Return of the Mack

By: Paul Montuori

Writing Prompt: Yes

Date: 26th Dec 2021

“Francesca Jolene Black, you get your behind to Bent Fork right this instant… I understand, but this boy showed up out of the blue. He’s in terrible shape, he’s like your Uncle Earl when he got back from the war.. He says he knows you.. Says his name is Paul.. I don’t know, he didn’t tell me his last name. Mumbled something about having no last name..”

…………

“He doesn’t look so good. No way he’s going to be ready for Raven and Aiden in a week,” I hear a familiar voice. So sweet. Vhodka..

“Cuts on his face and chest look infected,” I must be dreaming. No way Vinnie Black is here.

“You know it’s bad when he doesn’t take care of his face.”

“So, what do we do with him? Regular treatment center isn’t going to work. Not in a week.”

“We could waterboard him until he came to his senses?” I hear Vhodka reply. She’s always been so nice.

“I know a feller up in the hills. Fix him real good,” I hear a man say.

“Buck, we are not sending him to some Hillbilly Witch Doctor,” Vincent says.

“Well now, he might be a Hillbilly, but he ain’t no Witch Doctor. He’s a Shaman,” the guy known as Buck says.

“Let’s hear him out,” is the last thing I hear..

…………

I’m brought back to reality as my body hits metal. I hear two doors closing. Roar of an engine, feeling the vibration. I’m in the back of a pickup truck. Where the fuck are we going?

Hopefully it’s to put me out of my misery.

…………

I sit up. Wide awake. Like someone just stabbed me in the heart with a shot of adrenaline. I’m sweating. But it’s cold as fuck. I’m in a tent. The fuck am I doing in a tent? Must be on another bender. I’m so fucking lame. Like drinking and doing drugs to the point of blacking out is cool or something. What a fucking guy I am. No wonder Madison’s with her mom. I can barely take care of myself. That poor girl. I miss her so much..

I go to stand up, pain coursing through me. I look down to see bandages all over my chest. Feel bandages on my face. I’m so confused. Where the fuck am I? And what happened to my face? My chest? My fucking face. Typical. I slowly get up and push my way out of the tent, finding myself outside in the woods. It’s night now, or is it morning? The only light coming from torches that are lit up along what looks like a path. A path I’ve been avoiding for a long time. But a path in which I must venture down..

I follow it, million thoughts running through my head. Where the fuck am I? Hope nothing comes out and tries to eat me. I’m hungry. I wish I could see Madison again. It’s probably for the best that I don’t. I miss Michelle too. I need a drink. Yeah that’ll solve all your problems. Keep pouring poison down your gullet.. I have to call Alexis, poor girl. Someone should’ve warned her about me. About my issues, my many issues. She deserves someone better. Someone who’s got their shit together. Someone who’s not a complete fucking bum.. I come to a small clearing, a fire in the middle with a cauldron over it, Severus Snape style. Across from me I see a figure sitting down.

“Why don’t you sit on down?” he says, less of a question and more of a command. What else am I supposed to do? Go wandering off into the woods, at night? I walk over and sit down next to him, on some fucking log. On some Salute Your Shorts shit. Enjoying the warmth coming from the fire.

“Where am I? And who are you?” I ask. The guy chuckles.

“You’re right here where you outta be. With who you outta be with,” he says, all confident and shit. I remember when I oozed with that much confidence. I’ll never be that guy again. I’ve lost too much, I’ve lost too many times, and I’m fucking lost. Mentally, spiritually, physically.. I’m ready to throw in the towel. Go back to the Hills of Hollywood and lock myself up in my house. Never to be bothered again. Never to see the look in people’s eyes, the look of disappointment. Like I need to be constantly reminded that I blew all the potential I had to be a Big Dog.

“So really not gonna tell me?”

“You already know everything you need to know. Certain decisions you done made in your life have brought you right down that very path that led you here.”

“Yeah, I woke up in a tent and followed a path of torches.”

“Beyond that. Beyond this here moment. Beyond tonight.”

As I sat there, letting the words sink in, the last few months came crashing through my brain like a Rocky montage. The end of Focus. Strat riding off into the sunset. OPW closing. Joining FIGHT!. Losing to Dickie. Madison. Dynasty. Michelle. Losing to Dickie AGAIN. Finding out my entire life was a lie. Losing Madison. A fucking whirlwind. And people wonder why I’m all fucked up.

