In the eyes of the law I was still a child, but not for long. Just hours from liberation, I snuck out of my parents’ home, climbed on an overcrowded bus, and headed towards the one thing I had wanted to do for as long as I could remember.
My destination, a big building, erected in reflective glass, emerged from the distance. The statue of elegance and grace symbolized everything that was the city of Coeur de ’Lile, but to me, it was a gift bestowed upon me for overcoming a huge obstacle.
It was all new to me. The city. The crowds. The sounds. Exciting, yet I trembled.
Shuffling from the bus, I bent my neck upward, taking it all in, wishing for the normal Jenithiyain day of blue skies and warmth. Instead, grey clouds drifted, casting a near-nighttime shadow over the venue. Rain and storms were a rare occurrence in Jenithiyah … of all the days for one to arrive … but that was just my luck.
People stood single file. A human train so long that I had to walk two blocks before I found the end. By then, thunder cracked in the distance and lightning mimicked a strobe light overhead. Men stared at the sky with worry in their eyes, while a few women let out shrilled gasps. Those who were smart enough to bring an umbrella took cover under their makeshift shelter, while the rest of us stood exposed to the elements. I quickly realized that the wait was going to be scarier and lengthier than I originally planned.
Then the bottom fell out.
Geeze! Why couldn’t the rain come down in light sprinkles? Nope. Never. Not where I lived. Rains came in hurricane force. Shutting down everything like the snow in the southern states of the outside world, where my father was born.
At least it forced the doors to open early and people were moving swiftly inside, but not quick enough to save anyone from a thorough soaking.
Looking like I just climbed out of the swimming pool, I claimed my seat in the auditorium and shivered. The full-throttle air-conditioning caused the room to feel like a freezer, but I was still fortunate. I had one of the best cheap seats imaginable. Ten rows from the action. I could see everything from my spot. The ring, the stage, and the commentator’s desk. Very lucky ... except, I would be in a lot of trouble when I returned home.
I settled in my seat. I’m sure they knew I was gone by now, but what could they possibly do? I was immune to all their punishments, but just the thought sent my deal-or-flight instinct firmly in the flight direction.
My fingers dug into the armrests of the plush theater chair. The narrow, cement aisle to my right showed the way out. My legs twitched and the urge to bolt took too long to fade.
My life up until that point had been torture. Mentally and physically. I wondered if I’d ever feel free. Would I ever find a place where I could breathe?
My overactive thoughts hollered, ‘you’re gonna pass out!’
I closed my eyes and forced myself to take slow, deep breaths.
“It’s okay. You have no reason to be scared. You’re fine. You’ll feel worse if you don’t stay.”
I wanted to be where I was at that moment and I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone take my chance to see him … the man I loved so much.
The lights went out. The darkness, a welcomed relief, cast its illusion, calming overactive nerves that hollered run, run, run, and stimulated fantastic illusions, my personal coping method, to soothe my fearful mind.
I was waiting for a knight. The one who would make it all alright. Any moment he would emerge from the shadows. He would find me in the middle of that mass hysteria, gaze into my eye fall in love and steal me away to something better. If he could see past my stringy, drenched hair and running make-up. Of course, he would. He was perfect.
A guitar wailed a high pitched introduction. A roar of screams rocked the floor like thunder and a spotlight illuminated the center of the room. If you’ve never been to a wrestling event, it would be hard to envision the inertia of it all. I had imagined it for years myself but, my imagination didn’t capture it accurately. Nowhere close.
I’d never seen so many people. There was a crowd to my left. A crowd to my right. In front of me. Behind me. As far as I could see. It was loud. Of course, there’s screaming and cheering, but they were drowned out by the music. As if I was standing next to the biggest speaker in the world and the bass! I felt it beneath my feet and in my heart. Like a rock concert in the middle of a war.
The first wrestling match of the evening was about to begin. Across the huge space, a big screen at the top of a ramp played clips from the best moments of the star’s career. He appeared so small, I wouldn’t have known which star he was if it weren’t for the song and video, but I didn’t care about him. I hadn’t traveled four-hundred miles for him.
I pouted, even though I was probably too old to pout but I longed to meet him. Face to face. Somehow. I was obsessed. Of course, I could never afford the price of a backstage pass so I pacified myself with an opportunity to stand in the same room as him.
