“Look, can you just… calm down. There’s a flight that leaves an hour after this one. If you miss this one, you can just get on the next one.”
“Great” says Debbie baldly. “Great. I’ll just turn up to the show thirty minutes into it, shall I? Can you just shut up and drive the damn car.”
Mark sighs heavily, and flicks on his blinker, switching to the inside lane of the freeway.
“I am driving the damn car. And it is not my fault that your taxi didn’t show up. And, if you are going to be late, Sam can just delay the show.”
“No he can’t, and fuck, anyway, I was meant to be using this time to plan with Ruth what we were going to say in this stupid skit we were doing…”
Mark rolls his eyes. “So freestyle? Improv, whatever. You always said that you guys could do that with your eyes closed.”
“Yeah, well. We aren’t as in sync as we used to be, can’t imagine why…” Debbie subsides into grouchy silence. Mark, wisely, says nothing. Ten miles to the airport, according to a sign they pass.
It’s Debbie’s fault. She had been going to get on the earlier plane, but it had been too hard to rip herself away from Randy. So she’d told herself that she would catch the back up plane, the last minute plane, but then her taxi had fucked up, and now Mark is belting out to the airport just to try and make sure Debbie arrives at the show at all.
She sighs, and tips her head back onto the head rest.
“Sorry. Look, thank you for doing this. Thank you for everything that you are doing.”
Mark doesn’t speak for a moment, and then chuckles.
“Well, I mean. Thank you for everything you are doing. You know, fighting for justice. For the American way of life.”
Debbie whacks at his shoulder a little, and then laughs.
“Whatever. I’m actually not currently fighting for that, I’m currently, um, brainwashed and evil and fighting against the American way of life.”
“Oh man that sucks” says Mark, with a completely straight face, and then says “Maybe it would be my patriotic duty to make sure you don’t get on this plane.”
“Jesus, I can’t believe how profoundly dumb this whole thing is.”
“Yeah” says Mark evenly. “Good thing you love doing it.”
Debbie doesn’t say anything, and then sighs, rubbing her hand over her brows to ease the sudden pressure.
“Yeah. Good thing.”
She makes the plane, just, by running through the terminal and begging her way to the front of a queue.
Debbie had barely said goodbye to Mark, just slammed the car door in his face as she left. It’s only when she collapses into her seat on the plane, having fended off the extremely sour welcome from the air hostess, that she can spare a thought for him.
He’s doing a wonderful job with Randy. And Debbie… Debbie should be nicer to him.
She would be nicer to him, if she could stop picturing him fucking Ruth whenever he speaks to Debbie.
That’s an old haunting, a plague from a past life, but it turns out the image is back with a vengeance.
Only this time, she’s figured out that she wasn’t angry with Mark.
She was jealous of him.
But jealously is a self indulgent, introspective emotion. One that is more suited for sitting quietly on a plane, rather than barrelling into the backstage area at a half run with her life gathered in a holdall at her side.
“Oh my god - Ruth, she’s here…”
“We thought you weren’t going to show up, Sam is trying to force Cherry and Carmen to debut their week four fight early just to fill the gap-”
“I know… I know…. the plane was delayed-“ Debbie lies easily as she tosses her gym bag onto the bench and starts hauling out her costume. “Fuck, I’m going to have to skip make up.”
“No, you can just get a palmful of glitter and smear it across your face, it’d have the same effect.”
Debbie rolls her eyes at that one, delivered by Yolanda as she saunters across the changing room. Artie comes over to help her though, and gets to work on her boots, loosening the laces so they’ll be easy to slip on.
“Thanks” Debbie mutters, and then says “Where’s Ruth? How’s Ruth?”
“Ahhh…” Artie looks as though words temporarily escape her. “She’s a bit… frazzled. I think she was relying on you getting here a couple of hours earlier so you could both go through the general shape of this lecture thing-”
“I know, I know, I know, I was going to get here, it’s just the plane was delayed, and I couldn’t get here any faster.”
“Well Ruth was saying how you guys were supposed to plan it the day before you left, but I remembered that you had that argument with Sam, and then you wouldn’t talk to Ruth all day after that, and-”
“That is not what happened- oh. Thank you.” Artie deposits her loosened boots on the ground, and then says “Well. Maybe I read it wrong.”
