“We’re so close to phase three,” Avi announced as he passed a tiny 3lb weight to Mitch. With Graveyard Smash in just a few weeks, Avi spent most of his time at Monument Wrestling Academy to keep up with the demand for personal training. Mitch met him there for physical therapy to make his life a little easier.
“When do you think I’ll be at phase 4? That’s when I’ll be cleared to compete again, right?” He lifted and lowered the weight with dramatic flourish. “God, do you see this? I’m so jacked.”
“Mirin’ your gains, bro,” Avi laughed, then glanced down at his clipboard. “Phase 4 is when you’ll train to return to the ring. By the end of that, you’ll be good to go. I’ll help you get there, too.”
“And there’s no way that I’ll be ring ready at Graveyard Smash, right?” He loudly groaned when Avi shot him an incredulous look.
“Look, for what it’s worth? You’re healing so fast. And we’re going at a great pace if we keep at it almost every day. But-“
“But?” Mitch’s eyebrows waggled, as if he could get a different answer by willing it.
“It’s going to be at least another month and a half, maybe two. What’s the holiday themed one that Jodie’s stoked on?”
“Krampusnacht?” Mitch readjusted his arm according to Avi’s instructions.
“That’s it. I think we can safely say that’s the target date, provided your physician clears you. Maybe even get on the tapings that are just before that.”
“So I can’t do any ring training before then? At all?”
“Well,” Avi thoughtfully stroked his beard. “There’s not too much you could do in there, but I could come up with some modified holds and stretches to be employed. Could be good, at least from a psychological perspective. Get you amped for your return, which plays a lot more into healing than we give credit for.”
“I’d really love that,” admitted Mitch. “When I got in the ring after Sandy had lost her match, it almost knocked the wind out of me because I missed it so much. Got way more emotional than I’d expected.”
“That’ll happen,” Avi nodded. “Years ago, I had a leg injury that kept me out for about 6 months. Up until then, it was the longest that I’d ever been away from wrestling. After my first match back, I went to the locker room and was an absolute wreck. Full on tears.” He gestured to his face and emulated crying. “The waiting is the hardest part for sure, especially for that period that you can’t engage in it at all.”
“Honestly, I didn’t even want to be here until…” Mitch pursed his lips. “Today, actually. Just being around all of this was this crippling reminder. But I also didn’t want to be away, either? Things hurt too much, it was confusing.”
“I get that,” Avi acknowledged. “So let me look over my schedule and we can figure out when to do top secret in ring stretches. Might have to be before or after hours, if that’s alright with you? And,” his voice lowered an octave, “As long as we maybe don’t discuss it with Jodie?”
“Oh my god, are you shitting me? There’s no way in hell I’d tell her, she’d make it so that I could never use this arm ever again.”
“If it’s any consolation, you wouldn’t be the first one armed guy to fight in a ring. But hey, I’m just trying to prevent myself from enduring a fate worse than death.”
“Nah, she likes you enough to not commit a crime,” Mitch assured, hoping that Avi actually believed by now.
Judging from earlier conversations, the only outstanding factor for Avi hinged on whether or not Charlie decided to make the move, and Mitch hadn’t yet summoned the courage to inquire about it. Admittedly, he didn’t want to know the answer, and assumed that if Avi wanted to talk about it, he would. But aside from a relayed message of gratitude, Charlie hadn’t been mentioned since she returned home.
“Alright, let’s have you push against that.” Avi motioned to a nearby wall and continued to scrawl onto the piece of paper attached to his clipboard. Mitch placed his right hand on the cinder blocks and waited until Avi paid attention before moving forward with further instruction. This went on for another 5 minutes or so, until Avi called it off and showed Mitch his notes on what looked like an official chart record.
“Where’d you get this? Looks official,” Mitch commented.
“Oh, I dug it up from school days. I held onto everything. Anyway.” Circling a few sections, he explained the shorthand and broke down observations he that made about progress, a lot of which Mitch had never once taken into consideration. “Give me until the end of the day to pick those dates out, alright? But for now, I have a class starting in,” he glanced at his wristwatch, then at the influx of students gathered nearby. “Shit, like 6 minutes.”
His hand grazed Mitch’s back after reaching out, a standard gesture for Avi, but it landed lower than usual. A pat between the shoulder blades was to be expected, but at the lumbar portion above his waist? Less so.
Mitch’s brain kicked into overdrive with its reasoning, reminding him that Avi most likely wanted to be cautious around his shoulder now that it wasn’t protected. But it couldn’t present any evidence about why contact lingered longer than any time before. He could only deduct that he was making it all up. “Well, gotta run. See you back at home?” Avi asked with a bright smile, the one that disarmed Mitch every time and unleashed an entire butterfly colony directly into his stomach.
“Y-yeah,” Mitch stammered, then waited until he was alone in the bathroom before allowing himself to get angry about being worked up over nothing. He gripped the edges of the sink so tightly he worried it may break, yet simultaneously he wanted the catharsis of something crumbling within his grasp. After a few deep breaths, he turned on the faucet, splashed water on his face, and stared hard into the mirror. Under his breath, he mumbled reminders that Avi wasn’t an option, would never be an option.
Then he slapped himself with as much strength as he could muster. After a few ragged breaths, he wiped away some spit that gathered at the corner of his mouth with his forearm. The sting of raw flesh grounded him enough to deviate from the spiraling trajectory that he nearly fell victim to yet again.
One sharp inhale later, the type that made his entire body stutter, he stood under the sickly fluorescent lighting feeling both satisfied and numb.