March 31, 2015
New Orleans, LA
David emerges backstage, sweat dripping from his brow, dried blood caked on his face, and with more bruises than any person could possibly count. Yet, what is in his right-hand matters the most to him; the Southern Heritage Championship. As he steps through the black curtain, he can feel a wave of emotion washing over him as he drops to both knees. Then, finally, the title lands in front of him, and he looks at it, stunned.
This is what he had worked for the past ten years, and the moment was finally here.
As he looks at the title, tears being held back by the thinnest of strength, a redhead emerges around the corner. Her eyes land on him, and she immediately smiles.
‘David!’ she excitedly shrieks.
He stands up, and she immediately rushes to him, wrapping her arms around him and him the same. The embrace they share is extraordinary, an unbreakable bond. He pulls her into him, his nose firmly against her neck, and he never wants to let her go; he never wants this moment to end.
As she pulls away, the two lock eyes.
‘I’m so proud of you,’ she whispers, words meant only for him. ‘You did it.’
‘With your help. You gave me back my confidence.’
She shakes her head.
‘No, that confidence was always there. I just helped you find it again.’
He nods his head, reaching down and grabbing the title once again. The two look at it.
‘That match—’ she begins.
‘Yeah,’ he cuts her off. ‘I hope Frank is okay.’
Mary-Lynn shrugs her shoulders. ‘He’ll be okay, I promise you. Tonight is about you; tonight is about all the moments before when you didn’t feel good enough. This is proof that you are good enough, this is proof that you be—’
Before she can finish her thought, though, he pulls her into him, their lips meeting for the first time in years. Slowly, her arms wrap around his neck, finding the spark that’s always been between the two of them.
A few moments pass before they break their embrace.
‘Wow,’ she whispers.
‘Want to go get dinner? Talk? Celebrate?’
She thinks about it for a moment before she nods her head. ‘Yeah, you’ve earned it.’
A smile comes over him, one not caused simply because of the championship but because the future seems brighter than he could ever remember.
* * *
April 14, 2022
David feels the cold steel as it burns into his flesh, wrapped twice around each hand. In front of him are multiple full-length mirrors, which let him look at his form and ensure he is focused on one thing only. His arms move up and down methodically, sweat pouring down his body as every muscle in his arms, shoulders, and upper back protrude. Above the mirrors is a clock, running down from three hours and nearly five minutes left.
This is just another match for Conor. For him, this is simply another day in the week. He doesn’t know the journey I have been on, the obstacles that I have overcome for this moment. To him, this is a nuisance, a misfortunate. For me, this possibly is my only chance at the title. He hasn’t watched my career unfold the way I have; he hasn’t experienced the disappointment I’ve felt as I kept falling short.
Pain wracks his body, but he doesn’t let it slow him down. Instead, he picks up the pace. He screams out from his muscles’ agony but puts that out of his mind.
He can’t have experienced that disappointment because he gets to be on top, gets to be the man, he gets to be the Final Boss. Self-doubt lives in my mind, unchecked. I can’t explain it to him; he will never understand. If I tell him, it will cause him to question himself, to possibly let up. He’s not that kind of guy, but I can’t take that risk. I want him, no, need him at his very best. I need to know how I measure up. I need this more than anything he could possibly want.
The seconds tick down, and he doesn’t think twice about it.
This is everything to me. I have to win. I have to prove myself. To Conor. To the Bests. To every single fan in the arena. I have to show them that I deserve to be in the upper echelon and have earned this spot. Even though every thought in my mind tells me otherwise, I have to drown them out. Because even the slightest doubt will cripple me, will put me down on the mat, and I will have disappointment once again. Disappointment is a taste I know all too well.
The timer runs out. David doesn’t hear it, doesn’t acknowledge it.
I have to prove it to everyone because my hold on reality is fading every second. I have to prove it to Mary-Lynn.
The image in his mind grows dimmer.
I have to prove to her that I can do this, that I’m not a failure. That I’m not a fraud.
He drops the chains.
