(A/N: ICYMI, I’m mailing out Monster Mash Valentine cards this year! If you’re interested in getting one, go here to get more info.)
After leading Mitch into the bathroom, Jodie forced him to sit down on the edge of the tub and she shut the door. He sobbed and shook while she filled up a paper cup with water, then passed it over to him.
“I’m sorry,” he wailed, and only drank because she urged him to. After a large gulp, he set the cup down next to him and tried to hide his face, whimpering, “Jodie, I’m so sorry.”
“Sweetheart, for what?” When he didn’t immediately answer, she crouched down and gently cupped his cheek, trying and failing to get him to look at her. In a firmer tone, she asked, “Mitch. For what?”
“I should have listened to you. I went and ruined Thanksgiving.”
“What, the thing you busted your ass on when I was busy being vindictive?” Mitch let out a wet laugh, and she tutted. “Oh honey, the only thing you’re doing wrong is blaming yourself for Toby. If he was upset with you, he should have just left.”
“But it’s my fault he was here.”
“And? That doesn’t give him the right to hit you, no matter what you said or did.” Again, he said nothing, and she exhaled. “Mitch, you know that right?”
“I’m a piece of shit-“
“No! Bad! He fucked your ex.” Bumping their foreheads together, she lightly raked her nails against the back of his scalp. “You silly man, he spent the last decade bleeding you dry emotionally. And then he hits you, to top it all off.”
“It was just a shove,” Mitch weakly countered, unsure why he was hellbent on glossing this over, or why he omitted the slap.
Because as a wrestler, he was supposed to be tough and able to handle his own. When Mitch started training, Calvin cracked jokes about “roid rage” and how he’d eventually become a statistic, like a battered housewife. It horrified Mitch so much that he almost quit, and adopted a much more docile temperament to compensate. Then Calvin accused him of getting boring, because there wasn’t any way to win against him.
Jodie leaned back and studied his face for a moment, then got up and rummaged through the linen closet. With a washcloth in hand, she turned the faucet on again and held it under the running water, then rang it out and pressed it to Mitch’s cheek. The cool fabric briefly burned against his flesh before the sting numbed at last. “Just a shove,” she muttered under her breath. “It was assault, Mitch. And I talked to him after it happened. For starters, he’s drunk. Did you know that?”
“No,” Mitch shook his head. “I was wondering about that, though. He’s been drinking recently, I should have-“
Jodie let out a sharp Ah!, startling Mitch and shutting him up. “Again, not your fault. Anyway, he went off about wanting to press charges against Avi.”
“Oh fuck,” Mitch squawked and pulled at his hair while the tell-tale signs of a panic attack manifested, his throat tightening and pulse racing and nausea turning his stomach over.
“Shhh. Stop interrupting. He’s the one that started this. I told him if he went through with it, I’d twist your arm to do the same to him. I know you won’t otherwise, and I’d really like to keep Avi out of jail.”
Shaking his head, Mitch admitted, “I didn’t plan on it, no.”
“Exactly. I reminded him that Nora’s an attorney as well, and a really good one, too. That’s how Dad got over 25 years of owed residuals from The Fed a while back. Apparently they weren’t paying him for streaming or DVD revenue? Something insane like that.”
“Wait, but her field isn’t criminal defense, right? So how would that even work?”
“I mean, she’s done general practice as well. But that isn’t the point, and Tobes isn’t any the wiser, since he’s kinda dumb about real world stuff. Anyway, he settled down and got agreeable so fast, you should’ve seen the look in his eyes. I paid for a cab and he went home, and there’s a tow truck on its way for his car so that he doesn’t have to worry about coming back for it.” During her explanation, she occasionally paused to wipe tears off of Mitch’s face. Holding him at arm’s length, she cooed, “Everything’s fine. We can still have dessert. Wouldn’t be a holiday without some shit going down anyway.”
“I’m not hungry,” Mitch sniffled, and Jodie set aside the washcloth to pull him into a hug. His nose pressed into the fabric of her dress, and the floral sweetness of her perfume lodged into his nostrils and grounded him. There was no quantifiable way to measure his love for her, and he could only hope that his reciprocation was adequate in comparison. But he very much doubted that, always had.
“You don’t have to do anything,” she whispered. “If you wanna go lay down, do that. You deserve it, it’s been a long day.”
“Actually, uh. Could I ask you to do two things for me?”
“Anything,” she nodded.
“Can you touch base with Basil? I don’t think he’s in a good place right now, but you’re better at getting through to him than I am.”
And then he asked her to bring up the vegan brownies, which she hurried off to fetch. With the door now open, he could hear light conversation from downstairs and how it died off as Jodie’s heels clicked throughout the foyer and towards the kitchen. He didn’t have to be present to know firsthand that the mood turned sour.
When Jodie returned, she also handed over Avi’s glasses alongside the plastic container, and Mitch profusely thanked her. Waiting until she was gone before daring to look at himself in the mirror, he frowned at the obvious red imprint across his cheek. Pressing fingers under his jawbone, he moved it to and fro to assess further damage and found everything to be intact.
Once he left the bathroom, minutes passed as he stood outside of Avi’s door, gripping the container so tightly that he worried about crushing it. At last, he squeezed his eyes shut and knocked. The solid wood -an original and therefore ancient fixture of the house, leftover from before the building was converted into a duplex- muffled the sound, so with a wince he raised his arm to rap his knuckles again.
“What?” came a gruff reply from the other side.
“It’s me,” Mitch’s voice tremored. “Can I come in?”
There was a pause, followed up by a quiet, “OK”, and Mitch summoned the courage to turn the knob and open the door.