Oh my fucking god, I said. Right there. Riiiiight there.
“That’s good for you?” asked Kevin, as he adjusted his position on my ass.
YES, I said, emphatically. HARDER.
He pushed as hard as he could, and I seriously swear my eyes rolled back in my head.
“You need to be more careful,” he replied, turning his head to look at the back of mine. “You got a big match in just over a week, you can’t afford to get hurt.”
The boy returns his attention to my cramping right calf, trying his best to work the knot out of it. He keeps shifting his seat facing my legs so he can get the best grip, but I told him I got plenty’a padding and don’t need him to hold himself up while he does so.
…What were you thinking?
Oh, fucking hell, babe, that’s so much better, I said.
That was a mistake, because he stops.
“Awesome, babe, he replies. “You good now, cause I need to check the oven.”
I dunno, I said. While you’re back there I could use a pedi.
Almost immediately, as I start laughing, he shoves my feet to the couch and gets up. I hook his leg as he passes by and roll off the couch, taking him down. Don’t worry I do this slowly enough so that he won’t faceplant and break something.
He cushions his fall and I scramble onto his back, holding him down and getting my face right up next to his ear.
Who makes the rules, babe, I ask.
“You’d like me to say you,” he replies, “and physically, you could probably make me. But holding me down like this, making me say something – they don’t really make me want to cook for you.”
I exhale sharply.
SO unfair, I say, rolling off him, extending my leg. He really did a good job on my cramping calf. The boy kisses me on the forehead and gets himself up, walking towards the kitchen area of my studio apartment.
We have a nice give – and – take. I might be the gym rat, but he’s a caffeine – laden bucket of energy who spends twelve to fourteen hours a day in a professional kitchen, and we’ve found our balance over the past year. No, he’s not physically stronger than me but I don’t need that. He’s comfortable being with a non-waifish strong personality who understands the long hours and unorthodox lifestyle of a chef, and I’m comfortable being with a quiet and confident man that doesn’t give a flying fuck about any aspect of my celebrity.
His baggage matches mine.
I’m reminded of something my dad once said about him and my mom’s relationship – he said ‘it’s never easy, but it’s effortless.’
I’ve interpreted that as being that they have to work at their relationship, but it never feels like work. And I feel that way almost all the time, too.
“Your dad going with you to Normandy?” he asks, as if he’s reading my mind.
He is, I reply, but would you believe that my mom is, too?
The look he gives me tells me he has a hard time believing that. My mother has never been a fan of the wrestling business in general or my participation in particular. Honestly, I can’t blame her – like a month or so after my parents started dating she was in attendance to see him hit in the face with a brick. Someone she just met, that’s one thing. Her teenage daughter? Another thing altogether.
Seriously though, I say, she said she wants to come. First time ever she feels comfortable seeing it up close and personal, which is yet another stress for the night with her in attendance.
“Whoo, damn,” he says. “How’s that change your mindset?”
He pulls the roasting pan out of the oven and checks the temperature. Don’t be too impressed, it’s his roasting pan. A quick stir of the potatoes on the stovetop and he’s looking right at me again.
I mean, my dad spent almost twenty years in the sport. He gets it, he understands the shit I need ta’ do to win a match, I say. I mean, in a practical sense she knows LT and I think she’s met Andy Murray once or twice, so it’ll be cool for her to interact with them in our arena and not hers.
I lean my arms over the back of the couch and my chin on the top cushion, watching the boy do his thing at the stove. Dude, it really smells good in here.
“Hey,” says Kevin, “Ya love me.”
Yeah, yeah I do, I say. You’re a good partner.
And I have a sudden epiphany.
A good partner is critical, I continue. It can be a fuckin’ game changer.
I point at him. You, when you’re on the line – you have to work in concert with your co-workers to get the food out at the best quality and at the same time, yeah?
“Yeah,” he agrees, “Teamwork is essential in a kitchen. I see where you’re going, babe. Your parents are a good team – they did a great job with you.”
That was so far from my point that I didn’t even think to blush, Yeah they are, I say.
But that wasn’t the team in my brain.
“I asked my parents, because all of this happened either before I was born or before I was old enough to really understand what was going on.”
“I said to my mom, how many gigs have you played? She told me after a minute of thought, if we start with the very first time she sang in front of anyone when she was a high school sophomore at a talent show, she would estimate between twenty four and twenty five… hundred… gigs.”
“And I asked her, how many of those did she play without Valerian’s Garden’s co-founder, my uncle TJ, on bass? That was a much faster answer.”
Not to be deterred, I know my dad is a fifteen time former World Champion, and that my aunt Ivy was absolutely the greatest manager of her day and potentially the greatest of all time. I asked him how many of those World Championships he won without her.”
“Would it surprise you to learn the answer is also zero?”
“My point is actually incredibly simple: we all do better with a partner in our corner.”
“My dad’s best friend had his back and he became immortal. My mom’s best friend had her back and she sold seven million records.”
