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I undo my belt and zipper to work my shirt back into my pants when the office door opens. I turn to see who it is.

Oh Fuck!

***

I open the door to Nik’s office and freeze.

Nik is standing with his zipper undone. Sissy is on her knees before Nik, wiping at the corners of her mouth trying to fix her lipstick which is all over Nik’s mouth. When she sees me, she smirks.

There is a fist wrapped around my heart and it squeezes, hard.

I fight to keep breathing.

I lock my knees to stop them from shaking. I feel ill.

Dread seeps through my body.

My heart is breaking.

Disgust claws at my eyes and begs for me to look away. And I do.

Using my hand I shield my view because, let’s face it, I don’t want to see Sissy smirk over the blowjob she just gave Nik. I croak, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to barge in.” It comes out thick, my mouth is suddenly dry.

How pathetic am I?

I walk in to my boyfriend’s office and catch him cheating on me with a She-Devil and I apologize.

Then I turn my back and walk my shattered heart out.

I hear someone yell out my name but it sounds miles away.

***

How the fuck did this happen?

I tuck my shirt into my pants and zip myself up. I look down at Sissy and rage coils tight in my gut.

The stupid bitch is smirking.

I may have just lost the love of my life and she taunts me. My blood boils.

Kill her.

No control.

I put my hand to her throat, lift her up by it and squeeze hard. She sputters and slaps at my hands.

I ask in a quiet but deadly voice, “Get what you wanted, you sick twisted cunt?”

Her wide eyes are watering and she gasps for air. Her nails dig in to my hand.

I don’t care. I’ve lost control, maybe even my mind.

Using the hand at her throat, I walk Sissy backwards into the wall. Her lips are turning blue and her eyes are drifting closed.

I vaguely hear, “What the fuck?” Then arms are all over me pulling me away.

Max turns my head to face him. He’s saying something but I can’t hear him. Ghost, Trick, and Max all have their arms on me, yelling things at me. I see their mouths moving but there is no sound.

Sissy slides down the wall clutching her neck and gasping violently for air.

My eyes drift to the door and I see Mimi, Nat, and Lola staring wide eyed and open mouthed at Sissy.

I shrug out of the hold the guys have me in and walk over to Nat. She’s my only hope at this point.

Lifting my hands, I hold her face. She looks worried. I say confidently, “I swear to you on Tina’s life, nothing happened.”

I hold her face firm but her eyes drift to Sissy. She looks at Sissy a long time before she whispers, “I believe you.”

I pull her towards me and kiss her forehead. She moves her hands over mine which are holding her face. I rest my chin against her forehead and whisper, “Where is she?”

Nat shrugs against me.

This night can’t get any worse.

***

I stumble onto of the club.

Luckily, I got my purse before I left. My cell phone blasts Nik’s ringtone – Beyoncé’s ‘Halo’.

No way am I answering.

B-Rock looks concerned but lets me on my way without stopping me.

As I cross the street, I listen to Beyoncé sing the first verse.

Remember those walls I built,

Well, baby, they’re tumbling down,

And they didn’t even put up a fight,

They didn’t even make a sound.

Fuck off, Beyoncé. There’s no such thing as angels. No one wears a halo. And if they do it’s only to disguise the pointed horns that sit atop their heads.

I told Nik I didn’t trust my instincts when it came to men and it looks like I was right on the money.

Women say it all the time. I didn’t even see it coming.

I thought we were happy.

A sob tears out of my throat just as I’m unlocking the door to Safira.

It starts a torrent of tears. I sob so hard I can’t pull in a full breath.

It takes me a minute to get in the door. Once I’m in, I lock it behind me. I turn off the alarm, keep the lights off and stumble. On my knees in the middle of my store. A store I don’t want to own anymore if it means I’ll have to see Nik every day. Still sobbing, my eyes blur and I can’t see but I crawl my way to the general direction of the store room.

Heartbreak and sorrow swirl through my limp body.

My knees hurt. I wheeze, huff and puff.

Screw you, Panic attack!

I can’t breathe. I think I’m going to pass out.

And I do.

