The wedding was outdoors. The sun was butter yellow and warmed Anika's tan skin. She stood close to the punch table and watched the marital couple turn in slow, closed circles on the flattened patch of grass in the meadow. Her pale, sky blue dress fluttered against her knees and she shuddered against the uncomfortableness. Smoothing the soft, too-thin fabric, Anika crossed her arms over her chest, hugging her bare upper arms.
Tough fingers brushed the prominent, ugly scar on her upper arm; a flare of hatred not only for the dress but for the person who would dare force her to wear it burned to life in her. Her pinched face watched the twirling, smiling bride in her white, lovely sundress.
Brown hair, pale skin, and Asiatic eyes, Alexis Tashimi was a lovely porcelain bride for the tall, blonde haired man of European descent. Her curves were soft and gentle, tapering at her midriff before flaring back out at her hips. The groom's hands fit easily at her waist. Anika followed the appendage up to the groom's face.
His smile isn't large and bright like his new wife's but this only seems to add to the fondness and the sharp realism. His green eyes glow, mirrored by the green of their wedding pasture and his messy yellow hair blazes golden like the sun above. Zack Knight's greatest accessory wasn't the crisp, white shirt or the dark black slacks but his environment.
Still Anika watched as the newly weds finished their first dance and she clapped half heartedly along with the rest of the crowd. The song playing from the speakers changed and soon the rest of the wedding party was pairing off. Anika slipped away, making her retreat of the happy occasion. Her dour mood would only serve to ruin the procession.
The bar was one of those found in small towns; the clientele were largely blue collar workers with the grit of their day's labor still fresh on their clothes. The bartender was large and muscular and doubled as the bar's bouncer. He could easily lift and throw any man he wanted out.
The women who came were as tough and mean as the men; they spat and laughed along with their male counterparts. A few held to their coy femininity. These were curvy, made up, and gave tinkling laughs. Almost matriarchal in a sense, they surrounded themselves with a pack of men whom all bowed to their bidding at the simplest call of her siren's song.
From her bar stool, Anika watched them with growing resentment. Their chatty, playful beauty was grating and its delicateness demanded to be ruined. Sipping her beer, Anika glanced at her own distorted reflection in the many bottles behind the bar and listed her features off: brown hair, brown, twisted oval eyes, sharp expression. Her frailty was hidden in the folds of her voluminous clothing. She twisted her bottle and glanced at the person that slumped in next to her.
Zack flags down the bartender/bouncer and orders a beer; Anika watches him, noting the distance and the guarded nature about him. Everything about Zack seems out of place in the bar; his state of tension would already make him an oddity but his dress only added to it. His collared shirt, though rumpled and the sleeves rolled up, didn't fit with the dirt stained t-shirts. His clean smell is in direct combat with the odor of sweat and grease and his quiet, serious form of drunken stupor makes him stick flagrantly out from the louder drunks.
The beer arrives for Zack and he gulps a fourth of it in quick succession. Anika's eyes are drawn to his bare ring finger and she carefully looks away. Deep, personal talks are not Anika's forte but she waits to see where Zack chooses to start the evening off at.
The silent stretches and Anika is happy to enjoy her beer a while longer when Zack finally opts to speak. "She says that she wants a divorce."
She looks at him and the way his shoulders slump with the words. She isn't sure what to say and instead falls upon bluntness instead. "Already? You've only been married what? A year?"
The look Zack gives her is exasperated and annoyed but beyond that, he seems to be perfectly fine; Anika mentally snorts. He knows I'm not going to baby him.
"Her ex moved back into town a few months ago. She assured me that they were just friends now but... well..."
Anika's brows shot up. "She was cheating on you?"
Zack half shrugged, half shook his head in a negative. He took another drink and Anika copied him, swaddling herself in the warm, lazy burn of beer. He was speaking again by the time she put her beer down again.
"I don't think that she was unfaithful. But she admits to not being over him."
Anika nodded. "Thank god there were no kids yet."
Zack made a derisive snort. "She wanted them. I didn't. Our marriage wasn't really looking great before the ex showed up again. Never saw each other and I could tell she was unhappy."
