Reversal

 

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Chapter One

    "And there she is!" the announcer yells.

    The university crowd rises to their feet with a roar. A spotlight fixates on Finix and her surrounding team. The sound of a melodic beat and piano play through the speakers of the athletic complex. Students hum and sing the melody despite no words present. On full athletic scholarship, Finix, a freshman, has joined the ranks of the boys division one wrestling team.

    The announcer continues as Finix makes her way through the path and fans, "A legend in the wrestling scene all of her life, and wrestling both in the girls and boys division throughout her career, Finix weighs in at 129 pounds with a height of 5 feet 9 inches." She stops outside of the mat to be examined before her match. The doctor scans her body as she holds her arms out. He checks her wrists, hair, shoes, everything. He gives her the green light and she steps onto the mat, face to face with her opponent. Known for her red crew cut style hair, her body is naturally tan with brown eyes. Her athletic and fit figure shows her muscular tone without the need of her to flex or rise up to her tip-toes. Though not a bodybuilder by any means, she is 129 pounds of pure muscle at the young age of 18. To protect herself from a former injury, Finix wears a red face guard during her matches.

    The referee forces the two opponents to shake hands. Her opponent is no joke either, matching the same physical descriptions as Finix herself. But there is one main difference, her opponent is a boy. Though he appears to have more muscle, Finix has learned muscle does not decide a fight, but skill.

    The referee raises his hand and moves it down in front of him in a swift motion, "Wrestle!"

    Finix and her opponent nod in mutual respect and approach each other. They lock arms, with Finix sweeping underneath and around her opponent. Her arms squeeze his waist and the side of her face pushes against the back of his head. With her hands locked together in front of him, her opponent grabs them, attempting to pry her off. He fails, and Finix lifts him off his feet into a suplex. He flies through the air over Finix and lands on his shoulders and head. Finix flips and maintains top control. She traps his leg by wrapping her own legs around it and pushes his shoulders down.

    The crowd goes wild. The boy looks shocked, as if not expecting such a display of strength. His face becomes red with frustration. He manages to knock her off balance and flip on top, but Finix guards. The boy stares into her brown eyes through her face guard as she pushes against him. She forces him to the side and manages to get a hold of his back. With her body lying across his back on the mat, she wraps her legs around one of his and wraps her arms around his other leg. He struggles against the hold, but Finix keeps her control. Her legs and arms trap both of his legs and she flips him into a pin. He screams both in frustration and agony as she pries his legs apart and his shoulders into the mat.

    "The banana split!" the announcer yells.

    The referee jumps into the action and gets onto the ground. He moves his hand between the boy's shoulders and the mat. After a few seconds, he slams his hand down, "Pin!"

    The crowd jumps up and cheers. Finix releases her opponent, who immediately collapses his legs together in pain. Finix stands over him with the referee raising her hand into the air. The boy looks up at her. "You bitch..." he mutters.

    Finix removes her face guard, making a slight smile to the insult.

    Zander, a skinny first year medical student and part of the medical team, rushes onto the mat to assess Finix's opponent. Zander wears thick, silver-rimmed glasses. His blond hair is shorter than Finix's red hair. He is rather pale, sporting a white shirt with his name on it accompanied with dress pants. Zander probably weighs the same as Finix, though give or a take a few more pounds. He is rather skinny, having suffered the inability to gain weight all his life due to a rare medical condition. Others envy it, especially models, but he does not. His skinny and pale appearance have made him the target of bullying ever since he was little. His face still shows signs of such torment, his left eye bruised and black. A life of bullying he thought would end with high school, but no doubt followed him to university. Judging from what Finix just did to her opponent, there is no doubt she could pin Zander with both wrists cuffed to her back. Though, that is nothing to be embarrassed about despite Finix being a girl and Zander being a boy.

    Zander opens his case of medical instruments and kneels down next to the boy. "Get the hell away from me kid!" the boy growls between groans of pain. Sweat drips from his face.

    "Kid... That's funny. I thought that expression died out years ago. Besides, I know I'm older than you," Zander says. He pushes his glasses further onto this face. "After that embarrassing pin wouldn't you want all the help you can get?"

    Finix smirks. The boy's face grows red. "You little... You better watch it or I'll match that bruise with your other eye."

    The referee kneels down next to the two of them. "Zander is part of the medical team," he says. "It is customary for him to examine you before you can leave the mat. He's very experienced. The top of his class."

    "I don't need to be examined," the boy hisses. He stands up slowly, knocking away Zander when he tries to help him. Zander topples back and falls on the mat with such force his glasses fall off his face. He shakes it off and reaches for his glasses, only to be handed them. He looks up to see a blurry outline of red hair kneeling next to him.

    Zander takes his glasses from her open hand and puts them on. "Thanks, Phoenix."

    Finix tilts her head. "What did you just call me?"

    Zander looks at her. "You do understand the vernacular of your name right?"

    "My name?" Finix stands up, extending her hand down to him.

    Zander hesitates, but grabs her hand. Finix pulls him up with ease. Zander takes his glasses off and wipes the smudges with his shirt. He holds his glasses up to the light to see if they are clear. "Your name, your red hair, your athletic appearance, your dark eyes; all symbolic of a Phoenix. So that's what I am going to call you."

    Finix's eyes grow wide. "Huh, surprisingly no one has made a connection like that before. Are you a medical student here?" Finix watches him put his glasses back on his face.

    "Not just a medical student," the referee chimes in. "He's the best. He has been the onsite clinician for all wrestling bouts since his freshman year of pre-med. He is the top of his class and very well trained."

    "I'm not that good..." Zander explains.

    "Whatever you say," the referee says.

    "So you've gone through pre-med already?" Finix asks.

    "Yeah, I'm 22."

    "You don't look 22."

    Zander sighs. "I know. I call it a curse."

    Finix laughs. The crowd erupts in a chant, cheering her on. Her eyes scan the crowd, her face becoming indifferent. She turns back to Zander. "Hey, do you think you can show me around the campus sometime?" she asks with a smile. "I'm still new here and don't really know my way around yet besides the athletic complex and my dorm."

    Zander eyes grow a little wide. "You want me to show you around?"

    "Is that a problem?"

    "I mean, not for me. But maybe for you being seen with me," he explains.

    "And why would I care about that?"

    "Don't you have an image to uphold?"

    Finix runs her hand through her red hair as she scans the crowd cheering her on. She turns to her coaches who are motioning her over. "I-"

    "You are soon going to be the face of this university," Zander explains. "Why risk it?"

    "This isn't high school." Finix retorts. "Surely you can't be having as hard of a time at a university than high school."

    Zander looks at her. "No one ever believes bullying to go on at universities. But it is there. Just university students and the like do a better job at concealing it. On top of that, university officials don't really care about that and shrug off bullying as either not existing or not being their problem."

    "What happened to your eye?" Finix asks, pointing at it.

