none of this has anything to do with you,
dude. and fuck you for thinking it does. Bet
you felt pretty clever during our little show
opener. got me pretty wound up with that
“substitute Tyler” line. its funny to hear
that though, because who has more in
common with that fucking nerd? Spoiler
alert, it’s NOT ME. i didn’t ask for ANYONE
to hold my hand, nevermind YOURS,
and kiss my ass with all that “i know who
i am” bullshit, because i don’t think
you have a fucking clue. like it or
not, the glue boys get WINS, and thats
the ONLY reason I hopped on board.
the gold, wins and losses DO define
you, dude, and you don’t get to choose
otherwise. i did what i did to get you off
my back. that’s it. this is on you, Jared.
it didn’t have to go like this.
Hayes seethed with a hot stream of air through his nose, lip curling at the wall of text sitting on the phone’s screen. His index finger hovered over the little blue arrow, taunting him to press it.
He shoved a hand through his hair, pushing his ball cap and headphones askew. Dark eyes scanned the empty gym floor, looking for some kind of sign. For some graveyard shift employee to offer a nod across the room, for permission to stab his finger into the screen and send the words he wished he’d said at ReVival 37.
There would be no such sign. Just the dull hum of fluorescent lights overhead, and the late night gym’s piercing hush.
He highlighted the wall of text and deleted it with a dissatisfied snort. From his seat at the edge of a bench, he fixed his hat, adjusted his headphones, and picked up a set of dumbbells from the floor.
And got back to work.
Despite the spiciness of ReVival 37’s opening, it felt good to send Max Kael? back to his jizz pod.
He hadn’t been very public about it, but round one of the Almasy had weighed heavy inside the broad chest of the Event Horizon. It was well documented that Hayes had little knowledge of promotions outside of PRIME, but the hushed whispers of Max Kael?’s history, the rumors of his rebirth, truthful or otherwise, and the spiral it seemed to be sending Cecilworth Farthington down were enough to give Hayes plenty of pause.
After all, he’d left every chip on the table at UltraViolence.
Following that with a first round exit in the Almasy would have been crushing. Embarrassing.
Landing the Epoch and getting the pin was a freeing moment for Hammerin’ Hanlon; a “P.S. fuck you” to the love letter he wrote with Jared’s jaw. In front of them all: Sykes. Ivan.
Farthington. And Youngblood.
Round two was fast approaching, but he couldn’t help but look to the inevitability of round three.
The Financier? Or the Diamond of the ReVival?
The possibilities raced through his mind, filling his blood with an electricity he hadn’t felt since Colossus of last year. To face Youngblood meant a second chance, an opportunity to avenge his Universal Championship so quickly taken away. Another chance to make a bold statement in a rematch worthy of PRIME’s history books.
To face Farthington, though, could mean so much more; to flip the script. To fuck with the order, or lack thereof. To show that maybe, Hayes Hanlon was the Glue all along.
But that would have to wait. Kenny Freeman was next at bat. And that brought possibilities of its own.
“Ivan’s going to fuck up everything. I know he is.”
Hayes offered a nod as he collected a proper New York slice from the window, taking it by the crust and pinching it in the middle. He took a bite as he turned away, joining Joe Fontaine and Sid Phillips standing street-side at “Your Pie Pizza,” a short Uber drive away from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. By chance, their respective flights shared a long layover in Atlanta, and while Hayes waited to continue the journey back to Las Vegas, and the Glue Man Group to Phoenix, the three had set out into the evening in search of something resembling actual pizza.
Clearly, the thick, tomato-y sting of Chicago’s dreadful deep dishes had left their mark since UltraViolence.
“That’s probably true,” Joe replied, lifting his slice high to salvage a wayward string of mozzarella. “They’re super good at that kind of thing. Real fuckery experts, those guys.”
“And we’re just cool with that?” asked Hayes. “Because it’s starting to feel that way.”
“It’s not cool,” Sid offered through a mouthful. “But Ivan is big, and admittedly difficult to powerbomb. Not impossible. Nothing is impossible when it comes to powerbombs.”
“Just how the crust crumbles,” added Joe.
“Help me make sense of it, guys,” said Hayes, taking a frustrated bite. “Max’s whole crew showed up to try and knock me out of the tournament. And meanwhile, where were my new ‘Brothers in Glue?’”
“In our defense, we were preparing for a very important competition,” said Joe.
“I still don’t understand why it isn’t ‘rock-paper-scissors-powerbomb,’” Sid queried.
