* * * * *
An arched foot tore at the air above Alison’s head as she neatly ducked underneath the kick. “What do you mean by that?” she heard it said between grunts of exertion, sidestepping a stiff, follow-up left jab that she partly absorbed on her upper arm.
“I talked to Pa last night,” Alison replied, strafing to her left. “He called about the inner city fire and police action we had two nights ago.” She bobbed lightly and tried a straight kick aimed for the midsection. “Hasn’t heard from you in three months.”
Conner caught Alison’s kick with both hands; cupping her heel and forcing her back while stretching out for a sweep. “That’s not so long,” he grunted again, unable to snare Alison’s hopping leg.
Brother and sister stared at each other with clenched teeth, sweat beading on their faces where the padded headgear didn’t cover. Conner winced and let his sister’s captured leg fall. The two of them lowered their guard, standing a few paces apart on the mat.
“It is when he’s used to hearing from you almost weekly. He likes to know what’s happening at the chapel. You should be glad for that. Pa says the last time you and he spoke you sounded as if you had something important to say, like you were afraid to talk about it, and you never did.”
“I’ve been busy,” came Conner’s feeble admittance.
The two of them began to circle again: Alison anticipating his next advance; Conner probing for any weaknesses in her defense.
“You’ve been busy?” Alison asked, incredulous. Her eyes again took note of the gi Conner wore underneath his sparring pads, a choice he seldom made, and she thought of the wordless shrug he had given in response to her earlier question about his dress.
“I know it may not seem like it to you, with your twenty-four-hour shifts and constantly being on call, but there’s plenty going on in my life. I’m sorry if you or Pa or anyone else can’t be there for all of it.” Conner punctuated his words with a slow combination of rights, lefts, and leg checks, working his sister back into a defensive rhythm.
Alison threw up her padded palms, intercepting each of Conner’s deliberate blows. “I seem to make time enough for these visits,” she countered.
And that was true enough. Alison usually got a few hours off to herself, when she wasn’t going out to eat, doing wash, or sleeping, which she frequently used to meet with her brother at the nearest gym for their routine sparring session. It was a way for them to both workout and stay in contact, being that they were the only family who lived in the city.
“It’s not like I forgot about calling them on their birthday, or that they even exist.” Conner drummed a series of jabs into Alison’s blocking hands.
“Yeah,” Alison echoed in ironic tones of obviousness. “They’re family.”
Conner briefly flung his arms out wide in a helpless gesture, giving Alison an open shot. She didn’t take it, content to stay on the defensive. “Heaven forbid that my life has changed at all over the last six months.” Conner sent a quick leg kick to Alison’s shin with stinging results. “We’re not kids with scraped knees anymore, Ali.” A right cross; parried. “There are some things a parent can’t help to heal.” A right snap kick; dodged.
“And avoiding our parents is the answer?”
I’m not the one who’s avoiding, he thought.
Conner hunkered down to come even with his sister’s line of sight, the touch of a glower turning his features hard. “And what would it justify?” He stepped in to her, applying a clinch. “Him? Me?” Words were mumbled in the strain. “Wouldn’t help … digging it up all over again.”
The two of them fought for balance, grappling as they bent over at the waist like palm trees in the wind. Conner winced and Alison squirmed out of his hold.
Though Conner had some amateur training in kickboxing, Alison had only a few self-defense courses under her belt. Conner usually pressed the action and Alison would fend him off, typically using attack pads instead of her body to receive the blows. Tonight, however, they had foregone the simple notion of a workout, and it seemed, to Alison anyway, that Conner was amping up the aggression.
“Justify?” Alison echoed, scrambling to the other side of the mat. “This isn’t about right and wrong. It’s—”
“No, that’s exactly what it is,” he said, stalking her along the perimeter of the mat. “It’s about how I’m wrong, and you’re right for coming here to set me straight.”
Alison pranced around for five to ten seconds with Conner in steady pursuit, both of them breathing heavily through their mouths. Eventually, Conner had paced her enough and launched into a feint toward her leading side, provoking her into backtracking. As she did this, Conner vaulted ahead, erupting with a pair of low shouts, as he landed two solid punches to the sides of Ali’s jaw.
* * * * *
Continued in Part 2…