The Night Before the Normandy Flight
This is where it ends.
The sun’s long set over Belleau Lake, but the earlier orange and red hues are replicated in the crackling firewood of a backyard fire pit. Look long enough and images begin dancing within the light: a cat’s ears, a devil’s tail, the melted pumpkin head of Lucian Santángél. There’s a solitude to the suburbs that city life can’t provide, and Dan Ryan chose this out-of-the-way place specifically for its peace, privacy, and massive warehouse space that he converted into a private gym.
The Hammer of GoD isn’t here tonight, however. He’s already made his way across the Atlantic and has settled into a rented French estate for the duration of High Octane’s Normandy invasion.
Instead, it’s Lindsay Troy who makes use of this amenity. She sits on an overstuffed couch as the night critters sing their symphony, chin on her knee and arms around her leg, watching the flames flick skyward. A lightweight, long-sleeve shirt holds the 50 degree air at bay, yet she still involuntarily shivers despite herself, feeling the skin on her arms turn to gooseflesh under the fabric. She wishes she had grabbed a coffee from the house before unloading the car and getting the fire going, and she doesn’t feel like walking back inside to make one now.
There’s too much running through her mind. Too much anxiety. Just the past two weeks alone have seen so many emotions surge in a tumultuous sea that it’s becoming harder to keep track of each individual one as they crash on top of the others.
Even rocks in the storm get battered and broken.
There’s disappointment over yet another loss to Max Kael – or, now, the Minister – and anger with herself over a critical miscalculation that resulted in the loss. To even look at her is to see a wounded animal; her face still shows blackened remnants from the end of the LSD Title match. The stitches in her foot from the crossbow bolt have almost all dissolved, but the soreness remains. Spindly finger marks have yet to fade from where the Minister wrapped his hands around her throat.
She’s a member of the walking wounded – a body moving languidly, every motion an effort – and War Games isn’t the kind of match where anyone wants to be at less than near their full operational capacity.
Wrestlers don’t operate at a hundred percent; you’d have to take extended time away for that to happen, and even then it’s no guarantee the numbers will ever tick back up that high. Just ask Andy Murray or MJ Flair, who still believes she’s learned a lesson from her parental-imposed sabbatical last fall.
There’s a sense of satisfaction that her intuition was right about something being off with Max, annoyance that she wasn’t believed, and then irritation that she could even be annoyed about not being believed when there were more important things at stake.
Guilt lingers over that feeling of selfishness. Confusion as to what the Minister truly was, or wasn’t. A sense of protectiveness for her teammates. And maybe, most of all, there’s a simmering rage toward Lee Best, because the “Era of Tough Love” wasn’t meant just for Mike Best alone; not anymore.
Maybe that was the GOD of HOW’s intention all along.
Like it or not, the “tough love” has now been extended to each and every member of the Group of Death, and none of them knows what they’re in for. Lindsay sure doesn’t, and she was the first among GoD to square off with him this time. She isn’t even sure Mike fully knows, save for whatever might have happened between him and the Minister in the past. He can’t count on that alone, though; no one can. People always change their tactics, explore different avenues and plumb new depths of cruelty and depravity to find means to ends.
There’s no telling what’s in store for them come June 20th. To even get her mind right for the battle ahead, there’s something that the Queen needs to take care of first. It’s not just the last two weeks that have taken a toll on her, it’s been the last seven months.
GoD’s formation – the plans and the plots, the timing and the execution – hasn’t been the only secret that Lindsay’s kept locked away from the world. Privacy isn’t always something she valued. As her stardom grew over the years and she became more well-known, however, she began to see the value in holding things much closer to the vest. Doubly so once Ami and Kaz entered her life. Protecting those she cares about has always been much more important than protecting herself, and no more so then when Tyler Rayne cracked her heart in two one gloomy, foggy November day on the other side of the country.
He still doesn’t know how she found out about the cheating.
She may never give him the satisfaction of knowing.
Wedding vows are a sham, she thinks, not for the first time in her life, as she leans forward to swipe a well-worn, black motorcycle jacket from a cardboard box on the ground. It’s a companion to one of Rayne’s, bought for her as a joke after she busted his balls for needing one that looked exactly like Hugh Jackman’s in the X-Men films.
Lindsay runs her thumbs over the collar, remembering how it fit like a glove straight off the hanger, hugging her curves, surprisingly comfy.
It’s pitched into the fire without another thought.
Two t-shirts of his follow after it, having inadvertently gotten mixed in with her things when she packed up her belongings from their Tampa home, now sold and soon-to-be closed on. She catches whiffs of tobacco and cologne before she tosses them on top of the jacket. The flames catch hold of the clothing, and she pauses to watch them burn for a moment before returning her eyes to the box.
