It felt so heavy in his hands.
The mist in his eyes reflected through the gleam of the belt, resting in his palms and across his lap. A champion, days before turning twenty-seven, but ten years old again within the strap’s sheen. Winning the big match on a trampoline and thrusting a plastic replica into the air, the crowd chanting his name from the trees and the wind.
Paul is proud. Olivia is proud. Dad is proud.
Mom is proud.
“Hayes? Man? You good?”
A blink and a shiver. He looked up from his chair. Back in the locker room backstage, and Nova nearby with the question before taking a seat next to him with a clap to the shoulder.
“What’s up, kid? You’ve got the gold right there in your hands and you look like someone kicked your dog!”
“Yeah, it’s just…”
A pause, and an uncertain glance.
I wanted my moment.
I wanted to hear my music, and the crowd, and lift my belt overhead at Culture Shock while Vince Howard called me “Champion.“
I wanted the ovation. To feel my heart leap through my throat. To walk that belt from corner to corner and let the world know that the Event Horizon had arrived.
I wanted to hit the Strip. Spray champagne. Eat it all up. Soak it all in.
But instead, I took a few boots to the stomach after the bell rang, and Ashley Barlow just kind of…handed me the Five Star Title while Rezin threw a fit and the camera feed cut.
No music. No show. No fanfare.
Rezin took that away from me.
But it was well-timed. I was still pretty shook after ReVival 5. We had taken it too far, and what if Paul hadn’t come back to the suite with me? What if he ended up somewhere else that night? What if I had?
What if I hadn’t woken up in time?
Paul was okay after I got him out of the hospital, but there were questions that demanded answers. And hell to pay.
McCarran International Airport.
“Is this a mistake?”
“It’s absolutely a mistake.”
Hayes shifted uncomfortably in his seat, crossing one leg over the other. The gate attendant’s announcements droned over the waiting area for the next flight to Portland. Parents ignored their screaming children through phone screens. Gamblers tried to recoup their savings on slot machines. Bachelor parties hid behind sunglasses while sipping bloody marys.
“But it’s kind of a ‘rip the Band-Aid off’ situation,” Paul’s voice carried through a pair of wireless earbuds.
“It’s gonna be such a mess,” said Hayes. “They’re gonna tear me a new one.”
“I know,” Paul confirmed, apologetically.
A beat. Hayes sipped a coffee, raising a curious eyebrow to a young man’s yoga routine between the seats.
“I’m sorry, bro.”
“It’s cool. I’ll survive.”
“I tried calling them, and tried to tell them it wasn’t your fau…”
“Paul. It’s okay. I can take this one on the chin.”
A guilty exhale from Paul’s end.
“Do you want me to ditch this conference? Fly back to Oregon for some backup?”
“Nah, enjoy Miami and your Bitcoin stuff. Like you said, I just gotta fly up and rip off the Band-Aid. I still have the apartment in Portland if things get dicey.”
“Just tread lightly. Don’t shove your Five Star win in their face. It won’t get you anywhere.”
A dull tone sounded throughout the waiting area, the gate attendant making their initial boarding announcement as passengers started forming a line. Hayes flipped through his phone to pull up his boarding pass before standing and collecting his bag.
“Looks like we’re about to start boarding. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
“Love ya, little brother. See you in Vegas soon.”
“Love ya, too.”
Light, muffled sobs ushered him upstairs, the small, quiet steps of an eight-year-old carrying him past the railing and to a door ajar. Small hands held the door frame as he peered inside.
She sat hunched at the edge of her bed, cloaked with sunlight pouring in from a window, crying softly into her hands.
“Mom?” he whispered, daring to take a step inside. “What’s wrong?”
She lurched, flashing wet, vicious blue eyes to the doorway.
“Hayes,” she exclaimed through shortened breath. “Mommy’s fine, honey. Go downstairs.”
“I said mommy’s FINE,” hissing through her teeth.
He stood frozen, on the verge of his own tears. Lip quivering.
“I’M FINE!!!” she screeched, amber hair flying with a lunge from her bed.
He ran. So quickly. Slamming the door behind him and blubbering as he sped down the stairs. He burst through the screen door and onto their porch, choking back tears before finding sanctuary on the steps.
Olivia sighed deeply from the porch swing, allowing her little brother a moment before abandoning her doll’s makeover to join him. He shifted his head in his arms, turning an eye to his sister.
“Why does she hate me, Olivia?” he wept.
“It’s not your fault, Hayes…” she replied, rubbing his back.
“…she hates everyone.”
“She’s not going to let you in the house, son.”
Hayes folded his arms across a gray hoodie, sitting back against the hood of his rental car, an orange hew pushing through the clouds in the distance. Gregory Hanlon stood in front in their driveway, backdropped by their West Linn home and pushing hands into his jacket pockets.
“What happened?” the father asked.
“Dad, I don’t know,” said Hayes. “It was a big night, we were celebrating, and got a little off the rails.”
“Off the rails?’ It put Paul in the hospital, Hayes!”
“Yeah, because I brought him there!”
“What was he taking? How much?”
