Her mother was talking to her, but Serena was not listening. She stared out of the window, her eyes far away from all of them. The intensity of what had occurred, and the powerful relief and concern she had felt when it was all over had slowly faded away. In their place was an emptiness, a dull sense that something was missing.
Serena had been beating up on bullies for picking on her kid brother for as long as she could remember. She was always the tomboy and the tough girl; the pretty dresses her mother picked out for her when she was little quickly got muddy and shredded. Though from a more traditional background, her mom eventually began to include pants and t-shirts in her daughter’s wardrobe. If she had to crawl in the dirt, at least she wouldn’t expose herself.
She never had large groups of friends; it was always one or two good guy friends, who usually were somewhat fascinated and more than a little intimidated by her. She was tough. And she knew it.
When she was in fourth grade, some sixth grader boys were hassling her brother. It was the usual playground fare, nothing especially vicious—just walking uncomfortably close, calling him names, giving him little shoves. She had gone up and given the biggest of them a bloody nose. She could still remember the embarrassed tears that ran down his face as his friends stared in shock and then ran away.
There had only been a couple more incidents after that over the years, but she always came out on top. The worst was her sophomore year in high school; some guys who had grown up with them had decided that now was the point in the developmental process where they had the edge over some girl. They jumped her brother and gave him a real beating, not the chest-thumping posturing that the earlier incidents had mostly been comprised of.
She had never been so angry, and this was a girl with a famously short fuse. Mixed in was a great deal of guilt over the knowledge that this had just been to get at her.
There were three boys involved; three was the bare minimum a group of boys needed to be for them to become cumulatively stupider and bigger assholes than they were individually. They were sure that, being boys, being bigger than her, and outnumbering her, she wouldn’t stand a chance. But they had no real experience at fighting, and they hadn’t expected her to march up to them so confidently and cold-clock one of them. When the other two grabbed her, she elbowed the one on her right in the face, dislocating her jaw. The rest of the encounter did not go much better for them.
The extent of their injuries was so great that she was suspended, and the only thing that saved her from expulsion was the cruelty the boys had displayed in the initial incident. After that, her parents thought it might be a good idea to homeschool for the rest of her high school years. This had allowed them to take the trip to Paraguay for her father’s research.
A choice that had led them to their predicament.
You can understand, then, why she would react the way that she did. Even though the opponent was not a teenage boy or a boy at all; even though he was a professional with combat experience and physical strength she couldn’t imagine approaching. When she saw Sabueso fall helplessly to the ground, her instincts as a lifelong older sister kicked in, and she threw the punch before her brain had time to reconsider.
Having seen the two of them going at it, she could tell, for the first time, how clumsy her punch was. She was sure that he would dodge it easily and then tear her in half. Instead, he stayed right where he was. And it was so much worse.
When her fist met his face, it felt like a thousand burning needles rushed up her arm at lightning speed. She cried out immediately. She had never been in so much pain in her entire life. She knew, right away, that she had broken her hand, and probably her wrist. Would she ever be able to use it properly again?
But…but to her utter astonishment, she knocked Jack flat on his back. The look on his face mirrored the shock she felt; there is no way a good punch from her should have been strong enough to accomplish this feat, much less a punch so sloppy that it had broken her hand!
“One of us…how?” He stammered, but he had wasted far too much time already. Sabueso had grown up in an environment where hesitation almost always meant either injury or having to go hungry. He was already up before Jack had hit the ground, and his prey’s fate was already sealed the moment he had let down his guard.