Chapter I: In Which Thalia Arrives
Word Count: 3,100+
Beta Reader: ForeverAGallagherGirl135—thank you a lot!
A/N: Well, hello everyone! This is a story that has been developing alone inside my mind. I don't exactly know how I got the idea, but I hope you like it and tell me what you think. For my story "The Girl behind the Mask" I'll update soon, don't worry! If I take my time it's because there are three tests left—thank you, dear teachers, for doing the most difficult tests at the end. Well, I think that's everything needed to say, so I hope you enjoy the story!
"Thirty seconds, Annabeth," my trainer, Chiron, says. Over his hand rests a timer, which indicates that there are thirty seconds left before the time runs out. "You can do it."
It always stresses me when people tell me what to do. Bossy people are hateful. This time is different, though. I'm really thankful with Chiron. He deserves to be obeyed―besides, he's a trainer, and trainers are supposed to tell you what to do. About fifty other students train in the gym every day, and out of them all, he prefers to train me rather than the others. I'll always be indebted to him for that. Thanks to him teaching me, I've become what I am now―a fighter.
Pressured by the thirty seconds remaining, my pace quickens in my hands and arms. Both of my fists connect with the punching bag, one after another, even reaching a moment when my knuckles are sore and white. Fifteen seconds. My force increases with every hit, causing the bag to swing from one side to another. When the time's over there's a dimple over the black leather, marking where my fists were once hitting non-stop.
Chiron clicks on one of the timer's upper buttons, stopping the count in three minutes exactly. A satisfied smile starts spreading over his face. "About three hundred hits," he says, nodding approvingly, "in only three minutes. Congratulations, Annabeth. That's your new record―needless to say, I'm sure you'll break it soon enough."
"Way to go, best friend," Luke says, who has been standing next to Chiron since three minutes ago. His muscular arms wrap around my waist, pulling me to an embrace while I stare dreamingly at the ceiling―caused by the quantity of hits I threw, of course, not by him. Not every day you get to beat your last record. Last time we checked, in three minutes all I gave were about one hundred and fifty hits. I can't believe I doubled my record!
"You're doing really well, Annabeth. Keep working like that," adds Chiron, clapping his hands slowly and still nodding at me. This is something I've always liked from him since the first day. The way he congratulates me makes me feel that at least someone is proud of what I do. He's there to be proud of me. He's proud of what my father isn't, because Mr. Frederick Chase is way too busy being New York City's mayor.
"Thank you," I say while jumping on the balls of my feet, a small grin appearing on my face. "What now, Chiron? Abs? Push-ups? Running laps around the gym?"
"Hey, calm down," says Luke, forcing me to stop jumping. "You've got to rest also."
"What for, Luke?" I ask, resuming my jumping. "I still can give more. Don't worry."
"Luke's right," Chiron says, nodding in agreement, "you need to rest. I know you can give more, but you've to take it easy. Remember you cannot force your body much yet. All in due time."
"That's my final decision, Annabeth. You're the best of my students and I don't want you to get harmed. Understand?"
I can't argue with what he says. There are two options: resign and obey or make Chiron angry by arguing with him. It's obvious, isn't it? Chiron being angry is not something you would like to see. It's something scary, even for a man in a wheelchair who lost the ability to walk when a car ran over his legs.
Now I nod, releasing an enormous sigh. "Understood," I say.
His intense brown eyes meet with mine, a little smile appearing on his face. "You know what?" he asks. "Let's make a deal. I'll give you another activity to do, but it won't be very tiring. Deal?
"Deal!" I say, crouching and pulling him to an embrace. Chuckles escape from his mouth as I do it, something I wish my father would do when I give him a hug. Instead, my father ignores me. Most of the time it's because he's busy talking on the phone.
"Okay, this is what you'll do―Luke, you're her training partner, so you'll do the same." Chiron says, pointing to where Luke should position himself. "You two will practice tournament combat. It's not something that we practice a lot. Besides, you need to start training, because there might be a tournament soon. And I want both of you to win those trophies if it's possible."
Hearing that makes me feel kind of depressed. In the time I've been here there have been about four tournaments. Every student here has at least gone to one and competed. Luke even has three first place trophies at home. But out of every fighter here, I'm the only person who hasn't gone to one. You know, being the Mayor's daughter, it's 'dangerous' to be outside the city according to my mother.
If she only knew how many times I get hit here during training...did I mention that no one of my family knows I come to train here? If they knew, I would be in trouble. But because it's a secret, no one will know.
"Annabeth," says Chiron, snapping me out of my thoughts, "you're not paying attention."
My cheeks flush red, and I say, "Sorry, I got distracted."
"And you were the one who wanted to train," Luke says, folding his arms over his chest and shaking his head.
My glare is intimidating―or at least that's how I think it's perceived since Luke's expression turns into a nervous one. Maybe it's because I'm quite good in tournament combat and he'll pay if he messes with me.
"I'm sorry," I say, still glaring at Luke. "Could you please continue explaining?"
Chiron nods and starts again. "You two have practiced tournament combat before, but let me remind you the rules. Remember―a kick on the head is equal to two points. You can kick wherever you want on the head except on the face. If the opponent starts bleeding, he has the right to ask for your disqualification.