“I… yes. Maybe” Debbie says flatly, simultaneously furious and apologetic.
Thankfully Ruth arrives at this moment, in full Zoya regalia. She has Sam in tow.
“Oh thank god, you’re here.”
“Shit, yes, sorry, hi, the plane-”
“It’s fine, I mean, but we really need to talk about the scene.”
“Yes, I was thinking on the way over that-”
Sam interrupts Debbie.
“No, sorry, this is bullshit, we have twenty minutes until curtain up. You cannot plan this in twenty minutes, it isn’t professional.”
Debbie widens her eyes at him.
“So delay the show Sam.”
“Sure, I can do that for a maximum of ten minutes before we run into issues. Any other great ideas?”
“But it’s like I was just saying, we aren’t due out until the end of the show, that gives us an hour to plan.”
Sam gestures at Debbie dismissively.
“But she isn’t even ready… she hasn’t done hair, make up, not in costume-”
Debbie rolls her eyes, and in the most unusual power move she’s pulled in a long time, she starts pointedly taking her clothes off, pulling her top over her head with barely restrained frustration. Sam mutters “oh for godssake” and carefully turns his back to her.
“I can get ready and plan Sam. I can multitask. And if you weren’t in here I’d be significantly further along to being in costume, if you catch my hint.”
Sam doesn’t say anything. Ruth is by his side again.
“Sam. Seriously. We have time to figure out something. I’ll do Debbie’s make up, and we can talk it through. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be close enough. Better than forcing Cherry and Carmen to fight, they aren’t ready and the storyline isn’t there yet.”
“Alright” says Sam gruffly, still with his back to her. “Alright. If you tank there’s no do over. Debbie, next time try to remember that there are people here relying on you to show up and do your fucking job.”
“I told you, the plane was-”
“Whatever. Get on with it. Everyone else, places in ten minutes.”
Ruth does her make up. Sheila ends up coming over to do her hair.
“I’m not great at hair, but the theme is basically just… big, yeah? I can make it look big. But it won’t be pretty.”
Debbie shrugs. “It’s fine, Liberty Hell isn’t meant to be as well put together as Liberty Belle. Big and not pretty is fine.”
“Okay I’m going to steal some hairspray.”
“Try Melrose’s locker” Ruth calls after her, before sitting down on a stool in between Debbie’s legs. Debbie smiles at a memory, unwillingly.
“Remember when we used to do each others make up all the time?”
Ruth’s lips twitch.
“Yeah, I always tried to make you look insane.”
“Well, this is the moment for it. Finally all that training paid off.”
Ruth delves into Debbie’s make up bag, which now contains colors Debbie wouldn’t have dreamed of wearing a year ago. She coughs, self consciously.
Debbie sighs, watching the bend of Ruth’s wrists. The dip of her collar bone.
“He’s… great. Perfect. I… it wasn’t the plane, I just couldn’t bear to leave him.”
Ruth smiles softly, and then turns to her, make up brush in hand. “Look up” she instructs gently, and then says “close your eyes.”
Debbie does so.
It’s not Ruth’s fingers, its just a make up brush, that strokes gently over her cheek bone. But… but…
Debbie keeps her eyes closed. After a moment, Ruth murmurs “I knew it wasn’t the plane. It’s fine. Randy’s more important.”
In the silence that follows, Debbie wonders what would happen if she kissed her now. Just… kissed her, and to hell with all the intervening explanations.
They’d never get the scene ready in time, for a start.
In the distance, Debbie can hear Bash’s first words into the microphone, the muted cheers of the crowd.
A locker door slams, and Sheila calls “Found some.”
Ruth clears her throat a little and then says. “Okay. So we should figure out what we are doing in the ring. You can open your eyes now, by the way.”
Once again, they manage.
Thankfully their innate sense of synchronised drama is still intact, even if their ability to communicate about any other aspect of life lies in tatters.
As Ruth shares her plans, it becomes clear to Debbie pretty quickly that they’ve both been operating on the same general vision. And suddenly all the tension drains out of the moment, as they structure some kind of scene whilst Ruth applies Debbie’s make up. There’s no mirror, so Debbie is just going to have to trust that Ruth knows what she is doing.
