"Don't look," Aimee said. Three rows below us loomed the familiar backwards baseball cap of a certain ex-classmate. Aimee must have seen my jaw clamp because she grabbed my wrist and squinted her eyes. "Don't you dare."

A painful tension wracked my temples and I spoke through gritted teeth. "He deserves what he gets."

"But I'm saying don't," Aimee said. "Don't embarrass me." When I pleaded my case she interrupted me with another "don't" and returned to nibbling popcorn with her sister in the next seat. In my thirty-two years I'd never punched anyone, but my heart had never before thumped into my throat. I hoped nibbling movie corn would still my still spinning mind, but ideas of cosmic justice superseded Aimee's embarrassment.

People streamed through the aisles and into adjacent seats. I watched the pre-coming attractions about snack bars and accident lawyers without hearing a word. Kicking the rapist in the head would be easy but cowardly. Dragging him outside for a respectable frontal pummeling would make me appear the villain. I favored my fingers wrapped around his neck. "Stare into your killer's eyes" was the stock line I'd use. Then I felt my arm snap like a catapult. The wadded ticket stub bounced off Warren's head and into the aisle.

"No you didn't." Through cupped hands Aimee watched him brush his cap and lift the projectile. "Uch," she snorted. But he never turned to see who threw it.

Aimee sunk deep into her chair as Elle asked, "What's going on?"

I stared at my girlfriend's crumpled posture and wanted to tell her to tell the truth. Instead, I sighed. "He's some punk from our past."

* * *

When the credits rolled Aimee waited for Warren's exit then raced past me.

"Sweetness," I said, hustling after her. "Please don't be mad."

Her hands pinched her hips like she was ringing water from a wet suit. "I'm trying to forget it, and you drag him back in?" I tried to explain but by the time I started talking, she was out the theater door.

We dropped off Elle and returned to Aimee's apartment where she shut herself in her bedroom and left me on the couch. Ever since she'd mentioned the Warren incident, I'd become obsessed with her safety: cautious around drunks, wary of men walking down our side of the sidewalk. So how had I become the bad guy? I'm defending her. I don't bind the hands of women who refuse my kiss.

An hour later Aimee joined me in the living room. She sat hands folded, back straight as a straw. "I don't want to worry about trouble in public," she said. I tried to kiss her hand, but she slid them between her knees.

I told her I loved her. "I promise," I said, "I'll behave. I just don't see how now I'm the jerk in all this."

"Getting violent like him. Completely disregarding me."

I shifted in my seat. It was all I could do.

About the author:

Aaron Gilbreath is a restless, hot-sauce-swilling chunk of chapped human hide who sleeps in his car a lot in lieu of motel rooms. His nonfiction has appeared and will soon appear in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Poets & Writers, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, Saranac Review, Men's Journal, High Desert Journal and various garbage cans around Phoenix, Arizona.