It was Easter morning, and Jake Colton was drinking coffee at the dining room table. He took slow sips from his “World’s Okayest Dad” mug while he looked over the newspaper. It was so rare that he got to enjoy a nice, quiet moment, and he hoped to make this one last.
“YOU ABSOLUTE FUCKER!”
Jake’s peace was shattered by a lot of yelling, followed by two grown men (but still very much not) stampeding through the house.
“I’LL KILL YOU!”
“No murder in the house, boys,” Jake said, and went back to his coffee.
Moments later, Benjamin Colton ran into the room and slid across the table, nearly taking out the centerpiece. He had just enough time to take up a defensive position on the other side before Nate entered as well, red-faced from rage and exertion.
“What’s the big deal?” Benny asked while trying to judge his brother’s next move.
“The big deal?! I’m on the shit list now because of you! My boss had to step in! Do you have any idea how it feels to wake up and immediately have Lindsay Troy yell at you?!”
“Oh shit,” Benny said with a giggle, which really didn’t help. He faked to the left, and when his brother took the bait, Benny darted around the other side…and in the process, jostled his father enough to make him spill coffee on the front of his shirt.
“Ahh!” he exclaimed, just in time for Nate to push past him on the other side, knocking over his mug and spilling its contest on the morning paper.
Jake looked down at the carnage his boys had caused. “Well, that tears it,” he said to nobody. Clearly, there would have to be Consequences.
Then he saw that Nate and Benny were headed for the kitchen, and he sighed. Clearly, there would have to be Damage Control.
# # #
Mallory Colton did not actually like to cook. Unfortunately, the duty had always fallen to her as the parent who was home most often. Even when Jake stopped wrestling it was still her domain, because the man was useless in the kitchen. She tried to recruit her kids’ help as they got older, but Nathan didn’t have the aptitude, Benjamin didn’t have the attention span, and Jennifer would go on about “traditional gender roles.” Blake tried his best though, and Dennis would pitch in when he visited, unless he was too wrapped up in whatever trouble Ben was getting into.
That was why most of the holiday dinners were prepared by Mallory’s sister-in-law. Say what you will about Lila Colton–and Mallory often did–but after a lifetime in the food service industry, Lila was the undisputed queen of the big family meal. Mallory would make a side dish or two, mostly out of personal pride.
She was in the middle of washing the green beans when she was interrupted by a rage stampede through her kitchen.
“I am going to kick the ENTIRETY of your ass!” Nate shouted, drawing an exasperated sigh from Mallory.
“Nathan Christopher!” she shouted, bringing both boys to a dead stop.
Benny pointed and laughed. “You got middle named! You’re in deep shit now!”
“What in the world has gotten into you?”
“Not now, Mom. I have to kill Benny.”
“You will do no such thing,” Mallory answered. “I’ve got too much to do today; I’m not adding a trip to the morgue.” Benny laughed again; the threat of death was so common that it no longer had much effect. “Now, what’s he done this time?”
“Little jerk stole my phone and now I’m in trouble with my boss!”
“I did not! You probably forgot you posted something dumb while you were drunk!” Benny replied. He’d hoped to deflect blame long enough to concoct a good cover story, or at least make it a case of “my word against yours.”
“What did it say?” Mallory asked–another victory for Ben, because he knew Nate would never say it out loud in front of his mother.
Unfortunately, he did not expect his brother to bring evidence. “Nonononononono…” he said as Nate took his phone out of his pocket and showed the screen to Mallory.
“BENJAMIN TAYLOR COLTON!”
Benny’s eyes went wide. He got last named; that was far worse than getting murdered.
“It’s bad enough that you make comments like this on your own!” Mallory barked. “But to put this on your brother? I’ve got half a mind to let him strangle you!” In fact, the only thing that stopped her from doing it herself was that Benny had finally learned how to spell “douche” correctly.
“And you, Nathan! You know better than to make this much ruckus. My God, it’s like you two never grew up at all.”
Nate, of course, was defensive. “This isn’t my fault! Would you tell him to stop trying to ruin my career?”
“Would you tell him to stop…to stop not showing hog?”
Their mother’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Benjamin? Over the line.” Benny calmed down, which he often did after being reminded that he needed to respect other people’s boundaries.
