Ezra and Sean open up to each other as they try to find peace from demons in the past, and he pitches an idea to Michelle.
Tuesday, June 5th
Busy was an understatement! But Ezra was used to busy! In fact, he liked things more than way, he decided. He wrestled, he trained, he travelled, he slept and on his days at home, he was always on hand to help Sean take care of the animals! Without Beau, they were a person short - though, Ezra quickly realised with a poignant shame that Oliver was correct about how lazy and incompetent Beau actually was. When he wasn't busy, he was finding ways to be busy! Extra workouts, other appearances, planning out what he was going to say when the wrestling documentary came around! Spending precious time with Amélie before Jack reluctantly took her to Canada to live with her grandparents for a while. Any excuse Ezra had to not allow his thoughts to linger on Beau was good enough.
Jack's presence was sorely missed, of course. The KADA Wrestling schedule was inflexible, especially in these early days where the rookies were paying their dues. Poor Jack only had a few days to fly all the way to Quebec City and return to New Orleans in time for their next show! Sean and Oliver were both good friends, of course. However, their relationship was still in the court of mentor and protége, or superstar and fan. Ezra was not nearly naive or arrogant enough to think he was on their level! Maybe one day! He'd wrestled against Oliver for his formal tryout, and it was a successful bout that he always remembered fondly. But, though he wouldn't admit it to the bigger man, he thought Sean was the superior wrestler of the two. He wanted a fifteen-minute match against Sean - or an hour!! In front of tens of thousands of people!!
Diego Silva and Lance Lovecraft had been terrific opponents thus far, though! Ezra debuted as a fan from the audience, fluking a massive win over Lance! The following week - last Friday - Jack defeated Diego Silva in his debut match as well when Ezra came out - to some massive cheers!! - and speared Lance to the ground for trying to cheat behind the referee's back! Though it had only been two shows, Ezra now boasted a hundred and two thousand followers on his Instagram!! Jack had a hundred and fifteen thousand!! Things had happened so quickly he barely had time to breathe!
"I thought being waited on hand and foot would make me happy!" Sean remarked, one of his eyebrows raised as he surveyed the immaculate kitchen area in front of him. "It turns out I miss cleaning my own house and making my own coffee. Don't you ever get tired? Or sick of doing chores?"
Ezra flushed a little, unsure if he was being complimented or criticised. "It's no trouble! I mean, the three of us aren't here very much. Not since Beau--" he trailed off, upset at himself for bringing him up. "Well, he was never a good housekeeper."
"You're not wrong, but that's not even the point! You've been going so hard for the last month. Aren't you worn out? You know I won't mind if you let me do the dishes while you do whatever it is you do to chill out. I don't remember you taking any time for yourself since you got called up to the main roster," Sean leaned against the back of the couch, scritching one of the cats under its furry cheek.
"I do! I work out when I'm stressed," Ezra responded quietly and truthfully. "Wrestling was my whole life before I even tried out - I'd always come home and watch it, train in the ring in Minneapolis, put on shows in the high school. That is how I chill out."
Sean beamed at him, apparently happy about those words. Since Ezra's rapid skip to the main roster, he'd been in two minds about it. He liked to be reassured of Ezra's passion for the business. "I know how that feels, being a baby wrestler who can't get enough. Still, I think you're overdoing it. These couple of days off are all the time you have to unwind from a fairly brutal schedule, and it gets so much worse when we go on long tours overseas."
Ezra appreciated that Sean was looking out for his best interests, and he was aware that throwing himself so hard and deep into his work was unsustainable in the long run, but he wasn't ready to face certain things yet. "I don't want to slow down. Just not... not yet. You know?"
Sean's eyes fell, and Ezra noticed Oliver watching them, eavesdropping from his place on the couch, a comfortable distance from Kevin Bacon. "You wait here. I want to show you something, okay?"
The request made goosebumps rise on Ezra's arms and neck. Historically, those words were never good news. Test results from the oncologist. A failing mark on his tests because he was too busy taking care of his mother, brother and sister to study. The bins he forgot to empty at the Litchfield diner because he was working the jobs of two and a half people for minimum wage. The phrase gave him chills.
"Am I in trouble??" Ezra quickly glided over the floor he'd recently mopped to harass Oliver with his paranoia. "Did I upset him?"
"Mmm? No, man. Seano's got an incredible stank face when he's mad at someone," Oliver reassured him after swallowing his mouthful of greek yoghurt.
"Yeah. He had that look when I was talking with Lance after my first match," Ezra said quietly so that the Cherokee in question would not hear them.
Oliver's long nose twitched, and he scratched the short black hair on the top of his head. "He'd be mad at Lovecraft and not at you. Don't think about it too much, little buddy, and please don't bring that drama over to me if you can avoid it. Life's too good to be mixed up between two territorial queens, you know what I'm sayin'?"
"I do know what you're sayin'," Ezra grinned, accepting his friend's offer of a random fistbump.
As Oliver tried to catch up on the Walking Dead before Irina could spoil it for him with her unbelievable blabbermouth, Sean came back, his long black hair tied into a bun and two towels draped over his shoulders.
"Oooh!! Are you bringing me to the river??" Ezra gushed, his body vibrating on the spot. "Withyou? At the same time as you?? Can I??"
"Hah, yes, cutie. You're coming to the river with me," Sean threw a towel at him, and Ezra skillfully missed it with his hands and caught it with his face instead.
He'd explored the nearby wilderness several times when he needed to escape from Beau's moods or curious about what Sean did when he disappeared over the back fence of the property. There wasn't much around. It was mostly just woods! But the woods had their own charm indeed! When Ezra arrived during the end of Winter, the sombre tone of the naked brown trees outside the property were always beautiful in a way, but now in the late Spring, everything was so green! And from the enormous windows on three sides from the massive front room, Ezra could stare at the surroundings while he did his chores. Though, of course, he sometimes spooked himself by imagining how many evil, psychotic axe-murdered were lurking after the sun went down!!
