I get to the club, hidden underneath a well-respected business I can’t name, and greet Dan. He’s a thirty something guy with a loving family who thinks he manages a gym, which isn’t a complete lie. He technically works as a manager for “Bob’s” gym. “Bob” is a friend of Dan’s who owns his own gym. He and Dan are business partners. While Dan runs the club, Bob runs the gym. They set it up so it looks like Dan is an employee, very official looking. It works out for them pretty well. And I get the club to escape to, so I can’t complain.

            Dan smiles, only for me. To everyone else he has to be a cutthroat, greedy bastard. Appearances are deceiving as he often tells me. If only he really knew what I was hiding under my sweet exterior, I wonder if he would be afraid. I smile back. He doesn’t know why of course. Breakable, I remind myself.

            “Red here?” I ask. Red is my favorite sparring partner. He doesn’t underestimate me. Not after I beat him my third match. He doesn’t go easy on me, not like some of my opponents do. They treat me like the little girl they see, not the opponent who is about to destroy them. Though within a few minutes, they realize their mistake too late.

            “You rang Belle?” Red’s voice booms. He reminds me of Paul Bunyan, but with red hair and light blue eyes that twinkle when he’s in a good mood. They twinkle now.

            “I need to warm up before tonight. My muscles are still tight from last night,” I reply, a sly smile dancing on my lips. “You think you can beat me now?” It’s a customary joke we play with each other. Red still wants a rematch. I tell him that me sparring after a fight the night before is the best chance he has at winning. He tried to fight me after a fight one night, he learned his lesson. Adrenaline was still coursing through my veins like blood. I took him out in a matter of minutes. He hasn’t tried that approach again. 

            “Course. I relish the day you fall,” he jokes.

            “Good to know your life goal is to beat a little girl in a fight. You aim so high Red. Just let me change first.”

            I head to the bathroom. The club has a locker room, but it’s for guys. They don’t get many female fighters here, just me. I have no problem with changing in front of them, but they do. It’s hard to get pumped to fight when guys’ jaws are hitting the floor at your body. They act like I’m the first girl they’ve ever seen. So I choose to change in the bathroom. It’s not the cleanest place I’ve ever seen, but it works. I change quickly and head back to where Red is waiting.

            “This should be fun to watch,” Dan murmurs. I can’t agree more.

            “Come on Red. Show me what you got,” I tease.

            He circles me slowly. I don’t turn around at all, my head stationary. But my eyes follow him the whole time. He feints in and out, looking for the perfect spot to make his first move. I don’t flinch; just stand motionless like a statue. My confidence bugs him, I can tell. He moves in quickly, ready to tackle me to the ground. I’m quicker. I move to the side of him and he quickly tries to regain his balance. I wait patiently. Red doesn’t get angry when I best him. It makes him focus more. He fights more like a parasite than a man. Yet another reason why I like sparring with Red better than anyone else. He smiles. I return his smile. Now is when the fight really begins.

            He lashes out with a kick to my side. I drop to the ground and try and sweep his leg. He anticipates it and jumps up. I like that he’s learning. Too bad it won’t help him. I throw a punch to his shin. It doesn’t really do anything, not that I expected it to. He lands back down and throws a punch at my head. I duck and pull his legs out from under him, a hard feat with the giant Red. His head hits the floor with a loud thud, but he’s okay. He’s still grinning. I wrap my legs around his waist and squeeze. Years of track make my legs a powerful and dangerous weapon. Though slim in appearance, they are filled with muscles unseen. Red gasps for breath as I pummel his chest and head. His legs thrash while he tries to free himself. I’m sure to Dan it looks like I’m riding Red like a bucking bronco. That’s how it feels anyway. He starts to stop thrashing. I loosen my grip. He’s tiring out, just like I want.

            He knows me too well. The moment I loosen my hold on his chest, he rolls me over until I’m trapped beneath him. A head butt like I did last night won’t work. He saw that and is probably expecting it. I pull my legs up to my chest and push as hard as I can. It doesn’t get him off, but it does rid him of breath for a moment. I take it and roll out from under him. I aim a kick straight to his lower back. It connects perfectly.

            He coughs up blood and spits it out. I’m winning. He stands up and lands an uppercut to my jaw. I had almost moved out of the way in time, so he only caught part of it, but it was enough. I move my jaw around and hear it pop. That’s going to hurt in the morning, when the adrenaline is no longer helping me ignore the pain. I need to end this soon. I still have my real fight in a few hours. I can’t be weak then.

            I throw my knee straight up into his chin. He staggers back. I’m just about to finish him.

            “How about you two call it quits for now? I need you up front to greet, Belle. Your face always hauls them in,” Dan calls out.

            “Sure. You should probably have someone help out Red at the door. He won’t be able to do it on his own, not now,” I reply.

            “No worries. I’ll grab Rex.”

            I laugh. Red and Rex are like brothers, though as different as can be. Rex isn’t big like his nickname implies. He’s small, about my height and not a steroid freak. He looks weak, but that’s usually why he wins. Like me, people underestimate him. He’s quick and his speed is what makes him dangerous in a fight. He darts in and out, hitting you before you get a chance to block. His matches are always fun to watch.

            I have to change back into my jeans and tee. I need to look cute and harmless while the crowd comes in. I head back to the bathroom and change, letting my hair loose from its ponytail. Dan’s told me before that without make-up, I still look like I could kill someone. So to compromise, I lightly apply some brown eyeliner and rose tinted lip balm. I add a dash of perfume just to heighten the effect. One of these days, I’ll get Dan back for this.

