“For the record, I have no idea why you asked me to be here helping.”
Coral Avalon watched as Joe and Sid were busying themselves with a new level of nonsense, even by their standards. Sid was unusually dressed, by Sid standards, wearing a suit and almost a tie. Joe, meanwhile, was trying to help Sid get his necktie around his neck and tied properly.
“Well, dude, of the three of us, you’re the only one who knows how any of this dating thing works,” Joe said, using a free hand to gesture wildly and vaguely at the adult in the room, “Like, how did it work with Annakana?”
Coral mouthed the name “Annakana”, not entirely convinced where that name came from. It took him an embarrassing amount of time before he connected it to his wife, Annabelle.
“Our situation was a little different. Annie and I were friends for months before we thought about giving dating a shot. Just a couple of awkward kids, trying to figure out how to get in a relationship with each other without knowing that the other one’s trying to do the same thing. For six months.” Coral said, sighing, “All while Annie’s best friend was actively trying to send me to the hospital every chance she got.”
Coral smiled awkwardly, remembering that some concussions were better left in the past.
“None of that seems applicable to this… situation,” Coral said, “Seriously, Sid, you’re on Jabber for all of two days and you ended up getting a date with Ria?”
“Don’t know what to tell you,” Sid admitted, “She kept saying some nonsense about teaching me something other than powerbombs, then she said something else about teaching me new and exciting ways to powerbomb and that sounded more interesting to me. I don’t understand why I need to dress up and go to a restaurant to be taught this, though.”
“Jesus F. Christ, Sid, how dense are you?” Joe asked, “She wants to be powerbombed in a very different way that you’re accustomed to powerbombing.”
“I don’t follow.”
“No, I mean, she needs you to put her on her back.”
“That’s how powerbombs work. Most of them, anyway. Well, the wheelbarrow’s a bit different,” Sid said, “You gotta get behind them and it’s a whole process.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet it is,” Joe said, audibly clicking his tongue while giving Sid a wink, “Then I bet she’ll want to put your junk in her trunk, if you catch my drift.”
“I don’t, really. If I’d known I was handing over a bunch of junk to Ria, I would’ve brought that busted Sega Saturn out of my closet that hasn’t worked in ten years,” Sid said.
Coral palmed his face, “I swear to God, you guys and this whole conversation are all Ottomans besieging the Constantinople of my mind. When’s Ria going to get here?”
She slowly exhaled. She fidgeted with her dress before walking forward down the hall. It’s pink, a shade lighter than her hair. The dress hangs from her shoulders by spaghetti straps, a few fractions off from being form fitting and ending just above her knees. Her legs are encased in nude hosiery, her feet covered by white strappy sandals with a two inch blocky heel. Her makeup is subtle, but her hair is freshly blown out. Across her shoulders is a translucent shawl, black in color and covered in sequins.
Ria Lockhart is very much treating this like a date.
She stops in front of a door. Ria reaches into the small purse she’s carrying on her shoulder, pulling out a cellphone. She taps it a few times, looks to the door, back to the phone and to the door for one last confirmation. She keeps the phone out and pulls up the front camera. After a few more seconds of primping, she puts the phone back in her purse. Another long exhale escapes her lungs. Ria steps forward and politely knocks on the door.
“Oh, shit, I think she’s here,” Joe said. He broke away from Sid and his tie, and went to the door to answer it.
He was briefly awestruck when he saw Ria standing there in her fancy outfit, such that it took him several seconds to pick the jaw up off of the floor. Then he said, “Uh, hey miss. I think you have the wrong place. We’re waiting for a friend of ours named Ria, and…”
He hesitated as reality dawned on him. He swallowed, and then hastily added, “…And she’s looking great! Yeah!”
In the background, behind Joe and even Sid, Coral can be seen hiding his face with his palm. Sid, meanwhile, had all but given up on the necktie. He tossed it to the ground in a manner that some part of him would think was a powerbomb.
Ria can help but giggle a bit at Sid not recognizing her.
“I guess I clean up up well, huh?” Ria teases with a smile. She watches Sid’s frustration with his tie hit its apex as he somehow manages to powerbomb the accoutrement. She looks at the grounded tie, then up to Sid. “Yeah, fuck that thing!”
She steps forward, hooking an arm around Sid’s. “You ready? Lindsay gave me a nice place we could go. They have grilled chicken on the menu, I double checked.”
