The womens’ locker room.
It’s a joke, and a bad one, considering the only people who currently use it are MJ Flair and Lindsay Troy, and with the current state of The Industry, they’re not getting ready together, or anywhere near the same time.
‘The current state.’ Dual meanings.
MJ Flair is moving slowly, pulling on her long tights with obvious stiffness in her joints. When Mike Best ducked away from Air Flair, she hit the mat hard and still feels the effects of the hard landing, not just the beating he put on her face and the back of her head.
And, obvs, the current state of The Industry is one in crisis. Even if he loses his next two matches, Mike Best has succeeded in stoking the competitive fires that could tear them apart.
Shit, MJ knows she hasn’t helped matters. If nothing else, she’s shown up to the spark that Mike lit with dry leaves and a gas can by reading her partners after taking a two month forced vacation that finally saw a crack in Cecilworth Farthington’s armor of invincibility.
MJ? Big fat goose egg.
She takes a quick look in the ‘selfie’ view on her phone, checking on her scars. No stitches – she went with the ghetto shot of super-gluing her splits together. Fortunately she’s inherited quick healing from her father and while the lines are visible, they’re quickly fading and will eventually be barely noticeable.
Thinking of her father makes her breath catch in her throat as she remembers the last conversation they had.
Not all scars are visible.
Four days ago…
There’s a knock on her bedroom door, but MJ doesn’t answer. She rolls over, covering her head with a thick blanket as the knocking continues.
MJF: Go away.
Eli Flair (from the other side of the door): Don’t make me pull the Dad card, kiddo. Your mom wants me to talk t’ya, and I’ll be honest – you don’t scare me half as much.
And he knocks again. When MJ doesn’t answer, he opens the door and leans his head in, trying not to get too far into her personal space.
Eli Flair: How is it, kiddo? Still gettin’ the headaches?
MJF: I’m fine.
Eli Flair: Knees still botherin’ ya?
MJF: I’m fine.
Eli Flair: Aight, kiddo… then it’s time t’stop feelin’ sorry for yourself, ‘n getcher ass up outta that bed.
MJ pushes the blanket off her head and sits up a bit, throwing a look of disbelief at her father. He doesn’t blink.
MJF: Are you kidding?
She dead – eye stares at him, but averts her eyes when he returns it to her. After a moment she looks back at him, a little softer.
MJF: Dad, my career is all fucked up right now, and I just got the shit beat outta me by some fucking asshole after getting the shit beat outta me by two people that were s’posed to be my friends. Is it okay if I take a few days to wallow?
Now Eli’s gaze softens. He walks to his daughter, sits on the bed, and hugs her. She sinks into his shoulder like she hasn’t for years, and she feels a safe nostalgia in his comfort as he lets up.
Eli Flair: Suck it up, MJ. You’ve been a burden in this house for the past two days after taking a loss.
MJF: Really, Dad? I’ve only been doing this a few years and he totally took—
She stops suddenly as Eli holds up his hand.
Eli Flair: Don’t, Mariella. You wanted this, remember? You pushed for it, you snuck around for it, and it wasn’t your mom or me forcin’ you to threaten Knox, either he trains you or you’ll go somewhere else.
He stands up and walks toward the door, but she gets up, kneeling on the bed, pointing accusingly at him.
MJF: Maybe let me finish, Dad?
Eli stops, shrugs his shoulders dramatically, and turns around.
MJF: I’ve only been doin’ this a few years, and he took advantage’a knowing how far he could push the ref with his cheap shots. And it’s not fair that he’s put us all in the same bracket where he could push the problems the Industry’s been having even farther–
Eli Flair: Aight, I’mma stop ya there again, kiddo.
He chuckles, but MJ can feel her face flush with anger and frustration.
Eli Flair: There’s shit between the three’a them that’s been goin’ on since before you were born. Jack doesn’t care about friends. Jack’s got his friends – he’s got Tony, he’s got Mary-Lynn, he’s got his family. Y’all a means to an end.
A bit of his graying hair falls into his face, and he pushes it back.
Eli Flair: Dude. Ya claimed to be the only bright spot in your group, and you’re surprised that Lindz has the audacity to distance herself from ya and Ryan wanted to cave in your skull?
