“What the hell are you doing?” Chris shouted.
“I don’t know!” I shouted back at him, my feet running ahead of my mind and critical thinking skills.
The tweaker with his arms around Kara had a moment to look surprised before I slammed into both of them and we went tumbling to the ground.
The wind was knocked out of me as we hit the ground. It was weird. I’d had the wind knocked out of me before, but my most recent experience with that sort of thing was in a VR game where there was usually a bar that popped up to let me know my breath had been knocked out of commission.
It felt weird having the same thing happening in the real world without a heads up display to helpfully inform me how fucked up I was. Though from the crunch and yell the tweaker let out as we rolled he was getting more fucked up.
At least I hoped that crunch was from the tweaker and not Kara. Or me. Adrenaline was a hell of a drug, after all.
We tumbled around and around and then I landed on top of something. I balled my hand in a fist and held it up, knowing that fist wouldn’t do any good if all the other assholes lurking in the shadows came at us but knowing I had to do something to save…
“It’d be great if you didn’t punch me,” she said, staring up at me and cocking an eyebrow.
“Sorry,” I said, then I realized I was right on top of her.
I looked down. I was pressing against her in all the right places. Talk about a situation I’d been dreaming about for years and now that it was happening it turns out I should’ve been way more specific about how my fantasy scenario came true.
“Sorry,” I said again, rolling off of her.
“You’re crazy,” she said. “But thanks for helping me out.”
She looked down the narrow street Trent and company had disappeared down. I’m sure she was thinking a few uncharitable thoughts about that asshole, but she kept them to herself.
“No problem,” I said. “But we’re not out of it yet.”
I got up on my knees and took a look at our situation. It wasn’t good.
We were still stuck in a narrow street surrounded on all sides by narrow alleys that could bring more tweakers down on us as more of them got word there were people ripe for the robbing here.
“Shit,” Kara hissed, staring at the same shadows I was. “Not good.”
“Tell me about it,” I muttered, low enough that they wouldn’t be able to hear us.
Hey, we might be fucked, but I didn’t want to let on how fucked we were. That was the kind of talk that would only hasten the fucking, and this was one instance where I wasn’t really looking forward to getting fucked over thank you very much.
A moan drew my attention away from the shadows. Shadows that, for some reason, weren’t moving in like the world’s druggiest zombie movie. Which was a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.
The moan came from the tweaker I’d slammed into while I was under the influence of a pair of pretty eyes and a body that wouldn’t quit. I was going to have to be careful around this girl if she had that effect on me.
She stared at the guy I’d tackled to the ground. “Looks like you really did a number on this guy.”
“I didn’t mean to,” I said, though I couldn’t bring myself to feel too sorry for the asshole. He was rolling on the ground clutching his arm like he’d suffered some serious damage in the fall.
The jerk might’ve just broken his arm, but the thing probably broke because he was so weak from all the shit he was constantly putting in his body. Not to mention he was the one who made the choice to attack us, at which point he was getting everything he deserved as far as I was concerned.
“Bastard,” Kara said, scrambling to her feet and spitting on the guy.
I stared in astonishment. I had a few classes with her and I’d chatted with her, it’s not like I was the kind of person who was terrified by a pretty girl even if I didn’t think I had a chance with her in any of the ways I’d like to have a chance, but she was always a bubbly and happy person in school.
It was weird seeing this other side of her. For all that I agreed with this side of her. For all that I found this side of her… intriguing.
“Yeah, bastard,” I said, though I didn’t spit on the guy.
“Um, guys, spitting on the scary drug addict might be fun for you and everything,” Chris said. “But I think it’d be a good idea for us to get the fuck out of here before the rest of the scary drug addicts decide to dogpile us.”
I looked out at those lurking shadows threatening us. Only they hadn’t attacked. Then I looked down at the one with the broken arm and started to put two and two together as a half baked plan started forming.
