Uppercut (Fight It Out Book One-Sample)
“Grab her knee. Grab her knee,” my father yelled. “Get out of there. Get out of there.”
It was easier to yell the words, but to be in the hold—that was different. My face was bathed in my opponents sweat as I struggled to free myself from a triangle choke. It was the one position I hated, and somehow, I always managed to get my body tangled into it.
“Shit,” I mumbled, struggling to free my body right as Cheyanne wrapped her leg tighter around my neck. I locked eyes with my father and gave him a look he knew all too well. Then I tapped my hand on her shoulder.
My body fell out of Cheyanne’s hold like a rag doll. I rolled onto my back and took in several deep breaths and then let them out slowly. The referee leaned over, and I could vaguely hear what he was saying. His words sounded like an echo off in the distance. I nodded my head, but I had no idea what I was agreeing to.
Closing my eyes, I just wanted to have these few seconds alone before I had to admit defeat. I was tired of losing and fucking hated that damn choke hold.
“Lily, honey, you okay?” My father knelt down beside me and brushed his hand over my forehead.
“Yeah,” I croaked. My throat felt closed off after being sandwiched together. “Yeah, Dad, I’m fine.”
“Come on, you need to get up.” He towered over me and reached out his hand.
I took what he offered and jumped up. “I’m sorry.”
He pulled me in for a hug. “We’ll talk about it later.” My dad was always too serious during a fight, and I knew “talk about it later” meant long hours going over what I did wrong. Something I was not looking forward to.
Cheyanne suddenly appeared in front of me and wrapped her arms tightly around my neck, resting her forehead on mine. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Good fight,” I said, trying to sound happy for her. She nodded and walked over to her team.
After every fight ended, everything happened so fast it was always hard to keep up. The referee let me know where to stand, and then the announcer shared the standings. Cheyanne had won by only two points. I had won the first round. We tied the second round. Then she killed it in the third because of my favorite hold. I needed to find someone to teach me how to get out of the hold. Who, though?
As the referee lifted Cheyanne’s hand, I wanted to sink down out of sight. A part of me felt I should’ve won. Hell, I’d started fighting the same day I took my first steps. Plus, my father is the great Johnny “The Punisher” Adams. He got that nickname after his second fight, which was a rematch. Let’s just say, the guy never wanted to fight my father again. So, you can only imagine what it was like growing up with a man whose nickname was The Punisher. So why was I standing here without my hand up in the air? Fucking triangle choke hold.
Jake walked up and wrapped a towel around my neck. “You with us?”
I buried my face in the cotton and brushed it back and forth. “Yeah, I think.”
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Really?” I said, lifting my head.
Jake was my coach, but it was only temporary. He didn’t know I was looking for a new coach, well, a new everything. If I wanted to win Bantamweight, it was never going to happen at the rate I was going.
“Yeah, really.” Jake rolled his eyes.
“You know that’s four. What’s your deal, Lily?”
“Yeah, and you let yourself get into your own head again.”
“What’s that shit supposed to mean?”
“I know how much you hate the triangle hold.”
“So, I can hate something and not be up in my head at the same time.”
“We’ll discuss it later.”
“I’d rather not,” I said sharply and turned to leave the octagon. As I stepped down onto the last step, I noticed my father leaning against the outside of the ring, clutching the side of his head with a pained expression. “Dad.” I reached out at the same moment he fell to the floor. “Somebody call nine one one.”
* * *
There was a barrage of hospital employees running in and out of my father’s room. I was sitting in the corner with a cold pack over my eye, watching as the nurses quickly took care of him.
The moment he fell to the ground outside the octagon, he became unresponsive.
Charlie grabbed my hand. “He’ll be okay, Lils.”
My best friend was always optimistic.
I continued to gnaw at my nails like they were my last supper. “I don’t get it. He seemed fine all day.”
Just then a man in maybe his sixties stepped in front of me. “Are you a family member?”
“Yes, she is,” Charlie said, nudging me.
“Huh, yeah, I’m his daughter, Lily Waters.” I didn’t use my father’s last name because I wanted to build my career all on my own. Lately, I was doubting my decision and contemplating changing it back to Lily Adams?
The doctor pulled a chair over and sat down in front of me. “Has your father complained of having headaches lately?”
It took me a moment to answer. I thought about the last several weeks. He was at every one of my practices leading up to this fight. Never once did he complain or seem in distress.
“His eyes are dilated, which can indicate several things. I want to run a CT Scan.”
“Will you do it now?”
“Yes, I just need your approval and we can take him up.”
