• 8 •
– Anna’s POV –
Fighting to me is more than just throwing fists and tossing kicks to the groin and shoving knees into guts. It represents strength and symbolizes independence. You know how to take care of yourself, and others (violently) if needed.
When the services told me that they wanted me to start self-defense training, I was just angry. For one, I don’t like taking orders from people. And two, I wasn’t exactly the athletic type after being locked in a basement for most of my childhood. I didn’t even know what a basketball was when psychiatrists asked me.
It didn’t take them long to realize I was just mentally damaged, sending me off to this mental health institution in Florida. It took a year to “heal” me, but I was never really healed.
Actually, all I did was watch the behavior of the others that got to leave, and then manipulated my own actions to sort of mimic theirs. I wanted out, so I acted sane. Truth is, I’m still pretty messed up. Bad.
Anyway, after I got out of the institution, I was required to go to training. After training, I was required to workout at least twice a week, which is why I am currently in the gym, doing all sorts of planks.
My whole body shakes, and I release a groan, collapsing in relief when the timer runs out of the three minute mark. I roll over on my back, breathing hard with one arm laid across my forehead.
Someone chuckles next to me. “Aiden picked a strong one.”
I flinch and sit up, eyes locking into the direction of the voice. I roll my eyes when I see its Nico standing above me, leaning against the wall. He’s dressed in basketball shorts, no shirt, and has on a pair of sneakers. Bluetooth headphones rest around his neck. There’s no sweat coated on any area of him, so he either is being lazy and not doing much, or has just arrived.
I want to tell him to f*** off, ask how he found me, ask why he’s talking to me, and also inform him that Aiden did not simply “pick” me. If he had the option, I definitely wouldn’t be the first choice. I probably wouldn’t even make the top ten.
“What are you doing here…and how do you have such killer abs?” Nico asks when I don’t greet him, eyebrows risen in shock.
I roll my silver orbs again and stand, wincing as I do so. I went a bit rigorous on my workout today, trying to forget about the fact that my tattoo isn’t burning anymore. I was trying to distract myself from the pain thirty-five hours ago. Now I’m just doing the exact opposite.
“What are you doing here?” I counter, ignoring his comment about my torso. I wasn’t embarrassed or anything, since I know Hayley and Nico are meant for each other.
He gestures around to the gym. “I came here to work out, obviously. But then I saw you, the new shiny toy…and also my pal’s soul-“
“Don’t even say it,” I growl, stopping him from using the term. I’m not – and will probably never be – ready to accept the reality of this situation.
“What? Soulmate?” Nico asks, giving me a quizzical look. “Why not?”
He chuckles, seemingly amused. “I can see why the universe has paired you together.”
I cross my arms. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you’re both stubborn as hell and as guarded as the Krusty Krab’s secret formula,” he laughs.
I roll my eyes. “I don’t like people.”
“That’s too bad.” Nico pouts. “I really like you. I actually approve of you and my buddy.”
I scoff. He approves? Who does he think he is? He isn’t some higher authority that gets to decide everything for his best friend. It’s not up to him. I doubt Aiden Foster needs his approval.
I force myself to resist the urge to shake my head at my inner thoughts. I was thinking like I was angry at Nico for saying we can’t be together. But I’m not. Because I don’t want to be with him myself.
My tactics to avoid him is to do simply that: avoid him. I’ll ignore him, leave class before he can spot me, and hide behind a bush or whatever is nearby if needed. He hasn’t tried to approach me yet. I didn’t even know if he discovered we are matched. But now that Nico has said it, Aiden must’ve told him.
“Whatever,” I mumble. “Just don’t go saying anything about it at that school. I do not appraise attention.”
He puts his hands up in defense. “Hey, I won’t say anything. But if you’re with Aiden, then you’re bound to have attention drawn to you, shortie. It’s only natural. I’m a guy, but I’m also his best bud, so I can say that he’s got a fiercely foxy face. It’ll happen without rumors spread.” He shrugs.
I tighten my jaw and clench my teeth together. I know he’s right. The pretty ones always get the attention. The rich ones always get the attention. And if I were to stand by his side, then that attention would be partially directed at me too. It’s the exact thing I don’t need.
