Craig’s right forearm rested against the lacquered bar, his hand wrapped around a glass half-full with a brown liquor inside of it and no ice. He raised the glass to his lips and took a long sip, the whiskey racing towards the bottom of his stomach. He found himself in the bar of the MGM Grand and in the twenty minutes he’d been sitting there, dressed in a short-sleeve white shirt and a pair of blue jeans, he’d been approached a dozen times for pictures and autographs. He took another sip from his glass before someone tapped on his shoulder.
‘If you want a picture, it’s okay to just ask.’
He then heard a small laugh. ‘Trust me, I have plenty of pictures of the two of us. I don’t need another one and certainly not in the middle of a bar.’
Craig turned to see his daughter, Rose, sitting down after placing her small clutch on the edge of the bar. He leaned in and gave her a hug before she flagged down the bartender and asked for some club soda.
‘Good choice,’ he told her, a smile creeping across her face.
‘Thanks, I thought I would give it a try, you know? Try to do the sober life for at least… one week.’
He laughed before taking another sip from his drink. As he placed it on the counter, he glanced over her, and saw a look on her face, one he couldn’t place.
‘If you need me to stop, I will.’
She quickly shook her head. ‘No, I’m good. I’m a big girl after all.’
‘Alright, just say the word and I’m done.’
She nodded her head while the bartender brought over her club soda. She thanked him before placing a straw into it and taking a sip of it.
‘Oh, so refreshing,’ the sarcasm dripped off her tongue, but she looked over at her father and smiled, brushing the entire scenario off. ‘Brian and Adeline decided to go take in a show. I think it was Showgirls.’
Craig snorted from the joke as he looked around the bar, seeing people fill in. He saw as a few people whispered while looking in his directions and he turned back in his seat.
‘Lots of people looking for autographs and pictures with you tonight?’
He nodded his head. ‘I’m not sure what I was thinking.’
‘Neither do I. I’m talking about your choice of outfit, that is. I mean, Dad, I bought you a bunch of stylish clothes at the beginning of the year. Don’t tell me you’ve destroyed all of them already.’
‘No,’ he groaned. ‘Just got done with a workout is all. Just wanted something simple, easy. Get a few drinks in, blow off some steam, and get ready for the show in a couple of days.’
‘Fair enough,’ she responded, taking another sip of her drink. ‘So, this whole… PRIME thing. Still feeling as good about it as you did a few months ago?’
He rolled his head from one shoulder to the other, not wanting to answer the question, but knowing he needed to. ‘I could say I wish it had gone better thus far. Not exactly setting the world on fire.’
‘Yeah, I could see the disappointment on your face. I don’t think it’s a lack of talent or want, Dad. I think it’s just a matter of age and your body telling you that you can’t compete at their pace anymore. I remember watching the tapes of you even during your first PRIME run and there’s an edge that you just don’t have anymore. These guys… and gals… they fight differently.’
His tongue rested on the tip of his lips. ‘Thanks, hun,’ his words were short and to the point. She looked over at him and put her hand on his shoulder.
‘I’m not trying to piss you off, Dad. I know that seems to be all that we’re capable of lately, but I wanted to have an honest conversation with you. There’s no shame if you’re ready to walk away and hang it up for good. I’m sure they could have you come out for big time matches to help hype it up.’
He grabbed his glass, a little more tense then he intended, and empties half of the contents before resting it upon the bar once again.
Rose rolled her eyes. ‘Yes, you can.’
‘It’s not that I don’t think you have valid concerns and thoughts. You do. I feel it still as well. I can’t move the way I want to anymore. My brain doesn’t fire as quickly as it used to. I don’t disagree with you on any of those items. It’s just…’
She sighs. ‘Your pride,’ she murmured.
‘Rose—‘ he began.
‘No, it’s okay. Glue Factory. I saw your eyes after they brought you to the back, Dad. You couldn’t see straight. I’m pretty positive you saw five of me when you looked at me. What they did to you was disgusting and unforgivable. Trust me, I get it. You’ve gotta put that to bed first.’
He nodded his head before he looked over at her. ‘I have something to prove. I know you could say it is foolish, but I have to prove that I still bring value and worth when I’m in that ring.’
‘Okay, Dad,’ she held her hands up, admitting surrender. ‘I’m not going to push you on this any further. You’re able to make your own choices. Just… think about what you told me when Adeline was born. That you wanted to be able to see her grow up. You take too many more of those shots and you’re not going to be able to do so, not the way you have been thus far.’