Sean was making the journey as he always did - barefoot. Ezra decided to try and mimic him, but the path wasn't as smooth as he hoped and he was forced to slow down so he could avoid the pointy sticks and stones. The last thing he needed before wrestling three or four shows on the weekend was injured feet, and he was annoyed at himself for not bringing at least some flipflops. They walked over some carefully placed planks of wood to cross a small ravine with pools of muddy water from the last heavy rain - Sean had done this himself in years past. The rushing Tennessee River was audible from there, and before long, it came into view as the young men stumbled upon its banks.
"By the way, Ez, can you refrain from taking pictures and videos while I'm here?" Sean asked him, putting the towels on a tree bough that extended over the waters. "It's just that this is a very private place for me."
"Oh! I didn't even think to bring my phone with me, but sure! I can do that!"
"Oh, seriously?" Sean flared up suddenly, and Ezra instinctively flinched. "I can't believe the disrespect of some people!"
Ezra looked to what had offended Sean so, and his own eyes narrowed in disgust. A small collection of plastic bottles, wrappers and cups had been snagged by sticks lying on the bank, and Ezra immediately moved to dispose of them. Though he didn't know how to swim, he was emboldened by having something to hold on to. He carefully dipped his toes in the running water, using the large branch to brace himself as he descended the slippery shore. Submerged up to his knees, he grabbed everything that didn't belong in the water and tossed it up to Sean, who placed it carefully in a small nest so he could dispose of it later.
"It's pretty disgusting!" Ezra agreed when he had cleaned up the mess, remaining in the water. "It makes me mad too."
Sean's face relaxed, and he slid off his cartoon shirt and hung it on one of the boughs he could reach. "Yours too. Come on!" Ezra tugged his tank top over his head and tossed it over as well, and Sean hung it up too. "Good. I'm glad it makes you mad. Seeing people so indifferent about the poisoning of our planet upsets me a lot," the older man admitted. He stepped forward and took Ezra's hand to steady him as he walked his way into the water as well. "Do you know how to swim?"
Ezra bit his lip nervously as Sean overtook him and seemed eager to walk into deeper waters. "I, um, actually don't. I never learned. I was too sick when I was young, then I never learned when I got older."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Sean looked at him with sympathy. "Will you be comfortable walking out further with me? I promise I won't let you float away."
Ezra nodded, a little anxious, and Sean took both of his hands and slowly walked with him, step by step, into the deeper waters. Ezra's knees got wet, then his thighs and eventually his hips.
"Stop," he froze, not comfortable submerging anything further.
Sean nodded happily, his warms hands never letting go. The breeze blew his wild hair around his face, and Ezra was suddenly struck by how strikingly beautiful his friend was. He'd always been handsome, of course, but something seemed to change here. Now that Sean was in a place where he connected with who he was, all the underlying anger and insecurity that bothered him seemed to float downstream, stripping the weight from his shoulders and the bitterness from his heart. For the first time, Ezra saw something that was purely Sean and nothing else. He was stunning. He was Waya.
"Are you alright?" Sean asked him softly.
"I'm okay! I'm just... yeah. I don't want to drown. Heh."
"I won't let you drown!"
"I bet you're a great swimmer."
Sean chuckled, looking up at the sky. "I am, so you're in good hands. A long time ago, my sisters and I would dive off the cliffs at Grand Lake into the water. I was also the captain of my school's swim team, though the tall white boys never took me seriously."
Ezra was beyond curious. Sean Fox's life before his debut on KADA Wrestling six years ago was a complete enigma, aside from a few pictures and keepsakes around the house. Oliver had warned him to avoid asking too many questions about Sean's past, but Ezra didn't think about that.
"Grand Lake of the Cherokees? Oklahoma, right?"
Sean looked at him again, slowly crouching to submerge his naked waist and abdomen. "Yep. That's where I was born and raised."
"How many sisters do you have? Do you have any brothers? I'm sorry if I'm asking too many questions!!"
"I have two sisters. Eliza and Nicole. I never did have any brothers."
"Do they have Cherokee names too?"
The corner of Sean's mouth curled upwards. "Eliza's Cherokee name is Atsila, which means fire. It's a good name for her because she has an attitude like you would never believe! Nicole's Cherokee name is Gola, which means winter."
"That's really pretty! And you're Waya! Which means wolf!"
Sean laughed. "I am."
The success of their conversation gave Ezra the courage to take a few steps forward, and Sean edged his way backwards, still maintaining a grip should Ezra slip or panic.
"Careful around here. Watch your step," Sean warned him, and Ezra was prepared for the sudden two-inch drop in the water.
"So, can I ask why you don't like to talk about your family very much?" Ezra asked him.
Sean sighed, sadness creeping into his face. "They don't like me."
"Why not? I like you."
"I don't expect you to understand," Sean sunk lower so his shoulders were beneath the water, his thick hair trying to escape downstream. "I wanted to wrestle more than anything - actually, you might understand better than anyone. Wrestling is a career that rewards big guys. Like Jack. The only reason Jack didn't get signed earlier is that he didn't want to learn English. He would have been snapped up in a heartbeat. But it's not the same for us. We're little. You, me and Dragonfly, we're the only three male KADA wrestlers under five foot ten. We have to work twice as hard to get half as far."
Ezra nodded. It was true. Because he was so small, even for a normal man, Michelle and Gloria had both made sure he realised that his options as a wrestler were limited. He was almost certainly going to be booked as an underdog for his entire career. David overcoming Goliath or merely getting his head kicked in by Goliath was typical storytelling when one of the performers was significantly smaller than the other. Sean, of course, had often been in the same boat.