“So what brings you here tonight?” He finally asks.

“No clue. How about you tell me? You’re supposed to be all wise and shit.”

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. Again I’m gon’ ask, what brings you here tonight?”

“I just told you I didn’t know. Do I look like someone who has any sort of answers?” I reply. He looks me dead in the eyes. A look that penetrates deep. I instantly understand what he’s asking me. “I found out I have a big match coming up. I freaked out. Did what I usually do when I freak out, got wasted.

“Match?”

“Yeah, I’m a professional wrestler. You get wrestling up here?”

“Sure do. You ever hear of that James Raven fella? Course you have, everyone has. That guy’s my favorite.”

“Of course he is,” I reply. Why wouldn’t he be? Dood’s a hell of a lot better than me. Liked by a whole lot more people than me. He’s not a complete fuck up, he seems to have his shit together. Not like my pitiful ass. “So then you know me.”

“Nope, can’t say I do,” he says as dumps something into the cauldron. Figures he doesn’t know me. Why would he? I’m fucking washed up, a has been. Actually, a never even been. A joke, entire life a lie. Entire existence a lie. “So why’d you freak out over a match? Isn’t that what them pro rasslers do? Have matches?”

“Yeah but I guess this time is different. I don’t know, I guess I freaked because I’m worried about THIS match, about winning. About looking like I even belong in the match. Belong in the same ring as James Raven. You just said it yourself, everyone knows him. He’s supposed to be the best. Everyone kisses the ground he walks on, Mr. Nice Guy. How am I supposed to live up to that level? Especially now. See, usually I wouldn’t give two fucks, it was never really about winning. Always just about having fun. And no one ever intimidated me, I’ve been doing this too long to get star struck. But I’ve been on sort of a losing streak lately. A big losing streak. Honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I won, or the last person I beat. Haven’t really been able to control my temper since uh.. Family drama went down. So this match, this match is really make or break for me. I have to win if I have any chance of turning my career around. My life around. I need this to be my grand comeback. I need this to be that springboard back into relevancy. Back onto everyone’s radar.”

“Wait, you’re in a match against James Raven?”

“Yeah,” I say, knowing full well what’s about to come next.

“Oo wee, yeah you’re done fucked boy,” he says as he stirs the contents of the cauldron. And there it is. Even some fucking redneck in the hills of gawd knows where even knows that I have no chance again James Raven. “If you done want any chance of beating James Raven, you gon’ have to leave them there emotions behind.”

“Emotions?”

“Look at you boy, you’re on the verge of breaking down. Crying like a little bitch. I done see it in your eyes. That Raven fella will eat you alive if you get in the ring with him like this.”

“So why the fuck even bother? I have no chance against him. Even you just said so yourself.”

“I mighta been exaggerating a bit.”

“Really?”

“Just a bit. Listen, if you’re gon’ have any chance, you gon’ have to go into the match with a clear mind.”

“Clear eyes, full hearts. OK, how do I do that?”

“Do you trust me?”

“Do I trust you? I just met you.. What choice do I have anyway?”

“You always have a choice. You’d be good to remember that.”

I always have a choice. I let that sink in for a moment.. But do I really have a choice? This dood just said, I have no chance against Raven in my current state. I know that, this dood that just met me knows that. What choice do I really have? I woke up in a fucking tent in the middle of the woods. I’m sitting on a log trying to get warmed up by a campfire, wondering how I’m going to make it out of this alive. Wondering if I should even bother making it out of this alive.

“Fuck it, let’s do it,” I say. Please don’t let this dood be into some kinky shit. He pulls out a cup and dips it into the cauldron, filling it up. He hands it over to me.

“Drink up,” he says. I take the cup. I hate drinks that are hot. I blow on it, trying to cool it down. I look up to see the dood staring at me. With a look in his eyes urging me to chug it. So I proceed to burn the fuck out of my mouth as I drink this gross drink. He smiles a toothless grin at me.

“See ya in the morning,” he says as he stands up. He walks past me, patting me on the back. “May your journey contain the answers you seek.”

“What? No, you can’t leave me out here,” I say as I chug the rest. I turn to grab the dood but he’s gone. Did this guy just leave me out here? After giving me a cup of who knows what? Well fuck, maybe a bear will come along and eat me. Do myself and the rest of the world a huge favor..