I stepped over the addict who seemed a hell of a lot less threatening rolling around on the ground moaning in pain, and threw my arms out.
“Who else wants some?” I shouted. “Come on!”
“What the hell are you doing?” Kara said.
“Probably something stupid to try and impress you,” Chris said.
“What?” she hissed at him. “I’d be impressed if we were getting the hell out of here!”
I beat my hands against my chest. Chris was sort of right. It was a damn good thing it was still pretty dark and I was facing away from them. Otherwise the blush that hit my cheeks would be obvious.
If I was being perfectly honest there was a part of me that was doing this because I wanted to show off in front of the pretty girl, but mostly I was doing it because there were a lot of druggies out there who wouldn’t bat an eyelash at rushing us and stealing anything they could, and maybe worse with Kara, or maybe worse with me and Chris depending on which team they played for, and I wanted them all to think it wouldn’t be worth it if they did attack.
“Come get some!” I shouted, pointing at the asshole cradling his broken arm. “See if I don’t do the same to you!”
There was some muttering from the shadows. Shadows that were getting more and more humanlike as the lights overhead turned everything from pitch black to the twilight that passed for daytime around here with all the busted light panels overhead providing their fitful, flickering light.
“That’s what I thought,” I said.
I forced myself to turn my back to them. I wanted them to think I wasn’t afraid, for all that my bowels were on the verge of turning to liquid and all it would take was the sound of a couple of those tweakers coming at me to get all that liquid to come spilling out in an embarrassing display.
Only none of them made a move. I guess the sight of one of their number rolling on the ground in pain was enough to get them all to think twice.
It was one of the oldest rules in war, for all that this was a bunch of druggies threatening to rob us and not exactly a war. So many people thought the point of a war or a fight was to mess up the other guy. Sure that was part of it, but the real point of messing up the other guy was to make the enemy think it’d be way too costly to continue fucking with you.
“Are they moving any closer?” I asked.
“Nope,” Chris said. “I don’t know what the fuck you did there, but it’s working.”
“Their friend got fucked up on accident in that tackle,” I said. “With a little luck they’re worried I’m going to do the same to them right now.”
Chris snorted, but he was smart enough to keep it low. “You? Fucking up one of them?”
“Not so loud,” I said. “What they don’t know might keep them from hurting us.”
I tapped Kara’s arm. She jumped like she was just realizing we were still standing beside her, then looked between me and the assholes gathered behind us like I was a madman. It was a look I was used to getting from Chris. Typically in the game and not in the real world, but still.
“Walk this way if you want to make it out of this in one piece,” I said through my teeth.
“They’re not coming after you,” she said.
“That’s the idea,” I replied.
“Why aren’t they coming after you?” she asked.
“I’ve learned it’s usually better to go along with whatever plan Colin’s running and ask questions later when you’re out of danger,” Chris said.
“You sound like you’ve done this a lot,” she said, but she fell into step next to us.
“Mostly in games, but yeah,” Chris said.
“Speaking of,” I said. “Do you know what the hell Trent was talking about when he said he was getting into Lotus early?”
Kara stared at me for a long moment. Then shook her head.
“He’s telling the truth,” she said. “He got into the game somehow, and he’s bringing some of his friends along with.”
There was something to her tone that said there was more to the telling than what she was saying. She had the look of someone who was only telling part of the truth. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what that would be unless…
I nearly tripped over my feet when it hit me.
“You’re in Lotus with him,” I said. “Aren’t you?”
Now it was her turn to look away. Meanwhile Chris chuckled as he looked at me, then to Kara, and shook his head. It was the sort of knowing look he gave me when he thought he knew something I didn’t.
Which didn’t happen all that often. Which made it all the more annoying when it did happen.
“She’s dating the dude,” Chris said. “If that asshole figured out a way into Lotus then it makes sense he’d bring his girlfriend along with, right?”
“I’m not his girlfriend,” Kara spat.
