The Colton residence; Evansville, Indiana.
September 10, 2022. 8:37am.
Three days, two hours, and thirty-four minutes until Nate Colton shows hog.
Moving is awful. The worst part is packing; it’s tedious but still stressful. It’s also a lot of hard work.
And like all the other times there was hard work to do, nobody else was around.
That didn’t bother Nate Colton a whole lot, honestly; he’d always been a “do it yourself” guy. He’d packed up a few boxes’ worth of clothes, utensils, and other essentials, and now busied himself with the hardest part: deciding what books to take. Or rather, which ones not to take.
When it came to most of Nate’s interests, one could draw a straight line from him to his father. Wrestling, obviously, but also sports, cars, and especially music. Nate listened to far more 70’s or 80’s rock than anyone his age probably should.
His love of reading, on the other hand, came entirely from his mother.
Mallory got her American Lit degree from Wisconsin shortly before she met Jake. She had a lifelong passion for reading, which she hoped to turn into a career in teaching…or maybe even as a writer herself. Mallory had long dreamed of seeing her name on the cover of a best-selling book.
Then she had kids.
Like so many women, Mallory Colton had to push her own dreams to the back of her mind. She felt no resentment; she loved her family, but…
Mallory repurposed her passion for reading by passing it along. She read to her kids every night, took them to the library at least once a week, and always made sure that Santa knew to put a book in each of their Christmas stockings.
That love of reading made Nate Colton more thoughtful, more open to new ideas, than most men his age.
It also made the moving process a complete fucking nightmare.
Nate stared at his half-full bookshelf, checking for the fifth time if he really could live without what hadn’t made the cut. He loved the Percy Jackson series, but taking those meant leaving five others behind. The coffee table book about the Great Pyramids barely fit inside the box. The Jackie Drummond autobiography was highly entertaining, but almost entirely false.
“That’s the only bad thing about books,” came a voice from behind him. “Never enough space…or time.”
Nate turned around to see his mother standing in the room, her cinnamon-brown hair framing a warm smile.
“Hey, Nater Gator.”
Nate rolled his eyes at the mention of his childhood nickname, but he still smiled back. “Hey, ma.”
“How’s it coming along?”
“OK,” he replied. “Just trying to figure out what’s essential.”
“They’re all essential, though,” Mallory said. She put an arm around her son’s shoulder, and rested her head against his arm. “Are you sure about this?”
“I’d better be; I already signed the lease.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
Nate nodded, and placed the book he’d been holding back in its place. It had a brilliant twist ending, but he’d been to the End of This Book; he already knew who The Monster was.
“Mom, you know I appreciate you and Dad letting me move back in after college. I missed you all more than I thought, and I wouldn’t trade these last couple years for anything.”
“But. I think part of why I’ve stayed is, it’s been…comfortable. After I dropped out, and then the thing with…” he trailed off, hesitant to say a certain name that upset his mother even more than it did his siblings. “…well. After that, I needed comfort. But now, I think I need to start pushing myself again.”
“You sound just like your father,” she said with a smile…but Nate’s expression soured.
“Don’t need to hear that right now.” There had been several arguments over Nate’s decision to get an apartment in Las Vegas. Nothing as heated as their fight a month ago, but there was still a lot of tension between them.
“Don’t be like that,” Mallory chided. “He’s just worried about you. This is a big step.”
“Thought he’d be happy to get me out of the house.”
“Oh, honey. I don’t think he wanted any of you to leave, not after missing out on so much when you were little.”
“But I’ve left before. Benny and Blake are out of the house too.”
“It’s not the same, honey. They’re still in town; we can embarrass them in person if we need to.”
Nate shook his head, all too familiar with Mallory’s love of mortifying her children.
“You’re right; it is a big step,” he said. “But it’s one I need to take.”
“I know, sweetie. Just be careful,” Mallory replied, and gave her son a hug. Nate returned the embrace, and they stood there quietly for a moment.
Eventually Nate asked, “What are you going to do now that you don’t have to look after me?”
“Oh, I’ll fill the hours,” she said. “Maybe I can get back to my writing. Or spend more time listening to Prince.”
“I–” Nate started, then snapped his jaw shut. His face turned beet red as he pulled away from Mallory, who was smirking at him.
