Maria's eyes flickered open, and quickly closed again. A fluorescent light panel glowed on the ceiling directly above her, something that she found quite confusing. She certainly didn't remember there being fluorescent lights in her hotel room especially not a five-star hotel like the one she was staying in. So why was there one now, all of a sudden?
Again she opened her eyes, and squinted, allowing her pupils to become fully accustomed to the cold light. It was when she began to turn her head and look around the room when she realized she was not in her hotel suite, nor was she wearing her favorite maroon-colored velvet negligee.
She was almost did a double take as she discovered that she was lying in a hospital bed, dressed in a sky blue hospital gown. But what on earth was she doing here?
I think she's waking up, a male voice from across the room remarked.
Maria snapped her head in the direction the voice was coming from. A few feet away from her, along the wall with a shaded window in it, a man and a young woman sat chairs next to each other, both of them staring at her with startled expressions. She recognized them, and though she was very close to being able to, she could not quite place them just yet.
Who? Maria started to ask, when everything suddenly started coming back to her. SmackDown was in Toronto, and she was the special guest referee for the Divas title match between Michelle McCool and Maryse. She and Michelle had a short conversation before the match, and the match itself did not end favorably, as Maryse superkicked Michelle while she was distracted and pinned her for the win and the young Divas title. That gave way to the lowest point in all the twenty-six years of Maria's life: her friend Michelle's furious betrayal. And the con-chair-to which almost shattered her cranium. Now she was in the hospital as a result.
Maria now fully recognized the two visitors sitting by her side. The woman was Eve Torres, the one who stayed close to her during her ambulance ride, and the man was her former boyfriend, Philip Brooks, or as most of the WWE Universe knew him, CM Punk.
Jack? Maria asked, looking straight at Punk, and calling him by his middle name, something she still continued to do even though they hadn't been dating for a couple of years now.
The handsome man from Chicago the same city from which Maria hailed brought his seat closer to his ex-girlfriend's bed and sat down beside her to her left. Eve subsequently brought her own chair over to Maria's right.
Hello Maria. Punk gently brushed a few loose strands of red hair from Maria's forehead, and put a comforting hand on her arm. How are you feeling?
Instead of answering, Maria swallowed hard and fought back tears, while visions of Michelle's maniacal, hate-filled eyes flashed through her mind. She had a feeling of dread that the uncalled-for assault on her would be something she would remember as vividly as if it happened yesterday, twenty years from now.
How long have I been out? Maria whispered.
Even after you lost consciousness the second time, you were still pretty restless, so the doctor gave you a mild sedative to help you relax, Eve explained. You've been sleeping soundly for about twelve hours. Give or take.
Only twelve hours?! Maria thought Eve was going to say twelve days, but hours? She could hardly contain her astonishment at the news. After the vicious attack on her, she never, for a moment, thought that she'd only be out for one night. She expected or rather, she knew she would lie in a coma for no less than a week. And that was the best-case scenario.
Maria apparently was never fully aware of how tough she really was. On the other hand, she had never before been attacked with such viciousness and brutality.
A couple of years ago, in 2006, she'd been forced to fight the Samoan colossus, Umaga, in a match which was made purely out of spite by a vengeful, cowardly, woman-hating Eric Bischoff. Maria was beat up pretty bad, but at the end of the night, she was really more frightened than badly hurt. She was helped out by a couple of referees and trainers, but hadn't needed to be carried out, much less on a stretcher. Being at the receiving end of a few of Umaga's devastating finishers was terrifying and painful, but it was nothing compared to the mugging she suffered at the hands of her now former best friend, Michelle McCool. Not just because she was more methodical than Umaga, but because she made it personal.
She wasn't just attacking Maria's body; she was attacking her mind as well. The stomping, the kicking, the trash-talking, the malice burning in her eyes. Those were things that never simply switched on in someone's brain which meant that their friendship, over the last several weeks had, in all likelihood, been a cruel lie.
