BK. 2, CH. 02 – A Love Triangle Needs to Have Three Sides (Καλημέρα)

By: James Raven

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 18th Feb 2022

“She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak,
I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks…”

TWO DAYS AGO
TWO DAYS AFTER VALENTINES DAY AND VENOM 16
WHITE LAKE BEACH
ASPRI LIMNI, CRETE, GREECE

He stands quietly on the shore, fine sand squeezing between bare toes as he holds a small cup of coffee in his hand. A gentle wind brushes the thin linens of his pajamas against his body, pungent salt air lingering in his nostrils with each heavy inhalation. He takes a sip from his cup, and closes his eyes.

It was beautiful here.

It was peaceful.

He hears the rustling of a tent flap behind him, and turns slowly to watch as The Goddess steps outside delicately and basks in the mid-morning light. Bronze skin soaks in the sun, inviting eyes scanning the length of the shoreline before coming to rest on him.

She smiles.

He smiles back.

TYLER
Dad! Are you watching?!

He spins his head back towards the water, his son diving over the top of an incoming wave and crashing down with a splash on the other side. Tyler pops back above the surface, shaking his head and wiping the droplets from his eyes as he beams towards the beach.

James Raven smiles back at him, holding a thumbs up into the air in approval. He watches intently as his son works back to his feet and braces himself for a few seconds before leaping and twisting over a second wave. James turns back towards the two tents at their campsite, staring at her intently as she bends over to pull a plastic container of watermelon slices from a small cooler and plucks one from inside. She takes a bite and notices his gaze, smiling again as she brushes her hair back in the breeze and places a hand on her hip, cocking it playfully.

TYLER
DAD! You said you were coming in too!

He turns towards the water again, gesturing towards his half full coffee cup and shrugging helplessly. He’d join his son in a few minutes, but he was making a point to appreciate the little moments. The beautiful views.

He had steeped himself in negativity for too long. He had focused on the wrong details.

He wanted to be better. He wanted to be happy.

Her hand slides slowly around his waist as she sneaks up behind him, slipping to his side and resting her head gently on his shoulder. She holds her watermelon up to his mouth, and he leans forward to take a bite as a soft chuckle drifts from her lips to his ears. His own hand slips around her waist and rests on her hip, the two standing side by side and interlocked for a long and silent moment.

There was no voice in his head. There was no cast of disapproving characters to look down their noses at him. There was no rival to rub salt in his wounds or hollow motivational speeches from well intentioned roster members telling him he was the best despite results clearly trending against that.

… it was peaceful.

TYLER
DAD!!!

JAMES
I’m coming!

He sets his coffee cup down in the sand, unbuttoning his shirt and peeling it off his shoulders before stepping towards the tide. She lifts her billowing top and reveals the bathing suit underneath, stepping towards the surf in unison.

His hand reaches for hers as they watch Tyler leap and soar over another wave and plunging underneath the surface. She leans over and pecks him on the cheek before Tyler pops back into view.

He wanted to be better.

He wanted to be happy.

He was.

“Everyone involved in Blood Money can suck my co-“

“Nope. Sorry. We’re not doing that this week.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard what I said. You got to say what you wanted to everybody at Countdown and Blood Money, and trust me… you said what you wanted to EVERYBODY… where was the focus? Where was the follow through that you keep telling me I’m lacking? No. I’m back in the drivers seat for this one.”

“Oh, goodie, buckle up kids. More sad-sack, woe-is-me bullshit. Did you find a new analogy to explain to us how you’re in poor standing with NSQ? Are you ready to speak about Betsy, and spin it all to make yourself the victim?”

“Nah. I’m feeling energetic. I’m feeling ten years younger.”

“Oh no, overly sarcastic quips and dated pop-culture references?”

“Yeaaaaaaaah, boiiiiiiiiiiii!”

“Aw, fuck… you’re NOT ten years younger, James. You’re about to turn thirty two, you have a twelve year old son, and nobody needs to hear you compare Brandon Moore to a mumble rapper or whatever it is that you’re planning to do here.”

“I would NEVER! I have FAR too much respect for Brandon Moore to compare him to a fucking mumble-rapper.”

“Oh. I see the sarcasm has started. Alright. Go off, king.”