The lit path is gone, the fucker must’ve extinguished the flames on his way out. There’s no way I’m going out into the dark and trying to find my way back. Not with this hillbilly potion in me. So I just sit, wrapping the blanket I took from the tent tightly around me.. I sit, staring into the fire. Watching the flames dance around. Fixated on its movement. The more I stare, the more a shape begins to form in the fire which makes me want to stare more. Until soon I find myself slowly drifting into the fire. Drifting into the shape in the fire. Until I am that shape, dancing around in the dark amongst the stars.

The fire’s gone. I’m a baby, swaddled. Being held tightly. In the arms of a woman. I look up into the face of someone I’ve seen before. In pictures growing up. But more than that. Much more than that. I feel an instant.. Connection. Full of.. Love. Like maternal love. I feel so protected. And safe. A warmth I haven’t felt in years, decades, ever.

“I love you, Paulie. My sweet boy,” the woman finally says, as she tickles my chin with her pointer finger. “I’ll always love you.”

“Mom,” I say. Not a question, a statement. All these years, seeing her face, knowing her face. Yet not knowing who it really belonged to. A so-called ‘Long Lost Aunt’ but in actuality, my Mother.. She looks down into my eyes and smiles.

“That’s right my sweet boy.”

“How?” I blurt. I don’t know why I asked that. It just came out of me. The answer I’ve been longing for, yearning for since I found out about my true past. I had to know how she died. My Mo.. Aunt wouldn’t give me any answers. I wasn’t going to ask Joe.. The look in her eyes tells me she knows exactly what I’m asking.

“The how doesn’t matter right now. Don’t get too stuck on the how. What happened is in the past, you can only change your present, your future.”

I’m no longer a baby. I stand across from my Mother, who stands smiling at me. She looks just like the pictures I saw growing up. Like she hadn’t aged a day.

“But.. I have to know how you died. I need to know. Put my mind at ease.”

“It’s not time to reveal that story Paul, there’s more important matters at hand.”

“More important than finding out how my Mother died? What’s more important than that? Fact that I was lied to. My entire life. By people who claimed to be my family. Lied to about you. About who my real dad is.”

“My sister did what she thought was best for you. You have to understand, there’s things you don’t know.”

“So tell me.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not? Why can’t you tell me? I deserve to know. Please don’t lie to me too,” I say, choking back tears. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. The last few months have been way too much for me to handle. Way too much to live with. I can’t have her playing me too. Not her, not my Mother..

“I just can’t. I wish I could.”

“You’re going to keep the truth from me, too? You, of all people. I’m your son, and you’re going to be just like them,” I say, almost screaming. Please not her. I need to know why she left me. Why I was left alone. I need to know to I need fucking answers..

“Do not waste this precious time you have seeking answers that I can’t give you, Paul. There will always be time to find the truth about your father and I. But right now, you’re here for another reason.”

“Another reason?” I ask. What other reason could there be other than finding out the truth about my past? Truth about my parents. There’s nothing else that matters. What could possibly matter more? Then it hits me.. “Getting back on that bike. Getting back in that ring. Getting back to who I was. Before Dickie. Before I embarrassed myself. Before my career and my life hit rock bottom.. It used to be so easy. Bouncing back from losses. I used to be able to shrug it off, come back with guns blazing. Instead, I’m an embarrassment. Embarrassment to myself. Embarrassment to you..”

“Your father and I would never be embarrassed of you. We’re so proud of you. Of the man you’ve become. The accomplishments you’ve had. Of the father you’ve become.”

“I’m a horrible father.”

“You’re not. You love that sweet girl so much, my granddaughter. The love I know you have in your heart for Madison, it’s real.”

“How can I be a great father like this? A shell of a man I used to be.”

“It’s all in your head sweetheart. You’re physically the same man you were before Ascension. You’ve just gotten in your own way. It’s all mental. All in your head.”