She hooks her arm around the unprepared Sid’s. She looks up at him, beaming.
“So, we ready to go?”
Joe, walking behind him to join Coral, shouted words of encouragement that seemed very unintelligible to most of the people in the room. Something about “go conquer those Tilted Towers” or something like that.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Sid said.
Coral looked to Ria, and said, “Keep it to a level of trouble that can be easily handled without involving the police, you two.”
Ria gives Coral a mischievous grin.
“Aw come on, Coral. We’re not gonna do anything too crazy…” Ria says with a wink. The two take their leave, withdrawing to leave Coral and Joe behind in the room.
They arrive at a fancy upscale French restaurant. The receptionist sees the two walking in, doing his best to put on a less than convincing smile.
“How may I help you?” The receptionist, dressed in a nice suit, inquires. Ria, who’s been holding Sid’s arm this whole time, releases him and steps forward.
“I had a reservation for two under Lockhart.” She states with a smile. The host moodily flips through some pages in a book before stopping. He peers down for a closer look, a slight bit of shock on his face at what he sees. He looks back up to the two.
“This way, please.” The man drily instructs them, taking the two towards their table.
Sid has never been to anything like this place before in his life. The Phillips family had always been poor, just a single father trying to make ends meet with three very obnoxious children. All of the pomp and circumstance of this place was completely foreign to him. You made reservations? You have a receptionist and they’re not just there to shut up and take your order?
Sid took his seat, thinking he felt as awkward and out of place as a grizzly bear in the establishment. A grizzly bear that did not enjoy his Beats By Dre headphones or was particularly good at vibing or knew more than two professional wrestling moves. Sid wondered sometimes if GREAT BEAR knew how to powerbomb someone, or if he’d just cut to the chase and started literally mauling someone.
The thought of it made him shudder. God. Who let a bear into PRIME, anyway? Bears freaked him out. The line between a civilized, vibing bear and a chilling, brutal apex predator might as well not exist. He thought about the time when he saw the Revenant. You know, the DiCaprio film. That was fucked up. He was also like 13 when he saw it. Seeing something that fucked up and what it would take to survive a bear attack would traumatize Sid for years to come.
Wait, where were we going with this?
Sid felt awkward sitting there across from Ria. Powerbombs were not involved. He wondered when there would be powerbombs. At least it’d take his mind off of the bears.
“So, uh,” Sid started, and then he realized he had nothing. Absolutely nothing. Zero. All words had been mauled by the fear of bears that weren’t even in the restaurant and only came to mind because Sid had briefly thought he was a very large bear. He tried to recover, “…How about those, uh… Steelers?”
Anyone with eyes could see Sid was uncomfortable. Ria was used to the stares, the muttered comments. It bothered her, but it wasn’t worth concentrating on. As they sat, she looked at Sid. He seemed spaced out, distracted. What was going through his mind? Was it profound, something that anyone would struggle to put into words? Were they revolutionary thoughts that any human mind would be unable to comprehend? Or was it powerbombs? Probably powerbombs, but it could be the other things.
He finally spoke. It wasn’t profound, but it also wasn’t powerbomb related. Small steps.
“Eh, they’re mediocre and inconsistent.” Ria said with a giggle. She leaned forward, resting her chin in her hands. “How about you? What were things like for you growing up? What do you do with your free time?”
“Besides the thing everyone thinks they know about me?”
“Growing up was… difficult, I guess. Mom died when I was young. Dad tried to make the wrestling thing work while juggling being a dad to me and my sisters. Not sure what would’ve happened if Joe’s dad hadn’t helped out, to be honest.” Sid said, looking around the restaurant awkwardly as he spoke. Way, way too fancy for him.
“As for my free time… well, that shit I said on ReVival about being into gardening was true. Used to take care of a little cactus garden back home. Pretty sure Luna got stuck with it when I moved out to Vegas, though.” Sid said. “I’d been meaning to start a new one, but… well. Kinda hadn’t had the time before now, and then I just plain forgot.”
Ria’s face sank. The first line stung a bit, even if it wasn’t directed at her. Sid might be a simple guy, but being treated as a one note person? That had to wear on him more than she had thought about. That wasn’t even getting into the family stuff. She sat back, looking down at the table. She mindlessly drew circles on the table with her index finger.
