Always the Last to Know

Chapter 25

It was a total relief when Lester assured me that he wouldn’t breathe a word of what I’d just blurted to anyone, but at the same time I worried about how he would treat me now that he knew the truth. Would it help or hinder our relationship? Clearly, he’d harboured a lot of resentment toward me, between the feelings he’d tamped down on for years and my sudden disappearance which, according to Tank, lead to a failed marriage – details on that are pending, since he refused to tell me anymore, insisting that Lester would explain if he wanted me to know – and now my equally sudden reappearance. I was surprised he could even look at me after all the pain I’d inadvertently caused him.

And now I’d told him the one thing I’d kept hidden from the entire world. I’d reopened the wound I’d forced to heal and was baring it to him in the hopes that he wouldn’t stab it.

“Do you – uh... wanna talk about it?” Lester asked awkwardly, not quite meeting my eyes.

“No more than you want to talk about your unacted-on feelings,” I assured him, wiping the last of my tears from my face. They were still stinging behind my eyes, but I wasn’t going to let them fall. The feeling was familiar. How many times had I denied myself the comfort of crying over the last six years? I refused to cry about it. Crying didn’t solve anything. What it did was make me puffy faced, bleary eyed and snot nosed, all things I could do without. “Can we get back to my lesson?”

“Of course.”

Apparently just as eager to get off the sensitive and – on my part, at least – emotional topic as I was, he quickly grabbed me in the same hold he had almost three week ago. He didn’t grip as tightly and there was a definite lack of the menacing tension there had been the first time around. It made me wonder what had been running through his head that day that he could even fathom handling a woman like that. The Lester I’d known six years ago would never had laid an injuring hand to a woman.

Unless they deserved it.

Had I deserved it? He may not have been in the know back then, but I had been, and a part of me had felt that his actions were warranted. I’d been expecting anger and disappointment, and I’d finally gotten it. Yes, it had hurt, but I’d hurt him and any number of the men in the building six years ago. His renewed gentleness irked me more than it should have.

“I’m not some delicate flower,” I informed him after a moment of waiting for the real grip to kick in. “I’m the same person I was three weeks ago, treat me like it.”

“I’m not going to manhandling you like that again,” he said, pain and guilt clear in his voice. What I wouldn’t give to see his eyes at that moment. Would he give anything away? Or would I be faced with the same blankness that had plagued me for weeks. I needed to understand him so I could ease all this turmoil. “I couldn’t live with myself.”

I tried to turn in his hold to face him, so he’d see how much I meant my words, but his grip was firm enough to prevent me from doing so. “I said I didn’t want to be pitied,” I reminded him sternly. “That includes by you.”

“I don’t pity you,” he informed me, a hardness creeping into his tone once more. “I just don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

“But I-.”

I felt him shake his head. “You don’t deserve it. No one deserves to be hurt unnecessarily.”

“I hurt you unnecessarily,” I pointed out.

“Yes you did,” he said, cutting me off before I could add anything else. “And I didn’t deserve it. Now accept that I’m not going treat you like the scum on the streets, and talk me through how you’re going to get out of this.”

We spent the next twenty minutes working through step by step how to escape the hold and disable my attacker long enough to get away. Nothing was said by either of us that wasn’t absolutely necessary for the process. It’s like we flipped a switch on all our issues and sent them plummeting through a trap door. Fences and bridges were far from mended between us, but for the moment, we’d eliminated them from the equation, tunnelling underground to avoid the wide spread debris.

I began to sense a shift in Lester’s headspace, however, as he grabbed me again in the same hold so I could put all my practice and instructions into use.

“When was it?” he asked quietly by my ear, adjusting the hold so that the first step he’d taught me would do absolutely nothing in aiding my bid for freedom.

“What?” I asked, confused by the sudden question.

“You miscarriage,” he said. “When was it?”

“I told you I don’t want to talk about it,” I sighed, attempting to wiggle into our previous positions.

“Do you know who the baby’s father would have been?” he asked instead, like that was a preferable line of conversation. I jerked my arms as I had in our first session, desperate to be out of the same vicinity as Lester and his probing questions. I’d blurted the reason for my leaving, but only because I couldn’t stand the way he was describing my life before. I was in no way ready to discuss the finer points of the situation with him. Not when I was beginning to feel that tension building in him again, tightening around wrists.

I knew it was too much to ask that he forgive and forget.

“I need details, he implored, dragging me more firmly against his chest. “You can’t just drop a bombshell like that and not expect me to turn it over in my mind. I want to understand. So much about you leaving has been a mystery for so long. Now that I know the supposed reason you left, I have more questions than ever. I just need closure.”