Maria didn't think it possible, but her heart sank lower than ever as the realization came over her. Feigning a friendship and taking advantage of someone in such a manner, only to use it against them is the worst kind of falsehood. It is an action quite possibly more heinous and evil than murder, and the beasts who commit such disgusting crimes against humanity are among the world's most vile, despicable people.
It didn't seem possible. Even now, Maria couldn't conceive of it. Michelle was honestly far too sweet, far too lovable, and far too beautiful for it to have all been an act. There was just no way for anyone to feign it. Why then did Michelle seem so completely, utterly maleficent?
Why am I not in a coma? Maria had to ask. Not that she was complaining.
Not even the doctor knows, Eve admitted, he's as baffled as the rest of us. He said you're badly banged up, and you should take it easy for the next few weeks, but otherwise you're basically fine.
Maria's eyes widened as far as they could, and her jaw practically unhinged. She literally could not believe what she was hearing. To even say it sounded too good to be true was a gross understatement, but on that same note, she knew Eve would never lie to her.
I was hit with a con-chair-to, Eve. Maria didn't want to sound like she was doubting her friend, but logic did not agree with what Eve was telling. My brains were scrambled, I didn't know who you were, I could barely even remember my own name. Now, I know that you've always told me the truth. I thank you for that, and it almost pains me to have to ask, but this time I need to. Are you telling me the truth? Is that really what the doctor said?
It is, Punk spoke up for Eve, looking Maria in the eye. You have two cracked ribs, there are bruises all over your body, and you'll probably feel dizzy from time to time for a little while. But otherwise, you're not seriously injured.
If Punk's mouth did not tell the truth, his eyes certainly did. Maria could hardly wrap her mind around the fact that despite receiving the most severe beating she ever took in her life, she was virtually unhurt; she'd be back in action in only a matter of weeks. She was just waiting for the other shoe to fall.
Jack, Maria said abruptly, I can not thank you enough for coming to see me, nor can I tell you how deeply I appreciate it, but I'm curious. Aren't you supposed to be on Raw, getting ready for your Intercontinental Title match? How were you able to get out here?
Before answering her, Punk smiled and fondly kissed her forehead.
Too many people assumed too much about them; some thought that since they broke up, they didn't talk much any more; others said they were no longer on good terms. And some people spread rumors that they were secretly still dating. The fact was that while they still loved each other, business forced them to put their relationship on hold, and they were content to interact as friends for the time being.
I saw what happened on SmackDown, Punk explained, and so did Stephanie. He was referring to the acting General Manager of Raw, Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of the WWE Chairman, Vince McMahon. I asked her to postpone the match, so I could take a couple of days off to make sure you were okay, and she told me I could take as much time off as I needed for my friends.
Aww, Jack, you're so sweet. Maria put her hands on the back of Punk's neck and pulled him closer so she could kiss him on the cheek. She remembered watching the December 8 episode of Raw, during which Punk vowed to win the Intercontinental Championship from William Regal before the end of the year. Maria found it very touching that he chose to delay the match and forfeit the chance to win the title before January 1st for a friend. As she let go of him, she turned to look Eve in her beautiful eyes.
I'm sorry it's taken me this long to say so, Maria began, but thank you so much, Eve, for what you did after... Unable to bring herself to say the rest, she trailed off and shivered. It was then when she felt a sudden wave of drowsiness slowly come over her like syrup seeping through a sponge.
You're welcome, Maria. Eve reached forward and lovingly touched Maria's face with her soft hand. It was the least I could do. And I promise you, Maria, next week on SmackDown, I'm going to have a word with Michelle. On television.
If, by television you mean interview, you're going to have to be dispassionate, Punk reminded her, and she nodded, knowing.
Of course, I'm an interviewer, Eve said. But Michelle iswas my friend, too. Unless she's suffered a bizarre case of amnesia, she still knows me. And if there's anything left of the sweet woman whom we and nearly everyone loved, she'll listen to me.
