“OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win today, it’s called “two in a row”. And if we win again tomorrow, it’s called a “winning streak”… It has happened before!”
Eddie Cross watched as Dave Gibson, nestled in his recliner under a flannel blanket, mouthed out quotes along with Lou Brown of the fictional Cleveland Indians in Major League II. For everything he had been through recently, when his favorite movie was on tv, Dave wasn’t a man battling for his life, but the teenager who went to see it in the theater in 1994.
“I don’t get it, this is the second one?” However, Eddie was still Eddie, no matter how hard Dave tried. “Why aren’t we watching the original? There’s no context.”
Mr. Old School grunted in dissatisfaction.
“Why is the All-State guy a voodoo priest?” Eddie registered his confusion by pointing at Pedro Cerrano. “Can I say voodoo? I feel like voodoo is a problematic word.”
Dave grumbled mostly to himself, but also just audible enough to be a warning.
“Japanese stereotypes? The announcer is drunk? And they want me to believe Charlie Sheen is a world class pitcher? Really?” Dave was doing his best to ignore Eddie, but the young man wouldn’t stop prattling and drew his mentor’s ire.
“OK, enough!” Dave’s voice was thunder rolling through a Carolina holler. “You can say whatever you want about my taste in movies, but you won’t talk shit about Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn in my house, young man.”
“I’m just saying, I don’t think anybody blames Jack Parkman for wanting to go to a real team,” Eddie mumbled, drawing a side-eyed glance from his mentor. He sighed and leaned back in his seat. “Why are we watching this anyhow?”
“Because it’s a movie about second chances, Eddie. Something you’ve had more than your fair share of, and something you’re going to get again coming up at this next show.” He wrinkled his nose and looked at the young Samoan. “What the hell are you cooking?”
“What? I’m not cooking anything. Are you alright?”
Mr. Old School smelled the air again before furrowing his brow.
“Smells like somethin’s burning.”
“I dunno, I think you’re imagining things.”
Dave was right. About second chances, of course, not the burning. Eddie was riding high after the win over Adam Ellis, but Coral Avalon was a completely different type of challenge. The young Samoan had faced him once before and lost, and the fallout started a string of ill fortune and frustration that had only recently started to lift.
Also lifting was Dave’s general mood. Since the chemo treatment, he had taken more interest in day to day affairs. He had even gone out with Eddie a couple days ago and splurged on a pair of Redwood colored Lucchese Cibolo cowboy boots that he had squirreled away a little money towards.
The alligator skinned leather with red flowers embroidered on the shaft poked out from the end of his flannel blanket and Dave’s attention was drawn back to the screen where Roger Dorn and Jake Taylor traded verbal jabs like Timo and Dave had done all those years ago in the ring.
It was good to have him back.
Eddie’s phone trilled the opening lines to “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar, and in the dark room, the screen may as well have been high beams in Dave’s eyes. “Aw hell Ed, again with this? When are you going to man up and tell them to stop calling?”
“Mind your own business,” Eddie’s voice was sandpaper in the grit of teenage rebellion.
“It’s distracting me from my movie,” his mentor registered a complaint. “It is becoming my business. Besides, who would even want to call you this much? You owe someone money?”
“I said mind your own business, Dave,” Eddie was uncharacteristically snappy as he reached for his phone, but Dave was already a step ahead of him as he snatched it up and slid the button to answer. Eddie got up and his feet drummed across the floor like a kick bass as he stomped away.
“Whoever this is, it better be important because you’ve been interrupting my boy’s life for the last few weeks. Now you’re interrupting my show, and that I can’t abide.”
As the caller spoke to Dave, his eyes widened and he looked at the idiot with dyed red hair standing across the room from him. Of all the nonsensical things the boy had done, this was clearly a shock even to the grizzled veteran.
“Ed, I really think you ought to take this call.”
Eddie’s breath was deep and full of jagged glass as he walked back to Dave and snatched the phone from his hands. He gave his mentor a glare that was equal parts misplaced anger and nerves and, summoning a different kind of courage than it takes to make the walk to the ring, he held it up to his ear.