“Never. Ever. Ever downplay how valuable a partner can be. But you don’t need to go too far ta’ find an example, yeah?”
“War Games is rife with partnerships. Even letting Max the Minister drift into the foam, there’s Mike Best and Cecilworth Farthington, the very definition of partners here in High Octane. One is the ICON Champion, one is the HOW World Champion, and they’re the embodiment of ‘we don’t fight each other for championships’. Despite all evidence to the contrary, like the fact that Mike is clearly struggling with the idea of retaining his ICON title and continuing his ICONIC journey and winning WAR GAMES outright and becoming the High Octane World Champion yet again.”
“Leaving them aside, my own team has the odd couple of Andy Murray and Little Jimmy Witherhold. It’s a team, literally, I don’t understand.”
“Make no mistake, Murray is a fucking dick. But he seems less comfortable with it than Lindsay Troy, and that means something.”
“We’ll get to you, LT. Hold your double wide horses for just a minute.”
“I get it, Andy. You’re very old and very injured, and you can’t let go. And the Hollywood Bruvs and Lil’ Jimmy make you feel like you’re hashtag winning again. Here’s a newsflash – it’s less of a victory if you keep re-injuring your knee carrying all of those losers to another win.”
“And we should be partners here. Or allies, at least – based on our mutual friends. But no matter how much Knox and Cally love you, you’re tainted. The fact that you treat little jimmy like a human being when little jimmy should be treated like a medical condition tells me that your judgement is flawed.”
“But as much as I’ve said this match is two against two against two against one against one, that really doesn’t apply, does it?”
“When push comes to shove, your ‘partner’ Little Jimmy Witherhold, you’ll let him fall like he’s destined to. We both know it, so please don’t insult your legacy by saying otherwise.”
“This is all my inherent need to talk shit anyways, it’s the ‘Yes, and’ of my night. It’s the distraction when looking at the partners of the other side.”
“Specifically, the partners of Dan Ryan and Lindsay Troy.”
“I’m not surprised that you two grifted onto the Group’a Death together, but I am surprised in the way it went down.”
“Well, not surprised. More like disappointed.”
“LT, I feel like we got off on the wrong foot, professionally speaking. I referenced Karina Wolfenden as my woman-in-pro-wrestling-idol, and you seemed like you were offended by that. And I get it now, with the right perspective. She couldn’t separate her talent from her temper, which ultimately meant her talent was wasted.”
“You hadn’t made that mistake.”
“And of course, Dan Ryan is a multi – time World Champion in some of the greatest promotion that have ever existed, including holding four of the most important World Titles of all time simultaneously.”
“Professionally, it makes sense that you’d partner up – you’re both phenomenal athletes with top notch pedigrees. Personally, its amazing how anyone could assue you wouldn’t team up when your personal lives are taken into account.”
“I get it.”
“I do wonder a few things about the Group’a Death, though.”
“Who was approached first? Was the other approached as well, or were they a condition’a hire? Was it required to flip against me an Jack or was that a request? If so, by whom?”
“No matter where we ever end up, I need to know how we got there for my own curiosity. So I do wonder if Mike hit up Lindsay after she beat him in the LBI to try and form a super-group, and I wonder if he wanted her to bring Dan along or if she insisted it was a condition’a hire. I wonder if Mike hit Dan up first after his loss to Mom and Ryan had the same condition.”
“Did Mike decide he wanted this before the LBI, and therefore he threw his match against LT? Did he convince Dan Ryan to throw their ICON Title match or was it straight up?”
“You’ll have to understand my perspective on this shit: last fall The Industry was rollin’ along pretty fuckin’ well. We hit a bump when Eric Dane was run outta the place, and another bump when Max Kael pinned Jack Harmen to win my LSD Title.”
“”And another when the Empire won the High Octane Tag Team belts from us.”
“Wow. We were up, then we were down, huh?”
“But let’s be honest about what it was, huh? I was talkin’ outta my ass over how committed the three’a you were when I came back to High Octane at Iconic, and your knee-jerk reaction was ta’ make a deal with the devil.”
“I’m hoping we can acknowledge my metaphor that Mike, Max, and Cecilworth are not literal devils and just move on. Fuck you.”
“That’s even secondary, though. Nobody makes a decision that fast. That tells me that this entire Group’a Death scenario was in play for literal weeks or months before it consummated.”
“That’s cool. At least I know.”
“At least I know that from now until the end’a time, every word you say is suspect. Everything you believe in can be bought and sold for the promise of some temporary feel – goods, and you’ve officially lost the people forever.”
“The fact that you’re in a no-win scenario just paints that into sharp relief for me.”
“Let’s be honest here – Dan Ryan and Lindsay Troy, you’re in-laws. You’ll back each other up as long as it’s professionally convenient – and probably a few steps past that, giving you an undeserved benefit’a the doubt.”
“Mike Best and Cecilworth Farthington are part’a the Empire whose charter specifies that they will not fight each other.”
“How much fighting has the Group’a Death done amongst themselves since War Games was announced? How much of it was between athletes that formerly identified as the Empire?”
