Vradin, Chapter Eleven

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Carl managed to persuade all of the Garcia sisters to join him at the movies, and got them to gang up on me to join them by mentioning that I had been cleaning the oven when he arrived. Jody drove us to the theater, with Carl taking his own ride. As a construction foreman, it was hardly surprising that he drove a truck about as big as he was, and unlike most of the rednecks out of Roy, he actually knew how to handle the rig in city traffic and park without taking over three parking spots. That even managed to impress Melissa, but she quickly blew it off.

I was still grumbling about the betrayal as we walked toward the theater.

“What was that, sugar pie?” Carl teased. “But I thought you said Jody would agree that you were perfectly sane for exerting yourself before the doctor cleared you.” The sisters and Carl were in a great mood, a lot of laughing going on.

I don’t know why I was having a hard time joining in, but I was bound and determined not to be a wet blanket. I mean, yeah, the guys always went for Jody, and I certainly wasn’t feeling all angsty over Carl. But, well, the guys always went for Jody, and I hadn’t even been kissed. I guess I was feeling a little conflicted. I was totally happy to see Jody arm in arm with Carl; but I was also feeling a little lonely without someone special of my own to hold hands with. Like Tank, but really, he wasn’t interested, so … yeah.

Carl and Jody left us for a moment to go pick up tickets for Anna Marie and Melissa. The two sisters both turned to me and hugged me.

“What was that about?” I asked.

“Welcome to the sisterhood,” Melissa said.

“Huh?” I felt stupid.

Anna Marie mussed my hair. “The sisterhood of Jody’s shadow. It’s a premo sisterhood, but, yeah, you never want exactly what our sister reels in, but something like sure sounds great.”

“She’s one of the bright ones,” Melissa said, a trace of sadness in her voice. “I’m just hoping she manages to tone down her light before she’s all burnt out.”

I started to draw breath to deny it, but something danced across my nerves, sending me a full body shiver of heightened awareness. It was a truly disturbing feeling.

I looked around, creeped out, and found to my further disturbance a lean young man with pale skin, decked out in industrial goth thread, staring at us like we were the dancing red dot of a laser pointer and he the cat about to pounce.

He smiled at me and started our way.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when a hot hand landed on my shoulder. Tank was talking before I could turn to face him. “Wow, sorry for startling you. What’s got- huh.”

I stepped in between Anna Marie and Melissa, turned so I could see both Tank and the goth guy. The two men were staring at each other, neither looking very happy. Tank said to us, “You ladies might want to find your escorts, or at least head on into the theater.” He sounded scary mean, but for once, that was actually kind of reassuring.

“Let’s go find Carl,” I said, grabbing Jody’s sister’s hands and nearly hauling us toward the ticket line.

Carl saw us coming and he went still in that scary way that had first freaked me out about Tank. Again, strangely enough, it made me feel a lot better.

“What happened, sugar?” Jody asked. “That jerk Anthony isn’t here, is he?”

“What? No, just–”

Melissa broke in. “I, for one, would love an explanation.”

“You saw goth guy, right?” I asked.

“Skinny little freak with the piercings and fake teeth?” Anna Marie confirmed.

I nodded a little too hard. Melissa scowled and shook her head. “Serious creep factor, started walking our way?” I prompted

“I saw a creepy little twerp, but I want to know about the fella that made you jump out of your skin,” she said.

I waved that away. “I wouldn’t have jumped about Tank if the creepy guy wasn’t sending out psycho waves like a reject from a Halloween horror show.”

Carl interjected, “Tank’s here? I thought he wasn’t going to make it.”

I shrugged. “Dunno, didn’t have time to ask. He decided to talk with creepy goth guy, I guess, and suggested we leave, which sounded super reasonable to me, at least.”

Jody raised her eyebrows and asked, with sugary concern, “You feeling mousy, honey?”

“Squeak! Squeak! Call me coward and I won’t deny it.”

She sighed and shook her head, but gave me a hug. “I think you’re the first black belt karate kid wanna be I ever met that’s scared of strangers.”

“Oh, shove off, already!” I laughed, like she wanted me to. “I never should have told you about that.”

Carl asked, “What? You want to learn karate?”

The Garcia sisters started laughing. I shrugged, blushing. “My dad teaches mixed martial arts. Instructor’s kid. I didn’t have a choice about learning. Which,” I added, addressing Jody. “is also how I know full well how easily a guy my size can face plant me. Jody, I’m five foot three and a hundred twenty pounds soaking wet. There aren’t a lot of guys my size.”

