According to the clock, it was 4:45pm.
According to Josie’s Spotify account, it was Bad Bitch O’Clock.
Josie shook her hips in time to Lizzo’s smash hit as she twisted sections of her long black hair and looped them through intricate patterns. Soon her updo would be finished, and she’d have a few minutes for dancing to her “bootyjamz” playlist before moving on to the next task.
“I’m not the girl I was or used to beeeeee,” she sang into the handle of her hair brush, then shot her sexiest look into the mirror. “Bitch, I might be better!”
She burst into a fit of giggles as self-awareness caught up with her, but she quickly shook it off. Why shouldn’t she feel good about this? Josie was about to go out with a very nice, sweet, charming guy.
Also, hot. Can’t forget that.
Once her hair was ready, she started on her makeup. Mascara, eye shadow, lipstick…but what colors?
“Crap,” she said. “Better call the experts.”
Josie grabbed her phone, paused the song, and set up a FaceTime group call with her work besties. If anyone had the answer, it was them.
After a few brief rings, Chayden’s face appeared on the screen. “Hey, girrrrrrl,” he said.
“Hey girrrrrrl,” Josie fired back. “You busy?”
“Never too busy for you, babes. What’s up?”
Josie bit her lip in hesitation. “You…know I’ve got that date tonight, right?”
“Girl, it’s all we’ve been talking about. You need help looking pretty?”
“Okay. First step, you can stop right now because you are FIRE, girl.”
Josie looked down at her white tank top and tiny shorts, and giggled again. It was a cute look, but not suitable for going out. “You know what I mean, Chay.”
“Got it, you want to be absolutely unfair to the boy. Well, your fairy godmother is here. Are we talking clothes or makeup?”
“Yes on the makeup, maybe on the dress. I’m thinking the purple one, so I can show off the goods.”
Chayden cocked his head and put on his best ‘annoyed’ look. “Josie, you don’t have goods. You have GREATS. That’s the right dress, though. When you wear it I think about switching teams.”
Josie laughed. “Chayden, you’re the best.”
“I know, but it’s nice to hear you say it.”
Josie’s phone signaled the arrival of Brandi to the call. Soon the others were blessed with the Queen B’s visage as she sat in her car.
“I told Chuck I was having ‘lady problems,’” she said. “He let me go early.”
“Hey B,” Josie said. “I’ve got my Nate-Date tonight.”
“And you need us to get you to S-Tier, got it. You’re wearing the purple.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”
“Wasn’t a question, Jojo. That dress, black underneath down to the shoes. You’ll rizz that boy up without saying a word.”
Josie nodded. Sometimes B could come off as a…well, a B. But she had no shortage of confidence, and was always willing to lend out her extra supply.
“Thanks, Queen. How about the makeup?”
Brandi thought for a moment, and tapped her finger against her lips. “Red lipstick.”
“Really? ‘Cause I was thinking about–” Josie started, but was cut off by a pair of heavy sighs.
“Jo. Is this man, or is he not, a basic bitch?” Chayden asked.
“Well…” she thought, before remembering the way he reacted to the tea drink he had a few days before. “…yeah.”
“Then you go with red; gold eyeshadow and you’re set.”
Josie grabbed her eyeshadow palette and looked through her options. “I can do that. That’ll be perfect.”
“Of course,” Brandi said, with a very self-satisfied smile. “Now, go get him.”
“Send me a picture before you go out!” Chayden said. “I want to see how you improve on perfection.
“Okay,” Josie replied, then bit her lip again…but not in frustration this time. “Think I should send a picture to him too?”
“Not unless you want to give him a heart attack before he leaves the house!”
Brandi added, “And remember the most important thing.”
Josie wracked her brain, trying to think of what that might be. Make sure her phone is charged? Remember her safety checks?
“Call you two tomorrow and tell you everything?”
Chayden and Brandi couldn’t have been more proud. “Our little girl, all grown up,” Chayden said.
The trio shared another laugh, then Josie waved them off. “Thanks for your help. You’re the best gang a girl could ask for.”
“Awwwwww,” Brandi said, before signing out. Chayden blew Josie a kiss before leaving the call himself.
Once she was alone, Josie turned her music back on and started on her makeup.
