In an instant, your whole life can change.
One minute they were talking about things beyond her comprehension and then the next Butch was coming after her while her father just sat in the kitchen moping like a helpless child.
Considering the route of their conversation, she didn’t know how to feel about Butch’s approach. So when he stood too close, she kicked him in his jewels and ran like a bat out of hell out the house. She had hidden in several bushes, trying to escape to the only place she could think of while Butch followed her with far too much ease.
When he finally gave up, she was actually hiding in a garbage bin. Filthy as it was, she knew he would never think that someone like her would hide in such a place. After what felt like hours, she got out and ran to Sehjada’s house.
She was tired and stank something fierce upon arrival. but her friend didn’t question her. She let her in with open arms, let her clean herself, and offered her the bed after yet another lengthy explanation.
She refused to get out of bed. Despite being fully awake, her eyes were sealed shut as she tried to force herself to sleep and hope that when she did wake up, everything would be back to normal. She could only hope this was all just one extremely long nightmare.
But it wasn’t.
And as secure as she felt in her best friend’s home, she knew she couldn’t stay. It would be the first place they looked.
“I’m not worried about them. Stay as long as you like,” Jada had argued, but Marissa refused to put her through such a predicament.
She knew her friend would be adamant in her decision to let her stay, so, when Jada left to take a shower, Marissa quickly scurried off the bed, filled a bag with some clothes she had left behind from previous sleepovers, and then left. She made sure to leave a thank you note behind as well.
What do I do now?
She had nowhere to go.
She didn’t trust her family, and she no other friends to count on.
Leaving town was the only solution. She’d hitch a ride, or maybe she would just hop on a bus and see how far she could go. Get lost somewhere and start over. She should have done this so long ago.
She was sitting at the bus stop, waiting for one of the evening buses to arrive, when an all too familiar black SUV sped past her.
Keep going. Please keep going.
She watched as it went around a corner and breathed a sigh of relief.
And then there was a sudden screech and the car came speeding back around.
With her bag in hand, Marissa sped down the sidewalk. She couldn’t very well outrun a car, but she could try.
She applied what she learned from television. Stay in the crowd, avoid alleys, don’t stop for conversation, no rooftops, no unfamiliar buildings.
Her heart was threatening to jump out her chest, and she wasn’t sure how much running she could do. Her legs felt like they would give out at any moment.
Note to self. Do more Cardio.
Ah, now was not the time to try to find humor.
“Ma’am?” She heard as she ran past an officer in the middle of writing a ticket, but didn’t stop nor answer.
She made a sharp turn as an elderly woman caused the electric doors of a grocery store to open and dove inside. She rolled to her feet and dashed down the aisle, and then collided with another shopper.
“Hey!” He gasped from the floor.
She scrambled, trying to get her feet.
“Marissa?” He grabbed her before she could find her footing and escape.
Marissa turned her sharp glare on the person. Her eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed again.
“Wait, give me a minute,” He started when she tried to pull away.
“I have to go!”
Her head snapped to the entrance of the store.
No one. But for how long?
She forced herself out of his grasp then stumbled. Her leg felt off. No doubt she sprained it.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t have time for you right now.”
Marissa snapped. She searched for another exit. There had to be one, but it wasn’t currently in her sights. She checked her watch and saw that it was 11:52 p.m. The store was close to closing. She couldn’t stay there. Regardless of what happened, she had to leave.
“Can I help you sir?”
She flinched and looked at the entrance again. At the sight of Butch’s towering frame, she crouched and began crawling through the aisle. Oh God, there was nowhere for her to go. There was only so long she could hide before he found her. The panic settled in. She needed an exit and needed one now.
“I can get you out of here.”
She had almost forgotten about him.
“Kaleb. I don’t want your help.”
“You need my help.”
There were a lot of things she needed and his help most certainly was not on that list. Why was he even speaking to her? Wasn’t he the one that left her?
Why did this seem so familiar?
Oh right. Jamoy had done the same. The two of them must be related.
“What I need is for you to shut up and leave me alone.”
“Ok,” He said as he got up and left her alone, leaving her feeling somewhat saddened.
Marissa peeped from her spot, looking for any signs of Butch.
He was gone. Someone that big could not just disappear.
Does she risk standing to look for him and reveal herself or continue to crawl away? He could have left, but why chance it?
“Look what I found.”
She was on her feet in an instant when she heard Butch’s voice behind her and spun to face him. Her ankle was throbbing. Running was pointless right?
Her eyes dropped low.
“Kick me there again and you will lose your legs.”
The thought was still tempting. It was one of the easiest ways to take a man down…and the only real way she knew how. Marissa swallowed hard.
People were watching so he might be somewhat civil. Where was that cop she passed? Didn’t he follow her? They could be so useless at times.
Maybe she was being overly dramatic. After all, she had no idea what he and her father were talking about. They couldn’t have wanted to harm her. Maybe he just wanted to take her back and explain everything.
