Going to the grocery store was not something Rose frequently did, and with Adeline, far less. As they entered, she rubbed her thumb against the back of Adeline’s hand. She then gently placed her in the shopping cart and pressed her lips against the forehead of her only child.
“You okay, love?” Rose inquired.
She nodded, bringing a smile across Rose’s face as they traversed the produce section, followed by the bakery section. As they walked by an item, Rose went through her mental grocery list and grabbed things methodically, ticking them off as she went.
As the duo walked through the grocery store, there was a calmness in the monotony of a day like this. She looks at Adeline, knowing her little girl was growing up and becoming the daddy’s girl she always knew she would be. The images she had in her mind in the months leading up to the birth paled compared to reality.
All she had to compare a father-daughter relationship to was her own, and she desperately wanted it to be different from that. If anything, she wanted it to be more like the relationship she’d always dreamt of having with hers. While she could never experience that, she was thankful for the closeness between her husband and daughter.
Beyond that, she felt immense relief at the connection between Ade and her father. Until she realized her father was capable of such a profoundly loving relationship, just not with her.
That was unfair, she told herself. Deep down, she knew her father loved her but just never knew how to show it while she grew up. The past few years, though, had been truly special, getting to know her father better and building a stronger bond with one another.
Rose knew her life was excellent, but she had difficulty holding onto that tether for too long. Too often found herself lost in macabre thoughts, disconnected from the world around her.
In those moments, she wondered what life would have been like if her mother had lived. She was ashamed to admit she also wondered how life would have been if her father had died instead, scolding herself as she did.
She told herself she would be more appreciative of the little things, look at life with pure optimism, and desire to be better.
As the duo turned down the baking aisle, she felt a tap on her right shoulder. She looked over, a bit started, and it took a moment to realize she recognized the man.
“Oh my,” she gasped as she looked at the man. “How’d I walk right by you and not even notice you? My apologies Dr. Long.’
Dr. Long was bald and wearing a thick pair of spectacles. “No worries, you have the little one, and that takes up forty or fifty percent of your thinking capacity. Trust me, I’ve seen it in all parents. And please, call me James.”
She smiled at him. “Sure, James. Sorry, I always forget.”
“Well, I’ve only known you since you were this high,” he responded, holding his left hand to his hip. He then looked over at Adeline. “And I haven’t seen you since you were much smaller than that, though I doubt you remember me.”
She looked over at her daughter and just smiled while she shook her head. She liked that Adeline was fearless, though worried about what that could lead to down the road.
“Well, anyways,” he started. “I figured I ran into you, and I should at least do the courtesy of saying hi.”
Rose nodded her head. “It’s excellent to see you, however. I’ll tell my Dad I ran into you.”
He paused for a moment.
“You know,” she continued. “I should thank you for taking such good care of my Dad. I know the concussions have been bad, and I imagine I have you to thank for pushing him towards retirement even if he is taking the long way around.”
He nodded slowly. “Not a problem, not a problem at all. When’s the last time you talked to your Dad?’
“Just yesterday,” she answered. “Why?”
She could nearly see the gears turning in his head, wanting to say something, but deciding against it.
“No, nothing at all. Just tell your Dad to call me when he gets a chance. I’m afraid our last conversation didn’t end on the happiest of notes.”
“Is everything okay?” she inquired.
“It will be, sweetie, I’m sure it will be. Just remind your Dad to look after himself and that he needs to call me when he gets a chance.”
“Sure,” she responded, sensing the heaviness in each one of his words. A worried look came over her face as she watched his eyes look down towards his cart and then sighed.
“Thank you,” he responded perfunctorily. “Now, I’ll get out of your hair, darling. You two have a beautiful day. It was so good seeing you both.”
She smiled as he walked away and then looked over at Adeline, who seemed to be completely lost in her thoughts, and she wondered, briefly, what a little girl could be thinking of. Then, she remembered her thoughts at her age and desperately hoped she didn’t have the same ones.
Slowly, they walked down the length of the aisle, stopping only to grab a few items needed to make cookies later that afternoon. As she reached the end of the aisle and made her way to the next aisle, the thought of her father’s doctor lingered in the back of his mind, and she wondered what was being hidden from her.
She sighed before she grabbed a box of juice boxes and continued to play with that thought for a bit longer, her optimism fading with each passing second.
* * *
The punch came towards his face a bit faster than he expected, but Craig’s reflexes were still good enough as he managed to block it at the last possible second, grabbed the wrist, and flipped the man onto the mat. He took a few steps back as his trainer, Tony, sat up and shook his head.
“And you’re retiring… why?” he inquired, a smile plastered on his face. He ran his hand over the top of his bald head, and Craig extended his hand, helping him to his feet.
“Just the right time,” he responded with a smile.
“Well, I’ll tell you now. The version of you who was in here seven or so months ago is not the same man in here today. I think you’re actually back to where you were at the peak of your career. You sure you need to retire?”
