Chapter _; book i
Working chapter title: strange in the basement
Rapid-fire, she pounded the bag with her bare fists. The memory of her first self-defense lesson with Pilot hibernated beneath her skin, deep within her muscles, ready to be called into action at a seconds notice. The familiar rush of practiced motions, of learned tactics and strategic precision, flooded her veins. His voice resounded in her head, urgent and firm, unrelenting.
Never underestimate your opponent. Assume lethality, assume he is armed to the teeth. Because he probably is.
Her movements were instinctual, all of the liquid grace of hours, weeks, months, years of practice. She'd done it because he had asked her to, because of the unfamiliar insistence in his eyes when he asked; because what he had said was "I would feel more at ease knowing you can handle yourself." When what he had meant was "We both know what could happen if work ever followed me home."
Even four years after he no longer existed in her world, she practiced. Every night, in the dank basement with the swaying, bare light bulb and the punching bag that she had lugged from new residence to new residence. Nothing stopped her regimen; it was as fixed as the rising of the sun or the waning of the moon. Every night, for two hours, she sweated out her fears and losses, her failures and her nightmares. The evidence of the dark side of her life showed clearly in the worn, frayed leather bag.
Behind her, the long florescent bulbs over the stairs switched on. She could hear someone, probably a man judging by the heaviness of each step, coming down the stairs. Grabbing the bag as it swung toward her, she held it still for a moment.
"Don't let me interrupt," said a masculine voice from beyond her peripheral vision. Eden turned, pulling her hair off her face as she did so, and gave the stranger a once-over. He was tall, she estimated about six-foot-one, and slim. He had the build of a football player; the thick, wide shoulders and torso, the tapered waist. His shaggy hair was a deep blonde beneath the harsh light.
"I was just finishing up," she shrugged, turning around again and taking off the white tape wrapped around her small hands.
"Were you boxing?" His tone was pleasant, friendly without being too familiar - but she found his presence irritating. She had lived in this complex for over a year, and never once had someone entered the basement while she was working out. Not one night out of all 543 nights, until then.
She didn't particularly try to keep the irritation out of her tone. "Among other things." Snatching her towel from it's hook, she dried off her damp face and faced him. The second look at him revealed a few other things, interesting things she hadn't picked up on before. A jagged scar trailed beneath his jawline, stretching around his neck until she couldn't see it anymore. She wondered how far around it went. A tattoo peeked out from beneath his rolled-up shirt sleeve, dark and viney, and she studied it's morbid blue color for a long moment. "I haven't seen you around the complex, are you new?"
"There are over six hundred apartments in this complex," he retorted, his eyebrow moving up slightly in curiosity, "you would recognize each tenant?"
The answer was yes, but she said, "No, I suppose not." He was new. What was he doing in the basement? She hesitated to ask further questions, her suspicion now piqued, and she swung her towel up onto her shoulder so she could cross her arms.
"Would you care for a sparring partner?"
His question caught her off guard and she shook her head. "I was just about to leave." She didn't understand his conversational tactics. Who was this guy?
"That's a shame. I haven't sparred in a while; I just came down here to get something out of storage, but when i saw you here..." He paused, waving her off casually, "Ah, well. I'll leave you to your evening."
When he turned to leave, she caught a glimpse of the rest of his scar. It began at his adam's apple and wrapped clear around beyond his spine. His head had nearly been severed from the rest of his body. She wasn't sure why, but she didn't want him to leave. She didn't want to box him, but she was surprised to find that the thought of his departure left her a little disappointed. "I was thinking of grabbing some dinner," she said, unsure of how the words had managed to pour off her tongue without proper filtering. "Maybe some Thai, if you're hungry." She'd nearly said "interested," but at the last second she managed to edit herself to keep from seeming like she was trying to ask him on a date.
She just wanted to know where he got the scar, she told herself.
"You're not going to believe this," he said, tossing her a casual smile over his shoulder. You're probably right, she thought. "But I was just going to order some Thai. I came down to grab my box of bakeware; I seem to have left the chopsticks in there."
"So you are new," she said, smirking. "I know a great place that's only a few blocks away." It was just a meal, she knew that; but then why did it feel like she'd somehow changed the direction of her life?