“I didn’t have my father growing up… None of my stepdads were exactly great father material either. My mom worked a lot. A lot of double shifts, a lot of going without. She made it work, she did her best for us.”
Ria half looked up at Sid, trying to hide her personal embarrassment. “That gardening tidbit is interesting. That takes patience, I’d imagine. It’s a skill set I’m sure people don’t expect out of you. But appearances can be deceiving…”
At this point, their waiter arrived at the table.
“What can I get for the two of you?” The waiter asked.
“I guess I’ll take some rosé wine. How about you?” Ria took the interruption as a chance to move on and actually be able to look at her date, without feeling shame.
“Water’s fine. Coral’s made it pretty clear I’m not supposed to be drinking,” Sid said. He paused, and then shrugged his big shoulders, “Well, once it’s February, it’ll be fine. Worst he can do after I’m of age is yakuza kick me.”
The waiter nodded, writing down the orders in his notepad, even as he mouthed the words “yakuza kick” with considerable confusion. Once done, he went off to go fill the drink orders.
“Ain’t never been to a place like this, not gonna lie,” Sid said, “Even Avalon took us to everyday places when we were celebrating or going out to eat. Pretty sure he has some secret sponsorship with Denny’s, with the number of times he’s taken us that in the last two years.”
Or maybe he liked to plan his acts of yakuza kick-based treachery in a Denny’s. Just saying.
“Maybe if I can go another month without getting fined for whatever that crazy Troy lady thinks up next, I’ll return the favor.” Sid suggested.
Ria can’t help herself and chuckled at Sid’s last comment. “I know Lindsay is a bit of a hardass, but she’s actually a very caring person when you get to know her. I think it’s something that those very familiar with her tend to forget.”
Ria looked around the restaurant a bit. She was more out of her element than she’d like to admit. Sid looked uncomfortable enough without her letting him know it was essentially a blind leading the blind type of situation.
“I don’t usually eat at places like this myself.” Ria admitted, trying to keep her tone nonchalant. “I figure if it was recommended by Lindsay, the food will be good.”
The waiter returned, dropping off their drinks. “Are you ready to order?”
Ria relaxed her shawl onto the back of her chair before reaching for the menu. Her tattooed and scarred arms are on full display, catching the attention of the waiter.
“Urg…” The waiter’s voice resonated with disgust in its tone. Ria quickly picked up on his somewhat rude social cue, quickly pulling the shawl back over her shoulders. Her face burned red with embarrassment.
Sid looked down at the menu, though he didn’t overlook Ria’s discomfort. Instead, he saw exactly what he was looking for. He pointed dramatically at the menu, though contrary to what most people thought of the man, he did not powerbomb the menu. Maybe later, if the menu said anything so uncouth.
Sid Phillips was a simple beast. He loved powerbombs, cacti, and grilled chicken. Maybe some other things, too, but who wanted to hear about those?
The waiter curtly jolted down Sid’s order before he turned to Ria. “Quite adventurous, aren’t you? And you, um, ‘ma’am’… What can we get you? I assure you, we don’t serve burgers here.”
Ria shrank down in her seat and buried her face in the menu. “Chicken Alfredo is fine…” Her tone was slightly above a whisper.
Ria was used to not being wanted in places, but it had been awhile. She was working on her confidence. Strides had been made, but it was still very much a work in progress. She would say that the guy walking away would save things, but there was Sid. Ria didn’t really care about embarrassing herself when she was alone. In front of a date, though? If Ria could turn invisible, she would have.
Sid cleared his throat. The sound of it was audible enough for several people around their table, and especially so for the waiter.
“Sir, I’m going to make this abundantly clear,” Sid said. His tone was calm, but there was something beneath it that suggested that he was several moments away from testing out how powerbombs might work in a real fight, “Shut up.”
“Excuse me?” the waiter asked, taken aback.
“Keep your snide remarks to yourself. Either take our order or don’t. I don’t care. If the next word out of your mouth is just as rude as the last, then I’ll be happy to serve you and that ugly bow tie. On a platter.”
He shrugged his big shoulders. He was more likely to leave a negative review on Yelp than actually pick a fight, but something about this waiter made him want to throw him out of a window.
Probably the bow tie. Definitely the bow tie.
