Obviously she knew other martial arts as well, because she came at me fast with a confident kick aimed at my midsection. Remembering her moves, I grabbed her leg and with a sharp pivot of my body, brought her crashing to the mat. I hoped she found it as hard to breathe as I had.
I offered her my hand to help her to her feet. She took it. As she rose to her feet she gave me an odd look, like she knew what was going on in my head. It made me uncomfortable.
“Very good,” she told me. “Why don’t the rest of you pair off and take turns practicing on your partners?”
Not everyone had shown up for class that night, so I was left without a partner. Normally I wouldn’t have cared, because it would’ve meant I got to spar with José. This time, however, it left me with the cop.
“You’re very good,” she told me. “Though I don’t believe aikido is meant to be used with such anger.” She actually smiled when she said it.
I wanted to tell her off, but even I wasn’t that ballsy. “Sorry.”
She laughed. “Don’t apologize. If you’re ever attacked, I want you to be angry about it.”
I looked her in the eyes. “I’m angry if any woman gets attacked.”
Her smile slid from her face. “That’s where I know you from. You were Magda Torres’s friend.”
“I still am her friend. The fact that she’s dead doesn’t change that.”
“No,” she agreed. “I wouldn’t think that it did.” She watched me like I was something potentially dangerous, as though she wasn’t quite sure that I was safe to be around.
“Sorry,” I said, even though I didn’t mean it. “Today was the first day of senior year. Magda and I had a lot of plans, and today I realized that none of them were ever going to happen.” Saying that out loud made my throat tight and my eyes burn. I blinked fast to clear them. This woman was not going to see me cry.
“I wish I could say I don’t know what you’re going through. But unfortunately I have too good an idea. When I was in college, a good friend of mine was raped on campus. She didn’t take her own life, but she carried the trauma with her for years afterward. She still does. They never caught the guy who did it. She’s the reason I became a cop.”
“Do you know who he was?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Everyone knows who raped Magda.” Maybe I was just stupid, or maybe I just didn’t care what the consequences were, but I stepped close to her and stared directly into her eyes. “And you weren’t able to catch them, either. Maybe you should consider another career choice.”
She didn’t even blink. “Believe me, I considered it. But I have to believe that I can make more of a difference as a police officer than I could outside the law.”
“Good luck with that.” I turned away from her and walked over to where José stood going over some paperwork. “Will you spar with me?” I asked.
He looked up, his friendly face looking bewildered. “I thought you’d want to learn from Detective Davies.”
“I don’t think she can teach me anything helpful.”
I used to think that some girl rolling her eyes at me, or sneering at me, was the worst expression in the world. Contempt—even hatred—those are things I don’t mind seeing in somebody’s face anymore. What I hate is pity—that moment when someone looks at you and you can see it in their eyes, that they feel so badly for you, like you’re a puppy that just got kicked.
“Give her a chance,” he suggested. “I think the two of you might be able to help each other.”
I knew better than to argue. José didn’t get angry; he never raised his voice. Once you were in his class for a couple of sessions, you realized that he meant whatever came out of his mouth, and no amount of urging, begging or even threats could persuade him otherwise.
I stepped back to where Diane Davies stood. She was checking her phone.
“José made you come back, did he?” She didn’t even glance up from her screen.
“Yes.” I said it through clenched teeth.
She looked me in the eye. “I’m very aware of how much I let Magda Torres and her loved ones down. How much the system let them down. I would give just about anything to go back and change that, but I think you and I both know you can’t go back.”
“No, you can’t. If we could, I would have never let her out of my sight at that party. I would’ve stopped her from taking those pills.”
“But you can’t do either of those things. No one can. I know something you can do.”
“What?” I could practically taste the bitterness and mockery in my tone.
“José and I have been talking about starting a self-defense course for girls. I would like for you to be a part of it if you’re interested. Help us teach other girls to protect themselves, so that what happened to Magda maybe won’t happen to one of them.”
I stared at her. Was she serious? She did know that Magda had been drugged, right? Being able to throw a punch wouldn’t have helped her. “Why me?”
“Because I think helping other girls might give you a place to channel all that anger.”
“I’m not angry.”
Instead of laughing like I expected her to, she gave me an understanding look. “No, you’re heartbroken.”
Maybe she understood a little better than I thought. “This class, are you going to teach them to actually fight, or will it just be things like blowing whistles and sticking people with keys?” Because Magda had taken one of those classes, and it had done her absolutely no fucking good.
“There might be a little bit of whistles and keys. But we’ll be teaching them to fight, and to fight dirty. We’re talking forcing testicles to retract, that kind of fighting.”
For the first time in months, a genuine smile curved my lips. “I’m in.”
* * *
“You should eat something.”
Sitting at the kitchen table, I looked up at my mother. She had that pinched expression on her face that I’d seen a lot since Magda died. It was an expression I understood to mean that while she was worried about me, she was also annoyed with me. I think she thought that I should be over it by now.
But did we ever get over losing someone we cared about? I mean, it wasn’t like Magda had moved to another city, or had gone away to school. She was gone. Forever. Three-quarters of my life had been spent with her and then, during the space of a few hours, she’d stopped being. How did you just “get over” that?”
“I’m not all that hungry.”
Mom spooned some scrambled eggs onto my plate. “At least eat these. You need the protein.”
She was right. I wasn’t one of those kids who thought my parents were wrong all the time. Usually they were right. Well, Mom usually was. My father pretty much just pissed me off whenever I saw him.
Then again, it didn’t take much to upset me these days.
I didn’t argue about the eggs. I ate them on autopilot, not really tasting them. I couldn’t live the rest of my life like this—numb except for bouts of rage. I knew it was part of the grieving process, but it was also exhausting.
“You’ve gotten so thin.”
I ate another mouthful of eggs as a response. I hadn’t really lost much weight. After the funeral I did lose about ten pounds, but some of those had come back. The difference was that I had been working out like mad. Aikido was the third martial arts class I had taken since I was thirteen. It hadn’t started out as me just wanting to hit or kick something. I signed up for martial arts because I wanted to be fit, and it was really the only thing I found fun enough to stick with. And now it was the only thing that calmed me down.
Magda hadn’t been into the kicking and punching. She liked to run and had been on the school track team. The muscles in her legs had been like granite. I ran with her once in a while, but I could never keep up.