“It’s.. You’re right,” I somehow muster to say. She’s absolutely right. The loss to Dickie has made me into a man that’s unrecognizable. Completely destroyed me. Of who I was, of who I became. Turned me into this man, this insecure man. Scared of his own shadow. Scared of the New Status Heauxs. Scared of James Raven. I never felt afraid to go up against anyone, ever. Never felt nervous facing anyone. I’ve faced dozens of James Raven’s throughout my career. Beat the majority of them. And never once was I ever worried or anxious. Never had I put so much pressure on one match. One silly fucking match. Even against Dickie, I went into it more worried about Gang Gang at Night Two of Ascension. But this match against Raven and Aiden Reynolds, for the Island straps, riding with Brandon again.. It’s got me all fucked up in the head, in the feels. I don’t ever remember feeling this insecure. Not in a long time. Not since..

I’m standing in a bathroom. I hear the roar of a crowd through the walls. I look up, seeing myself in the mirror for the first time. My long hair is gone, replaced with dreads. Dreads? I haven’t had dreads since.. Ages. I stare at myself, finally noticing I look at least a decade younger. I reach my hand up to my face, running my fingers over a symbol on my forehead. The symbol, the exact one I’ve been seeing for weeks now. Symbol’s all too familiar..

“iMaGiNe?”

Wow. I haven’t said that name out loud in lawd knows how long. A name I thought I left behind years ago. A name I thought I left in my past. All the memories surrounding iMaGiNe come rushing through me at once, memories I thought I left long and buried. The memories flooding back into me, shaking me to the core. iMaGiNe was a manifestation of all of the hate and resentment and loneliness that built inside me my entire childhood. A manifestation that drove me away from the only family I ever knew, but at the same time helping me break into the business. Helped me first make a name for myself. First time I saw Joe’s real side. But iMaGiNe fed on my insecurities, draining me like a fucking Dementor, until all that was left was a shell of myself. Too insecure to win when it mattered. A person I thought I left behind..

But I don’t understand.. Those symbols I’ve been seeing. Is it a figment of my imagination? That.. I left him behind a long time ago. I told myself, promised myself that if I ever got out of that head space.. I promised I would never go back. I would never let iMaGiNe engulf my existence again. The person he made me, I never wanted to feel that way again. And for years, I was free of that feeling. Until recently. And.. That was him at Season’s Beatings. My face, my chest. He did that. But it can’t be. That’s impossible, right? Am I fucking losing it?

I stare at myself in the mirror, flashes of that previous life run through my mind. Please make it st.. My fist goes through the mirror, I can’t bear to see that face again. To see that person. To see that kid. To look into those eyes again, such hurt and emptiness in those eyes. That face, it reminds me of a time in my life I tried so hard to forget. A person in my life that I tried so hard to forget. I thought I forgot. Left behind, long ago. But here he stands, in the flesh. Staring back at me through the broken mirror. I just want to run, run far away from here, from him. But my feet stand planted, firmly in place. My body, frozen. That’s when I feel a hand on my shoulder, I turn around expecting the worst only to see my Mother standing there, like a light that quickly lifts me.

“You aren’t that person anymore.”

“Then how is he back? After all these years?”

“You’ve allowed him back in your life.”

“Why? Why would I ever let him back in my life? I hate that person. I hate iMaGiNe. And everything he represents. Everything I represented. I tried so hard. I worked so hard to rid him of my existence. And yet here he is..”

“When did you start to doubt yourself?” She asks. I know the answer, without even giving it a thought..

“Ascension. Fucking Dickie..”

I’m looking up at lights over the ring in FIGHT! Tower. I’m reliving the final moments of Ascension. The referee calls for the bell as Dickie stands up victorious to the roar of the crowd. I continue to lay, staring up at the lights. That feeling of loss and shame and embarrassment comes crashing down on me again. A moment, a feeling I never want to feel again. Never want to experience again. Then everything goes silent.

I’m out of my body, staring at myself laying on the mat. The look of sadness, of disappointment in my eyes.. I turn to see the opposite look in Dickie’s eyes. A huge grin plastered across his face as he plays to the crowd, his music vibrating my entire existence. He stands, holding up the strap I wanted so bad highly in the air. But the strap I knew I didn’t deserve, not at that point. I talked the talked, but I know I didn’t work hard enough to deserve it. Didn’t put everything into that match with Dickie, I didn’t leave it all on the canvas that day. Why that loss hurt so much, why it almost destroyed my life. The knowing I could’ve done more, done better lingers in my being. Unable to shake..

“I lost. My entire career, over. All with this loss.”