“Push comes to shove, Mike and Cecilworth’ll screw you two for their personal greater good. And ya won’t see it comin’ and you’ll deserve it. Because you’ve both revealed your true faces.”
“The fact is, you’re both very successful in this sport, and you’ve been successful for decades. Nearing the end’a your careers, you’re both lookin’ for as much success as possible ta’ make your twilight as powerful as your primes – and while I believe you’d screw over your closest friends ta’ make that happen, the fact is… you screwed over your closest friends for nothing.”
“Since the LBI finished, you’ve both been successful members of the general public, doing the Empire’s chores for them when they can’t be bothered.”
“I mean, of course it was. You got to grift onto the successful faction of High Octane Wrestling, you got to drop an obnoxious partner whose only real crime was being too arrogant for her own good, and you beat the shit outta Jack Harmen, who really is the only innocent bystander in the entire Industry implosion.”
“But you signed on with the winning team! You’re with the World and Icon Champions!”
“…except for the fact that you are literally nose to nose with the athlete you fucked over more than anyone else. So, essentially… you showed yourselves to be inauthentic domestic servants that are ready to sell their loyalty for a professional lube job that intrinsically changes nothing.”
“The three of us are essentially where we started – entering War Games without a championship around our waists.”
“Do you two really think anything’ll be different now? I mean, all you’ve done in the past year is prove that your loyalty’s for sale.”
“I honestly don’t know if my most effective attack would be with my legs or with my checkbook.”
I woke up early. Relatively speaking – the sun’s sort of up and I hear birds chirping.
Easing out of bed, doing my best to not wake up the boy, I slide on a pair of pajama pants and pour a cup of coffee from the auto-brew.
So I drink it black, so what? I ain’t afraid’a death.
But I left the apartment and sat outside on the stoop, watching the world slowly come to life. It’s gonna be a nice day, I think. Far nicer than yesterday, which was humid and soupy.
I’m sure you get what I mean.
One more day at home, and then I get on a plane for France and War Games. One last chance to turn this year around. Sure, I’ll have more opportunity through the rest’a the year, but when you look at Lee’s insistence that the rankings will have more to do with main event and title opportunities than ever before?
Yeah. This is essentially my last chance this year ta’ make an impact.
Across the street, Cally locks the bar’s front door and joins me. I check my phone – she’s here way late. Or early. One’a those.
“What goes on, man?” she asks me, taking my mug and drinking a long sip. “You getting yourself ready for the wrestlefights?”
Doing my best, dere, I said. Doing my training every day, did my talking last night. One more day’a prep and I’m outta here.
I gestured towards the bar across the street. You gonna get it on the big screen?
She gestures fairly wildly. “Of course we are. No way we’d let you beat someone’s butt and not cheer you on.”
I laugh. Still can’t get used to that phrase.
‘Beat someone’s butt.’
“Well? What would you say?”
Can’t say, I explain, cause you’d kick my ass.
“Language,” says Cally, flicking me in the face.
We both laugh. It’s literally impossible to either get or stay mad at her.
“Still,” she says. “You’re gonna do great. You’ve got the advantage.”
She spins on her heels towards the subway entrance, but my brain is able to catch up with her before she gets too far.
Wait, I say. How do I have the advantage?
“It’s simple,” she replies, turning around and walking backwards. “Michael and Cecil are evil. Mom and Danno think they’re evil but they’re just confused. And you’ve got Big Murrr on your side.”
Andy Murray, I reply. The guy who actually is evil, I say with a sarcastic lift in my voice.
“He’s not evil,” says Cally. “He’s scared, and he’s confused. He gets some success here and you’ll see how not-evil he is. Good night, small fry. Love you!”
Love you too, I call after the eccentric woman with the purple hair and oddball vocabulary.
But I think about it. Cally is a former manager in this sport, and she’s far more intelligent than she comes across on surface viewing. More to the point, she knows Andy Murray really well.
Maybe she’s right. After all, if Andy hadn’t been such an insufferable douchebag on entrance to High Octane, and all I knew about him was what I’d been told – he’d be the one partner in this match that I’d feel I could trust.
Knox and Cally trust him, even after our series. Maybe it really is down to first impressions and ultimate goals.
After all, the entire point’a the past day for me has been the idea that everyone needs a partner – and that you’ll never do better by yourself than ya will with someone watchin’ your back.
All history aside ta’ this point, Andy Murray could be the one person I could trust in this match.
Process of elimination, at least. I don’t know how ta’ diagram the sentence of Minister Max Kael, and I don’t wanna even attempt ta’ unravel Jimmy Witherhold, the forty year old virgin.
But even mixed in with his douchebaggery, there’s something intrinsically trustworthy about Andy Murray. Like he’s an honorable man wrapped up in his Bruvvy dishonor.
Only thing I know is that it’s both in my best interest – and a foolish idea – ta’ trust him.
Somewhere in the middle’a that, is a gray area where I think we’ve got what it takes ta’ win War Games.