The ambiance at Perry’s Steakhouse and Grille in the La Cantera area of San Antonio brought thoughts of accomplishment, as the clinking sounds of wine glasses and silverware echoed in her ears. Success was something that her stepfather Ben liked to flaunt, so after a promotion to general manager at the Chevrolet dealership he has worked at for the last ten years was announced he wanted a really big steak. So now here they were, and the look on his face when she said she planned to order the shrimp and fries made her smile a little inside. Violet Walsh felt out of place in a fancy restaurant like this, so she was a little relieved when Ben told her she could invite her best friend Olivia.
“Can I really order a steak, Mr. Walsh,” Olivia asked politely, her eyes wide as she peeked over the top of the menu at him.
“Of course,” he smiled back at her. “as long as your parents don’t have you on some strict diet that says you can’t.”
“No,” she shook her head slightly. “I just need to make sure and eat some vegetables.”
“Violet’s kryptonite,” Ben said with a chuckle.
“Don’t start, honey.” Her mother came to the rescue, she knew to cut Violet off before she could get going. “I remember the last time you teased her, and it didn’t end well for you.”
“The little brat does have a mouth on her, doesn’t she.” Ben glanced over at his step daughter, the tried and true look of annoyance on her face was one he had grown to recognize rather quickly. Even now, he knew that she did not like him very much. They had both come to terms on being civil for her mother’s sake, but the hate ran deep within her and she did all she could to tolerate his existence.
“Is the asparagus good here,” Olivia’s question disrupted a bit of the tension, “some places don’t steam it long enough, and others steam it too long and it gets mushy.”
“It’s really good,” Vickie Walsh placed her menu on the table. “Do either of you need to use the ladies room?”
They both shook their heads, but Violet knew that her mother wasn’t really asking. She also knew she wouldn’t make her leave her friend sitting at the table without her, so she was relieved when Olivia gave the same response.
“I’ll be right back then,” her mother gave her a knowing look as she stood up from the table, one that everyone at the table recognized.
“You’re welcome,” Olivia leaned over and whispered to her friend.
Violet gave her a fist bump under the table, as she stuffed a fork full of salad into her mouth.
Ben pretended not to notice.
What he did notice was the three men being escorted past their table to one of their own. Men he has seen on television on more than one occasion, but one in particular that he would recognize anywhere.
“It’s Tony Gamble,” his eyes lit up, and the crack in his voice as he said The Grin’s name almost made Violet spit out her water.
“You sound like you’re our age and saw a member of BTS,” she laughed out loud, literally. “Don’t be such a fangirl.”
“Who’s Tony Gamble?” Olivia looked over her shoulder, towards the men being seated.
“Some wrestler,” Violet answered, clearly unimpressed.
“He’s a PRIME hall of famer,” Ben corrected her, clearly more familiar with him than she is. “Probably one of the best of PRIME’s roster to never win the Universal title.”
“Oh, I don’t watch wrestling.”
“It’s all fake anyway,” Violet replied. “You’re not missing anything. Ben really just watches it to see sweaty men grab each other without feeling guilty.”
“Um, when’s your mom getting back?”
“I’m gonna go talk to him,” Ben told the girls as he rose from his seat, “You girls stay here, I’ll be right back.”
“Make sure to tell him about your promotion,” Violet’s eyes rolled as she spoke. “I’m sure he’ll be real impressed.”
“You’re so bad,” Olivia said with a snort. “My mom would’ve slapped me if I talked to my dad like that.”
“Pretty sure that’s why she wanted me to follow her to the little girls room.” Violet glanced over her shoulder. “Guess I’ll just get it when we get home.”
“You want me to text my mom and ask if I can spend the night?”
“Nah,” she smiled as she answered. “Might as well get it over… oh shit, they’re coming over here.”
“They’re what?” Olivia turned to look in the same direction as her friend, to indeed find Ben Walsh walking in their direction with someone in tow. “Wow, that face is creepy.”
“Why are you still looking at them?”
