“Two days!” Brad screamed the minute he walked in and saw me in the kitchen. “You stayed two nights away from home! Who is he?”
“I was with Tori.” I defended. “I told you that … every now and then I need to spend time with other people. Not just you.”
“When a woman marries she’s supposed to give up her former life! That means your family and your no-good friends!”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” I rolled my eyes. He was drinking and from the way he swayed, I suspected he obtained a couple of hits of something illegal. “And for the record, we are not married.”
“We live together, don’t we? It’s just as good.”
“We live together because you’re blackmailing me. If you’re gonna point it out to prove your case, you better call it like it is.”
“That bitch is dead!” He threatened. “We are never going to be happy as long as she’s hanging around poisoning your mind against me.”
“Tori doesn’t put anything in my head, Brad! It’s you!” I snapped. I picked up a coffee cup from the dish drainer and hurled it at his head.
He ducked and stormed toward me, snatching a hand full of my hair. He jerked my head and slapped my face. Once. Twice. Three times. Using my hair as a rope to pull me back after each strike.
“I’m sick and tired of you constantly disrespecting me!”
“Brad! Let me go!” I screamed.
“Why? You like this shit!” he delivered another slap. The sound echoing in my ear and my eye felt as though it was going to pop out of its socket. “You keep pissing me off!’ Whap! “Even though you know this is going to happen” Slap! “I was behaving. I have been good to you lately … and you had to go and mess it up!”
I wildly hunted for anything I could get my hands on, grasping the handle of a nearby frying pan. I gave it a swing. Striking his ribs, his back, and anything other parts I could connect with.
“Ouch! Shit!’ he yelled, letting go of my hair and grabbing the hand that held the pan’s handle. He squeezed until he forced me to release my hold. “What did you do that for?”
I leaned over the sink, dabbing a bloody nose with a wet paper towel. “Are you kidding me? What kind of shit did you snort tonight, Brad? I’m done with this!”
“Wait … no!” He grabbed both my arms as I passed, but I refused to look at him. “I’m sorry.”
“You can’t hide behind closed doors forever,” Tori urged.
“I honestly don’t feel like going,” I protested. “It’s the same show every week. I’m getting bored with it.”
“I know … hey, a couple of new guys signed up. They’re kind of cute.”
“I doubt that.”
“I know they don’t look as good as Ethan Hart.” Tori’s joke had really lost its appeal. “But you got to get out. Brad had you so damn scared to do anything for too damn long. You have to go out. And do everything he’s ever stopped you from doing … it’s a small victory, Hill and I don’t feel comfortable leaving you here alone tonight. I have to perform this time. They sold almost every ticket.”
I left. Walked right out and this time without a word. I didn’t pack my things. I didn’t even take a change of clothes.
“Okay, I’ll go, but I’m hanging out in the dressing room with you.”
We had to take the ferry to the high school gym that hosted the amateur wrestling event that night. We sat in Tori’s car for the entire trip. She napped and I pondered my problems. I brushed my hair. Put on a heavy layer of makeup, but nothing made me feel better … or look better.
My eyes were swollen and red. I had been crying too much. I cried over the fake Ethan. I cried because I felt trapped and I cried because there was no way I would ever get rid of Brad … not now. Not ever.
I put on Tori’s sunglasses when we arrived.
“I’m going to look ridiculous wearing these in the dark.” But I wasn’t up for people I barely knew asking me what was wrong or what had happened.
“Don’t worry about it. Half the guys walk around with sunglasses on.”
“Well, they’re idiots.”
“So, tonight you will blend in with all us idiots.” Tori laughed. “I haven’t seen that here before.” Tori noted when she parked beside a black Hummer.
“I guess the show’s attracting some new fans. You guys do put on a good show.”
“There’s my best girl!” Mitch, the most popular star of the show immediately caught Tori in his grasp and menacingly grazed her cheek with a quick kiss. Tori kept her arms at her sides and her body rigid. Mitch loved to torment the woman he knew hated to be touched.
“And my other best girl.” He pulled me in too. I shuddered. The man was positively gorgeous. Dangerously handsome. His hair always tussled in a way that tattled that he had been up to no good. I nearly melted the first time I met him.
“Don’t smudge Tori’s makeup, honey.” Shane, Mitch’s boyfriend approached wearing his normal array of jewels and electric blue. “Look what I have for you, Stormy girl.” He was more feminine than I was, holding his hands so daintily. His makeup applied with perfect precision. His sparkling, outlandish, and sarcastic attitude stunned or outraged most he met … but the shock of Shane had worn off for long ago.
