Prologue – Three days after War Games
I’m watching him sleep.
Less creepy, really – and more complete chickenshit. I knew he had a long night at the restaurant, so I slept all day. That way, when he got home and we had something to eat and went to bed, he’d be out like a light and I could gather up my stuff and just go without a conversation.
I’m just afraid he’d convince me to stay.
Leaving a letter on the front table, I’m outta here.
I have a choice right now. A successful home life, or a successful wrestling career.
Chapter One – Six Days after War Games
“Come on, bitch. What’chu got?”
My Irish Whip gets reversed and I hit the corner hard, but I ain’t gonna let him know that.
“I got more’n you can dish out… bitch.”
My opponent, Gavin McGregor, lunges at me in the corner, but I duck out the way and his hands bounce off the top turnbuckle as harmless as a baby lamb.
…Fuck you, my analogies are great.
Standing dropkick puts this big lug in the corner, and I land on my shoulders and feel something dig into my skin. This fucking pathetic ring is more likely to kill me than my opponent tonight.
Which is still zero, cause I can take a hit, and I can take a loss, but I’m fucking unbreakable.
Kip up. I hook him around the waist and brace myself for a bridging suplex, but McGregor catches me on the side of the head with an elbow fired backwards, and I lose my grip.
I drop my right foot back and duck under the fist, dodging that easily dodged right hand. He caught me with it the first time he fired it, but has missed every other attempt so far. McGregor’s been quick on the draw, and he hits hard. His weakness has been his predictability.
Soon as his overswing flies past my face, I hook him around the waist again, and this time I lift in a flawless belly – to – back suplex. I hold on and bridge, and I get a one… two… kickout. Complete with fan disappointment.
“Not this time, bitch.”
Fucking guy just won’t shut up.
When he kicked out, he pulled me to the side in a weird sort of way and something strained in my back, but as I roll forward I can tell, it’s nothing serious. Walk it off, bitch. But it’s just enough to slow me down as I get to my feet in time for his boot to double me over.
Stupid. Stupid, stupid. Like Dane beat into my head over and over, eyes on the prize.
Least this guy’s predictable. Sets me up for a powerbomb. He’s got a good buck fifty on me, easy, so it’s no big deal for him to pick me up and drop me down.
That’s what I’m hoping for. He sees me in a vulnerable spot, and if he had a little more experience, a little more seasoning, he might be able to put me into serious trouble. Or if he’d paid attention to anything I’d done so far in this thing.
Dance for me, puppet. Insert witch-cackle, and predictable insult from the peanut gallery.
McGregor lifts me up, and the second I’m even remotely in position, I hook my ankles behind his back and drop an elbow on top of his head, and I feel his center of gravity shift back, which is what I’m looking for. I’m not looking to reverse this into a hurricarana, I’m one for five on attempting those in my career and I’d rather not land on my head.
But if I can get him staggered into the corner, I can do something.
He’s tapping my quad right now – this is why I do all them squats. I can’t see his face right now but I’ve definitely got the pressure on his jugular and he’s fading fast. I keep firing those elbows into the top of his head as hard as I can.
Finally, fucking finally, he staggers back into the corner and I scramble around and bulldog him into the mat.
Hook the leg. Fans count along with the referee.
One. Two. OHHHHHHH! Homeboy kicks out. All good, all good. Roll away, keep my eyes on my opponent.
On the prize.
He’s up, I hook his head from behind, and he’s down with the Morning Star. One last hook.
And there’s the three. Ref raises my hand, tells me good match. I recognize this guy, I think he worked for the FWO like fifteen years ago when my dad was there. Hard times hit everyone who wasn’t ready, and I preserve his dignity by not telling him I remember him.
“Wrestling fans, here is your winner, with a match time of twenty two minutes and seven seconds, Emm Jay Flair!”
I get a nice ovation, but there’s only so much noise two hundred people can make. No comparison to the highest highs of my career so far, but I tamp that shit down in a hurry.