Anika hummed softly. She couldn't help but think that explained why Zack was taking this so well. He and Lexi had dated for about six months before they decided on their impromptu marriage. It had been odd to Anika at the time of engagement and she often wondered if it hadn't been Lexi pushing for marriage and Zack just going along for the ride. Not that the pair of them weren't close; Zack and Lexi had been close friends for years.
Anika couldn't help but wonder if perhaps they had never moved past friends though...
"There are other girls, Zack,"she said. "Just... don't rush into marriage with them." She smirked and listened to him give a soft laugh, pleased to have drawn it out of him.
Walking into Zack's new apartment was always awkward. Strewn about what should have been a man's apartment were the clear signs of a female presence, though they were significantly more subdued than when Zack was married to Lexi. Anika couldn't help but feel like an interloper every time she arrived and saw the pressed pantsuits hanging in doorways and the extra tooth brush in the bathroom. Walking into the bedroom was always a landmine of simple black panties and bras hung carelessly over a closet door. Everything about the flat was marked clearly and almost territorially.
The marker was Zack's new girlfriend, an ambitious woman a few years younger than Zack but at least a year older than Anika. She was taller than Anika too, standing at 5'10" and her skin was a smooth and natural tan. Her hair was dark, long and silky and her cool blue eyes were both challenging and dismissive. Kyra Evans rankled Anika worse than Lexi Tashimi ever had; everything about her was always poised and graceful and she made certain that the world was laid out for her. She made Anika nervous with the viciousness that she exuded.
Anika shifted in the kitchen chair she'd claimed; these days she relegated herself to the kitchen, the only area that Kyra's influence seemed to have avoided. Kyra was not the housewife material that Lexi was; she was more along the lines of exotic and dominating treat than housewife. She liked to be on top of everything. Even now, she stood leaning against the counter, and watched Anika.
"Where is Zack?"Anika asked, just to break Kyra's concentration; her skin crawled under those glacial blue eyes.
"Showering,"Kyra said, and something about the twitch of her lips made Anika uncomfortable. She desperately wanted to change the subject but to what, she didn't know. Everything about Kyra made her feel like a mouse under a cat's paw.
"He knew I was coming over an hour ago,"Anika said stiffly, trying to inject the annoyance that she knew she should feel into her voice.
Kyra shrugged nonchalantly and her fingers carefully brought a steaming coffee mug up to her lips. She set the mug down and folded her arms over her chest.
"He got busy,"she said simply.
Again, the words made Anika feel ill and she stood up sharply, awkwardly moving toward the fridge; there wasn't anything in there she actually wanted but it provided a nice distraction. She found a bottle of water and pulled it out, turning to see Kyra watching her with a bit of amusement.
Anika's grasp on the bottle of water tightened and her tense restraint was on the breaking point when the sound of shoeless feet attracted her. She turned and Zack stepped into the kitchen with a towel still on his blonde hair and his shirt half buttoned. She jerked away and moved toward her seat again, resolutely not looking as Kyra reached over and finished buttoning his shirt; their intimacy made her want to scream.
"I'll be ready soon,"Zack said. Anika looked at him and she could see the confusion. She shuttered and blanked her face, the age old response rising.
"Just hurry up,"she snapped; it felt hollow but it sounded suitably angry.
Zack huffed and took it at face value. He pecked Kyra's cheek and whispered something quiet into her ear. She smirked and shrugged before leaving the room. "She's going to get me some socks,"he explained. "My shoes are by the door. We can go then."
Anika didn't respond. She instead watched her bottle of water start to sweat and felt the sickly coolness.
"So Zack's new girlfriend left?"
Anika worked to not stiffen on the deep green, cushy couch and instead gave a half hearted shrug. Her therapist's client room was brightly lit and inviting; the walls had cream colored paint on them and there were two set's of large windows on either side of a thickly padded, ornate chair; its dark green upholstery matched nicely with the sofa directly across from it. Both objects were placed on a dark brown rug which was over a shined, hard wood floor.
