A steady routine is very important.
A series of electronic chirps pierced the stillness of the morning.
Nate Colton opened his eyes and pushed the thin white bedsheet off of his body. After a brief fumble with his phone, he silenced the alarm–no Colton had used the snooze button since the IHOP Fiasco of 2008–and swung his body to a seated position.
He briefly took in the spartan surroundings of his bedroom–the furniture all picked up from local thrift stores; the lone decorative item was a framed picture of his family that hung slightly crooked on the wall.
I’ll hang up a poster or something later today, he thought, and padded toward the bathroom.
Nate brushed his teeth, washed his face, applied deodorant, made a quick pass with an electric razor, and used the toilet. Then he got dressed.
Nate sat motionless on the floor. He took deep, deliberate breaths, focusing on the functions of his body rather than his thoughts. Calmness in, worry out.
He had to admit that morning meditation had been helpful since he started a few months ago. Dennis recommended thirty minutes every morning, but who had that kind of time? Fifteen was plenty.
Nate’s kitchen was as modest as the bedroom. One of each utensil, all washed the night before and ready for the morning.
He applied a light spray of low-fat cooking oil to the pan, then let it preheat while he started the coffee and got some eggs from the fridge. Sure, he could just grab an energy drink and a protein bar, but he didn’t want to do that every day.
5:33am–Disconnect Smoke Alarm
After the smoke had cleared and his ears stopped ringing, Nate grabbed an energy drink and a protein bar, and left for the gym.
6am–Arrive at the Asylum
Nate got off the bus and started walking down the street. Timo’s gonna give me hell for this, he thought.
Three minutes later, he reached the front door of the Asylum…and sure enough, the Samoan Silencer was standing by the front door, smirking at him.
“You’re late,” the referee chided. “You’ll never win the Uni if you keep slacking off.”
“Ha ha,” Nate replied. He’d been around enough veterans to know that there’s nothing they love more than giving young guys shit.
“I’ve got some old pals in as guest trainers this week; you should sit in if you’ve got the time.”
“I just might. Probably not today though; my sparring partner is coming in at nine,” Nate said. “Do I still have my reservation?”
“Oui, monsieur,” Timo answered, giving a very good French waiter impression. “Got you in Ring 2 again.”
“Merci, garçon,” Nate replied, mangling both words nearly beyond comprehension. “I better get started, then. No sense wasting daylight.”
As Nate walked inside, Timo looked up at the Las Vegas sky and laughed to himself, knowing that the sun wouldn’t rise for another forty minutes.
Stretches. A five mile jog to warm up. Light calisthenics. A longer run. Cardio. Simple lifts and frequent breaks. Maybe not as intense as the workouts he had with Nathan Filmix at the beginning of his PRIME career, but the techniques he learned back then added a lot of variety to his current routine.
7:42am–Wonder What Happened to Nathan Filmix
On his cousin’s advice, Nate had also incorporated more yoga-based elements into his workout. The deep stretches were immensely satisfying, and also helped with his flexibility. One more long jog led him into the break.
Nate sat on a bench near the smoothie bar, drinking water and wiping off sweat like he’d just been running through the Mojave Desert instead of working in a climate-controlled gym. As he did, he watched a new crowd of wrestling hopefuls walk in.
Right now, they were learning at the feet of the guest trainers Timo had mentioned. Gideon Fontaine, who looked like he belonged in an FBI office, was showing them the finer points of promo work. Neil Fracas, who looked like he belonged in prison, taught them to most effectively use power in the ring.
I’ll have to check that out, he thought. I know my promo game could use some help.
From there, he took in the Asylum as a whole. For as much as people made fun of Timo Bolamba for flaunting his wealth–God knows he’d made his share of jokes about the jet–Nate had to admit that PRIME’s head referee had something pretty special here.
Yes, it was purchased with money…a shitload of money. But it was built with love.
The Asylum was a promise, of sorts. “We’ll give you the tools you need to be the best. The rest is up to you.”
Nate dropped his towel onto the bench and went back to work, knowing the Asylum would have whatever he might need.
Except for the weird smell, but that would come with time.
The main gym was also hosting MMA training that day, so Nate went to the neighboring building, where the training rings were found. He was joined by Kyle Nguyen, a former wrestler who had found steadier work behind the scenes.
For two hours, they worked on honing Nate’s in-ring skills. They also practiced a few new moves that Colton wanted to incorporate. The dropkick was coming along, but it wasn’t there yet. The spinebuster into a Boston Crab was ready. He’d seen an interesting hold in the MMA practice, but he’d have to study for hours before he even considered trying it here, let alone in a PRIME ring.