The size of the crowd doesn’t matter. Not now. The mission is what matters.
McGregor is struggling to his feet. I have sympathy – but not much. He wanted to be the badass and try to rush me, thinking his size was all that mattered. Never mind the fact that he’s been doing this for several months, and I’ve been doing this for several years.
I left the ring and slapped as many hands as I could, taking a lap around the ringside area before I headed backstage. My music played over their shitty sound system while I assessed my physical state.
Hurt to breathe. Just a little, maybe a strained muscle.. And my eye felt like it was the slightest bit closed, I might have a bruise on my face. All good.
The promoter met me just past the backstage entrance. Seriously, if he was a cartoon his eyes would be flashing dollar signs.
“Great work, babe,” he said, putting his hand on the small of my back. I reminded myself that I still haven’t got paid, and took some comfort in the fact that all he really felt was sweaty realness. “Listen, I’ve got another show next weekend that I’d love to have you at.
We kept on walking towards the locker rooms. This is a tiny little gym, though as the only woman booked on the night I’m glad for a separate room.
I peel off my T-shirt as I step into the woman’s locker room, but I’m really not prepared for this dudebro to follow me.
“My guys out there really enjoyed your match,” he continued, “Can I put you down for the next show next weekend?”
Man, I’m not gonna be anywhere near here, I told him, trying to avoid telling him that he was actually, like, a creepy little toad, and I didn’t want to see him again. Like, ever.
“Oh. Okay,” he replied. “Well, we do about three shows a month and I’d love to have you back.”
I mean, your fans are cool, I said, treading lightly, but I got a booking tomorrow, and the day after, and two days after that, and so forth. When you know when you’re booking again let me know and I’ll see if it’ll work.
He looked at me pretty incredulously. “That’s a ridiculous schedule, sweetie. Nobody works that hard anymore.”
Exactly, I said, pointing one of my wrestling boots at him. Nobody works that hard anymore because nobody has to work that hard anymore.
“O…kay,” he continues. “Regardless, while you’re in town, can I take you out to dinner?”
I looked up at him, a bit of good natured disbelief in my eyes. And I hated the good-natured part of that because I’m pretty sure he’s just tryin’ to be creepy.
I come through here again, I’ll call you, I assured him. And I waited, probably a lot longer than I should’ve had to, for this guy to leave. Finally he does, and I step into the shower.
Nothing but cold water, and it’s gonna be murder on my injuries. But I remind myself that this is all about paying dues.
As much as I’ve tried to avoid it, I’ve had a greased path to where I’ve found myself. As much as I’ve tried to have my wrestling career judged on my merit alone with no consideration given to the legacy I’m tied to, I was fooling myself.
Fact is, as much as I’ve tried to distance myself, my opponents have been clear about the fact that they’ll never let me escape the legacy that’s tied around my neck.
So why bother? Why not lean into it, and, at the same time, try to co-opt it?
I look at professional wrestling these days, and it seems like a television – centric working vacation. We work when the cameras roll, and that’s about it. Nobody works that hard anymore because there’s no money in it.
After all, why kill yourself in Frog Balls, Alabama, when you’re expected to work just as hard for TV three days later in Chicago at Refueled?
Therein lies the crux of this mission. I was trying too hard, for far too long, to be the best wrestler that High Octane needed at the time, and I failed. Again and again.
My dad provided me with a bit’a old school that aimed me in the right direction, but a proper workout could only get me so far.
This is where I needed to be: out in the wild, with no safety net.
After all, who else would have the balls to do the same?
A far cry from the usual hotels where I stayed, the Motel Six was a bit of a demon cock. But I’d sworn to myself that I wouldn’t touch a dime of the cash in my trust fund during this experiment: the only money I would allow myself to spend would be money I made from my nightly matches, and the only concession I would make to my former life would be my phone.
I’m not touching the Wi-Fi, but I think it’s only fair that I keep a lifeline open to my parents so they know I’m okay.