That desire fueled the fight to gain my independence. To stop hearing the negative words that swore that I would never be anything. that I was worthless, stupid, and worst of all, ugly.
Each wave of anxiety I conquered strengthened something deep inside. Suddenly, I was enjoying the moment. On my feet. Clapping. Whistling. Taking it all in. The bright flickering lights. The half-naked, hard bodies. The countering move sets. The thunderous arguing and taunting between the stars. At the end of each match. I craned my ears in hope. Searched the room in anticipation. Nothing else clouded my thoughts. The fear left me be. All I could think about was finally seeing him.
A theme song blared.
It wasn’t the one I wanted to hear.
One after another, after another.
I checked my watch. The show was almost over and my cloak of disappointment grew thicker. There was no guarantee that my favorite wrestler would appear at that show. I’d known that when I’d bought the ticket. Oh well. I’d never known anything but disappointment anyway. It was my own fault. I always dreamed unreachable dreams … THERE IT WAS!
At the very last moment, when I was ready to call it a night ... my pulse drummed in my ears, drowning all other sounds. I scanned the room. My hero was part of a brotherly team. Emerging from the crowd was a new addition to their entrance. No one ever knew exactly where they would pop up. They could be sitting in any seat ... enter through any door ... any level of the coliseum. Once, they’d popped out of huge teddy bear costumes that had danced around the room all night.
A roar of happy shrieks erupted. Fans in my section jumped to their feet, their attention on the door to the rear. I whipped around. Holy crap! They were right behind me! They were coming down the steps! Of my aisle! I had chosen an end seat purposely – just hoping that maybe – OH! I was so glad I forced myself to attend that live show! Thankful I’d taken that summer job. Happy that I’d lied, skimped, stolen, and snuck out my window. I didn’t care what happened when I returned home. It was completely worth it!
The beat of The Cage Brothers’ song shook the cement beneath my feet. I held a hand over my heart. I never expected to feel so paralyzed. I glued wide eyes to Dakota as he descended one step at a time down, coming closer to me with each one. I was close enough to reach out and touch a powerful bicep. I’d dreamed about it. Fantasized about it and here he was two feet away and ... I ... could ...not ... make ... my ... body ... obey!
“Dakota! Dallas!” Everyone around me cheered. Hands patting their shoulders. High fives. Cameras flashed. High pitched squeals.
“I love you!” A stranger screamed and I was jealous. Possessive.
I needed to declare my love. I opened my mouth … No sound.
Five steps away … Four … did his gaze meet mine? … Three!
Seyer Stone attacked. The evil villain, with tattooed sleeves, smashed an elbow between the shoulder blades of Dallas, the youngest brother, causing him to stumble and collide with Dakota. It all happened so fast that I wasn’t exactly sure what had happened or how I ended up flat on my back, face to face with my idol.
Dakota Cage appeared as shocked as I was. “I’m so sorry,” His brilliant blue-green eyes stared directly into mine. “Are you okay?”
I nodded like a fool. How many times had I dreamt of being in that position? Dakota lying on top of me? His hard body so close I could feel his heart beating?
“Are you hurt?” His brunette locks cascaded, giving us a sense of seclusion. One hand touched softly while he braced the other on the floor to keep his full weight from crushing me. Okay, so he was only touching my arm, but it was enough to send chills from head to toe.
He rose slowly, extended his hand, helped me to my feet, gave a slight embrace, and then raised our hands in the air as if to tell the entire building we were both alright.
Numerous cameras clicked and their flashing bright lights momentarily blinded me and when I could see again, Dakota had left me behind. My eyes focused on the battle in the center of the large room. The Cage Brothers’ match lasted thirty minutes or so, but in my daze, it seemed to be over in a blink. I felt disappointed again. I’d waited for months to stand in the same room as Dakota Cage and his appearance had been too fleeting for the length of time I’d had wait.
I gathered the bag at my feet, the only souvenir I had been able to buy, and merged with dozens of others moving toward the exit. Again, that knot twisted in my stomach. The time to pay for my actions drew nearer and I imagined the worse. I tried to tell myself it wouldn’t be that bad, yet I couldn’t breathe.
‘I’ll be outside – I’ll get on the bus and I’ll be on my way home. It will be over soon.’
I just had to get out of the building. I gazed at my watch. The bus would be there in ten minutes and I was stuck in the middle of wall to wall bodies. Shoved this way and that as I tried to move through them. Poked. Jabbed. Did people always have to be so rude?
