“Are you nervous?”
Olivia Henderson shook her head slightly in response, as her mother stood in front of an open mini fridge door. The daughter of the Permascar Superstar was sitting at the edge of the hotel room bed with her arms wrapped around her legs, clutching them against her chest tightly as she stared blankly at the wall across from her. She knew what she was feeling was not nervousness, or at least that is what she had been telling herself since her alarm went off a few hours ago.
While splashing water on her face, she thought it could be anxiousness. Excitement was what she told herself while brushing her teeth a few minutes later, but that did not describe what felt like a pair of shoes tumbling around in her stomach either. Then again, maybe it was a combination of all of those emotions and so much more.
The only thing she knew for sure, was that the moment she had been waiting for these last few months was only a few hours away.
“Are you nervous,” she asked her mother, but did not turn to look in her direction.
Victoria Henderson pulled the bottle of water away from her lips before she could take a sip, then allowed a slight smile to creep across them as she nodded. “I am, yes.”
“Is it weird that I’m not?”
“Of course not,” Victoria placed the bottle of water on a table that was a few steps away from her, as she made her way over to where Olivia was seated. “Baby girl, you’re allowed to feel any way you want.”
She sighed as she took a seat next to her daughter, then wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in tight.
“Moooom,” Olivia whined as she struggled to fight out of her mother’s embrace.
“You know you love this,” Victoria chuckled softly as she squeezed her daughter even tighter than before.
“But I already felt like throwing up,” Olivia squirmed a bit as she continued unsuccessfully to get out of the Boa Constrictor-like grip of the woman formerly known as Violet Rayne. “So this isn’t helping.”
“Want me to get you some soup?”
“Soup,” Olivia’s eyes narrowed as she pulled away from her mother and stared at her in disbelief. “I thought we were going to Lou Malnati’s?”
“Well that was the plan, but if you’re not feeling well…” Victoria pressed the back of her hand against her daughter’s forehead. “I’ll just call Tony and let him know we can’t make it. I’m pretty sure we can reschedule with him, then I can find a good place to get you some chicken noodle soup instead. Maybe we can at least make it to the pay per view tonight.”
“No, I’ll be okay.” Olivia’s eyes went wide really quick, as she pushed her mother’s hand away from her face as it started to go pale. “I’m not nervous, but I think I might be a little scared.”
A mother’s hand reached toward her daughter’s face, fingers separated slightly as the tips brushed across her cheek from temple to jaw as her gaze softened. Her eyes watered slightly as she thought of everything they had been through up to this point, and wondered if it had all been worth it.
= = = = =
“This was definitely worth it.”
Olivia ignored the words coming out of her father’s permanently scarred mouth, instead focused on the arms that tightened against her back as he pulled her close against his chest. It was something that she had never experienced before, from someone she never expected would actually be a part of her life. Yet, here he was, and she still found it hard to believe.
A father’s embrace.
How many father-daughter dances had she spent seated at a table; upset that she was there with her mother, while her friends danced with the parent that was actually supposed to be there to share that experience with them. How different would it have been, if he was there for her to step on his shoes as he taught her how to dance a waltz for the first time.
Did he even know how to dance the waltz?
She was sure he would have learned; because if he was in her life at that time all he would have wanted to do was make her happy, and that would have made her the happiest girl at any dance. There was no way for her to go back and know for sure if things would have been different, but she felt the thoughts of those dances – and the way he would have tucked her into bed every night and threatened to suplex any monster that dared to interrupt her sleep – had filled every single tear that slowly soaked into his silver and black striped polo.
Her mother said that he would not want to let her go, and now that she was in his arms it dawned on her that she did not want to let go either. All he had the chance to do was say hello, and within seconds she had run toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist. Any fears that she wouldn’t meet some lofty expectations she imagined he would have, were left behind to stare in awe next to her mother. This is the moment she had dreamed of, what had kept her up at nights as she imagined what their first memory together would be like.
She knew that he had a match scheduled against Chandler Tsonda later tonight, so maybe they could skip Lou Malnati’s after all. Right now, the only thing she wanted to do was enjoy this moment.
= = = = =
“I can get used to this.”
Tony winces slightly as Olivia’s arms tighten around his waist.
“She was worried about you,” Victoria smiles, a bottle of water dangling between her index and middle finger when she notices the slight twinge of pain that causes him to go a little weak in the knees. She also realizes that he is shaking his head at her, not wanting to disrupt the moment.
“Worried?” he wraps his arms around her shoulders, eyes shut tightly as he tries his best to suppress the pain that started when he landed wrong after that first fall from the turnbuckle onto the floor. “That match went exactly the way I planned it.”
