This is a story about the boy who got everything he ever wanted.
Benny was the first to find out.
He was the only member of the family who actually read the Scandal Sheet, which was just to see who he’d been romantically linked with and then message them to find out if they were actually interested.
Of course when he saw his brother’s name, he stopped to read, figuring it would be something fun to tease him about later. But when he saw her name, he sprung into action. He immediately sent a message to the rest of the family; he didn’t even realize he was using Jabber until after the fact.
That was a Colton Thing, much like the infamous Code Purple or the lesser-known Red Light. The Coltons have a lot of Things.
This one meant that Nate had gotten back together with his ex-girlfriend, which probably doesn’t sound all that bad. Maybe you think the rest of the family is overreacting, and maybe they are.
Two things to keep in mind, though.
First: this has happened so often, with results so disastrous, that they made a Thing for it.
Second: if you’ve heard the story, you know that most people tend to panic when they’re told the Sky(e) is falling.
# # #
Thank God there hadn’t been an argument.
Just a few days before ReV30, the names and faces of Nate Colton and Skye Reeves had been plastered all over the dirt sheets thanks to Savannah Scandal, wrestling “journalist” and wretched excuse for a human being.
He spent the entire next day bracing for a fight, which had always been the worst part of his relationships with Skye. He could never get used to the feeling of being yelled at while simultaneously getting the silent treatment.
Fortunately that never happened. There had been some tension while Nate explained who “Josie” was, but otherwise she thought it was funny.
Then the good news followed. Great news, in fact. Her shows at the Charleston were suddenly sold out; mostly the Scandal Sheet’s readers to start. They dropped off quickly when they discovered that it wasn’t a salacious performance, but by then the buzz had spread to actual fans of the art form, and soon it was the talk of the town. ACE Network had even swung a deal to get them stage time at the Grand over the weekend.
The latest news broke in the morning, over the table. Skye was finishing the last of her coffee and egg white omelette–which she had to make–when the news came in. She slapped the table to get Nate’s attention, even though he was already staring at her affectionately.
“What’s up?” he signed.
“We’re going on tour!” she replied, sporting a grin as big as Nate had ever seen. His heart soared; it was a rare joy to see someone you love get what they deserve in the moment.
Tours…go places. Places far away from Las Vegas…and Nate Colton.
You could ask her not–no. No, don’t even think that.
He tried to push the thought out of his mind, but it wouldn’t leave. A seed of fear, threatening to choke out his happiness for her.
“When does the tour start?” he asked. A tremor had already started in his left hand.
“A month, I think. But first we’re going to LA to get everything ready. We’re leaving after the last show here in town.”
“Oh.” He paused, desperately trying to find the right words. This was her dream, her purpose. Of course he wanted her to go.
He just couldn’t bear for her to leave.
“How long will it be?”
“Three months, if they don’t add more shows. But if it goes well…we could do the East Coast, or Canada…God, Europe would be amazing…”
“But…you’re coming back afterwards, right?”
“Aww, look at you,” she answered with a teasing smile. “You’re so cute when you’re jealous.”
His face flushed a little. “I’m not–dammit, I have to go. Do you have time to meet up after your last show? I’d like to talk about this.”
“Sure,” she replied, but moments later was looking back at her email and practically bouncing with excitement.
As Nate stood up to leave, she leaped up and nearly tackled him with a hug…and for a moment, all of his fears were forgotten.
But that’s the thing about moments.
# # #
Nate Colton walked into Troy Combat Systems, his gym bag slung over his shoulder and his mind focused–mostly–on work.
Two weeks ago, head trainer Alex Creed called him out on his lack of dedication. That had been embarrassing, but Nate admitted it was also necessary. Since then he had buckled down, and that renewed focus helped him earn his place in Tropical Turmoil.
Not as much as Hoyt Williams’ interference…but honestly, he was lucky to have made it that long.
He wasn’t at all happy about qualifying that way, but there was nothing he could do about it now. All he could do at Tropical Turmoil was prove that he belonged there. Along with a two-time Universal Champion, one half of the wire-to-wire Tag Team Champions, and three heartless sons of bitches who would stop at nothing to win.
Between the opposition and the prize they were fighting for, it could be said that Tropical Turmoil would be the biggest match of Nate Colton’s life…but honestly, he’d had so many of those since coming to PRIME that the phrase had lost its meaning. Still, a new challenge meant a new level he had to reach. It was just a matter of–
Nate looked around. “What?!” he yelled back, just as he saw Alex Creed walking toward him.