Craig simply nodded as he stretched his arms and legs out. “It’s time.”
“Damn shame is what it is. Those guys in PRIME didn’t get this version of you. I think you’ve got a bit more runway than you’re giving yourself credit for.”
Craig laughed as he motioned for Tony to come at him again. Tony threw a series of fists, which he managed to avoid deftly before he planted his knee softly into his trainer’s midsection. Tony nodded.
“How’s the conditioning feel?” Tony asked. “You seem to have better breathing control, which I know you struggled with when you came back.”
“Definitely feel better. These last few weeks, I finally feel like I have a better handle on everything,” he responded, then looked over at Tony. “Still retiring.”
They both chuckled at this as Tony pointed his head towards the chairs outside the ring, signaling the end of their session. Craig walked through the ropes and jumped off the ring apron onto the floor below. He walked over as Tony used his teeth to undo the tape on his gloves and helped Craig do the same.
“I think you’re ready for Cancer Jiles this week,” Tony began. “What a clown, though.”
Craig shook his head. “Not a clown. He is extremely methodical and very focused on his task at hand. He gave Youngblood a run for his money. He knows what he is doing in that ring. He may not have the same physical gifts as some of us, but he’s cunning. He knows how to use his strengths to his advantage.”
Tony nodded in response. “So, what’s your game plan?”
“Use his smarts against him. He’s a bit too cocky, though, a little too sure of himself. His game is to knock you off your game, but if you manage to knock him off his game, then there’s a chance, an opening, to get the victory. He’s dangerous still, though; there’s no overlooking him.”
“Sounds like you at least know how to attack Jiles. Crazy to think this is going to be your last match on ReVival.”
Craig could only nod, not wanting to dive too deep into those thoughts.
“What do you plan on doing in retirement, then?” Tony picked up that it was time to change the subject.
His face scrunched slightly. “Haven’t given it much, though, in all honesty.” Retirement seemed somewhat foreign and something he thought would never come. Retirement was a running joke for many wrestlers, a way to pop a payday for a return. He’d never truly retired before, and he knew once he wrapped it up in a few weeks, that would be it—no coming back for him.
“You know, I know this guy,” Tony started as he offered Craig a water bottle, which he graciously accepted. “He retired and decided to go backpacking through Europe.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think backpacking is in my future.”
“I didn’t think so either. I really can’t picture what you would do in retirement, actually.”
Craig shrugged his shoulders before tearing off the top of the water bottle, taking a long swig from it. He’d read the doctor’s reports, though, and knew the reality of what he was facing. Long-term planning wasn’t something he wanted to spend too much time doing, making plans for a life that may never come.
A sigh escaped his lips as he placed the water bottle on the ground below him and leaned back in the chair.
“Maybe spend more time with the family,” Craig spoke. “Though I might drive my daughter crazy if I do that.”
Tony chuckled. “Yeah, my old lady can’t wait to get me out of the house anytime she can. She tells me all I do is pace around and make her anxious. I just don’t like staying still.”
“So you spend all of your time in the gym.”
He nodded. “Yeah, not sure that makes it any better, but you never know. Maybe it helps,” he spoke before taking a drink from his water bottle. “You could find someone new to spend your time with. Didn’t you mention something about a date?”
“Yeah,” he responded. “We actually went on our second date a couple of nights ago.”
Tony smiled. “Well, well then. Look at you. Take her back to your place?”
Craig simply shook his head.
“Why not? I’m sure she’s got to be interested in you. You don’t need any pills, do you?”
The laugh escaped Craig’s mouth before he knew it. “No, no. Nothing like that. Just been a while, you know?”
“Don’t tell me you haven’t been with someone since Rebecca.”
He sighed as he leaned forward. “Nothing like that. I’m not a monk or anything. It’s just…,“ his voice trailed off, his mind getting lost in his thoughts.
“You haven’t felt something for someone like you did for Rebecca?”
Craig nodded. “Yeah, I guess that’s what it is. It’s not the same as Rebecca. It could never be the same, but Jocelyn shares many of the same qualities that Rebecca had. Patient, kind, understanding, and never takes me too seriously. I think everyone else, since Rebecca, wanted to be with me because I was a name. Jocelyn, though, could care less. She genuinely cares.”
Tony placed his hand on Craig’s shoulder. “It’s okay. This is the most difficult part. It was for my old man, at least. He told me he felt like he was betraying my Mom, even though she’d been gone for a few years. There was a woman in his new neighborhood whom he fancied and fancied him back. He felt like going out with her, allowing himself to feel these emotions, was like betraying my Mom. I had to tell him that she wouldn’t want him to close up and push everyone away from him.”
Craig felt the tension in his hands as he thought about Rebecca, about how he’d never been able to let go of her, and felt the heat of the emotions wash over him, tears he’d thought had run out.