    "I tripped."

    Finix sighs. "How many times has that been your answer?"

    "Too many to count," he replies.

    Finix's coach rushes onto the mat. "Sorry doc, Finix has to go now." He grabs her arm and pulls her with him.

    "Hey- I can walk on my own!" Finix yanks her arm from her coach's grasp.

    Zander smiles to himself and leans down, placing his medical items back into his bag. He tosses his bag over his shoulder and heads towards the exit. He always wants to make it out of the complex before the crowd. This prestigious university has a beautiful campus, especially during this time of year. The weather is warmer and beautiful. The cold and snow have disappeared and will hopefully stay that way.

    Zander heads down the sidewalk, the sun beginning to set behind the horizon. The athletic complex is located on the far corner of campus. He walks wherever he goes, avoiding all transportation provided for students by the university. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. No new messages. No new notifications. He sighs, as if expecting something to be different. He slides his phone back into his pocket.

    A car skids to a stop and pulls up beside him about halfway down the road. He does not recognize it. The car slowly moves to match his walking speed. Zander keeps his gaze focused straight ahead. "Don't you idiots have anything better to do than pick on me. You know, like study?" he says, without looking at the car.

    The rear car window moves down further. The car stops and the door opens. Finix steps out.

    "Finix get back in here!" someone in the car yells.

    "I think I'll go for a walk." She slams the car door, but the car remains stationary. Finix is dressed differently, having changed out of her wrestling attire. She wears a button down plaid shirt with various shades of red. She wears a casual pair of red athletic-type pants with white sandals with a strange company logo.

    "Phoenix?" Zander asks. "What are you doing?"

    "I thought you were going to show me around campus? You never said you wouldn't."

    "Oh, I didn't think you were actually serious." Zander gazes over her shoulder at the crowd exiting the athletic complex in the distance.

    "Look it's Finix!" another student yells. Some of the crowd start heading this way with more following suit.

    Finix turns around to see students approaching her with pictures of her holding the wrestling silver medal at last year's Olympic Games.

    "Can you sign this?" a student asks.

    "Me too!" a second student yells.

    Finix sighs. "Anyone got a pen?"

    Several students extend one. She grabs the nearest and signs the pictures in front of her. She turns back around. "Hey Zander-"

    Zander is already a length down the sidewalk, walking away.

    "If you signed those sign ours, too!" a girl yells.

    "Wait, why were you talking to that guy?" a muscular student in the back asks, pointing at Zander.

    Men exit the black car, forcing the crowd of students back. "Alright, everyone back it up. She'll sign things one at a time."

    "At the moment, I'm not signing anything," Finix says. "I'm tired, and I've had a long day of training and matches. I will be at the athletic complex tomorrow, if you want autographs, come see me during those times."

    Finix smacks one of her guards on the back, "Come on."

    He nods and follows Finix down the sidewalk while the crowd of students disperse. Though, some still linger and follow at a distance. Finix runs down the sidewalk, her guard keeping up. "Zander!"

    Zander stops at the beginning of the parking lot and turns around. "Yeah?"

    "Look, I may have a crowd following me all the time. But big dumbass here will keep them away from us," she says motioning to her guard. He snorts, but says nothing. "I just want you to show me around before the sun sets."

    Zander puts his keys back into his pocket. "I guess I can do that."

    Finix smiles. "Great. Lead the way."

    Zander starts heading in the direction opposite the parking lot. Finix walks alongside him with her guard a few feet behind, being a scarecrow and keeping the students at a distance. The black car she rode in follows nearby. "You can think of this campus as one giant square. It was actually rated as one of the top 10 most beautiful campuses in the country."

    "How do you know that?" Finix asks.

    "I like to read. In fact, when I'm not studying, I read to keep my sanity since medical school is harsh."

    "I see."

    Zander motions towards the athletic complex with his head. "You can think of the athletic complex as a corner of the campus. Right now we are headed to the heart of the campus, and where most of everything is located."

    "Is there a place to eat around here?"

    "Tons of places. Depends what you like- Wait..."

    Finix turns to him. "What?"

    "Are you asking me to dinner?"

    Finix smiles. "It's nice to talk to someone who isn't an insane fan or begging for an autograph. I like it." She yawns.

    "I take it you're tired."

    "Well yeah," Finix explains. She locks her hands together on the back of her head. "I train for hours and hours every day. Even on days I have scheduled conference matches like today."

    Zander turns a corner, knocking into Finix since she didn't change course, though it does not phase her. "Oh, sorry. W-wow..."

    "Wow what?" she asks.

    "It's like running into a brick wall." They turn and start walking towards the food court. 

    Finix blushes lightly. "Thank you."

    Zander looks down at his own physique having brushed up against Finix. He sighs, his twig appearance doing little to help his self-confidence. He has brains, but that's about all he has going for him. "You're welcome," he says while looking down.

    "You don't have that much self-confidence do you?" Finix asks.

    "Gee, what lead you to that conclusion?" Zander asks. "I've never been physically fit. To be honest, gym was the subject I hated most during my schooling. And that isn't even a real subject."

    "Have you tried to get fit. Or be active?"

    "I've tried a lot of different things. But they are all in vain due to my medical condition. I've even had a personal trainer since my family was worried about my health. But I wasn't able to keep up with the regiment. I tried to build muscle, but failed," Zander sighs.

    "There are other things you can try."

    "To be honest, I would rather not. Every time I go into a gym, even the gym on campus, I feel like everyone stares at me. I can barely lift any weight at all."

    "Well, you have to start somewhere. No one starts at the top. I can help you."

    Zander turns to her. "And why would you do that? You barely even know me."

    The two of them approach a long, white, rectangular building that houses the food court. There are numerous fast food restaurants, including Greek, Italian, and other foods of various countries. Zander opens one of the doors leading into the building, Finix smiles and heads in, Zander and the guard follow suit. There are rows and rows of tables, including booths along the edges of the building. Most of the tables are filled, with some empty ones here and there. "What do you want to eat?" Finix asks, turning to Zander.

    "I'll eat just about anything. But my favorite has always been Italian," he says, motioning to the Italian depot at the end of the food court.

    Finix smiles. "Sounds great."

    The two of them head towards the Italian restaurant, amid various stares and whispers. A few students approach, but the guard scares them off and motions them away with the shake of his head. They approach the Italian restaurant, and the worker behind the counter smiles.

    "Hey Zander, will you be getting your usual?"

    He smiles. "You know it. And whatever Finix here wants, it's on me."

    "I can pay for myself. Like you said, we barely know each other."

    "I may be skinny and pale, but I'm still a gentleman. So you aren't paying."

    "Okay, I'll tell you what," Finix says. "We are going to wrestle, right here. On this filthy food court floor."

    Zander turns to her, shock on his face. "Wait, what?"