“Taking me home?” She asked with a nervous smile.
“You enjoy making my job unnecessarily complicated. Let’s go.”
“Is that why you were chasing me? Why didn’t you say something?”
“Would you listen to reason?”
Considering she kicked him in his testicles and then ran around town, probably not.
“So you’re not going to, let’s say, kill me?”
He looked shocked. “Why would I?”
“I don’t know, I mean…That conversation…”
“You misunderstood,” He took her by the arm and pulled her out of the store, earning curious looks from pedestrians who also stopped to whisper among themselves. She took her arm away, and walked willingly at his side.
Well, that was a waste of time. There she was, running around the place like a mad woman when it was all just one big misunderstanding.
She stopped and turned in the direction of the voice calling her.
Maybe she had it coming. She had always been a bad judge of character. Easy to forgive, far too quick to trust. She had learned nothing from everything that had happened thus far.
So when Butch tried to stab her while her back was turned, there was no surprise there.
So why was Kaleb the one struggling on the floor with Butch, trying to keep the blade the larger man was holding from cutting him again?
There was no reason he had to be the one with blood flowing from his side from trying to help her. Someone was screaming. Actually, several people were screaming. The incident gained entirely too much attention.
She didn’t know what came over her then, but seeing Kaleb take a hard punch to the face set her off.
She entered the fray, jumping on Butch’s back. Her hands were around his neck, trying to strangle him.
The distraction was enough to get him away from Kaleb, but she was easily tossed off the larger man’s back.
With litheness she didn’t even know she was capable of, she landed on her feet, and pounced on him again.
Kaleb tackled him, and she slid off before the big man could fall on top of her.
Kaleb managed to get a few good blows in before the sound of approaching sirens caught all of their attention.
“They’re not on our side,” Kaleb said.
He grabbed Marissa’s hand while she was watching the police cars rush down the street and the two of them sped away from the area.
Kaleb led them to the Purple Hermit and they went in through the back door that led to the storage room. He slumped down against some boxes in the corner and took in a sharp breath of air while holding his side.
“I’ll get help.” Marissa offered, but he shook his head.
“It’s fine. It’ll right itself.”
Right itself? She knelt beside him and lifted his shirt to get a good look at the wound. The blood was flowing a lot slower than before and the opening wasn’t large enough to match the weapon she saw. If she didn’t know any better, it was almost like it was healing itself.
“Why did you help me?”
“I was supposed to stand by and let him kill you?”
She was grateful, but it didn’t make any sense. Nothing made sense!
“I never meant to just leave you like that,” He began and shifted himself into a more comfortable position, “I was…persuaded…to leave you alone.”
“Persuaded? Why? By who?”
“Your father, at first,” He admitted, then paused. “Remember the night I came to work a little beaten up?” When she nodded he continued, “Your brother and his merry band of misfits.”
“And you just let them chase you away?”
“No, It’s not..” He paused, shaking his head, “I was annoyed and pissed off. I just couldn’t face you honestly.”
She was still miffed, but she believed him.
“Why would Dominic go after you? I know they’re a little protective but this is overdoing it.”
“They’re not protecting you; At least, not anymore.”
Her head spun. She wasn’t aware that her love life was so important to anyone. They never treated Melanie this way. In fact, they couldn’t care less about who her sister dated.
“This is not a lover’s escape. Why are you two back here?” Mr. McCormic was looking down at them, arms folded; his lips were in a thin line as he showed his disapproval.
“It’s not what it looks like, Kaleb is blee—” The wound was gone; completely sealed; only a thin scar remained. She turned her shocked eyes on Kaleb who merely shrugged at her.
“I told you it would right itself.”
She was at a loss for words. Instantly, she was on her feet.
“So it’s that time huh. Damn, I was hoping it wouldn’t come at all.”
“Butch was after her. He tried to kill her.”
Mr. McCormic ran his hand through his dark hair, “Was it him alone?”
“The police came shortly after, but we already ran away”
There was the disapproving look again. “And you came here?”
“They don’t know we’re here. It seemed like a good idea,” Kaleb rose from the ground and brushed off his jeans.
“You idiot,” The older man spat then added, “I’ll tell alert the staff, you get her up to speed,” and then he left, leaving her alone once again with Kaleb.
While she waited for him to start explaining, she found herself thinking once again about his wound and how easily it was gone. That wasn’t normal. Obviously, it wasn’t normal. People didn’t just heal like that. He should be on the floor, in pain, and trying to stop the bleeding. He shouldn’t be standing, looking calm and cool. You would never know he was stabbed just moments ago. The only clear indicator was the red stain on his shirt. A little voice was telling her to leave. Something wasn’t right about him.
He’s not who you think he is.
Jada’s words came crashing back into her mind and she almost stumbled as she took a step back.
“How’s your leg?”
