“I don’t want to let you leave, brainiac. But I won’t let boxing fuck up what you’re doing at school. Besides, with you next to me, I feel soft and lazy and loving. I need to get my head in the game, and that isn’t a side of me that you need to see first-hand.”
“I will see you before the fight, though?”
He nodded his head and smiled.
“Kieran will pick you up at seven, all right?”
“What do I wear?” I ask nervously.
“Wear whatever you want.” He chuckled. “I’m always imagining you naked anyway.”
And there was the cocky arrogant bastard that I knew and loved. I raised my eyebrows in mock horror then blew him a kiss and grabbed my bag as I walked through the door. I’d left him my spare set of keys to lock up behind him, which was another huge step for me. O’Connell knew how much of a big deal it was though. He wouldn’t abuse the privilege.
MY DAY WENT BY MERCIFULLY quickly, and O’Connell was right to send me to school. I’d have driven him nuts at home. It took me over an hour to choose what to wear. In the end, I settled for my best pair of dark jeans, a tank top, and a pretty off-the-shoulder sweater. I didn’t know how smart I’d have to be or how warm it would be there, so I figured this would do. Kieran called for me exactly when he said he would, and my excitement at seeing O’Connell had long since faded under my worry for him.
“You okay?” Kieran asked me, as I was locking up my door.
“Uh, huh,” I mumbled, not looking him in the eyes.
“Em. What’s going on?” he questioned in a serious tone that was totally at odds with his usual jovial self.
“I’m worried about O’Connell getting hurt,” I blurted out.
Kieran grinned big. “Em, he’s got this in the bag, lovely. I don’t know what you did to him last night, but today, he’s electric.”
He winked at me knowingly, and I was outraged.
“I didn’t do anything to him,” I squeaked, and he laughed out loud.
“Whatever you say,” he said. As I put on the helmet that he’d given me and climbed on the back of his bike, I breathed a little bit easier. If Kieran was confident that everything would be fine then I would trust that he had good reason for his easy faith.
We arrived at the exhibition centre later than I thought, and I was glad that Kier had a bike because we never would have been able to park a car. The place was packed.
“Come on,” Kier encouraged, taking my helmet off me. We wove our way around the maze of cars and bypassed the queue at the main entrance to go around the back. Kieran banged on a door hard, and a few seconds later, flashed two passes at the enormous guy in a black security t-shirt, and we were in. Somehow, I thought that the only people back here would be the fighters and their coaches, but I was wrong. People filled the hallways chatting, drinking, and walking around on their mobile phones. Whatever I expected, it wasn’t this. I was lost in the sea of red doorways when Kier walked into one, dragging me with him. Shutting it behind him, I could see Danny kneeling down and wrapping O’Connell’s hands.
“Hey, sunshine.” O’Connell grinned, and his face lit up.
“Hi, O’Connell.” Tommy, Mac, and a few of the other guys all filled the room, but no one else looked as nervous as I felt. Not knowing what to do with myself, I sat down on the bench next to him. He clenched and unclenched his fists when Danny finished wrapping them. Jumping up and down like his feet were on springs, he bounced around to warm up and started shadow boxing in the corner. Danny brought out pads, and they practiced a few combinations between them. With every hit, my anxiety got worse. Pretty soon those wouldn’t be pads, but another trained fighter whose only mission was to take down and hurt the man that I cared for. I understood why Kieran thought O’Connell had this in the bag. Any sign of last night’s nerves were gone. He exuded confidence, and it convinced the guys around him that he was infallible. I couldn’t share their euphoria. O’Connell was huge, but so was the guy he was fighting. His sculpted physique was rock hard, but it was still skin and muscle, and the pain when they ripped and bruised over and over would take its toll. Every time I imagined how the fight would go, I remembered every punch, slap, and kick I’d ever taken. I imagined Frank beating me, and the snap of bones that would take months to heal. Then, I imagined O’Connell in my place, and I couldn’t take it anymore. As inconspicuously as I could, I made my way to the bathroom adjoining the changing room, knelt down over the toilet, and vomited. As soon as I could get myself together, I wiped my mouth and cleaned up as best I could. My flushed red face was a giveaway, and I was a stone’s throw away from vomiting again when there was a gentle knock at the door.
“Come in,” I croaked quietly, trying not to lose it.
“Hello, sunshine.” To my surprise, it wasn’t any of the guys, but Danny, who walked in and shut the door gently. He opened his arms for a hug, and I threw mine around him with a sob.
“I don’t think I can watch this, Danny. I can’t just sit there and watch someone hit him over and over again for twelve rounds.”
He rubbed my back like you would do to comfort a child, and when I was a little calmer, he pulled me back and held my shoulders firmly.
“Sunshine, do you trust me?” I nodded my head and sniffed in case I hadn’t seemed juvenile enough. He closed the toilet seat and sat me down on it as he crossed his arms and leant against the sink. I was about to get ‘the talk’, and our location couldn’t have been any less glamorous.
“I’ve been a boxer my entire life, and that boy of ours has something that you don’t see very often in a fighter. You get your brawlers, who will improve their technique over time, and you get the technical boxers who can rack up the points for a win, but O’Connell has something that you can only call magic. When that boy steps between those ropes, its pure joy. It’s like he sees what the other fighter is going to do before they know it themselves. He ain’t a technical fighter, he’s the wildcard. It doesn’t matter how much punishment he needs to take, he’ll take it. He reads them like a book, waits for his opening, and then that’s it. It’s over. Everything bad that’s ever happened to him, everything he can’t control, stays out of that ring because in it, he is master of his fate. For an old fecker like me, that kind of magic in a fighter is the most beautiful feckin' thing I’ve ever seen. Now, you need to stop getting yourself all worked up. I ain’t worried about that great big eejit, I’m worried about you. You need to trust that I love that boy like my own son, and if I thought he couldn’t handle it, then I wouldn’t let him in there. But if you don’t calm down and watch the fight with a clear head, then you’re going to miss the magic. You won’t be sat there for twelve rounds ‘cause this thing ain’t going to last half that. So, do you trust me to get our boy through this?”
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