It had been weeks since the Arena Games ended and Tonya and Crystal met for their customary Friday morning breakfast. The morning chill was leaving the air as the sun peeked over the horizon.
“Then what happened?” Crystal asked.
“I don’t remember much. My skin was burning too much to pay attention to anything. I’m pretty sure Steven was the one leading the way. We couldn’t carry Jimmy, so he slowed us down getting out of the room. It felt like we were in there forever, but when we made it out, I just wanted to curl up and die. It was awful.” Tonya took a sip of hot cocoa, allowing the warmth to comfort her. A cinnamon roll lay picked apart on the small white plate.
“Was everyone okay? I’m so glad Steven was there to help you guys.” Crystal’s blind eyes stared ahead, but she was leaning forward gripping her warm coffee mug. The street was quiet this morning as the two sat at one of the outdoor tables.
“Yeah, me too. I talk with Jimmy at least once a week now and he’s doing good. Steven gave me his number if I ever need to chat about anything.”
“Have you?” Crystal asked. “Come on, tell me.”
“A time or two. So when are you going to tell me about you and Jay?”
The color leapt to Crystal’s cheeks. “What’s there to tell? He’s nice and respectful.”
“And? Come on, there is more to it than that.” Tonya’s phone rang and she looked at the screen. “It’s Steven. Would you care if I talked to him real quick?”
“Yes! I mean no, talk to him. Don’t let him get away.” Crystal’s giddy smile lit her face up as she clapped her hands.
Tonya slid her thumb across the screen, “Hello?”
His voice was soft, “Hey. I was just…um, do you got a minute?”
She looked to Crystal leaning on her elbows trying to hear, “Yeah, give me a second.” She got up and walked some distance before speaking. “What’s up? How is your new place going?”
“It’s fine. You doing okay?”
“Yeah. I’m hanging out with Crystal. Have you heard from your dad?”
“No. I drove by the campus the other day and every building is empty and for sale.”
“So he’s gone. I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
“No. I knew he always had a plan in case something like this happened. The reason I called was, do you think we could have dinner one night? It doesn’t need to be fancy. Maybe pizza or something?”
“Yeah, we could do something.”
“Cool. I’ll text you later about it. I’ll talk with you soon.”
After returning to the table, Tonya pushed around the remains of her breakfast.
“Okay, spill it. What did he say?”
“His dad left. He said all the buildings are empty and for sale.” She watched Crystal deflate. “Although, he did ask me for a date later in the week.”
“Are you kidding? That’s great! Do you know what you’re going to wear?”
“I will after you help me pick it out. What are you doing today?”
“Yay! Let’s go back to my place and I’ll grab some clothes.”
“Clothes? Are you staying the night?”
“Yes. You’re confused and I’ll help you work through it. Besides, it’ll be fun.” She pushed away her empty plate. “Are you done?”
After several flights of stairs up to Tonya’s apartment, they turned down a hallway and the worn beige carpet muffled their steps. Unlocking the door, Tonya flipped on a light. “Wait here.”
She entered and grabbed her bat from its hiding spot and walked from room to room turning on lights. Going back to the front door, she let Crystal come in. “Sorry about that. I’m still paranoid I guess.”
“It’s understandable. Everything good?”
“Yeah. You want some popcorn?”
“I’ll never turn down popcorn you make.”
Their laughter continued late into the night as the two covered every conceivable topic. A peaceful sleep and a warm breakfast had the two ready for the day. Tonya helped Crystal gather her things and saw her to the door.
“Thanks for coming over. Are you sure you don’t need me to walk you?”
Crystal shook her head. “I got Hunter. I’ll call you later, okay?” She spoke to her watch. “Hunter, will you take me home?”
“Sure. Take a right in the hallway.” Crystal hugged Tonya and walked away, following the verbal directions of Hunter.
A sense of unrest came over her. She grabbed her phone and texted Beth. Beth kept the chat short because she was at work. Tonya looked around her solitary apartment for a few seconds before grabbing some clothes and running to the gym.
At the gym, she left her stuff in a locker and headed to the main floor. Finding an open punching bag, she set about her routine. As the sweat fell from her, she fought the threatening thoughts. Flashes of memories and hearing the screams echoing in her mind sunk her punches deeper into the bag. The bag took on faces of people just before her knuckles crumbled the image. Her muscles screamed for relief and her shins burned by the time she finished. It was the first workout since the Arena Games and she felt it.
Back at her locker she drank some water and gathered toiletries to shower with. The cool water flowed over her skin as a gentle stream smoothing bedrocks. She ended the water flow and toweled off, wrapping her hair in the towel after dressing.
Gathering her things, she checked her phone and saw a text from Jimmy.
I’m taking a couple weeks vacation and I’m going to the old farm. I’d like it if you came for a couple days. It’ll be like old times. The old one-ton is still rusting in the shed. Maybe we could get it going again. Bring Steven if he’s free.
Just like old times.