Sweat dripped from their pores. They panted worse than a pair of dogs outside on a hot summer day. The two shadowy figures bent over their respective garbage bins and each began to hurl. They finally caught their breath as an old man walked up behind them. He was dressed in a tracksuit and had a white towel slung around his shoulders. The coach walked up to his pupils and did what he always does–he slapped them hard on the back but in a sort of endearing way.
“Ha ha ha! Now that’s what I call a workout, am I right?” Coach Hark bellowed to his pair of students who remained over top of the garbage bins.
Hark analyzed Colton and Filmix. He knew he was being hard on them, but he figured it was the only way to keep them in the fight. Engagement, he thought, was the key to success…and what better way was there than to push these two wrestling studs to the absolute brink of their abilities and then some?
“I just put you two through the ringer. That has to be the hardest circuit I could come up with and look at ya both? Shinier for it, no doubt,” Hark hypothesized with his weird use of metaphors.
Filmix gazed over to Colton who was still face first above the trash.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for round two. It’s rare I get blown up like this, especially from Hark, but you know you’re in for a good workout when he pushes you this far,” Nathan exclaimed.
Colton noticed just how fast Filmix recovered. It was quite astonishing, actually. Both men exhibited above average stamina, recovery and aggressiveness so it really left others at the gym to wonder just how insane of a workout Hark had been putting them through.
“Game on,” Colton replied.
The duo got back at it immediately, which shocked Coach Hark.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! You two really want to keep it going? Just a few seconds ago, both of you were hovering over the bins like Trashcan Tim and Garbage Bag Johnny each looking for a meal for the night and now you want more? Maybe I did underestimate your dedication,” Hark’s voice trailed off.
Not one to turn down a challenge, Hark cranked up the intensity even more. He put them through their paces and no matter what sort of calisthenics, aerobic exercises or weight training he threw their way, not only did Colton and Filmix respond but they competed with each other too. Colton was exceptional with the kettle bells which literally drove Filmix up the wall. There was no way he was going to get shown up by Nate.
“Work, work, work!” Hark beckoned at random intervals.
Filmix outshined Colton at burpees as the two continued to trade friendly exercise based barbs. Coach Hark was impressed. He loved the aspect of competition just as much as Colton and Filmix did. It was what brought to light their very unique integrity.
“And time! Drop the weights!” Hark shouted.
A completely exhausted Filmix dropped the barbell as a totally spent Colton pulled himself from the crossfit machine. The two slapped hands in a job well done.
“Unreal,” Colton stammered.
“Unreal yourself,” Filmix confirmed.
They stared at each other, both gasping for air. They knew if they went this hard against each other that their competition surely didn’t stand a chance. There was no way anyone else was preparing this meticulously.
“You’re good. I’ll give you that,” Filmix nodded as Coach Hark did his usual thing by interjecting.
“I am so damn well impressed with you two. Look at you. Look at how Colton competed and Filmix followed up. We need that kind of unbridled synergy in the ring now, boys. Hard work and physical preparation is one thing but we also need mental stability. Your minds need to be as sharp as the muscles on your body!” Hark dictated.
Nate and Nathan just glanced at each like they wondered who was going to be the one who let the other down.
“I won’t let you down,” Filmix declared as he extended his hand.
“Neither will I,” Colton stated as he accepted the hand shake, “But…” Nate allowed his gaze to wander over to the big clock on the gym wall. “I’m running late. I have to get ready to head back home this weekend.”
“What?” Filmix yelled, his mood doing a complete 180 in about three seconds. “We’ve got training to do! We need to be at the top of our game if we’re going to reach the next round!”
“I know, I know. But my sister is graduating from wrestling academy this weekend. I can’t miss that,” Colton informed.
And with that one word, the switch on Filmix flipped again. The word he loved more than anything in this world. The word that started with a W.
“Wrestling?” Filmix asked, nearly caught off guard, “Your sister wrestles? She has a wrestling graduation!? Wait, why am I only learning about this right now? I have so many questions now. Hark! Did you know about this?”
