When they want me there, I guess I gotta be there. So says the idiot in charge.
What makes them think that this is worth my time? My time is money, precious as gold. I am an international superstar not just another corporate stooge.
I am Jace Valentine. Oh, I'll be there, and where ever I'm going... I'll be arriving in style. I have a grey pinstripe jacket on, the same kind my daddy used to wear, but much more stylish. This suit costs more than that trailer home you fuck your sister in. This smile makes the crowd go wild. I adjust the cuff of my sleeve and pull a set of keys from my pocket.
With a beep and a roar, the keyless ignition of my Cadillac Escalade flares to life. The reflection of sunlight shines bright in the heavy heat. The fresh red paint glistens in the humidity. I sit down in the driver's seat and back out of the parking lot. I put it in drive and make my way onto the road ahead of me.
I'm agitated. I'm upset. Two dickless pricks show up to harass little Chloe in my qualifier match and all of sudden, everyone's pointing the finger back at me.
That Jace, so cunning. That Jace, so dastardly. Fuck that. I didn't have to cheat to beat someone like Dorian. I know it, the world knows it. The Bagheaded Bossman is just looking to deflect blame. He just doesn't want to admit his little buddy is a failure.
God damn it. I slam the brakes. That guy has to nerve to cut me off. Cut out in front of me and then stops at a fucking yellow light. My agitation is turning to a legitimate road rage. I swing my vehicle up past him and barely make it through as the light turns as red as my face.
I have shit to do. I have a match to prepare for, a championship run and a victory parade to plan. I have a clown to kill and a panda to put down. I have a busy schedule, my dude. In other words, I don't have time for this garbage.
I finally get on a straight stretch highway, which does little to lower my blood pressure. I need something to take this off my mind. It's going to be a long fucking drive. It's going to be a long fucking day.
I push the edge of the speed limit, hoping and praying that there are not any cops out. If they are any kind of officers like my old man was, they would be quick to arrest a star. They'll lock you up for anything and everything, just to get their name in the news and a snazzy pin next to their badge.
Fuck that. I'm too important to obey the rules. The law is just a guideline, and Jace Valentine breaks the mold.
I finally hit the exit ramp, merging into another interstate highway.
I could just turn back. I could turn a blind eye to all his bullshit ultimatums and empty threats and just do me. But that would be too easy. That would be too simple. CWF can't seem to figure simple out, and here we are.
I need some fucking music, or something. Not that whore house trash MJ's mother puts out...real, actual music.
I snap my finger quickly, activating my hands free radio system. "Canadian Girls" by Omar Goodness. Oh God, I can't snap my fingers quickly enough. Everyone knows its the Brazilian girls that got that badonkadonk...
Some more terrible songs.
Bad, snap. Awful, snap. Even worse, snap.
The world just seems out to get me today. This jackass is going 53 in a 65 in front of me and the tractor trailer in the other lane is asleep at the wheel.
Why do people have to be so fucking unbearable?
I consider turning the radio off for a moment, but one last desperation snap of the finger lands on something that piques my curiosity.
It's CWF Talk Radio. It sounds like Blake Church and Charles State, budding correspondents of all wrestling stuff.
"What are your thoughts on Eric Dane's latest controversial rant, Blake? Clearly, CWF management can't be happy about this!"
With a snap of my finger, the radio finally goes silent.
Man, fuck that guy.
Who the hell cares about Eric Dane? What's CWF Management going to do about the Golden Paradigm? What's it really matter? When has CWF ever been under management that knew their way out of a paper bag? I clear my thoughts with a smile, and for a brief moment, I picture myself sitting across from Church and State myself.
The fans are cheering, chanting my name with the roar of an angry dragon. I smile, I wave.
"What are my thoughts on Eric Dane? Yeah, I have something to say about Eric Dane. Who the fuck does this guy think he is? He walks in here like he owns the place and all I see him doing is flapping his gums. Boy, he likes to talk a lot of shit, and I'm about to flush the commode, Blake."
Imaginary Charles State gives a hearty laugh at my joke.
As I make a right turn at a four way stop, I imagine Blake Church makes some kind of snub-nosed comment about the two or three wins Dane has managed to stack up at this point against the likes of American Patriot and Billy Bob Anderson.
"Everything Dane has accomplished in the CWF, I've already done. I've done it better, longer, harder and faster, if you know what I mean. He's just a ripoff. A knockoff. A wanna-be. He thinks he's a tough guy, a real bad dude. At least I look the part. I'm charming, rugged and handsome."
Sitting in the Cadillac by myself, I smirk, brimming with energy. It's a relatively smirky smirk.
"This pretty boy is just walking around here looking like a duckfaced faggot and we are supposed to take him seriously? What separates him from the other jealous pretenders? He won't see CWF gold, just the green of envy."
"The pundits say he has been impressive in his short time here. I say he hasn't done shit. Dane thinks he can step into CWF and game politics until he finds himself at the top. He's almost there. Except now he approaches the glass ceiling. Now he approaches the buzz saw. Now he steps into the ring across from Jace Valentine, and he will feel the world crashing down around him."
"Is that what you would say if Dane was standing here in front of you? If not, what would be your choice of words?"
Hypothetical Blake Church continues to pepper me with questions.
"If Eric Dane was sitting in front of me, I wouldn't be able to hear myself think. All he does is talk. He'll run down the CWF, it's roster and everyone that paved the way for him. He will whine and he will bawl, like the End Boss Baby he is. If Dane was sitting here in front of me, I'd stare him into the eye and ask a simple question. What's the matter, Eric?"
"Does the little elementary school problem child got an issue with someone else taking the spotlight for a while? Well, at this point, I've robbed you blind and you're not getting it back. Not even a taste. You are a C rate talent and it is time you've seen the real deal. I haven't even met you yet, but that moment is approaching. Let introductions be in order. My name is Jace Valentine."
