I predict that I will be able to… FINALLY… post new chapters of “Till The Death Of Me” this week!
Meagan couldn’t go back to sleep after the phone call. Between her restless debate with herself over whether she should tell Damien in the morning, the uneasy way she felt at that she had just recieved a death threat, and the snoring of her partner next to her — What was his name? Jake? — there was just no hope. So she got up before her alarm and took a shower. Stepping out, fully clothed for the day and drying her hair with a towel, she kicked the man who’s name she thought might be Jake. “Time to get up.”
He groaned and rolled over. “What time is it?”
“I don’t know, like — seven-thirty.” She looked at him then and realized how much older than her he appeared. She made a face. What was I thinking? Picking up the heap of clothes on the floor that “Jake” had left, she threw the covers off his naked body and covered it with the clothes. Then as she balled up the blanket and put it in the hamper, she heard “Jake” protest behind her. “It’s too cold! Why are you doing this to me, sugar?”
“I’m not a stripper. Don’t call me sugar.”
“Oh, come on. Let’s snuggle. We can sleep in a little longer. Or, if you’re in the mood for round two…” With a wicked smile, “Jake” rolled over to his back and showed Meagan his morning surprise. “Oh!” Meagan shielded her eyes. “Jake” laughed. “Whaddya say, sugar?”
Meagan looked him square in the eye. “Listen… First of all, if you call me sugar one more time, I am going to punch you in the face. Secondly, you are nothing more than a drunken one-night stand. I don’t even remember if it was any good! And let me tell you, I am not in the least bit interested in refreshing that memory. Lastly, you are going to get up, put your clothes on, and get the hell outta this house. Right now. Nothing more, nothing less. Capeesh?” “Jake” rolled his eyes and did as he was told. She follwed him down stairs and to the front door, making sure he was all the way outside and the door was securley closed behind him before she made her way into the kitchen.
At the bar counter, Damien stood with a bowl of cereal in front of him, changing through channels with the TV remote, staring at the set in the living room. “You did a good job clearing everyone out last night,” Meagan said matter-of-factly as she went into the refrigerator and pulled out a gallon of milk. “Mmmhm,” was all that Damien had for an answer. While she got herself a bowl of cereal, Meagan had a brief conversation with Damien about what was in the agenda for today. He only had short answers. Something seemed to be distracting him. As she came with her bowl to sit next to him, she began thinking about what was bothering him. “I’m sorry,” she said. “About, um, you know…” She motioned towards the door. “About your friend…”
Damien never looked at her. “He’s a friend of a friend. I don’t know him. He’s only visiting for a short time. Besides, you’re a big girl. I can trust you to make your own decisions.” He got up to put his bowl and spoon away in the dish washer. Then he said, “I’m going out. I’ll only be a few hours.”
“Oh… Okay. I’ll just hold down the fort.” Meagam decided against telling Damien about the call last night. He seemed to have a lot already on his plate. Besides, it was probably just a crank call.
When he first spotted Meagan Chaney in the convenience store, he had been coming up the far isle from the freezer section in the back, on his way to the register to purchase the Gatorade he had just selected. She crossed his line of vision and he stopped in his tracks. Kind of like how his heart stopped in its tracks. He knew immediately that it was Meagan Chaney, the famous MMA fighter who had just won the championship last night. She had a large box of beer and a fifth of Fireball in her hands. His first reaction to seeing her was to be startled. What is she doing in Chicago? He wondered.
He knew little to nothing about the woman he was close in age with. He had merely come across a news article featuring her this morning, skimming through it. He had also watched the video highlights of the fight and had been impressed by her abilities. He remembered her face well and if he was being honest, he had noticed her body as well. She was very attractive. It was her eyes he had noticed first, though. Intense, yet controlled. Dark green and oh so mysterious. He had been intrigued. But never in his wildest dreams did he think he would ever see her in a place like this. He physically rubbed his eyes and did a double take just to be sure it was really her he was seeing. It was.
She didn’t notice him at all as she made her way back to the front counter. Callum was smiling at her as she approached. Starstruck and nervous, he didn’t want to make his presence known to her. As he watched them, Callum and Meagan seemed to be familiar with each other. He could tell Callum had a crush on her, a fact which got under his skin and gave him a small pang of jealousy. He immediately pushed those silly feelings away. He was still curious, however, so he decided to continue eavesdropping — a decision he was not proud of.
When Meagan finally walked out of the store without hugging or kissing Callum goodbye, he decided that they were not a couple. But she was definitely familiar which had to mean she was a local.
But he had lived in the city all his life, he pondered. How could he have overlooked someone like her? Sure, he hadn’t known to look for her before — How could he, really, when he hadn’t even known she existed? — but he knew automatically that she’s the type of woman he should have noticed.
Curiosity got the better of him. He had to find out more about her, or die trying.
Oh, quit with the dramatics, he scolded himself. It’s not going to kill you to talk to her. So she shuts you down. So what? Man up, for God’s sake. You’re not a child! In spite of his fear, he set the drink down and followed her out the door.
As Meagan opened the rear driver’s side door of Damien’s Sedan, she almost thought she had heard one of the front doors of the store open and close. Thinking she was just hearing things, she proceeded to place the alcohol she had just bought into the back seat. Closing the door, she had almost begun to turn around when she heard someone behind her begin to speak.
“Hi….” Meagan jumped right out of her skin and spun around. The way she did it, there might as well had been a loud thunder crack. She gave the man standing in front of her a quick once-over. He had short, brown hair in a buzz cut, grey-blue eyes which were incredible yet she dared not stare into them, and his facial hair consisted of a small goatee. He was decidedly tall, standing there with his hands in the side pockets of his large Carhart jacket. Accompanying the jacket were a pair of blue jeans and work boots.
“Sorry,” he was saying. She made the mistake of looking back up at his eyes, which were intently watching her. She quickly looked away. What does this guy want? “Scared the living shit out of me!” She complained.
Nothing was said while she turned around and secured the box of beer behind the seatbelt. The whiskey bottle was placed inside the box.
“I know who you are,” He said. “That MMA fighter?” She closed the door, half smiling. “Yeah… Everybody here knows that about me.”
She glanced over her right shoulder as she started walking around the car to the driver’s side. “So, what? You want an autograph or something?”
He followed her until he got to the back tire on the driver’s side. “Are you from here?” She asked another question. “Born and raised,” he answered.
