Mitch had just finished the rosters for the next week when his desk phone beeped, the line from reception lit up.

“Hey Carrie,” he said absently as he stacked the printouts neatly.

“Sorry to disturb you, I’m trying to organize a visitor pass and having, well issues,” she said with a laugh.

“Have you- actually I’ll be right out.” He stood up with a sigh and stretched his arms over his head, his back and neck were tight from being hunched over the computer too long.

He turned the corner into the reception area to find Carrie flushed and nervously tapping at the keyboard as Zander leaned on the counter in front of her. She looked up with a guilty expression and jerked her hands from the keys. “I um, not sure what…”

“Let me see.” Mitch nudged her aside and shot a smile at Zander who was looking on with a faintly amused expression on his face. “Can you distribute these please?” He handed the roster printouts to Carrie then had to catch them as she nearly dropped them.

“Sorry about that,” she said to Zander with a nod at the computer. “Mitch will take care of you.”

“Thanks Carrie, I’m sure I’m in excellent hands.”

Mitch shook his head as Carrie giggled then headed for the staff room. “Are you after a single use pass or…?”

“Hey Zander, how are you? Great Mitch, yourself? Can’t complain, well I could but who would listen right? Right!” Zander finished with a laugh and Mitch looked up with a grin.

“Sorry.” He shook his head and pushed his hair back. “You look like sh-crap by the way.”

Zander raised his eyebrows. “Really? If that’s your game it needs work.”

Mitch clutched at his chest dramatically. “I express a little concern at your well being and that’s your response?”

Zander opened his mouth to respond then stopped and sighed. “I’m fine, thanks for your concern.”

Mitch examined Zander’s face for a moment; the other man looked tired and tense but if he didn’t want to talk about whatever was troubling him, there wasn’t anything Mitch could do to help. “Just don’t want you collapsing in here. The paperwork…” he shuddered and Zander rolled his eyes.

“Oh nice, thanks man.”

“Least I can do. Especially after you… wait, what did you do to Carrie? She really fucked this up,” he muttered as he finally got to the screen he needed.

“What? Nothing.”

He sounded genuinely surprised and Mitch looked up to find he looked it too. “Really? She’s usually so efficient.”

“I don’t know.” Zander straightened up and crossed his arms over his chest then lifted one hand to rub his hand over his mouth. “I think I said she had a great smile and could I get a day pass please. Oh and that she had beautiful eyes too.”

“Oh is that all.” Mitch muttered with a smirk. He knew it wasn’t just the words but the delivery and between Zander’s low rough voice and his piercing blue eyes Carrie didn’t stand a chance. “I need a name and number for the pass?”

“Sure.” Zander pulled his phone from his pocket and tapped a few times then placed it on the desk for Mitch to copy the details.

“I see you have a ring booked.” He looked up as Zander nodded. “Do you need a ref?”

“Nah. Well I don’t think so.” He frowned then shrugged. “First time in the ring so we’ll see.”

“I’ve got some free time, I’ll come watch if you don’t mind?” Mitch stepped away to grab the pass from the printer.

“Always with the watching,” Zander muttered under his breath.

“What?” He turned back to ask but  Zander just shrugged. He grabbed a lanyard and took both items back to the bench to fold the paper to the right size for the pouch. “I’ve given him the locker a few down from yours. Just need his signature and you’re good to go.”

“Great. He shouldn’t be long.” Zander looked at his phone then slid it into his pocket. “Not too busy in here?”

“Not at this time of day. Give it a couple of hours and we’ll have a few classes happening.”

“I’ve seen some of those, usually as I’m leaving. Saw one of yours once.”

“Oh?” Mitch grinned. “You didn’t join in?” He was joking as he taught some advanced yoga but his speciality was mixed martial arts and he knew Zander wasn’t into either of those things.

“Ah no. I prefer my head attached to my body so I just watched.”

“So what are you and…” He paused to look at the pass. “André going to do?”

“Just try to hit each other,” he said with a grin.

The door to the street opened before Mitch could respond and a tall man with long blonde haired walked in. He flashed an almost blindingly white smile at Mitch as Zander turned to face him and they shook hands.

“You made it,” Zander said. “The directions good?”

“Yeah.” André rolled his eyes. “I only got lost once.”

Zander chuckled then turned back to Mitch. “André meet my friend Mitch.”

“Hey.” He smiled and nodded at Mitch who returned the gesture.

“Nice to meet you,” Mitch said. “I hear you’re going to try to hit Zander?”

“Try?” André arched a brow. “Oh I’m hitting him. But I wont mess up his pretty face.”

“Yeah right,” Zander scoffed then tapped the paperwork on the counter. “Sign this so we can do this Drizella. Some of us have to get to work before the sun goes down you know.”

“Yeah let’s get you both out of here before Carrie gets back and she forgets how to answer the phone,” Mitch joked.

“Carrie?” André signed the paper then watched as Mitch tucked it into a plastic pouch attached to a lanyard.

