Central Park at five o’clock in the morning was my favorite time and place. New York was known as the city that never slept, but when running in the park so early, it was easy to pretend that I was the only one for miles.
I wasn’t a native New Yorker, but I’d loved the city from the moment I moved here. It’d been six years now, and I’d never once considered going back to San Francisco. I’d only gone back to visit my uncle twice, but he never made me feel guilty. Uncle Takeshi was great that way. I missed him, but my life was here.
Skirting some rocks as I rounded a corner, I let my mind drift again. I’d run this particular circuit at least twice a week for the last three years, three times when the weather was good. I knew it by heart. It’s one of the things I always loved about running. As my feet found their rhythm, I didn’t have to think about things.
I’d always been one of those people who’d thought too much, analyzed everything, even when I was young. After my parents died, it got worse. I was only eight when it happened. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure I really remembered them, or if what I thought were memories were actually a combination of pictures and stories. Uncle Takeshi had done his best to help me cope, and in the end, the only thing that worked was physical activity. I’d never played well with others, so instead of enrolling me in organized sports, he taught me martial arts. I’d joined track in junior high and found that running helped too.
It also directed me to the field of sports management. I graduated with my Masters from Columbia last year but hadn’t been able to find a job in my field. While in college, I worked part-time as a yoga instructor. Now, I had an additional job that wasn’t even close to what I wanted to do with my life.
I would’ve sighed if I hadn’t been running. I didn’t want to think about work, not when I had to be there in less than an hour. I just wanted to concentrate on the process of running, the simple physical exertion of it. Nothing complicated or emotional. Nothing that required decisions or contemplation.
I managed to fall into that rhythm, into that place where nothing else existed but me and the path in front of me, the shoes on my feet. It was a beautiful morning in the middle of May, and I wanted to enjoy it. One of the things that losing my parents at such a young age taught me was to make the most of every moment.
Then, just as I rounded the next bend, the one that took me almost back to the beginning, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. A tall, older man was in the grass doing what appeared to be tai chi, or something similar. Even as my brain was processing his movements, the man collapsed.
I didn’t think twice as I veered off the path and headed straight for the man. As I went to my knees next to him, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and quickly dialed 911. I put it on speaker as I checked the man’s vitals.
“This is 911, do you have an emergency?” A woman’s voice came through just as I was trying to find a pulse.
“Yes,” I said. I was out of breath, but calm. “I’m in Central Park and there’s a man who just collapsed. He has no pulse and isn’t breathing.” Before she could ask, I continued, “I’m starting CPR.”
“Where in the park are you located?” she asked.
I looked around as I began chest compressions, trying to find some sort of description to give the ambulance a reference point. I felt the cartilage beneath my palms crack as I shouted my relative location. The emergency operator was still talking, but I’d more or less tuned her out as the muscles in my arms started to burn. I knew what I was doing and I didn’t need her to keep me calm. I wasn’t exactly trained for this, but I didn’t panic easily.
I lost track of time, aware only of the little physical things that told me minutes were ticking by. My shirt sticking to me, soaked with sweat. Losing all feeling in my arms but still forcing myself to continue chest compressions. The wind whipping my ponytail around to sting my cheeks.
And then I finally heard it. Ambulance sirens. When I raised my head to see how close they were, I saw that a small crowd had gathered. It was nice of them to have offered to help me.
Uncle Takeshi had also taught me the fine art of sarcasm, though that might have been unintentional.
“You’re the one who found him?” A paramedic knelt on the other side of the body and held up his hands.
I sat back, heaving a sigh of relief as the paramedic took over compressions. I shook my arms, wincing as the blood flowed back into my fingers. Another paramedic approached and I pushed myself up to my feet. My knees popped and my legs almost buckled. I’d been so focused on how badly my arms were affected that I hadn’t even felt the pain in my knees, or the way my feet had almost fallen asleep.
I turned to see a police officer walking toward me. He glanced at the unconscious man who was now being transferred over to a gurney.
