”And the innocent will burn with the guilty in righteous fire.”
“Sounds like the actions of a madman, right? Or a mad woman?”
“One: All fires are righteous. They do what they’re meant to do… they burn.”
“Are any of us really innocent?”
“I used to think so.”
“But that was before.
Everything has led to this moment.
“You’ve got this, MJ.”
“Just take your time.”
MJ Flair looks down. She steadies her feet under her hips and squats down, gripping the bar. The coach, Bruce, stands to the side.
Bruce: If you can’t get it, don’t push it.
MJ lifts the bar past her knees and straightens up, flipping the weight with her elbows and holding them right under her chin. Her arms begin to shake as Bruce steps in, but she suddenly shakes her head. No.
And she lifts the bar straight up to a round of encouraging cheers.
Bruce: There it is!
MJ drops the bar to the ground and paces, returning fist bumps and high fives to the gathered crowd
MJF: Two hundred five pounds… er…
She stops, attempting to do the math.
Bruce: Ninety-three kilos.
He grins while she looks at him, and gives an over-exaggerated fist in the air.
MJF: I’m back, baby!
Bruce: Hah! Seems that way.
Another high five, and a hug.
MJF: There was still a little tightness in my knee but no pain, no locking, no burning, so I’m not too worried about that. Just taking it slow, you know?
Bruce: Smart. You don’t wanna push it after an injury, no matter how long ago it was.
MJF: Having the very real fuck possibility that I’d have to stop wrestling completely if I pushed it gave me all the incentive I needed ta… y’know… not... push it.
And Bruce laughs out loud, and he gives her a side hug.
She walks away from him, grabbing her water bottle and towel, patting down her face. It’s was a stroke of luck that she found a CrossFit near the hotel; even better that she had cash for the drop-in fee.
Best of all, nobody in this particular class knows who she is except for Bruce, giving her a level of anonymity that she’s only ever had in her local box back in Warwick. For that matter, Bruce only knows who she is because she told him: a high level review of what she does and what she’s coming back from was essential.
Bruce: You in town long?
Now he’s standing right next to her.
MJF: Just a few days. Once the shot in Canberra is over, we’re flyin’ out the next day t’Melbourne.
He nods his head.
Bruce: Fair. Shame. Would like to get to know you better.
She stops, mid - sip. This is clearly not something she’s considered.
MJF: Listen, man--
Bruce: Don’t say it. Long distance, you’re an American always on the move, I’m an Aussie with a gym. At least let me buy you lunch? There’s a place just a bit away.
MJ considers the word.
MJF: All right, lead the way. But I can pay for myself.
A smile spreads across his face.
”I don’t play games, Cheshire.”
“I want something, I don’t have an ulterior motive, or a hidden agenda, or a Batman Gambit t’throw out at the world. I see it, I say it, I do it.”
“But maybe I haven’t been clear enough. Maybe I haven’t been open enough.”
“Maybe that was my problem.”
“You know. Before.”
“I lost something in Vancouver, kittycat. And it wasn’t a match, and it wasn’t a title. And it wasn’t really even my health - not in the way you’d think. When I hit that ramp, my entire system went haywire and I honestly couldn’t feel a damn thing.”
“Few hours later, that numbness seemed like a pot’a gold at the end of a rainbow.”
“No, kittycat. That night, I lost my way.”
“I’ve won matches. I’ve lost matches. I’ve gotten beat up and beat down and I’ve had my bell rung more times than I can count.”
“That night was the first time in my life… ever... that time passed and I wasn’t aware of it.”
“So you’ve locked up the Beast, kittycat? Awesome. Probably the right thing t’do. You’re doing the CWF a public service.”
“And I want you to open the door.”
“I could’ve taken on the world before, kittycat. I did.”
“And yet, every night since…”
“The Beast haunts the shadows. The Beast is the demon just out the corner’a your eye.”
“And The Beast scares me, kittycat. Ain’t gonna lie to ya.”
“What d’ya do, then? Hide under the bed?”
“Face The Beast.”
They sit outside at a quaint place called King O’Malley’s. Empty plates are in front of both MJ and Bruce, while he empties a second bottle of beer and she sips on straight whiskey.
Bruce: You’re kidding me, you’ve been Crossfittin’ since you was twelve? How’s that work?
His look of disbelief causes MJ to start laughing. Bruce puts his arms out, shrugging.
Bruce: What? I’m serious. I’m just try’n’a picture my little niece doing box jumps.
MJF: It’s not as farfetched as you think. My dad took me to my first CrossFit because he said he needed to prepare me for dating.
She makes the mistake of saying this as Bruce sips another drink, and he nearly spits beer out of his mouth, as both of them laugh.
Bruce: You’re messin’ with me.
MJ shakes her head.
MJF: Naaaah, man - that’s what he said. Honestly I think part of it was just… My mom’s my best friend and t’that point I’d really jumped into her world’a music, and he was lookin’ for something we could do together. But at the same time…
She gestures to herself.
MJF: I started gettin’ curves way too young. Way too young t’know how t’deal with attention from guys, and the upshot’a the whole thing is that I’ve never been on a date with any guy that intimidated me, and I’ve never felt uncomfortable in any situation.”
Bruce nods his head in agreement.
Bruce: I’m not intimidating. Good to know.
And there it is. The subject they’ve been dancing around all afternoon.
MJF: Listen, man… you’re a cool guy, but--
Bruce: Stop there, let me quit while I’m ahead.
Bruce: I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair.
MJF: No, you’re cool, man… I don’t wanna lead you on--
And he holds up his hand.
Bruce: You aren’t. You’re not throwin’ up any false flags. But I had to ask.
She considers this for a second, and holds her hands out, nodding.