“You thought I didn’t know about your ‘Code Purple?’” she asked. “I’m your mother. I know everything.”
“Then maybe you know which books I should take along,” Nate replied, desperate to change the subject.
“All of them. Or none, so I can read them.”
“That’s not very helpful.”
“Sorry,” his mother said, though she clearly wasn’t. “I can tell you to leave a little extra space. Your father and I have been working on something.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“It’s a surprise.” She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek with a “mwah.” “Back to the laundry. If you need anything done, get it in the basket today.”
“OK.” As she left the room, Nate turned back to the bookshelf, making another attempt to figure out what he could take with him to Las Vegas.
Even if his car was twice the size, he’d still be leaving too much behind.
PRIME promo booth; Las Vegas, Nevada.
September 18, 2022. 3:13pm.
Five days, six hours, and two minutes after Nate Colton showed hog (accounting for time zones.)
“I moved into an apartment in Vegas this week.”
“I only bring it up, so I can talk about something my folks gave me. A moving-out gift, you might say.”
“It’s a book. Ever since I was little, Dad had been saving bits of advice, based on his experience. All the lessons he learned the hard way, so we won’t have to. He called it ‘The Rules.’”
“I’ve had the chance to skim it already. I already know a lot of it; he’s been drilling it into my head since I was sixteen. But there’s some new stuff too.”
“On my first read, there’s one that caught my attention. Rule Number 3: Know your opponent.”
“Interesting that it doesn’t say ‘know your enemy,’ like that ancient Chinese guy says in his book. But I get it. Most of the time, the other person in the ring isn’t going to be my enemy. Just another wrestler, trying to earn a paycheck and advance their career, same as me.”
“Even after the last couple of months, I don’t think of you as my enemy. An asshole, yeah, but not an enemy.”
“So…what do I know about FLAMBERGE?”
“Skipping the obvious–young, French, great taste in cars and chips–I know that you’re legit in that ring. Got some big wins already, and you took Cancer Jiles to the limit. That’s incredible for anyone, let alone a rookie. You’re a million-dollar talent, for sure.”
“But I wouldn’t give you a nickel for that head of yours.”
“I get what you’re doing. Align yourself with one of the big dogs, take that fast track to the top. Guys have been doing that since wrestling was invented. Problem is, that’s a real short-term strategy. And after screwing over Youngblood like you did, I don’t think you’ll have to bother with long-term strategy.
“When it comes to climbing the ladder to success…well, I got no problem taking the stairs. Sure, my way is a lot slower. But either way, there’s always setbacks. When it happens to me? I’ll get knocked down a few steps, sure, but I’ll be right back up before you know it.”
“When it happens to you? You’re gonna fall a lot farther…and a lot faster.”
“Who knows how long it’ll take to recover?”
The Colton residence.
September 13, 2022. 11:04am.
Seven minutes until Nate Colton shows hog.
Moving is awful. The worst part–even worse than packing–is loading. It’s a lot of physical effort, along with the knowledge that you’re going to have to do this all over again when you arrive at your new home.
Even for a strong young man like Nate Colton, a lot of exertion was required. Sometimes the weight would shift, or the box wouldn’t be as sturdy as it looked. And there were always a couple that were way heavier than they needed to be. Drenching yourself with sweat was almost a guarantee.
That’s why Nate Colton just finished his second shower of the day.
He stepped onto the bathmat, wrapping a towel around his waist. He grabbed another and used it to dry his hair, then left the bathroom and walked down the hall.
“Hey, honey!” his mother’s voice came from another part of the house. “Do you need your letterman jacket?”
“Probably not!” he shouted back. She’d been doing this all day; finding random things and asking if he wanted to take them along.
“How about your fishing rod?”
Nate stopped and turned around before responding. “Ma, can this wait until I’m less naked?”
“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before!”
Nate rolled his eyes as he went into his bedroom. He pulled a few items out of his dresser after a moment’s consideration, and set them on the bed. “Hmm. Not that shirt.” He returned the shirt in question to the dresser, and pulled out another one. “That’s better.”
He started to undo the towel around his waist. Behind him, the door opened and Mallory Colton silently crept into the room, holding something in her hands.
“Do you need…this?!”
