Ezra looks up as the door opens "Lori What are you doing here?"
Lori cocks her hip to the side. "You know these girls never miss a fight. Couldn't stay away if you paid them."
"Got me all nervous," he chuckles as he begins to wrap his hands. "How'd you get them in here anyway?"
"Same way I always do, you know August sneaks them in." She leans up off the wall and drapes her arms around his neck."I don't like this Ezra." She strokes the side of his face, watches him wince as she brushes her finger along a bruise.
"Last fight Lori." He promises, eyes twinkling, voice husky with ambition and hope. "Last fight, we're set. College fund for the girls. Give you that house you've always been dreaming of." he leans in to nuzzle her neck. "And I'll be a legend."
"You been a legend Ezra." she retorts. "Everyone knows Mighty Mills in that ring. No one questions that. But enough is never enough for you. We have a house. We survive."
"And I want more." he replies with a hiss, making to pull away from her but she latches on tighter.
"You not gone die in that ring and leave me here Ezra Mills." she warns. "You not gone do this to my daughters. They need you. I need you."
He pauses, taking in the shimmering fear in her eyes, the rigidity of her limbs. "I've heard what they say about this one. I've heard---"
"Wives tales sweetheart." he grumbles, drawing her in, caressing her hair. Her fingers lace behind his back, hugging him close. "I'm gonna go out there. Win. And go out in a rich blaze of glory. Trust me baby." he pulls back and leans his forehead against hers, holding her face between his hands he closes his eyes and they inhale each other's breath before he opens them again, locking eyes with those of his wife. "Trust me," he rumbles and she gazes back at him, places her hands over his. "I love you."
"I love you, Ezra." Ezra cracks a grin.
"Kiss me for luck."
"Hmmph" and Lori leans in, gently at first before she lets the tide sweep over her and she draws him in. She kisses him long and deeply until he finally breaks away for air.
"Easy now." he laughs. "You won't have anything for our victory round later."
"You come home to me." she scolds, kissing him again, tempted to get lost in his arms. "I'll bring the girls through, let 'em wish their daddy luck before his last big match."
"I love you Lori. All my heart and soul. Don't you forget it."
Pausing at the door Lori glances over her shoulder, she shoots him a saucy look. More confidence than she truly feels. He's still healing from a rib injury. He just barely made clearance for this match. In fact she strongly suspects him and August convinced Nevins to falsify his report. "I'll never forget baby. Fight hard."
"I always do. Now bring my girls in."
"Abbie, Jenny, your thick headed father wants to see you," she calls and both girls bound in.
Abbie sixteen, strong stony and silent, and her sister, two years her junior but two heads taller, spunky and spit fire. Both of them too rough for girls their age. Growing up around the ring, play sparring with their father. Tumbling with August's boy. Lori's tried very hard to encourage them in other interests. She wants no part of the ring for her girls. None whatsoever.
But she knows they're drawn to it. They get the most out of their father when it comes to fighting. Their memories are comprised of nights at the gym. Loading up his weights. Holding the punching bag. Running with him. Devising their own workout regimen. Watching their father drive and punch at August. Running him his medicines from Nevins with lolli pops in their mouths.
They go to their father now and embrace him and encourage him and he holds them extra tight. "I love you girls. I love you Abbie. I love you Jenny. Don't you ever forget that. I love you. I want you to know whatever happens out there. You gotta go after life with your all. With your heart. If you want something, you fight. Fight hard, girls. Fight for it."
"Love you daddy." Abbie whispers, fingers biting into his shoulder and he winces. That tear from his last fight still troubles him.
"Love you dad" Jenny nods. They both press kisses to his cheek and then the doorway darkens with a shadow.
August Corbin. Coach and manager. Family friend. Their God Father. "Clear out gals I need him to get his game face on. Need him to have time to let all that 'love' get out his system." he teases as he shoos them out. "You alright Ezra?"
"I gotta be August you know I got bills."
"Nevins got you again?"
"For the pain, man. You know I need it. Win this fight I can pay him off for the meds."
"And the debt." August lights a cigarette and takes a hard drag. "Lori know?"
"Nah man. She can't know either. That's why I need to win this tonight." August coughs loudly and eyes the cigarette suspiciously, as if accusing it of doing him harm. Never mind his asthma and his blood pressure. " Yeah well we all stand to gain a lot from this. If you win. You're no good to none of us dead."
