From the manuscript of the memoir “Renewed – The Rises and Falls of Jonathan Rhine” – to be released in Fall of 2027
September 16, 2022 ended up being one of the best days of my life. When I tell people this, they usually look online to see if there was some great match I was in, or a title I won, or something else public. But all anyone can find is a picture snapped of me hopping on one foot outside of the wrestling academy, Shweta laughing behind me. Someone turned it into a meme, and it still shows up on message boards because of the face I was making.
That’s not the reason it was such a great day, but in some ways it plays into it.
That day was the my first date with Shweta.
Jonathan Rhine walks down the hallway of Gray’s Academy, practically jogging until he reaches the Foundation Office. Shweta Kallemullah has her back to him as he enters, and upon hearing him she turns around with a smile which instantly turns upside down. “Is that what you’re wearing to our date?”
Jon looks down at his bare chest, then laughs. “No, of course not.”
Shweta’s smile returns. “Good, usually the undressing happens after the date.” She giggles at Jon’s reddening face. “What did you need that was so important that you couldn’t dress first?”
Jon stops and thinks, then looks down. “Nothing, really. I was just excited to see you.”
Shweta moves a hand to her mouth to hide her expression. “Well you’ll be seeing me all night, Jon, if this goes well.” She laughs again. “Stop blushing or your whole body will turn red. Now go get dressed so we can get going. Didn’t you make reservations for an hour from now?”
“It’s only fifteen minutes away. We have all the time in the world.” Jon dashes out of the room and heads to his office, then grabs a dress shirt from the closet. He begins to put it on, muttering to himself. “So we have enough time to get some drinks next door. I wonder…” He looks up. “I wonder why Katie hasn’t visited yet.”
He hears footsteps by the door and looks up, but it is not Katie Malick. Instead, Aaron “Dith Timble stands in the doorway. “H-hey boss, I j-just wanted to tell you that C…”
He’s interrupted by a shorter man pushing him out of the way and filling the doorframe. “I’ll finish, Porky Pig. Chet Fleetwood is here.”
Jon’s eyes narrow as he buttons his shirt. “Chet.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not here to fight you. I left the Fleetwood Gang at home.”
“Okay, but – wait. You call them the Fleetwood Gang?”
Chet shrugs. “Yeah, they’re my gang. Of course the gang is named after me, just like if you had a gang they’d be called the Shit-for-brains Gang.”
Jon sneers. “What do you want?”
“Look, we got off on the wrong foot.” He thinks for a second. “Several feet. But whatever issues you have with me –”
“You mean the fact that you tried to beat the shit out of me with a baseball bat?”
Chet waves his hand dismissively. “Those are our issues. My son has nothing to do with it.”
“He also had a baseball bat,” Jon laughs in spite of himself. “Look, Chet, I have to go.”
“Oh do you now? Nice dress shirt…you going to take my girlfriend on a date, huh? Give her a bit of the New Life?”
Jon sighs. “She’s not your–”
“Relax, that was just a joke. It’s fine, she was too skinny for me anyway. I like ‘em with enough junk in the trunk to warrant a garbage pickup, know what I’m saying?” Jon opens his mouth, but Chet keeps going. “You picked the right business for that, Jonny boy. Those women wrestlers have asses that need to pay the extra axle toll to get across the Causeway. That Anna Daniels could take me in a blue phone booth any time.”
Jon shakes his head. “For saying you weren’t into wrestling when we first met, you seem to know a lot about it.”
Chet’s demeanor changes; the smile goes away and he looks at his feet. “Part of that is dating Shweta and hanging out with you, but part of that? It’s because of Quinn.” Chet steps forward, locking eyes with Jon. “Look, I know you don’t like me. And Quinn is a Chet off the old block. But he loves wrestling. And he wants this really bad. Please, just think about taking him back, okay?”
Jon smiles. “I’ll think about it. He is definitely talented. He just needs to work on his attitude.”
“And I know you’re just the guy to teach him! Look, I’ll get out of your hair so you can go have your little date, but think about it – and be sure to pull out. You and Shweta’s babies would be ugly as shit.” Chet slaps the doorframe as he walks out, leaving Jon with a small smile. After a moment, he finishes putting on his shirt.
