My mother drops me off at the airport. I’m wearing my favorite pair of jeans and my favorite top. For luck, I guess.
“You sure you’ll be all right?”
“Reese.” She stops me before I can get out of the car, taking my hand. “I love you. . . .”
“I love you too.” I smile at her.
She leans over to hug me, and I close my eyes and cling for an extra beat. She smells of lemons. Like home, like everything I know.
“Do you have your passport, ticket confirmation . . . ?”
I nod, and hop out and get my suitcase.
I turn and wave goodbye to her, a pang of homesickness already hitting me as I watch her drive away.
Inhaling, I step into the airport on my own for the first time in my life.
Between boarding and flight times, it takes over four hours for me to arrive in Seattle. The plane circled an extra half hour until the rain stopped and we were authorized to land. It’s wet and green. My cousin Brooke meets me outside the terminal.
“Reese!” With a tall ponytail, skintight spandex running pants, and a killer body beneath, she looks like she could’ve stepped out of Sports Illustrated. “So glad to have you.” She hugs me tight before introducing me to a tall, curly-haired man standing next to her. “This is Pete.”
“Nice to meet you, Reese,” he says as he reaches for my suitcase. “Welcome to the team.”
“Thank you for having me.”
If Brooke has any reservations about having me around for the whole summer, she doesn’t show it. She’s excited and talkative during our ride, answering all my questions on how I can help her with her three-year-old, Racer.
At the tip of the cul-de-sac we reach their sprawling waterfront home in Lakehaven, with its stucco facade, sweeping rooftop, and manicured lawn.
I’m speechless, taking in the interior of the house with wide eyes as she gives me a brief tour. Smart technology everywhere, five bedrooms, a kitchen fit for a restaurant. It’s got high windows and a lot of natural light, with views of Mount Rainier across a glistening stretch of water.
Brooke leads me down the hall to the guest bedroom. The hall has framed pictures of famous athletes, and among them, there’s a picture labeled riptide and I try not to gape at it, because I know Riptide is her widely known husband, former boxer and now MMA fighter. Even people who’ve never heard about MMA fighting seem to know who he is. Mom says they call him RIP too, because he kills his opponents. Not literally kills. Well, I hope not. But he buries them in the ground. Online, the articles say that he’s a fighting machine, and the best there’s ever been.
We finally reach my bedroom and I am tempted to ask Brooke if she’s ever lost her way in her own house. The room’s double the size of my bedroom back home, exquisitely decorated in light tones, with a tinge of pastel blue on the curtains and on the bedspread.
“Here’s a gym membership card; we buy them by the dozen for the team. You’re part of the family now.” She winks. “Food in the fridge, clean towels in the bathroom, bed has brand-new sheets. Cell phone?”
“Okay. Your mom gave you my number, right?”
We confirm each other’s numbers. It’s been a while since I talked to her. I’m normally shy and not very talkative at all. I guess Brooke knows. I’m sure my mom has filled her in on everything that’s happened in my life, from birth to now, just as she let me know that Brooke married Remington “Riptide” Tate.
They’re a power couple in the wellness and athletic worlds, a power couple in their own right.
My mom thought I’d be invigorated spending time with them and their team as they work the underground fighting circuit this summer. She suggested I come when I asked her to let me figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
And now here I am, trying to find who I am.
I start unpacking, neatly putting my things into a drawer, and after I hang some of my clothes in the closet, I pass the window and stare out at the water as Brooke approaches a tall, dark-haired man hoisting a little kid up on his shoulders. I know it’s her husband and son.
I haven’t seen little Racer since Christmas, and I’ve never met Brooke’s husband, but he’s got a presence as big as his reputation, even from here. Remy Tate is as big as a mountain, and seated on his shoulders his son seems to be on top of the world. Many things have been said about the famous Riptide, hot and masculine prevalent among them. Racer is pummeling the top of his father’s head, and Remy is holding him by his little feet, staring out at the long dock and toward the water as Brooke comes up and puts her arms around Remy’s waist.
I smile when I look at them. They travel so much due to his fighting schedule, I don’t see them that often, but we’re family. They look at peace, and happy. Racer starts squirming over his dad and pointing out at the water as if he wants to get on a boat.
Racer. My ticket out of town. Someone to worry about other than me.
I think of Miles and a prick of pain hits me. Maybe being away will make him miss me. Being away will make him realize he feels something other than friendship for me.
We communicate, but not as much as I’d like.
Hey I got here safely
Good. Enjoy yourself, Reesey
Thanks I’ll be good
I wait to see if he asks me anything. He doesn’t. I curl up in bed, staring at my phone, then text my mom to let her know I’m in Seattle.
Not in a million years, kid.
Get the fuck out of my face!
Four cities in two days, and more doors slammed in my face than I can count. I sling my backpack over my shoulder, pick up my duffel bag, and scratch another name from my list.
Hopping onto a bus and hopping off thirty minutes later, I scan the mix of both commercial and apartment buildings down the block, then knock on my last door.
He’s a tall man, his hair like salt and pepper, clad in sweats, with a yellow timer hanging from his neck. He gives me a questioning look.
“I’m your next champion.”
He laughs, but then he must see something in my face. In my stance. Thirst, resoluteness, guts. Maybe I’m wearing my balls in my eyes. He falls sober and swings the door wide open. “Come on in.”