30-Day Pass

Chapter One

Levi wasn’t exactly wandering—his mother had specifically warned him against it when they’d pulled into the parking lot of the Med First Center on busy Crawford Road. She’d repeated the warning when they were in the waiting room, as she’d been filling out insurance form and Levi had asked if he could wait in the car rather than flipping through the boring golf magazines on the end tables.

Now, as cars whizzed down the street in both directions and Levi nearly got creamed by a Honda making a screeching left turn, he reminded himself that he wasn’t wandering. He knew where he was going. He had a destination.

The car laid on the horn. Levi sprinted as fast as he could to the other side and didn’t slow down until he was crossing the lines marking empty parking spaces in the split and cracked lot of mostly abandoned buildings.  

While Levi was worried about his mom—she’d been complaining about her wrist for a few days—he hoped it was only a sprain and they would give her one of those splints and she’d be good to go. But for now, he needed to get a better look at the karate place that had caught his attention the last time they were at Med First.

Whatever Kmart used to be, the place was deserted. Only a few shopping carts on the sidewalk, some overgrown weeds turned bushes left on the sidewalk. All the action was at the smaller building next to it, where a cluster of cars sat in the lot.

Levi cut that way, where he came up the sidewalk, stopping just short of the floor to ceiling windows. He could hear shouts of Hi Ya from inside as he approached.

His heart was still pounding with the close call with the car at the intersection. But as he edged up close to the window, he managed to hold his breath so that he could hear. A deep, confident voice had control of the room.

“Respect. We will always respect one another when we are on the mat. Or outside the mat. You represent Kick City out there, and I expect you to carry yourself with dignity and respect at all times. Yes Sir?”

A resounding “Yes Sir!” caused Levi to start. He held his breath and leaned just a bit closer to get a better view.

“Okay, let’s warm up. Run in place.”

It felt like a stampede. Levi could feel the movement through the wall. He couldn’t take it anymore. Craning his neck, he used his hands to cover the glare as he watched through the window. It wasn’t as many as he was expecting, from the noise, but the eight or so students were all dressed in white robes with colorful belts, jogging in place with their fists up and ready. The instructor was front and center, clad in all black. He too was jogging.

“Hit the floor!”

Down they went, then popped back up. As they ran in place, someone turned toward the glass and spotted him. Levi pulled away and sucked in a breath.  

“Eric, something got your attention?”

“No sir.”

Levi stayed put, out of view from the class. Another thump to the floor, the precise movement of the students working in unison. He kept his back on the wall until the running stopped.  

When he managed to peek again, they were throwing kicks. Some were great, others not so much. But a few students were kicking over the heads of their partners. It reminded Levi of some kung fu movies he’d watched at his cousin Jerry’s house.

His heart sped up. He wasn’t even aware that he was bouncing on his heels. Caught up in the moment, Levi let out a “Hi-ya!” and swung his leg around. Yeah, he thought, I got this.

He did his best to mimic the other students. He set his feet according to the stances he saw on the floor. Levi became so involved throwing those kicks, and a few punches, that he lost track of time. He switched legs, swung around, then back again. It felt good to move, to kick and punch. He did his best to fend off the imaginary attacker in front of him. In fact, Levi never heard the door open or noticed the instructor watching him until he turned around and nearly jumped out of his clothes.

“Not bad. Not bad at all,” the instructor said with a smile.

Levi’s first impulse was to run. Just bolt between the cars in the parking lot and hope to make it across the street in one piece. But something about the instructor put him at ease. Lean and fit, shifty and sharp, even his hair was pointy like it refused to sit. Besides, this seemed like the kind of guy who would have no trouble chasing him down. Even if he was barefoot. Levi knew he was busted.

“Oh, I was just…” Levi glanced down at the sidewalk.

The instructor nodded his head toward the classroom. “You want to come in and watch?” he said, then wiggled his eyebrows, “Or participate?”

Participate? Was this guy serious? Levi glanced up to Crawford Road. “I can’t. My mom is…” he nodded toward the busy street. The instructor looked over his shoulder.

“Your Mom isn’t here?”

“No, she is. She’s at the Med First place. I was just wandering around.”

Did he really just say that? The instructor frowned. “Okay, but, you gotta be careful. That’s a busy street. How old are you?”


The man glanced back inside. Another instructor, this one wearing a blue top unlike all the other white tops in the class, took over the lesson.

“Does your mom have a phone on her? You could call?”