He felt Tony wrap his arm around him as he buried his face in his hands.
* * *
Craig pulled up to Rose’s house thirty minutes after she called him and was met by her as he stepped outside his truck.
“Hey, honey,” he spoke as he kissed her on the cheek.
“Hey, daddy. Thanks for coming over. Brian was working late; Ade is asleep, so it was getting a bit too… quiet… in the house.”
He smiled at her, wrapping his arm around his shoulders, and led her back into the house. As they entered the house and made their way to the kitchen, she found a chair to sit in while Craig opened the refrigerator and pulled a bottle of water out of the door.
“You can drink,” she offered.
He shook his head. “I’m good.” He broke the seal off the top of the bottle and took a long swig.
“I’m just saying, you don’t have to not drink on account of me.”
She found the chair at the kitchen island, and he stood across from her on the other end. “I know,” he began. “Still, I’m not going to be the asshole that drinks in front of you, no matter how many times you tell me it’s okay to do so. I’m still your father. You are the most important thing in my world.”
She smiled as she grabbed his water and took a drink of it.
“You know, I could’ve got you one,” he said, causing her to choke on her water in the middle of her sip.
She wiped the drops of water off her lips and shook her head. “Trying to kill me, Dad? Gotta let me finish my drink first.”
“Honey, if you can’t drink some water without it killing you, I think we’ve got bigger problems to discuss than your drinking problem.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Fair enough.” She then placed her hand on his back. “I saw Dr. Long today.”
A concerned look appeared on his face. “He came here?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. I just happened to see him at the grocery store. He asked how you were doing and everything. Said you two argued the last time you talked?
He didn’t respond.
“Have anything to do with the fact that you don’t want to step out of the ring and feel like you’re being forced?”
He shot her a look, a warning.
He held up his left hand. “Is this why you wanted me to come over here? Jesus, Rose.”
“No, just stop. I’m walking away, aren’t I? I would already be gone if it wasn’t for Tact. I would be done. Can’t you just be happy with that? That I’m weeks away from walking away? That you and everyone else has finally pushed me to this point?”
She sighed. “Dad—“
“Rose, I don’t need you to explain anything. You don’t know what it is like in my shoes. I don’t only have to face that regardless of putting the best I can out there every single week that it is for nothing because my best isn’t getting it done. On top of that, my health has people worried about me. This isn’t how I wanted all of this to end. Nowhere close.”
She looked at him, his eyes not meeting hers. Rose opened her mouth and slowly closed it. A few tense moments passed between them.
“I’m sorry,” she finally offered. “You’re right; I can’t imagine how tough it is. So, that’s all I want to say. That I’m sorry.”
Rose reached out and held her hand open. Craig reluctantly placed his hand in hers, and she closed her fingers around it. She looked up at him, fighting back the tears in her eyes.
“I just wonder,” she continued. “If you’ve been chasing your dream for so long, you don’t realize you’re just running away from your nightmares at this point.”
The words hit him like a sack of bricks, replaying in his mind repeatedly.
“You are not defined by who you are in that ring,” she pleaded with him softly. “And maybe I made things so difficult for you over the years that you lost sight of that. You might be walking away from that ring, but this isn’t your final chapter. Not by a long shot.”
“Yeah,” he sighed after a few moments, a more loaded sigh than she even realized.
Silence filled the room for a few moments as he wondered if he’d made a significant mistake simply coming back. The losses didn’t weigh as heavily on his mind as many would think they did; they were part of the business. If he knew he wouldn’t be able to choose how he walked away, when he walked away, he would have never come back in the first place.
“Also,” she started. “Tact is an asshole. 100%. I hope you put him in his place.”
He chuckled. “So do I, but he’s going to be a rather tough challenge. The only thing that’s going to get me through it,” he started before he touched her heart with his finger pointedly.
“Yeah,” she now offered a sigh of her own, knowing that even though their relationship was as unorthodox as it was, it was better than it’d ever been.
“I went to a bar a couple of weeks ago,” she began, feeling her father’s eyes on her flesh. “A guy bought me a drink, and I wanted to drink that drink so badly. I came so close to drinking it. The liquor was in my mouth; if it wasn’t for Brian calling me, I think I would’ve drunk it.”
He moved around the counter faster than she realized and wrapped his arms around her. He pulled her into him and held her as tight as he could.
“You didn’t slip,” he whispered to her. “You did not slip up. The fact that you didn’t drink it proves that you’re fighting. You should be impressed because I sure as hell am.”
She buried her face in his chest. “I thought I was going to lose it all. I thought I was going to spiral out of control. I would have.”
“You didn’t,” he interjected. “You kept fighting.”
He heard her sniffle and pulled her in closer to him. Standing there, in his kitchen, was the first time he realized how much more his family needed him than he needed the ring.
There was peace in retirement, a peace he was sure he wouldn’t find.
Yet, he did. Even if only for a fleeting moment.