Authors: Amy Love
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons--living or dead--is entirely coincidental.
Grayson copyright @ 2015 by Amy Love. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles or reviews.
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Jab, jab, right hook, left uppercut. He makes contact with the other fighter, throwing him off balance, but the guy comes back with a murderous look in his eye that makes Grayson want to take a step back. He doesn’t, he holds his ground.
The skinhead lunges at him, putting the weight of his body behind the punch. “Ufff.” Grayson’s head is thrown back by the force of the other man’s punch to his throat. He tries to take some deep gulping breaths, struggling from the blow to his trachea. That kind of move would have been declared a foul in an official fight, but this was anything but official.
The disguised warehouse looks like something right off of the set of a horror movie. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find a chainsaw murderer; right on the outskirts of town, the building more or less about to fall down around their ears. It was the kind of place that made you feel like nothing good could come out of it. You wouldn’t be wrong.
Grayson shakes his head, getting himself back in the game. He bounces on the balls of his feet like he’s seen other guys do. He knows the drill; he’s seen enough of these fights even if this was only the first time he was actually in the ring rather than outside of it.
Show no fear
. It was his mantra, one that he had come by the hard way, the scars on his body evidence of that. The thought almost makes him laugh out loud, as if anything in his life had been easy; hard was the only way he’d ever known. Well, one thing had come easy. He pushes the thought out of his mind. He can’t think about her now, not in this place.
“Had enough yet, kid?” The skinhead they call ‘Destructor’ smiles at Grayson like he’s enjoying this, as if he doesn’t feel the blood running down his face from the nose that Gray managed to break in the first round.
“Why? You getting tired?” Grayson doesn’t return the man’s smile. They’re not friends, they’re opponents, and he needs this win. His mom and his little sister need the money he’s bet on himself, not for anything exotic like new clothes or toys, but to pay the rent. They were hanging by a thread, Grayson had to keep focused.
Destructor doesn’t have time to reply before the bell rings. Grayson tries to hide his relief at the break. It’s only a minute or so, but they’ve been beating the crap out of each other for the past half hour. If this were a real UFC match then the judges would have called time a while back and awarded the fight to Grayson. He had won more points, no contest. But this wasn’t a real match. It was an unsanctioned, underground fight controlled by the bookies that made a mint on the pundits who treated the ring like a cockfight.
Grayson makes his way back to his empty corner. It’s empty because he doesn’t have a coach, nor does he have any supporters because no one knows that this is what he’s doing with his nights. Not even her. He’d come so close to telling her a hundred times, but he chickened out every time. What would she think of him if she knew? “I’ll see you tomorrow?” The memory of the question echoes in his mind, and he thinks again about how the sweet, expectant look in her eye almost made him tell her how he felt, almost.
“Kid! Behind you!” One of the spectators is pointing urgently over Grayson’s left shoulder, but there’s no time to turn around before he’s knocked to the floor.
Grayson hits the ground hard, Destructor pretty much tackling him to the floor. The referee is blowing his whistle, trying to pull the skinhead back, but it’s no contest. Destructor pulls his leg back and smiles, enjoying the moment. He kicks Grayson hard in the stomach again and again.
Grayson tries to roll, tries to protect his head, but he’s in the worst position possible; he’s vulnerable on the ground, with this monster laying into him. Destructor lifts his foot to stomp on his head. The realization hits Grayson that this guy is going to kill him. If he doesn’t do something, he is going to die in this ring. And then who’s going to take care of his mom and Kay?
He reacts without even thinking; his body has kicked in before his brain has had time to catch up. He grabs hold of Destructor’s foot, the one that is about to come smashing down onto his head and twists hard. He hears a faint popping sound as he tears the ligament with the force of the movement and he pushes up, knocking his opponent off balance.
Destructor hits the ground hard, his eyes wide with surprise. Grayson doesn’t waste any time, he scrambles up to get the other man into a clinch hold, but he stops abruptly. Something isn’t right. In fact, something is very wrong. Destructors’ eyes are like saucers, unblinking, but that’s not what’s got Grayson’s attention. His head is twisted at an odd angle, like his neck was made out of rubber.
Grayson slowly takes a step back, and people start to rush into the make-shift ring. A hand on his shoulder guides him through the crowd, pulling him away from the scene.
“Must’ve broken his neck when he fell.”
The reality of what’s playing out in front of him hits Grayson like a ton of bricks. His knees go weak, and he feels like he might throw up.
