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Sudden Onset Gymnast

I pulled Dodge up off the floor, confiscating his bottle at the same time and slung his arm over my shoulder awkwardly. There was no way I could leave him in the kitchen with all the flammable items when he was like this, so together we slipped and slid our way across the kitchen floor until we reached the hall and I urged him on to the bathroom. I made sure he was filed away with a nest of towels in the tub to sleep in, figuring it was safer for him to be in there with a ready supply of running water on the off chance that something did catch fire again, than to put him to bed and risk waking up dead from smoke inhalation.

After I’d tended to the mess in the kitchen as much as I could, I retired to the living room where I’d set up my laptop earlier in the day. Derek was insisting on teaching me self defence the next day and, call me insecure, but I didn’t want to show up unprepared for what he had planned, and promptly fail, so it was off to YouTube I went.

An hour later, I’d watched enough videos of men blabbering on about where to strike to disable your assailant that I had a great theoretical knowledge base, but with no examples of exactly how to do what they were saying to do I was no better off. It’s all well and good to tell someone to slap the ears to disorientate an opponent, but what if he had my arms trapped? What did I do then? What if he had a knife to my throat? A gun to my head?

I was sick of the talking, I need to see some action. So I switched to searching martial arts demonstrations, including fight scenes from movies. The best clip I found, though, was from the Sherlock Holmes movie. I watched avidly as the slow motion fight drew on, the voice over explaining exactly what was happening as it went down. My eyes caught on every little movement, the position of hands, and feet and the way the bodies bent, storing it all away. I watched it a few times to be sure I saw every single detail before changing the direction of my search to include only more slow motion combat.

As the time chugged on, well past midnight, I must have been getting tired, because after watching a slow motion, standing back flip a half dozen times, something in my head told me it was easy enough that I should be able to do it. Even as I told myself allowed that it was a stupid idea and would most likely end at the hospital with me in a neck brace, I carried the coffee table into the hall, making sure I had enough floor space to work with. In the clip the man achieved the feat in about six square feet, which is about how much room I had with the coffee table out of the way.

I stood facing the wall furthest from the open archway, allowing the extra metre or so of hallway at in case I spun out of control. There’s nothing worse than colliding with the wall at full force. Trust me. I’ve been there frequently, and recently. Visualising the clip in my head, going over every bend, twist and tuck with as much detail as I could recall, I made sure I was a little more than an arm’s length away from the wall and allowed my body to take over.

My knees bent, pressing the soles of my bare feet into the carpet, and all the energy in my body was compressed like a loaded spring. I blew out a slow, calming breath and just let loose. I kicked off the ground and was in the air. My body went straight, arcing backward for a tenuous second before my knees curled up to my chest once more, hurtling my rear end over my head so that I was momentarily upside down. And then I was on the floor again, my feet planted firmly a little more than shoulder’s width apart with knees bent. I’d landed it. The shock was so great that the moment I realised I had both feet safely on the ground and hadn’t even hit anything in the process, I collapsed onto the floor in a fit of giggles.

When I’d calmed down, I immediately jumped to my feet and got in position to repeat the flip. I needed to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. With little to no thought I tumbled backwards through the air once more, this time managing to stay upright when I landed a few feet back. A cry of triumph broke forth from my chest, my fists pumping in the air. “Woo-hoo!” I yelled, wiggling my butt in a spastically little victory dance. A bang on the wall from the next apartment cut my cheering off, however, and I settled for excited shaking as I tore down the hall to find Dodge. I didn’t care what he’d been through that night, or how much he needed sleep in order to be functional the next day, he had to see this.

As I crashed through the door to the bath room, Dodge sat bolt upright in his tub bed, his eyes wide and frantic. He caught sight of me, and sagged back against the side, a hand rubbing at his face wearily. “Don’t scare me like that, Bea,” he said shakily. “I thought you were the dungeon master come to slay me.”

