Wounded

“He hit me. He actually…” In a hand resting on his knee, Alex held a tissue Beth had used to stopper the flow of blood. The Kleenex was a collection of cheerful red blossoms on a snow-white surface.

“I know. We get it. Did you see how wrecked the place was when you left – when they threw you out? They’ll never let us back in.” She dabbed a damp cloth at the dried blood around his nose while murmuring something about no athletes being allowed back in at all, the arrogant pricks.

“Wait, ‘us?’ He threw the punch!” His fist clenched around the tissue, but only a corner caught below his pinky finger and its body waved merrily as he animated his final word.

“I know,” she said.

“I wasn’t even talking to him. Just – bam, just like that.” He snapped his fingers.

“Well, at least you and your posse all got to throw chairs,” I offered. He flung the Kleenex in my direction, but unwadded, it floated to the center of the coffee table between us.

Beth glowered toward the bloody mess while it lazily unfolded itself and settled onto the table as though for a nap. Its hue was rusty and tired.

“Do you think—“ she began. We sat in silence for a moment watching her reconsider her words. “No, just…. You were wrong, and – I know, he was wrong, too – but you were being so… what was that word… vi-, no, yeah – vitriolic, spewing that talk-radio, backwater-pulpit nonsense your dad listens to, thinking the guy’d be too much of a pansy to do anything but pretend he couldn’t hear you, but when he stands up for himself, you’re the pansy,  because suddenly he’s not a fairy, he’s a ‘militant homo’ who you expect to hold his own against you and four other guys, and when he does, when he does you whine about how he hit you for no reason, you poor fucking baby.”

Alex sat up, leaned forward, elbows on knees. I picked up the tissue and examined his blood, this badge of – what? Honor? Shame?

Nothing?

“You were laughing with us,” he said.

“So I was wrong, too.” She stood, emptied melted ice from two clear plastic cups into a third and stacked them neatly before taking the Kleenex from my hands and throwing it into the top cup. The wadded tissue swallowed the water greedily, growing beyond its bounds, restoring the blood’s brilliant red and setting the cups aflame.

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