We walk hand in hand down the street, which has gotten a little less crowded, and head toward the bar at the end of the block. When we get inside, Tyler orders us each a beer from the bar, and once we have our drinks, he leads me through the crowded room. The moment people start to notice him, they smile and wave or stop to say hello. He introduces me to everyone as his girlfriend, and I can’t help but feel a little giddy every time he says it.

After I’m stopped and introduced to two guys he went to school with, we make it to a table where five guys are sitting, drinking beer, and laughing. I spot Eli in the group, and when he notices us, he grins and stands. He shouts Tyler’s name and brings attention to us. All the guys turn, and when they do, they smile and stand. Tyler doesn’t release my hand as he lifts his chin and gives out back pats to the guys. One of them brings over two chairs, but before I can sit in my own seat, Tyler pulls me down to sit on his lap. His fingers skim along the edge of my jeans, and I relax against him and sip on my beer. I listen to him and his friends talk and share stories, and I answer questions when they’re directed at me.

When my bladder urges me to get up, I look around for the restroom sign, spotting it near the bar. I turn to look down at Tyler. “I need to use the restroom. I’ll be right back.”

“Do you know where it is?” he asks, and I nod my head. “All right, come right back to me,” he orders, and I roll my eyes.

I get up and head toward a sign that directs me down a long hall. I notice a guy and a girl talking in the dim light at the end of the hall, but I don’t pay much attention to them as I go into the single bathroom. After I take care of business, I wash my hands and leave the bathroom. I hear a hissed “Stop” and look back down the hall to where the man and woman were, and I notice the guy has the girl pressed to the wall.

For a moment, I think they’re in the middle of a hot and heavy make-out session, but then I see the expression on her face and notice that her head is turned to the side, her eyes are closed, and her hands are pushing against his chest like she’s trying to shove him off. Without thinking, I walk toward them and ask, “Is everything okay?”

The woman’s eyes open to meet mine, and the guy growls, “Fuck off.”

“Are you okay?” I ignore him, directing my question at her, and she gives a short sideways jerk of her head.

“Fuck off,” the guy repeats, and I look at him.

“Let her go,” I demand. His hold on her tightens, and pain fills her eyes.

“I said fuck off.”

“I’m only going to ask you one more time.” I get closer, and his eyes rake over me, his expression going from pissed to something else, something that makes me feel dirty.

“Yeah? What are you gonna do to me, gorgeous?”

“Break your nose.” I shrug. “Maybe a finger or two.”

He laughs, lets the girl go, and takes a step toward me. “So you think you can hurt me?” he asks as the girl sags against the wall before standing and rushing past me. I don’t take my eyes off the guy coming toward me slowly, but I still wonder what the hell happened to girl code and woman power.

“I think I can kick your ass,” I state, and he stops a few feet away. Even though he’s bigger than I am, I’m not as afraid as I probably should be. My brothers and I used to fight all the time, but as I got older, they stopped fighting with me and started showing me how to defend myself against someone bigger and stronger.

“Give it your best shot, babe.” He lunges at me, and I don’t think. I ball my hand into a fist, pull my arm back, and swing. I feel the crack of cartilage under my knuckles and listen to him cry out in pain. He covers his nose with his hand as blood pours between his fingers. “You bitch!” he roars, rushing at me again.

Before he makes it to me, I’m picked up off the ground by arms that wrap around my waist. My legs flail, and I start to scream.

“Calm,” Tyler orders against my ear as the broken-nose guy is tackled to the ground by two of Tyler’s friends. He attempts to fight them off, but it’s pointless. They’re both bigger than he is.

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