Debbie sighs, and then sighs again, stands up briefly, sits down again, and then picks up her phone with abrupt exasperation.
She jabs the number in, and then waits.
Sheila answers the phone with a cautious “Hello?”
“Sheila. Hi. It’s Debbie. Debbie Eagan.” Debbie rolls her eyes at herself, because which other Debbie could she be?
Sheila pauses, and then says “Debbie Eagan the wrestler?” and Debbie could pass out, she really could.
“Yes, Sheila, it’s me? Debbie.”
“Oh” says Sheila, and then asks “why are you using the phone? You know that you are on the other side of the wall, I think if we talked loudly enough we could probably-“
“I know, I know, it’s just, a phone call felt more civilised than yelling through a wall.”
“Or you could have knocked on my door, that would have been an option for you. Or, oooh, we could develop a knocking code, like the prisoners in the Bastille-“
“Okay Sheila” Debbie interrupts, “so, I was wondering what you were doing tonight? Now? And if you would like to go out for a drink with me?”
Sheila hums thoughtfully.
“Uh, I was going to get an early night actually Debbie, I’m feeling pretty tired.”
Debbie pinches at the bridge of her nose, and closes her eyes.
“Are you sure? Because, I really do kind of need you to say yes.”
“I, um. I asked Ruth if she wanted to go for a drink, and then I said that I was already going for a drink with you and Bash, and asked her if she wanted to join us, and so… you need to be there if she is going to be able to join us.”
Sheila seems to absorb all of this for a moment, and then laughs.
“You asked Ruth for a drink and then pretended to already be going for one with us?”
“Yes, you know-” Debbie finds herself gesturing in an animated way at the wall. “So it didn’t become a thing, you know?”
Sheila snorts. “Sure, this is truly de-thinged. Does Bash know Ruth is joining us for a drink?”
Debbie sighs, and rests the receiver against her forehead for a moment.
“No, Bash doesn’t know that he is joining us for a drink yet, I haven’t - I haven’t called him yet.”
Sheila laughs again, and then says “Okay, this is great. I’m not tired any more, give me five minutes to eat some coffee grains and I will be with you.”
“That’s-” Debbie heaves a sigh of relief, and says “That’s great Sheila, thanks.”
“If you really want to thank me, please let me come over and listen to you have this exact same conversation with Bash.”
And so, here they are.
Debbie thinks she’ll commit a double murder if Bash and Sheila give the game away and somehow point out to Ruth that they were forced to be here at the last minute, just because Debbie’s mouth had become nervous when she was talking to Ruth.
She briefs them thoroughly.
“Remember; this was planned in advance.”
Both Bash and Sheila nod. Bash gives her a thumbs up.
“And….” Debbie casts around for a way to explain her terrors. “Try not to be, you know… not normal. Just regular, normal Bash and Sheila, behaving in their normal ways.”
They both nod again. Sheila calmly says “I am very good at monitoring my own body language.” Bash nods a couple of times at Sheila, and then says “And I… am wearing my most normal jacket. Classic ‘Bash going for a normal drink’ jacket. Nothing unusual happening here.”
Debbie nods, and then looks up at the ceiling, before twisting around in her seat to check that Ruth isn’t sneaking up behind her.
“And, uh. Thank you for playing along with this. I know… this is a weird request and you both probably had other plans.”
Bash shakes his head, dismissing her gratitude.
“No, you don’t understand, of all the options available to me tonight, this one is by far the most interesting. By far.”
“Okay, well… I should, look, I’ll get the drinks, okay?”
After another five minutes, Ruth appears, looking…
Debbie can’t even describe what her chest does in this moment. Drops and swoops and somehow turns in on itself, all at once.
She’s nervous, she supposes.
Ruth looks like Ruth. She’s wearing one of her nicer tops, one that Debbie recognises as official ‘making an effort’ Ruth wear, but not all out ‘this is as dressed up as I can be’ Ruth.
Debbie doesn’t even know what kind of subconscious catalogue of knowledge she has been keeping about Ruth.
Bash has his back to the entrance, but must see Ruth’s arrival in Debbie’s face, because he turns to Ruth and greets her and pulls out a chair for her, and generally eases everyone through that moment of transition without any input from Debbie at all, who is suddenly rooted to her chair.
After the initial round of greetings, all three of them look at Debbie. And Debbie-
Jesus. What the fuck is happening in her head? Why can’t she talk?
