She took his advice, rolling out of bed into running shoes the next morning and pounding down the firm sand with her cheap sneakers. She was fitter than she had thought. Those years of gymnastics and ballet had done more for her than she’d realised.
When she got back to the room, she was a limping puddle. He was still asleep; sprawled full-length across the bed in loose shorts, no shirt. He’d rolled over once she left the bed and now took up all of it. Like her cat used to do; claiming his territory. This time unconsciously so.
He had such energy when he was awake: always in movement, alive and vibrant, even when he was still. Suppressed violence or something that looked like it. He hummed like a walking tuning fork. There was no ignoring him. He was the totality of every room he walked into.
Asleep, he was strangely still. Calm. Limpid. But still completely there. He was still the whole room. The world was smaller, more manageable with him in it.
Her eyes moved along the serpent on his shoulder and his arm to where his hand rested on his stomach. Almost flat but not quite with a small swell above his hip and under his belly button. Imperfect perfection. A small smattering of hair. The hip bone rising slowly out of the faded black shorts.
She was staring. Her eyes travelled further and she shivered and started: the sweat beginning to cool her down too much. She was staring and had been for too long. There was something unfair about it. Even creepy. Like spying. Or stalking.
She shook herself out of her reverie and walked into the ensuite. She remembered the tiny motel shower from before; the cracked yellow tiles and the rusty water pooling at her feet; the blood melting off their bodies. She turned on the shower and felt the water hit her.
Intimacy was a strange thing. A shower with a stranger should have been… something else, something different. Yet staring at him sleeping had felt different to that night she’d stood under that water in that decrepit motel. She remembered hanging on to him as he’d smoothed the caked blood off her skin. How his skin has felt under her fingers as she mirrored him. It had been strangely sexless. The water had drummed her head like a massage as it lay below his shoulder blade; pressed close against him. Holding on for dear life.
Every night she crawled in behind his warm back; her arms on his chest while he muttered complaints. She had her own damn bed and should bloody well use it, he said. But he never went so far as to physically throw her out.
Yet the real moments of intimacy came when they weren’t close. When she wasn’t cocooned in him. When she felt less secure, less safe.
From across the room. Or the dinner table. From the water, looking back at him on the beach. Long brown limbs, tattoos swirling. The imperfection of his long face and dented nose. Suckerpunch.
Like now, the warm water falling on her face and him asleep in the other room. She couldn’t even see him but he was there. Even more than when she slept, head pressed against his back, arm slung below his.
She’d run 2km this morning. She needed to be better than that. He’d been right. She’d never be able to fight like she wanted to without better strength and fitness. And maybe boxing was the wrong discipline. The resort had everything. A gym. Surfing. Diving. Had she seen a group on the beach this morning doing martial arts? Maybe that was it. Nobody messed with a black belt. Did they?
“What do you think about karate?” she asked him as she forced eggs into her mouth and followed it up with yam.
He shrugged and sat back, watching her eat.
She paused, “You’re not eating.”
“I had some toast. Coffee is fine.”
“So you cooked this for me?”
He shrugged again, “You seemed hungry.”
“I ran this morning. Tomorrow I think I’ll have a swim as well.”
“This new health kick isn’t because of me, is it?”
“Of course,” she turned back to her meal as she answered, “Strength and overall level of fitness. Right?”
“OK. Well, in that case, yes. I had a mate who did Tae Kwon Do. But he was a man.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“He lacked balance and flexibility. That’s not your problem, ballet girl.”
She nodded and ate eggs, deciding she couldn’t take offense at that.
“Lower centre of gravity.”
He nodded his agreement, “See your problem is lack of strength. And endurance. Martial arts won’t give you that.”
“But it will give me a martial art. Right?”
“Meg, if you want to take up karate or some other Kung Fu bullshit I’m not going to stop you. It’s not like it isn’t good exercise. But you asked me to train you. Alright? That’s why we’re here. And I can’t help you with that.
“Life, alright, life is not a fucking Bruce Lee film. The bad guys don’t bow or have honour or whatever bullshit they feed you. And they don’t all stand back and attack one at a fucking time. If someone comes at you, they’re gonna come at you with what they have. It’s gonna be dirty. It’s gonna be killed or be fucking killed. And it sure as shit isn’t going to have any motherfucking rules. So it’s up to you. What do you want? Do you want to say you have a black belt? Or do you want to survive an actual fight?”
“I want to do both. Why can’t I do both?”
“You won’t have time to do both.”
“I’ll make time,” she said defiantly.
And expected him to argue or roll his eyes but he didn’t.
He just nodded. And she felt it again.