Your brain is the real weapon (Alex)
“Okay,” Dylan said. “Let’s try that again.”
I’d asked for these lessons, but I hadn’t bargained for how intense it would be. The first couple days, I’d worked with Dylan alone. But his hand was a mess, and for some of the rougher stuff he’d asked Sherman to come along as well.
This was our sixth lesson. For almost two weeks, we’d been at a sort of … armistice, really. We still saw each other six days a week, three of them running together, three of them working together on this. Plus the time spent together working for Doctor Forrester.
We barely spoke to each other, except about whatever it was we were actually doing at that time. Businesslike. It was sad beyond belief, and I’m not sure why I was putting myself through this. Except that it allowed me to keep track of him; it allowed me to know that he hadn’t started drinking himself insensible, or just skip town. But it also kept the tension between us alive and well, and that tension was nowhere more at the fore when he was training me.
“Look,” he said. “You’re not exactly very big. You’re never going to be able to use pure strength to push an attacker off balance. You’ve got to use speed… and most especially your brain. Your brain is the real weapon.”
Sherman nodded. “He’s right. You’re still trying to fight using strength. What you’ve got to do is use his strength and weight against him.”
I nodded, biting my lower lip. “Okay. I’m ready to try again.”
Dylan came at me, without warning, grabbing me around the neck and waist. For a second, as always, I smelled him, and the sensory memory of us embracing was almost too much to bear. His cast was finally off, for good this time, though his hand hadn’t fully healed. He wore heavy layers of padded clothing that he and Sherman had picked up at a sports store. Our practice had become rough more than once. But I needed that. Among other things, Randy Brewer was out of the hospital, and the police didn’t seem to be interested in pursuing charges against him.
Dylan had his right arm around my waist, left arm around my neck, and he started pulling me back. I relaxed for just a second, then kicked straight back, in the same direction he’d been pulling.
For just a fraction of a second, he teetered, losing his balance. I kicked straight back at his knee, and we went down, Dylan losing his grip and crying out.
I was free! I scrambled away, out of reach.
“Great!” Sherman shouted.
Dylan lay on the ground, eyes clothes, in pain. Then he opened them, and looked at me, and a huge smile grew on his face. “You did it,” he said.
I shifted on my feet, then smiled back. “I did, didn’t I. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” he said. “Trust me, it’s not nearly as bad as the other day.”
I flushed a little, looking away, and said again, “Sorry about that.”
I’d kicked him between the legs the other day, hard enough that he hadn’t been able to move the rest of our session. That had prompted the purchase of the padding.
Dylan laughed. “It’s okay. What we’re here for.”
He paused for a breath, then said, “I bet you’ve been wanting to do that for a while anyway.”
I raised an eyebrow and shook my head, then let out a low chuckle. “Maybe you’re right at that.”
I dropped to the ice-cold ground, and said, “No practice or running for the next two weeks. I’m going home for the holidays.”
Dylan nodded, and Sherman said, “Yeah, vacation’s over for me too. Headed back home Sunday. I might be able to drop in and visit around Christmas though. And Dylan… let me know when it goes to trial. I’ll be there. Understand? You call me.”
Dylan nodded. “Yeah, I will, man. Thanks.”
I looked at him. We’d not talked, not even once, about the events at the party that night. My knowledge of it extended to several interviews with the police, and a deposition with Dylan’s lawyer. They’d listed me as a witness for the defense, but outside of that, I didn’t know anything at this point.
“What’s going on with that?”
Dylan shrugged. “The lawyer says I’ve got a strong chance of going free. The law is pretty clear, you can use deadly force to prevent rape or sexual assault.”
He looked at the ground, and I could see the difficulty he was having, the shame he felt. “The problem is that I kept hitting him after he was down.”
I nodded. There wasn’t much to say to that, because it was true. Even though simple facts didn’t capture everything.
Quietly, he said, “He says they’re probably going to offer some kind of plea bargain. I accept a conviction for assault or something, and they drop the charges otherwise. I don’t know if I’m willing to accept that. I don’t like the idea of having a felony conviction. I’d lose my VA benefits… I’d have to drop out of school. I’d lose … everything.”
I looked at him, sitting there, obviously miserable, and I wanted to take his hand. I wanted to put my arms around him. But I couldn’t.
Sherman spoke up. “Dude, we’ll support you, whatever you decide. Put me on the stand, I saw most of it. Yeah, you went too far, I’ll agree. But you also rescued her. Don’t forget that and go wallowing in guilt.”
Dylan nodded. He looked deeply unhappy, and it was driving me crazy that I couldn’t do anything about it. I leaned forward and spoke. “Can we try one more?”
“Yeah,” Dylan said.
“I got this one,” Sherman said. “You’re getting beat up enough.”
So we stood, and Dylan coached. Sherman was harder than Dylan. I think Dylan was holding back: the emotional connection between us, the history between us, made it impossible to go after me aggressively. Sherman had no such compunctions, and he came in blinding fast, grabbing me around the waist and knocking me to the cold ground.
I kept rolling with the momentum, and managed to roll most of his weight off of me, but he recovered quickly, grabbing my right arm and twisting it up behind my back. I cried out, and froze.
“Crap,” Sherman said, letting go, then rolling off of me.
“We’ve got to work on that one,” I said.
