In the Most Unexpected of Places

By: Sahara

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 30th Mar 2022

New York, NY
The FIGHT Training Center

”Jesus! What the fuck is the matter with you?!”

My trainer was beyond exasperated, as was evident by the tone of his voice.

I had barely broken a sweat as I bounded off the ropes and came to a stop. Leaning against my knees, I took a quick breather as I contemplated his question. I didn’t really have a very good answer. I lost my motivation. It happens. I just have no idea how I’m gonna find it again. Fear is what drove me. The fear of becoming a waitress again. The fear of struggling to make rent.

Things that’ll never happen to me again.

So why am I down here in this practice ring doin’ this?! I dunno. I have no idea. To an outsider, bouncing off the ropes looks fun, but what they don’t know is it fucking hurts; especailly after the twenty-fifth time you’ve done it in a match, let alone the hundreds of times you do it in a practice ring like this one.

It’s a feeling I used to love.

These days, I hate the idea of getting thrown into the ropes, cuz I know it’s gonna bruise up my ribcage. Usually on the right side. It’s the side I’m more comfortable with when running the ropes…

I simply shrugged, ”I dunno…”

My trainer’s voice was incredulous, ”You don’t know?!” YOU DON’T KNOW?!”

I shook my head, ”No! Okay?! I just… I don’t think I care anymore.”

”No shit ya don’t care! You’re two minutes into your session, and you’re already stopping for breaks. What the fuck happened to you?!”

”What the fuck do you want from me?!” I snapped back.

”Can’t you see, the things–” he hopped up onto the ring apron and beckoned me toward the ropes as his voice turned into something of a mumble as my thoughts drifted. He could have been the best trainer in the world and it wouldn’t have mattered. Tryin’ to train someone that has no drive is like suffering through a–

”Earth to Lauren,” he snapped his fingers a few times to snap me back to reality. ”Lauren! Are you even with me?! Pay the fuck attention for one goddamn minute, will ya?” He sighed, ”When you came to FIGHT, do you remember how you felt? I believe ‘alive again’ were the words you used. Don’t you remember that?! That feeling? What about where you came from? How about how you got here? You spent months striving to make it, to better yourself, and when you finally get that much deserved title shot, you fucking phone it in!”

I shrugged, ”Paul wanted it more than me…”

”Bullshit, Sahara, right now? Everyone wants it more than you. What happened to the killer that fought James Raven?! Huh? I look at you now and I don’t even know who I’m looking at. Just… pack it in for the day. Or the week. But stop wastin’ my time. You used to love doing this–” I could see the disappointment in his eyes. I could hear it in his voice. ”If this is how it’s gonna be, just do me a favor and tell ‘em you quit. Please, for all of us that have ever believed in you, don’t go out like this again… you’ve come too far to just fade away.”

He dropped down off the ring apron and started picking up his things.

”He’s your fucking kryptonite. I hope you can see that.” I heard him mumble.

I held my arms out as if thinking, ‘what the fuck?!’

”What’d you say?!”

”Thaddeus…” he sighed, ”He’s yo–, you know what Lauren? Nevermind. Everything’s great. You’re doing great.”

”No, don’t be like that!” I shouted out of anger, ”What the fuck do you mean he’s my kryptonite?!”

Pausing for a second, my trainer looked up at me, ”Ever since you met him, you’ve gotten worse. You’re lethargic in the ring. You… go through the motions. I don’t know if it’s out of some misplaced respect for your opponents that you even bother showing up, but you’d be doing them a favor if you didn’t, cuz at least you’d spare them and the fans of watching this… shell of who you are go out there and do whatever this is.

”It’s like watching Supergirl with a big fucking chain of kryptonite draped around her neck and it’s sad. It’s sad because you’re choosing to not take it off and fly. And that’s on you. You think I don’t hear things?! That you’re out partying all night every night? Drinkin’ to the point you gotta be carried outta that godforsaken Rabbit place?!”