‘Yeah,’ he admitted after a few moments. ‘I hear you. I get you. This thing has a clock on it, I promise you that.’
‘I’m glad,’ she finished before taking another sip of her drink.
As he sat there, he saw a man from the corner of his eye. He turned, slowly, and saw a bald-headed man walking towards the back area of the bar. Sitting there, Craig felt like he recognized the man, even from the fraction of him that he saw.
It was a man he hadn’t thought about in a long time, not with any great detail at least. Yet, as he sat there, he immediately was taken back to the night where everything turned for the worst.
* * *
Craig emerged from the ring and immediately started to yank the tape off of his wrists, his head hanging low. His mind focused upon a botch he had in the ring and immediately he began to beat himself up, slamming his fist into the nearby wall, frustrations bubbling over.
‘It’s okay, man,’ a stagehand by the name of Larry said. ‘It wasn’t that bad and it clearly wasn’t obvious. Those fans were eating it up out there.’
Craig shook his head. ‘Still, I know. That’s what matters. I know.’
‘You know, I’ve been around this business for a while. You’re going to be special. The ones who beat themselves up after wrestling the best match of the night over their mistakes usually rise to the top.’
Craig paused for a moment, fists on his hips, and smiled. ‘Thanks man, appreciate it. You seen Rose around?’
‘Yeah, I think Marie was watching her.’ Craig patted Larry on the back as he turned a corner only to find Marie putting a wig on Rose. He watched as his three-year-old looked to be relishing the extra attention she was receiving on this particular evening.
‘How about some eyelashes?’ Marie inquired, to which Craig walked over and wrapped his arm around Marie.
‘Her mother would kill us all, promise you that.’ At the sound of his voice, she spun around and looked up at her father with amazement.
‘Daddy!’ she yelled before running up to him and wrapping her arms around him. He scooped her up and held her above his head, spinning Rose around.
‘Stop, stop!’ she yelled through her laughter as he brought her down and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
‘What are you doing, silly child of mine?’
‘Playing!’ she said in a matter-of-fact tone that only caused him to laugh. He looked over at Marie.
‘Thanks, hope she wasn’t too much trouble.’
The older woman shook her head, exasperated. ‘Rose? Never! This girl couldn’t wait to sit down and watch your match like a good little girl, isn’t that right?’
Rose looked at Marie and excitedly nodded her head. ‘Daddy, when you flew over the top rope, it was so cool! You’re a superhero.’
Craig chuckled. ‘Not quite, but I’m glad that you think so.’ He then looked around.
‘Where is your mother?’
She simply shrugged her shoulders; she was three years old, not a bloodhound. Craig shook his head before he looked over at Marie.
‘Nah, she asked if I could watch Rose for a few minutes. I think she was helping Sarah get ready for her match.’
Craig’s tongue rolled inside of his mouth before he nodded his head. ‘Okay, thanks. I’ll see if she’s in the dressing room then.’
‘Make sure you knock!’ Marie yelled out from behind as he walked away and Craig simply threw up a thumbs up to confirm.
‘Daddy, can we go have pancakes?’
Craig smiled. ‘Maybe. Let’s find Mommy first, okay?’
The duo walked through the backstage area, people walking back and forth, greeting and getting excited at the sight of seeing Rose. As Craig turned the corner towards the dressing room, he heard a crash. His brow furrowed.
‘What was that Daddy?’
‘Not sure, pumpkin. Let’s go find out.’
Craig’s pace picked up as he rounded another corner and knocked on the door to the dressing room, where he’d heard the sound coming from. There was no response, followed by a groan.
‘Oh Rebecca!’ he hard through the door and he quickly yanked the door open to see Sarah kneeling next to Rebecca, who was grabbing her head with her right hand. As he surveyed the scene as quickly as he could, he saw a bald-headed man escaping out of the back of the locker room.
Craig quickly put Rose down as he rushed over to Rebecca.
‘What happened? Let me look at you.’
Rebecca grimaced as she sat up and Craig saw blood dripping down from the corner of her head.
‘Ow,’ Rebecca murmured. ‘It’s nothing, Craig. Just caught my head on the corner of the table here.’
Craig looked over at Sarah. ‘Was that Mike?’
Sarah paused. ‘Sarah—‘
‘Yeah, yeah. I don’t know, he was in a mood or something. You know how it is with him.’
Craig looked back over at Rebecca, who was now sitting up, applying pressure to the wound. Craig quickly grabbed a towel near his knee and applied it to Rebecca’s head.
Rose immediately ran into her mom and nuzzled against her.
‘It’s nothing, love,’ Rebecca spoke softly.
