“What did Brad say about you not coming home last night?” Tori asked as we settled onto the sofa.
“Nothing.” I shrugged. But he’d said enough in his messages. Things I expected him to apologize for, but instead, the man said nothing. He’d only stalked off to the bedroom and slammed the door.
“So … are you going to work things out?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m sorry. I know I told you I would butt out, but I know you’re not happy. You don’t have to stay just because he’s being nice.”
“He has been trying lately,” I diverted my eyes and tried to find a sliver of hope in Brad. Maybe I could be happy with him someday. I could handle him walking off instead of accusing and yelling. That was an improvement and perhaps in the future, I could convince myself that I wasn’t settling.
“I still don’t trust him.”
“I know that, Tori.”
“That’s all I’m going to say.”
“Thank you.” I peeked at Tori’s laptop screen, nosily invading her time with her online man.
“No … no that’s not all I’m going to say,” She turned toward me suddenly with a hint of anger in her voice. “If you are staying with him because he threatened me … don’t. It’s not a good enough reason.”
“So it’s okay for you to protect me … but I can’t protect you?”
“Not if it puts you in the same situation I was in.”
“Well, that’s it’s my choice … so drop the subject.”
There was an awkward silence as I searched my mind for something else to talk about that had nothing to do with my indecisions.
“You seem to spend a lot of time with Venom.”
“What’s your point?” Tori clicked off her headset, shutting her in-game companion out of the conversation.
“I think you genuinely like the guy.” I nudged her playfully.
“You want me to be honest?”
“Okay, if there was a guy like Venom in the real world, I would definitely take a chance.” She held up a finger and listened to her earpiece. She tapped a button to enable her microphone. “Okay, Babe, catch ya later.” Then she shut her laptop and set it on the coffee table in front of us.
“He is real, Tori. He’s a real man sitting at his computer.”
“Yeah, but no one’s completely themselves in Torel.” She lit a cigarette and blew out a slow puff, then described their in-game friendship. Admitting they were slightly more than friends and confessing she’d omitted a few details from some of our past conversations purposely.
“So he’s … wow.” It stung that she kept something that important from me, but I guess she needed to keep it between herself and Venom. Perhaps, sharing it brought them close enough to break through her relationship anxieties.
“But, I think I might have to delete him.”
“Because tonight he said he wants to meet … as ourselves. He’s never asked that before. It murdered the friendship for me.”
“Don’t push him away, Tore. If you’re not ready to do that, it’s okay. It’s not like he knows where to find you or your real name.”
“Yeah, well … you should have gone to that show tonight.” She waved toward the program on the television that was taking place only a few miles away.
“There wouldn’t have been any tickets,” I reminded her, trying hard to ignore the program.
It was another ordinary Friday night. Tori and I picked up extra hours and settled on the sofa for a break that could last a couple hours or a couple of minutes. She flipped on the television and powered up her laptop.
“Yes, I’m watching … finally.” She spoke into her headphones and glanced alternated glances between the television and Torel. “What did I miss?” And she was quiet while her virtual boyfriend chatted.
“I’m going to clock out and make a quick food run … you want something.” A viable excuse to get out of there for a few minutes. I didn’t want to see the temptation that would cause me to log in to Chatter.
Yet, I stopped half-rise, flopped back to the sofa, and glued eyes to the screen the moment that notorious song played.
With Cady on his arm, Ethan Hart entered the ring. He held the rope for his woman to dip under, as a gentleman should. On the apron, they shared a kiss for luck. She held palms to his cheeks, pulling him close and smashed her lips so tight, she left a messy lipstick stain behind.
“It’s not real, Hill,” Tori soothed, the corner of her lip turning up slightly.
“No one can convince me that’s not real, Tori. Not even you … look at the way they are staring into each other’s eyes … the way they’re smiling? How can you say it’s just storyline … that it’s only pretend?”
“Because he didn’t open his mouth when she kissed him.”
“Because they’re on TV! Ugh!” I was so envious of that woman. I wanted to be where she was and I was outraged at Ethan for being with her. But why was I fuming? The man on television had no idea I existed. The real Ethan Hart had no idea that someone used his alias to romance women … I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Who knows how many accounts he had and how many celebrities he impersonated?
The Ethan on Chatter and the Ethan on TV were two different men and it would take some time to obliterate the connection between the face and the words.
“Ugh! Come on!” Tori yelled at the screen, completely immersed in the storyline. “Ethan’s not a team player!” Obviously peeved about the whim of a moment change, she slapped the cushions beside her.
It was supposed to be a one-on-one competition between Ethan and Tori’s all-time favorite wrestler Drake, a man who commanded attention with his seven-two height advantage, but an unexpected attack from behind as he made his entrance, took him out of the match.
The action pissed off Ethan and the fans were livid. The entire wrestling world respected Drake. Having the opportunity to step in the ring with him was an honor, according to Tori.
He’d been on the show for a long time. I wasn’t sure exactly how long, but I knew Tori had been crazy about him since we were young kids. I always believed his misty eyes, long dark hair, and mythically demented ring presence had influenced Tori’s choice in clothing.
Ethan ran to Drake’s side, which puzzled me because a few minutes before he had wanted to fight the guy … maybe I didn’t understand because I wasn’t a devoted follower of the show.
