**WIP – Robena Finch – Written Fall 2012**

man-walking-away-2My thoughts return to the sidewalk and I begin to feel as though someone is behind me. It’s midnight and there are streetlights lining my path, but I still feel uneasy. My senses are heightened, aware of every flash of light, every empty shopping bag carried eerily by the night’s breeze. It’s then that I begin to think that walking home alone was not a good idea. I’m too scared to look behind me so I pick up my pace. There is no sound coming from behind me, but I still sense someone is there. Am I paranoid?

My breath catches and now my heart is quickening. It’s coming again. My chest constricts. My hands are tingling. I’m gasping. I run faster. I run as if the simple act of it will set me free. Tears are in my eyes and panic has taken over. I vaguely hear the crunch of the salt beneath my feet and narrowly miss that it is now the sound of four feet, not two.

Large hands grasp my arms. I scream. Over and over, I scream. A hand covers my mouth and I want to open my eyes, but I’m too afraid. I shake my head in an attempt to free myself, but this man is too strong.

“Shhh, Robena. Calm down. Breathe.”

My heart is loud in my ears. I barely hear the words. Finally I open one eye and then the other.

It’s him, the quiet Québecois from the bar. It’s Serge.

“You’re having a panic attack,” he says calmly.

My mind is still racing with my heart and my breaths are shallow and quick. He’s rubbing my back and bending me forward, encouraging me to settle.

“Breathe,” he says over and over. His voice is so tender and smooth I want to fade into it, the origins of it: a place tranquil and still knowing all is well and there is nothing to fear. His body is close to mine, very close. I know he’s a stranger but I allow myself to be caught up in his compassion for a while.

Standing up, I take a deep cleansing breath. He backs away slightly, giving me room.”What are you doing here?” I ask finally. My tone is sharp in spite of myself.

He smirks. “Helping you. Or maybe not?”

“Helping me?” I ask incredulous. “With the panic attack? You were the cause of it! Why the hell were you following me?” I yell. I’m more intrigued than pissed off, but I can’t seem to control my tone.

“I…Vicky said you were taking the bus home, but I saw the bus go by without you on it so I left to make sure you were safe.” His eyes are looking straight into mine, slightly nervous but unafraid. I don’t intimidate him and I find myself wondering if anyone ever did. “Why are you walking all by yourself?” he asks. “There are dangerous people out at night, you know.”

I study him further. His brow is furrowed in genuine concern. His jaw is clenched. I want to reach out to touch him and ease the tension in his face, but I stop myself. “You sound like you speak from experience.”

Silence. He lowers his head. I don’t know why or how, but I appear to have offended him.

“Come on.” His voice is gruff. “I’m walking you home.” It’s not a request; it’s an order.

I protest. How will he get back to his car? How come it’s okay for him to walk alone and not me? He levels a look at me that says: “Really?” He’s got a point. Serge is at least six feet and his presence is imposing. Sheer strength it is obvious he possesses, but there’s rage in him too. Raw rage.

It’s not clear to me why I should trust this guy, but somehow I do. He’s the friend of someone I barely know, but I feel safe. I bury my hands in the pockets of my vest and walk on. He grabs onto my elbow, but lets go as soon as I ask him to. I catch his scent: spice and citrus and it makes me want to walk closer to him. He’s quite warm, as if he had run to catch up to me. Did he? Who is Serge Bittan? And more importantly, why has he appointed himself my saviour?

“So was Vicky able to help you? With what happened to your sister, I mean?” It was a dangerous topic, his sister’s death, but something in me says Serge and I are of the same mind when it comes to small talk…in that we loathe it.

He shakes his head. “No, not yet. She said something along the lines of ‘Spirit’s not speaking today.’ I love Vicky, but sometimes she can be a real flake.”

Vicky was the only psychic I knew, but I would never describe her as flaky. To me, she was genuine. She could care less what you wanted to hear. She told you what she heard. End of story. “Well, what if it’s true? What if the messages just weren’t coming?”

His tone is tense and impatient. “I don’t really have time for that.”

I laugh. “So, Spirit is supposed to be on your schedule?”

I notice his body stiffen. “Macha deserves for the truth to come out. That’s all.”

I nod. Obviously I don’t know the full story and it’s equally obvious he doesn’t want to share it with me right now. I understand that if nothing else. Speaking about a loss is like reliving it all over again. It’s like opening up a wound and letting everyone see how little it has healed, even with the passage of time.

“That’s a beautiful name…Macha.”

He smiles and I feel a twitch in my heart at the sight. “My mom got it from a book.”

“And how are your parents doing?” I ask without thinking. We’re strangers, Robena! This is presumptuous at best.

He seems unaffected by my faux pas.”My mother passed when I was nine years old and my dad, well…I’d rather not talk about him.” Any trace of a smile disappears as he mentions his father. “I know how that sounds. It’s complicated,” he says quietly, his gaze on the ground.

I look ahead feeling like I’ve invaded a private planet of his where he’s meant to save everyone, yet finds himself failing miserably.  “I’m sorry about your mother,” I utter.

He nods and offers a tight smile. We walk the next five minutes in complete silence. I feel tired and tense. I feel silly that this is happening…that this poor, grieving man has to walk my naive ass home because I didn’t have the common sense to take the bus.

I stop and turn to Serge. “My house is just around the corner,” I say, giving him the chance to walk back.

That look again. He stares straight into me. “Robena, I’m walking you to your door.”

My name in his mouth almost stops me dead. It was as if he carried my body, my self entirely as he held the sound of my name and let it go.

We reach my father’s front step and I look up at him, suddenly nervous, “My friends call me Bean.”

He shakes his head, laughing slightly and most certainly at me. “I’m not going to call you that.”

I smile. Of course he wouldn’t. It’s a ridiculous name, but it’s mine. “Why? Because it’s silly and makes me sound like a ten-year-old?”

He stares at me for the briefest of moments. “No, Robena, because I have no intention of being your friend.”

My jaw drops open a little, sealing the deal as the most pathetic twenty-five year old woman alive. No words. He reaches out, squeezes my arm gently and then he’s gone.

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