Jodie turned to Avi and cheerfully declared, “That went well.”
While they conversed, Mitch snuck over until he was by Jodie’s side. He waited until there was a lull before asking, “Is there any way that I can help out tonight? Since, y’know, the camera thing.”
“Dude, just take it easy. Enjoy the show.” Jodie tried to bat him away, but he remained anchored to his spot.
“I’m serious, Jo. I don’t wanna just sit around. You won’t let me be with Louis and Sandy, so there’s gotta be something?” Mitch protested. Being tangent to the meeting but not a part of it left a hollow sensation in his chest, and its presence burned. Since the last thing that he needed was grief compounded with more grief, he spent the last few weeks avoiding most things related to wrestling. At the time, the one-off stint of doing commentary caused a yearning that was more damaging than it was encouraging, but now he felt a little more confident about dipping his toes back in the water.
“I mean, you can go out with them, but you can’t hang around ringside,” she clarified. Her face showed signs of straining, which indicated that she was doing her best to be both sensitive and simultaneously firm on a stance. “But other than that, we’re actually pretty good tonight.”
“You can hang out with me?” offered Avi with an overabundance of friendliness, as though he was attempting to mediate. “I’m not doing anything tonight, either. Be my date?”
“Oh, uh-” Mitch’s fingers twitched. His hand strayed from his side and ready to rub the back of his neck until it was raw. The word ‘date’ amplified in his ears, ricocheting off of the walls of his skull. It wasn’t literal, Mitch reminded himself. Avi just talked like that.
Not that he was looking for a date, or wanted one, or so he thought. It was still too soon, the wounds of the breakup too fresh, Calvin’s essence still omnipresent, still painful.
However, the logic did nothing to drop the rate at which his pulse accelerated, and when Avi flashed a smile at him, it was as though someone applied a balm to the lesions. “Maybe,” Mitch cleared his throat. “I was going to go check with my guys first and see if they want me to do stuff with them for their entrance. But probably, yeah. I could do that, if Jodie just wants me to be on standby. We can hang out.”
“OK. I’ll be around,” Avi waved him off, and Mitch gave a small wave of his own. He continued to stare in the direction that Avi walked away, until there was a sharp tug at his shirtsleeve which yanked his shirt collar and made him gag.
“Wh-what are you doing?” Mitch asked Jodie as she dragged him away.
“We’re going into the office right now.” Jodie pulled him down the small hallway and practically kicked the door down when she got to it. “Dad, out,” she demanded. Victor got up from his desk without any argument, yelping out a startled, “I’m going!”
“Jodie, what the fuck?!” Mitch shouted, watching her shut and lock the door behind them.
“No, you ‘what the fuck’? What is going on with you?” she hissed back.
“What do you mean?” Mitch swung his left arm out in an exaggerated manner, then pointed his thumb at his chest. “I’m doing what you want, I’m not getting involved with the show!”
“Are you flirting with him? Why are you flirting with him?” Her eyes narrowed.
“Victor?” Mitch half joked, half panicked.
“No, idiot.” She slapped her own forehead, causing the numerous silver bangles around her wrist to jingle from the force. “Avi.”
“I’m not flirting with Avi. I don’t even- why would you say that?” Mitch blurted, taken aback.
“I have functioning eyes and ears, dude. I see the way that you stare at him when he’s not looking. I heard you guys a week ago in the living room, and around the house. You,” her index finger dug into his sternum, below his thumb, “don’t ever talk like that with anyone, unless you’re trying to get laid.”
“Iunno Jo, it’s banter I guess? He’s easy to talk to? It’s not flirting,” Mitch insisted, biting the urge to explain that he couldn’t get laid even if he wanted to. He would rather deal with the heat from an argument and risk getting burned than to throw a bucket of ice on this topic to drive a point home. Sure, it would redirect Jodie’s fury away from him, but the idea of shining a light on his most intimate source of shame was not something he could bear.
“Oh, talk about safewords isn’t flirting? Dancing isn’t flirting?” she raised an eyebrow at him. “The giggling wasn’t flirting? You being a breathless dumbass isn’t flirting?”
“How did you hear any of that? I thought you were out! Is the house bugged?” He backed up to get out of her range, uncomfortable with whatever it was that she saw that he could not.
“Dude, I came back. You didn’t hear me, on account of the flirting. I said ‘hi’ to him while he got you an ice pack. You can ask.” Her eyes were like daggers.
“He. He…he started it, not me.” Mitch tugged at his hair as he could sense the panic rising to the surface, threatening to overtake the eroded storm-surge barriers that he failed to maintain. “I didn’t do anything, OK? Why are you bothering me about this, don’t you have shit to run?”
“Mitch,” her tone went from accusatory to delicate, and Mitch was about ready to explode when he caught on. The briefing may as well be over, he heard the words before she spoke them.
“Don’t start,” he gritted.
“You just got out of a really bad situation, and…” she sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger. “You know what? This time, I’ll just cut to the chase. I’d prefer if you didn’t attempt to fuck our roommate and my employee.”