"A kick or hit on the abdomen or thorax equals to one point. A point will be given to the opponent if it receives a lower hit―especially if it's a man."
Behind Chiron, Luke covers his lower region jokingly, and it makes me want to laugh, but I contain it by biting the skin inside my mouth. Really, he wants me to be in trouble.
"Here," Chiron continues, "you can use all the space you want. But remember―in a tournament you have limited space. And…I think it's all. Finish this and you two are done for today. The victor will be the one who gets…three points is fine. Then, both of you can leave. Understood?"
"Understood," Luke and I say in unison.
"Very well. You can start now. Oh, and remember you've got to learn to dodge and block hits and kicks. Attacking isn't everything."
That's the last thing he says before turning around and heading to check on the other students. Everyone's doing a different training. Some of them are learning to dodge, others are learning to block, others are conditioning themselves first, and others are learning to hit faster―like me a few moments ago.
Luke raises his forearms in front of him and positions himself in a combat position, ready to block any hit that can reach him. I do the same, and the combat begins.
We start walking in circles, staring at each other. He, just like I am, is cautiously analyzing whenever an attack might come from the other. A teasing smile appears on his face, daring me to leap forward and do something. I'm not stupid, though. I know it's a trap. He always does it. The first time we fought he did it, and I naively felt into it. But it no longer works.
Through the months, I've analyzed his movements. He wants me to attack so he can leap backwards and attack me back. But I'm not going to. Instead, I think I have a counterattack against his technique. But before I do, I've got to get one point, so my technique can end with this match.
He finally decides to do something, leaping forward and stretching his arm to my abdomen. Luck is on my side because I instantly think of something. Before his fist can touch over my abdomen, I use my forearm to block the hit, hitting it and sending it to another direction. Meanwhile, my other arm stretches out quickly, my fist connecting with his thorax.
"Point for me," I announce triumphantly.
"That was luck," he says while steadying himself. Once again, he positions himself back on combat position. I do the same, putting my plan into action. I just have to wait for the teasing smile to appear again.
There it is. The smile spreads on his face, daring me. And I pretend to leap forward and attack.
He leaps backwards as always, stretching his arm to me. It doesn't stretch enough to touch me, though. My plan worked. He thought I was attacking, but I only simulated leaping forward, staying on my place all the time. His face is near enough now, and I stretch my leg to kick him on the head.
The instep connects with his left temple, sounding like a slap, and the combat is over as fast as it started.
"Two points for me," I say, a smile appearing on my face. "I win."
"Losing as always, Luke," a strange but familiar voice says.
We both turn our stares to the gym's entrance, from where the familiar voice comes. Standing in front of the door is a girl with short, spiky black hair. Her electric blue eyes blaze with joy. She's wearing a "Death to Barbie" T-shirt, which matches her skull earrings perfectly.
"Thalia!" Luke and I shout together.
Thalia Grace is an old friend who moved to Stamford a year ago. Two years ago, when I first started training, I met her. Luke and she were training partners back then, and she and I became good friends instantly. After a year of training together her family needed to move to Connecticut. That's when she left, and Luke became my partner afterwards. But, according to Chiron, she didn't stop training. One of his friends, Larry, directs a gym similar to this one in Stamford, and she supposedly joined them.
Thalia and I hug while Chiron joins us, saying, "Thalia Grace, one of my best students."
"Chiron," she says, crouching besides my trainer and hugging him like me some moments ago.
"What brings you back to the city?"
"My family," she says, placing her hands over her hips and staring to the gym. "Dad's job moved again. And here you have me. Actually, you should receive a call―"
A phone ringing inside Chiron's jacket interrupts our conversation.
Chiron turns around and heads away from us, answering the call.
"Is there any problem?" I ask Thalia.
"No," answers Thalia, staring at me curiously. "Why?"
"The phone call."
"Oh, that. It's nothing. It's just Larry. He wanted to tell Chiron something about a meeting of the Party Ponies." The Party Ponies? What's that? Thalia seems to recognize my confused face, and she shakes her head. "I don't have idea either."
"The Party Ponies," says Luke, thinking. "If I'm not wrong―"
"You're always wrong, Luke," I say mockingly.
"―that's how Chiron and his friends named their group of friends or something." Thalia and I stare at him, and he recognizes our doubtful faces, too. "I don't have any idea of why they called themselves like that."
"Changing the subject," says Thalia, turning to me. "To answer your question, Larry wanted to talk with Chiron about that. That and he also wanted to inform Chiron that, besides me, there will be a new student here."
"There'll be a new student?" Luke asks, his arms folding over his chest curiously. Thalia answers with a nod. "Who?"
"Your cousin?" I ask. "You have a cousin?"
She glares at me, making me flinch just like I did with Luke earlier. Her gaze is as intimidating as mine―maybe even more. "Of course I have a cousin. You never knew of him because he has always lived in Stamford, and he trained with me in Larry's gym. Now he's coming to New York. Actually, how old are you, Annabeth?"
"I knew it. Maybe you'll even see him outside here too. You already graduated from high school, didn't you?"
