"Alright, that's the end of the seminar. Remember your reports are due in two weeks, so if you're not thinking about editing yet, you had better get a move on. Helena, can I speak to you?"
"I actually have to-"
"It won't take a second."
FUCK. What have I done?
"How are things for you?"
"Because Alex MacIntosh told me that you have two jobs, and you look exhausted." What the hell was she doing? I put on my best, 'I'm fine' grin, and faced Rupert Polis head on.
"She's a great lecturer, but I think she's exaggerating about me being tired."
"That wasn't her opinion, that was mine."
"If it's getting too much for you, you should consider asking for some time off work. There are only a couple of months left of your PhD, and I wouldn't want to see you lose all that hard work on the home stretch."
"Uh, sure. I'll consider it."
"How is the report going?"
"Good. Already at the editing stage."
"And your other reports?"
"Mostly on schedule."
"Well... off you go then."
I don't think I've ever walked faster.
"What did Polis want?" Raph asked. He'd been waiting for me outside.
"Just to let me know I look like I'm dying of sleep deprivation. Is it really that bad?"
"No." I gave him a look. "Okay, you look a little harassed. I didn't want to say anything, because Beth says you've been touchy..."
"Touchy? What else did she say?"
"I don't want to get involved if you two are falling out okay?"
"We're... we're not falling out." I sighed. "I'm just dealing with some stuff okay? And it's a bit difficult."
"Yeah. Well maybe you could talk to us about it?"
"Because it's not just my problem. And it wouldn't be fair if I... if I told you."
He studied me for a moment, and then sighed.
"Damn. Alright. I just hope that whoever it is gets there shit together. You don't want to be dealing with something right now."
I agreed silently, with a nod of my head, and followed him out. Five minutes before I was supposed to meet with Alex and after our last meeting, I didn't think it was a good idea. I mean really, was it? Alone again, and her reaction to our last kiss had convinced me that it really hadn't been a good idea. I mean it was easy when she was fighting her own desires, but giving in to them? That's when it had really hit me. Especially because she'd obviously realised I liked her too.
"Lena? Are you listening?"
"I said when's your meeting with Aussie?"
"Erm... I didn't ask for one."
"Because I've got this."
"Confidence. I like it." He grinned. "Got time for food before work?"
"Only if it's a sandwich."
"Ew. I was thinking pizza."
"Then no. Apparently no one bothered to clean up after last night so I have to head in early; get it ready."
"You're no fun. Alright, see you tomorrow."
"One beer, and one sex on the beach." I handed the drinks over and turned immediately to the next guy. He seemed a little familiar, but then most people here had come a few times.
"Four beers, and a round of shots." He threw the cash down. I finished serving him, then moved on again. It was busy tonight, goodness knows why. My feet were sore, and I felt like I had been on them for months.
I stared at her.
"What can I get you?"
"An explanation. Why didn't you come to the meeting?"
"I think you know why."
"We need to talk!" She was calling over the din, and I scowled.
"Time for your break," Tom called.
"Thank god," I cried. "I'll take the empties out back and then bring you the keys."
So I grabbed the tub of empty bottles and headed through the back to the back door, ignoring Alex who was still hanging on the bar.
As I finished tossing the bottles in the bin, I heard a noise around the side of the building.
"Anyone there?" I called. If this was Alex again, so help me...
"Look who it is boys." Shit.
"You're not supposed to be back here." I tried, as the familiar boy from the bar and two of his friends appeared. I recognised them now; they were the friends of the guy I'd set the police on.
"Well sweetie, how else were we supposed to talk to you?"
"Or what? You going to break my nose? Call the cops?"
"Probably." But I was feeling more nervous that confident. They looked like they meant business, and I was in that stupid dress again. One I could take, three was a different story.
"Yeah, I don't think so." Okay, so they're moving faster. The first one reaches me and I twist his arm, pushing him away and towards the wall, like with his friend. But by that time the other two are there, and I feel the first hit to my stomach knock all the wind out of me. And then I'm pressed up against the wall, and one of them is sniggering in my ear.
"I think we should break her nose too; ruin her pretty face." He's pushing my arm higher, and it's painful. If he pushes it harder he might break it.
"OI!" Tom. I can hear Tom. "Get off of her!" I'm released, and I can hear the boys running away. My arm hurts, and I gingerly let it fall to my side. "Are you alright?"
"Not sure." I mutter, wincing at the pain in my stomach.
"I'm getting you a taxi and you're going home."
"But it's so busy-"
"I can handle it. I'll get Jamie to help; she's been wanting to do more work on the bar."
"Come on; I'll get you a drink of water, you sit and call the police, and then you're going home."
I gave up arguing with him, and did as I was told. Tom called the police. He'd gone to fetch me some water, but he'd been taking forever. I was about to go and look for him, when the door burst open.
"Helena!" Tom followed Alex in, shooting an apologetic look at me. "What happened? Are you okay?"
"She was asking where you'd gone, and I know you two know each other so..." He shrugged, handing me the water.
"I'm fine, really." All I wanted to do was throw myself at her. Nope.
"Those assholes." She murmured, kneeling in front of me and checking me over. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah." I tried to play it cool. "Really I'm good."
"Anything could have happened." There was a crease between her eyebrows when she was worried, and it was adorable.
"Well it didn't."
"Police are on their way Lena. I'll go out front to meet them. You two be alright?"
"Yeah." I murmured. Once he'd gone, Alex sat beside me.
"They didn't..." She paused.
"No. No I'm fine. Just knocked the wind out of me and hurt my arm a little. I'm fine."
She reached up and smoothed my hair out of my face. I sighed; it felt good.
"I don't know what I'd have done..." She faltered.
"Don't... please don't..." I begged, knowing that if she started to cry, I'd lose my composure too. "Look at me, I'm all good." A watery smile broke on her face.
"That dress doesn't appear to be lucky for you."
"It has been in the past." I smirked. She rolled her eyes.
"I've been told."
She chuckled and leaned in, stroking my hair again. I should have stopped her really, but after what had happened, I was feeling selfish. It felt good. Her breath ghosted over my skin, and I could see her eyes flick down to my lips. And then all of a sudden she pulled me in to a gentle hug, still stroking my hair.
"Let me take you home."
"After the police. I want to make sure you're safe."
"You just want me to go on your bike in a short dress again." Her eyes flicked down and she chuckled.
"I won't say I hadn't thought about that."
I could feel myself blushing. BLUSHING. Hadn't done that in years because of a woman.
"I wouldn't believe you if you did."
She looked like she was going to say something else, but the police arrived, and I had to tell them what had happened. When it was over, she took me outside to find the bike.
"You know, you should consider wearing more substantial clothing." She told me, rolling her eyes at the thin jacket I had on over the dress.
"It's not far to my place from here, and winter is almost over."
"You were wearing a cardigan in winter, don't deny it."
"So what? I'm always hot." I caught her giving me a look that made me blush again. "Not the kind of hot I meant."
"And yet..." She left the sentence hanging there and handed me the spare helmet. I wasted no time, this time, wrapping myself around her. "We'd better get going. You probably want to just pass out."
"I'm not tired."
"I'm used to working later. I'll be up for hours."
"... So what will you do with your time?" She asked, hesitantly. I paused. I could totally over step here.
"Well, I fancy pizza, but if I walk in to the flat with, or smelling of, pizza, Beth will pounce on me."
"You could come back to mine?" I froze. "Never mind, stupid idea, forget I said it."
"I'd like that." I felt her shift under me.
"Alright then." She kicked the bike in to life and we sped off in to the traffic.