“You can flirt on your way out,” Zander told him then bent to pick up the gym bag at his feet. “Come on.”

“Have fun,” Mitch called after them as Zander led the way to the change rooms.

A minute later Carrie walked back into reception, a huge grin on her face. “I think I need to work this shift more often,” she told Mitch. “There’s a guy who looks just like Thor in here now.”

“Don’t get too excited. That’s who the visitor pass was for. If you’re okay here, I’m going to watch them spar for a bit.”

“You get all the hard jobs,” Carrie quipped.

“Yeah, sucks to be me,” Mitch said with a grin.

Mitch took the time to secure his office and grab his phone before he went back to find Zander and André. Both men had changed from their street clothes into shorts and were barefoot and in the process of taping up their hands.

“Wow, no gloves?” Mitch said in greeting as he approached them.

“Head gear though.” Zander pointed at the helmets sitting on the edge of the ring. “You’re good,” he said to André  as he finished taping. He handed the tape to his friend just as a phone rang.

“I have to get this,” André  apologised as Zander took the tape back and André stepped out of the room.

“I can tape you up,” Mitch offered.

“Thanks. André owns a club too and when they call you have to deal.”

Mitch nodded as he focused on Zander’s hands. “No partner for him?” he asked casually.

“I think he has one but he handles all the operational stuff. Not like Max and me.”

Mitch looked up but Zander’s head was down, watching him work. “And ah, how is Max?”

“Max? She’s … I would say her usual cheerful self…” he trailed off and his shoulders moved in a shrug. “I guess she’s okay.”

Mitch’s own shoulders slumped at the news. Any hope of her being ill, or away for some reason faded. “Good to know,” was all he managed to say as he finished with Zander’s hands. “Done,” he said with a tap on his knuckles.

Zander flexed his hands and nodded. “Thanks.”

“Okay, ready to cry Z-dog?” André called out with a grin as he walked back into the room.

“Got my tissues ready,” Zander retorted as he pulled on his helmet then slipped in his mouth guard.

The smack talk ended as the two men climbed into the ring. André was a little taller and had longer reach but it was obvious from the get go that Zander was better. And they weren’t just, as Zander had so eloquently put it, trying to hit each other. They were trying to kick the crap out of each other, kickboxing was their discipline of choice. It was fast and brutal and strangely quiet. The fight was punctuated by the sound of breathing, the thud of flesh on flesh, the scuff of barefeet.

Mitch watched in silence, cringing at some of the hits that landed and generally admiring the skill on display. It was a distraction as well, from thoughts of Max and why she was avoiding his calls, not returning his messages. Her actions were a surprise. He’d expected her to be more straightforward, to just say no if she wasn’t interested. He’d obviously read her wrong which was disappointing and he’d wasted that amazing cake on her.

Before he could reflect more Zander landed a high kick that sent André to the floor and calling for a timeout.

“I didn’t know you could kick that high,” André gasped after he spat out his mouth guard.

“Well I had to jump,” Zander pointed out with a grin as he reached out a hand and hauled the other man to his feet.

“He did too,” Mitch agreed from the side of the ring. “It was impressive.”

“Thanks. You want to see Mitch in action though André, he trains MMA fighters.”

“I love that stuff,” André said with an assessing look at Mitch. “You don’t look the type though, not big enough.”

“I train, I don’t fight. And I’m more about their technique than their strategy. They have trainers for that.”

“Still, you must know a bit to be training?”

Mitch nodded. “I take elements of Karate, Taekwondo, and Muay Thai, even throw in some yoga.”

“Yoga?” André grinned.

“Good for flexibility,” Mitch said.

“Oh yeah. I love a girl who does yoga.”

Zander shook his head at André and bumped his shoulder as he went past to step out of the ring. “Idiot,” he muttered.

André laughed. “Like you don’t?”

“Well for sure, all of my students are there to be more flexible for sex,” Mitch said with a completely straight face.

“See?” André followed Zander out of the ring and over to the bench where they had towels and bottled water.

“Well I might leave you two to debate that,” Mitch said with a grin. “Thanks for the show.”

He went back to his office where more paperwork waited. He tried to focus on it but was distracted by thoughts of Max. He thought he’d played it smart, not doing more than kissing her on the cheek and leaving after dessert. But what was it Zander had said?

“Max will eat you alive.”

But he hadn’t given her the chance. He’d had the idea they could be something to each other and he’d thought Max was on the same page. So he’d left and a couple of hours later sent her a text.

Me: Thanks again for dinner. Hope work goes well. Call me when you’ve slept xx

Max: 🙂

But she hadn’t called in two days or answered his calls, or responded to his texts. And now Zander said she was fine so… it was time, beyond time for him to get the hint. He’d call it… a TKO in the third round. He’d taken points in the first when she took his card and sent that text. Second round had been strong, the cake had scored big points. Third round though? He’d been smacked down hard, so hard there wouldn’t be another round. That decided he could forget about Max, focus on his paperwork.

“Sucks to be me,” he said with a sigh and opened the file.