“Whatever you need to do.” I felt my body start to shake. “Can we stay here?”
“Yes, we’ll bring him back as soon as we finish. We should have some results immediately.”
I didn’t know what to say so I just nodded. Charlie wrapped her arms around my body and rested her head on my shoulder. “C, he’s never said if he was in pain. He would tell me, right?”
“Well, it is your dad we’re talking about.”
“Yeah, Mr. ‘I’m fine.’”
The one nurse with short red hair placed her hand on my shoulder. “We’re taking your dad now. If you need anything just let me know.”
My mind started playing tricks on me, and I let myself believe something was terribly wrong. The moment I thought about life without my dad, I felt like puking. I ran to the small bathroom in the room and knelt down beside the toilet. As I heaved, I cried.
“Lils, you can’t do this to yourself. What if the tests come back, and he has a clean bill of health?”
I heaved once more and sat back on the balls of my feet. “Charlie, I feel it. I know something’s wrong.” I buried my head in my hands and lost it once more.
I whirled around to see the doctor standing in the doorway. “Yes.”
“We need to talk.”
“Hey, Dad.” I rested my hands on the rope lining the ring. “Do you feel ready to practice with me?” After a fight, I needed to get back in the ring immediately and figure out what went wrong. Then my team and I always looked at ways to tweak my positions.
After the incident, my dad stayed in the hospital for two days but then insisted he needed to get home. I’m not sure what he was running home to, but after several terse words, the doctor caved.
The doc made me promise to keep a close watch on him, but this was The Punisher we were talking about. He did not want me to stay at his house. If I called, he made it clear it better be about a fight or what’s for dinner. It almost felt like he wanted to forget about what the doctor told him that night.
But the truth was Dad’s CT scan showed he had a tumor in his frontal lobe. It was more than likely the headaches were because of the size of the damn thing. It was hard to know how long it had been there, especially because he had no signs or symptoms leading up to the collapse.
“No, I think I’ll just watch today.” He smiled and sat down on the bench.
I noticed Jake walk over and sit down next to him. Pushing off the rope, I headed over to the center of the ring and started to practice solo. As their voices became higher than my music blasting in my ears, I pulled out my earbuds and turned. Dad was inches from Jake, and his face was the color of a ripe tomato.
“Dad, you okay?” I yelled.
“Lily, this guy keeps talking about your fight and where you need to improve.”
“Okay, he should be doing that.”
He looked up at me with wide eyes. “Who is he?”
It felt like the wind had just been knocked out of me. “Dad, that’s my manager.”
“I thought that was my job?”
Something felt off. “You help and I always rely on your input.”
“But, Jake is my manager. You insisted we hire him two years ago. You don’t remember?”
He sat back down on the bench and rested his head in his hands. “No, I don’t,” he whispered.
I jumped down from the ring and made my way over. I rested my hand on his thigh. “Hey, it’s okay. Do you want me to take you home?”
He sounded distant when he finally spoke. “No, I’ll be fine.” As he stood up to leave, he turned and looked at me. “Your mom would love to see you. Will you be stopping by soon?”
I sucked in a breath, unable to speak. His words caught me off guard. My mom died when I was fourteen. “You sure you’re okay to drive?”
“I’m fine.” He insisted.
“Um, okay.” I felt a little unsure at my decision to let him leave on his own. “I’ll stop by tonight. How does that sound?”
“Good, that would be good.” He smiled and turned to leave.
“Lily,” Jake was behind me. “What was that all about?”
It was time to tell everyone the truth.
Rubbing my hands together and clearing my throat, I stood up and faced my team. They had gathered around most likely because my dad’s actions were confusing.
I took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “So,” I started to say. “Shit.”
“Lily, just spit it out,” Jake said. “The longer you wait, the harder it will be.”
I knew he was right, but my pause was because it was me who had to finally admit the true reality of the situation. Denial was such an easier friend to have.
“Yeah, okay, spitting it out.” I lifted my head and glanced at everyone’s faces. “Dad has a brain tumor.”
The room went silent.
Charlie had just walked into the gym. “What did I miss?”
“I’m letting them know about Dad.”
“Oh, Lils.” She dropped her bag down in the middle of the room. “Sweetie.” She pulled my body in and wrapped her arms tightly around my waist. “It’ll be okay, I promise.”
“Hey.” Jake nudged my side. “So what now?”
“The tumor he has is too big and it’s inoperable,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Which means what?” one of the fighters asked.
“We wait.” I stepped out of Charlie’s hold and made my way back into the ring. “Anyone up for another round?”
No one said a word.
