When Sophie exited the bar, still feeling annoyed and peevish, she felt the hair on the back of her neck prickle. Someone was watching her from the shadows. She couldn't see who it was, it was too dark, but she could feel his eyes. Her muscles tightened as she prepared to react, and she wasn't sure whether it would be to confront or to run.
She relaxed when the person stepped into the light, and she saw Eliot's grim face. Her hand went to her chest, and her breath came out in a burst of air.
"Eliot! What are you doing lurking in the dark?"
He shrugged. "I'm a lurker. I lurk. Why does nobody get that?"
"I hope you're not planning on going back in to talk to Nate. He's in one of his unreasonable moods."
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you."
"Yeah." He took her arm and led her away from the door.
"Is something wrong?"
Sophie peered at him in the dim light. Eliot's speech usually only became garbled when he was uncomfortable.
"What is it?"
"I don't..." It took her a moment to figure out what the word meant. "The union rep?"
His face darkened and got grimmer. "He hurt you."
Sophie looked down at her wrist, though the faint bruises weren't visible. "He just grabbed me."
"He hurt you," Eliot repeated firmly.
"I've been treated worse."
"No need," he growled, and she almost jumped.
"What are you getting at?"
"I'm not going to always be there. You need to learn how to protect yourself."
"I do all right." She thought about bashing people with trays and fire extinguishers. Once she'd even used a head butt!
"Not good enough."
"I knocked out Nate."
"Don't fight me on this."
She sighed and capitulated. "What did you have in mind?"
"You and me, a few times a week, in the gym. I'd like to teach you some basics."
She nodded slowly. "Okay."
"This is important. The next time a man grabs you like that, I want you to punch him in the face."
She looked down pointedly at his hand, which was still on her arm.
"You know what I mean."
"Yes." She smiled and reached up to briefly cup his cheek. "Thank you for worrying about me."
He stared at her for a moment before shrugging and stepping away. "Tomorrow. Four o'clock. Matt's Gym."
"I'll be there," she promised.
He just grunted in reply and disappeared as suddenly as he'd appeared. Sophie was left feeling alone but with a lingering warmth in her chest. She smiled slightly and moved into the light to get into her car. The sadness Nate had left her with had gone, and she found herself actually looking forward to her time on the mat with Eliot. After coming up hard against the wall Nate always kept between himself and anyone who cared about him, Eliot's concern had felt good. The warmth from his kindness lasted all the way home.