The gym and its equipment has been scrubbed and polished for the Grand Opening. Mats are spread out and areas set aside for aerobics training, free-weights and gymnastics, and every member of the staff wears one of the specially-made shirts sporting the fancy logo.
As part of the promotion for the opening, Anisa had put out free trial-membership coupons in strategic places around town, and so the first visitors to show up after the general Ring Day celebrations came prepared. Almost all of them were male Khattas or Jupanis, although several of the Jupanis were female.
Royce stood by the isometrics machines to explain their use, but so far had little to do. Those that went to the machines already seemed familiar with them, being either apprentices from the Mages' Guild or off-duty Temple Guards.
As the afternoon wore on, though, more people began to show up who had little or no experience with working out. About a dozen of these first-timers had already been swept into an aerobics and stretching demonstration being given by Meg Cooper, while Naomi was explaining the health benefits of physical fitness to an older group of people. In the opposite wing, Aisha was showing off the less exercise-related facilities.
Up in the boxing ring, Anisa was showing off some sparring techniques to a group of wide-eyed schoolgirls.
"Now, it's always important to keep your guard up," Anisa tells young women. "Throwing punches all willy-nilly might look good, but it leaves you open if you're not careful. The three basic blocks are up, middle, and down." The doe demonstrates the blocks, which are fairly elementary.
A few of the girls try to imitate the blocks, which draws the attention of some of their male classmates away from Fadwa's free-weight demonstration. "You girls don't need to learn this stuff," claims a Jupani boy in a leather jacket. "Just get boyfriends to protect you."
The white doe arches her brow at the boy, then looks back to her students. "One thing to keep in mind: Big mouths make good targets. Anyroad, you girls are doing good. Now, do it in time with me. Up blocks - one, two, three four… "
The feline and canine girls in the group keep up with Anisa, along with one of the Cervanis, but the rest become suddenly timid as the boys come over. A Lapi doe and two Skeek girls fidget shyly instead of paying attention, while only one of the boys tries to follow along as the rest just watch Anisa with mixed attitudes.
Anisa's expression slowly turns into a frown as the boys come over, and she has to fight to keep from laying her ears back. "Okay, enough of blocking, now for the real pasta and potatoes: punching. Put your paws into fists, and put them at your sides like this." The rabbit demonstrates. "Now, when you punch, strike your arm out straight, and keep your fist tight. Also, don't forget to keep your wrist firm, or you may hurt it." The doe throws a few jabs, keeping her eyes on the wandering males.
The Cervani girl has the best form as she imitates the jabs, while one of the Khattas makes a mew of pain as she overextends her shoulder. More of the middle-school boys are trying to follow along as well, now that the subject is hitting things. Leather-Jacket-Boy still projects an air of not being impressed, but still watches closely.
"What's the best place to hit someone, ma'am?" asks one of the girls, raising her hand first.
"Please, just call me Anisa," the doe says with a smile. "Well, that depends. Really, you're not to that point yet, but for now the best places are the kidneys, stomach, and face." The doe points to places indicated. "And, if you're fighting a guy, there's another spot, but we won't go into that just yet." She gives a small smirk at the leather clad wolf.
Several of the boys snicker and giggle as Anisa seems to single out the Jupani, who glares around at them in turn. "I can still beat all o' yas," the wolf growls.
"What if you're wearing a dress?" asks one of the Khatta girls. "This stuff won't mess up your clothes, right, or get like, blood and teeth and stuff on them?"
The Cervani next to her nods in agreement, muttering, "Yeah, fishing teeth out of your clothes would be gross."
Anisa perks an ear, and flops another sideways. "No one's gonna be beating anyone today." She looks to the Khatta. "I think if you get into the middle of a real fight, the condition of your dress will be the least of your worries." The doe grins. "But hopefully, you'll learn enough so that you can get the fight over quick enough and not have to worry about it. Remember the best fought fight is the one that's avoided." Never thought I'd hear myself say that, the rabbit thinks to herself.
"Hah, of course a bunny would think that," the Jupani boy whispers a little too loudly to his cohorts. A few snicker, while a smaller Jupani at the edge of the group just scratches his head in confusion.
One of the girls says, "Oh, just shut your muzzle, Randle." This elicits giggles and a few gasps from the rest of the girls.
The doe frowns at the Jupanis, and goes to the edge of the ring. "I think a little demonstration is in order." Bending over the side of the ring, she pulls up two sets of gear. Tossing one set into the middle of the ring, she puts the gloves on from the other, tossing the helmet to the side. "So, who feels up to it? Anyone?"
