March 6th, 2016

James sat in his locker room, his back warm against the rather cold metal of his locker as he held the ice pack to his eye. He took a shot to the head, knocking him out for a few brief seconds, awarding his opponent the victory, earning the title James wanted as well as the overall winner of the tournament he had been a part of. He felt honored in the defeat, as his opponent simply outdid him when it came down to the final moments of the contest. He knew his eye would swell up, but he snickered as he told himself that he should be use to it, given his chosen profession. Scrapes, bumps, and bruises were all part of the trade. The ring ropes didn't help matters much either. His body was riddled with streaks thanks to rope burn. The ring itself was an entirely different monster. His mentor had it worse, but the rings these days still beat you up nonetheless.

James was supposed to talk to another competitor but something told him that they would be busy at the end of the night, due to celebrating a well deserved title win. He wasn't for certain, but he had a feeling so he went with his gut. James released a sigh, followed by a groan as he stood up from his seat. He removed his ring gear and got into a hot shower, ignoring the pain shooting up and down his body due to the swelling and bruising. His eye stung, but he just dealt with it and shrugged it off. Once his shower was over, James got dressed then grabbed his bag and headed out of the arena, trying to remain very low key as he reached the exit and stepped outside, allowing the cool night air to swallow him whole. He had been put through the ringer earlier in the night, competing in two contests, winning the first and just barely losing the second.

He removed the keys from his pocket and went to press the “UNLOCK” button when a voice called out from behind him. It was a ghost from his past. A voice James never thought he’d hear again, nor did he want to. But he heard it and he knew there was no way to deny it or ignore it.

“You’re a hard man to keep up with…”

James stopped in his tracks and released a sigh before slowly turning his head to face the man behind the voice. It was his father’s brother, James’ Uncle John. John stood before James, wearing a heavy jacket, blue jeans, boots and a ball cap, hanging low as it covered half of his face, but there was no denying that it was indeed John.

James: “What are you doing here, John?”

John stepped forward a little bit, away from the shadows and into the light, shrugging his shoulders.

John: “Is that any way to be towards family? Especially family that you haven’t seen in a long, long time? I mean, it’s been what…six…seven years? Maybe even longer?”

James: “It hasn’t been long enough but you didn’t answer my question, John. What are you doing here? You’re a long way from home so there has to be some reason as to why you’re here…following me.”

John: “Well, since you’re going to be rude James, I will just cut to the chase. My mom, your grandmother, is dying. I figured you deserved to know.”

James’ annoyance and aggravation subsided into the feeling of being punched in the chest. His heart sunk and he felt the wind knocked out of him.

He closed his eyes and swallowed his pride.

James: “What’s wrong with her?”

John snickered which only agitated James further.

John: “Oh now you want to talk. Of course you do. If it was just me, coming around to say hey, you wouldn’t care one bit.”

James rolled his eyes.

James: “John, just stop for crying out loud. You know why there is bad blood between you and I. But my grandmother is a different story. She’s never done me wrong. If anything, she was always good to me and supportive. So out with it…what is wrong with her?”

John: “She has congestive heart failure, which in case you didn’t know, runs in our family. It has gotten worse since you decided to pick up and take a leave of absence. She was asking about you the other day so I took it upon myself to use what little money I could to get a plane ticket here and I waited out in the cold for God knows how long just so I could tell you. Lord knows I would have called if anyone knew how to get in touch with you.”

James: “Yeah, well there is a reason for that, John. I am sure you know a few of them right off the bat. I do appreciate you letting me know even if you had to fly out here. I will put on a plane back home tonight or in the morning…whichever you choose. I appreciate it but don’t you dare try to come at me like you some sort of patron saint, because we both know that is very far from the truth. You’re no hero.”

John snapped back.

John: “Oh? And you are?”

James shook his head.

James: “Oh no, John. I am far from a hero. I’ve done a lot of bad things. I am my father’s son after all. Just as you are his brother. He brought us both down the dark path he traveled because he was too much of a coward to travel it alone. He brought us along but that doesn’t make us one in the same, John so don’t get it twisted in that messed up head of yours. You and I are different because I wanted out every step of the way. You were always looking for a way to move up no matter how far you had to sink.”

John chuckled a bit while shaking his head before giving a response.

John: “And here you are…all over the television, traveling the world, making all kinds of money, forgetting all about your family and where you come from. If you ask me, I would have to say that is lower than any depths that I have sunk to.”

James: “John I highly doubt you know all of the things I’ve been to and why I severed ties with any and all family that I have ever had. I had to let go of my friends, my family, and it has had nothing to do with being on TV or making money. I have wanted to come home. I have wanted to come see my family every single day, but I have stayed away for reasons I am sure you know about but choose to ignore.”

