First off, NEW COMIC!!!
And finally, the beginning of the end, the first Last Call story, Denouement is here!
Rick’s battered kidneys protested when he bent over, placing his palms on the thin mat covering the floor. He gritted his teeth as he fought to ignore the bruise growing near his spine.
Knowing that Jen would be here soon had left him distracted and open. A truly terrible thing when Mina needed something to punch. She had pounded on him mercilessly every time she slipped past his guard.
Suddenly weary of the potential incoming storm, he stood to glance at her in the mirror and had to choke back a laugh. Her gaze was obviously glued to his ass.
“Hey, lady, my eyes are up here.”
Her olive face flushed a deep red. “Oh, gods.”
This time the laugh escaped, and he turned to her. “That’s the third time tonight. What’s up with you?”
She covered her face with her hands for a moment, then laughed, as well. “Just feeling… lonely.”
Rick’s humor vanished. He had wandered directly into dangerous territory. “You don’t have to go in to work at night. You should call off and go out with Jen and me.”
She gaped at him for a moment, then shook her head, leaving a strand of black hair stuck to her sweaty cheek. “Really? How are you going to broach that subject? ‘Mind if my ex-girlfriend, who I live with, tags along with us on our first date in three weeks? I noticed her checking out my ass earlier, and I think she needs to get out of the house’.” She rolled her dark eyes. “Are you trying to get dumped?”
He shrugged, fighting the growing embarrassment. “When you put it that way…’
“Besides, it’s only two hours. If I don’t hear of anything worth hunting, Matty already made plans for me to third wheel with him and Dean. It’s movie night.” Her eyes twitched, and Rick pulled her into a hug.
She clung to him for a moment, but pushed away with dry eyes. “You stink. You should hit the shower before Jen gets here.”
He grabbed her thin shoulders. “Mina, this is me.”
She might have rolled her eyes again, but a smile winked across her lips. “I’ll be better on the twenty-sixth. You know that.” She pulled in a deep breath, resting her hands on his forearms. He kissed the top of her head, and she went rigid.
Rick sighed, knowing she was thinking of the Trojan again. “He’s coming back, Mina. He loves you.”
Her eyes screwed shut and she swallowed hard. Rick pulled her into another hug. For a moment, he wished things had worked out between them. It wasn’t that he still wanted her. In fact, after the break up, they’d fallen into the old sibling-like relationship with only a few bumps. When those bumps left the occasional bruise, she glossed it over with humor.
Same as me.
Still, he couldn’t wait for the Trojan to prove him right. Rick knew the man would be back for Mina. Days like this, though, when she was lonely and miserable, he wished he’d been who she wanted. He hated seeing her cry.
“Thank you,” she said into his chest. “For everything.”
“Just three more days and then Christmas is over.”
She walked away with a nod, wiping at her eyes, finally. “I know. And I’m doing better than last year.”
Rick found a laugh at the memory. “Yeah, I don’t think Sam could handle another drunken holiday.”
She snickered as she tossed him a cold water bottle from the mini-fridge. “He should have known better than to try and go shot for shot with a werewolf.”
Her Speaker might have a good hundred and twenty pounds on her, but Mina’s ability to heal meant that she could drink far past what her slim frame suggested. Poor Sam had been fall-down drunk by noon, and burnt dinner to a crisp. They’d had a TV dinner Christmas, to the old man’s annoyance.
She leaned against the mini-fridge. “Jen’s going to be here any minute, and you really need to shower.”
He shrugged. “She doesn’t mind the sweat.”
“No, I love the sweat.” Jen strode into the gym, smiling widely. She often spent days on end in the forests of West Virginia tracking monsters. This last trip had kept her out of cell phone range for three days, and by the leaves hanging in her dark hair, she hadn’t been overly concerned about her own hygiene before driving up to Pennsylvania.
Rick pushed her thick, black glasses up her nose before wrapping his arms around her. She smelled like smoke and the clean pine of the woods.
She nuzzled at his neck, and Rick remembered that Mina was there, lonely and on the verge of tears. Guilt welled up, and he stepped away.
Jen turned, flashing Mina a smile. “How’s the bar?”
Rick thanked the gods again that these two women were friends. Outwardly, they had nothing in common. Jen wore her second-hand clothes with pride, and Mina hunted down designers like she did monsters.
At an even more basic level, their personalities couldn’t be more dissimilar. Mina was dynamite; a tiny package of explosive damage. Jen was more like her rifle: large, adaptable, and so warm to the touch you almost forgot it was deadly.
Mina shrugged with a smile that erased any sadness. “My reputation is fearsome enough that when I miss work to fight demons, it’s actually quieter than when I’m there.”
Jen laughed. “Too scared of the consequences when you get back?”
