A few other women - none of them celebrities, all of them fighters - leaned on the short apron to the practice ring, watching intently, shouting the odd encouragement. Ponytails, sports bras and sweats were the rule - no glamor here; Don's was a hard-working gym for serious competitors - primadonna's didn't last long there.
Mack's face grimaced with hurt. She was doubled up, hugging her gut, breathing hard through her mouth, eyes frowned shut. A yellow tshirt clung to the sweaty muscle of Allison's upperbody; evergreen boy cut bottoms tucked in snug around her rump. Christina breathed out through pursed lips as she leaned into Mack, pushing the blonde upright by her shoulders. Chris steadied Allison with a cupping left hand at the blonde's neck, then ROCKED her a short right hand - Chrissy stomping her right foot as she drove the blow home to Mack's chin. Allison's head jerked back, her legs stamped backwards - as she clattered into the ropes, her right arm looped over the top strand by pure reflex.
Christina grinned, ran index fingers in under the line of her swimsuit bottoms to snug 'em up. Milian fought out of Miami where they actually did their hair and put on make up before sparring - her baby-blue crochet-weave bottoms were glaringly out of place at Don's. Her T-shirt in a matching shade of blue was more serious - revealing just a hint of mocha-coloured tummy or hip as she worked. Her highlighted ringlets were bound back in a bouncy ponytail, frisky forelocks dangling down either side of her face in a pretty frame.
Milian advanced on Mack with a big smile - as though this was Holly Marie Combs and not a top celebrity contender in virtually every fighting discipline. Milian drove into Mack's belly with a lusty overhand right - leaning in and down to hammer it in good - the punch pounding off sturdy blonde beef with a thick, meaty THUMP!
Milian twisted to her left, crouching low on follow through - her triumphant right fist tight against her chest as she reveled in the blast. Kris Bell shouted, "You GO, Christina Milian!" A pretty brunette corporate lawyer whistled loud approval in the sparsely populated gym, clapping overhead as Mack slumped paralyzed into the ropes - her face tilted up in gutshot agony - trembling arms hugging her throbbing body.
Dandy Don himself - a middle aged man with the sideswept graying hair of an accountant and the iron midsection of a bodybuilder - emerged from a small office, intent on gym business. He glanced at the action, smirked. Once upon a time, 'Don's' had been a hard-core boxing gym catering to pro-fighters - but that game was all but dead and gone now, replaced by...well, he still didn't know what to make of it all. While the gym retained its Spartan, no-frills look, he'd added a juice bar, renovated the showers and spruced up the upstairs lobby some. The girls brought the money in, and Don had adjusted with the times.
Still, Don winced as Milian leaned in close to Allison, fitting a rounded, tight, caramel-colored thigh into Mack's breadbasket. The blonde shouted in pain, unable to get her butt off the ropes. Don shook his head in befuddled amusement and disappeared into the storage room while Christina gathered Mack up under her arms, walked her a few steps into corner number one, pushed in hard to stack the blonde flat against the turnbuckles.
Allison groaned, still stunned - off balance, the blonde's right leg came up off the canvas, her inner thigh rubbing against Milian's left leg. Chrissy grunted with effort, digging her toes into the canvas, hugging Allison tight under the blonde's right arm and over her left shoulder. Mack returned the tight upper body hug, straining against Milian's quivering weight, but Chrissy had too much leverage. With Mack's pinched face visible over Milian's brawny right shoulder - Kristen Bell hollered out the count, "ONE! TWO! THREE!"
Milian relaxed, pushing up off her blonde with a classic South Beach smile of supremacy.
Clapping; shouts of "WOO!" "YAH!" and the like: the small gathering of women in attendance were getting into what had begun as a go-easy session of the common sparring exercise known as 'Posts.' Milian had turned it up a notch - a big notch - on her highly-ranked opponent, obviously taking Allison by surprise. Mack shook her head, stared at the canvas with her hands on her hips. Her cheeks blushed crimson at having surrendered the first turnbuckle-pin to Christina.
Both girls took on water from clear plastic bottles arranged on the apron. Mack twisted on her hips, getting the kinks out, her face cranky, brow furrowed as she tried to get her head around what was happening. Milian wiped her mouth with her right forearm and said perkily: "Let's go - you ready? Come on." Christina stomped all bare-footed and upbeat to mid-ring, adjusting her ponytail en route.
