August. 2021. Friday Night.
Vomit splattered inside (and out) of the toilet bowl, the heaves of the young man echoing against the porcelain. He spat through the bottom of his dark mustache, breathing heavily with one hand holding the seat, the other gripping his cell phone.
He pushed himself to his feet with assistance from the bathroom sink, putting his phone aside and turning on the faucet to collect water in his hands, splashing it against his face and wiping at his mustache. He retrieved a towel to drag over his mouth, exhaling deeply.
His broad back thumped against the wall before his body slid to the floor. He pushed a hand into his dark hair, holding his phone in the other, with deep brown eyes wide open in disbelief as they scrolled across the screen.
“No fucking way…”
He emerged from his bedroom, still glued to his phone, almost cradling it. A tall, gangly, dark-haired man lying on a leather couch took notice, pulling his attention away from the TV, turning to a sitting position, concerned.
“What’s the word, Hayes?” he asked.
Hayes lifted his still-shocked gaze from the screen, the sounds of the television cutting through the silence in the background. Slowly, his mustache lifted into a small smile.
* * * * * * *
“I don’t know, Paul. Maybe we shouldn’t tell them yet.”
“Bro, they’re gonna find out eventually. Just rip the Band-Aid off.”
Hayes made his way south on route 43 in his white Audi, Paul’s lanky frame in the passenger’s seat scrolling and swiping on his phone. The late-afternoon Oregonian sun fought through the clouds, the beginning stages of an excellent sunset.
“I guess, but you know what’s gonna happen,” said Hayes. “Dad will pretend to be supportive, then mom will say something awful. Maybe I just tell them over the phone in a couple days. Not tonight at dinner.”
“Little brother, I think you’re delaying the inevitable,” Paul replied. He shook his black, unkempt hair from his brown eyes and scratched at the stubble on his cheek. “Besides, it’s your life, and this is literally your dream. They can deal with it.”
“Easy for you to say,” Hayes muttered. “Favored son and all.”
“Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Never thought day trading would make them so happy. Don’t tell them it’s almost all in crypto.”
“And how’d the market do today?”
“It took a big dump,” Paul chuckled, tossing his phone into a cup holder. He crossed his arms, glazed eyes watching the clouds shift into darker shades of pink.
“I think it’s pretty fuckin’ rad that you’re gonna be in PRIME,” he continued. “That shit was like church to us when we were kids. The fact that they’re rebooting at all is a miracle. You put in your time, you took your shot, and it paid off. At least one of us will have an inspiring career.”
Hayes smiled, accelerating to pass a semi-truck. They sat quietly, illuminated by the glow of the dashboard.
“It is kinda shitty timing, though,” said Paul, breaking the silence. “‘Liv just closed on that Bolton deal.”
“Is she gonna be at dinner? Hayes asked, turning his head quickly.
“Nah,” said Paul. “Mommy and Daddy’s girl is just toooo busy.”
“Good,” said Hayes, taking a deep breath and exhaling through his nose. The sky was ablaze with pinks and oranges as he took the next exit off the highway.
“I’ll tell them tomorrow.”
The clinks and tinks of silverware on porcelain plates filled the dining room; almost clinical with white walls and a large, dark mahogany table in the center surrounded by black chairs. Hayes sat across from his brother, sipping a glass of red over a seafood pasta dish.
“Excellent as always, mom!” Paul exclaimed, finishing his last bite and pulling a white napkin from his black polo to clean his mouth.
“Your father can take the credit for the sauce,” said the sharp-featured brunette at one end of the table. “Despite his best efforts.”
The salt and pepper-haired gentleman at the other end grinned behind a well-trimmed beard, beady black eyes tending to his meal.
“I have nothing to claim if not a good sauce,” the man replied, dabbing his lips with his own napkin. “Unfortunate Olivia couldn’t make it tonight, though. Seafood is her favorite.”
“Yes, Gregory, but I think she’s out celebrating her closing on Bolton,” the matriarch chimed in, swirling her glass of white. “Highest price per square foot sold in Bolton history.”
