“I should probably get going soon,” she said. She stood up, picked her jacket up off the floor, put it on, and sat back down. “It was so good to see you. I can’t believe it’s been 14 years since we met.”
His brow furrowed in recall. “14 years? Oh, since that hip-hop dance thing? Helping that Asian group with the choreo. Apa Modern? Something like that.”
“Yeah. I just remember thinking it was so nice to find another Asian kid that did martial arts and wasn’t like, kids Tae Kwon Do.” She pulled out her phone. “Let me just call a Lyft real quick.”
“No one ever wanted to spar except you and Ken.”
She brought her hand to her mouth to hide a smirk. “Oh my god Ken. Do you two still hang out?”
“Couple times a year. He’s busy with his kid now, and the hotel business.”
“Remember how white people would always get confused seeing him run all the Asian American student stuff? Like, they couldn’t tell he was hapa.”
He chuckled. “I mean, I didn’t see it at first either.”
“Yeah, it took me a minute to realize he wasn’t just a huge weeb.” She checked her phone. “OK, Lyft is here in five minutes.”
“Let’s wait outside,” he said. He picked up her purse, handed it to her, and gently ushered her out to the apartment’s front steps, where they sat to wait.
“Hey,” she said. “Uh, I just wanted to tell you something.”
She took a deep breath. “I don’t know if this sounds funny or whatever, but I just wanted to say that I’m proud of you.”
“For, like, going and doing your thing instead of getting caught up in all the, like, career bullshit in college, you know?”
“Oh. Uh, thanks.”
She kept going. “It’s just like, we’re ten years out of school and I did all the things I was supposed to do. All the things my dad hoped I’d do before he died.”
“All of it?”
“Yeah. I worked for Interpol. I was a stunt double for Charlize Theron. I even went to law school.”
“Whoa, what’d you do for Interpol?”
“Oh, it was an in-house program development thing I did for a couple years. Helped them build a program to teach self-defense skills with victims of human trafficking, but like, in a community practice setting, you know? We were trying to — well, anyway, it was a while ago.”
“That sounds important.”
She sighed. “Yeah, I guess it is. It just…none of that stuff ever made me feel the way I thought you must feel about continuing your training, you know? Living the dream.”
“Living the dream?”
“Yeah, you know, I felt a little jealous of you, like you had figured out what you were supposed to do with your life. So — uh, wait, what are you doing for work these days?”
He let out a sharp, dry laugh. “I teach at the Y a couple days a week. Some training classes, some bootcamp. Not much, but it pays rent and I have a flexible schedule, so I can travel and train.”
“You okay? I mean, you seem okay. Like, with money and stuff.”
It was his turn to sigh. “I mean, health insurance would be nice. Hard to be a fighter without that. But I’m pretty careful. Tried to work Postmates, but — “
“Whoa, you drive now?”
“Nope. Turns out they won’t let you work without a car.”
She buried her face in her hands. “You were going to literally run errands, weren’t you.”
“I’d get paid to work out. It’s perfect! But no. They said they’d let me know if they ever decided to lift the car requirement.”
She laughed, this one doubling her over, then recovered, seeing his facial expression remain stoic. “I’m sorry, I’m terrible, I shouldn’t be laughing.”
“Living the dream, right?”
She took his hand in hers. “No, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what? Aren’t you jealous?”
She took a deep breath, letting his response hang in the air for just a few extra seconds.
“Listen,” he said, “I can live my life like this because I never learned to give a shit about ‘success’. You live the life you do because you do.”
He let go of her hand and rested his own on her knee.
“That’s the thing,” she said. “I don’t know if I care about them, or I care about what my dad would think, and I guess I’m worried about what I’d think of myself if I had to let go of it.”
“Well, you won’t know until you let go, I think.”
“I know, you’re right. My therapist says that too. It’s just — I don’t know if I can.”
He stood up in front of her, his back to her, and muttered something under his breath.
“What’d you say?”
“I said,” he started, and then spun around, swinging a wild uppercut at her face with a thunderous yell, “SURE YOU CAN!”
She leaned her head back, leaving enough space for the punch to miss, hearing the wind of his strike, then without missing a beat she slapped his exposed face, once with her open palm, again with the backhand, then threw a kick to the stomach, pushing him back and giving her space to take her fighting pose.
“I told you last time, I wasn’t getting hit by that again.”
He smiled. “See how much happier you look now?”
“Just wait, I’m going to look a lot happier when you catch this lightning leg to the — oh, goddammit.”
Her phone was buzzing, and a car pulled up behind him.
“Next time you’re gonna get it, bud.”
As she made her way to the car, she felt something light slap her hands. It was a flyer with his cartoony likeness on it, comically muscled, throwing a kick.
“Hey. Come through sometime this week, I could use some help from someone who knows their stuff.”
She paused, mentally sorting out her calendar. “We’ll see.”
“We can spar a bit! Maybe it’ll help you sort your stuff out. The answer lies in — “
She rolled her eyes and got in the car. “I’ll see you later, Ryu.”
“Hey, don’t forget.”
“You’re the strongest woman in the world.”