Jasmine slid backwards from the window. The women training inside the gym spun out of sight as the hand on her right arm spun her around.
Beatrice was staring at her, green eyes bright under her short red hair. Her senior-year vest was unbuttoned, and Jasmine’s nose itched at the smell of cigarette smoke. But Beatrice did not let go of her arm.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Jasmine felt her cheeks getting warm. “Can you let go of my arm, please?” Her cheeks got warmer as Jasmine heard her own voice quaver. Behind her, even through the window, she could hear the clank of stake on stake as older girls sparred.
Jasmine nodded. Beatrice let go of her arm and stepped back. “Whatever, then. Stay out of my way.”
Beatrice had taken four steps before Jasmine managed to croak a hoarse “wait” from her sandpaper-dry throat. Beatrice turned back around and looked at Jasmine.
“I… I need training. They won’t train me. They said I wasn’t cut out for it.”
Beatrice laughed. “You mean you were too fat.”
It was like her shirt shrank, letting Jasmine really notice every jiggle. She shifted her backpack off her back and held it in front of her body. Beatrice sighed. “Jesus. Relax, kid. They’re idiots like that. Only one of them that’s ever gone hunting is Jeff Brown, and he doesn’t select the ones he trains.” Beatrice waved toward the gym. “Those girls? Their parents have money.”
“My parents are dead,” Jasmine said.
“That sucks,” Beatrice said.
Occasional muted sounds of sparring from the gym punctuated the silence between them.
Beatrice drew a cigarette and lighter from a pocket. As she lit it, the smoke hung low in the humid air. Her father’s voice rang in her head: That means rain’s coming, darling.
“Well, kid,” Beatrice said, “I gotta get back before they notice I’m not studying in study hall.” She turned to leave again.
“Wait -” Jasmine’s voice stopped the older girl again. “Since he can’t – ” she pointed to the gym, ” – can you train me?”
Beatrice choked on a lungful of smoke, then laughed as she walked away. Jasmine would not let her lip tremble as she turned back around to watch the other, chosen girls train.