Kristen got on her cell phone again, dialing a new number and yelling, "Hey - wake up! Get down here... Don's... no, the gym, on Cranston - you know. Anyway, just get here - Christina Milian's kicking Allison Mack's ASS!"
Showered, hurting, Dani Fishel slipped into her UGG boots, stood up off the bench and shoved the locker door shut with a metallic CLANG. It was a good paying gig being Ashley Judd's sparring partner in preparation for Judd’s impending boxing bout against Catherine Zeta Jones. Unlike many A-listers - Judd came to fight in camp, and Dani wore the evidence on her black-n-blue mottled ribs. Hoisting her gym bag over one broad shoulder, Fishel winced, but felt good about the morning. She'd backed Judd into a corner at one point and hammered Ashley for nearly 30 seconds - giving up size and height, but surrendering nothing in ferocity in the bitter exchanges. Afterwards, Ashley had grinned and slapped mitts with her; no way Jones was going at it like that in HER camp. No way in hell!
Dani heard her phone buzzing in her bag - took a moment to shift things around - rummaged to retrieve the cell. Flipping the cell open, she saw the text message from Kaley Cuoco: "CHECK IT OUT!" Directly above the message, Dani saw a picture of Christina Milian pressing Allison Mack against turnbuckles - and Mack didn't look good! Smiling to herself, Dani hit Kaley's number on speed dial. This HAD to be seen to be believed.
Smiling Christina caught Ali coming in AGAIN with that boot in the gut, stopping Mack in her tracks with a breathy grunt and doubling her over. Milian could pick her curvy right leg up off the canvas straight from the hip - no warning, no flexed-knee - just a straight, shoving shot that Allison couldn't seem to see coming. Mack straightened - face tight with fresh hurt - and hit the canvas HARD on her back thanks to Christina's sudden clothesline.
Milian was loving it - grinning at the crowd which had grown to around twenty young ladies at this point. Mack groaned, trying to rally off her back, her expressive face tightly clenched, eyes frowned shut. Chris reached into the soft, damp blonde locks - reefed hard, tugging Mack in stages to her feet. Left-hand caress of Mack's right cheek; BOOMING right forearm to the left cheek - Allison's head tossed back, her arms falling limp to her sides as she swayed groggy on the spot.
Standing dropkick, Christina Milian! Mack crashed to her back with a ring-rattling boom; the crowd whistled and cheered in hearty approval. Chrissy rolled to her tummy - couldn't wipe the smile off her face. Batting the canvas with her right hand, Milian let loose with an excited, "YEAH!" and quickly scrambled to her feet.
Mack sat up, looking like she might cry. She just couldn't get on track - couldn't catch her breath - couldn't turn the tables. While Allison clutched her head with her right hand, sitting in stupor on the canvas - happy Christina stepped in from behind and stomped a barefoot boot into the blonde's sturdy upper back. Allison barked out in surprise - face cringing in pain again - but all she could do was sit there. Milian stomped again - her fists clenched near her shoulders as she let Allison have it. Another stomp, another, and another - shook and jostled the helpless blonde before Christina saw fit to help Mack up by her hair again.
Turning Allison by her head, Chrissy held the blonde in the crook of the left arm, and labelled her yet another right forearm blast to the chops in tight. Mack jerked a quarter turn to her right - eyebrows high, lips parted - and stumbled face first into the ropes, once again clutching at the top strand to keep from sprawling at Christina's feet.
Milian's eyes lit up at the sight of Mack's vulnerable back going on sale dirt cheap: Chrissy hurtled in like a greedy little bargain hunter rushing a 'used items' bin.
Christina piled into the ropes just to the right of Allison - Milian's raised left thigh slapping against Ali's lower back in the process. Mack bleated in pain as Chrissy bellowed in pleasure - the weight of shot bent the ropes as the girls pushed forward. Still holding the top strand, grinning like a maniac - Chrissy rejigged her stance, then laid another thigh across Alison's lower back: Mack's body shunted forward as her head lolled back - a breathy "UHHHHH!" pushed past her lips.
Allison hung off the top ropes in stupor, face contorted, curvy legs holding her up, but unable to motor her out of there. Milian pushed up off her foe, pulled and adjusted at her baby-blue trunks while taking a little strut 'round behind her smoldering blonde. Leisurely, Christina reached her left hand into the damp mass of Allison's hair, clenching a fistful, and peeling moaning Mack off the ropes. Almost gently, she pulled Mack's face in close to chest, then steered the blonde around, pointing her back towards mid-ring. Ali stumbled in the grasp - body shock paralysis numbing her resistance - she was just doing what she was told at this point. Pulling down on Mack's head, Chrissy chewed her bottom lip as she looped her right arm around and up underneath for a lugging European uppercut. Golden brown bicep and inner-elbow clapped in under Mack's chin as Milian twisted to her left on follow through.
