1 - Harrington
Punch, punch, punch, punch.
Punch, punch, punch, punch.
Punch, punch, punch, punch.
I bounce on the balls of my feet, my hands guarding my face. My breaths are short and heavy, and I can feel a stitch forming in my side. I stop and stand tall, placing my arms behind my head to regain control over my breathing. I stare at the small red bag as my muscles relax, then wipe the sweat from my forehead and jump back in.
The speed bag isn’t a favorite for many mixed martial artists, but for me, it’s a battle of will.
How much longer can I keep focus?
How many more punches can I do before my arms tire out?
How fast can I go without missing?
I crave the adrenaline that rushes through me when I jump into things without fear, or achieve something everyone thought impossible. And mixed martial arts, well, it scratches that itch, that addiction.
Besides, it pays well to fight, and even more to keep the audience entertained.
With one final strike, I turn away from the speed bag, shaking out my arms as I head to the side of the mat. I grab the white towel draped over my red and black Swiss sports bag and wipe the sweat off my arms and forehead before grabbing a bottle of water. I squirt some into my mouth and then over my face.
“Lovelly, you up for a round?” one of the guys calls. I look up. It’s Jake, lounging with a few others from the club. He’s unwrapping a band from around his wrist and hand, his head tilted to the side.
I wave my hand at him. “Nah, man. Rain check?”
“Scared I’m going to kick your ass?” he says, sauntering toward me. The gym vibrates with laughter as people gather around us. Jake and I have never seen eye to eye. I met him during training two years back, and ever since I kicked his ass in our first sparring match, he’s done everything he can to win back his reputation. But he has yet to take me down—not for lack of trying.
I’m not in the mood to get into another brawl, though. My body’s still recovering from the fight two nights ago, and I’d rather let the bruises die down first. So I ignore him and take a swig of water instead.
“Don’t tell me you’ve gone soft on me, Lovelly.” He smirks. A few of his groupies come up behind him to show their support.
I laugh it off, shaking my head as I throw the bottle and towel into my bag and pull the zipper closed.
He makes smooching noises, the back of his hand pressed to his mouth. “Come on, Lovelly. You’re due for a good whipping.”
“Ha! Last time I was in the ring with you, you walked around with a broken pinkie for two weeks,” I shoot back, shouldering my bag. I pause, placing a finger to my lips and then point to him. “Or was that your sister? Truthfully, I couldn’t tell. No, wait, I take that back. Your sister’s a much better fighter, so it had to be you. You should really work on that high-pitched voice of yours though. It confuses the masses.”
The gym breaks out in laughter.
He growls and looks around, his face reddening with anger. “Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is, bitch,” he says, widening his arms in an open invitation. It’s tempting. So tempting. But no.
“And get your mom’s stripper sweat on my tongue? I’ll pass. But the next time I’m in the mood for an ego boost, I’ll be sure to let you know.” I wink before hurrying outside, successfully ending the argument on my terms.
The streets are lively with chattering groups of people, and the breeze is just the right degree of coolness against my hot skin. I make a right and head toward my apartment, weaving in and around the bustling crowds. I stop at the corner light and gaze at the park across the street while I wait for the signal to change. Children are running, playing, laughing, without a care in the world, while their parents—mostly mothers—take the time to chat. I smile slightly as the ambiance lifts my mood.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m walking into my building, handily located over the neighborhood convenience store, and practically run up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. I fish my keys from my pocket and swirl them around my index finger as I head down the hallway. When I round the corner at the end, I see a young woman sitting on the floor in front of my place, her head down as she plays on her phone.
She looks up, her eyes big, a tentative smile curving the corners of her mouth. She slowly pushes to her feet and drops her phone into her purse. “Hey, Harrington,” she says, her voice shaking.
Anna is my best friend’s sister and five years younger than us. She idolizes her brother, always has. So it wasn’t uncommon to have her tagging along with us anytime we went out. But since his recent departure, I haven’t seen or talked to her much. What’s she doing—
“He hasn’t called me back,” she says abruptly. “And the few times I have gotten a hold of him, he’s been shady. And . . . and . . .” She shoves some loose strands of hair behind her ear, her hand trembling. It’s clear she’s upset, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.
“He hasn’t talked to me since he left, either,” I admit. “So I’m not sure what you want me to do here, Anna.” I shove my keys into the door knob and push the door open. She doesn’t wait for an invitation, just barges right in; she knows my place as well as Fisher does. I throw my keys on the counter and turn to face her, crossing my arms as I lean back against the kitchen table.
She’s made herself comfortable on my couch. “I don’t know, Harrington. I just . . . I was just . . . hoping you could do something,” she says.
“You know he needs time . . .” I point out.
“What if I find him, and—”
“Don’t start with that shit.” I push off from the table and make my way through the small apartment to my bedroom. I take off my shirt, chucking it at the pile of dirty laundry in the corner, and look for a clean one.
I find a white t-shirt wadded up on the floor by my bed that will have to do and turn back around. Anna stands at the entrance of my bedroom, looking away, her cheeks brightening. I quickly pull the shirt over my head and walk past her, heading toward the living room again. I wave my hand behind me, and she follows.
“Harrington,” she says, her voice quivering. Her lips tremble slightly, like she’s on the verge of crying. Great. That’s exactly what I need. “I don’t know why you aren’t more worried about him. You know he got kicked out of the program . . .” She swallows, giving me those big round eyes brimming with tears.
