Rain hammered on the roof of Dave Gibson’s garage loft with angry percussion. Eddie Cross laid in his bed staring at the ceiling with a concerned look on his face. His phone rested across his chest, and it pinged with the familiar sound of discovering a secret in The Legend of Zelda. He picked up his phone and squinted in the dim light.
“What the hell is this now?” Eddie Cross furrowed his brows while reading an email from Alexei Ruslan.
Edvard, I have taken the liberty of preparing a statement for you to use during our interview for Think Red, in case you are overwhelmed by my line of questioning (this is completely acceptable, as American minds have been poisoned by Barack Obama and CNN). I have tried to word it in your speaking of the youth for authenticity. (see below for prepared statement.)
“I know one thing for certain: being in the ring with Ivan Stanislav bordered on cosmically orgasmic. For example, you know how when Vladimir Solovyov talks about politics, and women from the great city of St. Petersburg to Kamchatka imagine themselves being pleasured by Makar Ignatov while Mikhail Baryshnikov dances for their hearts? All of this while the virile Vladimir Putin feeds them Alenka chocolates (and all the little sayings on the wrappers cater specifically to their collective female genitals.)? It was much like that. Oh, and GG to you sirs and madams.”
“The fuck, Alexei?” Eddie asked himself as he wondered how Alexei got his email address and swiped away the message. Just as he was about to put the phone down again, the familiar tone pinged again and his eyes danced like the aforementioned Baryshnikov in the light of his screen.
– What are you up to?
Nothin. Hbu? –
– It’s 9am, aren’t you finishing up your mountain run?
Done already. Couldn’t sleep. 🥱 –
– What’s got you so restless?
Let’s see, I don’t know. Lately? Everything.
Sometimes I wonder if this is what I really want. –
– What is “that?” You and I?
Oh, hah, no. –
– Then what? PRIME?
I don’t know. Maybe… Yeah. –
– You’re just grumpy because you didn’t win.
Just feels like a lot to deal with –
– I know.
– What are you doing next weekend?
Don’t know yet. Maybe take a break. –
– Come see me?
Eddie sighed and put the phone back down on his chest face down. He closed his eyes and listened to the rhythmic rapping of the rain on the roof. The water rushed down the gutters and out to the ground below. Deep in the distance a low rumble of thunder echoed through a Carolina holler.
Even for his youth, he had been burning through candle wicks at an alarming rate and felt that if something didn’t change he might run out of fuel. He groaned as he rotated his shoulder and tweaked a bruise acquired during the triple threat match against Rocky and Hall.
The hypnotic resonance of pattering raindrops soothed his mind, and for a moment, Eddie forgot all about his issues in the world. That was enough for lack of sleep and exhaustion to take over and let him drift into the void.
Waking with a start, Eddie heard Dave’s footsteps before he saw him in his doorway. The cadence of his footfalls suggested he was excited or scared, or maybe a combination of both. His coach swung the door open and breathlessly gasped after ascending the steps in such haste.
“Eddie, PRIME, Alias,” Dave managed to squeeze out between wheezing gulps of musty air from the young bachelor’s room. “Holy shit, smells, locker room… ”
Eddie sat up and tried to process what was happening, even though his mind had just been yanked out of a beautiful dream in which he was looking at an aquarium full of tropical fish.
“What are you… ?”
“PRIME released the card,” Dave huffed, slowly catching back up as his heart rate lowered. “You’re getting a shot at The Alias title, or whatever nonsense that Key and Peele football name guy is calling it these days.”
Eddie beamed when Dave referenced the clip of a video skit he had shown him a month ago, but his smile quickly turned sour when he thought about the implications of having another show to attend.
“Wait, they booked me again?” Eddie’s eyes lowered. His shoulders sagged and his face became etched with defeat as the realization that making time to get to Boston would be nearly impossible. He felt a little more of his wick burn away.
“Who cares?” Dave said, a bit taken aback that EC wasn’t more excited for the news.
