Fighting the Fall (Fighting, #4) by J.B. Salsbury
Fourteen years ago . . .
I walk into my home office for a reason. My eyes scan the room, but . . . what the fuck was it? As if my mind’s on perpetual vacation, I reach back and try to grasp at my thoughts from only seconds ago. Something led me here. A growl of frustration rumbles in my chest along with the heat of anger, which tenses my muscles.
Four months of neuropsychologists, occupational, speech, and physical therapists, and another therapist for comprehension, problem solving, and brain shit. I’m drowning in ’pists and getting pissed the shit isn’t working.
They said I’d be back—that a brain can heal over time—and yet I’m still stumbling around like a dumb shit. I squeeze my eyes shut. Think, dammit. My hands rake through my hair and pull as if I can yank the answer from my skull. There’s a mantra, a coping mechanism they teach in rehab. Slow down, backtrack, and give yourself permission to fail—no. Fuck no.
With a shove to the bohemian-bullshit mantra, I move to my desk and check my phone. Gripping it, I glare into the lifeless gadget, hoping it’ll remind me why the hell I walked in here.
I search my mind.
Fuck it. I shove the phone into my pocket and head to the kitchen, the one place I’m guaranteed to remember why I’m there. Food. Besides, if D’lilah catches me in my office, staring around the room like an Alzheimer’s patient, I’ll never pull off the act that I’m healthy enough to fight again.
My phone vibrates in my pocket. I check the caller ID, and a tiny swell of satisfaction warms my chest. I must’ve gone in my office to get my phone, expecting this call. Bullshit. I grind my teeth at the tiny voice in my head that won’t stop reminding me what little progress I’ve made.
“Hey . . .” Shawn. It’s Shawn. His name runs through my head, but I’ve learned the hard way that my brain damage keeps it there rather than letting me speak the word. “Sh . . .” Fuck! “What’s up?” My jaw clenches, and the fire of frustration heats my skin.
“Cam, you got a minute?” The UFL owner sounds serious, but that’s pretty much his M.O.
The plan was for me to continue my training after Shawn received an okay from the gaggle of ’pists. Maybe he’s calling with good news? I pull back my shoulders and move to the window that looks into the backyard where my wife sunbathes by the pool while my toddling twins play in the grass nearby.
I can’t fuck this up, so I concentrate hard to bring the right word to my lips. “Yeah.” A breath of relief slides from my lips.
“I spoke with the doc today about clearing you to fight.”
I wait for him to continue, but after a few uncomfortable seconds of silence, it’s clear he’s waiting for a damn invitation. But why? Good news?
My muscles jump with excitement at the possibility of returning to the octagon. “And?”
He blows out a long breath, but I refuse to believe he’s calling me with anything but good news. “It’s a liability.”
“I’m . . . I’m . . .” Dammit, fuck! “Liability?”
He grunts and it sounds like agreement. “There’s more.”
No, no, no.
“He’s worried about how many more hits your brain can take. He . . . Fuck, Cam, there’s just no easy way to say this.”
He can’t mean it. He can’t. I want to tell him that he can’t do this! Fighting is my life. I can’t lose it. I will not lose everything over something I had zero control over.
“Saying . . .” The words, they push from my gut, rip at my throat, and die at my lips. “I’m out?”
“It’s a damn tragedy. A fighter like you lost because of a broken fucking tooth.” At least he has the decency to sound angry about all that I’ve been robbed of. “I get that you moved to Vegas for the UFL, brought your family along, and you need an income. I’d like for you to stay with us, Cam. There’s a lot of money in promotions.”
Promotions? Is he fucking crazy? “I’m a fight . . . fighter.” God, I sound like a babbling idiot. My chest tightens with humiliation.
“I know you are.”
His words drip with pity, and I pace the living room to match the beast inside me that thrashes to roar its protest.
“I can fight.” My brain is a scramble of nonsense and black holes, but I know my body, and I’m good to fight.
“Cam.” His voice is low. “You’re all over the place, you know that. Doc says you’re making improvements, but you’ll probably never be back to where you were before the infection. It’s been months, and the aphasia is still obvious in your speech.”
“Just words, Shawn. I can . . .” Fight. “Fight.”
“I’m not tryin’ to be a dick, but we can’t *foot around the facts. You’re impulsive, have memory lapses—”