No one mentioned Nick after he was gone. Everyone understood what had happened. Grappling doesn’t mix with sex or… whatever Nick had been doing. Yes, Pete came down hard on Nick, but if he had erred on the other side and let Nick keep on harassing Jenna, it would poison the Club culture fast. It wouldn’t just have driven the other women away.
A month or so went by. The air got colder, and the sun set earlier. I stepped out of a Wednesday evening practice, and suddenly it was winter; the night was already dark.
Nick was there on the first corner I walked past on my way home.
“Matt, can I talk to you?”
I didn’t stop him.
“I know I messed up with Jenna,” he said, walking next to me. “I was way out of line.”
I shrugged. “That’s not between you and me.”
“You’re her friend, though. I can’t talk to her. Look, hear me out and I’ll buy you a drink.”
We’d walked a couple blocks and were about to pass the Duke of Earl, where Robbie, Jenna, and I had taken Nick out after practice when we were trying to bring him into the fold. I would have said no to him now, except the sweat from two hours of grappling was freezing on me, and I wasn’t dressed for how cold it had turned; I wanted an excuse to step inside. So I ended up at the bar, as far from the door as I could get, drinking a decent IPA on Nick’s dime. Nick had a Coke.
“I want to make it right,” he said. “The thing is, I’m missing the Club. I thought it was about, you know, learning to fight. I didn’t expect to miss the people. I don’t have anything else like that. It’s hard, out here, you know?”
I did know. I looked around the bar, at isolated drinkers and impenetrable clusters of acquaintances. I’d learned to believe in the Seattle Freeze, and the Club was what had pulled me out of myself. And I was relatively normal—I could tell Nick… wasn’t. Here was someone who had a harder time with people than I did, and I did feel bad for him. Maybe he deserved another chance.
But I could afford to think that way because I wasn’t the one he had hurt. Not directly, anyway. If he came back on the mat, I wasn’t the one who would have to deal with being lastingly skeezed out. How was it my place to drag that back up with Jenna, or with Pete, who had made the call? If anything—Jenna was my friend—my place was to keep this guy away from her.
“It’s important,” Nick said. “I’ll do what I have to do to get back. To make things right. I want you to tell Pete and Jenna that.”
For the first time since we sat down, he actually looked up and met my eyes. “It’s important,” he repeated. “You need to help me.” For a reason I couldn’t place then, I felt like I had completely lost my bearings for a moment; it was a feeling not unlike being thrown. “Will you do it?” he asked, as my mind was coming back upright.
“I’ll think about it,” I said. But I had already decided to help him.
Submitted by Corodon Fuller