Fit for a King by Daria Blake

CHAPTER ONE

JENNIFER

* * *

“Come on, Jen. It’s just a gym.” I sit in the parking lot, staring through the windshield at the front door of the jiu jitsu academy, trying to work up the courage to leave my car and step inside. I’m not afraid of the work—I’ve been inside dozens of gyms since getting the go-ahead from my doctor to return to the mat. Dozens of other gyms. Other gyms in an effort to avoid this one.

The only way I got the approval to get back to training was with the caveat that I do it with someone licensed in physical therapy so I wouldn’t re-injure myself in the process. After all my surgeries, and the months of relearning how to use my body for basic things like walking and climbing stairs and keeping my balance, I need to work with a coach who understands that I am rebuilding. I need someone who can push me in training while understanding my limits and then as my limits improve, keep pushing me, but only so far at a time.

My doctor was adamant that I wasn’t going to be able to roll on the mat with sparring partners the way I used to. The odds were that it would never happen, but if there was a chance, I needed to build back to that. Slowly.

Even though I know what to do, and my body wants to do it, I have to be careful because my brain hasn’t yet learned that my body isn’t the same as it was. Just like my brain hasn’t yet accepted that not all coaches are created equal, and I need someone who really understands what I need and can tailor a plan for me. So far, every single coach I’ve seen has tried to drop me into their existing framework and every time I’ve ended up hurting myself—just as my doctor said I would.

I’ve been to every gym in a thirty-mile radius. I’ve seen everyone else there is. And here I am, at the first place my doctor recommended more than a year ago. The one place I would not go. One thing I have learned on my journey of healing is that pride has no place in recovery. And now I guess it’s time to apply that to getting back on the mat. I have to swallow my pride if I am ever going to make it. I took the scenic route to this destination because I was determined to find another way—any other way.

But I know now that there isn’t another way.

There is no one else who can help me.

I need him.

I need the one man I swore I would never give the time of day. I need the man who is living my life—the life I was meant to have. The man who saw his chance and took advantage of my situation being laid up in the hospital, in pieces and in pain. The jerk who swooped in and took what was meant to be mine.

And now I am here.

I am outside the gym I was meant to own. I’m cowering in my car like it’s a bunker. In a body that doesn’t feel like mine. About to choke down every ounce of my dignity and then face the enemy, on my knees.

“All right, Jen,” I whisper to myself. “Just go in there and do the work. This is the only way. You know this. Just go in there and look him in the eye and swallow your pride.”

Unbuckling my seatbelt feels like resignation. Pushing the door open feels like admitting defeat. I hate that I am walking in there needing something from him. I hate that I have no choice. I swore that I would never come to Matthew King asking for help. I’ve never even met the guy and I’ve hated him for almost two years.

And now I am here.

“All right, Garrett!” I channel my father’s militant bark as I slip my backpack onto my shoulders. “On your feet. Forward is that way!”

I turn in the seat and place my feet on the gravel, one-by-one, and then I grab my cane. Hoisting myself out of my car, I stand up and shake my head and smile to my reflection in the glass. The setting sun catches the edge of the scar above my eye, lest I forget that I am not who I used to be.

I lean on my cane and shuffle-hop back a step so I can shut the door. I can’t believe that I am back where this all started. It’s all a joke, right? Send in the clowns… It’s like the Universe keeps finding ways to tighten the screws.

“No one said it would be easy, Garrett.” My father’s voice is the one who got me through the past two years, and it’s the one that is going to get me through this. I’m stronger than I know. I can do anything. I’ve survived something I shouldn’t have, and I can survive this.