“Welterweight?” John asks.
West still hasn’t moved and there’s tons I need to explain to him. “That’s my guess. I’ll find out when I weigh him.”
“He doesn’t look big enough for a middleweight, even if he gained muscle.”
I know and I rest my temple against the doorframe. Both Conner and Matt are welterweights, meaning they weigh 170 pounds or less. Part of me is pinning my hopes that West greatly exceeds weight and can’t fight them, but even if he did they’d get a middleweight fighter from Black Fire to take their place. I’m not sure I can train West in enough time to defend himself in the welterweight division, much less middleweight.
“He’ll have to cut before he fights,” John says.
“Yeah,” I answer absently. Cutting weight before a fight is rough, necessary at times, but rough. John relaxes back in his seat and appraises me. For once every muscle isn’t tight, preparing to strangle me for my past decisions. Somehow, despite the fact he hates me, the two of us have fallen into an easy conversation.
I miss easy. I miss John. “Matt and I didn’t end well.”
John’s gray eyes shoot to mine and I immediately regret the slip. I’ve never said anything like that to anyone. I’ve never even hinted at it, but somehow being at the only place that has felt like home in months has broken through a wall that shouldn’t be breached.
“Kaden and Jax…they came to me…” His pauses are so awkward that the contents of my stomach swirl like a whirlpool. “They were concerned…but you wouldn’t talk—”
“Can you register West for the fight? The one in two months?” I made a mistake by speaking the words aloud and now John’s too near a subject that causes absolute panic.
“I just need you to register him.” My chest constricts and my throat swells. “Please.”
He sighs, then flicks a pen across the desk. “Jax said your new boyfriend has a problem with Matt. Is that the reason for this? Are you training him so they can take out their differences in the cage?”
That sounded pathetic out loud, but it’s better than the previous conversation. “West and Conner have issues.” John’s been around Black Fire fighters long enough to understand that means West has a problem with that entire gym, Matt included.
He gestures with his chin toward West. “Should I be worried about you and him?”
“You said the other one was harmless, too.”
It would have been less painful if John had taken a railroad spike and driven it into my skull. I do only what I can do: change the subject. “Take West on. You can train him a million times better than I can.”
“You know the old saying about teaching a man how to fish?”
That he can feed himself. “Yeah.”
He motions with his hand that I have my answer, but I don’t. Instead I have a raised brow. Maybe Grandpa’s drinking again. “Does that mean you’re training him?”
“It means if you agree to spar, like we negotiated earlier, then I’ll help you train him.”
Whaaaat? “But if you train him, he can fight all the fish he wants.” Or something like that.
John scratches the back of his head. “Hays, I need you to learn how to fight.”
“I know how to fight.” Each word comes out slowly, as if I don’t believe it myself.
“No, you don’t.”
I want to ask him what he means—what he’s hoping for—but there are things so dark and dirty and hopeless inside me that I’d prefer everyone, like me, continue to ignore they exist.
“The fight,” I say. “Will you register him?”
“Is he eighteen?” John asks. “If not, no. Even better, if he’s a minor, I want his parents’ permission to be standing in my gym and if he’s eighteen, then he’s got a shitload of forms to fill out. I’m not looking for anyone to sue my ass when he dies.”
I roll my eyes at his last statement if only because he’s putting my worst fear for West into words. “West! Are you eighteen?”
Say no. Say no. Say no. Legal age to fight MMA in Kentucky is eighteen.
“You don’t know your boyfriend’s age?” asks John. I ignore him because…well…really? If West and I were a for real couple, his birthday would be hearted in red on my calendar. Okay, maybe not my style, but still…
From across the room, West nods and I mumble, “Damn.” So much for an easy way out. West struts in my direction and I push off the wall. If John isn’t training him, then I’d like to permanently avoid introductions.
“Will you do it?” I ask John as I back away. “Will you register him?”
“If he’s got the money for the fees, then I’ll get him in.” He holds his fingers up in the air and rubs them together. “And for that you stay in my gym until the end of summer.”
My hands slam onto my hips. “Summer?”
“Take it or leave it.” John focuses on the computer again.
“Fine.” I’ve become an indentured servant teaching myself how to fish in the desert without a net or a pole.
The word fees eventually sinks in, and, as I stroll up next to West, I say, “I hope you make good money.”
Haley rakes a hand through her hair, then grips it at the base of her neck like she’s going to tear it out. “Shirt off.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I’ve already lost the shoes and socks. “I’ll take the shorts off, too, if you’d like.”
I thumb the edge of my waistband and Haley shakes her head too quickly. “That won’t be necessary.”
“You know you want me to,” I say and enjoy every second of watching her skin blotch red and the slight tilt of her lips. In typical Haley fashion, she chooses to ignore me. One day, I’ll climb into that head she constantly withdraws into.
Her grandfather left for the night and Haley is sexy as hell in her sports bra and shorts. Her flat stomach looks so soft, so smooth. My fingers twitch with the need to caress it.
A rush of air escapes her lips. “Crap.”
“Want to fill me in?”
She blinks as if she’s noticing me for the first time, which does nothing for my ego. Girls usually pay attention to me when I have my shirt off.
“You weigh 177 pounds.”
“Yeah.” Not news.