“Closure?” I questioned. “I’m not dead. Can’t that be closure enough?”

“You tell me; did running to Mexico fill your closure quota?”

And just like that, it was hard to breathe again. I don’t know what I’d expected from Lester after revealing the truth to him, but it certainly wasn’t the same callous disregard for my feelings he’d shown me for the last three weeks. He definitely wasn’t treating me like a delicate flower now.

“Let me go,” I demanded, redoubling my efforts to wriggle free as the tears welled in my eyes once more. I’d completely ballsed up this entire situation. I should never have allowed Tank to talk me into this. Coming back had done more harm than good, to me and to my friends – if I could still call Lester my friend...

“Not until you learn to get out of the hold,” Lester said mildly.

“Let. Me. Go. NOW!” I seethed, somehow wrenching my arms out of his hold as I spun to face him. I wasted no time standing around waiting for him to say something else to get under my skin, instead hefted my knee into his crotch and walked away to the sounds of his groans.

*o*

“I saw you in the gym this morning,,” Hal said by way of greeting as he paused in the entry of my little cubicle. “Lester’s been giving you a hard time, huh?”

I shook my head, not so much in denial as in disbelief that things could have gotten so bad between us. Though I’d denied our closes when Tank had pointed it out, there was no denying that Lester and I used to be two peas in a pod. Stick us together and we were unstoppable; we would get the bad guys and laugh the entire time.

“There’s no point denying it,” Hal said, misinterpreting my non response. “I saw the whole thing. I’ve noticed the way he looks at you. And I know what happened during your first training session with him. Everyone does.”

“And?” I sighed, leaning my head against the back of my chair and staring at the man through slightly crossed eyes as I tried to see around my nose. Why couldn’t he mind his own business and let me deal with Lester on my own?

“And you shouldn’t have to take it. It’s harassment.”

I rolled my eyes back for a brief look at the ceiling, willing myself not to let anymore tears spill on Rangeman premises today. Between Lester’s continued hatred and Hal’s obvious concern, I was ready to break, but I’d already taken one afternoon off this week to calm down from Merry Man induced hysteria, I couldn’t afford another.

“I’m serious, Kit,” Hal insisted, moving closer so he could gaze down at me to make eye contact. “I’ve known Lester a while; he’s a great friend of mine, but the way he’s treating you is not okay. You need to report him.”

Blinking in shock, I sat upright so fast I nearly flung myself on the floor. “I can’t,” I told Hal adamantly.

“You have to,” he said calmly.

I shook my head, this time in fervent disagreement. “No. I- I...” No way could I file a harassment complaint against Lester. There was a desolate war zone separating us from the easy friendship we used to have now, I could only imagine how much worse things would be if I followed Hal’s suggestion.

“No other workplace would stand for this, Kit,” he informed me. “And Rangeman won’t either. Harassment of any kind is just not on.”

“If I report him, Ranger will find out, right?” I asked, my voice small, trembling.

“Of course, he will!” Hal practically exclaimed. “That’s the whole point! He needs to be taken to task!”

“What will happen to Lester?” I questioned, more worried about the man I’d hurt in so many varied ways than my own wellbeing at this point. I’d caused enough damage to last a life time; I wasn’t about to add to it by complaining to the powers that be – Ranger – that he was being mean and unfair. It felt like dobbing, and I was not a dibber-dobber.

“Hard to say,” Hal shrugged, leaning against the desk near me. “We’ve never had a situation like this before. He’ll probably be subjected to... a hearing...” The way he paused, hesitating while he chose his words, made it clear that what he really meant was mat time; the infamous Rangeman punishment for all things big and small. I cringed at the very thought. “Possible a suspension period.”

Yeah, mandatory time off to heal from his beating, I thought.

“I won’t do it,” I said firmly, spinning my chair to face the computer once more. Subject closed. I couldn’t bear the thought of Lester being injured because he had strong feelings and issues regarding me and everything I’d done to him.

“If you won’t, I will,” he assured me, standing to leave. “I’m away for the weekend, but if I come back and find that no complaints have been filed, I’ll take care of it myself.”

His tone said that the chances of him just filling in a form on my behalf were slim. Probably, raised voices and fists would be involved. It seemed that either way, Lester was going to get the shit kicked out of him for things that, deep down, are my fault anyway.

Hal was almost out of the cubicle, allowing me to wallow in my self pity alone, when he turned back and, in a completely chipper tone that belied the conversation we’d just had, asked, “Are you still good for babysitting tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” I said numbly, almost too weak to speak. The mood swings around here, coupled with my own emotional rollercoaster, were exhausting the hell out of me. “Nine o’clock, right?”



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