Pink Walls

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Sunday Morning [Part II]

You deserved it.”

The headlights of the sports car came on soon after I noticed it, its rays colliding with the beams already shining out of our own car to join in illuminating Alex’s path as he walked.

Then the car door opened into the air—in the fashion the doors of most stylish, high-performance vehicles were designed to—and a man got out.

Even from this distance, I was able to see the absolute rage twisting his otherwise beautiful features. His hair was auburn, waist-length and braided into a fishtail. He had a handful of freckles speckled across his cheeks and the bridge of his nose, and a diamond stud piercing the lobe of his left ear.

I watched in anxious anticipation as the two men met in the middle to begin conversing. I knew that Alex had a gun on him yet he still let himself get pushed around despite being more than a head taller than the other man.

He barely spoke, but the words that left his lips were enough to have the shorter man spiraling even deeper into his already volatile rage. Though the windows of the car were rolled up, I could still hear echoes of the man’s intelligible words bounce around in my head—that was how loud he was.

The amount of anger a person had to be feeling to shout so much was foreign to me, so when a punch was thrown at Alex, I couldn’t help but wince.

That’s a bad idea.

I had expected the attack to miss, but Alex did nothing to stop it. He didn’t even try to dodge.

The shorter man’s fist connected solidly with his jaw and he just took it.

A few more words were screamed at Alex—the other man stabbing a finger into his chest the whole time—and when he was done talking, he got back into his exuberant sports car and drove off.

I might not have been able to hear the screech of his tires against the road but I was able to see the skid marks they left behind.

It was obvious that whatever the two men discussed had been far from pleasant, especially if Alex’s blank expression was anything to go by. His face might have betrayed nothing, but his clenched fists spoke volumes.

For a moment he just stood there, staring into the distance where the car had sped off to. I didn’t know what was going through his mind or what emotions he was feeling, but the sight of him standing against the backdrop of an abandoned road made my chest hurt.

I had never seen anyone look so lost.

When he started making his way back to the car, I averted my gaze and pretended to be occupied with counting the lines that streaked my palms.

It was only when he slid back into the driver’s seat and shut the door that I realized that he was trembling.

Alexiares Lestrange, the most feared man in the city, was shaking like a leaf.

Now I stared at him openly, eyeing the reddening skin on the left side of his jaw. He must have run out of luck today, getting his face hurt twice in a row.

His pale skin bruised much too easily for someone who made a living killing people.

I didn’t say anything to him when he started the car up again. I just reached into the glove compartment and grabbed a Ziploc from where he had dozens of them stacked then got out of the car to scoop two handfuls of clean-looking snow into it.

After getting in my seat again and shutting the door, I balled up the makeshift ice pack and held it against his face when he turned to set his questioning gaze on me. He didn’t even flinch when I pressed the ziplocked snow harder against his skin.

Typical Alex.

“Drive,” I told him quietly, aware that he must have found what I was doing unnecessary.

But I knew that he didn’t want Ron to know about the little altercation he just had, and if there was the bruise was visible enough for her to ask about, he wouldn’t be able to lie. Even if he could, I wouldn’t be able to.

I didn’t need to tell Alex this though. He was smart enough to have figured it out by now.

Silently, he let his gaze drift away from me to the rear view mirror and put the car in reverse.

Soon, we were on our way again. My fingers had gotten past the point of being slightly numb and had already started hurting.

I didn’t pull away though, choosing to count to a thousand instead to distract myself.

Things between Ron and Alex would only get worse if she thought that he was hiding something from her.

If I was leaving in three months, I needed to do so with a clear conscience. I wasn’t going to be the one known for causing an internal war in the Cisco family.

Alex took one hand off the steering wheel and placed it over the one I had on his face.

The sudden move startled me and I had to shift my gaze back to him. He still had his eyes on the road.

“It has been ten minutes,” he said.

I nodded and pulled back. The bag of snow fell out of my loose grip and dropped to the gearshift.

Bruises were iced at intervals, of course I knew that. I just didn’t expect the time to pass so fast—I wasn’t really keeping a close enough watch on it in the first place though.

While I was thinking, Alex intertwined his fingers with mine.

Two instances of physical contact in one day? I thought to myself in surprise.

His hand was warm. I was able to feel the heat of his skin through the gloves he wore, and it made the frigid pain ease off a little.

For a moment, I just stared at our hands knowing that he wouldn’t let me go until he was sure that I was warm again. Over the course of our tentative friendship, he had made it his duty to make sure that I was never cold, just because of the one time I had nearly died from hypothermia.

“Who was that?” I asked, without looking at him.

The layers and layers of scenery flashing outside my window had grabbed my attention instead. There was nothing quite as beautiful as crystals of fallen snow hanging off the tall branches of lush evergreen trees. Lit up by only headlights and the obscenely bright moon, the sight looked more eerie than fantastical. It was an image that would look perfect after being framed.

“My brother.”

I returned my attention to him, prompted by confusion more than surprise. “I didn’t know you had a brother.”

“Neither did I.”

“He’s transgender?” As far as I knew, Alex only had sisters. “Did you know?”

He shook his head.

“Were you supposed to?”

Another subtle swivel of his head.

“Well, does he know that?”

When Alex didn’t answer, I chose to ask another question, the one that had been on my mind ever since the sports car pulled away. “Why did he punch you?”

“I called her. . . him by his deadname.”

“You deserved it.”

Alex’s grip on my fingers tightened but not to the point of being painful. “I know.”

“It’s good that you do.” I sighed and pushed my free hand through my hair, knowing that what he needed now was a pep talk I didn’t have the energy to give enthusiastically. “You have to understand that even though you see a person’s gender as their ever-changing clothes, other people wear gender like a second skin. Not acknowledging who they are hurts them and can make them unnecessarily aggressive.”

“You didn’t seem hurt when I called you ‘they’ for a year and a half.”

Commenting on that would have only ended the conversation faster, so I moved on. “Does your family know that you’re gender-blind?”

His eyes darkened. “They think. . . I do it on purpose to hurt them. In a world where gender determines everything. . . no one believes gender-blindness exists.”

“If not being able to recognize faces is a thing, not being able to recognize gender should be too.”

“If you didn’t explain it to me, I would have thought that I was losing my mind.” Alex finally pulled his hand away from mine to place it on the steering wheel. “You understand me better than anyone, even myself.”

“Ron would understand too, if you explained it to her.”

“I didn’t need to explain it to you.”

The brevity of his statement told me that he was no longer in the mood to talk.

I wasn’t either.

I closed my eyes after nodding in agreement, my thoughts growing loud enough to make my head ache. The intricacy of this conversation had taken a toll on me—everything that happened this morning played a big part in how tired it made me feel right now. I was far from being in the shape I needed to be in order to complete my mission successful, and the surprise attacks and visits from estranged family members weren’t helping.

“You can sleep,” I heard Alex mutter as he revved up the car’s engine. “I’ll wake you when we get there.”

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