Sheila clears her throat after a second, and then plunges into some slightly desperate sounding small talk, asking how Ruth likes having a room to herself, compared to sharing with Sheila. Ruth laughs, and then suddenly they’re reminiscing about what terrible roommates they were for each other, and there’s some weird reference to a dead rat that Debbie doesn’t understand, can’t understand, because for some reason she seem to need about thirty minutes run up just to have some kind of shot at normality.
After a few minutes of that, plus a debrief of how the show went, there is another lull in the conversation.
Talk, Debbie. Words, Debbie.
Ruth clears her throat.
“So… what’s the occasion? Why are you guys out together?”
Both Bash and Sheila look at Debbie, and Debbie needs to be a million miles away, she can’t do this, why the fuck did she think this was a good idea?
She shrugs, and then looks down at her drink.
“I um. No real… occasion, just. Um.”
Bash clears his throat.
“Actually, it was me. I called a conference.”
Debbie breathes, looks at him. He smiles faintly, before addressing Ruth more directly.
“I needed, the finest brains, you know? To help me… figure out what to do about my marriage. And to uh. Plan how to go about getting a divorce.”
By the time they’ve all reached the bottom of their first drink, Debbie is breathing in a slightly more regular way.
She offers to go and get the next round of drinks, and stands after she’s checked that Ruth still drinks those vodka sodas. Bash stands abruptly too, and follows her over to the bar, leaving Ruth to talk to Sheila about up coming wrestling plot lines.
Bash leans on the bar next to her, looking back across the room.
“So people really aren’t that shocked that my marriage to Rhonda isn’t going to make it to our first anniversary.”
Debbie dips her chin and then sighs.
“Well, the fact that you haven’t spoken to Rhonda for nearly a month was a bit of a telling indicator.”
Bash nods to himself vaguely, and says “Sure. Reasonable point.” He sighs, and pushes his hand through his hair, before half turning to Debbie.
“Ruth thinks I should, you know, talk to Rhonda. Lay it all out, I just got swept up in the moment…”
Debbie lets out a little half laugh and then catches the bar tender’s eye.
“Well of course Ruth thinks you should talk to Rhonda, Ruth thinks all the problems in the world can be solved if everyone just sits down and talks about their feelings for long enough… hi, could I get-”
Debbie orders another round of drinks. Bash waits until she’s finished, watching her. Debbie swallows self consciously.
“What would you do then?”
Debbie feels her eyebrows raise. “Oh, you really don’t want my advice on how to deal with an ill considered marriage. You probably don’t want to live with each other for four years, have a baby, and wait until one of you cheats on the other one in the most devastating way possible with the person that you thought-” Debbie cuts herself off.
The man behind the bar passes her two of their drinks. One of them is hers, thank god. She takes a grateful sip, and then clears her throat.
“So yeah. You don’t want my advice.”
Bash looks away from her, and grins, finding something funny.
“Yeah, god no, that sounds like a terrible plan.”
Debbie snorts, and then they are both laughing.
When their other two drinks arrive, Bash takes two, and starts walking Debbie back to their table.
“You should talk to Ruth. About more than just… you know. The small stuff.”
Debbie smiles tightly.
“Yeah, well, we all should be doing a lot of thing that we’re not Bash. And things are going fine with just the small stuff, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves, hmmm?”
Bash starts shaking his head as they approach the table.
“Oh Debbie. You are… you are not going to like my next move.”
“Sheila! Sheila, they have a Mrs Pac Man game in the back room, I’ve just seen it.”
Sheila stands up abruptly.
“Mrs Pac Man? You sure it isn’t just regular Pac Man?”
Bash puts his hand on his heart.
“Word of honor. Also - no one is on it at the moment.”
“Holy shit” mutters Sheila, and takes her drink from Bash’s hand. “Okay, bye you guys. We’ll be in the back room. Eating ghosts.”
“Eating all of the ghosts” Bash agrees, nodding. And then, suddenly, Debbie is alone with Ruth.
Ruth looks up at her, and laughs nervously.
“Do you also want to go and eat ghosts?”
Debbie pulls an incredulous face, and then sits down, sliding Ruth’s drink over to her.
They manage. Debbie manages.
It’s easy enough to talk about wrestling with Ruth, that has become safe, normal territory, the sort that they can do without Debbie having to monitor her own reactions too carefully.
They’re half way through planning their fight, and the preceding lecture, when Debbie remembers with a jolt that they are still technically banned from wrestling each other. That Sam has declared that it cannot happen.
