BK. 2, CH. 03 – Something is Better than Nothing (Καλημέρα)

By: James Raven

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 4th Mar 2022


“TITLE GOES HERE”

ATHENS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO

If you spend enough time in this business you get comfortable in airports.

I’m very comfortable.

Not Tom Hanks in “The Terminal” levels of comfort, but more George Clooney “Up in the Air”ish. I know the ins and outs, clearing security lines and sidestepping slow footed travelers with my eyes closed and breath remaining calm all the way from taxi to boarding. I’m focused on the future; getting wheels up and moving on to the next town as quickly as possible to get a couple of hours rest so that I can lace up the boots and start the whole process over again.

There was a cold monotony to it.

There was a feeling I wasn’t familiar with this time, as I sat alone at the gate and watched the people mill casually around me on the way to their own destinations. Luggage drags behind them, moving sidewalks ushering the chronically lazy at hastened speeds while they munch Cinnabons and gawk at each other.

This was different.

I wasn’t used to focusing on what I was leaving behind.

Greece had felt like paradise, soothing to the nerves and reinvigorating to the senses. A couple of weeks had been enough to breathe new life into me, puffing me back up after a deflating start to FIGHTs season three. Salt water and sunshine parting the dark clouds that had loomed overhead. Laughter and joy providing a more-than-reasonable facsimile of something he had been missing for a long time…

Family.

Home.

“We need to come up with a plan, buddy. Vacation is over.”

“Not now.”

“Then when?! Come on, James! I gave you two weeks to play fantasy island with the Goddess, and to play house with your son. This shit was always temporary, it’s not like you retired. We need to get back to work. We need to make some moves, here!”

His voice doesn’t surprise me this time, as it breaks down the door to my consciousness and stomps all over the rest of my thoughts. That ship sailed long ago, and now each interjection he made was little more than a minor annoyance no more irritating than a buzzing gnat. I had built up a tolerance to his peanut gallery of one, and gotten acclimated to the eyes constantly watching over my shoulder and looking for something to criticize.

It was moderately concerning… your dead brother chattering away over your private thoughts isn’t exactly something you want to be growing comfortable with.

“Stop ignoring me! This is important! We need to plot our next move! You’ve had enough time to sit around feeling helpless! It’s time to pivot, to recalibrate, to figure out how to move on with your fucking life!”

I shake my head quietly. There was no plotting to be done, no plan to be made. I had given TJ the control he wanted, the green light to try and do whatever he felt was necessary to get me where he kept telling me I needed to go… and he accomplished nothing. He couldn’t defend the Island belts, and he couldn’t win Blood Money. At least my way we were still beating the Dane Prestons of the roster, but now? His action plans had gotten me nowhere.

Helpless was an interesting word choice. Strong, but likely accurate.

I glance around the airport terminal looking for any signs of a familiar face, but TJ isn’t letting me off the hook that easily.

“HEY! I’M TALKING TO YOU!”

“Watch who you speak to with that fucking attitude, or I’ll tear your goddamn tongue from your skull.”

The venom that drips from my words catches even me by surprise. There’s an underlying anger to my voice, a serrated tone that puts TJ on his heels and buys me a small moment of peace and quiet as he chooses his next words carefully.

“That was aggressive.”

“You’ve seen nothing yet. Stop pushing me.”

“Maybe I need to push harder. I like the fire. We just can’t sit here treading water forever. Blood Money didn’t go how we expected, and neither did the six man tag with Betsy and Atara.”

“Who’s fault is that?!”

“Stop pointing fingers. You gave me control because you didn’t think you could get it done on your own. Don’t try and play high and mighty now, little brother. If you want to mope and be treated like a loser, fine… continue to be helpless, to flounder aimlessly on the roster, and drop match after match while continuing to try and spin the circumstances in ways that make it everybody else’s fault… but if you want to be an adult and get yourself back on the horse, you need to do it quickly. We. Need. A. Plan.”

I stretch my legs out, leaning back in the uncomfortable plastic seat as I continue to glance around the terminal. I wasn’t going to let his words rile me up anymore, it had been months of feeling my nerves fray and all lines of rational thinking sever. I had slid off the rails, and I couldn’t let him drive me further into the ditch. I didn’t need to be acerbic to be successful. I didn’t need to be successful to be happy.

To be happy, I just couldn’t feel hopeless.

“JAMES! Stop ignoring me, you mother fucker! How are we going to get you back into the Empire picture?!”

“We’re not.”

“So then how the hell are you going to get your hands on Shawn or Dickie? How are you going to take Betsy down a peg?”

“I’m not.”

He’s silent, the gears in our head turning slowly and dramatically as he tries to make sense of what I’m saying to him.

“So you’re walking from NSQ? After all of this, everything that’s happened… they all ride off into the sunset with the glory and the success, laughing all the way and pointing their fingers at you, and you do what? Target Brandon Moore and Paul Montouri because you feel like you need to prove that you were better than them the last few months, despite the results? You can break NSQ, it’s weaker than anyone realized, and you could massacre Betsy if you even used the breath acknowledging her.”

