I get to the top rope, look down at Jared Sykes, and see the puppy dog eyes of Justine Calvin staring back at me – pleading with me to spare the love of her life – so I point and laugh at her, before spinning on my heel and launching myself to the outside with complete disregard as to whether or not she will be able to get out of the way in time.
Truth is, I was going to do a frog splash, but I had to turn away when all I could see was my daughter staring back at me when I looked at Calvin. Justine is who she looks up to, thinks it would be “cool” to meet and hang out with. Her and Jared are the type of people that I should want her to like, that she should believe in and cheer for.
Not someone like me.
The thought alone was capable of sucking all the air out of my chest, and for a moment I thought that is what had happened. It only takes a second for me to realize that it is the ground I am slow dancing cheek to cheek with that left me breathless.
I can feel the pain stomping on my chest like an HBCU step team, but it is the pain in my heart that hurts the most as I can feel fingers peeling it apart like a blooming onion.
I can never be the man Olivia wants me to be.
I don’t have it in me to put Nora’s health before my ability to walk, to protect a mother and her child from a maniac putting my own family in harm’s ruthless path, or to be the steadily beating heart of an entire wrestling organization like the man I’m up against right now.
I’m the man willing to shove a man out of his wheelchair so that I don’t have to walk to the ring.
I’m the man that would tell the woman that she put herself in this position to begin with so she should figure it out herself, before slamming the door in her face with a smile on my own.
I’m the man that almost hesitated because I saw my little girl pleading with me not to hurt the man she wants me to become.
I didn’t hesitate though, did I?
For a brief moment – that didn’t even last the flap of a hummingbird’s wings, and definitely not enough to even justify an acknowledgement – hesitation may have peeked out from the back of a closet full of memories. I shut that door so fast, you’d think it was about to ask about my car’s factory warranty.
Still, it was there and I didn’t want to believe it…couldn’t believe it.
What the hell is going on with me?
Damn, here comes Jarry.
= = = = =
“So at that point you were still conscious?”
“Yeah, I felt fine,” Tony Gamble was sitting on the edge of a metal folding chair, his head tilted back a bit as another man shines a light in his eye while holding his eyelids open with his index finger and thumb. “I kicked out of a pin attempt, then rolled Sykes up for one of my own. It wasn’t until I was trying to get up after that that I noticed my legs not doing what I wanted them to. I felt Jared grab my neck and lift me up, then there was a bright flash like someone took a picture with one of those old school cameras from the thirties. Next thing I know Justine has her arms around Jared, the crowd is cheering, and I’m that much further away from a Universal title shot.”
“Well, there’s not much there I can help you with,” the man backs away from Tony, placing the pen sized flashlight into his shirt pocket as he shakes his head. “And while I’d rather get a scan to be sure, I’m pretty sure things have gotten worse since the last time we checked.”
“It’s been almost a year since the last time I blacked out.”
“The end of January, if I’m not mistaken.”
“ReVival 21,” the words pass through gritted teeth, as Tony nods. “Youngblood.”
“You knew about this when you came to see me in twenty two, Antonio.” The old man walks over to a table and grabs an opened bottle of water. “I told you then getting back in the ring could make things progress faster.”
“You never really could fix things,” Tony runs a finger along his scar as he continues. “Could you, Doc?”
“I did the best I could, you know that.” He replies after taking a quick swig from the bottle, before placing it back on the table.
“I do,” Tony chuckles softly to himself. “I appreciate what you did then, and what you’re doing for me now.”
“You and Mr. Monteverdi said it was only going to be a few months, though.”
“Plans change,” Tony stands up, grabbing his coat from the back of a chair. “I have something I need to do before I step away, Doc, but believe me when I say I’m going to enjoy whatever time I have left.”
“CTE isn’t something you should take lightly.”
“It may not seem like it,” Tony smiles. “But that’s the last thing on my mind.”
= = = = =
“What are you thinking about?”
“I don’t know,” Gamble shrugs his shoulders, his eyes slowly watering as the right side of his lips begins to curl into a welcoming smile. “I guess as much as I knew I wanted to ask you and Olivia to join me for Thanksgiving, I wasn’t really prepared for how I would feel if you were the one to ask me.”
“It’s pretty much the same thing,” Victoria chuckles a bit as she speaks.
“No,” Tony interrupts, shaking his head as the first tear races toward his cheek unchallenged. “It may not seem like it, but it means so much more to know that you wanted this just as much as I do.”
“It’s just Thanksgiving, Tony,” Victoria leans closer to Tony and lowers her voice. “This is just something Olivia really wants, so don’t go planning the wedding already.”
“I’m not,” it’s Tony’s turn to chuckle, as his smile widens a bit. “I just want you to know how much it means to me to be able to spend this time with her…with both of you, actually.”
“Well, this is her idea and she wants to ask you herself,” Victoria looks over her shoulder, as their daughter is walking down the stairs. ‘I just wanted you to know I’m okay with it, so make sure you act surprised.”
“That’s not going to be a problem.”
Tony stands up as Olivia comes running toward him, wrapping her arms around him the moment her head hits his chest. He wraps his arms around her as well, clutching her tight as he enjoys the moment. It’s crazy to think that just a few days ago he was talking to Doctor Greco about losing consciousness in the ring, and how things are getting worse than they were a few years ago when he was first diagnosed with Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He knew from the moment he agreed to return to the ring that there was a chance that this could happen. At the time he didn’t really care, but now he had something to live for.
He had a daughter now.
A daughter that wanted him to be a better man, because she believed he had it in him to be a better man.
How could he tell her that she was wrong, that he’s never going to be able to be someone like Jared Sykes.
He couldn’t disappoint his little girl like that, but he could do everything in his power to try and become the Universal champion.
That would make her proud, right?
To be able to say her dad was the champ.
= = = = =
“Would that make your daughter proud of you, Bobby?”
“I’ll be honest that I don’t really know much about her.”
The infamous stool.
“I just know that I’ve seen her hanging around backstage from time to time, and it makes me wonder how you can have her there knowing that she can become a pawn in someone’s sick scheme to get back at you for something you or Jiles have done.”
You know what’s going on here.
“I know that the people you’re usually up against probably won’t be the type to do that sort of thing, but I’m not one of those people Bobby.”
That Grin shows up in its usual spot.
“At ReVival, you’re going to find out just what type of man I am, Bobby.”
The smile fades.
“But what I really want, Bobby, is to find out what type of man you really are. Are you the bubbly back up Bandit, or are you an actual threat?”
He stands up.
“I’m hoping for the latter, because anything else will just be a waste of time.”
He turns and starts to walk away.
“And I don’t have much left.”