“Well, I do.” Eddie answered quickly. “Four shows in a row? I have a life too.”
Eddie swung his legs off the bed and for the first time since he woke up, he noticed that the rain had hastened to an allegro tempo, and the beats were much lighter than before. The effect was effusive chatter on the asphalt shingles that lined the garage roof.
“The last two months feel like it’s been nothing but PRIME, PRIME, and more PRIME.” Eddie continued.
“What did you think would happen, Ed?” Dave countered. “You’re a young talent and you’re able to do this a lot more than some of the guys on the roster. There’s something else you ain’t considering.”
Eddie didn’t answer. Instead he waited for Dave to continue.
“If the fans didn’t want to see you, why would Lindsay keep booking you in matches? Face it kid, you’re gettin’ hot.”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
“Aint nobody want to watch boring talent over and over,” Dave continued. “This is a numbers game and you’re doing what I trained you to do; draw money. I told you that if you do that enough, good things will happen. Here we are, right here and now. Good things have happened.”
Dave was right, of course. He usually is. “Yeah. I don’t know what I was thinking. I just woke up from a nap and my brain hasn’t quite booted up yet.”
“Hell, I been there before.” Dave answered. “I’m gonna go get the white board ready and make a pot of coffee. You want some?”
“Sure. But give me a few minutes. I need to process… all of this.”
Dave paused and the conversation with Vivica ran through his mind. He nodded to his protegé before taking a step down the stairwell. “Take your time Ed, I’ll be in the kitchen.”
With that the steps creaked again, definitely excitement this time, as Dave hurried toward the war room and new opportunity.
– Come see me?
The text scorched Eddie’s thoughts. Of course he wanted to see Ava, he had wanted to see her for weeks and hadn’t been able to find the time. It’s no simple task when you’re the Bolamba without a private jet, after all. His car was still in the shop being repaired after the incident with Grant Hampton and his goons, and he was relegated to borrowing Dave’s pick up whenever he wanted to get out of the house.
Eddie walked over to his dresser and opened the top drawer. After shoving aside a few rolls of socks, he pulled out a well worn envelope that had his name on the front written hastily. He smelled the percolator brewing downstairs, and knew Dave was waiting on him, but he needed a little time to allow the gravity of the situation to come to rest.
Sometimes this house felt like a prison with a fine layer of dust that covered his dreams.
Eddie wasn’t even twenty-one and he couldn’t say that his life was all that exciting aside from wrestling. He didn’t do much compared to other members of the roster. Rezin marched to the beat of his own drum, showing up when and where he pleased. Hayes Hanlon lived in excess and it seemed to have done well for him.
Oh sure, the boys protected their own and wouldn’t tell anyone that Hanlon was out at strip clubs and doing hard drugs, but they all knew. Eddie was pretty sure everyone knew, but nobody seemed to care.
Compared to Hayes, Eddie was down-right sheltered. Dave had plenty of demons that he had battled through in the past, and a small part of Eddie knew that being sheltered was by design. Still, part of him wanted to be fun and exciting, too. He wanted people to see him on TV and watch his brand blow up. He wanted to revel in intoxication like Hayes, even if it scared him.
Did you blow up before the title win or vice versa?
Will I fall in the deep, as well?
Fuck it, I’m about to find out.
Eddie opened the envelope and pulled out a small stack of dog eared photos and postcards. He thumbed through them slowly and his face wore a pained expression as he did. As he flipped through each one, he carefully examined the image. The cardstock paper ruffled as he moved a photograph from the front to the back.
He stopped on a postcard with a picture of Apia, Samoa and tapped it a few times on the pile.
Was it like this for you, too? Was I your dream or did I stand in the way of your dream?
Three years ago Eddie had never thought he would be in this position. He felt frustration well inside his eye and he wiped it away quickly.
How did you do it? Wasn’t I enough?
For all his fear, for all his righteousness, and for all the time he spent in anger toward his father, here he was in the same boat with the same choice to make.
