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By:Amanda Lance

Raising my gun, I didn’t have any problem doing what I had to do next. Whoever it was was standing far from the overhead parking lot lights, so I was grateful for that. Even in the dark, though, I could tell it was a woman—with a shorter body and the silhouette of longer hair showing, it made me uneasy. I would never say I was a good guy or nothin’, but there wasn’t no dignity in an unfair fight, and guys hurting girls seemed nothing but unfair.

I stopped moving when I realized who it was.

Oh crap. How was I supposed to do this? I watched while she bit her lip and dug the end of her sandal into the ground. I didn’t like this to begin with, but how could I hurt somebody like her? How could anybody with half a brain or a decent bone in their body hurt somebody like her? At the same time, though, she had seen something, and I couldn’t forget that. Any hesitation I had was forgot when she started backing up and typing on her phone.

I rushed her so quick I don’t even think she heard me. Wrapping my arms around her, it took a whole second before I realized what I was doing. I had never done nothin’ this bad to a girl before, not if she didn’t deserve it, anyways. But it was too late now. I just barely covered her mouth with my hand before she opened it up to scream. I pulled her along with me, but her flighty legs kicked at me, digging into me more than once.

Just when I thought I was glad her aim wasn’t much better, she threw her head back so hard I thought maybe it broke my nose. I shook my head as the blood started to trickle out and wondered if it didn’t just make her as dizzy as it made me. Even though I was the one in pain, she started trying to scream again.

I was doing my best not to hurt her—or at least I thought I was. Yet now, I wasn’t so sure. The way she tried to shriek did something to my insides, and not just my stomach for a change. All of a sudden, just the possibility that I coulda hurt this girl made my heart beat real hard and my skin all tingly, like it was trying to crawl right off my bones. I wanted to apologize, to explain myself, but I knew that wasn’t possible.

“Shut up or I’ll kill ya.”

I could almost feel her fear coming out of her skin. She was freaking out, and I couldn’t blame her, but the fact was that I woulda happily let her go and just taken an early retirement rather than going down for murdering a civilian—somebody with family, a working stiff, with things to lose, a real person.

Still, as messed-up as it was, I really liked the feel of her bare arms and the smell of her hair. I got mad at myself right away and told myself I wasn’t one of those guys, told myself it was just the hit to the head that was making me think that way.

Damn it, Charlie. Get it together.

Wallace and Yuri argued louder, but I wasn’t sure if she heard it between her muffled screaming and the rustling pavement. Only then did I think ’bout the phone she had dropped, but when I looked back I could see pretty clear it had a crack in it, and I made a mental note to do something ’bout it the second I got the chance. We turned the corner, and I shielded her from seeing the fellas and towards one of the SUVs that wasn’t under the light. She must have realized what I was doing, ’cause she started fighting again, kicking and screaming like she really believed her life depended on it. And in all fairness, I guess it kinda did.

It was real screwed up, but I kinda wanted to laugh. I had known she was a smart girl before I had even talked to her. This reaction only proved my instincts were right all along.

I lost my laugh, though, when I felt the wetness on my hand. It took a minute for me to figure out though that the warm drops I was feeling were her tears, and then I did something else that tore me up on my insides. I imagined in my head that I’d just swallowed a razor blade, but it couldn’t be helped now. Yuri and Wallace both had already seen what I was doing, which meant sure enough, Ben would hear about it, too. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t have let her go—not really, anyways.

Wallace’s shadow ran past us, and a few seconds later he cranked the SUV to life. It was risky, but while he was opening the cargo door for me, I glanced over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of Polo trying to re-situate the dead driver back in his cab. Probably one of Yuri’s ideas. Even if somebody did find him, they mighta just thought he was another trucker trying to grab some shut-eye. Yuri was hitting himself in the head with the flashlight, and I tried to focus on that instead of the way she was heaving and sobbing—her breaths like something that was dying.

I placed her as gently as I could between some of the crates, knowing that they’d provide some leverage if we stopped short for some reason. When she tried to jump out, I felt like something the dog dragged in, like road kill in the Georgia summer sun, but I still knew it was better me for me to tie her up than anybody else. Not only would she see their faces, but they woulda been more rough with her. And being all trigger-happy, Wallace mighta just shot her right then and there. I tied her up quick and duct-taped her mouth, avoiding lookin’ into her eyes, which were all bright from crying. I could feel her looking at me, questioning me and everything else. Without saying a word, I could tell she was settlin’ into that same hate that other civilians end up feeling for me eventually. I cringed and shut the cargo door.