    "If you manage to pin me for even a split second, you can pay for my dinner. If I win, I pay for my own. Deal?"

    Zander gulps and looks around, students having gathered recognizing the red-haired wrestler. "You can just pay for it yourself then... Why the hell would I embarrass myself even more than I already do in front of the student body?"

    Finix shrugs. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm just trying to get you out of that box you hide yourself in."

    "No one ever said I wanted out. That box is locked."

    "And I'm the damn key," Finix retorts. "Whether you want to do this or not, we are doing this." She walks up to him and grabs his medical bag, giving it to her guard. He takes it as she walks back and stands in front of him.

    "Fine..." Zander says, looking around at all the students.

    Finix grabs his face and turns him towards her. "Focus on me. None of these other students are here," she says motioning around.

    "Hey, isn't that Zander," a student says.

    "Yeah... And he's going to wrestle Finix?" another student answers.

    "I'll... I'll try," Zander answers.

    "Good." Finix takes a few steps back. "Then come at me," Finix says with a smile.

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Chapter Two

    Zander looks around, seeing the crowd of ever-growing students. Don't they have anything better to do? You know, like study? Or drink until unconscious?

    "So do you plan on doing something? Or do I have to come over there?" Finix asks.

    "Do it!" a student yells. A cheer erupts from the crowd.

    Zander's face grows red. He looks at Finix. "This is insane..."

    Finix shrugs. "I'm an insane person." 

    There's a pause. Zander and Finix stare at each other. "I'd rather not wonder what if..." Zander says under his breath.

    "Then live the moment," Finix answers. She motions for him to approach with her hand.

    Zander rushes her, only to run straight into Finix's shoulder when she leans down. He grunts as she tosses him over her shoulder and sends him crashing towards the ground, but stops him about an inch from the tile floor. Finix sets him down gently. She gets up and extends her hand to him. Zander grabs it and Finix pulls him up. She gives him a playful look.

    Zander, ignoring the cheers, insults, and screams of the student crowd, rushes Finix again. This time, Finix locks up with him, arm for arm. The two of them are about the same height. Finix tightens the lock, Zander answers with what strength he can muster. He pushes off her and bends down. He moves his right arm inside her legs, wrapping it around and attempts to lift her across his shoulders. Finix decides to give him a chance and goes along with it, knowing she can counter with relative ease.

    Finix falls across Zander's shoulders with her legs still on the ground. He has a hold of her right wrist with his left hand, his right arm wrapped around her leg from the inside. He attempts to lift her, but only manages to get her feet out of her sandals, barely off the ground.

    "You can lift me higher than that. Come on," Finix stresses.

    "I'm trying..." Zander answers. He attempts to lift her again, but only manages the same height as before.

    Finix looks at him. "Trying is not the same as succeeding is it?"

    "I can't succeed when I don't have the muscle to succeed with." He tries again, able to get her toes off the ground before having to set her back down. "I told you, I'm not that strong."

    "You are trying; which is more than can be said for most people." Finix gets off and stands erect. "You are attempting it rather slow."

    Zander turns to her. "Slow?"

    "Yes, slow. A lift or take down has to be done in one swift motion."

    "Well, when you don't have the muscle what else can I do but struggle-"

    Zander is interrupted by Finix's arm now going through his legs. She grabs his wrist and locks her arm around one of his legs from the inside and propels him up. He falls across her shoulders as she stands up quickly. Zander grunts and stares down at the ground. "See?" Finix says.

    "Yeah, well, you have the muscle to do it in one swift motion. I don't so I have to struggle and appear weak and frail to this crowd of students. Thanks for that by the way. As if I needed more problems." The crowd suddenly becomes visible to Zander with the pointing, laughing, and whispering. Though, some students could care less, there are those that do.

    "None of that should matter to you." Finix motions towards her guard, and he nods and tosses Zander's medical bag to the ground. Finix tosses Zander in a take down, making sure he lands on top of the large bag and not directly on the tile floor.

    Zander groans. "What the hell did I land on?" He reaches under his back and feels his bag. "Oh, that explains it. I guess that's better than hitting the tile directly.

    Finix leans down next to him. "Now, what would you rather have happened. This? Or not partaking and going home, lying in bed wondering what could have happened. Sure, some of these students are laughing, whispering, pointing, spreading rumors, whatever, but you lived the moment. And you got yourself a new personal trainer."

    "A new personal trainer?" Zander asks. "Those don't work."

    "Well, clearly you've never been trained by me."

    Zander gets up on his own. "Yeah, but I don't want to be the reason you interrupt your daily training. Besides, your dozen or so coaches would not be thrilled about this."

    Finix shrugs and stands up. "Coaches have to listen to me. Not the other way around."

    Zander sighs. "I get winded walking up a flight of stairs. Do you know how much you'll have to go out of your way just to bring me up to par?"

    "I'm willing to try if you are. You took a chance here, why not take another?"

    Zander eyes her curiously. "You know, for some big time wrestler, you are a pretty deep person."

    Finix laughs. "Glad someone finally noticed. Shall we eat?"

    Zander nods. "Sure."

    The two of them walk back up to the Italian stand in the food court. At which time Finix turns to the crowd of students still lingering around. "Hey, the show is over. Get a move on with your life." Finix notices pictures in the hands of some students. "For those of you who want autographs, I will be at the athletic complex tomorrow. See me then."

    Some of the students nod and head back off into their lives. The lady behind the counter smiles. She's older, and well known by the student body for working a majority of the restaurants in the food court. "So I take it these will be separate bills then?"

    "Uh..." Zander starts. Finix shoots him a glare. "Yes."

    "Good answer," Finix replies. Zander gets his usual order, while Finix takes a minute to look up at the menu. "You know what, I'll just have what he's having."

    The lady behind the counter nods. "You got it."

    Zander turns to her. "Correct me if I'm wrong or out of line here, but don't you have to watch what you eat?"

    "Technically yes, but I allow myself to cheat every now and then. I just put more effort into my training the next day."

    "I see," Zander says, walking to the counter when their orders appear. He grabs the bags and hands one to Finix.

    "Thanks," she smiles. "Where should we sit?"

    Zander gazes up and down the length of the food court, seeing some empty tables but not many. The booths along the outer wall are always taken and occupied. "If it's alright with you, can we go somewhere quieter?"

    "If that's what you want, sure. Lead the way."

    Zander walks over to the concession stand and grabs silverware and napkins for the two of them. "This way," he says.

    Finix walks alongside him, her guard still following a few feet behind them carrying Zander's medical bag. The three of them head outside through the set of doors. Outside, the sun sinks lower in the sky. The air has gotten cooler, but still warm. The sky is an open sea of blue, not a cloud to be seen. "Do you know where you want to eat?"

    "There's a place at the top of the hill that overlooks the entire campus; well, most of the campus. I usually head up there to study, do homework, ponder life, whatever."

