I haven’t proofread this yet, so please forgive (or let me know of) any errors. This is the continuation of the story that’s been bouncing around in my head.
I moved away from the mats to join Cecily and Lin by the cubbies, where they were chirping about the day’s events and waiting for class to start. A quick set of high knee jumps loosened my muscles and got my blood flowing before I stripped off the warm-ups I was wearing over my shorts and tank. My back was to the door, but I knew instantly when Blaze walked in. Mostly because Cecily and Lin both gasped with wide eyes and immediately started whispering and giggling. Clearly they were not evaluating him as an adversary.
I, however, had a job to do, so I turned to assess my opponent. People who work out for vanity are often out of proportion – they focus on the muscle groups for aesthetics, not strength. It makes it easy to spot potential weaknesses. Boys usually want big shoulders and arms because that makes them look strong, but they don’t spend enough time on their legs, which makes their knees and ankles ideal targets for a quick takedown. Fighters and those who work on the machines or farms are proportional and strong all the way through. They are thick with strength, not lean in some areas and bulging in others. Real strength is much harder to beat than vanity strength.
Always start at the bottom and work your way up. When I turned to face him, I looked first at his feet. His were unremarkable, not that feet can offer you that many clues anyway. I shifted my focus up his legs, which were almost the same thickness from his calf to where his shorts stopped just above his knees. His shorts were loose, but I could see enough around his knees and just above to guess his thighs were rock solid. They looked like a worker’s legs. Shit.
His t-shirt hung loose around the middle, but it was clear he was thick through the torso as well. Another bad sign, since vanity usually lends itself to lean and defined waists, which can offer another window for attack, if you can get the right angle. Six-packs look nice, but don’t always provide the strength and protection your core and lower back require in a good fight. Blaze didn’t have that – he was stacked right up to his barrel chest.
His shoulders were at my eye level, which put him around six-foot-two, and they rounded out to tell pretty much the same story. His arms were behind his back, which was unfortunate because I really wanted to see his hands. I had enough information to guess he was a working kid, but the hands would tell me whether it was machines or farm work. There’s still a chance he’s a fighter too, but I don’t know where else they’d have fighters our age outside of this sector.
I took a breath before moving on. He was in great shape, but nothing I had seen so far would warrant that reaction from Cecily and Lin – eighty percent of the boys who stayed in this class were built like a shit brick-house, so that’s nothing special. I skimmed over his jaw and mouth. His jaw was straight and, like everything else, offered no sign of weakness. He wore a nice smile, but that meant nothing. Smiles can be, and almost always are, faked in the face of a challenge.
It was his eyes. They would tell me the rest of what I needed to know, and they were what sent the girls behind me into a tizzy. I had never seen that color in real life. But they reminded me of a picture in a book I had read once about Earth. It was a chapter about rain forests and jungles, and in the picture there was a deep pool, emerald and sapphire, blended but distinct that ran dark to the depths of the center. Blaze’s eyes were deep like that too, and I knew that if he was trained properly, they’d be his most effective asset. He could draw people in, it was almost hypnotic. He had clearly won the girls over, and even now as I stood in front of him as an opponent, I knew if he opened his mouth and asked me for help, I would drop everything and do whatever he said.
I closed my eyes and shook my head to clear the effects of his gaze. I looked over at Coach, and could see the corners of his mouth slightly turned up. He was trying to not to show anything, but he knew what I knew. This one was going to get interesting.