Before I know it time passes. Weeks turn into months, and months turned into a year. Now, eighteen months into my training, I stand on a mat in the sparring room face to face with Michael. I watch him, sweat soaked in his black sweats and black tank top. His hair, wet with sweat, sticks to his face as we circle one another. He’s extremely focused, and holds nothing back. I know he does it for my benefit because the enemy will show no mercy. I watch his muscles work under his tank top. The man is magnificent, and he taught me well. As beautiful as he is in appearance, I know he’s just as deadly. Focus, Shy. I move my gaze from his chest to his eyes, which are even more distracting, if one can fathom that.
I can hear his voice repeating in my head. Know your options. Anticipate my next move. Always stay one step ahead, or you’ll forever be two steps behind. I mimic his moves, from his stance, to how he places his feet as he circles me. Then it comes fast and hard. His right foot connects with my left forearm as I block what is intended for my left temple. It doesn’t stop there. He pounds me with combinations of kicks, right and left hooks, and finally a kick aimed for my solar plexus. Blocking them all, it’s my turn to counter. I throw back my own array of moves he’s taught me, and my combinations are smooth and effortless. Michael straightens, backing away from me and I know what that means. I relax my stance, shaking out my arms as I watch him walk away toward the corner of the mat. He picks up two pads, placing them on each hand as he walks toward me. I get back in my fighting stance as he stands before me with the pads facing out. Starting with my right, I kick his padded hand.
“Again,” he shouts.
I acquiesce, kicking again. This time Michael stumbles back a little. That makes him smile, and me beam.
“Good, again,” he repeats.
After ten minutes it’s time to switch to the left leg. We’re two and a half hours into my workout--with no break--and my legs burn. But he will not break me. I continue my steady pace. Finally, the legs are done, although the torture isn’t over yet. It’s time to move on to the upper body. Starting with the right, I punch the pads until my arm goes numb. The last half an hour is brutal, but my three-hour workout is over. I wish we could just spar the whole time. It’s way more fun, not to mention I hate the isolated workouts; although, when I look at my body in the mirror, I’m grateful. I’m in the best shape of my life. Now I understand why Michael’s body looks the way it does. The man has muscles in places I didn’t know muscles existed.
I walk to the table and grab a towel to wipe the sweat from, well . . . everywhere. No matter how many times I wipe, it just keeps coming. My eyes drift to Michael as he unfastens the pads from his hands.
“Are we done for the day?” I ask.
I exhale, exasperated with his one word answers all the time. What will it take for him to finally have a conversation with me? Giving up on the thought we may actually converse, I sit quietly on the edge of the mat with my back to him. I can’t seem to get enough water. I’ve already downed two large water bottles, and quickly working my way through my third. I know it’s because of all the sweat I’m continuously wiping from myself. I’ll spend the next few hours close to the bathroom, no doubt.
My back remains to Michael, but I hear him step off the mat and start toward his office. For a moment, normalcy possesses my brain and my mouth opens. Words fly out like vomit.
“What are you doing for the rest of the day? If you’re not busy I thought, maybe, we could-”
“I’m busy,” he states, cutting me off, not breaking stride.
He has shown zero interest in knowing me outside of training in eighteen months. Why I thought today would be any different is beyond me.
“Yeah, me too,” I say, way too quickly.
The way I say it makes me sound so pathetic. Like I said . . . vomit. I guess I should’ve expected the chill of his words. It is coming from Michael after all, but it doesn’t sting any less.