    "Then let's go there. You can point out places of interest while we eat," Finix answers.

    The two of them walk down what the students call Main Street, since it connects most of the campus together and is the main access point for the student union center. Despite being sunset, the campus is still a buzz with students, professors, and other staff moving about with their daily duties. Some students have their face buried in a book, in paperwork, or study guides; others stare at their phone as if not a clue where to go in the world. Only a few enjoy the true beauty this campus has to offer and that being only a few students have nothing in their hands. The guard scares most of the students off should any approach, which Zander silently thanks him for.

    They approach a long set of stairs that leads to what students call The Hill. "This must be a popular location, huh? I thought you said you like quiet places?" Finix asks.

    "I do, but it's much quieter near the top." Zander scans the crowd. Thick, green grass that no doubt also loves the weather, expands on both sides of stairs leading to the heavens. Students occupy most of the space, lying out with towels. With so many students, this area resembles a beach, but without the sand and water. As they ascend the stairs, the amount of students decreases until they finally arrive at the top.

    Zander takes a second, out of breath. He leans down and places his hands on top of his knees.

    "You alright?" Finix asks.

    "Yeah, it's just a chore for me to get up here. But it is well worth it." Sitting several stories up, The Hill is a plateau of benches, picnic tables, and taller grass and fields. The grass surrounds a circular canopy that overlooks the majority of campus. The canopy protects from the rain, and holds a few tables with a bench surrounding the outer perimeter. The wind is strong, forcing students to weigh down their papers with books or other objects. Of course, I guess students can always say the wind blew their papers away.

    Zander takes a seat at his usual table with the best view of campus. Finix sits across from him while her guard takes a seat on a bench, reading the daily newspaper. Zander takes his dinner out of the bag, lasagna with citrus semolina cake for dessert. He unwraps the silverware and begins to pray.

    Finix opens her food and looks at him, his eyes closed. She tilts her head. "You pray before you eat?" she asks.

    Zander finishes muttering something under his breath and looks up at her. "I do."

    "Are you religious?" Finix takes her silverware and starts eating. Her eyes grow wide. "Wow, this is pretty good."

    "To be honest, not really. But my family is." Zander starts to eat, but eats rather slower than normal. A tremor flows through his hand, making the knife shake back and forth. He rests his hand on the table.

    Finix notices it, taking another bit of her lasagna. "Are you nervous about something?"

    "It's just I don't normally eat with anyone."

    Finix nods, taking a drink. "I got that vibe. You're a loner aren't you?"

    "I am." Zander pulls out his phone. No new messages or notifications. Finix notices the blank screen as he puts his phone away.

    "Not that there's anything wrong with that, but life is better experienced with other people around you. Friends, family, colleagues, whoever." Finix picks up the cake and looks at it.

    Zander looks at her. "Don't you think I know that?"

    Finix takes a tiny bite of the cake. "What kind of cake is this?"

    "Citrus something," he answers.

    "It's uh, different." She takes another bite.

    Zander doesn't touch the rest of his food, normally eating it all by now. He pushes his plate away and turns to face the sprawling campus. "You know how when you start going to preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, there's always one or two kids who play alone? Away from everyone else?"

    Finix thinks for a moment. "I'm assuming that was you?"

    Zander nods. "It was. And you know what made it worse?"

    Finix tilts her head. "What's that?"

    "When the teacher would notice, she would try to include me in groups that have already formed. It was so awkward.  Not only did I feel I didn't belong, but the others in that group just shunned and rejected me. Teachers think they help kids like me by doing that, but it really just makes things worse."

    Finix gets up and sits on the table, next to Zander. Her legs dangle over the edge. "The teachers were trying to help. If you can't help yourself then how can they help you?" Finix looks down at his plate, most of his food uneaten. She looks to Zander. "Are you so nervous around me that you lost your appetite?"

    Zander sighs. "Don't take it personally. I just get nervous around people unless it's a patient. It's funny, I feel like I better help other people than I can help myself."

    Finix leans back on her arms, crossing her ankles together. Her white sandals fall off. "Everyone feels that way time and time again. It's not like you can't change."

    "I've tried, Phoenix. I really have. When I was younger, to no surprise, my parents made me see a shrink because I didn't have any friends. The shrink gave me a list of things to do to try and include myself in more activities."

    "Did it work?" Finix asks.

    "No, sure the shrink gave me a list of where to start. But he never really helped with anything else. I would get into the situations and be unsure of what to do."

    Finix scoots back and brings her knees up and wraps her arms around them. She turns to face Zander. "So then what are you doing right now?"

    Zander looks at her, confused. "Huh?"

    "What are we doing?"

    "Talking?"

    "And what did we do earlier in the food court?"

    "Uh... Wrestle?"

    "And did you show me around?"

    "Well, not completely."

    "And I'm still holding you to that. But Zander, that is how you start. You've already taken a step forward."

    Zander turns and looks out towards the campus. The campus lights flicker on with the sun now down. Nighttime has shown its face and with it, the ever encroaching darkness. The high-rise dorms have various lights on, Main Street is illuminated with dozens of streetlights, making it look like daytime. Some of the buildings are completely dark, unused unless the sun is somewhere in the sky. The number of students seemed to have died down, though some are still about for their night classes.

    The guard, now unable to read his newspaper, stands up from his bench. "Finix, we need to get going," he says in a deep voice. "You have an early and long post-conference training and debriefing session tomorrow. I'm not going to get yelled at by your shit ton of coaches for not having you back to your dorm on time."

    Finix turns to him and sighs. "Fine, fine. I suppose you're right." She turns back to Zander and leans towards him. "Will you be alright?"

    The question surprises him. "Why wouldn't I be?"

    Finix shrugs. "Who knows."

    "I'll be fine," Zander sighs.

    Finix hops off the table and puts her sandals back on. She turns back to Zander and raises her hand to pat his shoulder. But he flinches and closes his eyes. "What... I'm not going to hit you."

    Zander opens his eyes, his black eye now shrouded by night. "Right.."

    Finix gets a worried look on her face. "Come by the athletic complex tomorrow morning, say around 8 or 9?"

    "I can't in the morning. I have A&P labs and lectures."

    "What about in the afternoon?" Finix asks.

    "I normally use that time to study, there is an exam coming up where I have to know every bone and muscle in the body and where to locate them."

    Finix crosses her arms. "Are you making excuses to avoid seeing me?"

    Zander looks at her. "And that reasoning right there is why I avoid people. I'm telling the truth. Check my schedule."

    "Alright, alright. I'm going to come and find you then. Is that okay?"

    Zander nods. "Yes, I'm normally up here in the afternoon or in the grass down below should there be a spot."

    "No matter where you are, I'm going to find you. So if you are lying to me, you won't get away with it."

    Zander smiles. "I'm not."