But, all things considered, this place isn’t terrible. Bedding looks clean, television has all the channels, and there’s a refrigerator for my leftovers.
The red curry chicken from the local thai restaurant seems as good a choice as any.
I ignore the text from the boy. As much as I miss him, the fact of the matter is, right now, my focus is on my professional wrestling career. For the moment, any reminder of a life without the road; a life without sacrifice; a life without skipping over the warm fuzzies in deference to the next match – it’s just a distraction from my goal of professional wrestling immortality.
Sure, it’s ridiculous to be twenty years old and thinking about immortality, but you don’t get there at forty without a fucking foundation ta’ build on.
For the moment, that foundation needs ta’ be built in High Octane Wrestling, and that’s a place where I need a fuck of a lotta work.
Speaking of which.
I turn the volume up on Refueled Thirty, and I watch the show. I see myself and that taped promo from War Games, and the matches I missed. I’m glad Jack got himself back on the winning side’a things, and believe it or not I was glad to see Andy Murray prop himself up with that Icon title.
And then they said it.
‘Opening the show at Refueled 31 will be MJ Flair taking on Bobby Dean of the Egg Bandits.’
Opening the show is never easy. We need to set the tone for the night and make sure the fans are invested from the opening bell. I can do it, and Bobo’s a fuckin’ pro… but… neither of us are at the top’a our game right now, and I think it’s pretty safe ta’ say.
Bobo… is Bobo. And I’ve been having some serious issues sealin’ the deal so far this year.
Still. Even bein’ out in the wild like this, High Octane is my priority.
Ain’t up ta’ anyone but me ta’ make it work.
Chapter Two: Eight Days after War Games
“Eight minutes, Ms. Flair.”
I ignored the intrusion into the locker room this time. For one, I was at least covered – my long tights and a thick sports bra. For another, the pervy dealings of a small town promoter were sorta inconsequential when weighed against the prospects of Bobby Dean in High Octane Wrestling.
My opponent tonight seemed like a decent girl, she told me her name was Sadie Grillo and that she’d been wrestling for fifteen years, but watching her warm up in the ring before the fans came in, I could tell she was never going to be on national television.
It almost made me cynically rethink this entire plan.
I’m glad it didn’t, even as I do my best to use makeup to cover the bruise next to my eye. These guys I’m wrestling in the bingo halls and parking lots of the independent wrestling world, they are not exactly the same caliber as the High Octane roster. But that doesn’t matter.
Even if I’m head and shoulders above the athletes I’m facing off with on a nightly basis, that’s still more valuable, literally being in the ring with an opponent, than a generic workout could ever hope to be.
This girl, she seems like a sweetheart, but she doesn’t have the killer instinct. She won’t ever be able to make the tough decisions to snatch a victory by any means necessary. But she’s a living, breathing, thinking opponent, which makes her more valuable than any other tool at my disposal between episodes of Refueled.
As long as I can keep myself from thinking the end-all, be-all worst thing I could think.
‘It’s not like Bobby Dean is gonna be a problem.’
Fact is, he shouldn’t be. Fact is, he will be.
I can’t afford to take anything for granted at this point in time. If I don’t look at Bobby like the most dangerous opponent I’m going to face all year, I run the risk’a not takin’ him seriously enough.
Overcompensating for my opponent? Helluva lot better than waltzin’ in with a huge fuck ego and gettin’ burned.
“Good luck,” said Sadie, as her music started to play. I smiled, but didn’t return the sentiment.
For one, I’m likely to never see her again. For another, she’s been doin’ this for like five months based on what I overheard. And sure, she might be some kinda wunderkind, but outside’a that very remote possibility, anything short of a fast, decisive victory on my part is gonna be an indictment of the lackluster whimper that my career is crashin’ into.
And it certainly wouldn’t bode well for my attempt at gorging myself on all the experience I can.
