Sunday, November 22
Post-Breakfast with Zeb
Usually there are signs when a tornado’s about to strike.
A darkening sky is a tell-tale one, pea-green clouds thick as soup; hail, if there’s no rain. A roar as loud as a train, backed by flying debris from buildings, trees, houses, and cars. Alarms pierce the air as funnel clouds, miles wide and ominous, rip across landscapes.
Sometimes, though, the air is still. Calm, time coming to a complete halt, a pause button pressed and all life suspended before, ultimately, disaster crashes through.
There are no sirens today. No hail, no rain, no oncoming train engines. Just the ticking of a metal and brass Howard Miller wall clock mounted on a drab wall and the muted sounds of fists on flesh and backs smacking against canvas beyond the office’s enclosure.
Michael Lee Best had been staring at that clock for the better part of an hour, watching the pointed spear of the second hand move around the Roman numerals without really watching it. It’s just something to look at, something to do, because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go, anything else to do or really care about. His existence for the past month, ever since Rumble at the Rock, has been spent trying to find purpose in something, finding nothing, and slowly feeling the sharp claws of bitterness and contempt take hold within him.
So there the HOW World Champion sits, inside SixTime Academy, while the clock keeps ticking, the would-be wrestling hopefuls continue training without his oversight, alone with a blank canvas of his thoughts, until his door flies open and Lindsay Troy breezes in without warning.
“What the hell is this?” Lindsay shuts the door in one fluid motion while reaching into her jacket pocket for her phone. She pitches it across the desk and it lands, screen up, within arm’s reach of Michael’s right hand. The Son of GOD looks at her, needing a second for it to register in his brain that she’s standing in front of him, before he looks at her phone to see what she’s talking about…
Sunday, November 22
Real Stupid O’Clock
By the time she gets Zeb safely to his place in the south suburbs and drops Blaire and Melissa off at their respective apartments in Wicker Park, it’s after 2AM when Lindsay finally walks through her door, locks it behind her, and throws her bag onto the stairs to bring up with her.
She is absolutely exhausted.
On her way back to town, she gave her young compatriot’s family a call and attempted to assuage their worries over what transpired earlier in the evening. Zeb’s mother and sisters were right to be concerned, yet they all felt relieved that someone their kin knew and trusted had taken the time to reach out to them that night.
The story she gave – of the nature of pranks between veterans and rookies – might be the same one she tells Zeb in the morning; she hasn’t decided yet. Lindsay doesn’t believe what Solex did was harmless; this wasn’t a locker room hazing, this was sinister. She might not be doing the youngster any favors, but she also doesn’t want him getting involved with Best Alliance business any more than he already is on account of paying Doozer back for turning on the eGG Bandits.
Cancer Jiles should be stepping up to the plate more than he is to take care of this business. It shouldn’t be Zeb’s matter to handle alone.
Her phone chimes in her pocket, and she retrieves it to find a text message awaiting her.
The last time he sent that two word question was five months ago, two days before a sudden change of heart when he decided to break things off.
If Lindsay is honest with herself, she and Michael getting together in the first place wasn’t a good idea. It’s true that Michael Lee Best is not a great human being. Every terrible thing said about him is absolutely true. But if there’s one sole, redeeming quality about the man, one tiny flickering light fighting to be seen amongst the black, it’s that he cares fiercely for his friends and his chosen family.
Scheming and plotting the formation of the Group of Death in October of last year made their friendship an unlikely one, and while they grew closer the longer the con went on, anything beyond co-conspirators wasn’t something she even remotely considered, or even wanted.
Then, March to Glory happened.
It was bad enough she lost in the LBI semi-finals before HOW made its way to Rome. But to go “home” and lose the tag team titles in the Coliseum, titles that the eMpire won but that she failed to defend against 24K as a part of the newly formed GoD, was a personal embarrassment for her. Couple that with confronting her husband about his infidelity before she left the country, and telling him she wanted him gone by the time she got back, made for a perfect storm of failure.