    Finix nods. "Okay then." She pats him on the shoulder before walking up to her guard. She grabs Zander's medical bag and walks it over to him. "Tomorrow."

    Zander nods. "Tomorrow."

    Finix smiles and walks off. Her guard sends Zander a smile before he walks off towards her, following suit.

    Zander grabs his bag and throws it over his shoulders. After gazing out at campus for a few more minutes, he heads down the stairs towards Main Street.

    He pulls out his phone. Nothing new on it. He puts it back into his pocket and walks down the same sidewalk near the athletic complex towards his car. Unfortunately, he does not live on campus, but with his parents and siblings a few miles away. One of the worst parts of his day is this moment. Going home. He stays on campus as long as he can.

    He pulls his keys out of his bag and unlocks his car. He doesn't drive anything special, a years old red Accord that he bought himself. He opens his car door, only for a foot to slam it shut.

    "Hey there future doc," a familiar voice says. "Have my money?"

    Zander turns around to see Will. Will is taller than Zander by a couple of inches. He is a bigger guy, but it is not fat covering his body, but muscle. He has blue eyes, and a noticeable wide scar across his right cheek, starting at his nose and stretching to his ear. He was injured during a football training session that got out of control. Will played for the football team during his and Zander's high school days as a tight end. Believe it or not, Zander's bullying problems followed him from high school to the university as the two of them were accepted by this very school.

    Will is dressed in a white wife beater shirt with navy jeans and typical gym shoes. Two more figures emerge from the shadows; Jared and Brad, buddies of his that were not accepted to the university, but no doubt follow Will around like puppies. They stop a few feet behind Will.

    "I don't owe you any money, Will," Zander answers. He looks at the emergency station a few car lengths down. But there is no way he can reach it this time. Every parking lot at the university has blue emergency stations riddled throughout for times like this, medical emergencies, or rather any emergency. The stations connect to campus police.

    "Of course you do, how else do you think I am going to pay my rent for me and my boys?" Will retorts.

    "My boys and I," Zander corrects.

    "Shut up!" Will pushes Zander against his car. "What did I tell you about creating my damn English?"

    Zander winces. "I think it's time you got a job and paid your own damn rent. What about your lackeys there? They can work, too."

    "Why would we need to work when we have you for money? That's stupid," Brad points out.

    "Well, you should start," Zander answers. "Since I'm no longer paying your damn rent."

    "What the hell made you grow a backbone all of a sudden? You are asking for a damn beating. And this time we won't care about hiding it."

    "I guess I can't be certain..." Zander says under his breath.

    "Wait a second," Jared says. "Weren't you the guy showing Finix around?"

    "Finix? That wrestler everyone is talking about?" Will asks, turning to him.

    "Yeah, apparently someone was showing her around campus earlier. I think it was him," Jared answers.

    Will turns back to Zander. "Is that so? What makes you think you can talk to someone of that status?"

    "Because she's a human being?" Zander retorts.

    Will backhands him across the face. Zander buckles, but gets back up. "You won't talk to her again. Do you understand me?"

    Will looks at him, anger growing in his face. "And what makes you think you can stop me?"

    Jared and Brad laugh. "Simple," Will answers. "If you are beat to a pulp, you won't be talking to anyone." The three rush him.

    "Wait! I have your money," Zander answers.

    The three of them stop. "Is that so?" Brad asks.

    "Let's see it," Will demands.

    Zander reaches into his pocket, clutching just a few dollars, not near rent worthy. "Fine, if you want it this time, then you can go get it." Zander tosses the small change to his left as far as he can.

    The three of them watch the money fly through the air, and Zander makes a break for the emergency station.

    "Get him!" Will yells.

    Zander dashes by the first car and makes it past the second, until he is tackled to the ground from behind mere feet from the emergency station. A few students passing by ignore the struggle, but some run to other stations and ask for help.

    Will forces Zander onto his back and starts throwing punch after punch. Jared and Brad kick Zander's ribs and side and lean down to throw in punches of their own when they see an opportunity. Zander tries to defend himself, but to no avail. Blood sprays from Zander's mouth onto the pavement, staining it red. Cuts burst open on his cheeks and forehead, both eyes swelling. Blood clouds his vision. The assault continues, with no end in sight. Will's knuckles grow red, bleeding from connecting with Zander's face.

    The university has a system that alerts students to any crimes in progress or that have recently occurred.

    In her black, tinted car, Finix hears her phone ding. She pulls it out and checks the message that was sent from the university.

    'Assault and battery in progress at Greywood Parking Lot on the southwest side of campus. Three suspects with one victim. Campus security responding.'

    Police sirens can be heard in the distance. Jared gets up, pulling Will up with him. "Come on man, we are out of time!"

    "We need to move it!" Brad urges.

    "Catch you later, weakling," Will says, giving Zander the finger and spitting on him.

    Barely conscious, Zander feels his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulls it out and looks at the lock screen. Finally, a message.

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Chapter Three

    The ambulance arrives on scene moments later. Will, Jared, and Brad have disappeared. A crowd of students have gathered around as the paramedics exit the ambulance. They run and open the rear doors, pulling out a stretcher and an orange bag.

    "Everyone back away from him please," one of the paramedics says as the three of them rush over with the stretcher. The students take several steps back.

    Zander lies there, going in and out of consciousness. Blood covers his face, dripping off into a dark red pool on the pavement. Struggling to breathe, he clutches his chest where Jared and Brad kicked him over and over again as hard as they could. Being a medical student, he already knows the prognosis should help not arrive in time.

    He sees three figures lean down on each side of him. One of the paramedics shines a light into and away from each eye. "Can you tell me your name?" he asks.

    "Z-Zander," he says. He coughs and blood sprays from his mouth. He gasps for air.

    "He's in bad shape," another paramedic says, placing an oxygen mask over his face.

    "We need to move right now." Each of the paramedics help him onto the orange board. "On three. One, two, three." They lift him up and place him on the stretcher. They start wheeling him back to the ambulance.

    Zander stares straight up, seeing the limitless number of stars illuminating the night sky. He counts the number of constellations. A shooting star crosses the sky. His eyes follow it until it fades into the other end of the sky. His eyes close, passing out.

    He awakes in the hospital, unsure how much time has elapsed. He opens his eyes slowly and looks around, seeing a very boring, plain white room stare back at him. The windows let sunlight in, but he is unsure if the sun is rising or setting. His face kills him. He uses his hand and feels around his face, there are some bandages, and it appears the swelling has gone down. He looks at his arm, seeing an IV feeding into his vein with bags hanging near his bed. He attempts to get up.

    "Ow..." he groans, but manages to sit up in his bed. A sharp pain emits through his chest. He looks down, his chest bruised and battered. A nurse walks into the room.