I don’t want to be a fraud anymore; I don’t want to stand in my own way.
I have to beat Conor Fuse. Not for just the championship. Not just for me.
But for my own sanity.
* * *
July 1, 2015
New Orleans, LA
The door to the Wrestle*Plex explodes open as David storms out of it. His body is shaking with rage. He walks away, the humid nighttime air hitting him in the face.
David doesn’t take more than a few steps before the door violently opens behind him. He doesn’t bother turning around.
‘David!’ Mary-Lynn yells after him. ‘What the hell was that?! What are you doing?’
He doesn’t stop for her, though; he keeps walking away from the building. She races after him, her hand grabbing his shoulder and pulling him back towards her.
‘What just happened?’ she pleads with him to answer her.
He looks at her, his tongue rolling around in his mouth.
‘I can’t,’ anger seethes through his words. ‘I can’t right now.’
She shakes her head. ‘No, you are. Right now. I saw you lose it on Eric Dane, throw your title down, tell him you quit, and storm out. For what? What could be so horrible that you would throw away everything you have worked so hard for.’
‘He treats me like a joke. He disrespects me. Do you think those people fill the rafters for him? Do you think they pay their last dollar to see him talk his shit? No, they come out to see the likes of Frank, Dewey, me. They came out to #50 to see Frank and I tear that shit down. And what do I hear from him? Not a single fucking ounce of gratitude.’ She smiles as he references his best buddy, Frank Holiday, and the Fist of DEFIANCE Champion, Eugene Dewey. He’d earned his spot, she thinks to herself. She remembers the main event of DEFTv 50, with Frank Holiday and David putting on a show to be remembered.
Both of her hands wrap around David’s face. ‘Don’t let him win. Don’t let him take you down like this, then. You have fought for a decade to earn your spot, prove your worth, and take the title. You have taken that title in a very short timeframe and elevated it. This is your time. Why throw it away right now?’
He shakes his head. ‘You wouldn’t understand.’
She takes a step back. ‘I wouldn’t understand? Fuck you. No one in this world understands you better than I do. That you can’t help but self-sabotage every time that something good is happening to you. I get that you don’t believe you deserve an ounce of happiness in your life, but you are wrong. The only thing that is going to stand in your way is you. Do you hear me? Do you understand me?’
David waves her off, turning around.
‘Don’t you dare turn your back to me. I’ve stood by you when no one else would. I believed in you when everyone thought you couldn’t do it. I saw something in you; I knew how special you would be. And I love you; I want to spend my life with you! You can’t do this. You can’t treat me this way.’
He turns back towards her. ‘Your biggest problem is that you ever believed in me, Mary-Lynn.’
Her mouth opens, and she quickly shuts it. Anger seethes through her, arms beginning to shake. It takes a moment to find her words, but they eventually come to her. ‘You are unbelievable right now. I should’ve never taken you back after you just disappeared on me. Did it ever dawn on you that I was ready to find my spot now that you found your spot? No, it clearly didn’t. Because those rafters are packed to see Frank, Dewey, and you. Isn’t that what you said? They could never be here to see me, right? So I needed you to finally support me.’
David softens slightly. ‘Mary-Lynn—’
She doesn’t let him finish. “No, David. Not this time. You want to get in your own way, sabotage anything good that happens to you? You want to feel like a fraud? Fine, but you can do it without me.’ She then grabs a ring on her right hand, yanks it off her finger, and throws it at him.
‘You can have that back. I don’t need it or you anymore.’
David is stunned, wondering how the night had devolved into this. He opens his mouth to say something, but she spins on the spot and storms back towards the arena before he can. Before he knows it, she disappears back into the Wrestle*Plex, leaving him alone.
He reaches down, grabs the ring, and places it in his pocket. He kneels there for a moment; the image of her tears as they streamed down her cheeks burned into his memory. He felt a million emotions just moments ago, but they are now replaced with just pure disappointment in himself.