At long last, Jake stepped in–they needed to be punished in a way that was effective, productive, and most of all, got them out of Mallory’s hair. “I think if you two are so full of energy this morning, you can go clean up the mess you all made at the Clubhouse last night.”
“But Dad!” they both shouted.
“Now.” He pointed at the door for emphasis. “And you can walk there; Blake will come and pick you up when it’s time for dinner.”
The boys tried to protest further, but it fizzled out quickly after the combined looks they got from their parents. With some head-hanging and a lot of shoving, they walked out of the room.
Jake approached his wife and slipped an arm around her waist, kissing her softly on the neck. “That went pretty well,” he said. “Anything else I can help with?”
“Sure, I’ve got some lettuce that you can burn.”
Jake pulled his arm back. “You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?”
# # #
There are a lot of perks to being a local celebrity. You get recognized on the street, hired for commercials and endorsements, and the occasional free meal. And once in a while, a bar owner who loves wrestling will let you reserve their establishment for an evening.
Such was the case for the Sawmill, a rustic bar in Evansville that, on most nights, was home to seasoned drinkers and the occasional open mic night. But every so often, when men and women in the wrestling profession would need to cut loose, it was known as the Colton Club…or, informally, “the Clubhouse.”
On the previous evening, the Clubhouse had been home to the after-party for graduates of the Colton Academy. It was a chance to cut loose after several grueling weeks of training, and while wrestlers don’t party as hard as they used to–nobody had to hide from the cops this morning–they still put a sizeable dent in the bar’s inventory, as well as the men’s room door.
Whenever that kind of thing happened, the owner might grouse a bit but never got too upset. Any serious damages were always covered, and he never had to do the cleanup himself. Some of the previous night’s troublemakers would always come back to take care of that for him.
On this day, those troublemakers were Nate and Benny. The empties were gathered, trash taken out, and bathrooms cleaned up. Nate worked on sweeping the floor while Benny washed down the bar, at which time he tried speaking to his brother again.
“I was trying to help, you know.”
“Shut the fuck up, Ben.”
Benjamin smiled; he’d been ignored all morning, so it looked like their brotherly bond was on the mend.
“Seriously. You take everything way too serious. Gotta let it out once in a while instead of living in your own head all the damn time.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You never live in your head; you’d have nothing to do.”
“Nice one. No really, what do you think is going to happen? You’re going to get fired and banned forever because people thought you were actually going to whip it out on the internet?”
“For fuck’s sake. If they fired everyone who did something inappropriate, there’d be eight wrestlers in the entire world. Do you want every show to be those weirdos out in Salt Lake, and Jon Rhine?”
“I like Jon Rhine.”
“Of course you do. Because you’re repressed.”
“Yeah! You’re so scared of doing anything wrong, or getting in trouble. Look at the bright side. Maybe you won’t get into trouble. Maybe someone will slide into your DMs and be like, ‘I would like to sign up for your hog-themed newsletter.’” He even pretended to type the message into his phone.
“I hate you so much, Benjamin.”
At this dramatic juncture, the door opened and two more people entered the bar. The first, a large man with a tray of coffee cups in his meaty hand, was Dennis Colton–nephew to Jake, cousin to Nate, and tag team partner to Benny. The other, dressed in sweatpants, an oversized hoodie, and dark sunglasses, looked like less a person and more a sentient hangover. But rest assured that somewhere underneath all that laundry and regret was Jennifer Colton.
“Hey, losers,” Dennis said as he set the coffee down on the bar. Jennifer’s hand snaked out and grabbed a cup. “Just dropped off Mom and the dinner stuff at your house. Uncle Jake told us where you were, so we decided to swing by.”
“You decided,” Jenny muttered. “I was just following the coffee.”
“That’s great. Well, since you’re here, you wanna pitch in? You can start mopping the floor.”
“Hold your horses there, cowboy,” Jenny replied. “This isn’t our job. We’re not the ones who threatened to show hog on the internet.”
Nate’s face went red. “That wasn’t me! And anyway, we could get this knocked out in an hour if you two helped.”
“I am helping,” Denny said. “I brought the coffee.”
Benny tossed his washrag aside and grabbed a cup. “Break time, bro!”
“Come on, Benny! I’d rather not have to stay here all day.”
“Oh, cry more,” Benny snapped back. “Dinner’s not going to be ready for a couple of hours. Besides, what else are you gonna do? All the cool people are here. And so is Jenny.”
