I need an excuse to get my roommate off my back before I can leave. Something to explain my black bodycon dress and stacked heels; stuff I never ordinarily wear. So I make up the story of a Christmas party for work. Because I also haven’t told my roommate I got fired again.
We had an unexpected snow in Atlanta; the kind where everything shuts down. Most people are staying in, but the snow doesn’t matter to me. I need to let off some serious steam.
Lacy rolls her eyes when I walk out of the second bedroom of our shared condo. “What are you planning on doing at this Christmas party, exactly?” she asks, looking me up and down. My overprotective roommate clearly thinks I’m out to snag a man. That’s not true, but it will do for an excuse. My cheeks burn as I tug down my dress that clings uncomfortably to my thighs.
“It’s just drinks and dinner,” I offer. “Down at the W.” The explanation rings false to my ears. I’ve never been good at lying and the truth is this outfit is cover. My fighting clothes are stuffed in the bottom of my bag. They’ll be bloody and torn by the end of the night, too.
“Right,” said Lacy, drawing out the words. I can tell she doesn’t believe me, but I don’t care.
“When does your flight leave?” I ask innocently, like the answer isn’t important. In fact, I can’t wait for her to leave town. She is traveling for Christmas to see extended family.
“Tomorrow,” says Lacey pulling a pillow onto her lap and snuggling back on the couch. “You’re still welcome to join,” she offers, her tone sincere. She always invites me to holidays, but since it’s because she feels sorry for me, I never go.
“No thanks,” I say, the expected answer. I went once, but it was awkward. I felt like a homeless puppy. “Poor girl with no boyfriend, no parents, no husband,” they said behind my back. I was sure of it.
“You have fun though,” I add, forcing a note of optimism into my voice. And I am optimistic though I’ll never share my true plans with Lacey. Because this year I do have plans, ones that span days, even though some of those plans involve lying bruised and bloodied in a darkened room. Those plans are for tomorrow and the day after. Tonight’s the exciting part, my first real honest to goodness fight. The first in a series of tests spanning months where I’ll prove my worth as a real team member, a fighter in Alpha League.
But first I have to get out the door without injuring myself. To that end, I lose the heels just to get down the five flights of steps to ground level. The elevators take forever and my driver is already waiting so I pad down barefoot. As I step outside and nod to the doorman, the cold air hits me with a blast to the face. I quickly scramble into the Ford Explorer, taking care not to slip on the ice.
“It must be 20 degrees out here!” I exclaim to the driver as I slam the door. It was difficult finding a driver at all. I figured that those without four wheel drive stayed home. The driver just nods in return.
“900 Central Street?” He clarifies our destination sounding unsure.
“Yes. Thanks. “ I doubt he’s ever been that way since its mostly just abandoned warehouses. For privacy, I have him drop me a block away from my real destination.
My mouth feels dry as I walk into the alley framing the large warehouse space. I’m still tottering around on these stupid heels. I curse myself for not wearing something that goes with boots. The chipped black painted metal door on the side of the third brick building on the right, is my true destination.
I get to the door without busting it, but its close a couple of times. My heart pounds with anxiety as I give the prescribed rap on the door—two times slowly, then two times quickly. Thirty seconds go by and I’m shivering from cold, the temperature dropping as the sun goes down. It’s only 5:30 PM but the days are short in December. Finally the door opens a crack with a loud creaking sound.
Boris the bouncer recognizes my eyes. He nods and I enter making my way carefully down the hall to the rooms below. I can feel the thunder of the bass shaking the ground beneath me. I’m still nervous, but I’ve gotten past the most frightening part. I’ve arrived to my happy place, the Alpha League fight club.
I grin as I round the corner to the long rickety metal stairway. A balcony overlooks the scene below—the bar, the crowd, and the music. But this isn't just an ordinary club. I can also see the boxing ring off to the right where the amateur fights are happening now. Even from this distance I can see a lithe girl spitting red blood mixed with saliva onto the ring floor.
