Sam had reached out a hand and Nicolette came close enough to shake it.
"Aren't you worried about hurting your fingers?" she'd still challenged. "Since your livelihood depends on them."
"I hear they make some fine voice recognition software," he'd answered deadpan, "for those who are digitally challenged."
She'd stared at him silently for another minute before one corner of her mouth quirked up.
"You might be okay, Samuel J. Burnside," she declared.
"I like to think so," he'd answered easily.
"Did you bring gloves?" had been her next question.
The coach had told him that the program couldn't afford any special equipment – the punching bags had been donated – so Sam said, "Yes I did – would you like to try them?"
Her eyes had lit up, but she looked hesitantly at George, who nodded, before she said, "Yes please."
Sam had spent a little time with her that day, showing her how to stand and how to hold her arms and her head when she was punching. When the other kids had begun to arrive, Nicolette pulled off the gloves and handed them back to him, her face closing.
"Thank you, Miss Nicolette," he'd said.
"You can call me Nicky," she'd whispered before turning her back to him.
As he'd left the gym that day, he'd been careful not to give his new protégé any embarrassing adult attention. He had made a point, however, of calling out quite loudly, "See you next week, George," just before he walked out the door.
He felt like this was what he'd been waiting for: the opportunity to pass on his experience to someone who needed it.
He'd never wanted to have kids, or to teach, but sometimes he did enjoy answering questions after a reading. Especially if he felt a connection with the asker. Maybe his upcoming book tour wouldn't be unmitigated torment after all.
Maybe, he thought, he was really getting the hang of this living-in-the-real-world thing.
A few weeks later, after another successful session with Nicky, Sam had been having dinner with Tova in a café near the gym when a small, soulful voice belted "The best things in life are free/ But you can give them to the birds and bees" from the vicinity of his shirt pocket.
Tova had recognized it as the old Motown song "Money", but before she could comment on his choice of ringtones, Sam stood up from the table with the phone held to the side of his face and his eyes averted.
He'd walked a few steps away so Tova couldn't hear his side of the conversation. In two minutes he'd been back, putting away his phone and pulling out his wallet. He still hadn't looked at her.
"I got to go," he'd said with uncharacteristic abruptness. And then, to Tova's shock, he'd thrown a couple of twenties on the table next to his unfinished meal, swung his jacket around his shoulders and left the restaurant without another word.
YOU ARE READING
Once upon a time there was a warrior queen who loved peace ... Mild-mannered writer Samuel J. Burnside is working on his latest adventure story, set in ancient Susa, where Queen Esther is teaching former harem slaves how to fight! But can Sam's new...