Mack hit the canvas - hard. She lay on her back, eyes shut tight, hands up above her head, palms up. She wheezed through pursed lips, trying to fight off the haze. All around her, she heard the heartless cheering of a growing mass of haters ringside.
Milian stood with weight on her right hip - stood above Allison, clapping, grinning wide. Suddenly, Christina flexed her knees, then took a little hop, dropping her right shoulder down onto Mack's heaving chest. Ali had the presence of mind to pull her arms in, crossing them against her chest in time to receive the shock - but the sheer beefiness of the manoeuvre took her breath away "OH!". Chrissy lingered a moment with her shoulder on trembling Allison - letting the blonde feel the weight - then Milian sat up - her back to Mack's right hip. Chrissy grinned into the crowd, her hands in her lap: it was a sign of absolute disdain for the pile of blonde wreckage Allison Mack had become.
Sloooowly pushing up off her left knee - Christina stood, stooped, took a fistful of Mack's sweat-sodden hair, and patiently jerked the blonde in stages to her feet. Allison swayed, eyelashes fluttering, her arms limp at her sides: Chrissy stepped in close, her left hand reaching round Ali's back to anchor her for a plunging right to breadbasket. Mack's chin snuggled in over Milian's right shoulder, the blonde's face deeply unhappy as she curled into her foe's brawny arms. Once again, the women embraced each other tightly up top - standing in cheek to cheek - and once again, Christina stepped Allison backwards into the second post.
Groggy, badly shaken, Mack pushed and strained in the corner, frustrating Christina's pin attempts. Milian scowled, trying to wrap up around Allison's ribs and push in on her - but Mack was being very stubborn, turning sideways in the grasp and wriggling to keep her back clear. Finally, Milian palm-shoved Ali in her shoulders, then laid a thudding right forearm across the girl's firm breasts. Mack cried out, cringed, drew her arms in to cross at her chest. Impatient Christina pulled Allison's full limbs away from her body, bent forward and DROVE her right shoulder into Ali's gut. Mack shouted, "OHHHH!" as her buttocks jumped up onto the central buckle.
Milian stayed down there, grabbed the ropes on either side of Ali's trapped body, and plowed another shoulder block in thick. Stunned - Mack's left arm dropped limp onto Milian's back. Milian threaded her hands in around Ali's right thigh, pulling it up snug while driving her right shoulder into Mack's chest, pushing Ali upright against the turnbuckle. Milian's legs glistened with sweat as they stomped at the canvas, summoning every ounce of leverage to stack Mack up. Both of Ali's arms dangled across Milian's back - the blonde's head drooping sadly, sleepily as she stood on one leg, helpless to push out. A bunch of girls ringside shouted in unison: "ONE! TWO! THREE!"
Christina Milian had taken her second post from Allison Mack.
The third came much, much more easily. Milian was pushing Allison down hill now, and for the first time - ringsiders were using the word 'rout' in describing the action to their friends via cellphone.
"Is it over?" Dani asked, rushing up behind Kaley and speaking while staring at the ring. Fishel had come as quick as a Mercedes SLK 350 could take her, but still feared she might have missed Allison Mack's humiliation. Christina was strutting around hands in the air, crowing: Mack was crumpled in a corner, thick arms looped around the ropes, chin drooping to her chest as she panted for breath.
"Third post," Cuoco said, shaking her head in wonder. "Mack's gonna get swept!"
Dani pushed her large, circular-rimmed sunglasses onto her head and took an assessing look at the scene. Going over Christina's curvy, compact chassis, broad shoulders, and sturdy limbs, Fishel pursed her lips. "That's supposed to be me!" Dani said. "Look at her - Mack's using her to gear up for me."
Kaley frowned, then saw what Dani was talking about. The tall blonde shrugged - Fishel was probably right. "After this, fighting YOU should be a breeze!" Cuoco joked.
Dani gave her a backhand in the tummy while passing, drawing earthy laughter from her friend. Fishel picked her way past a couple of rival publicists - women who had actually fought each other for some of the business in this room - to get to the ring nearby an ashen-faced, hurting Allison.