In the chair sat Doctor Robert Zeal, a man in his late forties with reddish brown eyes and silvering hair. His pale face still looked relatively young despite his prematurely changing hair and his broad shoulders seemed to take up a good portion of space in the room. He leaned back in his pale blue collared shirt and his darker blue slacks and regarded Anika with both sincerity and patience. This just annoyed Anika.
"Where did she go?"
She shrugged and looked out the large window to Dr. Zeal's left. "Something about a big lawyer-y case in the next state..."
"How did Zack take it?"
"Fine... he said he always knew that she put her work before him..."
"Mm... And how do you feel about it?"
She was drawn back to Dr. Zeal with that question as irritation flared. Dr. Zeal wasn't the first therapist she'd had but he was the one that had lasted the longest, if only because he knew not to push. Some would argue that, for this reason, he was also the one that had made the least amount of progress.
"I don't feel anything about it,"she said, defenses flying up. "He tied himself to the wrong girl. Again. He does pretty often."
Dr. Zeal arched a brow. "Indeed? And who would be the right girl?"
Anika pursed her lips and looked away again, shrugging. Dr. Zeal's brow became concave and his broad shoulders slumped. He sighed and Anika resolutely kept her eyes out of the window.
"Anika, you're always on the sidelines,"he said softly. "You haven't put yourself in the game for a long time... We both know why; you know I've had access to the police reports and you experienced them."
"And maybe I just don't want to experience them again,"Anika snapped. Dr. Zeal pressed on.
"Its not my job to make you experience them again,"he said. "It is my job to help you get back into the game. Now, I can sit here once a week and talk at you about the surface level things and listen to you describe the people in your life... I can sit here and knock at the door for as long as you like. But I can never come in until you decide to let me in. The healing process will only move as fast as you let it."
"And you think I'm hindering it on purpose? You think I want to be stuck like this, miserable and alone?"
Dr. Zeal shifted. "I never said that either, Anika,"he said. "I never said you wanted to... I think you're scared to start it..."
"I am not scared,"she hissed.
Dr. Zeal fell silent. He looked crumpled and tired. Finally he said, warily,"Perhaps we should end the session here, Anika... Will I see you next Wednesday?"
Anika stood, wrapping her arms around herself. "I suppose,"she said quietly. She turned and exited the bright, cold room.
"Anika? You in?"
Anika grunted from the living room of her small apartment. Footsteps followed the voice, emerging from the linoleum covered kitchen floor onto the soft carpet. A take away bag was placed next to her by a big, dark hand. She turned and looked up into the gentle face of a black man with long dreads pulled into a rubber band. His eyes were honey gold and there was the scruffy start of a beard on his strong jaw. He glanced at the TV and arched a brow, smiling.
"Watching infomercials now?"
Anika huffed and changed the channel. "Shut up, Termite,"she snapped. "I was changing it to USA when you came in. Don't you knock anymore?"
The couch dipped as the man sat down. "I didn't realize I still needed to knock,"he said with a shrug, putting one arm across the back. Anika scooted so that she was pressed into the corner, where the couch arm met the back of the sofa, and grumbled under her breath. She dragged the takeaway into her lap as she went, pulling out white boxes full of Chinese food. She placed them on the table one by one.
"You seriously can't find a Korean place in this town, Terminus?"
Terminus frowned. "I can but you'd just complain it doesn't taste like eomma's."
She tossed the empty plastic bag to the side and grabbed the nearest container, opening it. Chicken fried rice stared out at her and she picked up the chopsticks she'd pulled out and dug in. Terminus didn't move toward the food, instead staring at the TV. The apartment was quiet with the exception of a commercial for Clorox droning. The curtained window only let a sliver of the orange light of sunset into the room.
"How long's it been?"
The lazy air vibrated.
"Drop it, Termite."
Terminus sighs. "Anika, its been what? Five or six years since Matt..."
Anika thumped her carton down hard; rice and chicken bounce out.
"Its been six and I don't want to talk about him,"she said. "You weren't even there so why do you care?"
"I care because I wasn't there... I should have been-"
"I didn't need you-"
"You needed someone, Anika!"