Ria lowered her menu after Sid’s words. Sure, it wasn’t exactly about defending her honor, but it was still a nice gesture. Her embarrassment began to fade and a small smile formed on her face.
“Thank you, Sid.” Ria said, no longer mumbling. She looked to the waiter. He certainly seemed ready to be as attentive as would be necessary to avoid any physical harm. Ria shook her head. “This is stupid. You know what? Fuck this place! I know a diner not far from here. Atmosphere ain’t as nice and they don’t have $45 steaks, but I like it.”
What was the point of trying to hide who she was? Sid didn’t exactly seem the type that would be impressed by the fancier things in life, especially after talking about his upbringing. Besides, who doesn’t love a good burger? Bitches, that’s who! And vegans. And pollotarians. And those that follow the Hindu faith. Other than them, though? Bitches!
Sid seemed taken aback by a particular detail. “Wait, the steaks are $45 dollars here? Pass. Gotta be careful with my money, never know when that scary boss lady fines me another 23k for the simple crime of powerbombing the wrong dude.”
He stood up from his seat, and his sheer size made the waiter take an unconscious step backwards. Intimidation was easy when you were built like a mountain. A mountain that did powerbombs. As mountains do.
And with that, Sid and Ria got the hell out of there.
Because, really, fuck that place.
“Burgers are great,” Sid declared. Ria and Sid had found a hole in the wall diner that served up burgers that definitely didn’t cost ludicrous amounts of money, and once they ate there, the two made their way back to the hotel, “The perfect food, really. When you flip them over on the grill, you can pretend you’re powerbombing them. It’s sublime.”
After a few moments passed, he quickly added, “Okay, I don’t actually do that. Even I have limits on how far I take the powerbomb thing.”
Ria couldn’t help but giggle. The statement did lead her to reflect for a moment. She stared up at her almost foot taller date.
“Um, Sid?” Ria said, cheeks flushed. “I owe you an apology… I’ve been objectifying you for the last little while. I know how that feels and I hate when I have to deal with it. There’s a lot more to you than your looks or the whole powerbomb thing. You deserve to be treated better. I’m sorry for looking at you as nothing more than potential sex.”
She had trouble looking at him. This wasn’t like the embarrassment from earlier. Ria was disappointed, maybe even disgusted, with herself. Sid had been nice enough to agree to the date. He went to the effort to dress nicely. He put that rude waiter in his place. He’d also shared a bit of the struggles from his past, as well as the ones he continued to deal with. Sid deserved better.
Sid shrugged his big shoulders, and said, “Don’t worry about it, Ria.”
He looked up at the hotel’s sign. Yup. That’s a hotel, alright.
“You know, my dad’s always the type to tell me that people judge books by their covers because it makes them feel comfortable. ‘Not a lot of people actually sit down and read those books’, he’d tell me. Everyone does it. That dickweed waiter did it. And, well, I guess I’m no different, either. Used to think you were, I don’t know, tough to approach? Avy even said you stabbed Jared Blueberry once.” Sid said. He and Joe were too busy being horribly sick on that show thanks to some truly horrific cooking to know what went on later on in the night.
“To be fair, maybe he deserved it. Ain’t known that guy long enough, but sometimes he’s very punchable.”
Sid, you don’t even know how to punch.
“Either way, you reminded me of someone I know, who’s all moody and grumpy on the outside but not that bad on the inside.” Sid said, before he paused and added, “And I’m babbling a bit… uh, sorry. Thanks for inviting me.”
She chuckled at the line about Jared. Did he deserve said ass stabbing? Absolutely not. That doesn’t make it any less funny. Sid’s other words did give her pause. As Ria Nightshade, she’d absolutely agree with his assessment. Did she still come off that way? She still had growing to do, it seemed.
“Got off to a rocky start, but it went well enough, in my opinion. Do me a favor; bend down a little.” Ria wiggled her finger as she spoke. The big man leaned down somewhat stiffly. Standing on her tiptoes, Ria planted a light kiss on Sid’s cheek.
“Thank you for tonight, Sid. It was nice.” Ria softly spoke, smiling before starting to walk away. The night hadn’t gone the way she planned. After everything that had transpired, she was glad it didn’t. They might not ever be more than this, but Ria did feel Sid was a bit of a kindred spirit. Really, that was more fulfilling than any one night stand would have been.
(Thank you to Renner for the massive amount of work he put into this)