"Well, I was completely broke. Not unlike you when you first came to Knoxville! I lived in my car, a dime to my name, wrestling as often as I could for little or no money. When I finally got KADA's attention, they only saw me as a Cherokee. All the work I'd put in - years of working out until I vomited, training in disgusting gyms and performing in unsafe rings with bloodstains - it didn't seem to count for anything just because I wasn't born six feet tall. They offered me a probationary developmental contract on the understanding that I would perform as a Native American warrior. An offensive caricature of my own people. I didn't see another opportunity ever coming my way, so I agreed to take it. But my family, and everyone in my community, they were furious at me for selling out. I betrayed my heritage, my family, my people. Everything. They're ashamed of me. I'm ashamed of myself."
Ezra wasn't sure how to respond to this. It was a lot to take in. Bracing his feet on the riverbed as best he could, he used Sean's hands, wrists and forearms to gradually reel him in and pulled him into a hug. Sean wrapped his arms right around his little friend, and the two stood there in the sun. The noisy river washed around them, the trees whispered as the breeze nudged their branches, and the birds sang.
"I think you're a pretty great guy. I mean, I can't speak for your family and stuff. I wasn't there. I don't really know how it all works. But I've never seen anybody who loves their cultural identity as much as you do! I'm a bit jealous, even! I don't have any heritage, really, except my Polish grandparents, and I haven't even talked to them since my dad died."
"You're so precious!" Sean was the first to break their silence, gently rocking them side to side and caressing the boy's alabaster skin with his fingers. "It breaks my heart to know that someone as wholesome as yourself has had such a difficult journey."
Ezra wanted to brush the comment off with optimism as he usually did and make light of it, using his experience with mortality as a way to highlight the importance of life and living in the moment, but he didn't this time. He felt his face screwing up, and his stomach flew up his body and settled somewhere behind his Adam's apple. He shook, and he felt tears welling and falling.
"Yeah," he choked.
Sean cooed, drowning Ezra's suppressed misery with affection and platonic love, almost forming a cocoon around the Polish-American of arms and wet black hair. Ezra let his face rest against Sean's collarbone, enjoying the warmth of his brown skin, and let the Cherokee comfort him.
"I'm tired of pretending everything is okay all the time," he admitted, as much to Sean as to himself, his eyes burning as he screwed them shut. "I miss Beau and I miss Jack and I miss Eamonn and Celeste and my friends. I miss my dad the most. And I'm scared! I'm always scared."
"You're in emotional pain, and yet you always put everyone else first. I think you're the strongest person I've ever met, Ezra. You've never let any of that poison your heart. I'm not that strong. I wish I were more like you."
The two remained in a tight, warm embrace. Ezra became acutely aware of how good the rushing water felt around his body, how much he enjoyed Sean's physical and emotional support, and how the riverbed seemed to send tranquillity into his body through the soles of his feet. He was beginning to understand why Sean loved the river so much.
"You're relaxing," Sean, as though reading his mind, whispered into his ear.
"Does the river make you feel better?"
"We come from water, and when we die, we return to water," Sean explained, detaching from Ezra and gripping his hands once more as he took a step back. "The river flows. It lives. Without water, everything dies. It washes away your impurities, and it heals your body and spirit. If you open yourself to the river, called the Long Man, it will fill you with its wisdom," Ezra blinked, and Sean grinned at him. "Of course, these are my beliefs. You're free to draw your own conclusions."
"Who taught you this stuff?" Ezra asked, looking overhead to the few white streaks of clouds that very occasionally blotted the sun for a moment.
"My mother's father did. He's not only my grandfather but my chief. Well, he was until I left," Sean gave Ezra a slight tug, and the young man followed him into the deeper waters, letting it pass his belly button and the scars from his kidney transplant. "He taught me to swim in Grand Lake when I was barely old enough to walk! He often told us stories and legends. Not just me and my sisters, but all the kids, and even some of the white kids who liked to play with us and listen to tales. What about you, Ez? What do you believe in? You're a Christian, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I am. I believe in God," Ezra explained, tentatively searching the riverbed ahead of him with his foot to find his next step. "Though, I'm not about the fire and brimstone. I'm a lot more into love thy neighbour."
"Do you pick and choose which parts of the faith are important to you?" Sean asked him, and Ezra looked up. "Sorry. I'm not trying to be rude. Like you, I'm only trying to understand."
"No, no, no! It's fine," Ezra reassured him, almost excited to talk freely about his beliefs. Beau and Eamonn were both atheists, Jack was Catholic, and Mickey was a little on the observant side. "I guess I'm not as literal as most people. I don't believe in seeing Christianity as a binding legal contract. I believe everyone has a moral duty to advance the common good and to ease the collective suffering. Love is the most important thing there is! More than money, hate and pride. God is love, and as long as we treat others with compassion and kindness, God will love us back."
"You're a socialist," Sean observed, almost cheekily, and Ezra shrugged without denying it.
"My parents lost everything because of my medical bills. Their savings. Our house. They even had to get the whole town to sponsor my treatments the last time, because we were flat broke, in debt up to our necks and without money, the hospital would have just let me die. All the treatments and debt collectors stressed out my dad so much he got addicted to the bottle just so he could cope, and it ended up killing him. I know socialism is a dirty word in America, but I will NOT support a system that puts profit before people!! I won't, and I can't. It goes against everything I believe in. People should have food, shelter, clean water, education and healthcare. Always!! Nobody should ever go without just because of some greedy, rich fucking asshole!!"
Sean blinked, surprised at Ezra's increasingly angry rant, and he flinched when he heard the swear word. "Okay, now hold on to that anger. We're going to wash it away."
