"Looks good back here." Marie tapped at her monitor as a few more people filed into their seats. They weren't starting early, were they? She set down the radio and picked up a pen, twirling it in her fingers. Opening the show was a big enough task as it was, but with what she was going to say...
"Well, you look nervous."
Marie nearly jumped out of her seat, the pen slipping out of her fingers and clattering on the desk. "Dammit, May!" She swung around and stood up. "I'm really not in the mood for this crap right now."
"Sorry, mate." May held her hands up. "Didn't mean to startle ya."
Marie exhaled. "No big deal," she said, sitting down. "You're right, though. I'm hella nervous. This is going to be the biggest change in my life since I started wrestling again, and... and I'm not sure what I'm going to say." She turned and looked at the monitors. "Honestly, I almost feel like I'm betraying everyone by doing this..."
"Ah, for fuck's sake." May spun the chair around so Marie was facing her again. "You'll be fine. 'Don't worry about how you think the crowd will react. Just be yourself and the words will come.'" She smacked Marie's shoulder lightly with the back of her hand. "Best advice you ever gave me. Why are you so fucking awful at listening to your own advice?"
"Because I'm scared, is why." Marie looked up at May. "That's the truth of it. I'm scared that this is all going to blow up in my face, that no matter what I do, I won't be free of my mom's shadow."
"You know what?" May folded her arms. "If anyone's still comparing you to your mum after all this time, fuck 'em. And if it doesn't work out, fuck 'em too. Just do what you do, and it'll be right." She grinned. "'Course, if you start choking, I can always run out and smack you with a chair a couplea times. You always were better at improv."
Marie stood up. "You don't need to go that far, May. Besides," she said, grinning, "I seem to remember the last time you did that. Ended with you being put through the barricade." She bent down and gave her a hug. "Thanks, though. I needed that."
"No problem. Just... leggo already, I can barely breathe." ----------------- And so, an hour later Marie Connor stepped out from the shadows of backstage and into the light of the stage, mic in hand and belt over her shoulder. The arena was a converted warehouse in the Flats, on the small side but functional for the smaller NEOW crowd, but the noise echoed off the walls to make up for it.
"Thank you all for coming out tonight!" she said, once she got in the ring. "I know we've got a great show for you all. But before we get started, I've got an announcement I want to make."
She closed her eyes briefly. Breathe. Be yourself.
"I know a couple of you out there might have heard a couple of rumors floating around the Internet lately. No shame in it, I keep an eye on rumors, and I've laughed at some of the stupider ones. I mean, really, who would think that I'm some sort of alien for a second?
"But the latest one, that I've been offered a contract with AES..." Another deep breath. "I hate to say it, but it's true."
A gasp from in the audience. Marie continued on. "Last weekend, after NEWDay, I got on the phone with the owner of Revolution X about working there. The paperwork was just signed last Friday. My last show here will be March 24th."
She held up her free hand. "I know, I know, it sounds like I'm selling out. It kinda feels like it, too, if I'm being honest. But let me explain why I'm moving on." Hopefully before you boo me off the stage, she thought.
Marie started pacing around the ring. "Six years ago, when my mom died, I was in shock for a good week. I had to do something to get some closure for her. That thing, it turned out, was wrestling. I picked up a two-month contract to close out her stories.
"Needless to say, I stayed after those two months passed," Marie said. "But over the course of the last five years, I've started to feel like I've been trapped by the past. I've begun to worry that I'll only ever be known as 'Violet's daughter' and not just as... as me. As Marie. Heck, my real last name's Connor; 'Hearn' was my mom's.
"So I'm moving on. I'll miss all the people I met here in Cleveland, I'll miss the friends I made here... but it's time."