Levi shook his head. He didn’t want to worry his mom any more than he had to. “No, that’s okay. Thanks anyway. I gotta run.”

“Okay, but hey, anytime you want to come, the door is open. I can give you thirty days free. Sound like fun?”

Thirty days of karate? Levi couldn’t help his smile. “Yeah, that sounds awesome.”

“Great.” The instructor handed him a card. “Here’s a free pass. Come back with your mom. I think you already got the kick going,” he said with a laugh. He peeked inside, then came out, letting the door shut behind him. He motioned toward Levi. “You know what? Let me see that again.”

Levi flushed with embarrassment. A few of the karate students were watching now and it dawned on him that he had no idea what he was doing. Still, something about the instructor, the kicks. It felt right, like it was something he knew without knowing. “Uh, okay.”

Without thinking on it much more, he let fly and threw his best kick, trying to get it like what he’d watched.

“Wow. Nice! Very nice. Here, do me a favor and pivot your back foot. Like this. Here.”

Before he knew it, Levi was taking his first lesson out on the sidewalk. The instructor, whose card said Mr. Anderson, showed him something called right side guard. He taught him where to place his feet and set his hands. Then he explained again how to pivot, bring his knee up, fold, and set the kick up so it packed the most power. Levi thought he did okay, even if he did stumble back a few times.

When they were done, Mr. Anderson stood straight and offered a high five. “That’s your first lesson right there. And an advanced one at that. We usually don’t get to kicking until yellow belt, so nice job.”


Mr. Anderson’s smile broadened. His eyes were bright and seemed charged with energy. “Let me see one more time. Right side guard.”

Levi shuffled into position. The door opened and the other instructor appeared. “Mr. Anderson, we need you for something,” the instructor glanced at Levi and smiled. “Well, when you’re free.”

“Hey, Mr. Tabb, watch this.” Mr. Anderson nodded at Levi. “Levi, show him that flip kick.”

“Flip kick?” Mr. Tabb raised his eyebrows. “Levi?”

Mr. Anderson smiled. “Oh yeah.” He motioned to Levi. “Go.”

Mr. Anderson shouted and Levi launched into action. He did exactly what he’d been instructed to do. He threw the kick as high as he could without falling over.

Mr. Tabb set his head back, his brow up. “Very nice.” Then, to Mr. Anderson. “This just some kid off the street?”

“Literally. Well, on the sidewalk.” He winked at Levi. “Caught him peeking in the windows.”

Levi felt his cheeks go warm. Mr. Anderson smiled but Mr. Tabb didn’t seem so convinced. “You’ve never taken karate?”

“Just what my cousin showed me.”

“And your cousin took karate?”

“Not exactly, but he watched a lot of karate movies.”

The two men found this hilarious. Another high five from Mr. Anderson who bowed.

“Okay, I have to get back to my class. Please,” he said, nodding to the pass. Levi saw the words, Respect. Training. Self-Defense. “Take advantage of that. Next class is at 6pm on Wednesday. And be careful crossing that street.”

“I will. I mean, yes sir.”

Once the instructors got back to class, Levi looked over the pass once more and then started back. He stared at the card the whole way out of the lot, until he figured he really would be careful, mostly not to lose the card as he sprinted across the street at a red light.

He got back to the Med First center and found his mother outside, wearing a splint on her left hand and looking worried. “Levi, where in the world have you been?”

“Hey Mom,” he said, his thumb pressing on the corner of the card in the pocket of his hoodie, his breaths colliding, getting jumbled up as studied the brace on his mother’s wrist.

“How is it?” he said, nodding to her arm.

“Sprained. I’ll be okay. Did you cross the street?”

“Mom, I have to show you something.”

And right there, as the cars raced past them and the sun went low and golden, Levi performed his kicks the best he could. His Mom’s eyes widened some. She told him it was excellent. Then, glancing across the street, her face resettled into its usual position somewhere between worry and exhaustion.

“Karate? When did you get interested in karate?”

“Just now,” he said, a slight lie.

“Well kid, I hate to break it to you,” she said, starting for the car. “But karate is awfully expensive. We can’t afford it.”

“Yeah,” Levi said, expecting this. “Well, the instructor gave me a thirty day pass,” he said, presenting the card. His mother took it and looked it over.

“Self-defense, huh?” She handed it back and went looking for her keys with her good hand. “You having some trouble at school, Levi? You feel like you need to protect yourself?”

No, he thought, glancing at her wrist. But I need to protect you.


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