Melissa “Um-hmmed” at that, setting off Jody and Anna Marie, which made Melissa roll her eyes. The normalcy made me feel a little embarrassed at how easily I spooked, but also skimmed off the worst of my nerves.

I was able to smile at Tank when he joined up with us in the lobby. Damn, but he looked good in a pair of relaxed fit jeans and a black T-shirt under his biker jacket. The blue glasses he had been wearing at Pike Place Market were perched on his head.

Carl asked, “Problem?”

Tank shook his head. “Just a small time tick.” Turning to us, he smiled and said, “Carl mentioned trying to talk you into the movies tonight, what with his crew being called up without him and all, but I didn’t think he’d manage. I’m glad to see I was wrong. You doing okay, Zoe?”

Carl answered, “Good enough to clean the ove- Hey, you’re wrinkling my shirt, Ms. Lethal Weapon!”

I blushed at that, which was probably just desserts for smacking him across the belly. “I am not a lethal weapon!” I groused.

Tank raised his eyebrows, but saved his comments for later. “Jody, a pleasure to see you, again. And who might these lovely ladies with you be?”

Jody made the introductions, and Tank managed to be charming enough to get a pursed lipped, flat lidded stare from Melissa and a giggle from Anna Marie.

“Don’t mind sour puss over here. Jody has all the fun, and Melissa has all the antacids,” Anna Marie said, putting some flirt in the smile she gave Tank.

I was not feeling in the sisterhood at that moment. In fact, I may have joined Melissa in giving Anna Marie a reproving glare. I’m not saying I did, but I did want to.

Jody, being the absolute best friend in the universe, managed to sink an elbow in Anna Marie’s side for me. Through the faster than thought silent language of sisters, she also managed to make it quite obvious that she thought I had first dibs on Tank. I doubt the guys missed it, but they were kind enough to ignore it.

Carl asked, “Who’s up for popcorn?” and set off to the concession stand with orders. Tank escorted us into the theater and watched with a kind of fond tolerance as we settled into our seats with, I must confess, a fair amount of bickering and back and forth. Somehow instead of being in the middle like I planned, I ended up on the end next to Melissa. Anna Marie and Jody had the other side of our group, with Jody holding a seat for Carl.

I expected Tank to sit on the opposite side of his friend, but instead he plopped down next to me.

We were a chatty enough group — well, no, Jody and Anna Marie were chatty enough — that we got a few stares from the other movie goers, but we had arrived about the time they were opening the theater for seating and I was hoping they would calm down by the time the lights dimmed.

Carl joined us about that time, something about the lines being filled with suckers. I didn’t catch what he said for sure, but it made Tank frown and shift in his seat beside me.

I was being very quiet, in part because my lady bits were being very loud. There was a smell unique to Tank that made me think of that old movie with the unicorn, and Tom Cruise and Tim Curry, and the forest scene when the unicorn is brought back to life. The smell was like golden magic spilling into cedar and fern and pine and peat moss. Being surrounded by the scent of him after a few days was like having gone cold turkey on coffee and caffeine of any kind for a year and then slamming down a triple shot espresso.

My palms were even sweating on me. I mean, how freaking high school was that? Okay, so my nipples were near to painfully erect and my girl parts were very aware of the lace on my panties, but those are adult reactions, you know? Sweaty palms? I felt very gauche and immature.

The previews were starting up when Tank stretched his arm along the back of my seat. I felt like I was in danger of spontaneous combustion, right then and there. I’m not even sure what the previews were supposed to be about, but I think a few drew long “oohs” from Melissa, which meant they were for some high suspense flick. She’s addicted to what she calls “truly scary movies”.

Personally, I prefer cartoons and high fantasy. There are pitifully few sci fi movies that live up to the written genre, but the special effects on the big ticket movies are usually worth the price of admission. Thrillers and horror flicks, I usually pass on them because I hate being scared.

And then Tank leaned over and whispered in my ear, his breath sending delightful chills down my spine, “If you’re cold, I’d be happy to be your heater.”

I think I had a mini-gasm right then and there. I squeaked, “I’m fine,” and nearly passed out from embarrassment when my voice carried far enough to turn Jody’s head in our direction.

The amusement in his voice was clear, but I had a hard time being upset about it when more of his hot breath tickled my ear and the side of my neck. “Are you sure?”

I nodded, not trusting my voice at that point.