That made her pause. With the door open, she rested her arm on the top of it and looked at him — really looked at him — for the first time. “Are you from here?” He asked. “Yeah,” she answered. “For the most part.”
For the most part… She let that hang between them without elaborating.
Her eyes narrowed on him. “It’s peculiar that I don’t remember seeing you around here before.” She thought she’d gotten him with that.
“Same,”he answered. “I mean, I never noticed you before either. It’s weird.”
“Yeah. Well, I’ve gotta get going so would you like an autograph or not?”
“Getting straight to the point, are we?”
“I’m a busy woman.”
He paused for a second. “I’ll take an autograph if it comes with a number.”
Meagan raised an inquisitive brow as a humorous smile grew across her face. “Any number?”
“Well, yours would be preferable.”
She snorted. “You want me to give you my number when I don’t even know your name?”
“Well, Adam, forgive me, but I don’t date local boys. I swore that off a long time ago. And I also don’t give my number to strangers.” She got into the car and closed the door. Starting the car, she waved out the window and pulled out onto the street.
Adam watched the car until it disappeared. Then he went back inside, bought his Gatorade, filled his truck with gas, and drove home — kicking himself all the way.
It was the funnest, most amazing party Meagan ever attended in her life. The fact that it was all for her probably had a lot to do with that. Damien hired a chef to prepare a fabulous dinner for the two of them and a very exclusive group of people well before the party began. The chef also prepped several plates of appetizers for the party guests, which a team of servers that Damien also hired would pass out.
Throughout the night, Meagan kept the Fireball to herself, sharing with absolutely no one. Everyone else either drank from the bar or grabbed a beer from the ice chest. The more Meagan drank from her bottle, the more loose she became. At some point, she ended up in the pool, where she just got drunker and could be seen grinding on several people. This went on until Meagan was, as it’s called, “sloshed,” and Damien ordered her out of the pool.
Since Meagan put up a fight, some of Damien’s friends helped out in getting her up to her room. She ended up going to bed with one of those friends.
In the very early morning hours, Meagan recived a phone call that jerked her out of her REM sleep. Head swimming, she stumbled for her phone on the night stand.
“You’re in big fuckin’ trouble, lady,” hissed a man with an Italian accent into her ear.
“Who is this?” Meagan demanded. She was still too confused at the moment to start being afraid.
“That fight you had with Mel Santorum? You were supposed to lose!”
Meagan rubbed her eyes. “What’re you –”
“What, your manager never told you?” Said the angry man on the other end of the line. “We bet on Mel to win. Had it set up with your pal Damien. Now we’re out fifty grand. Someone’s gonna have to pay for that.”
Meagan’s heart stopped when he said Damien’s name. And now her chest was so heavy, she couldn’t speak even if she wanted to.
“Fifty grand by the end of December, kid,” the man demanded. “Or looks like you two aren’t gonna live to see you get drafted.”
**News 4 Sports’ “In Closing ” Theme song plays in background; Animation saying “In Closing” waves around on the screen.**
Spokesman: And now, News 4 Sports brings you: In Closing, with Brad Kassell.
**Fade In: Channel 4 News anchor Brad Kassell sits at an anchor desk inside of a large Chicago studio, wearing a suit-and-tie outfit. He has black hair fading away at the crown. As the camera angle is zoomed out, several other men are seen accompanying Brad on either side of the large desk, also wearing suits with ties.**
Brad: **As camera zooms in on him slowly** Good evening, everyone, I’m Brad Kassell alongside Kurt Kristopherson and the boys, and this is In Closing. Well, in closing tonight, we MUST talk about that win last night in Atlanta. MMA former-up-and-comer-now-CHAMPION Meagan Chaney — who we should all be very familiar with by now in the Chicago area — got the better of Melody Santorum in the light-heavyweight division of the womens league. MAN, what a battle.
**Camera cuts to a paused clip of Meagan setting up for a kick towards Melody’s head. The clip is played as Brad continues speaking, showing Meagan’s foot crash into the side of her opponent’s head before she could block it and sending her limp body to the ground. The referee runs in and waves off the fight, signalling the end. Then Meagan runs around the ring with her fists in the air and appears to be yelling. She stops and dropps to her knees as her face crumples into happy sobs. Meanwhile, Damien can be seen rushing over to her in the background for a celebratory embrace. **
Brad: This is what ended it all — a powerful kick to Melody Santorum’s head that sent her straight to the ground in the middle of round three. Guys, I don’t think Melody saw that one coming!
**Camera cuts to Geoffrey Miles, a bald and slightly overweight African American anchor smiling excitedly.**
Geoffrey: That’s right. Coming into this one, I think Melody Santorum’s mindset was, ‘I’m going to get the knockout and I’m going to get it early. I have a very strong right hand, the strongest in Women’s MMA, there’s no way she’ll be able to recover from it…’ Well what happened was the exact oppoite. The one weapon she thought would be her best friend in this fight became her greatest adversary. She just could not land anything good. In my opinion, she under–
Kurt Kiristopherson: **As camera cuts to a man with copper hair curling around his ears and light stubble** Geoffrey, I have to chime in here, and I’m sorry to talk over you, but you’re about to say a word that you are NOT allowed to say in this context.
Geoffrey: She underperformed last night!
Kurt: Melody Santorum didn’t underperform! Are you kidding me? We saw her same, typical speed and veteran-like moves — None of that changed. In fact, we saw her at her best last night — possibly at her peak…
Geoffrey: No way.
Kurt: For being in the third round when you’re used to ending fights within the first two, I’d say Melody hung in there pretty well. Now if you’ll allow me to finish… Here’s the thing. You had me, Geoffrey, HAD me, until you started talking about Melody Santorum not fighting at her best. She made the mistake of relying too heavily on her right hand, and took away a lot of opportunities to get some much-needed points with her left, but all-in-all, she fought her absolute hardest last night. She was OUTperformed, not UNDERperforming, and she was outperformed by a chick named Meagan Chaney. A STRATEGIC fighter if ever there was one, Meagan was the smarter contender, she was the stronger-minded one, and it paid off for her. Melody tried to use her intimidation skills on her which did not work, and then she tried to force the knockout early. Meagan simply took that option away from her –She was not going to give it up — all the while, Melody was getting more and more tired, and ended up letting her guard down JUST A LITTLE BIT. For a fighter like Meagan, that’s all she needs is that little window to work with….
