”Every object has a breaking point, a limitation to its tensile strength. Apply enough force, and it will break.”
– V.E. Schwab
Light streams through large nine-panel windows. The gymnasium is spartan but adequate. A vast floor space, some 2,500 square feet, holds nothing but a single wrestling ring sat right in the middle. All else is stained concrete. There are no decorations on the walls, no posters or fixtures of any kind. If not for the ring, this could pass for an airplane hangar or a large warehouse.
Dan Ryan runs across the ring and hits the ropes with force before rebounding and running to the other side, maintaining his balance and speed. He repeats the action, hitting the other ropes, then rebounding back to the other side, his thunderous steps echoing. His tag team partner is elsewhere, doing God knows what, and the World Champion hasn’t reached out yet, but that was fine. Dan prefers to train alone.
Unbeknownst to him, someone walks in through the main door. His head stays down as he continues his workout, and he continues to bound off of the ropes on all four sides, changing directions as necessary. Finally facing the direction of the door, he looks up and sees his longtime assistant, Phyllis Anderson, walking in his direction, a briefcase slung over one shoulder. Her business styled pumps make a clicking sound on the concrete as she approaches, and she adjusts the glasses on her face as she approaches the ring.
Dan leans on the ropes facing her and breathes deeply. He is in full wrestling gear, and sweat pours down his face and over his body.
Phyllis stops and swings the briefcase around in front of her, where she grasps the handle with both hands.
“Looks like you found what you were looking for. This place looks absolutely dreadful.”
Dan, having caught his breath, looks down at her. “I’m training, and when I’m training, comfort is the enemy of excellence. And God knows, at my age I need to train twice as hard as everyone else.”
She looks down briefly, then back up again.
“It certainly seems like you’re taking things seriously again. I remember a time when this was the norm for you. It all seems like so long ago sometimes.”
“It was long ago, Phyllis,” he said. “So long ago it may as well have been a different life. If I want to compete in the here and now, I need to be twice as good as everyone else. I can’t leave anything to chance. I don’t want to simply exist. I want to win. And to do that, there has to be absolutely no doubt when I step through the ropes. I have to be able to trust that my body will answer the call when my instincts kick in.”
Phyllis nods. “Understandable. It makes sense. It’s wise, I think, not that I know much about training.”
Dan smirks a bit.
“You’ve been around me for over twenty years. I’m sure some of this stuff has rubbed off on you in that time.”
She smiles back. “Maybe so.”
“So,” he said. “To what do I owe this visit? Is there business I need to attend to?”
“Not so much something you need to attend to.” She sets the briefcase down and fishes her cell phone from the inside pocket of her coat. “I received a message from someone who said he’s a ‘friend’ of yours. Something about your old training buddy… What was his name… John something?”
His smiles fade and his face becomes very stoic.
“Yes, John something.”
“Well,” she replies. “Apparently he was in some sort of accident. He’s in pretty bad shape, took a hell of a beating it sounds like, lacerations all over his body, blunt force trauma to his head. According to this friend, he doesn’t remember how any of it happened. They found him face down in a ditch near San Luis Pass. That’s only a couple hours from the ranch, isn’t it?”
Dan smiles an empty smile.
“Yes, that’s some coincidence, and it’s a shame. Please send my well wishes for a speedy recovery. Have some flowers sent over. I won’t be able to visit, unfortunately, but maybe we can send Rebecca something.”
She frowns, puzzled. “Rebecca?”
“His wife. I’ll leave the details to you.”
Phyllis stares at him. She’s seen this look on his face before, the look when he’s clearly hiding something, or trying to protect her from something. He’s gone to great lengths over their time together to make sure she was never exposed to some of the seedier elements in his life. But something about this one makes her speak without thinking.
“You didn’t – – ?”
Dan’s eyebrows darted up in surprise. “I’m sorry.”
“Nothing,” she quickly retorted. “It’s nothing. I was just gonna say…”
She loses eye contact, trying to come up with something, anything to cover.
“You didn’t bring Scott along for this trip did you?”
His face changes again all of a sudden, and the serious, concerning look that has been on his face is replaced by a softer, more amenable expression.
“No, I thought it best that he stayed away. Jatt isn’t very happy about his actions last week. I don’t want him to do anything to the kid. He’s an idiot, but he’s been useful. I’d hate it if anything bad happened to him.”
She closes her eyes briefly, squeezes them, then opens again. “You’d tell me if… if it were coming back, wouldn’t you?”
He looks at her quizzically.
“If ‘it’ were coming back?”
She smiles, trying to be comforting in tone. “I was just hoping that if the um… the visions… has been waking you up at night again, you would let me know so I can help. I still have Dr. – -”
He cuts her off, raising a hand and pointing at her.
“Don’t say that woman’s name. Don’t do it.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just…”
“Phyllis,” he stops her again. “If I felt any sort of mental break coming on, I assure you, you will be the very first person to know. Okay? I appreciate you getting me through it the first time. I won’t let it get away from me again. I’m fine. I promise.”
Her shoulders slump. She isn’t fully satisfied with the answer, but rightly assumes she won’t be getting any further with this today.
“Okay. Well, I’ll go and make sure arrangements are set for tonight. Should be a hell of a show.”
He stands still, and nods, then turns and hits the ropes again. She takes this as her cue to go, and she turns, picking up the briefcase again and walks toward the door.