“There’s no sarcasm here, brother. How could I not respect a man like Brandon Moore after what he’s shown me in the past month? How could I not respect Paul Montouri? Are you people expecting me to keep hammering the drum and chanting that I’m better than them? It doesn’t matter if educated industry insiders would tell you that I was the most impressive performer that night. THEY won. PAUL found a way to beat Aiden Reynolds while I stood there like an idiot, shattering my knuckles on Brandons granite skull while he casually just went to sleep and let me tire myself out on his face. It sure as hell doesn’t matter if those same industry insiders try to hold me up as a Top 5 performer at Blood Money. I’m the one that went home empty handed. I’m the one losing friends and matches quicker than the Buffalo Bills can blow a playoff lead. Brandon and Paul went home champions, just like they did at Countdown! They went home more popular and more protected than ever, after complaining about ME getting some sort of special treatment. WOW! Those guys really found a way to turn their fortunes around. They STAY racking up wins.”

“I just hope I can compliment you both as well as you two Island boys compliment each other.”

“Your teamwork is incredible. Not just because you beat Aiden and I, but because of how well you work together every time it’s required. Dave the Dinosaur? Apathy? Atara and Betsy? I saw you handled yourself against ALL of them during Blood Money… it’s the sort of seamless cooperation that I strived for with Shawn, but could never achieve because he had to fucking carry me so much. Oh well. I keep striving. Someday I’ll be good enough that people like Dickie or Betsy want to work with me, but I’m going to have to really study tape and take notes from you two if I’m going to have a chance…”

“This is fucking gross.”

“That’s exactly what I used to say about Brandon Moore before the fading star lit up my life and showed me just how wrong I was. I said he was grungy, that he smelled and was probably sticky to the touch. I said he was rambling and nonsensical, overrated by hollow victories but regularly outperformed by the top names… and do you know how good a man Brandon Moore is? He shook my hand and told me he COULDN’T FORGIVE ME FOR IT… because he was never mad in the first place.”

“That absolutely never happened.”

“Someone get Brandon a masseuse, because he’s been a stand-up dude for so long that he probably needs his thighs rubbed. He’s the kind of friend that would stand at your ear making ocean noises at a sleepover, just to lull you into a deep slumber. I WISH he would stand that close to me. He honestly smells like he fell from the clouds bathed in the cologne of angels. He’s Heaven Scent. Not to mention the LOOK! I may have poked a few jokes when he changed his hair style or slimmed down a little, but I think it was out of a jealous insecurity. I mean LOOK AT THE GUY! 6’ 5″ and 245 pounds? He’s built like a house… which is probably why I feel so at home with him…”

*gag*

“Don’t be such a hater. Brandon would be the manliest looking member off the roster if he dressed like Kim Kardashian in Vanity Fair and balanced a champagne bottle on his ass. He’s a smooth talker, too. It’s no wonder a dime like Michelle married him or a beast like Paul agreed to team. He’s so slick and self confident that he could sell water to a whale or convince Kylie Jenner that newly born Wolf Webster was actually HIS son.”

“Two references to that family in the same breath? Stop looking at the trending topics on Twitter so often. The algorithm is polluting your brain.”

“No, my mind has been purified. I’m seeing things clearly for the first time in months! Everything is crystal, like the cool waters ruled over by the Island Boys. For example, HOW have I not realized how stunning Paul Montouri is until now? I mean, jesus titty-fucking christ, Helen Keller would think that man is gorgeous! Stevie Wonder wanted to bang him before they even spoke to each other! I don’t mean to make things uncomfortable here, Paul, but I’m sure she’d want me to tell you this…”

“… my dead mother would have ABSolutely masturbated to you.”

“DAMN IT, JAMES!”

“I’d have encouraged her to shoot her shot, too. The rumors about you are astounding! They say your dick is so big that it has its own pulse. They say it roars and tears through its pants like the Incredible Hulk. They say you’re so popular with the ladies that your date book is full, and you buy Plan B in bulk. He’s not shallow either. He loves every woman he’s ever been with for what they’re like on the inside, and he’s explored it thoroughly. You know what they say about dudes your size?”

“Stop talking about his size.”

