He had been bored sitting around his ranch waiting for his latest surgery to heal, his mind running in circles as he tried to keep himself busy so as not to pay attention to the slowly passing days and even slower passing nights. He had taken a rather nasty bump in a tag match with Glenn against Hunter and Shawn and the grinding in his knees had gotten worse, so bad that he had had trouble even getting from the ring to the back. The trainers hadn't done much, just shook their heads and told him in faux remorseful tones that it might be last match he'd ever participate in; that the damage was just too much and even all the replacement surgeries in the world weren't going to help him. Like the stubborn man he was Mark argued that all he needed was some rest, besides it was nearing the time he normally took off for anyways so the fans wouldn't think anything about it.
Vince had complied after an hour long 'negotiation' session, this forehead furrowed as Mark had shook his hand and shuffled from the room. That had been nearly two months ago and the cabin fever was starting to really set in now. Glenn had stopped by when they were or when he had those precious few days off and Shawn had called and they'd spent a couple of nights out on the town, but like always he found himself sleeping alone in his kingsize bed, his eyes studying the ceiling as his dogs stealthily worked their way into their well worn spots at the foot of his bed to curl warmly around his feet and rest their large, heavy heads on his ankles. It was during one of those nights that Mark had pulled himself from his warm bed and limped his way up to his attic. He didn't know why, but the dark and forlorn expanse of space that topped his sprawling abode.
In the very back behind a dress makers mannequin that held his first ring outfit sat a box. All in all it was a plain box, nothing really remarkable other than the contents that it held. Of course that foreboding void that held the box assured the deep, dark secret it held never seen the light of day. Dust was thick in that part of the attic and every shambling step stirred and sent ghostly plumes up to tickle his nose and make him sneeze, stirring even more of the agitating particles and stopping him dead in his tracks as hacked and wheezed until tears streaked down his face; washing away the grime and leaving glistening trails like glittery face paint from the tops of his cheeks to his chin.
After he calmed his breathing, Mark once more started towards the box; the light brown shell calling to him like a lighthouse calls to the ships at sea. With a groan he lowered himself to the floor, leaning back against the mannequin and pulling the box into his lap. It wasn't large nor heavy yet as it sat on his thighs it felt as if it were filled with bricks and as unwieldy as a Lincoln town car on a two lane road. He took a deep breath and reached a shaking hand to the flap of the box; his fingers jerking back when they came in contact as though the cardboard had been wired to shock any who dared to disturb it. A wavering laugh sounded low in his throat and once more he reached for the flap, curling his fingers around the edge and flipped it open. In the bottom of the box sat another box, this one a finely crafted wooden keepsake box adorned with golden heart shaped hinges and a small golden lock.
It seemed utterly out of character for the large man that hesitantly reached in and pulled the treasure out; the find dark cherry wood resting warmly in his hand even though it had sat cold and lonely for nearly three years. Mark tilted the cardboard box up and rummaged around until his fingers landed on the small key that was the box's companion. Golden tinged light filtered through the tiny circular window; the cross hairs of the panes of glass casting a cross shadow over where Mark sat hidden in the dusty catacombs of his own life. The lock gave way easily and the hinges only gave tiny squeaks as the lid was tipped back. There lying on the crushed red velvet lining sat a shining bracelet; the tiny jewels catching the dim light and throwing it around the room and over the stony face in a multitude of minuscule rainbows. Under the bracelet lay curled a diamondesque necklace, the clear glittering pieces still vibrant even after being shut way for more than three years.
The feel of warmth on his cheek startled Mark and he sniffed hard as he scrubbed the offending wetness from his face before it could contaminate the cherished memories. It seemed like just yesterday he had seen her; well not seen her but actually seen her.
It was only a silly photo shoot. At least that's what Mark kept telling himself. He had been posing for his studio shots, slowly peeling away the layers of the Undertaker until he stood in his 'tattered' shirt and tights with his hair pushed away from his face so that the camera could capture the brilliant emerald of his piercing eyes. The photographer had told him to stand with his arms at his side and a curl to his lips, to crinkle his nose and look as if he was either going to attack or was deeply offended. Mark went with the latter one; after all the tiny balding man wielding the heavy camera smelled as if he hadn't bathed in at least a week and the stench actually managed to make Mark's vision blurry as tears started to build. None of the others in the shoot seemed to notice, they were standing around in small cliques, talking and laughing like the stuck up cheerleaders in the highschool or the strung out stoners that hung out behind the school when they should have been in class.
