“Come in,” Red called from the living room. “Em, I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I know, there’s been so much happening around here. What are you doing?”

“Staring at the tree. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, but it doesn’t feel like it. When I was young, I used to love Christmas waiting for Santa to come down the chimney. Now it feels so…”

“Passé? Not worth the effort? Unfulfilling? All the above?”

Red laughed, “maybe. But I have a ten-year-old in my home and I’d like her to feel the magic of Christmas. Nothing changes what I’ve gone through in life, but if I could help someone.”

“Helping someone doesn’t make it better, but it eases the ache.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s why I’m here. I thought we could do some last-minute shopping. Get some gifts under the tree for a certain youngster.”

“Let’s do it. Teak, I’m going out with Em, I’ll see you later.” She grabbed her coat, hat, and gloves to follow Em. Then she turned around on the heel of her boots and sprinted upstairs coming back down with her purse.

“I never need this thing anymore, so I leave it upstairs.” They took Em’s car heading for the small town close to their compound. Close was a relative turn, it wasn’t as far away as the city. “I want to stop past and see Paul and Ginger if the coffee shop is open.”

“It will probably only close for Christmas and New Year’s Day. They seem to take in the strays and the lonely.” Em brought the car down outside of town, driving them in to keep anyone from noticing they showed up on the edge of town without warning.

“I can’t imagine this town without them. It seems strange, but they make this place friendlier.”

“Me either,” Em told her. “I agree with you. How about we stop get coffee and a pretzel donut before we shop?”

“There are reasons I like you. I might even love you,” Red laughed when she got out of the car. They were parked in a large lot a few blocks away. Most of the residents parked there if they weren’t walking. It helped to keep the main street traffic-free. You could park on the main street and they had before, but it was frowned upon especially in the winter. They liked going for that winter wonderland motif.

The figure leaning against the first building they encountered when leaving the lot wasn’t one Red expected to see. On the other hand, she wasn’t surprised to see him.

“Matthew,” his name come out like it was a bad taste. “What are you doing here?”

“Did you honestly think I wouldn’t track you down? Or did you think you could get away with acting like a tough bitch in front of all your backup?”

“What and… what?” He looked more like an apparition than a man. Maybe he was the ghost of Christmas past? He didn’t have any place in her future. Why couldn’t the defeated stay down?

“You may have broken your father taking away your mother, but I’m not your old man.”

“What are you talking about? How did you find me? No, I don’t want to know. Leave, Matthew, you’re my past not my future.”

“You came to my world bringing all your security and then kneed me in the balls knowing I couldn’t fight back with all your friends surrounding you. You’re not so tough now that it’s just me and you. You owe me Juliette and I’m here to collect. I’m the laughingstock. The one that let a prime breeder getaway.”

“Do you hear yourself? Are your words registering in your ears and your brain? I’m not a breeder, I’m a woman with a life and a mind. I can decide what I want to do with my body. I’m just like you but with different parts.”

“You were put on this earth to serve. You’re here for my pleasure.”

“That’s not what the bible says.”

“Really? Then explain how Joseph ended up with a fourteen-year-old.”

How many times had she faced that argument and many like it? Arguments that men used to brutalize both girls and women. The sad truth was that nothing she said would ever change his mind.

“You don’t get to touch me and get away with it. When your ass is on the ground, I may let you go or give you what you really deserve. I’ll give you want you need.” His hand motioned to his dick like there could be no argument when it was involved.

Red took her holster off, the one she used to hide her gun and handed it to Em.

“Take this, do not touch the gun. I mean it Em, no matter what happens do not touch the gun.”

“Why are you giving it to me?”

“Temptation. Kind of like Adam and the apple. Only I know I am only human. I don’t want to put a cap in his ass although he’s begging for it.” She took her coat off not wanting to be hampered. “This isn’t about what he deserves, it’s about what I deserve. I don’t deserve a jail cell.”

“We can turn and claw him to pieces,” Byema-Red gave her a toothy growl.

“We will not be going furry on his ass.” The thought made Red laugh as she imagined his face if she changed forms. “He doesn’t deserve to die, not by us. Life can be death in itself. Let’s make him suffer.”

