Sound is an abstract concept for most people. We spend our lives blocking out the static in order to focus on what we believe is important. But what if, when the clarity fades into silence, it's the obscure background noise that you would give anything to hold on to?
I've always been a fighter. With parents who barely managed to stay out of jail and two little brothers who narrowly avoided foster care, I became skilled at dodging the punches life threw at me. Growing up, I didn’t have anything I could call my own, but from the moment I met Eliza Reynolds, she was always mine. I became utterly addicted to her and the escape from reality we provided each other. Throughout the years, she had boyfriends and I had girlfriends, but there wasn't a single night that I didn’t hear her voice.
You see, meeting the love of my life at age thirteen was never part of my plan. However, neither was gradually going deaf at the age of twenty-one.
They both happened anyway.
Now, I'm on the ropes during the toughest battles of my life.
Fighting for my career.
Fighting the impending silence.
Fighting for her.
Every night, just before falling asleep, she sighs as a final conscious breath leaves her.
I think that's the sound I'll miss the most.
“I swear to fucking God,” I snarled as I stomped a pattern around Eliza’s hospital room. She had just been wheeled out, but my anger and anxiety filled the room in her absence.
“Calm. Down,” Slate said from the doorway. “It’s no big deal. I’ll get it back.”
“You’re welcome. Now, get your shit together and remember who the hell you are talking to.”
Eliza didn’t have insurance, and she had freaked when the doctor told her that he wanted to run a CAT scan because of the trauma to her face and head. She’d flat-out refused, spouting off some crap about not going into debt by racking up a huge hospital bill she’d eventually have to pay. She’d sworn she was okay, but I’d absolutely not been anything even resembling okay.
So I’d lost it. I’d snapped at her like a fucking asshole. Then I’d shouted at the doctor for reasons that didn’t even make sense. In turn, he threatened to call security, which only pissed me off more. It was a clusterfuck in that room until Slate came in and physically pinned me against the wall. While I was trying to get my shit under control, Erica was apparently informing administration that she and Slate would be financially responsible for Eliza’s hospital visit. While I was relieved as they wheeled her out of the room, I was sick and fucking tired of feeling like a broke-ass, worthless dick all the time. As it often was, my anger was aimed in the wrong place, and Slate was the only man in the room.
“Get my shit together?” My heart pounded in my chest, and every muscle in my body strained under the mounting stress. “I’d like to see how the hell you’d react if Erica looked like that and there wasn’t a fucking thing in the world you could do to help her.”
Slate’s eyes turned dark as his jaw clenched. “It was different. But I’ve been there,” he stated matter-of-factly. “It was the worst day of my life. I wasn’t even the one who got to make the piece of shit pay either. But honestly, Till, sometimes you have to accept that it’s not the way things get done or who does them. As long as, in the end, they are done. She’s getting that CAT scan right now, and you can sleep easy tonight knowing that she’s okay. It doesn’t matter one bit who signs the check that pays for that kind of peace of mind.”
“It matters to me. You have no fucking idea how it feels to be so goddamn helpless all the time. I can’t do this anymore. I’ve only truly had her for less then twenty-four hours and I’ve already failed to fucking protecting her and provide for her. My boxing trainer had to pay for her medical bills. It’s embarrassing!”
“It’s only embarrassing if you let it be.” He shrugged and settled into the chair next to the door.
I continued to pace. I couldn’t get over the heavy weight of failure compressing my chest. “Why the fuck would she want to settle for someone like me? I failed out of high school. I work sixty-three hours a week for minimum wage so that I can barely pay the bills on a shithole apartment. For fuck’s sake, I have two brothers I want to give the world, but last week, she had to buy us groceries. Oh, and there is always that fun fact that I’m going deaf. One day, she really will have to take care of me! I can’t handle knowing that she has to settle for a future filled with struggles just to be with me. I love her. I really fucking do. But at what point do I let her go because I know she’d have a better life with someone else?” I finished my rant on a yell.
“Wow. You have a really gone off the deep end. She’s not some puppy you can find a better home for.” He stretched his legs out and crossed them at his ankles.
If possible, it managed to piss me off more. I was in emotional upheaval and he was getting comfortable.
“Just leave me alone. I can’t deal with your shit right now.”
“You want to go pro?” he asked randomly.
“What I want is for you to leave.”
“Is that a no?” He crossed his arms over his chest.
“What the fuck are you talking about? Nothing has changed. I still don’t have the time. Honestly, I think I need to give up boxing altogether. Maybe try to find another job or something.”
“I’ll bankroll eight hundred a week. Quit your jobs and come work for me in the ring. It comes with health insurance for you and the boys too.”
I stared at him, awestruck. That was double what I was bringing home each week.
I’d always heard that you couldn’t judge a man’s character by the balance in his bank account. Thank fuck for that because character might be the only place I wasn’t overdrawn. And right then, Slate’s offer sounded a whole lot like pity. No matter how appealing it sounded, I wanted to make it without having to rely on anyone else. I couldn’t afford to sacrifice character.
“Why are you doing this right now? What part of that conversation confused you? I don’t want your charity.”
“It’s not charity. I’m gonna make a shit-ton of money off your ass. This isn’t a free ride. I’ll get all of your winnings until you’ve paid me back. Then anything you make over that, I get thirty-three percent. Erica’s been eyeing this condo on the beach in Florida. I’m hoping you can help me out and buy that for her.”
Outstanding. Slate wants to buy a condo on the beach and I just want to keep the electricity on.
“It has to be hard being you.” My voice dripped with sarcasm, but it only made Slate smile.
“I guess you won’t know until you try. I made every single penny I have from boxing. If you think money will solve all your problems, then put whatever preconceived notions you have about my motives aside and take my offer. But if you decide to refuse, you should know I won’t make it again.”
“Why now? Less than a month ago, you told me I wasn’t ready. Where was your offer to bankroll me then?”
“I’m not going to lie to you. You’re not ready. Not if you want to be great. But with enough time, I can get you there. You’re raw right now, and despite whatever you think, you’re driven by something greater than the almighty dollar or dreams of stardom.” He stood up and walked over to me. “To answer your question about why now, I was wrong. You’re not hungry for more in life. You’re fucking starving. I can work with that.
“Did you even listen to yourself while you were talking? Not one single thing you said was because Till Page wanted more money or a nicer car. You were concerned about Eliza and the boys…but never Till.” He poked my chest right over my heart. “I’m making an investment in you, Till. It’s no handout. I believe you’re going to set the boxing world on fire, because every time you put on those gloves, you’re doing it for them. Say yes. Accept the offer. Quit your jobs. Take a week off to take care of her. Then get your ass in my ring.”
I had no words. If I spoke, I was going to look like a sniffling little bitch. So I nodded instead.
“Good. I’m going to find Erica and get some coffee. I’ll send over the contracts and your first paycheck in the morning.” He turned and headed for the door.
I stood in the middle of an empty hospital room where my fantasy and reality had collided. Finally, I had the break I had dreamed of, but it had taken almost losing Eliza to get it. I would forever remember the way I felt in that moment. Cracking my neck and shaking out my arms, I decided I was done letting the world run over me.
Slate had just handed me my one chance to make a better life, and I was going in with gloves blazing. For the first time in my fucking life, I was climbing through the ropes.