Authors: Olivia Lancaster
“Hmm, maybe. Depends on whether she gets her homework done by Friday,” I replied, stifling a yawn. “And I’m fine, I swear. I just need a morning workout to get my blood flowing or something.”
Just then, Danny peered around a corner and beckoned to me, his salt-and-pepper moustache twitching as he smiled. “Good morning, ladies,” he greeted in his deep voice. “Trina, your first patient will be in around nine-thirty, and I think Mrs. Smythe is coming in this afternoon for her aquatic therapy.”
“Got it. Thanks, Danny,” Trina said brightly. She gave me a wink and headed into her own private office to set up for the day. Then Danny looked at me and waved his hand to call me into his office. I hoped I wasn’t in trouble or something. I tended to jump to the worst conclusions without much provocation. It was something Alice gave me hell for all the time. “You gotta stop assuming the worst, Gem. You’re gonna give yourself a heart attack worrying about everything,” she told me more than once.
I followed Danny into his office and he shut the door behind us before taking a seat in the cushy black swivel chair behind his desk. “I need to talk to you about an important assignment,” he told me, folding his hands on the wooden surface in front of him. I nodded and sat down across from him, my heart starting to race. What important assignment? I was both nervous and excited; I’d been waiting for months to finally be taken seriously as a therapist.
“Okay, shoot!” I said, maybe a little too enthusiastically. Danny beamed at me.
“Gemma, you’re our newest staff member and your workload is the lightest at the present moment, plus you’ve proven yourself to be an excellent physiotherapist. So I have selected you as the best choice for a new client we’re taking on. He trains here pretty regularly, and you may have heard of him. But I need you to refrain from making a big deal about his, ah, celebrity status. Okay?”
I blinked a few times, struggling to take in this information. I was going to be working with a guy famous enough to merit the term “celebrity status”?
“Who is it?” I asked, furrowing my brow.
Danny sighed. “His name is Marc Montoya.”
My eyes grew large and round with surprise. I’d never been as much into the fighting scene, since my specialty was running, but even I knew that name. Montoya was a well-established MMA fighter with countless wins under his belt. I’d never seen him around the gym before, but then again, I usually spent all my time in the medical offices except for when I did my early morning workout sessions.
“Wow,” I breathed. “He--he’s coming here for therapy?”
Danny nodded and replied, “Yes. He injured his left shoulder and hip during his last fight. He won, but he needs to reduce the damage to his body before taking on another tough match. As I’m sure you know, he keeps a pretty tight fighting schedule since he’s a big name right now. Since you don’t have any other major commitments in the field right now, I want you to be his therapist. Do you think you can handle it? If not, I can see if maybe Robert can--”
“No,” I interrupted. “Uh, I mean yes. I can handle it. I’ll do it. Definitely.”
Danny gave me a firm nod and a wink. “I know you’ll do great. I’ll just warn you, though, Montoya has a reputation of being kind of… difficult to work with at times.”
I frowned slightly, my former elation simmering back down to the usual worry.
“What do you mean?” I asked, a little suspiciously.
“He’s a good guy overall. But, you know, he comes from a sort of bleak background and he had to work his ass off to rise through the ranks and overcome that, and I think he’s still got that chip on his shoulder. You’ll see what I mean. I have no doubt that you’ll be able to take him on, though,” Danny finished, trying to assuage the concern evident on my face.
“Well, if you think I can handle it, then I’ll prove to you I can!” I replied, determined to live up to Danny’s expectations of me. I just hoped I could live up to my own expectations for myself, which had always been much higher than anyone else’s.
This was definitely going to be interesting, I thought to myself as I left the office, suddenly feeling quite a bit less tired than I had earlier.
Little did I know just how much of an understatement that was going to turn out to be.
Even as I tried to reach out my arm to hit the alarm as it blared, my muscles sent out a bolt of pain in protest to the slightest movement. So for a few moments at least, I just let the damn phone alarm ring while I stared up at the ceiling angrily.