“Okay, fine.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “Here’s the thing. I don’t know how to absorb this. Like, it doesn’t feel real yet.” I lifted my head. “I do need to let these emotions out somehow. So, anyone willing to be that fighter?”
“Yeah, I will,” Jake said, stepping forward. “Whatever you need.”
That was the first time I did not have the desire to punch my manager.
* * *
“Lily, hey,” Jake said, grabbing a hold of my arm.
“What,” I barked and pulled out of his grasp.
“Hey, you’re exhausted. Why don’t you take a break?”
I don’t know what had come over me. I felt angry. Not at Jake but at the world. Seeing my dad in that state of mind shook me to my core. He’d always been my rock. The one person I knew I could count on for anything.
As I threw each punch, I let my mind wander back to high school when I’d won my first fight. My dad had been there yelling different cues even then. Every fight had always been with him.
My body felt spent. Every muscle ached. Yet, I didn’t want to stop because I knew the moment I stopped, I would feel again.
“Let’s just get some water.” Jake stepped away.
“Whatever.” I jumped out of the ring and went over to the heavy bag. I let my body take over, landing one punch after another on the leather surface.
“Need help?” Charlie wrapped her arms around the bag to steady it.
I didn’t say a word
“You know, it is wine o’clock.”
“What?” I said, breathing heavily.
“Well, you have been at this for two hours.” Charlie shrugged. “I was thinking a plate of nachos and a tall glass of wine might make you feel better.”
“You know I don’t drink.”
“It was just a suggestion.”
“But the nachos.”
She burst out laughing. “Those got your attention? You are off your diet and have a little wiggle room to splurge.”
I brushed the back of my hand across my forehead trying to get the sweat out of my eyes.
It felt quiet, almost too quiet. Glancing around, I noticed everyone was gone. “Where is everybody?”
“Jake sent them home.”
“He figured you needed some time alone.”
I plopped down on the mat and crossed my legs in front of me. “I don’t know what to do, C?”
She sat down opposite me. “About what?”
“I feel helpless.”
“Oh, sweetie, but you’re not.”
“I just know if I stop for one moment the thought of losing Dad rolls into me like a tidal wave. I don’t know if I want to feel it yet.”
“Have you spent much time with him?”
“No, but in my defense he also doesn’t want me there.”
“Lils, you have to talk to him. Don’t have any regrets.
“I already do.”
“I lost my last fight, and it may be the last one with my dad.”
“But you don’t know that.”
She was right, I didn’t. I still felt scared to let go.
“Oh, cheesy goodness, how I love thee. Let me count the ways,” I joked and dipped a chip in the little bowl of sour cream.
“Wait, try this.” Charlie reached for a squeeze bottle full of some sauce.
I held my hands over the plate. “What is it?”
She turned the bottle around to show me the label. “A barbecue sauce. I think they make it here, though. It’s so good.”
Reaching for a chip with meat and cheese dripping over the sides, I squeezed a small amount on the top. Right before I popped the whole thing in my mouth, I noticed someone on the TV. My eyes were glued to the screen.
Charlie leaned over. “What’s wrong?”
I was watching the guy being interviewed. “Is that?”
She swiveled around in her chair. “Oh, um–”
“Right?” I grabbed my cell phone to look up the channel and who was being interviewed.
“Is that? No, it couldn’t be.”
“Well don’t keep it a secret.”
She turned back and rested her arms on the table. “Julian Moore. Remember how he went into retirement early because of an injury.”
“Holy shit, that is him.” I was shocked by how he looked. “Man, he’s bulked up since the last time I saw him.”
“Yeah and I totally approve,” she said, fanning herself.
I flagged the waitress down. “Is it possible to turn it up?” I said, pointing to the TV with Julian still filling the screen.
“Oh sure, hold on,” the young woman said and ran over to the bartender.
A few minutes later, Julian’s velvety voice made its way over to my table.
Charlie rested her body against me. “Damn is right.”
“My dad told me he worked with him once.”
She leaned up. “Really? Only once?”
“I guess.” I reached for another chip. “Dad said something about young fighters and how they don’t know anything.”
“Your dad was always so grumpy.”
I stopped with a chip halfway to my mouth. “Is.”
“Is. He’s not dead yet, Charlie.”
She looked shocked by my words. “I know. I didn’t mean it that way.”
I leaned back in my chair. “Then what did you mean?”
“That he can be grumpy.”
I reached for a napkin and then wiped my mouth before pushing my chair back. “Listen, I need to go.”
“Lils, you’re mixing up my words.”
“It’s fine.” I bent down and kissed her cheek. “Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Of course, but I don’t want you to leave angry at me.”
