As Krista worked the heavy bag, she could feel her knuckles bruising with each blow. The dull ache helped her focus her mind in the moment. A quick combo, followed by two left hooks, rocked the bag on its chains. For Krista it was akin to the sound of church bells. Here was her sanctuary. Here was where she felt at one with her universe. Clark, her trainer and owner of the gym, flashed his fifty cent smile as he headed to the office. Too bad he didn’t really make any money on this place. He could afford to buy a better smile.
“What did that bag do to you?” Clark asked as he came back out of the office.
Krista unleashed a furry of short punches before taking a step back, wiping her forehead with the back of her glove. “It said I was soft,” she said.
Clark shook his head while letting out a cat whistle. “Girl, nothing soft on you. Your breasts have more muscles than half the dudes who hang here,” he said.
Krista shook her head. Only Clark could say something like that. “Keep that up and I might let them beat you black and blue.”
“No need to get violent with me. I wasn’t the one who called you soft,” Clark said. He threw her a towel. “Take five and rehydrate. How long have you been here?”
Krista let the towel fall to the floor and started to jab the heavy bag again. “I got in about five,” she said between punches.
Clark grabbed onto the bag to steady it. “Good thing I gave you a key. I was still in la-la land at five,” Clark said. “And you really should hydrate. There’s leaving it all on the floor, and then there’s falling to the floor. But what would I know. I’m just some dumb washed up fighter.”
Krista stopped and stepped back. She fixed Clark with a glare. Clark had once fought for the world title. Krista couldn’t remember which one since the sport was a proverbial alphabet soup of belts. Still, Clark kept himself fit, but nowhere near his former chiseled glory. It went nicely with his silvering hair, but Krista never told him about that. She wanted to help him live with whatever little lies he needed to get by on a daily basis. Heaven knows she had her own. She had way too many of her own. That’s why the two of them clicked on so many levels. That and he was a sucker for redheads.
“Who am I to judge?” Krista asked as her glare evaporated into a smirk. Clark rolled his eyes, but didn’t rise to the bait.
Krista dropped her gloves, walked over to the ancient water cooler, and made it glub-glub-glub as she filled her water bottle. She quickly emptied it into her stomach and then repeated the ritual. Clark began to awaken the soul of the gym, spraying down equipment with disinfectant, making sure the weights were where they belonged, and folding the towels that hung in a bag by the front desk. Krista wanted to do some of it when she got in early as a thank you for getting a key to the place, but Clark refused. It was his gym, and this was the way he marked his territory.
“So what do you have planned for today?” Clark asked, never looking up from his folding.
“The usual,” Krista said. “I have to go to the jail to meet a few clients. Then I have court in the evening.”
“Court for you, or your clients?” Clark asked.
“My clients,” Krista said. Clark didn’t reply, letting the silence draw out uncomfortably. Krista finally filled it. “My case isn’t for another couple of weeks.”
Clark nodded as he placed the towels on their spot. Every one of them would be dirty and sweaty, discarded because they were dirty and used by the end of the day. Krista could identify with those towels.
“You know, you could take a vacation till then. You told me about your little nest egg. This would be a perfect time to use it,” Clark said. “Get your mind in a better place before you have to take the stand.”
Why did everyone have an opinion and felt the need to share it? No one had any idea what they were talking about. “Sure, drop everything. Let him win again. That will solve all my problems,” Krista said as she threw her empty water bottle to the floor.
“Whoa there. That’s not where I was going,” Clark said.
Krista moved back to the heavy bag and began throwing haymakers for all she was worth. She could feel her knuckles bleed freely as she smashed the raw flesh against the canvas bag, her gloves forgotten in the pain. Her punches were sloppy, but she didn’t care. It would have been easier if she could have seen through the tears. Even here she couldn’t win. Clark went back to steadying the bag for her and remained silent. Krista gave him a point for knowing when he had gone too far. Every punch seemed to take a bit more of the hurt, pain, and feeling of helplessness out of her till she felt as numb as her spent arms as they fell to her sides.
“Are you done now?” Clark asked. “Or do you want to try head butting it till you lose consciousness?
Krista growled. “How dare you? You have no idea what I am going through. What he did to me, what his lawyer is going to do to me, it…” She fell silent, unable to summon the words to express herself. Not a good position to be in as a lawyer. Another win for him.
Clark folded his arms. “I might not have been sexually assaulted, but I know what it’s like to get your ass beaten so bad they had to put the pieces back together in an operating room,” he said. He didn’t let her get a word in, no small feat, as he continued. “I’ve had to watch my dreams get destroyed as my eye puffed close and there was nothing I could do to stop it because I just wasn’t good enough, or strong enough, or fast enough. You think I planned on ending up here? This is the gym for broken and misfit toys. Why are you here? Are you a misfit, or broken?”
Krista threw a punch and landed square on Clark’s jaw. He took it and stood there, daring her to try again. Another failure. “You have no idea what it is like, what he did,” she said through gritted teeth. “Don’t you dare to try to say you’ve been through the same thing. Not even close.”
Clark nodded. “You’re right,” he admitted. “It’s not even close, but what I am trying to say is that I think you’re in the right place. I just hope that you’re a misfit and not broken. I don’t have enough superglue to put you back together, but misfit, that is something we can work with. So which one are you?”
With that Clark held his hand out. Krista looked at the offered hand and back into Clark’s eyes. He had tears there just like she had had moments before. She looked back at those towels. Every night Clark picked all them up and brought them to a local laundromat to make them clean again. Every morning he showed them respect by folding them and putting them back in their rightful place. She realized that was why she was here.
Krista placed her hand into Clark’s. The man had huge mitts. “I’m the one who just landed a clean punch to the chin of the former almost champ,” she said. “You tell me.”
Clark picked up her gloves and helped her slip them back on over her abused knuckles. “Well we need to work more on your skills, because you didn’t even buckle my knees a teeny bit. Let’s go back to some basics of how to put your weight behind your punches.”
“Are you calling me fat?” Krista jabbed as she assumed a fighting stance.
“Would that make you stop punching like a girl?” Clark countered.
Krista threw another punch at Clark’s face.