“I don’t care. The deck is stacked, TJ. How many times am I supposed to go double or nothing? I’m running out of collateral here. Shawn and Dickie are where they are, Paul and Brandon have what they have, and Betsy isn’t my business. Stop. Just stop. With all of it.”

I fold my arms over my chest, holding my breath and shaking my leg to try and work off some of the tension in my body. I close my eyes, mind drifting back to memories of Greece… to visions of the Goddess. My fists unclench.

“You’re hopeless.”

“Helpless.”

“Whatever. So no plan? No comeback or vengeance or #RenegadeRaven run to the top? You’re just going to play footsie with the Anne Boleyn’s of the roster? This is the time to tell me it’s all a joke. You can’t beat up on the rookie’s forever and still claim to be anyone of note.”

“I’m done claiming to be anything, TJ… and stop short-selling Anne. Rookie? She’s like 500 years old.”

Silence.

“She’s not ACTUALLY the English Queen, James.”

“She says she is. Who am I to argue? You’re not ACTUALLY able to talk to me, and yet here we are…”

“Touche. Well, even if she was the real Anne Boleyn she wouldn’t be 500 years old. She’d be, like, 35… but with a 450 year nap in there.”

“Your math is… well… it’s just awful. She was executed in 1536, TJ, at Tower Green. Crack a fucking book once in a while.”

“How do you know that?”

“I looked it up, like I would look up information on any of my opponents. Granted it was a little weird to read her last words to the executioner and the grisly details of her beheading, only to have to justify an upcoming match with her, but once I got past that the rest actually started to fall together pretty easily.”

I can feel his rage bubbling underneath the surface.

“IT’S NOT THE SAME ANNE BOLEYN!”

“Sure it is. The name matches. I watched some tape of the feud she had with Jane Seymour. Did you know they were cousins, and Seymour was a mistress of Anne’s husband? Wild shit. King Henry gave Jane a portrait of himself to wear around her neck, and she wore it to court one day, and Anne snatched that shit so quick and laid a fucking beatdown…”

“She’s playing a character, James! Stop being a dick and take this seriously! Anne Boleyn is a fucking nickname.”

“No. The scandal of Christendom is her nickname. Or the goggle-eyed whore. Or jezebel. Or concubine. You get the picture. Crazy how she gets called all the names when her husband was sleeping with her sister, and allegedly her mother, at the same time, right? Yet she wants a grudge match with me because I took her out at Blood Money. HI ANNE! I’m far from the worst man in your past! Maybe re-examine your priorities!”

“STOP! Just fucking stop, this is disgusting.”

I notice Tyler making his way towards me, heels clipping against linoleum tiling and damp hands running fervently against his denim pant legs as he exits the bathroom and rushes back over to our seats.

“You’re really going to rot on the undercard with Anne, and ignore the Manhattan belt or New Status Qu-“

“Not now. You know the rules.”

“Yeah yeah. Not around your son… we’re going to have to have a little chat about that, too…”

TJ falls silent, his presence disappearing from inside my head as my son collapses into the plastic airport seat beside me with a wide smile on his face.

TYLER
Dad! Did you see the hand dryer they have in there? You just put your hands inside and the air goes “WHOOOOOSHHHHH!” and dries them for you!

JAMES
Yeah, buddy. Those are cool, aren’t they?

He nods his head, a mildly forlorn expression on his face as he looks out the nearby window at the tarmac.

TYLER
I wish we had those where I live.

JAMES
I’m sure you do, it’s not like we’re talking about a rocket ship or anything super advanced or expensive… they’re just hand dryers.

Tyler shakes his head adamantly.

TYLER
No! We don’t have them in Phoenix! I’ve never seen one!

I shrug my shoulders, not wanting to argue the fact when he seemed so sure of himself. It didn’t matter in the long run. I glance down at my watch, then over to the nearby “arrivals and departures” board. Not long now. Not long at all…

… then Greece was nothing more than a memory. This time with Atara and Tyler was over.

I sigh deeply.

TYLER
Where’s Atty?

JAMES
She went to grab a few snacks. She’ll be right back.

He turns to look down the corridor in the direction of the convenience shop. He cranes his neck, trying to catch any glimpse of her, but to no avail.

TYLER
Are you guys really going to Los Angeles after you bring me home? Are you going to fight on Venom again?

JAMES
Yep. That’s the plan.

TYLER
… take me.

My lips flap, my tongue suddenly bone dry as I struggle to find a response after being caught so surprisingly off-guard.

JAMES
Excuse me?

TYLER
Take me with you. I don’t want to go back home. Call mom, and tell her that you and Atty are going to keep me for another week…

JAMES
I, uh, I don’t think that’s really an option dude. Your mom misses you, don’t you miss her?

Tyler shrugs his shoulders, eyes cast down at the floor sheepishly as he toes the linoleum tile and avoids my eye contact. I shift my weight in my seat, reaching a hand out to rest gently on his shoulder and encourage him to look me in my face.

