Annie Rogers slides her Hyundai into a parking space near the rink entrance and looks in all four directions before unlocking her door. She recognizes the other cars around her, an old Chevy, an older Taurus, a shiny Civic, all dozing in the sun that glows on the streaks in her new windshield.
She walks around to the passenger side and slides the strap of her gym bag over her shoulder, the weight of her skates, pads, and helmet so familiar that she feels her rhythms changing even before she stands up again. She’s tied her chestnut hair in a ponytail to keep her hair off her neck, but on a night like this, she’ll sweat like a horse anyway.
When she straightens up, Kevin’s there.
“Annie, we gotta talk.” He’s almost a foot taller than her own five-two and twice her weight, red tank top, shaved head, soul patch, eyebrows thick as crayons. When she sees his eyes, she thinks she’s going to wet herself, right there on the blacktop.
“It’s over, Kevin. Go away. Please.” She tries to keep her voice steady.
“There’s too much between us, Annie. You can’t just toss it away like an old stick of gum. We’ve got a future.” It’s only six-thirty, but his breath smells like Guinness.
“I told you to leave me alone.” If he touches her, she’ll scream her lungs out.
“Annie, that’s just crazy talk. Look, you know we love each other. C’mon.”
She wishes she had mace in her purse. Or a taser, a cannon, anything to quiet the terror that’s squeezing her chest. She forces herself to breathe. It’s bad when you have to think about it.
“Annie, I love you. Shit, I told you often enough.”
“You hurt me often enough, too. Kevin. I don’t want that anymore.”
“Hurt? What kind of bullshit is that?”
“You hit me. Remember? You gave me a black eye.” He rolls his eyes, but she forces herself to keep going. “And bruised ribs. Twice.”
“OK, so I got upset a couple of times. But that just shows I love you.”
“I don’t love you, Kevin. It’s over.”
“Shit, that’s just girl talk. You’re crazy around that time of the month, right? A couple of days, you’ll be fine. Listen, why don’t I wait around. After practice, we can go somewhere
“Jesus Christ, Kevin. You broke my windshield here the other night, remember? I had to get a tow truck and call my insurance company and fill out paper work and get a loaner to get to work yesterday. You had a crowbar. If you’d hit me instead of my windshield, I’d be dead.”
He clamps his hand around her arm and her right hand goes numb.
“Goddammit, listen to me. You don’t fucking get it, do you?”
He pushes her back against the hood of her car and her eyes burn with terrified tears. His face is only inches from hers. If he were any bigger, he could carry her up the Empire State Building with one hand and swat away airplanes with the other.
“Hey, dickhead. Let her go.”
The voice slashes through the humidity and Kevin takes a step back. Annie can still feel where his fingers gripped her; she’ll see purple marks on her biceps tomorrow.
Roxy Heartless strides over. Her blue eyes gleam like sapphires and a cell phone glows in her hand. “Don’t tell me you didn’t get the restraining order. And don’t even fucking dream of saying you didn’t understand it.”
Kevin has eight inches on Roxy, too, and his fists look as big as Annie’s head. “This has nothing to do with you, bitch. This is between me and my girlfriend.”
“Ex-girlfriend. It’s over. She told you that, but you keep stalking her.”
“Stalking? Where the fuck do you get stalking? I just want to talk to her, make her start thinking straight again.”
“This isn’t a debate.” Annie hears Roxy’s phone beep. “The cops are on the way.”
“You…” Annie thinks Kevin is going to swing.
“Do it. Please.” Roxy’s voice sounds like a snake ready to strike. It scares Annie even more than Kevin does. She’s the toughest divorce lawyer in Hartford County, which is why her
rink name is Roxy Heartless. “Half a reason, and your tiny little balls are on my key ring.”
“You want her too, bitch? Is that what this is all about? You a fucking dyke?”
But he stalks back to his car, hidden around the corner of the building. His Hummer spews gravel and roars across the lot to Farmington Avenue, swerving right toward Bristol, Farmington, and I-84.
Roxy watches until the car disappears beyond the pillars to the middle school two hundred yards away. “Well, I’m wet now. How about you?” Annie realizes her knees are shaking and feels arms wrap around her. It feels pretty good, but she knows Roxy likes guys. She’s divorced two of them.
“I’m all right. Thank you.”
Roxy marches them across the blacktop and into the rink of the New Britain Whammer Jammers, eastern Connecticut’s roller derby team.
As soon as they step inside, Annie feels her heart rate and breathing slow down to normal. Grace Anatomy, black braid falling to her waist, does a Pilates warm-up, and a couple of other girls rest their feet on a bench to stretch their hamstrings and quads. Other girls skate slow laps, Lugg Nutz, the coach, rolling backwards ahead of them. The hair on both sides of his black Mohawk spike is mango orange.
The space feels big as an airport hangar. A dozen women roll around the room, the thunder of steel wheels echoing off the walls. A new maple floor covers the old concrete, and three rows
of aluminum bleachers sit on the far side of the room to match the ones where Roxy talks with the team Captain, Tina G. Wasteland. At the center of the space, red, white, and orange lines define the rink.
I belong here, Annie tells herself. This is where I’m me.
Tina G. Wasteland wheels over, brown eyes narrow with concern. “Roxy says he was here again.”
“I’m OK.” Annabelle Lector fears nothing except earthquakes, tornadoes, and big fuzzy spiders. That last part is a secret.
“If he shows up again, don’t talk to him. Just run in here and call for help. We’ll all back you, but he’s got to understand that what he’s doing is wrong.”
Tina looks across the rink at the coach. Lugg Nutz is shorter than Kevin, but a little wider. “Let us walk out with you tonight, Annabelle. If there’s any more trouble, we may need to hire security.”