The old coach threw his hands up as this was one thing he had no dealing with. Nathan moved in close.
“I need to go with you. I must. I love wrestling. I need to see this for myself. Take me with you,” Filmix asked almost too forwardly.
Colton leaned back slightly, as if by reflex. “I dunno, man. This is kind of a family thing, and it’s tough to change plans last minute…”
Nate trailed off, because it’s hard to hold up a conversation when Nathan Filmix is staring at you from six inches away. “Look, let me think about it, maybe make a few calls. I’ll let you know, ok?”
Filmix opened his mouth to press the issue again, but Coach Hark put a hand on his shoulder. “Take care of your business, kid. We’ll catch up with you later.”
Colton nodded, and made his way toward the locker room.
“Hmph,” Filmix droned.
“I know, I know but before you say anything, listen to me,” Hark fathered, “He’s right, it’s a Colton family affair. Might not be my place or yours to interject.”
Disgruntled, Nathan furrows his brow.
“That shouldn’t matter. We’re a team now and therefore we’re family. Wrestling is all I have, Hark. You know this. I just wish Nate understood. I wouldn’t make a ruckus or anything. I just want to honor wrestling every day in whatever way I can,” Filmix ranted.
Coach Hark solemnly nodded.
“I know, son. Sometimes you just have to let things play out though,” Coach Hark comforted.
Back in the suite, a freshly-showered Nate Colton was on the phone again.
“Hey, Dad. Got a minute?” he asked, already nervous about the answer to his upcoming question.
“Of course, son,” Jake replied. “Not much more than that; we’ve been cleaning the house AND the Academy because some dummy scheduled the graduation for Easter weekend.”
“I think that was you, Dad.”
“Don’t remind me.” Nate recognized his dad’s tone as ‘acting mad,’ where he was just complaining for the sake of it, and not because anything was actually wrong. “You’re coming home, right?”
“Yeah, but about that.” Again, Nate paused, his nerves catching up with him. “My tag partner, Nathan Filmix? He wants to come and check out the graduation.”
Please say no please say no please say no
“I don’t see a problem. From what you’ve said about him, he knows his shit…hell, maybe he can teach me something.”
Dammit dammit dammit
“Cool! I know it’s short notice, so I wanted to make sure. I’ll let ‘em know to start looking for a hotel.”
“Oh, nonsense. We’ve got extra room since Ben moved out. Hell, you can even have your old room back.”
“…thanks, Dad. We should get in on Thursday, but I’ll let you know if things change. Can’t wait to see you all again.”
“You too. Love you miss you, bud.”
“Love you miss you, Dad.”
Nate ended the call and threw his phone down on one of the beds. “Shit,” he muttered. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to travel halfway across the country with his new tag team partner. It was…
No. No, it was definitely that.
Like, I love wrestling too, but I can at least talk about other stuff. I asked him who his favorite band was and he stared at me like I was speaking Martian. That’s not–
The beep from the door lock interrupted his internal monologue. The door opened and the wizened form of Nelson Hark entered the room.
“Oh. Hey, Coach,” Nate said.
Hark passively waved a hand. “Nathan should be up in a few minutes. Are we good for your sister’s graduation?”
Nope. They passed a law that says psychos can’t come to wrestling academies. Damnedest thing.
“Yep. Everything’s good to go; just need to figure out travel.”
“Excellent. Nathan’s really excited about this; it’s all he’s been talking about since you brought it up.”
Coach Hark chuckled. “You don’t want him to come, do you?”
“What?” Nate said, defensively. “Of course I do!”
“Nate, you’re a nice kid and a hell of a wrestler, but you’ve got just about the lousiest goddamn poker face I’ve ever seen.”
Colton deflated a bit, now that the truth was out. “I’m sorry,” he started. “But this is a big family thing for us, with my dad running the academy and my sister being involved this year. And there’s no way to know how they’ll get along with Nathan. He’s a little…”
Weird. Creepy. Out of his goddamn mind.
Hark nodded. “I understand your concerns. He can be a lot to handle sometimes, especially if you aren’t used to him. But you gotta understand, he’s…well, he’s different.”
