As I didn't have a history of juvenile delinquency, I got off relatively light. Detention for two days, and they called my guardian.
It probably helped that I played up the whole 'aunt-in-the-hospital' card. Implied that I'd been frustrated over that, and under a lot of pressure. Rotten thing to do, but when you're a freak, you do what you have to.
Sumerset picked me up after school in the Tank. He grunted at me as I got into the car--and waited until we were on the road before making a comment.
"So," he says. "First day as your legal guardian and already I'm getting calls from the school. This going to be standard operating procedure?"
"Bad day," I said.
"They making fun of the muscles?"
I turned to him, surprised. "Yeah, actually."
"You're going to get that a lot," he said. "I'll get you out of gym class for now--a few weeks, at least. If anyone asks, you've been working out since that incident with the guy who broke into your house--trying to defend yourself."
"You think people will buy that?"
"You can sell a ketchup popsicle to an eskimo wearing white leather gloves if you know the right angle," he said. "Story makes sense. You just need some time so the muscles don't seem all that sudden."
"They called me the Incredible Hulk," I said, sulking.
"Is that the green one? The guy who gets all angry and starts smashing things?" he asked.
"You ain't green."
Sumerset kept quiet for a while, letting a pause stretch out between us. Then, he spoke again: "Been thinking. Might be a good idea to start you up on some training."
"Yeah," he said. "You know, just standard stuff. You got the muscles, you ought to know how to use them."
"In case you ever get in a fight with someone," he said. "I mean, you don't want to kill anybody, right? But with the punches you're throwing right now--that's a real possibility. Untrained fighters are dangerous as hell--especially when they got fists that can punch through walls."
I thought about it for a little while. I wasn't sure how I felt about it. But I was a little scared--I hadn't meant to throw that boy to the ground. I just wanted to push him back a little.
"Okay," I said.
We went down into the bunker and headed for the gym.
"So, how's this going to work?" I asked him. "You're going to teach me some sort of jiujitsu?" I made a chopping motion with my hand, half-joking.
"I don't know any of that stuff," he said. "All I know is how to hit people so they don't hit back."
"Did you teach mom?"
He grinned. "A little, yeah."
Once we reached the gym, I ducked into the locker room to change into a tank top and shorts. When I came out, I was surprised to see him taking off his coat and setting his cane aside.
"Wait," I said. "Are you--are you actually going to, like, spar with me?"
"What were you expecting? Can't hardly teach you with words, can I?"
"But--you're like, old," I said. "I could probably snap you in half by sneezing the wrong way."
He stepped in front of me, shrugging his shoulders back. I opened my mouth to say something else--and that's when he hit me.
'Hit' is the wrong word, though. He grabbed my wrist--as if he was about to shake my hand. Then, he twisted his grip around it and pressed his thumb against the back of my palm. With just a push, I felt my entire body instinctively moving with the motion--and instantly, I was crumpling to the floor.
The heel of his foot swung down like an anvil straight for my head.
I raised my other hand to get in the way, but he stopped it before connecting.
"First rule," he said. "Every person is a threat. Every fight is for your life."
He helped me up and started showing me the basics. The first thing he wanted me to get a grip on was the notion that I should have a plan to take down everyone I met--that, instinctively, when I enter a room, I should immediately formulate exit strategies--assess threats--and make decisions about who I should take out and how I should do it.
"Seriously," I said. "You want me to have a plan to take out a classroom of teenagers?"
"You never know," he said.
"And, what? Do you always think that way?"
"Yes," he said.
"So, what--you've got a plan to deal with me if you had to?"
"And what is it?"
He grinned. "Shoot you in the kneecaps and run."
He asked me to hit the punching bag at the center of the gym so he could see how I did it. It wasn't long before he started chipping away at problems--pointing out how I pulled my elbow back before I punched ('You want to send them an engraved invitation before you punch them, too? Maybe fill out a form requesting permission, first?'), how I held my fist ('That's a great way to do it. If you want to break your fingers.'), and even how I stood ('Do you want someone to hit you back? The way you're standing--it certainly looks that way.'). By the time he was done, we'd spent nearly an hour on just punches. Once he felt satisfied with them, he told me to keep practicing it for another fifteen minutes; once I was done, I could go take a break.
I didn't feel like I learned anything special--near the end of the fifteen minutes, I could feel my punches getting sloppy again. But he told me not to worry--it took a while to get it right.
And it felt good to be using these muscles for something.