chattering quiets and heads turn toward me.

  I’m not sure she breathes at all. She’s still held tight against Brick-shithouse’s ribs, and she’s growing impatient. She wiggles to get away, and he resists. Eventually she elbows him, hard, and he lets go, frowning. She disappears into the bathroom; when she comes back, she’s wiping her lips with the back of her hand, and I know exactly what she did in there. I never take my eyes from her through several more songs. Eventually I have to take a break, so I thank the crowd and step off the stage. She’s been trying to ignore me, pounding shots of Jack and chasing them with Rolling Rock. Obviously she’s got a fake ID, or she’s older than I thought. Then I hear the group of girls and their guys all converge around her and sing “Happy Birthday dear Nell” hideously off-key. Her ogre boyfriend pulls her against him for a kiss, which she submits to limply, hands at her side, not kissing him back. At length, she pushes him away and turns the bar. I’m to her side, so I see her wipe her mouth as if disgusted, and suppress a shudder. Ogre doesn’t see, since he’s too busy ogling the waitress, who is in turn leaning over for him so he can see down her shirt as she flirts with him.

  I’m puzzled by this exchange, especially when he slips his hand—the one that isn’t on Nell’s hip—down to openly grope the waitress’ ass. I’m even more confused when Nell swivels in place and watches the entire thing, hints of amusement and disgust playing on her lips and eyes.

  Nell turns away, shaking her head, but leaves his hand on her. She meets my eyes, and I lift an eyebrow. Her eyes take on an almost guilty expression for a split second, but then it’s gone. I wave Kelly over and tell her to pour two big shots of Jameson, one for me, and one for Nell.

  When Nell has her shot in hand, I lift mine to my lips and tip it back. Nell matches me. Ogre watches this, and his face darkens. He leans down and whispers in her ear. She shrugs. He latches his hand on her bicep, and I see him squeeze, see Nell wince.

  Fuck that.

  I set my glass down and weave through the crowd toward them. Nell is watching me, shaking her head at me. I ignore her warnings. Ogre straightens as he sees me approaching, and his mouth turns up in a ready smile. He flexes his fist and steps past Nell.

  “COLT!” Kelly’s voice snaps out from my left, from behind the bar. “I don’t f**king think so. Not in my bar. ”

  I turn to Kelly, who is glaring daggers at me. Kelly knows a bit about me, knows some of the people I used to run with. She knows what I can do and she doesn’t want any part of it here. I don’t blame her.

  She reaches beneath the bar and lifts a collapsable police baton, flicks her wrist to extend its weighted head. She points it at Ogre and company.

  “Get out. All of you. Now. ” She also lifts her cell phone from her purse and dials a number, shows the screen to them. “I’ll f**k you all up, and then I’ll call the police and you’ll be arrested, because I have that kind of understanding with them. So get the f**k out. ”

  You don’t f**k with Kelly. She knows the people I used to run with, because she used to run with them too. What she doesn’t say is that the red bandana tying her dreadlocked hair back isn’t just for fashion. It’s colors. The kind of colors that say she can make one phone call and Ogre and company will vanish. Bloodily.

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  Nell glances at me one last time, then leads the way out, tossing a bill on the bar.
Her vapid friends and ass**le boyfriend follow her, but the Ogre stops in the doorway to stare holes in my head. I stare back until he turns away and leaves.

  I get back on the stage and fiddle with the tuning on my guitar.

  Kelly comes out from behind the bar and faces me. “What the hell was that, Colt?”

  I shrug. “Someone I know. ”

  “You were ready to throw down. ”

  “He was hurting her. ”

  “She was letting him. ”

  “Doesn’t make it right. ” I fish my capo out of the case and fit it on the strings.

  Kelly eyes me warily. “No, it doesn’t. But if she lets him, it’s her business. I don’t need trouble in my bar. You don’t need trouble, period. ” Kelly’s hand touches my arm, a rare moment of contact between us; part of our post-coital friendship contract is no touching. “Colt…you’re doing really good. Don’t f**k it up. Okay?”

  “How would I do that?”

  Kelly gives me a what are you, stupid? look, hand on her popped-out hip. “I’ve never seen you look that pissed, Colt. You don’t get pissed. Which means she means something. ”

  “It’s complicated. ” I scrape the pick along one of the strings, not looking at Kelly.

  “It’s always complicated. My point is…you’ve got a good thing going. You’ve left all that behind,” she waves at the bar, at the street beyond, meaning our shared past of violence, “and you don’t need to make trouble for yourself over a girl. ”

  “She’s not just a girl. ” Well shit. I did not mean to say that.