Tonight its finally my turn to fight, to put all my training to the test. Fighting has become everything to me, the only thing that makes me feel alive. Fighting strips away all the trappings of adulting, the things I'm supposed to care about, but don’t. Fighting doesn't care if I'm behind on my mortgage, if my credit score sucks; that I live on eggs and cereal; or that my roommate probably thinks I’m a prostitute. Fighting doesn't care whether my idea of a good time is eating cereal in my dark apartment with a pack of frozen peas on my face.
There’s only one minor complication with fighting, though, the things I have to go through to continue doing it. I have to impress him to keep fighting and it’s not going to be easy.
I lean against the bar and survey the scene. My scene. I allow myself a rare moment of satisfaction, of enjoying what I’ve accomplished. What we’ve accomplished. I see Bryan, my business partner, talking animatedly to a group of men in suits. Guests. They toast loudly with a round of shots, Bryan taking the lead.
Bryan never has trouble enjoying himself. He loves the nightlife, the networking, and the schmoozing. All of it. For a buttoned-up nerd turned entrepreneur, this is a pipe dream. Bryan finally feels popular, successful, and gets attention from women. Things denied to him in high school and college. I’ve never thought much about those things because they’ve always been there for me. Me, I’m a fighter, not a lover. So I’m only here for the fighting.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Savannah, Bryan’s sort-of girlfriend, attempting to descend the steps without tripping. For some reason I can’t take my eyes of her. At least I’m mostly here for the fighting. I finish off the last of my beer and smack the pint glass on the table with relish forcing myself to stop staring at her. Will she or won’t she make it down the stairs without tripping? I push the thought aside as I nod to the bartender’s questioning eyebrow. “I’ll take one more to nurse,” my nod says. I tend to stick to beer on fight nights. I have to keep my mind sharp in case there’s trouble. That’s part of my job.
I walk over to Bryan, forcing up the corners of my mouth in a smile as I greet his entourage of newcomers. Personally, I’d rather just have a small group of fighters, but I understand that these types—guests—are necessary to bring cash the club needs to run. Not that money is a concern for me, but I keep that under wraps. It’s my intent to make this place profitable eventually, if only to justify its existence to myself as more than a pricey hobby.
“Tim, Allen,” I greet the suits and shake their hands firmly. “Bryan told me you’d be visiting tonight. It’s great to have you.” Bespectacled Tim pumps my hand eagerly, his round face pale and unlined. He looks around 50, but plentiful fat has kept his face youthful.
“Chase, it’s an honor,” he says. I internally roll my eyes but force my smile to stay in place. I hate being treated like some sort of celebrity. Tim’s hand is sweaty. His shirtsleeves are rolled up and his belly rolls over pleated dress pants. There’s a dress code at this club for “guests”, and Tim’s just one button shy of breaking it. Technically, he should be wearing his suit jacket, but I’m not about to tell a guy paying $1000 an hour to watch people beat each other silly that he should put on his jacket.
Allen’s greeting is a bit more measured. “Nice to meet you,” he says stiffly. He’s younger, leaner than Tim and wearing a well-tailored navy suit. Allen also looks like he doesn’t quite belong in this scene, like he’s not sure if he wants to be here. Bryan breaks in by clasping a hand on each man’s shoulder.
“Alright you two, time to see the show,“ he says, sparing me from further conversation.
“Have fun,” I manage with a half- hearted, awkward salute in their direction.
“Let’s go over to the west ring,” says Bryan turning to escort the two men in that direction. Once he’s gotten them moving, he stops to have a quick word with me.
“You could at least try a little,” he says in an admonishing tone.
“Sorry,” I say, tipping up my beer and taking another swallow. “Things seem to be going well without me though.” Bryan shakes his head and walks after the two men. The way our situation works is good old-fashioned delegation of labor. I run the show; the fighting, the training, and the team. Bryan manages the “guests” that keep this whole thing running.