“I understand, Sofia. Maybe next Sunday,” he replied.
Hayes kept silent behind his wine glass. Paul took notice, lifting his chin toward his younger brother. Hayes shook his head “no,” but Paul nodded “yes,” and slowly stood from his seat.
“You know,” Paul started, walking around the table toward Hayes. “It just so happens that we have someone present that we can celebrate tonight.”
“C’mon. Paul. Don’t.” pleaded Hayes.
“Nope, this is a good thing,” Paul insisted, stepping behind his younger brother and massaging his shoulders. “Our boy has some big news to share.”
Hayes rubbed the bridge of his nose. His parents were dead silent and stone-faced.
“Hayes…” continued Paul. “Was just offered a roster spot in PRIME!”
Hayes could only offer a weak smile as his parents failed to provide any sign of excitement.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” their mother exasperated, holding her fingertips to her forehead.
“Sofia, please,” said their father. “PRIME? The wrestling show you watched when you were a kid?”
“Yeah,” Hayes exhaled. “They’re rebooting the show. I sent in an application and they offered me a spot on the roster.”
Sofia shook her head with her eyes closed. Gregory fought to find the words.
“I mean…of course that’s great,” he started, pulling the napkin from his navy button-down and onto his lap. “I’m sure there was a lot of competition, but…is that the best decision right now?”
“It’s a ridiculous decision,” said their mother.
“See, this is why I didn’t want to say anything,” said Hayes, pushing Paul’s hands off his shoulders. “I knew this is how you’d both react.”
“Hayes, stop it,” fired their father. “Of course we’re glad for you…”
Their mother rolled her eyes.
“…we just want to make sure you’re not making a rash decision. Is this something long-term? Will they pay?”
“Yes, dad, of course they’re going to pay me,” Hayes shot back, frustrated. “They were one of the biggest wrestling organizations on the planet when I was growing up.”
“‘Were,’” scoffed their mother.
“Sofia, that’s enough,” said Gregory, shooting her a glare. Paul had put his hands up and tip-toed back to his seat. “And…where is it taking place?” Gregory continued. “Is the show traveling? Is it local?”
Hayes took a deep breath: “Vegas. The shows will be in Las Vegas.”
“VEGAS!” laughed Sofia while throwing a hand up, appalled at the notion. “So I’m expected to ship my son to Las Vegas and watch him come home broke and addicted to crystal meth?”
“Jesus Christ, mom!” spat Hayes, anger brewing. “Seriously? Is that what you think of me?”
“Hayes, take a breath,” said his father.
“Why do you think I’ve spent the last four years running around in these po-dunk independent circuits?” Hayes continued, ignoring his father. “Did you think I was going to just throw that out the window and go to law school or some shit?”
“No,” replied his mother, flatly. “But I was hoping.”
Hayes stared hard at his mother’s rigid face and could only shake his head. He pulled his napkin from his lap and threw it down on the table in frustration.
“Thanks. Thanks for all your support.”
“Hayes,” his father interjected.
Hayes slammed his palms against the dining room table with sudden, tremendous force, snarling behind his mustache, eyes ablaze. Plates and silverware rattled. His glass of red tipped over and splashed against his white, long-sleeved shirt. He barely noticed.
Silence gripped the dining room. Hayes looked away, placing his middle and fore-finger against his temple. Paul pinched his lips together. Their mother scoffed, shaking her head.
“Great,” said their father with clear disappointment.. “Great finish to the evening, Hayes.”
“Par for the course,” Hayes muttered, looking down at his shirt and needlessly wiping at the stain. He looked up to Paul. “Didn’t I tell you?”
Paul put his hands up and remained silent. Sofia stood after a moment, smoothing out her dark green dinner dress.
“Well, thank you for the lovely evening,” she said, unconvincingly. “I would say I’m looking forward to next week’s dinner, but I’m sure Hayes will be too busy at the roulette tables.”
