OPEN HAND OR CLOSED FIST
Sometimes you can tell when a wrestler has a match that night or if they’re just there to hang out backstage and eat buffalo wings. Not everyone wears their tights to just lounge backstage.
However, Paxton Ray is not one of those people. Whether he fights in the ring or attacks people backstage, he’s always wearing his white wifebeater, ripped jeans, and brown work boots. Tonight is no different: the biggest clue that he isn’t wrestling is that he usually skips catering on his match nights, and tonight he is chomping on an apple.
Nate Colton, by contrast, is still in his street clothes. Maybe standing around in the hallway in tight shorts is your idea of a good Friday night, no judgment, but it’s not his bag. He’s been watching the show in the locker room–enjoying his recovered acceptance–and just stepped out for a quick snack. Some carrot sticks, a bottled water…and yeah, maybe a few buffalo wings.
But as soon as he locks eyes with the Bayou Butcher, he suddenly loses his appetite.
Nate Colton: Hmm.
Paxton is in mid-bite when he sees The Next Diamond, so he doesn’t immediately say anything for fear of spewing apple chunks in anyone’s face. He is polite enough to wait another second before talking through his food.
Paxton Ray: (mouth full of apple) Sup.
Nate Colton: Paxton.
Colton pulls his hand away from the stack of plates and turns to leave, never taking his eyes off of Paxton Ray.
Nate Colton: Maybe I’ll come back later.
The Bayou Butcher waves his hand, then takes a few seconds to chew the rest of his food.
Paxton Ray: Nah, no need. I actually got a question for ya.
Paxton takes a few steps towards Nate, rubbing his beard.
Paxton Ray: I know ya had your little mess-up a few weeks back and got everybody mad atcha. I didn’t really care, but I know that they were mad, and now it seems they ain’t mad no more. I been tryin’ to apologize to some people and it ain’t gone so well. So how did ya do it?
The question stops Nate Colton in his tracks. This is almost certainly some kind of trick, meant to gain his trust and set up a later betrayal.
Only, who would trust Paxton Ray? Ever?
Besides, it didn’t seem like his style. The Lafayette Bruiser was usually, in both word and deed, very direct. Which meant that there was a chance–a slim chance, mind you–that he was on the level. Clearly this would need delicate handling, and Nate would have to choose his words carefully.
Nate Colton: Are you out of your goddamn mind?
Nate Colton: I mean yeah, I screwed up, and yeah, a lot of people got hurt by it. But it ain’t like I…well. I don’t have to say it, do I? You know what you did, and you seemed pretty damn proud of it, too.
The Bayou Butcher snarls for a second, but only for a second. It is a response, a reaction, that he quickly controls. It’s replaced by a frown directed at his boots.
Paxton Ray: Yeah, I mean. I ain’t gonna send Jon any Christmas cards. An’ I felt at the time he deserved to be hurt. But…this is tough. I dunno what t’say here. I jus’ am tryin’ t’be a better person. Sometimes I don’t even know why I’m tryin’. Nobody seems t’care. But here I am anyway.
From anyone else, this might have drawn sympathy from Nate Colton. But because it’s Paxton, it only ramps up Nate’s anger and disgust even more.
Nate Colton: Yeah, here you are. And you know who isn’t? Those kids you hurt at the Belmont last year. What the hell did they ever do to you? Or my sister–and don’t even try to bullshit me, I saw the look on your face after that match was over. You’d have put her out of the business if you had half a chance, just like you did to Justin and Sammy.
Paxton looks down at his feet as Nate speaks.
Nate Colton: Are you really sorry, Paxton? Or are you just pissed that your actions had consequences?
Paxton Ray: Consequences.
The word sticks in Paxton’s mouth like the apple he just finished.
Paxton Ray: Ya wanna talk about consequences? You got a few people mad at ya ‘cause let in some terrible woman. An’ ya acted like ya lost a puppy over it. I lost the only person I ever gave a shit about. And yeah, maybe I’m tryin’ t’make that right now, and maybe ya think it’s too late for me t’do that. But I’m fuckin’ tryin’, okay? What, ya want me t’find Daniels and get her t’send me back in time so I can just beat the kids and not hurt ‘em?
Paxton Ray: I talked t’others about it and they stood high from their ivory tower and judged me. I thought maybe ya would understand since ya stumbled from yours. But I guess ya think you’re too good for that.
Colton breathes in deep, ready to unload on Ray for even dreaming of comparing their respective sins. But for whatever reason–maybe Nate’s own recent tribulations, maybe just something his pastor said last week–what comes out instead…
Nate Colton: All right, Paxton. You want to make things right? Prove it.
Paxton Ray: What?
Nate Colton: That’s how I did it. I didn’t just tell them I was sorry; I showed them. So if you’re serious about this, you have to prove you’ve changed, and you gotta make amends with the people you hurt.
Paxton Ray: How.
Colton shakes his head.
Nate Colton: Damned if I know. You’ll have to figure that out yourself.
Paxton tenses up. His fists clench, he takes another step towards Colton, and…then he relaxes. He shakes his head and turns away.
Paxton Ray: Yeah. Yeah okay. Guess it’s what I get for tryin’. Whatever, man. This ain’t what I came here for. Ya want some space to eat your food without the big bad man botherin’ ya, go right ahead.
The Next Diamond watches him leave before absentmindedly picking his plate back up. He still sees the Bayou Butcher for the monster he’s acted like since UltraViolence last year.
But for the first time since that night, he can also see the silhouette of the man inside.
Cut to ringside.