    "Ah, you're awake. You gave us quite the scare," she says. Nurse Joy is an older woman, with curly brown hair and dark bags under her eyes. Large, circular glasses cover her eyes. Obvious wrinkles show over her face and neck. She wears a set of pink scrubs with pink shoes. She walks over to Zander's bed and grabs his chart.

    "How long was I out?" he asks.

    "About a day, give or take. The ambulance picked you up last night a few minutes after those boys ran off." Nurse Joy walks over and sits on the edge of the bed. "When will I stop seeing you come through here?"

    Zander sighs. "I'm working on it."

    "You know sonny, we both know you stay on campus as long as possible to prevent going home. Those marks and scars on your back... How did that happen? Because they are older, some new, but you didn't get them when you were assaulted."

    Zander pauses. "You weren't supposed to see those."

    "That doesn't answer my question," Nurse Joy says. "How did you get them? They cover your entire back; welts, cuts, scraps. We saw more on the back of your legs."

    He sighs. "I tripped."

    Nurse Joy shakes her head. "That's your excuse for everything isn't it?"

    He nods. "Clumsy me I guess."

    "We can't help you if you don't tell the truth."

    "You don't understand Joy, there is nothing anyone can do."

    Nurse Joy shakes her head. "I find that hard to believe."

    Zander inhales, and exhales a long breath. "I can handle pain. Believe it or not I've always had a high pain tolerance. More importantly though, I can't handle always being looked down upon. Always being weak, or being called names. You would think it gets old, but it doesn't."

    "And I'm assuming your family hurts you emotionally then as well?"

    "Good assumption. I would rather someone kick my ass than being called names, forced to do things, made fun of 24/7, and a whole bunch of other stuff." Zander swings his legs over the side of the bed.

    "Whoa, you haven't been discharged yet," Nurse Joy explains.

    "Well then discharge me. I have an exam tomorrow that I can't miss and I still need to study. Not to mention the lab and lecture I missed this morning."

    "Alright, alright," Nurse Joy says, throwing up her arms. "I'll go get the paperwork for you to sign. You are aware that you will be leaving against medical advice?"

    "I am. Fine. Whatever. Just get me the forms to sign."

    "Alright then." Nurse Joy gets up and heads for the door. "I'll be back in a few."

    "Wait, did anyone come to visit me?"

    Nurse Joy turns back around. "You haven't had any visitors. Were you expecting someone?"

    Zander pauses. "I guess not."

    "We tried to contact your family via your emergency contact information, but there was never an answer. We left numerous messages."

    "That doesn't surprise me either. Anyway, thanks."

    "I'll be back." Nurse Joy disappears towards the nurse's station.

    Zander looks down at his hospital gown. "Why do they make these things so ugly?" He sighs and looks for his medical bag, but is no where to be found. Perfect.

    Nurse Joy walks back into the room with a clipboard and a stack of papers. "Here are the forms you need to sign. And here are the clothes you came in with."

    Zander takes the bag of clothes. Through the clear bag, he sees blood stained on them; some dark patches of red mixed with a lighter shade of red. "Where's my bag?"

    "Your bag?" Nurse Joy asks.

    "Yeah, my medical bag."

    "It was never brought in with you. So I'm not sure," Nurse Joy answers.

    "Great." Zander takes the pen and signs the forms, knowing this process in an all too familiar fashion. He gives the clipboard back to Joy.

    Nurse Joy looks over the forms to make sure everything is in order. "Everything looks good. You are free to go." She removes the IV from Zander's arm and then heads for the exit, but pauses and turns around. "Please, I don't want to see you back here again. Do you know how awful it is to recognize a patient and see them over and over again inside a hospital? It's disgusting."

    Zander sighs. "I know. I'm sorry. I'll do what I can."

    Nurse Joy nods and exits the room. Zander takes the hospital gown off, sighing in relief when at least his boxers are still on. He notices a large white cloth wrapped around his ribs. He puts on the clothes that are stained in blood because those are the only clothes with him. After buttoning his shirt and zipping his pants, he throws the empty bag away and exits the room.

    Outside, the sunshine hits him like an intense searchlight, partially blinding him until his eyes adjust. Zander sees his reflection in the windows of the hospital, seeing the padding and gauze covering a portion of his face. His glasses are now crooked, and no longer fit his face properly. He adjusts them to the best of his ability.

    Not only did his medical bag contain his equipment, but it also contained his notes and handouts from his medical classes. Now that it is missing, all of his notes and documents provided by his professors are gone.

    Zander walks down the sidewalk, mostly looking at the ground to avoid the stares and whispers of the students who pass him. He heads towards the medical building to see if his professors will provide additional handouts or something to give him a chance on the exam.

    "Zander?" a voice asks.

    Zander looks up, a man unfamiliar to him approaches. "Uh, yeah?"

    The man runs up and stops in front of him. "Oh God... What happened to you?" The man has a full grown beard and a thick head of brown hair to match his brown eyes. He is well built and groomed to say the least and quite the dresser, currently standing before Zander in a finely-cut gray Italian suit. His suede shoes look to be more expensive than Zander's car. 

    "That depends on who's asking," Zander answers coldly.

    "I'm Head Coach Sisco of the wrestling team."

    Zander nods. "Ah, I see. In that case, I tripped."

    Sisco eyes him suspiciously. "Interesting, so a trip cut and bruised your face and ribs, huh?"

    "It was a pretty hard fall, yeah."

    "Finix was wondering where you were."

    "Maybe she should have checked the hospital. Is there something you want? I have to go beg my professors for notes and/or handouts for the exam tomorrow. My medical bag is missing."

    "Now I see, that assault and battery text the university sent out last night was about you wasn't it? You were the victim."

    Zander sighs and doesn't say anything. He walks around Sisco towards the medical building. Sisco let's him go, deciding not to pursue nor say anything. He heads in the opposite direction towards the athletic complex.

    The medical education facility is part of the hospital, but on a different side of the building. The medical facility takes up a large portion of the university, making up the entire northeast campus. Zander makes his way to the other side of the structure and enters through a set of doors. Inside is a main foyer that branches off in numerous different directions consisting of classrooms, lecture halls, a cafeteria, gym, and the works. Most of the professor offices are located on the fifth floor.

    Zander makes his way to the elevator and steps inside. Most of the medical classes take place during the morning hours, so the education portion of the building is deserted for the most part throughout the remainder of the day. Zander gets off the elevator and looks for his professor's office. After going down numerous hallways, he finds his it to be one of the corner offices.

    Zander knocks on the open door. "Professor Noal?"

    Professor Noal looks up from his desk, which is covered with stacks and stacks of papers and books. It is surprising he knows where to find anything. Professor Noal himself is young, in his 30s and not really caring much about his appearance. His clothes are rugged as if they have never met an iron. His hair is dirty and messy with an old pair of jeans and gym shoes.

    Noal does a double take. "Zander? Oh my, what the hell happened to you?" He gets up from his desk to meet Zander by the door.

