Mitch and Avi watched the pair leave. When they were out of earshot, Avi turned to Mitch with his brows knit. “You’re seriously OK, right? I knew we were keeping things on the down-low, but I thought Jodie would let you in on it at the last second.”
“I’m good, honest,” Mitch laughed. “And I mean, she kinda did? When I got the signal, she didn’t seem worried at all about what was happening in the ring, so subconsciously I think I knew that it was a work.”
“Well,” Avi cleared his throat. His dismay transitioned to something Mitch had never seen Avi showcase before, a sort of nervous excitement. His voice dropped when he asked, “How uh…how did I do?”
Mitch stared at him in disbelief as he waited for the punchline to be delivered.
Avi Mehta, better known as Avi Sher, was a wrestling veteran of nearly 20 years. He had been on TV and around the world, and was the winner of countless titles and tournaments. He had a Wikipedia article and blue checkmarks, for chrissakes. There he was, on the outskirts of Monument, Massachusetts and wearing a long duster jacket and hat with a comically large brim (most impressively, the hat stayed on the entire time) and pleather tights so that he could go fight B-horror movie monsters. And he consulted a guy with a little under 3 years under his belt -about 2 of which were actually in the ring, with a year and some change portraying an actual character and not a jobber- about how he did.
Mitch thought better of making a sarcastic comment, albeit they now had enough familiarity between them to warrant it. But he couldn’t bring himself to do that, not when Avi’s uncertainty seemed authentic and he was seeking feedback from Mitch, out of anyone present. “You killed it, dude. You’re perfect,” he assured.
“Yeah?” Avi lit up, his eyes shone as if those words were the moon and stars and had been personally handed to him. His expression threw Mitch into a blind panic, making his breathing stuttered; numbers popped off in his head, counting backwards from 10, and he swallowed hard to get a better handle himself.
It was the exact look from the night before in the exact room, rendering Mitch’s effort to forget about what happened pointless. Now his thigh tingled from where Avi’s hand rested on his bare skin some 24 hours ago. Avi wasn’t an option, Mitch reminded himself yet again, and he violently shoved down every urge to grab the sides of his face, pull him in, and kiss him. His chest ached and he needed to get away. “Oh, your band,” Avi spoke up, any trace of vulnerability from seconds before gone and replaced by his typical robust enthusiasm. “You guys are…you’re so good. You’re great. Do you have any albums that I could buy, or-“
“Oh, uh. Thanks,” Mitch, completely caught off guard, stumbled over his words. “I’m sure Darius has extra copies kicking around, I’ll ask him for you. I should actually. I should go, intermission’s gonna be over in a bit, and we’re playing, and…”
“Cool. I’ll see you out there?”
“Mhm hm,” Mitch nodded then hurried away, the sound of blood rushing through his ears deafening him. He returned to the main hall with his head down to avoid talking to anyone, and found where his bandmates set up shop by the ring to sell their wares among the other wrestlers. “I didn’t even realize we still had any of this stuff,” Mitch remarked while he poked through the various t-shirts and stickers with their logo on it.
“Kept it all in storage,” Darius responded. “We spent good money on merch, I wasn’t gonna just throw it out. And I knew we’d be back,” he winked and ruffled Mitch’s hair.
“Your faith in others never fails to astound me,” Basil snarked.
“Do we have any albums left, assuming you brought some?” asked Mitch once he’d gotten the world’s biggest eyeroll out of his system.
“Mostly sold out, except for a few copies of Greywater. People wanted the more upbeat stuff, like what we were playing.” A thin jewelcase was handed over, and Mitch stared down at it. He could visualize Darius going into longwinded explanations about the merits of each album and EP to potential customers, and knew why this one was the most likely to be passed over. It was written after Mitch first overdosed, in a bittersweet spot where he was in recovery but relapse loomed nearby. The tracks fluctuated between heavy chords and stripped down bleak melodies, a departure from the usual fuzzy guitar indie fare that Liner Notes was known for. The people that liked it really liked it, but they were in the minority.
It definitely wasn’t Avi’s type of music, Mitch decided, and ultimately he didn’t want to expose that part of himself. He set it back down on the table and mumbled something about going to go get ready for the next performance, which in reality meant that he was going to decompress behind the wall of sound equipment. Moments later, the lights flicked off and on, followed by an announcement about intermission concluding within the next 5 minutes.
Basil joined him and calmly asked if everything was alright while he adjusted his bass strap.
“No,” Mitch answered honestly.
“Was it the ‘faith in others’ remark? Because that was rude of me, sorry.” An apology from Basil was about as rare as witnessing a shooting star, so Mitch accepted it with grace. “By the way, a friend of yours grabbed Greywater. Gushed a bunch about you. Avi?” Try as he may to act detached, Mitch felt his face drop. Basil mirrored the expression. “Oh?”
“I don’t…” Mitch shook his head. “It’s nothing.”
“Don’t look like nothing.”
“It’s nothing,” reiterated Mitch, but Basil’s skepticism persisted, somehow loud though he said nothing further. He always had a knack for that, it got Mitch to confess to more than a few misdemeanors. “Yes, he’s a friend. And my roommate.”
“Oh, sweetheart,” Basil tutted, knowingly. A fucking bloodhound, that guy. “I’m sorry.”
“Where’s Darius?” Mitch’s head swung around as he sought to switch the topic, awash in relief when their drummer approached the stage. “Let’s get this over with, huh?”