“I don’t know. It’s Paul. It could’ve been anything. And he won’t tell me.”
His father turned away without response, shaking his head and muttering to himself in frustration. Hayes took an aggravated step forward.
“Are we just going to skip over the fact that I saved his fucking life!?”
“Watch it,” snapped Gregory, pointing a finger behind his stout frame and growling through a black beard. “It was your party! Your ‘big celebration!’”
The voice cut through the April evening like a hacksaw. Father and son turned their attention to the house, the looming figure of Sofia Hanlon at the top of the porch stairs, wrapped in a long, brown duster.
“Go inside, dear.”
Gregory turned to his youngest child, disaster spewing from his dark gaze.
“Good luck,” he grumbled, ascending the steps and disappearing into the house. Sofia’s stare never left her son’s. Hayes stepped forward to the bottom of the stairs in response.
She inhaled long and sharp through her teeth, holding a firm stance. Hayes kept his hands in the pockets of his hoodie.
“Do you have any idea what it’s like to hear that your son’s stomach is being pumped?” she seethed.
Hayes wouldn’t respond.
“Do you have any possible idea what it feels like to get that phone call?”
“Don’t talk to me like this is the first time Paul’s been down this road,” Hayes replied in a low tone.
“ANY IDEA!?” Sofia shrieked.
“No, mom!” he barked back. “I don’t! But I’ll never forget the sounds he was making! Right before I SAVED HIS GOD DAMN LIFE!!”
“Oh so you’re the hero?” she scoffed. “Little brother, saving the day?!”
“I’m not his keeper!”
“You’re right, you’re not. But you ARE his enabler, Hayes! Celebrating some ridiculous, meaningless wrestling match…”
“That ‘meaningless match’ gave me a shot!” he countered, shoving a thumb into his chest. “To BE SOMEBODY! And guess what? I fucking DID.”
“And how long does that last?” she queried. “Until an injury? Until your next drug-fueled night on the town?”
“It lasts as long as I can possibly hold onto it,” Hayes bristled, curling his lips behind his mustache, jutting his jaw. “Get used to it.”
She held her breath, glaring down the bridge of her nose.
“Paul won’t be visiting you in Vegas anymore,” she declared, flatly. “You won’t get him seats at your shows. You won’t offer a place for him to stay.”
“So you’re his keeper? You’re going to tell a twenty-nine year old man where he can and can’t go?”
“No. Paul will make his own decisions. But you won’t provide him any more opportunities to hurt himself. Not if you want any part of this family, or the privileges that come with it.”
Her words hung in the air for a poisonous fog, only the cool April breeze there to carry it away. The sun dipped further behind the Oregon Coast Range behind them, dimming the landscape while burning the sky.
“Does it really make you that happy?” he asked with a squint and a tremble. “To take everything you can from me?”
Sofia shook her head, painfully slow, before releasing a whisper.
She turned her back callously, shifting toward the entry. Hayes grit his teeth and advanced, placing one foot on the bottom step.
“Why do you hate me so much?”
She froze, only for a moment, but offered no response. Instead, she abandoned the porch and walked inside, shutting the door quietly behind her, leaving Hayes on the step with the sky darkening overhead.
I haven’t been allowed to enjoy many of my moments, so I lose myself in others.
At ReVolution 150, Tyler Rayne defeated Nitz Donnelly to win the Five Star Title. I was twelve years old, and he would hold it for 275 days. I remember it clearly.
But what I remember most? ReVolution 151. The show opened with enough explosions to shake the building. Golden sparks flew from the ring posts. The music was absolutely deafening, even through my TV at home. And out walked Tyler Rayne, with 18,000 people in the palm of his hand. He made that belt feel even bigger than the Universal Championship Lindsay Troy had won the same night he took the Five Star.
I want that. And I tried at ReVival 6. To take back what was stolen at Culture Shock. I tried, and I did, if not to a much smaller degree.
But there was Alexander Redding, forcing his way in. Into my spotlight. Into a title match.
How many champions can he name? Do the words “Snow, Sirrajin, Ferguson,” or “English” ring any bells? Does he want the ground to shake with bright pyrotechnics while Vince Howard introduces him to the world?
I don’t think he does, and I don’t think he cares. And yet, he’s still hoping to steal my moment from me.
But I’m not done with it.
Not this one.
His apartment was uninviting.
Cold and dark as he stood in the entry, the thermostat turned low in his absence. The flip of a switch illuminated the dust hanging in the air. No background music to drown the ceaseless buzz from the lightbulbs.
He wandered inside, panning the empty living room. No sofa. No coffee maker. No television. No sheets to his California king. All had been sold, stored, or moved to Las Vegas. Yet, he had kept the apartment. Just in case.
The bed frame and mattress remained, but nothing else to complete what was once a comfortable place to sleep. He took a seat on the edge, pulling his hood up before lying back.
The Xanax had taken hold. Enough to keep him from braving a receptionist to book a hotel room. But that was okay. He needed something familiar.
He pulled his arms inside his hoodie and closed his eyes. This cold apartment would do just fine. Better than any hotel. Better than his parent’s driveway.
This naked bed was perfect.