“If you keep me here any longer, I’m going to start thinking it’s on purpose.”
Astrid Fihlguud chose not to entertain the mustachioed young man sitting in her clinic, leaning over a desk and signing off on some paperwork. Hayes Hanlon bounced his legs in anticipation and impatience; on the one hand Hayes was still buzzing after another victory over the eGG Bandits, more specifically Bobby Dean. On the other, Hanlon’s phone was back in the locker room, and the daughter of Victor Fihlguud opte to keep her office television-free (wrestlers had a hard enough time keeping focus.) He was eager to get out of the clinic to watch Brandon Youngblood suplex Phil Atken into paste and thrust the Universal Championship overhead once again.
The high heels and long legs emerging from a tight pencil skirt provided a pretty good view in the meantime, though.
“If you keep injuring that hand I’m going to assume the same,” she replied flatly, taking a seat in her office chair, crossing her legs and rolling to his side on the examination table. Hayes chuckled as she took his hand, giving the soft brace another look.
“So what am I looking at?” he asked. “Another four weeks?”
“If you’re lucky,” she replied, turning his wrist over gently. “Letting a 369 pound man stand on it immediately after it healed the first time isn’t recommended.”
“Trust me, that wasn’t the worst of it,” he mumbled, shaking off the memories of Bobby’s famed ‘Deaner Weiner.’ It would have stung a lot more had he lost, but at least the comment got a small grin out of the blonde doctor.
“Four weeks at minimum,” she declared, pushing the chair away with her legs and back to her desk. She stood, leaning over to scribble one last signature. Hayes craned his neck.
“And uh, anything special you can prescribe? I’m in a loooot of pain.”
She rolled a pair of sharp green eyes. “Yeah, it’s this new experimental drug…”
Astrid retrieved an Rx pad and sat against the edge of her desk, scribbling quickly. She snapped the paper off and reached it over to the Event Horizon.
“…it’s called Tylenol. Here are directions to the CVS.”
Hanlon pushed off the table with his good hand, taking the “prescription” as he stood.
“Hmm,” he murmured, puzzled. “Don’t see your number anywhere…”
“Out,” said Astrid convincingly, pointing to the door. “I’ll see you in four weeks, Mr. Hanlon.”
“Thanks, Doc,” said Hayes sincerely, smiling behind his dark mustache. She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes toward the exit, and Hayes held up the piece of paper with appreciation before taking his leave. A light jog carried him through the halls, ditching the fruitless script into a trash can before reaching a locker room door.
“What’d I miss?” he asked, bursting inside, greeted by Nova, back turned and arms crossed at the chest. The Risen Star looked upward at a TV monitor on the wall, the results of ReVival 13’s main event on replay. Hayes put a hand on Nova’s shoulder, but the veteran only replied with a light shake of the head.
“What’d I mis…”
His face dropped. The screen had to be telling lies.
Phil Atken filled the frame, clutching the Universal Title to his chest, the Last Diamond clinging to consciousness on the mat nearby.
No blood for the Blood God.
No skulls for the Skull Throne.
Just gold. But this time, for the Humble Proprietor.
“I don’t…I don’t understand…”
“Flamberge,” Nova replied while lifting his chin to the television. “Look.”
A replay of the match-finish took over, highlighting the moment the Frenchman sealed his fate by pulling the ropes away from the Tower of Babel’s reach, and the consecutive arm-falls that followed.
Hayes had nothing smart to say.
The Risen Star confirmed with an exhale through his nose.
“You and Knox better figure out your bullshit quick…”
The pair stared hard at the screen; Nova frustrated but not surprised. Hayes in shock, mouth agape.
“…MESSIAH isn’t our only problem anymore.”
“So you left Mom on read. Bold move, Cotton.”
Hayes replied by sipping his mimosa. Last night’s hangover stood no chance behind his gold-lensed aviators and the chicken-fried steak in front of him, courtesy of “Eggslut” on the Strip. It was a wonder why he hadn’t lifted a fork to it. Paul was less reserved, shoveling a pile of hash browns in his mouth.
“Bold indeed,” Hayes replied. “But I’m strangely okay with it.”
“You’ll be singing a different tune when you’re written out of the will,” Paul laughed. Hayes rolled his eyes.
“That’s their problem,” he said, finally cutting into his gravy-smothered breakfast. “I’ve got bigger shit on my plate.”
“I’ll say,” Paul confirmed. “Starting shit with Hall of Famers…”
“Not in PRIME,” Hayes pointed out, quickly. “Besides, I didn’t start shit. We bumped into each other a couple times backstage and Knox is the one who decided to call me ‘Bambi’.”
Paul hid a smirk behind his drink, eyeing his younger brother as he cut off another bite.
“I dunno, I’m just not into his whole schtick,” Hayes continued with a mouthful. “Dude gets his ass handed to him by Youngblood and decides to walk around the locker room like it never happened.”
