Christmas 2010 was the first time FLAMBERGE ever remembered experiencing this particular feeling.
By this time, his mother and father were no longer living in the same house…weeks would alternate, and so would the way Strasbourg felt to him as a home. One week, warm, familiar, nurturing…another week, bleak, quiet, intensely anxious. Most of his memories of this time when FLAMBERGE stayed at the place he called Home, he remembered there always being the smell of something cooking, if not from their own kitchen then from one of their neighbors whose windows were down. It never really felt bitingly cold, even in the winter, because it seemed like the sun stayed in the sky longer – the fact that Home (where his mother and pastries and beef all lived) was on the top of a hill and full of huge windows on all sides wasn’t a logical connection he knew how to make back then.
2010 was the first time he wouldn’t spend Christmas at Home. It had been a long, LONG protracted fight…even if she was on the other side of the house during the shout-match phone calls, lil FLAMBO could still tell why mom would take a deep breath before re-entering shared space…but it was a fight that, somehow, dad won. When you’re 8, you don’t clock all the details, though he remembers that the weeks stopped alternating for a while before this Christmas and grand-mère et grand-père stopped by more often. There was a dog at one point, but not our dog, I don’t think. Basset hound, I think, from the pictures? He might ask his mom to text him a copy later.
He remembers that he had a Christmas gift to give to his dad – a little plush football man he and his mom found one day when they were out shopping – but he purposely hadn’t wrapped it yet. Mom had taught lil FLAMBO how to wrap presents, see, and he wanted to impress his dad with this new skill by wrapping the little football man at dad’s place – dad’s place which always felt chilly and the lights always seemed to come from too-bright lightbulbs (again, he was unable to parse the memory and the logic together at the time that this was because Dad’s Place was a garden unit on a busy street with tall buildings on all sides).
And so it was, the night before the night before Christmas 2010, and mom dropped off lil FLAMBO in front of Dad’s Place. Look at him, little puffy jacket, that’s too big for him you goofs! The fuzzy beanie is a nice touch – it has branding for RC Strasbourg, the local Ligue 2 team that he knew his dad was angling to join even though they’re struggling badly this season. The footballer was in his pocket, and he knew that tonight was the night to show off – he’d just casually ask for wrapping stuff (paper, scissors, tape, the like), sneak away to wrap it, and that way dad would know that HE did the work – mom didn’t wrap it and make it look sloppy on purpose or anything, this was dad’s paper so dad would know and that would mean he’s getting better at doing things himself.
Mom’s hugs were always tighter than dad’s, which was strange because dad was so much bigger. “Je récupère Julien dimanche à dix heures,” she instructed his father. “Elle ne peut même pas se détendre une fois,” the under-his-breath response as she drove off.
That night, lil FLAMBO and Henri had dinner (takeout, the usual meal of choice at Dad’s Place the first night of each stay). FLAMBO’s favorites were the crispy fried wontons because they crunched like chips but he could pretend they were Deeply Exotic, Just As Exotic In Fact As Dad’s Chow Mein. Conversations were tricky in the best of times, but lil FLAMBO knew that his dad was happy to see him for this Christmas; whatever the heck it was that he must have sacrificed or bargained away to make this happen, he knew his dad was really trying. The Christmas tree looked pretty good (including a bunch of presents with the child’s name on them, woo hoo!), and colorful lights were strung up everywhere on the ceiling. It was a good show.
Bowls drying on the rack, dad now settled on His Chair with a glass of something clear and cycling through the channel selections to find a Christmas movie, lil FLAMBO worked up the courage to ask the question he’d rehearsed a dozen times on the drive over.
“Père, puis-je emprunter votre papier cadeau pour emballer votre cadeau de Noël?”
Henri chuckled to himself at the formality. Julien’s mother had shared that their son had plan for him and told him he better act fucking surprised or she swore to God. This must be the cue to Act Fucking Surprised.
“Un cadeau, pour moi?? Comme c’est attentionné, mon fils! Vérifiez ma chambre sous le lit, c’est là que j’ai tout rangé.”
With a start, the kid ran into his dad’s bedroom and, as instructed, crawled down to look under the bed. He found the big box of stuff he was expecting – some paper, some fun ribbons, some labels, tape…where are the scissors? He needed scissors to do this. Hang on, check the box again – keep looking, flip the box over even. No, no, definitely not. Shoot! Better check with dad.
“Papa, où sont les ciseaux?”
By now, a French-captioned version of Elf was on screen, and that glass of clear stuff had some work already done on it. He was certainly in no position to, say, get off his ass and help his kid directly.
“Continuez à vérifier, je suis sûr qu’ils sont dans ma chambre.”
And with that as his cue, lil FLAMBO decided to look in other places besides under the bed. He looked on the end table – nope. Closet – nope. Drawers? Not this one – EW THIS ONE IS DAD’S UNDERWEAR, CLOSE IT, CLOSE IT, NOPE, CLOSE IT. Not in dad’s drawers and we’re not gambling THERE again.
