Climb

By: Sophie Stern


She’s the only one.

I pull my truck into a parking spot outside Club Kitten and glance in the rearview mirror once more. She’s seen my ugly mug a million times, but somehow, today seems different. Somehow, trying to gear myself up for a chat with her about how I really feel makes things seem different.

It makes things harder.

It makes things a little more intense.

Six months I was gone. Six months. A lot can change. Sassy emailed me every day and we chatted as often as possible. In some ways, I feel like we were never apart. In others, I feel like I haven’t seen her in forever, and I’m scared things won’t be the same.

Is seeing her going to be awkward?

Will it be strange?

Will we fall back into the comfortable old pattern of friendship we managed to forge, or will things be different?

It’s time to stop pussy-footing around. I get out of the truck, slam the door, and head toward the doors, but I can tell right away that something is wrong.

Sassy is standing in the lobby with two of her girls, and everything about her body language is wrong, tense. There’s a man standing just inside the doorway, blocking their escape. Although his back is to me, I can tell something is wrong. Something isn’t right.

Every protective instinct in my body begins to go haywire. Sassy can handle herself, but that doesn’t mean she couldn’t use a little backup. I get closer, but I don’t bother being sneaky. Whatever this son-of-a-bitch wants, he can fucking forget about it.

I open the door to the club and the bells above the door jingle, announcing my presence.

Everyone turns to look at me. I try not to look at Sassy because once I do, I’m not going to be able to think about anything but her sweet smile. I’ll try to start hugging her or kissing her and then it’ll be all over, so I focus on the man.

“Can I help you, buddy?” I ask.

“No, and I’m not your buddy.” The man glares at me, and I glare right on back. He’s roughly the same height and build as me, but he’s dressed in a weird trench coat with sandals on. Is he going for some sort of weird pseudo-serial killer look? I can’t quite tell.

“Then I think you ought to leave,” I say. “In case you hadn’t noticed,” I motion to the sign on the door. “This club is for women only.”

“This ain’t none of your business,” the man sneers. “I came to see some dancers. I’m waiting for the bitch to take my money and let me in.”

“I already told him,” Sassy sounds exasperated. “This isn’t a strip club.”

“Sir, leave,” I say.

“Fuckin’ make me,” the man replies quickly.

I didn’t really want it to come to this, but he did say to make him. I don’t like the idea of Sassy seeing me violent, but this asshole isn’t going to leave. This guy looks like he’s going to start kicking shit and throwing punches if I don’t get him out of here.

I reach for him to pull him out of the still-open door.

“Come on,” I say. “Let’s get you out of here,” I reach for his shoulders, but he pulls his right arm back to take a swing at me. My body reacts faster than my mind. Months of training and preparing for fights has made me quick and efficient.

Months of training is finally paying off.

Before he can reach me, before his fist can connect with my face, I bring my right elbow up and across the left side of his jaw. Our skin connects with a devastating cracking sound, and the man sputters and falls to the floor, groaning in pain.

“Call the cops,” I say to Paige, who is standing behind the desk. She’s shaking, but I don’t have time to calm her down right now. No, right now, I have to make sure this fucker doesn’t move because there’s no way I’m letting him hurt my girl.

My girl.

“You all right, Bailey?” I ask the other dancer, who is standing close to Paige.

“Yeah,” she whispers.

“You sure about that? Did he hurt you?” I ask, trying to make sure I know exactly what went down before I arrived. The cops are going to want us to all give statements as soon as they get here. I want to know what I just walked into.

“No, he didn’t hurt me or touch me,” she says, but I can hear the tremble in her voice. I don’t look at her. I don’t want to take my eyes off the loser crumpled on the floor. Blood is slowly dripping from his mouth. I think it’s safe to say he bit his tongue, and his jaw is probably broken.

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