By: Allie Juliette Mousseau

Liam gets the upper hand. He’s got me by at least fifteen pounds and two years. He pins me and punches me twice across the jaw. The pain is refreshing. It makes me smile manically. I needed this. I’d been trying to be the “perfect” North to save face for my family since I got to Cade’s hell house a week ago.

Most the kids here hate each other vehemently. Some of them are from rival inner-city gangs, others are just passing through until they’re assigned to the next foster home; some are runaways, others are unwanted, homeless delinquents, a few others are “weekenders”—kids who are kicked out of their homes when Mommy wants to bring home a boyfriend for the weekend and doesn’t want her baggage to be seen.

It fucking sucks for all of us, but I don’t give a shit about their problems, I’ve got my own.

Liam, my roommate, is all into this girl who’s been here for a while, and he didn’t like that I was talking to her. He warned me, but that only made me laugh as I put my arm around her to get him more worked up. And now, here we are.

I can taste the blood and salt from my lip, and it feeds my frenzy like a shark. I knee Liam in the back and throw him off of me. I turn, get to my feet and swing at him hard and fast, so many times I lose count.

Cade pulls me off of him. Wrong move. I turn my fury against my uncle.

I don’t connect once; he blocks my every swing. The frustration makes me see red.

“When you fight angry, boy, you’ll lose every time,” he instructs calmly, like he isn’t involved in an all-out fist fight with someone way younger than he is.

Out of my peripheral I see Liam kneeling on the floor next to the wall, trying to get back up.

“Fuck you!” I rage at my uncle.

“You could put all of this energy into the bags,” he reminds me.

“I’m not going to your fucking gym! I’m leaving! I hate it here!” His stupid training center is set up to help troubled teens like me to “release the negative energy they’re holding and channel it positively.” Fuck that! Makes me want to puke! I’d heard the lecture all week from him, his wife and his crony followers like Liam here, for whom the training center was the sun of the freaking universe.

We’re still in the bedroom, but the other kids are trying to jam themselves in to watch us. Fucking perfect! I can’t get a punch in, and all of them are going to see it. I’ll lose the little clout I’ve built and will get treated like a fucking pariah.

In an instant my uncle wheels me around and twists my arm up behind my back. The pain is unbearable. “That’s enough of that.”

“Oh, come on!” some kids protest.

“They were pretty equally matched,” my uncle states.

“Bullshit,” I bark.

Liam spits a mouthful of blood at me. “Fuck you!”

“If either of you want a rematch, it’ll have to be in the ring.” Cade walks me out of the room.

I’m at his mercy as he puts me in the isolation room for the night. It’s the only room in the house with a lock on the outside of the door and bars on the triple pane window. “Cool off, Josh.”



“Does Sophie wear a ring?” I ask.

McGee takes one stern look at me. “Don’t even think about it!”

“That’s rich,” Caruso chuckles from the other side of the room over his Fight mag.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” I lie. “If Silva’s having a meeting with her to see if she’ll come on as a full-time member of the training team, I’m just wondering if she has a significant other to consider in her decision.” I have to figure out who this guy named Charlie is.

“Bullshit some other bullshitter.” McGee is emptying a gym bag of my clothes into the hospital drawers.

“I’ve hardly even seen her face.” I’ve seen her plenty in my little mirror.

“Doesn’t matter, asshat, she’s had her hands all over you,” Caruso laughs.

“Now, that’s true.” I smile at the recollection of those soft, adept hands.

“Okay, Mr. North.” Two nurses and the doctor file into the room. “We’re going to get you up today and turn you over.” The lead nurse smiles kindly as she tugs at the sheets over me. “Won’t that be a relief to get back to normal again?”

Only if Sophie accepts Silva’s offer.

I’m poked, prodded and mucked with for an hour before the staff feels confident in my progress. After turning me over onto my back and letting me recline naturally in the bed, they bombard me with warnings and cautions to not be so reckless and to be careful ’cause another bad injury could end both of my careers.

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