Ya know, I done fucked up.
You know it, I know it. Jack, LT, and Ryan know it. You bet your ass Mike knows it. Let’s just address the elephant in the room and move on.
And no, I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout Bobby Dean.
Success can go ta’ anyone’s head, especially when it’s sudden and crushing. There we were, a War Games team positioned as outsiders. Four legends plus me.
Eric Dane might be a punchline in High Octane these days, but he’s a fuckin’ legend, and I’ll fuckin’ cut you if ya disagree.
In the blink of an eye, I went from the kid sister of Lee Best’s War Games team ta’ facin’ down a three on one handicap, myself against Max Kael, John Sektor, and Cecilworth Farthington.
Yeah. Farthington. Social media is a clown’s game, but he’s earned all the respect.
Honestly, in hindsight I kinda wish Max or Cecilworth had taken me out right then. Ain’t nobody could fault me for stumbling in a three-on-one, and if that happened I wouldn’t’a earned the LSD Title ta begin with, and maybe wouldn’t’ve grown a massive fuck ego.
Hindsight’s always perfect.
I mean, at this point I’m pretty much past it, in the sense that I’m not a fuckin’ basketcase anymore, but the damage was done.
Despite the stupid bullshit, I needed to apologize to Jack Harmen. And Adrien.
And my parents. And my boyfriend.
Pretty much, I’ve offended everyone in my life except Knox and Cally, and I probably did them wrong anyways and they’re just too polite to say something.
We can rebuild her, Cally said. We have the technology.
Bless her filthy hippie stoned little heart, she can always make me laugh.
I was hoping I’d have more time to figure out my next move, but time has a tendency to run out. Unfortunately, Jack and I have very little time to march to glory.
But we’ll get there.
A Few Weeks Ago…
“She’s safe, at least. ‘Okay’ is a relative term.”
Kevin LaCroix was looking forward to a quiet night. Line cook, occasional sous chef and expediter at Aromatiques, he enjoys his time off. The twenty five year old likes to read, likes to support the local music scene whenever he can, and he likes the occasional cigar and single malt.
A few weeks ago, his girlfriend called him to ask if she could stay with him for a bit. She usually lives a bit upstate – with her parents – and she travels for work. They saw each other when they could. While that schedule is frustrating, it has worked for both of them for nearly a year. Neither of them push to see each other more because they both have high stress, high pressure jobs that forces them to spend time apart.
He’s comfortable with that, he’s secure in their relationship, and he does enjoy the fact that he can finish work, have a few drinks, and come home to <b>his</b> apartment to spend his evening as he sees fit.
When Mariella visits, it’s a great night. When the space is dark and empty, it’s still a good night.
It’s gotta be a special occasion when Kevin calls Mariella’s father, the fifteen time former World Champion, the legit professional wrestling legend, Eli Flair. He’d discreetly texed Mariella’s mother when she came to the door – he didn’t want to get in the middle of family dynamics, but at the same time he wanted to let them know where she was.
He never thought he’d be calling her father in the middle of the night.
Eli Flair walks in the front door of the apartment building with a pronounced limp – nineteen years of full contact combat sport leaves its marks. But he’s not a man that wastes time with superfluous words; his daughter is having an issue and her boyfriend asked him if he can talk her off the proverbial ledge.
Eli Flair: What’s the haps, kiddo?
Kevin: Dude, I don’t even know. She came over a few days ago and asked if she could stay here. Course I said yes and I let mama know where her kid was. Two days of hanging out, getting up late, getting coffee and breakfast out in the world and just existing were cool, y’know? But today I had to work and when I got home the apartment was smokey and she was all curled up, bawling her eyes out. I couldn’t calm her down, dude… so, ya know. You know her deal so I wanted to give you a heads up.
Kevin lives on the third floor of a three floor walk up. On the second floor landing, Eli stops for a a second and allows the barest hint of pain to cross his face. Respect, at that moment, grows tenfold. The forty nine year old is clearly in constant pain, but he never complains, never asks for a minute of additional consideration, never asks anyone to give him sympathy.
He took care of his family, and he did it with style.
