Off Limits

By: Lauren Landish


Sighing, I looked around and could see the Midtown skyline to my right. "Well, you haven't been doing all those spin classes for nothing," I said to myself, turning and walking that way. "You can make it a couple of miles, even if you are in those sexy yet sensible high heels that you just had to wear because you were hoping against the odds to meet a cute guy tonight. Although the cutest guy you've seen so far tonight is Jason Lindbergh. Ugh."

I'll admit, I have a bad habit of talking to myself when flustered, and had in fact been warned by teachers in school as I babbled answers to my tests out loud during tough finals. I'd even had to re-take my organic chemistry final in my professor's office because she said I gave half of the first section of the test away as I talked. I couldn't seem to stop it, though, and I knew that if I ever got what I wanted in life—a research lab of my own—my assistants would most likely have to wear earplugs most of the time. Maybe I'd equip them with little buzzers that I could use when I wanted their attention, although that seemed a little Pavlovian to me.

About a mile into my walk, I was more lost than ever, still not sure at all where I was, or even all that certain if I was headed in the right direction. Midtown is one of the most identifiable parts of Atlanta, but that doesn't mean the massively decentralized city doesn't have areas that make you wonder who the hell laid out the map. My ankles were starting to ache a little too, not being used to high heels. Like I said earlier, I'm a bit of a tomboy, and if that means that I go around campus at GT wearing some New Balance running shoes instead of high heels like a lot of the Southern Belles do, too bad. I still somehow seemed to attract my fair share of attention from guys, even though I wasn't all that interested in any recently. Or, to put it more precisely, I hadn't found any that were all that interesting.

In fact, it had been a while since I'd had a real date. My reputation had gotten around campus, and the fact that my father was Patrick Rawlings didn't help. I'll admit that Daddy was a bit overprotective, but he loves me, and I love him. He just had a bad habit of intimidating any of the potential boyfriends I brought home. At six foot two and still a solid two hundred and ten pounds, even in his late forties, with a work-weathered face and hands that were just as comfortable swinging a hammer as they were typing on a laptop or playing Barbie with his daughter, he scared a lot of guys off.

I was thinking too much and not really looking where I was going, but I saw Piedmont Park up ahead. Grinning, I picked up the pace despite the pain in my feet. I knew that if I made it to the park, finding The High was easy. I knew the running tracks and the sports facility layout pretty well and could easily get through the park and onto one of the major streets that would take me to The High. So I entered the park and looked for the running path, which could steer me directly to the right exit.

Unfortunately, being so focused on getting through the park, I forgot the number one rule of living in a city after dark: always keep aware of your surroundings. To hell with Brittany's rules. She'd never been downtown after dark without a security escort in her entire life. I was halfway through the park, near a little cove of trees, when two guys approached me. Both of them looked like trouble.

"Well, well, look what we've got here," one said. He was wearing Jordans and basketball gear, looking like he'd just come off the court or something, except for his bandana that was tied around his head, hiding his hair. "Hey, baby, you thinking you might need an escort through the park? It ain't safe after the sun goes down, you know."

"No, thanks. I'm fine," I said, trying to play it cool. Don't show fear, don't show fear. They react to fear, I kept repeating to myself. "But have a good evening anyway."

"Hey now, sweet thang," the other guy said, making me grimace at his horrible 'Dirty South' accent. "I don't think you have an option."

"I would prefer not to have your company—no offense," I repeated. I turned around and walked away from them, trying not to run. At least, not until they came after me, but they were in regular shoes, while I was wearing unfamiliar high heels and a dress. They caught up with me before I could even scream properly, pushing me off the running path and into the grove of trees nearby. As I stumbled to the ground, my left ankle twisted, and I winced even as I hit the grass.

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