WHO JUST CARRIES AROUND A CARTON OF BLUEBERRIES?
As we come back from commercial, we’re immediately backstage and following Jonathan Rhine of Fighting For Nora. The crowd cheers as the man bustles down the hall, his pace fast, his attention focused. He clearly has a destination in mind.
That destination is likely not directly into Bobby Dean’s stomach, but sometimes life throws you a curveball.
Rhine bounces off of Dean comically, landing against the wall with a loud thud that echoes throughout the halls, before regaining his balance. He looks at Bobby apologetically.
Jonathan Rhine: Oh, sorry Bobby. I didn’t…see you there.
Dooze steps forward from behind his fellow Bandit, looking at Jonathan Rhine completely bewildered.
Dooze: You didn’t see him?
The Old Man’s face is incredulous, looking Bobby Dean up and down as if he’s marveling at a statue of the Greek God Adonis. Bobby meanwhile looks down at his stomach which is still reverberating from the impact, mesmerized by the multitude of ripples as they expand throughout his belly.
Dooze: How in the world could you miss ALLLLLLlllll of this?
Bobby’s stomach finally settles down, causing the big man to look up sadly.
Jonathan Rhine: My sincerest apologies, gentlemen. I was just focused on being, um…
Rhine looks past the Bandits down the hall.
Jonathan Rhine: Somewhere else entirely.
Dooze: Listen to this guy, buddy, we’re not good enough for ole Rhine’s time.
Quickly realizing the aggressive nature of his encounter, but not at all interested in continuing it, Rhine puts his hands in the air.
Jonathan Rhine: No, no, it isn’t that. I’d love to stay and chat. It’s just…whatever. Sorry, guys, gotta go.
Doozer continues to mouth off, but Rhine pushes past the Bandits and keeps walking.
With that particular roadblock handled, Rhine slips by and after turning down another hallway finds his target: the man who, with Reina Raspberry, bested Jon and Paxton Ray in the Great American Nightmare Main Event.
King Blueberry, PRIME Tag Team Champion.
Jonathan Rhine: Hey, Jared, got a second?
The Blueberry, enjoying his first night off from competition since February, finishes tapping out a search on his phone before sliding it into his pocket. What was he Googling? How to make a pair of rocket-skates, if you must know.
Aside from the street clothes, there are two elements to the Blueberry that need to be addressed. The first is the foil strawberry sticker that now finds a home over one of the side plates to the championship belt he holds over his shoulder. The second, and perhaps the more noteworthy, is the tears his mask experienced at Great American Nightmare have not yet been patched.
King Blueberry: First time in a long time I’ve got nothing but time. Feels weird.
Jonathan Rhine: I feel the same way. A break is nice, I guess. Also get to do some extracurriculars without worrying about killing myself in the gym the next day, at least for this week.
There’s a brief silence, and then Jonathan raises his eyebrows.
Jonathan Rhine: Speaking of, poker night was fun.
King Blueberry: Yeah. At least your partner wasn’t constantly trying to peek at your hand.
A burgeoning grin is abruptly cut off when he clears his throat for composure. The mask hides so little these days.
King Blueberry: Anyway, surprising how many people here are willing to get in the same room and not try to eat each other.
Jonathan shrugs. Unbeknownst to the two men talking, as Rhine’s shoulders descend back to their normal height, what appears to be a protruding belly peeks out from around the corner where Jonathan Rhine emerged moments before.
Jonathan Rhine: Well, we are coworkers. I’m sure every other company has coworkers you want to bash into a wall, but you don’t because it will make the company BBQ awkward. We’re just lucky in that we don’t have to resist the urge.
Jonathan looks down at his hand, then Jared’s face, and chuckles.
Jonathan Rhine: But yeah, our coworkers are really bad at poker.
King Blueberry: Easy to read intentions when folks aren’t keen on hiding them. Makes it hard to bluff. Means I know you didn’t really want to just talk about cards. So, what’s up?
Jonathan looks down at his feet. When he looks up, it’s not at King Blueberry’s face, but at the gold that rests on his shoulder.
Jonathan Rhine: I didn’t bring it up at poker but I just wanted to say…congratulations. Sincerely. I wanted to win that match more than you can know, but I didn’t. And the better team won. You and I have been…
And with that, The New Life looks down at his feet again.
Jonathan Rhine: …estranged, I guess you can say. And I know I bear some responsibility for it. Going forward, I’d like to change that. I can’t promise I won’t say anything to piss you off, and I can’t promise I won’t try to punch you if you say something to piss me off. But I came out of that match remembering what I must have forgotten a really long time ago.
Jon puts a finger to Jared’s chest and smiles.
Jonathan Rhine: That Jared Sykes is one of the toughest, most resilient men I have ever met. And that’s someone I don’t want as my enemy anymore. So…
The finger at Jared’s chest lowers, and Jon’s hand extends in front of him for a handshake, much like they did in the middle of their match.
Jonathan Rhine: I know it won’t be immediate. But one day…maybe we can be friends again.
For a moment, he lets it hang in the air.
King Blueberry: You know, I caught what you said after the match. Not at first, shit was a little crazy then, but I watched everything back over the weekend. Meant a lot to me to hear you congratulate her like that. And right away, too. No fucking hesitation. That’s got a weight to it. But I need to be clear about something. This? It isn’t friendship. It hasn’t been for a very, very long time, and probably won’t be again.
Finally, he reciprocates Jon’s offer.
King Blueberry: Because this is family, and I’m sorry if you didn’t know that.
The reaction isn’t immediate; Jon was focused on the handshake and it took him a moment to process what King Blueberry said. But when he does, he drops the handshake, looks down at his refound family member, and pulls him in for a hug.
The sound that rises off of the Las Vegas crowd is deafening, as though a million Dusks merged as one, a great singularity giving birth to a new universe of fog machines and over-ness. Somewhere in a dirty basement, Eugene Ware begins dry-heaving and convulsing, though he does not know why. Days from now he will learn of this moment, and have thoughts so vile that his brain cancels itself.
Eventually, the embrace ends and with it chaos ensues. As the two men had their arms wrapped around one another, two more men decide to join the fray. With ill intent clear in their eyes and an enormous stomach leading the charge, Bobby Dean and a trailing Doozer emerge from around the corner.
Jonathan Rhine: Oh no, not again.
Bobby Dean: What the hell, Blue!? You never let me hug you!
King Blueberry: I got this thing about horse blood. Hard to wash out of the clothes. Harder still to wash out of the conscience.
Without another word, Bobby and Doozer share a look, a slow smile spreads on each man’s face. The kind of smile Cancer Jiles would be proud to see. Jonathan Rhine and King Blueberry share a look of confusion, but before they can say anything Doozer and Bobby have each pulled forth a small cardboard carton.
In mere seconds Jonathan Rhine is absolutely covered in slimy yolk, broken shells cover him from head to toe, the look of absolute shock clear on his face. King Blueberry on the other hand looks at Bobby Dean with a bit of edge gleaming in his eye as he finds himself drenched in his namesake. Blueberry juice runs down his mask.
Bobby Dean offers a child-like giggle as Doozer sneers at the two men in front of him. Suddenly the two turn and high tail it down the hallway, empty cartons lying discarded on the floor. Rhine and Blueberry look at each other, bewildered, before the tag champ shrugs.
King Blueberry: Would you believe this isn’t the strangest thing that’s happened today?
Jonathan Rhine: Coming from you, Jared? Yes. Yes I would.