Fighting Redemption
Author:Kate McCarthy

When he was fourteen, Fin started coming to rugby matches. She would bring her study books and sit so quietly you’d forget she was there. But Ryan never forgot. Prickles of awareness would tingle down his spine whenever she was close. When he glanced her way from the rugby field, she was watching him, and a pretty flush began accompanying the bright smiles she gave him.

 

He was sixteen when he realised the tightening in his chest when he looked at Fin was not how you would feel towards a sister. One simple word echoed in his head when he thought of her. Mine. That urge to protect didn’t just grow hotter and brighter, it burned him like a possessive punch to the gut, and at their weekend rugby match it caught fire.

 

Fin was sitting quietly, her study books spread out as she did her thing. In the middle of the game, Ryan caught two boys his age knocking the books off the table. If he had a second, he would’ve taken it to admire her. It seemed his Fin had a voice. She stood up, shouting as she jabbed a finger at the one closest. He got in her space, tugging a lock of her pretty hair. Ryan saw bright, burning red—every protective instinct in his young body firing like a rocket. With dark eyes blazing, he passed the ball, ran right off the field, and started swinging.

 

Although missing what happened, Jake immediately had Ryan’s back. Joining in the fight, wild punches were thrown until they were all pulled apart. The match had to be halted, and in the end, Ryan’s team had to forfeit the game.

 

Ryan disappeared that afternoon, needing to distance himself from the Tanners and not knowing how. He couldn’t think of Fin as his. He couldn’t feel that way. Ryan had to focus on fighting his way out of this town. How could he do that if Fin owned his heart?

 

Staying away didn’t work. Ryan was too entrenched in their lives. So he watched Fin grow older. Her slight frame grew taller and filled out a little. Her hair, usually tied off her face, was left to hang in thick golden sheets down her back. He would find his eyes dropping to her mouth constantly, his heart thumping as he imagined leaning in and kissing her.

 

By eighteen Ryan ached constantly with the need to touch her. He could barely meet her eyes anymore for fear of her seeing the craving in his. It didn’t help when Fin and her posse of friends sprawled under the sun in the backyard. Stripped down to bikinis, they would giggle and chatter lazily as they watched Ryan, Jake, and their friends play cricket. Ryan would wish they were playing rugby instead. That way he could at least tackle his friends when he caught them looking Fin’s way.

 

Then the day Ryan feared came all too soon. Fin got asked out on her first date.

 

The five of them were sitting down at the table eating dinner when she told them. Ryan’s jaw clenched at the news. He stared blindly at his dinner plate, his appetite suddenly disappearing. The urge to push away from the table so he could hurt in private overwhelmed him.

 

“No,” Mike replied firmly.

 

Ryan closed his eyes, relief rushing through him.

 

“But, Dad—”

 

“You’re only sixteen,” Mike pointed out with a shake of his head. “That’s too young for dating.”

 

Fin looked at Julie. “Mum—”

 

“Honey,” she said softly. “How about you give it another year before you think about that, okay?”

 

Another year? Ryan could live with that. Another year and he would be gone. He wouldn’t have to stand by and watch Fin give to someone else what should be his. The thought of someone else kissing her and touching her made him feel sick.

 

With dinner finished Fin pushed away from the table. Ryan watched her stride through the living room and out to the backyard.

 

Jake looked at him across the table and nodded upstairs. “Ghost Recon rematch?”

 

“Sure.” Ryan’s eyes fell on Fin sitting cross-legged outside in the grass, and he felt a tug at his heart. With Jake already at the stairs, he said, “Be up in sec, okay?”

 

“Okay,” Jake called out, disappearing towards his room.

 

With Mike and Julie chattering quietly in the kitchen, Ryan made his way outside. Fin looked up at his approach and he sat down at her side.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

She nodded silently, plucking at the fat blades of grass Jake had mowed that very morning.

 

“Who asked you out?”

 

Fin shrugged. “Does it matter?”

 

Of course it mattered. No one would ever be good enough for her, not even him, and despite Ryan wanting to be, it wasn’t ever going to happen. He swallowed the sudden burst of anger before he choked on it. “I guess not,” he lied.

 

“Ryan?”

 

“Mmm?”

 

“All my friends are starting to date, but I … I’m not sure if I’m ready for that um … stuff yet. I can’t bring myself to care too much about it.” She looked sideways at him, her cheeks flushing. “Does that make me weird?”

 

“No,” he replied quickly, his fists unclenching at her words.