I could feel my blood boiling, ”How fucking dare you… what I do in my personal time is my business and my husband ain’t my fucking kryptonite! He has his shit together. He rescued me from myself, when nobody else would think twice about letting me die. And he’s better at this than anyone I’ve ever seen at his age…”

He nodded, ”You’re right. But he isn’t here. He isn’t in FIGHT. And he isn’t you. It’s you that’s gotta go out there and get it done. It’s you that has to want to go out there and get it done. And when I look at you now, I can see it in your eyes… it’s gone.”

”I know that…”, I admitted rather shamefully.

”You know what?”

”I know it’s fucking gone!” I could hear my voice echo across the gymnasium as it brought a momentary silence to the usual clanging weights. ”I don’t know what I’m doin’ out there anymore! I go out there, and it’s like, I just want it to end. I want the bell to ring and I want it to be over. I wanna be anywhere else… and I’ve never felt that way before. I used to love it. At least, I thought I did.

”Turns out it was for the money…”

He couldn’t even look at me.

”Then quit.” ”That’s it? That’s your answer? Then quit?!”

”Yeah, Lauren. Quit. Because you aren’t respecting your opponents or this business when you show up out of some sort of loyalty to FIGHT, because they gave you a second lease on life. This isn’t what they signed up for. They signed up for the killer in you that would have at least tried to take Paul Montuori apart. You robbed him of that. You robbed the fans of that. You phoned it in and you know it–”

He paused for a moment.

”Look, you got Ashlynn Cassidy this week. Now that’s a girl with passion. When you look at her, you can feel it. You can see how bad she wants to be so damn good. And she deserves the real Sahara, not… whoever this is. That’s the worst part about seein’ this…

”You were blessed with all the genetic tools to be so fucking good at this, but you always find a reason not to make it. You’re bigger and stronger than most of the girls; you’re faster. You got the look. You can talk. Your offense is hard hitting. But unfortunately, there is no genetic code for spirit…” He tapped his chest, ”For heart. And I’m not talking about the muscle, but that thing in you that makes you want it more than your opponent. It’s always something with you. Be it drugs or men or whatever… but the only thing that’s ever held you back in this business is you.

”All you did with this money thing was find yet another reason to not take that next step. And that’s sad. ”What coulda’ been.”

He didn’t speak another word. Nothing more needed to be said.

I wasn’t sure if I was sad or depressed or what at that very moment. Hearing those words. I rested my hands on the top rope and looked down at the canvas as my trainer gathered up his things.

My eyes fell upon the words written down the sides of my boots.

Victory.

Valhalla.

Words that once meant something to me. Words that resonated. They meant I’d either win, or gladly walk through the gates of Valhalla trying to do so.

When I faced Paul Montuori, I wanted neither.

I just wanted to go home.

I gently slid my hands across the top rope. I don’t know what I was expecting. There was a time when the mere feel of the ropes used to send a shiver down my spine. That shiver never came. There was a time I’d have paid anything just to get in the ring just to feel the ropes. To feel the canvas. Was it cold? Was it hot? Or slippery? Was the ring really like a trampoline?! Did the ropes really spring you when you ran into them? What was it like to climb the buckles and gaze out across an ocean of screaming fans?

So many questions…

These days, I don’t think about that stuff anymore. Today? If I’m being honest, I didn’t want to get out of bed, because I didn’t want to come down here and train.

Maybe he’s right.