* * *
July 1, 2016
David sits, his hand wrapped around the glass filled with a dark brown liquid. He’s lost how many he’s had at this point in the evening. This doesn’t stop him from grabbing it and emptying the contents down his throat. He slams his glass down on the bar and makes eye contact with the bartender, who immediately tops off his drink.
‘Man, some things never change, do they?’ the moment he hears the voice behind him, he knows who it is. A chill runs down his spine as he turns and sees Mary-Lynn standing there, dressed in tight blue jeans, a white satin shirt, and a red jacket. A pair of glasses matches the ensemble perfectly, and he wonders if he’s blacked out.
‘Mary-Lynn,’ he mutters.
‘As I live and breathe,’ she smiles before she inches closer, grabbing the glass he’s been drinking the entire night and takes a sip. ‘At least you’re still drinking the good shit. Not sure how considering you haven’t been working. Oh, I know. Because I took your money and put it into some good investments.’
He slowly nods his head, grabs the drink she’s returned to the counter, and takes a long sip. He then looks over at the bartender. ‘I’m going to need a lot more of these.’
‘He definitely is,’ she retorts. He chuckles as he looks back at Mary-Lynn.
‘What brings you here?’ he asks her.
‘You will never believe this, but I literally just happened to be passing through on the way to one of Jack’s bookings. Apparently, the universe needed us to see one another.’
‘Well, I’ll apologize to the universe on your behalf.’
‘I imagine you’ve pissed the universe off so much that it’s not quite listening to you anymore.’
He lifts his hands up in an apologetic way. ‘You’re probably right about that.’
‘So, what have you been up to the past year? Or should I take a lucky guess in the dark and assume you’ve been wandering from bar to bar, drinking.’
David shrugs his shoulders. ‘You’ve got me.’
‘Glad you haven’t changed much then.’
He takes a long look at her. ‘You have, though.’
‘Oh, have I?’
David nods his head. ‘You look more… confident. Sure of yourself.’
‘Well, I guess at least one of us could figure it out in the long run.’
David can’t deny that as he returns to his drink and takes another long sip from it.
‘Look,’ she starts, putting her hand on his shoulder. ‘I’m sorry for what happened… last time.’
‘You have nothing to apologize for,’ David begins. ‘If anyone should apologize, it’s me. Because I abandoned you, again. I left you high and dry. I never deserved you, Mary-Lynn; that’s the honest truth. You deserve nothing but happiness and joy in your life.’
She smiles, brushing her red hair behind her ears. ‘Thank you for that. I sincerely appreciate that. You don’t deserve to be miserable, though. You have all the talent and skills in the world; you just have to figure out how to get out of your own way.’
‘Well,’ he begins before taking a sip from his drink. ‘We’ve seen how well that’s worked out for you.’
Her right-hand cups his face and pulls him closer to her. ‘Stop. I know it won’t be today, but realize that you are still in control of your own destiny. If you could get out of your own way for more than five seconds, you would be at the top of this industry. No question about it. You have to finally believe you’re worth more than… this.’
A moment of silence passes between them. Then, finally, David slowly nods his head. ‘One day, Mary-Lynn, just maybe, I’ll take your advice.’
‘I would recommend it. But, of course, being your lawyer and all.’
He chuckles. ‘So true. So, where are you heading to?’
‘Seattle,’ she responds before taking another sip of his drink. ‘You staying here?’
‘For a few nights.’
Reality dawns upon her, and she slowly nods her head. ‘Got it. Well, I should get back on the road. Literally came in here to use the restroom, is all.’ David chews on his tongue for a moment before he nods his head.
‘Good seeing you. I wish you luck out there.’
She inches away before she stops herself. ‘I’m seeing someone. He’s a good guy. Not sure why he puts up with the wrestling lifestyle, but maybe because we both know it can’t last forever. Eventually, I’ll have to settle down, and this guy might be the guy I can do that with.’
‘Well, I’m happy for you.’
She nods her head. ‘I just wanted you to know. I didn’t want you to hear about it through the grapevine.’
