Unwind, page 22part #1 of Unwind Dystology Series
Once inside she hangs the makeshift OCCUPIED sign on the door knob, and pushes the door closed. She takes a moment to examine herself in the mirror, but she doesnt like the straggly-haired, ragged girl shes become, so she doesnt look at herself for long. She washes her face and, since there are no towels, dries it with her sleeve. Then, before she even turns for the toilet, she hears the door creak open behind her.
She turns and must stifle a gasp. Its Roland who has entered the bathroom. And now he closes the door gently behind him. Risa immediately realizes her mistake. She should never have come here alone.
"Get out!" she says. She wishes she could sound more forceful in the moment, but hes caught her by surprise.
"No need to be so harsh. " Roland moves toward her in a slow, predatory stride. "Were all friends here, right? And since everyones eating dinner, weve got some quality time to get to know each other. "
"Stay away from me!" Now shes scanning her options, but realizes in this tight a space, with only one door, and nothing she can use as a weapon, her options are limited.
Now hes dangerously close. "Sometimes I like having dessert before dinner. How about you?"
The second hes in range, she acts quickly to hit him, to knee him, to inflict any kind of pain that would distract him enough for her to fly out the door. His reflexes are simply too fast. He grabs her hands, pushes her back against the cold green tile wall, and presses his hip against her so that her knee cant reach its mark. And he grins, as if it was all so easy. His hand is on her cheek now. The shark tattooed on his forearm is inches away, and seems ready to attack.
"So, whaddaya say we have some fun and make sure you dont get unwound for nine months?"
Risa has never been a screamer. The way she always saw it, screaming was a show of weakness. A sign of defeat. Now she has to admit defeat, for although she has lots of experience warding off creeps, Roland has even more experience being one.
So she screams. She lets loose a bloodcurdler at the top of her lungs. But her timing is as bad as it could possibly be, because just then a jet roars by overhead, shaking the walls and completely swallowing her scream.
"Ya gotta learn to enjoy life," Roland says. "Lets call this lesson one. "
Thats when the door swings open, and over Rolands massive shoulder Risa sees Connor standing at the threshold, eyes blazing. Shes never been happier to see anyone.
"Connor! Stop him!"
Roland sees him too, catching his reflection in the bathroom mirror, but he doesnt release Risa.
"Well," says Roland. "Isnt this awkward. "
Connor makes no move to tear him away. He just stands there on the threshold. His eyes still rage, but his hands—theyre not even clenched into fists. They just hang there limply by his side. Whats wrong with him?
Roland winks at Risa, then he calls over his shoulder to Connor. "Better get out if you know whats good for you. "
Connor steps over the threshold, but he doesnt move toward them. Instead he goes to the sink. "Mind if I wash up for dinner?"
Risa waits for him to make a sharp and sudden move, catching Roland off guard, but he doesnt. He just washes his hands.
"Your girlfriends had her eye on me since Sonias basement," says Roland. "You know that, dont you?"
Connor dries his hands on his pants. "You two can do whatever you like. Risa and I broke up this morning. Should I turn off the light when I leave?"
The betrayal is so unexpected, so complete, Risa doesnt know who to hate more, Roland or Connor. But then Roland eases his grip on her. "Well, now the moods ruined, isnt it. " He lets her go. "Hell, I was just kidding, anyway. I wouldnt have done anything. " He backs away and offers that smile of his again. "Hows about we wait until youre ready. " Then he struts out just as boldly as he had come in, bumping Connors shoulder on the way out as a parting shot.
All of her confusion and frustration unleashes at Connor, and she pushes him back against the wall, shaking him. "What was that? You were just going to let him do it? You were just going to stand there and let it happen?"
Connor pushes her off of him. "Didnt you warn me not to take the bait?"
"He didnt just follow you to the bathroom—he pushed past me first. He made sure I knew he was following you here. This whole thing wasnt about you, it was about me—just like you said. He wanted me to catch him. He wanted to make me crazy, to get me fighting mad. So I didnt take the bait. "
Risa shakes her head—not in disbelief, but reeling from the truth of it. "But . . . but what if . . . what if he . . . "
"But he didnt, did he? And now he wont. Because if he thinks you and I broke up, youre more useful to him if youre on his side. He might still be after you, but from now on, Ill bet hell be killing you with kindness. "
All the emotions rebounding madly through Risa finally come to rest in an unfamiliar place, and tears burst from her eyes. Connor steps forward to comfort her, but she pushes him away with the same force she would have used against Roland.
"Get out!" she yells. "Just get out!"
