Atlas is already there when I arrive at the side yard. He’s lounging against the farthest willow tree, ripping up a leaf, presumably from the tree, into tiny pieces. There’s no lunch tray in sight, just Atlas and the poor leaf.
I have no idea how he didn’t see or hear me approaching. He doesn’t even look up when I plop down next to him, balancing my tray on my knees.
“You know, I’ve never come back here before,” I say.
That startles him out of his stupor. He finally drops the poor leaf.
He turns to face me, “Wait really? You’ve never been back here? We are pretty lucky to get it all to ourselves today.”
Wait, that comment would imply that he goes back here a lot. Does he come back here for meetings like this or for- Oh God that’s disgusting, I definitely don’t want to think about that.
“Yea. Must be our lucky day!” I chirp. Geez! Is that my voice? It sounds sickeningly happy.
“So, do you want me to look at your ankle?”
“Oh yeah, that would be great.”
I turn my body even more towards him and stretch my crippled leg out, tucking my other one underneath so Atlas can’t look straight up my dress. It’s a little early for that.
Atlas is thorough and careful in his examination. Gently pressing on different sections to see where it hurts and asking me all sorts of questions. I just watch, and eat my lunch, trying not to look like a slob while doing so.
“Yup. It’s broken.” He declares, looking at me with a grim face.
I drop my sandwich.
“Your kidding right. Cause if you are that’s not funny. At all.” I replied, dropping the sweet, happy voice.
“No, I’m not kidding. I’m serious Nixie. You shouldn’t be walking on it. You need to go to the emergency room. They need to put a cast on that ankle. I think it’s a pretty bad break.”
I can’t believe this. Hold up, did he just say emergency room?
“No! I can’t go to the emergency room!” I frantically exclaimed, trying to stand up. Pain shoots me back down to the ground.
“Woah chill Nixie,” he says, reaching a hand out to me but then thinking better of it and putting it down, “Why can’t you go?”
I shouldn’t tell him anything about my personal life, but something about how he looks, genuine concern plainly displayed, makes me want to spill my guts out to him. I move next to him, so now my back is against the tree as well.
“The plain and simple truth is that I can’t afford it,” I say softly.
“Oh,” He breathes.
A silence follows. I can practically see Atlas’s wheels turning.
“I’ll pay then. And I can’t let you keep walking on this so how about we ditch the rest of the day and I’ll drive you to the emergency room.”
“No way. I can’t let you pay for me. Are you crazy? It’s like 250 dollars for just the cast alone!”
“Don’t worry about it. Seriously Nixie, my uncle is loaded and I can’t let you keep walking around on that ankle and injuring it even more.”
“No. You are not paying for my ankle. You hear me Atlas? You. Are. Not. Paying. For. Me.” I give him my best death stare, “So thank you for the diagnosis and everything but I better get going.” I start to gather up my tray and mentally prepare myself for the pain.
“Fine then Nixie, you give me no choice.”
“What are you…”
And then I am not on the ground anymore but in the arms of Atlas. I can’t believe this. He is literally basket carrying me! Wait, we’re moving. Where the hell are we going?
“Atlas? Where the hell are you take me?” I barked, squirming in his arms. He is holding me tight, my body pressed up against his chest, making me very uncomfortable. My squirming is not helpful to Atlas apparently. He stumbles, almost dropping me in the process.
“Jesus Nixie, do you want me to drop you? I’m taking you to my car so we can go to the emergency room.” He grunted, struggling to regain his grip on me. He’s almost reached the exit to the side yard.
Wait, he said that his uncle is loaded. But his uncle is-NO WAY! That would mean that Captain Colossal would be paying for me! Not over my dead body is that happening!
“PUT ME DOWN RIGHT THIS INSTANT OR I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL FIND YOU AND MAKE SURE YOU DIE A SLOW AND BRUTAL DEATH!” I screech, pushing against his chest.
I would do much more than that but I don’t want to give anything away.
“Keep your voice down or else I will take you the route to the parking lot where everyone will see you in my arms.”
****, he’s good. I give up and let myself relax. Geez, Atlas must be pretty **** ripped if he thinks he can carry me all the way across the campus. Maybe he is. He did seem a lot stronger the last few times I fought with him. I really want to ask what his training regimen is, but that wouldn’t go over to well.
“Ok sorry, Nixie but your going to have to help me out here. Put your arms around my neck.”
Begrudgingly, I do. Surprisingly, Atlas is very comfortable once I let myself relax a little.
Wait, did I really just think that? Nu-uh! I can’t let myself start to actually like Atlas, even if it’s just as a person. That’ll make it ten times harder for me to do my job. I close my eyes and think of my plan and all the ways his uncle has ruined my family. That brings back the hatred.
I give Atlas a good pound on the back with my fist just to let him know I haven’t forgiven him in the slightest.
“Well, that’s gonna be a bruise. If this is what I get for helping a friend, I think I’m better off being alone my whole life.” I hear Atlas murmur underneath his breath.
I almost laugh out loud. Friends? Atlas, we are many things, but friends are not one of those things.
In, hindsight, this might not have been the best idea. But in my defense, she was sitting there acting so tough, but I could see the pain in her eyes. The next thing I knew, I was carrying her to my car while she was threatening to kill me. Spending my summer training in my uncle’s basement has definitely paid off. Nixie’s not heavy, but Astroria High is big, plus I’m taking the long way.
She’s gone silent, and from the far away look in her eyes, is lost in her thoughts. Her head is resting on my shoulder, but she’s tense, a pistol locked and loaded, ready to fire at any moment.
Upon reaching the edge of the campus, Nixie looks up at me at the same time I look down at her. Her lips part in surprise at the eye contact and I stop walking for a second, frozen in place by her subtle beauty.
“Wow,” I breathe, “Your eyes Nixie, they’re beautiful.” It was true, Her eyes are this kind of liquid gold, the color of a setting sun dancing on top of a dark ocean.
Her tan cheeks redden as she looks down, for once at a loss of a witty comeback.
****. Spoke too soon.
“We never speak of this again. You hear me?” She threatens, taking an arm from around my neck to jab me in the chest with a finger.
“Loud and clear ma’am.” I respond, flashing a smile down at her.
“Good,” she murmurs, putting her head back down on my shoulder. This time, she seems more relaxed, more vulnerable.
Ignoring the burning sensation in my arms, I pull her a little closer to me, breathing in her scent. She smells like strong vanilla, but with a metallic hint of something that I can’t quite put my finger on. A dangerous balance of light and dark, fire and ice. It fits Nixie perfectly.