Fist to the Heart Ch. 20
Chapter Twenty – Baby, You’re A Fighter
Busy with the flight back, and getting readjusted to the different hour, Ruslan hadn’t had much time to think of all the troubles expecting him at home. Home. That was a strange word. Officially, he didn’t have one anymore since he had given his house to Johnny, and he had no plans of getting back there.
The problem was that he couldn’t keep himself from thinking about his former lover. Martin had promised him that they would talk about the circumstances of Douglas’s death, but that had been the only conversation they had.
Now his head was full of questions, and the most nagging one wasn’t related to his grandfather and what might have happened to him. Ruslan knew, deep down in his heart, that he could not go there, and nurture any foolish hope. At this point, it was all in his head, and he needed to keep himself distracted and not let that glimmer of hope get in the way.
That brought him to what felt like an equally pressing matter, which was Johnny fighting his life away. Ruslan knew he had no right to think of him at all, but he couldn’t stop himself from feeling. By running away, Ruslan had thought he would accomplish that. What he felt was the total opposite.
The hotel room he had reserved over the phone before landing was as non-descriptive as any other accommodation of the kind. The lack of familiarity of the impersonal setting was getting to him in a way he could not completely understand.
As a teenager, while struggling to survive together with Yanis on the streets, he could not bring himself to think of such things. There was no point to miss a home when they hadn’t had one.
Yet, now, Ruslan felt what most people must have experienced when in a strange place away from home. At first, he had just blamed it on missing his father’s home in Russia already, but he knew that was a lie he was telling himself. Even if he did miss everyone back there, especially his dad and Sergei, the feeling he had when he thought of his new family was mellow and subdued.
Nothing like the red iron pressed raw against his heart. Ruslan knew well what that was all about, but from the moment he had finished that letter and given it to Yanis to forward it to the rightful recipient, he had told himself that that door was closed on both his feelings and his heart.
It was his mind, however, going places where it wasn’t supposed to. He needed to keep his promise and stay away. Even if that meant ripping his heart in two, and let it bleed while thinking of Martin’s words about how Johnny was killing himself in a ring, somewhere.
He tossed and turned, incapable of sleep. The room service food was probably worthy of the most pretentious palate, but it tasted like paper in his mouth. He tried the wine, but that tasted too sour, too.
Ruslan decided to get out of bed and stop fighting the jet lag. Maybe he could get out a little, walk the familiar streets for a while, and clear his head. There was time to call Martin tomorrow, and now he could use this time for himself.
Only for Johnny, there was no time. Where was he now? What was he doing? Had Martin exaggerated? It was hard to believe. Martin was the most objective man he had ever known; there was no possible way he wasn’t telling the truth.
Ruslan took his coat and walked outside. Putting one hand in his pocket, he grabbed his phone and took it out. For a while, his fingers hovered over the screen. He knew the phone number by heart, but maybe there was no longer someone at the other end of the line. Maybe Johnny had changed his phone number, just like Ruslan had.
There was only one person who knew he was coming, and that was Martin. It had to remain that way, no matter what he thought or what he felt. He owed it to himself, but most of all, to Johnny. Without a doubt, his former lover didn’t want to see him, after the last words they exchanged before being kidnapped and dragged to that awful place.
For a moment, back there, he had doubted Johnny. For that, he couldn’t find forgiveness in his soul. But Johnny had been above the situation, knowing how to play Nigel, how to make him dance to his tune so he could find a way out. And for whom had that way out been? For him, Ruslan. Not one moment, Johnny had thought about his life, about himself, or even about his sick mother.
He had walked into that ring, knowing that he might not get out of there alive. Ruslan could still his heart throbbing painfully, only remembering that night. Johnny hadn’t looked at him, not directly, his eyes just gliding over him. Despite all that, he had only thought of Ruslan and no one else.
Johnny had been magnificent that night, Ruslan thought. Every beat of his heart had gone to him, every moment Johnny had seemed down pure torture. And, in the end, he had made it and had Ruslan walk away, free. It didn’t matter that the goon accompanying him had had other plans. It was only because of Johnny that he knew how to fend for himself.
He put the phone back into his pocket. If Johnny was fighting again, it was his choice casino siteleri and not Ruslan’s place at all to intervene. He had given up on the right to have a say about what Johnny did or didn’t, and he had done that because he had no right.