"I don't want to wash it away!" Ezra stubbornly refused him with a scowl. "I don't want to stop being angry about injustice!"
Sean blinked again. "Okay. Well, is there any negative feeling you do want to get rid of, then?"
Ezra's fury quickly vanished, leaving a hollow feeling in its place. It was because of him that his family fell apart. Because of his sickness. Everything Eamonn went through, and Jakub drinking his depression and anxiety away. Glennys taking out her grief on Celeste, ruining her self-esteem. Eamonn told him to let go of his guilt, but it wasn't as easy as that.
"I've tried to wash the guilt away from my heart many hundreds of times, but it seems the river is trying to teach me a lesson," Sean revealed sadly. "I hope it's different for you."
"What do we do?"
"Okay, now hold on to me. We're going to go underwater together. Completely. For as long as you feel you can," Sean squeezed Ezra's hands, knowing that the boy was apprehensive about doing this. "Nothing bad will happen! I'm here."
Sean Fox was a wrestler. A very successful one. Wrestling was all about trusting that the other performer wouldn't let you down. Ezra knew that he was in good hands, and he nodded.
"Big breath," Sean had an excited smile on his face, and it was infectious. "We go under in five, four, three, two, one!"
Ezra gulped in, filling his little lungs as much as he could, and then he went all the way under, the water gently trying to push him downstream, but he was sure-footed. Even if he lost his grip, he knew Sean would rescue him. A feeling of tranquillity overcame Ezra, and he was surprised. The water enveloped him, touching him everywhere at once, and where it did, a refreshing sense of peace washed over it. It was impossible to feel angry or guilty down here. He wasn't even afraid, even though he never learned how to swim. Though he swore to himself he'd only stay under for the briefest of time, Ezra spent nearly thirty seconds underwater before his lungs cried out for another breath. He resurfaced, pulling the blond hair from his eyes.
Sean came up at the same time, his hair covering his face and making him look like the girl from The Ring, making Ezra laugh. Sean beamed at him, tossing his hair back over his head.
"Wow!" Ezra remarked, slicking his hair back the same way. "That was an experience!"
"How are you feeling? About everything?"
"Better! You're definitely on to something here! Ooh. Thanks for bringing me! I had no idea how much I needed it!" Ezra bubbled excitedly, stamping his feet on the riverbed until he slipped on a slimy rock and fell backwards with a mighty splash.
Everything went grey and upside-down and panic overtook him, but as soon as he yelped underwater, sending up bubbles to the surface, Sean had already grabbed him and pulled him up, holding him close until he could find his feet again. Ezra realised the world wasn't ending and coughed, though no water had actually entered his body.
"Are you okay?" Sean asked him as Ezra found places to stand once more. "You shouldn't do that. Heh."
"Waah! I wanna get out now!" Ezra babbled, managing a laugh to reassure his friend that he wasn't actually traumatized. "But we should do this again. Would you let me come again? I don't know if I'd ever do this by myself before I learned how to swim!"
Sean grinned and took the lead once more, pulling his scared friend along so that he wouldn't be afraid of slipping again. On the embankment, Ezra almost felt naked without the water everywhere. Maybe he could have a bath tonight.
"I'm happy you were honest about how you're really feeling," Sean tossed the towel right at his head again, laughing as Ezra missed with his hands a second time and let it wrap around his face. "I don't want you to shove it all down all the time. It's not healthy. You know you can talk to me."
"I might take you up on that! And you know you can talk to me as well!" Ezra beamed at him, and Sean smiled back.
"Us little guys have to stick together, right?"
The boys both laughed as they walked back to the house through the woods, their towels and shirts slung over their wet shoulders.
Friday, June 7th
"Thank you so, so, so much!! AHH!!"
Ezra eagerly shook hands with the woman who had given him a contract, and she beamed at him.
"My pleasure. Anyone who can beat one half of the Tag-Team Champions off the street deserves our attention!"
She replied with a smile, turning back and closing the door behind her - it had an enormous poster with "Talent Relations" spelt out in big letters. Ezra looked at the contact in his hands and began JUMPING UP AND DOWN IN EXCITEMENT!!! He looked at the folder in his hands the way Charlie Bucket stared at his golden ticket in Willy Wonka, beaming all the while until some unwelcome visitors showed up!!
"What is that smell?" A mere four words from an off-screen Lance Lovecraft was enough to launch the arena into a chorus of booing so intense that Ezra could hear it from inside the concourse!
"It reeks of trash over here," Diego Silva added.
The camera panned out, and Ezra shot daggers at Lansilva, who were leaning nonchalantly against the wall facing each other, their championships draped over their shoulders. The crowd wasn't happy to see them on the big screen, and Ezra could hear it!
"Oh, speaking of trash," Lance giggled like a mean girl from high school and tilted his head in Ezra's direction.
"Seriously?" Diego shot a strange look at him, then back at Lance. "This nobody? They will let anyone into the building these days."
"For your information, I just signed a contract to become the newest wrestler in the KADA locker room!" Ezra flipped the folder around to show both his enemies and cameras. "So thank you for choosing me as your opponent two weeks ago! You just scored me a career in professional wrestling! This is all I've ever wanted since I was a little boy!!"
The crowd let out an adoring cheer as Ezra looked back at his contract with joy in his green eyes and smiled ear to ear.
"Never mind. We don't like to let little things bother us," Lance sniped at him, his signature smirk on his red lips.
"We won't expect big things from you," Diego added, and the two began to laugh.
"Yeah, I'm pretty short. But so what? I still won two weeks ago! You're only insulting yourselves!" Ezra reminded the villains, a big, bright smile on his face. "Call me a short, trashy nobody all you want. All it proves is that a short trashy nobody can BEAT YOU!! And that says a lot more about you than it does about me!"