"Yeah, my promos are long, Dane. Yeah, I get a lot of segment spots. I get all the air time, baby. You know why? Cause I sell tickets. I push ratings and people pay to see me. Your promos? If it were up to me, they would be non-existent. If it were up to me, you would tuck your tail between your legs and run back to whatever fantasy world you came from."
I spin the steering wheel hard, I almost missed my turn. I'm too pumped up. I'm too caught up in the moment.
"Eric Dane seems to think it's all fun and games. Eric Dane seems to think that this federation is his playground. Well, add another piece to the wooden board, kid. They call me the Magic Mirror, cause I'm everything you wish you could be. I'm the Hall of Famer that has paid my dues, you're just a piece of shit thats fucking always grumbling about something. Eric Dane, you are nothing more than a packet of piss flavored Koolaid. Yeah it looks and sounds and probably tastes awful, but the lemmings will buy in just because it's a new fucking flavor!"
"Yeah, he beat some Marcus Maximus look-alike, with a gay pride flag and half the credentials. This is Dane's qualifications? Fucking hilarious. And this guy thinks he belongs? He thinks he can hang with the top guys? He thinks he can come out on top? Well, here's your rope, Dane. Here's your noose. Stepping into the ring with Jace Valentine? You're better off fucking killing yourself."
As I continue to rant and rant, somehow, it makes me feel better about myself. It feels like a shower washing over me. The true aggression won't come out until ring side, but I need Dane to know he's in for a wild time. He's in for a ride up the mountain. It's End Games, and that boy is on the losing side.
I'm in the passing lane and I like to go fast.
"You push the nickname 'the End Boss', as if you are proud of the one original thought that ever came from your brain. But... it's not original. It's not entertaining. The End Boss is just a false ending, and in this story there is a sequel named Jace Valentine. You know why you'll never be champ, Generic Eric? You don't have it in you. You don't have what it takes. You're just another whiny little bitch that don't know who his daddy is. Let End Games be your paternity test. It will be a family reunion out there when I slap the taste out of your pansy little mouth."
"Yeah, Eric Dane wants to sit here and play pretend like he can do it like me. He wants to think he can party like Jace Valentine parties. Until reality sets in and he's just another choked out little pissant laying in my wake."
Another exit ramp, another merging intersection. I have to be getting close now. Closer than ever, and my destination is in reach just like the gold is in my grasp. I bid Church and State adieu. My moment is here. Who stands in my way? Bronson Box? MJ Flair? Eric fucking Dane?
"Dane, you can gather all your buddies into your little wolf pack. Bring all the effort you can muster, cause Jace will be the musket that blows your fucking eye out. Bring ugly ass MJ and the Bombastic Box of Rocks and all the cronies you can find. I don't need allies. I don't need excuses."
"You want to be seen as a big deal around here. You want everyone on bated breath to hear your angst ridden opinion. You want the CWF in the palm of your hands. You want the World Heavyweight championship. Well, so do I. Come on down to ringside at End Games and take it from me. You'll end up beaten and bloodied, and you'll find that you didn't get what you came for. You just got bent over, butt fucked and buried in the back yard of the best. It's Jace Valentine's world and you're just living in it...bitch!"
With the squeal of a tire, I reach my destination. A busy parking lot, businessmen in suits and ties and all kinds of fancy clothing. All these people with their self importance. They are just insignificant little gnats in my world.
Just like this Ringmaster joke. Just like Eric Dane, MJ Flair, Bronson Box and any other new aged wrassler that thinks they can walk through these doors and piss on my legacy. All these fucking millenials, man. You hear on the news all the time about the trouble they cause.
I step out of my car, but not before I adjust my magnificent (and totally not receding) hairline and check myself in the mirror. Still lookin' good, Valentine, still lookin' sharp.
I approach the side of an enormous skyscraper as my shoes slice their path through the freshly cut grass. At least management has enough to pay for landscaping. Now only if they could find a competent mind to put these bookings together.
I show my credentials to the guard as he feigns not to recognize me. Come on Rodriguez, you know me. I've been here before, we did a couple lines out behind the dumpster just last year! Right after the Modern Warfare win, baby!
I decide to keep a low profile. I just give Rodriguez the patented wink. He grins. Oh, he fucking remembers. He might not remember, but he fucking remembers. When you party like Jace Valentine parties, that's usually how it goes.
I cut through the building, weaving my way through corridors and legions of unpaid interns. I am still clearly agitated. I know where I am going. I just have to get in there and get the hell out.
Finally, I come to a door.
On that door reads the name Ataxia.
I don't even knock. I just barge right in.
The door crashes open. I am greeted by a thick, black silk curtain barricading my way into the den of the mad man. I push that curtain against the wall. It's heavy as shit, and the tassles on the bottom of it are tacky as hell. I wipe the bit of sweat from my brow, and turn around...only to be greeted by another thick, black silk curtain.
"The fuck..." I mutter audibly. I am not amused. I don't have time for this shit, man. This Ataxia idiot, he is just trying to sabotage my chances at winning End Games. He saw that none of his Forsaken nimrods could even qualify for this thing.
So he's going to take it out on me. It's professional jealousy. Pure envy, but yeah, I get it. They didn't have another American Patriot or equivalent available. Second Rate Silas and Awful Raven were already booked up, and of course some useless excuse for a talent like MJ gets that squash match...
Meanwhile, I'm getting the deck stacked against me. I'm up against the boss's best buddy and his barbaric little girl is hitting me with a crude sex toy. I persevered. I overcame and I found my way into this match and now Bagheaded Bossman wants to give me ultimatums.