    "I got jumped last night, and woke up from the hospital not that long ago."

    Noal stops in front of him, looking at the blood stains all over his shirt. "I was wondering why you weren't in lab and lecture this morning. From the looks of it, you should still be in the hospital."

    Zander shrugs. "Pain doesn't really bother me suffice how my face and chest may look."

    "I see, well, what can I do for you?"

    "When I was attacked last night, my medical bag went missing. Which no doubt had all of my notes and guides for the exam tomorrow. Do you have any extra copies of the powerpoints, lectures, lab, anything?" Zander begs.

    "Hmm, let me see. Come on over," Noal turns and motions Zander towards his tornado of a desk.

    Zander stands in front of it, bewilderment on his face. "How can you find anything on this desk of yours?"

    Noal laughs. "Believe it or not, this is organized for me. You don't want to see unorganized, trust me." He sifts through stacks of papers and books. "Ah, here we go." He pauses, after examining more of the papers. "Unfortunately it looks like this is all that's left." He hands them to Zander.

    Zander looks through them. The powerpoints consisting of the lectures are there, but sure enough are bare without any extra notes or scribbling on them. "Do you have any extra copies of the diagrams of the muscles and bones? Or the mapping of them?"

    Noal shakes his head. "I'm fresh out of those, unfortunately. Everyone snatched up whatever I had left for study material. There should be diagrams and what not in your book, though."

    "I can't use my book since it was in my bag."

    "Oh... Well, that's bad luck. See if some of your other students can help you out?"

    "Being the top of the class, all of them want to see me fall. So that's out of the question," Zander sighs.

    "I see your point. Sorry I couldn't be much help. I do hope you get better, though. Remember, the exam is 8:00 A.M. sharp in our usual room," Noal explains.

    Zander nods. "Wouldn't miss it. Besides, the powerpoints are plenty. I would be lost without them, so thanks."

    "Take it easy, Zander. And be careful."

    "Thanks again, professor. See you tomorrow." He exits the room and proceeds back down the hall. He arrives back on the first floor via the elevator, looking through the blank powerpoint slides. The notes he lost had notes written all over the slide handouts, but these are blank. "Guess I'll have to manage. But what am I going to do about knowing all the bones and muscles," he mutters to himself.

    He exits the building and heads towards The Hill. It is usually deserted this time of day; all students preferring to lie in the grass and sun. Unfortunately, he has a bit of a walk since it is on the other side of campus.

    Zander starts heading in that direction, ignoring the looks from students, faculty, anyone passing by. To be honest, the looks, the rumors, the whispering, those are all worse than the pain. As he walks, he takes some of the bandages off face, maybe it will draw attention away from him. The bandage wrapped around his body is concealed by his bloody shirt. He leaves it be.

    He avoids Main Street, knowing the business of that area, and takes the long way around to The Hill. Doing what he can to hide his blood stained shirt, he makes his way up the stairs, losing his breath about halfway up. If he had his medical bag, he would have a change of clothes; even scrubs would be better than a red flashing beacon for everyone around him.

    After catching his breath, he ascends the stairs once again. This time making it to the top under the shade of the canopy. No one is there. He pulls out his phone. No new notifications. No new messages. Guess his family either doesn't know what happened, or neglect to care.

    Zander takes a seat at the table overlooking campus. He pulls out the folder and the empty powerpoint notes. As he flips through the pages, some of them have diagrams noting to muscle and bone, but not near as in-depth that will be covered in the exam. "These are practically useless..." he says to himself.

    He turns and looks out at campus, seeing Main Street buzz with students moving about their university life. The breeze is strong today. Looking back to his papers, he debates letting the wind blow them away; perhaps the wind can find a better use for them than he can.

    A familiar face ascends the steps. It's Finix's guard. He pulls out his phone. "Yeah... He's here."

    Zander sighs. "Perfect," he mutters.

    The guard approaches him, taking a seat at the nearest table. "I take it you got into a fight last night?" he asks.

    "Why be just a guard when you are that smart?" Zander asks with a wave of his hand.

    The guard laughs and shrugs.

    Finix ascends the stairs and rushes over to Zander from behind. She is dressed casually, wearing a plain white t-shirt and shorts with the same white sandals. "What the hell happened? You weren't in your class-"

    Finix goes silent when Zander turns to face her. "I have a pretty good excuse," he answers.

    "Oh, no..." Finix bends down. "When did this happen?"

    "Last night after we got done talking."

    "I knew I shouldn't have let you out of my sight," Finix answers. She looks down and sees his blood stained shirt. "Why are you still wearing that?"

    "It's all I have unless I go home, and I don't want to do that. So this wonderful shirt it is."

    Finix walks over to her guard who carries her gym bag. She digs around and finds a long sleeve shirt and red sweatpants. She walks back over and hands them to Zander. "Here, put these on."

    Zander looks down at them. "What, now?!"

    Fenix nods. "Yes, now."

    Zander stays motionless. "You know, most guys wouldn't hesitate to strip in front of a girl, but yeah, I'm not one of those guys. I'll change later."

    "There's no one up here to see you. Unless the wind counts. Just do it."

    Zander pauses. "...fine."

    He unzips his pants and pulls them down, moving quickly once exposed and slides the red sweatpants on. He pulls his shirt off, revealing the bandages that are still wrapped around his body. Finix moves closer and leans down a little to examine them. Zander makes sure the rear side of his body never faces her.

    Zander gets uneasy. "Umm..."

    "Relax," she says calmly. "Well, looks like the emergency room did a decent job. You should recover quickly."

    Zander puts the new shirt on. "I have a serious question for you," he asks, taking a seat back at the table.

    "What's that?" Finix stands back up.

    "Why do you even care? I'm a nobody."

    Finix crosses her arms. "You are a top-of-your-class medical student, you are not a nobody." She moves and sits on top of the table, facing Zander, and slips her sandals off, sitting Indian style. "I'm going to tell you an honest story. I've dated many people, girls included. But for the most part, I have been with guys."

    Zander scratches his head. "Uh, what?"

    Finix shushes him. "I'm attempting to answer your question. In almost all relationships I've been in, I'm the one being protected. But as you can clearly see, protection is something I do not need. So suffice it to say, I lost interest in those relationships. Many guys are uncomfortable with having a girlfriend who may be stronger, who can wrestle better, or who has a bigger pair of balls than he does. To go against this is to go against the dynamic society has established about so called relationships. That it is the man who takes control and heads the relationship."

    "I still don't see how that answers my question," Zander answers.

    Finix smiles. "I take it you've never been in an actual relationship before?"

    Zander looks out towards campus. "Believe me, I've tried. But to add to what you just said, most girls do not want a boyfriend who they do not feel safe with. I mean look at me. Do you think I can protect a girlfriend from some guy or muscle head, or anyone? And that's not even stating the obvious."

    "Which is?"