Lansilva weren't laughing anymore. They looked MEAN as they advanced on him, but Ezra didn't give an inch, even when big, terrifying Diego Silva bumped his chest into him. Ezra craned his neck upwards, looking defiantly at the longest reigning Heavyweight Champion in KADA history.
"True, you may have had three very lucky seconds. Good for you. What about the other five long, painful minutes? Did you forget about that?" Diego spoke with a sinister edge, glaring down at the youngster.
Lance circled around to Ezra's other side, trapping the youngster between his much bigger enemies. "You didn't think very far ahead, did you, honey? You could have enjoyed your fifteen minutes of fame and gone back to the armpit of Minnesota. The little hayseed hero. But now? You're going to be seeing a lot of us."
"I'll give you some advice, little boy. Tear up that contract, pack your bags and don't ever come back. Trust me. It's what's best for you," Diego put a menacing hand on the boy's blond pompadour hairstyle and mussed the locks out of place.
"We can make things very difficult for you here in KADA Wrestling," Lance gripped Ezra's cheeks with one surprisingly firm grip and squeezed.
Ezra shoved them off him and pushed them away indignantly, not interested in being bullied by these annoying, malicious brats!! Lansilva both grabbed at him again, looking to get physical, but Jack Lièvremont bulldozed in from off-screen and shoved the two of them back with his immense strength.
"Is there a problem?" Jack asked in thickly accented English, putting himself between his little buddy and the douchebags who would hurt him.
Remembering the way Jack single-handedly destroyed both of them in Salt Lake City and defeated Diego the week after, the Tag-Team Champions eyed them off before silently leaving, and the camera refocused on the two newbies.
"Where have you been??" Ezra asked his friend.
Beaming, Jack flashed a folder, the same one as Ezra, indicating that he too had just been signed to the company. Ezra whooped, and the pair showcased their special tag-team handshake. It was fairly simple. High five, low five, five on the turn, then a simultaneous slap to each other's butts and ending by bumping their hips together.
"We did it, Jacky!! We're wrestlers!! Oh my gosh! Imagine if we beat the Tag-Team Champions!!" A light shone in Ezra's green eyes as he dreamed of the possibilities.
"You beat Lance," Jack reminded him, and Ezra beamed.
"Yes! Yes! Yes! And you beat Diego Silva!! Do you think you can do it again?" Ezra asked him excitedly, and Jack sneered confidently.
"Awesome!! I know they're busy tonight, but ooh, let's challenge them again next week! I got a good feeling about it!! We could be champions before long!"
Ezra bounced up and down and then pounced on his friend's back, climbing up like a monkey and clinging on tightly, and the two marched off camera. The segment drew to a close, and the camera director gave them thumbs up and congratulated them on a job well done!
"You guys are such assholes!" Ezra exclaimed, pointing at Diego and Lance over his tag-team partner's shoulder the moment they were given the all-clear. "Oh my gosh, it's so cool to work with you all like this!!"
"I suck at talking," Jack complained in a low, sullen voice.
"You did fine!" Lance reassured him. If Ezra didn't know better, he would swear that the vain Brit was actually checking his reflection in the golden plate of his championship belt.
"It gets easier," Diego was much more solemn and severe by nature than his partner, it seemed. "As you learn more English, you'll feel more comfortable. At least, that's how it happened for me."
"Come along, you giant plonk," Lance frequently insulted Diego, but the Brazilian never seemed to mind. "We have Colombian and Italian arses to kick."
"Which means I'll be wrestling double duty and you'll be ready to take the credit," Diego shot back.
"Yep! The usual," Lance pursed his red lips together. "Every star needs a lackey to do all the grunt work after all."
"That's why I was the champion for so long while you wiggled your ass at ringside."
Ezra and Jack watched in amusement. He and Jack, physically, were very different people, but Lansilva was something else. They didn't have anything in common. Lance was incredibly lean, sociable and always smiling, with mediocre wrestling skill and incredible charisma and acting ability. Diego, on the other hand, was broad, brooding and dark. He was one of the best in-ring technicians in recent memory, but he wasn't an exciting person otherwise, whether in character or being himself. Remarkably, even though they did nothing but bicker, their partnership brought out the best in each other.
"Hey!! Um, Jack and I were gonna head down to this late-night arcade after the show. You know! Play some air hockey and Dance Dance Revolution and LASER TAG!! Do you wanna come??" Ezra called out as the two turned away, grabbing their attention.
Diego looked Ezra up and down. "An arcade? Really? Are you ten?
Jack let out a noise of disdain; he didn't like Diego. But Ezra didn't flinch - he'd expected that reaction. "No, but when I was twelve and wanted to do stuff like go to arcades, I wasn't allowed because we were always broke. But now I'm not broke, and I'm an adult, so I dunno, I guess I wanna do the stuff I didn't get to do when I was younger. If you don't wanna come along, you can just say no."
"Hah! He told you!" Lance teased his tag-team partner before turning back to Ezra and Jack. "I'd love to, boys, but I have to be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Don't worry about daddy Diego here. He's getting old, and if he's not in bed asleep by midnight, he turns into a ruddy pumpkin."
Ezra was let down when nobody wanted to come and explore the late-night arcade with himself and Jack. Sean, Oliver, Pearl, Rachel and several others declined his invitation, and it sucked! Still, he thought, no point being gloomy about it! It's not like he and Jack couldn't have fun together! Besides, he needed to be cheerful for his friend's sake. The French-Canadian had only arrived back in America earlier in the day, spending the brief free time in his schedule in Quebec City to drop his young daughter off with his parents while he figured out what he wanted to do. Ezra understood all too well how it felt to choose between looking after his family and starting on his dream career.
