A couple of months ago, Zeb Martin rested casually on the back patio of his rental home and regaled the HOtV audience with a glimpse into his past. Now that the summer heat had officially set in, it was time for the rumors of this so-called “party porch” to prove themselves true.
Life at 2929 Birch Avenue had brought the typical excitement that came with stuffing four young people in a two-bathroom ranch home for the sake of saving money. What had been a complete roll of the dice by way of his connections to the independent wrestling circuit had worked out perfectly. Every single one of his roommates, like him, were trying to find themselves a fit between twelve turnbuckles. The homeowner and her fiance were two of the occupants, with the third being a childhood friend of both. Despite being the odd one out, no credit check or security deposit was needed for the country boy. Good old fashioned word of mouth and a shared bond of the sport was more than enough for them to accept Zeb in with open arms.
However, the drama that occurred on a day-to-day basis was as present as the shaving cream residue near the mouth of the sink drain. For all of his courtesies, the Watson Mill Kid was not a neat freak, and he often needed to be reminded of it. Zeb took it in stride, however: even the threats of “throwing those ugly ass work boots into the garbage if they’re in the middle of the living room floor again” were delivered with playful overtones. Danielle and Maddie adored the usual response of “dang y’all, I’m sorry ‘bout that, lemme clean it now” that followed. Antonio was just happy to have some additional testosterone to balance out the house.
Most of the squabbles involved Maddie and Antonio, carefully testing the waters of cohabitation before their wedding next spring. Oftentimes, it would be an instance where their mutual friend immediately picked a side to heighten the tensions of the war. Zeb was Switzerland, but to tell the truth, he actually enjoyed the shouting matches that would inevitably occur. At this point, these people had become his second family. The humor of the dysfunctional unit was never lost on him, and it often proved to be a welcome distraction whenever he was homesick or the overbearing weight of his career obligations clouded his mind.
Today, all four of them had unified for a common goal: throw a fucking rager to top all other parties.
This wasn’t the first soiree that had taken place at the Grap House, but the turnout for their annual summer bash was at maximum capacity. Around fifty had parked their cars next to the Avenue’s curb, spilling in and out of the house and into the backyard area.
Inclusive of the familiar faces to the Chicago-area wrestling scene, a couple of other “celebrities” had managed to RSVP and attend the shindig. RICK, with his lumber-like frame and extended reach, had found himself a brand new tag team partner. He was the muscle of the beer pong team to beat over at the long plywood table. It was only natural that his preferred re-rack of choice was to pattern the Solo cups into a shape that slightly resembled the blade of a tomahawk. Of course, his massive lung capacity made him an expert blower as well. Truthfully, this was the best way the big man had been able to assimilate in the group of strangers: party games did not require much in the way of small talk.
The other High Octane attendee kept at arm’s reach to his friend and co-host. Decked out in a pair of denim shorts and a faded scarlet shirt bearing an Atari logo, Doozer wasn’t exactly in his element amongst a crowd of people that could have been his children. Zeb seemed to recognize his hesitance as soon as he stepped through the door, making it a point to introduce him around and make him feel welcomed. To be honest, it was almost patronizing. Most of these people were well aware of who he was, and almost all of them tried to mask their internal marking out. At least until the alcohol lowered those inhibitions.
That Martin Boy was well beyond reservation at this point, and all inhibitions had been eroded down to a pile of hop dust. He’d gotten an early start on the festivities as soon as the kegs were retrieved at 2 ‘o’clock that afternoon. Now seven hours and a billion ounces of Lagunitas later, it was an extremely rare form that his colleagues had not at this point witnessed.
Zeb Martin wasn’t wearing a hat.
The Levi Garrett Racing cap was currently being worn Durst-style over the long strawberry-blond hair of Rick’s beer pong teammate. About an hour prior, the flirting had been borderline obnoxious between her and Zeb to the point where she’d climbed on his back and snatched his favorite accessory off his skull. By now, he didn’t seem to require the security blanket representative of his bashful nature.
Bobby and Jiles, who had opted out of attendance (both had to wash their hair), were thoroughly enjoying the videos that Doozer had been sending throughout the night via the Bandits group text. Those would definitely be “fun” for the Watson Mill Kid to watch the next morning.
Especially this one.
“Hey, Zeb. Scott Stevens said he’s going to kick you in the head so hard that you’ll finally be able to pass the third grade.”
Martin’s eyes rolled. The smirk on his face and his kickstand-like stance gave off the impression that he knew his buddy was just trying to rile him, but he decided to play along.
“Uh-huh,” Zeb stammered. “Know what they call third grade in Texas? Co’munty college.”
“Is that so?” Doozer continued to verbally poke his ribs. “He also just tweeted that he wants to end the match next week with a flying elbow off of your family tree. The only problem is that he can’t find a branch on it.”
Zeb mulled over that one, really trying to struggle with a comeback. The most common insult in the book towards anyone living south of the Mason-Dixon and east of the Mississippi river, you’d think that he’d have one ready in the chamber. Finally, after several seconds, his eyes drift slightly upward to the phone.
“Reckon he could jus’ do it from an oil der’k. He’d hafta quit sittin’ on the top point of it, though.”
Doozer shook with laughter. “Jesus, man,” he cried. “Zeb, are you insinuating that Scott Stevens enjoys a bubbling crude shooting up his ass?”