“You planned to lose?”
“Of course,” Tony’s eyes open as he tilts his gaze to Victoria, a genuine smile on his face as he continues. “Now I can ask Troy to let me take the next show off, and the two of you can come spend the next few weeks with me in Vegas.”
“Are you serious?” Olivia releases the vice lock grip she had around Tony’s waist, eyes wide and mouth agape as she stares up at him.
“We can’t do that,” Victoria watches as the fresh wave of excitement on her daughter’s face rolls away with the tide. In her mind, what happens to her daughter’s face next occurs in slow motion. Olivia’s smooth brow wrinkles as a frown marches across it, her eyes narrow to the point that they are almost closed, and the smile that once lit up the room now twists into a scowl that would give other children nightmares.
“I know it’s short notice, but–”
“Don’t get me wrong, today has been great,” Victoria stammers as she speaks, turning away from the death glare coming from her daughter. “I just think we should take things slowly. We can’t just uproot our lives because you’re in it now.”
“Oh, now we can’t just up and move all of a sudden.”
“No, your mom’s right,” Tony places a hand on each of Olivia’s shoulders, thankfully she only has two. “I shouldn’t have even brought that up.”
“But today has been so much fun.”
“And tomorrow will be even better,” Tony looks from Olivia to Victoria, who did not appreciate being put on the spot like that. “Turns out, I’m not going to need to be at the show after all.”
“You don’t have to be at the show tomorrow?”
“I was going to help somebody out with something, but he figured out a way to get things done without me so it’s cool if I’m not there.”
“And the Queen,” Victoria asks as she folds her arms across her chest, her mouth twisting up on one side. “Is she okay with you not showing up for work?”
“Lindsay Troy is going to have her hands full with the people actually scheduled for tomorrow night, I doubt she’ll even realize that I’m not there.”
“Hey, dad, did that mean man hurt another one of your friends?”
Tony turns his attention towards the ring, where puddles of blood are soaking into the mat as Paxton Ray makes his way up the ramp. The Anglo Luchador extends his arm toward ringside, his face a bloody mess as he motions for a microphone. Just like Tom to not leave well enough alone, he’s always been a glutton for punishment but to be talking to Paxton like this in his condition isn’t wise at all…even if it’s the truth.
“I wouldn’t call him a friend…co-worker maybe.”
“You should be friends with him.”
A woman steps out from behind the curtain before Ray can head back toward the ring, somehow convincing him to walk away from the situation instead of running at it like a bull in a China shop.
“Oh, and Jared Sykes too, his girlfriend is sooo pretty.”
“What was that,” Tony turns his attention back to his daughter, she has her mother’s smile.
“You should be friends with Sykes, he seems really cool.”
“Things don’t really work like that around here,” Tony looks back out at the ring, where the medical staff was attending to TAL. “I’ve done a lot of bad things to people, Olivia. Things that have made those people hate me so much.”
“Just tell them you’re sorry.”
“I doubt that will ever be enough,” he looks back at Olivia, at that smile that just made his heart melt.
There was so much emotion in her eyes, and he couldn’t understand why in just these last few hours he has learned so much about who she is as a person without knowing much about who she is. He knows she has a caring heart, but does not know what her favorite color is. He can tell that her smile is capable of lighting up a room, but has no clue what she dreams of becoming when she grows up.
Luckily, they have plenty of time for him to figure it all out, to learn everything there is to know about this young lady that has filled his heart with so much joy in so little time.
= = = = =
“What are you thinking about?”
Tony Gamble turns his attention away from the penny he is flipping between his fingers, a small gift from Olivia when they visited the Lincoln Park Zoo on Saturday afternoon. It was nothing fancy, just a flattened penny with the shape of a Red Panda stamped into it she paid fifty cents for. It is the first thing she has ever given to him though, so as far as he is concerned – it’s priceless, just like her. Frank Pastore is sitting across the desk from him, staring at him as he patiently waits for an answer to his question. Domingo Cruz is sitting to his left, biting into an apple fritter while Johnnie Newsman is spinning in his chair a few feet behind him.
“Paxton Ray,” Tony answers, not really lying since he could not understand how Paxton could put his own child through the things she is currently going through. He did not know the whole story, but to hear Tom say the things she had told him Friday night after their match, he felt he knew enough to figure out she wasn’t happy.
It was strange to him, even if he had only really been an active father for less than a week. How could any father do anything to hurt their child in any way, what would cause a child to have so much anger toward them.