By some miracle, I manage to get down the stairs in one piece. Looking for familiar faces, I spot Chase at the bar with Bryan and a few guests. I feel nervous all over again. Chase is the club owner, and Bryan’s business partner. I’m not sure why he makes me so nervous. Okay, that’s a total lie. He makes me nervous because his opinion determines if and when I'm accepted as an official member, a proper league fighter. At this point I’m just a lowly recruit.
Bryan walks away with the two guests while I’m still struggling down the stairs. I decide I may as well say hi to Chase before it's time to get ready. I try to straighten up and walk more confidently in my towering heels. I saw Chase noticing me and I’m uncomfortable under his gaze. I always feel like he’s a bit amused, like he’s laughing at me. As always, I try to play it cool but end up failing miserably.
“Savannah,” Chase says politely before turning back against the bar. I try to set up in a casual position and settle for leaning sideways against the bar top with one hand holding on for balance.
“Hey Chase,“ I say, trying to sound casual, like I know what I’m doing. Just then my right ankle buckles, accustomed to the extreme angles from my heels and I stumble, grabbing Chase’s arm for balance.
Not missing a beat, Chase’s reactions kick in and his arm circles my waist as I fall, Suddenly, I find myself in his arms holding on for dear life as I’m pressed between his body and the bar.
“Hey there, be careful,” says Chase calmly in his southern drawl not missing a beat. Our bodies are pressed together now; our faces are only a few inches apart, and I know mine is flushing bright red.
“Sorry,” I say quickly ducking my head to avoid the sudden eye contact. I had never seen Chase’s eyes up close. They’re slate grey, deep, and move slowly, searchingly—almost lazily across my face and then down. Then Chase releases me and backs up a step. But he’s not exactly in a hurry about it.
The thought of Chase pulling me closer instead comes to my mind unbidden. What a dumb thought. I flush even deeper as I release his forearms and attempt to quickly tug down my dress.
“Sorry,” I say again, trying to compose myself from the embarrassing move.
“It’s no problem,” says Chase. He looks like he’s trying to hold back a laugh.
“You okay?” he asks, with a more serious tone.
“Yes, um. Thanks.” I say horrified at my amateur move. I am supposed to impress Chase and prove my skills as a fighter, not fall all over him like a damsel in distress. Plus, what if Bryan saw us—bodies pressed close looking a little too chummy. I just hope I haven’t blown my chances.
“I’ve got to go warm up.”
“Okay” said Chase. “No problem.” And if I didn’t know better, I would say that he looks just a bit disappointed.
I’d be lying if I said I never noticed Savannah before—she has the skills to become a decent fighter, for one, but if I’m honest with myself I have to say I’ve also noticed her particular mixture of sexy and innocent. She’s deadly in the ring, but outside of it, she’s awkward, like she’s not sure how to navigate the real world. Her black number screams trying way too hard, and it’s obvious she’s never worn those heels anywhere but the dressing room.
I’ve also wondered a time or two what she’s doing with a guy like Bryan. I like my business partner, my friend, but he’s let his late bloomer success and popularity go to his head. Surely Savannah has noticed that Bryan’s a little—tight—with lots of the regular ladies; mostly guests, but sometimes fighters, too. I don’t even know if they’re officially together; it’s none of my business, but either way I’d be wary if I were Savannah. She’s way too good for him.
I can still see her half walking, half tripping through the crowd. I was glad to catch her, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my arms around her. Sure, I’ve seen her in the ring—athletic, quick, though a novice, and I’d admired her quick learning as well as her athletic features. But I’d never felt my hands on her, circling around her small waist and feeling her body pressed against mine in that stupid, clingy dress. I push the thought away. She’s a recruit and off limits even if Bryan’s a loser of a boyfriend. Fighter. Not lover. That’s me.
