Fiona tapped her nails on the counter, waiting for her coffee. She'd woken up later than she planned and wasn't able to sleep on the plane so she was in desperate need of caffeine. After a few minutes, the young woman returned with her order and quickly punched some numbers into her register.
"Okay that's $4.73," she smiled.
Fiona reached into her purse but before she could find her money, she saw an arm reach around her and place a five on the counter. She turned, surprised to see Chris smiling at the young woman, "You can keep the change."
"Thanks," the cashier smiled.
"Thank you," Fiona picked up her coffee, looking up at Chris.
"You're welcome," he smiled, leaning on the counter. "But I have to admit…that wasn't just a random act of kindness."
"I see," she smirked. "So I suppose you're expecting something from me now."
"I am," he nodded.
"And what would that be?" she asked, taking a quick sip.
"Well you see, I found myself sitting alone at that table over there," Chris nodded toward a table in the middle of the restaurant. "And by buying you a cup of coffee, I think that I've pretty much made it impossible for you to turn down my offer to come sit with me."
She laughed a little, "I suppose I have time for that."
Jeff leaned back In his chair for a few seconds and then leaned forward, knees on his elbows, anxiously tapping his heels on the floor. He'd been waiting for Vince for about 10 minutes and to say he was getting antsy was an understatement. He ran a hand through his hair, wondering if he should have dressed up more. He was wearing a black t-shirt and a pair of jeans. He looked down at his watch, seeing that it didn't matter if he was underdressed. He didn't have time to head back to the hotel and change. He heard a voice outside the door and sat up straight, rubbing his hands together. This was It.
The door opened and in walked Vince McMahon. He was 'dressed down', wearing jeans with his blazer and collared shirt, making Jeff feel more confident in his choice of wardrobe.
"Jeff," he smiled, reaching out his hand. "Good to see you."
"You too Mr. McMahon," Jeff smiled, standing up and shaking his former boss's hand. "Nice to be here."
"I apologize for calling you earlier than we'd planned," Vince sat down in a chair across from Jeff's. "I had a bit of a creative inspiration and I thought that we should talk before I decide what to do with it."
"It's fine," Jeff said. "I just switched my flights. No problem at all."
"Good," Vince said. "So…I'm not gonna drag this out. I don't want to waste my time or yours. This isn't an interview. I've seen what you can do. Part of me knows I'd be a fool not to pick you up while you're not under contract anywhere…But there's another part of me that worries about everything that's gone on since you left. That part of me wants to know why I should hire you back here."
Jeff hadn't thought about what he was going to say, even though is father and brother practically told him to write a speech. He didn't work well that way. He just took a deep breath and let the words come out, hoping he didn't sound too stupid, "Look, I cant blame you for having concerns about me. Anyone in their right mind would. I have been a screw up. I had everything going for me and I messed it all up, on my own. I take full responsibility. I'm not gonna be one of those guys who blames it on you or anybody else. The only explanation I can give you is that I lost my way. I don't know how or why, I just know that I did and..I'm sorry for that. But to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't change a thing."
Vince looked surprised but he stayed quiet, allowing Jeff to continue.
"I don't regret anything that's happened because I learned a lot about myself and about this business. And I will make a better investment for you now than I ever would have before. I'm older. I'm better. I'm smarter. And I'm just asking you to give me a chance to prove that to you. You believed in me before, you put a lot on my shoulders and I wanna show you that you weren't wrong. I owe you that."
Vince shook his head, a small smile touching his face, "That's not quite what I was expecting from you Jeff."
He was probably expecting more groveling or ass kissing but Jeff shrugged, "That's all I got."
"Well," Vince stood up, walking past Jeff toward the door and opening it. He smiled, "That's enough for me. Don't tell anyone I was so easily convinced. It'll tarnish my image."
Jeff just stared at Vince, wondering if he was playing some sort of joke on him.
"Come on," Vince gestured for him to get up. "Take a walk down to the ring with me and I'll tell you a little more about that creative inspiration I mentioned earlier before the meeting.