I glance around Nico’s face and body. He looks pretty well-defined. His muscles do. But he doesn’t look as if he comes to the gym faithfully. My eyes narrow at the thought.
“How many times do you attend the gym a week, Nico?” I ask spitefully.
“Uh…like once or twice.”
“Oh really?” Doubt, and a tone that says: “Is that the best lie you could come up with?” laces my voice. “And how long have you been doing that?”
Nico’s eyes shift to the left before looking at me again, squirming under my interrogation. “Um-I- about a year.”
I roll my eyes. “In order for that to be true, your muscle mass would have to at least look to be-“
“Okay! Okay! Don’t go science on me right now, alright?” Nico groans. I cross my arms. “I just got out of school and have heard enough of that. I just wanted to go home and chill with my girlfriend while slouching around and playing video games and eating chips and-“
“Then why are you here?”
“Because Aiden asked me to follow you,” he admits sheepishly with a sigh. “He knows you are trying to prevent any conversation between you two.”
“And you listened to him like he’s your boss?” I scoff.
Who is he to stalk me like that? I don’t even know him! I only arrived last week, for God’s sake! He looks like he’s nothing but an as***** with good looks and observing skills. Other than that, he must be stupid and trouble-making. And that’s something I try to avoid. Because if I get caught – or once again, drawn attention to – then my father could find me. That is, if he’s still looking for me.
Nico shrugs. “He is my boss. I work for him.”
I raise a brow. “In high school?”
He chuckles, eyes twinkling. “You’d be surprised by what a money-maker Aiden Foster is. He’s another person outside of high school, shortie.”
I’m going to murder him if he keeps calling me shortie.
Nico shrugs. “I guess he’s in the same body. But when he’s around our kind of people, he’s got a completely different personality.”
“Our kind of people?”
Nico sighs. “Look, Anna. If you have all these questions, then go talk to him about it. You’re going to have to anyway. So just stop running away from your problems and deal with it. I can’t tell you things that aren’t mine to share.” Then he pauses. “Also, do it quick because I don’t want to keep following you around. I’m not what you call a person who enjoys walking…or any form of physical movement in that case.”
I roll my eyes. That’s what I call lazy.
Nico waves and then turns around, heading out of the gym, and in turn, leaving me in my sweat and aching muscles.
What kind of person is Aiden then? From what I can see, he’s just a wannabe troublemaker from all of those movies I used to watch locked in that basement. All he does is cause chaos.
I almost vomit when I think about the parts of those movies where the guy actually turns out to be a baddie with a warm heart. And according to Dr. Sloan, her son does have a warm heart. How cheesy would that be if that’s how it played out? It would be awful.
But this is real life, and it’s much worse. It’s not full of fairytales and happy endings. There are no bad guys with good hearts. I mean, ever heard of the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words?” If he does bad things, like I imagine Nico is implying, then he’s most likely a bad person too. Outside and in.
Besides, if I ever so happened to lose my common sense and gave into him (or vice versa, not that I would be trying to make him give in anyway though), then I’d be right back into pain and unhappiness. The worst kind.
What if he turned out to be abusive like my father? What if he hits me? What if he rapes me? What if he tries to lock me in a room forever and never let me escape, only serving me food and water just as I am about to die?
It’s possible. I would know.
Regardless of these feelings, I know I have to go and speak with him- but for completely alternate reasons in case anyone is thinking that I want to begin “bonding” with him or whatever the hell people who love each other do. I wouldn’t understand what they do.
I am going to have to talk to him about leaving me alone. Keeping our distance is key. I’ll tell him I need space for my own reasons and that attention is the last thing on the planet that I need right now. I’ll tell him that us being together can’t happen, even if God, the universe, and Buddha are all saying we must. I don’t care what any of them say. Because every time I obeyed someone in the past, every time I listened to someone’s advice or guidance, it was trickery to get me into some sort of emotional pain and torment. It was evil.
There can only be a tyrannical relationship when paired with a disobedient, terrifying, infuriating boy.
And Aiden Foster would be the tyrant.
This is slow-building, but you gotta understand the plot here. It’ll take time. I like to be more realistic than most authors do. They like to rush things. But believe me from experience, that people in general take time. Life takes time, unfortunately.