— — —
It had been four months since he left her the voicemail, longer still since they last spoke to one another.
Following the loss to Tony Gamble, the turning of Dave Gibson, and the hobo fire on the uncharacteristically chilly North Carolina night in July, Eddie lost a battle with hope and deleted her contact from his phone.
It hadn’t helped.
If anything, the gap of time and deleting her number all but assured anxiety attacks once he realized who was on the other end of the calls. And, the truth is, he simply didn’t know what to say to her. After all, how was he supposed to explain himself when he didn’t understand the situation he had found himself in?
So he did nothing. And then nothing became paralysis.
And paralysis became the tomb of their relationship.
Except for one little detail… She called during Major League II, and apparently that was just too much for Dave Gibson to let slide.
Her voice shot through his veins like an addict reliving a high through relapsing. Sensations he had buried roared to the surface of his mind as memories of her platinum blond hair, the smell of Ariana Grande’s Cloud perfume, and the way she laughed at his stupid jokes caused his pituitary and hypothalamus to go into overdrive.
“Wow. Now you decide to pick up? When Dave does it for you?”
“I… ” his voice betrayed his nerves when it cracked slightly. “I wanted to. I really did.”
“Then what’s taking you so long?” If hearing her voice was enough to make Eddie high on endorphins, hearing her disappointment was enough to make him crash. “I almost stopped calling, but I just… I had to know why?”
He allowed the moment to become uncomfortable. Finally, he decided the truth was the only way out of this situation. His normally cock sure voice was full of regret and humility as he answered her. “Because I’m fucked up, Ava.”
Frankness and Eddie have been enemies at times, but he knew this was not the time to mince words.
“I keep looking for happiness and I’m not sure what it even looks like. So I ran away. From Dave, from Kohime and Anna Daniels, from anyone who could potentially hurt me. From you.”
“Huh, well I’m glad you finally told me the truth, anyhow. Tell me this, are you happier now, at least?”
“Not really,” Eddie scraped the response from his throat as he poked his head around the corner and saw his mentor chuckling at the antics of Willy Mays Hayes. “But, I am answering a few questions.”
“Well, that’s good, I guess.”
“Yeah, it is.”
After what felt to Eddie like an impossibly long pause, Ava broke the silence again.
“Against my better judgment, I watched UltraViolence. Is Dave… OK?”
“I don’t know,” came a response with a genuine tint of youthful naivety. “Physically? I think so. Otherwise? He never tells me anything and he only wants to talk about wrestling. While that’s pretty on brand for him, this is different. Feels like he knows something I don’t.”
She allowed a moment to pass as her frustration with Eddie briefly subsided and gave way to care.
“Are you OK?”
The question hung in the air like a man on a noose.
“Not really, but it doesn’t matter.” Eddie’s words were a squirming bullfrog in his throat. “He needs me now, so that’s kinda what I’m focused on.”
She sighed slightly, and Eddie felt like maybe he had bought just a moment of reprieve from her rightful anger.
“I’m sorry about Dave, but you’re still not off the hook,” he could almost see her eyes through the phone. They held fire for him, daring him to make another mistake, though hoping he wouldn’t. “Listen… I have to go, but thanks for telling me the truth.”
“Of course. Can I send you a text later?”
“No, that’s ok,” she replied quickly. Too quickly? Too quickly. “I just wanted to talk to you for a little bit and make sure you two were doing alright.”
“Oh, uh… ok. I guess I’ll just wait for you to call me again. If you call?”
She heard the fissures in his voice. He really did sound apologetic and sincere. So she offered a compromise.
“Well, maybe you can take some pictures of that hill you were always going on about? You can send those to me. I bet it’s pretty right now with the fall colors.”
Another shot of endorphins. He pumped his fist and screamed without making a noise. After a moment, he composed himself enough to respond.