As the men on the television set continued with their discussion, Meagan turned her attention back to Callum — the guy manning the counter of the convenience store where she used to work. Behind him was where the TV was mounted. Callum had stopped the conversation they had been having about her big fight to turn up the volume of the TV and tell her to “Check it out!” On her first night back in the city, her and Damien were planning for a big party. She came to the store to stalk up on beer and a fifth of Fireball whiskey before heading back to the large, oceanside condo across town, where Damien now lived.
She had noticed Callum once she walked in the door, and he had come around to give her a heartfelt hug. Back when she and Callum had worked here together, a friendship quickly formed between them. Before long, a more romantic encounter would follow. He had been one of the friends with her on the night she got arrested. About a year later, he had also been her first time. She knew she loved him, but whether or not she was in love with him seemed to be a harder concept for her to wrap her mind around. So she kept putting off facing her true feelings for him, while he had the impression that they were in a real relationship and not a friends-with-benefits situation. They lived like that for about three weeks — only having sex twice in that period — until he had the guts to ask her outright. That’s when she knew she had to be honest. With both him and with herself.
Being friendzoned had hurt Callum deeply, even though he tried so hard not to show it. She had hated herself for quite a while afterwards. But they never parted ways and stayed good friends. She would come back here when she could, and catch up with her old friend whenever he happened to be there. Occasionally, he would also send her Snapchat messages and they would have short conversations via text. Things between them seemed to be patched up, water under the bridge. She spoke with Callum for a little bit longer before exiting the store with her perchases. The entire time she’d been there, she never noticed there had been someone else in the store with her. That someone was a young man who couldn’t help but watch her from afar and immediately followed her outside.
Meagan’s entrance song — the song that played whenever she entered the ring — was “Die Tonight,” a Country Rap song by Adam Calhoun and Ryan Upchurch. The song played during the first repeat of the chorus and right before the second verse, and then continued to play until she was in the ring and in her corner. She liked the song for it’s second verse, most especially the beginning of it:
“You can get it, Imma fight ’til the death of me,
I ain’t never been known to run from an enemy…”
Walking her path to the ring, Meagan became focused on the song and those lyrics as well as the lyrics she had been listening to just minutes before. She blocked out the noise from the crowd and all of the screaming fans leaning over the rails trying to touch her. She ignored being pushed one or two times by fans clumsily bumping into the body guards, who were so close to Meagan it was impossible not to run into her. She ignored the flashing lights of all different colors. She ignored everything, putting her entire focus on the fight at hand.
Once approaching the ring, at the bottom of the steps which were placed for the two fighters to enter properly, Meagan obeyed the instructions of the referee that stood in front of her. She stood up straight and held her arms straight out from her sides. After doing the neccessary check-ups, the ref grabbed a small container of Vaseline, applied it to a gloved finger, and wiped the substance on the young fighter’s face. Lastly, he asked her to show him that she had a mouth guard in place, which she did, and then she was allowed to jog up the steps and into the ring.
Once inside, she did a lap of sideways slides around the ring to warm up. Then she quickly practiced some jabs, hooks, and elbow swings before stretching her arms a bit and then bouncing in place. This is all of what Meagan would do to prepare for a professional fight.
When her opponent entered the ring, it was to a screamo song Meagan didn’t recognize. Melody Santorum was considered a bad fighter; Not bad in the sense of terrible, but bad in the sense of potentially great. She’d have to be, to make it to a championship light-heavyweight fight such as this. The winner of this fight would be great contenders for being drafted into the UFC. Her two most dangerous weapons were her speed and her “mean” right hand, as some may have called it. Her orange hair was held back in cornrows tonight, showing off freckles which were palpable against the pale skin on her face. Apparently, her style was to keep her eyes on her opponent at all times, Meagan noticed. From the time she entered the arena, to being gelled up, to entering and now jumping and punching in place in her corner, Melody kept her eyes locked on Meagan’s. Rather than be fazed by this, Meagan stared back.
Damien took notice. Glancing between the two women, he guided Meagan to sit on her chair in the corner. When she sat, Meagan’s attention went to Damien. He smiled, but his eyes were intense as hell. Veins stuck out of his neck like cords. “This girl ain’t got nothin’ on ya.” Meagan nodded. “She ain’t got nothin’ on ya,” Damien repeated.
“She’s just a ginger. You gonna let some ginger bitch take what’s yours?” Meagan shook her head and gritted her teeth. However derogatory it was to call someone a ginger, it was doing its trick. Damien always knew how to play off of Meagan’s anger — always simmering inside, the monster in her waiting for the right time to come out and explode. But he also knew that she knew how to controll it, to channel it into doing what it took to win every fight. Hell, it had gotten her this far.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken, she told herself. Both her and Damien knew how mad she got when other females tried to stare her down, like she was some kind of weak-minded clown. In a way, it was actually funny. “Are you going to let her beat you and take what the hell is yours?” Damien continued. “No!” Meagan whispered in a raspy voice.
“Then put her down like the pound,” Damien told her. “Win this fight, and take home the buckle. Don’t nobody deserve this more than you. Don’t nobody deserve this more than you! I want you to say it.”
“Don’t nobody deserve this more than me,” Meagan said.
“I wanna hear you say it, Meagan!”
“Don’t nobody deserve this more than me!” Meagan yelled to the rooftops. When she lowered her head back to normal equilibrium, she noticed Melody noticing her over Damien’s shoulder. From across the ring, Melody’s eyes narrowed, and a corner of her mouth lifted. Meagan’s entire body tensed. Suddenly, Damien forced Meagan’s eyes away. “Focus on me,” he demanded.
“When you go out there, all you’re gonna see is her face. I want you to remember what you’ve learned.
“Fuck the mind games. Fuck the facial expressions — Just toss them to the side.” He actually made hand movements to exemplify moving something over. “Wear her down, stay away from that right hand, and then go for the kill.” He listed off with his fingers as he spoke. “If you accomplish those three things, you got this. And hey, it may take a few rounds to tire her out. So be it! Take a few rounds. I’d rather you waste her precious time to where by the fourth or fifth round, she’s useless, than to have you try to be a hero and get knocked out within the first two. Got it?”
Meagan nodded. “Yes, Pops.”
“Time’s up!” Called the official, now standing with Melody Santorum in the middle of the ring. Damien held his hand out to Meagan, who took it in a brotherly grip and allowed her adopted father to full her up in a standing position. Still holding her hand, Damien gave her a quick hug. “I love you. No matter what happens, know that.”