MJF: We’re supposed ta’ be a team!
Eli Flair: And ya did a great job with it, teammate. I’d say ya were as shit at it as Dane but at the very least ya waited until after the big event so ya wouldn’t fuck the fans. Ya know what your partners did wrong, kiddo? They gave ya too much credit.
She recoils like she’s been slapped.
MJF: Really, Dad? Aren’t ya s’posed ta be on my side?
He shakes his head. No.
Eli Flair: I’m always on your side, kiddo… but I don’t do ya any favors by lyin’ to ya. You’re so fuckin’ good at this sport so fuckin’ fast, people can forget that ya don’t have a lifer’s perspective. That ain’t a knock, MJ… just life. There’s things ya need ta know that nobody can tell you, ya need to figure it out for yourself. Lindz, Jack, Danno – they’ve figured it out. You’ll get there.
And he turns back towards the door.
Eli Flair: If ya get your head outta your ass and stop feelin’ sorry for yourself.
She’s unable to allow anyone to get the last word in, and she stands up and shoves her door closed just as her father was opening it up to leave.
MJF: Thanks, Daddy. You shit on me, you take their side, and you don’t have a thing to say about Mike, huh?
He turns around, almost incredulously at her interruption.
Eli Flair: That Mike Best guy? The guy you’ve been callin’ an asshole for the better part of a year?
She nods. He scrunches up his face, like the answer is blindingly obvious.
Eli Flair: If a guy’s an asshole, and ya call him an asshole, then he acts like an asshole… why ya so surprised that he’s an asshole?
Without breaking eye contact, he removes her hand from the door, and opens it up, stepping through backwards while watching her.
Eli Flair: Get up and do something or you’re gonna be volunteered to clean the studio.
As he leaves, closing the door behind him, MJ feels her chin start to tremble but stops herself. She closes her eyes, leans against the door, and takes a deep breath.
MJF: Handle ya shit, MJ.
Another deep breath. Despite the fact that her mood has actually gotten worse, she doesn’t return to bed – she picks up her phone and starts texting.
“…I’m coming in. You around?”
Without waiting for a reply, she drops the phone on her bed and opens her closet.
MJ studies herself in the floor – to – ceiling mirror, still without pads, boots, and shirt. It’s the same ritual every time she puts on her lower half: bend at the waist, bend at the knees, drop her ass as far to the floor as she can with her feet flat. This helps to start loosen up her joints, it makes sure her gear isn’t pulling too tight or too loose anywhere… and after a few incidents in her first week of wrestling, she’s making sure her underwear isn’t visible.
Looks like we’re in the clear on all counts right now.
As much as MJ wants to be ready and out the door before Lindsay Troy enters, she knows she’s procrastinating for a reason. After losing to Jack Harmen, that she can put as much on ring rust as she does on his considerable talents; after losing to Dan Ryan that she can put as much on her big mouth as she does on his considerable anger…
After losing to Mike Best that she can put as much on her arrogance as she does his craftiness…
If she’s going to lose to Lindsay Troy tonight, she’d really like to clear the air beforehand so it can all come down to talent on talent.
Not that she’d apologize, or admit she was wrong about anything, of course not. She’s a Flair.
Stubborn. To the detriment of everyone and everything around her.
Four days ago…
She’s bundled up like a refugee against the cold Bronx weather. Purple knit hat, rainbow scarf, black overcoat, and frozen, rosy cheeks. MJ Flair paces the windows in front of TC’s Pub to try and keep warm, ignoring the side – eyes of the occasional passerby.
Obviously, the visual of ‘waiting for the bar to open’ isn’t a flattering one.
Until she stops, laughs, and rests her head against the door. Her father is co-owner of this bar, a place she’s spent her entire life in and around.
SHE HAS A KEY.
At this point, though? It’d just be creepy.
Not as creepy, of course, as the pair of fuzzy mittened hands that covered her eyes from behind.
“Small fry! What’s up?”
MJF: Frozen. Can we go inside right quick?
Bar manager and former/current wrestling personality Rosalyn Callasantos – Cally – quickly unlocks the door so they can get in out of the cold.
Cally: I thought you had a key?
MJF: …Don’t ask.
