Dave Gibson closed the screen door behind himself and slipped off his shoes. He walked into the kitchen and threw his keys into a bowl with a messy jangle. Two paper sacks of groceries came next, plopped down on the granite countertop with a rustle.
“Hey Ed! Where are you? We gotta talk about this match coming up.”
Lately Eddie wasn’t far from the TV at this time of the afternoon, as he had been binge watching Ted Lasso. However, today there was a horrible noise reverberating through the structure of Dave’s house. He cocked his head and listened to the caterwauling racket that was jangling the pots and pans in his kitchen.
Gibson held his ear up to a cold air return vent and heard an echoing of what sounded, to him, like a reading straight from the Necronomicon. Eventually, Dave realized that the sound must be coming from Eddie’s room in the loft above the garage.
Black leather gloves, no sequins
Buckles on the jacket, it’s Alyx shit
Nike crossbody, got a piece in it
Got a dance, but it’s really on some street shit
I’ma show you how to get it
“This better not interrupt my NASCAR race,” Dave muttered as he followed the sound out to the garage connected to his ranch home. He felt the bass growing stronger as he ascended the steps. The noise masquerading as a song was now tinnitus inducing, and he held his hands over his ears.
It go, right foot up, left foot slide
Left foot up, right foot slide
Basically, I’m saying either way, we ’bout to slide, ayy
Can’t let this one slide, ayy
Dave stepped into the doorframe and a grown ass man hopped on one leg and shook his arm around like an idiot (in Dave’s estimation) while he videotaped himself (even though Dave had been lectured several times on how tapes and VCR’s hadn’t been used in years).
The song was akin to the howling of feral cats being neutered. Dave’s tried in vain to catch his students’ attention.
“Eddie, turn it down so…Lord of Light and all things possible through Christ!”
Dave’s reluctant patience broke under duress.
“ED NOVAK CROSS, SHUT THAT GODDAMN RACKET OFF!”
Eddie spun around then tumbled to the ground with a cacophonic crash after failing to avoid his gaming chair. Scrambling quickly to his feet, he slapped at the keyboard, shutting the music off.
“Oh hey, I didn’t know you were home.” he breathlessly replied.
“Well I ain’t never… What the hell are you doing?” Dave shot back, completely puzzled by what he had seen.
“Uh, yeah, about that.” Eddie sheepishly offered. “I’m learning the Toosie Slide.”
“The hell it is. I know the Tootsee Roll and that aint it,” Dave countered snidely. “I dated a gal that was pretty good at that dance back in the day.”
“Ew, Dave, really?” Eddie balked. “No, this is one of those popular Drake dance challenges everyone is doing.”
“I don’t know what a duck has to do with anything, but I’m already bogged down in whatever this is, so one shit at a time,” his mentor mused begrudgingly. “So, this Tootsie,”
“Toosie Slide,” Dave corrected himself painfully. “Anyways, why are you learning a dance? And more importantly, why are you blasting this noise through my house?”
“Ok fine, you old crabass,” Eddie paused before offering a response. “It’s just kinda embarrassing.”
“I drove you to the barber last week. Trust me, I’ve seen you do embarrassing things already.”
Rolling his eyes and deeply sighing, Eddie mumbled “I’m trying to impress Ava so I can ask her out on a date.”
“What’s that?” Dave tugged his ear while his voice mocked Eddie like a catbird. “It sounds an awful lot like your plan is to show off by playing some God forsaken music and doing a dance that looks like you filled your britches.”
“Alright,” Eddie said with a dejected warble in his voice. “If you’re going to make fun of me, you can just go back to whatever movie you were watching about Samurai’s or World War 2 or whatever.”
Dave walked over to his student with a chuckle. “Okay, okay. Look kid, I’m just foolin’ around. You don’t need to go peacocking around to get her to like you, though. She already likes you or she wouldn’t have bothered with you when you got whooped at that Yankee school.”
“Shee-it. I may not know much besides wrestling, but this is something you might could say I am almost as good with.” Dave paused and took stock of the situation unfolding before him. “Don’t blow it with some cockamamie routine. Going disco is what got KISS in trouble in the 70’s. And you don’t want to be.. ”
“Like Gene Simmons,” Eddie mimicked Dave as if he had heard this a few times.
