THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE
BY BRAD P. CHRISTY
Seventeen years is time enough to name all the cracks in the walls.
Ellen is that narrow one that spider-webs up the eastern side. Tucker is that wide one stemming from a chip over in the corner. But, my favorite is Mia. She’s the deepest, and on sunny days a pinhole of sunlight shines through her.
We went to college together, Mia and I. She was absolutely radiant the first time we met. God, my palms were sweating like crazy. I remember she was wearing a baby-blue button-up shirt that was just big enough to peek at what was underneath if I leaned forward in my chair far enough. I was so close to her that I could smell her hair; it smelled like some kind of fruit.
I remember how the way she fit into a pair of jeans made teachers uncomfortable. It was funny how they would refuse to look directly at her, even if she asked a question. It was also the reason guys showed up early to class. It definitely got my attention. I’d fight my way in to get the perfect seat in the back where I could watch her without making it too obvious, you know, to be aloof. She liked it when I watched.
And she had real fire, too. One time I accidentally ran into her on purpose in the hall, and she told me to watch where the fuck I was going, but the way we locked eyes said something completely different. Love at first sight sounds corny before it happens to you, but I assure you it exists.
The girls in high school never responded to me like that.
It was fate that we met.
The only thing standing in the way was her “boyfriend,” Marcus. I don’t know why she put up with that guy, the way he treated her.
Papaya. Her hair smelled like papaya.
And it might sound cliché, but I’d do it all over again exactly the same way for her any day of the week. Don’t judge, we’re in love.
April 15, 2000
A tray of drinks crash to the dance floor as I drag a waitress down with me.
Aside from the music, the club is totally silent. All eyes are on me and the waitress who’s frantically trying to pick up her scattered tips. It isn’t until someone laughs that anyone says a word.
There’s no way of knowing what Mia’s saying to Marcus, but there’s lots of hand-waving and yelling from her and he’s flexing and pointing at me. Is she defending me? Who is going to defend her?
Where are the damned bouncers? Whiskey’s soaking into my underwear, but I’m not about to get up until Marcus gets thrown out. He looks almost as angry as the waitress wiping up broken glass and booze with her apron. I offer to help, but she flips me the bird and stomps off. There’s more laughing.
The fat-lip Marcus just gave me feels like a night crawler in my mouth.
Bouncers finally grab him and escort him to the door. My molars are rattling around and there’s a shard of glass in my palm, but seeing Mia walk out with him really hurts.
It feels like gravity’s tacked a few hundred pounds on my shoulders, so it must not be easy for Tommy, my best friend, to haul me to the exit. Time pauses as we walk home, only playing when Tommy gives me a hard time. I stumble over an uneven part of the sidewalk
“I can’t believe you just sat there and did absolutely freaking nothing!” laughs Tommy.
My apartment keys are rubbing into where broken glass cut my hand, yet I squeeze harder on them every time he speaks.
“But, I gotta admit you took it like a champ,” he says, dancing around like a prize fighter jabbing at the air.
I tuck my chin to my chest and avoid eye contact.
“Oh buck up, champ, you knew she was with that guy,” he says. “So it shouldn’t be too shocking that you got tapped on the chin for bumpin’ and grindin’ on her.” He starts exaggerating the way Mia and I were dancing with a mailbox. “Still, I gotta give you credit for doing something after drooling over her all year.”
I stare at him from the corners of my eyes.
He stops laughing and coughs. “Sorry. It was kind of cold how she didn’t even look back, though. Nope, she just bitched about how he embarrassed her.”
I liked it better when I thought she was defending me. The night crawler pops like a zit between my teeth. I swallow a mouthful of blood.
The night replays in my head while I half-heartedly listen to Tommy drone on and on. Reliving the image of me freezing up when Marcus came through the crowd, pushing people out of his way. It isn’t how I want to remember an evening that was otherwise magical. I can still smell the cheap whisky that got spilled in the rush – in fact, I’m starting to chafe from it.
“I can’t even imagine how embarrassing it must be to get punked out in front of your dream chick like that.” says Tommy.
We’ve covered this, but he’s like a dog with a bone.
“Ah hell, dude, let it go. Fish; sea; however that old analogy goes. Let’s get a beer. My treat.”
Nodding in agreement, I kick a rock out of my way.
“Come on, say it,” says Tommy, spinning me around to look him in the face.
This is me, letting it go, I tell him, circling my face with my fingers.
“You see! Tommy, with a supporting cast of alcoholic beverages, will now make your humiliation at the hands of that bad man fade away into a luscious haze of self-abuse,” he says and pushes me through the pub door. Usually pubs won’t serve minors, but in a college town people often look the either way.
But I don’t let it go. Who could? While Tommy’s at the jukebox, I replay the event again while picking the wrapper off my bottle. The crowd, the lights, the girl, the getting punched in the face is all so painfully clear that it needs a creative reimagining. In the new version, Mia stays behind to see if I’m okay.