Finally, I willed myself to contort my body awkwardly to reach the fucking thing and shut it off before rolling over and putting my feet on the ground, taking a moment to get my bearings.
This was bad. I couldn’t remember a time I’d ever felt like this before, and even in the comfort of my own apartment, I didn’t like it.
It had been two days since the injury, and while I had spent yesterday resting up in bed, icing the injuries to try and get the swelling to drop, today I had to go meet my new physiotherapist.
The new apartment, though, was one of the few things that could dull the blow of this whole experience. The emcee at my big fight hadn’t been exaggerating when he said I came from a patch of dirt in New Mexico. To say that I had humble beginnings was to put it lightly. My grandmother’s little farmstead barely supported us, and I had a stiff mattress with an itchy blanket in a cupboard of a room to look forward to every night after a dinner of meat and potatoes. It was a hard life, but it was part of what made me into the man I became, so I never looked down on it, and I damn well didn’t let anyone look down on me for it—not that anyone had the guts to do so.
Still, growing up like that gave you a certain set of expectations out of the world. And when I started getting bigger and bigger in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, my world changed so fast I hardly knew how to handle it. In all honesty, I still didn’t.
My Las Vegas apartment couldn’t be more different from what I was used to. It was like living in a palace. Located in an upscale part of town, by the glitzy standards Vegas had, it couldn’t have been in a more central location. The sleek black tile floors contrasted sharply with the full-panel windows that gave me a full view of the bright, colourful lights in the streets below from my penthouse. I made sure the place had excellent lighting; dim lights might have been more fashionable for a place like this, the interior designers told me, but personally, I preferred a full view of my living space.
When I first moved in, the place was a very modern-looking, upscale place, but really, I would have preferred something more rustic. I kept the living room and kitchen as they were, since most of the Vegas crowd I’d entertain for would prefer that kind of look, but I already had the interior designers do a number on my own room.
The floors were hardwood, and the smell of hand carpentry filled the air as I stood up from my ranch-style bed and made my way across the cabin-like interior. The room was pretty minimalistic, but that was by design. A lot of money went into this place, and even more went into the wardrobe.
I headed into the shower, and as the water started running, the sensation made me want to just fall asleep against the cool glass.
My muscles might have been seriously injured, but my body still looked intact. Hot water ran down every rippling muscle of my tanned body, from bulging biceps and forearms to the rock-hard pack of abs I’d worked so hard to hone. My body was a fighting machine. It always had been. A measly injury wasn’t going to keep me down.
Then why did you wince when you got out of bed?
I looked at myself in the little mirror I hung in the shower, steam half-obscuring my reflection while the hot water warmed my muscles to the bone.
Weakness in general was disgusting to me, but worse yet was my own weakness. The idea that I couldn’t rely on the body I’d put so much work into, holding me back… I would never admit it to anyone, but it was a bigger fear than any opponent could hope to strike into me. For the first time, I didn’t like what I saw looking back at me in my reflection.
Injury. Frailty. Brokenness.
But I wasn’t going to let that kind of broody shit get in the way of my training regimen. After a quick wash, I dried myself off and got dressed.
Designer clothes were one of the biggest novelties for me. Hell, everything about spending big in a city like Vegas was a novelty for me, but I was a guy who was used to hand-me-down clothes and special trips to the thrift store every now and then. Who knew a good pair of new jeans came that expensive?
For my part, though, most of my getup during the day comprised of my workout clothes. Today, I was sporting the usual gray tank top, black shorts, and black trainers. After a quick breakfast of a protein shake, a peanut butter and banana sandwich and some Greek yogurt, I started packing a change of clothes into my gym bag, but as I did, a jolt of pain in my shoulder told me I had to be more careful.
This wasn’t good. I wasn’t used to being injured. Hopefully it was just going to be a simple thing, that the physio would just knock something into place and everything would magically feel better.
How the fuck does physiotherapy even work?