Craig looked back at Sarah, knowing the history between Mike and her. Tears flowed down her cheeks as he glared at her, putting the pieces together in his mind. He’d had to stop Mike from hitting Sarah before and he wondered if Rebecca stepped in to stop Mike and received an inadvertent blow as a result.
Rebecca grabbed Craig’s wrist and pulled him back towards her.
‘It was nothing, do you understand me? It’s not worth whatever is going on in your mind. I’ll be okay.’
He looked at her stomach. ‘And him?’
She smiled. ‘He’s okay in there, I promise you that.’
Craig took a moment, repressing every feeling he had in his body to go after Mike, but instead looked into the eyes of his wife.
‘Let’s get you checked out.’
‘Yeah, let’s do that. Do you think guys dig scars as well? Or is that only chicks?’
Craig couldn’t hold back the laughter, even with a million emotions rushing through his body. Instead, he kissed her forehead and helped her to her feet. As they turned towards the door to the dressing room, he looked again at Sarah, tears streaming down her cheeks.
‘Don’t worry, it’ll be okay. I promise,’ he told her.
She could only nod her head as Craig had Rebecca lean upon him as they exited the dressing room, with Rose tightly pressed against Rebecca’s leg.
* * *
‘Dad,’ Rose spoke followed by a snapping of her fingers. ‘Earth to Dad, can you come back to the rest of us humans?’
Craig looked over at his daughter, lost for a moment, before he realized he’d spaced out.
Rose slowly nodded her head. ‘We lost you for a moment, everything okay over there? Where’d you go?’
‘Just… remembered something.’ As the words escape his mouth, he sees the man walking in his direction. It wasn’t Mike, not even close. The tension built up in his shoulders slowly unwound, and he found himself relaxing with each passing second.
‘You ready for Sunday?’ she inquired.
Craig chuckled. He thought about his match against Pete Whealdon and Great Scott. ‘I couldn’t ask for a more.. eclectic match.’
Rose smiled. ‘I looked for some tape on Whealdon. Only thing I could find is the Richards match. You find anything else?’
Craig shook his head. ‘Just watched the Richards match. He’s going to go straight for my head as many times as he can. Need to keep him guessing. Keep him off balance. Just him one-on-one would be a challenge in and of itself. Add Great Scott to the match—‘
‘What is his deal?’
Craig looked at her and silently laughed to himself ‘I wish I had an answer for that. He’s… eccentric. He’s not lacking for confidence in the least bit.’
‘No, I would say that’s a pretty accurate assessment. Kind of got an eighties mullet thing going on too,’ she offered before taking a sip from her drink. ‘And the bear—‘
They look at one another. ‘The bear.’ Both devolve into a fit of laughter at that as Craig finishes off his drink and places it to the left of his chair.
‘It wouldn’t hurt you to have some confidence in yourself from time to time, you know?’
Craig nodded his head. ‘Yeah, I know sweetie. I just haven’t been able to find any momentum, get any traction.’
‘So, what are you going to do about it?’ she inquired, her eyes piercing straight through him. As Craig looked at her, he saw Rebecca more and more than he’d ever seen in her before. ‘Only you know how to do what you do in that ring. You were most successful when you were creative with your offense, keeping the other opponent guessing. Yet, your style since coming back has been more power and ground based. Do you think that could be doing it?’
He weighed the thoughts in his mind. ‘Possibly. I just… can’t jump off the ropes like I used to. I can’t move like I used to.’
‘Because your body tells you that you can’t? Or your mind is telling you that you can’t?’
‘Rose—‘ he began before she cut him off.
‘What did you already tell me growing up? Do or do not, there is no try.’
He looked at his daughter. ‘I think I got that from Star Wars.’
‘Regardless! You are holding yourself back. You’re already in pain after every show. You’re already feeling it week in and week out. The thing that you’re having to live with is the disappointment that you’re not yourself, that you don’t feel the same magic as before, not capitalizing on the opportunities that are before you.’
Craig opened his mouth and quickly shut it.
‘What do you have to lose? she asks him and he is left with his own thoughts on that one. She downs the remainder of her drink and grabs her bag. ‘I’ve got to go back to the room and get some sleep.’
She then leaned over and kisses him on the cheek. ‘Don’t forget about Show and Tell for Adeline next week, okay? You promised her and I’m going to need you to fulfill that promise.’ He nodded in response as she disappeared, leaving him alone in the bar.
He sat there, left with his daughter’s thoughts, and stuck at a crossroad, determined to figure out the right path forward.