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Rocky Jr. walked into the gym, acting like a guy with confidence, secretly knowing better. Sweat and determination filled the air.
He heard grunts and the pounding of heavy weight bags.
In an instant, he was young again, watching his father. There was a magic to the way he moved. He thought back to one day in particular…
"Ayo, Pauley. You brought the kid with you?" His father, a legend in his son's eyes, took out his mouthpiece to smile at him.
He felt pride whenever his father noticed him. He felt important. Rocky Jr. loved his father.
Everyone knew that this seven year old kid from Philly worshipped his father.
And he wasn't the only one.
Mickey's gym was growing more popular by the minute. Tourists even came to snap photo's.
Mickey had passed. A tragic day for the world of boxing.
A devastating blow for Rocky. Time went on, but he knew even at a young age, that his father wasn't the same. It was in his eyes. He left half of his heart behind when they buried Mickey.
"Hey kid." Rocky looked down at his son.
"Yea dad?" His smile was automatic.
"How 'bout you and me do some sparring."
"Really!" Rocky Jr. jumped into the ring without hesitation.
His mother hated fighting and would never let him in the ring. She would be mad if she knew he was here but Uncle Pauley said what she doesn't know won't hurt her.
His gloves were taped around his wrist. His mouth guard was in. And his heart was pounding. He was going to spar with his dad. A real fighter.
"First thing, son," Rocky said as he bounced lightly from side to side, "You have to be light on your feet."
Rocky Jr charged for his dad and swung away ignoring the advice.
Rocky laughed and held him at arms length.
"Let's try this again. Go back to your corner. Watch me."
His father jabbed the air with his left. Then his right. Starting off slow, then speeding up.
His fists were faster then lightning.
Rocky Jr let his arms down in amazement.
"Now, follow me…." His father said.
And he did. For many years. Until time took him away…
Rocky Jr. lifted his shoulders up and down, trying to loosen up. He came here not knowing what to expect.
"Rocky, so glad you came." Brianna welcomed him with a smile as bright as the sun. Rocky Jr. ignored his heart when it skipped a beat.
At the mention of his father's name, everyone in the gym went still.
He could feel a thousand eyes weighing him down.
"Please, call me Jr." He said, as he followed her to the center ring.
"Alright. This is where you will be training today. Duke will be out shortly. In the meantime, I will show you to your locker room."
Rocky Jr. followed her and listened as she explained the rules of the gym. No steroids. No stealing. No unnecessary roughness.
When she was done, she picked up a duffle bag and headed toward the back.
"Wait, where are you going?" Rocky Jr. sounded pathetic, even to his own ears.
"To change in the women's locker room. Is that alright with you?"
She looked annoyed. But she couldn't have been more beautiful.
"Wait, change for what?" He asked, immediately regretting it.
"Women box too." She stormed off not even bothering to glance back.
Correction, now she was off the charts gorgeous.
Rocky rubbed his neck and tried to shake the nerves.
Duke was as much a legend as his father was.
He trained his father.
Rocky Jr. tried not to think of all the ways he knew he would never measure up.
After he changed, he headed out to the main floor. The gym was busy. Buckets of spit were being replaced every two seconds. There were grunts of pure adrenalin as the intense work outs commensed.
"Well, well, Rocky Jr. It's an honor son." Duke greeted him with a smile and a handshake. "I knew your father well. It's my pleasure to be training you."
"Thank you sir." Rocky Jr. didn't return the smile.
Thoughts of his father always left him feeling conflicted.
"Shall we?" Duke stepped on the rope to make an opening for him.
Rocky Jr. shook his head in agreement.
"Stick the jab. Keep her head down!"
About a half hour later, Rocky Jr. was drenched in sweat. His opponent didn't look phased. Duke yelled at him over and over. He kept messing up.
"Again!" Duke rang the bell.
Rocky Jr. kept an eye on his opponent. He quickly darted to the right. Rocky Jr. jabbed with his left. He missed.
A blinding pain shot across his torso as his opponent hit him in his side. He had an urge to hold his rib that was throbbing but his pride stopped him.
Out of breath, he darted from left to right. Keeping light in his feet.
He wasn't quick enough.
Rocky Jr. flinched as he saw the hit coming. The glove connected with his jaw sending him flying into the ropes and landing on the mat. He fell hard. He was tempted to stay down. But he was determined not to give up.
He pushed himself up with the last bit of strength he had, only to be knocked down again.
Disappointed in himself, he screamed and tossed off his headgear.
He made it back to the locker room before he noticed someone in the doorway.
Rocky Jr. sat on a bench, silent.
"You know, giving up is never the answer." Duke's deep voice echoed off the walls.
"Easy for you to say." Rocky Jr. looked down, ashamed.
"Son, it's not easy for me to say. Do you know how many times I wanted to quit this life? But I didn't. Because its as much a part of me as it is a part of you. But your heart has to be in it. Why did you say yes?"
"What?" Rocky Jr. glanced up.
"Why did you come here?"
"Do you want to fight?"
"I don't know." His mother's disapproving face flashed before his eyes.
"Well, until you figure it out, you're wasting both of our time. And it's a shame. Because you're actually quite good."
Duke left Rocky Jr. brooding in silence.
He knew she was there before he turned his head.
"Don't." Rocky Jr. whispered.
"I didn't say anything." Brianna replied.
"You didn't have too."
"Look," She said as she made her way to the bench and sat down, "It's your first day. Don't give up." She looked at him. Concern in her eyes. Or was it pity?
"Maybe I'm not the guy you're looking for." He looked at her tenderly.
"You are the guy we're looking for. Problem is you don't see yourself."
She got up to leave. She hesitated at the doorway and looked at him one last time.
"If you walk out that door today and never come back, then at least you can say you tried. But if you walk back in that ring right now you can say you conquered your fear. You can hold your head high, and know that so much greatness is in store for you. You just have to get out of your own way…"
"And how do you know this about me?"
"Because I see you."
She smiled sadly at him and left him sitting on the bench alone and contemplating his future.