“Did I ever tell you about the first time I saw you?”
She shivered. “No.”
Closing my eyes, I felt her snuggle closer. My hand curled into the thick material of her sweater. I rested my chin on her head. “I was sixteen and you were probably fourteen.”
“I can’t remember fourteen.”
“That’s okay. I remember for both of us.” I counted to ten before I continued, making sure my voice didn’t give. “It was toward the end of the day and I was heading into the training rooms with a friend.
Classes were still going on, and I was walking by the door—it was open—and I heard laughter. Something you don’t usually hear during training. I had to stop and see what was going on.”
It was the first time I’d seen her. No one could miss her. She was the smallest in the room, shorter and skinnier than all of her opponents, but that wasn’t why she stuck out. There’d been this impish grin on her face, an energy that was infectious as she’d bounced around the mats, circling a tall, blond-haired boy. The Instructor had been irritated, no doubt by her and the attention she was drawing from a pure and an entire class riveted on her. But once I’d seen her, I couldn’t look away. It was like being hit by lightning.
“You were training with Cal—with a friend—going through takedown moves. He kept trying to get the upper hand, but you kept laying him out, laughing the entire time. Both of you were laughing. That’s why I looked.”
“Did you know me then?” she asked sleepily.
“No.” I held her closer, as if I could somehow pull her inside me and keep her safe. “But I knew, in that moment, you were amazing.”