“I’m not angry.”
Charlie grabbed my hand and tugged me toward her. “You promise?” she asked while flashing her perfect puppy dog eyes.
“Yes, totally fine, but that is quickly changing.”
She pushed my body away. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I love you, Lils.”
I brought my hand to my lips and sent her an air kiss as I walked out of the restaurant. Somehow I scored rock star parking and only needed to walk two feet from the front door. It was a good thing because after the workout I put myself through, my body was screaming.
As I eased into the front seat and put my keys in the ignition, my hand froze. My mind wandered back to the day when my dad was sitting there at the gym confused. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. He would forget me soon. I didn’t know how to absorb that thought. It was time to ignore his demands and get my ass over to his house.
* * *
“Hey, Dad,” I yelled as I opened the backdoor that led into the kitchen. He had lived in the same house for easily thirty-five years. “Dad?”
“I’m down here,” he said off in the distance.
“Are you in the basement?”
“Yup, come down here.”
When Mom died, he pretty much pretended the room didn’t exist. The door was always kept closed. For a couple of my birthday parties, I would ask to have the celebration in the basement. He would give a look that basically meant the topic was not up for discussion.
As I reached the bottom step, I stopped. “You okay?”
“Yeah, just looking at a few things. Come here,” he said, reaching out his hand.
I sat down beside him and leaned forward to get a better look at the photo album on his lap. I pointed at a picture. “Is that you and Mom?”
“Yeah. I think we were twenty-four then. A couple years before we had you.”
The room felt cold and damp, so I wrapped my arms around my body. There were three metal shelves up against the wall directly in front of me loaded with boxes. Plus, several more boxes were scattered around the big open space. Dad was sitting in the center of the room with photo albums and loose photos all around him.
“I’m surprised to see you down here.”
“I got home from the gym and had an urge to look at some old photos.”
I touched my hand to his. “Dad.”
“I’m sorry for what happened today, Lily.”
“No, you don’t have to apologize.” I turned my body to face him. “The doc said you would have weird moments. I guess that was one of them.”
“Yeah, but what if my memory doesn’t come back the next time?”
“We’ll attack it just like we do everything else: together.” He stayed silent at my words. “Show me more photos of you and Mom.”
He reached beside him and pulled five large albums onto his lap. “What kind of time do you have?”
“All the time in the world.”
* * *
“Lily.” I heard my name yelled from down the hall. I sat up in the small twin bed and looked around. “Lily.” Finally my mind was on track, and I registered where I was. My dad’s house. He let me stay the night. Well, technically he didn’t have a choice because we were up till two looking at old photos.
“I’m coming.” I stumbled out of bed and ran toward his room. As I pushed the door back, I sucked in a breath, scared to see what was on the other side.
My dad was sitting on the edge of the bed, clutching his head. I squatted down in front of him and rested my hands on his thighs. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I’m struggling to see, and my head feels like it may explode.”
There was a sweatshirt resting on the arm of a chair. I grabbed it and threw it on. “Come on, let’s get you to the hospital.” He rested his arm over my shoulders and stood up. “Are you okay to walk?”
“I’ll have to be, right?”
“No, I can call the ambulance.”
“Let’s do this together.”
I practically carried him to the car. He had to lean up against a wall a few times as I opened a door or moved a table out of the way. But somehow we made it to my car, and I was able to ease him into the seat safely. Just as I was about to close his door, he grabbed my hand. I bent down to be eye level with him.
“Promise me something.”
“You won’t put me through all the tests and treatments.”
“Dad, what do you want?”
“Let me finish this journey out and be with your mother.”
It took everything in me to hold it together. I cleared my throat before I said anything. “You miss Mom don’t you?”
“So much, Lily.”
“Are you saying you want to go into hospice care?”
He didn’t say anything for several long moments. When he spoke, it was in a hushed tone. “Yeah, I think I am. Is that being selfish?”
“No, not at all.” I felt a tear slide down my cheek.
“I don’t want to leave you yet.”
I found a way to sit down in front of him. “Dad, I have been trying to imagine life without you, and every time I fail. Everything in my life revolves around us and fighting.”
“Your mom loved watching you fight.”
“Oh yeah, but she always worried about you.”
At that moment, I could see my mom sitting on bleachers cheering me on. She had long blond hair, which flowed around her shoulders, and her smile lit up a room. “Hey, let’s talk to the doctor and see what’s going on. Then we’ll just take each challenge one day at a time.”
“Together,” he said and brushed his hand down the side of my face.
“Together.” I reached up and squeezed his hand.