“Whoa,” exclaimed Cassie as she nearly banged heads with a stranger.
It was a sunny day in Los Angeles, and the gentle breeze slightly disarranged the hair on what she could now make out to be a young man’s face. The man however, hadn’t seemed to notice that a collision of bodies nearly took place, and continued to stoop awkwardly against a street pole clutching his stomach. Struck with concern for the man’s state, Cassie leaned down and grasped hold of his shoulders. Placing one hand under his chin, she carefully raised his face.
“Are you all righ…”
As the man’s head came up their eyes met — time, words, sounds, even the surrounding frenzy of street activity slurred to a halt as the intensity of the man’s gaze bore into her soul. She gasped in shock at the sudden surge of blood pulsating through her veins, but even more shocking were the man’s eyes, for encasing his pupils was an eerie shadow of murky grey. His gaze tugged at her, dangerously drawing her in, but some unspeakable force kept her from turning away. Pure nameless terror crept into the very core of her being, and her mind weakened as a dark energy surged through her body. She didn’t fight it, she was done fighting. She was ready to succumb to the darkness, when suddenly from deep within the shadows a hand reached out to her. She tried to grasp hold of it, but the sound of a blaring car horn snapped time into motion and the man abruptly retracted his gaze.
Blinking back into awareness, Cassie fixed her attention on the man’s striking features and intricate bone structure. Despite his frightening eyes and pale, stern face, his presence compelled her. Her cheeks warmed and her insides quivered with lust or fear; she was unsure which, but longed to find out.
As the man slid his body up against the pole, he noticed Cassie staring at his stomach and hastily tried to conceal what looked to be a knife wound. She clasped her mouth in horror at the blood trickling down his outstretched fingers, however before she could offer any assistance he spun around and took off into the street.
“Wait!” she yelled, but the man had already disappeared around the bend.
Well that was odd.
Intrigued by the strange, seemingly dangerous man, Cassie followed him around the corner and into the hustle of the midday traffic. She fearlessly zigzagged between groups of finely dressed businessmen, but lunch hour dictated the need for haste and she soon lost sight of him. Surprised by her willingness to abandon her plans for the day, she decided to search for the stranger. Using her arm to deter the glare from the harsh summer sun, she navigated through the streets of LA until she found herself staring up at a shop sign she had passed moments ago.
This is useless. She untied her wavy blonde hair and grunted in frustration. Accepting defeat, she turned to recommence her day when an array of sharp noises sounded from a nearby alley. She took a deep breath and quickly glanced behind her before creeping up the dingy street and peering around the corner. Nervously scanning the area, she was horrified to find three stocky men encircling the strange man who was now backed up against a cement wall.
Oh my god. Her chest pattered in time to her racing thoughts. What do I do? I should just leave before they see me. But that man — her heart governed her head — there’s something about him.
Wiping sweat from her brow, she tiptoed forward — trying not to draw too much attention to herself — and crouched behind a run down delivery truck. Upon closer inspection, she discovered that the three men were all well-armed and wore dark hooded jumpers despite the summer heat. Two of the men kept their guns firmly pointed at the man, while the other dealt heavy blows to his head and body. The strange man however didn’t appear to fear the guns or mind the beatings. He wasn’t yelling out in pain and made no effort to fight back. Although he seemed entirely unfazed by the whole situation, Cassie leapt out from behind the truck with her arms raised defensively.
She didn’t know what came over her, but there was no turning back now. Startled by her sudden appearance, the gunmen hastily drew their weapons off the man and repositioned them onto her. In a split second, the strange man abandoned his position of weakness and sent the two gun holders flying across the sidewalk with a single blow. Cassie gaped at his sudden surge of strength in disbelief.
“Don’t move,” he commanded, moving towards the remaining armed assassin, but his aggressive tone filled her with panic and she impulsively leapt back to create distance between herself and the scuffle. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a strange, glinting object wedged between the cracks of the pavement. Without thinking, she knelt to pick it up, but in a blur of chaos the strange man yelled out, “No!” and a shot rang out. She spun around just in time to witness the man fling himself in front of her and take a bullet to his side.
Ears ringing, Cassie watched in horror as the stranger fell to his knees. The stench of gunpowder wafted through the air and her head spun in a hazy alarm at the scene unravelling before her. Now that the strange man — clutching his body in agony — was out of action, the two gunmen scrambled to their feet. One made a quick grab for the object, while the other directed his attention towards her with a smug grin. She glanced around in fear, weighing up her options, when suddenly the wail of distant sirens alerted the area and the three men fled the scene. Gasping for breath, she placed her hand against her chest and knelt down to the man whose blood now stained the earth.