"So we're done here?" Jeff asked.
Vince nodded, "We're done. I've got a contract ready for your lawyers to look over.
Henley, Maria, and Tessa signed in and walked toward the conference room where they were supposed to have their meeting. As expected, there were quite a few people milling around, talking in small groups. These things never started on time. They always expected to spend at least a half hour just sitting around chatting.
"Chris and Fiona are coming together, right?" Tessa asked.
Henley scanned the small crowd for them, "Yeah. She texted me a few minutes ago. She said they'd be here any minute."
"It's nice to see Chris dating," Tessa commented.
"Don't say that to him," Henley said. "He insists they're not dating and he merely thinks she's attractive."
"That sounds so clinical," Maria made a face.
Henley shrugged, "He's scared. Give him some time."
"He better not take too long," Tessa said. "Something tells me it wont be long before he's got competition."
Tessa said something else but Henley was no longer listening so she hoped Maria was. In her scan of the room, Henley's eyes had landed on a strange sight. Randy Orton looking extremely uncomfortable. He was standing, practically backed into a corner by Candice Michelle and from the gestures she was making with her arms, they seemed to be discussing wrestling moves. At least she hoped that was what they were discussing. She shuddered at the thought of other things they could be talking about and then her sense of duty and honor kicked in. Randy had saved her from Dave. She owed him.
"Excuse me for just a minute guys," Henley parted from her friends, strolling over and pasting on a big smile, "Hey Randy. Candice."
"Hey," Randy looked somewhat relieved to have another person around.
Candice gave her a quick wave
"What are you two talking about?" Henley couldn't resist asking.
"Candice was just asking some questions about the logistics of some of my moves," Randy explained. "Like the backbreaker and the RKO."
Henley bit her lip to hide her smirk.
"Did you need something?" Candice asked, looking impatient.
"I did," Henley gave her best apologetic smile and grabbed Randy's hand. "I need to borrow him for just a few minutes. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay, just bring him back," Candice looked annoyed but she smiled through it.
They walked through the growing crowd of WWE crew and around a corner until they were out of sight.
"Thank you," Randy turned to her.
She shrugged, "No need for thanks. Just be prepared for the rumors that you're sleeping with the town whore."
"I'm Randy Orton. There's always a rumor that I'm sleeping with the town whore."
Henley laughed, "I owed you for the whole Dave thing."
"Thanks a lot for that again," she said, feeling sheepish for threatening to hit Dave.
"Don't thank me," he said. "Dave's really not as bad as he seems."
"You sure about that?"
"It seemed like an appropriate thing to say," Randy laughed. "No seriously, he just…he and Steph are pretty good friends and..I'm sure you know where I'm going here."
"I do," she nodded, suddenly feeling extremely awkward for sitting and laughing with someone who was so close to Hunter and Stephanie...And Dave.
"I should go," she started picking at her nails. "Maybe just uh..hang here for a bit, give Candice a little time to move on to someone else before you come out of hiding."
"Probably a good idea, I've got a few calls to make. Thanks for the save."
Matt felt a hard smack upside his head and he turned around, ready to deck whoever it was.
"Whoa!" He exclaimed, hugging his younger brother tightly when he saw him. "What the hell?"
"I came in early," Jeff explained. "You are an asshole."
"Why am I an asshole?" Matt asked, rubbing the back of his head. "Why'd you come early? Did you get your job back?"
"Fiona god damn Tyler?" Jeff whispered angrily. He had no choice, the very woman was only about 15 feet away, talking with Maria Kanellis and Tessa Lee.
"I really didn't know," Matt insisted. "Did you get your job back?"
"When did you find out?" Jeff put his hands on his hips.
"Okay, fine, I didn't tell you right when I found out," Matt admitted. He was practically bursting. If Jeff didn't answer him soon, he might just punch his little brother. "Did you get your job back?"
Jeff broke into a Cheshire grin and nodded and Matt let out a celebratory yell, wrapping his brother into another tight hug.
