“You’re looking awfully pleased with yourself,” Cara teased me as I prepared breakfast the next morning. “I take it you were your dashingly charming self last night?”
“And you’re looking much better than you did yesterday,” I replied while pouring us each a glass of apple juice. “I take it you’ll be going to school after all?”
“No, I better not,” she said gravely. “This is a very emotional milestone in a young woman’s life and I’ll need at least a day to deal with it properly. Maybe two. More raisins please.”
I shook my head and added another handful to her bowl of oatmeal. I could hardly complain that she was handling the situation better than I was – at least on the outside, anyway. As we ate she poked and prodded for details of the previous evening but the only morsel I allowed her to have was that there would definitely be at least a second date. This pacified the inquisitive beast long enough for me to make my exit with a quick hug and a promise to check in on her during the day.
My appointment with the school nurse was not quite as painful and awkward as I expected, though it did have its moments. Having a diminutive sixty year old East Indian woman with fidgeting hands ask you if you’ve had the birds and the bees talk with your daughter is not my idea of a good time. I also could have done without the seven different types of cheese in the dramatic re-enactment video – whoever wrote that script should be dipped in honey and abandoned in the middle of a desert.
“Thank you very much for all your help Isha,” I told her as we parted, a twenty page brochure tucked safely inside my gym bag.
“You are most welcome Nathaniel. I am glad you made the time to come see me. It might also be useful for you to make an appointment for Cara with Ms. Evans, the school counsellor. As we discussed, this can be a very difficult time for young women and we should do everything we can to help your daughter through it.”
“I think she’ll be okay,” I replied with a smile, thinking of the scene that greeted me upon my return home the previous night. Cara and Melanie were huddled around a glossy teen magazine, that Melanie had obviously brought over, whispering and giggling over a lengthy article under the headline “Is it normal when…?”
Apparently it was a Q&A piece between readers who had just hit puberty and some doctor hired by the magazine. According to the girls the majority of the questions should never have reached print. The one saving grace, from what I overheard, was that the doctor was “totally hot”.
“Have you spoken about what exactly happened at school yesterday?” Isha asked with a look I didn’t much like.
“Not yet,” I said as I stepped out of her office, “but we will.”
I made my way to Doug & Gary’s in a slight drizzle, annoyed that I had left my umbrella at home and worried that Cara’s experience had been worse than she was letting on. To put my mind at ease I decided to enforce a deadline: we would have to talk about it before she was allowed to go back to school. She needed to know that I was behind her all the way and that if there was any teasing or harassment from her classmates that I would be there to help her deal with it.
When I reached my destination I took a quick trip to the bathroom to towel off and change into my sweats. I hung my jeans, shirt, and jacket up to dry before going in search of my protégé. I arrived ringside to find Tommy watching Alex spar with an opponent I didn’t recognize.
“I thought he was supposed to be practicing with Tully,” I said as I watched Alex take a stiff shot to his ribs. “Who the hell is this guy?”
“Tully is upstairs riding the porcelain bus to Ralphsville,” Tommy replied. “I told him not to eat that ham sandwich he found in the fridge. Anyway, this guy showed up this morning, I didn’t catch his name. In town for the day from Victoria I think he said.”
“Victoria?” I craned my head to get a look at the newcomer’s face but it was difficult to see anything with the protective headgear on. His green shorts and tank top were unmarked by any gym logo and his gloves were standard issue. Alex took another vicious shot to his ribs, this one doubling him over, before clinching. The stranger shoved him away harshly and began stalking him around the ring as Alex dropped his left elbow to protect his side, leaving his head exposed. “They’re playing a bit rough, aren’t they?”
“It takes all kinds, Natty, it takes all kinds.” Just then Alex circled over to our side of the ring and I finally got a clear look at his opponent’s face. It took a few moments for recognition to set in but once it did I swore loudly and slid into the ring.
“Hit the showers Alex, we’ve got some things to go over upstairs,” I said as I stepped between them.
“We ain’t done here, old man.” I turned to face the Victorian fully and let my eyes bore a hole through his head.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure you are, Tony,” I snapped and his eyes went wide with alarm. “Now get the hell out of this ring, get the hell out of this gym, and don’t ever stain this building with your presence again. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yeah,” he said with a smirk, “crystal clear. I’ll see you punks in three days.” Then, over my shoulder at Alex, “You might want to put some ice on those ribs, sweetheart.”
Pain exploded in my right hand as my knuckles made contact with his left side, sending him staggering backwards gasping for air. I bit my tongue to keep myself from crying out as Alex and Tommy came between us. I let them lead me out of the ring, but not before I called out, “You might want to do the same, sweetheart.”
“What the hell was that all about?” Tommy hissed as the three of us took the stairs to the second floor, the intruder still on one knee in the corner of the ring.
“That’s Tony ‘Rolls Royce’ Boyce,” I told them, cradling my throbbing hand. “Training partner to one Kofi ‘The Killer’ Agyeman.”