She’s so thoughtful. A smile stretches awkwardly across my swollen face.
“That’s more like it,” Tommy says and clinks our bottles together.
April 24, 2000
The classroom clock ticks louder with every passing second and my knee is bouncing at about eighty-miles-per-hour. There’s a stink of body odor lingering in the air and I hope to God it isn’t me, not while sitting so close to Mia. The number two pencil in my fist is now riddled with little half-moons from my fingernails.
She’s wearing a lacy red camisole with a gray crushed-velvet hoodie. Her hair is up, but a couple of curly strands have escaped and dangle free. Once in a while she’ll reach back to rub where they tickle her neck. Her nails are painted pink and shimmer iridescent when the light hits them just right.
The event haunts me. That punch caused a pretty big rift in our relationship. Tonguing at the scar inside my lip, I dig splinters and yellow paint from under my fingernails.
In the newest version, Marcus swings and misses. My fist drives into his chin with a crack, which is nice, but you can’t change the past.
There should be a rematch.
Maybe it’ll happen in another club, or maybe the parking lot. Regardless of where, it’ll be cool to see Marcus’s head snap back as he topples to the ground in a heap.
Maybe he’d cry. He’ll probably cry.
Mia looks back at me and my pulse quickens. I wink as we make eye contact. She furls her brows and turns around, frowning. She must have smelled me.
A splinter stings in under my fingernail, highlighting my fingertip in red.
April 27, 2000
Sweat seeps through my t-shirt as I bob and weave, thrusting jab after jab in front of the bathroom mirror. Metallica’s ‘Seek and Destroy’ is blaring.
Tommy’s only complained a few times so far about the noise level or about having to take a piss, which isn’t bad. He usually interrupts me a lot more when I’m training.
In the latest version of the rematch, there are chanting spectators and stern dialogue between us, two combatants squaring off on the field of battle for the love of Mia. He gets in some lucky shots, but the fight ends with a thunderous right-cross that blasts him against the side of a car, which he slides down unconscious.
Mia throws her arms around me and we walk off into the sunset. It’ll be glorious. A fairytale start to our public relationship.
Panting and dripping sweat on the sink, I catch my reflection in the mirror and spit on it.
May 30, 2000
“He doesn’t deserve her,” I say to Tommy as a runner steals second base. The crowd cheers and jumps to their feet. The smell of stale beer and processed meat pours in from every direction of the ballpark.
“Wuf?” he says through a mouthful of half-chewed hotdog.
“That Neanderthal Marcus doesn’t deserve a woman like Mia,” I explain. The words reverberate through the almost-empty plastic cup of warm beer-foam.
He swigs his beer to help choke down the hotdog, and says, “Oh, good, for a second I thought you found out about me and your mom.”
I ask him why he can’t be serious for once.
“Really, I don’t know what you see in her,” he says, and whistles to distract the batter. “In any case, seriously, dude, I don’t think you’re her type.”
“You don’t see how she looks at me,” I shoot back and throw down my empty cup.
“Whoa! I’m just saying that she’s more into the bad boy thing is all.”
A runner slides into the glove of the third baseman and the umpire yells, “OUT!” The runner jogs to his dugout and throws his helmet against the wall.
Like sneaking up and sucker-punching me in the middle of a dance is such a “bad boy” thing, I say and pantomime quotation marks with my fingers.
Tommy now has the same look on his face that Mia had in class. “Are you talking about when you got punched last month at the club?” The slob wipes ketchup off his chin. “Whatever. But, if you insist on doing something stupid, I suggest you not go toe-to-toe with his big ass. You’ll probably have to shank him or something when he’s not looking.”
We laugh at the absurdity of stabbing someone, but it does offer a colorful new spin on my gladiatorial scenario. It wouldn’t be a mortal wound; it’d just be enough to make him think twice about trying to punk me out in front of Mia again. It would send clear message that he is to back off for good.
The bat cracks and the ball sails over the backfield fence.
June 2, 2000
“Looking for anything in particular,” says the pawn shop employees from behind the glass counter. I’ve been crouched down, admiring the knife selection so long that my knees hurt. His breath is rank from drinking burnt coffee and smoking cigarettes, and his gut is testing the limits of his stained polo shirt.
I tell him that I’m looking for a knife that will make a statement. Scratching the stubble on his chin, he tells me that it all depends on the statement I want to make. He begins to showcase the various knives and the message each would send.
“If you’re looking to be all fancy, you can’t go wrong with a butterfly knife. Of course you’ll need a lot of practice time with it before you even begin to look remotely cool,” he says, and takes one out of the case.
“It’s too small,” I tell him, and ask if he has anything bigger, more masculine. My hands leave fogged, sweats handprints on the glass display case. He quickly puts the butterfly knife away, probably because I’ll get the blade dirty.
He looks me up and down and taps fingers on the glass. Every one of his fingers has a gold ring that clinks with every tap. “Son,” he says, “What exactly do you plan on doing with a knife anyway?”