“That’s right, like Gene Simmons,” Dave verified.
“I know, and while that’s an oddly specific person for you to have a vendetta against, it doesn’t solve my problem. I’m really scared I’m going to fuck this up.”
Dave nodded and walked toward the doorway, pausing before leaving the room. “Tell you what. You come downstairs and help me put away the groceries. Then we’ll talk about your career. Once we got that straight, I’ll let you in on how to ask Ms. Ava on a date. And I promise you it will work.”
“How can you know that?”
“Trust me kid, I’ve been around for a while. You won’t even have to do no Electric Boogaloo’s, Stinky Legs, or none of that nonsense.”
“If you say so.” Eddie surrendered. “But what if she doesn’t like your way? Are you sure we shouldn’t… ”
“No.” Dave replied directly from outside the room as he escaped the conversation, his voice trailing off as he did. “First wrestling in the ring, then wrestling between the sheets.”
“Ew, again,” Eddie said under his breath as he made a sour face.
Dave wheeled out a white board that he had insisted on buying because in his own words “if I’m going to be a coach, I need to have a big ass white board.” Eddie sat in the dining room that doubled as their “war room” and drank out of a glass filled near to the brim with sweet tea.
“Ok, so you have two opponents. Luckily, you have experience winning one of these matches already.”
“Rocky has never won a triple threat. JCH has.” Eddie chimed in. “Actually it was three other people in that match. I’ve seen the tape.”
“Good, you’ve already prepared,” Dave stated. “Well since you’re ahead of the curve, hit me with the facts, Ed.”
“Rocky is inexperienced, even by my standards. He needs a head of steam to keep his offense going, so if we take away his momentum and his wheels, we can put him in deep water.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Dave nodded and wrote notes with several yelps of a green dry-erase marker on his board. “And what dangers does he present?”
“He’s a hype man. He gets the crowd into his act and feeds off the Pterosaur gimmick. He also has remarkable stamina for a guy who has that much movement in his offense.”
“You’re forgetting Stu Weiler,” Dave offered. “He showed during the Gladhappy match that he isn’t just smart, he is clever and willing to do whatever it takes to win. Don’t underestimate the man because Richard Parker mocks him.”
“Right.” Eddie chirped. “As for Jonathan, he definitely has the edge in experience, and that whole Love Convoy cult is unhinged. Plus he has Vickie. She is the key to this, don’t you think?”
“Definitely,” came the response and the squeak of a pink dry-erase. “He ain’t much of a wrestler, but the pent up sexual frustration he has… Well that kind of torment can make a man do awful things. Desperation is a cologne, Ed. And we aint talkin’ POWERBOMB.”
Eddie rankled his face as Dave finished writing his notes on the board and stepped back.
“Ok, so you and I, we’re going to have to work together here because this is a triple threat in the ring and a triple threat outside of the ring. I don’t know if we’ve seen three managers at once in PRIME.”
As Dave stood looking at the notes, he popped the top on and off the dry erase marker he was holding. Finally, he turned around with a mischievous look.
“You have a plan.” Eddie said, seeing the lethal trap behind Gibson’s eyes at work.
“I got a plan. You let me worry about the two outside the ring while you take care of business inside.” Dave confirmed, with a cheshire grin, tingling with the prospect of out-coaching his opponents just as much as Eddie getting the win. “But first, we gotta make good on your other problem. Come on, Ed, let’s go for a drive.”
After a lengthy drive into the countryside, the pair finally pulled up to a farm pond in what seemed to be the actual middle of nowhere. The air was full of songbird whistles and the whispering of beech leaves and an old black walnut tree that looked like it had been there for a hundred years.
Eddie walked to the bank and knelt down to run his fingers in the cool water. The afternoon sun frolicked and glittered when a slight breeze tore at the surface.
“Well this is pretty, but what are we doing here?” Eddie asked.
Dave walked up to the walnut tree and ran his hand along the ancient bark. “My Great Papaw planted this tree. He was born right over yonder,” he pointed to a ramshackle foundation that had long since been grown over with brambles and grass.