  Kelly narrows her eyes at me. “I ain’t said that. ” Her street accent is coming back, which I know how hard she works to disguise. “I’m jus’ sayin’—I’m just saying. Don’t mess it up. Do what you gotta do, but…you know what, whatever. Do whatever you want. ”

  I sigh and finally look up at her. “I hear what you’re saying, Special K. ” I grin at her old nickname.

  Kelly does the neck-roll I don’t think so thing. “You did not just call me that. ”

  “I sure did, sister. ” I flash the panty-dropping grin at her, which always works.

  Kelly pretends to swoon, then socks me in the arm, hard. Hard enough to make my arm sting. “Shut up and play a song, ass**le. ” She swaggers away, and I don’t mind watching. We may not hook up anymore, but it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the view.

  Immediately after that thought, I feel an odd twinge of guilt. I see Nell’s face in my mind, as if I owe her fidelity. Which I don’t. But I can’t shake the thought. So I play the music and try to forget Nell and her Ogre and Kelly and trouble and memories of old fights.

  * * *

  I walk the streets a lot. I always have. When I was an angry, homeless seventeen year-old lost on the mean streets of Harlem, it’s all I had to do. I didn’t know shit about living on the streets, so I walked. I walked to stay out of trouble, to stay awake, to stay warm. Then, when I met T-Shawn and Split and the boys, the streets became our livelihood, our life, our turf. So I walked the streets doing business. Now, I walk the streets because it’s familiar, and comforting. When I have to think through shit, I walk. I slip my guitar into the soft case and tie on my Timberlands and walk. I might start at my apartment above the shop in Queens and end up in Harlem or Astoria or Manhattan. I walk for hours, no iPod, no destination, just mile after mile of crowded sidewalks and cracked blacktop and towering skyscrapers and apartment blocks and back alleys where old friends still sling and smoke and fight. Old friends, old enemies, people I don’t associate with anymore. But they leave me alone, friend or enemy, and let me walk.

  It’s two a. m. , I’m sober, mostly, and I’ve got nowhere to be, and I’m walking. I’m not ready for the cold, quiet apartment, not ready to finish the big block. I’m trying to convince myself that I should forget Nell. It’s what I’ve been doing for the last two years, only now it’s even harder because I have fresh images of her, the scent of her shampoo in my nose, the memory of the tingle of the silk of her bra against my T-shirt. Fresh knowledge of her seductive beauty, the harsh chasm of pain in her heart.

  So I’m not entirely surprised when 3 a. m. sees me approaching her building in Tribeca. The door to the building isn’t locked, oddly. For reasons I don’t care to examine, I’m pushing through and up the stairwell. I hear her voice first.

  “Dan, I’m going inside. Alone. I’m tired. ”

  His voice is low, but audible. “Come on, babe. Watch a movie with me. ”

  She sighs in exasperation. “I’m not stupid, you know. I know what you want. And the answer is no. That hasn’t changed. ”

  “Yet I keep hoping. ” His voice was amused but irritated. “Then why are we even dating?”

  “You tell me. I’ve never encouraged you. I never said we were dating. We’re not. You just won’t go away. I’m not going to sleep with you, Dan. Not tonight, not tomorrow night. ”

  “What can I do to convince you?”

  “Be someone else?” Her voice is sharp and biting.

  I’m on the landing of the first flight of stairs, hand on the railing, head tilted up, as if I could see them through the stairs.

  He snorts in laughter at the barb. “You’re such a f**king tease, Nell. ” The amusement is gone.

  “I am not. ”

  “You are too. You’ll kiss me, you’ll let me grope you, you’ll go out with me and all that other shit, but then we get here, and you close down. ” His voice is rising, getting angry. “I’ve put up with this shit for three months. I’m tired of it. ”

  “Then stop putting up with it. Leave me alone. I have never promised you anything. You’re a nice enough guy. You can be funny when you’re not being a douchebag. But this isn’t going anywhere and it never was. ” The silence is palpable. He’s pissed, even I can feel it from a flight of stairs away. I hear a key in a lock, a door knob twist. “Goodbye, Dan. ”

  Then a hiss from her, contained pain.