As Meagan approached her opponent, she repeated her first two tasks in her head. Wear her down, stay away from that right hand… Wear her down, stay away from the right hand… We must focus on that first step even when the top of the staircase cannot be seen. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated something to that effect. Except in Meagan’s case, she could see the top very clearly — smell it, even — and there was just one person standing in the way of getting there.
As the ref recited the instructions of the fight — to be clean and fair, etc, etc.. — Melody and Meagan got as close as they could get to one another, and appeared to be in a staring contest. When it was time to touch gloves, Meagan held hers out and waited, never leaving Melody’s eyes. Melody never moved her gloves up. “I’m gonna kick your ass back to Chicago, blood!” And then she shoved Meagan back. The ref got between them and ordered Melody impatently to watch herself before she was disqualified.
So it’s a mind game you want, after all, Meagan thought. Almost smiling. she came up with a plan.
Now, as Meagan followed Damien Gray down the hall that would lead into the arena, she watched him. His walk, the white stubble on his chin, his serious, determined face, even the shine on his milk chocolate head made by the overhead lights. She loved the man like her father, and in fact he was the first and only person to date she ever loved, ever trusted, in a long time.
Well, maybe that wasn’t true. Maybe there had been Kat, too. The only thing was, Meagan had never been sure how she felt about her. Now, she was just a distant memory. Although, she did think of her from time to time, wondering where she was or if she was even still alive. Who knows, though? With more time, they might have been really close friends if things hadn’t panned out the way they had… For just one brief moment, Meagan allowed her mind to travel back in time:
To say that Meagan and her new father figure lived happily ever after — Damien Gray raising her up to be the woman she now was without any kinks, speed bumps, or even road blocks — would be a gross injustice to how things really happened. Damien and Meagan had struggled for her renewal as a person. For one thing, there was the pain and trauma caused by the fact that she had been sexually assaulted. Not only that, it was by men she had stupidly trusted for a good chunk of her life. That alone was a tangled-up and heart-retching mess Damien couldn’t begin to untangle as a man (well into his forties at the time) who had never experienced such a thing. Then there was the fact of the matter that it took her a little over seventy-two hours to come down from the meth high she was on before she realized what all had actually happened to her. It was at least relieving to know that, once sober, Meagan wanted nothing more to do with ice ever again.
During that seventy-two-hour-and-then some period, Damien knew he had to get the authorities involved. He did that immediately. Meagan went through the grueling process of having a rape kit done on her, speaking with the Special Crimes Unit of Chicago (SCUC) and going down to the police station to give an official statement and provide information to sketch artists. All the while, she was jittery and at times spoke really fast. She got up at random times to either pace the floor or resituate the cups and magazines on the end tables. Police and SCUC officials promised her that she wouldn’t get in trouble for being high on meth, so long as she promised she’d stay off it. They just wanted as much information as they could get, in detail, on her attackers — namely, on their main man: Carlos Santana.
As the months went by, Meagan learned that Carlos Santana had a long list of warrants and prior arrests between South Carolina and Chicago and there had already been a manhunt for him in his hometown. He was a child predator and registered sex offender. His “gig” was to lure vulnerable teens, a lot of them female, away and convince them to join his gang. To the girls, he deliberately caused them to fall in love with him, which had undoubtedly happened to Kat. She pictured him now, posing as a student at their school, lying about his age in order to have access to hundreds of innocent, unassuming teenaged girls. Inevitably, he would end up forcing his girls to have sex with him. If they misbehaved, he would hit them. And if he caught any of his girls looking at any other man — be it a member of the gang or not — he’d beat them until they were horribly mangled, and then he’d let his men have their way with them. After that, they’d be used up, so he would discard the young girls, some of them close to death.
One by one, he did this to so many girls. A lot of them ended up on TV doing an interview, with some choosing to remain anonymous. Meagan had been his last victim. She declined an interview with any journalists and let Damien deal with the press whenever they showed up at the door. Carlos, as result of all this chaos, had become one of America’s most wanted. “Bad boy” didn’t begin to describe him. He was Lucifer in the flesh. On the night of the assault, it is believed that Carlos disappeared with most of his gang, leaving behind some who either ended up arrested or killed. Meagan always assumed that Kat had gone with him.
In the meantime, the basics were taken care of first: Damien took Meagan to the local grocery store to stalk up on food. The very young woman had been practically nothing but skin and bones when he found her. Meagan learned about soul food for the first time in her life by way of having it explained to her, and then of course eating it. Damien was such a great cook, and Meagan had been so thoughtless over the years about how much she was starving herself, that eating his food had brought her to tears. She ate plenty of it, most of the time until there was none left, which was fine by Damien. The SCUC provided her with a counselor who specialized in trauma victims, and she went through sessions regularly.
After the first few sessions, Damien decided to keep the ball rolling and had a discussion with her on basically getting her life back on track. Meagan agreed to try, though her attitude wasn’t perfect. Lost and depressed, she just didn’t see the point anymore. She felt like it was too late for her. After going down to the local DMV to get an ID for the first time, Meagan hit the books and started studying for her GED. It took several tries, and many restless nights, but she finally passed the test. On a few too many of those late nights studying, Meagan, out of frustration, left holes in the walls. Damien didn’t get too angry with her and was able to patch the holes up without any issues, but it did get him to thinking…
That Christmas, with just the two of them celebrating together, he bought her a punching bag to hang in her bedroom. He also got her a speed bag and allowed her to put it up anywhere she’d like. She put it up in the garage. Over the years, she would have a weighlifting machine along with several different sizes of dumbells, and a treadmill as well, in there– Though, when she started working out a couple of years after living with Damien, she preferred to jog around the city.
Following her twentieth birthday, Meagan got a job. With a job came the responsibility of taking herself there every day — or night. She worked the late shift at a gas station. Damien was hesitant, but Meagan assured him he was being silly. “They let me use a gun,” she said. “Which I know how to use. And I’ve been in a gang for like, three years. No offense, old timer, but I think I can handle myself.” She gave him a cool smile and tapped him on the arm with the back of her hand.
Damien took her to work for the first week while in the meantime Meagan studied her booklet she had gotten at the DMV whenever she got a chance. When it came time for the drivers test, she passed it the first time with flying colors. It was, she would end up telling him, “the easiest thing I’ve ever done.” She would drive his car to and from work, while Damien drove it during the day to get to his job and took his bike if he needed to go anywhere afetrwards. Getting her lisence must have given Meagan a real sense of accomplishment, for it was the first time Damien saw her really smile. The next time was when she got her first check and went out that Friday night with her new friends from work.