Jack insisted on going back to their hotel room to change before they went out to the arcade. Ezra was okay with this, swapping into a slim-fit button-up shirt with pinstripes and trendy slacks, slipping his feet into new puffy skater shoes he'd had to order online because they didn't come small enough for him. It was nice to be able to afford the clothes he liked, rather than wearing the children's clothes from the second-hand shop in Litchfield. But Jack was so slow!! Ezra got impatient and then annoyed as he watched Jack change his outfit three times, then take some more time to style his hair and call his parents!!
When at last the boys left their room and caught the cab to the late-night arcade, Ezra completely forgot how irritated he was at Jack for wasting so much time. He walked inside and jumped out of his skin. Nearly everybody who had declined his invitation to come out and have fun tonight was here! He saw Diego, Lance, Pearl, Rachel, Jimmy, Salamanca - who went by Javier Acosta when he wasn't in character, Sean, Oliver, Sherry the ring announcer and even a bunch of the production crew and one of the referees! And there was a CAKE!!
"Happy birthday!!" They all cheered at once, as though they had rehearsed it!
"You! What?? You!! --WHAT???" Ezra covered his mouth with his hands, green eyes round and large as moons in his face. Was this happening?? "It's not my birthday for..." he began to count on his fingers. "Eight, nine, ten days!! Wait-- nine! This many!" He held up nine of his fingers.
"We know that, little buddy! Give us some credit!" Oliver cheered, drawing out some laughs.
"You wanted to come to this place so badly, so we figured we'd book it for the night and surprise you," Sean added, a bruise on his face from where Kodeine had kicked him a little stiffly earlier in the night.
"You guys!!" Ezra, overwhelmed, swayed back and forth as his eyes looked at the cake. "And YOU!!" He swung around and poked Jack in the sternum. "I thought you were just an inconsiderate blasted JERK, but you were trying to stop me from getting here before everyone was ready!!"
Jack simpered cheekily, and Ezra beamed at him, throwing his arms around his best friend, travel buddy and tag-team partner. He couldn't believe how overwhelmingly sweet this was of people he hadn't known for very long at all. Most of them had performed earlier in the night. In Sean, Lance, Diego, Rachel and Salamanca's cases, they'd competed in highly strenuous matches, and they still found the time to come and celebrate his birthday!
"I was being honest earlier, honey. I can't stay for very long," Lance interjected, and a few other people with busy schedules and early morning r murmured in agreeance. "Do you mind if we cut the cake and sing the song?"
"Oh! I! Ahhm-- yes!" Ezra struggled to connect words with his feelings of stunned elation. "Please! I mean thanks! Ohhh, blast it, you guys might make me cry! You didn't have to do this! I'd love you anyway, you know!"
"Well, then I'm sorry I turned up," Jimmy snarled. "Kidding!" He quickly added before everyone could dogpile on him for being a douchebag. "But I would like to say, just quickly, and I think I speak for everyone here, that it's been a great few weeks getting to know the both of you, and welcome to our twisted little family."
"Yes! Yes to all of that!" Rachel beamed, slapping Jimmy on the back with a hand.
To have the whole venue booked out just for his surprise birthday party was a privilege beyond anything Ezra had ever experienced before! At home, the most he could hope for was for his class to sing happy birthday and to receive an obligatory kiss on the forehead with freshly applied lipstick from the school's office lady - a running joke among the staff. Glennys didn't like to celebrate her kids' birthdays. She believed that as their mother, their birthdays should have been all about her, so Ezra, Eamonn and Celeste stopped getting excited and even began to dread that day of the year. He wasn't entirely comfortable with the late-night arcade being shut to everyone else, feeling it was too indulgent. Still, he understood that KADA Wrestlers needed some peace and privacy to enjoy themselves in public from time to time.
He cut the cake, a gorgeous but simple one-tier children's cake in the shape and colour scheme of the bat signal. Between Oliver, Sean and Jack, they seemed to know exactly what cake Ezra had always wanted but never got. When the knife hit the platter underneath, Oliver forced Ezra to follow through with birthday party tradition - he had to kiss the nearest girl on the mouth! While everyone jeered and whooped, Ezra and Rachel Reid made out for five full seconds before both pulled away in a fit of giggles. Ezra enjoyed his first kiss with a girl, though he decided that even though Rachel was beautiful and an excellent kisser, he was definitely gay after all.
"But before anyone goes, I demand that you all play one game of laser tag with me!" Ezra told the lot of them, especially those who were too careful with their diets to indulge in batman cake. "One game!! It's my party, so I get what I want!" He poked his tongue out.
"Alright, everybody! You heard the kid! One game of laser tag and you don't have to buy him a present!" Oliver put his hands in a cone around his mouth.
Not everyone looked like they were excited about doing this. Diego and Rachel both seemed hesitant, as though having some fun was beneath them. Pearl, Jack and Salamanca were, to Ezra's glee, every bit as excited to participate as he was.
"How are we going to work out the teams?" Sherry asked, one of the many who were getting increasingly excited as the two attendants began to hand out their body armour and laser guns.
"Heels versus faces!" Lance decided, kicking off his high-heeled shoes.
It was a long night that Ezra thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. Despite their intentions to play just one game to satisfy the birthday boy and slink back to their hotels, Diego and Rachel were not happy about losing the first round of laser tag and stayed to play in not one, but TWO rematches before heading off! From there, the games only got crazier and more competitive. Ezra, Jack, Pearl, Lance, Salamanca and Oliver put their athletic prowess to the absolute limit in their attempts to shoot each other and score high. Screaming, sprinting, leaping behind and even onto obstacles and ducking and combat rolling - everybody had a far better time than they would like to admit.