Red moved away from Em, giving herself room to fight. Even with her self-defense classes and what she learned in hand to hand combat class; she wasn’t sure of her ability to take him. Matthew wasn’t some off the street fighter. He was military trained. That made his thoughts, his position, his actions, so much worse in her eyes.

“Then use me. We don’t have to kill him or even change. Just use my agility and fight like you’re a street fighter.”

Once upon a time she had been into video games, maybe that would help her.

He rushed her, making a grab for her middle. She went for his shoulders using his momentum to propel herself over his back. She didn’t land on her feet, but she was able to roll away before he turned. Not going to get the gold, but it didn’t matter when she stuck her leg out in enough to time to send him to the ground.

She pulled herself up feeling the ache from hitting the cold ground then there was the wetness of the snow seeping through her pants and chilling hands that were no longer covered in gloves.

He sprang up. Damn, she’d pay good money to be able to spring up, right about now.

“Your dad tried to sell you, but no one wanted you,” Matthew taunted.

Some digs hurt more than others but this was like a hot poker to her gut. She circled around him waiting for him to make his next move. What hurt more, that her father tried to sell her, or that no one wanted her? She wasn’t worth the price. She should be happy. What she should be didn’t matter, there was a part of her that reminded her she’d never be like everyone else.

He struck as she grieved the loss of humanity in so many humans. He took her down. Her back hit the ground momentarily knocking the air from her lungs. She panted gulping air in shallows breathes until she could finally breathe without wheezing.

“This,” she whispered in a soft seductive voice. “Is always what you wanted. Me on my back looking up at you with a tender expression on my face.” Where had it all gone wrong? For a moment time stood still, and she was seeing a young Matthew. The one she used to secretly think was hot until her father took him as his apprentice. Time changed people even young men with stars in their eyes.

That’s why he was going to survive. She remembered that he wasn’t always this way. When he reached out to touch her, she knocked his hand away. He flinched, and she used the movement to help her push him off. She stood knowing he gave her space. Should she walk away? No, if she did, he’d come back for more.

“Let’s finish this.”

“Juliette.”

“Red, how many times do I have to tell you that. I’m not the helpless woman you once thought I was.”

He came at her intent on punching her. She moved to the side using the agility of her byema. Then she swung around and kneed him once again in the groin following it up with a double-handed chop to his back. He went down to his knees. His breath sawing in and out as she tried to breathe.

“You don’t have the right, you never had the right to touch me.” Don’t do this, she pleaded with herself. How many other women had he raped and left on the ground as he walked away? She lifted her foot kicking him in the head. He went down, laid out cold on the ground with a soft layer of flakes trying to cover him.

She turned and headed for the coffee shop while Em discreetly called for help. What did she do before she had such good friends?

Paul took one look at Red, got her a cup of coffee and donut and carried it over to her favorite seat for her. She slumped in the chair before picking up her cup and guzzling the hot liquid.

“What would you say if I told you aliens exist? The kind that came from the sky?”

“I’d say tell me something I didn’t know.”

That took some angst out of her fidgeting. “Well they do exist, and I know some.”

“Since that compound, you live in is full of them, they’d be hard to miss. As long as they’re treating you well, all is good.”

Her brain was screaming danger. She had gone through too much in the last year to heed it. If Paul knew they were aliens he hadn’t just learned it in the ten minutes she walked into the coffee shop.

“I’m not sure I’d be sane without them.”

“Then I have no need to show up. Here comes Em. Don’t worry I’ll make sure there are no repercussions from your fight.” Her mouth gaped open as he walked away. Who was Paul? She looked back at the counter and watched as Ginger winked at her.

“It must be really warm in here.” Em walked over with her cup of coffee and pretzel donut.

“Why do you think that?”

“You’re already dry.”

She was? She looked down and realized not only was she dry, but she was clean. In fact, she didn’t feel like she was in a fight that landed her on her knees and back on the cold ground. When had her clothes dried out? Was it when Paul had touched her knee with fatherly concern? She remembered the heat that emanated from his hand but hadn’t been curious enough to look at him.

She didn’t ask Em about Matthew, he was alive and that was good enough for her.

“Let’s finish, I suddenly feel the need to see excited brown eyes light up Christmas morning.”

“I’m coming over in my Marvel pajamas and matching robe. Don’t you dare open presents without me.”

“Bet. Let’s go shopping.”

 

 

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