Home > Wait for It(4)

Wait for It(4)
Author: Mariana Zapata

It didn’t matter. At least a small part of me recognized that it shouldn’t matter. Three against one were shitty odds even if they were deserved.

When he tried getting to his feet, I did too, huffing and struggling a lot more than I’d like to admit as he used me for support. “Pal, I need you to tell me if you’re okay or not,” I told him, swallowing the heartbeat knocking around in my throat as I pictured him keeling over on me from internal bleeding. That would make my night. “Hey, can you hear me? Are you all right?”

“I’m fucking fine,” was his wonderful answer as he spat out more saliva.

Uh-huh, that wasn’t really believable when he sounded like he’d tried running a marathon he hadn’t trained for and bailed halfway through. But what was I going to do? Call him a liar even as he leaned half his weight on me? “Is this your house?”

“Mm-hmm,” the man grumbled the response deep in his throat.

Keeping my gaze low, I glanced around the lawn, trying to ignore what was probably close to 200 pounds using me as a crutch. Just like nearly every other house in the neighborhood, the one we were in front of had a deck built three steps up leading to the front door. I raised my free hand and pointed toward it. “I need you to sit down for a second, all right?” My back was about to give out.

Out of my peripheral vision, he seemed to nod or gesture in agreement, but I only caught a glimpse of a jawline covered in a thick beard that belonged on a hipster or a lumberjack. Thankfully, he must have sensed my spine was about to snap in half because he took weight off me as we walked forward ten feet that felt like half a mile. His body was slightly hunched, his breathing rattled. At the steps, I turned to lead him down so he could sit, letting me get a good look at him up close.

At first glance, I realized he was older than me. Maybe ten years, maybe twenty years, some men were hard to guess, and he was one of them. His cheeks had pink-colored patches highlighting spots across them. There was a big split along his eyebrow, and a smaller but just as bloody cut on his bottom lip. I couldn’t put my finger on what shade his skin tone was with only the crappy night lighting to illuminate the area we were in, but it was obvious he was a little pale. He was good-looking under normal circumstances, all right. But it was his eyes that had me staying in a crouch just a foot or two away from my new neighbor. Red streaks stretched out along irises whose color I couldn’t figure out, a sign that he’d been drinking.

Or did the bloodshot eyes mean something else? Shit.

“Are you all right?” I asked him again. I wasn’t a doctor; I didn’t know what different symptoms meant.

An ink-covered throat bobbed with what I could only assume was a swallow as he opened and closed his eyes slowly like he was disoriented or something. He was looking at me, but it was almost as if he was looking through me. Could he have brain damage?

“Hey, should I call an ambulance or the cops?”

That had his eyes snapping up to me. His answer was sharp and a little ugly. “No.”

I watched him. “You’re bleeding.” Just as I said it, a line of red trailed along his temple from his eyebrow right in front of me. Jesus.

“No,” the stranger repeated, his forehead lining with a frown that had me forgetting he was attractive because stupidity wasn’t cute. It just wasn’t.

“You are.” I’m sure my eyes were going wide in a “are you fucking kidding me” look. He wasn’t even bothering to wipe the blood away as it made a path down his cheek.

“I told you. I’m fucking fine.”

I had to choke back the urge to snap at him for talking to me like that. The only thing that kept me from opening my big mouth was that I thought about how I’d feel if I’d gotten beat up, and I probably wouldn’t be very nice either. But I still sounded grumpier than I had a second before as I gritted out, “I’m trying to help you. They were kicking you. You might have a broken rib… or a concussion….”

The trail of blood made its way toward his ear. How the hell could he tell me he was fine?

“You’re bleeding right in front of me. Look. Touch it if you don’t believe me,” I told him, tapping my index finger against my face in the exact spot I wanted him to do the same, like hello idiot, listen to me.

The man shook his head, letting out a slow, painful exhale as he finally reached toward his face and wiped at the blood, making a bigger mess. He glanced at his stained fingers and frowned, his mouth drooping at the sides like he couldn’t believe he’d been injured after everything that had just happened. “No cops. No hospital. I’m fine,” he insisted, his tone getting ruder by the syllable.

Jesus Christ.

Men. Fucking men.

If it were me, I would have already been on an ambulance wanting to get checked out. But I could already tell from the expression on his face—I could smell a stubborn-ass a mile away; I could recognize my own kind—there was no way I was going to talk him out of his decision.

What a dumbass.

“Are you sure?” I asked again, just so my conscience could be sure I’d done what he had requested even if I thought he was being a fucking idiot.

His blink was slow as he looked at me one more time, a slight grimace pinching one cheek before he could mask the fact he was human and hurting. “I said yeah.”

I said yeah.

This asshole was about three seconds away from me finishing off the job the other guys started if he didn’t keep that tone to himself. But the blood all over the front of his shirt had me keeping my mouth closed for maybe the fifth time in my entire life. He was hurt. He seemed to have trouble breathing. What if he had a punctured lung? What was I supposed to do?

The answer was: nothing. I couldn’t do anything unless he wanted it.

He was a grown man. I couldn’t force him to do anything he didn’t want to.

I should go back to my house. I’d already done enough. I didn’t want to deal with this, but… I knew I couldn’t go back inside until I was sure pretty sure he wouldn’t pass out on the lawn.

“All right, come on then. If you’re going to lie and say you’re fine, at least let me help get you inside your house,” I pretty much muttered, frustrated that I couldn’t just say “okay” and let him go on about his business. I was even more frustrated that he was blowing this off like it was nothing and that there wasn’t a chance there was something genuinely wrong with him.

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