Sometimes it was hard seeing my friend so happy. Bryan had finally pulled his head out of his ass and got the girl of his dreams, and it was someone he never saw coming. Emma was made for him though, which made me a little jealous.
I’d always considered myself a nice guy, good-looking, tall, muscular, and yet, while I could get almost any girl I wanted, I’d never found the one. Lying deep inside me, a hopeless romantic waited—something most didn’t know about me. Bryan did, but then again, we’d known each other since junior high and he was my best friend/former roommate. My friend Chad, whom I met through Bryan, probably suspected, but he never said anything. Then again, although he’d be loathed to admit it, he’d been looking for the same thing…until Rayne.
Rayne was a work of art. Beautiful on the outside, but a decrepit, flesh falling off the bones, ugly bitch on the inside, and Chad had it out for her–not that I blamed him. I didn’t. She attacked with a vengeance and only thought about herself, but there was something in her eyes. Something hidden in the depths of a darkness few truly knew.
I knew the darkness. I understood where she’d gone, and it wasn’t a place many left without help. Sometimes, I could still feel the pull of the ghosts trying to drag me back, but I refused to go back there. I wouldn’t lose myself again.
“Sabum,” a small voice broke through the fog and cleared the air. I grinned and turned around to find one of my students standing behind me, rocking on her feet, her hands behind her back as if she were hiding something from me. Today, her hair had bright pink fuzzy something holding it in two long blonde braids. The ends were thankfully not as bright or distracting.
“Matilda,” I answered, biting the inside of my lip when I saw the disgusted face she made. She stuck out her tongue as if she’d eaten something that tasted disgusting and scrunched up her face. The first day she joined my Taekwondo dojang, she’d made almost the same face when her mother introduced her to me. Matilda had tried to hide it, but she’d failed miserably. I didn’t tell on her though. “Mattie then?”
Rolling her eyes, she sighed comically, overemphasizing everything by lifting her shoulders more than necessary and exhaling loudly. “I don’t know why it’s so hard for you to remember. You make me call you sabum because you are my teacher, why can’t you call me Mattie?”
“You’re right.” I held back my laughter. This little girl had come a long way in the year I’d been teaching her. Her mother had brought her in hoping that learning Taekwondo would give her some confidence. Mattie had been shy and quiet, unable to look me in the eyes. It took me a month to find out she had a pair of striking blue eyes. Up to that point, I only knew she had hair so blonde, it was white, and it was always in two French braids that ran down the back of her head, ending at her shoulder blades. When I’d met her, she was eight but very small. I thought she’d been in first grade, not third. The first time she watched a class and someone got thrown, she screamed and begged her mother to let her go home.
A year later, this little girl loved coming, could take on some of the kids bigger than her, and was always the first to show up for class. Such a drastic change. I wished I could say the same about some of my other students. Unlike her, some of my other students would stick to the shadows and stay in the background if they could. Fortunately, or maybe it was unfortunately for them, I didn’t allow that in my dojang.
“Sabum,” Mattie called out again.
“Hmmm?” I hummed, shaking myself from my thoughts. “What is it?”
Rolling her eyes, she put her hands on her hip. “Aren’t you the one that said we should always listen to others?”
“I did?” I stepped past her and ruffled her hair, giving her a small wink.”
“Isn’t it time for you to get ready for class?”
“I suppose.” She sighed.
“Don’t sound so put out.”
“Hey, Sabum…?” Her words drifted off, but I had a feeling she wasn’t done. Clasping my hands behind my back, I waited, and it didn’t take long for her to continue. “Why are boys jerks?”
This threw me off. Boys? Was she old enough to even know the difference between boys and girls? Was she old enough to like boys? I’d admit that I didn’t have that much experience with kids outside of the dojang, which was probably for the best since I really didn’t know how to handle them besides teaching them Taekwondo.
“Sabum?” she called out to me.
“Sorry.” I smiled and patted her head. “Boys will always be jerks. Even when they are my age.” My thoughts drifted to Bryan and Chad. One had finally learned to pull his head out of his ass, but his wife still kept him on his toes, and the other…sometimes I wondered if there was any hope for him.
Her grimace reminded me of someone who just ate a lemon and didn’t like it. “Really? And you’re old.” She shook her head in disappointment.
I snorted unable to hold back my laughter any longer. “Why don’t you go and get ready and we’ll warm up as we wait for everyone else.”
When she ran off, her mother approached. “Sorry about that Evan.”
“No worries. I don’t mind at all. When I was her age, anyone twenty and above seemed old. How are things going at school?”
“Her teachers rave about her and she gets along with the other students.”
I smiled. “I’m glad.”
“Me too. She had such a hard time and now…she’s a different person. Thank you. My husband and I can’t thank you enough.”
“She did all the work,” I corrected Mattie’s mother.
“But you helped her along.” She smiled and grabbed my arm to squeeze it before walking over to the metal bleachers I had in the far corner for parents to watch their kids.
I was about to go and join Mattie when a stranger who appeared very unsure of herself entered practically dragging a little girl with messy, curly brown hair entered. The girl could have used a good hairbrush. The woman…I swallowed hard.Fuck me!Her white teeth were biting her lower lip and I half expected to see blood gushing from a wound any minute. Her brown eyes were darting from side to side, and she kept pushing a few strands of her straight golden hair that had escaped her bun, behind her ear. And the curves on this woman was enough to make my dick stand at attention.
Clearing my throat, I approached her slowly and said, “Hi. I’m Evan. Can I help you?”