“Losses don’t define you Paul,” my mother says, appearing from behind the referee. “It’s how you come back from a loss is what people will remember you for. Everyone stumbles and falls at some point, you just stumbled and fell. Now it’s time to get back up.”

“That’s easier said than done. That’s the only thing people are going to remember me for. Blowing it.”

“It’s the only thing people are going to remember if you keep reminding them. People are going to remember the last image of you. Do you want that image to be this moment in this ring? Or do you want to give them something new to remember? Image of you and Brandon, CENSORED, standing in the ring, having just defeated James Raven and Aiden Reynolds. That’s an image that you’re able to produce Paul. You know you can.”

“And what if I blow it.”

“You won’t.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Stop doubting yourself.”

“Stop doubting myself? I can’t keep up with the level of talent in FIGHT!. This isn’t OPW, X has put together a hell of a roster, full of talented people from all over the wrestling business. I mean I couldn’t beat Dickie when it mattered the most. How am I supposed to beat James Raven? I can’t live up to the hype of who CENSORED was. I’m going to let Brandon down. He expects this huge reunion of CENSORED, our big moment. Coming back and showing everyone what CENSORED is all about. Claiming our second Tag Titles, becoming Island Boys. I’m going to let him down.”

“You’re only going to let him down if you let him down,” she says. Like no fu.. Wait, I can only let him down if I let him down.

Message..

Standing before me is James Raven and Aiden Reynolds, flanked by Dickie, Shawn, and the two hot broads. My mouth instantly goes dry, my throat closing. My knees are weak, palms are sweaty, you know the rest..

“I can’t do this.. I can’t show up at Countdown. Not against James Raven. I’m not ready, not to get in the ring with him.. I can’t stand to lose. Not to one of them. Not again,” I say in almost a whisper as I feel myself backpedaling. I turn around to see them standing before me again, cocky smirks plastered across their faces.

“They’re just people,” my Mother says.

“They’re more than tha..”

“They’re not. James Raven isn’t better than you. Aiden Reynolds isn’t better than you. Dickie Watson isn’t better than you. None of them are better than you Paul. The only person that can beat you is yourself,” she says.

What the fuck is she saying? That they’re not better than me? Who the fuck am I? I’m.. Paul. I’m motherfucking Paul. I’m the guy that embarrassed so-called ‘Big Dawgs’ for years. For decades. Coming into every promotion and knocking down their top talent a few pegs. I’m the guy that would close a promotion just by dropping one promo. I’ve stood toe to toe with some of wrestling’s biggest names. She’s.. Right. James Raven isn’t better than me. Aiden Reynolds definitely isn’t better than me.

“You’re right. Who’s James Raven? Who’s Aiden? Status Heauxs aren’t anything special. They’ve picked up a couple of wins at the right moments, but they’re not that impressive. They’re not as impressive as me. They’re not better than me. They’re not even on my fucking level. They’ve been lucky I’ve let them pick up a little bit of momentum, pick up a couple of straps. It’s a wrap though. Not anymore. Coasting is over with.”

The cocky smirks on the Status Heauxs start to disappear along with that twinkle in their eye. One by one they slowly disappear.

I find myself sitting on the edge of a cliff next to my Mother, looking up at the stars. She holds her hand in mine. As the drugs begin to wear off, I know it’s not real. I know she’s not there. But I still cling onto hope of feeling her touch, imagining her touch. Trying to hold onto this moment for just a second longer as the sun slowly begins to creep over the mountains. I turn to look at her.

“Thank you for this,” I finally say. She doesn’t say anything, just smiles at me. I turn back to watch the sun come up. “How am I supposed to forgive Joe? And I guess my Aunt and Uncle? They lied to me for all of these years. Made me feel like I really wasn’t one of them, and of course now it all makes sense.”

“Don’t blame your cousin Joseph. Or your Aunt and Uncle. They did what they thought was best for you. Giving you a good home.”

“But..”

“And go get Madison back. She deserves her father. And you deserve your daughter,” she says. I feel the tears swelling up in my eyes. How I longed to hear that. From anyone. But from my Mother, makes it mean even more. I tried, lawd knows I tried to be the best father I could be. Better than m.. Better than Uncle George. I love that girl so much..

“I love you Mom.”

“I love you too, Paul. And remember, you deserve everything good the world can give you and more,” she says as she puts her hand up to my cheek. And as quickly as she appeared, she was gone.

