Early January, 2022. Before The ReVival.
Hayes turned an indignant glance to the entrance of his apartment complex. He tossed a duffel bag into the back of his white Audi A5, adding to a small pile of shoe boxes and backpacks. Closing the trunk, he walked to the front of his vehicle, sitting against the hood as a silver SUV rolled up to park next to him.
His father sat in the driver’s seat. The passenger’s seat was painfully empty.
Hayes shoved his hands into the pockets of his gray hoodie while Gregory Hanlon stepped out into the air, wrapped in a black peacoat.
“Paul not making the drive with you?” he asked after a quick scan of the area.
“No, but he’ll meet me there eventually.”
Hayes turned his chin toward his father’s Range Rover.
“No,” Gregory sighed. “But she’s not coming.”
Hayes nodded, looking away to the gray Portland sky that threatened rain. He drew in the cool January air through his nose, exhaling sharply.
“That’s fine,” he said behind discouraged and frustrated brown eyes. “Wouldn’t want to bother her with a ‘goodbye.’”
His father paused, pinching his eyes shut and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“…it’s just hard for her. We had a different…image of who our boy would become.”
“Yeah,” Hayes replied. “Well, sorry to disappoint.”
Gregory scoffed, confounded as he lifted his leather-gloved palms to the air.
“What is it, Hayes?” he asked, exasperated and gesturing to the world around him. “What was so wrong with all of this? You’re so smart, son. Didn’t we give you everything? Open every door we could?”
The senior Hanlon stepped forward, eyes turned upward to the absent gaze of his youngest child.
“Was this life not enough?”
Hayes held his eyes shut for a moment.
“No,” he said. “Not even close.”
Gregory pursed his lips behind a groomed black beard, accepting the statement with a nod.
“I guess it never will be.”
He reached inside his coat, retrieving a small white envelope and handing it over to his reluctant offspring.
“Here. Your mother wanted to make sure you got this,” said Gregory as Hayes took it between thumb and forefinger. “I’m sorry she wasn’t here to see you off.”
Hayes tapped the envelope against his palm before stuffing it into the pocket of his hoodie.
“You know how she is,” his father continued. “I’m sure that letter will shed some light.”
“Why do you put up with it?” Hayes interjected. “After everything? After the lies? The affair?”
Gregory Hanlon snapped a gloved finger toward his son’s nose.
“That’s enough,” he declared viciously. Hayes didn’t flinch.
“Is that enough for you?” asked Hayes.
His father took short breaths through his nose. He would relent after a moment, lowering his hand.
“Listen,” he said, collecting himself. “Take care of yourself in Las Vegas. Be smart. And we’ll be here when…if…you need to come back.”
Hayes embraced his father with a measured nod, and held him tight.
* * * * * * *
Hayes pushed a hand through his dark hair, flicking sweat to the floor as he stepped into gorilla position. His theme music started to fade from the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena, along with the cheers from the crowd.
He found a steel chair off to the side, sitting heavily with relief and holding his right arm against his abdomen. He gingerly started to remove an elbow pad and continued to collect his breath.
“Good stuff, man,” came a voice to his left, an assistant producer giving him a quick pat on the shoulder. “Congrats, way to kick this thing off.”
Hayes replied with a smile and nod, peeling off his second elbow pad and dropping it to the floor. He leaned over to loosen his black boots, but was distracted by a backstage screen airing replays from the match:
The armbar. The kick in the head. The powerslam. His finisher. The pin.
The crowd. The lights.
He smiled brightly behind his mustache, releasing a short, incredulous chuckle.
Then his eyes welled up.
That chuckle merged into a small sob, blended with joy. Resting his elbows on his knees, he shoved his palms against his eye sockets, rubbing away the oncoming flood. He raised his head, breathing in deeply through his nostrils to collect himself, then stood up off the chair.
He walked back toward the entrance, the words of Brandon Youngblood taking over the broadcast. He couldn’t see the big screen while peering out behind the curtain, the Garden lights dimmed for the promo, but that didn’t matter. He was transfixed by the arena, the attentive crowd.
Hayes lifted his head from a glass coffee table, inhaling sharply while pinching a nostril closed. He fell back against a beige, sectional sofa, rubbing his temples with his index and middle fingers. Paul sat next to him, one leg crossed over the other while fifteen or twenty beautiful strangers enjoyed the two-bedroom suite Hayes would call home for the next stretch.
“God bless Vegas,” said Paul, his gaze following the figure of a slender brunette in a ferocious black dress and dangerous pair of heels. Hayes laughed.
“Where’d you find all these people?” he asked, leaning in to cut through the music. “These your crypto groupies or something?”
“Roulette,” Paul corrected, redirecting his attention to the coffee table. “Never caught any of their names…”
He tapped a credit card on the glass and reorganized a collection of powdery white lines.
“…but I can’t be the only one to help you celebrate.”
Paul winked at his little brother while he tightened a rolled-up twenty dollar bill, leaning over to perform the magic trick of making a line disappear into his brain. He rose up, pushing both hands through his shaggy black hair, scrunching his nose repeatedly. Hayes waved him off when Paul offered him the twenty.