“It’s like the mole on Mr. Quinlan’s nose,” Olivia continued to stare. “You just can’t turn away.”
“Would you like to take a picture,” The Grin asked the young girl staring up at him.
“Sorry,” she replied with an awkward smile. “It’s just so weird.”
“Your face,” her lips curled awkwardly, as her eyes narrowed into a squint.
“Please excuse her,” Ben interrupts, “my daughter’s friend usually has better manners.”
“It’s okay,” Tony grinned, because that’s what he does. “You get used to it over time.”
“That’s what my mom tells her friends about Ben.” Violet took a sip from her glass of water before she continued. “I really hope she was talking about his face, too.”
Ben let out a nervous chuckle, Olivia laughed, and Tony just continued to grin.
“You must be Violet,” Tony took a moment, the little girl sitting across from him with an unimpressed look on her face reminded him of pictures he had seen of his mother when she was younger.
“Way to narrow it down,” Violet rolled her eyes and sighed. “You must be great at Among Us.”
“Well, aren’t you quick with the wit.” Tony tried his best to stop staring, but the resemblance was uncanny.
“My mom says I got it from my dad,” She smirked, as her friend chuckled softly.
Olivia reached for her own glass of water, but knocked the fork she used to eat her salad off the table. Violet picked it up and placed it on the table.
“Sorry,” Olivia apologized, as the two of them watched Tony place a hand on Ben’s shoulder.
“Chip off the old block, huh?”
“Ben’s not my dad,” the words came out fast, but it was the look of disgust on her face that really made the moment so awkward.
“Violet, I already told you about…” Vickie’s voice trailed off when she noticed the Permascar Superstar standing next to her husband.
She froze when their eyes locked.
= = =
“Hey, Tony, did you hear me?”
“Yeah, Frank, I heard you.”
“Then why are you just staring at nothing?”
“I’m just thinking, is all.”
“Well if it’s not about your match, stop.”
Tony looks up at Frank, that damn grin on his face even though it’s clear he doesn’t want to smile.
“I’m just saying,” Frank places a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “This isn’t the time to get distracted. You have a lot riding on this match, boss.”
“Going up against the biggest names in PRIME today,” Tony nods his head, because he knows Pastore is right. “All in one night, all in one match.”
Since his return he has been focused on just going out there and doing his best, focused more on keeping Mortimer quiet about family business than actually winning matches. He has not cared about whether or not his record was good enough to have him contending for titles, because he has already held pretty much every singles title in PRIME. What would an Intense title run do for him now, except maybe put him back on the shelf. What would it prove for him to end up with the Five Star title fastened around his waist, that he can compete with wrestlers on their way to bigger and better things. There is nothing wrong with winning those titles or the Alias title, but none of those will do anything to cement his place as one of the greatest wrestlers to step foot in a PRIME ring.
Not the way winning the Universal title would, because that is the only title that has eluded him his entire career.
“The battle royale is your chance to cut in front of the line and contend for the Universal title.”
“Stepping into that ring against names like Hanlon, Stanislav, and Rezin is no easy feat. Not to mention people I’ve already stepped into the ring against and lost to, like Colton, Flamberge, and ol’ Tommy Boy.” Gamble sighs deeply, the thoughts of stepping into ring with them again already intoxicating. “Can’t forget about Youngblood and the rumors about Phil Atken showing up.”
“I hadn’t heard about Atken,” Frank’s left eyebrow cocked a bit, the surprise evident in just that slight change in expression.
“It’s not really being talked about, but that’s why it’s called a rumor.” Tony rubs at his temples for a moment, the thought of all these high profile names to compete against was mind numbing. “Don’t even get me started on the members of the roster that probably just want to hand me my ass for being an asshole.”
“You do piss off a shit load of people.”
“It’s a gift.”
There isn’t a soul on the roster that would have his back in the clusterfuck of a match that he’s going to be competing in, and that more than likely includes Mortimer Knightingale. As subservient as he has been these last few weeks leading up to his match against Kohime for the Alias title, Tony can see it in his eyes that he still has feelings for her. Feelings that Tony feels will cloud his judgment in that match, and may cost him in the end. He’d done everything he could to prepare him for the match, to prepare him for success, but it may all be for nought if he loses focus on the end goal…on the soon to be Gamble Adoration title.