I just sat in silence, watching the sun slowly creep up over the horizon. For the first time in a long time, I felt.. Sort of at peace with myself. Mostly. I had to get Madison back. I had to get at these New Status Heauxs. I had to get back on track. I spent way too fucking long in exile. Away from the spotlight. Away from what I loved to do. No way I’m going to disappear into obscurity. Not now, not with so much left I gotta fucking prove. Way too long I was Paul Montuori, Joe’s little brother. The Little Engine That Fucking Wishes. I’m done with that. I’m done being Joe’s little brother. Done being that dood that chokes and can’t win the big one.

Perfect opportunity coming up at Night One of Countdown. The reunion of CENSORED Brandon Moore and myself. We never really got a chance to fully reach our potential before a goat split us up. This might be our last chance to really make a bigger mark on tag team wrestling, on the business as a whole. Chance to come out the gate, guns a fucking blazing. What a way to make a comeback, making a huge fucking statement at a big event for FIGHT!, for the Island straps. Taking them off the Gawd of Wrestling James Raven.

I know James Raven is supposed to be, like the greatest, and the New Status Heauxs are all supposed to be dope. They’re at the top in FIGHT!, probably top in wrestling period. Certainly have bragging rights with Dickie beating me. However you wanna slice it, win over me is a feather in anyone’s cap. But come on, the fucking nerve of the Status Heauxs, thinking James Raven is enough to beat CENSORED. All by himself. Really? Against us two? These doods must not know who they’re fucking with. I mean, sure James has a partner. That Australian mate, Aiden. But let’s be honest, he’s the glaring weak link of that group. No disrespect to buddy. Nah fuck that, all disrespect to buddy. It’s cute they think there’s no weak links amongst them. Cute that they think they can beat us with just Raven on the squad. To not think they have to bring their best. Honestly I’d rather get in the ring with one of the two hotties in the group.. But to pick Aiden, really? But then I’m reminded that it’s almost 2022. Participation trophy. Got to make everyone feel special and included. FIGHT! is an inclusive promotion..

Status Heauxs are making a big mistake. Their first big mistake since they’ve come full force in FIGHT!. They have a ton of momentum going their way. Dickie’s the Champ, beat me. James Raven has come in, tearing shit up. They got the Island straps. Figured they’d want to keep the train rolling and come full force. All good. They’ll think twice next time around with their halfass approach to CENSORED. They should’ve learned from my halfass approach to my match with Dickie. History, doomed to repeat itself and all that jazz..

My Mother was right. Those two aren’t better than me. I know that. Like, for real know that. This whole, feeling bad for myself, wasted so much fucking time. I could’ve been plowing through people, racking up blood money to get another shot at Dickie. But instead, I wasted it. An entire season, down the drain. On some bullshit. But nah, I’m good. Not anymore. Done datta. It’s a new fucking day. It’s time to show the Status Heauxs who I am. Party over. Make sure you pop the balloons on the way out..

I should’ve taken my match against Aiden seriously. I should’ve shown him he didn’t belong in the ring with me. He’s not on my level. I should’ve shut his ass down when I had the chance. Instead I gave him that sliver of hope, thinking he’s even in my league.

It was a mistake not putting a clinic on with Haiden. I should’ve crushed his confidence when I had the chance. Then maybe the Status Heauxs would’ve brought the fuego. Better for B and myself. Easier for B and myself. Now it’s all about Raven..

Been about a year since B and I tagged. Or at least it seems that long. But I’m not worried about any chemistry issues. We both want the same thing. To show the world that the Status Heauxs aren’t about shit. When you got talent of our caliber on the same page, nothing anyone can do..

And what a fucking year. 2021. With the New Year coming up, can’t help but to look back. Look back on everything. Dissect everything. Every move. Every decision. And can’t help but to keep ending up on the same moment, same event. Dickie winning at Blood Money. Biggest thing I’d change. If I would’ve focused less attention on the old beef carried over from OPW, and more attention on making it to the end, we’d have a different FIGHT!. There’d be no New Status Heauxs. The rest of them would’ve saw me beating Dickie and they would’ve stayed away. There would be no James Raven in FIGHT!. No Aiden Reynolds or Betsy or Kasey. They wouldn’t be ‘dominating’ everyone, on top of the promotion. There would’ve been no victory at Ascension. And most importantly, there would be no question of whether or not Paul fucking Montuori could beat James Raven.

