Who knew that being held as a sex slave by ruthless people and survive makes college seem like a walk in a park? But it did. I was so scared to be in the real word, amongst real people but at some point, I realized that this is all too easy.
You got a schedule, you follow it, you learn things, you meet people, you do the work required. No beatings, no hurting, no tying up on beds, no sweaty men crawling over you. If I survived Daultrey and Freddie, I can sure as hell survive college!
“Will you be coming tomorrow?”
I smile at the girl standing next to me, Lauren. We met in class and she too is older than the rest of the college kids so she approached me. She has delayed getting into college because she has a kid she raises with her mother.
When she asked me why I got later in college, I panicked. It’s not that I could go around telling random people what has happened to me. “I was sold by my own mother to be a sex slave to some really sick people" is not a great conversation starter. And it’s not good. Not for me. I know damn well what I went through, what I am still going through and what I will be carrying around for the rest of my life. It’s not right for them. They don’t need to know how bad life can get. So I lied. I saidI travelled the world or something like that.
“Are you staying in San Francisco?"
“No, across the Bay," I prefer being vague.
We stand outside the college for a while to exchange some notes on classes and see if we can arrange some studying around her baby’s schedule. And that’s when I get the same feeling, that someone is watching me. I look up and look around and I see him. Wood! He is sitting on his bike, his cut over his t-shirt, his head turned to me.
The flutter in my heart is unbearable. I knew I have missed him but seeing him there, in all his glory under the sun, I almost cry. I need his warm embrace so much. He is there, across the street, so close I can almost smell that absolutely clean smell of his. He came for me.
I leave Lauren and I take a step to him. I almost sense the leather seat between my legs, his muscled back against my chest, his abs under my hands. I long for that man, I long for a kiss, a true long kiss like Rage gives Iris all the time. And I want him, I want his body on mine, to give me the same pleasure he did on our drunken night. But I don’t get the chance.
When he sees that I noticed him, he sits straight and I see that his lips move as if ready to say something. I have taken only a second step to him, when he shakes his head, revs the bike and rides hastily away, as if he was chased by a mortal enemy. And I am left there, paused, hitting the wall of his rejection once more.
“Tamie?” Lauren looks at me worried. “You know that guy?”
I look down and at my feet with a deep frown on my face.
“No, I guess I don’t," I respond. “I thought I did but I guess I was wrong.”
"Oook," she looks at me as if I was crazy. ”So, are we up for tonight?”
I am ready to tell Lauren my goodbyes when I see a boy from the college come straight to us though he keeps his eyes on me. He is good-looking with blonde hair and brown eyes and that look that makes the girls around him melt.
“You are new, right?”
He stands before me and shamelessly checks me out from head to toe though I made a point of covering most of me up. I know that there had been a ton of girls that swoon when he looks at them like that but those girls haven’t been through what I have.
“My name is Logan."
“Nice to meet you," I say while trying not to smile at Lauren’s dropped jaw.
“You are not going to tell me your name?” He cocks an eyebrow.
I can tell why Lauren is ogling him as if he is ice-cream on a hot day but he is not a dark man, haunted eyes and a burdened soul. He can’t even start to compare with the Rider that has just left to avoid me.
The thought of Wood makes me flinch with pain. I told him how I felt and he said he does feel something for me too. But he made a decision for the both of us and keeps running away from me. No matter how close I need to feel him.
“What do you say?" Logan asks but I have completely lost track of what he was saying.
“The party tomorrow," he chuckles. “You will get to meet more people and it will be fun. So?"
Fun.Meeting new people. Staying away from Wood. Keeping my mind occupied. Sounds like a perfect plan to me. If Wood wants to live in the past, that is his choice. I intend to live. I did not suffer that much to throw away the gift of freedom that most people don’t even realize that they have.
“Sure,” I nod.
“Really?” He seems surprised and reveals that he is a boy deep down. “OK, then. Here’s the address," he hands me a piece of paper. “See you tomorrow."
I put the paper in my bag and turn to Lauren that has the same smitten look on her face.
“What? The hottest guy on campus just hit on you and you are just so cool!” Lauren almost shrills.
I shake my head. I have seen what monsters can hide behind a pretty face or the face or a respected businessman or a faithful husband. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to go out there and live out my days in constant fear. I owe it to the girl I was before, I owe it to Geraldine that never made it out. And I owe it to me.
“Stop thinking about boys, Lauren,” I smile at her, “focus on the next assessment and you will be fine.”
I should follow my advice.
I had to suffer Iris’s third degree and Rage looking at me ready to lock me in my room but neither are my parents and I am not staying in. I am going to that party and I will try to mingle and feel normal. Not be normal, just feel like one.
“Press 1 and you’ll call me and with 2 you get Rage," Iris says for the millionth time. “If you need me to pick you up or something...”
“I’ll be fine," I say and roll my eyes.
“If you get in trouble, just press 2,” Iris’s face turns a bit harsh.
Rage stirs behind her and a smile forms on his lips as if he is wishing for me to be in trouble so he will get the chance to hurt someone. Flashes of him with Freddie come to me and we lock eyes. I should be afraid of the Hellhound but I am still grateful for making Freddie suffer. Plus, I have seen the man give foot rubs to Iris so that has diminished the fear value.
“I will," I promise Iris.
I am seriously feeling like a teenager right now. I need to get a job, a car that I bought on my own, a house and a life. I kiss her and nod to Rage that is giving me a warning look. Instantly, I promise I will behave before I do anything to make him mad at me. I smile at them both as they go back to sitting on the couch, Iris across Rage’s lap, held tightly in his arms.
I go out to the car and I leave Berkeley behind. I bit my jaw down as I drive over the bridge to San Francisco. I do that every day. Every day I pass by the same spot Wood has stopped to let me see the sunset and my heart bleeds. Still bleeds for him, longs for him, for those little moments we shared. No, he left you.
I reach the place and I see it’s a town house in a nice area in San Francisco and the party is full on with people dancing even on the streets, loud music coming from inside and loud chatter. This is so normal that I almost feel I am watching from the outside, like when we spent the day watching TV with Iris at how other people that weren’t as miserable as uslived.
I go up the stairs and stand at the door, hesitant to go in even though it is open. There’s chaos everywhere but everyone seems to be having a good time. Boys and girls grind against each other, some play drinking games, there is a dart board on the wall. People everywhere, on the stairs, on couches, on the floor, out the balcony I can see from here.
“You made it!” I hear a voice close to me and I turn.
Logan is there and he is wearing only his tan cargo pants letting his impressive torso in display, sure that this alone will earn him some scores with the ladies. Pity he has nothing on a real man’s body, though. A body that was not sculpted in smelly gyms to attract women, but the body of a real man, a soldier, built to fight, to be lethal. And to give a woman what she truly needs. Wood, always Wood in my mind, always him!
I tighten my jaw and look at Logan once more. He is holding a cup with what I am guessing is alcohol judging by the way he smells.
"Well, I made it,” I say simply.
"Come," his smile widens and he places one hand on the small of my back.
OK, I can do this, I give myself a boost and I follow Logan.