“Slay you?” I asked, curiously.

“I was dreaming I was a dragon trapped in a dungeon,” he explained on a sigh. “Weird, huh?”

I couldn’t help the massive beaming smile that burst forth on my face. “Not as weird as I just did!” I exclaimed gleefully. “I just did a perfect standing back flip in our living room.”

Dodge rolled his eyes at me, settling back down into the towel nest. “Go back to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”

“I’m serious,” I insisted, trying to tug him out of the tub. “Come see. I’ll do it again for you.”

“Bea,” he moaned, jerking out of my grip. “I feel like shit, just let me sleep.”

“Okay, fine,” I allowed, stepping back and eyeing the room. “You stay there, I’ll show you right here.” I lined up as close as I dared to the bathtub and bent my knees in preparation. I’d have to try to keep the flip as confined as possible, given the smaller space, but I was confident I could do it. Breathing deep, I let out a steady stream of air and launched myself backwards once more, my mind going completely blank as I flipped over.

“Bea!” Dodge cried. “Are you insane you can’t-”

His words cut off abruptly as I landed in a crouch, my rear end brushing the door of the cabinet under the sink. I stayed there a long moment, marvelling over the close call as I stared at Dodge’s pale face in the dimly lit room. His skin tone was almost as white as the porcelain that surrounded us. “I must still be dreaming,” he said slowly, grinding the back of his fists against his eyes. “There is no way in hell that just happened.”

“You better believe it did,” I assured him. “’Cos I have a feeling I’m going to be developing awesome ninja skills with Derek tomorrow. Who knew I had this kind of raw talent just lying in wait?”

“Speaking of tomorrow,” Dodge said slowly, raking a hand through his hair as he shook his head. “I can’t give you a lift to work.”

A nonchalant shrug rolled off my shoulders as I straightened up to lean against the vanity behind me. “That’s fine; I’ll catch the bus and meet you there. It’ll be just like when I’m running so late that you’ll compromise your perfect punctuality record if you wait around for me any longer. Don’t sweat it.”

He was staring at the tiles uncomfortably. “I can’t meet you at work either,” he said. “I’ll be at The Innovation Station doing orientation.”

“You’re kidding,” I stated flatly. “I thought Emily was going to get you of the transfer list. She was going to talk to Eric about it and make sure we all stayed together.” Dodge’s face screwed into a cringe at the mention of Emily and he glanced up briefly, an apologetic expression on his face, before returning to his staring contest with the floor. “Don’t even try to tell me Emily’s going to,” I warned, a tightness gripping my chest. “Eric wouldn’t let her.”

“Eric had no say in the matter,” Dodge explained mournfully. “Riley’s the boss. He can do whatever he sees fit.”

Silence followed his statement as I tried to wrap my head around what this meant. Tomorrow, when I walked in to work, I would be alone. Completely. The two people I looked forward to being with wouldn’t be there. I’d be forced to interact with other staff in more than a conversation about what they needed photocopied. “You’re leaving me?” I finally managed to squeak out. All the excitement from a few moments ago gushed from my body as I deflated against the counter.

“Eric said it’s only a temporary thing,” he assured me. “We’ll be back before you know it.”

“I’m gonna be a loner,” I pointed out.

A long suffering sigh left his lips as he hauled himself out of the tub and crossed the short distance to me, wrapping his arms around my shoulders. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “I’ll be here every morning and every night. And we’ll make Emily come to dinner three times a week if it makes you feel better. We’ll get through this.”

“I hate Riley,” I sulked against his chest. He smelled of smoke alcohol from earlier in the evening, but it was comforting, reminding me of the hugs I used to get from my grandma’s friends at the bridge club. “I wish he’d never run me over with his unicycle.”

*

I was late to work the next morning, wandering in bleary eyed and brain dead at almost ten o’clock. It had taken me forever to get to sleep, my excitement over landing a black flip on the first try, coupled with the spinning thoughts of my new loner status keeping me awake for hours after Dodge had retired to his bed for the night.

