I'm on the phone with Piter, yammering about my latest match. "...and so then I hit the Freedom Rally and it was all over, man."
"Uh huh," he replies, in pretty much the same vein as he's been speaking for the last few minutes. Sure, he saw the match, but he didn't hear the blow-by-blow from me.
"One, two, three, dude. All over."
"Yeah?" he replies. "Well, let's see how you do against Eva, eh?"
"Sure, sure," I say."Anyway, I'm here, so I'll talk to you later, all right?"
"Indeed. I've gotta go myself. Later on."
I step out of the car and take a deep breath. Back in Parma Heights. I can smell it. That semi-industrial funk, septic tank miasma, my mother's cheap perfume carrying here from the restaurant.
I didn't want to come back here.
But Karen is here, and I can be here if I want to be, I don't, but she wants me to, I want her to want me, and so here I am. I came here for her, she's here for me, I need her, so badly, but so good, I've missed her all these years and never even noticed she was gone. You can't miss what you've never had, and no, I didn't really, but I do, that's why I'm here, here in Parma Heights, thought you can't always get what you want, and I want more than coffee.
Last time, coffee was fine, it was great, it was as beautiful as anything I could've hoped for. Bitter and sweet, no cream, one sugar, and now I'm back for more sugar.
So here I am, at the Double Dragon Buffet, and Jimmy and Bimmy Lee are nowhere in sight. Karen, however, is just pulling up in her dark green Buick LeSabre. I aimlessly stride toward her car, hands in pockets, feet on ground, head in clouds. She looks even more beautiful than I remembered. Once again, she's decked out all in black, with a Johnny the Homicidal Maniac T-shirt adding a touch of class to her wardrobe. She gets out of her car and runs straight to me, arms spread wide. I catch her in a hug and lift her off the ground, spinning her around several times before putting her down.
"That makes me dizzy," she says. "Or maybe I'm just disoriented by your amazing charm. By the way, you're flying low."
I pull up my zipper and escort her to the door, holding it open for her and pushing her gently in by the small of her back. We take seats, me facing the wall and her facing the interior of the restaurant. The waitress is cute, but I'm sitting across from a goddess and I can't be fucking around with other girls right now. "Are you here for the buffet?" she asks.
"Yes, please," I say. "Two plates."
She beams at me. "Okay!"
We head to the buffet. I load up on crab rangoon and boneless spare ribs, while she takes a well-balanced vegetarian Chinese meal. We resume our seats and I begin shoveling crab rangoon into my mouth two-fisted.
"Jesus, Peter, you're eating like you've done time or something!" she points out between small bites of vegetable lo mein.
"Well, I spent a little time in jail since the last time you saw me," I reply non-chalantly.
"What happened? Did you kill a man just to watch him die?"
I chuckle. "Nah, I was cruel to a penguin."
Her fork pauses on the way to her mouth and she gawks at me for a split-second before regaining her composure. "Well, I'm sure the penguin had it coming."
My teeth sunken into a spare rib, I shake my head like a dog trying to snap its prey's neck. Remembering my manners, I put the rib down before replying. "Not really. I heard it died later on, but that had nothing to do with me. I never even laid hands on it, but I was a party to it all, you know? Thing was damn cute, and its owner was really broken up when it died." I pause to take another bite as she watches me like I'm something on a glass slide. "That's just how my job is sometimes, I guess."
"Ah, yes," she launches in. "This ever so mysterious 'job' you were talking about, of which being cruel to penguins is just another facet. I don't get it, Peter, are you a hitman or something?" I laugh and shake my head. "Because if you are, I want to hear all the gory details, capisce?"
"No, no... I'm a- well, it's kind of embarrassing. I'm a professional-"
"Er, no." Was that a jab at the way I eat, again?
"Well, it can't be that embarrassing, then, though you're certainly letting one of your natural talents go to waste."
"I'm a professional wrestler." There. It's said. This relationship had to be based on honesty, whatever it turns into, and I've been honest, and I feel like I just shot myself in the foot with a .50 bullet.
"Oh, rad." Rad? "You don't really look the type, you know?" I don't? "I mean, you think professional wrestler, you think of a guy like Darkstar, covered in scars with the face paint and the bats and... well, you know. Somebody big and rough and rugged and... cool. Not that you're not cool," she hastily adds.
She's a Darkstar fan? The taste is gone from my mouth. I keep chomping on a spare rib to keep myself from biting through my finger just to make sure this isn't some sort of freaky dream. "I wear a mask," I say through the cotton mouth. "I wrestle in Spotlight Syndicate Wrestling, with-"
"So, wait, you're the Freedom Kid?"
"Oh. You're, uh, you're kind of new to all this, then?"
"Everybody has to start somewhere." For some reason, when I say this I think immediately of our first kiss there on the snow.
"You've been getting better every week, you know. I never thought you could beat Jayson Child, and you came SO CLOSE to beating Eddie Williams."
"Thanks." I feel like it's a struggle to say more than a word at a time.
"Hey, did you ever see that Darkstar match where he threw some guy through a steel cage? The other guy got the win, but you KNOW he felt like a loser."
"Yeah, him! That guy who was MVW World Champion for, like, five minutes." She grins at me.
"He didn't feel like a loser. He told me he felt like he'd just gone toe to toe with a demon and come out on top." I scowl.
She reaches out a hand and drapes it over mine. "Peter? Let's talk about something other than wrestling, huh?"
And so we do. For hours. Even when we're wrestling in the back seat of my car, we don't mention it.