"I told you," Matt patted him on the back. "I told you."
"You were right," Jeff said, hugging back. Then, he smacked Matt again, even harder this time, on the back of the head. "That's for not telling me about Fiona."
Henley felt herself wringing her hands as she watched Matt and Jeff Hardy pushing each other around. She'd been trying to work up the nerve to go talk to Matt for a few minutes and she was pretty sure her hands hurt enough for her to do it. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and set her feet in Matt's direction.
"Hey Matt, I was wondering if I could talk to you for a few seconds before the meeting starts," she smiled politely during a break in the brothers' conversation.
Jeff looked like he was waiting for a response but nothing ever came. Matt didn't even look at her. He just walked away, and, looking completely confused, Jeff followed him.
Henley's breath was caught by the lump that formed in her throat and she closed her mouth, looking down at her feet. Apparently, they'd taken her in the wrong direction.
"What was that?"
Henley brought her eyes up from the floor when she heard Fiona's voice.
"That looked pretty bad," Fiona winced.
Henley shrugged, shaking her head, "What? Everything's fine."
Disbelief was written all over Fiona's face, "Henley, this whole 'I was wrong and I deserve to be beat up' thing that you do…I understand it but, you do realize that it's okay for you to admit that sometimes your feelings get hurt, right?"
Henley crossed her arms over her chest.
"You have to talk to someone," Fiona said. "I'm not sure there's people beating down the door to hear your woes so I'm just letting you know…I'm willing to listen."
Henley smiled. She could tell that there was one thing that would always be consistent with Fiona. She was going to be honest and she would say what she was thinking. Henley couldn't explain how much she liked that in a person.
"Matt used to be one of my really, really close friends," Henley admitted. "But…he wont speak to me anymore."
"Because of the Hunter thing."
"When was the last time you spoke?"
"On my last day," Henley sighed. "I went to Matt to tell him that I'd miss hanging out with him and that I wanted him to call me all the time and that I'd call him and I wanted us to try to hang out when we could. I just wanted him to know that I didn't want things to change too much."
"And he said?"
"Bye," Henley said in a dry tone, with a blank expression.
"Yeah," Henley winced. "It was one of those really touching moments."
"Obviously," Fiona raised her eyebrows.
"So yeah, I tried calling a few times and then I got the message," Henley shrugged, looking around the room. She smirked when she saw a set of eyes locked on Fiona. Dave Batista was staring at her like he'd been starved for years and she was a free steak buffet.
"You seem to have an admirer," Henley nodded in his direction.
"You know, I used to think he was so hot before his nose got all messed up," Fiona shook her head.
"I still think he's hot," Fiona admitted. "I just have to make sure to put that disclaimer on it now."
Henley laughed, "Good call."
"Anything special I should know about him?" Fiona asked.
"He doesn't rub too many people the wrong way," Henley shrugged. "He tends to keep to his core group but a lot of people around here really like him."
"And you?" Fiona smiled.
"Not my favorite person," Henley admitted. "But, you might see a totally different side of him. I did hear once that he collects vintage lunchboxes."
Henley opted not to mention her recent run ins with him. Before her return, she could really take or leave Dave. He hadn't bothered her.
"And here he comes," Henley smiled as he strolled over in his suit, making Henley feel dwarfed even in her 4" heels.
"Forgive the interruption, I just wanted to introduce myself," he flashed Fiona a surprisingly boyish smile. "Dave Batista."
"Nice to meet you," he took her much smaller hand in his. "I heard all the rumors about you coming to join us here. Glad to hear they were true."
"Thank you," she smiled. "It's nice to meet you too."
"How about I take you around and introduce you to a few more people before we get started?"
Fiona looked over at Henley who shrugged. Dave probably was a better person to introduce Fiona to their coworkers. Most of them didn't have the warmest welcomes for Henley.
"Go," Henley waved. "Have fun."
"See you in the meeting," Fiona gave her a bright smile.
Henley waved to them as they walked away.