“Oh, geez… do you know where Sam is in relation to the apparent life time ban on wrestling that he has imposed upon us? I’d ask him myself, but he never seems to want to give me good news, at the moment.”
Ruth laughs slightly too herself, and then stares despondently into her drink.
“Yeah… what is up with that? I can’t… I wish you two were, I don’t know. Not butting heads so much.”
Debbie widens her eyes at nothing.
“Well, it’s not me.”
Ruth looks at her. Debbie rolls her eyes, and looks away from Ruth, hiding a smile.
“Okay, it’s not just me. He’s not playing nice either.”
There’s a noisy laugh, over by the bar. Debbie glances that way, somehow expecting to see Sam bearing down on them, ready to interrupt and piss all over the situation. But there’s no one here that she recognises. They could be alone.
Ruth clears her throat.
“Yeah, well, um. He’s probably forgotten about the lifetime ban, or whatever. He’s, I… oh jesus-” Ruth stops, and then pinches at the bridge of her nose, before glancing apologetically at her. “Look, I’m only telling you this because if you find out another way then I think you’d like it even less, not because… I swear I’m not trying to ruin this, I’m having a really nice time, I just think that… we don’t deal well with secrets, and I don’t want us to be constantly, you know, and Sam might tell you, accidentally-”
Debbie discovers the end of Ruth’s garbled sentence like an oncoming train in a tunnel. She sighs, because she knew this was going to happen.
“You’re sleeping with Sam?”
Ruth flinches, and then takes a hasty gulp of drink, looking away from Debbie.
“Okay, no, ‘sleeping with’ implies an ongoing… it was once. It happened once, and it’s not happened again, and…” Ruth laughs shortly, “It mustn’t happen again, because he’s my boss, and-”
Debbie chews on her lip, trying to figure out the correct response.
There isn’t the anger, that she expected. Debbie half feels as though she has already known that Ruth has been sleeping with Sam, this is old news, somehow. She just feels… weary.
“Yeah - no good things can come of that.”
Ruth blinks a little, and takes a small glance at Debbie, as though trying to gauge if and when a bigger reaction is going to come. Debbie picks up her glass, but doesn’t do anything with it. She looks away, because it turns out that looking at Ruth’s mouth is difficult, all of a sudden.
“Besides, I thought you were with Russell? I thought you were happy with Russell?”
Ruth shrugs, looking mournful.
“I am. It just…. it was one time. I didn’t mean to.”
“Fuck, that sounds familiar.” Debbie says bitterly, and this time she does take a swig of her drink. Ruth frowns at her, and it seems that Ruth has decided that if Debbie isn’t going to be angry with her then maybe Ruth will be angry with Debbie. There’s a sharpness to her voice now.
“Look, I thought you didn’t care about what I do?”
Debbie spreads her hands in response, and sits back in her chair.
“Well I clearly do, so-”
She sighs. Ruth looks at her, for what feels like a long time. Debbie rubs a hand over her own mouth.
“I wish I didn’t care what you do. And I just… I don’t know, maybe if I say it often enough it’ll come true.”
Ruth looks away from her, blinking, all of her passive aggressive tendencies on show at once.
“That’s… I’m sorry I keep doing things that make you hate me so much.”
Debbie rolls her eyes. “For god’s sake Ruth, you cannot seriously believe… I obviously don’t hate you, if I hated you I wouldn’t be having a fucking meltdown every two minutes-”
Debbie allows that sentence to collapse in on itself, under the weight of its own pressure, forming a black hole in her head that roars, and roars…
“If you don’t hate me then-” Ruth doesn’t get to the end of her thought, because here’s Bash, trailed by Sheila. And Bash looks apologetic, but Debbie has never been more grateful for an interruption.
“Sorry Debbie, I just, I really do have to go, I’m meant to be meeting with Ray and the management in the morning.”
Debbie stands, she practically throws herself into his arms for appearing at just the right moment. And Bash’s goodbye becomes everyone’s goodbye, as there are sudden recollections of the time and the fact that there is yet another show tomorrow, and etc, etc…
If you don’t hate me then…?
Thankfully Ruth has forgotten her question, or seems to have done at least. She is hugging Sheila goodbye, and god only knows why seeing as they’ll be training together again in the space of a few hours.
If you don’t hate me then…?
But Debbie knows the answer now, it’s burning in her like a newly formed supernova.
It’s the opposite.
Debbie grips her glass tightly, and finishes the last of her drink.
She’s fucked. She’s so fucked.