“Yeah, it is. The leaves are turning. Only a couple more weeks until they’re all off the trees.” He was barely able to focus on what that looked like, as he imagined both of them at the top of the hill together.
She left him on the hill by himself as her voice jolted him back to reality.
“Don’t run away.”
“Never… I mean… I won’t. I promise.”
“Good. Because if you do… “
His heart stung in a way it hadn’t for months as she defined her barriers.
“I won’t call again.”
— — —
“Dave, I’m going out for a bit,” Eddie’s voice cut through the house and over Lou Brown telling an orderly “This is tragic stuff…” Dave turned to reply, but the door clicked shut before he could.
A breeze shivered through the trees and rustled the crispy fall leaves as they waited to turn and make their final trip to the ground. Eddie grabbed the garbage cans at the end of their driveway and waved to Mr. Murtaugh across the street as he looked out his bay window.
The empty plastic bins rumbled over Dave’s gravel driveway, occasionally hopping over a rogue chert rock that had poked its head above the hard packed dirt. Eddie put his hands in his pockets and collared up as he started walking down the pitted asphalt road toward nowhere in particular.
Rhythmic footfalls were driven in a worried time signature. Life was moving at a pace Eddie was not comfortable with, and an onlooker might question why the young man looked so troubled. They would never guess the monstrous weight of the burden he carried as he trudged down the side of the beaten tar road.
Finally he came to a small creek, he didn’t know the name of it, but he passed over it all the time on his way to the grocery store in town. The short cement sidewalls of the bridge were often covered with children that were sitting with their feet dangling off the edge trying to catch creek chubs on homemade fishing poles.
There were no children today, though, so Eddie climbed on the edge of the bridge and let his feet dangle just above the water below. The crisp Autumn had killed any algae and there was a rock break just upstream that churned the water so the creek pooled here in an almost mirror like finish.
Eddie looked into the sheen and saw a lost, yet hopeful, young man looking back at him. He picked up a smooth stone that was laying near the edge of the bridge and dropped it in his reflection, watching as it rippled outward leaving behind the same worried face as before.
She’s fuckin’ right about me. So is Dave.
A long time ago I Iost to Tyler Adrian Best and I said I was free to be who I wanted to be.
I was wrong.
It’s been about eight months since Coral Avalon and I faced off. I really thought I was something special back then. I thought that I had to somehow surpass the expectations of being a multi-generation wrestler and make my own name. I thought I knew what this business was about. Putting asses in seats and selling tickets, right?
What a dumb kid.
I can’t help but think about how long those eight months have felt and reflect on everything that has happened. I’ve done a lifetime of growing and it’s not enough.
But I think it has something to do with the people you meet along the way and the battles that you face. That’s why I am ashamed of myself for what I said about Coral before our first match. Of everyone on the PRIME roster, I chose the nicest guy possible to talk down to and show my feathers against. How stupid do you have to be to not see that it was going to backfire?
You know what else? I can’t believe I told him I was going to steal his respect.
Steal his respect? Me?! A rookie nothing that had no idea what he was doing? Hah. Might as well have told Ivan I was going to convert him from Communism, for all the truth there was to that statement.
You don’t steal respect from a man like Coral Avalon. I don’t care if you’re Cancer Jiles, himself. Especially not when you’re some snot nosed kid with a stupid haircut who thought he was a pro gamer.
I told him he was a gatekeeper. That he had no chance to win a title in PRIME… and then the guy beat Nate Colton (of all people) to win the 5-Star Title.
Way to go, Ed, you really knocked that prediction out of the park.
Do you know what it really was, though?
I thought when I showed up, these guys would just lay down and it’d be easy. I was the new hot shit, after all. Truth is, I wasn’t even a lukewarm shit. I was wrong and the reflection I see now after a year? It’s just a brokenhearted young man with an injured eye and not much else to show for my effort.
Maybe if I had spent less time worrying about streaming and letting my mouth run wild, I might have heard what everyone was trying to tell me.
It wasn’t just Dave.
