– II –
“You got a light?”
Yanking her from the safety of her own world, Tara stumbled a bit in haste as she attempted to put space between herself and the owner of the voice, who stood close behind her… too close. Tara shook her head, tugging one earbud from her ear in effort to keep David with her and her voice calm. “I-I’m sorry. I don’t—I don’t smoke.”
The man laughed, the sound thick with menace. “I scare ya?” He loomed over her, intentionally stepping forward, into her personal space.
Tara retreated a second time, but this time her back hit a chest and hands fell to her hips, clamping tight, holding her fast. She struggled, lashing out with her fists, receiving a slap across the face for her efforts. The sting startled her into momentary stillness and she tried to determine what her next move should be. Bare seconds passed, but it only took seconds for the men to force her into the alleyway beside the tattoo parlor, and cold steel touched her throat.
Is this really happening? Am I really—
Fabric ripping alerted her to the sudden reality rapidly becoming her own. Her eyes darted up to the man pinning her body against the rough brick wall. His knife created a shallow cut down her chest, the blade breaking the front clasp of her bra. The loss of her clothing snapped her into a terrifying awareness.
Setting her jaw, Tara inhaled sharply and slid one hand over the outside of the arm barring her escape, fingers catching the inside of his elbow. Without a second thought, Tara took her other hand to the man’s jaw. Yanking his arm inward and rotating his head sent his back hard to the wall… and the knife skittering across the alley floor.
“HEY!” The man’s partner—he’d stayed close to the alley’s mouth to keep watch—ran at her and Tara tried to sidestep him, but he managed to get a hold of her arm. A frightened shriek tore from her lips as she allowed herself to be whirled around and, fear fueling her, she made a fist and yanked her arm up towards her chest. Stronger than her, the man laughed at her and squeezed, heightening her anxiety, and when Tara brought her free hand down to shove his wrist and free herself, the force of the blow she dealt broke something beneath the skin.
Howling, the man went down, curling around his arm, but movement at the wall spurred her into motion once more. Her eyes caught the gleam of metal in the dim light of the alley, and she ran towards it. Tara dove for it, but a heavy body landed on top of her, knocking the air from her. She closed her fingers around the handle as she rolled, swinging the blade in a desperate arc to slam it hard into the man’s neck. Hot blood spurted across her face and she shouted, pushing him off of her and scooting backwards on her ass until her back hit the side of the green metal dumpster.
Mina’s voice shocked Tara out of fight or flight mode. Tara curled up into a ball, wrapping her arms around her knees as she began to shake. Lifting her gaze to Mina’s horrified countenance, Tara stammered, “He-He was going to—He h-h-hurt me!”
“I know, baby, I know—”
Tara felt tears slipping down her cheeks and she turned away. Unintentionally, Tara found herself faced with the sudden end of her attack: a man laid face down in a pool of his own blood, his eyes open and sightless. Her lower lip trembled and she turned back to Mina. “I killed him.”
“Baby, you—“ Mina broke off to answer a call Tara didn’t realized she’d initiated. “I need help. My girlfriend was attacked outside of Tigger’s Body Art. We need an ambulance, her attacker had a knife.”
“He hurt me!” Tara shouted. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“I know, baby. I know—yes, she’s hurt. Yes, she stopped him… with his own knife. Please, send someone!”
Tara heard sirens and her wild eyes watched the mouth of the alley. “I didn’t do anything wrong!”
Mina wrapped her arms around Tara’s form. “I know. I know. Baby, I know.” Her lips pressed a kiss to Tara’s hair. “It’s going to be okay, baby. You’re going to be okay. God, I don’t know what I’d do without you—yes, we’ll stay on the line until they get here.”
Tara stared off into the distance; she didn’t listen to the doctor speaking with Mina. Apparently, the cut spanning her neck and upper chest had been deeper than she’d realized and the doctor had stapled it closed. After investigating the crime scene and surrounding area, the police had not charged her. The man who’d attacked her had died, and the police had found the lookout. His confession confirmed her story.
Mina slid a hand over her cheek. “Hey beautiful, the doctor says we can take you home if you feel up to it.”
“I want to go home.” Tara exhaled a shaky breath. “I don’t want to be here. I remember here and I hate it. I hate it. I just want to go home. Mina, please—”
Mina smiled at her, her eyes shining with tears as she nodded. “We’ll go home.”
Tara jolted awake, bolting from the bed to stumble down the hall to the bathroom. Her heart pounded hard in her chest as she slammed the door closed and locked it. Sliding down the door, she tried hard to regulate her breathing in the cool darkness of the small room.
Please don’t please don’t please don’t please don’t—
A quiet knock came on the other side of the thin wood. “It’s me, baby. Tara, it’s me. It’s Mina. Let me in.”
She’s not real. She’s not real. Mina’s not real. They probably—
Another knock, this one a tiny bit louder and with enough force to be felt through the door. Tara shifted to press her cheek to the cool surface of the wall, scooting on her bottom away from the door. Tugging her knees to her chest, she reached up and worked the lock on the doorknob. Her eyes widened as she watched the door swing inwards to reveal Mina’s patient countenance. Tears slipped down both their cheeks as Tara whispered, “Are you real?”
Mina edged closer… closer… reaching a hand out to push Tara’s tousled hair over the shell of her right ear. “I’m real, sweetie. I promise.”
“If you were a delusion, do you think you’d promise me you were real?”
“I suppose I would, because I want you to see me as hope.” Mina’s full lips spread in a tender smile and she twirled the blue ends of Tara’s hair around her fingertips. “I’m really here, though, babe. I promise.”
Tara considered Mina’s answer for a long moment before asking, “Did you get a hold of my parents?”
“I did, yes.” Mina cupped Tara’s cheek, and Tara realized she’d been relocated to her girlfriend’s lap. “They’re already here, remember? They’re in the office, asleep on the daybed.”
“I didn’t—I must’ve—”
Mina pressed a gentle kiss to Tara’s mouth. “You were pretty out of it. Your mother is talking to your doctor about the scrips.”
Mina nodded. “I know how you feel about them, but both your mom and your doctor think they’ll help to calm you, maybe even keep the nightmares away until your mind can process—”
“What do you think? You’re my filter—you know me better than—” Tara felt her throat tighten and her face screwed up as she turned it away, leaning her forehead to Mina’s shoulder. “I don’t know—I—Mina, I—Mina—”
“No, sweetie. No. I will not let you do this to yourself. You lived. You lived.” Mina brought both her hands up to frame Tara’s face. “You did that on your own. You didn’t let them take you. You fought back and I—” Her smile stretched wide across her lips. “Baby, I am so proud of you.”
“But I killed—”
Mina shook her head. “No, Tara. No, you acted out of self-preservation. That is entirely different. Self-defense is not murder.” Mina kissed her mouth a second time. “You wanted to live, so you did!”