This comment only triggers the wandering mind of an inebriated teenager. Unable to stay the course of a conversation, his voice grows deeper and is drenched in what can only be loosely described as melody.
“Well the first thang ya know ol’ Jed’s a millionaire, kin folks said, ‘Jed, move away from thar!’”
“Keep going,” Doozer prodded.
Zeb obliged, even going as far as adding a little bit of Hillbilly shuck and step to accompany it.
“They said ‘Californy is the place ya oughta be,’ so they packed up the truck ‘en moved tuh Beverleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Hills, that is.”
As the night progressed to the A.M. hours and the majority of the noise had migrated to the inside of the house, two heavily buzzed Bandits and one severely inebriated one were sitting around a propane-fueled fire pit with a few new acquaintances joining them. With it being late in July, there was no real necessity in the flames aside from the welcoming atmosphere that it produced. Camping chairs formed a crude circle, some of which were empty. This did not stop the hat thief from plopping down onto Zeb’s lap and adjusting herself perpendicular for a snuggle with the country boy. This provided yet another photo for Doozer to provide to the group chat, to which Bobby had replied with several heart-eye and eggplant emojis.
Rick had gotten the biggest laugh of the evening when he too decided to affectionately lay his head on Martin’s opposite shoulder.
“Egg,” he coos with a loving sigh.
“So what’s it like in the big leagues?”
Finally, someone had straddled the unspoken fence between worker and fan. The individual that posed the question was one who had carried with him a bit of jealous baggage prior to attending the party. A seven-year veteran among the middle school gyms and armories, it was a hard pill to swallow that the kid a couple of seats down from him got his chance earlier than most in the industry.
The booze had slightly disarmed him, but there was still a bit of spite towards Zeb even after experiencing his friendly demeanor and charm. It didn’t help matters that the unrequited apple of his eye was currently cozied up to him and sharing a single chair. He was also mostly directing the question toward the more experienced one of the group, but when the beer was plentiful, it was always the Comer native’s time to shine.
“Fuckin’ cool, man. Lil’ scary, though. Always tryna push that thought outcha head that anythin’ kin come and take it away. Somebody dyin’ tuh get that same opportunity once it comes a’loose,” Martin responds. “I reckon…”
“What about you, Doozer? Any insight you feel like sharing?” the guy interrupts.
Hell hath no fury.
Too far gone to take offense, and definitely not the type to escalate it anyway, Zeb ceded his time to one of his most important mentors. His mind drifts as he instinctively begins to play with his newfound companion’s hair.
“Shoot, sorry, Rick.”
His mind drifts as he moves his hand away from the burly boy’s beard and over to his newfound companion’s hair.
Anything can come and take this away.
At War Games, it was a stinkbug’s ball hair away from happening by way of a titanium-glossed kiss from Andy Murray’s knee. And that was courtesy of a set-up by a man he wouldn’t have considered to be someone that might want to see his career in HOW cut short on account of it.
Most every person on that card and the ones going forward most certainly wouldn’t have thought twice about capitalizing on that opportunity to do more damage.
Most everyone. Except the man currently speaking. And the man who’d placed his head on his shoulder as a joke but was now slowly drifting into slumber. And the man who insisted on including everyone on a team-building fishing trip. And the man who had ultimately rescued him that same night at War Games from Bergman and Murray making port wine out of his brain matter.
Aside from the Bandits, he was merely collateral damage to the rest of the roster. Hell, within two weeks of being here, someone had taken it upon themselves to cut up his ring gear! He’d completely given up on finding the culprit, but the effects of the incident lingered to this very day.
Zeb’s challenge at this week’s Refueled came against a man who definitely fell into that “most everyone” category. He gazes over to the back porch, recollecting the promo that he had delivered just before his contest with Lucien Santangel. Rambling nerves at best, and a boring story about a classmate that they called Pink Dude. A kid who was the butt of every joke who finally snapped and put a dickhead named after a barbecue restaurant flat on his ass.
Scott “Pink Dude” Stevens.
A wily old rooster who’s been wholly ignored can still peck the shit out of you. Especially if he’s got something to prove. And just simply beating a rookie with one part piss and two parts apple cider wouldn’t really create the impact that Scott was aspiring to achieve.
Zeb hadn’t let on too much that the blow from the cage match had shook him, but a man who had tread on as much square feet of canvas as Stevens could have a pretty good idea what body part he needed to target.
Once again, the kid’s mind seemed to be laser focused on what he needed to do not to lose as opposed to what he needed to do to win. “That’s the same thing, idiot,” but is it really?
It’s a little harder to win a race when you’re constantly looking back to see how far the competition is from catching up. With as much as he had gained in such a short amount of time in his life, it was increasingly difficult for Zeb Martin to focus solely on the finish line.
The next morning, Zeb woke up alone in his bedroom. The ceiling fan was on full blast in an attempt to combat the sweats from the Tuesday night marathon. Leaning over, he retrieves his phone from the cheap nightstand and scrolls to the bottom of the 65 unread messages from the Sunny Side Down group chat. The last one was from 9:30 that day. Bobby inquiring as to how a certain body part tasted.
Just above it was a picture of him and Rick passed out together in the very bed he was currently on. Zeb sprawled out with Rick just barely situated on the far corner, extremely close to falling off of the edge onto the floor. He thunders a laugh, but immediately regrets the decision.
“Ow, my frig’gen head,” he grumbles, moving his palm to the top of his skull.
“Hold on. Where’s my gawddam hat at?”