“Huh?” It took a moment before I realized that someone was talking to me. The man in the black suit and tie had to address me several times before I finally answered. Sort of.
“Ma’am, the MWC would like to invite you backstage.” He placed a card in my hand that read V.I.P. “They’d also like to offer the services of their medical staff to be sure you are okay.”
“Oh, I’m fine,” I insisted and climbed another step. The last thing I wanted to do was miss the bus and get stuck waiting for hours for the next. I had to work the next day. The show ended at midnight and I still had a five-hour journey ahead of me.
“I must insist, Ma’am.”
“But I … I’ll miss my bus.”
“The buses aren’t going anywhere because of the storm ... please, Miss?”
I stopped and eyed the man. He was an older gentleman.
“I’m not the suing type,” I told him.
“Ma’am, I promise it will be worth your time.” He gave a grandfatherly smile. “You don’t want to send me back empty-handed now, do ya?” He didn’t seem desperate for my cooperation, but I still imagined the poor man getting chewed out because of me … or fired. So, I relented.
“This way, Miss.” He escorted me by the elbow through the people shuffling toward the exit. Through a door. Down a flight of stairs to the lower level of the auditorium.
I was terrified I was about to walk into a mob of suits. I chewed on my fingernails. The MWC was a big company and they couldn’t have gained their fame without being a bit ruthless. I didn’t want to think about what lengths they would go through to make sure no one marred their name. Was I walking toward my own demise? Would I end up in an unmarked grave? Would anyone care that I was missing? Violent thoughts like that popped into my brain as if I walked toward a meeting with the mob. And I was sure I was going to have a heart attack before they had a chance to do anything to me.
We walked a bit longer and then entered a set of double doors. A line of people waited in a narrow corridor on the other side. I felt almost claustrophobic in the small crowded space. All eyes followed us as we passed. They all wore VIP badges. They chatted loudly and I got a glimpse of what the costly privilege truly meant – standing around waiting. It hardly seemed worth the price tag.
“This way.” The older man held open a door for me when we reached the front of the line. I heard whispers and malice in the voices of the waiting fans.
Who was I? Why did a man escort me through a door marked ‘Authorized Personnel Only?’ Behind those doors, I found myself standing in the middle of a behind the scenes world and it wasn’t as exciting as the television show I watched every Friday night. It was pure chaos! At least it seemed that way to me. People with headphones and clipboards appeared to be talking to themselves. They pushed through the crowd without manners. Big trunks on wheels sat against the walls. More traveled from one place to another. Reporters with microphones and cameramen scrambled to catch the popular talent.
The show’s celebrities walked quickly this way and that. I saw Cady DeBosa, the blonde-headed women’s champion, walk by in a lavish fur coat, talking heatedly on her cell phone. I didn’t know much about her, except she was a second-generation wrestler and had dated many of her male co-workers … like Ethan Hart, who emerged from a door and strolled across the room. He approached a pretty blonde and took her hand. Oh, I remembered hearing so much about them. Some of my classmates followed every word they had posted on Chatter, a social media site I didn’t have the means to enjoy. It was a true-life fairytale and everyone was in love with their story ... me included.
“Maybe your boss believes your bullshit, Stone, but I know better! Moron!” A dark-haired woman marched by with the man that had caused my incident at her heel. I’d seen pictures of her before when the world thought that Seyer Stone had perished in a car accident.
“He deserved it for what he did.” The tattooed star countered her anger.
“I told you I dealt with it! But like always you just had to play the hero!” She paused. Her greyish-blue eyes landed on me. Her hand fell on her hip. The intimidating way she presented herself made her seem much taller than she was. “I’m so sorry that you got stuck in the middle of this idiot’s childish revenge.”
“I’m okay.” I managed, but she was already taking steps away.
“His wife,” The old man snickered in my ear. “She’s the only one that can knock the air out of Stone’s ego. He was an asshole before he met her now, he’s almost … human.”
“I wouldn’t want to bump into her in a dark alley.”
“Nah. Tori wouldn’t hurt anyone ... unless she’s provoked.”
I stared at the tattooed man who had been so violent almost an hour before. He didn’t seem as mean. Pleading for his wife to stop storming away from him until she stepped through an exit, slamming the door in his face. I had never liked Seyer Stone, but after witnessing his true life ... I kind of felt sorry for him.