Hayes scanned the two, then let his eyes drift down the dark of the Atlanta street. Finding connection with his new team had proven challenging for a variety of reasons,and he was recognizing that age was certainly one of them. Joe, Sid, and FLAMBERGE were children of the new millennium, an epoch Hayes had experienced at nearly age five. On the other side of the coin was Cecilworth Farthington, nine years his senior, born in the middle of the 80s. Hayes sat almost dead in the middle, the coin’s thin edge, and the feelings of isolation were still strong.
He shook his head, and turned back to the former Winds of Change.
“It confuses the shit out of me,,” he admitted, dropping the crust of his pizza to his paper plate. “It felt like the Glue Factory was all over the place, making a mess in everyone’s matches. Then I join, and suddenly Farthington is losing his mind, Flambo hightails it back to France, and you two are…well, par for the course. No offense.”
“None taken,” Sid assured.
“So what gives? Why’d you two join?”
Joe smiled, “Real talk? I joined ‘cause I’m a little tired of people…the vets, as an example, telling me what to do and how to do it.”
Sid shrugged, “I just keep him out of the worst trouble.”
It was a short, simple response from Smooth Joe Fontaine, but it struck a chord with the Comeback Kid. The words of his mentors and heroes had fallen short through the year. Nova had drifted from the picture early, and disappeared without a word since his loss to Hoyt Williams at Tropical Turmoil. The Tower of Babel was all too eager to strip the Event Horizon of his second chance at Universal Title reign. And Jared Sykes, well, his words had never really landed in the first place.
All of these were thoughts he might’ve liked to share with Joe and Sid, but instead he shook them into the warm Atlanta air.
“Man, I can’t get my head out of round three,” Hayes admitted, tossing his paper plate into a nearby trash can. “If I have to take on Youngblood again it’s gonna take fucking everything. And if I lose, we’re done. Glue is out of the whole thing. And what if it’s Cecilworth? How does that go down if we have to go against each other…”
“You know, Hayes,” Joe interrupted. “I get that you’re a two-time Uni champ and everything, but I’m pretty sure round two comes before three.”
Hammerin’ Hanlon cocked an eyebrow.
“You’re talking about Freeman?”
“You think Kenny Freeman stands a chance against me?”
“No one gave JC Hall a chance against you, look how that turned out.”
Hayes felt his jaw tighten and his cheeks flush. For as much of a troll Joe could be, he had this strange ability to drop small bombs of truth on occasion. The loss to Jonathan-Christopher, ironically thanks to a distraction from the Financier and the Neck Collector, was possibly the worst of Hanlon’s losses to date, during a time where he was the most wayward. Directionless.
Before he turned left.
“I know his record doesn’t show it, but K-Free can turn it on when he wants to. Remember his match against Tyler? He caught that dude totally off guard and almost got him!”
Hayes let his muscles relax. Joe spoke the truth. Hayes hadn’t given Freeman much thought. His only concerns for round two lay with Ivan and Alexei, not with Kenny Freeman himself.
“I’m just saying,” said Joe, taking the last bites of his slice. “Maybe live a little more in the moment?”
More in the moment. A trope that carried a different definition for Hayes.
It meant living in the lights, and the neon. In k-holes and trips with Molly. With strange faces in stranger places. With good, meaningless sex to move past the most recent loss, or celebrate the latest victory. It meant focusing on the big moments, but not always the next moment. Hayes nodded gently at the son of Joey Malone, processing this wisdom from such an unlikely source.
Until Fontaine opened his mouth again.
“That, and Kenny’s really good at rock-paper-scissors,” said Joe through a mouthful of crust. “And that’s a huger problem than you realize.”
“Did you just use the word ‘huger?’” asked Sid, genuinely concerned.
“Is that a problem?”
Hayes stepped back as the Glue Man Group argued their respective grammatical points, allowing passage for passers-by on the sidewalk.
Live in the moment.
Maybe that was the key to this whole Glue thing.
Maybe the constant search for the biggest, brightest moments was the problem. Maybe the secret lay in leaving them be, to let them reveal themselves when the time was right, and to take it day by day, night by night. Minute by minute.
Maybe anything else, was too much.
“This is….this is too much, man.”
Paul swept a hand over his tired face. Hellaciously hungover, the eldest Hanlon sibling fought through the dull thudding in his head and the empty hollow in his gut.
“I…I can’t even look at you,” he said, forcing a sip of coffee in his booth at some diner in Portland. He’d already forgotten the name.
“She told ya some real horror stories ’bout me, didn’t she?” said the grumbling mass of man sitting across the table, taking his own swig of black gold.
“Are you gonna tell me that none of it’s true?”
“That’s exactly what I’m tellin’ ya.”
Paul tried to shake the exhaustion and confusion from his eyes, and leaned into the palm of his hand. So much of the previous night was blank. The fact that he’d let it bring him here, to his moment, made his stomach turn.