            I step out onto the floor and hear a few cat calls and whistles. I remind myself that I have to be nice now. I can’t lash out like I want to. So for those I recognize, I silence with a glare. Others, new and or drunk, I smile at. They don’t know that I can take them down in a matter of minutes. 

            “Hello beautiful. I was just wondering what it takes to get a date with you,” a guy asks. He’s sober and not completely unattractive. It doesn’t matter. I still don’t date.

            I see a few guys laugh as they watch this guy’s hopeless quest. They were this guy too once. Rex and Red are trying their best to hold it in. I want to smack the smirks off their faces.

            “I’m sorry. I’m taken,” I reply. That one works most of the time.

            “Is he here tonight?” He asks. I give the guy credit, he’s persistent. But his persistence is getting on my nerves. Why can’t he just go away?

            “Uh huh. He’s over there by the door.” I point out Red. “Red darling, can you show this guy over to the pit?”

            Red smiles. He’s had to play the big, bad boyfriend once or twice. I thought about having Rex do it, just to see what this guy would do, but I know Red scares them away quicker. Red comes over and kindly escorts the man to the pit, where the first fight is about to take place.

            I finish helping Dan take the bets for the fight and then head to the bathroom to change. I can hear the cheers and shouts through the thin walls. Panda is winning. I tie my hair up in a ponytail and strip out of my street clothes. I’m more comfortable in my workout clothes anyway. I stretch, feeling the bruises from last night ache and the new ones forming. It’s okay though. The pain is good. It helps me focus, keeps me on edge.

            I step back out and hear a few laughs from the new guys. They don’t really believe I can fight. They don’t understand why the other guys give me a wide berth.

            “She’s just a little girl. What can she really do to me?” A guy says loudly when a regular pushes him back so I can walk through.

            “Don’t let her hear you say that. She could take you down in a heartbeat,” the regular responds.

            “Yeah, I bet.”

            “Did I hear a bet?” Dan asks. The man’s hearing for money is golden. I can see where he gets his greedy reputation from.

            “Sure,” the guy responds. “Though I would feel wrong hurting a girl.”

            “Don’t you worry about hurting her. It’s you I’d be worried about,” Dan answers. He’s right. I’m so mad I could spit right now. How dare he call me a little girl? The only one allowed to call me that is me. Dan and Red too when my mood permits.

            “Her? I really want to see this. Let me fight her next. I’d love to have her manhandle me with that sweet body of hers.”

            By now Panda’s fight is almost over, but no one is paying attention to it. They know better than to make jokes like that with me. Everyone is silent, waiting for my reply. They want to see me rip this guy’s head off. They’ve seen me do it before. This guy is about to receive a wake-up call.

            “You want me to manhandle you?” I ask, my voice not betraying a hint of anger.

            “I’d love it,” he responds.

            “Clear the ring!” Red’s voice booms. The crowd instantly breaks, stampeding through to Dan to make bets. Most bet for me. They’ve seen me fight before. But some, buddies most likely of the kid and new guys, they bet on him. I hope they bet a lot. My rent is due soon.

            Rex enters the ring. He’ll ref this match, not that the ref does much. The room quiets slowly, their voices fading into silence. “We street fight here. That means we don’t fight fair and we don’t take it easy. So kid, don’t go easy on our Belle here just because she’s a girl. She won’t return the favor.” I laugh. The kid spits.

            “Ready.” We both throw a hand in the air. “Fight.”

            I can tell just by his stance that he doesn’t want to fight me. He really and truly believes that he will hurt me.

            “Go ahead. Take the first hit. I won’t offer another,” I tell him.

            He’s surprised and I hear a few chuckles from the crowd. They know I’m about to knock this boy unconscious.

            He throws an awkward punch. I dodge it automatically. “I told you to hit me. I’m still waiting.” His cheeks redden and he throws a kick. I catch it in the air and twist it till he lies on the floor.

            “Try again once you learn to fight.” I start to walk away. He isn’t even worth my time.

            He lands a kick to my back, making me stagger as I try to regain my balance. “That hit was free. Now’s my turn,” I smile.

            I turn quickly, sweeping his legs as I drop to the ground. He hits the ground easily, just as I expected.  I jump on top of him, straddling his torso. “This is the closest you’ll get to being manhandled by me. Hope you like it.” I punch his cheek, cutting it a bit. He rolls me over until I’m on my back beneath him. It’s not a position I will stand being in for long.

            “That all you got little girl? I thought you’d be tougher than this,” he laughs. He tries to pin my hands down and during the struggle, I throw an elbow at his jaw. I hit it just right, knocking his head sideways. My funny bone stands to point out that our opinions of just right differ. I wrap my legs around his waist and roll us back over.

            I throw a fist straight at his nose before he gets a chance to realize it. It connects beautifully. Blood sprays my fist and face. I win.

            “Belle wins!” Rex shouts over the voices of the crowd, lifting my blood soaked hand in the air.

            The kid gets up angrily, brushing aside his friends’ hands and jokes. His pride is hurt, but that’s not my fault. He shouldn’t have been so cocky.

            I head to the showers in the locker room. The guys clear out. It’s never a good idea to walk in on me while I’m in the shower. You’re likely to end up with much more than a broken nose.

The End

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