“I can tell how important your family is to you,” Coach Hark continued. “You talk about ‘em all the time, you call ‘em every day, and you’ve got as much pride in your name as you do in your talent. Maybe more. Is that fair?”
“Yeah,” Nate answered.
“Well, Nathan didn’t have any of that. He didn’t grow up in a big, loving family. He didn’t have a bunch of friends. He’s never been on the football team, or went to college, or snuck out of his house at night to go to a party. For pretty much his whole life, wrestling is all he’s had.”
Probably because it’s the only… but the thought dies in Nate’s head before it’s finished. Suddenly a man who seemed strange, almost alien, became a lot more familiar. That’s a story he’d heard countless times–people who came from abusive families, people who didn’t have anyone supporting or looking for them, people who felt unloved and alone. They found a place for themselves in wrestling. When they went on the road, it felt like coming home.
“And I think this can be a good experience for both of you. All the physical stuff is there; strength, speed, endurance, technique, I’m not worried about any of that. But it’s the mental. We both know that tag team wrestling is a completely different animal, and you throw in this Survivor mess…well, it’s vital that both of you are on the same page at all times. I’m hoping that by letting him into your world a little bit, you two can establish a connection.”
Nate nodded silently. Suddenly, he understood his partner a lot better, because he knew a lot of names with similar stories. Sarah Vaughn. Slaughterhouse. Danny Hollister.
“I think I get it now, Coach. We should work out travel plans before tonight, so that you guys can get plane tickets or whatever you need. And don’t worry about a hotel; my folks have room at their house.”
“Are you sure? We don’t want to be any trouble.”
Nate smiled back at Coach Hark. “No trouble at all, sir.”
They shook hands, and Coach Hark beamed inside. Sure, he’d left out some…important details…about Nathan Filmix and his upbringing. But he had also helped bring his team together, and make them a more cohesive unit. That’s what mattered.
Having a new travel partner is always a strange experience. It can be a great way to get to know someone, since everyone involved is a captive audience.
On the other hand, sometimes the first thing you learn is that you don’t want to talk to that person ever again.
So, one could understand if this was the part of the weekend that worried Nate Colton the most. Training with someone was one thing; a series of flights was entirely another.
It turned out that he needn’t have worried. Nathan Filmix turned out to be easy to get along with, and easier to talk to…provided the conversation stayed on a particular subject.
On the flights, they planned their strategy for the next Survivor event, and the specialized training sessions Doozer had put together. On the layover in Dallas, they went over what they learned from the first round, and how they might provide a winning contribution like Solid Gold Rock & Roll did. On the drive from the airport, they discussed which members of their tribe were the biggest threat to their future success. At the Colton home, they talked about the posters of legendary tag teams that adorned the walls of Benjamin’s old room.
Finally, the big day. Almost a hundred people were congregated at the Colton Academy, the gymnasium and training facility owned and operated by Jake Colton. Among those gathered were about a dozen hopeful graduates, a large group of junior trainees, and the Academy staff.
A red minivan pulled up to the front of the building, and an almost clown-car procession of wrestlers get out. Coach Hark, Nathan Filmix, and three of the Colton boys–Dennis, Benjamin, and finally Nate. Each of them wore their personalized jackets that they had received upon their own graduations, with their last name on the back and first name on the front. All different colors, of course; Denny and Benny had green and red, to match their ring gear. Nate wore blue, to match his father.
“I’ll see you inside! Find a good spot for us!” Mallory Colton called out, as she pulled the vehicle away from the curb and toward the parking lot.
“Thanks, ma!” Benny shouted back. “We’ll get you right up front!”
As a group they approached the building, and an air of quiet reverence fell over them as Nate Colton opened the door.
“Welcome home,” he said softly.
Nathan Filmix’s eyes filled with wonder as he took in the sights before him. A variety of workout machines and free weights. Heavy bags and tackling dummies. And in the center, two full-sized wrestling rings.