She left the dining room, ascending the stairs nearby. Paul sheepishly started collecting his silverware and putting it on his plate. Hayes did the same hurriedly, standing from the table.
“We just want what’s best for you, Hayes,” said Gregory.
“I’m really not sure that you do.”
They drove in silence, headlights cutting through the dark as they drove north. Paul didn’t even look at his phone.
“So uh…sorry about that,” said Paul.
“It’s fine,” Hayes replied. “You were right, they were gonna find out soon anyway.”
“They’ll come around. They just want to brag to their friends that all their kids are sitting toward the top of society.”
Hayes didn’t respond.
“Speaking of which,” Paul continued, digging into his pocket. “Need one?”
Hayes flicked his eyes down to Paul’s open palm where a small white xanax bar sat waiting.
He studied it for a moment.
“Yeah,” he said reluctantly, and plucked it away.
* * * * * * *
MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. Early January. 2022.
Hayes finds himself in a scene straight out of college spring break. The pool complex at the MGM Grand is going off in the late afternoon sun, droves of visitors floating the lazy river, grooving to a DJ in one of the three main pools, and alcohol everywhere. He sits at the edge of the southernmost pool, feet dangling in the water, shirtless with a pair of black and white board shorts. A young, bubbly African-American woman sits nearby in a purple bikini and big, gold-frame sunglasses, microphone in hand and hyping up a small crowd. A large flatscreen TV sits between them, showcasing the Almasy Invitational brackets, with only a few empty slots remaining.
“It may be January, but it’s summer time at the pool complex here at the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel LAS VEGAS! I’m Monica Stevens, here with “Event Horizon” Hayes Hanlon, and we’re here watching the LIVE DRAW for PRIME’s Almasy Invitational Tournament! Woo!”
Monica claps her hands, the spectators in and around the pool “woo’ back. Hayes nods his head with a bright white smile, eyes hiding behind a pair of big, stylish black sunglasses. The spectators are a mixed bunch: some there simply because of the camera crew, some because it happens to be close to a poolside bar, but quite a few showing genuine interest in the tournament draw.
“Hayes,” continues Monica, shifting her body toward him. “Welcome to PRIME’s new home at the MGM Grand! And YOU are one of the new kids on the block! You pumped or what?”
“I am, Monica, and how could you NOT be when you get to call Vegas your new home?”
He reaches his arms out and gestures to the grandeur around him, the spectators offering another volley of hoots and hollers.
“But ‘pumped’ barely scratches the surface,” he expands. “This is my DREAM, Monica! PRIME was my religion when I was a kid! I still have Xavier Kannon and Tchu posters hanging at my parent’s house!
“You were made for this, huh?” Gesturing at his impressive physique. “Got the abs to prove it and everything!”
A few whistles and cheers shoot from the crowd. Hayes laughs and waves them off.
“You’re looking at a lot of time in the gym and a lot of broccoli.”
“O-kay, o-kay! Well, we’ve been watching the live draw for the Almasy Invitational, you’re in the Rolo bracket, and still waiting for your spot on the board! We just saw Garbage Bag Johnny go as the 13th seed in the Rolo bracket and matched up against Doozer, and we got another name coming up now!
The two turn toward the screen, where the remaining names spin on a roulette-wheel graphic. It slows down, the needle ‘ticking’ against the digital pins, until it stops on a red wedge:
“Dusk is the next draw for the Lisieux bracket’s 13th seed!” she exclaims. “And he’ll take on Bobby Dean in the first round!”
“Ol’ Red Eyes! That guy was a super-kick machine back in the day! He signed a Baby Dusk plushy for me after a ReVolution when I was a kid!”
“There’s a few big names from the original PRIME coming back in 2022! Dusk, Nova, Garbage Bag Johnny, Brandon Youngblood, are you excited to get in the ring with these legends of your childhood?”
“Monica, I can’t even explain the feeling,” he replied sincerely. “And if I ever end up across the ring from Nova? Man, I’m not sure if I’ll lock up with him or ask for his autograph!”