Connor throws up his hands, frustrated. "Fine. I guess I should have just gone to dinner and not come in here at all. "
He leaves and she closes the door behind him, in spite of the line of kids now waiting for the bathroom. She sits down on the floor, her back against the door so no one can get in as she tries to get her emotions under control.
Connor had done the right thing. For once, he had seen the situation more clearly than she—and he had probably ensured that Roland wouldnt physically threaten her again, at least for a while. And yet theres a part of her that cant forgive him for just standing there. After all, heroes are supposed to behave in very specific ways. Theyre supposed to fight, even if it means risking their lives.
This is the moment Risa realizes that, even with all his troubles, she sees Connor as a hero.
Holding his temper in that bathroom was perhaps the hardest thing Connor had ever had to do. Even now, as he storms away from Risa, he wants to lay into Roland—but blind rage is not what the moment needs, and Connor knows it. Risas right—a brutal, all-out fight is exactly what Roland wants—and Connors heard from some of the other kids that Roland has fashioned himself a knife out of some metal he found lying around the warehouse. If Connor launches at him with a rage of swinging fists, Roland will find a way to end it with a single deadly thrust— and hell be able to get away with it, claiming it was self-defense.
Whether Connor can take him in a fight isnt the question. Even against a knife, Connor suspects he might be able to either turn the blade against him, or take Roland out in some other way before he has the chance to use it. The question is this: Is Connor willing to enter a battle that must end with one of them dead? Connor might be a lot of things, but hes no killer. So he holds his temper and plays it cool.
This is new territory for him. The fighter in him screams foul, but another side of him, a side thats growing steadily stronger, enjoys this exercise of silent power—and it is power, because Roland now behaves exactly the way he and Risa want him to. Connor sees Roland offer his dessert to Risa that night as an apology. She doesnt accept it, of course, but it doesnt change the fact that he offered it. Its as if Roland thinks his attack on her could be wiped away by feigning remorse—not because hes actually sorry for what he did, but because it serves Rolands needs to treat her well now. He has no idea that Risa and Connor have him on an invisible leash. Connor knows it will only be a matter of time, however, until he chews his way through it.
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The man inherited the pawnshop from his brother, who had died of a heart attack. He wouldnt have kept the place, but he inherited it while he was unemployed. He figured he could keep it and run it until he could find a better job. That was twenty years ago. Now he knows its a life sentence.
A boy comes into his shop one evening before closing. Not his usual type of customer. Most folks come into a pawnshop down on their luck, ready to trade in everything they own, from TVs to family heirlooms, in exchange for a little quick cash. Some do it for drugs. Others have more legitimate reasons. Either way, the pawnbrokers success is based on the misery of others. It doesnt bother him anymore. Hes grown used to it.
This boy is different, though. Sure, there are kids who come in, hoping to get a deal on items that were never claimed, but theres something about this kid thats markedly off. He looks more clean-cut than the kids that usually turn up in his store. And the way he moves, even the way he holds himself, is refined and graceful, deliberate and delicate, like hes lived his life as a prince and is now pretending to be the pauper. He wears a puffy white coat, but its a bit dirty. Maybe hes the pauper after all.
The TV on the counter plays a football game, but the pawnbroker isnt watching the game anymore. His eyes are on it, but his mind is keeping track of the kid as he meanders through the shop, looking at things, like he might want to buy something.
After a few minutes, the kid approaches the counter.
"What can I do for you?" the pawnbroker asks, genuinely curious.
"This is a pawnshop isnt it?"
"Doesnt it says so on the door?"
"So that means you trade things for money, right?"
The pawnbroker sighs. The kids just ordinary after all, just a little more naive than the other kids who show up here trying to hock their baseball card collections or whatever. Usually they want money for cigarettes or alcohol or something else they dont want their parents to know about. This kid doesnt look like the type for that, though.
"We loan money, and take objects of value as collateral," he tells the kid. "And we dont do business with minors. You wanna buy something, fine, but you cant pawn anything here, so take your baseball cards somewhere else. "
"Who said I have baseball cards?"
Then the kid reaches into his pocket and pulls out a bracelet, all diamonds and gold.
The pawnbrokers eyes all but pop out of his skull as the kid dangles it from his fingers. Then the pawnbroker laughs. "Whadya do, steal that from your mommy, kid?"
The kids expression stays diamond hard. "How much will you give me for it?"
NEAL SHUSTERMAN SERIES:
Other author's books:
- UnwindScytheEverlostUnWhollyUnSouledThe Eyes of Kid MidasScorpion Shards
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