Paradise Fought: Abel

By: L. B. Dunbar

I liked to workout late at night. There weren’t many people in the rec center then and the place was quiet. Most people were studying or partying. It was the first day of class for the spring semester, and my roommate was going out tonight. I told him I’d meet up with him later. I had to get back to my routine after the winter holiday. Tonight was circuit training. As I worked my muscles from top to bottom, my mind wandered. Elma Montgomery was a mystery to me.

She’d been staring so intensely at Thor Thurston, I could almost see them having sex. She wanted him, but I sensed there was a deeper purpose. I wasn’t jealous by nature. I’d learned to let that emotion go. It was wasted energy when I was younger. Cain had all the attention anyway. Cain Callahan, Cobra in the ring. He’d become a prizefighter, working his way through the proper channels under the guidance of my father and his team of trainers. I was never trained for the fight.

Considered small for my age, I was scrawny and thin as a child, but I was fast. My father likened me to a colt. My mother said my fighter name should be Mustang. I would never be a fighter, though. I would outrun them all, she joked when I was young, and she was present. Outrunning my father became my trademark, until one day he caught me. I’ve caught you now, you little bastard. The words rang through my ear, as did the box to it that followed. I was considered a late bloomer. I grew taller my sophomore year in high school and filled out by the time I was a senior. By then, it didn’t matter. All focus was on Cain, the alpha son. I was a beta: the second one.

I’d watched Elma watch Thor. I couldn’t say she liked him, but she lusted after him, and that’s what I needed from her. I wanted girls to look at me like they looked at him. I believed it would help me complete the personal metamorphosis I was trying to make. While kinesthesia involved the body, I needed to also change my mindset. I was book smart. I liked to read, write, and wonder as a child, but I needed to be street smart, sex smart, and Elma was going to be the book I studied.

She hadn’t agreed to formally date me as tutoring lessons, but she didn’t push me away when we entered class, and I took that as a start. However, she ditched me as soon as I asked the professor for clarification of some reading material on the syllabus after class. I didn’t know anything about Elma Montgomery, other than the address on the receipt I received for paying her tuition bill. She didn’t live on campus like me. I had a townhome a few streets away, which I shared with my best friend, Creed McAllister.

Named after his parents’ favorite band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, he hated to explain his name. One too many hits of pot and a pregnancy resulted to people who were eventually considered married by common law. They didn’t believe in the formality of governmental issued marriage. I found his parents refreshing. He found them embarrassing. We’d been friends since freshman orientation. With bleach blond hair that hung just below his jaw, and a sculpted body like mine, he looked like a surfer out of water, displaced here in the valley.

Promising to meet him at a party near campus, I hurried home to shower and dress in my signature long sleeve shirt and jeans. I styled my hair to keep it down and donned my glasses. While I was ready to ditch them as part of the developing me, I couldn’t reveal myself yet. I needed more time.

I entered the party to find the place packed with students, wall to wall people standing. I didn’t do well in crowds. It made me feel even more inconspicuous. I hovered as I tried to push my way through the throngs of people with drinks in hands and false smiles on faces. I bumped into one girl, who ceremoniously spilled her drink on my shirt, then blamed me.

“Watch where you’re going,” she blurted, as she forced her red plastic cup in my direction, unnecessarily. Thankfully, the glass wasn’t full, but my shirt was wet nonetheless. I found my blond haired friend in the kitchen area, where the crowd was thinned but the counter heavy with bottle after bottle of hard alcohol. My eyes narrowed on a bottle of Jack. I could use a nip to take off the edge. My workout should have relaxed me, but with my mind racing over thoughts of Elma, my body was tight.

I was reaching for the bottle, when a hand swiped it off the counter.

“Hey,” I yelled in time to face Theodore Thurston. Thor. His green eyes danced as he stared into my glasses. He curled the bottle into his arm like he was tucking up a football.

“Get your own bottle,” he laughed and walked off with his arm around the brunette girl from class earlier in the day.

I stood staring in disbelief when Creed stepped into my view.

“What happened to you?” He eyed the wet spot on my shirt with his gray glare.

“Someone knocked into me.”

“What was that?” He motioned over his shoulder as Thor exited the kitchen through a sliding glass balcony door, with the girl and the bottle in hand.

“He’s an ass,” I stated, as I ran a hand through my hair, then felt the heaviness of product.

“You look uptight,” Creed said, addressing me when he turned to face me. “Relax,” he stressed. Creed and I were practically the same build, which made him the perfect sparring partner.

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