The digital roulette wheel spins once again, only a handful of names remaining. It starts to slow down as Monica takes notice.
“Oh, here we go! The next name on the board is…”
The wheel ticks to a stop, landing on black:
“Aaaah!! There you go, Hayes!” yells Monica with excitement.
Monica leads the on-lookers with cheers and applause for the Event Horizon, who maintains a forced smile while calculating the result in his head.
“The 14th draw on the Rolo side! And that puts you up against…”
His name on the screen slides over to the bracket, placed in the 14 slot.
“…Cecilia Ryan! Another rookie on the roster!”
Hayes holds the mic to his mouth, but struggles to find the words.
“…yeah! Cecilia Ryan…she’s Dan Ryan’s daughter, I’m a big fan of his work in DEFIANCE.”
“Got any words for your opponent?”
He freezes, barely holding onto his Hollywood grin. The spectators in and around the pool grow silent as they wait for his response. Beads of sweat start forming on his brow.
“Hayes?” asks Monica after giving him a moment.
“Uh…sorry,” he’s finally able to blurt out. “I apologize, it’s just that I’ve never wrestled a woman before…and I’m pretty sure Cecilia is trained by Lindsay Troy, and I think she’s her niece.”
“Oooh, damn!” Monica replies, leaning back in over-emphasized shock. “As in PRIME President and CEO, Lindsay Troy? Damn, Hayes, that’s one way to start a career!”
“You know, I definitely wasn’t expecting that,” he says nervously. “But I’m gonna give it my best go, and I’m sure Cecilia won’t be pulling any punches at ReVival.”
“I’m sure it’ll be a SHOW! We can’t wait to see you compete!” she says, turning to address the camera. “Look out for another video later today! We’re gonna keep the party goin’ here in the pool complex, but we still have five names left to draw! Thanks for hanging out, Hayes, and good luck against Cecilia Ryan!”
“Thanks, Monica,” says Hayes, forcing a smile for the camera as the clip comes to a close.
Hayes blasted through a side door and into a hallway, in a building somewhere just outside the pool complex of the MGM Grand. He walked fast, pulling a white t-shirt over his head and onto his torso. He looked manic, sweating bullets.
He spotted his brother further down the hall, looking loose and chatting with a young couple. Paul caught Hayes coming out of the corner of his eye.
“Hey bro!” he hollered, holding up a half-empty can as Hayes drew closer. “How’d the promo go?”
“Terrible. Fucking terrible,” Hayes replied furiously, stamping past and continuing on. Paul turned to his friends, giving them a nod and a thumbs up before chasing after his younger brother.
“What happened, man?” asked Paul as he caught up.
“The draw, dude. The fucking DRAW.”
Hayes turned suddenly to the right and slammed his palm into a men’s bathroom door, ducking inside. Paul followed and pushed the door shut behind them. Hayes put his back against the painted concrete wall and put his hands on top of his head, tilting back with closed eyes and breathing through his nose.
“I don’t know Paul, I freaked out,” Hayes continued, tilting his head back and breathing through his nose. “We were doing the promo, and it was fine, but then they drew my name for the tournament and I freaked out. I fumbled bad.”
“It can’t be that bad,” said Paul. “I mean, it’s a wrestling promo. Who’d you get matched up with?”
Paul had to think a moment behind his glazed eyes. They widened a bit when it clicked.
“Cecilia Ryan? As in Dan Ryan? As in Lindsay Troy’s niece?”
Hayes nodded, drawing his hands to his stomach.
“Shit,” said Paul. “Isn’t she like six feet tall?”
“They call her ‘Murder Daughter.’”
“Damn, that’s aggressive. Look dude, you’ll be fi…”
Hayes interrupted by lurching forward, flinging open the door to one of the bathroom stalls and leaning his big frame over the toilet, immediately throwing up into the bowl.
“Ah, shit, man,” said Paul, pushing a hand through his shaggy black hair. He looked around the bathroom uncomfortably, settling on standing guard as the heaves and hurls of his brother echoed through the room.