I tell him that I’ve been threatened by a much bigger guy and just need something to scare him off, which was close enough to the truth. Mia is in harm’s way and Marcus has threatened, even assaulted, me before.
The employee hesitates and looks into my eyes. “I’ll take your word for it.” He reaches back under the counter. “That being said, I have just what you are looking for.”
June 6, 2000
From around a hedge, I see Mia wearing a pair of light-blue shorts and a tie-dye shirt with the State Fair logo on it. The swirling greens and blues accentuate her curves beautifully and put her color scheme into perfect harmony with the grass she’s laying on. She’s kicked off her flip-flops and is swinging her feet around.
Pressing my thumb into my palm and massage it while watching her feet sway back and forth. I read that if I concentrate hard enough, my soul mate will feel it.
The rumbling of a shoddy exhaust system breaks the serenity. My thumb stops massaging her feet as Marcus’s rusted Camaro flies dangerously around the corner and screeches to a stop. The piece of junk vomits exhaust and smoke from burning oil, making a poisonous black fog at his feet as he steps out of the car. He’s not even trying to hide his true face anymore. He is the Devil.
He whistles and yells that they’re running late for a movie while she tries to pick up her things.
She yells back that it’s his fault that they’re late in the first place.
Good for her, but how long can she keep it up? She doesn’t deserve that. Marcus is easily over six-feet-tall and about 220 pounds of angry muscle. She won’t stand a chance when he attacks.
I chew on the thick scar inside my mouth.
After making sure campus security isn’t watching, I slip my hand into my pocket and caress the cold metal handle of my new Carson Design M16-14 Special Forces Combo Edge Tactical Knife, slightly opening the subdued black, four-inch retractable blade then letting it snap closed like a pair of scissors.
She deserves a hero.
June 11, 2000
Tommy’s avoiding eye contact with me as he carries out the last box of his belongings.
We haven’t said a word to each other since he decided to move out because of his jealousy. I suck down a beer and flip through a magazine roughly, tearing the pages a little. Seeing a bikini that Mia would look stunning in, I tell Tommy to check it out, just to break the tension.
He stops in the doorway. “You need serious help. There is no you and Mia,” he says.
Before I can say anything back, he’s gone.
The beer bottle explodes against the door in a shower of brown glass.
June 13, 2000
The rain is coming down hard enough to make my hair mat to my forehead, but not quite hard enough to soak through my clothes yet. The whiskey I’ve been sipping is making me wobble a little. I’ve been standing under a scraggly tree in the middle of a parking lot island reciting the dialog of what’s to come for a while now.
Marcus is late picking her up.
Mia’s stretching out on a bench under an awning with a book in hand. If I know Mia, it’s Dickinson she’s reading. The breeze is forming the navy-blue windbreaker to her body.
She’s as enchanting now as the night Marcus punched me from behind at the night club. That was the first time she said she needed me to deliver her from him. I think I was blushing when we kissed.
The knife rests heavily in my pocket.
Whispering into the wind, I tell her that I’m here, and even though we are too far apart for her ears to hear me, I know that her soul can.
The familiar roar of Marcus’s car echoes off of the brick campus buildings. His stereo is loud enough that I can hear the lyrics of whatever death metal song he’s listening to.
There’s cold rain water trickling over my cheeks, but they are on fire. Stepping off the grassy island, I splash through the puddles and make a bee-line straight for Marcus, who is yelling for Mia to move her ass from the warmth of his car. His arm is hanging out of the open window, cigarette burning between his fingers, tapping to the beat of the music.
My stomach tightens into a knot. I flip the knife open.
The sting of the cigarette being extinguished against my leg barely registers as I pin his arm to the car door and thrust my knife blindly through the window.
I open my eyes.
The blade’s lodged in his neck. He’s gurgling and thrashing around. The car’s horn honks as he struggles. The harder he fights against it, the deeper the knife slices in. I can feel his heartbeat vibrating through the blade. He stares up at me blankly with his mouth is gaping open, pawing weakly at my arm. He kind of looks like a fish out of water that’s gasping for air. The gash in his neck looking like ragged gills.
My stomach tightens again and I throw up down the side of the car.
Mia’s screaming. Why? She knows this is the only way to be free from Marcus’s tyranny. We’ve talked about it a thousand times. This is how much her happiness means to me.
Why is she running?
I yank out the knife and run after her, pleading with her to stop. I scream over and over that I love her until my throat is hoarse.
Seventeen years I’ve been in this cell.
It doesn’t matter that she testified against me, as long as she’s free. But, they got it wrong. How can they say it was murder when it was in defense of another?
Seventeen wasted years that would otherwise have been spent with Mia.
We’d have three kids: two girls and a boy. Our son is the youngest. His sisters give him such a hard time, and we just laugh and laugh whenever we show the video from when they were little and the girls dressed him up in their mom’s clothes. He hates it when we bring it up.
I saved her.
That’s what you do for the people you love.
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