I blinked at that. I mean it was surprising that she was saying she wasn’t his girlfriend, sure, but it was also surprising that she was practically hissing at us that she wasn’t his girlfriend. Like she really didn’t want us to make that mistake.
“Oh yeah?” Chris said. “So just a good enough friend that he’s using money he doesn’t have to get you a ridiculously expensive early access key?”
Chris wiggled his eyebrows as he said it. The implication was clear. He wasn’t buying the “not dating” line.
“I’d just as soon date that tweaker back there as date Trent,” Kara said. “And if you’re going to act like this then I don’t want to be around you either.”
“Wait,” I said. “Chris can be an asshole sometimes, but he’s not trying to be an asshole.”
“Hey!” Chris said.
“Come on,” I said. “Maybe you could be nicer to the lady? She just had a bad experience.”
“Yeah, and maybe you’re just thinking with the wrong head man,” Chris said.
“I don’t need this,” Kara said. “Thanks for tackling that guy back there. And thanks for… whatever the fuck that was you were doing with that posturing.”
“I was trying to intimidate them,” I said.
“You what?” she asked.
“I was trying to intimidate them,” I said. “Didn’t you see how they weren’t attacking us? Usually you get mobbed if you’re unlucky enough to get a crowd around you like that, but they weren’t doing anything.”
“So?” Kara asked.
“So they weren’t attacking because that one I tackled broke his arm. That was an accident, but they didn’t know that,” I said.
“Totally an accident,” Chris said.
I rolled my eyes. He wasn’t helping things. “I was trying to act big and bad because they didn’t know I didn’t break that guy’s arm on purpose. I was hoping I could get them to stay away from us long enough to get the hell out of there, and I guess it worked.”
Kara stared at me. Finally the ghost of a thin smile hit her face, and she shook her head as she laughed.
“You’re fucking crazy,” she said, then reached out and touched my shoulder. It was an electric touch, for all that it was probably just a touch for her. “But thanks. I appreciate it.”
I wanted to tell her it was nothing, but I also didn’t want her to think that I thought saving her was nothing. Not to mention tackling a tweaker who could’ve been armed while he was surrounded by a bunch of other tweakers who could’ve attacked at any moment hardly felt like it rose to the level of nothing.
“Glad I could help,” I finally said.
Kara turned to Chris, and that thin smile turned to a thin frown. Then she shook her head, laughed again and turned and disappeared into the darkness.
It was one of those situations where I hated to see her go, but watching her leave wasn’t a bad experience at all. Once she’d disappeared I turned and punched Chris in the shoulder.
It wasn’t a gentle friendly punch either.
“Ow! What the fuck man?” he said, rubbing his shoulder.
“You know what you did,” I said.
“What, prevented you from embarrassing yourself trying to make kissyface with the pretty girl who wasn’t interested in you?” Chris asked.
His words stung, but mostly because I knew they were true. A girl like Kara wouldn’t be interested in me, for all that it felt like we’d shared a moment there.
Only a moment, but thinking about that shoulder touch was enough to make me feel better about not being able to pay my way into the Lotus early release. Until thinking about the early release naturally led to Trent and his asshole friends getting to run around the game thanks to however the fuck they’d come up with the money to pay the ridiculous fee.
How did those assholes do it? That was going to bother me more than not being able to get into Lotus, damn it.
Hi! I'm a working writer who's been doing this full time since early 2015. I got my start in the Kindle romance boom, and I'm finally getting around to publishing stories under my own name!
I live in the Midwest with my wife, kids, and cats. Most days find me sitting in front of my computer typing out stories for your enjoyment!
I'm currently releasing Spellcraft. The tale of Conlan, a gamer who loves finding ways to exploit game systems, and how he uses those unique skills to battle a soulless multinational entertainment conglomerate who killed his sister and is trying to take over the gaming world!
Spellcraft is currently released on a chapter a day schedule.
I hope you enjoy my work. Thanks for reading!