"Water?" Dani asked innocently, holding up a plastic bottle from ringside. Allison had been about to accept, then stopped herself, glaring at Fishel. "You look like hell," Dani continued, her voice cutting, sweet. "I hear you're about to go four and out."
"In your dreams," Allison growled. She straightened up, putting her hands at her back and arching the pain away. "I've got this punk right where I want her."
"Figures you'd want a hottie like her all over you. Just surprised you’d want her on you…you know…in public!"
"Shut up, Fishel!"
Kaley Cuoco moved in from behind, frowning and smiling at the same time. She just didn't recognize Dani when Allison was in her sights.
"C'mon slugger," Cuoco cooed, easing Fishel away by her shoulders. "Let' the girls finish up - hey? Whaddya say?"
Milian stalked the far half of the ring, hands on hips, scowling at Allison. "You ready to go out?" Christina mocked and the crowd ‘oohed’ at the challenge, goading Milian on.
Mack did not reply. With a glance down at Dani, Allison stepped to the fourth turnbuckle, leaning her back into it and resting her arms along the top cable. "Come and get it," Allison said, raising her eyebrows.
With a grin, Christina hurtled in to clean up her blonde. Twice, Christina pressed Allison against the fourth and final post, and twice, Mack powered her way out to wildly enthusiastic applause. For the next five minutes, the fighting took place in the corner with Christina pouring herself at Allison and Allison digging in and denying Milian's advances.
For the first time, frustration clouded Chrissy's furrowed brow: her will was not being instantly obeyed - in fact - stubborn Mack defiance was starting to cost Christina. Allison's barefoot boot was finding Christina's tummy on occasion: Allison's forearms were smashing breast and upper back in muscular reprisal for every Milian assault. Both women took their turn on the receiving end, reeling against the ropes, breathing hot through pursed lips, trying to shake off punishment.
For the first time, the action was flowing two ways, and when a series of pro-style short right hands drove Milian staggering back on her heels towards the third post - doubt began to flicker in her eyes. And when Christina found herself absorbing Mack's shoulder blocks against the third post - that doubt mushroomed into a red sheet of shock.
Milian's eyelashes were fluttering when Allison stooped down to hoist her foe up around the buttocks and upper thighs. Chrissy's legs instinctively wrapped around Mack's hips. As Chrissy's arms tied up around her head, Allison drove in with her shoulder, slamming Milian back onto the turnbuckle; blonde buttocks jiggling with the effort of standing and bearing the weight of her foe. With the whole gymnasium shouting out the three count - Allison Mack had retaken the third post!
"So much for the sweep," Kaley intoned to Dani as they stood side by side. Fishel pursed her lips; crossed her arms. Normally up for a good contest; normally supportive of any fighter who showed courage - Dani fumed at the sight of Allison's stiffening backbone. After Mack's amazing rally and pin, there were no strutting celebrations or braying exultations or mocking taunts. Christina stalked a patch of canvas, hands on hips, frowning in concentration as she thought through the last twelve minutes of her life. Mack did a few deep knee bends, rolled her head to loosen her neck.
When they were ready, a mere look and a nod was sufficient to renew hostilities. The women stepped to each other slowly, but with purpose, and Allison got re-acquainted by lifting her right thigh up and to the left, neatly fitting it into the curve of Christina's tummy as Milian cramped up with a shout. As they came to grips, neither could know that that third post would change hands a further four times over the course of the next hour.
The small gymnasium was filled nearly to capacity now with starlets and corporate ladder-climbers; handicappers and gym rats; models and wannabes. Don and his partner Mookie Willis looked on from the windows of the office, amazed at the sudden 'smoker' that had erupted.
"We're gonna need more juice," Mook drawled; all he could think of to say.
The fighting was constant, but slow, measured: both girls paced themselves, taking time to do things right. It was Mack who resolved to end the stalemate by taking the contest outside of the ring. Cupping her right hand behind Christina's head, Allison slung her foe out onto the apron: Milian bounced from there the short distance to the floor as the practice ring was only slightly elevated. Mack rejoined Christina with a brace of barefoot stomps in the back as Milian tried to rise from her knees. The hardened expression on Allison's face revealed that the game of 'Posts' had just escalated once again.
Danielle was livid - tight and tense as she watched the young women batter each other at the stagger around the gym. The crowd made way - patting both girls on their backs or behinds as they stumbled past - excited voices yelled encouragement, vigorously supporting Allison's resolute surge. In Allison Mack's hardhearted focus and determination, Dani saw herself: in the crowd's response, Dani heard exactly the kind of cheers, felt the kind of electricity her own stubborn rallies had produced.