Maybe it’s over…

~~~~~

New York, NY
The Duke Penthouse

Pulling out my iPhone, I fired up the FIGHT!NYC app, and logged into the competitor portal via a face scan. It was the quickest and easiest way to record and upload a promo, sending it directly to the FIGHT production staff for post. That’s where they’d alter lighting, or maybe make it black and white, or whatever other bells and whistles they found necessary to add a more professional look to what would otherwise look like a generic promo shot on a potato.

It sure beat going into the studio, even if it meant giving up a little creative freedom on the back end.

Pressing record, I quickly scan my face in the selfie-cam and push some errant strands of hair behind my ear.

Perfect, as always.

”Ashlynn Cassidy.

”I gotta tell ya, I don’t even know where to begin… this used to come so naturally for me. I still remember all those nights at the Rabbit, or backstage at Venom, how we’d talk…” She sighed, ”I kinda miss those days. Then ya–”, her voice trailed off.

It took a few seconds, but I could feel my focus slip, as if falling into a sudden onset daydream. Where’s your fucking concentration, Lauren?!

”Fuck me–”

Hitting stop on my phone, I hovered a finger over the delete button when a reminder notification of a voicemail suddenly popped onto the screen.

A voicemail from Dane Preston of all people… what the fuck does he want, I silently wonder?

Hey Lauren, it’s uh… It’s Dane. Listen, I don’t know what happened, or how we got to this point, but I’d like to apologize for my behavior. Fuck. Look, I’d — no, WE would really appreciate it if you and Thad would get together with us for dinner so we can talk things through, and so I can apologize to you both personally and…

The message seemed to suddenly cut off.

”And? And what you fucking moron? Jesus Christ can’t anyone put a coherent thought together these days?! You were just talkin’ shit about my husband on Twit–”

I could feel my blood boiling–

”Whatever–” ”Still having problems?”

I felt my heart leap into my chest! ”Jesus fucking Christ, Thad!” I thought I was alone, which is why I was trying to get my Venom promo out of the way. But when I heard his unexpected voice, it startled me.

”Sorry, I uh, I didn’t know anyone was home…”

”Look,” he looked at me with a rather sympathetic gaze. He knew what I was going through, trying to find a reason to keep wrestling. It was a real struggle and it was hard to explain to people. He was more understanding about it than I’d be, that’s for sure.

”Maybe it’s not about the money anymore. Now it’s about proving everyone that ever doubted you wrong. It’s about rubbing it in the face of everyone that ever treated you like shit and made fun of you because you were poor, or because you have demons. ”Prove ’em all wrong and rule this industry right beside me.”

I could feel that smile creep across my face, ”You make it sound so easy.”

”If it was easy, everyone would do it. I just know what you’re capable of, Lauren, even if you don’t… so whatever you have to do to remind yourself of who you are, do it. But don’t make excuses.”

I nodded.

”I just need time to think…” ”Then I’ll leave you to it.”

After he took his leave, I went back to staring at my phone, hovering my thumb over that record button to restart my promo against Ashlynn Cassidy.

But I knew I had nothing to say…

~~~~~

Chicago, IL
One last stop…

After that chat with my husband, I figured I needed to get away. Clear my head. Take a day or two to myself, with no distractions. So I did what any spoiled rich girl would do and chartered a flight back to Chicago, hoping I could find something to rekindle my interest in wrestling. If I wasn’t gonna do it for the money, then what the hell was left? I was grasping at straws at this point, figuring maybe I could remind myself where I came from in a more visual manner. Maybe that would spark something…

I stopped by to see the old house I grew up in. Other than the fact it looked a lot smaller than I remembered…

No spark.

I drove around the neighborhood, taking in the changing sights. I remember a little shack of a hot-dog stand used to be on the corner by my house, and for the life of me, nobody I knew ever fucking ate there, but somehow it was there for decades! I could still remember the long summer nights galavanting around the hood with my friends, wondering what had become of them…

No spark.

No matter where I went or what I did, I just couldn’t find meaning behind fighting for… nothing. It just wasn’t there anymore.

I know I’m gonna disappoint my husband and everyone else, but there’s no point in wasting everyone’s time…

I just can’t do this anymore.

Time to head back to the airport…

”Wow,” I heard myself whisper as I saw the rather large Applebee’s sign from the expressway. I could remember driving here every morning. It was routine. I don’t know if it was out of habit or what, but I had accidentally pulled into the exit lane as if I was heading to work again.

”And you wonder why people call you a dumb blonde…”

I soon found myself sitting in the Applebee’s parking lot, tapping my hands on the ten and two positions of the steering wheel, contemplating whether I should drop in for a quick visit. It’s been about a year since I’ve seen anyone, and for all I know nobody I knew even works here still… and what would their reaction be seeing me now? Am I just another spoiled rich girl that forgot where she came from?