Well, I am here, you Bagheaded fucker, come out and play!
"I'm so sick of this charade!" I exclaim. "It's all smoke..."
I charge through the second curtain, the anger brewing inside me.
I look up and my shoulders sink. Behind the curtains of Ataxia's office is literally a wall of mirrors. A splash of red paint across the glass spells out some letters. Those letters spell out the words 'FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD'.
I smirk. Real funny, you insufferable clown. I follow the large arrow pointing to my left and...there appears to be an actual yellow brick road installed into the floor of Ataxia's office.
Apparently this is what they are spending all our royalty payments on, for Christ's sake.
You know what? I'm not doing it. I refuse. Ataxia can meet me in the middle of the ring as I raise that championship high. I'm not playing this game anymore, I'm out of here in a flash, quicker than Pandalike's inevitable elimination.
You can thank Ataxia for that, too. I thought I was handicapped a few weeks ago sitting at home in a wheelchair...now set to share the stage with this bearsexual nerd, I get to know what to feels to ACTUALLY be handicapped!
I run my fingers through my hair and take a step back towards the door. I'm leaving. I have things to do and people to screw. I still gotta send that midget strippergram to MJ's next big show and I still have to get on Amazon to see if I can custom order Bronson Box a personality.
My fist grips the handle of the door as I begin to twist the gleaming silver knob. The door swings open and there he is. The tacky and worn out black jacket. That stupid, ridiculous mask.
"Hello, frand! No one alerted me of your arrival!"
Ataxia cranes his neck out like an ostrich, smiling like a goon.
Give it up to the 'Boss', everyone. The only thing that would make him look even less respectable than he does now is if he was wearing an Eric Dane t-shirt.
"I...was just leaving. I'm here for your bullshit mandatory pep rally, or whatever it is you call this. Time's up. I'm out."
"What's the matter, Jacey Boy? You got a fancy date you don't want to miss? Perhaps with the couple of masked bandits that got involved in my show, hmm?"
"I had nothing to do with that, and you know it!" I scoff. It seems like Ataxia is just content with edging me on at this point.
"Well, oh gee, Jace. What in the world would give me the idea that you would be behind this? It's not like there is already a long laundry list of classic examples in your history of being a liar and a cheat!"
"Oh, give me a break!" I feel the agitation boiling over. "I'm in a match against poor talent like Pandalike and the Ringmaster! Guys like Eric Dane and Bronson Box that win one match and get rocketed to the top! You really think Jace Valentine needs to cheat to walk all over this motley crew? That's a bigger joke then your face."
Ataxia just starts chuckling, which grinds against what's left of my nerves.
"With you, Jace, it has never been the question of if you HAVE to cheat to win. It's the question of if you will cheat anyhow. You didn't need to cheat to win the title from the Blue Scorpion, according to Jace, but you did anyhow."
I lower my brow, staring a hole into the Messiah Pariah.
"You didn't need to align yourself with Ryan Sunset to beat Duce Jones in the Modern Warfare finals. History will show you that Jace took no chances and took every advantage that he could at any turn. I can't have that, not in my federation."
I scoff, spitting venom in the general direction of Ataxia's face.
"Oh yeah? How long exactly is this federation going to be 'yours'? A few weeks, a month or two maybe. Control of this company doesn't mean jack shit. It never has and it never will. It's the talent that makes this wheel spin, man. You have a talent issue here, and I plan on exposing it like a turnbuckle, baby."
I wink at Ataxia. Without hesitation he blows me a kiss. Ugh. I turn back towards the door, I'm out of here.
"Oh, and Jace?" Ataxia continues. "Don't go thinking you can get a special referee named to this match like you did with Gamble and Sunset. The referee has already been decided."
I smile back.
"Who might that be, Great Leader?"
"Denny Davidson. I believe the two of you have some history."
"That fat fucker that I got terminated? Why the hell did they ever bring him back anyhow?"
"The very same. He's good at his job. He's good at preventing Jace from doing what Jace always does."
I smirk, this time finally making my long awaited exit. I mutter under my breath, still quite enraged.
"We'll see about that."
I take a few steps down the hall, happy to finally get out of here. Except...shit. Through my clouded thoughts, I almost forgot.
I got that other ...thing.
Maybe she will be cool if I cancel, or reschedule. I'm just not in the mood anymore.
I stop, in the middle of a crowd of barely-noticables, and pull the cell phone from my pocket.
A text will have to do.
Meanwhile, in the same building, just thirty feet west and twelve stories down...
My name is Tabby Ubetcha, and I am having a bad day.
A terrible, rotten, very bad day.
I got the call this morning. The last thing any twenty year old girl wants to hear. My mom has breast cancer. It struck her out of nowhere, now she is stuck in the downward spiral. Now we have to sit back and watch her die a radiation-filled death.
I would take her place in a heart beat. My dear mother, I always did everything I could to make her proud...but now? It doesn't seem like I can do enough.
Up until about thirty seconds ago, I was an unpaid intern for the CWF Magazine. I didn't know anything about wresting. I still don't know the difference between a belt buckle and a turn buckle.
I guess none of that matters now. This job was supposed to be our salvation, my saving grace. It was supposed to be a brighter future for me, and a way I could provide for myself and my darling mother. She was always there for me, I just wish I could do the same.
No, I can't even be there to console her. I can't even afford the trip back to Buffalo to be close to her. No, I am here at the CWF Headquarters being berated by none other than James Finkeltini.
Maybe he's right. I'm just not cut out for this job. I was supposed to find information on the Higher, Wire, Fire match that took place at Confliction. I don't know any more than I did the first day. I certainly have made no progress on this 'Aftermath Series' story, and its been weeks since I've got even a shred of a relevant detail to print. I don't blame James for relieving me of this story. He almost had to.
