You’re here, I’m here, and most importantly, Taylor’s here!
Yup, after a week of dealing with family issues, our resident author has returned to the fold with another chapter from her as-yet untitled drama about Avan and his girlfriend. Or maybe it’s about a woman and her MMA/UFC fighter boyfriend, Avan; since it’s written from her perspective, maybe the latter.
In any case, enjoy the chapter! There’s a link after the chapter to an article about real-world MMA fighters and their relationships, if you’re interested in continuing to read.
Two days passed before our captor finally cut the zip-tie from Avan’s wrists. Blood began dripping immediately from the lacerations the bonds had caused. Before going back upstairs and locking the door, the man handed me some bandages and a small bottle of peroxide he’d fished from his pockets.
“Don’t fall for it.” Avan told me as I prepared the bandages. “He doesn’t care about us.”
I nodded. If I didn’t have Avan to balance me out, I would’ve truly believed our captor acted out of kindness. Avan was more sensible. He was better at reading people than I would ever be. He saw reason, whereas I only saw the action and hardly ever questioned the motivations behind it.
“Hold out your hands.” I said, wincing in anticipation.
Avan did so without hesitation, and I wondered why our captor chose one of the most unpleasant methods of disinfectant. Then I knew. He wanted Avan to suffer even when he wasn’t around to cause the suffering.
But why Avan?
Why him and not me?
“Like a bandaid,” Avan suggested, sighing the words rather than speaking them.
I hesitated, my stomach squeezing with nerves as I held the open bottle over the bleeding wounds. These were the nerves that dogged me after a round in the cage, when my eyes scanned Avan’s body for any visible injuries after a fight. He was always joking about how I was “too soft”, always poking fun at me for worrying too much, but I couldn’t help it. I had so little capacity to watch suffering.
“No pain, no gain.” Avan would say.
I’d nod, force a smile, then armed with ice packs and painkillers I would tend to his cuts and bruises. On the outside, I kept a straight face, focusing only on caring for him. On the inside, I felt as battered as his beautiful body.
I could practically hear the sizzle of Avan’s tormented flesh as I slowly poured out the liquid. He grimaced, letting a low drawn out sound of pain escape from the back of his throat.
“I’m sorry, Avan.” I choked, knowing that I was the cause of his pain. “I’m sorry!”
I turned my face away as the cuts bubbled and foamed at the edges.
“It’s fine.” Avan soothed after a long moment. “I’ve been through worse.”
And he was right. A broken nose, bruised ribs, cracked shins, it was all part of fighting in MMA. But the fights were quick, twenty minutes at the most, and Avan didn’t always walk out injured. Most fights left him with little to no injuries at all. Still, even without the brutality of the cage painted on his face, those twelve months of vigorous training left him so sore and exhausted that the act of giving him a hug required caution and restraint. Up until last month, when we were cuddled together in his hospital bed, enduring pain was part of his life. His ability to withstand and push through it was just as crucial as his ability to control himself during a fight.
I touched his stubbled cheek, so grateful to have him at my side, and I wrapped his wrists in silence.
For the next few days, we were given nothing but stale bread and small cups of water from the tap. For endless hours, we heard nothing but the muffled conversations upstairs. For seconds, we thought of nothing but our own terror. The only window in the basement was padlocked from the outside with glass too thick to break. Clearly, our captor had prepared for our “arrival”.
I sat on the bed, absentmindedly pulling threads from the tattered blanket we’d been given, and strained my ears to hear what was said.
“What do you think they’re talking about?” I asked Avan who, despite his soreness, was doing pushups on the cold basement floor.
He stopped and leaned against the wall to check his pulse. For several long moments, there was nothing but the sound of his heavy breathing. His dark skin, shining with sweat, gave him a glow in the dim light. I climbed from the bed toward where he sat and sank back on my heels to sit beside him. He wrapped an arm around me, pulling me closer. His free hand lifted to his mouth, stayed there for a short while, then slowly slid down his chin. I knew this gesture; it was a sign of stress. Without saying anything, I took his fingers in my own, brought them to my lips and held them there for a long time, wondering what he was thinking. Finally he looked at me, eyes glistening, face written with sadness.
