“Holy moly, what the heck happened to you?” Ria whispered as she traced the bluish purple splotch on Maya’s cheek. She hadn’t even bothered to say ‘hi’, just barged in, plonked herself onto the bed and stared in morbid fascination at Maya’s bruise. “It looks so painful. Does it hurt?”
Maya shook her head slightly, to avoiding hitting her throbbing cheek against her friend’s exploring fingers. In the next moment, Ria pressed against the darkest, most painful part of the bruise.
“Ow!” Maya howled, unable to control the volume of her pain, struggling with the throbbing agony.
“What? I thought you said it didn’t hurt.” Ria tried to look innocent. And failed.
“Right. Why would I admit it hurts like a hot iron against my face?”
“Because it hurts, silly.” Ria smiled, long dangling earrings sparkling, hair pulled neatly away from her face.
“Don’t be such a girl. You’re not supposed to admit that something is painful.” Ria stared at Maya, confused and partly distracted by the striking bruise. “You’re not supposed to admit to being weak. That’s all I’m saying.”
Ria shook her head. “But you aren’t strong, so doesn’t that make you weak?”
“Nope. I am strong. It’s part of my training. And . . . because I say so.”
“And the shiner? What does that say? That you lost a fight with your father’s fist?”
“It says I’m brave, and courageous.” Maya knew she was reaching. Knew the bruise made her look like a loser. She’d feel it more at school next week. “And it was my instructor’s fist.” The argument was one they’d had time and time again. Even though they’d moved to America before she was born, Ria’s parents had done a great job brainwashing her into thinking women were mere objects, meant to bear children for their husbands and certainly not meant to fight. Only men did that, and men were supposedly there for protection.
Ria snorted. “The bruise says you lost the fight. I say it spells weakness. Besides, girls shouldn’t be fighting. Or learning to fight.” There she went again.
“And which male chauvinist told you that?” Maya pierced her friend with narrowed eyes. She wanted to ask what happened when Ria’s father raised his hand against her as he’d done all her life. Who protected her then? But Maya bit her tongue.
“My mother, you idiot.” Her friend’s kohl-lined eyes went flat. Maya knew a lie when she saw one.
Ria’s dad was pure, unadulterated male chauvinism in a neat and tidy Indian package. Her poor mom would have been in deep trouble if she hadn’t had a son after Ria. Thankfully, Ria’s two little brothers served to remove the attention from her lack of maleness. God knew they’d probably be arranging a marriage for her soon.
Just the thought made Maya want to grit her teeth again.
“Really, Maya. You and your dad should be more careful with your sparring sessions. Girls are not built to fight like guys. Look at what happened to you; a black eye? Are you seriously going to continue learning martial arts now?”
Maya nodded. “Yup, as soon as the bruise heals.” She hid a smile at the expression on Ria’s face. Her cheeks flamed and her eyes glittered. Boy was she mad, but instead of yelling at Maya as she usually did, she took a deep breath and looked out the window.
“Well, who am I to tell you how to take care of yourself when it’s abundantly clear you’re doing a perfectly good job on your own.” Maya heard the hurt in her friend’s voice. And she understood. Ria just didn’t want anything to happen to her. Of the two friends, Maya had always been stronger, and she’d always been the one to take care of Ria. Good thing their families attended the same temple so they saw a little more of each other at cultural functions. A little taste of Indian tradition in suburban America. Ria was the only reason Maya agreed to go to any of them.
“Ria.” Maya waited for her friend to turn and face her. Then she smiled. “Thank you. For worrying about me and even for bossing me around.”
That drew a small smile from Ria and she walked over to the bed to perch on its edge. “Promise me you’ll take care of yourself? Please.”
Maya nodded. “Pinky swear.”
Ria giggled and both girls locked pinkies and smiled at each other for a moment.
“It’s getting late. Let’s go.” Maya pulled her hair around her face, hoping the fall of black curls would hide her cheekbones until they got into the darkened movie theater.
Genre – YA Fantasy/Paranormal
Rating – PG13
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