22: Tyler

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22. Tyler

I haven't seen Ethan in days.

Now on Friday afternoon, I sit with my thumb over the call button beside Ethan's name. My phone is heavy as it balances on the tips of my fingers. I press down on the button, hard.

The phone rings a few times. Then those few times become four, five, six . . .

"Yeah?" Ethan's voice comes through, a little breathless.

"Hey," I answer. "You busy or something? You sound distracted."

"Uh no, I'm alright," he says. "You need something?"

I sigh and drop back down onto my bed, laying out flat with my legs hooked over the edge, feet on the floor. I contemplate not telling Ethan – just letting the events of the last twenty-four hours smooth over until they're barely visible. But then I will be stuck if something goes wrong. And I have this awful feeling that it will. It's like a fist in my stomach or a rock stuck in the back of my throat. I can't get rid of it and I can't see it.

This uneasy feeling isn't going to go away soon.

And when it finally hits, as much as I feel weak to admit it, I will need Ethan there to help me get back up again.

"I did it," I say evasively.

"What?" Ethan asks. "You finally screwed Franny?"

"Fuck off, Ethan."

He chuckles on the other end. "Alright, alright, sorry. What did you do then?"

"You know the files I told you about the other day?" I ask. "The ones that Carl keeps which record all the fights?"

"Tyler . . . " Ethan begins with a slight warning to his voice. "What did you do?"

I sigh. "I might have taken all the files and burned them."

"What the hell?" Ethan bursts out. "You just walked in and burnt all the files? How did you not get caught?"

"I got Brad, the bartender, to help me get in. Then I took all the files and burned them in my fireplace when I got home."

"Can you trust him?"

"No," I say immediately. "But I could trust him enough yesterday. I have a feeling we both have different goals."

"Tyler . . . do you even get how dangerous that was? What if you got caught?"

"Don't lecture me, Ethan," I mutter, running a hand down my face. "Just don't."

"Okay, okay," Ethan replies. "How did you get in though, honestly?"

"Well I went in when Carl was upstairs, drinking. Brad passed me the key to the door when he wasn't looking so I snuck in, took all the files then snuck back up."

"There is a back door you know," Ethan points out.

"There's an alarm on it," I explain.

"Alarm?"

"Yeah, you remember when I came to your place last year after a fight? I was freaking out and pale as hell?"

"Of course I do," Ethan says. "You wouldn't speak all night. You wouldn't go home. You just acted like a statue for hours."

"There was a new guy that night," I say. "Usually I don't watch the other fights but Blade, who I was supposed to go up against a few weeks later, was fighting this new guy. I wanted to see how good he was—what he was like. I was always the new kid up until this guy came in. He was called Tristan."

"Was?" Ethan asks.

I gulp and nod to myself. "I don't even know why he was there. Stupid guy. He was the age you are now. And he just walked right into the middle of that circle to start his fight. He was down in seconds. The guy he was up against . . . huge. Much older. He has a nickname, one of those stupid comical ones to add appeal. He's called the Executioner and when he fights, the crowd chants 'death.'"

"Why am I not getting a good feeling . . .?" Ethan murmurs.

"Tristan didn't know what he was doing. He walked in there blind. And he was on the floor in seconds. I just remember there being blood on his face. It was just running out of his nose . . . " Ethan makes a noise on the other end of the phone but I continue. "And when he had been hit so many times, I couldn't even recognize his face, he did the stupidest thing. He ran." There is now silence on the other end. "He reached the back door and swung it open, trying to run away. Everyone laughed. The Executioner—Dante is his real name—came running after him. Dragged him back. And everyone kept chanting over, and over, and over again. Death. Death. Death. Tristan was limp and crumpled up, being held only by Dante's hand on his shirt. And when I thought things had already hit their peak and that the worst was over . . . Dante hit him. In the perfect place and at the perfect time. Tristan stopped moving completely and the Executioner gave out his sentence. Death."

I am greeted only by complete silence.

I wait for a moment until Ethan's breathing becomes more regular and I can hear it clearly over the line.

"You had to watch it all?" Ethan asks.

I laugh humorlessly. "I was already on thin ice with the guys in there because of my age. Running out of a fight because a guy ended up dying wasn't really an option unless I wanted to end up like him."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"It's not really something you just bring up," I say quietly and clear my throat. "Carl wasn't amused by Tristan trying to run so when the body was . . . disposed of, he put an alarm on the door and made sure it's always locked. He's the only one with a code to get out or in that door, so he must have been the one to open it up for the cops that time they got raided."

"I'm sorry," Ethan says suddenly.

I scoff. "For what?"

"For you having to see that."

"Stop being a fucking wimp," I mutter. "I needed to see it."

"What?" Ethan sounds shocked.

"If I didn't see that then I would be a complete mess by now. I wouldn't have stayed in the circuit. I would have tried to run too soon. I would be dead. It was a tragic thing and I wish I could un-see it every day. But I'm not going to pretend like it didn't help me, because it did. And that's the blunt, disgusting truth."

Ethan makes a noise of agreement. "I guess we've both seen things we wish we could un-see. Things that helped us. So much for being some kind of hero, then."

I smile cynically but just feel blank inside. "Didn't anyone tell you, Ethan? Not all heroes are honorable."

- Ellie x

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