He smiles. ‘Appreciate it.’
She pauses for another moment. ‘Take care of yourself, David.’ She then walks away, leaving David to his drink. He takes another sip of it, his mind racing a million miles an hour. Before taking another sip, though, he feels a pair of hands wrap around his head and spin him around. Within a split second, Mary-Lynn’s lips are against his. Time seemingly freezes around them as he loses himself in her for just a brief moment before she pulls away.
‘For old time’s sake,’ she whispers. ‘I hope you finally take my advice one day, and believe me when I tell you, get out of your fucking way and do something special with your life.’
She then disappears into the crowd and out the door before David can respond to her. He sits there for a few moments before his right hand instinctively reaches into his right jacket pocket, his fingers wrapping around a ring.
* * *
Conor, I’m just going to be honest with you.
I don’t know if we will come back from this. I don’t know if we’re still friends after Sunday’s match. When I tell you I will give you every ounce of my being, I mean precisely that. I have nothing at all to lose. I said it in the ring, but I didn’t ask for this match. In my mind, the only reason I have this match is that you and I were partners with the thought that it would be funny to have us square off.
I didn’t earn this match. However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to change what I’m doing.
You see, Conor, I’ve spent fifteen years chasing this moment, this opportunity to be the man at the top. It’s a position that both excites me and scares me simultaneously. I may not have earned this particular shot, but I’ve reached this moment. The moment to compete with the very best and show what I’m made of.
The reality is, Conor, I’m honored to be in this match with you. There is no one I can think of that I would want to share this moment with more. You are a good guy, a guy I like and I can trust. I know that we could go to war, and it wouldn’t matter because we would have each other’s back.
Except, this is a different kind of war. Instead of being on the same side, we have to face off against one another. With a War Games spot on the line. With the HOW World Championship on the line. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.
The expectation to everyone is that you’re going to win, and I don’t blame them in the least bit. You have done this time and time again. But, on the other hand, the fans have no idea if I’m going to wilt under the brightest spotlight or manage to just keep up with you. No one, and I mean no one, believes I can do the impossible; beat Conor Fuse.
Maybe they’re right. Perhaps they have a point.
The one thing I do know is that I’ve made a history of proving people wrong, and maybe, just maybe, Sunday evening will be the latest tally in that book. So all I can do is give everything I have. To take you to the very limit and drag you past it. To find openings and capitalize upon your mistakes. Because you’re not perfect, you’re not infallible. So I just have to watch and wait for those openings and seize them.
I hope we will be able to come back from this, Conor, but I’m not lying to you. When we step in that ring, you won’t be my friend, my partner. You will be the man in the spot that I’ve dreamt about all of my life, and I will do anything to claim it.
The question isn’t what I will do after Sunday; the ball is firmly in your court. I hope you can look past it, win or lose. I hope if you lose, you can celebrate with me, but I will understand if you can’t.
Just know, I didn’t ask for this. That doesn’t change a single thing for me, though, because I want it. And the truth is, I need this, Conor. I need this more than you do. There’s no net for me. You have a golden ticket to a second shot at a spot in War Games. I lose this match, and I might be watching from home. This is for the World Championship, but it’s even more than that. It’s about pride. It’s about proving to myself and the people who have watched my struggle in this business that I am the real deal I say I am. It’s about no longer being a bit player and stepping up to take a spot next to some of the greatest wrestlers in the history of this business. This is the pinnacle. This is the big one. I’m here to win because I need this. Do you UNDERSTAND? I need this more than you. And I’m willing to battle you to hell and back for it.
See you Sunday, partner.
* * *
April 15, 2022
‘Your bags packed?’ David asks Lorelai as she emerges from her bedroom.
‘Yep,’ is all she offers back in a strained tone.
She shrugs her shoulders. ‘Why don’t you tell me? You’ve been in a mood for the past week, and I can’t begin to wrap my head around it, in all honesty. I’m no expert on the wrestling industry, but I think a shot at the top title would be what you always wanted.’