“Would you like to meet him?”
Seyer Stone growled, then smashed his fist into the wall, causing me to decline with a shake of my head.
“Here she is!” A large hand landed on my shoulder.
I spun to face its owner. I recognized him. “I’m Stanley DeBosa.” He offered his hand.
“I know who you are,” I whispered, giving his hand a timid shake.
The retired wrestler was older now, grey at the temple with slight wrinkles around his eyes, but just as muscular as he’d been before. Bigger in person actually. I remembered he was a callous man. A wealthy man who demanded respect and brought his wallet to every competition. His approach did nothing to calm my nerves.
“I want to apologize for what happened on behalf of the entire company. It’s not common for spectators to become part of the show.”
“I know it was an accident.” My hand fluttered to my throat as if his scrutinizing eyes projected invisible squeezing fingers. “I’m not going to call a lawyer.” I was terrified and I felt cornered like a small animal. The man had a growl in his tone and accusation in his eyes. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. “I promise.”
Stanley DeBosa chuckled. “My dear, we are not concerned about possible litigation. We are only concerned that you may have been hurt. You are a tiny little thing and you were bowled over by a man who is at least three times your size.”
“Oh … I’m not that little.”
Again, DeBosa cackled. “Follow me.”
The next thing I knew I was in a tiny room with a trio of doctors poking and prodding every inch of my body. A woman in a pinstriped pantsuit flipped through a stack of tabbed papers, pointing to each line I needed to sign. Consent forms? I guess? I was so confused and it came at me in such a blur that I wasn’t sure if I was signing for treatment or if I was signing my entire life away.
They checked my eyes with a light. Looked at this. Inspected that.
“Owwa!” I didn’t realize my wrist was hurt until the doctor touched it.
“It’s badly swollen. Probably nothing more than a sprain, but let’s do a quick x-ray to be sure.” And a big machine appeared immediately.
“Who’s your favorite wrestler?” All sorts of questions were coming at me from so many different directions I was dizzy.
“That’s ironic.” I heard, but they weren’t talking to me and shortly after that, they filled my arms with pictures, tee shirts, dolls, and large baskets.
“I’m glad it’s only minor, but if you feel anything at all in the next week or so I want you to call this number. Tell them you were trampled by one of our wrestlers and you got this number from me.” Stanley DeBosa said in a confident manner as if he dealt with such things every single day. “Ah, yes ... here it is.” A man in a company tee-shirt approached and DeBosa turned to sign a paper on the clipboard.
I took the opportunity to squat and rearrange my load. It was the first time I was thankful for the old oversized purse I’d never cared for. It was empty except for my wallet and I was able to put most of the smaller items inside, leaving me only the baskets to carry.
“Here you are.” DeBosa placed an envelope in my hand the moment I stood up. I opened it. “It should be the agreed upon amount. You did sign the paper.”
“Twenty-thousand dollars?” Yeah, they were slick, throwing all those papers at me the way they had.
“So, now that that’s taken care of ... one more stop.” He opened the door with a metal plaque that read LOCKER ROOM.
The elder man nodded to tell me it was okay to step inside.
I took a quick glance around. It looked like an ordinary locker room. Much like the one from my high school. I had expected something fancier.
I bit my lip. The Cage Brothers were the only ones in that room and we’d obviously walked in on some kind of altercation.
Dallas Cage met my gaze with a snarling lip and stormed toward the door. Instinctively, I took a step back. My back hitting the door frame.
Up close, I saw no resemblances between the brothers. Dallas was slightly shorter than Dakota. He had neon green streaks in his blonde hair and a tattoo on his inner wrist ... but, he did share the same vibrant eye color.
“Dallas, do you have a minute to meet ...”
“No.” Dallas slipped out the door, ignoring Stanley DeBosa completely.
The older man stared after him with narrowed eyes for a moment, then turned his attention to the other man. “Dakota, I would like you to meet, Katarina McIntyre.”
“It’s nice to meet you … officially.” He raised off the bench, crossed the room with a dazzling smile and I tried to hide a deep inhale of oxygen. “I really am sorry I fell on you. What can I do to make it up to you?”
Oh, there were so many things that shirtless, still covered in sweat man, could do for me but, the only thing I could do was hold up an eight by ten with his image.