The fact that Johnny fought couldn’t have anything to do with him. He had been a fighter all his life, Ruslan told himself. Of course, he had left him some money, so finances couldn’t be an issue, but Johnny did what he knew and liked.
Again, there was no point to intervene.
But what if – Ruslan’s brain began to wander – it was because of him that Johnny was on a self-destructive path? It was his duty to see him and tell him that he shouldn’t do that.
Ruslan shook his head. What was he thinking? Johnny must have hated him for what he had done. If there had been any chance for any feelings to survive, they must have been destroyed when Ruslan had abandoned him.
So, it couldn’t be anything else but wishful thinking and a terribly wrong sense of entitlement on his part to think that whatever Johnny was doing had anything to do with him whatsoever.
Still, did he really not care? He did, but what could he do? He took out his phone and this time dialed the well-known phone number. For a while, he waited while the ringtone played in the background, each repetition making him nervous. Maybe Johnny didn’t care about answering private numbers.
The beep let him know he was sent to voicemail. He put back the phone into his coat. There was no place in Johnny’s life for him now. Whatever choices Johnny made, they were his to make.
The city hadn’t changed much, Ruslan thought, as he stepped in front of a store window. He didn’t see what was in front of him, as his reflection, with shoulders slumped, and deep shadows on his face were what he was staring at.
In the end, he had settled for walking around the block, without going too far from his hotel. In a way, that felt as if he kept an invisible thread to everything that was supposed to pull him back from making other bad decisions.
Tomorrow, he would see Martin and ask him the questions he wanted to ask. And then, he would just hop on another plane and fly back to his family, the only one he had in the world right now.
With a deep sigh, he turned and walked directly into someone. “So sorry,” he mumbled and tried to pass by the person he had unintentionally bumped into.
“No shit,” the reply came.
Ruslan’s eyes shot up. “Yanis,” he said, feeling his breath catching in his throat. His best friend wasn’t exactly someone he wanted to meet.
Yanis had been quite clear about what he thought about Ruslan moving to Russia and leaving Johnny behind. And him. They hadn’t talked since then.
“Are you back? And what the hell, not one phone call? Don’t tell me you don’t know how to use a phone anymore? And what did you eat in Russia? You look like supermodels ready to faint on the catwalk.”
Ruslan shook his head in mirth. Yanis had no idea how close he was in surmising that. “That’s exactly what my sisters had in store for me.”
“Your Russian sisters? So they decided to starve you to death so that they could make money off you?”
“Yanis, I swear, sometimes your mind is full of crap. They just thought I would make a great fashion model. And nobody starved me. Actually, they begged me to eat. And they had great food, in case you’re thinking of other crap now.”
Yanis caught him by the shoulders. “I missed you.”
Ruslan looked into his friend’s eyes. “I missed you, too.”
“You’re a fucking liar,” Yanis replied, but there was no bite in his voice as he said that. “Russia is not on the moon. Or didn’t your daddy let you make phone calls? Does he live in a dungeon or something?”
“No,” Ruslan protested. “Seriously, Yanis. I didn’t call because …” He trailed off without offering an explanation. He didn’t have one.
“Yeah, you’re an ass. I thought so,” Yanis concluded. “But now that you’re here, let’s hang out.”
“I am still jet-lagged, and I don’t think getting drunk is a good idea.”
“Bullshit. You can drink anyone I know under the table. Plus, if we don’t hang out now, when will we? I bet you already have the ticket back in your pocket. By the way, how come you’re here?”
Ruslan chose to be vague. “Some unfinished business.”
“And then you’re going back?” Yanis questioned.
“Yes,” Ruslan said the truth.
“That’s fucked up, man. Do you even know any Russian? Say something in Russian.”
“Stop testing me. No, I don’t know any Russian.”
“You’ve been gone for months. How come you haven’t learned anything?”
“I was busy,” Ruslan replied, feeling a bit clipped.
“Let’s go, and you can tell me all. Unless, of course, it was some mafia business you’re talking about.”
“Cut it out, Yanis,” Ruslan said and punched his friend playfully into his shoulder. “I see that you want to get me drunk, whether I like it or not.”
“Hey, I just want us to talk like friends.” Yanis put his hands up in surrender. canlı casino “Like the prick you are, you left and never called. C’mon, I know a place.”
Since their dealings during the time when Ruslan had been adopted by Douglas had had to remain a secret, they didn’t have a preferred watering hole. It was just some drinks, and he owed that to Yanis.