It wasn’t enough to see something, or even to learn it.
He had to know.
By perfecting his skills and learning new ones, he could climb up the ranks. He could truly make his name in PRIME. And then maybe people would forget about people like Julian Bathory or Phil Atken or Paxton Ray–
10:06am–Remember How Jon Looked When You Visited Him in the Hospital
10:06.10–Get Kicked in the Goddamn Face Because You Weren’t Paying Attention
Nate fell hard to the ground, and put his hand on his jaw.
“Shit, man!” Kyle exclaimed, kneeling down to check on him. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Nate said, far more angry with himself than with his sparring partner. “Just lost my focus.”
It was a foolish mistake, and he’d learned his lesson.
But learning wasn’t enough.
Oatmeal. Protein powder. Chia seeds. Bananas. Kale. Strawberries, his favorite. A quick spin through the blender–under Timo’s watchful eye, because he did not need a repeat of the Epic Fruitsplosion of 2022–and lunch was ready.
Nate slowly drank his smoothie and watched Gideon regale the trainees with a story from the road. Neil sometimes spoke up to add embarrassing details.
He loved these moments almost as much as being in the ring; it reminded Nate of when his dad’s friends would come around and shoot the breeze over steaks and beers.
He still hadn’t fully acclimatized to Las Vegas, so it was nice to find a little piece of home.
Deadlifts. Squats. Shoulder shrugs. Farmer’s walk. Rows and curls. Weird shit with resistance bands and medicine balls.
He had to get stronger. Get tougher. Grind it out.
As he finished his next-to-last set on the bench press, all the things his college coaches shouted came back to him. “If you’re not improving, you’re falling behind!” “Someone out there is working harder than you!” “Pain is weakness leaving the body!”
Nate hoped that one was true, because he’d have to be pretty short on weakness right now.
1:45pm–Chastise Yourself for Not Trying to Help Jared and Justine
There was still too much though. Otherwise he might not have sat on his ass while the Halls tried to drown King Blueberry in chocolate, or threatened to blind Reina Raspberry.
1:47pm–Ask For More Weight on the Barbell
“Let’s do another twenty,” Nate said.
“You sure?” Kyle asked. “You barely finished the last set.”
Kyle shrugged, and turned toward the weight rack and added another plate to each side.
1:49pm–Regret This Decision
On the third rep, Nate felt his elbow start to give out. “Shit…shit shit shit…”
Kyle grabbed the bar, and two other gym goers swarmed over to help. They quickly set the bar back into place.
“You okay, big man?” Kyle asked.
“Yeah, I’m all right. Thanks, everyone.”
Nate tried to push himself up off the bench, but ended up slumping back down.
“I think that’s enough for today, Nate,” Kyle said as he helped Colton up to a sitting position.
“I’ve still got ten minutes left,” he replied, but Nguyen wasn’t having it and neither was his own body. “Okay, okay,” he said. “I’ll see you at the library.”
After a shower and change, Nate made his way to the PRIME offices, which housed one of their greatest tools–the video library. Nate loved this place as much as the gym, and possibly more. Once he’d chosen to come here in the morning, and ended up blowing off the rest of his schedule and just watched Jason Snow matches.
He and Kyle sat at one of the viewing stations, each with pens and notebooks. “The tapeworm says we’re good to go,” Kyle said.
Nate frowned slightly. “Wish you wouldn’t call him that. Tyrese is a nice kid.”
“Tyrese needs to touch grass,” Kyle retorted. “Anyway, that’s what they’re called. Bookworms have books; he’s got tapes. Well…video files, but you get it.”
Nate pressed play on the nearby remote, and both men started taking notes on the Dog Collar Match from UltraViolence.
“Do you think she’s really a…” Kyle started. “…whatisit, Time Lord? From that space show?”
“They, not she,” Nate corrected, rewinding the match so they could watch it again. “And I don’t know. It was never my thing, but my little brother watched it a lot.”
“The one who’s horned up all the time?”
“No, the other one.” The one who might still be a virgin.
3:26pm–Hope That Blake Meets Someone at College
“You ask me, I think Daniels is batshit,” Kyle said.
“I didn’t. I honestly don’t think it’s important.”
“Really?” Kyle asked. “You don’t think it’s important that the next person you’re in the ring with is either delusionally insane, or some kind of alien wizard?”