They conclude with only moments to go, as the crowd ebbs and roars in the arena. Reggie sticks her head through the swinging doors and tells them they have five minutes.
Ruth is due out first, to spout nonsense for a bit at the crowd before Debbie arrives. She stands up, and stretches out her back.
“You okay then? Happy with the cues?”
Debbie nods, suddenly feeling ludicrously grateful. As Ruth turns to go, she reaches out, and grabs Ruth’s hand, gripping tightly.
“Hey. Thank you.”
Ruth smiles at her, and squeezes her fingers gently.
“It’s okay. I’ll see you out there.”
Debbie watches her go, and then sighs.
After a moment, Sheila clears her throat.
“Looking good Debbie.”
“Yeah?” says Debbie, reaching up and encountering her hair a half foot further out from her head than it usually is. Sheila tips her head to one side, and then nods.
“You’re doing fine.”
And then it is afterwards.
Debbie and Ruth end up in the centre of a circle of the other girls, who seem determined to re-tell them what they had just done in the ring, as though Debbie and Ruth hadn’t just done it.
“Oh my god Debbie, and then the way that you kept on deliberately mispronouncing Communism….”
“Consumerism, conversationalism, contraceptionism, combustablism, cannibalism…”
“And then Zoya started trying to read Dr Zhivago to you-”
And then Debbie fell off her chair-”
“And then Rhonda appeared to be all ‘Education is important!’, oh my god I was crying by then-”
“And then the yelling, Zoya was yelling and Liberty Hell was like ‘I am smart enough already you aren’t my mom’-”
“And when you said-”
“It was amazing, amazing, how the hell did you plan that all out in the space of five seconds…?”
“I cannot wait to see you guys fight next week, is that happening? That has to happen, I will not accept anything else.”
Debbie doesn’t really know what do say to this garbled, overlapping rerun of what they have just done, but the girls seem to think that it went well, and that’s a relief. Debbie is pretty sure that Sam wouldn't have allowed them to fight next week if this week hadn’t worked.
But god, as nice as all this praise is, she just wants to be alone with Ruth, so Debbie can catch up with her brain and somehow find a way to say something good to Ruth, something that doesn’t involve three rounds of disappointment and forgiveness first.
Debbie’s just mustering the courage to grab Ruth’s hand, pull her away from all this, when Bash walks in, carrying a large box.
“Ladies! Great show, amazing, spectacular… and, Ray has been hard at work with some merchandise, so who wants to see the first edition of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling actions figures? You’re all in here!”
There’s some shrieks, and then a rush, and then Debbie and Ruth are alone, thank god. Ruth holds her hand up to her ear.
“Wow, okay, they were loud.”
Debbie grunts in agreement. “Yeah, louder than the crowd, I don’t know how they managed that….” She trails off, because Sam is across the room, looking at her with his arms folded.
Ruth notices her stillness, and follows her glance. She smiles when she sees Sam, and then holds out her hands, as if saying ‘acceptable?’
Sam meets Debbie’s eye, and then nods once. He then turns away from them, and walks over to Bash, and his armfuls of merch.
Ruth clears her throat.
“Come on, let’s go and get rid of some of this glitter.”
The changing rooms are empty asides from Sheila. Debbie doesn’t know why Sheila uses the changing rooms, she always seems to wear the same clothes whether in the ring or out of it.
She stands up as they enter. “Oh hey, you guys did a great job. Really great. I’m just going to… I’m going.”
“Thanks Sheila” Ruth calls after Sheila’s disappearing form, and then turns to Debbie. “Rave reviews…”
“Maybe from now on we should plan everything with only minutes to spare.”
Ruth snorts at this, and then heads over to the sinks. Debbie follows, and laughs when she catches sight of herself in the mirror. Ruth had really gone for it with the makeup.
“It seems a shame to wash off this masterpiece”. Ruth grins, turning on a faucet. “Well” she says, “luckily for you, you look pretty good underneath it as well.”
Debbie doesn’t know what to do with that, so she just gets to work, rinsing as much of the sparkle down the sink as she can manage. Ruth copies her after a moment, standing at the sink next to her.
