When I met her, her name was Angel Atkins. She was 23 years old, smart, funny, strong, and very friendly. Her auburn hair was thick and very curly, little ringlets that cascaded down to her shoulders and bounced joyfully when she laughed. Her skin was like caramel, warm and dark and smooth. And her beautiful brown eyes like almonds. When I met her, she was young and vibrant and full of life.
And I loved her from day one.
After three years of college, I graduated with a 4.0, a couple of championships for track and field and swimming, a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science with a Minor in Russian, and zero career prospects. I went to my five year high school reunion hoping that my academic and sports achievements would make up for the fact that I was an unemployed loser who was seriously looking at having to move back home if I didn't get a job, and fast.
There, I reunited with a friend from high school. Well, friend is not the right word. I barely recognized him. He was one of those people who you had a lot of classes with, who always sat in the back and never said a word and got mostly Bs with a couple of As and whose name you can never, ever remember. He left high school a cypher, a nothing, and he returned 5 years later as a cop, with a beautiful wife and a handsome, precocious 2 year old son. A homeowner. A winner.
I wanted to be him.
So, I applied for the police academy. I did very well; I was intelligent, athletic, and I discovered I was an excellent marksman. Being a police officer suited me. Best of all, I was able to procure a job in a record amount of time and only had to live in my mom's basement for 6 months before I was able to put a deposit down on a nice apartment.
I worked in a small town for a couple of years before the chief called me into the office. She informed me, with a very angry and sad voice, that I had been being watched very closely by a recruiter for the CIA. They had liked me, a lot. They wanted me, and they had made her an offer she couldn't refuse.
Which is how I ended up in training for the CIA. They liked that I was smart, strong, and that I already spoke Russian. My first day of training, we were paired up with sparring partners. The trainer, who I had a distinct feeling didn't like me, paired me up with this girl.
Tiny. Maybe 5'2", 135 lbs. With this head full of curls she had attempted, unsuccessfully, to pull up into a ponytail. Her eyes were bright. I could see that she was smart. She flashed me a huge grin, and what can I say? True love hit me like a ton of bricks.
And then, she hit me like a ton of bricks.
Fast as lightning, her foot connected with my chest, knocking me off my balance and sending me teetering backwards. I rebounded with a couple of quick jabs, which she dodged, then she kicked out again, catching me in the jaw.
This time, I kept my footing. I kicked back, this time catching the arm that was coming out for a punch and knocking it aside. Then, I spun around, kicking out with my other foot and catching her in the side. She took the blow like a man, barely losing her center of gravity. She kicked out a third time; this time I caught her foot and spun it, sending her twirling to the mat.
She landed on her hands and pushed back, springing back up to her feet with speed that was breathtaking. Then, she let loose. Apparently those early blows were just a warm up for her, because what followed can only be described as terrifying.
Five minutes, what felt like a broken jaw, and about a gallon of sweat later, I found myself flat on my back, the wind completely knocked out of me, and her smiling face bobbing over me like an angel. The angel of death!
"Here, you pussy," she stuck her hand out and with a surprising amount of strength hauled me to my feet. "My name is Angel,"
I couldn't breathe.
She handed me my water bottle, which I sucked down gratefully, after which I sputtered out that my name was Rick Lansing and I had never had my ass so thoroughly kicked by anybody, male or female, and that I would return the favor to her shortly.
At least, that was the plan.
Instead, I choked on my water, coughed for probably two solid minutes, squeaked out that my name was Rick and shamefacedly snuck back to the loser's bench. Forever humiliated by this beautiful woman.
I continued to see her throughout my training, but I always tried to avoid her. She was very social, and fluttered around the room from person to person. There were only two women in our group, Angel and this brick faced woman with a butch cut named Kelli. Obviously, the guys were just smitten by Angel. All of them, except one.
His name was Gordon, and he was an ass. He would often catcall the women in our class, and had been known to pinch a couple of bums. He was that loud, obnoxious guy who would strut around the showers like he owned the place. The instructors just turned a blind eye to his masochistic blustering.
Then, there was a day when he went too far. These women were tough, they had to be. They were scrambling up the ranks of a vastly male dominated profession, and any weakness, any crack in their facade, would be probed until they broke down. Gordon found Angel's crack; her parents.