"C'mon, you know you always wanted to hit a girl," she says, looking in the general direction of the boys. "Now's your chance."
"Go for it Randle!" urges a gray Khatta boy, pushing the Jupani forward from behind. "Show Glory over there how you'll protect her from muggers!"
"I ain't fighting with no old lady!" Randle protests, which gets him a razzing from the bolder girls next. Ears laid back, he sullenly takes off his jacket and climbs up into the ring while the others alternately cheer and tease him.
Anisa flops her ears sideways with a smirk. "Old lady huh? I guess that makes you a baby. C'mon, I promise I won't bite!"
This causes more laughter from the crowd, and causes Randle to grab up a pair of gloves and jam his paws into them. "Okay then, lady… you asked for it though," he grumbles.
"Ah ah ah! Helmet!" The doe points to the wolf's noggin. "Them's the rules, kiddo. I'm exempt because its my place." She crosses her arms, tapping her foot in mock impatience.
Frowning at the padded helmet as he picks it up, the Jupani tries to get it onto his head while still wearing the sparring gloves. "This had better not make me look like a dork!" he warns.
Predictably, someone in the audience yells, "Too late!"
"Safety first. Okay then, give it your best shot." Anisa brings up her arms in a sparring posture, and lowers herself. "I'll give you the first shot."
With a yell, Randle rushes at Anisa! While he couldn't be more than 13 or 14 years old, he still easily outweighs the Lapi but the teenage need to look cool at whatever he does causes him to telegraph his moves every time. Despite throwing a flurry of punches for his "first shot," he's easily blocked by Anisa's defense.
The doe alternates between blocking the wolf's attacks and simply dodging them, but has yet to throw any actual blows herself. "Whoops! Almost got me there!" "Sheesh! That was off by a mile!" "I think I may have felt that one no wait, that was a breeze!" The rabbit taunts the young Jupani with a continual grin.
The boy just gets more frustrated, and his blows become increasingly erratic as a result. "Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Well… well… ," he sputters, unable to think of any good comebacks. Randle is so focused on trying to land a blow that he doesn't even bother with any sort of defense of his own.
With the young Jupani getting so frustrated, Anisa decides to start wrapping things up. Now she starts throwing punches of her own although much more like taps than actual punches, so as not to hurt the young man, with maybe the exception of his ego. "You're leaving yourself wide open," she says between jabs and blocks, more serious now than taunting. "Right there… and there… keep your arms up! And settle down! All you're doing is making yourself an easier target." The doe's face is more sober now, as though she were trying to get the boy to listen.
"What?" Randle asks, trying to keep up. It doesn't take too long before he's run out of energy though, having wasted it all in his futile attacks. He steps back and holds his hands up, saying, "Okay, I give up! How much does this class cost?"
"Hah, he never touched her!" "Did you see that?" "That was cool!" The other kids are all chattering at once now, mostly to each other. "Nobody'll be able to push us around!" "Yeah!" "Just let that senior try to pinch my tail now, I'll show him!" "I bet my daddy will pay for this for me, if Mom doesn't find out."
Backing up away from the boy, Anisa smirks, crossing her arms. "This session is free, but if you want to sign up, talk to Miss Aisha in the office. She'll be sure to give you a good rate." She grins, and starts to walk back to the class, past the young Jupani. "You've got potential, kid," she whispers to him, "just settle down a bit, and you'll be great." Back in front of the class, she stops. "That goes for you all too. See Miss Aisha in the office, and she can give you the details on the cost. It's not very expensive, plus we provide all the equipment, and you get access to the whole gym. Any questions?"
"Who's the biggest person you've ever fought?" asks a Skreek boy, while the bold Cervani girl asks, "Have you ever been beaten?"
Sitting down cross-legged, the doe takes off her gloves, flopping her ears in thought. "Hmm, probably the biggest was this Vartan I faced off with once. She was huge." The memory sours in Anisa's mind, and she changes the subject. "Although I was in this big tournament once, and there were several huge guys I had to fight. As for having been beaten," she winks at the kids, "not as far as you all know."
"Tsk, corrupting the youth of Rephidim with sordid tales of violence," teases a familiar voice from the side of the ring, where Aaron is standing and grinning.
"Fighting a Vartan," Randle mutters in awe as he takes off his gloves and headgear. "Cool."