A few moments later, Dan stops and walks to a turnbuckle, placing both hands onto the ropes on either side, and closes his eyes. Images fire through his mind, undecipherable shapes and colors, sounds, feelings, and he pushes them back away. He hears the clacking of shoes behind him again, and he sighs, no longer in the mood for company.
He stands up straight and leans his head back.
“What now, Phyllis? I’d really like to get back to my – -”
As he speaks, he turns to face her, but when he comes fully around he stops in his tracks. Phyllis Anderson is not standing in front of him.
Alaina Troy-Ryan is.
All six feet of her, dressed in a smart business suit, with a skirt that terminates around her knees, and a pair of deep red pumps. Her hair dangles loosely around her shoulders and she looks up at him sternly, as if she has been going over and over in her mind what she wants to say.
He stutters a bit.
“Uh… what… what are you – -?”
“Hi Dan,” she says in the most neutral vocal tone she can muster. “I think we need to talk.”
He stares at her, surprised, and fights back a bunch of things as he tries to maintain his composure.
“We should speak in the office. Let me get a shirt on and wipe some of this sweat off. Meet me inside?”
She maintains her expression. “That would be fine.”
He nods back at her, but she says nothing more. She turns and heads toward one side of the gym. A small section of the building is carved out for restrooms and an office. She heads for the open door of the office while Dan steps through the ropes and retrieves a towel to wipe the sweat from his face and chest, then grabs a t-shirt from the apron and pulls it on over his head.
Inside the office, Alaina sits in a chair with her back to the door. Dan walks in and stops just inside, staring at her from behind. She’s sitting with her back to him on purpose. There are two possibilities, he thought. Either she’s trusting that she isn’t in danger, or she’s signaling that she isn’t afraid of any danger.
He pushes the thought from his mind and crosses the room, keeping his gaze on her as he passes by and goes behind a small desk to sit down.
He stares at her, and she stares back. The only sound in the room is the ticking of a clock on the wall, clicking over to 4:23pm.
“So… you’re here.”
She starts to shake her head slightly, and looks up, then back at him again. “You never signed the divorce papers. I wanted to come here, look you in the eye and ask why. After everything that happened, after you did… what you did… what do you think you’re accomplishing by dragging this out?”
He doesn’t move, just looks back, and says nothing. She sighs.
“Look, I’ve had a long time to think all of this through. When I heard what happened, how you were responsible for what happened to Cecilia, how you could be so irresponsible. I couldn’t stand the thought of even looking at you. I had to get away, and that’s what I did. But lately, I just… Well, the truth is, I enabled your behavior for years, so I’m not blameless in all of this. The other truth is… our marriage, it meant something to me. For all of the horrible things you’ve done over the years, you were always fiercely protective of me and CeCe, you were a good husband and a good father. She idolized you. Maybe she still does to some extent. What you did, taking a shortcut, getting her mixed up in it innocently, it felt unforgivable. I’m not saying I’ve had a complete change of heart. But I’m ready to open up a dialogue.”
He chuckles. “You’re ready to open up a dialogue? How very legalese of you, counselor.”
He holds up a hand. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all of it. I screwed up. I know it. I haven’t run from that fact. It was completely my fault. I won’t point fingers at anyone else. There’s nothing I can do to change it. It happened. I was careless. Cecilia got hurt because of it. I have to live with that guilt. I tried for so long to shield her from all of this. When she made it clear she wanted to follow in my footsteps, I tried to stop it, but how can you stop someone’s dream? So I sent her to your sister so she could be away from my influence. I wanted her to be better than me. But she gravitated back. She always gravitated back, and then, finally it happened. She suffered for my sake. She used to be daddy’s girl. Now she won’t even speak to me. Do you know how that feels?”
He feels a well of anger and hurt bubbling up inside him. He grips the edges of the desk tightly, doing everything in his power to hold on, both literally and figuratively. Alaina speaks up to let him off the hook.
“Dan, I don’t want to rehash it. I know what you must be going through. I won’t tell you it’s okay. It wasn’t, and isn’t. But I know you. I know you better than anyone else. Lindsay is still as angry as she ever was. She doesn’t think she can forgive you either. But I remember. I remember incredible kindnesses. I remember how we got together in the first place. Me in the hospital, Lindsay unable to be at my side while I recovered, and I remember looking up and seeing your face. You sat with me for hours. We barely knew each other. You were my sister’s friend. But you were there. I don’t know why you were there, but you were, and you stayed. You stayed.”
Dan looks back at her but can’t bring himself to say anything more, not being able to trust that his emotions will take over, so he keeps quiet. Alaina nods silently, just a little, looking down in thought. Then, she straightens herself up, a little air blowing from her mouth as she tries to right herself.
“But I’m not running back into your arms either. That’s not how this is going to work. But um… I’ve been talking to Phyllis the last few months…”
Dan throws his hands up. “Phyllis…”
Alaina chuckles instinctively. “Don’t be too hard on her. She has your best interests at heart. She always has.”
Dan’s eyes meet hers again and he smiles slightly. “Yes, she has.”
“I can’t help you with CeCe,” she says. “You’ll have to figure that one out on your own. Same goes for Lindsay. But… Phyllis has my new number. If you need… if you want… to talk, feel free to use it. I can’t make any promises.”
Dan nods back at her and watches as she stands to go. With a curt half-smile, she turns and heads for the door, not saying another word, just leaving.
Dan sits there, hands on the desk and sighs deeply.
And for the first time in over a year, he feels hope.
”There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life. Live, then, and be happy, and never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, ‘Wait and Hope.”
– Alexandre Dumas