“Don’t get into any trouble!” Damien called after her from his chair in the living room, reading a book by the end table lamp as Meagan slammed the door behind her. Of course, she did get into trouble, as it was easy in those days for Meagan to be influenced by her peers. Helping her make a fake ID, her new entourage snuck her into a bar, where some wise guy had eventually started in on her — trying to “get fresh,” as it were. As a winesses would later state: ” First she had warned him, ‘Leave me alone.’ When he didn’t, she gave him a good slap, and that didn’t make him too happy. So he tried to beat on her…” The man laughed. “Let’s just say, he never got close. She beat the crap out of him!”
Meagan was able to get off the hook for her charges by pleading self defense, but not before she was placed in a holding cell. The police called Damien, saying: “We’ve got a Megan here in lock up, says you’re her next of kin? Bar fight.”
When Damien went down to bail her out, he asked for a minute alone before they let her out. Meagan stood up from the concrete bench and approached the steel bars seperating her adopted father from herself. “Hey, pops,” she said, trying to feign enthusiasm. Damien had given up trying to keep her from calling him that. “Can you imagine? I was defending myself and they lock me up like I’m some kind of criminal!”
“Well,” Damien said cooly. “You’re just lucky that fake ID worked on the cops of all people. What has this city come to…”
“So you like to fight, do you?”
“I told you –”
“I’ll show you where the real fighting is at.”
Meagan furrowed her brow, confused, then rolled her eyes. “What are you talking about, you old geiser.”
Damien grinned knowingly. “You’ll see.”
The next day, a Saturday, he took her to a local spot he owned that he never told Meagan about until that day. It was called “Gray’s Gym,” and it had a painting of a young, black man in a stance with boxing gloves and trousers on.
I know — very “Rocky” like, right?
The rest, as they say, was history. Winning enough small-time fights gained a lot of local attention, until before long Meagan got into the ametur Womens MMA league. Some of her fights she lost. Those fights she remembered most, and she was grateful for them. They not only humbled her but gave her more life lessons and character than winning ever could. The wins, though…. The wins were what it was all about.
And they had gotten her here: Ten years after running into Damien Gray, she was attending the most important fight of her career.
Daddy Wayworth was filthy freakin’ rich!
The first thing that tipped Meagan off was the sight of the limousine awaiting the trio out front — a chauffeur holding the door open. The second tip-off was the huge mansion. That came into view as they rode in the aforementioned limo. It appeared in all its glory as they rounded a corner up the long cobblestoned drive to the North Center neighborhood property. Kat wasn’t lying after all. Not in the least bit. Meagan didn’t know what Kat’s dad did for a living, and she would never learn what his real name was aside from “Daddy Wayworth.” Maybe it was best that way, she tought. Something wasn’t quite right about the man. His fourth wife — or was it his fifth? — introducted herself inside. By looks, husband and wife were totally incompatable. The wife was a sort of orange woman who looked like a bodybuilder, with fake blonde hair that shone bright against the fake tan. Mr. Wayworth — Meagan would just call him that — was a pale, slightly overweight man by stark contrast, with thinning brown hair, wearing a business suit. “He’s always wearing a damned business suit,” Kat would gripe later. “Even when he’s supposed to be spending quality time with his kids.” In the latter statement, one could hear the eyeroll without having to look at the girl’s face. She said “kids,” plural, because there was an older half-brother somewhere in the picture — a product of one of Mr. Wayworth’s previous marriages.
At the dinner table was where Meagan enjoyed a fantastic 4-course dinner: lobster bisque, fresh garden salad, linguini alfredo made with the best homemade sauce she had ever tatsed and shrimp that was not only cooked to absolute perfection but tasted so fresh one would think there was an ocean right outside; and for dessert, the finest red velvet cheesecake she had ever had. It was also where Megan learned about Kat’s mother, the first Wayworth wife. “She’s a crack whore who lives on the streets of South Chicago,” Kat blurted out. “Katrina!” Her dad made a half-assed attempt to chastize her. Kat shrugged, never looking up from her pasta, which she shoved around with a fork. “Might as well get to the bottom line,” she muttered. Meagan realized that Kat didn’t like to speak about her mom. Now she understood why.
Later that night, both Meagan and Kat lay awake and talked into the early morning hours. “Tomorrow,” Kat told her excitedly. “You’ll meet Carlos and the boys.” The sexy teen went on to talk about Carlos, her boyfriend — how they first met, their first time in bed together, up to present day.
Theirs wasn’t at all a romantic story by anyone’s standards: They had met in detention. When spotting her for the first time from across the classroom, he had made kissing noises loud enough for her to hear. When she turned to look at him, as she explained, “It was magical! — Sparks were flying, I’m telling you.” They started going out after Carlos finally approached her one day during lunch and made his proposition. “Ay, mami,” he had said to her, making it a point to look her up and down. “There’s an Ice Cube concert going on Downtown tonight. If you be my date, I’ll let you ride shotgun in my new wheels. And then, maybe later…” According to Kat, he had raised his eyebrows suggestively while grabbing his junk. “I’ll let you ride on by bigger wheels.”
“It was so corny,” Kat laughed, reminiscing. “And I knew he was cute and all, but I had to play a little hard to get, you know?’ She looked over at Meagan. “Cause if you don’t, guys’ll think you’re too easy.”
Thanks for the tip, Meagan thought. That had been earlier this semester, Kat explained. So they had only been together since January. Carlos was now in Chicago awaiting her arrival, supposedly there to visit his own family. As Kat went on, she told tales of the mischevious acts the couple had committed together: cutting class, shoplifting, tagging, making out half-naked in risky public places. “It was like we were wanting to get caught.” She explained that his “wheels” as he called them, was a lime green dodge challenger with gold plated rims and loud bass. “Our first time was in the back seat,” Kat said, biting her lip and nodding her head, as if to the beat of an unheard song. Meagan bit back the urge to groan. “And can you believe that he got that car with money he made at the chop shop?”
She could believe it. “No!”
“Yeah!” Instead of looking back on the recent memory with disdain, Kat had a delighted grin on her face. She sat up and lay on her stomach, her chin resting on her hands. “Yeah. He’s a bad boy. But he’s all mine! Got it?” She eyed Meagan, who gave her a sideways look and lifted up a corner of her mouth. “As if I’m really interested in stealing your gangster boyfriend away!”
