After securing an appointment with Doc directly after his lunch break (without last minute patients the man takes decadently long lunches, so I didn’t feel any guilt for cutting one short) Tommy, Alex, and myself went for lunch at a soup and sandwich shop down the street. I was craving cream of mushroom soup but I grabbed a pesto chicken on whole grain instead – I didn’t want to let on how much my right hand was bothering me and that would have been rather hard to accomplish while holding a soup spoon in my left.
Once Tommy had finished giving us his review of the latest James Bond movie (definitely top ten in the franchise, maybe top five) we returned to our four walled sanctuary. We managed to convince Bomber, who had finally secured his next fight and was beginning to up the intensity of his own workouts, to take a break and help us out in the ring with Alex.
We spent an hour considering angles, timing, and distance as Bomber repeatedly dipped his left shoulder and threw right hooks to the head. We’d freeze him for a minute just as his shoulder dropped, circling and studying our options, then freeze him again as he began to throw, then again mid-punch.
We decided on three different options for Alex and practised those until Bomber got bored and insisted upon returning to his own training, taking Tommy with him. I was comfortable with Alex’s response times and decision making at that point, so we switched to footwork drills for the remainder of the day. I snuck in two quick phone calls to Cara, who confirmed she was “still traumatized but recovering nicely” over the sound of Shrek blaring in the background, before we called it quits and hit the showers.
“Take it easy tonight and get a good sleep,” I told Alex as we parted ways. “We’ll slow things down tomorrow to let your body recover a bit, Friday will be a travel day, and then Saturday’s your time to shine.”
“I cannot wait,” he said with a toothy grin before slipping into the flow of foot traffic along Georgia Street and disappearing from sight.
When I got back to the apartment Cara was sprawled out on the couch in one of my old white t-shirts and her red pyjama pants, eating mint chocolate ice cream directly from the package. She smiled innocently around the spoon hanging out of her mouth and I shook my head mutely before gathering up our dirty laundry and heading to the machines in the basement. By the time I returned to the living room all evidence of the crime had been removed and she was now serenely browsing one of the magazines Melanie had left the night before.
“That junk will make your brain rot,” I said as I flopped onto my chair. She nodded happily, flipped a page, and I took a deep breath. “Alright, crappy magazine down kiddo; we need to talk.”
“What did Nurse Isha tell you?” she asked without blinking an eye.
“Oh, she gave me all sorts of helpful advice,” I replied with a wave of my hand, trying to keep things casual. “But she didn’t give me any details of what went down yesterday – she left that for you to do.”
“Probably because she’s heard like twenty different versions by now,” she said, sinking further into the couch. Twenty? I hid my wince by digging an imaginary eyelash out of my left eye with my right index finger, which only caused another grimace thanks to my swollen knuckles. I gave her time and space to continue and eventually she did so. “We had gym first class; Mr. Evans is making us play volleyball even though we all hate it.”
“That’s what happens when you get the school coach as your gym teacher.”
“I guess. Anyway, I started getting really bad cramps about halfway through class so I subbed off and kept moving to the back of the line so I wouldn’t have to go back on. Thankfully he didn’t notice or I would have caught hell for it.”
“Sorry. So.” She placed an elbow on the back of the couch, rested her forehead in her palm, and closed her eyes before continuing. I wanted to sweep her up in a bone-crushing hug but I held my ground. “I managed to make it through class without dying but I was a little scared because I knew I hadn’t eaten anything that would upset my stomach. I thought maybe I pulled a muscle, you know?”
“But while I was getting changed one of the girls… you know, I don’t even remember who it was? I just remember a voice saying, ‘Look everyone! Cara got her period!’” She bit her lip and I could think of no words to fill the silence. “Anyway, Mel shoved me into one of the stalls and helped me clean up. She hasn’t got hers yet but her mom’s been talking to her about it for like a year, so she knew what to do. We put like fifty squares of toilet paper down there and then she brought me to see Nurse Isha.”
“Well… at least it wasn’t in front of the boys,” I said and even I could tell how useless that was. “And you were lucky to have Mel around – I’ll have to take you two for ice cream or something.”
“Yeah, she’d like that.”
“And kiddo? Don’t you feel the least bit of shame or embarrassment about this, okay? All the other girls have to go through this at some time or another, it’s perfectly natural. Just remember that if anyone tries to give you crap.”
“I’ll try,” she said with a weak smile. Unable to think of anything else that would be of comfort I deposited a kiss on the top of her curls and asked if she wanted a sundae for dessert. Her smile brightened just enough to make me feel better about myself and I slipped into the kitchen to prepare dinner.
After all the food had been devoured I called Dawn and we chatted for thirty minutes that felt like five. She confided that her daughter was still being a miserable pain about her birthday party – she was insisting on a petting zoo and two clowns – and I complained about our uninvited guest at the gym without mentioning my impetuous punch. I was tempted to ask for her advice on Cara but I didn’t want to look like an incompetent, bumbling father, so I held my tongue. I let her know that I’d be back in town on Sunday and made plans for either a celebration or commiseration dinner.
“I’m sure it will be a happy one,” she told me. “Sleep well.”
“I hope so, I really do. Take care and I’ll see you in a few days.”
I lay awake in bed for hours that night, my too-busy mind and throbbing hand preventing any chance of sleep. When I finally admitted this I dragged myself back to the living room and grabbed a DVD at random to stick in the player. I collapsed into my recliner, hit play and then mute, and waited to see which cast of characters would be keeping me company. Appropriately enough, it turned out to be Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, and the rest of the Gladiator crew.
Even though it’s one of my favorite movies of all time, I was out cold before the blood had dried on Maximus’ sword in the opening battle scene. My dreams were filled with cinematic, bloody hand-to-hand battles in winter woods and bruising boxing matches staged inside an opera house as a full orchestra improvised to keep time with the action. I woke with the sun, groggy and exhausted, with a hand swollen to twice its normal size.