Until We're More(5)

By: Cindi Madsen

But for the here and now, I was going to take advantage of whatever time I could get with her.

I put my hand on her back—still here, still real. Long-distance friendship had been harder than I expected. Talking to her always reminded me of how much I missed her and made it that much harder to be supportive of what Chelsea needed, when I’d sometimes rather be selfish. Things had felt a bit strained between us since shortly before she’d moved, and the distance only amplified it. I hoped now that we had the chance to catch up in person, we could fix it and return things back to normal. “I’ve gotta teach a class, but if you stick around, we can grab dinner after.”

An honest-to-God sparkle lit her eyes. “If I stick around, do I get to see your teaching skills in action?”

“He’s actually amazing at the self-defense lessons,” Brooklyn said. “When he covers the other classes, I often have to remind him that the goal isn’t to give people heart attacks with his barked orders and crazy-fast pace, but all it takes for him to be patient and softer-spoken is a group of girls wanting to learn how to kick ass.”

Chelsea’s lips curved into a smile that had a hint of teasing to it. “Why am I not surprised? Put him in front of a bunch of girls and suddenly he’s Mr. Congeniality.”

“Hey, now. I’m gonna go back to grunting here pretty quick.”

Chelsea laughed and snuggled a little closer, her hand wrapping around my arm. “Can I crash the class? Do you think anyone would mind?”

“Anyone who minds can take it up with me, so I don’t see that happening.”

“Still humble as ever, I see.”

“Humility is overrated. Come on.”

Chelsea told Brooklyn she’d catch up with her later, and I guided her over to where women were lining up for class.

For years I’d trained in the cage, my eyes occasionally straying to the red bun or ponytail on the sidelines. I’d worried Chelsea would grow bored of waiting for me, but she’d always said that without her family constantly pestering her, she could more easily escape into whatever book she was reading, and I knew she needed the escape. After my training sessions, we’d grab food or head home, and she’d go on and on about her fictional characters while I tried to keep up.

Happily reading for hours on end was hard for me to comprehend, and she didn’t get why I subjected myself to physical pain in the cage, but the nice thing was, even when we didn’t understand each other, we understood each other’s passions. That kind of unconditional support was why we worked so well.

Which was why I shouldn’t be accidentally looking her up and down, admiring the way her yoga pants and tank top showed off her curves. Not like it was a newsflash she was pretty, but usually I did a better job of repressing it. Must be the months apart—I was out of practice.

I started class, quickly recapping what we’d learned last session and reminding them all to assess the intention of a potential attacker, set boundaries, and make as much noise as possible. The goal was to avoid a physical confrontation but teach them how to deal with one if it came to that.

Finn came over to act as “attacker,” and he did a double take when he saw Chelsea. “Holy shit, am I seeing things, or is my favorite ginger in the gym?”

“Oh, please make my day and say I get to practice defense moves on you,” Chelsea said with a megawatt smile, and a scowl automatically twisted my features. “I’ve always wanted an excuse to maim you.”

Finn laughed and hugged her, and I exhaled through my nostrils and reminded myself they were friends, too. But if he didn’t cut the hug off now, I might be the one maiming him. His eyes went wide when they finally swung my way, so my inflict-damage thoughts were obviously clear.

Instead of appearing afraid, like he should, his grin widened into the smug range. Asshole.

“I’m sure Liam’s super happy to have you back,” Finn said, and the eyebrow he raised made it clear he wanted me to jump in and say he was right.

“Well, I’m not exactly back,” she said before I could decide whether to take my brother’s suggestion, “but thanks.”