I thought to myself as I headed out the door and down the stairs. My mind jumped to scenes of me lifting one-pound weights with my bad arm, and it took some serious willpower not to turn right around and just go back to bed.
In reality I knew it was more than that. This wasn’t going to be my first time in physiotherapy. But it was going to be my first time with a real injury, with something worse than just a slightly strained hamstring or tight calves.
I headed out the doors and started to take my usual walk to the gym. I usually jogged to get the blood pumping right from the moment I walked out the door, but today, even if I didn’t want to admit it, even walking caused a sharp jolt of pain to run down my leg from my hip with each step.
I wasn’t one to tolerate this kind of weakness, though, so I wasn’t going to let it keep me down. I was going to hit the gym hard, plough through whatever bullshit the physiotherapist wanted me to undergo, and I damn sure wasn’t about to let myself take the bus.
The pain only spurred me on harder.
After about fifteen minutes of walking, The Fighting Chance came into view, and I smiled for the first time since last night.
It was a modern-looking place, with a white and curvy design on the exterior and glass windows in place of a wall in the front, showing off the interior and all the equipment therein. Of course, there were more private areas in the back, but in general, all of us at the Fighting Chance liked the place being open and accessible. A lot of professionals wanted to keep their cards close when it came to training, but for my part at least, that was cowardice.
I wanted the people I’d be fighting to
how I trained, and despite that, I’d still beat them in the ring. It was just like when I was a kid, fighting with the other boys behind gas stations and in our little private barn fighting rings. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was public. Everyone saw just how strong the others were.
As I headed up to the front doors, another fighter I recognized was on his way out, and his familiar nodded to me as he saw me approaching. It was a curt nod with no smile; that’s just the kind of guy Jax Brown was.
“Marc. Good to see you up and running again so soon, we’ve missed you the past few sessions.”
As we approached, we clasped hands for just a moment and patted each other on the back in greeting. Despite the fact that most of us would see each other in the ring from time to time, we kept a tight friendliness amongst each other. You don’t train with people you hate.
“Think I’d let a few sore muscles hold me back?”
“No, but a permanent injury might,” he said, and I half-jokingly scoffed at what I privately knew to be reasonable advice. “Trust me, man, I’ve been there. But hey, I’ve seen how you power through these kinds of challenges. Just another hurdle to you, right? Get well soon, man.”
“Thanks, Jax,” I said, admittedly reticent. Jax nodded and moved on, and I headed on inside the gym.
I knew the guy meant well, but I wasn’t in any condition to start taking friendly advice from my peers. They all knew I was weakened by what had happened to me, and that bothered me. I already had the world lined up against me, so I didn’t want to show weakness to add to that. I couldn’t.
There’s one person who’ll see my weakness, though.
I didn’t like the idea of working with a physiotherapist. If I’d had the chance, I wouldn’t have even said anything about my injury. I would have taken some “time off” and recovered on my own. But no, everyone at the gym insisted that this was necessary—more importantly, my manager did.
As if on cue, my phone buzzed with a message from the man himself.
better see you at the gym today, dont miss your first session
I rolled my eyes. Kenny Trahan was both my manager and trainer, but he was close enough to me that he was one of the few people I’d really consider a friend, too. Hell, I owed getting out of that hellhole in New Mexico mostly to him. I didn’t think there was anyone who could call Kenny anything but a good guy—and he showed it by trying to keep me focused from time to time. In fact, he was the one who convinced me to see this therapist in the first place. Even then, I agreed partly just because I owed him a little, even if he’d never admit it.
way ahead of you
I sent the text back, but the thought of having to deal with the physiotherapist was getting to me. It was probably some pencil-necked graduate who thought he knew better than me because he got straight-As all the way from his Exercise Therapy degree. The thought made me sick to my stomach. I was early - really early, but I figured I might as well head on in and get this shit over with.
So without wasting another second, I moved quickly through the gym entrance and headed toward where my first session was going to be.