“The gift that keeps on giving,” Frank laughs.
“Apparently.” Tony joins him, amused by the fact that he doesn’t have too many friends. He possibly never will.
“So you understand that you need to focus more on this match than you have been.”
“I do,” The Grin closes his eyes for a second, taking in a deep breath. “It’s just that I felt it was a longshot, that I was just fooling myself because this little girl reminded me of my mom.”
He pauses again, shaking his head in disbelief. “But those results…I can’t ignore them.”
“I still don’t know why you went back for her fork.”
“I just had a feeling.”
“And now that feeling is messing with your head and making you lose focus,” Frank shakes his head as well, but for a completely different reason.
“I know what I’m doing,” Tony begins, his heart pounding against his chest like it wants to rip through it.
“Do you,” Frank interrupts. “Because i don’t think you do, and that scares me.”
“Scares you,” Tony looks at him quizzically. “I’m the one stepping into the ring, not you.”
“I know that, but if your head isn’t on right then there’s a chance that you can slip up. If you slip up, you’re more likely to make a mistake, and a mistake in a match like this can get you hurt.”
“You’re saying things that I already know, Frank.”
“Yeah, well, we both know what happened the last time you slipped up and got hurt.”
“Dammit!” Tony shouts, stomping his way over to where Frank is standing. “That was years ago, and I already told you the doc gave me a clean bill of health. That’s not going to happen again.”
“You keep saying that.”
“Because it’s the truth.”
There is an awkward silence between the two, but it does not last long as Frank decides to slice through the tension.
“So then you’re going to quit with the Dual Halo bullshit?”
“With you,” Tony shrugs his shoulders, that damn grin beaming. “Sure.”
“Good, because you had me worried there for a bit before I realized you were just playing dumb.”
“Well, I have to mess with people’s heads somehow.” Tony chuckles softly. “It’s awesome that it was the damn “Time Lord” that pretty much called me delusional.”
Yes, he did the air quotes.
“So are you going to help me get ready for this match, or what?”
“As long as you promise we’ll deal with this whole thing about your daughter after Culture Shock,” Frank places both hands on Tony’s shoulders. “If it’s true, she’ll still be there after this is over.”
“You’re right,” a genuine smile creases his lips. “Now help me figure out how I can hide under the ring for the entire match.”
“Can you do that?”
“Guess I’ll find out.”
The door opens suddenly, and Domingo Cruz walks through with a grocery bag.
“Well, look who decided to show up.”
= = =
“Sorry,” Olivia Clemens closed the door behind her, taking a bit to twist the two locks on it before removing her jacket. “Mr. Walsh saw some guy he liked, and made this big deal about it.”
“Some guy he liked,” her mother questioned from another room.
“Oh, that doesn’t sound right does it?”
“No, Liv,” her mother replied. “It doesn’t sound right at all.”
“It’s just that he said he adored him,” she said hesitantly. “The whole night was just weird.”
“I don’t know,” Olivia hung her jacket on the coat rack to the left of the door. “You know the way Violet is with her stepdad, and Mrs. Vickie just looked upset the whole night. Then that creepy Tony guy kept looking at Violet and her mom all weird, even when he was sitting at his own table.”
“Well that must have been awkward.”
“Very,” Olivia walked into the room her mother was in and took a seat at the table behind her. “Mr. Walsh was really excited to meet him though, we took a bunch of pictures with him.”
“Was he someone from a TV show,” her mother rinsed off a glass and put it in the dish rack next to the sink.
“I guess so,” Olivia answered, as her finger traced the pattern of lace on their table cloth. “I think Violet said he was a wrestler. I just remember the creepy scar on his face.”
The sound of the plate that was in her mother’s hand shattering in the sink made her flinch so hard she almost fell off her seat.