I'm Tabby Ubetcha and I can't do anything right.
I was always good in school. I got the best grades, never went out drinking and partying...but my adult life has been a cavalcade of poor judgment and fatal missteps.
I feel dejected, defeated and depressed.
"Thank you for the opportunity..." The words come out meekly, like the footsteps of an injured mouse.
I step away from James with my head held low. I need a cigarette. I don't even smoke, I think it's a disgusting habit...but self mutilation seems awfully appealing right now, and a shotgun shell to the face is a bit too permanent.
Just a few more steps towards the door, and this short chapter of my life will be snuffed out with merciless execution.
I reach out for the handle, and I hear the ringtone of my phone buzzing in my pocket. Not a call, just a text.
'HEY LADY ARE WE DOIN THIS INTERVIEW THING OR NOT? I GOT SHIT TO DO - JACE'
Crap. Dang it, I forgot all about that. Just before I lost my job, just before I lost my story, I had managed to secure an interview with former CWF World Heavyweight champion, Jace Valentine. It was a last ditch effort towards finding a lead, I'll admit that. Honestly, I was surprised that he even agreed to do it, based on how belligerent he was during the last one.
I could just text him back and explain to him that I lost my job, that the interview wouldn't be necessary any more.
'WHAT FLOOR YOU ON? WHAT HALL YOU IN? COME ON, I DON'T HAVE ALL DAY - JACE'
I could just ignore him. I could keep on stepping right out the door, I could continue my miserable, pitiful little existence somewhere that I'm not going to be a total bother to everyone else.
But...something tells me not to. Maybe it's just an urge, maybe its the byproduct of me hitting rock bottom. Maybe I'm just tired of being patient and waiting for my big break. Maybe I'm just tired of being so innocent all the time.
As my fingers weave their way across my keyboard, I convince myself that it is just a little white lie. Just one little lie...
'HELLO JACE. I WON'T BE ABLE TO MAKE IT TO THE
OFFICE TODAY. WOULD YOU MIND MEETING ME AT MY STUDIO APARTMENT TO DO THIS INTERVIEW?'
'SHOULD I BRING MY PAJAMAS? ;) - JACE'
He doesn't miss a beat. The constant flirting and sexual advances, I gotta admit, he makes me smile. He's charming, if not a bit overbearing. I'll just have to show him that I'm not that kind of girl.
I'm out in the parking lot now, leaving the CWF Media Headquarters for perhaps the last time. I catch my reflection in the glass windshield of a nearby car and it dawns on me. Exactly what kind of girl are you, Tabby Ubetcha?
I see a girl of slender build and bright red hair. I see a girl who doesn't know who she is.
If I can't answer that question, how could I expect anyone else to? When push comes to shove, it's time for a change. It's time that things got better. It's time someone swept me off my feet.
There's someone out there that can show me who I am. Maybe, just maybe, that person could be Jace Valentine. What do I have to lose?
Without further hesitation, I text him my address.
I stop at a convenience store as I come out of traffic. A little Turkey Hill off the side of the road. Feeling sheepish and defeated and beyond stressed, I shamble over to the counter.
I run my fingers through my bright red hair, another nervous habit getting the better of me. I stand, half in a slump, as the customer before me purchases his Snickers bar.
What am I doing? I could turn back right now. I don't need this, none of it makes sense. The clerk hands the man his receipt and now it's my turn. Almost out of instinct, I speak.
"A pack of Marlboro Reds, please."
My eyes glance down to the floor. I shouldn't feel this shame, but I do.
I hand the clerk my ID. He looks it over a minute before handing it back.
"Well, miss, that's hard to believe." The charming old man smiles as he hands me my license back. "You don't look a day over 16!"
I make my purchase and get out of there as quickly as possible. I have to get to my studio apartment, and I have to get there before Jace does. I have to tidy up, and make sure everything is in order.
What am I kidding? Nothing is in order.
James Finkeltini... that corporate jerk. I'll show him. I'll show him that Tabby Ubetcha can get the darn story.
I need this story, and this story needs me. I'm not going to give up, this is my date with destiny.
I finally get back to my apartment, parking my beat-down old Suburban and rushing inside. I turn the light on as I pace around the living quarters. I just have to make this little hole in the wall look suitable, passable... to a multi-millionaire.
I scramble back and forth to pick up dirty dishes and empty water bottles that sat around the room from an emotional night before. Why did I invite him here? Why do I do this kind of stuff to myself? What was I thinking?
The door bell rings and I about jump out of my skin. My nerves are bouncing around. I want a career with the CWF. I just need to prove myself, and now Jace Valentine is at my apartment door. This is my opportunity, and I need to seize my moment, no matter what.
Come on, Tabby, get your crap together and do this thing.
I open the door and Jace is standing there in the master hallway. He sports a classy suit, definitely not casually dressed. He smiles, perhaps forced, perhaps a bit smug. All things considered, he's pretty handsome for an older man though. Like the wrestling industry's George Clooney.
"OK, I'm here, you had me running all over the damn place. I'm here, let's get this fucking thing over with and I can bounce. Do you even know who I am, lady?"
"....Exactly." Jace takes a deep breath. "Your name was?"
"Let's have some fun tonight, Tabby Ubetcha." Jace says with a wink.
I choose not to acknowledge the sexual advances. This is purely a professional thing. Now, I'll never be one of 'those girls', but in another time, place and world, I would at least briefly consider the possibility.
I smile back and motion him to make his way in.
His arms flail as he makes his entrance, he seems agitated, or at least a little overly animated. He walks right past my living quarters and into the kitchen. He makes his way to my refrigerator, helping himself.