Eli Flair: Did she say anything?
Kevin: Yeah…? But you might just wanna see the things.
One more flight. Kevin walks slowly behind Eli, giving the man his space despite the fact that they were technically in his house. They reach the apartment door, and, much to his surprise, Eli steps to the side in deference to the resident.
The door opens, and the smell of burning fills their nostrils. Eli looks back, and Kevin points forward and to the right – towards what we assume is the kitchen. Eli Flair has spent the past twenty five years more or less on the road – his own legendary wrestling career and his time spent as the head of his wife’s band’s security detail. He’s always assumed he’s prepared for everything.
Until he steps into the apartment’s meager kitchen, and sees a sight he wasn’t prepared for.
His daughter, MJ, sitting on the floor with her back to the wall. Her eyes are puffy and red; she’s clearly been crying for a while. There’s a nearly empty bottle of rum next to her.
Between the two is about six feet of what looks like spilled pasta, meatballs, tomato sauce, and shards of broken glass.
Kevin: I’ll be in the other room.
Eli nods; at the sound of Kevin’s voice, MJ looks up, and, on seeing her father and boyfriend standing side by side, slumps her shoulders and presses her palms into her eyes.
Eli Flair: Sup.
She doesn’t answer him, but she gestures, wildly, at the mess on the floor. With four quick crunches, Eli walks over the mess without a second thought, and he puts his back to the wall and sinks down next to his daughter.
He takes the bottle of rum from her and takes a swig, at which point MJ breaks down and buries her face in his arm. He puts his arm around her and lets her let it out for a minute or two.
MJF: That pretty much fuck says it, man.
Eli doesn’t respond. He’s always been a man of few words, and of course, the best way to get someone to keep talking is to remain silent.
MJF: I fuck up my momentum when I let you guys bench me, I fuck up my relationships with the guys at work, fuck up my career by bungling four matches in a row and end up in the goddamn shit basement. LT and Ryan call me out on my shit, as they should, then they rub my face in it.
And with that, she lashes out her first and punches the wall, pulling herself away from her father’s hug.
MJF: It’s one thing that they wanted to talk shit out, ya know? They deserved that. It’s another ta do so in the middle of a packed arena. And it’s another thing altogether that they did all this shit fuckin’ <B>knowing</b> that they were about to drop me and Jack to play lapdog to the others.
She leans her head against the wall, leans up, then hits it hard.
MJF: And then I get into a fight with you and Mommy and I come here and think, well, I’ve fucked everything else up, let me try to do something nice and make dinner for me and the boy, and… look!
She gestures again, wildly.
MJF: I can’t even do that right.
MJ continues to sulk, while Eli takes another large drink from the bottle of rum.
Eli Flair: It’s just food, kiddo.
MJF: It’s a perfect metaphor for my fucked-up-ed-ness, Daddy.
And she takes the bottle from him.
MJF: I’m just tired. I’m tired’a being a fuckup. I’m tired’a being the kid that everyone’s either gotta watch out for or cut loose for bein’ dead weight.
Eli Flair: Ya know, last year–
MJF: Daddy, seriously, fuck last year. All that I’ve proven so far is that last year was a fuckin’ fluke.
She puts the bottle to her lips, but he takes it away from her.
Eli Flair: So what’cha sayin, kiddo? Givin’ up?
MJF: I don’t– I…
She exhales, and seems to slump to the side a bit.
MJF: I don’t know.
Her eyes lock with her father’s, and he claps a hand on her shoulder in solidarity. For some reason, this helps.
MJF: I ain’t had my hand raised in like… four months? Dude, it’s fuckin’ ridiculous. But all those matches? Last fall I didn’t have my shoulders down at all, and now?
She gestures to the refrigerator. In all honesty, based on the apartment layout she’s likely gesturing to the wall that borders the living room, and the television that’s undoubtedly there.
MJF: Now I can’t <B>buy</b> a win, but like… every night I’m in there workin’ my ass off and I’m like… an inch away, every time. Like, I’m watchin’ the replays and… every fuck time… one thing goes my way that didn’t, I’ve got the win. So I dunno.
