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“Nelson,” Jimmy had cleaned up for this talk, a bad sign to be sure if Nelson couldn’t remember the last time that his childhood friend turned agent actually wore a blazer, “we need to talk.”
Nelson’s whole body still hurt, it was a pain just to be able to sit and not whine as his bruises stung from the impact of leaning against the chair.
“Whatsup Jimbo?” he tried to crack a painful looking smile but stopped when he felt a stitch pull at his eye. Bad idea.
“Nelson,” Jimmy looked nervous as he picked up a newspaper and slid it over, “we need to do some damage control.”
The headline read in big boxy letter “Boxer put rival in coma over ex-girlfriend”. Below was a picture of Nelson himself, looking his thuggish best with a shaved head, a brand new shiner under his eye and the sulkiest expression on his face since that fateful grade four class picture. He, quite frankly, looked like a psychopath. Next to him was a picture of Uter Jones in a stretcher, being carried into the ambulance, an oxygen mask on his blue black face and an IV bag running into his vein.
It looked bad.
Christ, the article painted it out like Nelson purposefully used excessive force on Jones during their fight as means of revenge for the girl that Uter stole from him. And yeah, Nelson knew that it looked bad but he never meant to go that far during the match, he never wanted the whole thing to get out of hand. Except he had a quick temper and a mack truck of a right hook and Uter mentioned the fact that Nelson’s ma was a stripper so it was understandable
that Nelson might have let things get a little far.
Fuck, he doesn’t even remember the girl’s name anymore.
“Jesus fuck,” he groaned, throwing the paper away and tried to bunch a fist. He hissed as the bandages stretched tight, pulling at the raw meat underneath them. “What do we do?”
Jimmy frowned as he traced the paper’s reluctant descent but even Nelson could see that he was secretly relieved that no violence seems to be forthcoming. It was a bad situation all around. Nelson’s had to hire an assistant just to deal with the influx of reporters clamoring for his blood. They were making him out to be some kind of monster.
The world championship was in two months, Nelson was the underdog favorite of the fans, he couldn't
screw this up because he went too far during a match. He’s been working too long to get where he is.
“You need to lay low until this dies down,” Jimmy tapped his fingers against the wood of his desk in agitation, “somewhere where the press won’t find you.”
Jimmy looked pretty bad, his stubble was developing quite nicely- giving him a thuggish air of his own, he had dark bags under his eyes and he was too pallid for it to be healthy. He was a family man but right now, he looked like a convict.
Nelson was his biggest client, Nelson was also his oldest friend who wasn’t currently cooling his heels in State Pen- that would be Kearney and his freakish obsession with fire.
Jimmy’d probably come under more attack and scrutiny than he’s ever been in his life.
“You want me to leave
?” Nelson coudln't quite keep the sneer out of his voice. He hunched lower into the chair, shoulders tight and defensive and tried to stare his friend down.
Jimmy grimaced as the tapping went up a notch. “Nelson,” he bit his lip, “the reporters have been calling at all
hours, man. Jesus, we couldn’t sleep yesterday because we were dealing with that fucking doctor’s interview.” Jones's admitting doctor who sold his story to Ok! for a cool two million. He called Nelson a ‘brutal animal who had destroyed a promising boxer’s career’.
“They’ve been calling me at home man,” Jimmy sighed, weary and resigned.
And shit. There was Nelson’s often forgotten conscience coming into play. If they’re calling him at home, that meant that they were calling Janey too.
It’d always been a bit of a joke, how fast Jimbo Jones had married Janey after finishing school, but no one can disagree that the two of them are good together. Janey’s gone to the same school as them, she was two years younger and they never really noticed her until they got to high school. But then Janey developed a pair of tits and the fact that she had been crushing on the school bully became more apparent. Dolph had left Springfield by then, Nelson was training every day and Kearney was a little too preoccupied with sniffing coke and starting fires to notice. There it was though, and nobody was more surprised than Nelson but Jimmy took Jane Powell to his junior prom and the rest as they say was history. They were married once Janey got graduated and left town in the same car. She had been there with them from the beginning and stuck with the two of them through thick and thin.
“How’s Janey’s morning sickness?” Nelson looked away, knowing that his guilt is visible and there, out on his face like every other of his emotions. He’d always had features that were slightly too big for his face, he’d never been able to keep his thoughts to himself.
“She’s good man,” Jimmy was practically beaming at him as he opened his wallet and slid over an ultrasound photo of what looked like a bean, “the pregnancy’s going real well, the doctors say. They just told us that we’re having a boy!”
Well. Nelson had made a truly valiant effort before getting shot down at least. “Congratulations,” he smiled at Jimmy who was practically cooing at the little black and grey picture, “he’s beautiful.”
It was only a little bit of a lie.
,” Jimmy finally put the photo away and looked shiftily at Nelson, “so what do you say?”
“Where do you want me to go?” Nelson kept his eyes out on the window, not looking at the jubilantly gleeful expression on Jimmy’s face.
He felt tired.
“I’m thinking you need to go somewhere where the press won’t catch wind of you, somewhere where you can recover in peace, train for the championship,” Jimmy grinned and opened his palms in supplication, “I think you should go home for a while. Relax. See the sights. Unwind a little.”