JAMES
Tyler, talk to me, what’s going on?

TYLER
… nothing…

He spins away from me in the hard plastic seat, eyes cast off towards the convenience store down the hall and likely waiting for a glimpse of Atara.

My mind races, trying to collect and connect context clues like some sort of Detective Pikachu.

“Didn’t help have a crush on her? Awwwwwwkward.”

“HEY! I won’t warn you again, shut the fuck up and let me handle this.”

I can feel the echo of TJ’s laughter in my skull more than I can hear it, but I quickly push it to the side to focus on my son’s distress.

JAMES
TJ, look at me, why don’t you want to go back home? Did something happen?

I can feel my heart skip a beat, my throat bone dry as I stammer for words. He doesn’t look at me when I query him, his eyes remaining fixed down at the far end of the airport corridor.

No. This was something different. This was more than just a childhood crush or an innocent desire to extend a vacation and keep himself away from school for a little bit longer…

JAMES
Tyler! What happened at home?!

I swear to God is Mia let anything happen to him, if she let anything or anyone sinister into his fucking life, I’m going to-

TYLER
I just missed you.

JAMES
Huh?

He shrugs his shoulders, eyes still focused in the opposite direction and voice barely carrying from his lips to my ears.

TYLER
I missed you. I never get to see you, and when I do you always have stuff going on… you’re mad at someone, or you’re chasing someone, or you’re sad…

I don’t say anything.

I can’t.

TYLER
This was fun. You’re happy. Atty is so cool. I just… I don’t want this to end. I don’t want to go home, and next time I see you have things back to how they were… we don’t have to go back to Greece. I know we can’t. But… but you could call mom and tell her that you and Atty are bringing me to California. Or we can go back to Toronto. Just, just don’t take me home yet, please.

I’m speechless as he stares at me, his eyes wide and hopeful until I eventually look away and try to swallow the lump in my throat.

JAMES
You have no idea how much I’d love that, Tyler… seriously. I don’t think it’s going to fly, though. Your mom was right. I shouldn’t have brought you to Venom before we went on the trip. It wasn’t the sort of show I want you to see, and I don’t know that this week would be any better.

TYLER
I’ve seen you bleed before, dad. It’s not a big deal.

JAMES
I know. It’s not about the blood… it’s… everything is just… complicated…

He’s quiet, contemplating my answer for a long while before opening his mouth to speak again.

TYLER
Is it about Betsy? Is that what’s complicated?

I groan loudly, immediately attempting to play it off as a yawn and a stretch but he doesn’t buy it. I lean forward in my seat, dropping my head into my hands and rubbing my eyes with my forefingers and thumbs. He reaches over and puts a hand on my shoulder.

He nearly shatters me.

TYLER
It’s OK, dad. We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.

He does shatter me.

… helpless.

I take a deep breath, trying desperately to compose myself. I can hear my own voice wavering, and I look away from him as I blink away the blurry vision of fresh tears. I grin subconsciously, a hollow laugh escaping my lips as I try to wipe my cheek and play it all off like it’s nothing. After a second I look back at him, and reach my own hand out to his shoulder.

JAMES
It’s all good, buddy. I’m good. Yeah, she’s part of what’s complicated, but it’s not just her and it’s not her fault. It’s all… just…

TYLER
Complicated. I know. Is she OK?

A long silence.

JAMES
I don’t know. I think so.

TYLER
Well, can you ask Shawn or Dickie to check on her? Can they let you know that you don’t have to worry, or let her know that you’re OK?

Another long silence.

JAMES
… no. I don’t think so.

He doesn’t understand. It’s to be expected. Neither of us says anything for a long time, both staring out the window nearest our seats as planes taxi up and down the tarmac outside.

Then I see her.

Atara makes her way out of the store, a bag of snacks and drinks on her arm. She smiles from ear to ear and waves to Tyler, who beams back when he sees her. I can’t help but smile as well. Tyler looks at me, concern suddenly masking his face.

TYLER
Dad, is Atty bad?

JAMES
… what?

TYLER
Why are people so upset by her?

JAMES
Like who?

TYLER
Like mom. Or Betsy. Or all of your friends. She seems really nice but nobody wants you to be with her. Is she a bad person?

I turn in my seat to stare him deep in the eyes.

JAMES
Absolutely not.

He smiles.

TYLER
Good. I like her.

I grin, and lean in to whisper in his ear.

JAMES
I do too. I like her a lot.

I lean back and motion towards her.

JAMES
You should go find out what snacks she got. Help her carry it back.

Tyler jumps up from his seat and sprints across the airport to join Atara who laughs as he approaches. The tension melts slowly as I watch the two of them together.

“THIS is your plan? Them?”

“It’s part of it.”

“… why?”

Because I think I spent too long chasing the wrong things. Because chasing it left me unfulfilled and helpless.

They don’t.

It might be time to chase something else.

FADE

TO

BLACK