"Damn her," Dani thought to herself, then immediately regretted it. She was feeling petty and jealous - she NEVER felt petty and jealous - but she couldn't help it. When Allison brought tears to Christina's eyes with a simple, muscular side headlock, Dani clicked her tongue in disgust. Kaley noticed it, suppressed a grin: Fishel was almost vibrating with Mack-hate.
Milian was brave, but accepting battle outside of the ring had been a fatal mistake. In exchange after exchange, Allison simply ground Christina up. It was Mack hurting Milian, then walking her down - Chrissy simply staggering away in a fog, bare thighs jiggling as she stomped around. When Allison was ready, she rolled Christina back into the ring under the bottom rope. Milian came to stop on her back, face contorted in exhaustion and stunned denial: she was used up. Mack retook the second post and the first in short order, hoisting Chrissy up off the mat and pressing her flat to turnbuckles through sheer brute force.
Now it was Milian's turn to defend the last turnbuckle: four in a row would make Allison the winner!
Grimly, Christina dug in, eyes lidded, lips parted in a weary little snarl.
Breathing deep, Mack moved in for the finish.
When Mack went to work with heart punches on Christina, Dani's jaw clenched so tight, Kaley could almost hear ivory creaking. Allison stabilized Chrissy with the left hand in Milian's chest - propping her up - then Mack plowed in and down, in and down with that blunt, overhand right delivery. Chrissy stood there and sobbed in shock each time the pulverizing blow landed: Mack just resetting herself systematically, pushing up on Milian to stack her as necessary, then slopping in the next wallop. When Mack pulled Chrissy's T-shirt up over her head - looping it behind her neck to expose the baby blue crochet bikini top and golden brown torso, Dani stomped her foot in outrage.
"That..." she blurted, then bit her tongue. She was going to say, "That's MY T-shirt move."
Still wearing the shirt, Milian was now semi-constricted by it, trapped in a cloth full nelson as it were. Holding the trussed up shirt in her left hand, Ali was better able to plow right hands into her tummy, slumping Milian forward into the blows. Tugging and jostling the shirt kept Milian off balance as Allison poured on the hurt.
When Allison propped Chrissy's right leg over the middle rope, and went to work with thudding right hands over and over and over to her foe’s torso - ringsiders started to think an intervention might be necessary. Mack was being very brutal, bludgeoning Christina beyond the grounds of pure necessity. Helplessly propped up in the corner - Milian blubbered and blurted out in pain, no longer able to keep Allison off, or impede her in any way.
Finally, with Don himself getting ready to step in - Allison took both of Christina's hands at the wrist, with Milian's arms looped over the top ropes either side of the turnbuckle. Leaning in was a formality - but Mack pressed her shoulder and chest to Christina as though Milian might storm back at any second. The crowd was delirious, screaming out the three count for the fourth and final "post".
Christina Milian burst into shattered tears, shuddering and defenceless with her leg looped limp over the middle strand.
"THAT was unbelievable," Kaley shouted over the crowd noise, clapping wildly herself. Girls were whistling and stamping - some had jumped into the ring to clap Allison's sweaty back and help Christina get her leg off the ropes. Dani glared - the only girl in the room not gushing over Mack's resilience. The glare somehow got even harder when Allison Mack pushed her way through the crowd to confront Fishel.
"Did you enjoy that?" Allison said - eyes showing the strain of her effort, but body language very, very challenging. "I'll take that water now."
Dani held Allison's gaze and smiled, "You want to do this now? You must be insane." Mack was on the verge of collapse - confronting Danielle would be madness at the moment. Fishel wouldn't throw the first punch - not with everyone watching - but if Mack got stupid, Dani would be more than willing to accommodate her. "You couldn't go two minutes with me now," Dani breathed, hoping the taunt would be provocative enough to get the ball rolling.
Allison poked her right index finger into Danielle's chest, bringing Fishel to a slow, barely contained boil. "You; me; Mandalay Bay fighting pool, Saturday," Allison enunciated with exaggerated clarity, sending ripples throughout the room. "And bring a second," she concluded, indicating that although private, the bout would be witnessed and recorded.
Dani said nothing: it took all her self-control not to slap Allison's face right then and there. Dropping her sunglasses back down onto her nose, Danielle turned and stomped angrily out of the gym, imagining Allison's pudgy girth snuggled helpless in her arms.