Seconds after Avi pulled into the driveway, Jodie burst outside and hurried towards the car.
“How’d it go?” she asked after opening Mitch’s door for him. Before he was stable on both feet, she pulled him into a hug.
“Oh, it was great. We’re back together,” he teased, and she lightly cuffed the side of his head.
“Don’t even joke about that. I’d kill you.”
“No no, it’s done. It’s done,” he affirmed. Her hand slid up his face until long nails affectionately scratched at his scalp.
“I’m proud of you,” she whispered, then released him.
“Y’know? Me too, a little,” he whispered back. Within the blink of an eye she was gone again, hovering around the trunk where Avi was grabbing totes. Although Mitch couldn’t hear what she was saying to him in hushed tones, he saw the way that his cheeks lifted and eyes crinkled as she talked. His amiable nature radiated out in gentle waves; the fact that he had the energy to be so pleasant after everything that transpired, filled Mitch with both an insurmountable amount of guilt and somehow even more gratitude.
“C’mere, you’re family now.” Jodie’s voice pulled Mitch from out of his thoughts with about the same force that Avi had been dragged into a hug of his own. He shot a helpless look at Mitch, and Mitch shook his head fondly in response. For a moment, he wondered what it was like to be Jodie: so casual with affection, and how freeing that must be.
“Dinner’s on me tonight,” she declared. “Avi, you pick the place.”
Avi protested, saying that it wasn’t necessary, but Jodie refused to listen. The both of them grabbed totes, and between two people with fully functioning arms, transporting took much less time. Mitch waited until they were done before grabbing the guitar case, and as he shut the trunk, Avi reappeared. “Did we get everything?” he asked.
“Yup, you guys crushed it.” He latched the trunk then turned to Avi. Before opening his mouth to say anything further, he paused to admire the sunset that’d bled across the sky like oversaturated watercolors; a beautiful conclusion to a harrowing day. Clearing his throat, Mitch said, “I don’t even know how to thank you for doing this. Or how to even begin apologizing for being, y’know…”
“Don’t,” Avi held up a hand. “Don’t do that to yourself, man. I get it. I’d be a wreck too if I was going through that.”
Mitch ducked his head. “Thanks. It means a lot, that’s all.”
“Hey, you tolerated several hours worth of 90s boy bands. I mean, I know that I said that it was something cheerful, but really I just wanted to listen to the Backstreet Boys.”
“That was fun, though!” insisted Mitch. “I…” His voice wavered, and he swallowed. “You spun the worst day into something not awful, and- and you don’t really know me much, you didn’t have to do this at all-” His voice broke, and the pressure began to build behind his eyes for at least the hundredth time that day. “Fuck, dude.”
“You’re from Valence, which is very old and doesn’t have much for wrestling going on. You’re a musician, and you used to ski. You take your coffee black, and somehow you’re very sarcastic while you simultaneously wear your heart on your sleeve. And you have like at least 15 flannel shirts.” As Avi listed off traits, Mitch stared at him in disbelief
“How did you know about the flannels?”
“I’m from Washington, I know a flannel guy when I see one,” Avi chuckled. “And only one or two of the totes had lids. And sorry to creep, but it looked like that flannel tote had some wrestling gear in it? The fabric looked very cool, like all kinds of mesh and wild spandex prints. Did you have another character before Zevon?”
“That’s not right, my only wrestling gear is-” Mitch leapt back as he put a few pieces together in his head, and his face burned like a furnace in the dead of winter. “Oh my god,” he muttered, and covered his eyes. “Yeah, no. It’s gear alright. I-” Two of his fingers parted so that he could give Avi a once over and make a final assessment. It was now safe to assume that he wouldn’t be lobbing slurs at any point. May as well put it all out there. “I did burlesque for a little while, like in college. I’d completely forgotten that I still had anything left over from that.”
“Huh! Really?” Avi’s head tilted as he appeared to consider this. “That’s awesome! I could never be brave enough to do that! Was it fun?”
“Actually, it was? Iunno, it’s wrestling with less fighting and more singing.” Mitch rubbed the back of his neck, avoiding eye contact.
“Yeah, and taking your clothes off!”
“Oh c’mon, we do that in wrestling, too.”
“But not in a sexy way! Or with any coordination, for that matter!”
“Psh, speak for yourself,” Mitch brushed him off jokingly, and Avi giggled.
“Maybe my stock would go up if I started doing that instead of just going out half naked in my gear. I’ve been giving it away from the get go this entire time.”
“Fuck man, and you’ve been doing this for almost 20 years? Amateur hour over here.” Mitch held a hand to his mouth, pantomiming as if he was addressing an imaginary audience, and making Avi laugh harder. Once he settled down, he motioned to the guitar.
“By the way, do you want me to take that?”
“No, I think I can manage an acoustic guitar,” Mitch batted him away. “I’m only partially broken.”
“Alright, alright!” Avi yielded. They stood in silence for another minute, both captivated by the hues of scarlet and violet and indigo that enveloped the sky. “Y’know,” he started, and Mitch turned his gaze towards him. “I gotta admit, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play guitar.”
“I can’t exactly use it right now, but I could teach you,” Mitch offered. “It’s left-handed, so you’ll have to flip it. And I might be a bit rusty. Calvin used to get annoyed when I played at home, so I just kind of…didn’t.”
“Trade vegan secrets for guitar lessons? Sounds like a fair deal.” They walked towards the front door, Avi letting Mitch take the lead.
“And physical therapy?” Mitch craned his neck and waggled his eyebrows.
“No dice on that, my price is still coffee.”
“Well in that case, I’m still very broken, please carry my extremely cumbersome acoustic guitar.” He allowed the strap to slide off of his shoulder, and Avi caught it before it could touch the ground.
“Wow, I had no idea that both of your shoulders are injured! Maybe we should try to find another sling for you, and then both of your arms can be immobilized!”
“That’s not even funny,” pouted Mitch, upset by the very notion. “I think I’d rather die. The fact that I’m going to be stuck in this for at least two more weeks sucks so bad.”
“You could walk around like some messed up flightless bird with their useless little wings,” Avi continued, distressing Mitch further. “Eating would be rough, since you don’t have a beak.”
“Are you Jodie now?” Mitch groaned. “I will give you actual money to shut up.”
“How exactly are you gonna get your wallet with your two broken arms?” The door was opened for Mitch, and he couldn’t tell if it was a courtesy or to drive the point home, but he assumed it was both.
“What the hell are you two going on about?” Jodie asked from the kitchen, and they looked at one another and grinned.