I finally get up and follow the path, back through the clearing with the fire that’s now extinguished and past the tenth. Down until I finally step onto the lawn of a sprawling estate. Like oil money estate. As I walk up, I see Vin leaning against his car while Vhodka laid on the room, blowing bubbles into the air.

“Look who made it alive,” Vinnie Black says, making me blush.

“I wasn’t dreaming. It really was you two,” I say as Vhodka kicks her legs over and sits up.

“In the flesh,” she says.

“Come on, let me give you a ride back to your car,” Vinnie says.

…………

“You ready?” Vin finally asks, as we lock eyes for a second through the rearview mirror.

“100,” I say. And I actually meant in. The smirk on Vin’s face tells me he believes me.

“So you think you and B have a chance? Raven’s really good and Aiden isn’t a slouch,” Vhodka says.

“I mean, I’m not gonna sit here and guarantee victory. Not again. It’s fucking dumb. Nobody wants to hear that shit anyway. Gets boring, hearing the same bullshit over and over again. Gets boring saying the same bullshit over and over again. See, Countdown ain’t about winning. Ain’t about the Island belts. It’d be an icing on the cake, but it’s not the end all be all. Nah, to me it’s not about winning. It’s about showing everyone, showing Status Heauxs, I ain’t nothing to fuck with. About showing everyone who the fuck I am. This ain’t a joke. Not anymore. I let everyone get way too fucking comfortable. Time to kick them off their comfy pedestal.”

“It’s time you got over your pity party and showed everyone who you are,” Vinnie says in his sexy ass voice.

“It’s time I got over my pity party and showed everyone who I am. Facts. So much time wasted. So much I could’ve done, could’ve proved during this last season. But a win over James Raven and Aiden Reynolds. A win, taking the Island straps away from New Status Heauxs.. That would make this entire season that I wasted worth it,” I say. It’s weird, I feel better, more confident going into this match. Stakes just as high as against Dickie, but I feel.. Lighter. So much drama, so much bullshit I was able to shed in one night. Outside of Madison, I have one focus, one mission. Sorry Status Heauxs..

“This is the place Beulah said you found her. Your car has to be around here somewhere,” Vin says as I look out the window at a parking lot. “Want us to help you find your car?”

“Nah, you two have done enough. Really. Thank you both for everything.”

“Absolutely,” Vin says. I get out of the car, closing the door behind me. Car pulls away as Vhodka hangs out the window waving and screaming bye. 

As they disappear down the street I turn to the parking lot, looking for my car. I pull out the keys, pressing the alarm button as I walk up and down the aisles. I stop at a white Cadillac Coupe DeVille, confused. This isn’t my car. Dood, where’s my car? I’ve actually seen this car before. I slowly walk to the driver’s side, trying to look through the tinted windows. I open the door, finding it empty. I get in, closing the door behind me. The key goes into the ignition and starts. How the fuck did I end up with this car?

…………

I sit outside of Brandon and Michelle’s place. On Creep Island. Feels like so long since I’ve seen either one of them. Since we made up. Then I just disappeared. Bailing on my best friend. I step out with a sense of deja vu. How many times have I apologized to Michelle? How many times have I told her I’d never do her like that again? Too many to count. And each time she forgave me.

I step out of the car and pop the trunk, pulling out the presents I got for Ezra. Balancing them, I close the trunk and walk up to the house. I take a deep breath and ring the doorbell. And again. No answer. I ring it again, trying to juggle the presents in my hand. That’s when..

“Paul?”

I turn around to see Michelle. Without thinking twice, I drop the presents and run over to her, almost knocking her over as I pick her up in a bear hug.

“I missed you,” I say, trying to hold back the tears. “And I’m sorry. Again.”

“What the fuck? Put me down,” she says. But I know she doesn’t mean it. Until she bops me over the head. I set her down as she fixes her coat and hair. “So I’m just supposed to forgive you? Again? Just like that?”

“No, no you don’t. And I understand if.. Wait, fuck that. You took B back. And he’s your husband. I’m just your unreliable best friend. Course you have to forgive me. Where’s my God Son?”

“He’s out with Brandon and Poptart.”

“That creep’s still around?”

“Shut up and come inside,” she says. I pick up the presents I dropped and follow her inside..