Even though there were so many things in my life I could never get closure on, maybe my relationship with Hunter was something I still had a chance to understand. Daniela was right, it would be nice if I could have a second chance to talk to him, before I left Studsen for good. It sure as hell beat sitting in this bus station and thinking about what could have been.
I sat on the bench and stared out the window as a cab approached, dropping off a passenger at the station. As I watched the cab’s passenger get her luggage out of the trunk, I made my decision. I had to try to talk to Hunter. I had to know what had happened the past few days.
After leaving my luggage with the station attendant—who assured me it would get on the bus even if I wasn’t there—I ran out waving my arms and managed to get the cabbie’s attention. I got in and told the driver to take me to Hunter’s apartment.
I sat and watched Studsen fly past the window, hoping Hunter would be at his apartment this time. The cab arrived at its destination and I paid before hopping up the steps to Hunter’s unit. I took a deep breath and walked in.
The kittens greeted me like I still belonged there. Taylor and Bones ran up to me together and hopped up on their hind legs to paw at my shins. I gave them affectionate pets and ran my fingers along the two tiny bodies. When I looked at the kitchen, I gasped. Good god, what happened here? The place was a mess. The cabinet next to the sink—or what was left of it—had a giant hole in the door, and one of the hinges had come off.
Had Hunter read my note and gotten angry enough to destroy his apartment?
An ill feeling settled in my gut. I called out Hunter’s name, hoping he might be in another room, but the apartment was silent. Frustration welled up inside me when I realized Hunter wasn’t home. I’d gotten my hopes up for nothing. I needed to find Hunter. Where could he be now?
After saying a last goodbye to the kittens, I walked out of the apartment. If he wasn’t home at this time of day, the gym was the next best bet. Maybe he was blowing off some steam. I decided to walk over there and check it out.
Ten minutes later I strode into the gym and was met by Kristy at the reception desk. I was surprised to find the normal frenetic commotion of the gym was subdued to almost nothing. It didn’t sound like there were more than a few people training today.
“Hey you,” she said, brightly. “How are the kittens?”
“Good,” I replied, barely keeping in check my anxiousness to find out about Hunter’s whereabouts. “They’re getting big fast.”
“I bet. Those little guys were so cute here in the gym. Seems like yesterday Hunter came in with that box.”
I smiled even though I was feeling more nauseous by the second. “Yeah. Is Hunter here?”
She shook her head. “Of course not. Didn’t he tell you? He has a fight right now.”
“A fight? Where?”
Her penciled-in eyebrows furrowed in thought. “The Squirrel, I think.”
“The Bearded Squirrel?”
She nodded. “Yeah, that one.”
“Was it scheduled?” I asked.
“No. Dan has the flu, so he had to cancel, and Hunter is filling in. I only have afternoon shift today, so I just heard about it from the guys.”
My head spun. What the hell was going on? “Oh. Do you know what time he’s fighting?”
She shrugged. “Usually they start these things in the afternoon on weekends, maybe at one? But they don’t always run on time. He’s probably fighting right now.”
Right now? From the condition of Hunter’s apartment, I was starting to get a very bad feeling about this fight that I couldn’t shake. I had to talk to Hunter right away. I borrowed the gym phone and called a cab. Ten minutes later, a cab came to pick me up. Fifteen minutes after that, I was at The Bearded Squirrel.
The bar was a little less crowded than last time, but the guitars of the hard rock music playing on the jukebox were still as loud as I remembered. Most of the tables at the front of the bar were empty, along with most of the stools. A poster on the wall next to the entrance advertised the fight of the day: Walter Morris vs Dan Evans. That was the guy Kristy had said Hunter was filling in for: Dan Evans. This was definitely the right spot.
There was a crowd gathered out back—just as there had been the last time I had seen Hunter fight. I walked to the crowd’s edge. People were standing shoulder to shoulder, making it hard to see the cage. There was an anxious tension in the air. Something wasn’t right.
“Dude, this guy’s taking a beating,” I heard a man say. “What did you say his name was?”
I turned to find the voice and located it a few feet away. The man was tall and wearing a white fraternity baseball cap backwards over his long brown hair.
“I didn’t,” the guy next to him replied. “But after this fight it won’t matter because nobody will be able to recognize him. Holy shit, his face! How can someone take so much punishment and not go down?”
Who were they talking about? I felt a sick dread beginning to coil in my stomach before I could even glimpse the ring. Desperate to see the fight, I eased around the crowd’s fringe, looking for a clear line of sight.
As I frantically shuffled around the crowd, I came across two girls huddled together. One girl with wavy blonde hair had her hand to her mouth, shocked.
“He looks like he’s dying out there,” she gasped.
Her friend, a straight-haired dirty blonde with a mousy face, rubbed her friend’s shoulder. “I’m sure he’ll be fine. It’s the last round. He’ll make it.”
“But just look at him!”
The dread that had formed in my stomach began to swallow my entire midsection. I needed to see Hunter right now. My palms were clammy and it felt like my chest was being crushed.
I left the two girls to themselves and hurried around to a gap that had been left in the crowd. A roar erupted as I got there and I had my first glimpse of the cage.
The men inside were wrestling with each other and pressed up against the side closest to where I stood. I didn’t recognize the guy with his back to me, but the face that popped up over his shoulder made my legs go soft. Even with his left eye swollen nearly shut and cuts on his cheekbones, I would recognize those dark gray irises and that mussed up brown hair anywhere.
It was Hunter.
A sharp pain knifed through my chest. He looked beyond exhausted. His chest heaved and his mouth hung wide open, gasping for breath. There was blood dripping down his face from one of the cuts on his right cheek and the bruise on his left eye was a stormy mix of gray and purple. It seemed to be getting darker and swelling bigger by the second.