“If you’re sure,” he said, his lips brushing my ear. Holy-hells bells! I mean, I heard the ladies I worked with talking about what they liked their men to do with them in private (and some in public), but I had never imagined my ears could be such a short circuit to my lady parts.

“But if you change your mind, I’m right here,” he finished.

Like I needed to be reminded of that.

I’ll be honest. I have no clue what the movie was about. The only part I really remember was a sex scene near the end, and all I could think about through it was to wonder if Tank’s ass had a tan line like the actor’s, if it was as firm and tight, and what it would feel like to have Tank’s lips running over my breasts and belly.

Of course, the man had to lean over and damn near keep up a running monologue about whatever the hell was going on in front of us. His voice, in a quiet sotto voce murmur, kept my eyes crossed and my mental focus on him.

I was lit up like the fourth of July with lust by the time the credits rolled, and too damn mousy to do anything about it. My shame factor was on the rise, right with my libido.

I was never so grateful for Melissa’s prudery as when she turned down Carl and Tank’s offer to take us out for drinks.

“I have to work tomorrow, and Zoe and Anna Marie are under age, and I am not going to be a party to sneaking them past the bouncers,” she declared, one hand resting on her hip.

Anna Marie, with a twinkle in her eye, added, “And look at poor Zoe! I’m sure the poor dear could use a lie down.”

That comment prompted an image of Tank laying down next to me, maybe as bare-assed nekkid as Johnny WhatsHisName from the movie we just saw. That mental picture did not help my balance. Lucky me, Tank caught me before I could face plant in the ground.

Yeah. Lucky me. Sweaty palms, cracking voice, and the grace of a drunken bull in a china shop.

He pulled me around so that we were front to front and tipped my head up to the light. The bright yellow glare against the cloud dark night sky was like getting jabbed with a knitting needle straight into my brain, and I swayed as the migraine crashed down over me.

A concerned look carved furrows in Tank’s cheeks. “Maybe we should get you home. You’re looking a bit feverish. How’s your head doing?”

I put my hand up to his wrist and held on, closing my eyes. “Migraine,” I managed to get out.

“Where does it hurt?” he asked.

I pointed to the general vicinity of my eyeballs.

“Griswald!” someone called out, and Tank jerked me closer, the feel of his body next to mine morphing from muscled hardness to iron.

“Fuck damn,” he growled under his breath, but I was close enough to hear him. Louder, and directed over my head, he said, “Malcolm, how unpleasant to see you here.”

After a slight pause, an urbane voice answered him. “It’s not like you own the theater complex, Griswald. I was particularly upset to hear-”

“Give me an excuse, Malcolm. Any will do.” There was a growl in Tank’s voice that made the hair on the back of my neck rise. I slid my face out of Tank’s grasp and tucked in closer to his chest, breathing in that magic smell and mentally chanting my “In peace, out stress” mantra.

I can have a hard time focusing right when a migraine hits, and it felt like the sound of Tank’s heart beat just suddenly filled my hearing. While each pulse came with a tensing and a pulsing of my head pain on the “dub” side of the beat, there was also the receding of the pain in the “lub” side of it, and it seemed to me that with each “lub” the overall strength of my migraine drained away. It was beautiful.

“I see the rumors are true. It’ll be … interesting to see if you’ve found the damnation you deserve,” the voice Tank called Malcolm said.

I don’t really know why I did it, but I blame the concussion, the migraine, and that weird whine in his tone. Without lifting my head off Tank’s chest, I raised my hand and gave the voice a one finger salute.

Carl snorted back a laugh. Melissa moaned and tisked. I don’t know what Jody or Anna Marie did in reaction. Tank wrapped his hand around mine and pulled it up to his chest, beside my head. He said, “I think you’ve managed to offend the lady, and her patience is thin right now. If she asks me to kick your ass, I’m afraid I’ll have to oblige her. You do understand, don’t you? Perhaps it would be best — for you — if you just go back to minding your own business for a time now.”

The urbane voice turned pissy. “That was not well done of you.”

I leaned back, trusting that Tank would not let me lean too far back, and asked, “How much do you want me to tell you to go kick his ass?”

He grinned the kind of feral grin that my father had always wanted to see on my face at the thought of a fight.

There was a condescending sniff from behind me, but I could tell by the way Tank’s eyes tracked him that this Malcolm was departing.

“Tomorrow, or maybe … What day is it today? Whatever. You’re going to tell me something about what that was about. But not now. Now is bed time.”

It was a little longer than a day or two before I got that something.