As I crossed the threshold, I lifted my head, an excuse ready on the tip of my tongue out of habit, but no one was there to scold me for my tardiness. Instead, I forced myself to snap my mouth shut and forge ahead to the locker room where I locked my handbag away before making a trip to the break room for a much needed cup of coffee. I had a feeling today was going to be one long, arduous task made only slightly better by the presence of caffeine in my system. Not even the prospect of seeing what else I could pull out of the bag of raw talent I’d discovered last night could drag me out of my dull mood as the excitement I’d experienced, however brief it was, after landing my back flips was eclipsed by the haunting feeling of being so very alone in the world.

I was only vaguely aware of people in the break room when I entered, making a bee line for the coffee machine on the furthest wall from the door. Typically, the jug was empty when I arrived, so I started a fresh batch and stood at the bench, watching each individual drop drip through, waiting for the moment there was enough in the glass pot to fill a mug.

“Earth to Beatrix,” a male voice called from behind me. Slowly, I turned to face the speaker with the only expression I could manage at the moment: slightly raised eyebrows, neutral set to my mouth, and half hooded eyes, blinking slowly. “Still not well?” Riley asked sympathetically.

“Didn’t sleep last night,” I murmured drowsily. “Stuff on my mind.”

Riley nodded in understanding, his floppy hair falling in his eyes. He wore navy pants and a crisp white shirt, which seemed typical of him for some reason, but I was too tired to think more on it. “I require a consultation with you,” he informed me in an all business tone. “Come by my office around eleven.”

“She can’t,” Derek cut in, stepping up beside me. I can only assume he came through a portal that opened up right by the counter, because one minute the air there was empty and the next it was full of muscle man. It was either that or he’d been taking lessons from Emily. A sharp pain stabbed at my chest at that thought as I recalled that Emily wouldn’t be popping in on me for a while. “Ms. Cooper and I have some training conduct at eleven.”

I swear to God, a sizzle passed through the space by my ear as their gazes met. Riley’s eyes narrowed, a pair of small creases appearing between his brows. Interested in seeing what kind of expression the other half of this interaction was displaying, I turned to take in Derek. His beefy arms were crossed over his chest, causing his biceps to bulge out, stretching the plain white tee he wore. Leather boot toes stuck out of the bottom of a pair of well worn, baggy jeans. I’d never seen him in that kind of attire, which is why it caught my attention for a moment or two more than I intended. When I managed to pull my gaze to his face, all I found was – actually, it’s more actuate to state what I didn’t find, and that an expression. His face was blank.

A glance to Riley showed they were still locked in a stare down

“Surely the training can wait an hour or so,” Riley said.

“Nope.” Derek didn’t even allow a considering second to pass before he was shooting the boss down. “I have a surveillance job this afternoon and the training needs to be done today. We’ve put it off too long already.”

Silence fell between them once again and I took the opportunity to switch out the coffee pot with my mug. These men seemed intent on working out my schedule by staring at each other, and I was too tired to care all that much, so I figured I didn’t need to pay attention. I didn’t speak fluent glare anyway. Instead, I stared at the dripping coffee, now drizzling slowly into my cup, promising myself that I would wait until it was at least half full before gulping it down. No matter how desperate my caffeine needs, I was not going to stand here and constantly switch cup for pot until I had enough. It looked bad, and Dodge would have slapped my wrist for doing so if he was here.

“Very well then,” Riley murmured eventually, drawing my awareness back to the men fighting over me. “You can have your training time. I’ll see if I can pencil her in some other time.” He met my still dull gaze for one meaningful second, his eyes flashing purple for barely a second. “I’ll see you both later.”

As I watched the boss walk away, a disgruntled muttering trailing after him, something warm and round was pressed into my hand. A take away coffee cup. Confused, I held it up at eye level, wondering how it got there.