    "I barely have the time for a relationship anyway, being a medical student. My life isn't my own."

    Fenix shakes her head. "See, that sounds like one of your many excuses that you create to feel better about yourself."

    Zander shrugs. "Even if it sounds like an excuse, it's the truth." His eyes scan the papers and notes beside Finix's foot.

    Finix looks down at them and picks them up. She examines them. "I take it your exam is tomorrow?"

    Zander nods. "Yeah, tomorrow morning at 8."

    "These are all the notes you have?" she asks, flipping through the pages.

    "No, those are the spare notes I just got from Professor Noal. I lost all of my actual notes, along with my book. They were in my medical bag, which is nowhere to be found."

    "Well, that's not good. What are you going to do?" Finix sets the papers down.

    Zander shrugs. "I guess lose my top ranking. What else can I do? All I can do is study what the professor gave me."

    "You said yesterday that the lab portion is covering all the bones and muscles of the body, right?" Finix asks.

    "Yeah."

    "Well, I might not be able to help you with all of this lecture and physiology stuff, but I can help you with that part."

    "How? You don't know any of this stuff," Zander says, trying not to sound too harsh.

    "True, but the internet does. You don't need a professor's notes to memorize and learn the muscles and bones of the body. The internet is full of diagrams to help with that."

    "Why didn't I think of that? Well, that makes me feel better at least. But how can you help specifically?"

    Finix smiles. "Wouldn't it be easier to learn muscles and bones on a real person rather than a bunch of diagrams?"

    Zander's mouth opens a little in shock. "Uh... What are you saying?"

    Finix scoots closer to the edge of the table, placing her feet on each side of Zander who sits below her. "You are going to learn the muscles and bones of the body using me. It's a tactile form of memorization through association."

    Zander pauses before answering. "Well... You are right. It is a better way of learning. But..."

    "Glad you agree," Finix says, ignoring his obvious hesitation. She hops off the table and puts on her sandals. "You are coming back with me."

    "Do I have a choice?" Zander asks.

    "Nope." She nods at her guard, who gets up, ready to follow.

    Zander gets up, but buckles a bit from the pain in his ribs. He holds the table for support. Finix grabs his wrist, swinging his arm around her neck. She pushes him back up.

    "Oh... Thanks," Zander says.

    "I'll be your support, not some table," Finix says with a smile. Finix's guard tilts his head curiously, as if seeing Finix smile a real smile for the first time. Finix turns to him. "What?"

    "Nothing, nothing," the guard says, throwing his hands up.

    The university safety lights come on with the setting of the sun, illuminating the darkened portions of the campus. Though, the campus still teems with life due to various night classes and students pulling all-nighters.

    Not afraid to put more of his weight on Finix for support, he leans down and gathers the papers together. He turns to Finix. "Where are we going, anyway?"

    "Back to my dorm," Finix answers.

    "Aren't dorms kind of small?" 

    "Not mine. I have the corner dorm on the top floor of the Cears building. I do have a roommate, but she's cool. Shall we go?" Finix asks.

    Zander nods. "Ready."

    The two of them head to the stairs and start their way down the Hill. Most of the students have disappeared with the setting of the sun. Some still linger under the lights, refusing to leave their spot on the grass. About halfway down the stairs, Zander sees three familiar figures in the distance. "Damnit..." Zander says under his breath.

    "What?" Finix asks. She looks in the direction Zander stares.

    Finix feels Zander start to shake, either from adrenaline or fear. They continue walking down the stairs. Finix keeps on eye on the three guys standing in the grass. Zander tries to stare ahead, but finds his gaze shifting over to them. Will tilts his head up and runs his finger across his throat. "Perfect. You know those three told me to stay away from you."

    Finix turns back to Zander. "They did? I don't even know who they are. They won't try anything with my guard, he alone can pummel them into the ground."

    Zander looks back at him as the guard nods his head. "Right..."

    Will, Jared, and Brad keep their distance. Finix was right.

    Zander, Finix, and her guard reach the bottom of the stairs and proceed to Main Street, where a black car with tinted windows waits for them. The guard opens the rear door, as Zander and Finix enter. He then opens the front passenger door and gets in. The driver drives off.

    Zander gazes out the window, watching students struggle with their after sunset caffeine issues, approaching deadlines, or potential hangover remedies. A hand on his soldier brings his mind back to reality. "Zander, you okay?"

    "Oh, yeah. My mind tends to wander when I'm bored, which for me is pretty dangerous."

    "Are those three guys the ones who jumped you last night?" Finix asks.

    "That obvious, huh? Yeah, I didn't have their rent money."

    "Their rent money?" Finix questions.

    Zander nods, now gazing back out the window. "Ever since high school, they forced me to give them money on a daily basis. Now that they are also at this same university, they force me to pay their rent to have their 'protection,' as they call it. I didn't have the money last night. So they did this to me," he finishes, motioning towards his injuries.

    Finix takes her seat belt off and scoots across the seat, pressing herself against Zander. He turns, face-to-face with Finix. "Uh..."

    "Zander, listen to me, those three do have one thing right."

    "Oh? And what's that?" he asks.

    "You are someone worth protecting. You are someone who needs protecting. And I am someone who can provide that protection. No one will dare mess with you with me by your side."

    Zander appears indifferent. "Again, why go out of your way to do that for me? This seems unreal."

    "Just because something has never happened to you before shouldn't make it seem unreal."

    "That's not what I mean. You've barely known me for two days. You can have practically any guy you want rather than some skinny, pale, medical student."

    Finix rests her head on his shoulder. "I've already explained that to you. I'm stronger than a lot of the male athletes, though it may not appear that way. I know how to wrestle. I know how to fight. Most of the guys do not want that in a woman, rather a woman wants that in a man. I have had my fair share of relationships, but I haven't been in one in a long time."

    Zander is silent, unsure of what to say. Finally, he manages, "At least you've been in a relationship before. I'm unsure of the feeling."

    "Those relationships did teach me something about myself, though," Finix finally answers.

    Zander looks down at her. "What's that?"

    "I'm more of a protector, not a protecteè." Finix closes her eyes, using Zander's shoulder as a pillow.

    "I see, what-" Zander starts, but the sound of Finix's light breathing stops him. He looks at her, seeing her pressed up against him. So, this is what it feels like. Hesitantly, he wraps his arm around her body, and pushes her closer, not wanting the feeling to disappear.

    The driver and guard send a funny glance to each other. The driver pushes a button, making a tinted window appear and slide up, separating the back from the front of the car. They head for the Cears dorm tower.

    Zander smiles, showing his white teeth for the first time in years. He runs his hand across the sides of her head, feeling her buzz cut before working his hand upwards into the full length of her red hair.

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Chapter Four

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Chapter Five

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Chapter Six

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Chapter Seven

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Chapter Eight

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Chapter Nine

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Chapter Ten

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~

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