Paradise Fought: AbelBy: L.B. Dunbar
“So when do you want to do this?” I asked. His blank stare told me he had no idea what I meant.
“Us,” I said, pointing between him and me.
“I…” His voice trailed off as he gawked at me. His expression changed from confusion to shock.
“I didn’t buy you to sleep with you,” he said, a touch of disbelief in his voice. His face turned crimson, then fell. “Why, have you done that before?” It was my turn to be surprised and offended.
I turned on my heels and began stomping away from him. He was too quick and he caught me again. His hand on my arm halted me. This time he didn’t release me when I peered down at his fingers wrapped around my bicep.
“Look. I need help,” he blurted. His face pinked a little, and it was sweet. “I don’t need help with sex. I need help with before.” His tone dropped, and he looked side to side to see if anyone would hear him. I took his meaning.
“You don’t know how to do foreplay?” I questioned in a loud whisper, trying to hide my astonishment. How could anyone have sex and not know a touch of foreplay?
His face pinked again.
“Not that,” he said, sounding like a child. “The flirting. The dating. The…other stuff.”
I was stunned. I stared at him, taking in his features again. He was kind of cute, leaning toward the potential for good looking. He couldn’t possibly need help with this request. The confusion on my face made him speak.
“I don’t know how to flirt.” The words swirled between us.
“I don’t understand.” I didn’t. I didn’t know what he wanted from me.
“I need lessons how to be…cool: with girls. Call it a tutoring session. I need to learn how to be…seen.” His voice took on a touch of sadness. He couldn’t possibly be serious. I continued to stare at him. My mouth might have actually dropped open a bit, and I noticed he was watching my lips. It was a little exciting the way he stared at them. I licked them and his pupils dilated, filling in more black over the blue. His expression changed. Knowingly, he blinked when he realized I was teasing him. His lip quirked up and a dimple showed in his cheek.
“I need to date you,” he blurted. “To learn how to do, what you just did to me.”
For starters, he escorted me to class, even though I hadn’t actually agreed to his proposal. I prayed anyone who saw us would assume he was just a guy in my class, and he was walking with me, as in next to me. I peered over my shoulder occasionally. I didn’t want to be seen with my new friend.
Abel, he said his name was. I didn’t catch his last name. He seemed sweet enough, innocent almost. I vaguely remembered him from Biology 101. He was my lab partner, but Cruz Farenbach was in that class. We were an item, until we weren’t. I had ditched the dork for a dick. I almost failed biology. When Cruz got what he wanted, or enough of it anyway, I became his yesterday when I thought he was my future. He didn’t care for me, if he ever did. I had thought he was the love of my life, or something close to that. We were together almost the entire freshman year, and I gave everything to him: my body and my heart. What I got after him was a reputation. I was going to need it presently to get what I wanted, which was answers about my brother. I had a plan.
I was a double major in dance and business. My goal was to own my own studio someday. Professional dancing was out. I wasn’t tall enough. Besides, I’d seen too much behind the scenes from my brother in the fighting industry, not to mention “performance dancing,” if you could call it that, was my current profession. I didn’t want it to be long term, though. Joey would be punching his coffin if he knew what I did. It was one of the reasons I wanted to follow through on completing my degree.
“Don’t be like me,” he’d warned me, “You don’t want to be fighting your whole life.” He didn’t mean it literally. He was the fighter. He’d been fighting since my father left us, after he beat our mother and Joey became her savior, only to receive a beating himself. He was only thirteen; I had been six. He was a Montana; I was a Montgomery. My mother apparently couldn’t get out of the M section of the alphabet. From the point of his rescue, he took up boxing in high school and perfected his skills. He became everything to my mother.
I couldn’t say I loved the fight. I loved the energy, though. The excitement. The enthusiasm. It coursed through my body, pumping my blood. When I’d watch my brother, I learned to get past the crunch of bones and the sight of blood. I anticipated the sound of victory. The Mountain was good, until the one time he wasn’t. I was convinced that match had been fixed, though, and I needed answers.
I required a way into the know; those who were connected to the underground. An illegal boxing circuit was hidden at Preston University. Located roughly two hours south of the famous Napa Valley, Preston’s foundation was California Ivy League. Spanish style buildings stood classic and pristine white across a beautiful campus, with mountains cresting in the background. It was a university, rich in history, with dark secrets. Fighting. Gambling. Hustling. It wasn’t what one would expect, which is exactly why the circuit got away with it.