12 Rounds (Knockout 1) - Page 18

Sometimes I’d hear her sobbing when we roomed together in the dorms sophomore year. She’d try and wait until I was asleep to cry, but I never was and I always heard her. And if it wasn’t that it was her screaming at him through the phone receiver, “You can’t buy love, daddy.”

She’s right.

You can’t.

“I think it will be nice having a roommate,” she tells me at the glass double doors of the four-plex luxury condos. “We can have slumber parties.”

I laugh. “With pillow fights?”

She glances over her shoulder at me incredulously.“What’s a slumber party without pillow fights?” We share another quick laugh as a blonde girl pushes past us, her head lowered, carrying most of her clothes in her hands. “Somebody is doing the walk of shame,” Lara announces and we both walk inside.

There is a small spacious lobby, decorated modernly. It has a light blue colored carpet. Big, wide windows. And two cream love seats. One on each side of the room. “I think it’s safe to say that you don’t ever have to worry about me doing that,” I mention as Lara inserts a key into the first door on the left.

We set our boxes down in Lara’s sparsely decorated condo and head back out to the car for another trip. “So what can you tell me about our neighbors?”

Lara shrugs then laughs. “That they’re pretty much non existent. The couple that lives across the hall works midnights and then they sleep all day. The guy on our right is never home and when he is, he pretty much keeps to himself. I’ve been here almost a year and I think I’ve only seen him once. Then there’s an elderly woman across from him. She’s actually a hoot. Loves to make tea and talk about sex.”

“She sounds funny,” I say with a laugh.

“Yeah,” Lara says, “If you won’t to hear a ninety year old talk about a time when she was in her former sexual glory.” Lara makes a disgusted face. “Thanks but no thanks.”

After we deposit the second round of boxes in the condo, we make a third trip and

on the way back I see a man. He’s dressed in a hooded sweat shirt with matching dark gray pants. At that moment, my spine stiffens. My heart gets stuck in my throat.

Breath won’t come.

My feet won’t move.

All of the terrifying images of the night of my attack resurface, and as the man brushes past me I drop the box in my hands. “No.” A gasp leaves my throat, but the noise is drowned out by the ceramic plates in the box shattering.

Lara is ahead of me and half-way up the steps, she turns frantically looking for me and when she sees me shaking she cries, “Hadlee!” She sets down her box and sprints toward me.

For a second it felt like I was reliving that horrible night all over again. For a second I could actually smell my attacker’s stale breath as it wafted up my nostrils. I could feel his rough flesh against mine. The man in the sweat suit is jogging away, but my racing heart hasn’t returned to a normal, steady beat. Lara sweeps me up into a tight embrace, trying to control my trembling body. She pets my hair. Whispers soothing shhhs. “Hadlee it’s fine. It was just a guy going for a jog.”

I’m whimpering, trying to regain control of my emotions, but it’s not working. More than anything, I’m pissed off at myself because I never used to be this weak. And it amazes me how one, traumatizing event can slowly break a person apart. “I know,” I say, resting my chin on Lara’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

Lara pulls out of the embrace and gawks at me, concern knotting her symmetrical features. “Sorry?” she places both hands on my cheeks and all I can see is her eyes. Powder blue splashed with flecks of navy. “Hadlee, don’t apologize. What happened to you was awful, but it wasn’t your fault. You have to stop blaming yourself.”

I want to tell her that I’ve tried. I’ve tried to tell myself that over and over again, but nothing I tell myself ever works. “I just keep thinking—”

Lara places her finger against my lips. “Stop. I know it’s going to take a long time for you to heal emotionally. But you did nothing wrong. Nothing, Hadlee. Please remember that.”

I honestly don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have a friend like Lara. I manage a half-smile and tell her, “I’ll try.”

“Good.” She smiles in return. “Now let’s finish moving these boxes.” She pats me on the shoulder and dashes back up the steps, scooping up her box.

I pick my box up off the ground as the broken contents inside jingle. I silently curse myself and hope there is nothing valuable in pieces inside. I would hate for the contents inside the box to be in as many pieces as the person who is carrying it.

Chapter Seven


I decide to run to the gym.

Mostly because it’s only a few miles away and because the look on Joe’s face from two nights ago has been permanently branded in my brain.

His pursed lips. Narrowed brown eyes. “You’re two pounds over weight, Sean,” he said with a growl. “You know what that means?”

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