“Guess drinks are out,” he mutters.
Things kept coming up as I got ready for our date. The thing you have to understand is, around that time I was more than just a wrestler at PRIME, more than just a gym owner, more than just a member of a non-profit Foundation, more than just a tag team partner to a young man in need of guidance.
I was all of those things, and sometimes it felt like too many hats to carry on my head.
That night it was even more apparent as the interruptions kept happening, and one thing stood out to me as I tried to get out of the door: in order to do the things I wanted to do, there were numerous things that I had to do. And while that was frustrating at times, it reminded me of how lucky I am.
Jon is barely out of the room when Connor Nackedy meets him in the hallway. “Hey Coach, got a second?”
Jon checks his watch, then nods. “Yeah, just about a second. What’s going on?”
Connor walks past Jon into the owner’s office, and after a moment The New Life follows. When he gets back into his office, Connor is sitting on his desk. “What can I help you with, Connor?”
“It’s about how I can help you, actually.”
“So I’ve been paying a lot of attention to PRIME, and I know you’ve got your match next Friday. And in your interviews and even your attitude here, I can tell you aren’t taking it as seriously as you should be.”
Jon chuckles. “You think so?”
“Absolutely. I pay attention, and over time I’ve picked up a few things. I’m aware enough to know that that awareness is my biggest asset – and aware enough to know that actual wrestling isn’t my biggest.” Connor looks up at Jon, who looks down suddenly. “Don’t feel bad for me. I’ve got the wrestling brain more than the wrestling body. And that’s why I think I can help you.”
“With my match?”
Connor smiles. “Exactly. Now, I’ve been in the ring with you and Paxton. I know your strengths. You are a jack of all trades, though in your advanced age you’ve been leaning more to strength over speed. Paxton is basically going to muck everything up, throw punches, slow down the pace.”
Jon frowns. “My…advanced age?”
“I mean, you’re twice my age, feels pretty advanced to me. Anyway, in your matches recently you’ve been doing holds, suplexes, that sort of thing. But I don’t think that’s your best bet against the Bandits.”
Jon nods slowly, then leans against the doorframe. “Okay. What do you suggest?”
“Bring back your speed,” Connor says, his eyes lighting up as he speaks. “You’re going to be in a match with a big man, a stronger version of you, and your partner who brawls. You need to change the pace, give them something they can’t outmatch you with. Instead of trying to hit your power moves, play the evasive game. I think you tried to focus more on strength against Reina and Blueberry, and that cost you. Don’t let that happen this time.”
Jonathan doesn’t respond for a few seconds, to the point where Connor looks around the office awkwardly. Finally, Jon stands upright and walks forward. “I think that’s a great point, and I’ll be sure to try that next week. I have a few moves I’ve left in the locker room – may be time to give them a try.” Connor stands up and nods, then walks towards the exit, but Jon stops him. “Connor…I really appreciate that.”
“Oh, it’s nothing.”
“No, it’s not nothing. You’re a valuable part of this gym, and I hope you don’t forget that. Plus I never thanked you for showing up and stopping the…”
“The Fleetwood Gang.”
Jon laughs. “Did they take out a trademark? Anyway, thank you. And thanks for the advice. Anything else you notice that you want me to know about, let me know.” Jon offers a hand for Connor to shake.
Connor beams as he walks towards Jon, then moves the hand aside to wrap the larger man in a hug. After a few moments, Connor releases and walks out without saying anything. Jon watches him leave, then adjusts his collar and leaves the office.
Jon rushes back to Shweta’s office, checking his watch. He walks in to find Shweta rifling through a binder. “Ready to go?”
Shweta doesn’t look up. “Yeah, one second. I just…” she looks up and Jon sees her face lined with worry. “Did you go through the Fighting For Dustin files?”
Jon raises an eyebrow. “No, why?”
“I only just noticed that the binder was out on the table, and a few pages are missing. I don’t know why, and it’s not like any of the information is useful to anyone but me and you. But…it’s just weird, is all.” Shweta quickly closes the binder. “It’s probably nothing. Let’s get going.”