The smell of the bar brings MJ a flood of memories. It’s safe. It’s familiar. It’s as much ‘home’ as ‘home’ ever was. Cally hangs up her own winter coat and starts her pre-work ritual of taking the chairs off the tables, while MJ sorts the mail, removing the junk and leaving the legitimate envelopes on the bar.
Cally: So what’s the poop, small fry?
MJF: I just needed to get outta the house, hun. Had a huge fuckin’ fight with my dad this morning and we said some things.
Cally: Language, and how did you two actually fight? You two never fight.
MJ blushes. Or she would have, if she wasn’t still windblown. Cally hates bad language, and she’s probably the only person MJ watches her mouth around.
MJF: Oh, it’s about the life, man. That round robin tournament that’s been going on, yeah?
Cally: Yeah! How’s that been flippin’ about?
Deep breath. Cally’s a bartender, she reads breathing.
Cally: Ohhhhh… Is it because you read your fellow industrialists?
The chairs are down, and Cally moves behind the bar.
Cally: You were pretty shady, small fry. I’ve known Mom, Jack, and Daniel a long time.
She giggles. MJ cocks her head. Cally spins around and grabs a bottle of Tennessee Whiskey off the back wall.
Cally: Jack Daniels. Tee hee.
It’s a bad joke, but it’s bad enough that MJ can’t help but laugh at Cally’s goofy sense of humor.
MJF: I wasn’t shady, I was being honest as I saw things.
Cally disappears under the bar again and returns with a handful of lemons and a knife.
Cally: Yeah. Shady.
MJ sits at the bar, grabbing the bottle of Jack Daniels.
MJF: Since when is being honest about ya feelings shady?
In one smooth motion, Cally grabs the bottle out of her hands, spins around, puts it back in its spot, and keeps cutting.
Cally: If you don’t have anything nice to say… listen to rule number one.
She points at a handwritten sign hanging on the wall behind her. The list reads ‘CALLY’S RULES OF ETIQUETTE’ and rule number one is simply ‘Don’t Be Mean.’
MJF: Easy for you to say, hun. You’ve never been mad at anyone in your life.
A lemon falls to the floor as Cally bursts out in laughter.
Cally: I deal with a never-ending stream of children all day and night, small fry. People with gigantic, fragile egos who can’t handle the truth. Then, for a change of pace, I pour drinks for a living. The parade of people that tap dance on the back of my neck is long and distinguished with pointy shoes.
Cally: But I don’t know what’s going on with them. I don’t know the stress of the rest of their lives and it’s not my place to judge. Only Judge Judy can judge me.
MJ stares at her like she has three heads. Cally smiles.
Cally: You’re so young.
She starts to put away the sliced fruit, except for one piece of lemon that she drops in a glass and fills with club soda.
Cally: You want something?
MJF: I would’ve been good with some Jack.
Cally: …You want something?
MJF: …Water, please.
The bartender quickly takes care of it.
Cally: Let me guess, your dad told you you were wrong for acting like a brat.
MJF: I thought you didn’t want to talk bad about anyone?
Cally: We’re skippin’ some chapters. But I’ve known Daniel for decades, small fry. Where I like to crack jokes, he likes to crack heads. And Jackson Harmen is already cracked enough.
Tension fills MJ’s face.
MJF: And… what about LT?
Cally: Mom? She’s easygoing. Just make sure you aren’t talking down to her or insulting her sportsball teams. Who do you still have to go?
Cally waves her hand dismissively.
Cally: Ahhh, you’ll be fine. She’s a nice, normal chickadee who doesn’t have a mean bone in her body.
And MJ exhales.
Cally: She’ll just make you cry with her cutting sarcasm, make you doubt your own ability with clever wordplay, then wrestle you until she pins you. OH – and she and Daniel are a team, so she’ll get his back.
MJF: Yeah, they’re… in – laws, right?
Cally: Oh, not just that. They go together like baffalaffa gaffa, and shimmily ding de dong.
Cally: You need culture.
She retrieves a handful of limes from the same storage and begins to prep them as well.
Cally: And listen, small fry.
MJ backs up a bit as Cally uses her knife to point at her for emphasis.
Cally: You screwed up, and you know you screwed up. Right?
