Max Farrier wanted to follow in the family footsteps and join the Navy once, but he’s better off focusing on just surviving his last year of school and going to work in Aunt Donna’s shop once it’s over.
After an incident at school puts Max in the hospital, Aunt Donna’s had enough. She signs him up for private lessons at a Muay Thai gym. Boxing—she says—will change everything.
But it’s not boxing that starts to poke holes in Max’s stupor—it’s his sparring partner. Cian is fifty percent mouth, fifty percent attitude, and isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with a bully in the street. Cian takes what he wants, and doesn’t let anyone stand in his way—not even himself.
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|Publisher:||NineStar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.62(d)|
Read an Excerpt
"MAX, GET YOUR trainers on and let's go."
Max blinked at the suddenly open bedroom door and Aunt Donna's skinny frame doing an impressive job of filling the gap.
"I have errands to run, and as your mum's at work and you're not, you're going to help me."
"But Mum said I'm supposed to rest."
"You're perfectly fine," Aunt Donna retorted. "They only kept you in to stop your mum fussing so much. There's nothing wrong with you. Now get a T-shirt and shorts on and get in the van."
"In the van? We're going out?"
"That would be why you need trainers," she returned and stalked out. Aunt Donna stalked most places, so Max tried not to take it personally, but ... still. He had a headache. She'd have a headache too, if Tom Fallowfield had kicked her in the head with a pair of brand new Timberlands on.
But then, there was no arguing with Aunt Donna, so Max heaved his bulk off the bed — which groaned appreciatively — and switched off the TV. He'd been working his way through Ashes to Ashes, one of Aunt Donna's favourites, but it would have to wait.
Max had been taken to hospital, because Tom had knocked him out. Mum had cried her eyes out, and they'd kept him in until Saturday lunchtime before releasing him. He'd just had a headache anyway, the doctor said, and he ought to be more careful when larking about with his friends. But it wasn't the headache that was worrying Max. It was the whole kicked in the head thing. On purpose. He'd never lark about with Tom Fallowfield — he wasn't suicidal.
Tom had never kicked him in the head. Shoved it into the urinals in the boys' toilets occasionally, and he'd pissed on him once doing that too, but he'd never kicked him in the head. And Max could remember Jazz laughing. Jazz had thought it was hilarious, and what if it wasn't just a one-off? What if ...?
"Max! Hurry up!"
Max pushed away the what-ifs and pulled on a pair of shorts, the waistband cutting a groove into his gut. They were meant to be baggy, but weren't really, and bunched up his boxers uncomfortably. The T-shirt was properly baggy, but the slogan had stretched from Max's body forcing the shirt to expand with it, and the letters were misshapen and grotesque. Even his trainers were sagging. His fat ankles had pushed the tops open too wide, the laces struggling to hold the shoes tight over his boat-like feet.
But Max was used to all that. It was the heat when he lumbered downstairs and stepped out of the house that nearly knocked him flat.
"Oh my God," he said to Aunt Donna, who was already in the driver's seat of her battered work van. She smirked and jerked her head at the passenger seat, big sunglasses already in place.
"Bit warm, isn't it?"
The T-shirt was already sticking to Max's chest, sweat lines beginning to form under his breasts — and yes, he had them. Jazz particularly enjoyed throwing water at him at school so they'd show through his white shirt, and calling him a lardy girl disguised as a lardier boy. The seatbelt didn't help, plastering a thick damp line right between them. Max rolled his window all the way down, barely resisting the urge to stick his head out like a dog, as Aunt Donna rolled the van backwards off the driveway and forced it into gear with a hefty clang.
"How's your face feel?"
Max shrugged. "S'okay." Half of it was brown and purple, but it looked worse than it felt.
"Enough's enough, Max."
Max worried at his bottom lip, twisting the thick flesh between his front teeth.
"Three schools you've been through, and all of them you've been bullied. You can't keep swapping schools forever."