“Can I have a word with you?” he asked. I nodded and we stepped off to the side. “Your name, miss?”
“Sara Carr,” I said. I ran my hand over my hair, suddenly overly aware of how sweaty and gross I must’ve been. I wasn’t normally a self-conscious person, but this definitely wasn’t a normal situation.
“Can you tell me what happened, Miss Carr?” the officer asked as he flipped open a notebook.
I nodded and told him everything, step by step. Then answered his questions as he asked them, even though I’d already explained everything. I didn’t know why he bothered since it was pretty clear the guy had suffered a heart attack, but I wasn’t about to tell the cops how to do their job. For all I knew, this was part of some on-going investigation.
By the time he was finally finished, however, I was starting to wish that I’d tried to hurry him along. I was going to be late for work, and that was even if I didn’t go home and shower first. I was halfway to the bus stop when I realized I’d left my phone back in the park.
“Dammit,” I muttered as I turned on my heel and started running. It was probably a long-shot that it was still there, but I had to take it. I didn’t have the money to buy a new one.
Surprisingly, I found it right where I’d left it. Unfortunately, the battery was dead after my lengthy call to 911, which meant I couldn’t call work to tell them I’d be even later than I’d originally anticipated.
I swore again as I climbed onto the bus. I ignored the looks I was getting from the other passengers and focused instead on my immediate plans. Going straight to work was my best bet. I could shower at the health club where I worked as a trainer, and I always kept a spare change of clothes. I could explain things, then, face-to-face.
Except it didn’t work out that way.
The prestigious health club where I worked in Manhattan was known, not only for its discretion but also for the quality and appearance of its employees. And based on the looks thrown my way when I walked in, I knew I was in serious trouble.
“Sara, can I see you for a moment?” The manager, Chad, looked grim as he hurried me out of the room and into his office.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I was on my run this morning and–”
“You’re nearly ninety minutes late, Sara,” Chad interrupted. When I opened my mouth to explain further, he didn’t give me the chance. “And then you show up here looking like…that.”
I fought back a scowl. He was seriously going to go there? Not exactly surprising, but disappointing nonetheless.
“A man had a heart attack in the park,” I said. “I ended up doing CPR, then had to stay and give my account to the police.”
Chad crossed his arms and raised his eyebrow. “That’s your excuse? I think it’s safe to say that you have a problem with your priorities.”
Priorities? My hands curled into fists. Was he fucking kidding me? I saved a man’s life, and my manager was going to lecture me about my priorities?
“I think we’ve known for a while that things weren’t going to work out here,” Chad continued.
“You mean since I told you to keep your hands off my ass?” I snapped back as my temper got the best of me.
Chad’s face hardened. “That’s enough. You’re fired. Get your things from your locker and get out. I don’t want to see you in here again.”
I was too pissed off to argue, or even to threaten to go higher up with sexual harassment accusations. My day had been insane, and I hadn’t even had breakfast yet. I’d had enough. I stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind me. Chad was still hiding when I emerged from the employee locker room, not that I expected to see him. He was a coward and everyone knew it.
I stepped outside and headed toward the subway. The bus wouldn’t be back for another twenty minutes, but there was a subway station three blocks away. I didn’t mind the extra walk. It’d burn off some of my excess energy before I got home, and maybe then I’d be calm enough to talk to Gordon about what to do next.
My fiancé, Gordon Cleaver, was also a trainer at the same health club, and he knew about Chad’s previous flirtations. I hadn’t wanted him to get in trouble for sticking up for me before, so I’d asked him not to say anything. If anyone was going to put their neck on the line, it’d be me. I refused to be one of those women who had men fighting her battles. I knew there were occasions when everyone needed help from someone else, but this wasn’t it.