Marie scanned the crowd, a smile returning to her lips. "'Course, there's a tiny problem with me just walking out, and it goes like this. What, exactly, am I going to do with this?" she said, lifting her belt off her shoulder and into the air. "See, it just isn't fair to you all for me to walk out the door at the end of March with this title. But just stepping aside kinda cheapens the entire point of a championship." She shrugged. "So what I've decided, with the blessing of the management, is this - and I hope my fellow wrestlers are paying attention -" Marie turned towards the stage. "From my match tonight to the day I walk out the door for the last time, every time I step in this ring for a match, this title is on the line. Doesn't matter who's there, or how many people are in it with me. Every. Single. Time." She set the belt back on her shoulder. "But just because I'm leaving doesn't mean I'm about to go easy on anyone. So everyone who wants this title for themselves?" She held out her hand towards the stage, palm up, and curled her fingers back towards her.
"Now's your chance. Come and take it." -------------------------- March 24, 2017
"One! Two! Three!" The bell rang, and Marie's final match came to a close. Even if she felt it would happen, staring at the lights was never fun. She rolled out of the ring and, shrugging her shoulders, walked back up the ramp.
She had lost her championship long before; May had followed through on her joke and ran out to beat her with a chair after all. A week and a half late, but she had. It had cost her the match, but she got her revenge on May in time. And the girl that had beaten her - Teresa - had wanted a rematch.
But now, it was all over.
It felt bittersweet, knowing that one chapter in her life had ended. She would miss her friends here, and even the city - butt of every joke, including several from its locals - had grown on her. But still, she knew she had better things ahead of her.
She slumped in a chair backstage to unwind a bit before she started packing her gear (such as it was).
"Good fight out there, kid." In entered one Teresa Pontarelli, NEOW Women's Championship located firmly on her shoulder. She offered forward her right hand, somewhat of a rarity for the 35 year old.
Marie took her hand with her own, shaking it. "Same to you," she said, getting back to her feet. "Nobody's going to doubt you deserve that now. I mean, I never did, but you know how people can be."
"Sure. To be fair though, it's not like they weren't given plenty of reason. I'm still bloody pissed about that whole affair." Teresa sighed before taking a seat on another nearby chair. "Still, it feels like everyone I come across is either in AES or going there now, innit?"
"It kinda does, doesn't it?" Marie sunk back into her seat. "Me, your two friends... next thing I know it's going to be May being called up." She leaned forward. "Or, you know, it could be you. You've definitely got the talent for it."
"Don't need to tell me that, I'd be in the Grand Prix if not for this bloody no-compete clause I'm sittin' on." She took a sombre expression. "Just sittin' around until August. At least I can still work the indies, right?" A rare laugh, deep and coarse, emerged from Teresa's throat.
"Hey, the indies aren't so bad, really." Marie smiled. "I'm just lucky I didn't end up in a noncompete myself. As it is, I still have to move back to LA and get set back up there. Probably not going to be back in action for almost a month." She made a face. "Wow, here's me talking like an actual wrestler, even." She never thought she'd say something like that five years ago.
"General word of advice for when you get there, there's big downtimes on the big time. With AES it's not so bad because they've got around a hundred companies under their banner, so you can sign up to multiple places and you'll work fairly frequently..." Teresa paused to catch her breath for a moment. She'd just had a match after all.
"But if you're only working for one, I'd say either pick up a hobby or apply yourself to trainin' like crazy." She stood up and began to stretch herself, the adrenaline from the match receding and with it, aches setting in.
"Huh." Marie rolled her shoulders. "I'll keep that in mind. Right now it's only RevX, so I'm probably going to have to go full-bore into training for a bit. Try to get up to speed with the big leagues and all, y'know?" She smiled. "But that would be interesting to do. I've only worked one fed at a time before. Maybe in a couple of months, though."
"Honestly, with RevX it may be best to just train like hell. Lotsa hungry people there. Though, at the same time, the practical experience from bein' elsewhere too's a big thing." Teresa gave a slight shrug. "Either way, it's up to you now. Good luck, kid, we'll miss you around the locker room." She gave a wave before walking out, leaving Marie on her own.
"Take care yourself!" Marie called after her. "See you in August!" Optimism was Marie's strong suit, after all. She peeled herself out of the chair and headed down another hall.