But that isn’t something he feels he can tell the boys, so instead he says. “He’s not going to be easy to beat.”
That isn’t a lie either, and while he isn’t collecting necks…the Bayou Butcher is leaving a trail of broken men in his wake, as he continues a journey he started a little over a year ago.
“But he can be beaten,” Domingo throws in his two cents before taking a sip of his coffee.
“Of course,” Tony puts the penny in his pocket, then leans forward in his seat. “Everybody can be beaten. It’s knowing what it’s going to take to get that win, that we need to focus on this week.”
“You have a starting point in mind, boss?”
“I do, Frank, but first…” Tony pauses as he grabs a sheet of paper off his desk, looking over it real quick before continuing. “There’s this kid down in Florida working his ass off in some local indie promotions. Kid’s raw, but he’s got some skills. Johnnie, I’m going to need you to go down there, let him know you represent me, and invite him to St. Louis.”
“Is he replacing Morty?” Dom asks as Johnnie stops spinning around, staring in Tony’s direction awaiting his response.
“No,” a smile accompanies Tony’s reply, and Johnnie breathes a little easier. “He’s not ready for the big stage yet, but I’d like for him to represent us at the Belmont this year.”
“The Belmont?” Frank leans forward in his chair, glancing in Domingo’s direction as he does. He can see the look of disappointment on his face, as can Tony. Since he’s been participating in tag team matches with Frank this year, this would be the only year he can qualify for the tournament – since it only takes wrestlers in their rookie year and his first match was on the 14th of January earlier this year.
“Yeah, I figure we can see what the kid can do for ourselves,” Tony taps his fingers on the desk, not realizing the shade of red that Domingo’s face was slowly turning. “Jake was just looking for a paycheck, we need some fresh blood that’s willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead…to really embody what it means to be a part of the Gamble Adoration Syndicate.”
Cruz springs from his seat, so quickly that it startles Johnnie and causes him to lose his balance and stumble out of his chair. “What the hell do you think I’ve been doing this whole damn year, scratching my nuts and getting you coffee?”
“Excuse me,” Frank is up before Tony is, standing in front of Dom and motioning for him to calm down.
“It’s nothing, boss,” Frank interjects. “We just figured Dom would be the one to join the Belmont for us.”
“Why would you think that,” Tony places his palms on the desk, as Frank attempts to calm the stocky Puerto Rican down a bit. “He doesn’t even meet the requirements.”
“My first match was with Frank at that first interfed pay per view,” Domingo shakes his head as he sits back down, gritting his teeth as he stares daggers at the man standing across from him looking clueless. “Where we made those tag team champs look like a pair of chumps.”
“Yeah,” Tony shrugs his shoulders casually. “back in December, I remember that.”
“It was January,” Frank corrects Tony.
“Are you sure?”
“We’re sure,” Domingo barks back in response, a twinge of anger still dripping from his words.
“My bad,” Tony chuckles. “I didn’t think you could enter. Still, I want to enter the kid so we can evaluate him.”
Cruz’s mouth drops open, and Frank can only stand there frozen.
= = = = =
“I feel like I should tell you that now, Paxton.”
“Because I don’t think you’re going to be in the type of mood to hear it, when you’re looking up from the mat watching Elvis Nixon raise my hand in victory.”
Gamble is standing behind the stool instead of sitting on it.
“That’s not why I’m saying sorry though, because beating you is not something I would ever be sorry about. No, I’m sorry that you had the unfortunate luck to be drawn to face me in the first round.”
A smirk dances his way across Tony’s right cheek, fighting for the opportunity to replace his permanent grin.
“After your performance in the last Belmont, Vegas money was on you making it pretty far in the Almasy. I’d like to say that the odds dropped when this match was announced, when the World found out that you were facing a PRIME hall of famer.”
The permanent grin won the battle, the smirk running away as fast as it had appeared.
“But that wasn’t the case.”
He slowly makes his way in front of the stool.
“No, odds are that you’ll lose to Jared Sykes in round two.”
He finally sits, giving the stool purpose.
“I remember my first tournament, because the odds were against me then too and I ended up winning the whole damn thing.”
He nods once, the stool is just there being as supportive as it can.
“That’s not why I’m going to win though. No, I’m going to win because I know what I need to do to make it happen.”
“You’re a tough son of a bitch, so I doubt you’re going to make it easy on me. Thing is, nothing in my career has ever been easy and yet here I am. Here I am wanting to win the only title that has eluded me so far, and right now you’re in the way of me accomplishing that.”
“So that’s why I’m apologizing now, because I can guarantee you that I won’t be sorry for anything that happens next.”