"The graduation's in a week."
"Well, he already graduated, about a week ago. Now he'll study here, at New York's University."
"Where I'll study."
"See? I was right. You'll see him outside here too."
"You're studying there?" Luke asks me, maybe surprised because my father's the mayor. And that university, well, is a public school.
"Yes," I answer, "and?"
"And your father approves it?"
"He doesn't even know that I'll graduate. Maybe in a week he'll know, but it'll be too late. He won't find a university to accept me at this time of the year since admission tests are over. Besides, I'm already in the school. I did the test about a month ago. There's no option."
"From what I've heard, it seems that you still have problems with your father," says Thalia, pity in her voice.
"No, we don't have problems. It's the exact opposite. We have lack of problems, because he's never there for our family, and neither is mom. Dad lives in his world, and mom does the same. They don't take care of my brothers or me."
"Aw," she says, pulling me to an embrace. I smile and lean my head against hers. Again, it feels good to have someone knowing things about me that my parents don't know.
"Well," I say, trying to change the subject, "I think it's time to get changed and go home. Besides, you've to tell me everything about your life in Stamford."
. . .
I stare at myself in the mirror of the girls' locker room, admiring what my parents want me to be. Again, what my parents want me to be. I'm already showered and dressed, and the girl that stares back isn't me. This is not how I am.
The girl is dressed in a white strapless dress, with black flats and her blonde hair fixed in a ponytail. This is how I'm supposed to look like as the mayor's daughter―or at least for the constant visits we have in the house.
"You look like a delicate flower," says Thalia, staring at me from her seat.
"Don't remind me about that," I say, placing the worn sweaty clothes inside my backpack. I could arrive to my house and get changed there, but it's not something my parents would approve of. They would see the sweaty clothes, and with that they would start a problem about how that isn't what ladies do. Besides, they would prohibit me from coming to train. That can't happen. Period. "So, it seems you had a good time in Stamford."
"It was a great time, Annabeth. But you know what? I like to be back here. Here I have my first friends, and here is where I grew up. Besides, the other gym's not bad, but I prefer this one."
"Well, let me tell you that it's good to have you back, though I wonder who you'll work with."
"What do you mean?"
"Remember that everyone needs to have a training partner. I wonder if Luke will train with you again, or if your cousin will do it. Who knows? Maybe you two will train alone like I did when there was no training partner for me."
"Who knows? Let's wait for tomorrow to know that."
I hang the backpack over my shoulder and close the door of my locker. Thalia waits for me at the entrance, ready to leave. Luke's already outside, waiting for us. Instead of a sweaty t-shirt and shorts, he wears jeans, a clean t-shirt, and his sneakers. His hair's unruly and damp, and a moist towel hangs around his neck.
Once we join him, he asks, "Ready to go?"
"Ready," I answer, smiling at him.
Thalia elbows me in the ribs, and her face tells everything. No, I don't like Luke. We're only best friends. It's been clear since the moment he decided to confess his crush for me. It was like the most awkward moment of my life. At the end, we made clear that I only see him as a brother. Besides, I think he already likes someone in the gym. It's one of the rookies, but she's pretty tough and beautiful.
I shake my head at Thalia, and by her face, I think she understands the message.
"Oh, there you are, Annabeth. Luke."
The three of us stop at the sound of Chiron's voice. He's right behind, heading to us with his wheelchair.
"Is there any problem, Chiron?" Luke asks.
"No," Chiron answers. "But now that I see you, I need to tell you something."
"What is it?" I ask.
"Starting tomorrow, you and Luke will no longer be training partners."
"What?" Luke and I ask simultaneously.
"Yes, you heard right. You know that your training partner has to be about your age. Luke was with you because when Thalia left you were the only one who didn't have a partner. There was no option, so I had to put you two together despite the age difference. But now that Thalia's back, Luke, you're her partner again."
"So I'll start training alone again?"
"No. This time we have a partner for you. Thalia's cousin will join us in the gym, and he is of your age. He will be your partner starting tomorrow."
I nod at Chiron, somehow upset. I'm already used to train with Luke, but it seems there is no other option.
"Thanks for telling us, Chiron," Luke says, giving a smile.
"It's not a problem, my boy." Chiron answers. "Well, I'll see you three tomorrow."
"Bye Chiron," Thalia, Luke and I say at the same time, and we end up laughing about it.
"And," I say to Thalia nervously while we walk, heading to get a taxi cab. The fact that I'm training with someone I don't know makes me anxious, "how's your cousin? I mean, not physically―is he good, or friendly? How is he?"
"Well," Thalia says, thinking about her answer, "he's friendly when you get to know him. Also fun. But most of the time, he's serious, kind of rude and bossy. You can't get to know his fun and friendly side if you haven't passed his seriousness. It's like staring at Kristen Stewart―he has always the same serious expression. Like staring at someone without soul and who is really bossy. That's him. But he's a good person. Just get to know him."
This boy's description makes me nervous. I mean, I hate bossy people. How will I work with him if I get to unlike him for that?
"And what's his name?" I ask.
"Percy," Thalia answers. "Perseus Jackson."