Rick caught Mina’s eye, and had to smile with her. Despite her current depression, she genuinely seemed content keeping order at the local haunt.
Jen wrapped an arm around his waist. “So, what are we doing for New Year’s?”
A frown flashed across Mina’s face. “Matty wants to marathon fifties sci-fi movies.”
“No.” Jen shook her head. “You and I will hit up Rita’s on our own before that happens.”
Mina raised a hand for Jen to slap. “She’s gonna ask me to come in to work, anyway.”
Rick laughed. “Promise me I won’t have to pick you two up at the clinic, again.”
Mina shrugged. “We kind of had to take Seth.”
Jen nodded. “We did put him through the window. It was the only decent thing to do.”
Mina headed for the door. “But, despite the popular and very smelly opinions in this room, I desperately need a shower before work. C’mon, Hudson.”
A tiny meow came from the corner, and a gray cat with darker gray stripes uncurled and chased after Mina.
Jen shook her head. “That is uncanny.”
Rick decided to head off her awkwardness. “Go ahead and ask.”
Jen’s pale skin flushed, darkening her freckles. “Fine. Jerk. Is that a werewolf thing? The connection with the cat?”
“Nope. Most animals don’t react to werewolves any differently than they would to regular wolves or people. Hudson just showed up one day and adopted Mina.”
Jen cocked her head. “Who the hell knows why cats do anything? I swear they aren’t really domesticated. Not like dogs or horses.” She stepped away from him. “Want to go another round?”
Jen didn’t spar with him often. She did her demon hunting with guns and traps.
“Bring it on, woman.”
She took off her hiking boots and her flannel shirt. Rick stretched as he enjoyed the view. Jen stood tall, with the long, lean muscles of someone who spent lots of time walking.
She gracefully circled him on her toes. “You just gonna stand there, big guy?”
He hid a smile. Her hands were up, but her stance was sloppy. He slipped to the side, and tapped her head gently. Startled, she tripped over her feet, stumbling a step or two.
As he stepped back, her eyes narrowed. “You’re not taking this seriously, are you?”
“I always take fighting seriously, but you aren’t fighting. You’re dancing.”
She rushed towards him, swinging. Rick took one weak punch to the shoulder, then grabbed her other wrist. She offered no resistance when he pinned her to his chest.
Instead, she slipped her free hand around his shoulders. “Forget sparring.”
“Sounds good to me.” He ran his lips along her long neck.
“So, you and Mina are sparring a lot?” The tone was too innocent to be anything but fishing. Hoping to head off anymore talk, he tried to pick her up, and she resisted.
Rick pushed away his sudden sense of worry, took a breath, before answering her. “A little more than usual. The holidays are hard on her. She needs someone to hit.”
Jen’s lips pressed together.
Rick let her go, his worry worming its way through his chest. “What’s wrong?”
She gave a strained laugh. “Nothing’s wrong. I just, I don’t—” She took a deep breath. “You two are very touchy-feely.”
His eyebrows shot up. “How long have you been here?”
“Good. If you heard the whole conversation, then there’s nothing to explain. She’s my family, and she’s in pain.”
“She’s your ex-girlfriend, who you invite out on dates.”
“I didn’t mean it.” He shrugged at her incredulous stare. “I wasn’t thinking, I was reacting.”
“Reacting to her checking out your ass?”
“Jen, it’s not—she and I—” He pulled in a deep breath. “She’s not interested, she’s lonely. I thought you two were friends.”
“We are friends. That doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with her eye-humping you.” She crossed her arms over her chest and looked away.
Irritation welled up in him. “So when random women slap my ass, that’s funny, but when my roommate has a bad day and needs a friend, that’s a problem?”
Her hands curled into fists. “Matty is your roommate, Mina is your ex-girlfriend.”
“Emphasize the ‘ex’ a little more, please. Maybe it’ll sink in.”
“I’m not sure it will, Rick. It’s been almost two years since you broke up and you still ask ‘how high’ when she says ‘jump’.”
“Who doesn’t?” He shrugged. “It’s Mina, for gods’ sake.”
Jen took a deep breath. “Have you even considered getting your own place?”
Rick pushed down his anger. He’d explained this to her before. “I can’t move out. Matty still needs me.”
She rolled her eyes. “Matty’s doing just fine.”
“How the hell would you know?” Her eyes popped open wide, but Rick kept talking. “I’ve told you before, he’s my best friend, and he needs the support. He’s always going to need the support. As well as he’s doing, he still has his bad days. I promised him that I’d be here for him, same as I promised Mina. They need to know somebody in this world has their back, no matter what.”
Her clenched fists were on her hips now. “Are you sure you know which one of them you dated?”