"You're already behind in your schoolwork, and your teachers are all telling your mum that you're not pulling your weight in class."
"You're going to throw your future away —"
"It's not my fault," Max protested. "I don't ask them to do it!"
"You're a target," Aunt Donna said firmly. "You don't stand up for yourself and —"
"He kicked me in the head!"
"For goodness' sake, Max, you're a big man! You —"
"Fatso Farrier, that's me."
"I said big, not fat," Aunt Donna returned. "You're tall and broad, the weight notwithstanding. Even if you lost it all and turned into an Olympic athlete, you'd still be a big man. You're like your father in that respect, and he wasn't fat by any means. And a big man like you — especially at your age, you'll probably get even bigger before you're through, I reckon you'll see six-foot easy — has no excuse for not even attempting to defend himself."
Max squirmed uncomfortably. "I don't like fighting," he mumbled.
"You don't have to like it, but you have to know how to do it." Aunt Donna swung the van off at the wrong exit from a roundabout, and Max frowned in confusion as they headed away from the shops and any errands he'd supposed she had to run. Brilliant. The 'errand' was a talking-to where Mum couldn't stick up for him, then.
"I can't fight."
"Everyone can learn how."
"Well, I can't."
"Yes, you bloody well will. You're letting smaller, cowardly little bastards beat you up for shits and giggles and not lifting a finger to defend yourself. It's not your fault they look to you in the first place, but you have a lot of control over whether they come back for seconds."
"But Mum says violence —"
"Your mum has had a nice, sheltered life where she's never been truly threatened." Her voice softened ever so slightly. "You and I know better, Max. Being a pacifist when someone's trying to kick your head in is just stupid. You have to know how to defend yourself."
"I could just fall on them," Max mumbled.
Aunt Donna snorted and swung the van into what looked like an old warehouse yard. Little brick-built units surrounded a central parking court, with a garage at one end belching heavy metal and the shrill sound of drilling into the sticky-hot air. A greasy-spoon cafe was at the other end, blocked in by other, dirtier work vans, and farting the greasy smell of beans and burnt sausages over the melting tarmac.
"Breakfast?" Max asked hopefully.
"You wish," Aunt Donna said. "Come on." She jumped down, light as anything, while Max tumbled, nearly stumbling to his knees as the heat assaulted him again. "I know the bloke who runs this place — his brother's a regular at the shop, television engineer or something like that ..."
"Okay," Max said as Aunt Donna rummaged in the back of the van and chucked a rucksack at him. "What's that got to do with me?"
She just walked off. Kind of like the stalking around thing, that was Aunt Donna to a T, so Max shouldered the bag and followed her, thinking she was going to buy him a punching bag for the back garden or something stupid like that.
The unit Aunt Donna's mate's brother ran was between a building supplies business and a carpet fitters. It was barely a window and a door, paint peeling off the walls, and a damp little room beyond. Aunt Donna simply signed her name on a piece of paper on the unattended desk inside and stomped up a narrow flight of stairs into —
Into a huge, cavernous space — obviously the top floor across all the units in this row. At the end of the unnecessarily large lobby area was a manned, tidy desk, with a long corridor of doors stretching out behind it. There was music, and the dank mix of sweat and Lynx deodorant, and — worst of all — posters upon posters on the walls.
"No," he said to Aunt Donna.
A boy at the desk looked up at his voice, and a huge, ridiculously white smile bloomed across his thin face. He was tall and skinny, maybe twenty years old, with long dreadlocks and a face full of metal.
"Auntie Donna!" he crowed in a faint Caribbean accent, oddly mixed with Cornish. 'Auntie' was 'Anty,' but 'Donna' was dragged out longer in the South West fashion, and Max blinked, startled at the mix. "How you been, Auntie? You been avoiding the scene?"
"Just busy, Cal," Aunt Donna said, leaning over the desk to hug him briefly. "Got a wedding to plan, haven't I? Can't be playing the scene with seating arrangements in my head!"