She needed a distraction. He was there to provide it. And for three months, that helped ease the pain of professional stumbling blocks and a crumbling personal life.
A band aid for her misery.
Her phone chimes again with a new message, but Lindsay doesn’t bother looking at it. Instead, she shrugs out of her coat and makes her way upstairs.
Like her other current dilemmas, this can be handled in the morning.
Sunday afternoon, again.
Michael looks down at the screen, illuminated now thanks to the phone clattering atop a stack of neglected papers in front of him. His name inside the oblong message bubbles stares back at him, the texts sent at some ungodly hour this morning, the timestamps sitting in judgment off to the right.
He removes his feet from their crossed position on the corner of the desk and sits upright in his chair. He tilts his head and smirks. “You left me on read?”
“Did you really expect a response?” Lindsay gestures to the phone, then crosses her arms. “We don’t do this anymore, remember? Friends only, no benefits. That’s what you said you wanted.”
“Yeah, I know what I said,” Michael replies. “That’s not…”
“That’s not…what, what you want anymore? Did you find out that Snagglepuss stuck it out with R. Lee Ermey and you figured I’d still be around? You couldn’t even handle the fact that you caught feelings the first time and needed to end things before they got too serious.”
Silence, except for the infernal ticking of the clock.
“Actually,” Michael deflects, finally breaks the stalemate, “I texted you because I needed help putting that together.”
He gestures to his right, where a grey couch slumps pathetically against the far wall. One side of the frame looks like it’s been put together, but other parts and pieces remain scattered haphazardly on the floor.
“Oh.” Heat crawls up from Lindsay’s neck and turns her face crimson. “Oh….shit,” she stammers, embarrassed, and bites her lip. Then she looks back at Mike, who wears a triumphant look across his face, and remembers something.
“No. Bullshit,” she points a finger at him, eyes narrowing. “You sent those texts at, like, two in the morning. No way you were still here trying to build a couch.”
Michael looks down at the desk, defeated. When he finally gazes back up at Lindsay, it’s with the saddest, most pathetic pair of puppy dog eyes imaginable. “My brother died?”
“Don’t use Max against me, that’s not fair,” she admonishes. “You don’t get to do that with me. You don’t get to hide behind a blog post, give me some big inspirational pep talk and apologize for how you bailed on this, then come back with text messages like nothing ever happened, like you weren’t the one who could have died. And I know I’m just as guilty because I let you off the hook for it all back in June, but I’m not gonna let you do it now.”
She takes her phone back and replaces it in her pocket. She heads for the door, grasps the handle, and turns back to face him. “That wasn’t bullshit what I said back in the spring in your apartment with Adler, when I said I cared. I do. And it wasn’t bullshit when I told the Group of Death when I came back in July that I’d still be there for you all. But I’m done with the playground games, across the board, Mike. Either you figure your shit out and you get good with that, or we stay how we are. I’ll be fine either way.”
She slips out into the noisy gym without another look back; a whirlwind come and gone.
Ahh, Hughie, you’re quite the bard, you and your Irish folk singers, and Neil Diamond to boot. Well this isn’t the 8th inning of a Red Sox game, I’m not singing along with you, so pay attention to my spoken word now.
I said a few weeks ago that High Octane Wrestling puts its stink on people. It’s done it to everyone that I consider a friend, and it’s done it to people that I used to consider friends too. It swallows people whole, twists them up and changes them into something wretched. And for a time, I almost let it do the same to me.
I’m here to be the antithesis of everything High Octane Wrestling and Lee Best stands for. I don’t need to stand on a pulpit and preach any good words. I’ve been put through my paces and have survived the tests. Guard Tower match. Prison Yard match. Multiple wars with Max Kael. And I’ll just as soon cut out your tongue if you ever fix your face to question my strengths again.
I call that standing against the roaring tide of villainy. I call that helping a friend when he needs it. What about you, Hughie? Where are your friends when you need them?
Because I guarantee you, sooner or later, you’re gonna need one.