Mustering up the courage to walk through those doors, I found something I wasn’t quite expecting. There were pictures of me all over the walls at various events. The inaugural Blood Money event with a look of ferocity on my face. Ascension. A bottle of Ciruc being busted over my head. Not my best look, but it was an action shot, I suppose. Looking around, I was in a daze–

”Welcome to Appleb–oh my God! Lauren?!”

I pushed my sunglasses up into my hairline and mustered a smile. Jasmine! Hostess greeter girl extraordinaire. Still muddlin’ through, I see…

”Oh wow, Jasmine!” I gave her a quick hug. “What the hell happened to this place?!”

”Well, you happened to this place. After you left and got all famous, they kind of dedicated this place to you. Corporate had to make an exception to changing the decor and everything. They sell your shirts and stuff here. People still talk about how you used to serve here all the time. I didn’t expect you’d ever wanna come back!”

This was absolutely surreal…

”Honestly? I was on my wait to the airport and accidentally pulled off the expressway out of habit–”

”Did someone say Lau–” Danny, the glorified cook, peered through the serving window with the biggest smile on his face. ”Holy shit! It’s really you!”

As he ran out to greet me with a huge bear hug, a small crowd had gathered near the hostess stand. Bartenders, servers, even patrons were lining up to get a few moments and a selfie with me. I couldn’t help but feel that intoxicating flow of vanity coursing through my veins…

”C’mon back so we can talk… I promise to share her with everyone else!” Danny reassured the gathering crowd. ”Just give me a few minutes with my favorite server girl!”

”Server girl?” I asked as I followed him out the back where we used to congregate for our breaks. He immediately sparked up a cigarette, as per usual.

”Wow it’s good to see you, Laur. I’m glad you remembered us little people.”

I motioned back into the restaurant, ”That was… unexpected…”

”You mean all the Sahara stuff?! Yeah, well, you’re a big deal here. All the regulars that come in talk about that ferocious Sahara that used to be a waitress… they see you and it gives ‘em hope, I guess. Even us…it’s kinda badass seeing you on that screen.”

I could hear myself questioning the absurdity of that…

”I give them hope? For what?” ”Monday Night’s are a big deal here. We got Venom up on all the screens, people come in… it’s like a weekly event. They come to see you up on those screens and you can just see it in their eyes how proud they are of some girl they hardly knew that used to be their waitress…”

”Me?” I questioned. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ”You sure they ain’t coming to see Shawn Warstein? I mean, he’s from Chicago, too.”

”Pffft…wrong answer,” he immediately dismissed the notion. ”Trust me, they’re here to see you. The lowly waitress that went from poorhouse to penthouse. It reminds them that even if the odds are against it happening, that it can happen.” He let out a bit of a disappointed laugh, ”Shoulda seen this place when you lost to Paul Montuori last week…”

I wasn’t quite sure what I was feeling. Hearing this sort of thing was absolutely surreal…

”Why? What happened?”

”Eh, let’s just change the subject. How the hell have you been?!”

I shook my head, “No, fuck that Danny. What happened when I lost?”

Taking a drag from his cigarette he looked away as he responded. He didn’t wanna look me in the eyes. ”You let ‘em down, Lauren. You let us all down. I could hear the people at the bar sayin’ things like, ‘She ain’t even trying’, or ‘She’s gone soft…’, you know, stuff like that? I tell ya though, when you lost, the wind came out of the sails, it was like depression settled over our little Applebee’s. You had a shot at one of the most prestigious titles in the world… and you looked tired–”

My thoughts had drifted. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Why would anyone care? I looked back into the Applebee’s restaurant with my photos covering the walls, but this time it wasn’t the photos I noticed. It was the bartenders. The servers. The guests. Everyday people looking for something in life to bring them joy.

I let out a laugh.

It wasn’t about me.

It wasn’t about money.

Wrong answer?! I never thought I’d be so happy to be so wrong about everything…

Sometimes, I guess we find what we’re looking for in the most unexpected of places.

Or in my case? An Applebee’s.