What I did need, however, was someone to talk things over with, figure out what my options were, and help me decide what the best choice would be. I needed a job, so I wasn’t sure if taking action against the club for wrongful termination was smart. It would probably result in a few awkward conversations with potential future employers, and, ultimately, it was my word against his. The way I saw it, the only benefit to threatening a lawsuit was to get my job back. But I wasn’t sure that was the best idea either. Chad was the sort of guy who held grudges, which meant working under him again would be a nightmare.
With all the thoughts and possibilities swirling in my mind, I was pretty much moving on autopilot. Up three flights of stairs even though the elevator was working. I’d gone into the apartment and was half-way across the living room before I realized that something was off.
Gordon wasn’t sitting on the couch, watching the news like he usually did on his days off. But his shirt was on the floor.
And so were a pair of heels I didn’t recognize.
My stomach clenched painfully. They could’ve belonged to his sister. Meghan sometimes came by to see Gordon, and she wore heels like that.
Except neither of them were in the main living space, and I couldn’t figure out why they would’ve needed to be anywhere else.
Part of my brain screamed at me to leave. To go somewhere else for a little while, then come back later and pretend I’d never been here or seen what I’d seen. I could play ignorant, pretend that what my gut – and common sense – were telling me was wrong.
But I’d never been one to walk away from a confrontation, and if Gordon was doing what I knew he was doing, no way in hell would I stick my head in the sand and take it.
I squared my shoulders, took a slow breath, then let it out. I wasn’t calm, but I was close enough to deal with this. My hands curled into fists as I got closer to the bedroom door. I heard them now, the unmistakable sounds of two people having sex.
I pushed open the door.
Okay, make that three people.
I stood in the doorway, frozen, unable to look away even though I really wanted to. Gordon was kneeling behind a curvy blonde, every thrust making her large breasts swing beneath her. Another man was sitting on a chair in the corner, stroking his dick while he watched.
He was the first one to see me. “Want to join us, sweetheart?” he said, his eyes sweeping down my body. “My wife likes to eat pussy while she’s getting fucked.”
Gordon turned toward me then, the color draining from his face as he froze. The woman didn’t seem to care, pushing her ass back against him while he stared at me.
“Sara, I can explain.”
I held up a hand. “Not interested.”
“It’s just fucking, babe,” Gordon said, his voice close to a whine. He pulled out, earning a dirty look from the woman. “You know I love you.”
His cock was sticking up, condom gleaming. At least, I thought, he had the decency to wear a rubber. My stomach churned.
“How many times?” I found myself asking. Then I shook my head. “Never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“I wanted to talk to you about it,” Gordon said, rolling off the bed. “But you’re so uptight when it comes to sex that I knew you wouldn’t understand. This isn’t cheating, and if you’d just give it a chance, you’d see that.”
Anger cut through the hurt. “Don’t you dare lay this on me,” I said through gritted teeth. “If you wanted an open relationship, or you liked sharing partners…I’m not judging that. You should have told me when we first got together. Talked to me. That’s why it’s cheating, you asshole.”
To my surprise, the guy in the corner stood, his expression serious. “She’s right. If I would’ve known your girl didn’t know about this, I wouldn’t have agreed.” He held out his hand to the woman on the bed.
“I’m not his girl,” I said. I yanked my engagement ring off my finger and threw it at Gordon. “Not anymore.”
“Sorry,” the woman muttered as she and the man picked up their clothes and hurried away.
“I’m going for a walk, Gordon,” I said, keeping my voice low and calm. “When I get back, you need to be gone. And I don’t ever want to see you again, so make sure you get all of your shit, otherwise, it’s going to the mission at St. Paul’s.”
“Sara–” he began and shut up when I thrust out a hand.
“In case you’ve forgotten, this is my apartment. Has been since before I met you.” My nails bit into my palms. “You have the time it takes me to walk to the coffee place and back.”
I turned and walked out, ignoring his pleas for me to wait, to let him explain. I didn’t want to listen to him. I didn’t want anything to do with him ever again. Just the thought of it made me sick.
Between Gordon and Chad, I wanted nothing to do with men in general for the foreseeable future.