Maria took Eve's hand in hers, and looked desperately into her eyes. I really hope you're right, Eve, she said. Her eyelids began to feel heavy. If you guys don't mind, I think I want to go back to sleep.
Go right ahead, Maria, Punk said, gently. You get some rest, and you'll be out of here in a couple of days.
Maria awoke some time during the night, and this time all the lights were turned off. The blinds were drawn over the window, a faint pale orange glow from the street lights outside trickled in through a tiny space of clearance around the screen, thus creating a hollow square of dim orange illumination.
She didn't know what if anything woke her up, but quickly became aware that there was someone else in the room with her. The sound of hushed feminine breathing met her ears... it was Eve. She'd probably insisted on staying, and had now fallen asleep in her chair. God bless her. The lengths to which Eve Torres would go for a friend could stretch all the way to Saturn's rings.
Maria heard someone who, judging from the sound of his or her footfalls, was a huge, massive human being quietly approaching her room, and she decided to pretend to be asleep.
The door opened slowly, and the newcomer stepped inside. Maria couldn't help but hold her breath.
She heard Eve emit a faint moan, and then a small start. How did you get here? Eve whispered. To Maria's surprise, she didn't sound frightened. Merely, surprised. Almost as if she knew who the person was, but didn't expect to see here, especially at midnight.
A velvety masculine voice with the slightest trace of an accent Maria did not recognize hummed over the blanket of silence that lay over the room. When you did not retire for the night, I contacted Philip Brooks who informed me of your location. The voice was beautiful. Powerful, yet so soft. Rather than break the silence, instead it seemed to almost contribute to it. Why do you tarry here, Eve Torres?
I'm sorry. I was staying with Maria, and I guess I fell asleep in my seat.
Maria slowly began to breathe again as she listened intently, now wide awake.
You must rest, the voice said.
I am resting. Eve didn't sound very convincing. Sitting up all night in even the most comfortable of chairs is nearly never restful.
I believe you know what it is to which I am referring. The voice was unwavering, but gentle. I cannot train you if you are unable to keep your eyes open during our sessions.
Train? Sessions? Our sessions? Maria now felt the most awake she ever had since before Michelle's attack on her. She'd be lucky if she slept another wink this night. Who was this man, and why hadn't Eve told her about him? More importantly, how long had she known him? Did she plan on revealing her secret in time?
You cannot help your friend by attempting to remain conscious during the night. She will regain her strength on her own. Come, Eve Torres. You must rest.
Maria heard Eve yawn, and as she exhaled, Maria could tell by the sound that she was smiling. This was apparently not the first time the mystery man was right about something, and would not likely be the last.
Maria now badly wanted to see who this person was, but she dared not move or open her eyes. She knew half of Eve's secret, and there was no doubt in her mind that there would be other opportunities to ask her about it.
Still, it sent chills down her spine, knowing all that separated her from this person were her closed eyelids. She could snap them open right now.
You win... again, Eve whispered. But you'd better drive me to the hotel, or else I might get myself killed.
The sound of Eve standing up met Maria's ears, and she listened as the door to her room opened and the two figures stepped out, slowly latching the doorknob. Then, with her eyelids still closed firmly, she listened to the sound of their footsteps recede down the hall, gradually growing fainter, and fainter, until silence reigned once again.
Maria opened her eyes and looked about her room. It was eerily empty, with no evidence that anyone had been there, save for a lonely looking chair at the foot of her bed.
She tried to think of possibilities as to who that man was, but it was beyond anything she could imagine. The only thing she knew for certain was that she'd never met the man in her life. Why then, did Eve never introduce him to her? In the time that they'd known each other, not once did Eve give the slightest indication that she was in what appeared to be an intergender mentor/apprentice relationship, something which, these days, is so unbelievably rare, Maria figured she would have at the very least gotten some sort of clue that there was someone else.
Or maybe, just maybe, Maria thought as she lay back, deep in thought, it was only a dream.