Dylan came forward, reached a hand out and gave me a hand up. “We’ll work on that when you get back from San Francisco. You’ve got to practice using your attackers weight against him. Roll, rather than push.”
I nodded. I was still winded. “You going to be up for it? I can get pretty mean.”
He smiled. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
I looked at him and said, “Why don’t we all go grab some breakfast. It’s been a while.”
Doubt clouded Dylan’s face. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
Sherman shook his head. “Come on, Dylan. It’s only breakfast. Let’s go.”
He sighed. “All right.”
So, wet and dirty as we were, we walked the five blocks to Tom’s. Sitting down, we all ordered coffee, and I pulled my legs up under me in the seat.
“You looking forward to going home?” Dylan asked.
I shook my head. “No, not really. Anxious. My parents can be just a little over-controlling. And I’ve not been very, um, communicative this fall. To tell the truth, I’ve barely spoken with them. It’s going to be one long, tension filled week. And all my sisters are coming into town, which will mean chaos.”
“Speaking of sisters,” Sherman said. “I guess I should break the news. I’m going to Texas the week after Thanksgiving. You know, for a campus visit.”
“Oh, my God,” I said. “Does Carrie know?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I’ve applied at Rice. Don’t know if I can get in… my grades weren’t as fantastic as my looks, you know. But close.”
I laughed. “Good luck,” I said, smiling.
“So, you know her better than I do. What’s a good gift to take?”
“Condoms,” I replied.
They both burst into laughter, and Sherman gave Dylan a high five. I blushed.
“Sorry. Sometimes I forget to consult my brain before I speak.”
“In all seriousness though… you know Carrie’s hardly dated at all. She’s always been so career focused. Not to mention that a lot of guys are intimidated by her height, and her looks. She mostly gets complete assholes chasing after her. You’re a nice change, Ray.”
He grinned, then said, “I’ve been practicing my nice-guy exterior. But I’m pretty much an asshole underneath.”
“Whatever. Just get her something nice. Something… unusual. She’s got a ton of clothes and jewelry… my Dad gives her lots of money. He treats her like she’s a model. But something thoughtful, and different, would be perfect.”
He nodded, seriously, then said, “Oh, shit, look at the time. I gotta, go, see you guys later!”
I couldn’t help but notice that he hadn’t actually looked at the time before he said it. Instead, he dropped a twenty on the table, stood, and practically ran out. “See you guys later,” he called out as he went for the front door.
“Jesus,” Dylan said. “That was a setup.”
“You think so?” I asked.
“Yeah. He wanted to dump us alone with each other.”
“I wonder why?”
He looked at me, and swallowed. Then he took a deep breath, and said, “Probably because I told him last night that I’ve been having second thoughts.”
I looked away from him, suddenly number in my fingers and toes, feeling as if I had stuck my head in a refrigerator. “Second thoughts about what?”
He sighed, then said, “About… me and you. Us. About my decision to walk away.”
I stared at the black and white checks of the wall near us, trying to maintain control of myself. I didn’t answer. I didn’t look at him. I couldn’t. Because this hurt. This really hurt. I’d done this to myself, knowing that if I kept hanging around, he’d eventually start to waver. And now he had. The thing I wanted. But not exactly.
When I didn’t answer, he continued awkwardly, his voice sounding very, very sad.
“Look,” he said. “I know I hurt you. I know I screwed up. And … maybe I’m hoping you’ll give me a second chance.”
I still couldn’t answer. My mind was running a thousand miles a second, visions of us together: running together around Central Park in the darkness before sunrise. Huddled together in his room or mine. The night we held each other, in a breathless, awkward and yet wonderful make-out session in Golden Gate Park.
I closed my eyes. I could see those things, but I had to remember other things. Me, curled up in my bed, not knowing if he was alive or dead. And him not having the respect for me to tell me to my face why he wouldn’t have anything more to do with me.
“Will you consider it?” he asked. Dylan rarely opened up so much, rarely made himself vulnerable like this. It was legitimate: I could see it in his eyes. I could see it in the very slight, almost invisible shaking in his hands. He was asking me to take him back, and it was laying him open, vulnerable to being hurt as bad as he’d hurt me.
That’s why it was really tough to do what I knew I had to do.
I shook my head. “No,” I said, very quietly.
He nearly collapsed into his seat. I kept my eyes away from him.
“I can’t live with that. With you … deciding it’s over, then just as quickly deciding you want me back. You don’t get to make those decisions all by yourself.”
I cut my eyes away from the wall, and back to him. He sat, looking glum, staring at the table. Then he said, his voice rough, “I was afraid of that.”
I leaned forward, and said, “Damn it, Dylan. This is twice. Twice you’ve broken my heart. Twice you’ve made me feel like I was… like I was worthless. If you want me, you damn well have to convince me. If you want me, you have to finally, after all this time, start telling me what you are thinking and feeling. No more bullshit, no more hiding, no more long silences. If you want me, you need to make a commitment and work for it.”
I stood up, knowing I was going to start crying if I didn’t get out of there right this instant. Standing up and looking down at him, I struggled to maintain my composure as I said, “I love you, Dylan Paris. But sometimes love by itself… it’s just not enough.”
I threw some money on the table and walked away, back straight, trying to hide the tears that were starting to leak from my eyes.