Nate clutched the half-undone towel and turned around. “Jeez, can I get a little bit–”
And he suddenly found himself face-to-face with his mother…and a plush pink snout.
The snout was attached to a very old and well-worn stuffed pig.
“Oh my God,” he said with a grin while refastening his towel. “I thought you threw that out years ago.”
“I could never throw away Oinkers McGoo, your very bestest friend in the whole wide world!” Mallory exclaimed. Then she pushed the pig’s nose into her son’s chest with an “oink oink,” because when you’re embarrassing your kids you have to go all out. Or in this case, whole hog.
“Stop it,” he laughed, and grabbed the pig out of his mother’s hands. “Where did you find this?”
“There was a box in the attic. You should look through the rest of it later.”
“I’m sure it’s really important stuff, if it’s been in the attic for God knows how long.”
“I’ll go get it,” Mallory said, and left the room.
“You don’t–” but of course he was alone by then.
Nate looked down at the toy in his hands. Ol’ Oinkers had been through a lot over the years; he’d been patched a couple of times and there was a line of stitches where the right ear had to be reattached. Lot of memories in that pig.
Lot of memories in this house.
Could he really let them all go so easily?
He pressed down on Oinkers’ head with his finger, making it bend at the neck.
PRIME promo booth.
September 18, 2022. 5:47pm.
Five days, eight…oh, forget it.
“There’s another one that really caught my attention.”
“Rule Number 10: Never forget how lucky you are.”
“I know how rare it is in our sport to have a family like mine. The skills it takes to be a champion, or to raise a family…not a lot of overlap there. There’s damned few who can say they’ve had the same love and support as my folks have given me.”
“I’ve never met your family, and only heard rumors about your dad. So I know that I don’t know shit about it, and it’s none of my business.”
“But…well, people talk. And if even one of the things they’ve said about your old man is true…God, that kinda shit makes my blood boil. Son of a bitch deserved what you did to him.”
“You know who didn’t? Brandon Youngblood.”
“But you bought in to Atken’s sales pitch. You got hurt, so it was okay for you to hurt someone else. Pretty soon, you’re using that to justify all kinds of stuff, against people who’d never done a damn thing to you.”
“Same as some other people you know.”
“Definitely the same as Phil Atken. I’ve seen his type before. Someone wants to ‘revolutionize the business,’ they get some cocky kid on their side, make some serious waves…and guess what happens the very second that the cocky kid steps out of line, maybe starts making his own plans?”
“He’ll destroy you, FLAMBO. It’s all he knows how to do.”
“Still, you got people talking about you. But you ain’t the only one. Ever since I started, I’ve heard all kinds of talk about me. Feedback, criticism, even insults…but a lotta praise too. And there’s one thing people have said, over and over, that filled me with pride more than any other.”
“‘He’s just like his old man.’”
“Jake Colton taught me everything I know about how to be a wrestler, and a man. That ain’t all from a little book, either; that’s the work he put in over my entire life. My mom, too. They did everything they could to make sure that when I left home, I could stand on my own. As far as I’m concerned, they succeeded. I’m proud of who I am and what I can do, inside the ring and out.”
“Can you say the same?”
“So that’s where we’re at. You and me, UltraViolence. I know you’re one hell of a fighter, FLAMBERGE, but I also know I got what it takes to beat you. When it’s all said and done, I’m gonna show you something you’ve never seen…and you’re gonna get something nobody’s ever given you before.”
“Like I said earlier, I don’t think you’re my enemy. I actually hope you can get your head on straight, maybe find a better mentor. One who actually gives a shit, and isn’t just trying to use you for their own ends. Because if you don’t…that thing that people say about me?”
“They’re going to say the same thing about you.”
The Colton residence.
September 14, 2022; 9am.
Moving is awful. But the very worst part…more than packing, loading, or driving…is leaving.
Nate’s siblings said their goodbyes at dinner last night, leaving his parents to see him off in the morning after he finished loading the car.
What kind of car, you ask? A high-performance machine like the FLAMBOrghini? A Mustang, like his dad’s? A Porsche 911 GT3 with Touring Package?
Of course not. Nate Colton would only drive the most high-performance vehicle. A sleek…
It was his father’s idea, of course, but there had been a heated argument. Jake cited benefits like the great gas mileage and storage space, whereas Nate preferred to go on dates.