She jumped hearing him speak at last. Her leg? Her leg was…she applied pressure to it and realized that it felt just fine. When he came closer to her, she took several steps back.
His eyes narrowed at her actions. “You’re really going to do this? You don’t trust me.” The last part was a statement, not a question.
“How can I?”
“Jesus Marissa you don’t think if I was dangerous—”
“Butch of all people just tried to kill me! I trusted him. My own father sat there and let him come after me! Why should I think you’re any different than they are?”
“If you let me explain—”
“There is nothing you can say that can make me think otherwise!”
She noticed how Kaleb’s exterior seemed to shift as she wouldn’t let him get a word out. There was that nagging voice in her head again, screaming at her to get away. She could turn and run through the doors into the kitchen. How fast was he? Something told her she could outrun him if she tried. Her legs twitched. Her eyes were focused on him.
“Marissa.” He stopped as though he expected her to interrupt him. She was too focused on her escape plan to even do so. “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m here to help you. Not hurt you.”
When he took a step forward, she pivoted quickly and bolted out the doors. She heard him curse behind her, and no doubt he was going to come after her, but she didn’t look back to find out.
The kitchen staff was shocked by her intrusion and had to move out of her way or risk a collision. The Purple Hermit opened late on weekends so it was natural the kitchen was packed. The dining room was no doubt full of people too.
She was graceful in her movements, agilely avoiding any objects and people in her way. She was doing well until a waitress suddenly pushed through the double doors with dishes in her hand and they both crashed into each other.
“Oh, my gosh are you okay?” The girl asked with a voice full of concern, but Marissa brushed her aside and found her footing to take off again. She cut her hand on a stray piece of glass in the process. When she left the kitchen and got to the main dining area, she froze causing Kaleb, who was right on her tail, to bump into her.
Butch was already there, and he wasn’t alone. Standing beside him was a man who could easily be described as tall, dark, and handsome; “Dark” in both personality and skin color. While he was easy on the eyes, his sharp tongue and demanding and intimidating nature led others to steer clear of him. He was wearing civilian clothing as opposed to his police uniform, but anyone could tell the man was a person of authority.
“I expected this irrational behavior from Melanie, not you.”
Dominic, her eldest brother, chided while holding one of the busboys by the collar and off the ground. He then tossed him to the side. Behind him you could see the flashing lights of several police vehicles outside. There was no reason so many of them had to show up for something like this.
Something wasn’t right.
“We’re going home,” and he made a “come here” gesture with his hands.
Kaleb tried to hold her hand but she snatched it away. She steeled herself and with the little courage she managed to muster up, uttered a quick, but understandable “No” to her brother.
Dominic’s eyes narrowed. “I’m sorry, you must have misheard me. That wasn’t a request, it was an order.”
Kaleb was growling, and he wasn’t the only one; the boy in the corner, the waitress at one of the tables, Mr. McCormic who had shown up shortly after.
She felt stuck in the center.
On one side of her were her brother and a man that just moments ago tried to kill her. On the other was a group of people she considered family, but there was clearly something wrong with them.
“You’re not welcomed here Coldwell,” Mr.McCormic snapped.
Dominic merely huffed at the man, then waved him off. “If I’m not, then neither is my sister.”
“You still call her such after your baboon went after her?” The baboon in question, Butch, stepped forward threateningly. Marissa noticed the gun clutched in his hand. Dominic held his hand out, signaling Butch to stop.
“Butch was merely doing his job. This is family matters and you should stay out of it.”
Marissa was looking for an exit in the midst of their conversation. She just wanted to get away from all of them.
“All this talking is getting us nowhere,” Butch raised his gun and the young man that Dominic had tossed aside earlier jumped out of his corner and fought Butch for the weapon.
Dominic had grown bored of the commotion and was about to silence the two of them when a barrage of gunfire rang outside. The officers were sent into a frenzy and they were firing wildly at something. Whatever it was, it had spooked them enough for their aim to be off and stray bullets bombarded the restaurant, shattering the glass windows and sending everyone into hiding or scurrying outside the restaurant screaming.
Kaleb had snatched Marissa and hid with her behind the counter.
Dominic’s body fell from out of nowhere, landing before them. The instant his feet hit the ground, he had his weapon aimed and ready to fire.
Kaleb shoved her behind him, and at that moment as he rushed forward towards Dominic, his body shifted right before her eyes.
Shattered pieces of clothing fell to the ground, Striped white fur replaced his skin, and a shrill, blood curling snarl ripped out from his throat. His large body slammed into her brother, knocking the gun out of his hand and sent him rolling.
Marissa was speechless. The world around her seemed to come to a halt. There was a white tiger standing before her where there was once a human body. And when soft, blue slit eyes glanced back at her, she found herself unable to hold her body up.
“Marissa…” Its mouth never moved, but she clearly heard it call her name and that was all it took for her mind to give out and she collapsed onto the ground.