When their bodies grew sweaty and exhausted, the party moved to less strenuous activities. Ezra forgot to monitor his food intake at a point, enjoying some calamari rings, fried cheese balls and slices of his birthday cake before Jack reminded him how much cardio he'd have to do in the morning. People slowly trickled away, and Ezra made sure to thank every single one of them for coming, even those whom he barely knew. Soon, as five o'clock neared, only four of them remained. Ezra decided as he and Jack hit the ping pong ball back at Pearl and Lance - who kept staying for just "five more minutes" - that the only way the night could have been better was if Mickey, Isaac, Eamonn and Celeste could have shared it with him.
"Oh, I look like buggery!" Lance complained as he checked himself out in his phone's front camera. "It's a bit too late for me to go to sleep. Bollocks! The sun's already coming up! Maybe I can nap in the car? I blame you three for keeping me up all bloody night! I will look like hell today!"
"You have no self-control!" Pearl corrected him, sipping on an orange slushie. "And before you start - I already see the irony of me being the one to tell you so."
"Ohh, Pearly girly. You're a fucking bitch," Lance teased her, sidling up to her and taking a picture of them both. "Smile, mama!"
"Jacky boy, my legs won't work anymore!" Ezra stifled a yawn. "Can you carry me home?"
"No! You should carry me this time!" Jack caught Ezra's fist as the younger man played at hitting him. "I carry you always - here and in the ring."
"Liar! You're a giant, French liar!" Ezra, too exhausted to pretend to be genuinely mad, collapsed onto Jack's lap. "Carry me home."
"You're too fat from all the cake," Jack brushed him off. "I will carry Lance home. He eated nothing all night."
Pearl laughed, swallowing her drink. "I've seen Lance eat maybe three times. Ever. He survives on attention and flavoured lip gloss."
Lance looked up from his phone, a dark expression on his face. "That's no way to talk to your Champion! You should be bowing to me!"
"Cheater. You're a CHEATER!" Ezra grinned at him, resting his head on his arms on the counter as the attendant wiped it down.
"Now we are here, you are not Champion for much longer," Jack added, pointing at his own eyes, and then at Lance's red ones.
"Alright, you twats, I'm going to have a shower and snort some caffeine before you two get any ideas!" The redhead grabbed Pearl's hand. "But real talk, I had so much fun. We should do something like this again - except maybe we shouldn't go so hard next time."
"I'll be in that!" Jack agreed.
"After Ezra put it all on his Instagram, I wouldn't be surprised if we had a bunch of party crashers next time," Pearl remarked, kissing Ezra on the cheek.
Ezra barely felt it. She'd given him a fantastic idea.
Friday, June 14th
Presenting a pitch to the creative team wasn't something anyone could do at any point. Ezra did bring it up to Michelle on the Saturday night when he saw her in passing, but as this wasn't a grievance or request, she deemed it low priority and told him to come back early Friday before the next televised show. It was maddening to have to wait so long to simply pitch his idea to her, but as Lance explained to him as Ezra watched him doing his own makeup, it was best to talk to Michelle on her terms, lest he "half-arse" his pitch and have it shot down.
Ezra spent a lot of his spare time on his social media pages, posting about his life and those of his friends, uploading pictures and videos, sharing inspirational speeches and funny bloopers with his brand of commentary. He loved fan interaction! A while ago, he had a brain wave - he live-streamed his reaction to a KADA show, letting the fans have a sort of experience with him from their own homes and watching it with him. Michelle stripped the skin off him with her sharp words, telling him that he needed to come to her about this sort of thing. This time, he was going to do it her way and hope that she supported him.
As if she knew he was working up the courage to open the door to her office, Michelle threw it open with a wry grin, making him jump out of his skin!!
"Come on in, Protostar. Tell me what's on your mind! Are you settling in alright?"
Ezra felt a pang of fondness as he glided in and fell back on her chair. She had a maternal feel about her. She scared him, of course, but she made time to talk to him, even if it was nearly a week later, and it made him feel appreciated. She wore an oddly feminine summer dress today, rather than the power suits.
"I'm good! I'm really, really super good, if I knew six months ago that I'd be on television now, I would have checked both legs to see which one of them was being pulled!" He screwed his eyes shut. That was funnier in his head. "I love it here, Michelle. I really do, and I want to make the most of every day I spend as a KADA wrestler! So... I was wondering if--"
"Right! You had something you wanted to pitch to me. Well, go for it," she interrupted him, a little impatient.
"Oh!" Ezra wished Jack was here with him. Or Sean, Oliver, Lance, Pearl or Gloria! "Okay, so, last week a bunch of the other wrestlers organised a surprise birthday par--"
"I saw your Insta."
She cut him off again, rotating her hand to signal that he needed to get to the point. He wished she wouldn't do that! He'd rehearsed the blasted speech so many times, and now that she'd pulled him off the track, he was getting flustered!
"I... uhmm-- okay, well--" Ezra looked down to his puffy skater shoes. She was intimidating. "You know I was sick a lot-- as a kid. Cancer. Yeah. It's okay now!! I'm in the clear-- but, ahh, you know that. Rrgh-- well... so, we went to that all night arcade. And... sorry. Er-- well, I didn't get to do stuff like that. I was in hospital a lot, and when I was home, we didn't have the money. You know? So I missed out on a lot of things that most kids got to do. It doesn't sound like a big deal that I sat in one of those car racing arcade machines for the first time last week. Ordering food from the bar without being scared of how light my wallet would feel afterwards, too. Stuff like that. Sorry, I'm getting a bit-- heh. Emotional. Bleh!"
"Take your time, Protostar. Within reason, of course. I want to hear about your idea and why you think it's important, but I don't need your whole life story."
