‘Not in a million years, kid.’
‘Get the fuck out of my face!’
Four cities in two days, and more doors slammed in my face than I can count. I sling my backpack over my shoulder and scratch another name from my list.
Hopping on to a bus and hopping off thirty minutes later, I scan the mix of both commercial and apartment numbers down the block, then knock on my last door.
He’s a tall man, his hair like pepper, clad in sweats, with a yellow timer hanging from his neck. He gives me a questioning look.
“I’m your next champion.”
He laughs, but then he must see something on my face. In my stance. Thirst, resoluteness, guts. Maybe I’m wearing my balls in my eyes. He falls sober and swings the door wide-open. “Come on in.”
He doesn’t ask for my name.
I guess with one look, he knows he’ll find my name in the dictionary, right next to “determined.”
He leads me to his garage. “Where’d you train before?” he asks.
“Self-taught. I watch videos.”
He scoffs, then shrugs. “Okay, let’s see what you’ve got.”
I eye the equipment across the room. The heavy bag hangs from the ceiling, the leather worn from other fighters before me. There’s a boxing dummy at the corner. Speed bag. Weights. A whole private gym set up here. I drop both my bags, then zip open my backpack and start to put on the gloves without bothering to remove my hoodie.
“Take that off; I need to know what you’ve got. Need to see your form,” Hennesy says.
I clench my jaw. Slowly unzip my hoodie. Take it off and glance past my shoulder, shifting to keep my back from the coach’s view. The guy is clearing the fighting area. Good. We can get down to business. He walks to me when I face him.
“Give it over.” I hand him my hoodie and he tosses it aside, then crosses his arms and looks at me. “Speedball first.”
I inhale, position myself before the speedball, and hit. Wham.
I keep on hitting, lightning fast, my fists making the bag fly.
I would have warmed up first, but I’ve been doing this for days, and I won’t stop until I’ve got myself a coach—and not even then.
I’ve got momentum now, and I pick up speed, my arms moving back and forth, working the speed bag until it’s moving so fast you can’t even see it.
I’m starting to sweat; it’s stuffy in here, but I can’t stop. I need him to take me on. I need one yes to get me in the ring. Just one yes and I’ll do the rest.
“Time.” Hennesy stops me. He signals to the boxing dummy and the heavy bag. “Let’s see you pound the bag.”
I swing out and slam my knuckles on the bag, putting everything into my fists. Thack, thump, thud.
Hennesy’s composure starts to crumble with excitement. “Holy shit, boy!”
I’m getting in to it. I’m in the zone—where it’s just me, the leather brown bag, my fists, and nothing else but slamming the spot I’m looking at.
“I’ve seen enough.” He stops the bag from swinging. His eyes glassy. “Fill this out.”
I pull off my right glove and grab a pen as he slaps a paper onto a desk at the corner. I bend down to fill out my name and contact information and realize, too late, that I exposed the tattoo on my back.
“You’re his boy.”
I freeze midsignature.
A second ticks by. Then two.
I slowly set the pen down and take one last look at the paper. I might not get to fill it out after all. I turn.
His face has paled.
I wait it out for a few beats. Maybe he’s different. Maybe he can deal with it.
He tosses my jacket at me. “Get out. Nobody wants to see you fight.”
I frown fiercely as I catch my jacket in my fist and edge forward, equally mad now. “That’s too damn bad. ’Cause I’m fighting anyway.”
I keep my eyes on him as I pull off my left glove, shove my arms into my hoodie, and zip up.
I walk out and the door slams behind me. I clench my jaw, and I shove my gloves into my bag and spot the old, black gloves inside too. I push them down into the bottom of the duffel bag and zip it up.
The season starts in a week and a half. No coach? No fight. I can’t even get into a gym.
But I won’t let anyone or anything keep me from the ring.
I pick up a penny from the ground.
And I spot a girl in workout clothes across the street, tying her shoelaces. She’s a step away from the gym door. I straighten, pull my hoodie over my head, and cross the street, following after her like I belong.