Parker (Striking Back #3) (15 page)

BOOK: Parker (Striking Back #3)
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“Why
don’t you just tell me why you think you need therapy?” she encourages with a
soft smile.

I
spend the next forty minutes pouring out everything. Al’s abuse, my time in the
shelter and safe houses, my relationship with Parker, Al’s death. It all comes
spilling out, leaving me feeling strangely relieved.

“You’ve
been through a great deal in a short period of time, Ms. Tanner. I’m not surprised
by any of the symptoms you’ve described. You seem to be coping very well,
considering it’s only been a week since you’ve resumed your everyday
activities.”

“I’m
trying to be strong, but the attacks still keep coming almost every day.”

She
nods. “It will take time, but if you’re willing to work with me, I’m sure I can
help you alleviate these episodes.”

“I’ll
do anything, but…I’d rather not take drugs if it can be avoided.”

Her
smile widens. “I’d rather you didn’t either. We’ll try talk therapy. Now, let
me teach you a few techniques you can use when you feel anxious.”

When
I walk out of her office a few minutes later, I’m feeling more hopeful than I
have in months. “Hello,” I chirp, picking up my cell phone on the first ring.

“Macy!
You sound happy. How are you doing?” Everly asks. She calls to check on me
every day.

“I’m
having a good day.”

“Great.
Well, since it’s Friday night, I’m coming over. Should I bring wine or ice
cream?”

“Wine,”
I reply with a giggle. “I have a month’s supply of ice cream.”

“Really?
Just like that? No argument?”

“I’m
celebrating. I just landed a huge account at work.”

“Do
you mind if Marie comes along?”

“Sure,
bring her and I’ll invite my friend Janet.”

“Girl’s
night!” Everly squeals. “See you soon.”

 

Parker

 

Every
step away from Macy feels like a step in the wrong direction. All I want is to
go back and tell her I was wrong, that I love her and we’ll find a way to make
it work. I just can’t. I can’t do that to her or myself.

She’s
better off without me and the danger my job could bring. She damn sure can’t
count on me to protect her. I need to let her go, try to forget her. Deep down,
I know that’s not going to happen.

I’ve
never hurt like this before, not even when my high school girlfriend of three
years cheated on me. I thought I loved her. I thought she broke my heart. I was
wrong. This is what heartbreak feels like and it’s fucking brutal. When Everly
broke Mason’s heart, he stayed drunk for two days. I head to the gym. We all
have our ways to deal, to escape.

Reed
Brothers Gym is empty. It’s still too early for classes and past the morning
workout rush. I nod to Janice at the counter and continue to my locker. I’m in
no mood to talk to anyone. After a quick change into shorts and a t-shirt, I
jump on the treadmill for a warm up. Over the next hour I steadily increase the
speed until I’m running flat out, my lungs burning for oxygen, sweat soaking my
clothes.

It’s
no good. I can’t outrun her. I can’t outrun the musical way she laughs, her
adorable smile, the feel of her flawless skin beneath my fingers. No amount of
physical pain can mask the aching emptiness in my chest. I need to hit
something.

After
weeks away, I’m stiff, my muscles tight. I’ll never be able to get my leg up if
I don’t stretch out. That’s how Alex finds me thirty minutes later, sitting on
the floor doing the splits.

“Ow,
just because you don’t need them at the moment is no reason to squash the nuts,
man.”

“Gear
up. I came to whip your ass.”

“Give
me ten.” Alex pauses on the walk to his locker. “I’m sorry, Park. Mason told me
what happened.”

“She’s
better off. We both are.”

“Bullshit.”

“Alex,
brother, I love you, but I’m warning you…not now.”

With
a nod, he heads off to get changed. A few minutes later, we’re face to face on
the mats. “I’ve only got a month until The Children’s Hospital Tournament, so
don’t go easy. Brandon Taylor is entered in the beginner thirteen to fifteen
year old division so he’ll be in later to train.”

