Not that smile.
Well, not completely.
When you have a scar that makes you look like you’re always smiling, it is hard to differentiate between the expression you normally have on your face and a genuine smile.
For the record, this is a genuine smile.
After another loss having been taken by the Hall of Famer, it would be expected for him to be upset or angry with himself. To be honest, he was pretty damn embarrassed to have come up short against Shinigami, but it wasn’t because he failed to defend PRIME’s honor at the interfed event. No, he pretty much let that ship sail the moment a majority of his so-called ‘teammates’ started showing support for his opponent. He knew he did not have many friends on the roster, but he felt there would be at least a little bit of support. Sure he was a bit of a prick, and had taken his mockery of Rhine’s injury to a new level with the new shirts, but there is such a thing as brand pride…right? The answer really did not matter, as the two members of the Gamble Adoration Syndicate that sat across from him at the moment were the only ‘friends’ he could really count on anyway.
The fact that Mortimer had chosen to not accompany them on their trip to Anaheim only solidified the feeling that he was not warming up to being a member of the group, and that was going to need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Granted he did not really have a choice in the matter, but Tony hoped that Knightingale would realize that being a part of the group could have some perks. Then again, when the person the group is centered around has only won one match since his return – and that match happens to have been the victory over him – it is easy to see where the hesitation to warm up to them stems from.
That in turn is where the embarrassment comes in. Apart from the victory in a match that he would have rather lost, Tony’s return to PRIME has been nothing to smile about.
He has put on one hell of a show and been competitive in every match he has been a part of, putting over young talent with a hunger he has not seen or felt since he first joined PRIME in 2006. Running into the arena for the first time in over ten years was such an adrenaline rush, and that feeling awoke something within him that made him believe that he could do this again.
Something he had not felt since February of 2010.
From behind Troy Douglas, The Grin reached under his arms and pulled him into a full nelson clutch. With his hands clasped together behind Troy’s head, he dropped forward and slammed his opponent face first into the mat with a signature move he called ‘Stop Laughing At Me’. He sat up and lifted his arms up, then flashed his permasmirk to a roar of boos from the crowd before dropping down for a nonchalant cover of Douglas. Everything was going his way, until the lights went out unexpectedly.
“What the hell happened,” he whispered to Bernie Roberts; the referee of the night’s main event match. Flashes of lights from the crowd, as they snapped photos, were the only thing illuminating the ring for a moment so not much could be seen. It was obvious that something was going on though, because the crowd was reacting differently suddenly.
The lights of the arena come back to life, and the sudden look on Bernie’s face as his eyes focus on something over Tony’s shoulder say more than anything his lips would have. Someone standing outside the ring is in The Grin’s peripheral, but he doesn’t glance in that direction to find out who it is as Roberts points behind him. Gamble turns on a dime, and comes face to face with Devin Shakur.
He wasn’t sure what the hell was going on, but caught a glimpse of movement from the man at ringside. Christian Daniels had a chain wrapped around his fist, and Tony could only throw his hands out confused. This match was all but won, and now his frienemy was staring him down with rage in his eyes. Clearly he was not happy with the events from earlier in the evening, but they always had an understanding that they would never interfere with each other’s matches. It was an agreement they had, born from a mutual respect they had come to have for one another over the years.
Tony pleaded with the duo to not do this, but Daniels pulled himself onto the apron and took a swing at Gamble anyway. Avoiding the attack with a quick move, Tony ended up closer to Shakur than he expected as Bernie slid out of the ring. Christian comes over the top rope and all the Permascar Superstar could do was get ready for a fight. Devin and Christian start to make their move toward him when Shakur suddenly snaps his fingers, the lights going out once more.
“Violet was in an accident,” he heard The Black Plague whisper into his ear. “You need to lose and head back to the States, Tony.”
He lost his breath for a moment, and if he didn’t know any better he would swear that his heart stopped beating. It was brief, but the lights of the arena snapped him back to life when they turned back on. He was completely confused, and barely noticed Douglas grab him from beneath and roll him backward into a small package.
It didn’t matter.
His mind was already thousands of miles away as Bernie slammed his hand on the mat for the third time. Guitar riffs fill the air as Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” blasts through the speakers of the Shanghai Arena, at the same time as 18000 fans cheer and scream in approval for Megatron’s victory.
The former Five Star champion balled his hand into a fist and slammed it against the mat in anger. Tears welled up in his eyes as he screamed out and repeatedly punched the mat, what must have looked like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum was a man that had just been told that his fiancé – the woman pregnant with his child – was in an accident. To hell with what people thought.
Tony rolled out of the ring and hurried up the ramp, he needed to know what the hell was going on. How badly was she hurt? How was the baby? Questions that had answers he was not ready for, answers that no one is ever ready for.
He lost everything that night, and his appetite for this business was the least important but the first to go. It was obvious when he entered the Halo later that year that his heart wasn’t in it, and Devin…well, Devin did what he felt was best for business while still being there for his friend.
“Look, I know that these last few weeks have been hell,” Devin Shakur interlocked his fingers as he leaned forward and rested his elbows on the mahogany desk in front of him. “After the Halo you can take whatever time you need to get through this, but it is next week and I cannot find anyone to fill your spot in time.”
“I don’t have it in me, Devin.” Tony Gamble slumped in the chair across from Shakur, unshaven with greasy disheveled hair that made him look like a complete mess. “I know you’re trying your damnedest to make this International tour work, but the last thing I want to do right now is step into a ring.”