Jon nods, offering an arm to Shweta. She reaches to take it, but her phone rings. “Blast. One moment.” She looks at the phone and sighs. “It’s Judith.”
As far as Jonathan is concerned, Judith – Shweta’s assistant in the Foundation – exists in voice only. He has never met her, nor seen pictures of her. He has only talked to her and answered her emails. It is much easier to be annoyed at a voice than a person, so Jon stomps his feet dramatically. “Go ahead, I guess. But we’re losing time.”
Shweta pushes the speaker button. “Hello Judith.”
“Hi Ms. Shweta,” Judith’s voice rings out, causing Jon to wince. “I have a Foundation question. Is Mr. Jon near you?”
“He’s right here.”
“Hi Mr. Jon,” intones the voice.
“Hi. I have a Foundation question.”
“This is my question. Nora is now cancer free.”
Jon and Shweta wait, looking at each other. “Is that your question?” Shweta asks.
“No,” Judith drones. “That is my opening statement. My question is as follows. With the named member of our Foundation no longer needing financial donations, what would we like to do with the donations we receive?”
Shweta rubs her face. “I told you this already, Judith. We are rerouting the donations to similar foundations for cancer research.”
“Yes. But I looked all over the internet, and I can’t find anything about the SFCR. Do they have a website?”
Jon quickly grabs Shweta’s phone and hits the mute button before laughing loudly. Shweta stifles a giggle, then slaps him his arm until he stops. Unmuting, she says, “No, Judith. There is not a foundation called the Similar Foundations for Cancer Research. I meant for you to find charities that were similar to ours.”
The pause that follows is long enough for Shweta to check the phone. Finally, Judith answers, “Oh.” Then, after another pause, she says, “I have a follow-up question.”
“Can you send me some similar foundations for cancer research?”
Closing her eyes, Shweta leans on her desk. “Yes. I will send you a list in the morning. Now please, I have somewhere I need to be.”
“Thank you, Ms. Shweta. I hope you have fun in the place that you need to currently be. Goodbye.”
Shweta hangs up the phone and shakes her head. Jon smiles. “Are you sure you can’t just be your own assistant?”
“If only.” Shweta looks at the clock on the wall and nods her head towards the door. “Come on, we’ll need to rush to get there on time.”
They walk towards the doorway, but stop when Paxton Ray’s long frame fills it. He smiles down at Shweta. “Hey, Shway, gotta minute to talk?”
“Jesus Christ,” Jon mutters.
I was lucky to have everything I had. A great job. A purpose of training young men and women for the wrestling ring. A tag team partner who always had my back. Students who genuinely cared about me and wanted me to do well. And a Foundation that was so successful that we were able to help a girl beat the biggest fight of all.
And Shweta, of course.
It could be a grind sometimes, juggling all of the jobs and obstacles. Breaks felt like they would never come. Vacations weren’t even daydreams at that point. But despite all of it, a full plate means a full heart, and sometimes I wish I didn’t take it for granted at the time.
Jon offers politeness to the people he barely knows, but to his tag team partner he is blunt. “Pax, we gotta go. Can it wait?”
Paxton grimaces. “Sorry, wish it could. Just one minute, Shweta?” He turns to Jon. “Jus’ Shweta. It’ll only take a second.”
Sighing, Jon nods and leaves. “I’ll be at the entrance,” he says to Shweta, then leaves.
“What’s up, Paxton?” Shweta asks.
“I need a really big favor.”
“Sure, whatever you need.”
Paxton raises his eyebrows. “I ain’t told ya what it is yet.”
Shweta smiles. “Paxton, we are a team. I am happy to help you however I can. So tell me, quickly if possible,” she says, her eyes darting to the clock, “how can I help?”
“Well as I told ya before, Nora is mad at me.”
“Yes. I’m sorry about that.”
Paxton waves a hand. “It’s all right. But she’s really worried about this match. Her ma told me that she cried when Bobby took me out last show.”
Shweta nods. “So how can I make her feel better?”
“By, uh…” Paxton looks down at his feet. “By stayin’ in Lafayette and watchin’ the show with her.”
Shweta’s mouth drops. “What about being at ringside? What if Jiles gets involved?”