“I’m not, I said ‘he has the cutest eyes’. He does! Fuckin’ look at them! It’s frankly shocking Betsy or Atara even glanced in my direction with someone like him walking around, this whole match is about to turn into a five on one if they think they might have a chance with him…”

“Sounds like a very FIGHT! thing to do to you, if we’re being honest.”

“Did you see when I smashed that glass off Joe Montouri’s head, and then stood there motionless while ARP took him out? I did that shit for YOU, Paul! I wanted to make you proud! You won the Island and Manhattan belts in the past month, and still your biggest win was learning he wasn’t contaminating your gene pool anymore. Wow. You have the cutest eyes… sorry, did I say that already? I think I did. I get distracted in the presence of beauty and greatness like Paul Montouri and Brandon Moore. People have always had the saying wrong, it’s supposed to be; ‘Sliced bread is the greatest thing since the Island Boys’.”

“Are you done, yet?”

“I’m done, but I’m not finished. I still have to deal with Michelle but my throat is dryer than an emotional conversation with me, and just like most of the people I message I’m ready to find some water and drown myself in it.”

“Seriously?”

“Nope. There’s a gorgeous goddess waiting to fan me and feed me grapes, bitch.”

“Fuck you.”

“Yeah, maybe a little of that too.”

FEBRUARY 11, 2022
ELEVEN DAYS AFTER BLOOD MONEY TWO
PHOENIX, ARIZONA

“I can’t believe we lost…”

“Shut the fuck up. I don’t want to think about it anymore. It’s been almost two weeks.”

“It’s bull shit.”

“No, you’re just not as good as you think you are. You wanted the reins, you got them, and you were barely even a presence in the fucking thing. Time for you to own it, eat the results, and shut the fuck up for a while when it comes to telling me how to run my career.”

He sits alone in a rented car, sprawling flat ground of a well-to-do suburban neighborhood surrounding him. The engine is off, but he white knuckles the steering wheel and clenches his jaw furiously, body stiff with tension. His brother’s words echo in his head as they had since the moment Blood Money ended, and he was tired of listening. His brother had found the fault lines in his relationship with NSQ and driven wedges into them, pushing each and every member away from him as he spiraled into darkness. His brother had uncovered a buried love, long ago written off as camaraderie and kinship in an attempt to preserve his life at the time.

His brother might be the devil.

“I can unlock something in you-“

“You can’t unlock shit! Shut the fuck up.”

The silence in the car is deafening. The two ping pong back and forth in his mind, but his lips remain firmly pursed as he looks out the window of his car to the home of his ex-wife and son. He takes a deep breath, settling his nerves before checking his reflection in the driver’s side mirror. He looks back towards the house.

“Well if we’re not going to discuss business, we may as well stop wasting time and just get this over with. You’ve already beaten her in the ring, what’s the worst she can do to you?”

James doesn’t respond but slowly opens the car door and steps outside, leather shoes settling on hot asphalt. It’s almost immediate. The front door of the house bursts open, Mia Sanchez (formerly Sanchez-Raven) flying across the wooden porch and storming down the steps towards him.

MIA
You’re such a scummy piece of shit, you know that?! You’re a dishonest, manipulative little fuck!

JAMES
Great. It’s good to see you too, Mia. You look great.

MIA
Oh, get out of here with that shit! I’m not some coworker you can just turn up the charisma to and schmooze your way out of trouble with. I know all of your tricks, you spineless cunt.

JAMES
Yeah, I’ve probably lost five pounds. Maybe more. Thanks for noticing! I’ve been eating a lot of salads lately.

Her eyes rage, face fuming and practically emitting steam as she looks away from him and tries to take a deep breath. She runs her fingers through long dark hair, adjusting the hem of her tight white tee shirt. She turns away from him, back towards the house, but then spins right back on her heel and points in his face.

MIA
You told me you wanted to bring Tyler to a show, to watch you wrestle. You didn’t tell me that you were going to parade around some new piece of ass, and embarrass Betsy in front of him.

JAMES
I didn’t know what the booking was going to be when we scheduled this. You were a wrestler, you know how the industry works Mia. I don’t understand the issue.

MIA
Your son doesn’t need to see you with a harem of whores, James! Do you really not understand that?