‘It is,’ he offers. ‘Come, sit down.’
She reluctantly agrees and does so. David turns towards her.
‘I’ve been doing this for fifteen years. Each time I would get into a good spot, I would self-sabotage. It seems like the only time I’ve ever been worth a damn in this business is when… there was a girl.’
‘Oooh,’ Lorelai begins. ‘Now, this is a story I can dig my teeth into.’
‘Her name is Mary-Lynn.’
She slowly nods her head. ‘Ah, this story is a bit juicier then. I’ve heard that name. I know that name.’
David’s face scrunches. ‘Yeah, we’re not going down that path tonight.’
‘What? You don’t want to tell me about the girl you dated after my mother and then found out that mom was pregnant with me while you were dating her?’
David cringes from the words. ‘Okay, yeah, another time?’
‘Fine, fine. I’ll put you out of your misery.’
‘So, go on. Mary-Lynn.’
‘Yeah, there was something about her,’ David begins, his mind racing back through their various memories together. ‘Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I felt like I could do anything when she was around me. She pushed me harder than I could have imagined, but she didn’t do anything. I just wanted to move mountains for her.’
‘Sounds like you wanted to prove yourself to her.’
He pauses, the words washing over him. ‘Yeah,’ he eventually responds. ‘I think that’s a great way to put it.’
‘So, what does that have to do with the World Championship shot coming up?’
He shakes his head. ‘Nothing and everything all at once. I could never get out of my way. I lost everything simply because I never believed I was worth having anything. She was the one who told me I self-sabotaged. I just have no faith in myself to follow through on this moment. And what if I don’t get another one?’
Lorelai sits there for a moment. ‘What’s got you so scared?’
‘I visualized it all in my mind. Building myself up, getting the experience I needed against Arthur Pleasant, Jeffery James Robert, John Sektor, and so on. To build to this moment. To get to this point. And now… it feels wrong. It feels like I shouldn’t be here. Not yet.’
She shakes her head. ‘Sounds like to me, you were hoping one of those guys you just mentioned would take you out and prove to everyone that you didn’t belong, so you didn’t have to fall flat on your face when the time came, and you had earned it.’
She cuts him off. ‘That’s bullshit. Stop being scared of yourself and actually do something.’
‘Wow,’ he responds, stunned.
‘Do you think you can beat Conor Fuse?’
He pauses. ‘Yes.’
‘You have no confidence, though. None whatsoever. That’s your problem. Tell me, what does Conor have that you don’t have? A title belt? Big fucking whoop. You put both of you in that ring, and is he that much better than you?’
David takes a moment.
‘He’s not; I’m going to answer that for you. Because you’re just as capable as he is. The right guy doesn’t always win. Sometimes, shit happens. You make a mistake; the guy takes an opportunity. You’re building up a moment in your head that may never happen when the moment is right in front of you. So why wait for that moment when you can seize this moment?’
He takes a long look at her.
‘Can you beat Conor Fuse?’
She smiles. ‘That’s better. Can Conor Fuse beat you?’
‘Damn straight,’ she responds. ‘So what does it matter if you lose? Flip a coin a hundred times, and you will win fifty times; Conor will win the other fifty. The only difference is, is this the time you win or not? You can’t find out if you’re here, scared, frightened by your own shadow. You’re not the champion today. The worst that can happen is that you’re not the champion on Monday.’
‘Alright, you’re smart. Smarter than me.’
She laughs. ‘That was never in question. Now, let me go get my bag, and we can get out of here.’
He nods as she gets up from the stool and disappears out of sight. As she does, his phone vibrates. He grabs it off the counter and looks at it, seeing a text message from Mary-Lynn.
Good luck on Sunday. I’ll be watching and rooting you on. Get that belt and claim your spot.
Thanks, he responds.
He thinks about her far longer at this moment than he has in recent years. He’d heard she was married, had two kids, and was happy. He’s happy for her. But then, his phone vibrates again as he stands up and flips the phone over.
Always, David. Always.