The feeling that he was out of place in that city was starting to wear off. It must have had something to do with meeting Yanis.
“So you practically moved from one mansion to another? Man, the way rich people live,” Yanis said, as Ruslan finished talking about his home in Russia.
“They were all very welcoming there, but it took quite a while to feel like it was home.”
“What does your daddy do? Does he do normal stuff, like other people?”
Ruslan glared at Yanis. His friend’s fascination with Vladimir was bordering on annoying. It seemed like it was all Yanis wanted to talk about. “Yes. He’s just like everyone. Actually, he’s quite a good father.”
“That’s good, I guess.”
“So tell me about you and Anya. Any plans to expand the family?” Ruslan elbowed his friend suggestively.
“We sure have those. I got an idea! You must be my first born’s godfather.”
“Yanis, do you want someone who lives on the other side of the planet to be your kid’s godfather?”
“Why not? You’re loaded.” Yanis shrugged and made a sign for the waitress to come by with more drinks.
Ruslan felt a little bit of a buzz. He usually held his liquor well, but he had lost so much weight lately, and he hadn’t cared about eating enough, that even the few drinks they had were getting to his head, regardless of his natural tolerance.
“I think you should ask someone else. I’m not planning many trips back here,” Ruslan said.
“All right. Maybe I’ll ask Johnny.”
And here came the topic of conversation Ruslan had tried to stay away throughout the evening. He grabbed the glass in front of him and drank half of it in one gulp.
“What? Aren’t you going to ask me about him?”
“No,” Ruslan said stubbornly and stared into his glass as if it could offer him the right answers.
“You really don’t care, do you? Damn, I never thought I’d tell you this, Ruslan, but you’re kind of a major asshole. That guy fought like a fucking champion, just to save your skinny ass.”
Ruslan revolted. “My ass isn’t skinny. You should know.”
“Hmm,” was Yanis’s immediate reply. “I do. And I also know that you did a number on Johnny by running away.”
“I didn’t run away,” Ruslan protested. “It was the wise thing to do. And what do you mean by that?”
“By what?” Yanis suddenly pretended he was mentally challenged.
“By what you said,” Ruslan said sternly, but his words were a bit slurred. “How did I do a number on Johnny?”
“All he does, every day, is fight. Nothing else. I can’t even talk to him.”
“Why is he fighting? He could not have possibly spent the money I left him.”
“He’s not touching that.”
Ruslan’s heart sank. He had the confirmation that Johnny was mad at him still. “Well, he should. I left everything to him for a reason.”
“Yeah, but the problem is that you left. Man, I’m telling you. Maybe it’s not my place -“
“It’s not,” Ruslan cut his friend’s speech in half.
“Okay, then it is. Go talk to the guy. Say goodbye properly. Don’t be a basic bitch.”
“Wow, does Anya know you’re stealing her vocabulary?”
“You know what I mean. You owe it to the guy. His lungs are not in good shape, you know? The doctors told him not to fight anymore.”
“And? I thought I left you in charge to keep him from fighting,” Ruslan replied.
“And how am I supposed to do that? He’s like two hundred pounds of muscles and bones. He’d go through me like this.” Yanis illustrated his words by punching his open palm.
Ruslan sighed. “I told him everything I wanted to tell him when I left.”
“In a letter. Like a fucking coward. That was what he said after he read it,” Yanis said.
“I guess he’s right. I couldn’t stand him hating me and looking at me, knowing what I did to get him there.”
“Bullshit,” Yanis replied. “You’re scared to commit.”
“Who? Me? You’re not one to talk,” Ruslan shot back.
“Hey, I bit the bullet, and I’m married now. Anya knows everything about me, where I am, what I do, all the frigging time.”
“Well, you didn’t place her in mortal danger, so there’s no room for comparison,” Ruslan concluded. “I think I had enough to drink. Could we call it a night?”
“Let’s stop by my gym. The boys will want to see you, and I also want you to see what I did with the place.”
“Did you renovate it?”
“Of course I did. You left me some cash, too, or you don’t remember that?” Yanis joked.
Ruslan shook his head. “All right. But after that, I seriously need to crash. There’s somewhere I need to be tomorrow, and I don’t plan on having a pounding headache and bloodshot eyes when I wake up.”
“C’mon, it’s just a little detour. Then kaçak casino I’ll call you a cab.”
Yanis stood up, and his phone pinged. He rubbed his chin and smiled as he read whatever text he got.