"You got any beer in this dump?" He scoffs.
"Water and juice." I answer, not missing a beat.
"Water? Excuse me, how old are you?"
"I just turned twenty last month."
"Ugh. I'm sorry for you, how unfortunate."
Jace grabs a bottle of water, nonchalantly twisting the cap off the top. He turns towards my table and seems taken aback. The look on his face, its almost like he just threw up in his mouth a little bit.
"Flowers? Why in the world would you buy flowers?"
Oh, it's the vase that he's staring at. The half dozen roses I ordered myself last week, just to make me feel a little better about my failures.
"I like flowers. Most women like flowers."
Jace scoffs. "Yeah, but I'm not a woman, though. Why would I be impressed by flowers? Not a damn flower in the world ever impressed Jace Valentine!"
Is this guy serious? No, he has to be joking. I let out a little forced laugh and a quaint smile.
"May we get started then?"
"Go for it. You got questions? Come test me." Jace says as he slumps into the chair next to my kitchen table.
"OK, to get started, the Higher Wire Fire match..."
Jace throws his arms up, clearly upset as he cuts me off.
"Come on, lady! That shit is old news! Yeah, I was out for a minute but I'm back now! That match was damn near three months ago! Get with the times!"
Ok...let's switch gears. You got this Tabby. Don't get intimidated, don't get emotional.
"OK... End Games. The company is under a turbulence of change. The federation is left without a champion. Ataxia is trying his best to maintain control..."
"Let me stop you right there. Ataxia is just a fool and it's apparent he is in over his head. I'm not here to talk about Ataxia."
"Fair enough." I catch myself with my fingers in my hair. Darn nervous tick. "So, you've qualified for End Games, and now you find yourself in a star studded match. Virtually the who's who of CWF competition."
He just gives me a confident stare. Every thing about this man screams intensity.
"You and I see it differently, I suppose. Hell, Google doesn't even recognize the names of half the people in this match. Yeah, you got MJ, but she kind of sucks. She's got some pull to her name cause mommy and daddy are famous, but that's about it."
For a moment, I take offense.
"MJ is my friend!" I retort. Jace lets out a bellowing laugh.
"Yeah, everyone is MJ's friend. That's what she does. It's tough to get taken out when you have no enemies. MJ is a coward, in that regard. She's a phony. She keeps her circle big so there's always someone there to watch her damn back!"
I slump into my chair, shoulders sinking. Maybe he's right. There seemed to be something off about her, something less than genuine. Tara Robinson too, like they just wanted to see me fail. I can not fail...
"So you think that is why she aligned herself with Dane, Bronson Box and Whealdon, this Golden Paradigm group?"
"Of course it's why. You gotta play the numbers game, even a child like MJ gets that."
"You call MJ a child. At twenty years old, do you see me as a child?" I glare at Jace, desperately trying to match his intensity.
"I didn't say that, lady! See, my point is this. The dynamic of Dane and MJ brings something interesting to the ring. I'll give them that."
I nod as Jace continues to ramble.
"What does Bronson Box bring to the ring other than a fancy mustache? What does the Ringmaster bring to the ring? Maybe some circus lions or some shit?"
"Judging from Ringmaster's debut, he looks like a formidable opponent."
Jace looks like he is about to throw his water against the wall.
"Oh come on! That's exactly it. His debut match. One win and he's riding the shuttlecock into the main event at Summer Games? You don't see anything wrong with that? Whatever happened to paying your damn dues in this business!"
"It's a wide open landscape out there. Some would say that is a source of great excitement."
"The truth is that these new blood just don't have what it takes."
"And do you feel the same way about your partners? As far as I am aware, Dick Fury and Pandalike are relatively new to the business. On the other side of the fence, I suppose, you have Jarvis King, who has more years in the CWF than any other active competitor."
Jace rests his palm on his chin momentarily.
"Yeah, Dick Fury was interesting for a minute or two. I laughed once or twice but ultimately, that same tired, old innuendo got tired and old. Dick Fury is a walking joke and a second rate competitor. He's likely going to be eliminated quickly, but if he manages to make it to the end, head to head with Jace Valentine? I'm gonna stick my boot inn his endo and I'm taking my belt back."
"And Pandalike?" I inquire.
"Listen, I'm the poster child for being a beast. Pandalike is the poster child for bestiality. He could never get it done before. He became a lackey of Sunset for a period, couldn't get anything done. Became a lackey for the next guy, couldn't get anything done."
"So you don't expect Pandalike to make much of a contribution to your team?"
"Sure, if I need someone to man concessions or hand out stuffed animals, but this ain't the fucking carnival. If I'm going to be the Sole Survivor of this whole damn thing then I'm gonna need some help."
"And how do you expect to get that when you are running down your opponents and teammates alike?"
"You mentioned it yourself. I have Jarvis King on my team. The Internet Icon, the East Coast Excellence. The CWF Paramount Champion. Now me and Jarvis, we go way back."
"You've been rivals in the past, correct?" I am not sure what Jace is getting at.
"I've been rivals with alot of people. That comes with being the best. Jarvis and I? I like to think that we have a mutual respect for each other. With that said, you got the media ties, I want this getting out."
I flash Jace a surprised look. I almost want to tell him how this whole interview is a charade. I don't even know why I'm doing this... but I can't turn back now.
"Sure." A single word meekly makes its way out.
"I challenge Jarvis King...no! I DARE Jarvis King.. put it all on the line out there. Give this match all you fucking got or we are gonna get killed out there. Don't give me that washed up old has-been, that guy is terrible. Give me who you used to be. Give me the callous and calculated killer."