He stifles a chuckle along with the urge to roll his eyes, and adopts his most reassuring tone.

JAMES
There’s no harem. Do you really think Betsy would go for that? Do you really think Atty would?

MIA
I don’t fucking know “Atty”, James! I barely know Betsy! I don’t WANT to know the sort of women that you run around with these days, god knows how many of them there are…

JAMES
There’s two. Just those two. In well over two years. Don’t try and slut shame me, Mia, I don’t feel like asking how many dicks you bounced across after me before settling down in the fucking dessert. You didn’t want to be a part of my life, so keep your goddamn nose out of it.

She blinks several times, stunned by the venom in his words and the edge to his tone. Even at their lowest points, he didn’t speak to her like that… as much as she might drag his name through the mud, she knew those words didn’t sound right coming from his lips.

“What are you doing?”

“Handling things for you, like I did with your sister. She doesn’t get to speak to us like this, fuck that, who the hell is she?!”

MIA
… are you feeling ok? Have you seen a doctor lately?

JAMES
I don’t need a fucking doctor, I need people who don’t give a fuck about me to stop telling me what I’m doing wrong or that my happiness is somehow inconvenient for them. I didn’t go after Atara because I was looking for a warm body to lay next to, you fucking cunt. She didn’t break up my relationship. I made a conscious decision to separate myself from the life I was living. I made a decision to move towards real and honest happiness, and I’ve found that with her, and if you’re jealous that I never found it with you or vengeful enough to just hate seeing me smile… keep it to your fucking self.

She had been with him long enough to remember early on in his career, the fall from the roof of the church. She remembered how he spoke to people then. She remembered the sorts of things he had been willing to do to get what he wanted…

Could he be…?

… no, it wasn’t possible…

He was just lashing out. He was just off the rails. She had no reason to speculate about anything more sinister than that.

MIA
I don’t want our son to go with you, James. I don’t like anything about this. You told me you were taking him to Europe, not to Greece… and not with her. The match on Venom is one thing, but you’re not using Tyler to live out some sort of “happy family vacation” fantasy. Don’t toy with him. He thinks Betsy is great. Atara is not his step-mother and you can’t force her into that role.

JAMES
I’m not forcing anyone to do anything. She wants him to come with us, and so do I. He wants to come. It’s nothing more than that. If you think it’s such an issue, and that I’m doing something devious and horrendous here… just tell him the trip is off and he’s not going. Problem solved.

She rolls her eyes and tosses her hands in the air helplessly. She presses her fingertips against her temples and rubs in slow circles.

MIA
Yeah. Right. Then I’m the monster that took a vacation with his father away from him.

JAMES
You could have raised your concerns before I came all the way to Arizona to pick him up.

MIA
Fuck you, James, you cornered me. You didn’t give me the details, I had to find out your plan from Centurion and now it’s too late.

JAMES
Why the fuck are you still talking to Centurion?

MIA
I was in The Prophecy, too. I’m not erased from wrestling history because you try and forget about me.

He glances down at his watch and shrugs his shoulders casually, motioning towards the house.

JAMES
If you’re not going to stop me, why don’t you go ahead and send Tyler out so we can hit the road. I’ve got a schedule to try and keep.

She looks at him, a sadness and disappointment in her eyes. He used to be her world. She used to think he was the greatest thing she had ever come across.

MIA
I think you’re worse now than when I left you.

He winks and blows her a kiss.

JAMES
Fuck yourself, Mia. I’ll see you in a few weeks when I drop him off.

She shakes her head and makes her way back up the steps and across the porch, disappearing into the house.

“That was fun.”

“Whatever. I’ll never do anything right in her eyes again, I have no confusion about that. I’m not sure openly antagonizing the mother of my son is in my own best interest, though.”

“… but it was fun.”

The door flies open again, and Tyler sprints out of the house and towards his father on the sidewalk. He grins from ear to ear, charging down the steps and throwing his arms around James’ waist.

TYLER
Dad! I’m so excited!

JAMES
He-

The words catch in his throat, James fighting his body to lock himself down and clench his jaw tight. His mouth opens again.

JAMES
He-

James struggles again to shut down the words before they find breath.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

“You don’t speak to him, TJ. Do you understand? You never say a fucking word to my son.”