Anisa peers over at the buck, and playfully throws one of her gloves at the buck. "About time you got here! Class, this is Aaron Lightfoot. At times, he may be the designated punching bag, so remember him well."
Aaron ducks half-heartedly, letting the glove bounce off his head. "Is that why he has a big black eye already?" asks one of the giggling Khatta girls.
Anisa laughs at the comment. "It might be, he's been known to get into a scrap or two." The Lapi gets to her feet. "Care to join the class, Lightfoot? We're in the middle of punch combos."
Looking down at his regular business clothes, Aaron asks, "Mind if I go change first? Benjamin wanted to talk to you too. He's out by the fountain."
"But with those threads, you could be fighting in style!" The doe grins, and hops down from the ring. "Ben's outside? Alrighty then. Class, take a break. If any of you want to, now is a good chance to talk to miss Aisha, I'll be back in a few minutes." Grabbing a towel off one of the benches, Anisa makes her way out to the fountain, looking for her little brother.
Outside, Anisa's younger brother is setting on a bench next to the burbling fountain, watching Calligenia while she and Spring Meadow talk under the shade of a small tree.
After wiping the sweat from her forehead, the Lapi woman tosses the towel over her shoulders, and takes a seat by the salt and pepper colored buck. "What's up, bunny-boy?"
"Anisa!" Ben yelps, snapping out of his reverie. He immediately covers his mouth and looks to see that Calli and Springer aren't looking his way after the outburst. "Can I talk to you in… confidence?" he whispers to Anisa.
Anisa flops her ears sideways in curiosity, a small smile on her face. "Of course you can, what's on your mind?"
Ben's own ears fold down to hide his embarrassment, as he says, "Well, it's about Calli. She's getting her import-export license soon, and then she'll be going back to Amazonia to get things started there. I want to go with her! What do you think my chances are of getting permission from Mom and Dad?"
The doe blinks at the young buck. "You want to go back to Amazonia with Calli? Does she know about this?"
"Well, I haven't brought it up with her yet," Benjamin admits, his whiskers drooping a bit now as well. "I wanted to make sure I could go first. She and I have gotten kinda close since she got here."
Anisa smiles a little at this, but tries to keep her expression low-key. "Well, that's no small deal, you know. Amazonia is very different from here, and it may take a while to adjust. Are you sure you're willing to do that? It won't be easy, and there are parts of it you may not like." The doe sits back on the bench, swiveling her ears forward. "How much have you thought this through?"
"I've talked to Lightfoot about it," the teenager says. "I think he was trying to discourage me, but I figure that if I stick with Calli and her clan I'll be okay. It's important that I meet her family, after all."
Grimacing, the doe sets her ears back a bit. "That's easier said than done. Calli's clan is more, well, civilized than some of the other clans, but they're just as cutthroat as the rest of them in a lot of ways." The white Lapi sighs, smoothing back her ears. "But ultimately, it's up to you. You're growing up and capable of making up you own mind. Just be sure this is what you really want."
"You think they won't like me?" Ben asks. "Or that I won't be good enough for Calli in their eyes?" The boy's voice gets smaller and smaller as he voices his concerns.
"It's… not that simple." Anisa sighs, reaching up to rub her brother's ears. "Calli's part of a very powerful clan, and a lot of times relationships there have more to do with alliances and power than with love. Calli's different, yes, and it's obvious she feels the same way about you as you do her, but she's still bound to her clan." The doe plucks a few bits of loose fur from the base of the boy's ear. "And you know that the role of men is very different in Amazonia as well; are you prepared to deal with that?"
Ben winces at the grooming, but suffers it quietly. "Well, that part sounded sort of weird, I admit, but it's not like I'd be living there all the time. We'd be going back and forth with her trade goods."
Anisa nods. "True, but that's still a lot of time you'll be spending there." She puts her paws back in her lap, and looks Ben in the eyes. "I'm just giving you the warnings, I can't make up your mind for you. The bottom line is: what do you want to do?"
Frowning, Benjamin says, "I just want to be with Calli. Even if I was just a servant or something. Once I've seen what it would be like to be part of her family, I could decide then if was up to it."
The white doe smiles, and puts her arm around the young buck's shoulders, leaning on him affectionately. "Then you should go, regardless of what Daddy says. We're just worried for you, and I'm just making sure you know what you're getting into, but if you feel that strongly, then I won't stand in your way."