“Turn up the music, let’s celebrate…”
Over the past few months, she’d spent a lot of time getting to know Nate Colton, and so far she had enjoyed the experience.
“I got a feelin’, I’m gon’ be okay…”
Josie appreciated the fact that he was taking things slow, that he didn’t try to pressure her.
“Okay, okay, alright…”
But now, she wanted to step things up…and that he’d better be ready for it.
“It’s about damn time…”
# # #
“I can hardly believe it’s been a year.”
“Around this time in 2022, I was getting ready to make my PRIME debut. Teaming with a guy I’d only met a few days before, taking our first step toward success in wrestling by…trying to push a boulder up a hill.”
“Man, if Filmix could see me now.”
“These last twelve months have been a hell of a run. I’ve wrestled against Hall of Famers and hotshot rookies. I got to fight alongside one of the best in the world, and then a month later I got to fight against him. I have been put to the test, over and over again…and win or lose, I’ve proven myself to be up to the challenge.”
“Each time I think they can’t possibly raise the stakes higher, and then…well. Culture Shock Battle Royal.”
“No lie, I’ve got some jitters about this. Trying to outlast thirty-nine other people after being in the ring for God knows how long? That’s insane. Can’t be done. But…then I hear that little voice, from the part of me that loves competition. That loves a challenge. That looks at the impossible and says, ‘What the hell, there’s nothing good on TV tonight anyway.’ Oh, that part is rarin’ to go, and that’s the part I’m putting behind the wheel on Night Two.”
“So no matter when I hit that ring–beginning, middle, or end–you’re getting my A-game. You’re getting every ounce of fight that I got. Sure, that might not be enough to get me all the way through…but it’s enough to get me close. And if I can get close…then anything can happen, right?”
“Even the impossible.”
# # #
“They knew all the right people, they took all the right pills…”
Don Henley’s voice tore through the apartment, because Nate Colton was committed to his brand. But as Henley discussed the struggles and worries of Life in the Fast Lane, Nate did not sing along with him. This was partly because Nate was so tone-deaf that if he tried to match the vocals, someone would think he was screaming and call an ambulance.
Mostly, he was struck by a soul-wrenching decision.
“Why is this so difficult?” Nate asked nobody in particular. “I can pull a counter-attack in less than a second, but I can’t pick a goddamn shirt?”
He stood at his closet, dressed only in his boxers. His shoes and socks were ready to go; his freshly-ironed slacks were draped over the bed. All that remained was to pick a torso covering, and the choice had been far more agonizing than expected. Nate had been standing there for twenty minutes, slowly whittling down his choices and agonizing over those that remained.
“What do you think, buddy?” he said to the closet’s storage shelf, where the plastic eyes of Oinkers McGoo looked down on him. Nate moved him from his usual place on the dresser because…well, if Nate played his cards right, things might happen. Things that should not be seen by an impressionable young pig.
“The pink one? That’s bold, but I can see it.” He pulled a light pink dress shirt out of the closet, and held it up to his chest. “But I’d have to wear the tie, too,” he said. Nate didn’t care for ties; besides, he never figured out how to tie them. He’d have to call either his mom or Benjamin to have them walk him through the process, and they’d ask too many questions.
“How about this one?” He replaced the pink shirt, and brought out a dark green one with a floral print. He’d bought it on his brother’s advice; Benny said it “made his eyes pop.” Nate didn’t know what that meant, but he trusted his brother’s judgment when it came to hookup-related matters. Just those matters, and no others.
“Might be a little too much,” he said, and returned it to the closet. Next was a silk shirt in a vibrant blue. Old Reliable. His lucky shirt. For the past few years, it was his go-to when he needed to look his best. It looked great, it fit well, it was perfect.
No. Tonight wasn’t the night for that. Back it went.
Finally, a black dress shirt with very thin pinstripes. A bit of flash but not overstated, and he had a nice watch he could wear with it. But did they go with the pants he already picked out? Would he have time to iron another pair?
“Ugh. Why is this so hard?” he asked again. Oinkers had no answer, as he did not understand the complex rituals involved with human relationships, nor had he ever worn a shirt.
Well, once. But that’s another story.
