Block and Strike(8)

By: Kelly Jensen


“Why?”

Jake’s mouth flattened, and Max studied the line it made across his handsome face. Everything about Jake was square but not rigid. He just had angles. Big gray eyes, same as his sister’s, defined cheekbones and a strong jaw. He kept his hair short, and it looked both bristly and soft.

Eyes narrowing, Jake offered an upward nod. “Your girlfriend isn’t coming, is she?”

Max thought about lying. Blurring the truth had always been a good way to make himself less distinct, less defined. But he’d taken a breath and Jake still held his gaze and Max just knew he’d see the lie tripping off his tongue.

“’S okay, I get it,” Jake said. “If I were you, I wouldn’t want my girlfriend to see me like this either. Listen, I know you don’t know me, but I’m only trying to help. I’m the one who found you. Brought you in. I called my sister and we carried you in here. Last night.”

Max’s throat quivered as if it might close. He swallowed. He didn’t want to accept this man’s help, no matter how beautiful and golden he was, and he didn’t want to… crap. He dipped his chin too quickly and made the mistake of sniffing. Fire shot up his nose and into his head and the world took another spin. Jake caught his shoulder and eased him away from the door where Max might have been making a scene.

“I’m sorry.”

“No worries, man. You’re messed up. Let’s get you home.”

The short ride back to Beech Street became a blur of motion and time. Max could barely account for any of it when Jake’s truck rolled over the rough pavement of the alley and turned into a garage. He was grateful to have someone to follow from there to the apartment door, but paused when he found himself halfway up the stairs.

“I live downstairs.”

“Willa wants me to keep you upstairs with me. Just for a night.”

“I have to work tonight.”

“Max, there is no way you’re working tonight.”

“I’ll lose my job.”

“Call in sick. It’s the Wawa on Lincoln, right? Your manager knows you were in the ER last night. The police had to call him to ID you.”

Not good. He’d probably already been replaced. One month did not equal any sort of seniority. Max turned on the stairs. “I should call in.”

“You can do that from my place.” Jake shuffled in place and produced a cell phone. “You can call from here if you want.” From the stairwell, because if Jake let him go downstairs, he’d lose the battle?

Talk about stubborn.

“Why can’t I go down to my place?”

“First off, your place is like the Lair of the White Worm. It’s fucking creepy down there.”

Max did his best to look offended. His apartment was…. Okay, it was a lair.

“Second off, Willa really thinks you need someone to keep an eye on you. Knocks to the head can be nasty business. You were out cold for a while. We don’t know how long.” Jake tilted his head. “Do you remember anything?”

The police had asked him that and he’d told them a bunch of useless facts. For Jake, Max shrugged and sighed and neither hurt because he was just so tired.

“Ready to go upstairs?” Jake asked.

“Yeah.”

“You can take a shower and I can burn those pants. Maybe the shirt, too.”

He did stink—of the hospital and piss. Whoever thought of hospitals as clean and sterile places was seriously deluded. “I don’t have any other clothes.” He figured mentioning he had some downstairs would incite another lecture on why he couldn’t go to his own apartment.

“Not a problem. You can borrow something of mine until we get a key from Mr. Wu.”

Because he’d lost his keys last night, as well.

Suddenly it was all too much. He craved a shower, time alone in a small space with lots of hot water and billowing steam. A place to hide. And a couch sounded good. If it had to be Jake’s couch, well, life could be worse. It could be Melanie’s couch.





Chapter Three


JAKE HAD never met anyone as stubborn as the waif from the basement apartment. Max looked like a good wind would knock him over. Actually, he looked like a good wind had knocked him over, and rolled him along until he hit every lamppost and collected every piece of trash in Northeast Philadelphia. Smelled like it too. Still, he stood there on the stairs, bruised and purple face set into a scowl, one blue eye flashing angrily and….