Paxton looks up, scoffing. “He ain’t gonna involve himself. And if he does we can handle it. I jus’ want somebody with her. Somebody I trust.”
Shweta walks forward and puts a hand on Paxton’s shoulder. “If this can help you or your daughter, consider it done.”
“Thanks, Shway,” Paxton says with a grin. “I’m gonna deliver a message to her on the show, too, so make sure she looks out for it.”
“Of course. What are you going to do?”
“Not sure yet. I’ll prob’ly do somethin’ seven times. It’s her favorite number.”
“Is it because she’s seven years old?” Shweta asks.
Paxton laughs. “Kids are simple. It’ll be like seven claps, or seven stomps. That sorta thing.”
Shweta smiles. “That’s adorable. Yes, I’ll take care of it.” She begins to walk past him. “You’re a great father, Paxton.”
Paxton looks at the ground again. “Not always. But I try t’be.”
“Come on,” Jon mutters as he looks at his watch, then the hallway. After what feels like an eternity, Shweta speeds down the hallway, locking eyes with Jon and giving a forced smile.
“Seven minutes,” she says.
“It’s fine, I’ll speed.”
They emerge from the Academy and walk towards the car when Shweta notices a man with a camera. “Who is that?”
Jon feels the color rush to his face. “I know this is dumb, but I kind of liked the idea of having our date feel like a big deal, so I told a wrestling blogger to send someone out here.”
Shweta stifles a laugh. “You are the biggest dork I’ve ever met.”
“Does that mean you want to cancel the date?”
“Not on your life.”
Jon walks to the driver’s side door, then immediately steps on something and hops up, screaming. Shweta laughs first, then sees the nail sticking out of his shoe and rushes over as the cameraman continues to take pictures. “Jon!”
“What the hell was that?” Jon growls, leaning against the car and pulling his shoe off.
“Did it go all the way through?”
“No, just barely stuck the bottom of my foot, and I twisted my ankle a little when it happened. I’ll be okay. But how the hell did a nail…?” Jon trails off as he sees a piece of paper tucked into the window. He grabs it and opens it, then reads aloud. “Enjoy the date, dipshit. Hope you…nail her.”
Shweta sighs. “Chet?”
“He tried to hurt me and told an awful joke. Who do you think it would be?” Jon slumps down against the car. After a moment he looks up at Shweta and shakes his head. “Dinner’s not going to happen, is it?”
“Doesn’t look like it.”
Jon laughs. “This date feels like the Foundation Dinner, doesn’t it?”
Shweta frowns at him. “Kind of does, yes.” After a moment, she smiles. “One big difference, though.”
“At the dinner,” she says, leaning over to help him up, “we both went home with other people. And even though we didn’t even make it to dinner, you’re taking me home tonight.”
Jon grins. “Oh really?”
“Uh huh. Except really I’m taking you home, because you shouldn’t be driving anywhere with that foot. So let’s order some takeout, salvage this date the best we can at my place, and tomorrow we can make sure you don’t have tetanus.” Shweta reaches up and ruffles Jon’s hair. “I’m sorry this date didn’t go the way we thought it would.”
Jon pulls Shweta into a long kiss, then limps towards the passenger side of the car. “We have all the time in the world for that, Shweta.” He gets in the car, then smiles at her. “All the time in the world.”
The date was awful. It wasn’t even a date. Everything that could have gone wrong did, just like the Foundation dinner in May.
But it was still one of the best days I remember. Because no matter how bad it went, no matter how frustrated I was with my obligations, I still felt good. Because it didn’t matter that I had to juggle being a gym owner, a tag team partner, a trainer, a Foundation member.
Because I had Shweta.
I still do.
And that’s all that I have ever needed.
Paxton Ray sits in the locker room of Gray’s Academy, his hands shaking as he looks at a piece of paper, the edges torn from when he ripped it from the binder. He raises his phone to his ear, breathing heavily in time with the ringing.
After a few moments, he hears a click and a voice on the other end stammer, “H-hello?”
“Hi,” Paxton says quickly, then regains his computer. “Is this Dustin?”
“Yes. Who’s this?”
“My name’s Paxton. I gotta couple things I wanted to ask ya.”