Still, I slam my empty beer bottle down and follow her through the crowd. She’s one of my fighters so its in my best interest to make sure she doesn’t crack an ankle before she even jumps in the ring. I walk towards the two facing halls where the locker rooms are full of men and women eager to make their mark. This actually is part of my job, to make sure everything proceeds in a certain way and that no one is in over their heads. I also have to make sure no one is under the influence of alcohol or drugs when they enter the ring. We’re not trying to get anyone killed here.
As I pass the ring on the way to the locker rooms, the crowd yells, and the ref triumphantly raises the hand of a stout woman. Sheila. Sheila is the undefeated champion in the heavyweight category. She doesn't bother with a stage name, she's just Sheila. She smiles jubilantly and I can see blood seeping through her teeth. My job is also to make sure inexperienced lightweights like Savannah don’t end up facing heavyweight pros like her. Around 50 people surround the boxing ring and I can see Bryan with Tim and Allen, standing in the front row yelling enthusiastically.
Oddly, I hope that Bryan won’t see me as I approach the women’s hall. Even though I’ve done nothing inappropriate, I still feel slightly guilty for the way I felt when I caught Savannah.
I manage to make it to the women’s locker room unseen and I stand against the wall outside the locker room door. I’d never go in there, but it’s my job to give pep talks before and after matches, especially for the new recruits. Like Savannah. She did look nervous when I saw her at the bar and I want to make sure she’s really ready to face off. For real. In front of a crowd.
Sheila walks past as I’m standing there and I straighten up enough to give her a fist bump and a few words of encouragement. “Nice job, Sheila,” I say quietly. Sheila nods at me, her face showing she’s proud but certainly fatigued. Fighting often, like she does, is hard work. She walks into the locker room, her coach, Mandy, trailing a few steps behind. I nod at Mandy but she doesn’t say anything, in a hurry to recap with Sheila.
Just then the door opens and Savannah emerges, now dressed in a sports bra and tight athletic shorts. She looks to the left and her eyes grow wide when she sees me. It’s alarming I’m sure.
“Savannah, you’re ready. Anything I can do to help?” For a moment I’m concerned for her readiness, even though I know she’s ready physically. She’s trained for months for this moment. I’ve never seen her give any less than her best, and I’ve never seen her quit. But right now she looks like a deer caught in headlights. Remembering her obvious embarrassment before, it suddenly occurs me that my presence may be harming rather than helping her preparation.
“Um, I can leave if you want.” I point back down the hall from the way I came. “I just wanted to check on you. You know, to see if you’re ready.” Savannah swallows and looks me in the eye then quickly looks away.
“Thanks Chase,” she said. “But I’m ready. I’ll see you after.”
I nod again and pat her on the shoulder awkwardly. Maybe it is weird for me to be here. She doesn’t need a shoulder to cry on and it should be Bryan giving her a pep talk. Not me. But I have to say something. So I say the first words that come to mind.
“You are ready," I tell her seriously. “I’ve seen you working hard. You know your stuff. Go get her.” Savannah nods, not making eye contact again. Then she squares her shoulders and marches down the hall and towards the ring.
I try to give myself a pep talk inside the locker room. For some stupid reason, instead of thinking about my moves or even the other girl’s weaknesses, I am thinking about being lonely. So dumb. What did that have to do with anything? I have Bryan. Though I’m not sure he counts as a boyfriend, he’s out there cheering me on even if I make a fool of myself. But besides that I don’t have a friend to count among the other members of the crowd.
The women here are competitive. I’m making an effort to be friendly, supportive, but the new females are perceived as a threat. They’re made to pay their dues and earn their spots. It’s the culture, and the fact that only so many can truly make it. I know what I’m in for. Just then Sheila stalks in, fresh off her latest victory.
“Great job, Sheila,” I say. I have to try, even if Sheila, and the others, mostly glare and ignore me. She nods in my direction, looking halfway friendly for once, and then gets caught up in conversation as her excited coach runs into the room.
