12 Rounds (Knockout 1) - Page 25

I remember one time when we were at a dance club our sophomore year of college, we were in line for the restroom while some guy in line waiting for the men's room told her she was sexy, but looked like a bitch. Lara just shrugged and I wound up scowling at the guy. I don’t know why I cared more about his comment than she did. Or why to some guys she comes off that way. Honestly, Lara is the kindest, most genuine, and heartfelt person I know. She's anything but a bitch.

After chugging down half of my bottled water, she wipes her mouth with her long, lengthy arm and hands the bottle back to me. “Boy I've got some moves to show you, tonight.” She winks at me and I laugh.

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. Hey, you can go back now. Melissa is waiting for you.”

I get up from my seat as the rest of the women, from the class walk out the exit and make my way back to the small room with blue carpet. The door is open, so I lift my fist and tap softly. Melissa is sitting Indian Style in the middle of the room filling out some papers. At my knock she lifts her head and a soft smile spreads on her lips. “Come in, Hadlee. Come in and have a seat.”

Timidly, I walk toward her and sit down in front of her. I immediately start playing with my fingers. It's a nervous tick of mine. I do it every time I feel uncomfortable, or am trying to distract myself from thinking about something. Right now I'd like to stop thinking about Sean and his darkened yet lovely blue green eyes.

Melissa breaks the silence by clearing her throat and I tuck my hands under my thighs, meeting her gaze dead on. “Are you feeling better?” Her feminine tone is laced with worry. “Believe me, I had no intentions of startling you like that or thought that this might be too difficult for you to handle.”

I release a gust of air that I've been holding in since I came into the room. “I'm feeling better, thank you. I know you didn't know. I'm really sorry. There are certain things that I feel trigger horrifying memories of my past and what you did, you know coming at me from behind like that, well, it did it. It made me relive the reason why I'm in this class in the first place.”

Melissa nods. “I see.” She pushes up off her feet. “Stand up. I need to show you something.” I remain seated and she motions for me to get up. I stand slowly, eyes still on Melissa as she lifts up her shirt. Across the entire length of her stomach is a scar. It's a mixture of purple and pink in color, bumpy, raised, and stretches from just below her breastbone to her hip. My mouth drops open and I gape at it. “Go ahead,” she tells me. “Touch it.”

Part of me thinks that her wanting me to touch her stomach is awkward, but there is a bigger part of me that wants to touch her scar. I guess the curious part of me smothers the logical part of me and as I fan my fingertips across part of the purplish raised skin, I instantly pull my hand back at the feel of it. The scar is smooth yet bumpy in places and the contrasting texture doesn't feel right. Remorse tugs at my insides and as Melissa lowers her shirt, I whisper, “What happened to you?”

Melissa sits back down and I follow her lead. “More like who happened to me.” Her voice is low and there's a slight quiver and I can tell she's holding her emotions back. “Satine is a good friend of mine and while she couldn't tell me what happened to you because of doctor and patient confidentiality, she did tell me that you've been through something extremely traumatic in the last year.” Melissa straightens her posture and continues. “The point in me showing you my scar was to let you know that you're not alone. Every woman that takes this class is in here for a reason; whether they want to know how to defend themselves in the future or need to learn the skills for a current situation they're in.”

“I figured that,” I tell her. “I have made progress through. Six months ago, I wouldn't have been able to do this.” Six months ago I could barely step outside of my apartment let alone take a self-defense class in a gym full of people.

Her lips quirk up into a half-smile then she reaches out, grabs my hand, and squeezes. “Look, Hadlee. You can't climb a mountain over night. That's exactly what overcoming the pains of your past is going to be like; climbing a mountain. It's a slow uphill climb at first, but eventually you'll be on a snow-crusted peak, admiring a valley below you and you'll be thinking to yourself, wow what an accomplishment. After that, life gets easier, better. The little things that you thought were so difficult before won't seem that difficult and not long after that your past will just be your past. What happened to you will always be there, lingering in the back of your mind, but it won't eat away at you like it does now. It won't consume your life, I promise.” She releases my hands and sits back with a smile. “You know what they say?” Another brief hesitation. “It can only get better from here.”