“I need to tell you something.”
As soon as I opened my mouth to reply, I heard the door to the basement creak open, followed by heavy boots on the stairs. Avan clutched me tighter, as if our captor would try to snatch me up and run. He carried a small stool, our captor, and sat it down in front of us.
“I’ll make you a deal, Gutierrez.” he said, sitting down. “And I suggest you oblige. It’s the least you could do.”
Avan’s grip around me loosened and his face became soft. His eyes, glistening with tears, slid to our captor’s face, then away again.
“What’s the deal?”
Our captor smiled and Avan blinked his tears away before they had the chance to fall. I had a sickening feeling that there was an unspoken secret between them, something I knew nothing about. Not the supposed murder. I knew that was a lie. It had to be.
Our captor spoke slowly as if we couldn’t understand.
“I want 50,000 dollars.”
A look of surprise crossed Avan’s face.
“You’re a gifted man, Gutierrez, so here’s the deal. You help me raise the money and I’ll grant you two your freedom. Does that seem fair?”
From the tone of his voice. I knew he wasn’t talking about a lemonade stand. God, what was he going to make us do? Sell our bodies? Become drug dealers? Something worse? What could possibly be worse?
“If you don’t comply,” our captor continued, taking his knife from his pocket. “I guess I’ll be forced to have my way with her. Maybe leave her body on the side of the road if I have to.”
Avan’s arms suddenly tightened around me, squeezing me so hard that it almost hurt.
“Leave her out of this,” he spat. “I’ll do whatever you want. Just leave her alone!”
I wanted to say something, anything that would keep Avan from agreeing to something dangerous, but I didn’t. I wasn’t brave enough to speak up. I just sat there in Avan’s arms and kept my mouth shut, feeling sorry for myself because I was a coward.
“Take off your shirt,” he demanded, gesturing towards Avan with the knife.
Avan obeyed. His entire upper body was covered with healing bruises and welts. I shuddered. I struggled not to wonder what they’d hit him with when they dragged him upstairs just days before. A row of crooked teeth flashed in the grin of our captor, who took Avan’s shirt and threw it aside. He snapped his fingers and another man came down the stairs with a pair of shorts in his hand.
“Put these on.”
Avan didn’t object. He stood up, undid his belt and dropped his pants. I felt a rush of fear pass through me in a freezing wave of pins and needles, and I didn’t know why. They were just basketball shorts, the baggy comfortable sort you slip on before going to play a game with friends. But something told me that our captor wasn’t looking for a friendly game of hoops. Something told me it would be worse. And it was.
Bound at knife point and blinded with hoods, Avan and I were taken upstairs and forced out of the house.
I shivered in the freezing air and had no doubt Avan was shivering too. In fact, he had it worse. I at least had my clothes and shoes. I thought of Avan’s bare feet and chest in this frigid weather and found it agonizing to resist the urge to stop walking and wrap my arms around him. I couldn’t comfort him even if I wanted to. I spooked at the sudden rumble of a truck engine. Images of us being stabbed, beaten, tortured, thrown into the woods and left for dead, flashed through my mind at the sound. I couldn’t do this. I wouldn’t do this.
My legs gave way. My feet skidded in the snow as I tried to keep myself from being taken any further. For a moment, for one split second, I didn’t think about what might happen to Avan. I thought of only my own will to escape, to survive, to live. It was useless. As soon as the men realized I wasn’t moving any further, I was hit in the face with a blunt object, a rusty crowbar from the bed of the truck, and lifted off the ground.
Sitting in the truck, I felt a warm trickle of blood sliding down my cheek. How stupid I’d been to think I could run through the woods bound and blindfolded. How stupid I’d been to think I could just run off, and… And leave Avan behind to face the wrath alone.
My head whirled. Blood gushed from the cut on my face. I moaned and put my head down on my knees, overcome with hatred for myself.
I shuddered when the door beside me opened, letting in a blast of icy wind. Avan was shoved into me with such force that I was pushed to the other side of the truck. Then, the door slammed shut and it was just Avan and I, sitting in the silence.