Framed pictures backstage at the last PRIME show are next to go.
So are the Mixtiles of them with mutual friends in Japan, in California, in Florida. Pictures of them before the kids and after, but none of all four of them together. Those are safe, stored away and replaced in her Chicago rental with pictures of just her and the twins.
Item after item flung into the inferno is done with a little more anger behind it. How she can be so spectacularly good at wrestling and so spectacularly bad at finding a partner who stays faithful remains a mystery. This is strike two; the first time around the marriage merry-go-round, Lindsay knew she was making a bad choice, but her heart was full and she blindly surged ahead anyway.
Tyler was going to be different. Should have been different. He came with a past and with enemies that makes the looming threat of the Minister seem eerily familiar. For all her skepticism and all her resisting, for all her efforts to stay away from the trouble at her doorstep, she eventually let her guard down enough to let him in.
And yet, everyone she does right by, does her wrong in the end.
The last item she retrieves from the box is a thick, leather-bound book. She runs her index finger over the gold foil inscription of her wedding date on the front cover and gazes at the picture barely made visible by the firelight. Her and Tyler, eyes closed, hand in hand and forehead to forehead, by the southern California ocean’s edge. They got married at his beach house, a small ceremony, maybe 50 people there.
They were happy for a long time, and she doesn’t know where they go from here. All communication has stopped except what’s being discussed between lawyers, and truth be told, Lindsay’s not sure what else there is to say, or if things can be repaired.
Whether she even wants them to be or not, she hasn’t quite decided.
The album is placed in her lap for the moment and she twists her body to the left and unzips a duffel bag that’s been on the couch next to her. A lightweight, backless, beaded dress is pulled from within; the same dress that adorns the front of the wedding album, the last one she’d hoped to wear.
The beads catch the yellow and orange glow and sparkle in her hands, and before Lindsay can fully stop it, a sob escapes from her throat and tears leak from her eyes. She hastily wipes them away, although they don’t stop flowing, and she wraps the dress haphazardly around the book and throws them both into the pyre.
Leaning against the back of the couch, Lindsay brings her other knee up to her chin and tries to make herself as small as possible.
“Do you want this?”
She looks back to her left again, this time at a reclining Michael Lee Best. He holds out a blanket, and she can’t help but laugh.
“No. I don’t want that fucking selfie blanket.”
That fucking blanket. Her eyes burn holes through the cold, dead eyes of Michael Best; not the one sitting in a nearby chair, mind you, but the uncanny lookalike of him printed on the ugly fleece blanket that has haunted Lindsay for more months than she’s proud to admit.
“You sure?” He smirks. “You look either cold or sad, and I’m real shit with fixing sad.”
“You know exactly what you can do with that blanket, Mike.”
It’s his turn to laugh and he looks back at the fire. “I really have to get rid of it, huh?”
Michael does his best impersonation of what he might assume puppy dog eyes look like, and it looks about as horrendous as you might assume it would. Lindsay avoids his eyes, her gaze still fixated on the horrific “THUMBS UP” pose on the outstretched blanket.
“If you want us to keep sleeping together, yeah, you do.”
His smirk flattens. He looks at the blanket, and then back at Lindsay. And then back at the blanket. And then back at Lindsay. And then back at the…
“You have two more seconds to decide,” Lindsay blinks, unamused. “And then it’s off the table forever.”
With a shrug of his shoulders, Michael tosses the blanket into her lap, the smirk returning to his face.
“Alright fine,” he rolls his eyes, trying hard to look offended and failing at it. “But you do it. I can’t look.”
Without a single ounce of hesitation, Lindsay balls the very expensive, very obnoxious blanket up like a basketball, and tosses it unceremoniously into the blaze. It crackles for a moment in the fire, before suddenly and violently bursting into flames, sending the pyre skyward as both Michael and Lindsay recoil back in surprise.
“MICHAEL!” Lindsay snaps, her eyes wide open. “I HAVE SLEPT ON THAT DEATHTRAP! Do you have any idea how many times we could have died, if that bl–”
“Yes, I know.” Michael interrupts, nodding his head. “I agree with everything you just said, are saying, and are about to say. You tryin’a fuck, though? It’s cold out here.”
The glare that he receives could kill a small animal on intention alone.
“You didn’t have to come with me to do this, y’know,” Lindsay retorts, standing up and walking over to the side of the pit to retrieve a bucket of water. She steps back and tosses the water onto the logs, making sure the fire is out completely. Michael walks over to her.
“You heard what I said. We celebrate together and we mourn together.”
“God that’s so…” she rolls her eyes. “I hate you, turning it back on me like that.”
“No you don’t.” Michael wraps one arm around her waist and leads her away from the damp wood and ashen memories.
This is where it ends….and where something new begins.