“This is so fucked up,” he mumbled. “What am I doing here, what are YOU doing here? You’ve been in jail for twenty years…”
“Twenty-two years, three months, six days.”
Paul took a beat, jaw starting to slack. It wasn’t just last night; his entire existence the last few months had been a predictable amalgamation of a drug-fueled haze, repeating the cycle by waking up in the late afternoon and eating something minimal before searching for new ‘friends.’
But not this morning.
Instead, he sat across from a barrel of a man, with a mess of hair, long and dark. A ragged beard to match. And worst of all, a pair of familiar dark eyes behind it all.
“Well, go on,” said Toby, chewing through his breakfast. “Tell me everything. Every awful fuckin’ thing I did.”
“Man, I dunno, I wasn’t even ten when you went in.”
Toby replied with a long sip of coffee, and lifted his eyebrows, urging Paul to continue.
“Fuck,” Paul exhaled, throwing his hands up and letting them fall into his lap as he fell against the backrest of the booth. “Dude, I learned most of this shit listening through the wall while Mom and Dad argued about it.”
“And? What’d ya hear?”
“I heard about the abuse,” Paul snapped, finally showing some fire and slapping a hand to the table. “About how you used to beat the shit out of her when she was a kid.”
He froze a moment, recognizing his public outburst within the diner. Toby sat calm, and cold. Paul scanned the diner, then eased his tone, seething through his teeth.
“And how you took advantage of h…”
“Sounds like you ain’t got a clear picture.“
Toby chewed on a stray hair from his beard, collecting himself with a roll of his broad shoulders.
“I sure as hell wasn’t a perfect parent,” he growled. “But she didn’t make it all that fuckin’ easy. Runnin’ ’round all the time, anything to get out’ve that house. Yeah I was a drunk, and no, I didn’t make any fuckin’ money. That place was a god damn shithole ever since….”
Castellanos took heavy, measured breaths through his nose. Memories of his wife, and the days leading up to her opting for the easy way out, came flooding. Like so many nights in his jail cell. He took a beat, clearing his throat, then pointed a thick finger at his oldest grandson.
“And she took it all out on me. Made up all sorts’ve shit. Painted me like some kind’ve fuckin’ monster.”
He growled, then tipped back the rest of his coffee, thudding it to the table and turning his gaze through the window at the end of their booth.
“And she made damn sure to put me away fer a long, long time.”
Paul and his grandfather sat in silence, and Paul’s swimming mind tried to make sense of it all. Everything he’d known about this man he’d learned at the youngest, most impressionable years of his life; through screaming matches and tear-filled sobs behind locked doors or hiding at the top of the stairs. The details were so dark, so unforgivable that he couldn’t help but accept them as truth.
But was it?
“Anyway,” said Toby, flicking a crumpled napkin away. “You ain’t gotta believe a word of it. She didn’t leave you to rot.”
But Hayes did.
Drug-addled brain aside, Paul couldn’t help but think of his little brother, and the last words they’d shared together.
“Get your shit together, and call me…”
“Get your shit together, Hayes.”
Paul felt the burning in his cheeks. He’d done a good job of drinking and snorting the pain away. Successful at dodging debt collectors and finding enough couches and beds to sleep in night after night.
But none of it changed the fact that Younger Brother lied. Took back his word. And sent Older Brother back to the streets.
No amount of coke or molly would change that.
“No,” said Paul, feeling his fingers pump. “But I know the feeling. Someone…close to me…left me to rot, too.”
Hidden behind his heavy black beard, Toby’s lips turned up into the smallest of grins.
“Is that so.”
Hayes sat heavily into his first class seat. Next stop: Vegas.
It was a red-eye flight, but he preferred it that way; the rides were quiet with the lights low, fellow passengers sleeping through the night, allowing a flight attendant to fetch him another gin all the easier.
He settled in as the plane loaded, and made use of a warm towel over his tired face.
More in the moment.
Hayes had chewed on Joe’s words since he’d returned to the terminal. It made so much sense; to control what’s in front of you, to let go of what’s too far on the horizon. Maybe that’s how one could call themselves a free man.
Powerful, simple words from an unexpected place.
And maybe one day, Hayes would actually understand them.
Instead, he pulled his phone from his pocket, and began to type.
I hope you beat the brakes off of
Gamble,because I’m gonna beat the
piss out of Freeman.
And if we both get out of round 2,
you’d better go all-in for the rest of the way,
I know I will.
I can’t think of a better way to shut your
mouth for good than at Colossus.
This time, he didn’t hesitate to press that little blue arrow.