"Hey Dave," she said, unable to let him walk away without at least a little jab. He turned and she gave him a wink, "Careful around those corners, huh?"
Dave nodded and turned away quickly.
As soon as they made their way to another group, Henley looked around for Chris. Now, she needed to let him know he had some competition.
Hunter watched as Henley talked and laughed with Chris, her hand on his arm. He'd been trying to figure out if she'd genuinely gotten more attractive or if she just looked prettier because he hadn't seen her in so long. She was wearing a pair of gray pants and a loose black sleeveless shirt with red heels. Her legs seemed to look longer. Her blonde waves looked thicker and were pulled up into a ponytail and tied with a red leather strap.
She took a step closer to Chris, lowering her voice to a whisper and Hunter wished he could get close enough to hear what they were saying. He'd heard from a few people that the two of them were very close and despite his best efforts, it bothered Hunter. He wanted to know how close. He could remember a time when they used to sit together before these stupid meetings. He missed those times. It was even before anything intimate ever happened between them. He missed her friendship.
Hunter laughed, watching as Henley rested her chin on her hand, trying to blow her bangs out of her eyes.
She noticed him laughing and narrowed her brown eyes, "Don't you laugh at me."
"Don't be funny."
"Don't look funny," she stuck her tongue out at him.
"What are you? 4?" he laughed at her.
"I'm impatient," she bounced slightly in her chair. "I wanna know what my next program is gonna be. And since you insist you don't know anything, I have to sit here and wait."
"I really don't this time," Hunter shrugged. For once, he truly was in the dark. He didn't know what his own upcoming angle was, let alone hers. He was hoping they'd both get something good though. He hadn't known Henley for long but he knew enough to know that she was good, damn good and Vince needed to use her.
"I just hope they don't make me work with Candice," the blonde shook her head.
"Because every time you look at the girl, she breaks her clavicle," Henley rolled her eyes,.
"I have that same issue with Adam," Hunter laughed. "I worry about him."
"Hey, what are you looking at?"
Hunter looked away quickly when he heard his wife's voice. He laughed, looking at her, "I was just looking to see how Fiona's getting along with everyone."
"So far so good," Hunter nodded. "Dave seems to like her."
"Dave likes her ass," Stephanie laughed. She looked down at her watch, "We need to get started."
She cleared her throat, her blue eyes meeting Hunter's, "And by the way…Fiona and Dave are over there."
Stephanie pointed clear across the room from Henley and Chris and Hunter took a deep breath. Stephanie shook her head but didn't say anything else to him. She simply clapped her hands together and called everyone into the conference room to begin the meeting. Business as usual.
"Ladies and gentleman, thank you for all making it here early today," Vince explained, looking around the room. "First I suppose I'll get to the proverbial elephants in the room….I'm sure you see some familiar faces here today. Please welcome and welcome back Fiona Tyler, Henley Ryan, and Jeff Hardy. I wont be taking any questions on any of their situations so if you had any, please keep them to yourselves."
He paused to make sure everyone understood that he was serious and when they all looked sufficiently quiet, he began speaking again, "I'm sure you've all heard that I had something to tell you and you probably figured it wasn't that big of a deal but I must tell you, this is a huge announcement."
Everyone looked around, wondering what he was talking about. Stephanie and Shane smiled excitedly.
"Pretty soon you are all going to enjoy a degree of creative freedom that you haven't seen in years," Vince explained. "This company is about to enter into a new era. I am no longer interested in pandering to children and focusing on being family friendly. I've realized the possibilities in marketing adult demographic instead. I want more action, more matches, more storylines, more sex. If we're going to keep up with TNA and keep growing companies like Ring of Honor down, we have to give everyone what they want and it's been brought to my attention that nobody wants midgets and hog pen matches and couples in the audience on the kiss cam, not even the kids anymore and especially not all of you. We will have quality story, quality matches, quality shows. We've decided to completely relaunch the Raw and Smackdown brands to the public with an ad campaign starring a few select superstars. This will be a few weeks down the line after we have a special show the Saturday after the Bash on NBC. That show will be called Night of Champions. The changes will begin slowly, starting tonight. Night of Champions…that's when it really hits the fan. That is the night we turn over a new leaf."
