Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The net curtains in the window are blowing free today. You used to sit there, batting them aside whenever they came between you and whatever you were reading.
Camille whispers: “What about these?”
It’s like she’s scared to disturb the memories hanging thick in the air. I look up to see those Lonsdale pads you found for me. With the very same words, too. How long ago was that? I’d been hitting a bin bag filled with takeaway cups hung from a fire escape.
“What about these?”
There you were. Summer dress and army surplus boots, hair flowing across your shoulder on one side, cornrows hanging down your back on the other. Holding out those pads. Old. Battered. I could see you’d coloured in the bits where the wrappings had come away.
“I’ll hold them for you, but you have to teach me how to fight.”
That’s how we started. I scraped and fought in illegal contests to pay for my lessons, then learned as I taught you. You helped out with better food than my Dad threw my way, and I gave you the skills to deck your mum’s boyfriends when they went too far with you or your mum.
What a pair we made, screaming across the rooftops, randomly rearranging the datalines up there, running from rentacops and nosey drones – but only far enough to get decent shots with our catapults. Until that security nutter put a crossbow bolt through my arm.
“I know someone who can fix you. She’ll let us pay monthly.”
That’s when you started fighting, to pay for that. By the time I’d healed, we’d shacked up together in the penthouse of some abandoned tower block at the western end of the London Flood Zone. After I got back up to speed, we fought as a team, tag or paired. While we had the looks that appealed to its fussy devotees, we did naked cage fighting. It wasn’t glamorous, but it made us a lot of money. We could have made more, but outside the cage, we only went skin to skin with each other.
They weren’t truly good days, but they were simple. Love and combat techniques were our lot for nine years.
We were talking about retiring when you got pregnant. Seemed like a hint from the laughing gods who watch over idiots like us. So we took your mum and everything we had from the tidal slums of London to inland shores that revealed what had been Eastbourne every low tide.
“Got an idea.”
You started a blog, ‘Fighting the Times’, and before we knew what was happening, we had Camille and you were a bit of a media star. Endorsements and sponsorship weren’t to either of our tastes, but we had a daughter to raise, and, too soon after, your mum to cremate.
Time went by and life, well, life got harder. Not in major ways, just lots of little things. All the costs added up. I even started coaching to supplement our money. Then you coughed blood all over the bed one morning, and all too miserably soon, here I am, holding our daughter as tears flood down onto a pair of tattered training pads.
“Don’t quit. Get up and wade in.”
I will, Jessica. I promise I will, and I’ll make sure Camille gets through this.
But not today. Today we cry. Tomorrow we fight on.