“He’s my nephew. You named him after me, James.”

“I mean it. You don’t speak to him, I don’t even want you in my head when he’s around.”

“… or else what?”

“I’ll kill you.”

“You can’t kill a dead man.”

JAMES
Hey, buddy. It’s so awesome to see you. You ready for Greece?

He hugs his son tight.

FADE OUT

“… Aaaaaand we’re back.”

“With an attitude adjustment, I hope. Please tell me you’re about to empty the clip on these idiots…”

“Didn’t I tell you to ride the bench for this one? Why would I start firing shots on Michelle, the unquestionable MVP of her team this week? I’ve been telling you all since the day I showed up and got lucky eliminating her from Ascension… Michelle is a proooooblem. Don’t let the pint-size fool you, that girl is a DYNAMO! She’s a former Manhattan champion, and I sure as hell can’t sneeze at that… it’s far more than I’ve been able to accomplish in this place. Good for you! I don’t want to disrespect Brandon this week, so I don’t want to continue down the ‘who wore the pants in that relationship’ path… but no matter who was on your team, Michelle, you’d be far from the weak link. Kawhi Leonard on the Raptors or Shawn Warstein on Legacy, you can carry anyone.”

“What in blue hell are you doing, James?! You’re making an ass of yourself.”

“It can be argued that we’ve already passed that point so long ago that you can’t even see it in the rear-view. What’re you gonna do? Chemical imbalance and a desire to be something to people that you’re not will fucking do that!”

“Take a deep breath. Relax. Think about the things you’re saying.”

“There’s no time to breath! There’s no time to fucking think! I’ve got Michelle laying her crosshairs on me, I gotta stay on my toes and keep moving for as long as I can. I don’t know if you caught her act at Blood Money, but it was one of the finest displays of athleticism I’ve ever seen. She crushed Ophelia Pain-Pinkstons skull with a post from a rope fence! She swung that shit like she was Bryson DeChambeau teeing off at the Masters! Tiger Woods, who?! I’d speculate on where she generates the lower body strength to generate that sort of torque on her swing, but I wouldn’t want Atty to get upset at me if you catch my drift…”

“And Druscilla! Don’t get me started on how she whipped that post through the air like a prime Roger Clemens tossing fastballs from the Yankees hill. Druscilla was out cold before she knew what hit her… literally. I can’t deny that I was happy to see it happen. Druscilla has never been shy about her distaste for me. It’s left a bitter taste on my own lips, but we can talk about it when she wakes up. Nice throw, Michelle, let’s check with the umpire. Steeeeeee-RIKE!”

“ARP was lucky to have someone like you there to help her when the going got tough. You showed your character there.”

“She IMMEDIATELY followed it up by smashing ARP in the head with a rock and taking her out too. Would you like to reconsider your stance on that?”

“Absolutely not. Michelle demonstrated her value as a friend and then promptly flipped the switch to demonstrate her tenacity as a competitor, and her willingness to do whatever it took to win. That’s boss-bitch, shit. Three eliminations in the span of five minutes? Incredible. It took me half the match to even show up, and then I did… well… basically nothing before being unceremoniously removed well before the end. I watched ARP eliminate Joe Montouri, and I punched Anne Boleyn once. That was cool, I guess.”

“You’re the one that took out Michelle, you idiot!”

“IF YOU CAN CALL IT THAT! I had to run over her with a boat to take her out, and people assume that I knew I was doing it at the time. Maybe I just got lucky! Besides, from what I heard she was barely hurt and sipping drinks at the Velvet Rabbit that very night… and the hull of that boat was DESTROYED! I haven’t seen that sort of impact damage on a vessel since the Titanic hit Miss Iceberg. I was lucky to make it out of that interaction with my life. I could have ended up at the bottom of the lake, TJ, and all you’re worried about is me stealing an opportunity from poor little Michelle. Fucking disgusting, that’s what you are.”

“Huh? Seriously?”

“I’m sorry, Michelle, and I mean that. If it wasn’t for me you could have won Blood Money 2. If it wasn’t for me you could have won Ascension. I repeatedly take money out of your pocket and you don’t deserve that. You should have kept going in those matches. You’d have done more with the chances than I did.”