Shane pulled a sequined, black halter top he’d created from a sports bra from his designer purse.
“It’s amazing Shane!” I purred over the new top. “Tori’s going to look amazing in this. You truly are a genius.” The man had a gift. He sewed all the wrestler’s costumes, even though he detested the sport. Clothes were his passion and I knew someday I would see his name on labels in the mall.
“Shall we adjourn to our normal hiding place?” Shane escorted us to the office, with each of us on an arm.
Tori and Mitch seized the security guard’s office every time they wrestled. It had a private bathroom and a dozen monitors so they could watch the show going on in the gym.
“Ouch! Baby, you should wear shorts more often,” Shane praised when Tori stepped out of the bathroom wearing her new costume.
The top was one of a kind. Sexy, but constructed well enough that she wouldn’t expose herself in the ring. It clung tight to Tori’s curves and split up the front so that her toned abdomen and belly button stud showed.
“Girl if only I had your body,” Shane continued to compliment.
Tori gave a slight, uncomfortable smile. She didn’t speak much to Mitch or Shane, but they seemed to understand without explanation.
So sad that she didn’t talk to Mitch. They had grown up together. Both the wards of the same foster family. She used to call him her brother and I know she liked Shane, but they were men … and Tori had lost her trust in men.
“Those shorts! Not my design. But I’ll live,” Shane continued to rave about the shorts.
“We’ll have to go shopping and get you a pair just like them.” Mitch flicked menacing brows at his lover.
I chatted with the couple while we waited. Tori always sat by herself in the corner before her match. I don’t know what went through her head during those times. She seemed to drift into another world. Maybe that was how she became her character. I wondered if Ethan was the same before his matches.
“Well, I’m up.” Mitch handed his phone to Shane after reading a text. He stretched a bit. “Better warm up, Tore. There’s only one match between yours and mine. And mine’s a short one.” Then he shared a good luck kiss with Shane and rushed out the door.
I watched Mitch’s match through the security feed. Mitch looked as good as the MWC wrestlers. Mitch took every hit with precise skill. He picked up a big gutted guy and slammed him to the mat as if he weighed no more than I did. The crowd screamed and yelled for him. The women crowded and clung to him after his victory and he waded through, unaffected by their attention.
“That’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen!” Mitch talked excitedly, wearing little more than a smile and a coat of sweat. His fans had followed him through the exit and two security guards had to block their path so he could dip inside the office. It still amazed me that he hadn’t tried to gain employment with the big wrestling company. He definitely had the talent.
“Oh, you poor thing.” Shane mockingly soothed him, wiping away the ruby red lipstick stain someone had left on his cheek.
Tori stood upright from a toe touching stretch, shaking her head at the couple. Then, she turned her body side to side, reaching her arms far out, then she cracked her neck, popping it so loud it made my skin crawl. Ugh! It was eerie. I don’t how she did that!
“Don’t mess up out there, Storm,” Mitch teased her. “Shoulder to shoulder crowd. They’re even lined up on the wall. Maybe you better lay off that backflip thing you do.”
“You only say that because you can’t do it.” His mouth dropped.
“She’s speaking!” Shane gave Mitch the words that had escaped. “Trust me, girlfriend, He has plenty of moves of his own.”
“Too much information Shane.” I laughed.
“Way too much information,” Tori chimed in and Mitch put his hands behind his head, gyrating his hips in an effort to gross us out.
Shane pretended to faint as if it was all too much for him to handle.
Oh, I was so glad I had come! You couldn’t make up moments like that in your head!
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“I got it.” Mitch opened the door enough to stick his head out. “Can I help you?” I could only hear the visitor’s muffled voice. “Storm? You got the wrong room pal. You can leave her a message if you want. I’ll get it to her. Are you a fan or something?” There was a beat. “Really? Well, she has a lot of fans. Guess you’ll just have to get in line with the rest of them at the end of the show.” And Mitch shut the door, I assume in the visitor’s face because I could still hear his mumbled voice until the door shut out his sound.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“You’re lying!” I nearly choked on the diet soda I had been drinking. If it were true, Ethan Hart wouldn’t be far behind. Maybe … No. I had to remember that my Ethan was not the Ethan Hart.
“I’m not kidding. It was.”
“And last week, it was Dallas Cage and the week before that you said Drake was out there,” Tori spat with folded arms.