***

It’s been an hour and I still can’t find Tina.

I’m sick with worry. We’ve looked everywhere.

Where could she be?

Dread fills me.

What if something happened to her?

Nat told me she wouldn’t answer my calls so I stopped trying. Nat kept calling her from her phone but not getting an answer. I can tell by the look on her face that isn’t good.

I kicked Sissy out and told her if she even tried to press charges against me I’d out her for the coke addict she is. Her daddy would disown her if it came out. The stupid bitch told me all about it.

Everyone is crammed into my office and they all look like I’m about to go postal.

Which I just might if we don’t find Tina soon.

Nat gasps and slaps a hand over her head. She knows something.

I run to her and take her hands in mine. She whispers, “Safira.”

My fuckin’ god.

How stupid am I?

I don’t wait for anyone. I run out of the club into traffic and luckily make it to the other side unscathed. I try the door but it’s locked. I look inside but its pitch black. It doesn’t look like she’s here.

My cell phone rings and I answer. I hear Ghost say calmly, “She’s in there man. Collapsed. Get in there.”

I drop my cell phone and use my elbow to try and break the thick glass of the door.

It doesn’t budge.

I try again and again til my elbow pulses with pain and is raw and bleeding but it won’t break. I roar in anguish and move to the display window, I walk back a few steps then run and throw my shoulder into it.

It breaks.

I’m covered in glass and I feel blood drip into my eye but I don’t care.

I walk between the mannequins through to the studio. And there she is.

I rush over to her and lift her limp body.

Out cold.

Blood drips from my forehead and eye onto her cheek.

I open the store, hail a cab, and take her home.

***

My eyes flutter open then closed.

They’re so heavy I can’t lift my lids.

I try again and after a few attempts I manage to squint a little.

There is a low light coming from beside me and I try to lift my loose body into a sitting position. Just as I’m about to give up and lay back down, arms come under mine and help me.

My head is pounding, it feel as though blood is rushing to my brain.

I look left and see a concerned Nat sits next to me on the bed. I look around the room and blanch.

This is Nik’s room.

What am I doing in Nik’s room?

“What am I doing here?” I whisper.

Nat puts her arm around me and explains, “I know you’re upset, T. But it was all a big misunderstanding.”

My eyes widen in disbelief. I groan and put a shaking hand to my pounding skull.

She goes on quietly, “You didn’t see what we saw, babe. He had Sissy backed up against a wall and was choking the life out of her. Does that sound like a man who was happily having an affair?”

He did what?!

That does sound unusual.

I remain quiet.

Nat continues, “When you walked in on that scene, and it was a scene planned by Sissy by the way, Nik was devastated. He thinks he’s lost you, Tina. He’s a mess.”

I’m at war with myself.

I want to believe it. My heart says yes and my head counters with a big fat nuh uh.

Nat squeezes my shoulder and states confidently, “Tina, when he looked in my eyes and said nothing happened, I believed him. He loves you. And he doesn’t even like her. I saw the look in his eye, it was pure and honest.”

And there it is.

Nat would never lie to me. If she believes Nik, she has reason to.

After a moment of silence I ask quietly, “Can you get Nik for me please?”

She smiles at me and responds, “Of course, beba.” I smile softly.

My mom used to call me beba all the time. It means baby in Croatian.

She exits the room and suddenly I’m nervous and sweating.

What if it Nik doesn’t want me anymore because I believed he’d do something like that to me?

The door opens, I turn to look and see Nik stand hesitating in the doorway.

I try so hard to be strong but I crumple. I cover my face with my hands and burst into heart wrenching, uncontrollable sobs.

I feel the bed depress and in a moment I’m lifted onto Nik’s lap. He cradles me like a parent would their child.

He coos, “It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re okay now.” And he kisses my head and rocks me til I calm.

I sob and sputter, “I’m s- s- sorry. Sissy’s a b- b- bitch.” I finish on a wail.

I feel Nik’s shake with laughter and he agrees, “Yeah, babe. She is. A big one.”

We stay quiet for a while and hold each other. Nik breaks the silence.