“I’m so proud of you!“ screeches Mandy running up and throwing both of her arms around the shorter women. I smile politely and turn away as they both start excitedly recapping what went down in the match. I feel a strange surge of something—jealousy maybe—for the tight bond the two women share. I don’t have that in a friend or in a relationship.
Just as I’m about to open the exit door Sheila catches my arm. “Hey,” she says. “Go get her out there.” I nod and smile a thank you. I can feel my eyes fill with tears at the small gesture of kindness and I don’t want her to see.
I feel a determined resolve as I swing open the locker room door and am confronted with—Chase. Again. I’m surprised and then flustered to see him after our embarrassing interaction at the bar. He must see the expression in my eyes, because he backs up a step putting his hands in his pockets. For the first time, I really notice what Chase looks like. His close fitting jeans fit him snugly but not too tightly, like a second skin. His blue t-shirt is tight enough so that I can see his lean, hard form beneath. Tattoos just peek out of his short sleeved shirt. I wonder what the rest of his tattoos look like. The thought is so stupid, especially considering I’m about to get my ass kicked. I feel annoyed at myself. But at least I’m not tearing up now.
Chase looks slightly taken aback. “You are ready,“ he says firmly. “You know your stuff and you’ve been working hard. I’ve noticed.” Oh. A pep talk. Of course that’s why he’s here. At least Chase has noticed I’m killing myself to get admitted to his stupid club. For that reason alone I feel a bit better.
“Thanks,” I say sincerely. Then I walk away before he can distract me any further. It’s time to fight.
Ten minutes later, I’m spitting blood onto the ring floor. Just like Sheila did. Except my spitting isn’t triumphant. My head is ringing and I’m through the first round. Lost. No contest.
The ref is yelling something at me and I can see Bryan’s face through the ropes, too. I have no idea what they’re saying. All I know is it’s time to for round two. My opponent replaces her mouthpiece and sneers at me. She’s ostensibly a lightweight, like me, but she’s shorter which means she’s thicker and more heavily muscled.
When the ref yells go she’s on me like an attack dog, punching, grappling, and even kicking with better power and technique. The round’s over in less than two minutes. I manage to stand up on my own as the ref raises my opponents fist. Barely. She’s screaming in victory. I wipe blood from above my eyebrow and it drips freely off my hands when I take it away. This is going to be interesting to explain to my roommate.
My heart sinks as I watch Savannah prepare to take on Elektra. Most of the members have stage names for fighting. And Elektra has earned hers. Basically Savannah has no chance. By design but still. I curse to myself internally. I should have seen who Savannah’s opponent was before, maybe gone easier on her. I shook, my head though. That’s not the point. Maybe I am getting soft.
The idea of becoming a member is you get your ass kicked willingly at first. A lot. By facing opponents are stronger, like Elektra, it hardens you up, separates the wheat from the chaff. Still, I find myself holding my breath at one point in the first round. Get a grip.
I take a peek over at Bryan to get a gauge on just how much I’m overreacting. He’s clearly drunk—screaming and yelling—completely into the fight. He looks ecstatic, not worried about Savannah. Tim is the same and he looks even sweatier than he did at the bar. He’s now unbuttoned several of his dress shirt buttons in addition to his rolled shirtsleeves. A dingy grey undershirt sticks out. I really need to double down on the guest dress code. The second guest, Allen’s behavior is a little more tempered. He looks like he wants to get away from Tim and Bryan, embarrassed maybe, of their boorish behavior. I also need to get a handle on Bryan.
It’s when I’m distracted that the killer blow happens. I hear the crowd groan and a loud crack as Elektra nails Savannah full on in the face. That one’s going to leave a mark. Ordinarily I would be just as excited as Tim and Bryan are. Ordinarily, I’d be yelling along with the crown energized by the bloody knockout punch. But tonight isn’t ordinary. Tonight I have an extremely bad feeling about Savannah.