MJ shrugs again, snatches the bottle, and takes a swig.
MJF: I just dunno, Daddy.
He thinks about it, and he nods. And he takes the bottle back.
Eli Flair: Ain’t no shame in quittin, kiddo. Dis life ain’t for everyone. I’ve seen some’a the boys – better’n you, better’n me – wash out ‘cause they can’t hack the life. Ya go home now, you’ve got a nice lil’ career that’cha can hang on the wall. What’ve ya got, five title reigns, two World’s?
Eli Flair: And ya ain’t even old enough t’buy this.
He holds up the bottle, and takes another drink.
Eli Flair: Fact’a the matter is, you don’t owe anyone in the biz anything right now, until the minute ya step back into an arena. Dat’s the event horizon, kiddo, and ain’t nobody can make that decision but you.
And he puts the bottle back between the two of them. MJ looks at him, looks at the bottle, and looks towards the entrance to the kitchen.
MJF: I don’t know if I can do it.
She picks the bottle up again, but instead of drinking, she caps it.
MJF: But I don’t want that ta be my last memory.
Eli nods his head as he takes the bottle from her, and he struggles against his aches to climb to his feet.
Eli Flair: Aight, kiddo… let’s go.
He holds out his hand, and MJ takes it, and he pulls her to her feet. She stumbles back a step until he steadies her, then lifts her up and puts her over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry, walking her bare feet over the broken glass.
MJF: Awwwwwh shit, I’mma be sick.
Eli Flair: If ya gonna do it, do it here. I’m already gon’ be helping ya boy clean the floor.
She breathes heavily for about thirty seconds, eyes shut tight, all color drained from her face.
And she belches. Long, loud, and deep.
MJF: I think I’m good.
He nods, and continues to walk her out of the kitchen.
MJF: Where we goin’?
Eli Flair: I’mma dump you on the sofa so you can sleep it off. You’ve got an ass – kickin’ in front’a you, but ain’t no point doin’ it tonight when you won’t remember.
She allows herself to be carried for a minute.
MJF: That makes sense.
The Next Morning…
Consciousness returns with no small amount of pain and disorientation. MJ Flair pushes herself up, sweat – soaked and disoriented – from her boyfriend’s couch. An empty wastebasket is next to her, and the smell of disinfectant is in the air.
“Rise ‘n shine, sunshine.”
Her eyes shut tight. Fighting against her body rebelling against a state of not-vomiting. It’s almost like she can hear her dad’s voice.
“Gotcha breakfast, kiddo.”
Slowly, she opens her eyes. The world rebels – she’s dizzy and achy and nauseous, none of which is helped by the sight of a cup of black coffee and a bagel that – by the smell – contains bacon, eggs, and cheese. The scenery is her boyfriend’s apartment, but if that’s true – why is her father there, sitting in his recliner?
MJF: Should’a done the humane thing and let me die.
MJ covers her head, all the while Eli opens the blinds to let in the bright sunlight.
Eli Flair: Ya can die tomorrow, kid. Real quick, though. Last night ya said something about ya career, you remember it?
Last night… something about spaghetti?
MJF: I did somethin’ stupid, huh?
Eli Flair: Yeah, usually. But you talked about, if ya were finished in the biz, you didn’t wanna go out like ya were. You mean that?
MJ presses her fingers into her eyes, still rebelling against the daylight.
She can’t see this, but her father looks at her with a “Bitch, are you kidding me?” face.
MJF: I mean… if this is it, this is it, but if it is, I wanna go out on my feet, right? I don’t want my last moment ta’ be gettin’ blindsided by a pair’a cunts that I thought were my allies.
And now Eli facepalms. He gives it a few seconds, then looks up.
Eli Flair: Listen. I’m sorry I haven’t had an active role in your career so far. I should’a listened when you were fifteen and said you wanted t’train for the ring. I should’a been there t’help guide ya through the minefield’a the wrestling business, so maybe you wouldn’a trusted the wrong people so many times.
He stands up.