The room suddenly went quiet however and Mark wanted to turn so bad to see what had caused the sudden cease in the activity but the repeated clicking of the shutter on the mechanical piece of annoyance kept him in his place. The soft scent of roses and lavender wafted up to his nose and he fought hard to figure out where he had smelt that particular combination before. He didn't have to wait long to find out the question to the mental puzzle that still seemed to be eluding him; the familiar husky timber ringing out in the sudden quiet.
"Come on boys, don't tell me you're afraid to talk in front of little ole' me now."
With a slight shiver ran through his body and to his irritation ended in his groin; Mark fought hard to keep his eyes on the photographer, scowling extra hard when he almost dropped the camera when he seen that their shoot had been infiltrated. It was an enigma to Mark that he was as attracted to the woman. Not that she wasn't beautiful, it was just that they hadn't had that much contact; a few words here, passing each other in the back and saying only the shortest of greetings before moving on to where they were needed. Yet as of late Mark found himself watching the sway of her hips, listening to the soft and honeyed way her low voice flowed when she spoke.
"And what's this? The big bad Undertaker getting caught on film? I do believe that hell has frozen over." The soft feeling of hand drifting over his shoulders made Mark tense and he finally broke his frozen pose; turning around to stare at Sherri hard, hoping that his eyes were conveying the right message." Come now big boy, don't glare at me like that." Sherri purred as she stood on tip toe to try and be eye to eye with him. "You don't scare me Takie baby, I've been in the ring with bigger boys than you." She cooed as she lightly drug one of her well manicured nails down his face. "I bet under all this facade you're nothing more than a giant pussy cat." She accentuated the last word hard and smirked, holding Mark's eyes captive with her own.
His mind was going a million miles a minute trying to come up with something to say back to her that didn't sound like some fifth grade come back but before he could open his mouth to say anything at all a flash went off; catching them both by suprise and making them turn in unision to the bald camera jockey. With an audible gulp he rolled a shoulder and mopped at his brow when neither Sherri or Mark said anything.
"It was a perfect picture, the two of you squaring off. A contrast in personality if you will. The silent Undertaker and the over talkative Sensational Sherri." He rambled as both sets of eyes bore into him.
Both of them traded raised eyebrow quirks before turning to face the photog with their arms crossed and almost identical scowls on their faces. Instead of intimating the man further it just earned them another snap of the camera and spots danced in front of Marks' eyes for a moment, earning the camera wielding annoyance a low growl. The growl was however turned into a gasp when lithe arms circled his waist and tugged him close. Shock washed over his face but before Mark open his mouth to get even the first syllable of a word out she leaned in and whispered low enough for his ears only.
"Come now big guy, at least look like you're enjoying it."
She pressed closer and out of reflex Mark bent his head and touched his face to hers, wrapping his arms around her slim waist and interlacing his fingers to hold her tightly. She felt so natural, so right being that close to him that Mark had to fight hard to keep the smile that wanted to blossom from his face. The flash went off again and as Mark blinked Sherri untangled herself and breezed from the room with a throaty laugh.
Sometime during his wandering thoughts Mark had unearthed a pictureworn with time, the edges tattered and the colors faded yet the two body's in the the snap shot were still recognizable. A small sad smile quirked his lips and he ran a finger over the shiny paper.
"It never fails Sher-bear," The old nickname rolled off his tongue easily and he chuckled quietly to himself as he pictured everyone's face if they heard him utter the syrupy name. "So far every year, twice a year I find myself up here staring at you, at me, at what could have been if I hadn't of been such a coward."
Mark looked up and focused on the the plain wood planking of the attic, rerunning every failed attempt he'd made to tell Sherri how he felt. Yet every try ended the same way, him making up some lame joke or saying that he'd forgotten why he had wanted to talk to her.
"I guess you already know now Sher-bear, seeing as how I say it each and every time I find myself staring at this picture. But I loved you, I still do in fact. Tried to find myself another like you but I guess that old saying is true, once they made you, they broke the mold." Mark ran his finger back over the picture one more time before tucking it away in the box and returning the thieved pieces of jewelry to their resting places and putting the little trinket back into the larger cardboard box.
He sat staring at it for a few moments before getting stiffly to his feet and limping from the room; glancing back at the doorway and offering up a prayer for the stolen soul of the on woman that every truly held his heart. With a flick of the switch the attic was plunged back into darkness and with a heavy sigh Mark wandered back down to the main floor; camping out on the couch and eventually falling asleep as he watched AWA on ESPEN Classics, a large smile on his face as the throaty, sensuous sound of days long past whispered in his ear as the image of her in her pink teddy and black stockings swirled in his dreams.