The better part of my day-- well, not really better-- will be spent in logistics and linguistics. I’m told this is common for new recruits. It’s incredibly hard to learn just one foreign language in your adulthood, and I’ve damn near mastered three in just eighteen months. I can now add Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese to my repertoire. I’m not ashamed to pat myself on the back for such an accomplishment. That shit was hard, I’m not gonna lie. Next week I’m told I’ll start Farsi and Russian. My head is already throbbing at the prospect. As an active operative, you never stop learning languages because you never know what country your assignments might take you. My face twists in disgust as I breathe in an unpleasant smell. Oh my God, is that me? Looking around to make sure no one is watching, I lift my arm and sniff. It’s definitely me. I set out in search of a shower. The hot spray helps to melt away all the aches and pains, and hurt feelings of my workout. Having nothing urgent pressing, I stay in the shower as long as the hot water allows. Down time is the worst in this place. There’s only so much I can do, or so many places I can explore with no access. It’s either data retrieval, which sucks because, again, I don’t have clearance for any of the exciting stuff. Coding is kinda cool, though. I’ve been learning to write codes that will allow me to access a lot of outside computer systems. What can I say; I was a nerd in school. I’ll admit it, I’m stalling, trying to avoid what I know awaits me in my quarters: a pair of headphones and the Rosetta Stone for Russian and Farsi. Yay. There is something I’ve enjoyed most these last eighteen months in captivity . . . the live simulations. I’ve really honed my skills in surveillance, recon, and extraction. Having already taken a survival, evasion, resistance, and escape course, or S.E.R.E. training at Quantico has saved my butt on more than one occasion during these sessions, and boosted the survival rate of innocents in the sims tremendously; however, my friend list has remained low. I can count them all on one finger, and his name is Godfrey. I’m cordial with the other recruits in my group, but that’s as far as it goes. I’ve only met a handful of actual operatives, mainly because they live off-site, and only come in to brief and debrief. Oh, how I long for the day. When I say I met a handful of operatives, I mean the people on Michael’s team. The guys are nice enough, but I don’t think the woman likes me very much. Nothing new there. We as women are fickle creatures. Another woman coming into your unit can be like two women trying to run the same household. I’m not trying to usurp her territory or anything, but I know some women are easily threatened. Me, personally, I welcome the chance to work with her. Who else knows what I’m going through better than another woman?
My day is winding down, and the dreaded Rosetta Stone awaits. My head already throbs from staring at a computer screen for six hours in logistics. Entering my quarters, my bed is the first place I head. I just need to close my eyes for a few seconds before attempting to retain anything not in English. I didn’t realize I fell asleep until a knock at the door startles me awake. Sitting up a little too quickly, I feel lightheaded and slightly disoriented. Whoever it is knocks again before I’m able to get to my feet. I hit the button and the door slides open. I feel my eyes go wide with shock before I can correct my expression. Michael is the last person I expected. He looks relaxed, almost like the Michael of old, or the fake Michael.
“I was just informed by the General that today was your last day of training. I was wondering if you would like to go out with me tonight to celebrate?” He asks, pouring on the charm.
I can’t hide my excitement. I know it’s written all over my face, and I don’t care. After eighteen long months in captivity, I get to go outside! I get to feel the fresh air caress my face. Breathe in the smell of nature. Wait, before I get too excited, I need to make sure I understood him right.
“Did you say go . . . out?” I ask with obvious disbelief.
“Yes, Shy, out. As in . . . outside,” he teases me, or condescends; it’s hard to tell with him.
“Hell yeah!” I explode, not holding back my enthusiasm. Michael laughs at my childlike behavior. Over something as simple as going outside, a thing most people take for granted.
“Good. Go see Sonja; she’ll make sure you have something to wear,” he instructs as he backs away from my door.
“I’ll see you later, then,” I say, closing the door.
Michael laughed. I’ve been here for eighteen months, and this is the first time I’ve seen him laugh. It’s such a beautiful sound. I take a rushed shower, washing my hair before dressing in sweats. With my hair still dripping, I head to Sonja’s office. Stepping in front of her door it opens automatically, and I walk in. I don’t go any further than the threshold. Sonja is intimidating, even though I’m 2 inches taller. It’s her demeanor that makes her larger than life. She is not to be trifled with. I watch her intently as she stands from her computer to meet me.
“Michael informed you we decided your training is over. You’re ahead of the curve, where an operative at your station should be. The General and I are impressed with your progression, and have rewarded you with a night out.”
Sonja walks past me, heading out the door, and I follow. She continues to talk as we walk.
“Were we correct in our assumption that it would please you if Michael is the one to escort you this evening?”
“Umm . . . yes. I think he’ll do.”
I don’t really know how to answer that question. Inside, I’m jumping for joy. Being around him these last eighteen months has allowed me to catch glimpses of a different side of him, a side I eagerly want to get to know better. The way he talked and laughed when he came to see me reminded me of the Michael I met in L.A. However, I can’t let Sonja see that. If I’ve learned anything, it’s not to get involved with my handler.
“Good,” Sonja replies.
We reach a part of the cave--which, I’ve affectionately come to call my new home--I’ve never been before. Sonja punches in the code and the door slides open. I walk in, looking around. It’s the biggest closet I’ve ever seen in my life. Rows and rows of beautiful dresses, shoes, shirts and accessories, and that’s just the women’s side of the room. The other half is full of suits, sweaters, slacks and jackets for the men. It’s any real clothes connoisseur’s wet dream.
“Wow,” is the only word I can form.
“We do all sorts of missions here. We must be prepared for all occasions,” Sonja offers. “I’ll give you a moment to decide.”
“I may need more than a moment,” I counter in awe.
“Make good use of your time because a moment is all you have,” Sonja says as she steps out.