“Come on, kid. You’ve got to get out of here.” The voice behind Grayson is insistent; a jacket is draped around his half-naked sweat-soaked torso.
But Grayson doesn’t move, he doesn’t know if he even can. “He’s dead?” The words are like ash in his mouth, something he wants to spit out.
“Yeah kid, he’s dead. Now there’s no need to hang around until the cops come, right?” The man’s voice is calm but insistent.
, the thought echoes in Grayson’s mind. He can’t go to jail. His family wouldn’t cope. His mom was already working two jobs trying to provide for him and his sister. His dad leaving was in some ways the best thing that had happened to them. It meant no more beatings, no more nights afraid to go home because of what mood the old man might be in. But his leaving had dumped them in a serious financial hole; there was no getting away from that. He couldn’t go to jail; there was no way he could let that happen. He lets the man lead him out of the back of the warehouse, keeping his head down.
“You’re a good fighter, kid. You could make a lot of money.” The strong hand on Grayson’s shoulder tightens and steers him towards a sleek black Lexus. “You could use some cash, am I right?” The short man looks pointedly at Grayson’s beat-up sneakers.
Grayson’s back is immediately up, he doesn’t take charity, never has. Plus, he’s seen too much not to know that there’s no such thing as no strings attached. “Who are you?” His jaw is set hard, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“I’m your fairy-fucking-godmother. Now, if you don’t want to get your ass hauled off to jail, get in the car and we can talk about what we can do for each other.” The short man inclines his head slightly and a steroid-junkie in a monkey suit steps out of the driver’s side and opens the back door.
Grayson looks behind him at the dilapidated warehouse and thinks about the man that he has left dead on the floor, and he feels his gut twist with guilt.
“It was an accident, kid.” The short man’s voice is soft, kind almost. “It happens in these places more than you’d think.” He shrugs his shoulders as if to say ‘c’est la vie.’ “I’m hoping you were smart enough not to use your real name when you signed up for this meat market?”
Grayson shakes his head. No one had even really been interested in his real name. He was the youngest person in the place by a country mile; there weren’t a whole heap of eighteen year olds that were willing to step into the ring and have someone twice their size beat the crap out of them. He’d had to lie about his age, just to get in. So the bookie running the fight had christened him, ‘The Kid’. Grayson hadn’t corrected him.
“Good.” The man sighs audibly. “In a weeks’ time, this will all have blown over. No one will be pressing charges, it’s not in anyone’s interest for there to be an investigation into these fights, too much to lose on all sides.”
Grayson nods, dumbly, wondering how his whole life has changed in a matter of a few seconds. An accident, he’d said. It was an accident, but a man was still dead because of him.
“Tick, tock, kid. Are you coming or not?” The short man has already slid into the back seat and is looking at Grayson expectantly.
Grayson takes one look behind him, at the scene of the crime, his father’s words echoing in his head.
You’re a screw up.
You’re nothing. You’ll always be nothing.
“Not this time, Dad.” He says the words under his breath, as he takes the offered seat and steps into the unknown.
“I mean, seriously, who irons their underwear?” Willow uses her stage whisper, which is only marginally quieter than her normal voice.
“Inside voices, Will.” Adriana shoots her friend a look as the teacher tuts loudly at them before demonstrating how to transition into a downward dog.
“I’m just saying, he’s not normal. Besides, he doesn’t like Chinese food. I mean, who doesn’t like Chinese food?” Willow asks the question with wide eyes and no sense of irony.
“Yes, he’s clearly an alien.” Adriana throws the teacher an apologetic shrug, as she wonders for the hundredth time why she still goes to yoga with Willow. She’s the least restful person Adriana knows, but she also happens to be her best friend.
“Exactly, so I had to kick him to the curb.” Willow sighs loudly, as she executes a perfect sun salutation. “And that’s why you have to go out with me tonight.”
Adriana shakes her head at her friend. “Not that I’m not sorry that you’re heartbroken that you and Jon—”
“Jay,” Willow corrects her friend without a trace of annoyance.
“Right, Jon was last week.” Adriana rolls her eyes. “Anyway, it’s not that I’m not sorry that your relationship of twelve whole days is over, but I’m working tonight, my shift finishes late.”
“You’re such a bad liar, Adrie. You blush like a virgin whenever you try!” Willow looks pointedly at her red-faced friend. “And what if tonight is the night that I meet my soulmate? What if you’re stopping me from finding the man that I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life with?” Willow shakes her red hair cut in an achingly stylish bob as if she can’t believe how selfish Adriana is being.