MJF: Fair enough.
A sudden tension has filled the air, and neither of them seem sure how to fill it. Bruce sips his drink, while MJ becomes suddenly interested in her phone.
Bruce: Do you date a lot?
MJF: Naaah, not really.
Bruce: That’s surprising.
MJ raises an eyebrow.
MJF: Why’s that?
He holds up his hands in defense.
Bruce: I’m not assumin’ anything about you, just that you’re an attractive woman so I assume ya get chatted up quite a bit. No interest?
MJ shrugs half-heartedly.
MJF: I mean, I’ve needed a pretty on-point bullshit detector for my entire dating life, ya know? A fat trust fund and a permanent backstage pass pretty much always means I’m questioning peoples’ motives. Beyond that I’ve only had two boyfriends, ever.
Bruce: Didn’t work?
MJF: Not even a little. I don’t even blame Russ for what happened… I was totally unfair to him.
She stops talking for a moment, but sees Bruce is leaning in, interested.
What the hell.
MJF: I had started wrestling and I didn’t tell anyone about it, him included. It wasn’t fair, and I know that. He broke up with me because he could see that the quiet and mundane life we inevitably would’ve had together, well, it just don’t compare ta the rush I get in the ring. And then there’s Roger…
While Bruce remains leaned in, MJ takes another drink.
Bruce: Don’t leave me hangin!
MJF: He seemed like this put-together, confident guy, but as time went on it looked like he was just usin’ me for my backstage pass. Ultimately he started a fight with me in front’a my parents and my mom yelled at him, so he smacked her, so I smacked him, so he smacked me. End’a story.
Bruce stares, deadpan, for several seconds.
Bruce: Now, when you say ‘smacked’ -
MJ doesn’t answer; she slowly nods.
Bruce: Wow. Cunt.
MJF: Yep. Doesn’t matter, though. That was all before.”
”So you say you’ve got The Beast all locked up, kittycat.”
“It’s for the best, for the CWF in general and for me in particular.”
“You’re probably right about that.”
“There’s another possibility, though… and it’s something that ya need t’consider.”
“Maybe you’re lying.”
“Let’s go back, kittycat. To before.”
“The Beast and I are beatin’ the crap outta each other, and she can’t win. Two count after two count after two count, so she grabs a referee and threatens his life if I don’t quit.”
“Two minutes’a shifty shit later, and I’ve got The Beast’s head locked for the Morningstar, and she says it.”
“‘Isn’t this also Mia Country?’”
“The Beast exploited my feelings for Mia Rayne to steal my title, my career, and try ta steal my life. And she’d spent every minute since braggin’ about her one finger win.”
“So you’ll forgive me, kittycat… if I don’t take ya at’cher word.
“Maybe you’re serious, kittycat - maybe you really have locked The Beast up for good.”
“And maybe you’re playin’ the long con, lookin’ for me t’drop my guard.”
“Just call me Roger Daltry, kittycat… ‘cause I won’t get fooled again.”
MJF: I dunno, man… he was really cool. Would it have been the worst thing t’invite him back t’my room?
She sits, cross legged, on her hotel room bed, while Adrian Evans is in the desk chair. He folds his hands, his lips pursed in deep thought.
Adrian: You’ve never seemed to be a one night stand kind of woman, Ms. Flair. What else could it have been?
She drops back, head on the mattress.
MJF: I know, I know! I’m just… I finally feel like myself again, y’know? Would an exotic love affair have been the worst thing?
Adrian: Not as such, no. But you’re not there yet, are you?
And she pushes her palms into her eyes.
MJF: No… no I’m not. I still have a Beast to slay.
She can feel Adrian tense, even from across the room.
MJF: And no, I haven’t given up on that.
Adrian: Maybe Loki Synn really is gone. Maybe Cheshire is telling the truth.
MJ sits up with a start.
MJF: And maybe she’s a fucking liar, man. Can you guarantee that she’s not?
Adrian: Of course not. I’m just saying -
MJF: I know you’re just sayin’ dude. But I’m just sayin’... I need t’do this.
He inhales deeply.
Adrian: I know you do. I just hope you know your limits.
Her eyes narrow, and they lock on his.
MJF: I know my limits, Adrian… too fuckin’ well. And that’s the problem. If I can’t get past ‘em… everything from before doesn’t mean a damn thing.
Adrian: You can’t keep holding onto that concept.
MJ leans in.
MJF: Right now, Adrian?
She takes a deep breath.
MJF: It’s the only thing I can count on.
”I knew myself before, kittycat.”
“I was MJ Flair, the Second Coming, the Original Nobody two-point-oh.”
“And I thrived.”
“Then I met The Beast. And she attacked. And I slayed The Beast.”
“So I thought."
"I struck to wound, not to kill. It’s a courtesy that was not returned for the sequel.”
“What happened, kittycat? I slayed The Beast with my last ounce of strength.”
“And The Beast slayed me because’a my last drop’a mercy.”
“In that one moment’a hesitation… that one moment when I did not attempt t’lop off your head… it destroyed everything that I’d achieved before.”
“Do you understand, kittycat?”
“I don’t wanna face off with The Beast again, and I appreciate the fact that you’re tryin’ t’keep her under lock’n key.”
“But I don’t have a choice.”
“I don’t face The Beast one more time t’try and regain what I had before?”
“I don’t stand a chance’a survivin’ in the ‘after.’”
“It’s nothing personal, I hope ya know.”
“But if you show up and don’t let The Beast come out’n play... “
“The Grin Without a Cat is gonna get that grin torn off’a her face.”
“Is that something that the golden girl would say? The Hero’a the CWF?”
“But that girl is gone.”
“She only exists in one place.”