Hello again! It’s Saturday, so it must be time for another post from our resident author, Taylor Anne Vigil!
This week we’re getting a fuller look at a story she’s posted here before, telling the tale of Avan the MMA fighter. Today she’s providing more of a tease, with a few more pieces added in to give it depth and a little background.
Love to know where we’re going with this!
Dearest readers, this piece started out as a silly little Facebook post, a Facebook post which caught Adam’s eye and made him take me on as a blogger for this site. I will be forever grateful that post, which follows the memory of my characters Avan and a nameless girl cuddled together in a hospital bed. Some of my recognize it as something I’ve posted before on this blog, but I assure you, it has grown.
I remember driving in the snow. The warmth of Avan’s fingers in mine. The force of an impact. The grinding of metal. The shattering of glass. The taste of blood.
Avan winced as he shuffled over to make room for me on the hospital bed. I laced my fingers with his, careful of his IV, and laid my head against the pillow.
“Promise me,” I whispered, fighting back the tears. “This one was your last.”
He lifted our tangled fingers to his lips and kissed them.
“I promise,” he said.
With another wince, he rolled onto his side and touched my cheek. I echoed his actions, stroking my fingers through his hair. For a while we stayed like that, softly touching, our lips just inches apart, staring into one another’s eyes. His breath warmed my skin as he spoke softly to me.
“I promise you. No more fighting. You’re more important.”
He forced a smile and, for his sake, I smiled back. Then my chest tightened and I couldn’t breathe. Images of him, my sweet Avan, going down, hitting his head, lying motionless, replayed over and over in my head. I remembered the sound the most, the sickening “whack!” of the opponent’s foot striking Avan in the face. I shivered. I fought for air.
“Hey,” Avan soothed, resting his palms on either side of my neck. “I’m okay. Look at me. I’m okay.”
Then, just as he’d done so many times before, he breathed with me. He shushed me and he breathed, inhaling deeply through his nose and exhaling through his mouth, despite how much it must’ve irritated the nagging injuries to his chest. I breathed with him. I focused only on the sound of my heartbeat, the softness of his hands, his lips on my forehead. Slowly I began to calm down. I caught my breath. And I buried my face into the warm skin of his neck.
“I just don’t want to watch you get hurt anymore.” I whimpered through trembling breaths. “I can’t.”
He shushed me again and pressed his lips against my ear. I heard his own breathing becoming uneven as he pulled me closer to him.
“You won’t have to.”
“Get away from her!”
My eyes fluttered open at the sound of a voice – Avan’s voice! – risen in anger. It wasn’t Avan who was atop me. It was a balding man, a stranger with black eyes and a scarred face. I was laying on a bed, my wrists tied to the posts. Without Avan in sight I was paralyzed. The stranger touched my neck with calloused fingers. A small, pathetic whimper rose from my throat.
“Don’t touch her!” Avan roared.
He grunted and cursed, fighting to break free of his bonds, I knew. I still couldn’t see him. The stranger looked over his shoulder, hand still on my neck.
Avan’s voice became even, his tone deep.
“Or I’ll fucking kill you.”
The stranger erupted in a burst of laughter. I held my breath. I closed my eyes and prepared myself for whatever this stranger wanted to do to me. To my dismay, he did nothing. He climbed off of the bed, off of me, and headed in Avan’s direction.
No… God, no!
I inhaled sharply, and fought to sit up. Avan’s wrists were secured to a support beam, his arms high above his head, the beam just low enough for his toes to touch the ground. It was warm and the only window was a small rectangular thing, set into the wall beside the stairs which led to a padlocked door. We were trapped, and now our captor was circling Avan in a way that made my stomach churn.
“Avan Gutierrez,” he said, sounding giddy. “What a gifted fighter you were, huh?”
The stranger walked slowly, scanning Avan up and down. In comparison, Avan was thin, lanky, and not the least bit threatening-looking to a man who looked like he could lift a truck. But I’d seen him fight. I watched him knock countless opponents to their knees with one swift kick to the ribs. I watched him stand back up after taking a devastating blow to the jaw. It was his speed that impressed the audience, his ability to dodge the hits as quickly as they came. It was his will to keep fighting, his eagerness to get back up no matter how many times he was beaten down, that terrified me.
The man stopped beside Avan and examined him once more. He smiled.
“Avan Gutierrez, young, strong, handsome, resilient. Five knockouts, ten championships… And, one murder.”
I felt chilled all over.
Murder? No! Avan wasn’t a killer.