Tension pressed the lackadaisical atmosphere out and settled into its spot like a massive elephant. The occupants of the room felt crushed under its weight.
Terminus spoke even under the pachyderm's heavy presence.
"You needed someone. Not someone to save you but someone you could have told, someone who could help you save yourself. If I had been there... If I hadn't left, I could have been that person."
Anika didn't speak, her eyes down cast and her body bent forward like a sickle. Peaking just out from under the fabric of her short sleeved shirt were the old battle wounds, the scars and the burns. Her hands idly move up and down her arms, hands traversing over first smooth skin and then into the rough plains of mangled flesh.
"Matt is gone,"she said softly. "He's the past-"
"Is he really?"
She didn't answer.
He kept speaking.
"If he's the past, why are you still keeping everyone out? Why do you act like you're still afraid?"
"Because I am..."
"Nothing. Go home, Termite. Just... go home. I don't feel like doing this. Not today."
"You never will then, Anika..."
The elephant shifted its weight and Terminus was allowed to slip away from it. The door in the kitchen opened and the clicked shut.
Zack's apartment, since Kyra's departure six months ago, returned to its state of masculine normality; there were generally no signs of another person living then but Anika knew that this was a beguiling fact. For the past few weeks there had been smaller signs of female company beyond herself being there though they held none of the permanence of Lexi or Kyra. Occasional extra dishes left over from dinner together or a pair of socks too small to fit Zack. Once Anika glimpsed a frilly, deep red thong left underneath the edge of Zack's bed.
These signs annoyed Anika but not to the degree that Kyra's presence in Zack's space had. They were weak markings compared to the kind Kyra had managed and Anika had her doubts that the woman was anything truly meaningful to Zack.
Therefore, it surprised her the day she knocked at Zack's door and was instead greeted by a young woman about her height. Anika stepped back and glanced at the golden numbers at the side of the door, checking to make sure that this was indeed Zack's home. She then looked back to the other woman who was grinning; unlike Kyra, who made her nervous, and Lexi, whom she accepted with a certain fatalism, this woman's demeanor annoyed her.
She was everything Anika was not. Her brown hair was short and swept artfully to the side into a series of perfect spikes. Her face was round and her lips were plump and perfectly pink. Blue eyes glittered with mischief and impishness that Anika knew could easily morph into a come hither look for the right person. Build wise, the woman was curvacious. Her bust was large and equally matched by her broad hips, both of which she was careful to accentuate with a tight tank top and second skin blue jeans. Her pointed, leather boots clicked on the concrete and she tilted her head to the side.
"Zack, do you often have beggars come to your door? She looks homeless."
Heat swam into Anika's face and indignation made her snarl,"Where'd you find her?"
The woman narrowed her eyes and Anika met her scathing look easily. Zack appeared behind the woman and reached out to her, dragging her back from the door. "Knock it off,"he grunted. Anika was certain that the words were directed at both of them but the fact that he was looking at the other woman made her feel vindicated. She shoved past both of them into the apartment, kicking her tennis shoes off at the door.
The woman huffed and scowled as Anika made herself comfortable. "Zack, who is she?"
Zack glanced at Anika and then at the woman, looking uncomfortable. "Ah.. Gabriella, this is Anika... Anika, this is Gabriella."
"Call me Glacier,"the woman said quickly. Her nose was turned up and Anika bit her tongue so she wouldn't say what she wanted to call the woman.
Glacier turned from Anika and ignored her in favor of speaking to Zack. "Zackie, I thought we were going to go on a date tonight?"she whinged. "What's she doing here?"
Zack opened his mouth to speak but Anika cut him off. "I was just hiding out from Terminus. I can go though, since obviously I'm interrupting."
"Yes, yes you are,"Glacier said, and it was perhaps the first and only time Anika could see herself agreeing with her. She rose sharply, face feeling hot and stinging. Anger marched forward like a soldier into battle.
"I'll let you get to your whore then, Zack,"she snapped and stormed passed him. Zack seemed to be in too much shock to stop her but Glacier gave a little laugh, like she was enjoying a private joke. This only served to make Anika even more humiliated. She fled the apartment, feeling sick and upset and strangely betrayed.