A silence fell over James and his estranged uncle. James hated pointing fingers and engaging in dick measuring contests. He had never liked it even when he tried to participate in those types of arguments. He usually lost because he lost interest, thinking that they were nothing short of stupid. They stood there in silence for a few moments before John spoke up.

John: “Well, let’s talk about it over a beer, nephew. What do you say?”

James stared at his uncle, with a million things running through his mind, conjuring up different scenarios, with the most common theme being that his uncle had something up his sleeve, something to try and lure James back into the world he had been fighting to leave behind. A world of crime, which would translate into James returning to the use of drugs and alcohol. James had been sober for around a month and it was a good feeling. The thought of ruining all of the work he had put into his sobriety left an awful taste in his mouth. But James thought about his grandmother and the news John had shared. He pictured her lying on a hospital bed with tubes running all over her body, causing James to feel a deep sadness. He also felt a sense of obligation, no matter how hard he tried to fight it.

James: “I don’t drink anymore, John. But we can go somewhere and talk. I could use something to eat. And don’t worry, it’s my treat.”

John: “Oh Christ…you have totally gone soft…”

James closed his eyes and lowered his head, biting his tongue in the process. The concept of him going soft had become a topic of discussion. One of his co-workers had taken to social media, stating the same exact thing James’ own uncle said, criticizing James for not being the way he used to be. It ate at James a little bit but he had to remind himself that he was doing what was best for him. He knew that some people could handle their drinking and their partying, but there were some people who could not. James, as well as his uncle and even his father, was one of those who couldn’t.

John: “Well do you care to watch me drink a beer?”

James locked eyes with John, letting his uncle know that he was growing more and more irritated.

James: “You can have one. You have anymore than that then you can pay for your own crap as well as your plane ticket home. I am not in the mood to deal with your drunken stupidity, John. That’s how it’s going to be so take it or leave it. Do we have a deal?”

John stood there for a moment or two. James knew he would accept the offer, because John had always taken any and all hand outs, no matter what they were. Just as long as those offers benefitted him in some way, John was always game. It was something that James had picked up on even when he was younger. James figured not much had changed and when John finally replied, James knew he was right.

John: “That sounds fair. So which one of these rides belongs to you? I am tired of walking in the cold or riding in a cab. I hate those damn things.”

James lifted his keys and clicked the unlock button. His rental beeped and the lights flashed. James then motioned for John to get in. John slowly walked over to the car, which was fresh off of the BMW lot and he nodded his head in approval.

John: “You have done well for yourself nephew. Very well…”

James: “Well, as they say uncle…hard work pays off.”

James’ words carried a fire within them. First off, James hated John calling him “nephew” and it was something John had known for a very long time. Second, James made mention of hard work because John had never worked for anything in his life. All he did was take, take, and take some more. John shot James a look which let James know his uncle resented his comment. James smirked at John, letting him know James was glad his words stung. Both men then climbed into the car and a few moments later, they were on the road, looking for the nearest restaurant or sports bar. James wanted to get through his time with his uncle as quick and as painless as possible. The drive was shrouded in silence which James liked and it would have been how James ended his night in his hotel room had it not been for John showing up out of nowhere. James would not have entertained John had it not been for his grandmother’s ailing condition. It was a situation that would have normally drove James to drink, but he had been telling himself that he was stronger than that.

He didn’t want to drown his pain or sorrow and hide behind a bottle.

He didn’t want to be a coward.

Once seated, James and John placed their orders, with James ordering a medium well ribeye and a vanilla Coke to drink. It was something his grandfather Henry would always order and as a kid, James wanted to be just like him, so it stuck with him throughout his life. John ordered a burger with everything and a Budweiser. Once their orders were complete, John spoke up, as if he wanted to make sure there was no silence.

John: “So, tell me about what you’ve been through, James. It’s been so long since we talked. I feel like I barely know who you are. I mean, it’s like I don’t know a damn thing about you which is sad because…fuck…we’re family.”

James: “Yeah we are family, but we’ve never been close, John despite what you may think. And there are reasons for that. I wanted to avoid turning out like you and my father…”

John cut James off by saluting Charles Evans with a gulp of his beer, before speaking.

John: “Your dad wasn’t as bad as you make him out to be, James. He was a lot of things, but there are some things that he wasn’t.”

James: “He was a criminal, liar, and a terrible father. Don’t even get me started on how terrible he was as a husband. You could ask any of them women he had hooked around his finger. But then again, you should know. He showed you the way and you bought into it. You turned out the same way he did, except not as successful and well…you’re still alive.”

John: “Yeah God willing…but what about you? I know you’ve seen some of the type of work your father was involved in. Hell, I am sure you even dabbled in it a little bit. Tell me I’m wrong, James. Can you honestly say that? If you can then you have every right to point the finger, but if you can’t then stop giving me shit. Nobody likes a hypocrite.”