He found a series of weathered scars in the deeply grooved bark and closed his eyes while he traced his finger over them. “My Papaw carved his name with Mamaw’s right here. Cliché, I know, but they had a good life together and it all started with a picnic under this here tree.”
He walked over to a series of stones that clearly wasn’t there naturally and knelt down beside them. “They’re both here. I scattered some of their ashes in the pond and some in the ground with these stones as a marker.”
“That’s really cool, but I don’t understand the lesson.”
Dave walked down to the shore and stood next to Eddie. “The lesson is to slow down. Mind the simple things in life. You’re overthinking everything, not just with Ava, but with me, and your career too.”
“I’m just supposed to not think?”
“No, you have to think, but it’s just as important to make the right decisions without getting bogged down in the process of making the decision.” Dave guided. “Take this Ava situation for example.”
He knelt and searched for a minute, then dusted off a perfectly round and flat stone. Dave stood up and took his time lining up his mark. Then with a deft movement, he threw the stone. Surprisingly, it splashed upon breaking the surface of the water and faded from view.
“I had a perfect stone. I lined up my shot, but I still didn’t skip the stone. Why?”
Eddie was quick to answer. “You overthought the stone and the throw?”.
Dave pointed and gave a slight affirming nod. He then closed his eyes, knelt down, and grabbed the first stone he could find. On instinct that showed he had skipped a thousand and two stones into this very pond, he hurled the chert rock and it skipped several times before sinking, leaving behind ripples that filled the pond.
“Go with what’s in your heart. No more, no less,” he tapped his chest slowly with genuine kindness in his voice. “That’s the way it is in life and love.”
Eddie chose to stay quiet and listen while his mentor breathed life into the land around them.
“My Papaw told my Daddy, he told me, and now I’m gonna tell you. The secret to finding yourself a good woman isn’t parading around like some damn fool rooster or having all the money in the world.” He looked back to the Gibson tree and the names tattooed lovingly on its skin so many years ago. “The secret is finding the right person and having confidence. No games, no bullshit, no nothing. A good old fashioned ‘May I take you on a date?’ is all you need.”
For a moment, Eddie waited, thinking maybe there would be more, but Dave simply sat down next to him on the bank and didn’t say another word until Eddie’s impatience won out. “That’s it? Just ask?”
“But what about… “
“That’s it, Ed. Trust me.”
Eddie contemplated quietly, letting the advice set in as a blackbird sang from a stand of bullrushes to their left. Its mate responded from within the branches of a beech tree above them. Finally, he spoke. “Dave, if all that is true, why were you living alone before I moved in?”
Dave leaned back on his hands, and looked out across the surface of the water. “Well, I suppose I ain’t ever found the right person to ask. Or maybe I’m just shit at taking my own advice.”
They lingered on the shore of the little pond and when the evening came, the bullfrogs broke the silence. Every once in a while a small snapping turtle would surface, and with barely a ripple he would swim back to his mud hole on the bottom to wait for a minnow to swim too close. The birds all went to bed and the stars ripped through the evening sky revealing a beautiful purple night full of thousands of pinpricks of light that were rarely visible in the city.
This was pretty much perfect.
The next day as Eddie was coming back from his morning jog through the misty hills on the outskirts of town, he thought a lot about how his brother’s path had diverged so widely from his own. By traditional measures, Junior was the much more successful of the two. He was a father, had a career in motion, and a strong relationship with his family.
Eddie worried that these feelings would burst from his chest as he felt negative thoughts build inside his gut.
Many of the wrestlers in PRIME had dysfunctional or non-existent relationships. His own parents’ marriage had famously failed. What makes me different?
As he approached Dave’s pick up, he slowed to a walk and eventually to a stop. He focused on his breathing, timed his heart rate, and once he was satisfied with the results he let the tailgate down with a pained screech. Sitting on the rusty piece of stamped sheet metal, Eddie pulled out his phone and pulled up Ava’s number.
Why am I so nervous? We’ve talked every day for a month. This is stupid. Just wait until you are home and have had a shower, then she won’t have to see you like this. No, this is fine, you were in the gym together every day. She has seen me sweaty before, and worse. Still, maybe I should at least change my shirt or think about where I want to take her if she says yes, or where I am going to go and scream if she says no. What if I’m on her friend ladder and not on her dating ladder? I don’t want to rui…
Shit. His phone was suddenly lit up, and he struggled to form words upon seeing Ava’s face in the video chat. Suddenly he was a very different sort of sweaty.