He downed the rest of his mimosa, swishing before swallowing.
“He’s kinda weird, man. His music’s weird, his girlfriend is weird…and what does ‘The Messenger is Not Important’ mean anyway?”
“It’s a movie quote.”
Hayes cocked an eyebrow.
“Stigmata. You’ve seen Stigmata, right?”
“…don’t think so.”
Again, Paul stifled a laugh. Hayes set his fork down and tilted his head back in his chair, breathing deep to fight the hangover. Big brother grinned at the younger’s struggle.
“You need to make some friends,” Paul declared.
“I have friends.”
“The randoms you dive into the rabbit hole with on Saturday nights don’t count, bro. And Nova’s what? Forty?”
“Forty-three. March twenty-third, 1979…”
Paul waved him off. “Point proven. But Hayes, you’re TWENTY-SEVEN. Aren’t there younger members on the roster you can connect with? Colton, Ria…”
The younger Hanlon didn’t respond right away, looking onto the strip.
“Remember Sonny Silver? And Chandler Tsonda? Danny Ferguson?”
“Yeah, what about ‘em?”
“Man, those guys were fuckin’ masters on the microphone. They could fire off barbs effortlessly. The crowd hung on every word. No one was safe.”
Paul nodded through a bite. “For sure, what’s your point?”
“I dunno, it just feels like that’s…missing. Like most of these guys are just trying to be best friends, make dinner plans on Jabber. Fly across the country with Balomba or some other bullshit.”
Paul gave his brother a moment. Hayes leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table.
“I guess I feel like I have more in common with the old guard. Does that make any sense?”
Paul mulled it over.
“No, you’re right. It makes sense. It makes perfect sense, actually.”
A questioning pause from the younger Hanlon.
“Bro, you’ve literally spent the last ten years hoping and waiting for PRIME to re-open. You gambled on something that had NO right coming true. But it did. You could’ve looked elsewhere, joined other big names, but you didn‘t. It was PRIME or nothing. You took that risk, and you should be proud of that.”
Their waitress interjected, topping off their mimosas after getting the okay.
“It’s not wrong to wanna be old school,” Paul continued after a sip. “But it’s not wrong to see what the new school’s about, either.”
“Welcome back to pool-side at the MGM Grand!!”
A burst of cheers launched from the crowd of MGM Grand patrons, soaking up the sun and the booze as Monica Stevens sat across “Event Horizon” Hayes Hanlon, sun shining off her dark skin. Seven months had passed since their first conversation before the Almasy Invitational that heralded PRIME’s return. Monica hadn’t changed, rocking big, curly hair and massive shades. The pool hadn’t changed, still full of half-drunk and fully-drugged party goers.
But Hayes had changed.
With feet dangling in the water, shirtless in board shorts, the Event Horizon sat more upright. More sure of himself. More proud with the ACE Network microphone in his hand.
“Hayes! It’s so good to see you!” Monica beamed. Hanlon smiled back behind his gold-lensed aviators.
“Good to see you, Monica, but I’ve been here all along. Kind’ve expected a phone call, but hey, I get it…”
“Nice try, hot shot,” Monica toyed. “But in all seriousness, the last seven months have proved pretty successful for you! Including the Five Star Championship back at Culture Shock!”
A pop rose from the pool crowd. Hayes threw up the “hang loose” symbol with appreciation.
“I can’t complain,” he conceded. “It’s been the ride of a lifetime, and I only have you to thank for it!”
He pointed out to the crowd, further pumping them up as they raised hands and half-drank beverages.
“But now…” Monica started. “…things have changed. You lost the Five Star Championship to Rezin at Great American Nightmare, but came roaring back with a huge win over Cancer Jiles. And since then have knocked heads with famed wrestler Randall Knox. Anything to share on that situation?”
“Monica, I have plenty to say about Randall Knox, but I have other fish to fry before we meet up at UltraViolence.”
“You’re talking about GREAT SCOTT, am I right?”
“The one and only.”
“And how are you feeling about the upcoming match at ReVival 15?” she pushed. “SCOTT had been on a journey since he showed up in PRIME, but losing to Rezin at Great American Nightmare, and getting disqualified at ReVival 14 has sent him on a new path. A path that has lead to a HUGE signing with the Phoenix Wrestling Alliance.”
“Hey, good for him,” Hayes replied, feet dangling in the water.
“You don’t sound so supportive,” Monica noted. Hayes smirked, caught red handed.
“I think he might be spreading himself thin.”
“Oh? Please, go on!” Monica gleamed.
“He can do his own thing,” Hayes replied. “But the guy’s in multiple feds, traveling a ton, I just don’t think that’s a recipe for success.”
“So he’s gonna come up short at ReVival 15?” Monica assumed. Hayes tilted his head back and forth.
“…yeah. He is.”
The pool crowd popped at the declaration.
“I like your style, Hayes!” Monica announced above the cheering audience. “But there’s another pressing question…about PWA.”