"Give this match your best effort, Jarvis King, and meet me in the middle of the ring as the final two competitors. We are the big dogs around here. We are the only two that bring the big fight week in and week out. We are the only two that have paid our damn dues and deserve this shot. Jace Valentine versus Jarvis King would tear the roof off the place, if it had one! I'll be there in the end, Jarvis King. Will you?"
"You seem to be awfully confident heading into this match."
"Supremely confident. In fact, I'm done talking about wrestling. Let's go have some fun. You and I, let's go on a date."
I feel my face going blush.
He's joking. He's gotta be joking. This guy is twice my age!
"You hear me. Let Jace Valentine show you what its like to take a night on the town. That's the World's Greatest Advice! You won't be disappointed."
The thought kind of dawns on me, a sudden reminder in the back of my head. This guy is a multi-millionaire, the epitome of upscale and high class. Going on the date with him wouldn't be the worst thing. Maybe he knows how to treat a lady like a gentleman, no one else seems to now days.
"A professional date."
"Whatever you gotta call it to talk yourself into it, lady. Jace Valentine is ALWAYS a professional!"
I smile courteously. Maybe this isn't the best idea, but I've been through plenty of bad dates in the past as well. How bad can it be?
"Fine. Give me an hour or two to get cleaned up. Do you have a place in mind?"
Jace seems genuinely excited. Maybe he's not a bad guy after all.
"I got the perfect place! Let me get shacked up in a nearby hotel and make a few calls. I know a guy that works security for a local place. Reservations are a bitch to secure, but he's always been willing to help me out in the past. Girls your age love it there!" Jace exclaims as he downs the last sip of his water.
Girls my age? He must date girls my age a lot it seems? Maybe I shouldn't read to much into his choice of words, he seems rather...unfiltered. Mostly genuine, but unfiltred nonetheless.
He begins making his way towards the door.
"I'll text you the address in a bit."
"No drinking or drugs on site? No strippers or sexual parades?"
Jace smiles and responds back sarcastically.
Jace has his hand on the knob. I almost don't want him to go. I can't be alone right now.
"Goodbye, Jace Valentine. See you soon."
"See you soon, Tabby Ubetcha."
He remembered my name. He wants to go on a date with me, of all people. Maybe tonight wouldn't be so bad after all.
An hour has passed. I've showered and dolled myself up, at least as much I could manage with my makeup from the Dollar Value line. I'm wearing my nicest white blouse. It shows a little skin, but enough to stay respectable. My denim jean shorts show a little more.
I hold my cell with bated breath, my nerves getting the better of me. Jace should be getting back to me.
Something about him, it's almost intimidating. The buzzer starts going off, almost like a shock to the system.
Except it's not Jace. I look at the screen, almost disappointed but almost relieved.
MJ Flair. I take the call.
"Hey there, Red. Doing a thing tonight. You in?"
"Actually, I'm busy."
"Oh? You're... busy? No big deal, I've just never known you to be too busy to come out before..." MJ ponders.
I wonder to myself just how coy I should be with her.
"I...have a date."
"Oh!" MJ exclaims, the pitch in her voice as high as the End Games chamber walls. "Aces, chicka. Who's the lucky fella?"
"Valentine? The Jacehole? Seriously, though - not him, right?"
Crap. I almost forgot that Tara said never to mention his name to MJ. Leave it to Tabby Ubetcha to screw that up.
"You've got to be kidding me! You've heard what he's said about me, right?"
"He...called you ugly?"
"Well... yeah, that's what he said, but it was his tone. We're both three wins into Modern Warfare and asshat treats me like I'm not his peer and opponent, but some contest winner who stumbled into the ring. Absolutely no professional respect. Check the record, I never called him Jacehole before that point."
Ugh. Name calling, like that's the worst thing to have happen to you. MJ didn't even ask about my mother's health. She knows she's sick. Maybe Jace was right, maybe MJ is all about herself.
"Right..." I respond with sarcasm.
"The guy is bad news, Tabby. You deserve better. We all do."
"I deserve a chance...as does Jace."
"Oh, he's had plenty'a chances, and he's bungled 'em all, kiddo." MJ says disgusted.
"Listen, MJ. I gotta go."
I don't even give her a chance to respond. I just hang up. Mariella Flair doesn't care if I do well. Tara Robinson doesn't care if I hit my big break.
I have a date to prepare for. A date with my destiny.
"You have arrived at your destination."
Well, I punched in the address he gave me, and the voice of my GPS sounds so confident, but I don't think I am in the right place. I park my beat up old Suburban in an empty spot as a bus packed with toddlers hurries to snatch the one beside me. The air conditioner doesn't work and the sweat is causing me to have trouble keeping my glasses on my face.
I turn off the ignition and grab the pack of Marlboros from the passenger seat. I go to light one up. Crap, I only have seven left. I'll have to get a fresh pack...again.
I'm Tabby Ubetcha and I'm smoking a cigarette in the parking lot of a Chuck E. Cheese's. How pathetic. I was supposed to succeed. I was supposed to be a media star, interviewing the legends and asking the hard hitting questions. This can't be the right place. Maybe Jace hit the wrong address. It's a shopping center, maybe he plans on taking me to the mall, or some restaurant near by. Maybe this was just a sick prank...
I should just leave. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a red Cadillac Escalade pulling up with a Quebec license plate. It must be him. I snuff the cigarette out quickly and step out of my car. I watch as Jace makes his way out of his. He stumbles, almost tripping over a sewage grate installed in the pavement.
I call out to him.
"Jace...are you drunk?" I'm half joking, half concerned. He lets out a little chuckle.
"I only had enough time to drink half my 12-pack before meeting you out here. Figured I'd save the rest for later." He says with a grin. I can't tell if he's serious or just responding to the sarcasm.
"And you were driving, after drinking all that?" I say shocked.