  “I don’t think so, babe. I haven’t put three months of work into you, buying your drinks and your lunches and your coffee just to get dumped now, with nothing to show for it. ”

  “Sorry, Dan. I never asked you to do that stuff. In fact, I told you not to, and you insisted. ”

  Page 29


  “It’s called being a gentleman. ”

  “No, it’s called expecting me to put out in exchange for free drinks. Now let go. ”

  I hear a foot thump against wood, and door hinges creak open, shuffled, stumbling steps. “Like I said, Nell. I don’t think so. I feel like watching a movie. I’ll even let you pick. ”

  “Say what you mean, Dan. ” Her voice is hard, but I can hear the fear.

  “Is that how you want it? Fine, then, babe. We’re gonna go inside and we’re gonna have a good time together. You’re gonna show me how sweet your body is, and how nice you can be. ”

  “No. Get out. ”

  A scuffle. A smack of hand on flesh.

  Dan’s laughter, amused and cruel. “Smacking me isn’t going to help, bitch. ”

  A whimper of pain and fear, and then I’m seeing red, creeping up the stairs. Old habits die hard; I’ve got brass knuckles on my fist, which I never really needed, but they came in handy and I always carry them because you never what could happen on the streets of New York, even to me.

  I’m at her door, closed now. I hear struggles, muffled.

  “Quit fighting me and I’ll be gentle. ”

  Motherfucker is gonna die.

  The knob twists silently in my hand, and the hinges creak, but the sound is lost beneath Nell’s whimpers and Dan’s laughter as he holds her in place and fumbles roughly with her skirt and panties.

  She sees me, and her eyes widen. Dan sees her reaction, turns and straightens in time to meet my fist. He’s a tough sonofabitch, I’ll give him that. Not many men can stand up after I’ve hit them, especially with brass knuckles adding fo
rce. His face is mask of blood, and bone shows white on his forehead. His mouth spreads in a rictus of primal glee.

  “Colton! NO! He’ll kill you!” Nell is panicked, shrieking.

  He wipes his eyes with his arm and takes a step toward me, assumes a fighting stance.

  “You don’t watch UFC, do you?” He smiles at me, and I know I’ve bitten off a pretty big chunk in tangling with him. I do recognize him, now. Dan Sikorsky, heavyweight UFC contender. Brutal bastard. Rumors are he killed a guy in a back alley bare-knuckle boxing match.

  I grin back at him. I was scouted by the UFC too. I turned them down. I don’t fight for money anymore. The brass knuckles go back in my pocket.

  I glance at Nell. “I’ll be fine. But what the f**k are you doing with a guy like him?”

  She seems puzzled. As if she can’t quite believe my nonchalant tone in the face of a bruiser like Dan. I flash her a cocky grin which I don’t quite feel.

  He rushes me, and Nell screams. It’s a slow, clumsy rush, though. He telegraphs his punch with his eyes and his whole demeanor. He’s used to crushing with the first blow and that’s that. I am too, so I know the feeling when it doesn’t work. Took a few ass-beatings before I learned to counter it.

  Duck…whiff. I’m not fighting fair. This isn’t UFC. I plant my knee in his diaphragm, clutch his head in my palms and pull his face down to my rising knee. Shove him back. Kick him in the balls, twice, hard. Crush his kidney with a pair of jackhammer punches, mash his already broken nose with my forehead.

  He gets his fist in my shirt, and I know I’m in for pain. He’s a berserker. I block the first few blows, but then they’re coming in too fast, and goddamn the guy can hit hard. Nell is still screaming. Ogre-boy is a bloody mess, and now so am I. But he’s working on rage and berserker fury, which will fade soon. I’m in the cold fury phase. I’m in pain, but I’ve taken worse beatings and still won the fight. By which I mean, walked away on my own power.

  He won’t be.

  I finally get his fist out of my shirt by virtue of ripping the shirt off.

  I spare a glance at her. “Nell. Shut up. ”

  She goes silent immediately, sucks in a breath as if realizing where she is, what’s happening. Then she spins on her heel, digs in a kitchen drawer and slinks up behind Dan with a giant knife in her hand. She presses the blade to Dan’s throat.

  “Enough. ” She doesn’t need to yell. The knife speaks loud enough.

  Dan goes still. “You don’t want to do that, Nell. ” His eyes are deadly.

  Her dress is ripped open down the front, her panties torn partially off. Her lip is bleeding and she has bruises on her arms and throat.

  I don’t want her to kill him. That’s a lot of trouble neither of us need. “Strangely, I agree with the Ogre, here,” I say. “Let me finish this. ”

  Nell snickers at the name. “Ogre. Fitting. ” She meets my eyes, then relaxes the knife.

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