Saturday, August 13, 2016

Frenzy: The Knight After (Part V)

I can hear movement in the room with me, but it’s dark and there are lot of crusties in my eyes. I calmly but with likely a lot of fear in my voice ask, “where am I?”
“You’re in my apartment,” a voice answers.
“Not the hospital,” I half-state, half-ask.
“Not in the hospital, no.”
“Why am I not in a hospital?”
“Well, because...” he trails off.
“Because what?”
“How old are you?”
“Old enough to know how to call the cops.”
“I’m not here to hurt you. You were already hurt. I dragged you out of the rain and tended to your wounds.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“Everyone thinks doctors are the only ones who treat patients. Well, ya know what? Doctors barely do anything. Nurses are the ones who do the real work. Doctors breeze in, ask a few questions, scribble on your chart, and then go play golf.”
“’re a nurse?”
He sighs. “No, I was a scout. I know how to treat a basic head injury. I didn’t think you wanted to go to a hospital because that’s not what we usually do.”
“Who’s we?”
“Never mind that.”
“Creep factor is heading towards eleven.”
“I told you that I’m not going to hurt you.”
“That’s often what people say before they hurt you.”
“Have a lot of experience?”
“Could you please turn on the light?” I ask. Your shadow is freaking me out.”
“Thistle, turn the lights on,” he orders his home system. Oh my God, he’s hot. He must be at least five years older than me, but it’s like this love at first sight thing. He has smooth skin and cool brown eyes. His hair goes down to his shoulders, and it’s this interesting grayish tone that I can’t tell if it’s natural or fake. He’s medium build, muscular but not disgustingly ripped. If I had to describe the perfect man, I would probably just give you this guy’s name, if I knew it. He smiles kindly at me. “Hello again.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Never mind.”
“You say that a lot.”
“Do I? You must remember me from another life.”
What an odd thing to say. “What time is it?”
“Almost six. If there’s a silver lining in this,” he says and all I can think about is his hair. “’s that you actually managed to get some sleep. It was foolish of you to be outside that late, in the rain, with those stupid fucking goggles on.”
“Whoa,” I reply. “Don’t hate on the goggles, this wasn’t there fault.” He looks at me like I’m trippin’. “Okay, maybe it was.”
He nods like a teacher with a student who finally “gets it”. Then he stands up and starts walking toward the kitchen. “You better eat some carbs so you don’t fall again during the actual race today.”
Now I’m freaked out again, but...but those eyes, doe. “How do you know I’m in a race?”
“You’re famous,” he says. “Turn on all screens.” The entire bedroom area of the studio apartment turns into an immersive video experience. I had been wondering why the walls were completely bare. They’re not walls at all, just giant screens. We’re currently looking at two beautiful sceneries: a beach at sunrise, and a time lapse recording of autumn leaves falling from a forest of trees. A weather card and other widgets float around, along with a muted news feed about the Frenzy.
“Could you turn that up?”
“Unmute,” he commands.
The news anchor is in the middle of her story, “...witnesses say that Mr. Demir was able to return home shortly after the incident, and it has not been reported that he will not be able to run. Mr. Kaveda on the other hand, suffered too serious of damage to compete. He was unable to speak with us, but his family laments the unfortunate turn of events since this will be Mr. Kaveda’s last chance to win the Frenzy before aging out near the end of November. This comes on the heels of shocking news that dozens of other racers were automatically disqualified from this year’s event due to the recent strange weather in the area. Speaking of which, Maggie Nimbus, what do you have to say about this weather?
“Mute,” my sexy nurse commands before the weather woman can go into her spiel about why she has no clue what the hell is going on.
“Braxton can’t run,” I say, mostly to myself.
“You were lucky. I saw the Gauntlet run.”
“So you’re a fan?”
“Of the race? Yes,” he answers, presumably fearful that I might be referring to a possible fanboy crush he has on me. “I hate running, but I admire the athleticism, so I live vicariously through you. I’m 24, so it’s only recently occurred to me that there might be a...creep factor to that.” He takes a sip from his tea.
I put my tail between my legs. “I’m sorry about that. I appreciate you taking care of me. I don’t have a medical alert chip in my arm, so I probably would have died out there alone. How could I ever thank you...?” I trail off, indicating that he should give me his name.
“I’m—” he stops himself like a stripper forgetting that she’s not supposed to give out her real information. “Everybody just calls me Ace.”
“I’m not everybody. I’m famous.”