Nothing was top-of-the-line or state-of-the-art. In fact, most of it probably needed to be replaced three repairs ago. The air was tainted with an acrid smell of sweat that never went away.
It was beautiful. This is where wrestling lived.
The Colton boys headed for the front row, where Nate quickly spied a familiar face and a more familiar pair of crutches. “Mister Mazer…Mazurk…” he stumbled.
The old scout turned and smiled. “Just call me Frank; it’s faster. Good to see you, Nate.”
“I didn’t realize you were coming here today.” Nate stopped to talk to Frank, while his brother and cousin made their way to reserve some empty chairs. Filmix and Coach Hark hung back, having a hushed conversation with each other.
“Gotta keep an eye on the future, Nate. The next big thing is out there somewhere,” Frank replied. “Besides, your dad can’t shut up about how well Jenny’s been doing. To hear him say it, she might be better than you.”
“If she isn’t, I’ve failed as a big brother.”
“Heh. So, mister Big Wrestling Star. How are you settling into PRIME?”
“It’s going great! I’ve started a tag team with Nathan Fil–” Colton looked around, but suddenly couldn’t spot his tag partner. “Huh. Where’d he go?”
He started to look around, when his brother yelled at him again. “Got a chair for you, doofus! Get over here!”
“I’ll catch up with you later, kid,” Frank said, and waved Nate off to join his family. The young man did so, but still gave another look around to try and spot where Filmix and Hark had gone.
Where they had gone, turned out to be the back of the crowd. That had been the topic of the quiet conversation with Coach Hark. He saw the matching jackets, he saw the chairs they had claimed, he saw the tight-knit nature of their family bond.
He didn’t see where he belonged.
“Let’s head to the back,” he whispered, and Nelson Hark agreed.
For hours, they watched the prospects go through their tests. Filmix was enthralled by the proceedings, and noticed that each of the hopefuls had their particular strengths and weaknesses. Jessica Blaylock excelled at counters, but her chain wrestling was a bit spotty. Kaleb Stringer had impressive agility and strikes, but tried to do too much–and nearly landed on his head while trying a backflip. Olivia Drake made a few mistakes, but never got discouraged.
To the surprise of nobody in the audience, Jennifer Colton impressed at every turn.
While watching, Filmix made observations about their technique to Coach Hark…but he also kept an eye on the front row, where the Colton family sat. Judging by their conversations and movements, Nate Colton was often noticing the same things.
He also saw Nate look around, but never quite find what he was searching for.
At long last, the trainees met the final test: the free form performance. Each prospect would spend five minutes in the ring, acting and reacting against one of the senior trainers. It was meant to simulate a match, but the goal wasn’t to win or lose, just to keep the action going.
As Nathan Filmix watched, it felt like the crowd disappeared, leaving only himself and the action in the ring. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t perfect–these were all people who had yet to have an actual professional match, after all. But there was a purity to it that spoke to him. Whether a trainee was using traditional holds, or aerial maneuvers, or brute strength, it resonated like a classic song or a fond memory. In that moment, there was only him, and Wrestling.
And someone calling his name.
Filmix snapped out of his reverie as the crowd applauded for a completed routine, and met the eyes of Nate Colton. His tag team partner was waving him forward, pointing to a pair of empty chairs next to him.
“Come on up! Jenny’s next!”
Nathan Filmix looked over at Nelson Hark, who nodded, and they both stood up. They made their way through the crowd to join the Colton family, who greeted them with hugs, handshakes, and fistbumps as they sat down.
“Here she comes!” Mallory said, pointing toward a young woman entering the ring. The whole Colton family–and Filmix and Hark, too–stood up and cheered.
“LET’S GO, JENNY!”
“KICK SOME ASS, SIS!”
“YOU GOT THIS!”
Jennifer blushed a bit as she waved at them, then made a “shush” gesture. But of course they didn’t shush, because what’s the point of having relatives if you can’t embarrass them?
Nate Colton leaned in next to Filmix. “She told me she’s been planning her stuff for months. I can’t wait for this.”
“Me either,” Filmix replied, the world’s biggest smile on his face.