Ben perks up, despite still being embarrassed by the hug. "Thanks, 'Nisa. I'll talk to Calli about going with her to help out or something, if she'll have me along. I don't suppose you could put in a good word for me there too?" he asks, smiling hopefully.
Sitting back up, Anisa towels her ears off a bit more. "I will, don't worry. I don't think I'll have to say much though." She smiles. "When is she scheduled to go back? I've been so caught up with the gym, I forgot."
"Nothing's been set yet, but she takes her final licensing test in a few days," Ben says. "Lightfoot's been tutoring her, and said she probably won't have any trouble. Then it's just a matter of collecting the stuff she wants to bring back with her and shipping out."
"You'd better talk to Daddy as soon as possible, then," Anisa says. "That way, it gives him more time to warm up to the idea. I've found that if you put it more in business terms, he's more likely to agree. Tell him you're doing it as a trade study or something."
Ben's ears pop up at the suggestion. "Hey, is that how you got away with traipsing all over the place with Lightfoot? And it works on Mom too?"
"Mamma's a bit of a tougher sale," the doe says with a wink. "And yeah, I've used it once or twice on him. You're the baby though, so you may have to do it double time."
"Do you think it would be a mistake to tell Mom how I feel about Calli?" Ben frets. "I think she's a little upset that I broke up with my last girlfriend still."
Anisa shakes her head. "I don't think she'd get upset at all. She gets along with Calli better than she does with me, I think she'd be thrilled at the idea." The doe grins. "Although I don't know how she'll feel about you going to Amazonia. Make sure you keep it between you and Daddy first."
The buck nods, looking more confident. "I'll be sure to talk to Dad first. Maybe he'll know how to approach Mom about it best." He grins, and gives Anisa a big hug! "I'm glad I have a big sister like you, Anisa!"
The older rabbit grins, hugging Ben tightly. "Well, I am a rarity and all, you know." The grin widens. "And I'm glad I have a little bro like you. Although you're not so little anymore." The doe stands, and stretches. "Well, what else are you doing this afternoon?"
Kicking his feet up, Benjamin says, "Oh, nothing much, I suppose. How's the grand opening going? I know Mom and Dad were going to drop by with some dinner later on."
"We've got a good crowd, mostly younger, but that's not bad." Anisa replaces the towel around her shoulders. "I think the place'll do well. Wanna take a peek inside, or are you and Calli gonna go do some stuff together?" She grins.
After checking to see that Calligenia and Spring Meadow are still deep into their conversation, Ben shrugs to Anisa and says, "Sure!"
"Come on in then! The class is probably wondering what I'm doing." Leading the way, the doe goes back into the gym, taking a look at her students.
Most of the middle-school kids have drifted into Meg's aerobics demonstration, although a few of the boys still linger near the ring. Whether they are waiting for Anisa to return or are mesmerized by the Khatta dancer that Aaron is flirting with is unknown.
Anisa eyes Aaron dubiously, but with a amused smirk on her face. "Sorry that took me a while, kids, but it was something important. Okay, who's up for a few more combos?"
"I am," offers Randle, trying to hide the blush in his ears. "Err … what are combos?" he asks in a quieter voice.
The Khatta finishes her stretches (is it really normal to be able to put your ankle behind your head like that?) and pinwheels off towards the gymnastics bars, leaving Aaron leaning against the ropes of the boxing ring. He's changed into his regular workout shorts and shirt.
The doe smiles at the Jupani, and retakes her place in the ring. "Alright then, we'll learn a few more combos, and then I'll let you guys try out some other things. Now, take up your stances, like this." The rabbit plants her feet firmly, and demonstrates the posture for the class.
The others scramble up into the ring as well, and after one of the boys calls out towards the aerobics group the Cervani girl comes over to join them as they sort themselves out and take up the stances.
Continuing the class, Anisa demonstrates more of the punching combos and basic maneuvers, this time without as many interruptions. "Now, those are the basis for all the punching moves you'll learn over the course of the class. As we get further on, you'll learn kicking, throws, and grappling as well, but this is enough for now. Keep practicing these for now."
"Just don't practice them on your younger siblings," Aaron adds from the sidelines, and then points to Benjamin. "Anisa did that to her brother. He used to be all white just like her!" he jokes.
Benjamin jabs Aaron in the shoulder in retaliation.