Avan’s expression changed, just for a moment. Recognition, I thought, but it faded so quickly that I could’ve been mistaken. His muscles tensed. His fingers gripped the thick white ropes which secured him to the beam. His voice was nearly a growl.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t I?” our captor replied, looking at me instead of at Avan. “Maybe I should ask your little girlfriend what she knows.”
“He wouldn’t do that!” I snapped at him, struggling against my own bonds.
“So. She doesn’t know?” he growled, not taking his eyes off me. “Boy, do you have some talking to do. Aye, Gutierrez? Or maybe I should do the talking for you once I’ve had my fill of her.”
In the space of a second, I watched Avan’s stance change, a shift of his body weight, his position, his grip. Using only his arms, he lifted himself off the ground and kicked our captor with such force that he fell to the floor, smacking his head against the hard concrete.
Avan twisted and jerked in a futile effort to free himself while I stared down at our captor, not knowing what to think, what to feel.
“This isn’t happening,” I whispered to myself. “This can’t be happening!”
My ears rang so loud that the sounds of Avan’s struggling became muffled. My entire body went numb.
“Fuck!” Avan exclaimed, breaking me from my trance.
He was panting now, sweating from the effort. frustration painted across his face. He turned his head and swallowed hard, not looking at me. It took several seconds for him to catch his breath. When he finally did, he sighed and closed his eyes. I’d seen this look before. I saw it after every tapout. I saw it after every suffocating chokehold. I saw it after every losing match. He was giving up.
I felt like crying then. If a bodybuilder like Avan couldn’t break free of his bonds, there was no way in Hell I’d be breaking out of mine. A low groan made me look down.
Avan opened his eyes and followed my gaze to our captor, who was slowly coming to. Placing a hand to his head, he rose up, unsteady on his feet. Without looking at me or Avan, he stumbled towards the space under the stairs and pulled out a safe. My heartbeat rose as I watched him crack the combination, open the door, and pull out a shiny metal object.
“You made a very big mistake, Gutierrez.”
He turned around, smiled and started walking swiftly towards Avan with the knife.
“No please!” I cried, tugging at the ropes around my wrists.
“Don’t hurt him!”
The more I pulled, the more I fought against the ropes, the tighter the knots became.
With one quick motion, he kneed Avan in the groin. With another quick motion Avan was cut free and he sank to the floor, clutching his stomach. Anguish tightened my chest as he coughed and retched without throwing anything up. Almost immediately, he was grabbed by the back of his neck and forced up the stairs.
“Stop!” I pleaded. “You’re hurting him!”
I heard the door unlock, open, then slam shut. The sound of heavy footsteps, more voices, three other men. What came next was excruciating. Thud after muffled thud, the sounds of Avan being punched, kicked, thrown against the floor. My breath caught. I gasped for air.
This is it. This is how Avan is going to die.
Avan lowered himself slowly into the tub of warm water.
“Did you really have to add the bubbles?” he asked with a light laugh.
I sat on the stool nearest to him and smiled.
“It’s lavender, jerk!” I said, giving his shoulder a playful shove. “It’s supposed to be relaxing.”
He smiled warmly at me, laid his head back against the towel behind him and closed his eyes.
I didn’t respond. Really, the suds that covered his battered body were there for me. I wasn’t with him when he got undressed and I wouldn’t be with him when he got out. It was the sight of the bruises, the marks which brought me back to the grueling hours of training, to the brutality of the fights. The marks I couldn’t bear to look at.
I felt a wet hand on mine and lifted my gaze to meet his.
I forced a smile, something I was doing more and more often. I took his fingers gently in my own and kissed his bruised knuckles. He made a face, and I could see: somehow, he knew. He’d known what was wrong all along.
“What can I do to make it better?” he asked.
His green eyes were full of the concern I loved so much. I took a deep breath and sat on the edge of the tub.
“Take out the trash, do the dishes, maybe vacuum the carpets every once in a while.”
He chuckled at my sarcasm. I raised my eyebrows, trying to keep a straight face.
“I’m serious, Avan.”
He laughed again, and wrapped an arm around my waist. His wet thumb brushed my hip, making me shiver.
“Oh, you’re serious, huh?”
I closed my eyes and looked away, hiding my growing smile.
“Yes I a-”
My statement was cut short when I felt myself being pulled into the tub. My hands slipped as I grabbed onto the side for support, but to no avail. I splashed into the silky water with a gasp. Avan wrapped his arms around me, holding me to him as I wiggled and squirmed and laughed so hard it hurt.