He shoved the photos back into the envelope and slammed the drawer closed. The ancient oak dresser rocked on the floor as Eddie walked to the window. The rain had stopped but the lingering sound of water running through gutters and dripping off onto the pavement below filled the air.
He sat back down on his bed and the dust billowed up from his comforter, alighting in the sun that was streaking through his window shades. Some wrestlers spend their whole career chasing the championship carrot. Even though it weighed on him as no match had ever before, he knew that the carrot was tantalizingly close.
Eddie flushed as he thought about the possibilities that came with winning this match. Exposure for his brand, bonuses, moving up the card, notoriety, opportunities for more and more… and before long, a realization hit him.
This business is the intoxication, isn’t it?
It felt like it had been a while since Eddie had known the smell of Dave’s gym. There was comfort in the scent. He felt peace while running the rickety ropes and had found familiarity with the dead spots in the boards under the canvas. His whole world centered on this spot. He was safe.
He and his brother began their journey in this building. Now Eddie was the one left standing and the reward for all his sacrifice and longing was a shot at real validation. The only thing standing in his way was Mortimer Kjedi… no, EC refused to play the name game with his opponent.
Every one of his names, starting with the first one, had been more ridiculous than the last. This guy’s schtick had been that he had a name nobody could pronounce, and that was somehow funny. Eddie, admittedly, didn’t grasp the humor; all he saw when he looked at his opponent was danger.
There was no doubt that his opponent deserved the championship. He was big, he was strong, and he wasn’t bad in the ring. He had sealed it with a victory over Eddie’s new ally, Kohime Mori. Eddie liked Kohime, but her misfortune was definitely to his benefit.
What kind of person runs from giving Kohime Mori another shot at the belt?
A coward. That’s who. A coward that was part of a whole group of cowards.
Now the entirety of the Gamble Adoration Syndicate had a real problem on their hands. Their leader had talked himself into the corner with Eddie already, and Lindsay had put the youngster in position to do some real damage to the group without laying a finger on Gamble.
Your lackey is in harm’s way with a no escape clause. Even if he gets by me, the competition is only going to get harder. You’ve made enemies all over backstage and on Jabber. We can pretend that my opponent is thinking for himself, but that’s just never been his strong suit. We all know who is the puppet and who is the master.
You’re a mean one, Mr. Grin.
Eddie decided he may not respect his opponent’s name, but he did respect what his opponent was capable of, and the people he associated himself with made EC nervous. However, unlike his opponent, something tugged at Eddie. It made him feel like he had to do this himself, despite the obvious risk. Something Kohime had told him on the last show that he couldn’t shake:
“Don’t… Be better than he is.”
— — —
Be better than he is.
— — —
That’s really the point of all of this.
Eddie hit the ropes, trying to free his mind. The ring shook and quaked, calling out with a pained heart like a grandparent whose grandchild had finally come to see them after years of being “too busy.”
“Hey,” Dave’s voice cut through his mind as his mentor walked up to the ring with a towel and a bottle of water. “You OK?”
Eddie came to a stop and leaned on the ropes. He took a deep breath before taking the water and the towel. “Yeah.”
“You’ve been running for a while now. Something on your mind?”
“Something is always on my mind,” Eddie quipped. “No matter how much I run, it’s never enough.”
“Well, my Papaw would say that it’s time to quit running, then.”
Eddie looked down with resolve at his mentor. He’d been on this journey for three years. Careers in PRIME come and go, and even some of the brightest stars had already burned out and were nothing but memories. Eddie had to face the fact that, in this business, he wasn’t a rookie anymore. He’s had just as many singles matches here as Ivan Stanislav, after all, and the one thing that has held him back so far was himself.
“Yeah.” He replied. “You’re right. I’ve been so focused on the grind that I forgot why I’m grinding.”
Dave looked up at his student with a twinkle in his eye. He’d seen this look, years before, on the face of an old friend.
