“Remember what you might find in round three, Young Hayes.”
Don’t you worry. I think we both knew where this tournament was going. But while you’re writing your “thank you” cards, you’d better send one to Ivan, because no offense, Ceese…
…but it probably should’ve been Youngblood waiting for me in round three.
Either way, this one’s gonna be special, even if we got snubbed for the main event. But before we start this party, I feel like we need to get a few things straight; a little transparency. A little understanding.
A little clarity, before that bell rings twice, then thrice.
“Fuck, man. Fuck, man…”
Paul’s mobile phone hung in his hand with a terrible weight; heavy, like gravity threatening to pull it through the floor and into the Earth’s core. And yet, it hung loosely in his fatigued fingers, somewhere between balance and free-fall.
“Go on, son. Call him.”
Dark eyes shot left and right, searching for the deep, heavy voice in the background, distorted between the waves of focus and chaos.
“I can’t. C’mon, man, I can’t….
The light from the phone’s screen bathed Paul’s tormented face. Beads of sweat dripping in a blue hue, jaw hanging slack.
“Go on. And remember what he did to you. How he kicked out onto the street, left you with nothin’.”
“It wasn’t his fault! It wasn’t his…”
“It was, and you know it was.”
Tears streamed down swollen, reddened cheeks. The k-hole beckoned him further into the depths, blurring reality and the drip in his brain. The threshold was quickly losing its keen edge, drowning between both worlds.
“He had a choice, son.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“He had a choice, and he chose himself. Over his own kin.”
“No, NO! It wasn’t like that! It was MY fault! I’M the one who fucked everyting up…”
“This ain’t on you, Paul. Your brother made a promise.”
His cheeks hurt. His throat thurt. His chest hurt. The strain from the tears had forced a drooling, aching grip in his mouth.
“This ain’t on you.”
The threshold lost more of its edge…
“No. It’s not.”
… and more…
“He promised. He told me he would help.”
“‘Course he did. And then he bailed on ya at the first sign’ve trouble.”
“Fuck you, Hayes…”
With grit teeth, Paul flexed the muscles in his chest. In his neck. In his jaw. He battled the drowning of the ketamine, before it took his consciousness outside of his physical form. Before his soul floated above.
He pressed the green button in the screen, and heard the strange dial-tone in his ear.
“Hey, Hayes? It’s me.”
I didn’t join Glue to make friends.
Truth is, I rarely feel the need for that kind of thing. I’m pretty damn good on my own. Even when the anxiety was squeezing my heart for everything it had. Nothing a couple Xanax couldn’t fix after a quick phone call to Pau…
…nevermind. Mind your own business.
This may come as a shock to everyone, but I don’t like people. I can’t stand the pressure of putting on a fake face. To twirl a glass of wine when I’d rather be chugging gin. To tell someone that I appreciate them when I probably wouldn’t blink if they got into a car accident the next day.
I relish in the spectacle. In the glory. In all the nameless faces in the crowd when I plow some poor son of a bitch into the mat and pin them for the win. I ache for that shit. For my music to hit, to walk up and down that ramp.
Make no mistake, Ceese, I fucking bleed for that shit. But I really don’t care about them;
If they love me or hate me. If they want my autograph. If they’re listening to the Underground Cast or not.
I only care about the lights, and if they’re on me. Because lets’ be honest, they should be. After all, the ReVival started with me. So when it comes to Glue? Let’s get it straight;
I don’t care that much about Joe and Sid, and all the nonsense that comes with them.
I don’t care that much about FLAMBERGE, or all the necks that he’s collected.
And I don’t care that much about you. I don’t care about HOW, I don’t care about your history with Max, and I don’t care about your relationship with Phil Atken.
I care about the gold, and my name in the history books.
And the Glueminati may not understand that yet, but it’s gonna be the best thing that’s happened to this crew.
Sofia slammed the phone so hard she thought she might have cracked the plastic.
Falling into the kitchen wall of her home in West Linn, Oregon, the Hanlon matriarch pressed two fingers into the bridge of her nose and took long, deep breaths.
Olivia never answered. Only on her own time.
Paul hadn’t answered a call in months.
And neither had Hayes, regardless of their mended relationship.
She choked back a sob, yet steeled herself, and collected herself with steady inhales, reflecting on her life, and the family she’d spawned:
A son, deep in the muddy grip of drugs and alcohol.
A daughter, detached and uninterested.
And another son, caught up in the lights.
It was hard to tell where it had all gone wrong, or why she should be proud.
Gregory’s voice entering the kitchen forced her to readjust, pinching her nose and sniffing the tears and snot away.
“I’m fine, Greg,” she pushed, thumbing tears from the corners of her eyes.
“Mmhmm, I’m sure.”
Gregory Hanlon took gentle steps into their kitchen. He was a brick of a man, black bearded and stout, shorter than both his sons, but there were moments where he’d stand seven feet tall; when he’d find his wife in that same kitchen, and the tears in her eyes.
If only she’d see him that way.
“I’m fine,” she declared, squeezing her nostrils.
“I know,” he repliedh, softly.
Perhaps against her will, Gregory stepped forward and wrapped her up in thick arms. She allowed herself to relax in to his embrace, and pressed her eyes into his shoulder. He ran a gentle hand through her auburn hair, despite the stiffness of her body.
“They haven’t returned my calls,” she stated, coldly, and pulling away from her husband’s arms. “None of them.”
“I know,” he confirmed. “They haven’t returned mine, either.”