“Right,” Nate told himself. “Time to make a choice, and I choose…this one.” He took the black shirt off its hanger and put it on, then checked the mirror as he fastened the buttons.
“Damn, Nathan, you are looking pretty good.” He tried practicing some of his ‘flirty faces,’ but the effect was ruined when he finished the buttons and realized he’d missed one, so his collar was all out of whack.
“For fuck’s sake,” he grumbled, and unbuttoned the shirt.
“She said, ‘Listen baby,’” Don continued, oblivious to Nate’s problems. “‘You can hear the engine ring…’”
That doesn’t sound like an engine OR the Eagles, Nate thought. Must be the phone.
Nate walked into the living room, where his phone was plugged into a small speaker. Sure enough, he’d received a text…and it made his heart skip a beat
A few more messages followed, which Nate fully intended to read…only that’s when the picture came in.
There she was.
Hair and makeup were perfect, of course. But that dress…that wasn’t a dress. It was a dress. Nate couldn’t believe she could catch him off guard like that…but there it was.
going to club ego
see you there?
Nate stared at the messages for a moment, suddenly out of breath. When he finally collected himself, he typed his response in record time.
As soon he’d finished, Nate ran back into his bedroom to change his shirt.
“Life in the fast lane, surely make you lose your mind…”
# # #
“We’ve talked about the challenge, now let’s talk about the reward. A shot at the Universal Championship.”
“That’s what we’re all here for, right? Anyone can say they’re the best, and we all strive for it…but if you’ve got that belt, you can prove it. Tell me your blood isn’t pumping at the thought of it.”
“Just don’t tell the Five Star Title; I don’t want her to get jealous.”
“I’ve said in the past, I’m fine with taking the slower path to success. I’m gonna bust my ass to hold onto the Five Star through Night One and beyond. I’m proud to be a part of that title’s legacy, and I want to do all I can to build on it.”
“But sometimes things just fall into your lap. You look up and you see that ultimate prize, the thing you want more than anything else in the world. So you put your whole heart and soul into it and grab with both hands, because who knows if you’ll ever get another shot.”
“Whether this is my first chance or my only one, I’m taking it. ‘Cause as much as I believe in my heart I’ll be around PRIME for years to come, I also know there’s no guarantees in this world.”
“I’m sure everyone else in the match is saying the same thing. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t willing to pull out all the stops, and I ain’t so arrogant that I’ll promise to outlast all of them. But I’m confident enough to know that I can. God willing, it’ll be me with my hand raised at the end of the night…but even if it’s not, I can promise that you’re going to learn two things about Nate Colton.”
“First, when I know what I want, I go for it. All out, no brakes, full speed ahead. Second, when I’ve got that prize in my hands?”
“I will never let go.”
# # #
Club EGO. One of the hottest night clubs in Las Vegas. Like every Saturday night, it was packed to the gills, and you could have started your own dance party with the people still trying to get in.
“Please be a fan, please be a fan, please be a fan…”
So of course, some jerk was going to try and cut in line.
In Nate Colton’s defense, the line was really long, and he needed to get inside, like, now. Surely they would understand. If not, the few bills he had stuffed in the pocket of his blue silk shirt could convince them.
“How much do you even bribe a bouncer? I hope it’s enough…”
Nate kept talking to himself as he walked toward the entrance, ignoring the snide remarks and dirty looks of the people he was passing. As he approached the bouncers, he waved a hand to get their attention.
One of them scowled at him. “Sir, you need to go–”
“Oh, shit!” the other one said. “Ain’t you Nate Colton?”
THANK YOU JESUS “Yeah, that’s me.”
“This guy used to wrestle here in town!” the bouncer told his cohort. “I used to see him at the Grand!”
“No kiddin’. Is he the guy with the eggs?”
“Nah, that was someone else. This guy’s pretty dope, though!”
“Thanks, always love meeting a fan.” Nate fished the bills out of his pocket and tucked them into his palm. “Listen, guys. I hate doing this…but I kinda need to get inside. Think you can swing that for me and–” he nodded toward the front of the line– “some of my friends?”
He offered a handshake to the fan and transferred the money in the process, in a move that was very sneaky and not at all suspicious. The recipient looked into his hand–again, very sneaky–and his eyes bulged.