She had been orphaned at a young age by a car accident, afterwards she had been raised by her maternal grandma, who had died the year before. She had no other family. Gordon found this out, and started harassing her about it. Calling her 'Lil Orphan Angel' and asking her if she was going to cry about her dead grandma when they sparred. One day, he was just being merciless, tearing her apart with his words. Angel put on a brave face, but I could see that it was painful for her to hear.

"You gonna cry, you sissy bitch? Huh? Why don't you just die, you worthless piece of shit! Your own momma didn't even love you. She would rather drive her car off the edge of a CLIFF than put up with you for one more day. I bet your grandma was so glad to get away from you that she just sprinted to the light! What? You gonna cry? You on the rag? Go on, cry you pussy!"

I saw a tear slip down her face. It was very subtle, and she brushed it off, but I saw it nonetheless.

"Hey, douchbag!" I shouted at Gordon, breaking off his tirade. His head snapped back to look at me, his eyes were a dull, listless brown that betrayed the emptiness in his head.
"What the fuck did you call me?" he growled.
"Hey, I just call 'em like I see 'em, you worthless piece of shit."
"What the FUCK did you say to me?"
"Lay off Angel or I will tear you a new asshole."
"And what if I don't? You really think you can take me?" He flexed his gigantic arm muscles. Sure, Gordon could bench more than I could, but I was fast and right at that moment, I was mad as hell.
"I can kick your ass any day of the week, Gordon, and I wouldn't even break a sweat."
"Alright, you pussy bitch, bring it on!" He assumed a defensive stance.
We circled around each other for a minute, neither of us flinching. I was waiting for him to come in. The best thing to do with a guy who had a good 60 lbs on you was to use his momentum to knock him down. Also, guys like Gordon had no patience, and no subtlety. Sure enough, he attacked first, coming at me like a raging bull.
I ducked down and rolled underneath him, and he came down on the mat with a loud SMACK! He scrambled to his feet, which I kicked out from under him. SMACK!
He spun around. His face was bright red, his eyes were practically bulging out of his skull. The anger and loathing in them was plain to every person in the room.
I punched out with a quick jab, catching his jaw. He swiped at me, which I ducked, spinning around behind him and giving him a good hard elbow to the kidney. He grunted, spinning around but I was already on the other side of him, elbowing his other kidney.
He finally caught up with me, and landed me a staggering blow between the eyes. I saw stars winking in front of me. He laughed, a loud, dumb guffaw, and I saw red.
I pulled back my fist and slammed it into the side of his head. I felt my knuckles crack with the intensity of the blow, and it sent him spinning. He landed on the mat, hard.
He didn't get up.
I kicked him. Hard.
He stayed on the mat.
I gave him another kick.
He didn't move.
"Oh my GOD Lansing, I think you killed him!" One of his cronies shouted out.
"Jesus, Franco, he's not dead!" Angel shouted, "He's just KOed. God, you are a fucking moron!"
"Yup, he's knocked out cold," the instructor said, dropping Gordon's limp wrist to the mat. "You fucked him up, Lansing."
"Yeah, well, he needed to learn to keep his fat gob shut," I said quickly. I looked up to see Angel looking at me. There was this beam in her eyes that I recognized. It was pride. She was proud of me.
The look was so intense, I couldn't bear it. I grabbed my bags and walked quickly out of the room.
From that day on, nobody picked on Angel anymore. They didn't dare. They knew that what I did to Gordon was just a warm up. The next person to make her cry would be ripped limb from limb by my bare hands.

One day, near the end of our training, I stayed back to work on some maneuvers with our trainer. When I left, Angel was sitting the hallway. She beamed when she saw me.
"Hi, Rick!" she bounced to her feet.
"Um, hi Angel," I muttered, starting to scoot away.
"Hey, have you been avoiding me?" She was blunt.
"Ah, no, no. Nothing like that. I'm just, ah, busy." I started walking quickly down the hallway. She followed me, very closely.
"Oh, ok." She said, "I was just wondering because I see you staring at me in class sometimes, but when I look at you, you just look away. Most of the other guys in class just stare, like dogs, you know? Like I'm a piece of meat. But, you always look at me like I'm a flower or a butterfly. Oh, that sounds cheesy," She talked very fast. "I don't mean that you look at me like you are a pussy. Just, that you look at me like you want to go on a date with me but not like you just want to throw me down and have sex with me. Also, you beat the shit out of Gordon for me, which was fantastic, by the way. I think it's the best thing that has happened to me since I was recruited! So, I've just been wondering why you haven't asked me out on a date?"