The tiniest crack in her stubbornness appears, and MJ nods her head almost imperceptibly.
Cally: Amends need to be made, and y’all can move on from it. Who else do you still have to fight with?
MJF: Just LT. Jack and Ryan both beat me pretty convincingly.
Cally giggles. MJ cocks her head.
Cally: Jack Ryan. Like the Tom Clancy guy.
Cally headdesks. She wipes her hands and digs around in her bag for a set of keys, pressing them into MJ’s hand.
Cally: Go home, please. Yours or mine. Get caught up on modern culture.
MJ looks at the keys in her hand.
MJF: Actually… can I stay with you and Knox for a couple days?
Cally: Of course. But if Mom calls you need to apologize.
MJ stands up off the barstool and drinks about half the water.
MJF: Wait… My mom, or LT?
Cally: Either or.
MJ sits on the bench, lacing up her boots. Cally was a godsend this past week; she and her boyfriend Randall Knox, professionally known as Impulse, let her stay with them with no questions asked.
Knox is as quiet and even tempered as Cally is talkative and outgoing. He listened to her explanations of the past six months of High Octane Wrestling and how she was her team’s last woman standing at War Games, how she lost the LSD Title without being pinned, and how she’s been unable to get her hand raised ever since.
Impulse has been good friends with Dan Ryan, Jack Harmen, and Lindsay Troy – and he’s defeated Mike Best the only time they ever faced off. But he didn’t argue with her, judge her, or tell her she was wrong. He listened, he asked open ended questions, and he let her talk it out.
That magnificent bastard.
Actually talking about her feelings with someone else in the wrestling business who was not involved in the situation made her realize how wrong she was, and how much Mike Best was correct – he never had to tear The Industry apart. The Industry was tearing itself to pieces. And she took the first swing. All this animosity, all this tension – all of it is her fault.
MJ just hoped it wouldn’t be too late to fix.
With Lindsay Troy, at least. That ship might’ve sailed with Dan Ryan.
In truth, LT is exactly who MJ wants to be. Twenty years on, a multi – time World Champion and, by far, the most respected woman to ever compete in a wrestling ring. And, at least so far, endlessly patient with an egotistical, short – sighted teenager whose mouth has clearly been writing checks that her ass can’t cash.
In truth, the biggest kindness that LT’s paid to MJ since she came back at ICONIC was to not join up with Jack Harmen and Dan Ryan in the pile-on.
More than she deserves, really.
Having procrastinated and lollygagged long enough, MJ finally pulls her shirt out of her bag and holds it up.
It didn’t wash too well; almost half of it is covered with soaked – in bloodstains. A reminder of her endless string of failures this year. She doesn’t blame the referee for the stains on her shirt, and she never thought the referee should’ve been fired.
This one was on Mike Best: his was the cruelest cut of all. He could’ve pinned her at any point in time after she landed on the back of her head, but he decided to make her pay for the past year of words.
For the second time in her career, she’d had a match stopped out from under her without a pin or a submission.
It wasn’t the loss that got to her; it stung, but she’s lost before. If another athlete gets the better of her and gets the pin – or if she taps – that’s one thing. In this case, the referee knew she couldn’t defend herself anymore. The crowd knew it. The commentators knew it. Mike Best knew it. Everyone in the arena knew she was finished, except for her.
You can’t beat someone who doesn’t know they’re beaten, and until the referee’s hand hits the mat three times, the door isn’t closed.
Three seconds. Three seconds is all it would’ve taken for her peace of mind.
MJ pulls her bloodstained shirt over her head and smooths it out. Her LBI journey may be over, but it won’t officially end for another few hours, not until she and Lindsay Troy face off.
She packs up her civvies and stuffs them in her locker, reminiscing over the past few weeks. Being edged out by Jack Harmen, being run over by Dan Ryan, and being humiliated by Mike Best gave her perspective; it was just the wrong perspective.
A week ago, she’d told Blaire Moise there was nothing more dangerous than a person with nothing left to lose.
Hah. If only.
At the moment, the best she can hope for is to wrestle a friendly, competitive match that ends with a three count and a handshake.
Because if nothing else, MJ Flair has learned that there’s always something left to lose.