“What was that all about?” Ruslan asked.
“Maybe you should go home to her.”
“Nah, she’s staying with some friends, and I’ll go take her home later. Let’s go.”
Ruslan followed Yanis without another word of protest. He was a bit too tired to fight with his best friend right now. Plus, he would be gone again soon, and maybe these were the only times when they could hang out.
Ruslan stopped dead in his tracks the moment he entered Yanis’s old gym. It wasn’t the fact that the place looked like new, but what was going on inside that made him do that. Annoyed beyond means, he turned toward Yanis. “What the hell? Since when you’re hosting fights?”
Yanis grinned and pushed him, making him walk. “It was a surprise.”
“Well, consider me surprised enough. Now, I should go home and sleep.”
He had sworn off watching any fights or contact sports of any kind since that night when he witnessed Johnny fighting to save his skinny ass, as Yanis bluntly put it. He could not stand one moment watching men trying to beat the crap out of each other.
Yanis cared not one iota about that and now had one arm hooked over his shoulders, and was forcing him to walk until they reached the front row. A few guys from Yanis’s gang stood up to make enough room for them and welcomed Ruslan with pats on the back and warm words.
“Is there some big fight tonight?” Ruslan asked, feeling restless, and barely keeping himself on the seat.
“Yeah. As you can see, we have a full house. Business is going well.”
“I’m glad for you,” Ruslan said through his teeth.
“Well, your money was put to good use. If you ever come back, there’s a share I keep for you.”
“I’m only visiting, Yanis.”
He didn’t have time to protest more, as the fighters for tonight’s match climbed into the ring. A jolt went through him, and Ruslan stood up. Yanis caught his hand, dragging him down. “You should stay and see,” his friend told him.
Ruslan stared at Yanis, trying to read his eyes. “Did you plan this?”
Yanis was still holding one of his wrists into an iron hold. “I think you should quit being a fucking coward, and watch what you made of him.”
“Yanis, I can’t look at him,” Ruslan said in a begging voice.
“If you could leave him as you did, I think you can look at him one more time.”
“I thought you were on my side.”
“I am,” Yanis said solemnly. “And that’s part of it. Just watch him fight.”
Ruslan had a mind to force himself free out of Yanis’s hold, but he knew well he couldn’t be a match for his friend, especially now when he was still a bit under the influence of alcohol. As his eyes were drawn to what was happening in the ring, he felt completely sobered up, though. Yanis was right. If he was the one who had done this to Johnny, he had to watch.
He felt his heart grow smaller, as he took in his former lover. Johnny looked good, and not many would have suspected that only months ago, he had been in a fight for his life. Yanis said his lungs were bad, and that wasn’t easy to see, but in a way, that made things more dangerous. It meant that Johnny could ignore his health issue, and continue to fight like nothing was wrong with him.
Johnny’s eyes traveled over the audience, as always. Ruslan still remembered that. He had asked Johnny about it one time, and his former lover had just told him jokingly that he was scouting for hot guys he could fuck after the bout.
Was that what he was doing now? Johnny must have had plenty to choose from. Ruslan had been drawn to him, that first time they had met, and the man’s animal magnetism was more powerful than ever.
Ruslan let his eyes travel over Johnny’s strong body longingly. How many times had he taken all that he had for granted? How many times had he kept his lover into his arms, thinking that nothing and no one would ever tear them apart? It looked like he only needed to search for obstacles close to home. In the end, he was the only one to blame for all that had happened.
He couldn’t look away. He knew it was a mistake and one for which he would pay dearly, but his gaze remained on Johnny, his mind filled with so many moments when they had been together, happy and in love.
Ruslan raised his head enough for his eyes to meet Johnny’s dark ones. His breath caught in his chest, and he froze on the spot. Under the furrowed thick brows, Johnny’s eyes were cold and distant.
As they were supposed to be. What could he expect? But Yanis was right; he needed to see this through, and maybe, just tell Johnny there was no point in doing that, in throwing his life away, for the sake of someone who wasn’t worth it.
The referee’s whistle made Johnny’s eyes move away from him. Like the deadly weapon he was, the fighter came down on his opponent.
Ruslan needed to close his eyes and let this pass. But he couldn’t do that, his entire being drawn to the rippling muscles on Johnny’s back, the old wounds still there, to how the man’s punch flew whipcord fast from his shoulder like a sling, to the thin layer of sweat on his dark skin.