Trigger warning: This short story contains graphic depictions of violence.
“I’m going on a run,” Joanne said, pulling her hair into a ponytail.
“Okay. I hope you have a good time,” her partner said with a soft smile.
The reflection of their screen sparkled in their eyes as they resumed their game. “Thanks, Love,” she said and touched their hair as she walked past them. She took a deep breath, laced her shoes, and left.
She closed her eyes and nodded to the rhythm of the music as it washed over her. She stretched and reflected on how she crafted this playlist to run in tempo with the songs, then pushed herself into a steady charge.
“Rebecca’s like a bad drug to me. She reaches out, and suddenly all is forgiven and I just want to comfort her and talk with her through all the shit she dug herself into. I want to be there for her.”
Joanne shook her head and focused her thoughts on mentally singing along, and navigating her running path.
“I’m sorry, Joanne, I just don’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to be present for you. It’s not that your needs don’t matter, they do… I just can’t have these kinds of discussions with you. I really don’t want to lose control and explode. I’m just too frazzled; it’s too raw. I like listening to you and talking with you, but I’m running on fumes. I don’t have it in me.”
Joanne noted how lovely the colors of the leaves were on the trees when illuminated by the street lights; vibrant against the thick blanket of night.
“It’s too easy for me to lose my shit. I don’t want to get angry at you or lash out. I’m constantly on the razor’s edge with all this hurt and betrayal Rebecca caused, and I’m still trying to pull myself through. I know this is hard for you and she hurt you too, but I need a break from supporting you until I am recharged. I’m sorry.”
The cool air prickled against Joanne’s heated skin.
“That’s one of the downsides of needing someone… You’re kinda fucked when they can’t be there for you.”
I don’t need fuckin’ anyone. She thought back to the memories invading her mind.
She approached the darkest section of her run and felt a stab of anxiety flutter through her chest. What if? She worried, as an image of a man lurking to ambush her in the shadows flashed through her mind. Let them. She responded internally with a rage so hot it radiated from her and settled into her bones as numbness.
Let that motherfucker try… she thought.
Darkness envelopes her and a pair of rough hands shoot out to clamp down around her waist and mouth. She bites into his flesh before fully registering she has been grabbed. Blood pours into her mouth and the man yelps. While pulling his hand away from her, he only tears his skin further. “Bitch! You fuckin’-” But she cuts him off by kicking him in the balls, then kicking out his knee as he bends over to clutch his delicate genitals. She screams and strikes him to the ground, face smacking the concrete. Straddling him, she scratches her nails down his face, then bunches his shirt in her fists. She lifts his head only to slam it down again. His blood splashes against her deranged smile. Blood pools beneath his head. She stands over him, kicking at his ribs, stomach, and finishes by stomping on his groin. She steps away from him and the man curls into a fetal position, moaning. She digs in her pocket for her pepper spray, saunters over to his bloody face, and sprays him. She turns and walks away from the shrieking man, walking further away from her fantasy and back to reality.
Joanne blinked and realized she already past the dark tree-tunnel. Let anyone dare fuck with me. She thought. A shiver rippled through her. She checked her pockets and felt her pepper spray still safely stowed. She rounded the final corner and sprinted up the steep incline toward her home. Panting and exhausted, she approached the front door, wiped away tears she hadn’t noticed until then with her sleeve, then pushed it open.
“Hey Hun. How was your run?” her partner greeted. They would say silly rhymes and puns because they knew she loved it. Joanne felt her heart lift for a moment and hugged them.
“It was good,” she said. They kissed her forehead and rubbed her back as she clung to them for a long hug.
“You sure you’re alright?” They asked.
Joanne loved it when their voice was gentle like that.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Do you want to hop in the shower with me?”
“Well, we probably shouldn’t hop in, because that sounds dangerous and potentially damaging to the shower,” they said.
She laughed, loving their humor of intentional absurdity.
“I’ll go turn the water on,” she said, then kissed them.
She slipped off her shoes and entered the bathroom smiling. Things weren’t perfect, but everyone was proactively working on learning from the situation and improving themselves. That was enough for her; she would figure the rest out in time.