"Look I know my body. You know it, Nevins knows it, you cleared me didn't you?" August screws up his mouth.
"Ezra," he begins doubtfully.
"You ready?" one of the staff has dashed back to call them. Ezra makes a show of stretching and flexing, takes a practice swing at the mans head just to watch him flinch.
She takes a deep breath and dives. Screams fill her ears. Blood thirsty roars.
"Mighty Mills. Mighty Mighty Mighty Mills. Strong like Samson. Swift as a snake. Mighty Mighty Mighty Mills."
The water rushes by her, the screaming and chanting continues as she dives deeper. She hears the bell and it takes her back again. Always does. Every time. It's Pavlonian by now.
Two feral roars.
"Let's Go Ezra!"
"Hit Em! Hit Em!"
"Come on Devil, come on!"
"He looking slow to you?"
"Shut up that is smack your daddy ride your mama Mighty Mills, ain't NO ONE gonna beat him down."
"Let's GOOOOO EZRA!"
"Send him to HELL DEVIL"
"MIGHTY MIGHTY MIGHTY MILLS" "FIGHT FOR IT"
A rhythm picks up. "Might-y might-y!"
The answer. "Ez-ra Mills."
She screams herself hoarse beside her sister, struggling to restrain herself from bounding over the barricade when a punch makes him stagger, doubling over.
"Give em Hell Devil!"
"GIVE EM HELL"
"FIGHT FOR IT"
"Let's GOOOO DEVIL"
"EZRA!" she glances over her shoulder at her mother yelling behind her. Her cry sounds different. Panicked. Afraid.
"Come on come on come on!"
"Man I got a grand riding on this fight."
"I got your momma riding on this fight."
"I'mma send Mighty Mills to whoop your ass when this fight is done."
"EZRA" Lori cries out again.
"OOOH" goes through the crowd. A crash, a thud. A grunt. "Oooh" someone beside her cringes. It's Jenny. Wincing because she's holding her fingers too tight. He goes down in the corner. Blinks around as if dazed. Something's wrong.
"Stop!" Lori yells. "Stop the fight! STOP"
"What's wrong with Mills? what's wrong?"
The water rushes in her ears.
"Let's go Ezra!"
"Come on, shake it off!"
"STOP THE FIGHT"
She swims harder, the cheers around her growing louder, frenzied. A flash of gold and silver trails behind her. Flicking and swirling, mesmerizing the crowd. Down and over and around. This is her spotlight. She does her own tricks here, whatever she pleases.
"Mighty Mighty Mighty Mills!" Over and under darting around the reefs and obstacles. That's her. Mighty Mills.
"STOP" Augusts voice.
"Ezra, Ezra!" Lori clambers over the barricade, scrambling to be by his side. His opponent backs up, hands raised in the air, a look of horror on his face.
"I didn't mean"
"Get away from him." Lori's voice cuts through the noise. Calculated silence as the doctors rush in.
Last trick Mills, she thinks as she dives further downward and begins to spiral furiously toward the surface.
"Mighty Mighty Mighty Mills!"
She leaps upward, propelled by her teammates into the air, twisting and twirling before splashing back down into the depths. Met by a riot of applause and whistling and enthusiastic cheering of little boys and girls.
"And there you have it folks, our premier Mermaid. The most fearless and finessed. Mighty Abigail Mills!"
He's wheezing as they take him into emergency. She can still hear the terrible calling of the spectators as they'd left.
"Devil did him in! He's going to hell for sure!"
"Mighty Mills let that little punk get him?"
A lucky blow, they'd call it later.
Nothing else after that had registered what with her mother arguing with them, no, they were wrong, there was no way in HELL.
"I'm Sorry, Mrs Mills."
"You gone be sorry if you don't bring my husband back out here." she threatens, tears brimming in her eyes.
the doctor repeats. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
After the audience disappears she swims to the shore and Danny helps her up out of the pool.
"Hey. You dazzled out there." he says, eyes sparkling in the sun. She grins at him as she turns over and fiddles for the zipper on the tail.
He looks at her funny "For what?"
"For being there."