"I never drive sober, lady. That's when shit really gets dangerous!"
Jace starts walking towards the Chuck E. Cheese building. I follow him as he continues to speak.
"In fact, I think they should start selling cold alcohol at drive-thru restaurants. The convenience would be unbelievable. Someone would make a fortune, as long as they don't give out straws!"
Okay, now I know he's joking. He's got an interesting sense of humor in that regard. We're just a few feet away from the door to the children's amusement center, I'm a bit appalled, and Jace turns to me with a grin.
"You ready to have some fun?"
"Really? Chuck E. Cheese's? This is your idea of fun?"
"What can I say? I like pizza and games! They say the games end on Tuesday so we better get our fill now! Besides, they have Mario Kart!"
Jace starts rushing towards the door like a kid in a candy store. It's kind of refreshing to see someone who has never let their inner child die out. Besides, I haven't ate a thing all day, and bad date or not, a slice of pizza isn't the worst thing that could happen.
I make my way inside, trying to stay close to Valentine. He is at the counter, seemingly unable to hold in his glee as I question him.
"I thought you said a friend of yours worked security here?"
"Yeah, my buddy Ogloff. Big Russian bloke. I used to employ him myself but I guess there's big money involved in policing the ball pits. Kids get downright vicious in there."
"And reservations are tough to come by?"
"Hell yeah! They're always doing birthday parties and shit, it's a nightmare."
"Oh, I bet." I respond as I stand there cross-legged, desperately trying to fit in. The running and ragged gang of ten year olds make that nearly impossible.
Jace orders our tokens and our pizza, shoveling a pile of plates and coins into my lap as I struggle not to drop it all.
"You know, I'm not really in the mood for arcade games."
Jace seems a little down.
"Not even a round of air hockey?"
Okay, I'll play a round of air hockey.
Okay I'll a play a round of Mario Kart, maybe two. That Jurassic Park game was a blast! Maybe I'm actually having a bit of fun here, but I guess I expected something a little bit more....adult oriented.
I guess I can't complain. I'm having a good time, Jace seems to be having a good time, and he seems to have stopped the sexual innuendo. Maybe he's not as bad a guy as everyone makes him out to be.
Jace is approached by a big Russian guy in the company uniform. That must be Ogloff. I remember reading a bit about him in my reports, he used to accompany Jace to the ring for his CWF matches. Ogloff was always Jace's trainer, bodyguard and confidant. They said that Jace burnt that bridge down years ago, but they must have reconciled recently.
I guess you can't always believe what you hear from other people. I sit and watch as Jace and Ogloff conversate with each other. They talk about old times, they talk about wrestling. I barely feel like a part of the conversation, but I can appreciate the fact that through it all, Ogloff was able to find it in him to forgive Jace. Now if only some other people would be so forgiving.
He's not that bad of a guy if you actually get to know him. He's actually kind of sweet.
The server comes by and delivers our pizza. I'm anxious to dig in as my stomach is absolutely rumbling at this point. I look over at Jace, almost as if I need permission to take a slice, but he is caught up in his social reminiscing. At this point, he might actually be ignoring me. It's so hard to tell...
I sit there and eat a slice of pizza, and then another one. Valentine hasn't said a word to be in at least fifteen minutes. So much for a professional date... I'm sitting here alone inside a Chuck E Cheese's as I pretend to be someone important for once in my life. I feel so dejected, I just need a cigarette...
I walk out the door, not even saying a word to Jace as I make my exit. He can stand around and talk Ogloff's ear off, as it seems like that's what we are here for...
Standing just outside the entrance, I pull a Marlboro from my shorts pocket and strike the lighter.
As I enjoy the embrace of my tobacco stick, I hear my cell phone vibrating in my pocket. I pull it out and see a message from none other than James Finkeltini, CWF magazine extraordinaire.
TABBY, SOMETHING HAS COME UP. I NEED SOMEONE TO DO A DUCE JONES STORY, VERY SHORT NOTICE. THIS IS YOUR SECOND CHANCE. - JAMES
I shuffle my phone back into my pocket with a grin. It's like the sun just rose in my heart, like a huge weight had been lifted. Now I feel so much better about my night. I don't know much about Duce Jones, but a second chance is all I need...and I'm going to take advantage of it.
I turn to see Jace following me out. He must have left Ogloff behind.
"I didn't know you smoked!" Jace gives me a glaring look.
"I don't. At least, not usually. Just when I'm stressed."
"Oh? You're stressed?" Jace flashes me a look of guilt and concern.
"It's not your fault. Just some things going on."
"I have the perfect thing for stress. Put that cheap ass cigarette out." Jace says as he pulls something out of his jacket pocket. It looks like a hand-rolled cigar.
"That's just tobacco, right?"
"It's called a Ducestick. A little tobacco and a little bit of Lucas Greene, if you know what I mean."
I didn't know what Jace meant. What the heck, what would it hurt? That's the thought that passes through my mind as I strike the lighter. Jace smirks.
Don't be such a prude, Tabby Ubetcha. Life may hand you lemons but you still gotta live a little. Jace and I hand the rolled cigar back and forth a few times, and within minutes, it seems like all my stress and anxiety has washed away.
By the time I make it back inside, I feel like a new woman. I still don't know how to feel about Jace Valentine. He's either the funniest, most charming man I've ever met... or a complete inbecile. I haven't quite figured it out yet, but I'd like to think there's something there.
Maybe it's just the cigarette smoke getting to my head...
One way or another, I'm ready to get out of here. An arcade for children isn't really my idea of a good time, but this hasn't been the most miserable date I've been on.
I turn to Jace who has a wide grin. His eyes seem fixated on Chuck the mouse making his way on to the stage.
"You're a big fan?" I say, ribbing him a little bit.