“How’s
he doing?”

“Good.
Keeps dropping his left and crossing his feet, but we’re working on it.” Alex
flashes a grin. “You know, Jules Fleming from East/West dropped out. Tore a
ligament in his knee. They have an empty slot for your division.”

“Sign
me up,” I order, and he looks up in surprise.

“I
was just screwing with you.”

“I
need the distraction.”

“You’d
only have a month to train,” he points out. “And it’s been a few years since
you’ve competed.”

I’ve
never really been into the competitions. As a kid, MMA was my life. I threw
myself into it, determined to be as good as my brothers. I still love it, the
training, the adrenaline coursing through my veins during a fight, but I’ve
never had the desire to make it a career like Mason did.

I
enjoy teaching and watching it brighten the faces of children who have been
through some of the same things I have, but tournaments aren’t high on my to do
list. Right now, though, it’s just what I need. “I can do it.”

“All
right, let’s hit it then. Get your saggy ass in shape.”

Macy
sure as hell didn’t think my ass was saggy. Shit. Not going there.

Alex
and I put each other through the ringer for the next hour and a half. It’s a
relief to focus on blocking and countering. One thing fighting has always been
good for is clearing my head.

“I’m
done,” Alex pants, stripping off his gloves when his phone rings. “Brandon will
be here in an hour.”

“I’ll
work with him.”

Nodding,
Alex jogs to the back office, scooping his phone off the bench on the way.
Judging by his distracted expression, there may be some trouble in his paradise
as well.

My
eyes fall on the back staircase as I guzzle a bottle of water. I should never
have brought Macy here. Now, I’m stuck with the memory of her wrapped around my
body while I carried her to the roof, kissing her soft lips under a spray of
fireworks. Fuck.

I
need a distraction, a project. Now would be the perfect time to remodel the
second level and create a space for a women’s self-defense class. I’ve seen the
look on women’s faces—hell on some of the men’s too—when they walk in for the
first time and see two fighters beating the crap out of each other. It’s
intimidating. The new space would need to be more welcoming with less of a
“lose a tooth here” feel to it. A safe place.

Grabbing
a notebook and pen, I take the stairs two at a time to start a list of what
needs to be done. “Parker! Taylor is here!” Alex pulls me out of my head and
back into the dusty room. Has it been an hour already?

“Let’s
do this, Mr. Reed,” Brandon Taylor calls across the gym, a wide smile on his
face when I appear at the bottom of the stairs. He dances around punching the
air. I can’t help but smile at the kid. He’s a poster child for how martial
arts can boost self-confidence. A year ago, he was a bony, shy kid being
terrorized by bullies at school.

When
he stepped through the door with his anxious mother, misery and fear battled on
his face. Now, he’ll fight a kid twice his size and smile while he does it. We
like to tease him about his crush, Karen Michaels, one of our intermediate
students. “Are you in that much of a hurry to get knocked on your ass?”

“Alex
says you’re slow today and I can take you down no problem,” he taunts while I
wrap my hands.

“You
know by now not to listen to him. He was eating that mat an hour ago.” I grab
two target pads and hold them up. “Show me a backfist followed by a reverse
punch. Don’t let me touch you with the bag.”

Following
my directions, he falls into a rhythm. Backfist, reverse punch, duck the bag
when I swing at his head. “So, have you invited Karen to the tournament?” I
ask. His rhythm falters and I’m able to clip his ear.

Alex
laughs. “See what girls do? They make you lose focus.”

“They
can be distracting,” Brandon agrees, still running the drill. “I hated fighting
that woman who came in last week.”

I
know exactly who he means and it cracks me up. A woman from out of state asked
if she could workout with us while she was in town. It’s not out of the
ordinary and of course, we welcomed her.

Turned
out she had some titties that belong in the hall of fame. Her sports bra and
compression shirt did nothing to keep them under control. “Kid, I couldn’t look
away either. She could’ve beat me to a pulp before I knew it was coming. Those
jugs were huge.”