I manage to walk back to the locker room unaided. That’s important. I shove off offers of help even though I’m still seeing stars. The members would have their coach and an entourage of hangers on following them- grabbing water and toweling them off. But I’m no member so I don’t have frills like that. The best thing for me is just take my licks, to act tougher than I feel, and go nurse my wounds.
After I walk into the locker room, I drop the act. I slump down on the cold cement floor and lean back against the wall. In truth, the fight went as expected. I didn’t do poorly per se. I was aggressive, I didn’t show fear, and got whupped. As expected. Still there’s always that bit of hope. Being a recruit is about putting on a good performance, learning the ropes, proving your worth. The only fight outcome that matters is in March, then Chase, decides what happens next. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck a little and hurt a lot to lose.
I close my eyes to make the room stop spinning and feel myself start to drift into what feels like sleep. Just then, the door to the locker room bursts open and I’m surprised to see Chase. And I realize that I passed out.
“Hey,” I say, a false tone of brightness in my voice. I need to prove my mettle to Chase and I just got schooled. Now I have to show that I can take my licks.
“Savannah,” says Chase sharply. He looks relieved to see me awake and speaking.
“You’re in the girls’ locker room,” I inform him. I feel lightheaded.
“Damn, you’ve lost a lot a lot of blood,” says Chase as he kneels down beside me. With his face close to mine, I can see even in my woozy state that he’s concerned. His deep grey eyes don’t look lazy anymore. He runs his fingers through his hair, then he leans closer in to check my pulse. I’m suddenly aware that I’m covered with sweat and blood—mine and Elektra’s. Surely I can’t smell good.
“I’m fine,” I say trying to straighten up. I’m supposed to be tough. A fighter. Chase grabs a clean towel from the supply closet and presses it against my split brow, which is still bleeding profusely.
Just then the locker room door swings open again and I hear Bryan’s loud boisterous voice, and then the sound of a beer bottle hitting another as it pitches into the trash can. He walks in and stops when he sees Chase.
“Hey! What are you doing here?” he demands.
“Taking care of your girlfriend,” says Chase pointedly. “Who happens to have lost a lot of blood.”
“She’s fine.” said Bryan dismissively after he comes to take a closer look. “Vannah you did great. That was a good show for your first one. Our guests ate it up.” He walks closer to inspect my wound again and squeezes my shoulder as he does so.
I try to smile at him, but I’m weirdly annoyed at his presence. It must be that I hate it when he calls me Vannah.
“Thanks,” I say simply. Right now I didn’t feel very well and I can’t deal with Bryan’s loudness. The door swings open a third time and I hear a female voice scream in surprise as they see the blood and the two boys in the middle of the women’s locker room.
“You guys get on out of here,” I say getting to my feet with some difficulty. “You really shouldn’t be in here. “
“Okay” says Bryan. “But call me when you get home. You sure you’re good?” He frowns slightly as if he suddenly doubts his own judgement. I nod with more confidence than I feel.
“Yeah, I’m ordering an Uber right now. My roommate is home, too.” Which was probably true though I’ll do anything to avoid her when I’m looking a mess like this. She’s a goody two shoes, who knows nothing about my new hobby.
“Okay,” says Bryan again, standing up and turning to leave.
“C’mon, Chase,” he calls over his shoulder. “We need to put in some work with Tim and Allen if we expect them to keep referring.“
“I’m right behind you,” says Chase, but instead of standing he moves his lips close to my ear.
“I don’t believe you,” he says. “You’re not fine and I don’t plan to let you leave like this. “ And that’s the last thing I hear before I officially pass out.
When I come to the first thing I see is Chase’s face looming over me. I’m lying on a floor in the same spot and Paul, a nurse, and the club’s unofficial medic, is standing over me.