“Alright, stop it. You’re being ridiculous and nobody believes a word you’re saying.”

“They should. They were right all along. I wasn’t better than any of them. I didn’t deserve the opportunities I was waiting for and I haven’t done anything to change that. Michelle deserves to get piped out by Brandon and Paul. They all deserve the booking considerations and catered circumstances. They’re more equipped than I am to deal with the storm that’s brewing.”

“… the fuck. This isn’t funny.”

“You told me to burn it down. Don’t pretend to be surprised that I set myself on fire.”

“Congratulations to all of you for Countdown, for your individual successes at Blood Money, to your likely pending success at Venom and beyond. It was always an unwinnable scenario for me… I don’t even know why I bothered to try…”

“James Raven out. Nobody needs to fear shit.”

“Goodnight and good luck.”

“What are you doing? What in god’s name are you doing?”

“Je t’aime.”

“… now someone pass me a match, before I lose my nerve.”

NOW
FOUR DAYS AFTER VALENTINES DAY AND VENOM 16
THE PLAKA, ATHENS, GREECE

He had seen this part of the world before, but it was different now.

The air was cleaner, the colors more vibrant. The scents and flavors overwhelmed his senses, each new introduction more powerful and rich to his taste buds than the last. The sun beats down on his face as he sits comfortably at a small cafe table, nestled outside underneath a tree. Tyler sits across from him, fingers tearing apart a piece of warm pita bread as he laughs loudly with Atara, perfectly at home and settled at James’ side.

She dips her fingertips into a water glass, lifting them out and flicking the droplets at Tyler as he squirms and guffaws jovially. She grabs her fork with a lightning quickness and stabs a potato off of Tyler’s plate and pops it into her mouth. His eyes widen in shock, her own widening playfully as they stare each other down from across the table. He snatches his own fork and lunges for her salad bowl. She pulls it out of his reach quickly, shaking her head.

ATARA
Sorry. I only share my salad with your dad.

James turns to look at her, and she looks away from Tyler long enough to sneak a sideways glance back at him. The corner of her mouth curls upwards gently, a strand of hair falling in front of her face as she looks down at the table. She reaches to brush it away, but he beats her to it and slips it behind her ear delicately.

His hand falls subtly underneath the table, and a moment later hers follows inconspicuously. Out of sight of young and impressionable eyes, the two wrap their hands together, fingers intertwined, and give a reassuring squeeze. She uses her free hand to reach across the table and wipe a few crumbs from the chest of Tylers shirt, as James uses his off-hand to take a sip from his water glass.

He was happy.

He had thought it before, but he was happy to repeat the sentiment… because it bore repeating.

There were no voices in his head, here. There was no guilt or doubt or questioning of his own self-worth. There was no constant struggle to look at himself in the mirror and convince himself that he was still at the pinnacle of the sport, still what he needed himself to be in order to feel valuable and like an asset to those around him… he had hardly thought about FIGHT! since the moment he walked out of the ring on Valentines Day. He had barely given consideration to the struggles that had consumed him for so many months.

She had given him every opportunity to keep the issues open, to let them fester…

As Atara and Raven had sat together backstage, licking their wounds (and each others) after the “Heart Shaped Box” match at Venom; she had asked him if he wanted to go speak to Betsy privately, to try and hash out anything they felt they needed to hash out.

Nah.

That was all he had said to her before taking her in his arms, and asking her if they could leave yet. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with any of this anymore. He wasn’t in the mood to play Sisyphus and keep pushing the boulder uphill when everyone else kicked it back down to crush him. It was time to reorganize his priorities.

Smoothing things over or getting closure from Betsy, when she made no effort to do the same, wasn’t at the top of it. FIGHT! wasn’t either.

He didn’t need to be there. He didn’t want to be.

He wanted to be here, with them. He wanted everything that he was getting, and whether he knew it or not he had wanted it for a long, long time…

He was happy.

Tyler yawns.

JAMES
Tired? You look like you need a nap.

Tyler shrugs.

ATARA
Yes, please.

She winks at him as he squeezes her hand and smiles.

There was a new dawn for James Raven.

Καλημέρα.

“She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak,
I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks…”

FADE OUT