I can practically feel Franny's panic from my seat beside her. She has her fingers gripping a wad of hair at her neck and her other hand tapping a nonsensical rhythm on her leg, just above the knee. I reach down underneath the bench and pull down the little compartment there. I search around with my hand until my fingers make contact with material that feels like my shirt. I yank it out and without looking over at Franny I take off my bloodied mess of a shirt and slip the clean one on.
Hiding the ruined shirt away in the compartment, I sigh and run a finger idly down my neck where Oscar tried to choke me. Bruises will soon begin to form. I hear Franny let out a shuddering breath before she turns on the seat and faces me, legs up on the bench and knees nearly touching her forehead.
"What actually happened?" she asks.
I shrug. "Some of the guys were a little bitter over things."
"Things?" she prompts.
I scratch the back of my head, catching a glimpse of the blood stuck under my nails. "I went down to the bar to talk to Brad while he was having his shift. I was supposed to be fast, just in and out, but some of the fighters were having a drink and decided to pick a fight. Two of them were drunk and the other one wasn't."
"Why did they pick a fight?" Franny asks.
"Turns out that not all of the guys agree with my whole idea of going up against Carl. They're loyalists. They don't fight because they're broke or have families that need feeding or because a petty criminal record has left them with nowhere else to go. They fight because it's fun and afterwards they grab their wad of cash and use it to buy a drink with Carl. They got pissed and before I knew it, it was the three of them against me and we were all throwing punches. A couple other guys helped me out but it was bloody."
Franny lifts a hand off her knee and runs her fingertip lightly over my neck.
"Someone tried to strangle you," she says.
"As I said, it was a drunken brawl."
"A drunken brawl would be clumsy, hard-hitting punches and kicks. Strangling someone is showing that you have the intent to kill them, that you're trying to kill them. A stupid drunk wouldn't try and strangle you like that."
I reach up and stroke a thumb over the marks. "He was just angry."
"Ty." Franny grabs my wrist and pulls my hand away. "Aren't you even a little worried right now? Someone just tried to murder you and you're acting like it was just another fight."
"Because it was," I say. "Fran, I've had fights like this before. Last year I was pissed off and wandered down an alleyway and picked a fight with anyone who was willing. In that moment, no one is bothered about how you get the guy down on the ground and unconscious, as long as it happens. And if that means someone gets choked or someone whips out a knife, then so be it. I'm used to it."
Franny pulls her hand away from me and switches the radio off completely. "Why did you come here, then?" she asks. "If you're so calm and easygoing then why did you come over to me and not just go home?"
I stare at her and breathe through my nose deeply before pushing my hair out of my face. I slide along the bench until I'm right beside her. I place a hand on her knee and look deep into her eyes.
"I'm still human, Franny."
"Could have fooled me," she says.
"You calm me down," I finally say. "If I'd gone home then I'd have punched a hole through a wall. Or worse, ended up punching my dad. I get jittery after fights and for some reason, you calm the shakes."
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Bulletproof (Publishing 2023) ✔Teen Fiction
When Franny learns why former popular boy Tyler fell from grace, she gets thrown head-first into his dangerous world but also closer to his timid heart. ***** Eighteen-year-old Ty...