Sofia’s sharp jaw struck forward toward her husband, her blue eyes shining with stalwart fear. She turned away, clutching at her elbows, peering through a window into the dark Oregon night.
“I have an awful feeling,” she admitted.
Her husband took a cautious step forward, pushing a hand through his mane of dark hair.
“About?” he asked.
“About our children,” she said, sharply, chin over her shoulder. “And…”
She chewed at her bottom lip.
“…and their grandfather.”
Gregory rubbed the back of his neck. In their thirty-five years of marriage, he’d learned where to tread heavily, and where to tread lightly. In that moment, he wasn’t sure which.
“Have you heard anything?” he asked.
“No,” she answered, short and quick. “All I know is that he’s out.”
Gregory nodded, and scanned the floor tile for some sort of direction.
“They have to be keeping tabs on him,” he said in a paled effort for comfort. “The things he’s done, what he did to you…”
Palpably, Sofia refused to shift an inch. Gregory deflated, and fought to find the words.
“Sofia?” he asked, with another cautious step forward.
“I’m sorry,” she choked.
With a graceful spin, she faced her husband in their kitchen.
“I…I lied to you….”
I didn’t join because I was lost.
I know who I am.
But that’s an easy way to spin it; that I was losing, got pinned by some dudes that I probably shouldn’t have. So why not turn to a crew like Glue? For that matter, why not the Love Convoy? Or the Red Army?
Ultimately, it wouldn’t have mattered.
No one recognized my time in the weeds better than I did. Losing to Jonathan-Christopher was fucking bullshit. And I can sit here and blame it on Cecilworth and FLAMBERGE, but I need to be real with myself;
They had little to do with it.
And I can just as easily blame that one on Vickie and her shot to my nuts, but that’s kind of the nature of the business, right? I saw the same thing against Redding. Against GREAT SCOTT when he slammed my junk with his arm.
I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be lost. To blame my failures on literally anyone else.
But that’s not why I joined Glue. Regardless of what everyone thinks.
I know who I am.
“If you don’t have a shot of tequila in that glove box, I’m giving you one-star.”
Olivia fell into the back seat of her Uber, crossing her arms underneath a black cocktail dress. With a knowing grin, her driver snapped open the glove box and handed her a nip of Cuervo between his fingers.
She smirked at him through the rear-view mirror, twisting the cap and tipping the small plastic bottle back.
“Thanks,” she said coyly, handing it forward.
Until her phone started vibrating within her purse.
A roll of her hazel eyes did little to prevent her from snatching the phone, swiping to unlock. However, the name on the screen forced her to readjust her attitude.
With eyes darting, she reluctantly swiped to answer, and lifted the phone to her ear.
“Mom?” she asked.
I didn’t join for your mentorship. I’ve had enough of that.
I don’t want to talk about Nova .You don’t deserve his name in your mouth.
And I don’t want to talk about Youngblood. He decided someone else was “The Next Diamond.”
Ultimately, both of them left me out to dry. And you.
Have done the SAME.
Don’t get it wrong, I haven’t expected a fucking thing from your “leadership.” Ever since I’ve joined? You’ve been absent, and tumbling into some spiral involving Max Kael?’s return and your histories with High Octane Wrestling.
None of which, I give a fucking rat’s. ASS. About.
You wanna claim to lead this team? To guide them to glory and victory? Buddy, you’ve done anything BUT. A team deserves a leader that’s just…there. Not one that’s lost in the jizzpods of friends from days long gone. But don’t worry…
…I don’t wanna lead this team. I don’t have those skills.
But when we square up? And I beat you? All I want from you, is the recognition that this. Is. Not. YOUR. TIME.
The phone’s rattle against the glass coffee table was jarring.
Hayes, sprawled against the beige sofa of his MGM suite in Las Vegas, glared at the vibrating device with irked, exhausted eyes.
Fumbling for the device against the glass, his dark, glazed gaze sharpened at the name.
He swiped the green phone button quickly.
“Hey!” said Hayes, sitting up clumsily. “How are you…where are you?”
“I’m good. Don’t worry about me.”
A familiar story. One that Hayes, in this moment, was willing to ignore.
“Listen man, I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s all good. We’re all good.”
Hayes smiled behind his messy mustache before smoothing it over.
“But hey, bro?”
“Think you could swing home soon?”
Younger Brother nodded silently, a hopeful grin spreading across his face.
And unable to see the terror in Older Brother’s from the other side of the line.
“I’m with someone you should meet.”
DING. DING. DING.
This match means more to me than it does to you.
Because it’s one step closer. One rung further up the ladder. In the name of Seymour Almasy, one of the greatest to ever do it. I wonder if you, or anyone else from HOW, knows the name.
I don’t want the shot at your Five Star Title. I’ve had it, and grown beyond it.
I don’t want to claim ownership of Glue. I don’t want it.
I don’t want your friendship. I don’t want your leadership. I don’t want your mentorship.
All I want? Is your opportunities.
However this goes, Glue gets to move on. But let’s be real, Ceese, it should be ME. Think about it; image you, with the Five Star. And Flambo, with the Intense. And me, with the chance to take Universal back.
Glue could have it all.
And maybe then? Maybe then I’d be proud to have joined this team. And maybe you would understand why I did in the first place.
Maybe everyone will understand why I turned left.
Stuffing his phone into his black dress pants, he sighed:
Looking right down the hallway, he saw hope. Growth. Heroism.
Turning left, he saw strength. Power. Glory.
With a long, strong breath into his nostrils, he relaxed his shoulders, exhaled deeply…
…and turned left.