The reassurance from her was all Ezra needed to shift gears. "I want to start a Youtube channel where I, and hopefully a few other wrestlers, meet up with sick, special needs and underprivileged kids and take them somewhere fun for a few hours. Like, to play some putt-putt or go bowling or to an arcade or park or anywhere they can enjoy themselves and meet the wrestlers on TV!! I thought we could do it once a week when we get to a new city. We'd record the highlights and edit it into a twenty-minute or half-hour show that we can stick on a Youtube channel or even on our website. Maybe on a Monday, or I could even stay until Tuesday or Wednesday? Would you let me do that?"
"I have some thoughts," Michelle replied softly, her hesitation punching a hole in Ezra's gut. "That's a lot of responsibility you're talking about. You have a lot of things on your plate already, Protostar. You've got contractual obligations with the company, and soon, Bloom's buddy is going to be poking through your life for that bloody documentary she's so obsessed with. Not to mention, though my official belief is that KADA can do no wrong," she rolled her eyes in a way that proved to Ezra that she believed nothing of the sort, "things happen. Cancellations, delays, changes to schedules. Injuries, if you got unlucky. Additionally, this would all have to come from your own time and money unless you found other volunteers. The company follows the dollar - they won't back you unless they think it can turn a profit."
The idea that his project would be seen by the administration as a way to exploit vulnerable kids as a way to generate revenue sent a fire into Ezra's veins. All of a sudden, he was that much more determined to succeed.
"Good! I don't want the company's help if they're only interested in making money! I wouldn't accept anything from them, even a pay rise!" The silence hung in the air for a second. "Sorry, Michelle. This means so much to me. This is the first time I have real influence, so I want to use it to put smiles on the faces of kids who don't have much to smile about, and I want to put those smiles where everyone can see them. I want them to know that people care. I can't stand the thought that anyone would try to make a few bucks from it."
Michelle's expression had gone from cold, to interested, to impressed, and she grinned. "I think it's a terrific idea."
6/4 - 11:38 pm EZLuczynski shared a picture uploaded by OllieVKADAW It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog!! 😤💪Cute dog tho!! 🤗🐶
The attached picture was of Ezra picking up and cuddling J.K. Growling the dalmatian, who was almost bigger than he was.
6/9 - 10:26 pm EZLuczynski uploaded a picture One hundred thousand followers!! Holy rabbits! 😮 I didn't ever think so many people cared about the things I post! Heck, I celebrated when I got five hundred! 😎 Twice as hard when I got to a thousand. 😍 But a HUNDRED thousand??? 🤩 I can hardly believe it! And I promise all of you, from the depths of my heart, that I read and appreciate all of your love and support! 😘 If I had the time, I would reply to every single one of you, I promise! But even if I don't respond to your comments personally, I want you all to know that you're special to me. But I do want to remind everyone that I have a ZERO TOLERANCE policy where cyberbullying is concerned. I will IMMEDIATELY block anyone who feels the need to be rude or mean in my comments section!! We only have time in our lives for kindness and compassion! ❤️ Life's too busy, and I'm too short. Or is it the other way round? 🤔😅
The attached picture was of Ezra posing shirtless on the balcony of a hotel room, staring into the brilliantly lit skyline in front of him.
6/10 - 9:16 am EZLuczynski uploaded a video HAHAHA what a CHAMPION!! 😂 Future tag team champion maybe...?? 🤔🤜🤛
Jack was busy browsing the workout shoes in the shop, holding a new sneaker in his hands.
"Jacky!" Ezra said from behind the camera, barely containing his giggles. Jack's eye crept to stare at him from the corner of its socket, and an uncertain grin spread on his lips. Ezra giggled again. "The floor is lava!!"
Jack cursed under his breath and dropped the shoe as he spun around twice, trying to find a way to avoid losing while causing the least amount of disruption.
"Five! Four! Three!!" Ezra counted.
Jack, with a look of embarrassment on his face, hopped up back onto the counter, drawing his feet up and crossing his legs as Ezra cackled, apologising to the employee behind the register, who looked alarmed.
"You wait. YOU WAIT!" Jack pointed to his best frenemy.
6/10 - 11:23 am EZLuczynski shared a video uploaded by JLiev1056 rofl Jacky boy would make a great SUPERVILLAIN!! 🤕😄Check out his cosplays!!👀
Ezra was busy texting and walking, and Jack recorded him for a couple of seconds, giggling quietly behind the camera.
"Ezra!" Jack called out.
Ezra turned back to see the phone in his friend's hand, and he immediately began to panic, knowing what was coming.
"No! No, no, no!" Ezra panicked, shoving his phone in his pocket.
Jack laughed. "The floor is lava!"
"Seriously?? Here? AHH! AAAHH!!!" Ezra went to sprint one way, then quickly changed his mind. "There's nothing here!!"
Jack remained unmoved. "Five. Four. Three. Two! ONE!"
Ezra leapt at the nearby street light, hugging it tightly with his arms and legs, his feet twenty inches off the ground. He cried out in exaggerated distress as people passing by shot him bemused looks, and Jack laughed hard enough to start wheezing.
6/8 - 2:03 pm EZLuczynski shared a video uploaded by RealRachelReid Last night!! 😍 The most amazing group of people in the world make me feel so special 😊 it hasn't been an easy journey, but worth every setback!! Wouldn't change a thing! 🤙
The camera panned from one side of a brightly lit arcade to the other side, revealing many wrestlers and other people as everybody sang happy birthday to Ezra. Ezra was standing in front of Jack, hands clasped over his mouth, and his green eyes gleaming with cheer in the light of the candles burning in his batman cake.
I hope the story finds you well and that it's a satisfactory chapter! ❤️ Regardless, thank you so much for reading! x