“Remember, be home by ten. Sooner is better. Are you sure you don’t want me to come by and pick you up?”
I grin distractedly at my dad as he pulls into a parking space at the edge of the park. Most of my attention is focused on searching for my friends. “I’ll be fine, Dad. If it’s too late, I’ll get Saxon to walk home with me- and if anything happens, I have the pepper spray you gave me, and, hey, Saxon is giving me self-defense lessons tonight.” The last part of the sentence is meant as a joke, but seeing the worried wrinkles that crease his forehead, I quickly add, “Not that anything’s going to happen, most likely. I mean, we don’t live that far, and it’s all good streets.”
“Right. Well, I’ll see you later.” Dad unlocks the car. “Have fun.”
“I will.” I unbuckle my seatbelt, give him a quick goodbye-hug, and then slide out of the car. “You have fun too- shoot well.”
“I will.” He doesn’t back the car out and pull away until I’m across the sidewalk and headed towards the bench where Saxon and Audrey wait.
I wave as I approach. Saxon waves back, and Audrey nods in greeting. Her gaze follows Dad’s car. “Was that your dad?”
“Yeah. He was passing on his way to the range, so he decided to just drop me off.” Normally, I’d go with him, but Saxon, Audrey, and I had already set this up, acting on Lannis and Starlight’s suggestion last time we met. We would’ve included them, but Lannis was busy, and Starlight . . . well, none of us know how to contact her.
“Cool.” Saxon stands and stretches. “Ok. I guess we’ll start by seeing what you two know. I mean, I know neither of you have had any formal training, but sometimes stuff is instinctive. So, who wants to go first?”
Audrey and I trade a glance. “I’ll go,” she says. She rises as well and rolls up the sleeves of her sweatshirt jacket. “So, what am I doing?”
“Try to hit me. Do it however you want- I’m not picky on style- just pretend I’m some enemy you want to knock down.” Saxon grins. “You won’t succeed, but do your best anyway.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Audrey takes a swing, obviously holding back.
“Try me.” Audrey goes in fast and hard, with tight-clenched fists that never seem to stop moving. Saxon ducks and weaves and occasionally throws in a jab or two of her own, probably to show she can.
Eventually, she grabs Audrey’s fists, stopping her short. “Ok, enough. You’re not bad for not having done this stuff before, but you leave way too many openings. You’ve got the passion and the power, just not the technique and the control. Good start.” She turns to me. “Your turn, Rebecca.”
I set my purse down on the park bench, feeling suddenly ill-at-ease. “Right. So . . . same thing as Audrey, I guess?”
Saxon nods. “Same thing. Come on. Give me all you’ve got.”
I uncertainly attempt a punch. Saxon doesn’t even bother to dodge, just sort of sways to the side as my fist goes past. “Good grief. I’ve seen five-year-olds who hit harder than that. Were you paying attention earlier?”
I try again with the other hand and manage to put more force into it this time. Saxon nods encouragingly even as she steps aside. “Right. Like that. Keep going.”
I do as she says, but we can both tell- if Audrey was an easy opponent, for Saxon, I’m mere child’s play. After the first one or two, she doesn’t even bother to add her own fake-attacks. Eventually, she sighs and holds up a hand. “Ok. You’re done.”
“I’ll say.” Audrey shakes her head. “I’m pretty sure Lannis could take you out.”
I make a face. “Maybe. Anyway, I don’t like hitting people. I’m a healer, not a fighter.”
“And yet you want to go into-” Audrey hesitates and then waves a hand towards the shadier part of town, where the superheroes do most of their work. “That?”
I’m not sure if she means that part of town or superhero work in general, but my answer’s the same either way: “I said I don’t like doing it. Not that I won’t do it in an emergency. And I want to go into that-” I copy her motion- “because I want to do good, and because Dad and Mom always taught me that I shouldn’t waste my gifts.” Of course, they always said that with a hint of disappointment and in the context of “You know, Rebecca, you should really consider going into a medical field,” but that’s beside the point.
Ok, fine. There’s a third reason I want to go into that: because the others- namely Saxon and Lannis- are going into it too, and I’d probably go to the moon if my friends thought it would be a good idea and I couldn’t think of a convincing reason not to. But, hey, peer pressure, if that’s what this is, can be used for good and not just bad. Can’t it?
Saxon brings us back to the point. “And that’s why we’re here. Because we do want to go into that, and there’s going to be an emergency just about every time we do, and in some of those emergencies, all the firepower you have- of whatever type you’ve got- won’t be what you need to protect yourself. So, ladies, let’s get down to business.”
I can’t resist. “To defeat the Huns?” Saxon snorts a laugh, and Audrey gives me a look. I grin. “Someone had to say it.”
Audrey rolls her eyes. Saxon shakes her head. “No. Trust me, before you take on the Huns, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Unsurprisingly, she’s right. She starts us out with a series of stretches and warmups. Audrey looks impatient through the whole process, though I kind of enjoy it in a way. Then she takes us through what she calls “forms,” sort of like stretches but not quite- basically, they’re a matter of holding a certain position for a certain amount of time to build up discipline. By the time we finish those, Audrey looks bored half to death.
Thankfully, Saxon moves on to something more practical after that. She shows us a few moves and has us practice them several times. Then she goes over what to do in various situations: if someone grabs one of us from behind, if someone comes after us with a knife or a gun, if someone’s threatening someone else with a knife or a gun, the list goes on. Most of the situations we practice as well- some multiple times.
By the time the sky grows too dark and we call it quits, I’m exhausted- but excited as well. If something happens like it did at our very first meeting, I won’t be helpless- none of us will. Audrey seems equally satisfied; she looks as though she almost wants someone to come after her so she can use what Saxon’s learned.
Saxon, apparently recognizing that, is quick to burst our bubble. “Don’t get cocky. You two still have a long way to go. But . . . we definitely make progress.” She looks from me to Audrey. “Are we doing this again next week?”
I nod eagerly. “Definitely. Same time, same place?”
“Works for me,” Audrey pulls her jacket back on- she’d discarded it halfway through, saying she was too hot. “I’ll see you two then, or at the next meeting- whichever.” She turns and sets off across the park towards her house.
“See you then,” Saxon calls after her. I wave and add, “Yes- see you later!”
Saxon turns to me. “Can you make it home ok?”
“I should be fine.” I pick up my purse and my own jacket. “Unless you want to walk with me?”
“Nah. I should get home.” Saxon digs in her pocket. “Before I forget, here.”
She hands me another letter from Grant. I grin and slip it in my purse. “Thanks. Well, I’ll see you later- tomorrow, probably. I’ll see you at school, or at the library after if that doesn’t work out.”
I give her a quick hug, which she returns with a one-armed version. Then we both go our separate ways, heading home.