“Finally got your attention,” Creed replied. “Before you get started, there’s some people from ACE here to see you. Want to finalize that contract, I guess.”
“I don’t have time for that right now.”
“Should have thought of that before you blew them off for months. One afternoon away from your dancer chick wouldn’t have killed you.”
You watch your goddamn mouth you washed-up old–
“Anyway, they’re waiting in the office,” Alex continued, heedless of Nate’s inner monologue. “Get it done quick; I’ve got paperwork today.”
Nate gave a dismissive nod, and dropped his bag near the locker rooms before heading toward the office.
Strangely, he avoided eye contact with “The Mecca” throughout the entire conversation.
So there was no way he could have noticed that Creed was doing the same.
About a minute later, Nate Colton opened the door to Creed’s office, where he expected the typical faux-friendly greeting that Alexa Van Horn and her staff always gave.
“What the fuck, man?!”
The irate voice shocked Nate so badly that it took him a moment to realize he wasn’t in the room with an ACE Network executive.
It was his brother. Benjamin.
Nate looked to Benny’s right and saw their cousin, Dennis. That was no surprise; those two had been basically inseparable since birth.
But when he looked to Benny’s left and saw his father, that…that was definitely a surprise.
“What the fuck…”
“I asked you first!” Benny was furious, which was not an expression he wore often. Dennis put a hand on Benny’s shoulder, playing his usual role as a calming influence.
Jake Colton just looked kind of sad. And of course, disappointed.
Fuck. Disappointed is the worst.
“I think you know what this is about,” Jake said. “I hate to put stock into what that…woman…writes,” Jake said, referring to the recent gossip column from Savannah Scandal. “But it does explain a lot about the last few months.”
“Christ,” Nate muttered, shaking his head. If I ever find out who took those pictures… “It’s true, okay? Skye and I got back together. That’s not a crime.”
“Should be,” Benjamin fired back, drawing a sharp glare from his father.
“It’s also no reason to avoid your family for months,” Jake said. “Why did you think you couldn’t tell us?”
“Gee, Dad. I have no idea.” Nate’s answer was heavy with sarcasm, which did not go unnoticed. “Maybe I was afraid you’d fly halfway across the country to give me shit for it.”
“Nathan,” his father replied, “we’re here because we care about you.”
“Then why can’t you just be happy for me?” Nate asked. “I found someone. I love her. Why isn’t that enough?”
“Because you’re all fucked up about her! Again!” Benny replied. “She’s no good for you! Hell, she’s just no damn good!”
“The fuck did you say?” Nate took a step toward his younger brother, causing the two adults in the room to step in.
“Nate, your relationship with Skye, it’s…” Denny paused, searching for words that might reduce the tension. “…not healthy.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Nate snapped, his ire now directed at his cousin.
“Nate, can you…can you just listen to us?” Jake asked, almost pleading with his son. Nate crossed his arms, but said nothing.
Talk all you want, he thought. Whatever gets this over with faster.
“I know I barely know the woman, and I don’t want to say anything against her.” Jake glared at Benjamin again, hoping that the younger man would get the point. “But whenever you’re together, she takes over your life. You’ve been skipping workouts, blowing off meetings…I don’t know how many calls I’ve fielded from people trying to figure out where your head’s at. Lindsay Troy, Kyle Nguyen, Timo…”
“If they’ve got a problem, they should be calling me, not you.”
“They tried! So have I! You just don’t answer your goddamn phone!”
Nate opened his mouth to protest, but shut it quickly. He knew for a fact that the number of missed calls and texts was in the double, if not triple digits.
“And that’s not even the worst of it! You lied to us, Nathan! For two months! You knew you couldn’t be honest so you just…what, invented this ‘Josie’ person?”
Suddenly, Nate found it very hard to look his father in the eye. Memories of the woman he met earlier this year didn’t come up often, but when they did they were unbearable.
“Oh, no.” That was Dennis, because of course he’s the one who noticed. He was far more observant than Benjamin, and Nate had a lousy poker face. “You didn’t make her up, did you.”
“For fuck’s sake!” Benny howled. “For the actual sake of actual fuck! Don’t tell me you were cheating on her with that heartless bitch!”