He whispers, “I would never, ever hurt you like that, Tina. If I ever thought I was going to cheat on you, I’d break up with you. But I don’t want to cheat on you.” He strokes my hair and continues “You’re my life. Nothing is more important to me than you. But I was there and I know what you think you saw. And it looked very bad. I’m sure if I’d walked in on you and another man in the same position I’d probably kill the guy.”

Oh, thank god!

He understands!

He wipes under my eyes and I lift my face to look at him. When his eyes reach mine I gasp.

I shriek, “YOU’RE HURT!”

His already scarred eyebrow is swollen and stitched. He has little cuts on his forehead and his elbow is bandaged up.

He cringes and says, “Yeah. About that, I called a guy to replace your store window. I kinda ran through it.”

My belly warms and my heart squeezes.

I whisper, “You ran through a wall of glass to get to me?”

He looks miserable and nods. He whispers back, “I thought you were hurt, baby. I’d trek through the fires of hell to get to you if I had to.”

I lean forward, hold his jaw with my fingertips, and kiss his lips softly.

My lips quiver as I whisper against them, “I love you so much, Nik. I was so hurt. I thought you didn’t want me anymore.”

He pulls me close and kisses me deep. He pulls away and replies, “I know, baby. I’m so sorry you were hurt. I guess people have it out for us. But I love you.” He pecks my lips then continues. “The whole point of love is to trust someone with your heart and pray they don’t break it. It’s about faith in each other. I gave you my heart when I told you I loved you which means I’m giving you power over me.”

I bury my face into his neck and breathe him in.

I never thought of it like that before. I guess I hold the same amount of power over Nik as he has over me. Love is sacred. A gift from one person to another. Love binds people together, no matter how different they might be.

Is it scary?

Hell, yes!

But if we never did the scary things in life we’d lead awfully boring lives.

Take the chance.

But I might get hurt.

Yes, you might. But maybe you won’t.

Yeah.

Maybe I won’t.

Chapter Twenty-four

The secret life of Tina

It’s been a little over a week since Sissy made her play for Nik.

Yesterday was Monday and I felt a little sick. But I dragged my butt to work as most people do.

I ended up getting through half the day of moping around and sniffling before Meems and Nat sent me to Nik’s office with a note.

It honestly felt like I was being sent to the principal’s office.

When I arrive at Nik’s office I see his face fall with worry at the state of obvious me. I drag myself over to him and hand him the note. His eyes narrow but he takes it from me and reads it silently.

Nik puts the note on the desk and bursts out laughing.

I lean over the desk and read.

I will pay you one hundred dollars if you keep her for the rest of the day. I love her to death but she totally sucks when she’s sick. Love Nat x

Well, I never!

I feign hurt.

But my friend is not wrong. I do suck when I’m sick. I become a petulant five year old.

Nik catches me in a bear hug. He’s so warm. My sniffles are muffled and I’m sure I’m getting boogers on him. I say in a nasal voice, “Don’t hug me, babe, you’re going to get sick.”

He rubs my back.

That feels nice.

He replies, “Don’t worry about me, sweetheart.” He pulls back and kisses my nose. “I never get sick.”

This brings us to today.

I’m no longer sick, in fact, I feel great. I guess it was just a twenty four hour virus. Nik’s warm hugs and the endless tea he brought me yesterday seem to have worked.

Early this morning I receive a multimedia message. It’s from Max and the subject says: An eye for an eye.

It’s a photo. Of Nik.

The photo has been taken about an inch from his sleeping face. His mouth is wide open because there are balled up tissues stuffed up his nostrils. The ends of the tissues flare out around his mouth. Beads of sweat roll down his forehead.

Yep.

Mr. I-Never-Get-Sick...got sick.

My body shakes with silent laughter and I save the image to my Nik’s name on my phone so whenever he calls it’ll come up.

I knock lightly on Nat’s bedroom door and tell her I’ll be looking after Nik today. She nods and I leave my keys on her bedside table. Then I call Max and tell him he’s in charge today at The White Rabbit. He answers with an amused, “Yes ma’am.”

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