Nate paused the video and pointed at the freeze-framed Muse. “Other people look at Anna and say, ‘oh, they must be nuts.’ Feels like they just forget that Daniels got to the third round of the Almasy. Or that they’ve got wins over both the Five Star AND Intense Champions. Or that they threatened Brandon Youngblood several times, to his face. The woman is fearless, ruthless and dangerous.”
“I ain’t worried about whether or not they’re from another planet. I’m worried about that.”
Nate unpaused the video again, just in time to see Anna Daniels drive their foot into Jacob Mephisto’s head.
Kyle shrugged. “I suppose. Anyway, I can find you someone for next week closer to Anna’s style and size. It won’t be anywhere near the real thing, but it’ll be enough to help you plan.”
“Appreciate it, Kyle.” Nate used the remote to queue up the next clip, which was against one of PRIME’s defending champions.
“This one, huh? I’d have thought the Reform match, or the one from Nightmare.”
“No, this is the one. There’s something I want to see…”
Afterwards, Nate was asked to meet with some members of PRIME’s advertising department about spokesperson deals. It was incredibly boring and they used a lot of words Nate didn’t understand, but he told them to keep him posted about new developments. He could always use the money.
After the bus ride home, Nate reconnected the smoke alarm and started dinner. Sliced turkey breast, brown rice, romaine lettuce salad with sliced almonds and berries. Filling, healthy, and apart from the rice, none of it required the stove.
5:35pm–Disconnect Smoke Alarm Again
6:00pm–Video Call with Family
Nate called someone in his family every night. His first call didn’t get answered, so instead he called his brother Benjamin.
“Hey bro!” he said, with his usual amount of excitement. “I thought it was Jenny’s turn tonight.”
“She didn’t answer, and you’re next up. Or did I catch you at a bad time?”
“Nope! Just…may have to cut it short, is all.”
“Right. I can see you’re already dressed for something important.”
For the record, Benjamin was wearing a white lab coat, and no shirt. This raised a lot of questions in Nate’s mind, which he made sure not to ask.
“Oh, this? Well…I met this guy the other night, and it turns out he’s got a thing for doctors…”
“Say no more.” Dear God, please, say no more.
“I’ll be conducting a very thorough examination later, if you know what I mean.”
“I wish I didn’t. How are things back home?”
Benny grimaced. “It…has been rough, not gonna lie. Mostly with Jen; I ain’t surprised she didn’t pick up tonight.”
“Oh?” Nate asked, as he felt his heart rate rise. “What’s wrong?”
“I mean…you remember how she was when…”
“Yeah, I remember. She was the first one to call me for news.”
6:05pm–Hear the Shaking in Jenny’s Voice From That Call
6:05.07–Wish You Could Have Comforted Her
6:05.22–Hate Yourself for Not Being There
6:05.39–Hate Yourself For Not Stopping It, Somehow
“–and next thing she knew, it was over. Three count and the bell.”
Nate snapped back to reality. “Sorry, I got lost for a second. What happened?”
“First loss, dude. And no disrespect to Midnight Kid, but Jenny should have beat him easy.”
Nate nodded in sympathy. The first loss always hurt the most, and for it to be someone not on Jenny’s level… “That’s rough. But she’ll be okay as long as she gets her head back in the game.”
“Easy for us to say,” Benny replied. “We’re both on the other side; we know how to take it. She doesn’t. Since then…well, it feels like some of the fight’s gone out of her.”
“Jeez.” That was a bad sign; Jennifer had always been the most confrontational of the Colton kids. “Look…tell her to call me, okay? And let her know that Jon’s getting better. Last report said he could move his head and arms again.”
“Oh, hell yeah! That should cheer her up for sure.”
“I hope so. Even if it didn’t work out between them, I’m sure she still cares. Jon’s a good guy.”
6:08pm–Remember What an Asshole You Were to Jon Rhine While He Was Dating Your Sister
“How about you, bro?” Benny asked. Nate was grateful for the change in subject…until Benny picked the subject. “Any sweet sweet lady time in your future? Maybe with that cutie you were talking to on TV?”
“Who, Samantha?” Nate asked, his throat becoming suddenly dry. “No, we’re just friends. I’m actually sitting in on their bar trivia team later tonight.”
“NNNNEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRD!” Benjamin shouted, which earned him a middle finger from his big brother.
“Hopefully they’ve got some hot friends, because you need to get laid. In fact…” Benjamin left the screen for a moment, then returned with a stethoscope around his neck. Why does he have a stethoscope?
6:11pm–Do Not Ask Why He Has a Stethoscope
“…as your doctor, I’m prescribing you 100 milligrams of Laid. Stat!”
“You are such an idiot.”