Everyone in the room was smiling from ear to ear by the time Vince was done. He went into specific angles and, though some weren't thrilled to be left out of certain title pictures, everyone was thrilled at the company's new direction.
"Alright," Vince clapped his hands together. "You're free to go. Everyone please be on time for the show tonight."
"Henley, Jeff, and Fiona…I'd like you all to stay behind for a few minutes if that's alright," Vince raised a hand to stop them before they could leave.
Fiona stopped walking, turning to look at Henley, who was obviously thinking the same thing. Jeff looked somewhat confused but there could be plenty of reasons for that expression to cross his face so she didn't bother to try and decipher it as she turned around, smiling. The meeting had gone so well. Her role sounded amazing, she was set to have her first appearance, though it would be very brief, on Raw that night. She loved the sound of the company's new direction. Getting called into the principal's office: Not so much.
"Have a seat, please," he casually gestured to some chairs.
Fiona quickly sat down. Henley sat to her left and Jeff sat beside her.
"I just wanted the four of us to have quick talk," Vince said, sitting at the head of the table, an easy smile on his face. He sorted through some papers and found what he was looking for sliding them toward Fiona.
"Ladies, there were reports all over the internet this weekend that you two would be showing up on WWE Television this week," Vince said. "These reports were sparked by you two whooping it up in bars over the weekend."
Fiona wanted to point out that they only went to one bar and that they weren't exactly tying their bras around anyone's heads but she figured it probably wasn't the time so she just briefly looked at the printout and then over at Henley. They both gave apologetic looks.
"Sorry Mr. McMahon," Fiona apologized.
"It was my fault," Henley put up a hand.
Fiona shot her a look but Vince was already shaking his head with an unsurprised expression on his face. "What's done is done. Obviously, I don't care who you're friends with and as long as it's legal, I don't care very much how you spend your free time. But when you've been off camera for a length of time or you haven't debuted in my company yet, I expect you to be smart enough to lay low until you've shown up on TV. Okay?"
They both nodded.
Fiona looked over at Jeff out of the corner of the eye. He was making shapes on the table with his finger, leaving a trail of chipped black nail polish on the wood.
"My point of bringing all three of you in here," he raised his voice on the number three and turned to Jeff, who stopped his drawing,. "Was to tell you not to flatter yourselves into thinking you're invincible. You're very good at what you do. That's not in question. You're attractive, young, extremely talented. You are all at the top of your field."
Fiona knew she shouldn't smile but she wanted to. She couldn't help it.
"But you're also screw ups until you prove otherwise," Vince shrugged.
Fiona couldn't help the offended look that twisted her features. Jeff, well Jeff was obviously a screwup. And Henley, while sweet, was clearly not a saint, especially in the eyes of a McMahon but Fiona? What had she done that was so wrong?
"Yes, you too," Vince responded to her expression.
"You made everybody hate you," Jeff explained.
"Funny, I don't remember talking to you," she turned to him.
"She wasn't talking to you," Vince agreed. "But he does have a point. You came into a business that takes respect very seriously. You were green as can be and copped an attitude with everyone right down to the cameraman. Other talent refused to work with you. Crew complained about you. That cant fly. I just happen to think you're worth the second chance. I think you all are. And, as a businessman, I need what you all can bring in, the revenue, the ratings. But you are all on thin ice. Every one of you. Understood?"
"Understood," Both women agreed.
Jeff nodded without saying anything.
"I have some things to do," he stood up. "Have a good show tonight Fiona. Jeff, Henley, I have very high hopes in the coming weeks."
They all thanked him and then let out a collective breath when the door closed behind him.
"I feel like I was just in detention," Jeff drawled.
"Have you ever been in detention?" Fiona looked over at him, annoyed. "You don't get yelled at. You just sit there in silence."
Henley was staring at no one in particular, "Did he actually say whooping it up?"