It was one of those bars where you could never guess what time it was from the business. There was just a steady occupancy of grim old farts from opening until closing. Not exactly Buddy's usual choice of watering hole, but just right now was feeling like he'd fit right in and frankly he could see the appeal, especially compared to the Houston County Farm Center. He couldn't be there. Couldn't stand to be there. Loser leaves town, Christ.
"I don't mind telling you, man to man," Buddy said, gesturing between his face and Two's mask with the bottle. "I'm having a hell of a time keeping up with them boys."
Remembering his manners, he poured Mr. Wrestling Two another round. Two inclined his head in thanks.
"I'll drink to that. These youngsters today... they're a different breed." He shook his head solemnly.
"It ain't even the partying. I can still hang with anybody, you know me. But the fussing and fighting and everybody getting so goddamn worked up - I'm too fucking old for that stuff." Buddy took another shot, then repeated, "Too fucking old. You know how many handkercheifs I've been carrying in case somebody wants to bawl on me?"
Wrestling Two didn't seem inclined to guess, so Buddy pulled them out one after another like a magician, counting them off with complaints to illustrate. "'Terry got hisself a tag partner,' 'Michael called me Baby Huey again,' 'Terry interrupted my interview time,' 'Terry didn't interrupt my interview time, don't he even care?' 'Michael got hisself a tag partner to match my tag partner and I bet he likes him better than me.' God almighty. I love those two like my own flesh and blood brothers but if they keep this up you can ship me up to Morganton to bunk with Roughhouse Fargo." He took a swig of Jack to emphasize his point then, feeling maudlin, added, "It's hard on them. If they could just be ten years older right now, it wouldn't be so damn hard on them."
Looking damn sympathetic for a man in a mask, Mr. Wrestling Two clapped a hand on his shoulder and gave him a squeeze. With a glance over Buddy's shoulder, he added, "Club soda and cold water."
Before Buddy could question that cryptic wisdom, Wrestling Two drained his glass and gracefully vacated his bar stool. He was replaced almost immediately by three hundred pounds of blood-soaked, wide-eyed misery. Bam Bam was wearing half his shirt and none of his dignity. Buddy passed him the bottle and a black hankie, as he clearly needed both.
After a few good honks and a long pull on the bottle, Terry looked composed enough for Buddy to ask him, "What happened, Terry? You win?" Buddy didn't think he'd be crying half so hard over losing.
Terry nodded miserably. Buddy's heart sank. He didn't know what he'd been hoping for in a goddamn cage match. Simultaneous pinfalls. Power outage via act of God. Double no-shows. Fuck, he should've slashed their tires.
"But that wasn't- the Sheepherders, Jos LeDuc and them, they got in when Michael was knocked out and-" He was clearly struggling to get the words out, worrying the hankercheif in his big fists.
Awful scenarios flashed through Buddy's mind. Michael in the hospital, who knew how serious. Terry barred from his room, distraught, making a scene. He'd probably thrown some orderlies around, the cops would be on their way now.
"They were gonna cut his hair!" blurted Bam Bam. "Buddy Jack, you know I couldn't let- I- it really is prettier than Farrah Fawcett's!"
All eyes were now on them. A six and a half foot behemoth could go ahead and leave bloody boot prints all across the floor and nobody'd mind his business for him, but throw a little love and Farrah Fawcett in the mix and these gossipy old geezers took an interest. Buddy laid down enough cash to cover the tab and led Terry out by the arm, soothing, "Of course you couldn't, Bam Bam, I know, brother."
Buddy's motel was just in the next parking lot over so he hadn't bothered to risk the ticket. It was probably for the best, a little fresh air might do Terry good.
"Okay, now tell me slow what happened," Buddy said as they tromped through the grassy gap between lots. "They wanted to cut Michael's hair and then what?"
Terry's expression darkened, his eyes blazing. "Then I whooped their asses until they didn't want nothing else except to run home to their mamas, and that's just what they did." That was their Bam Bam alright. It just about broke Buddy's heart to watch that fire go out. "He don't want me back, Buddy. I went and talked to him after, he don't want nothing to do with me and, man, I don't blame him. Four years riding up and down the road together and I walked out on him, way I've been acting with him and anyone he's been with, who's probably better friends to him than I ever was." He wiped his eyes on what was left of a sleeve. "I don't want to be around me either."
Buddy put an arm around him. "Hey, hey, man, I haven't said it before 'cause I knew you didn't want to hear it but, brother, if you think he's not missing you like you're missing him, then you can think again because Michael's hurting too, man." Terry burst into fresh tears and Buddy walked him the rest of the way to his room. "Now come on, Bam Bam, get yourself cleaned up, I got some of your shirts somewhere," he said, patting Terry's back as he guided him towards the shower. "You'll feel better and we can talk this thing through. It's gonna be okay, you and Michael, you'll patch this up."
"Thanks, Buddy Jack." Terry gave him a big, bloody hug before limping off to shower.
"I'm gonna get you some ice, brother, looks like you need it," Buddy called after him.
Buddy caught a glance of himself in the mirror, covered in so much blood he might've been in a cage match himself. He snorted. Club soda and cold water, right. Thanks, Two.
He waited until he heard the shower going before he started for the ice machine. Fuck wherever Bam Bam was staying, he could room with Buddy tonight. And Michael, he had to get with him and make sure how he was doing.