He turned to a far corner of the bedroom – wait, there they are! They’re propped up next to that plastic bag! He ran over and grabbed the scissors triumphantly – and his gaze caught something. In the bag, there was a…is that a BOOMERANG?? Holy cow, this is AWESOME! Gotta ask dad about this!
“J’ai trouvé les ciseaux ! Et aussi j’ai trouvé ça – est-ce que c’est pour nous de jouer??”
Henri Lavigne turned, his glass nearly empty now. Giant Will Ferrell sat upon the lap of Elf Bob Newhart. And Henri’s face sunk.
Shit, he said. He thought he had wrapped everything, you see. That’s one of your Christmas presents, Julien. I guess there’s one less thing for you to unwrap. Shit, he said again; he was supposed to tell mom if dad was swearing too much. Good news though, dad guessed – he gets to play with it early. So. Merry Early Christmas, have fun with the boomerang, son. He loves you, hiccup.
It was cold outside, and wet. Dad wasn’t getting up from His Chair unless he wanted to go to the kitchen bottles or the bathroom. It was dark. He didn’t know how to throw a boomerang yet.
FLAMBERGE never felt like he stole something that was already planned to be his before. It’s an embarrassing sinkhole in everyone’s guts…you didn’t do anything WRONG, but you shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t have this yet. You didn’t “earn” it yet, even though this moment was inevitable. But, again, it’s yours so…enjoy?
Have fun with your 5-Star Title Match against the man who beat you when it WASN’T on the line, before you immediately lost again to a man who is forever in your Mount Rushmore of Loathing at ULTRAVIOLENCE.
Merry Early Christmas, FLAMBERGE. Have fun with the boomerang.
His phone was pinging again today, over and over. Scrap that shit, man – in what universe does Darby not want to try to take advantage of you again? That’s the rules for old people around here – they see the FLAMBERGE, they recognize the FLAMBERGE, they position themselves in a way to benefit themselves from the FLAMBERGE. Even if they get sued by a transatlantic chip company for breach of contract due to their inability to understand Jabber policies, they cannot resist the deep PULL.
Except Phil Atken, though. Phil Atken wants the spotlight on those like the FLAMBERGE. Oui, we stan an Atken.
Hold on, FLAMBERGE, get out of the dark void of deep self-thought and open your eyes – where are you right now?
Oh, yep. Nope. You’re not in your dad’s shit flat. You’re not in Strasbourg. It’s still Las Vegas. It’s still your hotel room, the one you haven’t left in a few weeks – at first, because you NEVER dared hitting the streets when your appearance was suboptimal (thank again, Youngblood, you fuckin slug). But then, something else happened, didn’t it. You tapped into something that can’t be untapped, and you convincingly, DECIDEDLY, no glue-bricks or nothin’, tapped out the great Coral Avalon.
(Don’t tell him he’s great. Get your shit locked down. Poker brain.)
And the office called.
They said you earned a championship match.
Really, you thought. Anglo Luchador just defended last show, but you guess you can go into brawler mode-
-for the 5 Star Championship.
And you’ve spent the last bunch of nights planted in this same spot, looping OK Computer and Kid A over and over, pretending you’re an internal processor when you’ve always actually needed to talk it out with other people, but these people all fuckin’ SUCK, I guess Ivan is ok, hang on. Where’s that book he gave you.
There it is – on the nightstand. “Собрание сочинений Жака Дюкло”. What in the hell are you going to do with a book you can’t read?? It seemed like a nice gesture, though. He’s trying too, even if he’s not getting it all the way right. You can pretend you’ve read the highlighted parts. Quote Calvin & Hobbes at him – he’ll never see it coming. You’ll sound so smart.
…should Stanislav become glue? You really want to talk to Phil, don’t you. He’s not healthy enough for it. Damn it. Cecilworth is kind at you (if not to you), but it just doesn’t hit the same. And Hank hasn’t been able to earn pool time in months, so. Hard to engage there. Talking to him is like Plinko if they removed all the pegs between the bottom and the place you drop your puck, and all the slots are grumpy. “80085” was the last time you remember seeing that side of him.
Youngblood is glue. You know that for sure. You’ve known that longer than everyone, save for Atken, in this company.
Should Rezin become glue?
Well, that’s hard. That’s The Hard One, in fact.
Fact is, kid…for all your talent, for all the things about you that every motherfucker in this place wants to latch themselves to, the guy beat you. Clean. With lower stakes. And having never asked or expected anything from you.
In what universe is there a way for you to grow a chip big enough for your shoulder when all you can feel in seeing this rematch for his championship is, “Merry Early Christmas, FLAMBERGE. Have fun with the boomerang”?
Well you better fucking figure it out, idiot.
Henri’s voice kicked in REAL loud there. Don’t fight it, at least for now. Let it wash over you…..