Her words sink in and swirl around my brain. Yes, I know without a doubt that I'll wake up tomorrow morning and still have the issues that I have today, but it does help to know that I'm not alone. It does help to know that maybe when things get too tough I can look to Melissa for advice on how to cope with what I'm going through because, unlike Satine, who is helpful in her own way, Melissa has been where I am. The scar on her stomach tells me that much. “How did it happen?” I ask, hoping that I'm not prying too much. After all, I never told her what happened to me and I'm not sure if I want to just yet.

Melissa pats me on the shoulder and rises to her feet. “Some other time, okay?”

I nod. “Okay.” Maybe when she opens up to me, I'll be able to find the cour

age inside of myself to open up to her.

The only people I talk about my ordeal with are Satine and Lara. I talk to Satine about it because I have to and I know she can't say anything. Lara, I've said some things, but not everything. I know she's my best friend and I trust her, but there are some things I'm ashamed of mentioning. I didn't tell her about how I'd felt dirty and disgusting for weeks after. How there were times where I could still feel my attacker ripping my pants off, still feel him crushing my windpipe, and still smell his putrid, rotten breath when he whispered disturbing things into my ear. Sometimes it was easier for me to keep everything locked up inside of me. It was easier because when I'd talk about it, even with Satine, I still felt a part of me reliving everything all over again and as cowardly as this sounds it was too difficult to deal with.

On my feet, at Melissa's side we walk to the door. She gives me a quick hug and says, “I'll see you next week, Hadley.”

With that, I exit giving her a nod and a smile then meet Lara in the waiting room. The second Lara sees me she hops up from her chair, and we walk to the car.

On the drive home, Lara seems to be in a chatty mood. For the first half of the ride she tells me all about the class and fills me in on what some of the women are like. “Seriously,” she huffs. “There's this one girl named Beth who just stands there and rolls her eyes the whole time. She was in the back right corner. Then the three older women in the middle back row were Betty, Ann, and Marsha.” I tune her out until she says, “What did you do when you were sitting out in the waiting room? You had to be out there for at least forty minutes by yourself.”

I don't know if I want to mention my run in with Sean to her or maybe it's just that I don't want to think about it myself. He wasn't exactly endearing or kind. But I do have to admit even though he was a bit on the harsh side, there was a pleasant smooth tone to his deep voice. It was almost melodic like listening to concert violinist on stage performing for a sold out event. I liked hearing him speak no matter what came out of his mouth. “I just sat there,” I tell her. “Just sat there and drank my bottled water.” I'm not ready to talk about Sean Right-Hook Reilly, and his strange behavior toward me. Not yet.

At home, I go to my room and squeeze in some time to complete my final essay for my English Lit class, which is a character analysis on Hester from The Scarlet Letter. I've chosen to go with the love should conquer all approach which I'm not sure I should do because I've never been in love myself or even had a serious boyfriend. But just because I've never had a boyfriend or been in love doesn't mean I don't want it or believe in it.

I think.

After about an hour of working on my essay, I put the books away because I have to work at the same time, Lara does. We both work in the mall. She works at the fragrance shop and I work at Any Bean You Like, the coffee shop. I only got into Carver because of an academic scholarship. I'm a hard worker and I'm not like a lot of the kids I go to school with whose parents have swimming pools full of hundred dollar bills. Yeah, my life hasn't exactly been what you'd call easy.

I'm just putting my black apron on and smathering on some mascara when Lara's voice trails down the hall. “You almost ready, Lee? We gotta go!”

“I'm coming! I'm coming!”

I smooth back a few fly-aways and then I'm out my bedroom door in a flash.

Chapter Eleven


Tags: Lauren Hammond Knockout Romance
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