So we’re sitting in the hotel room in Tacoma. As cold as it’s been in New York, the Pacific Northwest is a thousand times worse.
At least it’s less than an hour from Seattle, so we were able to make the trip at our leisure. Cally wanted to see the sights - it’s the first time we’ve been in Washington State, probably since we worked for the FWO a full decade ago.
And that didn’t last long.
I need to be careful, though. I can feel myself falling back into the life. The music. The fans. The feeling of complete surrender, where nothing matters but the ring and my opponent.
This wasn’t part of the plan.
Cally, she’s easy. Since she’s outlived all of her childhood doctors’ predictions, she enjoys life no matter what we’re doing. But she’s also got less responsibility than I do: come with me to the ring, entertain the fans, tease the commentary team, defend herself if it comes to it.
We made a promise: the life is secondary, this time around, to the mission.
And at the end of the day, it falls on my head.
I barely heard the knock on the door from under the shower spray. Cally? Forget it; her head was fully under the water and she was possibly ready to fall asleep.
Did you hear something, I asked.
You say something, responds Cally. What?
Hold on, I said, sticking my head out from the shower. And I heard it again: a knock.
Room service, I said. Probably.
I reached for a towel, but Cally pulled me back.
Let ‘em wait, she says.
And I’m tempted.
Holy mother of funk, am I tempted.
Here’s the thing, spitfire, I said. Let me go out there and bring the food in, then there won’t be any interruptions for the rest of the night.
She looks at me like she’s considering it, then she kisses me on the lips and licks the side of my face.
Don’t be too long, she says.
I nearly break my neck stepping out of the tub, wrapping a towel around my waist, and walking towards the door.
Hey, people want the inside scoop, people get the inside scoop. Stop acting like a voyeur.
There was another knock, and this time, in the middle of the hotel room, I asked who it was.
It’s me, said a familiar voice. Tara.
I stopped, and I closed my eyes. Tara Robinson was supposed to be here in a few hours to do a thing for the pre-show, but she’s early.
And even though I’m in a fully climate controlled room, I’m not dried off from the shower and am only wearing a towel: it’s freezing in here. Still, I re-adjust the grip at my waist and open the door a crack.
To my surprise, not only was Tara there, but she was standing next to a room service cart. She saw me through the crack in the door and smirked, but averted her eyes.
Is this a surprise, she asked with a chuckle, I thought Rose and I had worked out a time.
I thought you did, I said, and that it was in a few hours.
She put her hand to her mouth.
I don’t think Rose took the pacific timezone into account.
My head dropped, and I gently banged the top of my head against the door.
Of course she didn’t, I said. Give me a second.
Five minutes later, Cally and I were dried off and dressed - at least enough to keep this from being a completely different kind of feature. She sat on the bed, enjoying a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese, while my chicken sandwich was getting cold.
Have you heard from MJ, she asks. I called her in between the Round One matches, but never got a response.
I shrugged, and looked at Cally. I’m not really a phone person - I don’t really talk to anyone.
Cally, on the other hand…
Briefly, says Cally. We talked about some dude that tried to pick her up and some girl that did the same, but we didn’t get into wrestlefight things.
Yeah, explains Cally. The whole sport of the things. If you’re in it, you’re in it, and if you’re not, you’re not. The small fry isn’t in it, so she’s out of it. Her dad was all about that, too. But if she’s not wrestlefighting, she doesn’t wanna.
All right, says Tara. Fair enough. So, the elephant in the room is the WCWA. You’re the Internet Champion, but the collective is all but dead.
Internet Championship Dot Net, says Cally.
It’s Dot Com, I finished.
Dot Com, says Tara. Of course. But you’re holding a championship that was - and I hate to say so because I don’t want to offend - a consolation prize from When Worlds Collide, and your opponent in the second round of Modern Warfare is holding a CWF World Tag Team Championship title. How do you rank those two championships against each other?
Well, I said. Let’s look at it from an honest point of view. I won the WCWA Internet Championship Dot Net --
It’s Dot Com, finished Cally.