"What?" I stopped and turned to look at her. She was so beautiful.
"Look, I'm not I regular girl." She grinned mischievously, "I'm much, much more than that. I mean, look at me. I'm 21 and I've already been recruited into the fucking CIA. I'm a bitch, Rick. I'm a fighter. I like a good competition, and you are the best sparring partner I've had in this God forsaken place."
"Really?"
"Oh, don't sound like you are surprised! The way you smacked down on Gordon, and he was a toughie for me, but not the way you were. Gordon is strong and everything, but you are smart, you fight smart. The only reason I so thoroughly kicked your ass when we grappled is because you were distracted by my pretty face. But, I'm not just a pretty face, Rick. I think that if you really, really wanted to, you could waste me."
"No, I don't think that's the case."
"Yeah, I know you don't. And it's eating you up inside. Deep down to your core, you are the nice boy, the good boy. The one that wouldn't dare hit a lady. But, I'm not a lady. I'm a bitch. And I'm going to make you mad at me, because you are the only good thing around."
"Uh, ok." God, I sounded like a moron!
"So, ask me out."
"What?"
"You heard me, Rickie. Ask the lady out. Ask me out for coffee or dinner or something. A movie. Anything. Ask me out."
"Uh, ok." Gulp. "Angel, will you go out with me?"
"Hell no!" she started walking away, leaving me stunned. About ten paces away, she whirled around. "You can go out on a date with me when you kick my ass in a sparring match."
"Really?" Now, I will admit I was a little annoyed, "That is the condition upon which you will go get coffee with me?"
"Or dinner, or a movie..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Seriously?"
"Sure. You kick my ass, and I am yours for a whole evening. See," she started walking back towards me, slowly like a panther, "You think I'm pretty. You want to have coffee with me really, really bad. And, I want you to kick my ass. I want you to lay me out. Hell, Rick, I want you to kick the everloving SHIT out of me." She was really, really close to me now.
"Why do you want that?" I asked, suddenly breathless.
"Because," she kissed my cheek, "I think you are cute." She turned and started walking down the hall again. Going, going, going, gone.
I went back to my dorm that night and tossed and turned all night long. Her kiss was burning my cheek. What I would have given to have her kiss my lips! What I would have given to have her in my bed at that moment. I was crazy about her, just crazy.
I still am.
I knew that I wasn't strong enough to beat her. Not yet. So, the next morning, I got out of bed at 3am and went on a long jog. We went on a mile run every morning in training, but I wanted to be better than that. I wanted to be stronger. I lifted more, I worked harder, I practiced harder. I was in that gym every day, 11-12 hours a day, working. I had our trainer run more drills with me, practice more techniques with me. He was surprised at my vigor, but I didn't explain it to him.
I needed her.
Who knows if she noticed me increasing my workout schedule? We didn't speak after that encounter, she just kept flirting with the other guys and I kept my nose to the grindstone, wanting to be the best I could be before our rematch.
Every night, before I went to bed, I would close my eyes and picture her, coming down the hall, swearing like a sailor and practically begging me to kick her ass. Like some weird foreplay. And then, at the end, she would kiss my lips, and vanish in a puff of smoke.
Graduation loomed, and I continued to train. I had decided that I would challenge her the last day of class, and we could go out right afterwards. I had a plan: Kick her ass, then dinner at a nice restaurant in town named Le Cirque. I had made reservations weeks in advance. The day before the planned match, I bought a dozen roses. Red, with orange tips, because they looked like fire, and that was what she was. They rested on my counter, proud and haughty. I went to bed early that night.
The next morning, I woke up early and went on a jog to get my blood running. Then, I went to the gym, did some stretches. I felt fresh, awake, alive.
I sat down on the bench and waited for my classmates. They poured in, one by one. Every person that walked into the room took my breath away for a split second until I realized they weren't her. Then, our teacher came in and started on his spiel. Angel was nowhere to be found.
She never did show up that day. Later, I learned that she had been offered an assignment and it meant that she had to leave training a little early. She didn't even come to graduation.
I was offered a position in DC, and flew out to accept it. I didn't see Angel again for two years.