“We got one too many, what with Nevin over at The Innovation Station,” Derek explained, raising his own cup to his lips and taking a sip. “I hear two thirds of your trio is also over there,” he added. “That must suck.”

“Have you checked my appearance in the last few minutes?” I asked, setting the coffee he’d gifted me with on the counter and reaching for the tiny packets of sugar on the counter. The bright yellow paper usually made me smile, like the sugar was trying to cheer me up, but today it felt more like it was mocking me with its vivid colour. I bundled three in my left hand, gripping the very tips between my thumb and forefinger and shaking the contents down before ripping the ends off and dumping it all into the cup. It slowly sank into the dense caramel coloured foam that filled the opening of the cup as I plucked a paddle stirrer from the collection beside the tea bags. “This is what happens when the ass drops out of my world.”

“You didn’t even taste it,” Derek said, gesturing with an expression that was somewhere between horrified and amused to my coffee as I twirled the stirrer through the foam.

“It was way bitter,” I said defensively.

He shook he head. “You didn’t even taste it,” he repeated trying not to laugh. “How could you possible know it was bitter?”

Shrugging, I replaced the lid on the cup and took a sip. I swished it around in my mouth a moment, noting that even with the three sugars I had infused it with, it was still just slightly bitter. Not so much that it was undrinkable, but my mother wouldn’t have taken more a mouthful of it before instructing me to do it again. “It’s a gift,” I explained. “Ever since I was ten I’ve been able to tell what a coffee would taste like by the smell.”

“Pull the other one,” he said. “No one can do that.”

“I can.”

“Prove it.”

I raised my cup slightly, indicating I was about to tell him exactly what it was. “Triple shot.” I met his gaze over the rim, a small smile playing on my lips. “One sugar for each shot.”

“That’s what Nevin usually has,” one of the other men, who’s name I could not for the life of me remember, piped up from over on the couch. “How’d you know?”

“It’s all in the nose,” I explained nonchalantly. The next thing I knew the entire Squad was line up before me, their cardboard coffee cups held out before them as an invitation. Despite the fatigue that plagued my body, threatening to yank my eyelids down, I obliged their request. After all, it was better than trudging off to my desk where my loneliness would be amplified by the empty desk beside me and the lack of impeccably dressed women appearing out of nowhere.

As I told them exactly what they were drinking I explained that when I was little my mother used to work in a cafe, and since she couldn’t afford a baby sitter, I was dragged to work with her. Sitting there, at my little reserved table with my colouring books and my glass of chocolate milk, I’d easily learned to recognise the different smells of the beverages they served. It had come in very handy on the occasion when the cafe was swamped and they had mix ups behind the counter. They’d call me over, get me to sniff them all and tell them what each was so they could give it to the correct customer. Clearly they didn’t think of writing the order on the cup.

The Squad filed off, returning to their former positions throughout the room, mingling and chatting enthusiastically over the trick they’d just witnessed. I returned my attention to Derek, who was leant casually against the counter. “May I?” I asked, extending my hand in the direction of the cup he held.

Wordlessly, he handed it to me, crossing his arms back over his rock hard chest with a single raised eyebrow. I deliberately maintained eye contact with Derek as I took a gentle, elegant whiff of his hot drink. Warm air rushed through my nostrils, accompanied by the familiar scent of – my eyebrows shot up, almost to my hairline as I recognised it. “Chai tea?” I blurted the question in surprise.

“It’s soothing,” he said, removing the cup from my grip once more and taking another sip. There was nothing defensive about the way he said it, which I have to admit, I’d expected. Instead he was just informing me of the qualities of the drink. “Calms my nerves,” he added. “Coffee leaves me too jittery.”

“Right,” I agreed, though inside I was still coming to terms with his choice of drink. I always assumed he was a coffee drinker. “It’s hard to sight a gun when your hands are shaking from too much caffeine.”

