Green Room II
I wasn't me who needed to calm down, it was Graham. "Are you ready to go now?" he asked in an agitated manner.
"Yes, for Christ sake! Now you're making me nervous!"
I tried to resist laughing at Graham's antics in favor of my main priority which was to psyche myself for the battle. Watch his eyes. That's what Mr. T said. Watch his eyes the whole time because they'll tell you what his next move will be. Keep your elbows in and protect your chin.
I loosened my arm and other muscles as we followed the passage that led to the gym. Graham carried a water bottle, towel and small first-aid kit. How bloody reassuring! "The towel is to dry you off." And I was determined that would be the limit of its purpose.
The gym was eerily quiet as we entered and proceeded to a smaller anti-room which housed the boxing ring. Craig was there, throwing practice punches at Jonathon. He stopped as I appeared and smiled at Jonathon who gave his mate the thumps up sign. Yeah, right, I thought, I'm ready for you. Then a million butterflies attacked my stomach and I felt sick. I'd psyched myself up to a point where I was tempted to give Graham a smack just for the hell of it.
When the coach spotted me he beckoned Jonathon and Craig to approach him. The coach offered me his hand which I shook. "Stuart, right?" he asked. I nodded. "Okay, you guys know why you're here and I don't give a damn about the details. The deal with this ring is that whatever happens in here happens. When it's over, no more beef between you two. Okay? You kids meet on the street and you smile. Got it?"
I nodded while Craig and Jonathon continued to smile at each other. I guessed it was an attempt to psyche me out, but I rejected the bait. Brett had warned me about that. They'll try to drive you crazy to make you do something stupid. Just get madder at them.
The butterflies in my gut turned to dragons and I thought I might puke. Then the coach had this to say: "Max three rounds, two minutes each. If either of you feels he's had enough, your seconds know the drill--the towel flies. Graham? Jonathon? You got that? Graham nodded furiously while Jonathon smiled at Craig. Fuck you two, I thought. I'm ready! Then the coach turned his attention to me. "You ever box in a ring before?"
"You ever box in a match before?"
"But you still want to do this thing?"
"Okay, let's get it over."
Craig removed his top and looked good, real good. He's a typical swimmer but his definition is more cut than most swimmers except for Graham and a few others. Craig's shoulders are powerful, with bulging biceps. I might have cracked a hardon if it weren't for the dragons gnawing at my gut. BUT, I looked just as good. All that training over the past week or two revealed obvious results. I felt strong and knew right then I would win this fight. There were too many positives going for me ... like G said, Kyle was there, watching ... watching and waiting to cheer me on.
Craig stretched and warmed up in his corner, so I copied him. I clasped my hands behind my back and raised them as high as possible, then bent forward with my head close to my knees. When Craig did the same, he just about kissed his own ass. I figured he had so many mates kissing his ass he didn't need to do it himself. Hahahaha! Actually, through the soft satin shorts, his ass looked kinda cute. Tight. Shuddup, G.
The coach climbed into the ring and called us to the center where he asked us to shake hands. Craig gave my glove a slight push, which I guessed was what boxers did before a bout. Then the coach stepped back and gave the signal to fight. What? Like now? I hadn't even raised my hands when I felt an explosion inside my head as Craig's fist connected with the side of my headgear, sending it sideways. I lost my balance and slid on my ass toward the ropes. The coach ordered Craig back to his corner. "You guys want to stop this thing right now?"
Everything was like a blur. As if from some distance away, I heard Graham telling me to raise my hands. Yeah, I knew I'd make a big mistake but so had Craig. He did as Brett predicted and came right at me from the very start because he thought me an easy target. I could hear Brett: He'll come right at you. Make sure your hands are up. When he gets there, all you need to do is plant your fist in his face.
The coach recalled us to our positions and told us to fight. Craig walked right into it. He charged at me with his arms loosely bent at the elbows so I stuck my fist in his nose. His head snapped back and he retreated. Blood spattered his face and dribbled down his chest. I had the bastard now, but the coach stopped the fight and sent Craig back to his corner to have his nose plugged or some damn thing.
Back in my corner, Graham tried hard not to smile while we observed the frantic convo taking place in the opposite corner. "Now you got him," beamed the grommet. "He's mad so he'll act stupid. You're gonna stay cool so you can flatten him. You got about a minute left in this round."
Again, the coach beckoned us to center ring and told us to fight. Craig changed tack, stepped back and waited for me to walk into him. However, I kept my distance while he and I threw dummy punches, maybe wishing one or the other would make a move.
The round ended and we returned to our corners. Time dragged as if we'd been in the ring for an hour. Already I sweated like a pig. Graham spoke about tactics but my head wasn't receptive--it pounded, probably as a result of the first punch. I heard voices from the opposite corner as well. Just two more rounds--maybe that wasn't so bad. But I needed to get up close. My dad said not to give Craig room to hook or he'd have the advantage. Get in close. With his headgear you'll need to go for his gut. Pummel it--you're fit enough to punch like pistons. Just remember to keep yourself closed up.
Once more, the coach gave instructions to resume the fight. Craig got closer and threw two quick punches that hit my arms. That forced me to lower their position to protect my gut. He jabbed my jaw, and sent my head back. My gumguard flew out of my mouth. No one noticed, so I thought `fuck it'. Anyway, it was like having a mouthful of bull's balls.