“Don’t forget, you fell for that one,” Mitch reminded her after swallowing a sip of water from his bottle. “I’ll never forget how you ran to the door, but seriously. Seyer Stone was really asking for you.”
“You know Mitch, if you keep lying the way you do, poor Shane might have to go straight,” I chimed in. “Wait, I bet Shane was the one that put you up to this.” I elbowed the eccentric. He followed me on Chatter and probably knew every sorted detail and I had told him that Ethan and Seyer’s friendship.
“Hey, don’t drag me into this. It was all Mitch.” Shane wrapped an arm about broad shoulders and squeezed the man’s lips so they awkwardly pierced. “How can you doubt these gorgeous lips?”
“I’m serious guys. Seyer Stone was at the door.” Mitch insisted, his voice compromised greatly by their position.
“Give it up, Mitch,” Tori said in a cool tone.
“I’m not joking this time. I swear.” He slipped into his jeans as he spoke.
“Okay then, why didn’t you invite him in?” I challenged. “We all know you think he’s hot.”
“Yeah right, and get in the middle of Tori ripping Stone apart. No Thanks.”
“Time to move, Stormy baby.” Shane sang grabbing his outrageously big, white sequined purse. “I’m going to get a seat.”
“Are you sure you want to watch, hun? I’m ready to check out that restaurant you wanted to go to. I’m starving.” Mitch said in a joking tone as he slipped on a tee shirt and plopped a hat on his head.
“You know I have to see my girl shine. She’s so hot.” Shane teased. “You coming, Hillary?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Good to have you back,” Mitch whispered to Tori as he passed, giving her shoulder a slight rub. “Are you ready for this?”
We stepped out into the hall. Mitch wasn’t kidding. There were people standing in the long hall. Their idle chatter grew louder the moment they saw Mitch exit and became deafening when they saw the woman behind him.
Tori stepped out and froze. The crowd roared her name. Two guards rushed over.
“I don’t know what’s happening tonight.” One of them said, “Your name is on everyone’s lips and half of them have been trying to get back here to see you. We’re going to have to escort you through the crowd.”
“Good luck out there. Don’t get hurt.” I gave her a quick hug.
I always worried about Tori seriously hurting herself with the dangerous array of high flying moves she executed, but I worried about this crowd even more. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen at one of Tori’s shows. It was pure chaos. People reaching out to touch Tori and Mitch. Grabbing at their hair, their clothes, and screaming at the top of their lungs as we pushed through the mob.
“You think this has anything to do with that comment Seyer Stone made on her Chatter page?” I overheard Mitch whisper to his lover. I was on my phone the minute I settled into my seat.
Going to a show in Coeur De’ Lile to see the sexy and talented 2ToriStorm.
“Wow … has Tori seen this?”
“Doubt it. She doesn’t use Chatter enough … and she doesn’t follow the guy’s posts.” Mitch laughed at the irony.
“My girl’s turning some famous heads.” Shane placed his arm around my shoulder. “And thanks to her shout out to Mitch, he’s getting some from it too. Look at him. He’s in heaven right now.” I glanced at Mitch who’d stood up to sign autographs for a few patrons who’d noticed him sitting nearby.
“So … Seyer Stone really is here?”
“I don’t know. I think he would steal the spotlight and everyone seems to be focused on the ring.”
I scanned the room. Hunting for anyone who looked like Seyer Stone, but I saw no one that could possibly be the professional wrestler hidden in the crowd. I mean, Seyer wasn’t a small guy and the tattoos on his arms were as well-known as he was.
“And now the party is over.” Shane screwed up his nose in disgust. His eyes on something behind me. I turned toward his gaze.
“What are you doing here?” I spat as Brad flopped into the empty seat beside me.
“We need to talk, Hillary.” It sounded more like a demand than a request and he squeezed my hand as if he planned to drag me from the building.
“What did you do? Follow me?” He probably sat outside Tori’s place for hours waiting for me to leave. He’d probably been on the ferry and in the high school gym the entire time.
“This show’s a big deal. I knew you wouldn’t miss it.”
“That’s bull! No one knew anything about this … craziness until we got here.”
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to talk to you,” Brad’s voice turned sweet and his grip loosened. “I miss you.”
“Well, you should have thought about that before you hit me.”
“I only hit you once since you came back … and I said I was sorry. Hasn’t everything else been good?”
“You’ve been nice,” I admitted. “But Brad, it wasn’t the first time and I just can’t get over the past. It’s not going to work.”