"Ah, more fool you, Auntie Donna! Always play the scene," Cal returned jovially and then beamed at Max.
"Cal, this is my stepson, Max. I called Lewis about setting something up for him. Is he around?"
"Second bag room," Cal said, and Aunt Donna's hand clamped down like a claw on Max's shoulder. "He's with Cian on warm-up — I can hear the music. Just go right in. Pete has the main classes today."
"Special treatment for me, huh?" Aunt Donna shoved Max down the corridor. It was cooler there, but the music was louder — "Eye of the Tiger" — and there were no windows, giving it a slightly close, grim feel.
"I'm not boxing," Max said.
"No, you're not," Aunt Donna replied. "This is Muay Thai, not western boxing. Far more intensive as a workout, far more dangerous in a street fight."
"I'm not ... Muay ... Thai-ing either!"
"Yes, you bloody well are," Aunt Donna retorted. "I'm sick of watching you coming and going from school like someone's murdered your puppy every damn day, and I'm sick of your mum worrying and crying over it. You are perfectly capable of defending yourself, but you've let those bullies into your head. Your problem isn't that you're fat or you're out of shape, Max, it's your confidence. A kid who walks around like he owns the place doesn't get challenged nearly as much as the kid who hides in the shadows. You have a bullseye painted on your back, and Lewis can get rid of it."
"But I don't want to —"
"You want to get kicked in the head by that idiot Fallowfield lad instead, is that it?"
"No, but —"
"No buts. I've signed you up for sixteen weeks of —"
"— intensive, personal training with Lewis. It'll build your self-esteem and your confidence, and that's what you need, Max. End of story."
"And if I refuse to come?"
Aunt Donna folded her arms over her chest. "If you miss even two sessions of your sixteen-week course here — no job at the shop when your GCSEs are over."
Max paled. Aunt Donna worked in an independent electronics shop that offered electronics apprenticeships to any of the local teenagers who wanted to be a skivvy for shit pay. It was Max's ticket out of school — if he was on an apprenticeship, he wouldn't have to attend sixth form with Jazz and his cronies anymore.
"You wouldn't," he croaked.
"But — but Aunt Donna — I'd have to — I'd have to go to school!"
"You'd have to face those idiots for two more years," Aunt Donna agreed. She stuck her chin out and raised her eyebrows. "So you can do that, with no tools to defend yourself, or you can do this and still have the chance to turn tail and run once you're sixteen. It's up to you."
Except it wasn't, because what kind of a horrible choice was that? Max stared at the floor, at his boat-like trainers, and scowled.
"Fine," he mumbled and pushed open the door behind which "Eye of the Tiger" had clicked over into a fast-paced version of "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Just in time to see a stocky black man in red boxing gloves smash his fist forward, and a skinny blond kid go crashing to the floor.
"Max," Aunt Donna said, "meet Lewis."CHAPTER 2
"AND LEWIS, THIS is Max, my stepson."
The black man grinned. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet, gloved fists hovering around his waist, and he spoke thickly around a red gumshield. "Wi' you in a mirret, Dorra!"
The blond kid started to stagger drunkenly to his feet, looking a little dazed, and Lewis hooked an arm under his elbow and hauled.
The kid blinked and then nodded. With that, Lewis let go and stomped over the crash mats towards Max and Donna. He spat the gumshield into a plastic cup of water on a table by the door and began to unlace his gloves with his teeth.
"How's things, eh, Donna? Shop still going well? Heard you were getting married, you sneaky tart!"
"Can't play the scene forever, Lewis," Donna said and clapped Max on the shoulder. "This is Lucy's son."
Lewis squinted at Max and cocked his head. "One of the Farrier clan? Fuck me, must be, look at the shoulders on you, boy!" Unlike Cal at the desk, Lewis spoke with a Southampton accent, very quick and blurry. "And all that hair, looks like George Farrier before he fucked off to fuck his way around the Far East!"