“Well, what are you going to do about it?”
Eddie’s face shone with determination as he steeled himself to the task and his eyes flashed with emerald brilliance.
“I’m going to win the Alias Title and become a PRIME Champion.”
Later that night, Eddie sat on a rocky outcrop on his mountain staring down at the valley below him. Dusk had broken in North Carolina and a fog was settling in among the trees below him. Winter had faded, and the vernal explosion of spring was upon everyone who lived here. Eddie was no different.
He heard footsteps behind him, and turned to see Dave walking up slowly. The son of Carolina took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the familiar smell of his home.
“You’re still torn up over Ava, ain’t you?” he finally asked after what seemed like a year, but was probably only a few seconds.
Eddie stared through the night air, unblinking, hoping there was some sort of answer among the fog and the trees. But they were just trees. It was just fog. The night air was just night air.
He took a deep breath of his own. “I have to choose, don’t I?” the youth asked his mentor.
“Yep.” came the response as Dave sat down next to his student. “It ain’t fair, neither.”
Eddie sighed. “So all that stuff at your family farm?”
“Ed, you ain’t even old enough to drink yet. Ava is just one gal. Odds are you two won’t make it and I’m gonna have to teach you how to deal with that, too.” Dave replied.
The youngster nodded, almost sagely. “So, that talk wasn’t about Ava.”
“No, well, not all of it,” Dave answered with a warmth in his voice. “Hell, someday you might need it. And hey, I ain’t saying don’t date Ava. Just that you gotta be realistic about these things. You’re young, you’re gonna make all kinds of mistakes before you get it right.”
Eddie allowed the moment to sink in before responding.
“Did you ever deal with anything like this?” Eddie implored.
“Shoot,” Dave sniffed a little and tried to think of a way to avoid answering. “Things were different in my time.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Dave reluctantly offered. “We didn’t text people constantly and most of the boys just drove everywhere together. I guess you got to know them pretty well and maybe I just never felt like I needed anyone else.”
“I see.” Eddie paused in thought. He knew Dave was a private man. He never stopped to consider just how private.
He looked to his mentor and this time it was his turn to have warmth in his voice. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Dave blinked, stunned into a rare silence. At that moment, Eddie’s phone trilled on his lap and he saw the text was from Ava.
“You, uh, you better deal with that, Ed.” Dave deflected.
Dave suddenly stood up and walked away without warning, leaving Eddie to his dilemma. The young man heard the grate of cowboy boots on gravel slowly fade until there was no sound but his breathing and night on the mountain once again. Eddie shook his head and decided they both had enough on their plate and if Gibson wanted to talk to him about his personal life, he would. He closed his eyes in preparation for the worst, then opened up his eyes and his dm’s.
– Hey, are you ok? You didn’t answer.
He had tried dozens of times to respond, but he didn’t know what to say.
It wasn’t just this weekend. Ava would understand if he canceled. But would she understand the next time? There would clearly be a next time, after all. And there would be several next times to follow if the last couple months were any indication.
What if he actually managed to win the title?
Eddie knew she would say it was ok. That they would make it work. But it was only a matter of time until she met someone who could be around for her all the time, not just when it was convenient.
And there was still the matter of what Eddie wanted. Deep down, buried with feelings that he’d never tell her to her face, he knew the truth: He hadn’t sacrificed the last three years of his life to get all the way to the doorstep of a title only to make the same choice Junior had. He hated that this was the truth of the situation. But it was still the truth.
This was a choice he seemed destined to make.
Family life and the white picket fences were good enough for his brother. Eddie was different. He had enough of struggling to be enough. The drug was already in his veins and he had no intention of rehabbing. His was now the path of the flame instead of the wick.
He stared at the DM until his eyes burned and the words blurred from tears. He blinked away his emotions and made a choice. He shut off the screen of his phone without an answer and put the phone back in his pocket.
Whether I like it or not, I am my father’s son.