It was Coral Avalon, it was Jake Colton, it was Ria, it was Tom. It was even Lindsay Troy.
I said I was nothing like Tyler Adrian Best, and it turns out I was exactly like him. A petty, vain, shallow facsimile of success. The sad thing is that my reaction to losing to Tyler was to try and act out like he would because I thought I lost to his mouth.
I lost because Tyler Best was better than me. Period. And then I lost because Coral Avalon was better than me. Period.
Time and experience have a way of beating some sense into a stupid kid like me. That and Dave fish hooking my eyeball out of its socket.
That’s why I’m pretty sure I can tell you now that growing up sucks and I really don’t know who I am yet. But after all this, I do know who I want to be. I want to be the guy who shows up at ReVival 38 and gives this everything I have. I want to be the guy who has a good match this show, and the next show, and the one after that until someday, maybe, I’ll have had enough good matches that some snot nosed kid will come up against me talking like he’s the hottest shit on the planet because he’s scared and he knows what he’s up against.
I think that’s how we know when we made it in this weird life we live.
Until then, I guess I’ll just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep trying.
Eddie threw another stone in the creek and watched as a couple minnows darted away. He pulled up the hood on his sweatshirt and walked against the wind back to the house. Along the way he stopped to look at a fence line that was overgrown with shrubs and vines and he wondered just how long it had been laying in disrepair.
— — —
As the door clicked shut, Eddie pulled off his jacket and hung it on the coat rack next to the door. He could hear Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble’s The House Is Rockin’ excessively playing over Dave’s surround sound system.
“Hey Dave, I’m back. Sorry, I had to clear my head.”
The music grew louder as he walked down the hallway and poked his head into the den. The credits to Major League II were rolling along with the music, but Dave was not where Eddie left him. The flannel blanket was still laying on the chair like Dave had thrown it off. The young Samoan sighed and grabbed the remote control.
I swear I’ve told him to turn off the TV when he is done a hundred times.
Eddie rolled his eyes as he clicked off the stereo and then the television. He then threw the remote on the recliner and listened intently for the hornets hive coming from Dave’s bedroom, but heard nothing.
He peeked his head in the bedroom, but the old grappler wasn’t sleeping and, in fact, his bed was still made.
“Dave?” Eddie hollered through the house but heard no response. “Dave, if this is one of your lessons, just come out, OK? I’m really not in the right headspace. We can do it tomorrow.”
Eddie listened for a response, but there wasn’t one. The hairs on the back of his neck rose as confusion was replaced with anxiety.
Eddie rounded the corner and peered down the hallway. His eyes landed on a pair of Rosewood colored Lucchese Cibolo boots which crossed the threshold from the bathroom to the hallway. They were trembling, as though the owner had suddenly lost control of themselves.
Terror coursed through the young man’s veins and his stomach panged as though he had been punched. He dashed to the doorway of the bathroom and found Dave Gibson’s lean frame laying on the tile. His hands knuckles were white as he clenched his fists while urine had soaked down both legs of his old faded blue jeans and pooled around him.
The old grappler’s eyes registered the movement and quickly clenched shut. Tears sneaked out between them, no matter how hard Dave tried to stop them from getting out. Eddie kneeled on the ground and hugged his mentor tightly while he fished his phone out of his pocket with unsteady hands.
He did his best to dial the number even as Dave tried to stop him with a feeble hand.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
Eddie’s heart was pounding, his body shook with every palpitation, and he took a deep breath to try and steady himself for a response before he accepted what he hoped would never become reality.
“I need help, an ambulance, police, whatever,” he breathlessly responded.
“Ok sir, please stay on the line with me and tell me exactly what happened,” the reassuring woman on the line calmly responded to the frantic young man.
“It’s my Dad,” he paused as the old grappler opened his eyes. Without the dam holding back his tears, Dave’s cheeks became drenched. Eddie’s vision was also blurred as he grabbed his mentor’s hand to reassure him. “He took a bad fall.”