"That's my uncle," Max said, unsure of quite how to respond to that. "Luke Farrier was my dad."
"Ah, sorry lad, shame what happened to Luke," Lewis said and then shrugged. "I didn't know him, like, but I've been around here long enough I remember them coming and going, whole clan of 'em, John and Mary Farrier's lads. Must've been most of the navy recruits from round here, Farriers!"
"Probably," Aunt Donna agreed. "Max needs some intensive training. Weight management secondary to confidence building, quite frankly. He's being bullied at school."
"Aunt Donna!" Max mumbled, going red.
"Been there," Lewis said cheerfully. "Cian! Cian, move your skinny arse over here!"
Max coloured as the skinny blond boy came over, and turned out to be a skinny blonde girl. Which was even worse. Max got embarrassed enough in PE in front of the other boys, but in front of the girls, it was just humiliating. Sweating in a tank top that showed off the fact he had the biggest breasts in the class was hardly the way to impress a girl.
Not that Cian seemed to really care. She just looked bored, shifting on her feet like she wanted to go and do laps around the mats or something.
"Muay Thai is about brute force," Lewis said, "and while someone outweighing you by a metric ton is going to be an issue, you're worse off if he's taller than heavier than you. And you and Cian are about the same height."
That much was true. Cian was a tall girl. She was maybe seventeen or so — Max had only started really growing properly last winter, so he was still lumbering along at five foot eight. But Cian was easily five seven herself, and most of it —
Muscle, actually. She looked boyish. Long limbs, wiry arms. Max could see the white strap of her sports bra under her tank top, and he shifted uncomfortably as his brain tried to mentally remove the top. Bad idea. No girl built like that, shifting from foot to foot and wearing a fat lip from her boxing instructor punching her in the face, was going to take his staring well.
He dropped his eyes to the floor instead and felt the sticky flush creeping up his neck.
"Cian's a lot lighter'n you are, but height's the important thing, and we don't want to beat the hell out of you just yet!" Lewis continued, and Max risked another glance upwards.
Lighter? No duh. Like, major understatement. For all she was tall, Cian was probably eight stone at the outside, and Max was sixteen. And at a second glance — the flush got worse, because once Max pushed past the lean muscle and awkward-looking gumshield — Cian was pretty. She was pale and freckly, with bright blue eyes and short-cropped hair the colour of wet sand. Rather than gloves, she wore strips of cloth around her palms and knuckles, and had long fingers but small hands when she stuck one out to shake Max's.
"Hi," Max mumbled, but Cian didn't say anything.
Great. Just great. Max had, to put it very bluntly, a thing for blue-eyed blondes. Learning to box with a nearly naked blue-eyed blonde was going to be torture. And constantly humiliating himself in front of her —
Yeah. This was going to be great for his confidence.
Thanks, Dr Donna.
"Honestly, Max, when your Donna here sounded out your situation to me, I thought immediately of our Cian. You've had your fair share of self-esteem issues and shitty kids at school, haven't you, Cian?"
That was met with silence and an epic eye-roll.
"Naff off, you little shit. Anyway. I figured best start you off quiet and private, like, with someone who's a bit sympathetic to where you are."
Max wanted to point out there was no way Cian had ever been fat, or even a bit chubby, but he held his tongue. Best not annoy the guy who beat up kids — Cian was sporting a bruise to match Max's black eye already — or the kid who was probably built out of steel ropes.
"Got a kit?"
Max blinked. "Um, what?"
"Have you got a kit?" Lewis repeated.
"In the bag," Aunt Donna said and smiled. "Have fun, Max. I'll pick you up in two hours."
"Two hours?" Max exclaimed.
"Hour and a half lesson, half an hour to mop yourself up in the changing rooms," Lewis said. "Cian, show him where the changing rooms are. And no fucking chocolate, or whatever else you've smuggled in. You need a protein shake, not a milkshake, you skinny little bastard."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Big Man"
Copyright © 2018 Matthew J. Metzger.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
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