Eli Flair: If you’re serious about givin’ it another go, if ya really wanna make a splash… I’m willin’ to give you a hand, and make up for some lost time.
And he offers her his hand. She pushes herself up to a seated position and eyes him up suspiciously.
Eli Flair: Adrian works for your aunt, not you. Havin’ to balance two bosses never works. You need someone that’ll watch out for ya, tell ya what ya need to hear, not what you wanna hear, and will work ya through the tough moments.
She hesitates for another few seconds, then shakes his hand.
Eli smirks, which is a sight that MJ has grown to dread in her life.
Eli Flair: Good. Now, about what’cha need t’hear…
Here it goes. MJ holds her breath.
Eli Flair: Next time ya refer to Ryan or Lindz as ‘cunts?’ I’mma put you on your ass, understand?
Eli Flair: As your dad, I hate the fact that that shit happened to ya, but as a <b>wrestler</b>? After you left ‘em hangin’, after you shit all over ‘em on your comeback, after your entitled-ass attitude? You deserved it. And you know ya did. You’re just lucky Harmen didn’t go with ‘em, cause right now, he’s the only friend you got.
MJF: Deacon is–
He stops her cold.
Eli Flair: See, there’s your problem. Deacon? He’s my friend. Could be yours, but he ain’t your friend just because he was mine. How dat work out so far?
MJ looks down, silent.
Eli Flair: I’m not trynna shit all over ya, kiddo… but I’m not gonna sugarcoat it.
He crouches down to catch her eye.
Eli Flair: I know you love the sport, kiddo. I know ya do. But the difference between you and them – Dan, Lindz, Jack, Big D, all the other idiots in that company? They <b>live</b> for the wrestling business. You do this shit cause you love it… they do it because they <b>have to</b>.
She looks away again, but he cups her chin and forces her to make eye contact again.
Eli Flair: That ain’t your fault, aight? Your mom and I wanted that for you, ya hear? Neither one of us wanted you t’have’ta be on the road three hundred days a year with no fixed income. Ya want it? Great. But the fact that ya want it, and ya don’t need it? It matters.
MJ closes her eyes tightly, and he recognizes this as a sign that she’s about to cry.
Eli Flair: I don’t wanna ruin your love for the sport, kiddo, but I need t’be real with ya. You want my help, we do this old school – we go all in. Ain’t gonna be livin’ home anymore, ain’t gonna be livin’ here. You need t’get your head in the game, and that ain’t gonna happen with the boy constantly reinforcin’ you, y’hear?
The tears are – at least for now – stemmed. She looks towards the living room archway, then back at her father.
MJF: Aight, man. I’m in. Can we start tomorrow? I’d really like to be able to explain all this to the boy before we go all in. Besides… I’m… <b>really</b> hung over right now.
Eli smirks again.
Eli Flair: Rule number one. The sport’a professional wrestling doesn’t give a fuck about your hangover.
He stands up.
Eli Flair: I’m headed to the apartment. Meet me there in two hours or the deal’s off.
As the King of Extreme walks out of the living room, MJ turns quickly and stands up, nearly falling over.
MJF: Wait a second, man. That’s like… a forty five minute train ride, if the subway’s cooperating.
Eli Flair: Then you better hurry the fuck up, huh?
Dude, he wasn’t kidding.
Daddy referenced ‘the apartment’ – to clarify, he’s talking about the place where he grew up. I never met my grandparents on his side, they died before I was born, but he somehow managed to hold onto the place through the past, like, fifty years or so? Anyways, it’s a block away from the bar so I’ve spent plenty of nights there.
Still, I got the reference. I moved in, he said he was gonna sublet to me.
It didn’t matter that I had a trust fund and a regular paycheck from High Octane and could pay like three times the rent anyways. I think the point was that I needed to be on my own. More or less. Dunno what’d happen if I miss a payment but I’m not dumb enough to find out.
So we did get to Refueled, and I did get the chance to make the save for Jack. And he decided not to make an example outta me.