The crowd hushed. Hayes ran a hand through his hair, prepared for the next question.
“You gonna sign?” she pressed.
“Honestly? I’m not sure I will.”
A surprised surge through the on-looking crowd. Monica reared back with faux-surprise.
“Oh? Do tell!”
Hayes scanned the pool crowd. They feigned the same interest as the first interview he had with Monica those months ago. They didn’t care that he lost the Five Star Title weeks ago. They hadn’t paid attention to his run-ins with Randall Knox. They just wanted the drinks. The opportunity to get on camera.
But Monica deserved to do her job, and he lifted his microphone.
“I made a decision a long time ago, Monica,” he started. “I gave up a lot of opportunities to take this path, even before I knew PRIME was going to return.”
He took a beat. Monica remained focused. The crowd, surprisingly, quieted in the pool.
“There are tons of federations out there. I could have made my name at any of them. I had those interviews. I had the offers…”
Another pause. The poolside at MGM drew silent.
“…but none of them were PRIME. And Monica? I could have been good at any of those places. But if I wanted to be great?”
He scanned the pool one more time with a sly grin behind that dark mustache before lifting the mic once more.
“…it had to be PRIME. Meanwhile, SCOTT’s been taking all the contracts he can get, trying to be a ‘PWA Megastar,’ but the truth? The truth is that he has a HOT Tv title that means next to nothing. It’s not PRIME. And I don’t wanna be a dick, Monica, but…the rest don’t matter.”
Monica nodded, a touch surprised. Hayes took the opportunity to set the final tone.
“I decided a long time ago that ‘good’ wasn’t enough…”
A pen hung from Head Coach Chris Sperry’s mouth, his eyes scanning an email for the seventh or eighth time. He still wore the purple and white of the University of Portland Pilots, sitting in his modest office. The same office he held since taking over the program in 1998 when Terry Pollreisz moved on to manage the Everett AquaSox. Thus far it had been a successful seventeen year run at the University of Portland, and he could count one hand how many players that left the program early.
Hayes Hanlon, aged twenty, would force him to use both, it seemed.
“Yeah, come in,” he called after a knock at the door. He pulled the pen from his lips and pivoted in his chair as Hayes walked in, wearing a gray hoodie where his uniform numbered fifteen should have been.
“Have a seat, son,” said Sperry, gesturing to a fold-up chair on the wall. The young Hanlon obliged, hands stuffed in his hoodie pocket. Coach Sperry leaned forward, elbows on his knees.
“Well, I can’t say I’m thrilled,” he started. “The boys were all asking why you weren’t at practice today.”
Hayes shrugged, turning his brown eyes down.
“Talk to me, son,” asked his coach. “I’ve been askin’ around, I know you took on a couple new classes this semester. Gymnastics? ACTING? Where’s this coming from?”
Hanlon looked away, struggle crossing a clean-shaven face.
“It’s hard to explain, Coach.”
“Well I think I at least deserve an explanation! C’mon, kid. You’ve been starting at first since you enrolled, you lead the team in on-base percentage. You’re a sure shot for a spot in the minors when you graduate!”
Hayes stayed quiet for a beat, re-adjusting his ballcap over shaggy dark hair.
“The minors,” Hayes echoed.
“Yeah, without a doubt,” Sperry replied confidently.
“But not the majors.”
Chris paused long. Without confidence.
“No,” he said, breaking the silence. “Probably not.”
Hayes nodded with a small, accepting smile. Sperry leaned back in his office chair.
“Coach…it’s hard to explain,” Hayes began. “But…I can’t go halfway. I don’t know how.”
The Pilots’ Head Coach sat back in his chair, knowing he lacked the words to change this particular mind.
“And I know that I can only take baseball so far,” Hayes continued. “And Coach…I LOVE baseball, but the idea of ONLY making it to the minors makes me wanna PUKE.”
Hayes cleared his throat, buying a moment. Coach Sperry gave it to him.
“But…there’s this other thing. That I LOVE. Really. And I think…”
Home Run Hayes visibly shrunk in his chair, his future’s uncertainty simultaneously weighing hm down and filling his heart.
“…I think it can make me great.“
The Head Coach pinched his eyes shut. Selfishly, it wasn’t the response he wanted. But the mark of of a great coach has nothing to do with THEM.
“C’mere, kid,” he said, standing and extending his arms. The young Hanlon hesitated, but would rise from his chair. Sperry planted his hands over his former first-baseman’s shoulders with a strained smile.
“I understand,” he said, giving Hayes a light shake. “And I believe you, son.”
Hayes stood, unable to proces just yet.
“…you do?” he quivered.
“Of course I do,” Coach replied in earnest. “And whatever this thing is, don’t be \great at it. Be the greatest“
And before any tears could fall, Coach Sperry embraced the young Hayes Hanlon tight, and let him leave it all behind on his shoulder.