I looked back to Danny with a smile, ”I just found what I was looking for…”

~~~~~

Welcome back Ashlynn Cassidy… or should I say welcome back Sahara? Momentum is a hell of a thing. When ya got it on your side, everything comes easy. But when ya lose it, it seems almost impossible to manufacture it. To get it back. It’s like oilin’ up the tracks and starting the locomotive, just to watch the steel wheels spin in place… round and round they go, but they never grip the track, and never move forward. They just keep spinnin’ on that Quaker State…

For me? Money was that oil…when I didn’t have any, I had no excess to pour on the tracks. And what little I did have, I had to keep fightin’ to make more; after all, I had some bad habits to finance. But that’s another story for another day… and trust me when I tell ya I haven’t forgotten about that.

But when I suddenly did have money? And I’m talkin’ obscene amounts of it? It was like dumpin’ BP’s Deepwater Horizon on the tracks. Hell, I’m talkin’ a lake of oil to the point the guy from There Will Be Blood was trying to drink MY fucking milkshake. I was swimin’ in it. Hell, ask my husband, I had a Scrooge McDuck vault built just so I can springboard dive into a vat of gold coins…and then get fucked on ‘em by my favorite Twink. I’m kidding about the vault, but that’s when I lost my momentum. I thought money was why I was doin’ this. And it was… until the day I wandered into an Applebee’s and found a new reason to do what I do. For them. For the forgotten ones that go to work every fucking day just to barely make it by. And yeah, I know how that sounds, trust me. Sahara doing something for others?! Yeah right! But I ain’t really doin’ it for them, am I? I’m doing for that frightened little waitress that thought there was nothing more she could do to improve her miserable little life. So in turn, I’m also doin’ it for anyone that’s ever felt that way. Stuck in a dead end job and livin’ a dead end life. When you see what I saw? You’ll know it’s real. Trust me. I saw that look in their eyes. Every so often, one of us regular people slips through the cracks, and somehow, someway… our wheels cut through the oil and all the other bullshit we put there and we start gaining momentum. Against all odds. How far will I get? I don’t know. How long will the ride last? Again, who knows. But I won’t get there hiding behind a wall of self-pity and excuses. And I know what you’re thinkin’, poor little rich girl, right? What the fuck ever. Like Wyatt Earp once said… probably, ‘I already got a guilty conscience… I may as well have the money.’ Now I got both. Y’all might not be aboard the Sahara train, cuz ya never quite know if what I’m sayin’ is sincere or a complete load of bullshit, but you’re sure as hell comin’ along for the ride every Monday night. I was always the little girl living vicariously through another, until I found there were people out there crazy enough to live that way through me. And win or lose. Victory.

Or.

Valhalla. I won’t let ‘em down again. Clear the tracks, Ashlynn. Cuz that sound you’re hearin’ is steel on steel…and I’m movin’ again. And now I’m comin’ for you. I see you puttin’ on the front. The big bright shining star! Ashlynn Cassidy! It’s like you’re livin’ in this fantasy world where you get to be somebody without earning it. You got all those fancy press conferences. Runnin’ around with your very own Regina George, also known as Miss Michelle… and if it wasn’t all so fake and desperate, it wouldn’t be so sad. Maybe you’ll get lucky and wander into your own Applebee’s and realize how good you could be. But until you believe in yourself, it ain’t gonna happen. At least, not at Venom. Wake up, Ashlynn, and don’t accept being a sidekick because you might hurt Michelle’s tiny little feelings. Until you realize who you are, instead of this wannabe clone of a bitch, you’ll never amount to anything in this business. Take it from me, Ash, cuz I’d know. Step out of her tiny little shadow, and you’ll be that star you so desperately dream of being. Until then, you’re just a speck of light cowering behind a cold dead moon, and nobody can see ya. You’re a scared shitless little girl that doesn’t believe she’s got what it takes to rise up and be somebody on her own. And you know exactly what I’m talkin’ about. Wake up, Ashlynn… cuz when you step into that ring with me this Monday Night? It isn’t gonna be a dream. It isn’t gonna be a nightmare. It’s gonna be real. There’s blood in the water, Ashlynn… And I’m fucking hungry again.