Nelson stood, gripping the arms of his chair to keep himself from falling. He sighed as he looked at Jimmy, “Jimbo. There are no sights
in Springfield, you know that.” He began moving towards the door as he said, “I’ll start packing.”
Springfield looked the same, it even smelled
the same- a strange combination of nature and chemicals from the plant. Nelson was mildly surprised to discover a car rental near the airport, nevertheless he didn’t hesitate to take advantage of it.
The hotels were the same ones from seven years ago, he chose to stay at a Best Western. He took a shower, changed and examined his bandages ruefully. He still looked like he had come out of a meat grinder but his eye was looking less swollen, and the blue of his bruises had faded to a nice angry purple. He gave himself a rakish grin in the mirror and took the car keys with him as he went.
The Kwik-E Mart was open, of course. Nelson hadn’t ever seen it closed. He pulled up to the front and whistled as he walked in. Priya was sitting behind the counter, reading a chick magazine and Nelson made sure to leer at her as he wandered down the aisle.
He paused as he heard a whispered conversation, the words ‘Muntz’ and ‘Boxing’ were quite prominent. He had trained himself to be able to pick those words out of any conversation, it helped to be aware of potential fans wherever he went. It was surprising how many weirdoes followed boxing.
He looked out of the corner of his eye, it was two of the male septuplets- unlike Priya and Una, he could never tell them apart.
He hurriedly picked up a water bottle and a pack of granola bars, taking it back to the register as fast as he could. There was a sunglasses stand next to the usual crap that Apu kept for last minute additions. Nelson slipped a pair of aviators on and ripped the tag off, handing it to Priya.
“That will be thirty dollars,” she announced softly.
Nelson handed her two twenties and put on the glasses, “Keep the change,” he told her gruffly.
He was almost at the door when she called “Hey Nelson!”
He paused and tilted his head to the side. “Yes?”
“It’s good to have you home. Springfield’s missed you.”
The sun shone in his face as he drove down Main street and Nelson was suddenly filled with an overwhelming lightness. He was home. This was the town where he’d been born. This was the town that made him who he was.
A familiar sign distracted him from his sartorial musings and he slid into an empty parking spot, grateful for small town mercies like parking available on the streets.
Moe’s Tavern looked fresher somehow, not as dingy and dark. The fluorescent lights had been replaced with softer, warmer lighting and there were pictures above the booths. Nelson was disconcerted to discover that most of the pictures were of boxing matches. He trailed his gaze away, careful not to look for his own photo. He wasn’t that vain.
Nelson ambled up to the bar, taking the glasses off so as not to look like a douche wearing aviators inside.
The new bartender wasn’t Moe. He was a young guy, currently standing with his face tilted towards the television. He had spiky blonde hair and sleeves full of tattoos.
Nelson cleared his throat.
The bartender turned around and it was in fact, Bart, wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt over a pair of ripped jeans. He looked surprisingly at home in the bar.
“Nelson,” he grinned and leaned forward with his hands on the barstand, “is that you?”
“Yeah, man,” Nelson smiled in return and his stitches only gave a slight twang at the offense, “it’s me.”
“You look like absolute shit,” Bart looked delighted by this fact, “what happened?”
Nelson shrugged diplomatically, preferring not to go into the whole ‘I almost beat my opponent to death’ story.
“Can I get a Duff?” he nodded over at the neat rows of bottles.
“Sure,” Bart shrugged and opened one up for him with a practiced move.
Nelson drank in silence, feeling the loosening of his bones come naturally. God, he missed even the stupid beer in the state.
He turned to Bart, “I didn’t know that you worked for Moe.”
Bart laughed, “I don’t work for him. I bought
the bar. Last I heard from the old man, he was living it up in Key West.”
“What about the sign?” Nelson pointed at the flashing neon sign outside.
“Eh,” Bart shrugged loosely, “it keeps the regulars happy.”
There was another silence before Bart gave him a grin. “Seriously though? It’s good to see you back. It hasn’t been the same without you.” He paused and looked thoughtful, “You should come by the house sometime. Have dinner with us.”
Nelson licked his lips as he thought about Marge Simpson’s roast beef and her apple pie. He had missed her, he realized, he had missed her a lot. She used to come by his practices in high school, even in the early mornings to cheer him on.
“Yeah man,” he smirked at Bart, “I’d like that.”
“Well good,” Bart began wiping down the counter with a red rag, “you can see Lisa again too. She’s been teaching at the Springfield Tech.” He stopped moving and grinned at Nelson slyly, “Didn’t the two of you date, like in middle school
Nelson had stopped moving as soon as he heard Lisa’s name. It felt like a pit had opened at the bottom of his stomach, empty and howling as he tried not to show how shocked he was to realize that his high school girlfriend was in the same town as him. Hazel eyes and flushed skin, heavy pants and sighs of ‘Love you’ came in unwanted memories. He struggled to not show anything but his body was betraying him, sense memory reminding him of his and Lisa’s first time, the awkwardness, the gentle inquisitiveness. Nobody but the two of them knew about those two months that they had dated during high school. Lisa had left for Yale and he had gone to New York with Jimmy and Janey. They had gone their separate ways and they were back in the same spot where everything had started from.
Nelson raised the Duff bottle to the light, feeling a bitter smile twist his lips and murmured “Haw Haw,” before taking a long swig of the beer.