Walking over to Aaron, Anisa playfully swats his ear. "Quiet you, or I'll give you two black eyes!" Turning back to the class, she nods. "But seriously, always be careful with what you learn, and try not to show off. It's tempting, but it's dangerous. Now, keep practicing, and feel free to use the equipment and light spar with each other. Emphasis on the light- if I see anyone getting out of hand, I'll break it up. Class dismissed. Oh wait, one more thing… " She looks to the Cervani doe with a smile. "May I see you in the office for a bit, Miss- er… ?
The Cervani doe blinks at being singled out, and seems to freeze in typical deer-like fashion. "Me, Miss Anisa? I'm Georgina … am I in trouble?"
Anisa laughs. "Not at all, I'd just like to ask you something is all. Follow me?" The doe turns to go to the office, then quickly turns back to Aaron. "Keep an eye on this bunch for me, could you?"
"Sure thing, boss," Aaron says, giving a salute.
Georgina climbs down from the ring and follows Anisa, suddenly timid once more.
Grinning, Anisa turns back, and heads towards the office, making sure the deer is in tow. Once inside, she closes the door behind the other doe, sits at her desk, and smiles at Georgina. "Have a seat, and don't worry you're not in trouble or anything; far from it. I wanted to ask you something away from the rest of the class."
The girl sits down and folds her hands in her lap primly, the very model of a well-taught schoolgirl. "Yes ma'am?" she asks, slipping back into formal child-talking-to-adult mode.
"Like I said, call me Anisa, or just Snowshoe if you'd prefer." The rabbit leans forward, putting her elbows on the desk and folding her paws. "I was very impressed with your performance out there, you seemed to pick things up very quickly. Have you ever had any kind of training before?"
"Oh, no ma'… Miss Anisa," the doe says. "My older brother just picks on me a lot."
Anisa arches a brow, setting her ears forward in interest. "Is that so? How much older is he than you? And you take him on pretty well?"
"Only a year older," Georgina says, beginning to relax a little now. "He doesn't do it so much now that his first antlers started coming in and he needs the time to practice swaggering and all. But I could still probably get him to back off now."
The white doe grins. "Just be glad you didn't have three older brothers, as well as three younger ones that are still bigger than you. Needless to say, I know the feeling." She leans back in her chair again. "Anyroad, like I said, you seem to be a very quick learner, and I can tell you have a lot of self-discipline. With that in mind, I wanted to offer you something, and see what you thought."
"Offer me something?" the girl asks, sounding both curious and cautious. "You don't want me to fight Vartans do you?"
Anisa muffles a laugh with her paw. "No… well, unless any come in as customers, but no. See, we're a little understaffed, and with classes as big as they are, it's hard for me to give everyone the attention they need. It'd be nice if I had someone to help out who has the right stuff, and that's where you come in." The rabbit leans forward again. "The classes are largely female, and a lot younger than I anticipated much closer to your age. They'd probably feel a lot more comfortable with someone their own age to look up to, and I think you fit the bill. How would you like to train to be an assistant instructor?"
The girls jaw drops open for a moment while it sinks in. "Would … would I get one of those shirts too?" she asks, pointing to Anisa's shirt with the multi-species logo on it.
"Of course!" the Lapi says with a giggle. "There is a catch, though." At this, Anisa sobers up a bit. "Right now, we're still in the startup phase and we don't exactly have much in the way of cash for wages, so I can't pay you just yet. However, you'll get free access to the whole gym at all hours, and private lessons from me and the others to get you up to speed. Once we start making a profit, I can start paying you as well." She grins. "I'm even willing to throw in free meals at my parents' Tavern."
"You mean I'd get a full membership for free?" Georgina gasps. Apparently the idea of getting paid isn't as attractive as getting free service.
Anisa smiles. "One hundred percent free of charge, although in reality you'll be more than earning it by helping us out. Now, the second catch- you have to run it by your parents and make sure it's alright with them. I don't want it getting in the way of anything else they have in mind for you, and you'd better make sure they're alright with the idea." She leans back again. "Anyroad, how does the idea strike you?"
"Like lightning!" the girl enthuses, hopping up from her seat. "I bet I can bring my parents by tomorrow evening!"
The Lapi shoots her ears up in surprise, but it quickly turns into an amused smile. "Good! I'm glad you're interested, and I hope they agree." Standing up from her desk, the rabbit offers her paw in a handshake. "One final thing though: don't tell the other kids just yet. It's the first day of class, and I don't want anyone getting jealous."
"I'll try not to spill the beans!" Georgina promises while shaking hands vigorously.
Anisa laughs. "Good! Now, let's go back to the class before anyone misses us. You need to get some sparring in yourself!"