Eddie managed to stumble out a few words, though. “Oh, hi Ava, I was just out running and thought I would see what you are up to.”
“Nothing. Just got done with the morning warm ups. The gym has been a lot quieter since you went back to Charlotte.”
“I bet Viv is happy about that.” He hoped his nervous laughter didn’t betray his hand.
“You know her, she is just as intense as always.” She paused for a bit and ran her fingers through her shoulder length almond blonde hair. “So, you called me just to tell me you were running?”
He grit his teeth. It was now or never. “No, not exactly.”
Every time she smiled at him he felt searing pinpricks up and down his back and lost the ability to speak. “Ok, well if you don’t have anything important to tell me, I really have to get back to drills.”
I said it’s now or never, Eddie!
“May I take you on a date?!” He blurted, as if he had been waiting his whole life to get the line out.
Why did she pause?
She looked down and seemed to be troubled with how to word her answer. “I want to, but we live so far apart.”
Don’t overthink it.
“I understand,” he replied. His stomach rolled as if the butterflies she gave him were trying to escape all at once.
Go with what’s in your heart. No more, no less.
“Even still, maybe it won’t be for a while, but I’m willing to wait on you because you’re the right person.”
The camera lens was a poor replacement for Eddie’s brilliant green eyes, but it would have to do as she tried to look for the truth from the man who was so far away from her. “Are you sure you want to wait? You are going to be all over the country on tour and I don’t know when I will be ready to leave Boston.”
She gave a faint reassuring smile.
“So that’s a yes then?”
Eddie blew out a prolonged sigh and, briefly forgetting he was still on a video call, pumped his fist triumphantly.
“What are you doing?” she asked and he stopped mid fist pump.
“Uh. You weren’t supposed to see that.”
She giggled at him and leaned into her camera. “Eddie, you streamed a whole “thing” yesterday. I wasn’t supposed to see that either was I?
“Uh… yeah, no.”
“Well, everyone here has been talking about your moves.”
“Wait… you knew already? And if everyone has… Oh no.” Eddie grimaced at the thought of Vivica watching him live stream his own failings. He quickly checked his subs and didn’t recognize any of the names from TCS.
“Nah, I’m messing with you. I’m the only one here who watches your stream.” Her laughter was sweeter than Gibson’s tea. “Don’t tell Dave, but it was kinda cute.”
As his smile grew, she glanced over her shoulder, and when she looked back, the smile was still in her eyes but reality had reared its head.
“Hey I gotta go do those drills. Can we talk later?”
“Yeah, later.” Eddie replied euphorically as she waved and ended the call. He looked down the road one direction, and then the other. Once he was sure nobody was watching, he put down his phone.
Fuck it. Toosie Slide it was.
As he danced in celebration on the side of the road, he couldn’t help but draw parallels between his situation and the challenge at the next show.
Jonathan-Christopher Hall and Rocky De Leon have their hearts in the right place when it comes to passion. Love is a very different motivation. Eddie wasn’t sure that either of them truly understood, let alone knew how to love wrestling.
Rocky DeLeon never claimed to love wrestling and thought the business was an adventure. He hadn’t even tasted real defeat in PRIME. He certainly hadn’t been tested against Tyler Adrian Best or Coral Avalon and had to confront himself when he came up short.
Jonathan-Christopher Hall claimed to love wrestling for Vicky, but didn’t even want to be a wrestler. He was only wrestling for her, and was probably terrified of what would happen if he chose to quit. Love might manifest in a number of ways, but even Eddie knew this was not one of them.
Eddie, however, could confidently say he loved wrestling in a way that neither of his opponents ever would and had found that feeling somewhere between loss, risk, and growth.
He looked down the hill toward the city and Dave’s gym. Somewhere below the hush of the mountain, there were bustling masses that were trying to figure out their place in this world. Eddie felt like he had a head start on all of them.
Passion can only take you so far. When that fails, love will take you the rest of the way.
Write that on a tree, Dave.