“Um…” Brody paused. He was choosing his words carefully. “We’d just finished our workout and he was playing a game one on one. He got checked and slid into the wall really hard.”
She scrunched her eyebrows together and curled her top lip, clearly not liking what she’d just heard. “Who checked him?” she asked.
“Me,” I spoke before Brody had a chance to. “It was me, Taylor.”
Her eyes flashed over to mine for a quick second before she threw her hands up in the air. “Oh, thank God. I was worried it was done on purpose, like someone was out to hurt him.” She turned back to me. “I’m sorry, Viper. This must be really hard on you too.”
“Huh?” I was confused.
“This whole thing”—she waved her arm around the room—“must be hard for you too. I mean, clearly you didn’t mean to do it, so this must suck for you especially. I’m so sorry.”
She sounded as genuine as I’d ever heard another person sound, offering up her apology to me, the person who’d put us all in this situation. I was stunned. I didn’t know how to answer that. I quickly glanced up at Kacie, who appeared to be reading my mind and was giving me a sympathetic I-told-you-so smile.
“I should be the one apologizing, Taylor,” I finally said.
She shrugged. “I mean, if that makes you feel better, fine, but I don’t think anyone here blames you.” She looked at Brody and Kacie and then back at me. “I certainly don’t.”
“I appreciate it, but I still feel like a giant dick.” I took a deep breath. “I wish I could go back in time and do it all over again.”
“Well of course you do,” she said matter-of-factly. “That’s life. When something bad happens, we always wish we had a do over, but that’s not how life works unfortunately. Shit happens and we have to react to it. Good shit, bad shit… it all happens, but I doubt anyone that has ever been around the two of you together thinks for one-half a second that you did this on purpose. You love him like a brother; we all know that.”
Do. Not. Cry.
Clearing my throat, I looked down at the tile beneath my feet and nodded slowly. I was searching my brain for what to say next when Michelle somberly walked back into the room. We all stared, waiting for her to say something, anything.
Her eyes were red and swollen as she hugged herself tightly and sat on the couch next to Taylor.
“Honey,” Taylor asked slowly, “are you okay?”
Michelle didn’t say anything; she simply shrugged. “He looks awful. He has a bandage around his head, and he’s hooked up to all these machines that are breathing for him. He doesn’t look like my Mike anymore.”
Without saying anything this time, I got up and left the room quietly. I needed the break I didn’t get last time when I’d run into Taylor.
Two lefts, one right, and the elevator.
I found a bench right outside the door at the very moment my legs decided to give out. Who knew a hard-ass concrete bench could be so comforting? I ran my hands through my hair and rested my elbows on my knees, staring at the concrete slab below me. An ant slowly walked up to my foot and stopped. I wondered what it was like to be an ant. Did they have friends and families? Did they accidentally hurt each other? Did they feel guilt? I’d fought like hell my whole life to keep my feelings in check and never let people see them, but the last two days were testing that more than any other time in my life. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep it together.
Praying was something we never did in my house growing up, but at that moment I felt the overwhelming urge to talk out loud to… someone.
Looking around to make sure I was alone, I took a deep breath and puffed my cheeks out, exhaling slowly.
I glanced up at the sky for just a second, quickly deciding I probably looked like a moron and that whoever I was going to talk to would probably hear me no matter where I was looking.
“Hey, whoever’s up there. My name is Lawrence Finkle, but you probably know me as Viper. Anyway—” I cleared my throat, suddenly feeling very stupid that I was talking to myself, but so desperate I was willing to do anything. “—we’ve never had what I would call an active relationship, but right now I’m feeling pretty alone down here. I’ve fucked up a lot in my life, as you probably know, but I’ve always been able to talk myself out of any trouble I got into. Well, I’ve finally done something I can’t fix. It was an accident, but I still can’t fix it, and I could really use it at the moment. I don’t really know how this works, but I’m willing to bargain. I’ll do anything—go to church, donate time and money, stop fucking strangers. I mean it, anything. Just please… save my best friend. He’s a good man with a wife and kids who need him. If you need to take someone, take me. No one gives a shit whether I’m here or not.” My eyes started to feel hot and sting as I took another shaky breath.
Startled at the sound of my name, I stood and turned as a camera flashed in my eyes. Squinting and holding my hand up, I tried to block out another flash. “What the fuck?” I growled.
“Hi, Mr. Finkle. I’m Warren Sanders with the Star Tribune here in Minneapolis.” He held his hand out for me to shake. I glared down at it and then back up at him without saying a word. He quickly pulled his hand back and continued, “We heard about what happened yesterday with Mike Asher, and we were just wondering if we could ask you a few questions. Like, maybe what exactly happened? What’s his current condition? Anything you’re willing to give us.” He held a microphone in my face as the cameraman lifted a different camera onto his shoulder to film me.
Rage shot through me like a bullet shoots out of a gun.
“You want anything I’m willing to give you?” I asked coldly. “Well, I’m going to give you ten seconds to get that motherfucking camera out of my face before I shove that mic up your ass.”
“Uh…” he stammered. “We won’t keep you for long. We just want a quick statement.”
Without hesitation, I took three steps and grabbed the camera from the guy behind him, lifted it above my head, and smashed it on the concrete. They both jumped back, their mouths hanging open as they stared at the ground.
“There!” I pointed to the shattered camera as I walked away. “There’s your fucking statement.”
MY HANDS ENCASED the hot cup of disgusting coffee as I sat in the back corner of the cafeteria by the window. It had only been fifteen minutes since I smashed that dickhead’s camera outside, and I already had three text messages sitting on my phone from Andy, unopened.
Brody rushed around the corner and peeked his head into the cafeteria, quickly scanning the room. He did a double take when he saw me and closed his eyes in relief before walking over.
“There you are.” He sighed as he dropped down into the seat across from me.
“Where else would I be?”
“Oh, gee, I don’t know… out front smashing cameras?” he said sarcastically.
I frowned at him. “How did you know about that already?”
He took his phone out of his pocket and set it on the table. “Andy texted me to hurry up and find you. Apparently some reporter from the Star Tribune tweeted that you knocked his camera out of his hand or something. There was a picture of it shattered on the ground.”