Craig wound up a punch. I saw it coming and ducked. Then I slipped. "There's water on the floor," I explained to the coach. Graham jumped the ropes and wiped the water/sweat mix from the canvas. Meanwhile, Craig and Jonathon still smiled at each other. They'd obviously discussed a new strategy. Fine with me, I had plans of my own.
Once the fight resumed, Craig closed in again, jabbing and jabbing. I pushed him away and side-winded him a second time, same place, right on the nose. His plugs fell away and his nose bled like shit. Again, the coach halted the fight until Jonathon had stemmed Craig's bleeding. Then we were at it once more, but I found myself lighter on my feet which prevented Craig from getting too close. Each time he approached, I clobbered him, first against his headgear because he'd learned to keep his face well covered, then against his ribs. Just before the end of the second round, he tried to back away but I followed and let his ribs have it good and solid. He dropped his defense to cover his ribs, so I mocked his face. He covered his face so I returned to the ribs. Woohoo!
When the coach called a halt, Craig didn't look so cocky any more. However, I reckoned we were both hurting. My ribs had taken a helluva beating, and I began to hurt again where he'd kicked me in the street.
"Ace," Graham whispered in my ear. "He's finished--you gotta flatten him. This is the final round now."
When the coach called us back, the seconds made sure there was no water in the ring. Craig immediately came at me with his piston fists. I held his arms until the coach separated us. I tried to remember all the advice but my brain had fried. Craig closed in again and stepped into my left hook, which sent him flying onto the ropes. Once he's on the ropes, he's dead. He's all yours with nowhere to run, Brett said.
How dumb could I get? Craig's fist arrived outta nowhere and rammed into my ribs--the same place. The remnants of my street-fight bruise gave him a target. He drove his punch, using his whole body weight and shoulders behind it. It felt like a steel hammer. My knees buckled, overwhelmed by a single mass of intense pain. I saw stars, then nothing. As I faded fast, I grabbed hold of him and held on. He reversed and caused me to fall face-first to the canvas. That's all I remembered until I woke with smelling salts under my nose. All four faces stared down at me. My body suffered the kind of pain you get when kicked in the nuts, the kind that travels up to your throat and down to your groin.
Jonathan and Graham helped me to my feet as the coach announced the end of the fight. He called Craig and me to center ring. It was then I realized my headgear had been removed. Craig had also removed his. His left eye was swollen but I couldn't remember how that came about. His nose was also swollen, still oozing crimson.
"Shake hands," the coach ordered.
"C'mon, coach!" Craig chirped. "Aren't you gonna raise my arm in triumph or something?"
"I said shake hands. You think you're a winner because Stuart made a stupid mistake and gave you an opening? You're both losers because you ended up here in my ring. You kids think you can sort out everything with your fists. Now shake hands."
The coach was obviously pissed off, so much so I thought he might flatten both of us right there and then. Anyway, we touched gloves for a moment, then Craig walked away.
Graham and I thanked the coach, climbed from the ring and walked slowly down the passage that led to the visitors' dressing room. "Do you wanna take a shower?"
"It's cool, Graham. I just wanna get outta here."
"That was a pretty hectic fight--you got him good. Did you check out his face?"
"You must have missed the last punch, mate. Didn't you pay attention while he whipped my ass?"
"Crap. He never whipped your ass. If only you'd managed to stay on your feet you'd have out pointed him big time. I think it was cool how you stood up to him. You were awesome until you did that blond thing."
"That's what blonds do," I smiled as we entered the dressing room. "Anyway, I didn't think I'd win, not after that first round. At least he didn't send me to the doctor."
"Gimme your gloves," the grommet ordered before opening the lace flap and undoing the laces. "I thought you won totally--kicked his ass all over the place."
"You disappointed? You won't get the chance to beat the crap outta Joe now."
"Disappointed? Hell no! I'm stoked! Don't hassle about Joe and me, we barney all the time anyway."
"Is there a rear door anywhere? I don't wanna face Craig's dickheads out there."
Graham checked the terrain. A minute later, he returned to inform me that a bunch of guys were outside talking to Jonathon. "Maybe you wanna hang around here for a while--take a shower."
During a quick shower, I noticed my ribs were slaughtered again. Then I toweled and dressed. Shortly afterward, Graham and I decided we'd waited long enough and that it was time to leave. Yeah, right--bad timing.
As soon as we emerged from the building, we saw all the guys waiting--11 or 12 of them, including Craig dressed in a school tracksuit. He eye was still puffy and he held something to his nose to prevent further bleeding. I tried to avoid eye contact with any of them as we made our way toward the school gate. We'd almost made it when I heard Craig's voice behind me. "Hey, acid head."
I thought `no fucking more'. I hoped our confrontation was over. Nonetheless, I stopped and faced him. I was still angry as the group stared at me. Then, the surprise to end all surprises--Craig approached Graham and me and offered his hand. "That was a good fight," he said. "Put it there, bro, and tell Melanie I'm sorry."
As I shook his hand I detected the faintest of smiles. At least, that's what I thought. The only words Graham and I exchanged as we walked through the gate were, "Fucking Ace!"