My music hits, and I take a deep breath, stepping through the curtain for the next moment of action. The rest of the world fades into the background of my vision, and all I see is a referee and my opponent.
And I can tell she knows what’s on my mind.
And I can tell she doesn’t like it.
“It’s a little crazy how we ended up back here, Bobo.”
“I mean, I can’t honestly say I know anything about where your career took you after Utah. But I’ve had some adventures and I assume you did as well.”
“It’s almost unfair to compare us two, because the bulk’a your career took place before I was even considering givin’ this sport a shot. And I’ve spent the past few years tryin’ ta’ build up a reputation, which I somewhat succeeded with – while you…”
“…became an Egg Bandit?”
“Nah. That ain’t fair, Bobo. That dismisses the skills you’ve got. And yeah, you might be an old perv, legally prohibited from being left alone with minors, but that ain’t why you’re notorious in this sport.”
“Even between the two of us, we’ve got a one and one record in singles competition. That means something, Bobby. That’s a significant record.”
“It throws the vegas odds out the window, Bobby. There’s oddsmakers that are tryin’ ta’ sell this match as a sure thing for me, because of course it is. Because it’s MJ Flair, former LSD Champion, against Bobby Dean, Egg Bandit.”
“Except I don’t like those odds.”
“Except, no matter how much of an egotistical cunt I’ve ever been, I’ve never been so arrogant in the history’a my career ta’ ever guarantee victory over anyone.”
“Bobby, in the two weeks since War Games I’ve wrestled ten matches against ten different opponents. I’ve won them all. None’a them have been televised, all’a them have been knock-down, drag-outs, and while I’m appreciative’a the miles I can tuck under my belt for the fighting, the most significant thing I’ve learned is that the athlete that predicts victory is a fool.”
“I don’t have anyone backin’ me up.”
“But I also don’t have any street cred in High Octane ta’ defend. Yeah, I eliminated Lindsay Troy from War Games, and I pinned Mike Best before he pinned me, but that was two weeks ago.”
“That was a lifetime ago.”
“Bobby, all I’ve got anymore is my integrity. I ain’t gonna dismiss you because that ain’t fair ta’ you. And I ain’t gonna act like a blowhard, because why the fuck would anyone believe me?”
“The irony, Bobby, is that you and me, we’re sorta in the same boat. Low in the rankings, dismissed by pretty much anyone who moves the needle in High Octane… really feel like this match was sort’a put together for the sake’a givin’ us both something ta’ do after War Games.”
“I expect more from myself, and I hope you expect more from you.”
“So let’s let it go, Bobby. Leave the eggs behind. Let’s leave the GOD of HOW behind, and the Son of GOD, and the Mother of GOD, and the Group’a Death, and every other GOD that High Octane has ever claimed as part’a its makeup.”
“You and me, Bobby. Ain’t nobody gonna see us coming.”
“Let’s show the fans something they ain’t never seen before.”
“Let’s you and me, let’s be immortal.”
Epilogue: The Final Cut
I’m sorry for taking off like this and for not talking to you face to face, but I can’t handle that conversation right now. It’s not fair to you and I’m aware of that, and I hope you can someday forgive me.
The fact is, I’m not where I need to be. If I wanted to give up my dreams in professional wrestling, I could stay home with you tomorrow and never have a moment of regret. Please realize this.
But I can’t give up my dream. Not yet. And it’s become abundantly clear to me that I can’t pursue my dream as a professional wrestler while coming home to you every night. There’s a sense of contentment with that that does not allow me to stay hungry the way I should.
Please stay here if you want. I’ve paid the rent for the next year, so that’s at least one thing taken care of. I don’t know if I’ll be back in a year or if I’ll be gone longer, but before I can even think about continuing this relationship, I have to know for a fact that I’ve given everything I could to the sport and have gone as far as I could.
I hope you understand. And if you can’t wait for me, please know that I don’t blame you.
If it’s meant to be, it’ll be. Even with the distance.