“I’d actually be pretty cool with that,” said Hayes, nursing a vodka and soda. “I’m pretty fried, man.”
“At least you have a couple weeks before the next one. Who you got in round two?”
“Julian Bathory. Violence Jack’s apprentice or something.”
“Violence Jack,” Paul snickered as he recalled. “I remember that guy. Fuckin’ weirdo.”
“So is Bathory. I’m getting all the second generation talent: Dan Ryan’s daughter, Bruce Shanahan’s protégé.”
Paul scoffed. “Yeah, but they ain’t no Hayes Hanlon.” He gave his brother’s giant bicep a playful squeeze. Hayes rolled his eyes
“You got it,” Paul assured. “Hear anything from the folks? Or ‘Liv?”
“What do you think?” Hayes snorted. Paul sipped his beer.
“Yeah. Sorry, bro.”
Hayes lost his smile and scanned the party, everyone quite at home. They liberally reached into the fridge in his kitchenette, and piled onto his small balcony, hollering into the night, with all manner of drug use present in the bathrooms and elsewhere.
He glanced at his brother, who hunched over to rip another line.
“Hey man, I think we’re done here,” said Hayes flatly, pushing himself to his feet. Paul looked up, bloodshot and perplexed.
“Seriously, dude? It’s not even midni…”
Hayes didn’t respond, instead marching to the balcony, opening the sliding door.
“Yo, party’s over,” he called out to the gathering. “Send it to the casino.”
He turned away without addressing the complaints behind him, thudding past his brother, still seated on the couch.
“C’mon, man, aren’t we celebrating?” Paul pleaded after him. The younger Hanlon carried on toward his bedroom.
“Hey!” he called ahead before entering the room. “Take the party elsewhe…”
He came to a dead stop. Some guy in a cheap black suit was playfully body slamming a young woman onto the bed, a tie wrapped around his forehead like a bandana, holding back short blonde locks. He covered her with his torso while she cackled, slapping the mattress and counting “one! Two! Three!”
Most notably, the young man had found Hayes’s black wrestling boots, and had them yanked up clumsily over his dress pants.
“Take those off,” he growled. The two “wrestlers” paused their “match” to see Hayes standing in the doorway.
“It’s all good man, we’re just messing around…” the young man started.
“Take those off and GET THE FUCK. OUT!”
He lunged forward, grabbing a boot and awkwardly wrenching it off the intruder’s leg.
“What the fuck, man!” he hollered, startled and shocked. “Sorry! I’ll take them o…”
Hayes flung the boot behind him, repeating the process with the other, then swiftly pulled the man to his feet by an arm. The young woman covered her mouth in drunken shock, and Hayes snarled as he pushed the man out of the room by his neck.
“Holy shit, dude!” he yelped as they reached the entry. Hayes tore the door open and sent the shoeless guest stumbling into the hallway. Breathing heavily, he turned back to the suite’s living room where the remaining company stood silent, leaving only the music to cut through the air.
The gathering made their way out of the suite, some more reluctant than others, but eventually leaving Paul and Hayes to themselves. Paul killed the music via his phone before standing from the couch.
“Bro, are you good?”
“I dunno,” said Hayes, hands on his head as he walked back to the living room. “I was just…done. And then that mother fucker had my boots on, and…”
“This about Mom and Dad?” Paul asked, cutting him off.
Hayes dropped his hands, holding them out with no answers.
“Fuck,” groaned Paul, dragging his hands down his dark stubble. “I’m too fucked up to sit in…whatever this is. You mind if I go check out the…”
“Nah, it’s cool,” Hayes interrupted. “I’ll catch you in the morning.”
Paul gave his cheeks a couple light slaps before collecting his wallet and phone. He gave his brother a pat on the shoulder as he walked by and into the hotel hallway.
“Hey man,” he said, turning back. “I wouldn’t stress too hard, I’m sure they’re excited for you after getting that first win.”
“Thanks, bro,” Hayes replied. “But I doubt it.”
* * * * * * *
Before the ReVival.
Hayes could barely pay attention to the road as he drove down the Vegas Strip. The bright lights of Sin City were waking in the early evening. Hayes smiled while his eyes wandered, rolling past the Sahara and Circus Circus, Encore and Wynn. He chuckled at the awful pink hue of the Flamingo, and admired the magnificence of the Bellagio’s fountain.
And then, the MGM Grand.
He turned his Audi into the entrance and pulled up to the front of the building, handing a valet fifty bucks as he stepped out.
“Thank you, sir. We’ll have your belongings delivered to your room.”
Hayes grinned sheepishly at the splendor around him: the giant, gold lion in front of the building. The miniaturized Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty across the street at New York, New York.
He reached into his back pocket, producing the envelope his father had given him two days prior. He took a deep breath before ripping it open, pulling a small note from inside.
Expressionless, his brown eyes traced the lines of the note.
Hayes turned his attention to the entryway’s glass doors, tossing the note toward a garbage bin while walking inside. Inadvertently, the note missed, and fell open to the ground.
I want you to know that I love you, and that I wish nothing less than the entire world for you.
But I truly hope you lose in this tournament and reevaluate your decisions.