They’re sharing a mirror. And then, five minutes later, and with wet, scrubbed faces, they’re just staring into a mirror, side by side.
Debbie’s heart is tight, constrained by too many things for too long.
Somehow, Debbie reaches for Ruth’s hand again, but at the last second it’s all a little bit too difficult, and so she just ends up holding on to Ruth’s thumb with two fingers. Ruth sighs, and turns to Debbie, leaning on the sink next to her.
Debbie can feel her face doing a veritable cartwheel as she struggles to keep a lid on things.
“Look, I just want to say… you really saved my ass with Sam tonight. And I owe you. And I’m sorry, for… oh jesus the list is too fucking long to even begin itemising, but- I was wondering if you wanted to go get a drink? Now? Without… Bash and Sheila.”
Debbie’s thumb seems to have a clearer grip on her emotions than the rest of Debbie, because it strokes gently over the knuckle of Ruth’s thumb a couple of times.
When Ruth looks at her, her face is… difficult to describe. There’s an anxious sort of hope there, but also, she looks- frustrated, Debbie decides upon. Ruth looks down at their hands, and then looks up again, an internal dam failing somehow.
“Why do I feel like I’m cheating on you?”
What? Debbie blinks, and then cautiously opens her mouth.
Ruth looks away from her, over Debbie’s shoulder, and then throws her gaze back at Debbie with the determination of a firefighter walking into a burning building.
“I fucked Sam again. A couple of times, actually.”
Debbie drops Ruth’s hand, and grips onto the sink instead. She grimaces, and and then frowns in confusion at Ruth, who makes no sense, why does she never make any sense to her?
“What…. what? Why are you… why are you telling me this? Why do you need me to know this, you know what I think about this.”
Ruth gasps a little, and then dips her chin slightly, sucking in a breath as though it can help her. She shrugs, looking away again.
“I don’t know, I guess I enjoy pain?”
Whose pain? Debbie wants to ask, because this is painful, Debbie can feel the pressure tearing into her heart.
“What the fuck is wrong with you… it’s Russell, you are cheating on, by the way. Russell. Not me.”
Ruth sighs, and turns fully away from Debbie, leaning her back on the sink so she can stare at the empty changing rooms. Debbie watches her profile, aches for her profile.
“I know, I know… it’s just…. I feel like it is you that I’m letting down.”
Debbie doesn’t know what to do with this, and her anger is here now, because why is it that Ruth gets to fuck up over and over again and it is Debbie who has to hand out absolution, Debbie who has to find a sensible way to react even as her soul has jumped the tracks and is barrelling over the edge of a cliff.
“Why the fuck would you- why are you fucking Sam?”
Ruth shrugs, as though she can’t decide between two mundane choices.
“Guess... I mean, I like him. Enough. I just want him to feel good? And you sure as hell aren’t doing anything to make him feel good, and if he doesn’t feel good then the show becomes difficult, and he won’t let us wrestle, and-”
Debbie’s hand curls up into a fist, and then she slaps the porcelain in frustration at everything, at every fucking thing that life seems to want to throw at her. Her voice is choked now, as though the words are awkward, obstinate things.
“It’s not our job to make Sam feel good, are you insane?” Ruth glances at her with this question, but there’s no answers in her eyes. Debbie sucks in a deep, controlling breath. “It’s our job to do our job. And don’t you dare fucking put this on me, these are your fucking choices, not mine.”
Ruth spreads her hands, almost laughing at the situation, as though she knew that Debbie would react like this and she’s pleased that her predictions have come true.
“I know, I know all of that, I just really needed a friend to talk to about it, and I thought…”
A friend. Debbie is close to exploding.
“Find another friend” she manages, flatly. Ruth looks at her, and oh god it’s the eyes, those fucking eyes. Debbie looks away, gesturing at the doors. “Talk to Carmen. Who ever else you think might have the ability to put up with your bullshit. I don’t know. But I don’t want to hear about it.”
Ruth reaches out for her, her fingers brushing the back of Debbie’s hand, hesitantly.
“But I want you-”
“No you don’t” says Debbie. “You don’t. I’m not the one for this.”
Ruth is still looking at her.