Private: Jonathan Rhine
“That sucked,” Jon Rhine says as a ramp lowers from the van that has transported him to Gray’s Wrestling Academy.
“What part?” Shweta asks, quickly moving to make sure the transition from ramp to ground is smooth.
“All of it. I’ve always hated flying, but transitioning from wheelchair to seat and back again, and having to have a catheter in during the flight, and then waiting an hour because the first van they sent didn’t have a ramp…travel sucks. This all sucks.”
Shweta instinctively runs her hands through Jon’s hair. “I know, babe. I’m sorry. Sorry about everything. At least we’re home.”
“Yeah,” Jon says, looking up at his wrestling school. “Home.”
He smiles. There hasn’t been a lot of that in the month following the attack. Mostly grimaces, frowns, snarls. Shweta smiles in turn. She walks behind him and puts her hands on the handles of the wheelchair, but Jon waves her off. “I got it. I want to be able to see you as we go in.”
Smiling wider, Shweta walks to Jon’s side, her fingers tracing his shoulders as he reaches forward for the wheels. He wriggles his fingers as he does so, enjoying the feeling and response. He feels the cheek muscles move as his grin grows. Since the accident, he has begun to appreciate the muscles in his body, and how they perform functions that he at one time took for granted. He drums his fingers on the wheels and nods. “Not anymore,” he says aloud.
“Nothing. Let’s go inside.”
The two enter the building, Rhine wheeling forward so they can both enter the hallway. “Never noticed how narrow these hallways are,” he says. Behind him, Shweta frowns.
Once upon a time, Shweta Kallemullah was a member of a diabolical organization. Through that experience, Shweta picked up many unsavory skills. Most of all, she developed keen instincts to assess and analyze every situation, and when to realize something was wrong.
She feels that way now, but keeps it to herself.
“…tell anyone, did you?” Jon asks.
“You didn’t tell them we were coming, right?”
They wheel towards Jon’s office. Jon tilts the wheelchair to look inside, then furrows his brow. “Looks pretty lived-in, don’t you think?”
Shweta looks in after him, chuckling. “Did you expect dust to build up or something?”
“Kind of. Dith must be doing stuff in there. Living out his head trainer dream.” Jon continues to wheel down the hallway while Shweta stands in the doorway, looking at an old ratty gym bag in the corner, the letters NW frayed and peeling off of it.
“No…” she murmurs, then looks up and sees Jon is almost to the gym. Jogging as much as her heels allow, she makes it there just as he wheels into the open area.
The sounds of body slams and burpees ring out just as always. Jon scans the floor for recognizable faces and immediately finds Aaron “Dith” Timble, who sees them and gapes.
“Surprise!” Jon says, then nods at Shweta. “I told you he’d be shocked.”
“You did,” she says, staring at Dith’s face. In that moment she knows her feeling is right. Dith walks up, looking over his shoulder.
“Hey, Jon, you’re back,” he says without a smile.
“Yeah, couldn’t keep me away forever,” Jon says, laughing a laugh which dies in his throat when he looks past Dith to the main ring.
A tall man slams a stout young man onto the ground, then bellows in fury. Turning around, the man sees Jon and raises his eyebrows, then leans on the ring ropes and smiles.
“Hey Jon,” Paxton Ray says.
“You…” Jon starts, but the words don’t come.
Shweta’s fingers dig into Jon’s shoulders as she finishes his thought. “You let him back in.”
“It wasn’t his decision,” a voice behind them calls, and Shweta knows who it is before turning around. Only one man would keep the same dirty wrestling bag from his NWC days.
“I know you said Dith would be in charge while you were gone, but have you seen the guy? Can’t manage his own wardrobe, much less a wrestling school.” Foster Nackedy slaps Jonathan Rhine on the shoulder as he passes, then puts his arm around Dith. Foster, who has spent most of 2022 drunk and ungroomed, is wearing new gym clothes and a freshly sculpted goatee. “No, to keep a school like Gray’s alive, you need a professional.”
“What are you doing here?” Jon growls.
“I just told you. I’m taking over because the head trainer is unable to. You understand, obviously. Something very similar to this happened a couple of years back, right? Someone gets paralyzed, so someone loses their job?”
“Jon’s the one who got paralyzed, you asshole, by that monster in the ring!” Shweta steps forward but sees Paxton drop to the canvas and roll out of the ring.
“The differences are miniscule. In any case, not like Jon can lead the team in rope runs anymore. So I’m just holding it down in the meantime.” A few of the students begin to stand behind Foster. One of them, Quinn Fleetwood, sneers at Jon. “Had to make a few executive decisions, of course. Bring back obvious talent that you were wasting.”
“This isn’t legal, Foster. Jon owns this gym.”
Foster smiles and rolls his eyes in an exaggerated fashion. “Legal? Ugh, man, I don’t know anything about laws! I was just helping a friend. But luckily, I do have a legal team that helps me with weird sticky situations like this. Hey, Pax, have you seen my lawyer?”
Paxton doesn’t say anything, but his mere presence is causing Jon’s teeth to grind together. In a moment, it gets worse.
“Here I am,” Chet Fleetwood says, walking over to the new Gray’s Academy trainer. “Sorry about that. Had to blow up that gym toilet. Too many hot chicken sandwiches last night, eh Fosty?”
Shweta sees Foster grimace for approximately a half second before smiling. “I’ll let you and Chet work all of this out. In the meantime, we’re running a session right now which is, I’m sorry to say, closed to the public. Paxton, want to see our guests out?”
“No need,” Shweta says, walking behind Jon and grabbing the wheelchair.
“No, Shway. We’re not leaving,” Jon protests.
“I think you are,” Quinn laughs as Shweta and Jon exit the gym and make a long trek down the busted hallway.
Jon doesn’t speak until they’re back outside. Shweta looks outside and curses, then grabs her phone and dials a number. “Yes, can we get the van with the ramp back to the academy? Yes, the meeting ended early.”
Jon wheels around and looks at the gym, his home for over a decade. He sighs and closes his eyes.
“Welcome home,” he says to himself.