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Taylor's Time!

Well, well, well!

Will you look at this!

Taylor's been BUSY!

She's gone and written a little bit of a prequel to SAFE NOW - and YOU get to see it first!

Well - strictly speaking? She saw it first, then Adam, then me. So you're no better than fourth.

But still - so cool!

- Kendra

(Art by Moniak Bose and used with permission)

I awoke to a gasp. For a moment, I lay blinking in the darkness, disoriented and half-asleep. I leaned over and turned on my bedside lamp. The light flickered on, and I saw Avan. He was trembling, coughing, sweating beside me. His fingers gripped the blanket. His eyes, gentle and green, were widened by fear. His olive skin had gone pale.

"Avan." I touched his arm. "It's okay. It was just a nightmare. You're fine."

It took him several seconds to stop shaking. When he finally calmed down, I rested my hands on his shoulders. His skin was hot. I pressed my lips firmly to his shoulder to reassure him I was near. He sighed and ran a hand over his hair.

"Sorry I woke you up." His voice was low and he sounded guilty, like startling awake from a nightmare was a crime.

"I'm glad you did," I assured him.

I kissed his bicep, tasting sweat, and laid my cheek against him.

"Go back to sleep." He sighed, rubbing his hands over his face.

I flicked my eyes away for a second and asked if he wanted to talk about it. He said no.

I knew he would say this. He always did.

He moved away from me, swinging his legs out from under the covers. He stood, fluffed his long black hair with his fingers, and turned to face me.

"Go back to sleep." He leaned down to kiss my hair.

"Are you sure I can't come with you?"

"I just need some air."

He took his jacket from the hook behind the door and walked out, cracking the door behind him. I heard him putting on his boots in the hall. His footsteps faded as he walked down the stairs. The back door opened, then closed, and I knew that Avan was heading to the detached garage, undoubtedly taking out his restlessness on the heavy punching bag that hung from a chain in the ceiling.

I lay back down on the bed with a sigh, pressing my palm to my forehead, wishing that Avan was more open with me. Part of me knew why he refused to share his darker places with me. He didn't want to frighten me. He didn't want to burden me with his problems when I myself struggled with my own. Still, I would have rather him talk about his anxieties with me. His choice to keep it all inside only made me worry more.

Because I couldn't sleep, I walked down the hall to my art studio. A kaleidoscope of colors greeted me as soon as I flipped on the light. My deepest fears leaned against every available wall. Other paintings, happier ones, were stacked on the fold-up table and chair. They were the brightest of my pieces, bathed in yellows, reds, and oranges. The others, the ones that housed my demons, were shadowed in darker shades of purples and blues, reds that bled onto the canvas, and blacks that seemed to swallow the light the second it lit the room.

Slowly, I walked about the room, my eyes flitting from painting to painting.

There was a butterfly flying through a storm.

A pair of fingerless fighting gloves hanging from the corner of a cage.

A wounded man laying in a hospital bed, his distraught lover laying beside him.

I shook off the pain they held and focused on the empty canvas in front of me instead. There was a glass of water set on the little table beside me. I sat on the tall stool in front of my easel and squeezed globs of paint onto my palette.

I tried to focus on the softness of the brush, of the sound it made as it stroked the canvas, but my thoughts drifted toward Avan. I imagined him hitting the bag, punching and kicking it as hard as he could until the skin of his knuckles and shins became tender and raw. In the two years we'd been together, Avan had never taken his anger out on me. Sure, there were times when he'd given me attitude when he didn't sleep well due to an injury or during his weight cuts or after a loss in the cage, but those were small hardships compared to the demons that haunted him daily. No matter how hard he tried to hide them, they affected me too. Even now, without Avan beside me, his troubles seemed to seep into my art, onto the canvas in faded shades of gray and blue.

My eyes burned by the time I'd finished the painting. It was the darkest piece I'd ever painted, a portrait of a man, a fighter, knelt in the center of an MMA ring, his body curled, his face hidden in his arms. Surrounding him were shadows, dark and indistinct, that threatened to swallow him whole.

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