“I am so sorry. I know you told me not to move, but I didn’t listen, and then you got shot and…”
Tears streamed down her face, but the man simply looked up and said, “It’s all right,” before losing consciousness.
Michael awoke to find himself on a wrought iron queen-sized bed in an unfamiliar house. Daylight spilled in through the large open window above him, illuminating the extensive collection of artworks hung sporadically across the light blue wallpaper. The overcrowded mahogany wardrobe lying by the base of the bed spewed out clothes, and an ample supply of makeup stretched across the cream dresser.
Sitting upright on the bed, he adjusted his foggy vision to find two girls with similar features rushing around frantically. He squirmed as he felt cold hands press up against his body, and then a hard tug as material brushed against his face. Suddenly realising his shirt had been removed, he leapt up and threw his hands over his body.
“No, please don’t!”
There was blood everywhere — blood on the ground, blood on the bed, blood on her hands. Cassie was no nurse, but shooting a sideways glance at the panic on her sister’s face, she knew she had to do something. Wiping her hands on her dress, she leant over and grasped the underside of the man’s shirt, her fingers tingling as they made contact with his skin. As she yanked the damp material over his head he sprang to his feet, and she gasped at the sight.
A tapestry of scars muddled with fresh wounds from his current beatings covered his entire torso, his arms up to his wrist, and weaved deep into his back. Although the sight struck fear into her soul, sorrow also filled her heart. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what he must have been through to earn those marks of suffering. However, despite his afflictions — and the severity of the current situation — she caught herself admiring his physique.
His rugged, sturdy shoulders held up such a slender frame that Cassie wouldn’t have believed his strength if she hadn’t witnessed it firsthand. His body was sculpted and graceful, and she bit her lip to control her wavering breath. As she drew her eyes back up to his face, her cheeks turned a subtle shade of pink. His dark, unruly hair, fell perfectly around his angular jaw, outlining his sunken yet refined cheekbones, and stopping just above his shoulders. He stood a head above her and his eyes — oh his eyes — they held such mystery.
Her gaping was interrupted by the man’s pants of anguish. She sighed and tossed over his blood stained shirt. He pulled it over his body with haste then moved towards the door.
“Wait, where are you going?” she spluttered, agitated by his behaviour.
As the man stopped and turned to face her, his cold eyes pierced into her soul. Cassie gulped in fear and immediately regretted her rash decision of interacting with this terrifying stranger.
After a few deep breaths he calmed and softened his stance. “I am sorry I frightened you. My name is Michael.” His low, resonate tone sent chills up her spine. Sucking in a breath, she stepped forward to greet him, but before she could extend her hand he pulled her in for a lengthy embrace while kissing her on the neck and cheek.
Since encountering Michael, Cassie had wanted to feel the warmth of his body against hers, but his sudden intimacy shocked her senses. Grasping for words, she somehow managed to introduce herself and her sister Janet, who received the same intimate greeting. Ignoring Janet’s look of bewilderment, she looked at Michael with a growing curiosity, then frowned as he continued to move towards the door.
“Are you sure you’re all right to leave?” she asked, trying to block his path.
“Yeah, didn’t you just get shot?” questioned Janet, arms crossed.
Cassie guiltily dropped her gaze. She knew she should have taken Michael to the hospital, but she couldn’t risk the doctors examining her — afraid of what they might find in her system. As she peered back up at Michael, she was surprised to discover that her selfish behaviour hadn’t affected his well being. Aside from his blood stained clothes, he displayed no outward signs of being in a fight, let alone shot.
“I am sorry, I really must go.” He edged closer to the door. “Thank you for attending to me.”
Cassie sighed at his persistence to leave. “Okay, but if you need anything…” She didn’t know how to finish her sentence, but she didn’t have to, for as soon as she extended her arm to give him a reassuring rub on the shoulder, he retracted his body with a look of utmost discomfort. Once again, she caught a glimpse of his shadowed gaze before he pulled away with force.
She took a step back and composed herself. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to…uh, never mind. I’ll just give you my number.” Pushing a tub of dried paint aside, she rummaged through her cluttered desk and scribbled her digits onto the back of an old birthday card. Michael sheepishly extended his hand, and she placed the card into his palm. “Now please call and let me know if I can help in any way.”
He bowed his head, opened the door and exited the room.
Cassie sat down on the bed, breathless. She felt Janet glaring down at her and could sense her disapproval, but she was completely overwhelmed by Michael’s alluring presence. Thinking back to the day’s events, she suddenly remembered the mysterious object on the ground and ran outside to find him. The streets surrounding her large double brick home were relatively bare for this time of day, yet he was nowhere in sight. Dashing back up the stairs, she stumbled into her room and peered over the edge of her balcony, but only a flurry of leaves disturbed the quiet street below her.