Shut your mouth or I will fucking END you
“I broke it off before I got back together with Skye.”
“Probably by a minute! You pulled that move before!”
Please, like your Barney Stinson ass can lecture ANYONE about fidelity
“Stop helping, Benny,” Dennis said. “But Nate…you keep letting her take over your life. You lose touch with other people; you forget your other interests and responsibilities. Are you going to tell me she’s not why you didn’t finish college?”
You don’t know thing one about that
“Is it?” Jake asked. “The last time you two were together, your grades went in the shitter and you lost your scholarship.”
“Nah, the last time was 2020,” Benny chimed in. “That’s when he brought COVID into the house.”
“THAT’S NOT WHAT–”
“Please,” Jake said, holding up his hands. “I don’t want to bring that up again. I just want you to see that the things you’re doing, the way you’ve acted…this isn’t you, Nathan. But time after time, this is what she does to you.”
You’re too goddamn scared to even say her name
“Nate…did you even know that Jenny won her title match last weekend?”
“Of course. I called to congratulate her.”
“You sent her a text,” Jake said. “Two days ago.”
“I’m sorry, all right? But I’ve been busy! I just had a match the night before, I’ve got this thing at Tropical Turmoil to get ready for–”
“You were busy?!” Benny shouted. “I skipped Pride in the Park so I could be there! That’s my number one hookup day of the year!”
Oh my God Benny fuck all the way off
“I’m so sorry you had to go an entire day without getting laid. Surprised you didn’t call your addict girlfriend in Seattle.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Nate felt the temperature in the room plummet. He obviously hit a sore spot, but damned if he knew what it was.
“Dude,” Ben said softly. He looked honestly hurt.
“We broke it off…like, almost two months ago.”
“I…I didn’t know. What happened?”
“She told me she was hooked on pills, and I couldn’t–wait.” Whatever switch inside Benny’s mind had flipped, and suddenly he was outraged again. “You didn’t know?! HOW THE FUCK COULD YOU NOT KNOW?!”
Holy shit I think I actually offended him, I didn’t think that was possible
“Well, how could YOU not know she was a pharm kid? Christ, you only had to look at one Jabber post to–”
“That’s fucking low, bro.”
“So it’s fine for you to talk shit about Skye all you want, but the moment I say–”
“Stop it, both of you,” Jake interjected. “This isn’t about Benny.”
I know damn well what this is about. But if you’re gonna attack me, I’m gonna defend myself.
“Well maybe it should be!” Nate screamed, wheeling around toward his father. “You come all the way out here because you don’t like my girlfriend, but Benny fucks up constantly and you don’t say shit! Why do I always have to be the perfect one, Dad?! WHY?!”
“Nate, take a breath,” Denny said. “We’re just trying to help you, and you’re lashing out.”
“Stay the fuck out of this, Dennis! You’re only attached to our dad because you don’t even KNOW–”
“You motherfucker!” Benny screamed, and charged at his brother.
The sudden tackle might have caught Nate off guard, if the attack hadn’t been announced. But that was Benny, in the ring and out. Everything was done with passion.
The moment Benjamin’s shoulder made contact with Nate’s chest, the eldest Colton child wrapped his younger brother up, spun him around, and pressed him against the wall.
“What are you going to do now, you little shit!” Nate barked. His forearm was pressed against Benny’s jaw; their faces less than an inch apart. Behind him, Nate could hear the heavy footfalls of Dennis behind him. No doubt his cousin was coming to Benjamin’s aid, but it would only take a moment to–
Jake’s order was loud enough to echo off the walls. Lucky, since the boys probably needed to hear it multiple times.
Dennis Colton came to a stop, right behind Nate. His fists were still clenched, but he was making every effort to calm himself.
Benjamin relaxed a bit too, and put his hands up like a referee had called for a break. He was still furious over the cheap shot at Dennis, but he knew the rules. Red Light, everything stops.
Only Nate didn’t feel like stopping.
His arm slipped below Benny’s jaw and pushed against his throat. The younger Colton’s eyes bulged in surprise; he tried to free himself, but Nate was bigger, stronger, and had the advantage.
“I SAID RED LIGHT, GOD DAMMIT!” Jake screamed, just as Denny grabbed Nate from behind and half-pulled, half-threw him away from the wall. Nate tumbled to the floor, but rolled through and was back on his feet in just a few seconds. That was still enough time for Dennis and Jake to get between the two brothers.