Practicality won the day though, and now the Natemobile (or, as Benny called it, the Nate-and-no-girls-mobile) sat in the driveway, stuffed to the gills with his possessions. Nate closed the hatchback and turned around to face his beloved parents.
Mallory came forward and wrapped her arms around her oldest son. Well, most of the way around.
“What are you going to do as soon as you get settled in?” she asked.
“After that, Nater Gator.”
It took a moment, but he remembered one of the things she’d been harping on. “Find a church.”
“Get a library card.”
“Good boy.” She kissed him on the cheek again, then stepped back and slipped an arm around her husband.
“Son,” Jake said.
Jake suddenly straightened up, and muttered “I’m telling him,” which happened because Mallory dug a knuckle into his rib cage, as she often did when he was stalling. “I…we wanted you to have this, before you left.” He held out a thin book with a dark blue cover. Nate took it from his father, noting how it looked and felt like a fancy journal that one of his ex-girlfriends always used to have.
“It’s a lot of stuff that I wrote down over the years. Your mom had it printed up and made all fancy like that.”
Nate turned it over to look at the front cover…and as soon as he did, gave his father an incredulous look. “More rules, Dad? You think we don’t have enough?”
“Yeah, I know,” Jake said. “I picked that title a long time ago. Maybe now…just try to think of it more as advice, okay?”
Nate mulled the thought over, then nodded. “Thanks, Dad.”
“And if nothing else, at least I can say that I wrote a book before your mother–ow!” he said, cut off by another knuckle in the ribs.
“You wrote the words, but they’d still all be spelled wrong if it weren’t for me,” Mallory playfully snapped.
Once more, a grin spread across Nate’s face, and he embraced his father tightly. Mallory soon joined in.
After a round of “love yous,” they broke off, and Nate finally got into his car. He turned it on, waved goodbye, and pulled out of the driveway. His parents waved back as he continued down the street.
When he looked in the mirror, he could still see them waving. He kept half an eye on them until he turned a corner, and then…
…and then the bottom dropped out of his heart.
His mom was right; it really was different this time. It wasn’t like when Benny got his own apartment, or when Blake moved into the dorms at UE. Even when Nate went to college, he was only a few hours’ drive away. He could always come back, whenever he needed to.
Now he was moving halfway across the country. Far away from the people he saw every day, for better or worse. Who could say when he’d see them again?
Or even if?
How can I do this? Everything I know, everything I love…I can’t leave them. I can’t. A stray tear rolled down his cheek as his mind raced.
I can’t possibly make it without–
His phone lit up with a notification. A text from his mother.
Love you miss you, baby.
Nate smiled, and his chest suddenly felt less hollow. At the next stoplight he typed his response…
i’m not even out of town yet
…but quickly deleted it. This wasn’t the time.
love u miss u, mom
Open the box on the passenger seat.
I left you something special.
He looked up and saw that the light had turned green…but also that there weren’t any other cars around. “Hell with it. Nobody’s waiting.”
Nate looked to his right, at the medium sized box that sat on the passenger seat. He peeled the flap open, and saw something familiar. Something friendly.
“Oinkers! How did you get in there?” Nate pulled the plush pig out of the box and looked into its plastic beady eyes.
A more mature part of his brain told him to put the pig back in the box. An even more mature part told him to turn around and take it back to the house. But he wasn’t listening to either of them.
Instead, he listened to the part that was still three years old…when all he needed was Mommy and Daddy and his very bestest friend in the whole wide world.
He closed the box again, and set Oinkers on top. “Can’t see the country from in there. All right, buddy…ready for one more adventure?”
Oinkers McGoo said nothing, as he had always been the stoic type.
Nate fired up some music and started driving again. As the first song–Eagles, of course–got going, he drummed his thumbs against the steering wheel until they got to the chorus, because that was all Nate ever sang.
“Because I’m allllllllllready gone!”
Not well, either.
“And I’m feeeeeeeeeeelin’ strong! I will siiiiiiiiiiing this victory song!” He turned to Oinkers for the “whoo-hoo-hoo” part, then set his eyes back on the road.
Nate Colton’s future lay ahead of him, and he wanted to see it coming.