"Oh shut up" he laughs and she joins in with him, accepting the towel he offers her. "Tell me why you never went for an olympic team?"
"Get out of here with that Danny. Ain't nobody around here got time for that."
"Never say never Mills."
"Never." she replies staunchly, just to spite him and smirks when he huffs and strides away to help the other staff put away equipment.
"Today is a sad day in the professional sporting world. Ezra Mighty Mills passed away today. He was fatally injured in his last match, a big ticket match that would have granted the victor over 1.5 million dollars. Ezra was cleared for the fight but doctors say he was clearly still ailing from previous injuries. They say that Doctor Nevin's had been helping Ezra dope for his past few matches and may have falsified his last report in order for Mills to fight. A fan memorial will be held at Ezra's old ring, this saturday."
That had been the day.
That had truly been his last match.
Abbie stops at the gym on her way home. His gym. She always does. Has done, for years. She's older now. Strong, hard. Graceful in the water. She'd gone as far as she could from fighting when her father died. Jenny went another route all together.
They didn't make anything easier on their mother. Parties and drugs and rough living. They finished school. She damn well had made them. Half addled and grieving and reckless they scrounged up scholarships for the strangest accomplishments.
They didn't question the validity of the money, didn't dare. But even after, diploma and all, looked back on the ruin of their home life and they just weren't cut for those straight laced book nook careers.
She got her job here, at this marine park. Premier Mermaid.
Loved her job.
Helped her escape a bit.
Live in a fantasy.
Jenny discovered a knack for graffiti art. And when that got her in too much trouble she started apprenticing at Witching Hour Tattoo Parlour. Another pair of sisters they knew well. Got along with. Abbie suspects they probably played a little too close to the other side of the tracks for her liking, but who didn't now a days.
In the world of today, it was a wonder if you managed to stay on the right side for long.
Darkness will find you, like it or not.
You just tried to survive it, light a match until you could find your way back out again.
As she pushes the door it squeals on its hinges and she blinks in dazed confusion when she looks up at the ring.
"Am I dreaming?" she wonders aloud as she advances and the two people sparring pause. One of them looks at her, eyes registering surprise.
"Baby Joe?" she calls. His opponent laughs and makes cooing noises. He swings a punch in their arm and laughs.
"Shut up with that man. Mills that you?"
"Who the hell would it be?" she asks as she draws closer, hefting her bag over her shoulder.
"What you think you doing in there?"
"Uh, what's it look like, training."
"Your daddy know you out here?"
A frown flashes across his face. "No. No I….listen Abbie, I'm actually glad you came by."
"Aww yeah?" He nods for his friend to scram and then climbs down from the ring, he slings an arm around her shoulder. "He won't coach me."
"Who, your dad?"
"Nah. Says it's dangerous."
Mighty Mighty Mighty Mills. Drums in her brain.
"It is dangerous Joe."
"But I'm good Abbie." he leans in. "Real good. Didn't I use to give you a good turn?"
"When we were kids," she stresses.
"Well we're grown now. What do you say?"
"What do I say to what?"
"Baby Joe says what?" He rolls his eyes.
"There's an opening match coming up, for amateurs. I just need some pointers---"
"Hell no Joe. Nuh uh. How can you ask me that huh? You know---"
"I know. Alright? I miss him too. It's just…..Dad's sick."
"Your dad has been sick for years now and he shouldn't be surprised by it."
"No Abbie I mean I need money. Bad. Real bad."
"What are we talking here Joe."
"Operation costs. They gave him six months."
She claps a hand over her mouth. "Joe,"
"He can't train me."
"There's got to be someone else."
"No. It's gotta be you. I know you spent the most time with him I know---You know his moves. His holds. You watched my dad coach yours. Abbie if I'm gonna have any chance at this. It's gotta be you."
Abbie opens and closes her mouth. "No. No Joe I can't. No. Listen I'll talk to you later alright?"
she spins on her heel and begins marching home.
Works to fight the anxiety that flits through her system. She might be educated. She might be strong and pretty and living.
But half of her lived in a ring with her dad and that half died with him too. She'll be damned if she gives the ring anymore of herself. She already spends too many of her waking hours and sleeping ones there.
Even her footsteps sound like the stomps of the fans.
Mighty Mighty Mighty Mills.