A finger shot out of a floppy sleeve.
Shaking his head, Nate set aside his broom and approached the others. Denny handed him a coffee and asked, “So what were you talking about when we got here?”
“We were talking about how your cousin is too uptight, and probably needs to get laid,” Benny answered.
“I’m not too uptight,” Nate said, which resulted in a series of eye rolls from the rest of the group.
“Here, I’ll prove it. Who’s your favorite Ninja Turtle?”
Nate stared at his brother. “What?”
“You heard me. Favorite Ninja Turtle. Go!”
“Uh…Leonardo, I guess.”
“Of course he is. ‘Cause that’s who you are. Just like the rest of us. I’m Michelangelo, ‘cause I’m the fun one. Jenny’s a rebel, so she’s Raphael. Blake is Donatello, ‘cause he’s a fuckin’ nerd.”
“Who am I, then?” Denny asked.
Benny thought for a second. “You’re April O’Neil.”
Denny considered this, then nodded. “I do have a lot of cute outfits.”
“See? Leo’s your favorite, because you’re just like him. You’re the oldest, so you feel like you’re supposed to be in charge.”
“No, it’s because he has swords. Swords are awesome.”
“True, but hat’s not the point. You’re still trying to live up to some standard. And you’re so busy doing that, that you don’t bother to live…y’know, your life.”
“I am living my life. I’m wrestling in PRIME now; that’s huge. What is that, if not living my life?”
“It’s burying yourself in your work to hide from the fact that you haven’t had a relationship in…what, two years? And you’re still not over her.”
Nate scowled. “Both wrong. I’ve dated since then, and yes, I am over her.”
This, again, prompted eye rolls from the others. “Really?” Benny replied. “If that were true, I never would have guessed the password on your phone.”
“OOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!” Dennis and Jennifer yelled in tandem. Nate’s face turned bright red again, this time much more out of shame than anger.
“It’s been two years, dude. You need to get back out there. Hell, how about some of the ladies in Jenny’s class? Olivia is a smokeshow.”
“She is, but she’s also not into guys. Or did you not see her holding hands with Diane Weir in the corner last night?”
From somewhere under her hoodie, Jenny laughed. “They’ve been a thing since they took the Intermediate course last year. We all know, but nobody says anything because they think they’re keeping it on the down low. It’s precious.”
Benny said, “Maybe they don’t want people telling them not to dip their pen in…” but then he trailed off. “We need to update that metaphor.”
Nate tried to defend himself again. “It’s not wrong, though. Dating in the business rarely ends well, and makes stuff complicated later.”
“Maybe. All I know is when you put that many hotties in one place, there’s gonna be some hookups. If you don’t want to take advantage, that’s on you.”
Dennis chimed in, “It’s fine, anyway. Whole world of people out there.”
“Damn good point, cousin,” Benny said. “There’s plenty of fish in the sea, bro. Sexy, sexy fish.”
Nate’s face and neck bulged a little, as if he was about to throw up. “You’re the worst.”
Jenny, having grown bored with all this family bonding, took out her phone. “Might as well get some tunes going, if you two are going to take forever.” With a few taps, she signed on to the app that controlled the jukebox. The bar’s owner had replaced the old machine about five years ago, although the weathered “NO CREEDENCE” sign was still in place.
“Yeah, let’s get back to work,” Nate said, and took a long sip of his coffee.
“I suppose,” Benny answered. We should try to get back before dinner is ready, so you can take pictures.”
That drew confusion from his older brother. “Why would I take pictures?”
“So you can post ‘em online. We all know how much you like showin’ hog.”
The other two burst out in laughter, but Nate–much to Benny’s surprise–remained calm. Instead of yelling, he just removed the lid of his coffee cup.
While making full eye contact with his younger brother, Nate poured the rest of the coffee onto the bar.
“You missed a spot.”
“Oh, you bitch!” Benny threw the dishrag at Nate, who laughed as he dodged it. It ended up landing in Jenny’s lap, knocking her phone out of her hands.
“Hey!” she shouted, and grabbed the offending projectile to throw it back. From there, things escalated to the point where all four of them had to help with cleanup or they’d have to miss dinner entirely.
There were complaints about that, but none were sincere. After all, when you spend time with family, it feels like no time at all.