Zack's apartment turned into a restricted zone for Anika after that; she imposed a self isolation from it and Zack as a whole, making her life a series of dodged phone calls(from both Zack and Terminus now) and therapy sessions. She tried to spend as little time as possible at her apartment, which was likely the first place that Zack and Terminus would come to find her. Terminus would just want to talk about either Matt or, assuming he heard from the horse's mouth, Zack; Anika wanted to talk about neither. Zack she didn't want to see period, at least not until her pride had healed.
Instead, she contented herself with people watching at the local park in the afternoons; when she wasn't there, she was at work. She leaned back on the cool wooden bench and contented herself with another afternoon at the park. She had found a largely secluded spot away from the playground equipment and the tennis courts but still relatively close to the walk path; it was a hill spot with two large maple trees, their bare branches spiderwebbing and interlocking over her head like an intricate, knotted net. The fall air was brisk and spelled like burning wood; in the distance she could see smoke curling from the chimney of a ranch style home. The sky was deep, cold blue and cloudless but the sun was still on a feeble wink in the sky despite this.
Anika herself had donned a thick, Haversack shooting jacket that was too wide for her; she was pretty sure it was meant for the male persuasion. Its brown cloth kept the cold out well though; she had left the black buttons undone and everytime she shifted she could hear the leather on the right shoulder and elbow rub and creak. Her jeans were as baggy as ever but she had finally spent some money on a new pair of tennis shoes; they pinched her feet still, much to her annoyance. Her long, thick brown hair had been pulled back into a pony tail which some difficulty; the fall static took great pleasure in making the simple task difficult.
She sat with her arms folded over her chest and her body reclined and stretched out. Her subjects for the day were scarce and few between; earlier in the fall season, there had been more children playing on the set but as the days got colder and school got busier, they became fewer. Today, however, she could count three of them and their respective parents below. Two mothers and a father. Three girls.
On the tennis courts to the east was some kind of high school tennis practice happening. The grunts and calls of the players and their coach wafted uphill to Anika; due to the green mesh on the wire fence, that was the only sensory evidence of their existence that she received.
Down on the gravel walking path no one passed but around the bend, she could hear the crunch of approaching foot steps; the trees down the hill blocked her view of who it might be but she could tell but the pace and the way the gravel sounded that they weren't a jogger; whomever it was was walking.
While she awaited their arrival, her mind wandered; since her own forced banishment from Zack's apartment, it had been about two months. She had met Zack and Glacier at about the beginning of September; it was almost the end of the first week of November. She personally felt a little pride at having been able to hide for so long while she licked her wounds. She smirked a little and closed her eyes, head tilted back toward the sky.
She must have dozed.
"Oh, its the beggar,"a voice startled her from her daze.
She jerked up and looked into the face of Glacier, the blue eyes glaring down at her. She met their heat and sat up a little straighter, looking over Glacier. She was still as curvy and beautiful as before but there was a sort of broken, defeated look around her shoulders and while she had been hostile before, her hostility to have intensified.
"What are you doing here?"Anika grunted, not in the mood to have another run in with the woman.
Glacier rolled her eyes. "Its a public park,"she snapped. "I can be here just because. Now scoot over."
Anika didn't budge until Glacier's wide hips had forced her to; then she pressed herself into the cold metal of the bench's wrought iron arm, putting as much space between she and Glacier as possible. If the other woman noticed, she didn't comment. She was too busy folding herself backwards over the wooden back of the bench, her ample breasts being put full on display by her arched back.
Anika's disgust must have shown on her face; Glacier snorted and straightened back up. She looked fully at Anika before huffing and looking away again, down at the playset were a parent and child were leaving. The awkwardness stretched and Anika was prepared to abandon her usual roost; Glacier's voice halted her flight.
"So what's your relationship to Zack anyway?"
There was forced casualness in Glacier's voice but underneath that was something Anika couldn't readily identify; it didn't really matter. The attempt and non contempt from Glacier did little to smooth Anika's raised hackles.