“I understand that,” Shakur replied as he leaned back in his chair. “That’s why I’m going to figure out a way to keep you looking good, even though I’m scratching our match altogether. I just need you to make an appearance in the Halo, up to you how long you stick around.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“Unfortunately,’ he looked down and away. “I’m not.”
Tony chuckled softly to himself as Devin looked up at his frienemy. (or is it frenemy? I know it is not a real word, but it has a proper spelling, doesn’t it? Someone should let me know during the podcast.) There was a brief silence when Tony stopped, and for a moment it was a tad bit awkward.
“This is bullshit,” Tony muttered as he sat up. “You know that, right boss?” The emphasis on the last word really hit home on the situation, and it was not lost on the man behind the desk.
“What I know, is that you have a contract with PRIME and I have been very lenient with your appearances – or lack thereof – lately. I’ve let you slide on your lackadaisical performance over the last few months even before Violet’s passing, and the rest of the roster has noticed. Do you realize how much shit I’ve had to deal with because of you, and I’m still here trying to work with you.”
“Work with me,” he scoffed as he stood up and made his way over to the desk. “I don’t give a damn what the assholes in this place think of me. You, of all people, should know that.”
“It’s one match, Tony.” The man in black responded calmly. “What happens after that we can discuss at a later date, because it is obvious that you’re not thinking straight right now.”
“Screw you, Devin.” Tony swiped his hand across the top of the desk and knocked a few files onto the floor, then turned and walked out of the office.
Tony Gamble sat Indian style in front of a three foot tall, black marble tombstone with his hands on his lap. There are two names carved into the front of it: Victoria Henderson and Arriana Gambellini. A tree provided just the right amount of shade, and nature had provided a nice breeze that kept things comfortable on an otherwise warm day.
“And how are my two favorite girls doing today?”
He paused for a moment, his eyes set on the elegant stone monument.
“I’m glad you’re having a great time,” he smiled as he spoke. “I’ve been doing okay. Keeping myself busy these last few weeks with training the boys, since we won’t be having a PRIME show until next week.”
“Oh, I almost forgot about the PWA show I took part in…I lost again.” He allowed a soft chuckle to escape his lips. “Which really sucked, because I really thought I had a good chance of beating this Asian chick with one eye…figured I could stay on her blind side for a majority of the match.”
“Okay, that was a really bad attempt at humor and it is very obvious you two were not amused. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think anyone has been finding any humor in my comments lately. I’m pretty sure I’ve told you about Jabber before, that social media site we communicate through that was kind of like AIM back in the day.”
“Anyway, so before I had my match with the Shinjimagi lady everyone was talking and I typed out my response in a very stereotypical Asian accent and people got crazy pissed. I don’t know how it is up there where you’re at, but it is crazy down here. If you say the wrong thing, people will group together and cancel you.”
“Do you know about canceling?”
“If you don’t, I hope you never do. I seriously doubt any of these damn people that take part in cancel culture will be allowed into heaven. I doubt they would even want to go, since I’m pretty sure most of them hate Jesus.”
A quick shrug of the shoulders, and a slight twinge of the lips as they curled into a bit more of a grin.
“Anyway, like I said, she beat me, and while that loss does not really affect my record in PRIME…it really made me think about what I’m trying to do with this run. I mean, you know the way I am Vio…Victoria.”
He looked down at his hands for a moment.
“Going on thirteen years and I still catch myself slipping on that. I’m sorry, just a habit I guess.”
He shook his head, then brought his gaze back up.
“Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the way things are going lately and I cannot think of a good reason for me to keep doing this. Things have been rough, and it isn’t even that I’ve been facing these new young guys that are in great shape. I’ve been struggling in matches against some veterans as well, and this week I’m facing Brandon freaking Youngblood. Not sure if you remember that jerk from my first run in PRIME, but we tagged together against Sirrajin and Tchu once and let’s just say that I was probably considered the nice guy in that team. Dude was so damn full of himself back then, and to tell you the truth he had earned it. Hell, he still deserves it to be honest. Dude is a beast now that he is back, and I really feel like I shouldn’t even show up to our match.”
“No, I would never tell him that I feel that way. Besides, how would I ever be able to come here again and face the two of you if I did that?”
“Yes, even with the losses I’ve really been feeling like my old self again. That’s what makes this hard to deal with, because while I don’t feel I have anything to prove…it feels like some people doubt that I deserve what I’ve already earned.”
“I know I shouldn’t listen to that kind of crap or let it get to me, but are people right that I should have just stayed retired? I could always stick to managing Cruz and Pastore, because those boys looked amazing in their first match. Taking down a couple of current tag team champs was a great thing to do in their debut, and here I am making them look bad every time I step into a ring.”
“I’m feeling lost for the first time in a long time, Victoria, and I really wish that you would snuggle up behind me, wrap your arms around my waist, and tell me that everything is going to be alright.”
His eyes clenched shut, and the moisture that had begun to well up in the corners slowly trickled down his cheek.
“I miss you both so damn much, and I hate that I never had a chance to hold Arri in my arms.”
A quick swipe of the back of his hand smeared the tears across his cheek.
“I hate that you can see me like this. You probably think I’m a joke too.”
He uncrossed his legs and stretched them out for a bit.
“I don’t blame you. I feel ike a complete tool, to tell you the truth. Sucks even more that I won’t be here next week. I promise you that I’ll be here on the first though, nothing is going to keep me from being here that day.”
He stands up.
“I’ll try to be in a better mood that day, because I know you don’t want to hear me being a Debbie Downer all the time.”
He bring his hand to his lips and kisses his fingers, then reaches over and presses them against the tombstone.
“Love you both.”