"I'm just trying to figure out what kind of bear he's supposed to be."
"He's not a bear, he's a mouse!" I say with a giggle.
"Oh, right. I guess that's a good thing. If he was a bear then Pandalike would be trying to fuck it!"
A bit too juvenile for my taste, but I have to admit the joke was pretty funny. I turn away from Jace laughing as I attempt to wrestle the mountain of prize tickets from my tight pockets.
"So let's go see what spoils the victors get, shall we?" I kid. "Maybe we'll get lucky and they will have a replica championship belt to spare you the trouble..."
Jace doesn't respond. I turn back and he is being approached by two trashy looking bimbos covered in tattoos and belly shirts. Oh, they have all of his attention now.
I walk up beside him and catch a part of the conversation.
"Look sweetie! We are your biggest fans! Me and Jeanine here are the world's biggest Jaceholes!" says the one. They're both a little heavy set, as Jeanine flashes her meth-inspired missing teeth smile.
Jace seems impressed however, like a typical man.
"Jaceholes?" I say with contempt.
"Yeah, you know." Jeanine says with a catty grin. "We are the holes where Jace puts his...you know."
Jace chuckles. "Oh, I'm always happy to meet some fans!"
Now they are showing him their backsides. Ugh.
"Look, Heather and I got matching tattoos!"
Heather shows her tattoo. A tramp stamp right above her butt that says 'No Entry Unless You're Jace Valentine'. Jeanine pulls up the back of her shirt to reveal 'Insert Token Here for Fun Ride.'
Ugh. So disgusting. So trashy. Sorry girls, it's time for Jace Valentine to remember who he came here with. I shove my fists into the back pockets of my jean shorts, exposing just a sliver of my red lace underwear. In what admittedly is possibly the pettiest moment of my short life, I grab Jace's hand and place it on my backside.
He smiles. I knew he would smile.
"Sorry ladies, your friend Jace here was just leaving. Isn't that right, Jace?"
"YOU'RE leaving?" Jace looks at me with frustration and confusion.
"We both are. I'm getting out of here and you're too drunk to drive yourself home. It's not going to come back on my conscience that you weren't able to make it to your match because of a DUI or worse."
I ignore the snide comment and ignore the urge to drag him out of there by the ear.
We make our way out of the play area, each of us tripping over countless running kids on our way through. We're out in the parking lot now, as I'm urging him into my car.
"I'll be fine! I'll be fine!" He insists.
"My conscience will not let me leave you right now, Jace Valentine."
"Is that so, Tabby Ubetcha? I remember when I had a conscience."
"You still do. It's just buried down there somewhere. You're like the Grinch."
"Oh shit, you mean the Grinch that used to run around CWF? He's coming back too!?"
"No, I mean Dr Seuss's the Grinch. Hang around me, Jace, and your heart will grow three sizes."
He just winks, making his way into my overheated Suburban.
"I guess we will see about that. I guess, if you insist, you can start by driving me to the hotel." Jace says with a smile.
"I'll get right on it."
"Step on it, Max!" Jace chuckles, showing he understood the Grinch reference. He's not a bad guy after all. Just like the Grinch, he's just misunderstood.
We finally get to his hotel, and its an extravagant place indeed. We actually managed to have a normal conversation on the ride here. Not about wrestling or cult phenomenons or the new commissioner. We talked about having kids. (He doesn't want any.) We talked about our families. (He doesn't want any.) We talked about anything that came to mind.
That's one thing about Jace Valentine. He doesn't mind talking just to talk. It's refreshing.
I'm hot, sweaty and having a hard time keeping my eyes open. At this point, I'm dreading the ride back to my studio apartment.
As Jace makes his way out of my vehicle he turns to me and speaks.
"You wanna hop in the pool for a little while?"
"I really should just get going." ...is probably what I should have said. It's what I thought about saying, but the heat is unbearable. Instead, I cast the white blouse and jean shorts into the parking lot and follow Jace in to the hotel pool area.
It's time I break free, it's time I become my own person. It's time that I tell my story. It's time that someone like Jace Valentine notices someone like Tabby Ubetcha.
Stripped down to my under garments, I jump into the pool and make my splash.
Oh, he definitely notices me now. I have his undivided attention. He doesn't have his mind on End Games. He doesn't have his eyes on that title, he has his eyes on the redheaded wildfire half naked in the lobby pool.
He strips off his striped suit to reveal six-pack abs and a pair of blue swim trunks. That Jace, always prepared.
"So, Mister Valentine, what happens if you win that belt?" I say coyly.
"It's not a matter of if, honey, it's a matter of when." Jace smiles back.
"OK, when you win that belt -- what happens next?"
"I'm takin' you to Disney World, baby!"
"Oh yeah?" I say, grinning ear to ear. I'm enjoying myself. I'm feeling stress free, comfortable. "Where you gonna take me tonight?"
"Anywhere you want to go, sweetheart." Jace says with all the confidence in the world.
I'm not one of 'those girls'. At least I never was before. My mother always taught me never to say never.
I wake up the next morning covered in a mess of hotel blankets. I feel refreshed, energized, like I just experienced the first day of the rest of my life. I rub the sleep from my eyes and shift my hips. I expect to embrace my new prince, the multi-millionaire, multi-time champion but... he isn't there. I sit up in the bed, realizing that I share the same sheets with nothing but a small sliver of paper.
I instinctively reach towards the night stand for my glasses, placing them on my face so I can read the note.
WOULD YOU PLEASE GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOTEL ROOM? I HAVE A MATCH TO PREPARE FOR! - XOXO JACE
I immediately burst into tears.
Yeah, Jace can be a jerk.
Jace can be a prick.
But did he get a piece of that ass?