Rezin already knows how to beat you because that man is a killer who’s done it before, and you already think you know how to beat the goddamn Youngblood. Imbécile. The same way you beat the Nate Colton, the man who had all your attention and focus? The petit little prick man who the Youngblood bequeathed his shiny balls to? Oh-ho-ho, that’s RIGHT! You lost to the Rezin, and then you lost to the Colton, and now you can handle the grown-ass Daddy Suplexy who broke your face – WAKE THE FUCK UP, MON FILS. YOU DID NOT BEAT THE COLTON, YOU WILL NOT BEAT THE YOUNGBLOOD, AND YOU ARE INCHES AWAY FROM HAVING THAT SHITTY LITTLE MOTHER’S NOSE YOU HAVE BROKEN AGAIN BY THE 5-STAR CHAMPION WHO ALREADY TORCHED YOUR LITTLE ASS-
Panting breath. Sweat. Smells salty. He looked at his Apple watch – 162 bpm on the heart rate monitor. He must have woken with a start.
He was in his bed, as he remembered from earlier. He didn’t change into what he would normally sleep in, but it was dark out.
For whatever reason, a few nights ago – not long after his match on ReVival 18 was announced – he felt the need to unpack his BRAZEN Onslaught Championship and have it in sight at all times. He looked at it again, this first success he’d ever have (in the company Lindsay Troy and her compatriot Henry Keyes competed in, no less) was that belt, and even THAT felt unearned in this moment. Like he fell into the lake by stepping off a log. Things always came to him easily, but when it came to championships – things that evaded his father all his life, things he himself never experienced as a child but now had accomplished in his Side Hustle – it was supposed to be an odyssey.
Sure, it had been weeks and weeks now where FLAMBERGE, privately and publicly, expressed his feelings that management was cowardly by booking him in non-title scenarios. He thought this would be drawn out – that he could rally against The Man (The Woman?) until his star was undeniable, and then, the thing comes easy to him once more.
Nope. You bitched and moaned, you fucked around and found out. Coral Avalon Tapped So You Might Reign, RIGHT NOW.
Or, you lose again. You lose again, and you-
Honey, don’t treat yourself like that.
…hold on. Is that..? She doesn’t normally find her way to push through these thoughts.
You’re 22. Everything feels life or death right now. I’m much older than 22 now, so I can assure you – there is SO MUCH LIFE after whatever life or death you feel right now.
FLAMBERGE tried listening very hard…maybe the intensity of how hard he tried to listen made the words of his mother fade away, leaving him with silence.
Well, silence enough. You still have me, after all, son.
So that’s it, then, is it? Tell Nora more about your childhood trauma of opening a gift too early, why don’t you. In fact, this match? Maybe it’s too much for you take. Maybe you should tuck into your little sheets there, maybe call that escort service number you’ve been too chicken to call since you first came here, yeahhhhh. Pretend with the escort that you’re the man who has earned the conquest.
The hrronk’s of snoring are quieter now, if you were wondering. The nose is pretty much back to normal, and someone slipped him a box of Breathe Right strips. It’s a picture that’s almost cute. Maybe if he had a puffy jacket and a football club supporter’s hat…we’ll see if we can convince him one day.
He didn’t have to say it was a gift he forgot to wrap and that I’d have one less to open, did he? He could’ve pretended it was a hidden treasure or something. He knew he didn’t have to make me feel bad. But he didn’t, didn’t he!
The amount of one-step-past-the-truth this man chooses EVERY DAY. Every day. God.
Sunbeams…it’s morning now. Good.
And it’s a good day because you are competing.
And it’s a good day because you are competing for gold.
Ever since the brutal attack on the one man you trust with everything, no one has truly felt the message of what The Glue Factory represents. Everyone has become so obsessed with the Paxton Ray stuff lately, the window of your opportunity to call yourself the PRIME’s Most Wanted was fucking YOINKED out of there! If anything, kid, you know that you do not carry this match with the heavy weight in your chest.
This feeling, this Unearned Opportunity bullshit you think you’re martyring yourself for? This lets you exist in two worlds. You win the gold – great, you have gold! You don’t win the gold – great! You can go back to your Lament Hole. People seem to like it when you’re there. Lean in. Soak up the Radiohead and the sad parts of Charlie Brown Christmas, you handsome violent idiot.
It’s just. You should be happy.
You get to let a lot out on ReVival 18.
You get to throw a man into the rafters if you want!
He’s slippery and there’s a reason he’s number one on the ranking list – they’re going to see you as a real positive trajectory guy no matter what happens…so you get to fucking hit that man as hard in the face as you can for real and treat that floppy-selling bargain-bin-Knoxville crackador like he’s the tug of war rope you used to pull at with your grandma’s basset hound! And you can win the gold, and stare at it alongside your other gold, and say “behold my accomplishments” while getting all up in your feelings again!
After all, you’ve earned it.
All of it.