“Hey, I don’t know you that well yet. You never know. And he really is in a gang, by the way. He’s the leader.”
Kat chuckled. “You’ll see tomorrow.” With that she yawned noisily and lay down. “Well, good night.”
“Um, you realize it’s already tomorrow, right?”
“We’re meeting up in the afternoon. Plenty of time for sleep.”
The next afternoon brought the biggest change in Meagan’s life up until that point, a change that wasn’t for the better. When they met up with Carlos and “the boys” — a group that consisted mostly of hispanics with the exception of one lone, white male — Meagan could tell that whatever they really were as a unit, Carlos was definitely the leader. The group and the girls met at a park on the South side. Once she pulled her father’s cherry-red ’64 Ford Mustang into a parking space, Kat had barely put it in park before flinging herself at Carlos. Picking her up off the gorund, Carlos kissed her hard, one hand firmly grasping her buttock. As she climbed out of the car like a human at normal speed, Meagan became nauseated at the sight. She rounded the car and approached them. Then Kat, cheekes flushing, proudly announced, “This is Carlos!” As if Meagan couldn’t already make that inference.
Carlos gave a nod in greeting. “‘Suuuuup!” Meagan said nothing, only stood there staring at the young man. And he was a man, not a boy. With a stubble beard, he wore a purple beanie on his head that covered his eyebrows, a garmet that the others wore also.
These guys have to be early thirties, at least, Meagan thought.
Later, when they were alone, Meagan would ask Kat, “How old is Carlos?”
“Twenty-five,” she would answer, a cool look on her face.
“Really? Beacuse I had him pegged for maybe thirty.”
“Really, really. Seen his birth certificate an’ all.” Meagan wasn’t sure if that was true or not but supposed she had no choice but to go with it.
To complete his outfit, Carlos wore a wife beater tanktop, sagging jeans with his underwear sticking out and a chain hanging off one side, and white sneakers. On his neck, Meagan could see a tattoo that said LIFE. She suddenly had the urge to hit him, an itch that would never go away.
Nevertheless, Meagan was at that tender, complicated age where finding acceptance anywhere in the world was crucial, and she now had no one else but this little group who, in the end, seemed to accept her. One of them, the white guy, whose name was Paul, had a crush on her. The problem was, she was put off by his greasy hair and body odor. She learned to keep her distance from him, though he persisted a lot.
In no time, Meagan made a routine out of learning the ways of the streets by day, and sleeping in a mansion by night. She began drinking, smoking pot, and partying well into the night, only to wake up the next afternoon and do it all over again. She even took up day drinking. When she wasn’t doing that, she was selling drugs, stealing cars, and tagging random spots all over town with Carlos’s boys. She learned how to be a gang banger fairly quickly, which impressed all the boys. No one seemed to care anymore what Meagan did. So this was her new life.
No sooner did they place Ronald J. Chaney into the ground did his daughter Meagan make her escape: from the crowd of mourners, from her mother, from everybody. Perhaps even from herself.
She wasted no time in leaving the funeral once she threw the white rose down onto the coffin. Her mom had claimed she couldn’t attend, said that it was all too much to bear. Meagan, by consequence, had to bear it all alone. There was no one there she knew anyway, no reason to stay. Her dad, well… he was already gone. So with a solemn face, and a straight back, she turned and walked away. As she did that, she made a vow to herself: Just me,myself, and I. From now on, no one has my back but me. No one is my friend, and no one is my savior, and it’s just as well. I’m living for MYSELF, no-damned-body else!
“Friendly fire” was what they kept telling her, every time she asked what had happened. It was a term she hardly understood. “How do you ‘accidentally’ shoot somebody that’s on your own team?” She once demanded this answer from a school counselor, who had been assigned to Meagan during the school days to help her get through her “trying times.” But all Ms. Nelson — a young, twenty-something with a brand new college degree — could say in response to such a question was “It happens a lot in the military, unfortunately.” In a soft, overly sympathetic tone, she’d drone on: “There are many reasons. A weapon can just discharge unexpectedy, for example…” Several months into the so-called therapy sessions, she would transition into the tougher “Look, this isn’t going to get any easier for you, but it will become manageable” speech, complete with “We can focus on the negative things, and all of the things that have already happened and are beyond our control, or we can put our focus into the more positive: How can you control your future? How can you do something that will make your daddy proud?” That, of course, would lead into the lectures about going to college. Meagan was talked at so many times about college that year that she resented the hell out of its very existenece.
And in that time period, Meagan learned to be resentful of basically the entire world and everybody in it. She would have several angry outbursts — in class and during her hour-long segments with Ms. Nelseon. As a result, she lost a lot of the kids she used to hang out with and talk to before her father’s passig, because they feared she would hurt them. School administrators called for psychiatric care, but it wasn’t soemthing Meagan’s mother believed in nor could afford.
In Karen, it is believed that something snapped psychlogically, catapulting her into a deep, depressed state for the remainder of her life. She became utterly useless, barely making a sound, and all but ignored her own daughter’s very existence. It left Meagan feeling neglected, more lonely than she ever had at any other point in her life. After all, her mom and dad were the only two people she ever really had in this world. At just sixteen, she suffered the remainder of the school year before running away. A backpack filled with everything she owned slung over one shoulder, she didn’t have to sneak out at dawn. She crossed the threshold of the front door, in the middle of the day, with the only adult supervisor sitting in a chair in front of the kitchen window, staring out into nothingness. Meagan would have called someone for Karen, have her placed in an institution, but she refused to get herself placed in the foster care system. Instead, she crossed the neighbor’s lawn and left a note on the door: IT’S MEAGAN. I’M LEAVING. FOR GOOD. TAKE CARE OF MOM. GET HER SOME HELP. With no more reasons to stay in that North Carolina town, Meagan disappeared for good.
To accomplish her first goal, all Meagan had to do was hail a cab and get to the airport… which was deep in the city and about an hour drive from the town she was in. It was no problem, though, since Meagan had been saving up her money for this moment. She would have just enough. As the cab pulled up at the curb just outside her mother’s house, Meagan ran for it like there was no tomorrow.
