James arrived the next morning eager to set off grocery shopping with Amina. Heck, he was always itching to be around her no matter the time or day. With infatuation came reality, he knew things wouldn’t be easy between him and Amina, but he had made progress, which was something. She no longer freaked out when he came around and they even ate breakfast together. Sure, she temporarily hated his guts for the stunt he pulled, but alls well that ends well, right? After knocking a few times, Amina opened to let him inside. He wore that same stupid smile each and every time he saw her. He just couldn’t help it.
Amina rolled her eyes but smiled anyway, “What brings you by?”
“You need groceries. I’m fixing us pizza, hot wings and a side salad for dinner. Can’t do that if we don’t have groceries.”
“Thought you said you weren’t a chef.”
“I’m not, but I do well in the kitchen. So what do you say, care to join me?”
Amina blew a long sigh, “Let me find some shoes.” she conceded. He expected resistance but was very pleased she was willing to tag along. He watched her slip her feet into ballerina flats and made quick work of fetching her ankle length cardigan and a light scarf that he loosely wrapped around her throat.
“No, but I hope one day I will be.” Scraping up her keys from the table, she fell in behind James, who led the way. He stepped out first and held out his hand to her. Mentally psyching herself out, she repeated the mantra, “there was nothing to fear, but fear itself.” What a time for FDR’s words to surface up, but now was the time to put rubber to the road, unprovoked by another human being. Amina knew she could get her normal life back, she just had to fight for it, like she did before trauma perched on her doorstep. Inhaling deep, she straightened her body and walked forward with her chin up. Stepping out, she grabbed James’s arm and let him lock up.
Step one, complete.
Amina’s knees wanted to buckle, but come hell or high water, she wasn’t going down without a fight. Her chaperone, as she’d come to think of him, stayed quiet, probably watching and waiting for the moment to swoop her up. She would have none of it. She successfully made it to the passenger side of his truck, and he helped her inside.
Step two, finito!
Now all that was left was to get to the store and back again. She closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing as James piled behind the wheel. He took a moment to look her over then started the engine and pulled off.
“Open your eyes sweetheart.”
“No thank you.”
“Say my name again.”
Immediately Amina’s eyes popped open, “You’re a little on the wild side.”
“You have no idea. Besides, it got you to open your eyes. No matter how long I’ve been here, the sites are still beautiful. Autumn is breathtaking with its myriad of colors and scents. That’s when life begins before she’s put to sleep again. God must have an affinity for beauty.”
“If that’s true, why’d God bother creating humans?”
“So people like you and I could meet. We’d make a good couple.”
“Figures you’d say something like that. Humans are the worst thing God could have created. I actually kind of resent Him for it.”
“Everything happens for a reason. I also believe not everyone is out to hurt or misuse you. I realize that by looking at you. You’ve given me hope where it was once lost. I won’t tell you not to be pessimistic but look for the good, it’s right in front of you.”
“Right…” Not another word was spoken until they reached the grocery store. After they walked in, Amina followed James closely checking out the produce. She felt awkward poking around different vegetables and fruits, none of which she wanted. Some sported dents while others were mushy. She despised mushy apples. Holding onto the tail of his coat, she eyed the distant isle far to her left. Immediately her eyes fell on her guilty please, chocolate covered pretzels, and they were only $4.99 for a plastic tub! There was no way she could pass up such a deal and satisfy her sweet tooth. “I’m going to go over there and pick up a snack.”
“Wait, are you sure?”
“Yeah, it’s just over there.”
“Well…okay. I’ll just be down this way looking over the chicken wings.”
“I’ll be back before you know it.” Amina kept her head low, moving quickly past shoppers. Successfully at the shelf, standing on the tips of her toes, she reached up for the clear plastic tub as dark-skinned hands appeared from behind, wrapping his around the item before she secured it.
“It’s good to see you again after such a long time.” Her body went stiff as a board at the sound of his voice. All signals shot to her brain demanding her to scream and run, but she couldn’t, she was too afraid. “You hid from me well, but it was all in vain. We should finish what we started. I’ll be seeing you real soon.” Amina’s blood ran ice cold as her heart dropped to the floor, along with her body. This must be what it’s like to be a rag doll in the hands of a careless boy, the doll never knew when its head or limbs would be popped off its neck or yanked from its body. She could almost hear sinister laughing taunting her, whispering to her all her efforts of hiding were in vain, that she just prolonged the inevitable. She was going to die and she’d never see it coming.
As air rushed into her lungs, she let it out again in blood-curdling screams. Shoppers halted their carts staring at her in confusion. The sound of terror snapped James’ head around and he rushed over to a collapsed Amina.
“What’s wrong?” When he tried gathering her into his arms, she flailed and fought against his comfort. She was in fight mode as she forced him to pin her on her back, hands restrained at her side. “Amina! Amina, it’s me. Calm down, calm down sweetheart.” It took a moment to register his voice but when she did she melted into the floor, tired and weak.
“He’s going to kill me.”
“He was here, he was here!”
“Just…who was here?”
“Him,” she stressed. As he scanned around, no one looked suspicious but everyone was staring at Amina shaking their heads, some whispering while others pointed. One elderly woman walked up and surveyed a distraught Amina.
“I’m sorry dear, but aren’t you Charles Moorehouse’s daughter? You look so familiar.”
“I’m sorry ma’am, nows not a good time,” James stated.
“But she is, isn’t she?” she persistent. As the woman bent down to tap Amina on her shoulder, James blocked her contact.