“ can call me Ace.”
“Very well, Ace.” This flirting is either going really well or I’m barking up the wrong tree and he’s just a pleasant social creature.
“Come on. My world famous quiche is almost done. You’ll regret it if you miss your opportunity to try it.”
I get out of the bed to find that I’m wearing nothing but a pair of briefs. That’s all I ever wear because they’re better to run in, but these are not mine. They’re not even my brand. “Uh...” is all I can say.
“Oh, sorry about that. Yeah, the creep factor is a thousand now. But you were wearing all wet clothes. I couldn’t let you keep those on.”
I don’t know what to say to him next. I feel fortunate that he treated me medically; but it’s also weird that he had to remove my clothes without permission; but I suppose if anyone’s going to take my clothes off, I would want it to be someone who looks like this guy; but I wouldn’t have wanted him to see me like that when I haven’t had time to, uh...get ready? “Thanksssss.” Stop saying the letter s, idiot! Jesus!
“I have some extra clothes in my dresser.”
As he’s putting the final touches on his supposedly amazing quiche, I open his drawers, looking for something that works. The top drawer has briefs, just like the ones he gave me, but the drawer after that is full of boxers. Most people choose one or the other, so unless he’s weirder than I thought, there’s someone else. “Do you have a roommate?”
He drops the fork he was using to test the taste of his dish. “What?”
I look down at the bed I had been sleeping in. “This is a pretty big bed for just one guy.”
“I...” he trails off again. He does that a lot too. It’s like he thinks he’s talking to someone he already knows well, and then has to remember that I’m a stranger, and adjust his words accordingly. “He’s gone.”
“I’m sorry. Bad breakup?”
“It was necessary,” Ace explains. “He’s about to go live abroad for four years.”
“You couldn’t follow him?”
He takes another fork out of the dishwasher. “Not where he’s going.”
“I’m sorry.”
“He’ll come back,” he says. “The most important people in your life will always come back, sometimes at unexpected times, but they’ll be there for you when you really need them.”
“That’s beautiful.” My phone goes off. “Crap, my mom’s calling.” I let it continue to ring, because if I tap the ignore button, she’ll know something’s up. When it’s done, I grab it. “Call Keilix,” I command it, and wait for the call to go through. “Keilix, you up?—Well, that’s good. Listen, you need to back me up if my mom asks whether I stayed with you last night.—I was doing a dry run and couldn’t get back in the rain, so I slept at a bus stop.—I know it’s dangerous, but I’m fine, would you just do this for me?—Okay, I didn’t mean to doubt you, but I’m just gonna tell her that we were studying.—Love you too.”
“You’re a really good liar,” Ace points out.
“No,” I counter. “I’m just a teenager.”
Mom accepts the lie without too many questions, especially because of Alim. Now he’s a good liar, and can always think on his feet. He’s always covered for me, even without me preparing him for it, which I never do. I love that guy so much, I need to say that to him out loud sometime. I find some clothes that fit me perfectly. Ace says that they’re his boyfriend’s that he just hasn’t gotten rid of yet. If his ex is my size, maybe he has a type, and maybe I’m his type, and maybe I should stop fawning over a guy who’s seven years older than me.
Still, the two of us have a nice breakfast. He was right, his quiche is amazing. It’s possibly the best meal I’ve ever had, and I’m not just saying that because I have the hots for him, or because my mother’s cooking isn’t the best. Don’t worry, she doesn’t particularly like cooking, and doesn’t think it’s great either. I don’t cook at all, so it would be nice to be with a man who could take care of that for me. Damn, there I go again. I gotta get this outta my head. The race. The Frenzy. That’s what’s important. That’s happening today. I have to get back to headquarters, check in with the council, and get my ride to my starting point.
Ace acts like he’s known me for years. He starts clearing the table and says, “welp, you better get going. I hear it’s bad if you finish a race in last place.”
“That’s a myth,” I say jokingly.
“I’m afraid I can’t give you a ride, but I’ll summon one and charge it to my account since your mother has access to your transactions.”
“That would be lovely, I’ll find a way to pay you back with cash.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he insists. “Just win that race for me, okay? I’ll be watching your feeds on the main screen.”
“I can do that,” I say with confidence. It’s gonna be tough, though. I’m not really ready for this year. I would give anything for a chance to go back and try these last few days over again, as long as it didn’t mean never meeting Ace.

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