I sigh. I understand why she’s worried. I really do. And I don’t want to sound like a cold-hearted bastard for not being more concerned. But it’s Fisher. I mean, why should I be? Before he left, he said he wanted time away from all of this to get his head clear. Sure, it’s been a few months since that conversation took place, but I have no reason to believe that he’d be stupid enough to get involved with the people from his past again. But that’s also not something I’m going to voice to Anna. Not when she looks like she’s about to—
She bursts into hysterics, covering her face with her hands and sobbing uncontrollably as she crumples to the ground.
“Shit,” I say, and reach for her. She’s always been like a little kid to me, a sister, and I can’t help but console her. “Anna,” I say softly. When she doesn’t hear me, I try again, a little louder. “Anna.”
She throws her arms around me and sobs even harder.
“Look at me, Anna.”
She does. Her eyes are bright red and puffy. I wipe off the tears rolling down her cheeks, trying to understand why she’s so broken up about this all of sudden. After all these months, why now? Then it hits me.
“You saw him, didn’t you?”
She nods. “Fisher . . . he’s gone back, Harrington. I didn’t know who else to talk to.”
That fucker. I push her back and sit down next to her. “You did the right thing. Take a deep breath, kid.” When she does, I continue, trying to keep my anger at Fisher from creeping into my voice. “Tell me everything, Anna. Don’t leave anything out.”
She pulls her phone out of her handbag. Then she swipes, flicking through pictures until she comes to something obviously important.
“Look. This is him,” she says, shoving the phone in my face. “Do you see what he has?” She jabs her finger at something that sorta looks like a reflection of something shiny. “A gun! A freaking gun.” She makes a sniffling noise.
I look at the image in more detail, but I can’t make anything of it. It’s granulated and dark; I can’t tell if it’s Fisher or just someone who has his build.
She pulls the phone back toward her and looks down at it. “When I demanded to know what he was doing, he told me to stay out of his business and to get the hell out of there. He talked to me like I was some stranger. He just . . . he just walked away. He didn’t even care that I was crying in middle of the street. He just left me there!” She runs her hand over her blotched cheeks and shoves her hair behind her ear.
Thoughts race through my head, but only one conclusion makes sense. That little . . . “Son of a bitch.”
Anna’s lip is trembling again, her eyes going watery. I can tell another meltdown is imminent.
When I don’t say anything more, she jumps up and starts to pace in front of me. “Ohmigod. Ohmigod. How could he do this? How could he get himself into such a mess?”
“Wait. Back up,” I say, because, in all truth, even if my theory is ninety-nine-point-nine-nine percent right, I don’t actually know what Fisher’s up to. And I don’t need her getting any crazy ideas. “Just because—”
“He’s there, Harrington. I know he is. He went back to find answers.” She smacks her forehead with the heel of her palm.
“You don’t know—”
She glares at me. “I’m not stupid, Harrington. You might be his best friend, but I’m his sister. Don’t even try to feed me that crap. I don’t need you to protect me or whatever.”
Okay. There goes that plan.
She shakes her head. “This is a total nightmare!” She’s yelling now, so loud I bet the entire street can hear her. “How could he do this to me? He’s all I have left. He’s taken care of me all these years, and now . . . now . . . he just—”
“Calm down, Anna,” I say.
She looks at me, and then, like things have suddenly fallen into place inside her mind, she stiffens. Her eyes widen. “You knew, didn’t you?”
“What?” My question comes out harsher than I expected. How could she accuse me of that? “No. Of course not. If I did, I’d have dragged that son-of-a-bitch’s ass right back in no time.”
Her shoulders sag and she covers her face with her hands again, dragging them down across her skin like she can cleanse it of worry. “I’m sorry.” She shakes her head. “I know you wouldn’t have let him go. I shouldn’t have said that.”
Fisher’s been her only family since they got out of the foster system, so I can understand her desperation, her need to find out why he’s doing this, her need to blame someone else for his actions.
And now, knowing what Fisher’s done, I know I won’t just be sitting still. I’ll have to make good on my promise to always watch out for him. “All right, tell you what. I’ll look into this and see if I can get in touch with Fisher.”
She doesn’t look at me.
I place my hand over her shoulder and squeeze, tentatively. Her eyes connect with mine, fresh tears rolling down her swollen face.
“Listen, Anna. Fisher’s my best friend, and I know how much he means to you. I won’t let anything happen to him, okay?”
“You have my word. But first, I need you to do something for me,” I say, leaning down until I catch her gaze, waiting until I see she’s truly listening.
She nods, wiping her tears with her hands. “Anything.”
“I need you to promise that you’ll let me take care of whatever situation Fisher’s in. You take care of yourself, okay? Especially school.”
She pauses, but then gives a small nod. “Will you keep me posted?”
“You’ll be the first to know the second I find anything.”
She smiles and pulls me into a hug. “Thank you, Harrington.”
I smile and pat her head. “You’re a good kid, Anna.”
She pushes back and pouts. “I’m nineteen.”
“Exactly. A kid.” I ruffle her hair.
Anna takes a hesitant step back. “Thank you, Harrington. Seriously.”
I nod once. “Anytime, kid.” I look at my watch. “It’s getting late. Why don’t you go freshen up, and I’ll call you a cab.”
She picks up her bag, dropping her phone back into it. As soon as she disappears behind the closed door of the bathroom, I call the cab service and schedule her a ride back to the dorms. She’s still in the bathroom by the time I’m done, so I decide that now is as good a time as any to make one more call. To Fisher.
As per usual, he doesn’t answer. So I leave a message: “Call me back, you lying son of a bitch, or I’m gonna have to come after you.”