“She doesn’t like strangers touching her and like I said, now is not a good time, ma’am.” The senior scrunched her nose and waltzed off throwing him a suspicious look over her shoulder. She knew that woman just had to be a Moorehouse.
“Take me home,” she commanded faintly. Somehow he got her steady on her feet, paid for the groceries and tucked her in the passenger side. Dropping the bags on the floor of the backseat, he climbed behind the wheel and headed for her home. She was out the whole ride which gave him a lot of time to think. He turned his back for a split second…he should have kept an eye on her, he mentally scolded himself. Whoever this guy was, if he thought even for a second he would harm her, he had a rude awakening coming his way. There weren’t many times in his life he allowed violence to overtake him, but his actions would be warranted.
He hadn’t noticed his hands tightening around the steering wheel or the look of murder written across his face. Adrenaline coursed through his veins and he needed something to take his frustration out on and fast. Reaching her house, he took her inside first and came back for the groceries. Locking up behind him, he strode down the hall and entered Amina’s room, removing her shoes and wrapped her cardigan about her body. Pulling the blanket up to her shoulder, he watched her a moment and felt his blood boil like mercury. What kind of bastard would even think to hurt a woman? If there was anything he hated, it was scum who thought themselves men, who abused women. If he ever got his hands on this guy, he’d end his life.
Pushing up from the bed, he left closing the door after him and returned to the kitchen to annihilate the pizza dough he was getting ready to make. Before he knew it, he’d finished the dough and went on to make a heavy bread dough he was accustomed making by memory. He ended up with five lumps of dough that he shaped carefully. Thankfully, Amina had exactly that many loaf pans or he’d have been up baking each loaf one by one. James hadn’t paid any attention to the time, but when he looked up, Amina was standing there staring at him.
“My house smells like a bakery.”
He smiled, “I know. I’m getting ready to assemble the pizza and throw the wings in the oven.”
“Can I…with the pizza?”
“Sure. More the merrier.” Amina seemed too calm like her freak out had never happened. Walking over, she tucked herself between him and the counter as she plopped the sauce over the dough and he topped.
After the long silence, she said, “I want you to teach me how to fight.” Amina looked up at his grim face and repeated, “teach me how to defend myself.”
“If I do that, I won’t take it easy on you because your attacker won’t take it easy on you. He or she will resort to any tactic to maim you, or worse.”
“Okay, so teach me then.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“It is. I won’t be a victim anymore. I can toughen up. I can take anything you throw at me.”
“You say that now, but what will you do when I back you into a corner? What are you going to do when I pin you on your back?”
“Easier said that done. You won’t know what you’ll do until you’re locked into that situation.”
“I’ll be okay because you’ll be teaching me.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if I took care of this guy?”
“Who is he?”
“I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“It’s not me who you should be worried about. Who. Is. He?”
Amina turned away and fiddled with the toppings, “Just teach me, okay?”
“You’re really going to do this? Seriously, Amina?”
“I am. I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“You don’t get to use me and then push me away. Friendships, relationships don’t work like that.”
“I’m not pushing you away. Why can’t you see my side?”
“You don’t have a side,” he bellowed. “Not when your life is in danger. I’m supposed to protect you. I’m the man, not you.”
“You have such archaic thinking. If you don’t want to teach me, fine, I’ll do it myself!” As she stomped off, she left him wondering, since when had it become okay for a woman to throw herself on the frontline? He rejected the notion his reasoning was left in the Stone Age and he couldn’t believe she had just argued with him over something as important as her safety. Despite their argument, he couldn’t just leave her defenseless. Amina had him over a barrel and he knew it. He hated when women did that. James slid the pizza and wings in the over until they cooked through then tossed the meat in buffalo sauce and covered each dish with foil.
He went in search for Amina but found her room empty, so he scoured through the rest of the house, but no luck. Then it hit him, the only place she could be was in the basement. Sure enough, he found her there, pitifully hitting the punching bag. She even changed into proper gear but did a horrible job wrapped her hands.
“That is the worst job I’ve seen someone wrap their hands and your jab is sloppy.”
“You need me, woman.”
“I don’t need your help, I can figure things out on my own.”
“Not a chance. First, let me fix your wraps. Come here.” Ignoring him, she kept punching the bag. He yanked her close and ordered her to stay still. “You’ll injure your wrists if you don’t correct your form. By the time I’m done with you, you’ll be able to be any person like Cris Cyborg beat Gina Carano.”
“Never mind. Okay, wraps secured. How does that feel?”
“A little tight.”
“Good.” James showed her the basic stance then adjusted her footing nearly causing her to lose her balance. “Keep your core tight. Helps with stability.” He held his hands up and instructed her to jab the palms of his hands.
“Watch your form and don’t tuck your thumb into your fist, that’s a good way to break it. Okay, try again.” Things were progressing faster than he expected. Amina was a fast learner and it was time to turn things up a notch. James tripped her and she landed on her hands.
“Why did you do that?” she asked aggravated.
“Told you to expect the unexpected.”
“Do you think you’re funny?”
“I’m not laughing.” If she were a cartoon character, fumes of smoke would have blasted from her ears the way she came at him. She was pissed and rightfully so but she was making every rookie mistake that could get her killed. She couldn’t land a blow no matter how hard she tried so she did the next best thing, threw something, and by something, she chucked a small medicine ball at him.
“How do you like that?”
“Are you nuts?”
“Payback’s a mother, isn’t it?”
A broad smile spread over his face, “Fiesty are we? Come over here so I can teach you a lesson.”
Next chapter here, Rocking the Boat