“No, no, no!” he said, giggling. “You’re not getting away this time!”
“Okay, okay!” I said, catching my breath.
His arms around me loosened and I looked over the edge of the bathtub. Soapy water was everywhere.
“You’re cleaning this up.” I whispered, leaning back against him.
He kissed my ear.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
I gave a little giggle and sank deeper into the water, sighing when I felt Avan pull me tighter to his chest. I leaned my head back against his shoulder and breathed him in. These were the moments which made it all worthwhile, these times of peace and distraction, away from the cage, away from the blood, away from the violence. These were the moments that held me together when I felt certain I would break apart.
Avan took a deep breath and I sighed in frustration, knowing he would break the silence, that this moment wouldn’t last forever.
“You know, you don’t need to worry about me. I’m-“
I snapped at him.
“Yes, I know that you’re fine. I know that!”
God, why? Why did he have to ruin it like that?
“I’m sorry,” I said, rubbing my face with wet hands. “It’s just hard.”
He leaned his cheek onto my hair.
I sniffed and wiped at my tears. There was a still-healing wound on his forearm, one I hadn’t noticed until now. It was swollen and red and painful. My voice was suddenly small.
“Seeing you like this. Seeing you so sore you can’t even tie your own shoes. All of those bruises and the swelling, and….”
I trailed off, shivering in the warm water.
“I should be used to it by now, but I’m not… Maybe I never will be.”
Avan’s chest shuddered.
“What can I do?” he whispered, pressing his lips to my hair. “How can I help?”
I didn’t dare speak the words resting on my lips. Telling him to stop fighting was like telling an artist to stop painting or a writer to stop writing or a human to stop breathing. Mixed Martial Arts was his passion. I saw it in the thrill of a victory and the devastation of a loss. Fighting was just as much a part of him as every beat of his heart. And I had no right to take it away from him. I swallowed my disappointment, a bitter mouthful, and closed my eyes.
“Sing to me.”
He kissed my hair, paused for a moment, and then kissed my cheek, lightly. My beautiful distraction. His voice was a quiet whisper near my ear.
About a thing
Cuz, every little thing
Is gonna be alright….”
Silence. It was the loudest sound I’d ever heard. For fifteen minutes there were thuds, there were thumps, there was the occasional cry of pain. Then there was nothing. I broke into a cold sweat.
“Please God,” I prayed. “Please let him be okay.”
Yellow light spilled down the basement steps. Two men I didn’t recognize came down first. Our captor followed shortly after, dragging Avan by the back of his shirt. Avan stumbled. He struggled to stay on his feet. His hands were zip-tied in front of him. A burlap sack had been thrown over his head. He was shoved into the two other men and they pushed him roughly to the ground.
“He’ll be hurting for a couple of days.” One of them sneered.
Our captor crouched beside Avan’s covered head.
“If you try anything else, she’ll be next.”
Avan’s fingers curled. His breathing became short and shallow. My chest ached at the sight of him. So vulnerable. So defeated.
“And you,” our captor said, standing and walking towards me.
He pulled a knife from his pants pocket, the same knife he’d gotten from the safe, and began cutting my binds.
“You’ll behave, won’t you? You don’t want anything else happening to him, do you?”
I shook my head, slowly.
“I’ll behave.” I said, in a voice I was fighting to keep steady. “I promise.”
He smiled at me.
I sat up and rubbed my sore wrists as the three of them made their way up the stairs. When I was certain they were gone, that the door had been locked shut, I rushed to Avan. I knelt beside him, hesitating to remove the sack from his head. They hadn’t bothered to cut the zip-ties from his wrists.
“Don’t break down.” I mouthed to myself. “Avan needs you.”
Slowly, carefully, I pulled the sack from his head. His hair, black and thick, fell over his face and eyes. I brushed it back behind his ear and winced, because of the blood, because of the swelling that stood out on his cheek bone. He looked at me without moving his head. His eye had already started to blacken. I took his fingers. He stared at them.
His words were sliced with a wince. He inhaled sharply.
“You’re so cold.”
It was true. The drying sweat had sent a chill down to my bones. I shushed him. I stroked my fingers through his hair. I wiped away the blood I could from his face.
“What c-an I do?” I asked, my voice cracking.
His words came in a breathy whisper.
“Sing to me.”
I repositioned myself on the floor, cradling his head in my lap. I sang softly to him the song that we loved so much.
About a thing
Cuz, every little thing
Is gonna be alright….”