Truth Be ToldBy: Holly Ryan
The first man grins with delight at the realization that he can continue his quest, and he leans in, his mouth making for my neck. Whatever happens now, I’m about to be changed forever, one way or another. I’d just rather not have to witness it firsthand, so I close my eyes.
Right then, when I feel like this could quite possibly be the end of me and my entire little world – or at least my relative innocence – I hear the clap of a hand against clothing, followed by a yank. I still don’t dare open my eyes, and I don’t dare think this could be anything other than more shit that’s about to go down. I ready myself for the worst that’s yet to come. It feels safer. So much for Stella Montgomery as she once was, I think. Here she lies.
“Who do you think you are?”
“Stella,” comes a deep, rustic voice. It’s commanding and firm. It has no time for bullshit. “Open your eyes.”
I blink a few times. His hair is dark and unkempt, and his thick layer of stubble matches the rest of the careless look. His eyes meet mine, and I’m relieved to see that they’re tired, or maybe just pained, but they’re not drunk. Then, they change. A curtain of ferocity closes across those eyes before he turns from me. Even deeper chills, this time ones of realization, not fear, run through me. He’s the man from the corner, the man who’d been silently watching me with those nearly-invisible eyes. I recognize him first by that unbuttoned shirt, but seeing his features this closely leave no doubt in my mind that it’s him.
He steps closer, placing himself between me and the three others, and suddenly I’m shielded by his body, facing his back, and this man doesn’t reek of alcohol or dirty thrift store clothes; he smells like clean, masculine flesh, and freshly washed laundry. Most importantly, he smells safe. I never knew that “safe” was actually a smell, but it sure as hell is.
“I said, who do you think you are? What the hell is this?” All this from the man who was close to burying his mouth against my neck.
The man protecting me doesn’t answer, but clenches his fist at his side. Looking around him, I can see one of the men standing a ways away. He’s partly bent over and he’s clutching at his shoulder with a grimace on his face.
The stranger turns back to me. He says loudly, “I’ve been looking for you.” His voice has authority laced throughout it, as though he doesn’t care what happens as a result of his words because he has nothing left to lose. That might be the scariest thing of all.
I furrow my brow.
He raises his. “You weren’t waiting where we were supposed to meet. It’s two. I was looking for you.”
I get what he’s trying to do, but why he’s doing it is beyond me. I want to trust this man, but I don’t. Who does he think he is, anyway? Like I should trust him to save me after two others wanted to join in? How do I know he’s not trying to trick me? As far as I’m concerned, he’s just another client, and look at what clients can do to you. This all goes to prove that I the last thing I should do is trust him.
He holds out his hand.
I can’t afford to consider my options. I have nothing else to lose. I release my hold on the pile of coats and let them drop to the ground. I place my newly-free hand in his, and together we start to walk away. I instinctively turn my head and see the three with looks of shock and disappointment on their faces. They mumble among themselves, and one of them lights up a cigarette. The first man, the one who’d offered me the cash and who I thought to be the most harmless of the three, flips us off.
“Don’t look back,” my savior tells me as we keep going.
I concentrate on my steps and trying not to fall in these heels, which is even harder now that my legs literally feel wobbly. I can’t stop feeling their piercing eyes on me as we walk away, either. That hurts. The feeling almost takes my breath away, and I have to force myself to try to relax so that I can continue to breathe normally. So instead, I focus on his hand, the warmth of it and the softness. I don’t even notice that he’s been holding a coat in his free hand this entire time, his coat, a black business-type sports coat, and I also don’t notice when he pauses to throw it across my back before continuing on.