Having already spent plenty of time with Avi made it easy to gel with him as a tag team partner. Mitch became a sponge and absorbed every bit of wisdom offered to him, because how often did a rookie get unlimited insight from someone that lived and breathed this industry for as long as Avi had? That wasn’t to say that Victor’s tutelage was ineffective -far from it, the man was a genius- but there were different strengths at play between the two veterans.
Where Victor focused more on teaching the execution of wrestling -clean movement into and out of holds and the footwork- Avi focused on the presentation. He was all about visual snugness and the big picture, giving pointers on showing the audience the character’s story, tips on ring awareness and effectively using distance: when, where, and how to present.
For the first time, things clicked into place that until then eluded Mitch in the few years he’d been training; Victor gave him the toolset, but Avi was the one teaching how to use it effectively, constantly refining what the work put onto the canvas. It reminded him of when Dylan first taught him how to play guitar when they were teens, but Basil introduced him how things were supposed to sound versus dicking around and making noise.
Staying true to his word, Mitch held Avi’s hand throughout the process of what he referred to as “heel acclimation”. He tapped into what may as well be a past life, combing through his old college email account that for some reason he still had access to, and found various materials from the improv classes which he took. At the time, they were instrumental for getting him out of his shell, and without them he may have never taken the chance on open mic nights or burlesque or even wrestling.
So he invited Avi to the attic to practice exercises in private together, promising not to judge as a bargaining chip. Because for whatever reason, being greased up and half naked in front of hundreds -sometimes thousands, in Avi’s case- was far less daunting than possibly having a stray witness perceive you. Mitch got it, though, and let Avi set the pace.
They exchanged various monologue and rant techniques, inventing new characters and experimenting with song lyrics and the like. And Avi got into it because that’s what he did, adapt and then perfect any challenge handed to him. He started demure and stiff but turned vocal and animated as soon as he recognized how to harness the power of pushing the metaphorical pedal to the floor.
Once the initial awkwardness subsided, Mitch found a local group that held weekly drop-in classes, which Avi surprisingly agreed to attend with him. And for as much as this was for Avi and helping him loosen up, Mitch found that re-engaging with this previously-buried part of himself to be invigorating. It took some hearty shakes to get rid of the layers of dust and cobwebs, but all of the masks and pageantry came quite naturally to him. As long as he presented someone else for public consumption, Mitch Calvert’s crumbling self-worth and neuroticism remained safe and away from any spotlights or criticism.
But before they’d even gone to the class, Mitch already fixated on how the rest of students may benefit from a few lessons as well. He floated the idea of asking Jodie and Victor to hire an instructor to come to the school, while simultaneously considering that he ought to wait and see how Avi fared, and if there were any notable improvements.
Unbeknownst to him, Avi had a similar train of thought.
Towards the tail end of a Monument Wrestling Academy staff meeting, Mitch swung by to meet up with Avi so that they could get going to the class afterwards. Normally students weren’t allowed to attend anything staff related, but Mitch had unspoken privileges which he tried not to abuse all that much. He snuck in and sidled up next to Nate, and was pulled into a discreet side hug while Avi went on about, of all things, the improv exercises. “Yeah and-” paused Avi, smiling when he caught sight of Mitch. “Oh, hi! I was just telling everyone how helpful you’ve been, and about our date tonight-”
Mitch froze. “I mean, it’s not. It’s not a date,” he wheezed a little, acutely aware of everyone’s eyes on him. Especially Nate’s. All of the oxygen in the room depleted and the walls began to close in.
“Huh? Yeah, no. I didn’t-” Avi huffed out a laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. It wasn’t the first time that he’d used that term, throwing it out playfully when they ran errands or grabbed coffee, but it was the first time that Mitch ever drew attention to it. And suddenly, he was the world’s biggest asshole for putting Avi on the spot like that, after already dragging him far away from his comfort zone. Avi swallowed and continued as if he hadn’t missed a beat and wasn’t scared shitless, but Mitch knew otherwise. Because he’d already disclosed his fears about doing this. “Um. We’re going to a class tonight. It’s gonna be fun. I think we should talk about setting something up like this in the future for the students.”
When everyone broke at last, Mitch pulled Nate aside to a dark corner of the school, and stood on his toes to kiss the side of his face.
“Have a nice date,” Nate joked, a touch of Yours Truly bleeding through, and that didn’t sit well with Mitch.
“Sorry about that,” Mitch frowned and something in his stomach curdled over the very idea of needing to apologize on behalf of Avi. The sensation worsened when it dawned on him that he wanted to be worthy of a little jealousy. Still, he further explained. “He says that about almost everything that we do together. I think grocery shopping was ‘a date’ one time…”
“I believe you. But for real, enjoy yourself.” After planting a kiss on the top of Mitch’s head and ruffling his hair, Nate sent him on his way. He bumped into Avi in the lobby, who didn’t seem bothered in the slightest, still all cheery and enthusiastic as usual. But once they reached his car, the facade peeled back enough for Mitch to catch a glimpse of the nerves that he so carelessly prodded.
“Avi, I’m sorry,” he said, unsure how to further elaborate. But he needed to break the tension.
“Hm? For what?” Avi sat up straight and blinked a few times, then nodded as though he’d been struck by a sudden realization. “Oh, was it the ‘date’ thing? I should use better phrasing, huh. I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable, won’t do it again.” He held a hand to his chest, demonstrating a promise, his palm pressed against the fabric of the stolen black hoodie. And yet, the gesture only made Mitch’s heart hurt, as if an invisible chain was attached to it and had been yanked.
“That wasn’t-” Mitch started, but he’d been so caught off guard by the apology that he retracted all together and curled in on himself in the passenger seat, as he’d done so many times before in that very spot. He came close to insisting that the phrase itself wasn’t the issue, but knew there wasn’t any way for him to either 1. appear sane or casual about actually liking the term, the fact that he had an opinion on it to begin with, or 2. avoid bringing up Nate, which he wasn’t supposed to do until they had things better sorted.
That latter point caused further unrest. Vague deja vu manifested, its source most likely from dealing Toby for over a decade. But Nate wasn’t Toby, Mitch reminded himself. Not by a long shot. He needed to bring it up during his next therapy session, so that he didn’t mess up something potentially good.
“It’s cool, I got you.” Avi reiterated as he adjusted the volume knob. “Anyway, I’m excited to try this in a group. Thanks for helping me out so much, man, you’ve been really great.”
Just like that, Avi continued in the same way that a river flowed unbothered by time or space, perhaps having gotten more out of the private exercises than Mitch realized. He must have misread the situation, which both soothed and stung like analgesic applied to a cut. No lasting harm had been done to Avi’s ego, which was what mattered most here.
But the idea of nothing being a “date” anymore, even in jest. That Avi at last reached something off limits between them…
It was bound to happen eventually, Mitch concluded. And though he didn’t care for the bitter taste in his mouth, he knew that it was probably for the best.