"Nothing you should worry about,"she said tersely.
Glacier giggled a little, thought it sounded bitter and watery. "Yeah, I suppose you have me there,"she said and finally Anika could pick out the melancholy. She arched a brow.
"He broke up with you?"she asked.
Glacier shrugged and gave a gesture with her hands as if to say,"I guess so." The appendages flopped down onto her thighs with a slap.
Anika frowned and asked, bluntly,"Why?"
"Nothing you should worry about,"Glacier said, voice hard in a good imitation of Anika's tone. Anika scowled.
Glacier shifted and sighed.
"You know, with me out of there, you could easily slip in,"she said.
Anika's face heated and she said,"I never wanted to be in there."
Glacier rolled her eyes.
"Yes, you did, bitter ball. It was kind of obvious. Well... apparently obvious to everyone but you and him."
Anika didn't respond. Glacier laughed again, this one nasty and mean. "Lemme guess,"she said. "Just lemme do it. There was a man once. He was good to you right up until he wasn't. And now you don't trust any man, right? Even the one you kinda sorta do?"
Anika didn't dare look at her, her eyes fixed hard on the ground. Her finger tips were tight and white on the black iron.
Another eye roll.
"Whatever, chick,"Glacier said. "Just know that eventually Zack will find someone else. And who knows, maybe he'll stick with them and they'll stick with him." She stood up and stretched to the sky, breathing in deeply. She then began to descend the hill.
The small town bar was especially dead that evening when Anika settled into it. The pretty song bird women and the gorilla-esque workers are no where to be seen. The bartender is settled in a back corner behind the counter, widdling slowly at a block of wood. He only got up to pass Anika a beer before settling again.
She fingered the green glass of the bottle and stared thoughtfully into the liquid. A slow, annoying country tune was playing, the singer's twangy voice singing about the aches of a broken heart. A group of younger men sat in the far corner at a table and laughed over a game of cards.
The arrival of anyone was surprising; the fact that they sat right beside her was doubly so. She looked over and up to find Zack staring down at her. The bartender grunted and grumbled from his corner, hauling himself up, but Anika's primary focus was on the young man beside her. She felt uncomfortably aware of his presence and a heat rushed up to her face.
She looked away, back into the corner where the card players were and grunted,"What do you want?"
Zack's beer thumped down in front of him and the bartender left. "I guess a drink..."he said softly. Despite his words he didn't touch the bottle. Anika squirmed on her stool.
"You know, I saw Glacier earlier,"he said.
"Generally how girlfriends work..."
"Mm... yeah... Funny you should say that... She told me she saw you too."
"Really? There is a lingerie store and a very popular corner right across from my favorite grocery store..."
Zack snorted and Anika couldn't help the little smile that tugged her lips.
"Yeah, there is... But no... she told me she saw you in the park today... and that she most definitely told you we weren't together."
Anika distracted herself with her beer. She took a deep drink from it; so deep that she felt her head swim as the warmth rushed her. She put the beer down quickly and swayed. Zack's hand settled at her shoulder blades, steadying her with a solid, hot pressure.
"We might have done something to that affect,"she finally said. "She wouldn't tell me why you broke up with her."
Zack's hand retreated as Anika finally steadied herself. She missed its heat.
"She just... wasn't what I was after."
"They never are."
She hadn't meant to say that. Zack didn't seem to mind though; he nodded with her in agreement and sighed. "No... They never are."
The distance that Anika felt in that moment was suddenly as wide as a ravine and there was an intense feeling like she'd missed something.
Zack finally took a swig of his beer and the silence that followed was ambivalent. Anika still hated it but she was scared to break it. She was grateful when Zack did.
"You ever wonder if what you're after is right under your nose?"
Zack glanced at Anika and she avoided his eye. Her face felt warm and she was sure it wasn't the beer. She jumped a bit as cool fingers, damp from the condensation off a beer bottle, touched the back of her hand. She kept her eyes away from Zack, away from the fingers but carefully moved her own hand closer.
"Sometimes I wonder if I just have to get off the sidelines."