Luckily for him, he didn't need to go looking.
"Buddy! Thank God, man, I need to talk to you, I don't know where my head's at!" Michael wasn't so tenderhearted as Terry, but his eyes were shining and Buddy could hear the anguish in his voice.
Buddy pulled him into a hug and could hardly bear to let him go. With his hands on Michael's shoulders he said, "We're gonna need a second room, 'cause I ain't sending you off alone but I already got Bam Bam crying in my shower. Here, follow my lead."
Before Michael had time to question or protest, Buddy whipped out a hundred dollar bill and knocked on the door across the hall from his room.
Sure as God protects fools, drunk wrestlers, and little children, a little old lady answered the door and her face lit up at the sight of these big, blood-soaked rednecks standing outside her room. She clasped Michael's hand in both of hers. "I brought my grandkids all the way from North Carolina to come cheer for you, honey. They cried, but we all know you tried your best."
"Well, uh, thank you, ma'am, I really appreciate that." Michael was fiddling with his hair bashfully. He'd really started to take the fans to heart lately, it was downright cute.
"Thing is, ma'am," said Buddy, "I'm in the room across the hall and, well, you saw the match and, with how he got knocked out and all, I'd feel a heck of a lot better having him close enough to knock on his door a few times over night, just to make sure he's waking up okay. Is there any way you could see your way to trading rooms with Michael here? We don't want to be any bother and we'd be happy to pay for the inconvenience and all that, you know, it'd just really help us out."
Eyes twinkling, she asked, "Can you throw in an autograph?"
After the private meet and greet with Mrs. Styles and her little angels was over, with polite chit-chat made, Michael's match breathlessly recapped by a couple of self-proclaimed future wrestlers, bags packed, room keys swapped, and cash discreetly passed along, Michael sagged against the wall in exhaustion.
"What do you mean Terry's crying?" was, of course, the first thing out of his mouth.
"I mean Terry's crying. What did you think he'd be doing if won?"
"I don't know." He ran a hand through his hair. "We had a fight - I mean, of course we had a fight, but we had a fight after our fight, you know? And he said some things, and I said some things...." He sighed, wiping at his eyes. "Did he really fight for me, like those little kids said?"
Shrugging, Buddy shook his head. "Fucked if I know, I told you I wasn't gonna watch it. But Terry was a real mess."
"Yeah, well I did that to him," said Michael bitterly. He scrubbed his hands over his face and sat down hard on the bed. "What's gonna happen to us, Buddy?"
Buddy hugged him again. "It'll work out. You need any of this ice? I'm gonna go see to Terry."
Michael sat bolt upright and looked up at him in alarm. "Is he hurt?"
"Yes he's fucking hurt, you hurt each other! Christ! You two just had a goddamn cage match. Now, I want to know, are you hurt?"
Michael shook his head. "I'm fine."
Buddy left him some of the ice anyways.
Back in Buddy's room, Terry was toweling himself off.
"Here, Bam Bam, get this on you." He set down the ice down and started rummaging through his luggage for some clothes. He knew he had some of Terry's in here.
"Well, you'll have to go commando, but here's some jeans and a shirt." He tossed them to Terry and casually added, "I got Michael in the room across the hall."
Ice and clothes both forgotten, Terry stared at the door like a bad puppy wondering if his people would still come home from work now he chewed a hole in the couch. "Is he okay?"
"He's worried about you, is what he is. I'm running the AC whether you put your pants on or not, Bam Bam, it ain't my fault if you catch a chill."
Terry dressed distractedly. "He's really worried? Buddy, tell him I'm okay, he shouldn't-"
"Here." Exasperated, Buddy wrapped up some ice in an extra towel. "Back, leg, or hip? I saw you limping."
"I'll tell him not to worry," he promised, sitting Bam Bam on the bed and making him lie down with his ice pack. "Here?" Terry nodded. "Now just you stay here and keep that ice on. Christ."
He grabbed some of Michael's clothes and stomped across the hall. Michael was still sitting there looking tragic. "You gonna get in the shower or you planning to keep bleeding on the bed a while?"
Sullen as a teenager - hell, he damn near was one - Michael said, "I haven't decided yet."
"Come on." He hooked and arm under Michael's and grunted. "Up you get." Michael shuffled petulantly towards the shower, only perking up when Buddy added, "And Terry's fine, except for worrying about you worrying about him."
He sat on the un-bloodied bed.
"You're a good friend, Buddy Jack!" Michael called over the noise of the shower.
"And don't you fucking forget it!"
He laid back, just to rest his eyes for a minute.
He woke up to see the sun peeking through the blinds, in a room smellling like bacon grease and fresh coffee. He sat up enough to see a covered tray, a coffee pot, and a bottle all sitting on top of the desk.
"We still ain't exactly on speaking terms, but we both figured we owed you breakfast." Michael was packed and at the door, looking a lot better than last night. More shockingly, Bam Bam was behind him. "And JD. That was my idea, in case you wondered." On that note Michael was out the door.
"It was both our idea," muttered Terry, pouting a little after Michael but looking happier than Buddy'd seen him in a long while. "I got to go too or I won't make TV. Love you, brother."
He was down the hall too before Buddy got his wits about him enough to answer.
With a sigh, Buddy laced his hands behind his head and laid back. Yeah, they were going to be okay, the three of them. Having a family wasn't half bad sometimes.