She did at least have a specific destination in mind: Chicago. Why there? For no other reason than a friend at school had mentioned it. Well, not really a friend, the girl was barely an aquantance. And she didn’t really just mention it. She offered Meagan an extra ticket to come along, and also to stay with her at her father’s multi-bedroom mansion. “My dad won’t care,” she stated sourly. “He hardly pays any attention to me.” Meagan thought she was just bragging about the mansion, and also questioned her motives for being so kind. Really, though, what choice did she have? This was the only opportunity she was going to get if she wanted to strike out on her own. Not wanting to leave her friends in North Carolina, Katrina Wayworth had been able to make a deal with her dad, who had moved to Chicago for his job. She was to stay with her auntie Carrol — whom she couldn’t stand — during the school year and in return she would return to visit him over the Summer. Daddy Wayworth had also been providing Kat — as she liked to be called — with a more than sustainable allowance, provided on one of his many credit cards. “It’s got a thousand-dollar limit on it,” she had once bragged to Meagan in art class. She was a spoiled rich kid, no doubt. With violet red hair that went down just below her shoulders and existed in spiraly curls, big, brown eyes, and a pair of breasts that were more than just handfuls, she was pretty much everything a horny teenaged boy dreamed of. Meagan’s impressions of her weren’t all that great — in fact, she though her peer to be pretty shallow — but enduring a twelve-hour bus ride with her seemed to be the ticket to freedom. She put no thought into what she was going to do once she got to the city, other than to probably ditch Kat once she got there. All Meagan knew was that she desperately wanted to start over.
The trip to Chicago wasn’t nearly as bad as Meagan had thought. For one thing, Kat met her as promised, and she did indeed have a ticket for her fellow traveler. It was Meagan’s first time boarding a plane, and boy, was it exciting! Kat shared her first time riding on a plane, then the girls talked about other first-time experiences — a lot of which Meagan hadn’t experienced yet — until the conversations grew more serious. Kat talked first about her annoying aunt, since Meagan was less than enthusiastic about opening up to someone who was still a stranger. After hearing Katrina’s stories of her crazy fights with her “insanse psycho freak” of an aunt, Meagan identified with that feeling of “being trapped” and “like no one ever understands me.” So she decided to see Kat’s crazy aunt with her own addicted mother, and raise her a father who was almost always gone on military exploits and trainings only to die and leave his tiny, broken family behind. She even confided to Kat that when she had left for the bus station, she left her mom “wigging out” at home and “had to ask the neighbors to get her into a psych ward or something.” Meagan wanted to sound just as cold and unattatched as Kat, even though on the inside was neverending hurt, a trick which seemed to work. “Wow,” Kat said, looking sheepish after a long pause. “I would have shut my trap about my own problems had I known how bad yours were… No offense.” Meagan didn’t have anything to say to that. Kat put an arm around Meagan’s shoulders. “Let’s make a plan. You can forget all about your life back there. I know a guy — he’s my boyfriend, really — who can help you get a job. If you wanna finish school, my old man can help you get your GED. Swear to God, he’s cool like that. And like I said, he won’t be the wiser. I’ll just tell him you’re staying for the summer, and he’ll buy it. Carlos will help us figure it out from there.”
It all sounded really good to Meagan… Still, she wasn’t sure she could trust this girl. Or her folks, if she was even telling the truth about them. At any rate, Meagan had no chance at this point to make another escape today: Waiting for them at the bottom of the escaladors in Chicago’s air port was none other than Kat’s father.
Middle school contained some of the best years of Meagan’s life – That is, before she ran into Damien. She supposed she owed that to the fact that most of those years were spent in one town in Japan.
She had spent most of the sixth grade in Germany before having to move just before the end of the school year. While in Japan, she expected to struggle. Instead, she took a liking to the Japanese teenagers almost immediately. Like in just about every other school, there were cliques in this school. From Meagan’s first day there, she had a reputation as a fearsome fighter. During morning recess, before classes were to begin, a misunderstanding developed with a fellow student involving the student’s boyfriend. The student ended up on the ground and holding a bloodied nose, with Meagan standing over her. There wasn’t a teacher or staff member around to see it, but there were plenty of students. By lunchtime, everyone knew the name Meagan Chaney. While she sat and ate her lunch, plenty of students came up to her table to pay their respects. Meagan was baffled. One student, an older boy, asked her to join his underground fight cub. She told him she’d think about it. At the bottom of the lunch hour, a small group of girls who called themselves “Mitsugumi,” meaning triplets, and who Meagan had met that morning, came to her with a proposition: They had the same six classes with Meagan every day. They also supposedly needed protection from bullies. So in return for protection, the three girls would provide her with loyalty, friendship, and brains: If Meagan found herself struggling with homework assignments or tests, or just didn’t feel like doing them, she now had a hook-up. It was a deal. Meagan now had a tight circle of friends and belonged in a clique for the first time in her life, which the “triplet” girls renamed “Osore,” or fear. Word of the group spread through the school like a wild fire, and if anybody had ever messed with those girls before, no one ever did again.