Nate’s eyes darted around the room, taking in the faces of his family–not a single one of them friendly. Benjamin had a fiery anger in his eyes; Dennis, in contrast, had pure ice. A line had been crossed; it would not be forgiven or forgotten easily.
“I think you should leave, Nathan,” Dennis said, his words carrying an unspoken threat.
Finally, Nathan looked at his father…and there, he saw sadness.
Nate shrugged himself out of Jake’s grasp, and marched toward the door. From there he made a beeline to the exit. He was almost there when Alex Creed approached him again.
Colton cut him off by spitting at Creed’s feet, and kept walking.
No doubt the trainer would have a lot to say about that.
Let him, Nate thought. I’m done listening.
# # #
Outside of Nate’s car, the snags and snarls of Las Vegas traffic.
Inside the car, a hurricane of rage and obscenities.
“Fucking self-righteous pricks and where the hell does Benny get off telling me how to live my goddamn life…”
When he started driving, Nate didn’t have any destination in mind; he just needed to get away. Away from TCS, his family, the judging stares. But he’d been in the car for ten minutes, and his grip on the wheel only got tighter.
“Lookin’ at me like I was OH MY GOD MOVE YOU DUMB SON OF A BITCH!!”
Get a hold of yourself, Nathan
The thought came unbidden, almost as much a surprise as the negative ones that started during his father’s lecture. He tried to take a deep, calming breath, but the exhale still came out as a growl.
This wasn’t going to work. He couldn’t get control of himself out here. He needed quiet if he was to center himself. He needed a touchstone.
Fortunately, he had one back at his apartment.
He made a sudden left turn, drawing a series of honks and inventive profanity from the other drivers.
That doesn’t matter. They don’t matter.
At last, a clarity of purpose took shape in his mind, pushing the chaos…if not out, then aside. Nate started to acknowledge pesky things like “other drivers” and “traffic laws” as he got closer, though his leg jiggled any time he had to stop. Still, he arrived at his building without an accident or a ticket, which was no small miracle.
He took the stairs two at a time, bounding like a kid who just finished school and had a weekend of cartoons and video games ahead of him. Nate had long since run out of patience. He needed to be there now.
Nate fumbled with his keys as he reached his apartment; he cursed silently at his fingers for their betrayal in his moment of need. When he finally got the door unlocked, he was in such a state of panic that he threw it open and ran to the bathroom.
The glass on top of the sink, its sides smeared with rivulets of dried toothpaste. There it was.
His own blue toothbrush, its head rising over the edge of the glass. There it was.
Her orange toothbrush, the one thing he needed to hold onto his emotional balance. There it was.
Or, rather, wasn’t.
His mind raced, grasping at any explanation other than the obvious one. Maybe it fell out. Maybe she dropped on the floor and she’s just getting a new one. Maybe–
But he didn’t make a move to investigate any of these possibilities. Because he knew. He knew.
Worst of all, he knew what was coming next. He’d been through it before, but knowing didn’t make it any easier.
Despair crashed over him like a tidal wave. He drew his arms around his chest and squeezed tightly, in the hopes that it would do something about the cold, empty feeling from his chest. But it didn’t.
It never did.
Nate’s knees buckled, and he slumped down against the side of the bathtub. He drew in a sharp, ragged breath, desperately trying not to break down completely.
I can’t do this again. I can’t isolate. I need to talk to someone. I have to call…
But who would talk to him now? Who would be the sympathetic ear that he needs?
His family? After what he said? What he did? No.
His friends? Anyone who knew his history with Skye would tell him he was an idiot for getting back together with her. Anyone who didn’t, wouldn’t understand.
His PRIME coworkers? They wouldn’t care; they had their own problems. And certainly not Lindsay Troy; she’d tell him to stop being a little bitch, and probably fine him for wasting her time.
A tear brought a trickle of coolness to his cheek, bright red and burning with shame. He mustered what little strength he had on not allowing more tears to fall. And then…
Then, he laughed.
It was a bitter, mirthless chuckle. In that moment, Nate Colton realized how ridiculous, how pointless it was to try and maintain his composure.
It’s not like she can hear me…
This is a story about the boy who got everything he ever wanted.
And how the tighter he tried to hold on, the quicker it slipped through his fingers.
Then one day he opened his eyes, and saw how much he had lost.