“Savannah,” Paul says. I awake with a start at the sound of my name and try to sit up.
“Relax,” said Chase. I feel those strong hands firmly grasp my arms, preventing me from moving. “Paul says you’re fine,” explains Chase, “but just relax for a minute. “
“With a clunk to the head like that and passing out, a trip to the ER might not be a bad idea.” said Paul.
“You didn’t call 911 did you?!” I feel suddenly panicked. The last thing I want is for my first fight to end in an embarrassing 911 false alarm. Some tough fighter I’d have turned out to be. I halfway rise up on my elbows—this time Chase allows it—and turn my head to survey the scene. The three of us are alone in the locker rooms.
“Where’s Bryan?” I demand as I scan the room. Chase’s lips tighten into a thin line at Bryan’s name.
“I couldn’t find him after," says Chase. “I called Paul and then I didn’t want to leave you until he looked you over. By that time I guess he’d taken off with Tim and Allen somewhere, maybe down the street.” I nod feeling slightly abandoned. There are a number of just shy of respectable clubs on this block. I wasn’t surprised he’d taken off.
“Don’t worry about Bryan,” said Chase, seeing the expression on my face. “I’m taking you to the ER. “
“But, but you can’t,” I say, feeling panicked. “The club! And the fights. “ Chase shrugs.
“Paul will cover.”
There is no way in hell I’m going to an ER after my first fight. I would never live it down or get respect from the other fighters as a result. I sit up all the way, pushing Chase’s hands off me roughly.
“I’m going home,” I say firmly. Paul looks from me to Chase. “I’ll be out there keeping an eye on things,” he says as he backs up, clearly not wanting to be involved in the controversy. At the last second I remember that Paul just helped me out and probably did save me a certain trip to the ER.
“Thanks Paul,” I call after him, trying to make my voice sound stronger than it actually feels.
There is no way I’m letting Savannah out of here unaccompanied. As Paul leaves the room, I can already see her scrolling on her phone, looking for the Uber app to spirit her away. I snatch the phone away from her.
“Hey,” she snaps, sounding angry.
“Savannah,” I begin, trying to make her see reason.
“You just bled a ton and passed out. I’m not letting you out of my sight, whether you like it or not."
“Well, I guess, call Bryan then,” says Savannah, crossing her arms across her chest. I’m not sending her home with that drunk jerk either.
“No,” I say firmly, pocketing her phone. “You’re not thinking clearly and Bryan isn’t either.“
“No??” said Savannah incredulously. “I’m a grown woman. You can’t keep me against my will.“
“No” I allow. I think about it for a second. I can’t actually kidnap her, but there is no way I am sending her home with irresponsible Bryan, or home to her mysterious roommate, who I’m pretty sure she made up.
“Here are your choices,” I say ticking off on my fingers. “You can go to the ER, I’ll send you with Paul, or you’re coming with me.” Paul had said she might have a concussion, so she shouldn’t fall asleep. Savannah huffs and crosses her arms again. I can’t help but hide a smile. She sounds like a petulant child.
“You,” she says, refusing to meet my eyes. “I choose you then.“
I nod, glad the situation is resolved. Now to get her out the door. I picture myself carrying her. I don’t think she’s going to allow that.
“Can you walk?” I ask.
Savannah hesitates “Yes,” she says. I know that her pride is important to her. And now I’m taking care of her; someone who’s supposed to be judging her performance is seeing her appear weak and vulnerable instead. It’s got to feel weird.
“Good,” I say. I bet she can barely walk.
“We’ll go out the back,” I add quickly. I don’t want to make her feel worse than she already does. This way no one will see and she can save face.
“Okay,” agrees Savannah.
“Great,” I clap my hands together. “Let’s go.” I eye her outfit. She’s still wearing her fighting clothes, now bloody, and it’s 20 degrees outside.
“You can’t wear that,” I say finally. “Do you have any other clothes?”