“Yeah, but I’m fun. Ope–just got a text from Steven. It’s time for his physical.”
“Benjamin, if that’s a sex joke, I swear to our Lord and Savior that I will punch you through this phone.”
Benny laughed. “Fine. Later, douche.”
“See ya, turd.”
“We’re gonna get REALLY PHYS–” Benny shouted, right as Nate ended the call.
The money Nate saved on furniture and appliances instead went to the living room, which featured a comfortable sofa, which was in use, and a new television, which was not.
There were two books lying on the coffee table, recently acquired from the public library. Nate had barely touched them.
Instead, he was looking at his phone.
6:33pm–Read the Latest Post from Ivan Stanislav
6:33.02–Throw Your Phone Across the Room and Swear
“Oh my God, FUCK that fucking guy!” Nate shouted as he watched his phone bounce off the wall. Thankfully he’d spent the extra money on a sturdy case, having learned that lesson after the Great You-Know-Who Tragedy of 2020.
Someday he’d have to figure out why the old Russian set him off so bad.
He went to pick up his phone…but unfortunately Jabber was still open, and Ivan had posted again.
Calmness in, anger out.
He fired up one of his streaming services–Mom gave him all their passwords, thank God–and started looking for a movie with explosions, or Nazis getting shot. After a few minutes, he found something promising and pressed play.
The music swelled, the opening scene began…and Nate was already looking at his phone again by the time the title card came up.
6:45pm–Gaze Into the Depression Rectangle
Jabber was, predictably, full of douchebags. His other social media feeds were only slightly better. Dating apps were a ghost town. Basketball season hadn’t started yet.
Nate briefly looked up from the small screen to see a car explode on the big screen, then checked a news site. Of course, it was all bad.
Nate had plans that night to join Patricia, whose name was actually Samantha, and their friends for trivia at the ReBar. He checked the time and thought, I better call that Lyft if I want to make it in time.
7:15pm–Blow Off Social Engagement
really sorry, cant make it tonight
got sucked into a movie, lost track of time
That’s ok! Maybe next week!
The gang says hi!
A picture followed, featuring the smiling faces of Patricia, Jason, and the rest of Quizzy Gillespie.
Nate smiled at the picture. Mostly at his friend, who had a big smile, blue streaks in her hair, and a cute little nose ring.
His smile faded when he looked at Jason, but he knew that wasn’t fair. They’d probably get along great when they finally met.
Of course, if Nate knew about him beforehand, he might not have struck up that conversation with Patricia in the first place. But you can’t just stop talking to someone because you find out they have a boyfriend; that’s a dick move.
7:38pm–Think About How Kissing Patricia Would Feel
7:39pm–Think About Literally Anything Else
Nate looked up at the television. The movie was half over, and he had no idea what was going on. He restarted it, and went to get a glass of water.
He also reconnected the smoke alarm, ‘cause those are important.
Nate turned in early; it had been a long day and tomorrow would be another one. He brushed his teeth, double-checked his phone charge and alarm settings, and turned out the light. As darkness swallowed the room, he carefully walked across the floor and slid into bed.
10:10pm–Look at Your Phone Again
Jabber. Tinder. He downloaded a stupid game, played for five minutes, and deleted it. He checked a text from Patricia.
Third place! Woo!
There was something about her face in that shot; Nate suspected the nose ring. Why was that drawing his attention so much?
Because it was just like hers.
10:35pm–Mentally Plan Tomorrow’s Exercise Routine
10:41pm–Watch Pacers Highlights
10:50pm–Check For Updates About Jon Rhine’s Condition
10:52pm–Berate Yourself For Not Stepping In
10:53pm–Remind Yourself That There Was Nothing You Could Have Done
10:54pm–Berate Yourself Anyway
11:06pm–Think About Her
11:07pm–DON’T THINK ABOUT HER
He opened a folder on his phone, and went through the pictures inside. Sure enough, she had the nose ring by then.
God, that smile.
God, that body.
With every new photo, he felt a warmth in his chest as he remembered the good times.
Then he’d remember those times were over, and it tore his heart out.
Then he’d look at the next photo.
I can’t keep doing this to myself, he thought.
12:15am–Keep Doing This To Yourself
I should delete these.
12:19am–Delete These Pictures
Physically and emotionally exhausted, Nate Colton finally fell asleep at 12:49am. He was going to feel like shit tomorrow, but he’d work through it. He had a schedule to keep, after all.
A steady routine is very important.
A series of electronic chirps pierced the stillness of the morning.
Nate Colton opened his eyes and pushed the thin white bedsheet off of his body…