Ch 20: I Am Experienced

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The gym had been strangely silent when Sam came out of the coach's office that first time.

"The kids should be here in about half an hour," George had told him, looking at his watch. "Most of their mentors are women – they teach them tai chi, karate, ken do, and hatha yoga. Of course there are women boxers out there – you know that – but I haven't been able to find one to volunteer with our program. And we have one young lady who has her heart set on learning the 'gentleman's sport'. But – I should warn you – she's a bit of a handful."

"More so than any of the other kids?" Sam had asked.

"Different. I suspect it has something to do with her family history."

"Which is?"

"That's the thing – she won't tell anyone. It's just an old man's gut feeling that tells me this kid's got something she's carrying that she doesn't know how to deal with.

"She doesn't talk to any of the other kids and she doesn't seem to care for any of our mentors. A few times she's started to talk to me, but then she seems to get self-conscious, looks around at the other ladies and if anyone's looking in her direction she clams up.

"But she always comes in early to beat up the punching bags. And she will follow along with the group lessons – though she has to stand at the back, in her own row."

"Some of us need our own row," Sam had said thoughtfully.

"Ah – if I'm not mistaken, here's your contender coming in the door now. We'll give her a minute to take off her jacket and change into her sneakers, and then I'll introduce you."

But Sam had stood in the doorway to the coach's office and motioned him back, sensing that the young woman needed a little more time to herself.

He watched her circle one hanging bag, then the other, and then she had gone back to the first one and given it a vicious punch. The glance she threw over her shoulder confirmed his suspicion that she had been fully aware of his presence.

He could tell that George was getting impatient, but Sam recognized the aura of hostility and shyness that surrounded the young woman. He decided that the best way to reach out to her was to leave her alone.

"Sometimes the best approach is no approach," he'd whispered back to George.

Sure enough, in about three more minutes the teenager's curiosity overcame her belligerence and she turned to face Sam, fists raised.

"You my new mentor?" she shot at him in a voice that had clearly been aiming at cynicism but ended up striking a plaintive note.

"Yes, ma'am, I aim to be," Sam had answered.

She looked him over, taking in his jeans and his grey "Don't Mess With Texas" sweatshirt, then took a few steps closer.

"You a real boxer?" she asked skeptically.

"Well, now," he'd answered, still not moving out of George's doorway, "that would depend upon your definition. I don't fight for money – I ain't a professional fighter – but I believe I really do know something about the sport. And I am experienced," he'd assured her.

Finally George elbowed Sam out of the way, saying, "This is Samuel J. Burnside, Nicky – you know, the writer. Sam, meet Nicolette Lightfoot."

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