His eyebrows furrowed, creasing his usually smooth forehead. “You think all I do is shoot people?”

My lack of sleep must have loosened something in my brain, because where I would normally make an excuse and leave in order to avoid confrontation, I found myself asking, in rather a more incredulous tone that I would have liked. “Don’t you?”

His green eyes crinkled into that thinking about smiling expression I’d noticed the other day, melting my insides like ice on a tin roof in the middle of summer. A cool, gooey ooze flooded my stomach, intensifying when I discovered that it was damn near impossible for me to look away when he was staring at me like that. What is with me?

“Sometimes,” he agreed. “But mostly not.” Taking my arm, he began leading me toward the door to the hall, like he wanted to get rid of me. I glanced around at the other Squad members, just now realising that they were the only people in the break room. Perhaps I had intruded on a secret meeting that he needed to finish before our gym session in – I consulted my watch – twenty minutes. My how time flies when you’re sniffing coffee.

Once out in the hall, Derek urged me into a small storage room a short distance away and shut the door behind us. Memories of last night crept into my thoughts, along with visions of what might have happened had Dodge not interrupted with his bizarre fire breath.

“No,” I said firmly, as much to myself as to him. “Nuh-uh. We should not be alone in a small, dark, private place.”

“I need to warn you about Riley,” he insisted, blocking my path to the only exit.

I scoffed. “I already know he’s a creeper,” I assured him. “Though I originally thought he might be an alien.”

In the almost non-existent light, I caught only a glimpse of the expression that crossed his face, but what I did see, combined with the tone of his voice when he next spoke made me think I’d confused him. Score one to Bea!

“What are you talking about?” he asked.

Something told me we weren’t quite on the same page, so I countered his question by repeating it back at him, emphasising the word you so he knew I wasn’t just copying him.

“Something seems off about him,” he explained slowly, his eyebrows still drawn together suspiciously. “I mean, before last week I’d never even heard of the guy, and now he’s waltzed in changing the entire direction of the company? Who does that?”

“It does seem a little strange for a security company merge with an experimental science facility,” I reasoned, hoping he would forget about my creeper comments. I probably shouldn’t have said anything in the first place – Riley had shared that in confidence – and I didn’t really feel like explaining that our boss can change the colour of his skin, especially since it would make me sound insane when I did.

“He’s planning something,” Derek added. “But he’s keeping his cards close to his chest. Not even Eric knows what he’s up to.”

“So what are you telling me this for?” I asked. There was no reason I should be any more concerned than the rest of the company, right? “I can’t photocopy the problem away.”

An exasperated sigh left his lips, which didn’t seem like him at all. “Doesn’t matter,” he uttered. “I just thought you should know he’s acting shifty so you could keep your wits about you.”

So he wanted to exert some kind of control over my life by making me suspicious of others? I rolled my eyes. “I’m a big girl, Derek. I can look after myself.”

“Says the woman who let herself be trapped on a treadmill by her best friend,” he muttered under his breath as he opened the door. Light flooded in, temporarily blinding me, and he pushed me out in front of him. “Or had you forgotten the reason for your self defence lessons?”

“No, but I was hoping you had,” I sulked, crossing my arms at the reminder. Why couldn’t things just stay in the past?

He gave a light chuckle and shoved me down the hall. “Go get ready. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“We need someone else to come with us,” I called back to him, risking my life by turning around to walk backwards. Derek was half in the break room, leaning back so his head and shoulders hung out, I’d caught him as he crossed the threshold. As I watched, he raised one eyebrow in question. “You need a volunteer for demonstrating things on. It’s no use if I can’t see exactly what you’re doing.” Plus I don’t trust you not to force yourself upon me like every other time we’ve been alone together, I added silently.

Nodding his agreement, he ducked fully into the room and as I turned to walk forward I heard his stern, commanding voice trail loudly out to me. “Kurtis! Meet me on the mats in five minutes.”


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