“Jeez, Will, guilt trip much?” Adriana frowns at her friend over her shoulder. Willow knows how to play on Adriana’s over-developed sense of responsibility. They have been pretty much inseparable since Adriana moved to Miami almost eight years ago. She had answered an ad in the newspaper for a roommate and rocked up to the house in South Beach that looked so out of her price range as to be in another stratosphere. She would only find out later that Willow’s rich father bought her things to make up for the fact that he never had any time for her. The house had been one of those things. She’d arrived to find Willow crumpled on the floor a crying mess. She had just broken up with the supposed love of her life. Adriana had talked her down and dried her tears, and they’d been best friends ever since.
“Besides, you know I don’t believe in that stuff. Soulmates are something that only exist in films like
, that are strategically designed to make you feel bad about your love life or lack thereof.” Adriana knows the spiel by heart; they have been the words she’s lived by for ten years, since that day, since that day that he disappeared without a word, like she didn’t even matter.
“Ms. Garza, is there something we’re keeping you from?” The disapproving tone in the yoga teacher’s voice snaps Adriana out of her nostalgia, a place where she would rather not spend much time. She feels like a naughty schoolchild that’s just been berated by her teacher in front of the whole class.
“Sorry,” Adriana mumbles the word under her breath, sounding like a sullen teenager. Despite Willow generally being the instigator of things, it’s inevitably Adriana who always takes the heat.
Willow carries on talking as if the exchange with the increasingly irate teacher hasn’t even happened. “Adrie, please.” Willow makes her blue eyes as wide as she possibly can, looking the picture of innocence. “Just come out for a little while. I need something to cheer me up, please? Besides, when was the last time you let that beautiful hair down and had some fun?”
“Fun? What’s that?” Adriana plays along, knowing what her friend is leaving out; that she needs to loosen up and get laid. It’s something that Willow tells her repeatedly, as if getting under some random guy is going to solve all her problems.
“Come on, Adrie, just say yes. Drinks are on me, and I bet I can get us in to that hot new club over on Miami Beach.” Willow dangles the promise in front of her friend like a carrot on a stick.
“Which hot new club?” Adriana already knows that she’s lost the battle. Willow doesn’t usually take no for an answer, and it doesn’t look like she’s planning on starting anytime soon.
“I don’t know, but there’s bound to be one! Places come and go on that strip faster than even I can keep up.” Willow shrugs dismissively. Her position in a high profile PR agency means that she has her ear to the ground about anywhere and everywhere that’s hot, new, or up and coming. She has an endless list of contacts who can get her in to any club, bar, restaurant, or sold-out concert. “Come on, Adrie, what have you got to lose? It’s just a night out, not an agreement to a life of indentured servitude!”
“Fine, fine! I’ll go, if only for the sake of you not talking for the rest of the class. This is supposed to be relaxing!” Adriana hisses the words at her friend, trying to concentrate on what impossible position she’s supposed to be contorting herself into. She isn’t very good at yoga, never has been, but she needs something to help counter-balance the stress of her job at the hospital.
The tanned, sinewy teacher gives Adriana another look that would freeze hell over, and she ducks her head down in submission. She has never been good at confrontation and hates getting into trouble, even as a kid at high school. Her dad had always encouraged her to blend in and not draw attention to herself—good or bad. It was a hangover from smuggling himself into the U.S. from Cuba. He had tried to be more American than apple pie and made sure that Adriana knew to keep her head down and her grades up. He had lived under the radar, doing his best to give her the life that he never had. He’d given up everything so that she could have it all. As soon as she was old enough, she had made sure that he was taken care of. She worked as a waitress to put herself through nursing college, and once she’d qualified, she’d sent him money every month, almost half her paycheck.
It was a cruel joke, that after so many years busting his ass for her, he wasn’t even able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He had dropped dead of a heart attack just a year after Adriana had taken up her nursing position. Even now, so many years later, she couldn’t help but wonder if she would have been able to do something to help him if she had been there and not hundreds of miles away.
Willow always asks her what she has to lose, what it is that she is afraid of, but Adriana can never put into words that what she fears most is losing someone she cares about. That is the trouble with relationships; once you care about someone, you have so much more to lose. The only two men that she’s ever really loved in her life she’d lost—one to a blocked artery and the other to, well, that was the problem, she has never known what she’d lost him to. All she knows is that one day he had disappeared, and she’d never seen him again.