--because I didn’t win the Light Heavyweight belt. And since that was a scramble match, I don’t wanna immediately say that Carlton didn’t deserve the Light Heavyweight… but the facts remain that he didn’t have to be the best. For the rules of the match, he just had to be the last.
I took a breath.
That’s sort of the same deal with Paradine, I said. I mean, he lucked into a situation where he was almost immediately in a title match where his partner and his partner’s main opponent were already the champions. He managed to get Dorian Hawkhurst to tap, but the hot dog never had to actually win a title. He’s never really had to be in a situation where he had to prove himself.
And that’s the weakness, Tara, I said. Arrogance.
He did beat Pandalike in the first round, reminded Tara.
Maybe it was a dick move, but I had to stifle a laugh.
Dude, said Rosie. Pandas are slow, fat, and the exact opposite of athletic. It’s like that one Spider - Man villain, the Walrus, who had the proportional strength of a walrus and Spidey laughed four of his eight legs off. Being there the longest doesn’t mean you’re owed a darn thing - if you haven’t earned a point of pride by now, it just means that you’re not good enough.
The point, I continued, is that Nathan Paradine is a capable wrestler with the worst personality traits of any capable wrestler you could find. Look at his history.
I held out my hands, palms up.
This is a guy that tried to off himself some years back, I said. Why? Because life wasn’t going his way? Life doesn’t go your way sometimes; that’s what life’s all about. And while I don’t wanna make any assumptions about his stuff, it’s a bit telling that he’s all high and mighty now, that things are going well for the Hostility contingent.
Cally chooses this moment to point at Tara with her grilled cheese, dripping tomato soup on the carpet.
The test of anyone’s character, sweet pea, says Cally, is how they react when things aren’t perfect.
You know, that’s very profound, says Tara. Can I quote you on that?
Cally smiles. Please do, she says.
Cut. Wipe. Settle on a poster of an SVO show from some years back, featuring Nathan Paradine in the undercard.
Unlike you, Nathan.
Unlike you, apparently, I make at least a token effort to find out what my opponents can do before we get into the ring.
And I manage to do it without making a ham-handed comparison to whatever I’ve currently got in front of me.
You’re good, Nathan. You’re not great, but you’re good.
Don’t get offended.
I hope you realize my criteria: you know how to wrestle, which is obvious, but you don’t seem to have the first idea how to handle anything that isn’t an immediate advantage for Nathan Paradine.
You walked into the CWF against an opponent who’s dealt with the systematic deconstruction of his entire support structure in the company, including his own daughter. You moved into a no-brainer for the CWF Tag Team Championships in which there was literally no Champion’s Advantage, and you’ve finished up so far against an ‘athlete’ with the proportional strength of a panda.
Which, proportionally is much worse than a human being.
Things are flowing for you, sir. But they haven’t always, have they?
And what was your solution? Checking out.
That’s the coward’s way.
I’m not saying you’re a coward - I’m saying you have a tendency to act like one.
This tournament is more than just a tournament: it’s a determination of who is both worthy and capable of carrying the CWF for the next forseeable future. The match between us isn’t for the CWF World Championship, but in a technical sense it’s just a step below: whoever wins between us goes on to wrestle in the third round for a shot at it.
It’s a number one contender’s qualifying match, so to speak.
Do you deserve it?
I’m avoiding my usual question on whether or not you’ve earned it - because that state of being doesn’t apply here. Everyone in this tournament has earned their spot, one way or another.
But do you deserve it?
That’s a bit trickier.
For me, you seem like you fit in with far too many above average athletes in this sport: you’ve earned a certain level of fame, and you’re wholly ungrateful for it.
Because you’ve earned an inch, and think you deserve a mile.
Spoiler alert: you don’t.
Because you don’t understand the fundamental nature of what it means to be a Champion - you will never deserve it, you will never be given it. You earn it every night with every match, and you will never be able to stop proving it.
You don’t get that, do you?
Of course not. Why would you?
You lack vision.