“You’re gonna pay!” I couldn’t hear him without a microphone but easily read his lips.
The Cage Brothers laughed at Ethan.
“Two-on one?” The brother with blue streaks in his hair asked holding up two fingers.
“No.” Ethan beamed a confident smile and turned his gaze toward the stage and the huge screen above it.
“Oh, Come On!” Tori yelled at the screen, completely immersed in the storyline. “Ethan’s not a team player!” Obviously upset by the whim of the moment change, she slapped the cushions beside her. “I wonder who … ugh! Give me a break!”
Seyer Stone’s music began to play and Tori’s expression turned to one of disgust. “They hate each other! Stone will stab him in the back. Wait and see, Hill.”
I had to smile. Tori’s passion for the sport was exhilarating and it pulled me in like a whirlpool’s current.
“They’re only enemies on the show,” I tried to convince her. No. That probably wasn’t true. Maybe. Was it?
Seyer’s steel-blue eyes glared hatefully at Ethan. I watched. So confused. What was real? What was fiction? The entire show was fake of course. Just like every word he’d said to me online … pure hogwash.
“It makes no sense!” Tori fell back on the sofa.
“It makes a little sense. They’ve been attacking Seyer for a while.” And it had thrilled Tori since she despised the man. I hadn’t seen it, but she’d laughed as she told me about it.
“Oh, they’re so dead!” Tori threw up her hands. “They’re dead … The Cage Brothers can read each other’s minds and … Ethan and Seyer … can’t even pass each other without butting heads.”
Seyer and Ethan proved Tori, and probably a lot of other people, wrong. They dominated the match, refusing to lose because of their hate for each other. (Thank goodness for the commentators or I would have been lost.)
Ethan and Seyer simultaneously hooked the arms of their opponents and tossed them like rag dolls. Although sometimes I wasn’t sure. Sometimes it appeared they jumped when Seyer or Ethan grabbed them.
I winced at each slam to the mat, each fall to the floor. It was hard to accept that it was all orchestrated moves planned out by highly skilled athletes. How could it not hurt to fall on concrete with only an inch or two of padding above it?
Ethan taunted his challengers, with a crazy dance meant to pump up the crowd, and I drooled over his muscular physique. The veins in his biceps thumped with every slight move. His smile ignited my intimate soul. The crowd cheered. They knew his signature move was coming and he executed it perfectly, I thought.
Grabbing the man, bending his back slightly then a fast twist, dropping the guy headfirst.
The opponent appeared unconscious. A triumphant, half-smile crossed Ethan’s lips, but he hesitated to pin the guy. The camera panned over the faces of puzzled fans, then flipped back to the ring just as he staggered backward and slapped the hand of his enemy-turned-partner.
A roar of chaotic displeasure erupted through the television crowd, and right beside me, as Seyer Stone methodically dipped between the middle and top rope.
Then the crowd was cheering again as Seyer coiled. His signature was vicious and the crowd loved to watch him do it. But who would receive it? The stumbling opponent, who seemed to have no clue where he was? Or Seyer’s partner, with whom he stood nose to nose? While the unlikely team wasted time silently challenging each other, Dakota Cage recovered. He rushed his opponent.
With Seyer’s back turned it looked like Dakota Cage would get the upper hand. Tori screamed at the screen. Cursed the wrestler she despised. Then, just when it seemed impossible, Seyer struck. Grabbing the man as he sailed through the air ready to deliver his own patented modified dropkick. His python biceps wrapped around the man’s neck in midair and took him out in seconds. The poor guy had never seen it coming. Hell, I hadn’t seen it coming myself.
“1…2…3!” Seyer’s theme song blasted through the television speakers. But there was no celebration.
He glared hatefully at Ethan. The match was over and so was their partnership. Toe to toe again, both sneered.
The drama drew me in. I found myself teetering on the edge of the sofa, biting my nails wondering if the alliance would dissolve in a brutal bloodbath.
Of course, Ethan extended his hand first. He’d always been a good guy despite his bizarre ways. I loved that about him.
“Yeah, like that’s going to happen,” Tori remarked cynically.
Seyer coldly stared at him. He rolled his head back and licked his bottom lip. A sly smile and a chuckle followed. Then, Seyer shook Ethan’s hand, then slightly jumped, grabbed Ethan’s neck and delivered another signature strike.
As her man laid injured, Ethan’s girl, Cady grinned … at Seyer. Her devotion obviously compromised.
“Now she wants Stone?” Tori snorted a laugh. “Typical. See Hillary, I told you it was just a load of crap. Next week she’ll have her skinny little arm threaded through Stone’s.”
“Well, I can honestly say I enjoyed that match.” Yeah, I enjoyed it from the minute Ethan entered the ring to the moment his girl fell for another man. Great inspiration for my daydreams. What would it hurt to indulge a fantasy about Ethan Hart from time to time anyway? What happened to me wasn’t his fault and it shouldn’t keep me from being his fan.
I couldn’t make myself feel anything for Brad, no matter how wonderful he had been and I used illusions to get through every intimate moment I shared with him. It wasn’t healthy but, the only happiness I could hope for.