James went to respond but stopped himself. He could feel the anger rising within him. He found it amazing at how his father and even his uncle were able to get under his skin so easily. James let out a sigh and took a sip of his Coke before finally responding, hoping that he had calmed down.

James: “I was dragged into that life, John. I never asked for it. I was given a choice nearly six years ago because of my dad. I made a choice therefore I had to turn my back on my family and a chance at love just so I could go into hiding with him. I will say that for a little while I felt my dad had turned over a new leaf as he became a rat. He and I worked for various law enforcement agencies to take out a lot of my father’s competition, but after that, he went back into business for himself. I wasn’t going along for that ride. So you can praise my father all you want and kiss his ass all you wish, but the fact of the matter is that you don’t know a damn thing about him. He put me in danger but I dove into that danger to protect you, my grandmother and the rest of my family.”

The table grew silent after James’ response. He didn’t want to divulge all of that information but James couldn’t help but admit that it felt good to get it out, as he had been carrying it around with him for a very long time. The waitress returned with their food and James ate in silence with his uncle. After their meal was finished, John finished off his beer and James shook his head as he watched his uncle attempt to make a pass at the waitress. James shook his head, telling himself that had he stayed the course, he could have turned out like his uncle or even worse, like his father.

James: “So, how old is grandma now?”

John: “I think she’s 76. I’m not sure. But it looks like she has aged over the last few days. I don’t know if you were planning on going to see her but if you were, I suggest you do it as soon as you can. She looks like she’s knocking on death’s door in all honesty.”

James: “I’m not sure what I’m going to do. The thought of going back home doesn’t seem all that appealing, but not being able to say goodbye with my grandmother would more than likely eat at me for the rest of my life.”

John: “Well, I am sure she would like to see you. She’s still coherent, but I’m not sure for how long. If I were you, I’d go and see her. She deserves that. She always loved you and she used to ask about you often, but then when you just disappeared she stopped asking. But you could tell that she would always check the phone when it rang, clinging onto hope that it was you. When she found out your dad died, she started to worry more and more about you.”

James: “You never showed me to her on TV?”

John: “Well to be honest, no. She didn’t have a TV. I pawned it at one time because I needed a fix. I feel bad for it now but then I didn’t care.”

James ran his hands over his face and shook his head some more. A part of him wanted to reach across the table and punch Johns square in the face. The other part of him wanted to book a flight back home just so his grandmother knew that he was alright. John was right. She deserved that. She deserved a lot.

James: “Jesus, John…why am I not surprised? Only you would pull some crap like that.”

John put his hands up in surrender.

John: “Look, it wasn’t one of my proudest moments, but I am trying to keep it together for her now. I bought her a new TV, but by then, all she wanted to watch was the Gospel channel. She hasn’t been staying awake very much. When she was at home, she would just sleep all day or at least lie in the bed, doing nothing but just lay there staring at the ceiling.”

James shook his head, drawing in a deep breath, trying his best to process the information John was giving him, as well as remain strong and not break down.

James: “Wow. Jesus. I’m not sure what to say. It’s hard to picture her like that. It’s not something I want to picture.”

James let out a sigh.

John: “I’m not sure any of us know what to say or do.”

James went to respond but couldn’t find the words. The rest of the meal went in silence. After both finished eating, James paid the bill and left with his uncle. James put John up in a room at the same hotel he was staying at. Inside of the hotel room, James couldn’t sleep. He lied awake, contemplating his next move.

James told himself that he could travel back home and visit with his long-lost family, but he’d be filling that prodigal son role that he would want to avoid. He could spend time with his grandmother that he hadn’t seen in years. He wanted her to know he was okay and that he had not forgotten about her. But he would have to leave the SCW again, which would result in him losing his spot that he had been working really hard at obtaining. He would lose any and all momentum he had built in the last month or so, which would result in James more than likely having to return to the bottom of the heap. James wasn’t sure if he would be able to dig, scratch, and claw his way through once again. He wasn’t sure if he had the fight in him.

But the more he thought about it, the more he saw his grandmother lying in bed, dying a little bit more and more each day, her eyes searching for him and only him. The very thought ate away at James, driving him close to tears. He sat up in his hotel bed and grabbed his phone. He checked Twitter to see if anyone was around, blowing up the SCW feed, his eyes scanning for someone to talk to, someone who would lend an ear and help James make a decision, but all James ended up doing was shaking his head at himself. A lot of his co-workers were too absorbed into their little Twitter feuds to give a damn about what he was going through.

He sighed, telling himself that he would have to suck it up, be a grown up and decide for himself. The thought was scary, as he didn’t want to make the wrong decision and end up feeling regret.

James released a sigh, knowing that it was time to go home…