It was good to shake his hand and realize that no, I hadn’t totally fucked up all my professional relationships. It was better than good – it was fuckin’ surreal – ta see Jack and my dad shake hands. Their friendship and rivalry go all the way back to Seattle and the FWO World Championship, and I’m still buzzin’ over the fact that most’a the boys in High Octane weren’t even active when that was happenin’.
Predictably, Mike beat Dan for the Icon, and a week later, Max beat LT in the LBI Semis. It’s obvious to me – and probably to my dad – that the Group’a Death had less to do with Mike, Max, and Fartypants wantin’ to shore up their dominance, and more that they wanted to hold all the hold.
Think about it. The Empire beats the Industry for the tag belts. The Empire then sucks LT and Dan into their collective, takes the Icon title from Dan, takes the LBI from Lindz, and says ‘Here, go take the tag belts that we took from you and defend them against a bunch of other teams.’
I once made a joke about LT and Dan carrying the Empire’s luggage, but after all this I’m more inclined to think that Mike, Max, and Cecilworth have found a creative solution to the lack’a toilet paper currently sweeping the country.
But that’s for the future. They’ll get theirs. In the immediate present, me and Jack have a tag team title shot to earn.
“This is a rebirth.”
We fade in on MJ Flair, standing in front of a March to Glory banner, sporting a hooded sweatshirt advertising ‘Valerian’s Garden: Torn to Shreds,’ and ‘HOW’ wrist tape. She stares into the camera through her unkempt hair that hangs in front of her face.
“On one hand, it’s gon be nice to not have to wrestle someone from the Industry or the Empire at March to Glory.”
“Or Scottywood. Seriously, fuck that guy.”
“Fact is, Jack Harmen and I are the leftovers. We weren’t plucked from Induscurity to be part of the Empire of Death, for reasons I guess. We also had to deal with different-but-same opponents in Mike and LT whose agendas were takin’ us out altogether.”
“I mean, it is what it is. But the thing I take from all the setbacks is that we’re still standing.”
“Turn it up: we’re still standing.”
“It’s been a long trip from War Games and winnin’ the LSD to The Rock and losin’ it, to now. You’d think I’d be upset over it, but I’m really not. I was where I needed to be at each tier; even now. Maybe me and Jack’ll win, maybe we’ll lose. Maybe we’ll stick with this team to the High Octane Tag Team belts. Maybe we’ll split after March to Glory and separately and silently support each others’ singles runs.”
“The point is, nobody knows. And that’s both the beauty and the terror of it all.”
“The point is that there’s a wrestler named Rick Dickulous that I need ta’ take seriously and treat like a peer and an equal.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s way too rickdickulous to fathom. Fully aware of the short term gravity I need ta’ give ‘em.”
“Long term. Gentlemen. We are not – and we will not – be a set’a statistics.”
“So. Here’s the deal, guys. Jack and I are comin’ ta’town, ta’ win. And this, this is step one.”
“Lotta shit between today and the end’a the road. But we’re gonna get there.”
“I entered my last match’a twenty-nineteen as the LSD Champion. That’s a high that I’d love ta’ get back to, but I know that, win or lose, I won’t get there with this match at March to Glory.”
“But that’s okay. Baby steps.”
“Me and Jack? We’re what’s left when a power quartet explodes. We’re here to build a foundation for future success, despite the fact that we’re literally the remnants of a once proud organization called the Best Alliance and/or The Industry.”
“And we’d love to give some payback to Lindsay Troy and Dan Ryan. But they’re currently the day laborers of The Empire – they’re doing the jobs nobody else wants to do.”
“Either they retain the tag team titles and we get immediate retribution, or they lose the belts and we can immediately forget they exist as soon as March to Glory is over.”
“Because what it all comes down to is that our opponents are two guys who seem more interested in what they’re eating than who they’re facing.”
“Ya got some promise, guys… but you’re not there yet. Saul goodman, though. Give yourselves a standing ovation.”
“After Jack and I beat’cha, and after whoever comes outta Emm-Tee-Gee with the tag belts drops ‘em, you can earn a shot at us when you take on the Empire’s shoelaces.”
“No, that doesn’t make sense. But on another level… it’s a perfect metaphor, isn’t it?”