“And
bouncy. Thought she might knock me out with them,” Brandon agrees, laughing.

“What
a way to go out, though.”

After
a few seconds of silence, he asks, “Do you think Karen would go out with me?”

“There’s
only one way to find out.” I throw Alex a large target and wait for him to move
to Brandon’s other side. “Slide up and side kick,” I instruct.

“What
if she laughs?” he mumbles, slamming his foot into the target.

“Then
it’ll probably be because she’s as nervous as you. Girls aren’t good at this
stuff either,” Alex reassures him.

“I
don’t know what to say to her,” he admits.

“Just
be honest, tell her what you like about her and what you want.”

I
laugh at the doubt on Brandon’s face. “Alex isn’t the best guy to give you girl
advice.”

“And
you are,” Alex scoffs.

“Well,
he can’t tell her the truth, he’ll get slapped in the face. Look.” I step back,
putting a stop to the kicking drill. “Tell her that her eyes are pretty or her
hair or something. Then say you want to get to know her better.”

“How
is that different from my advice?” Alex asks, brushing a sweaty curl from his
forehead.

“I
was fifteen once. What he wants is to stick his tongue down her throat and get
some boob action. He needs to tell her what she wants to hear, not what he
wants to do.”

Brandon
turns three shades of red, but manages a grin. “I think I’m going to go with
Parker’s plan.”

“Smart
kid, now, let’s see if you can hit me.”

After
a few fights, Alex jumps in and I watch, correcting and coaching from the
sideline. “Arm bar! Get it together, Taylor! He left himself vulnerable and you
didn’t take advantage of it!” Brandon groans and taps out as Alex applies a
choke hold.

Alex’s
phone is buzzing again and I glance over to see who’s calling while he explains
what Brandon did wrong. My gut clenches at the sight of Indiana State Prison
blinking on the screen. Without a word, I grab his phone and look at his call
history. The last call was twenty minutes long. Alex has been talking to that
murdering abusive asshole.

“Hit
the shower, Taylor. You did good work today,” I call, trying to keep my temper
in check until he’s gone.

“Thanks!”

“Why
the fuck have you been talking to Gene?” I demand as soon as Brandon is out of
earshot.

Alex
pales and snatches his phone. “Why are you checking my fucking phone?”

“It
kept ringing. Answer the question.”

He
runs his hand through his sweaty curls and haunted brown eyes meet mine. “I
need to see him before he dies.”

“No,
you don’t. Why the hell would you do that?”

“He’s
going to be dead, Park. Dead. I’ll never get another chance to talk to him, to
figure shit out.”

“Figure
what out? He killed our mother! Beat her and shot her in the head! What more do
you need to know?” I shout.

“I
don’t know.” The bench shudders under his weight as he drops onto it. “He wants
to see us before he dies.”

“You
don’t owe him shit, Alex. He fucking owes us. He owes us a childhood that isn’t
abusive and a mother who loves us. He took everything. I don’t understand you!”

“No,”
he agrees. “You don’t.”

Brandon
reappears and gathers his equipment, putting an end to our conversation. Alex
grabs his phone and keys and nearly sprints out the door.

I
spend the rest of the day pissed off. At least there are only two classes to
cover, and I just have them focus on conditioning. I’m in no mood to correct
form or referee. I don’t want to bite someone’s head off over a mistake. I lock
the door behind the last student, and turn to find Janice gazing at me with a
sympathetic smile. Without a word, she approaches and gives me a warm hug.

“It’ll
get better. I know you hate life right now, but it’s good to see you care about
someone. Don’t give up.” For the first time, my eyes burn with unshed tears.
All it takes is a hug and a few consoling words from an unlikely ally. “Go home
and rest. You look like shit,” she adds, making me laugh.

BOOK: Parker (Striking Back #3)
6.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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