“Hell yeah, man!” He whispered something to his partner, who quickly got on board with the operation. Then, one opened the ropes for Nate, while the other waved through some of the waiting patrons.
“Thank you,” he said and walked into the club, followed closely by eight new friends.
That bribe was too much, then. Good to know.
“Thanks, bro!” one of them shouted, a little too close to his ear. Nate winced even as the other man threw an arm around his shoulder. “You gotta come sit with us! We’re gonna find a table!”
“I appreciate that,” Nate yelled back, “but I’m meeting someone here! You all have a great night!”
The stranger seemed to get over his disappointment quickly, and the group wandered off. Nate took a few steps toward the dance floor, but even from this distance the thumping bass was overwhelming. With every beat, his teeth chattered, and his legs felt harder to move.
He jammed his hand into a pocket and pulled out a small plastic case. After opening it, he removed its contents–a pair of earplugs–and put them into place.
“Ain’t like I can hear her anyway,” he muttered, and tried to center himself. Now that the atmosphere was muted, he found it all much easier to handle. It wasn’t too far from there to the dance floor, and Colton closed the distance at almost a dead sprint.
Where is she WHERE IS SHE
He scanned the club for a familiar face, but the place was packed with dancing, drinking, yelling strangers. The earplugs muffled the worst of the noise, thankfully. He could still hear the music, and a few bits of conversation, but it wasn’t overwhelming. Maybe there would be a clue?
He caught a few words about how slow the bar was, and an argument between the DJ and the manager about the music played in between dance tracks, before he finally heard what he needed.
“Holy shit, look at that chick go–”
There. That’ll be her.
He looked out into the sea of people again…and finally, there she was.
It felt like a scene out of a movie. Time slowed, the crowd parted, and the strobe and lasers focused into a spotlight, targeted on the object of his desire.
She danced effortlessly in time with the DJ’s creation, each flowing movement matching the beat perfectly. Like she was feeling the music instead of hearing it. Letting it flow through her body, allowing it control, moving where it told her. Not in command, but definitely in control.
Reality started to seep back into Nate’s perception, but it made the sight no less impressive. A tight red dress hugged the curves of her slender body, and with every step a flash of thigh could be seen through the side slit. The lights spun wildly, but periodically they would frame her face for a moment to show her radiant smile and cause Nate’s heart to turn cartwheels in his chest.
Get down there now or you might actually die
He made his approach, and suddenly the seas that had parted crashed back in, and he had to fight for every step. A stream of “excuse me” escaped his lips as he squeezed past or wedged through the other patrons, slowly making his way toward his goal.
Thirty seconds passed like hours, but finally he found the center of the floor…and there she was. Just as beautiful as he had remembered.
She even still has that nose ring
He watched her silently for a moment, before the song finally died down. She slowed her movements, then dropped her head before standing back upright, as if she had to shake the last of the music out of herself. Then, finally she saw him.
Tell her she looks incredible
Tell her how good it is to see her again
Tell her you love her
Tell her SOMETHING
Nate brought his right hand to his head, then waved it to the side in a sort of off-kilter salute.
Or, to those who understand ASL, “Hello.”
She beamed, and her hands became a flurry in the club’s flashing lights. “Nate! I can’t believe you’re here,” she signed.
“It’s so good to see you,” he replied. At least he thought that’s what he said; with the way his hands were shaking he couldn’t be sure.
The woman smiled again, only this time it was bigger and brighter than the sun and moon and all the stars, because she was smiling at him. Her eyes sparkled, full of light and love.
Nate was dumbfounded. All the old feelings swelled back up, and a dumb grin spread across his face. There were no thoughts in his head; there wasn’t room.
By the time he realized she was walking toward him, she was already throwing her arms around Nate’s shoulders. She pulled him in close, and their lips met.
The fire in his heart surged through his body as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her even closer. The rest of the world faded away; there was only this woman and this moment. Nothing else mattered.
Not the other people, still pressing them from all sides as they filtered to and from the dance floor.
Not the music, some swamp rock song that was older than anyone in the building.
Not the buzzing from his phone, as text messages came in.
Are you here yet? I can get us a table.
Is everything okay?
Nate? Where are you?