After that first day, Meagan couldn’t wait to tell her father how it went. As soon as she got the chance, she jumped on it, leaving no details out. Ronald Chaney seemed proud of her for standing up for herself – “Don’t ever let a bully punk you,” he had always told her — yet he frowned at one point during the conversation. “Have you not opened up to your mother about this?” That took Meagan by surprise. She hadn’t even given that notion the time of day. Now she explained to her dad exactly why. “Well, dad, you know how mom gets — She’d freak out. Tell me I’ll get kicked out of school and how that will create problems trying to find another school…” She paused then, feeling she’d made her point. “Well… Yes,” Ron began. “I guess my point, though, is that she still needs to know what’s going on with your life. She tells me that you two aren’t close with one another lately.” Uh-oh. Meagan knew where her dad was going with this and she didn’t like it. “It’s breaking her heart… Start spending time with her. Maybe you could join her book club and go to meetings with her after school. Or you two could sew or bake together.” Holding back a heavy sigh, feeling the sting of her father’s sudden authoritative tone, Meagan went into the next room of their rented-out two-story house to deliver the great news to Karen Chaney. It wasn’t that she hated her mother. Meagan just couldn’t connect with the woman. Her opiates-to-alcohol ratio were working together like fire and gasoline, as she liked to take her pain meds with her vodka. Karen had gotten into a car accident with a friend years before Meagan was born. In that accident, she had broken her back and, as a result, the future mother was left out of a job. She was also left with two things to take place of a job: chronic pain, and addiction. Both of which would worsen over the years. While pregnant, Karen hadn’t taken any pills or consumed any liquor – to the best of Meagan’s knowledge. But soon after bringing her newborn home, she’d started up again. The 42-year-old wouldn’t go on benders, or anything, but she would stay at home and basically deteriorate. Moving around constantly, and hardly seeing her husband anymore – or her daughter, for that matter – drove her into depression. It was Ron who had finally encouraged her to join a book club, since she loved to do that. After doing so, Karen went when she wasn’t in unbearable pain… or reeking of alcohol. Karen had also taken up sewing and baking again to pass the time at home, when she wasn’t cleaning or organizing the place. Meagan, in the meantime, stayed out of the house as much as possible, and only enjoyed being there when her father was. Once Meagan brought up her so-called intentions of extra quality time to Karen, one could imagine the reaction: Meagan’s mother rejoiced, literally brought to tears. That was another thing about Karen Chaney that her teenaged daughter had learned to resent: her bipolar-like emotions. She could become extremely saddened, happy, or furious at the drop of a hat – sometimes for no reason. It had caused a rift between mother and daughter that mother had apparently just noticed.. “We will begin baking at once!” Karen exclaimed. “And while we wait for everything to bake, I can teach you how to sew. We’ll start small: with pillowcases!” Following that statement, Karen clapped giddily. Oh, dad, Meagan thought. What monster have you created? As the days passed, Meagan endured the grueling company of her own birth mother for about as long as she could take it, until she decided to start engaging in her own extracurricular activities – ones that would take her straight from school to wherever the-hell-outta-there was. She found out about an after-school junior martial arts program in town, just down the street from her school, and she couldn’t have felt luckier. Fighting. The honorable way. Something that was in her blood and she could do it without getting into trouble. After begging her father to get her in – which he agreed to only when she agreed on spending equal time with her mother, a deal she never upheld her end of – she began going there every Tuesday and Thursday. The rest of the week was spent either with friends and acquaintances, or practicing Jiu jitsu on her own… Mostly, it was the latter.
In the meantime, for the rest of the school year, kids continually came up to Meagan bearing money in exchange for protection from certain bullies. This continued until midway through the eighth grade. She never informed her parents of this, for she knew it was wrong and yet she liked having her own money. It was something real and tangible that she got to earn doing the thing she loved most. On her pay-days, she’d go out to sports stores and buy sparing gear, with which she stored in the garage and used when she brought friends by. The rest of the money she saved. After a while, her bodyguard duties became an annoyance for the teenaged American vigilante. She became someone who was always solving other peoples’ problems. When her operation was finally disrupted by school administrators, and the principal called her into his office to warn her that she’d be kicked out of school if she didn’t cease and desist, it came as a relief for Meagan. At the end of the eighth grade was Meagan’s finale Jiu jitsu tournament. Her father attended, very excited for his daughter and cheering her on all the way. Her mother didn’t attend, as she hadn’t known about Meagan’s involvement in fighting – as was part of the deal between father and daughter. Meagan took first place in her class at the tournament. To celebrate, her dad took her out for dinner and ice cream, showing off her trophy to strangers. It was the most wonderful night of Meagan’s life.
When she was sixteen, the worst day of her life happened. She was in her sophomore biology class, goofing off with her friends since the first midterms of the year had already ended and there was nothing left to do. An aide from the front office came in and saw her laughing with her friends. What she had to inform the young girl couldn’t have been easy for anyone. Calling her over, the aide took a deep breath. The moments it took for Meagan to get across the room were the last anyone would ever see her smile again. It would be known to most as the day the light disappeared from Meagan Chaney’s eyes. For Meagan, it was the day she died inside. “Megan,” the lady from the office said. “There’s been an accident… Your father… It’s not good.” Meagan gasped. “We’ve called your mother to come pick you up for the day. Get your things and come with me.”
Before every fight, Meagan always sat alone in the locker room for a time before going out to the ring. This was her process. This was how she got her mind ready. She could be in the best physical shape of her life, like she was right now, but her mindset was everything. She understood that. She respected that. And she learned a lot about herself throughout the years of her young life, like how much she loved music. No one ever seemed to understand, or care, but music ran through her bloodstream. It could calm her when she was stressed, make her happy when she was feeling blue, or enhance her anger and channel it into a starving motivation to win… The latter was what she needed right now.
First things first, though. What Meagan liked to do before listening to a few songs on her Spotify to “pump her up” was to give herself a mental rundown of everything that pissed her off that she could think of. Mostly, she thought about all the people that had angered her, left scars on her memory that she couldn’t erase. The bullying she had to endure while she was in school… Man, that grated on her nerves almost more than anything. Most recently, her supervisor at the grocery store – ex- supervisor, more appropriately – had humiliated her in front of all her coworkers, not to mention dozens of shoppers she didn’t even know, on her last day there. Yeah… That guy. He was still fresh in her mind. Dick… That was his name, and, really, how fitting. The more she thought about Dick, the angrier she got, so she kept focusing on him. For fifteen minutes, she sat on the cold cement bench, staring at the wall and seeing nothing but her former boss’s arrogant face, and what he did to her, until she growled and stood up quickly. She smacked the locker in front of her – her locker – with the palm of her hand multiple times without stopping. Then she screamed. Heavily, she sat back down. Now, she was ready to listen to some music. She took out her phone. There was still fifteen minutes, give or take, left until showtime.
This was about to be the fight of her life – the womens’ light heavyweight championship of the MMA, one that could be the difference between her getting into the UFC world, and continuing being a nobody. For her three songs, she chose: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor; “Take It Outside” by Brantley Gilbert; and her newest personal favorite, “Catch Hell” by Adam Calhoun and Katie Noel. Meagan’s favorite part of the last song was one that spoke directly to the strong, young woman:
“Two times, hit ‘em two times,
Castin’ out these demons like I’m castin’ out a line
I ain’t lyin’ fist fight me. Hoowee, like a girl…”
Once she was finished listening to her songs, she was satisfied that she was mentally ready to enter the ring. Now or never, she told herself. You got this.
A loud knock at the door of the locker room signaled that her manager, Damien was ready to lead her out to battle. Damien Gray was more than just her manager. He was the man who gave her her first real start, who saved her from herself, and the only true friend she had left in the whole wide world. “Ready for you, girl,” she heard him holler from the other side of the door. Calmly, slowly, and deliberately, Meagan stood up, put her phone back into her duffle, locked up her locker, and walked out to meet Damien.