“You haven’t given me enough time to prove myself. I have changed.”
“I wouldn’t have come back in the first place if it weren’t for your threats against Tori and you know that.”
“I said I was sorry.”
“Brad, it’s over and I mean it this time.” I pulled my hand out of his. “I don’t care who you threaten or how hard you hit me. I’m not coming back … just go!”
But he didn’t. I closed my eyes, wishing I had told Shane and Mitch everything about Brad. Neither of them liked him, but they were respectful of my choice to date him. They both walked off to get a better view of the ring.
I rose to follow, but Brad held me back and draped his arm over my shoulders.
“Just come to dinner with me. So we can talk. Please?”
“No.” I just had to keep saying it and he would eventually stomp off.
“What about the baby, Hillary?”
“How did you know?” I had kept my suspicion, my fear, to myself. Only Tori knew and I knew she wouldn’t tell anyone.
“I know how to keep what I want.” His eyes shifted from me. It all made sense then. He’d done it purposely.
“You snake.” Accidental pregnancies were rare in Jenithiyah. Scientists created contraceptives for men that were risk-free compared to the pills available to women in the past. Many doubled as performance enhancers and men loved to pop them because they extended how long they could enjoy the moment or enlarged their package. They were perfectly effective if taken twenty minutes in advance and Brad had made me think he’d taken one each time we were together.
“It’s changed me, Hillary. I mean, I’m going to be a father soon. It’s all different now. We have to try.”
“I don’t know if I have it in me to try again.”
“You always told me that if you ever had kids, you didn’t want them to grow up without a father in their life like you did. You said you wanted your child to know both his parents.” Using our unborn child, Brad’s tongue slashed through my strength and sliced away my courage. My eyes shut tight. My father and mother had divorced when I was very young and I rarely saw my father.
“Are you talking to someone else?” Brad asked with his lip poked out.
“Do you honestly think he would accept another man’s child as his own?”
It was true. So true. My mother married again and that man had detested me. I was a constant reminder that my mother had a life before him. He wasn’t abusive, but he ignored me and that hurt just as much.
“I need to think about it.”
“Okay. Fine,” Brad’s snapped, then returned to his sweet tone. “You know I could take you to court and take custody of our child. I haven’t drank in months. My family owns so many stores … everyone knows our name. So I can do it.” He glared at me.
“Well, there are plenty of people who know that you are not as respectable as your family.” I spat.
“Maybe. But where are you going to get the money for a lawyer? All I have to do is make a phone call. Do you really want to battle against my family? My mother would love to get her hands on another baby.”
“You’re bluffing.” But I wasn’t convinced. I did know what kind of family he came from. The community thought a lot of them because they gave generously to many charities, but behind their social facade, they were ruthless, conniving, and shrewd.
I knew Brad didn’t want to raise our child, but I knew his mother would if she thought I was unfit. And Brad could convince her of that. Her world revolved around Brad and she excused everything he did to everyone.
I didn’t want to risk it, knowing that if they won, they would never let me see my child. I couldn’t stand the thought.
“Just give me one more chance and if it doesn’t work out you can leave. I won’t stop you and I won’t sue for custody. I’m only asking for a chance.” His eyes filled with tears. Fake tears.
“I’ve given you too many chances already,” I whined, begging him to understand that he couldn’t make me love him, even if he forced me to be with him. “Don’t you want someone who loves you back?”
“Love’s just a word, Hillary. Real men marry women they can control and …” He snickered. “You look pretty good too. We both know you’re going to go wherever that baby is.”
“This is your last chance,” I whispered, feeling I had no other choice.
Tori’s music was just beginning. I felt confused. I remembered that once I had been this charismatic free spirit. I remembered how I had danced and sung even when there was no music. I was the outgoing one. I was the one who made friends in any room.
Brad hated all those things. I was forced to suppress my personality and I hated it, but no matter what he did, he somehow made me feel like it was entirely fault. Like, I was the one hurting him. Not the other way around.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Wait, I want to see Tori’s match first,” I said meekly. Oh, how I hated that little girl’s voice that came from my lips. What happened to my backbone? What happened to the girl I used to be?
And I would never forget how horrible I felt when Tori’s gaze landed on me. She stood on the ropes looking out at the crowd with a pose, that partially mimicked Seyer Stone, no matter how much she denied it, and she looked disgusted. Even after she’d jumped off the ropes, her gaze kept coming back to me. It tore me apart. All I could do was stare at my lap, embarrassed by my own weakness.