New Year's Eve 1998, Continued
"...Well, if you haven't been to this restaurant yet, you really have to go. The food is awesome," said Anna, as she, Stephanie and Ryan sat on the couch in the basement. Anna was relating a story about the time she, her mom and her grandparents took her to dinner to celebrate her high school graduation. "Anyway, our server was smoking hot. Tall, dark wavy hair, sparky blue eyes, killer smile, great body. I had a hard time trying not to stare at this image of perfection who served our dinner."
Ryan took a sip from her bottle of sparkling water. "Sounds awesome."
Stephanie smirked, her eyes twinkling. "Trust me, it gets better."
"Don't ruin it, Steph," Anna admonished, gently. "Well, the server and I got to talking, and well, one thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were flirting with each other. Finally, I decided to ask if Lee—that was the server's name—had a girlfriend. My mom asks me, 'Anna, do you really think that's a good idea?' and Grandma and Grandpa were looking at me a little strangely. I say, 'Mom, I'm eighteen. I've had a lousy track record when it comes to dating. Maybe this time, it'll be different. This guy's handsome, he's nice, he's a snappy dresser. Worst thing that could happen is that he'd say no. But I have to at least try.' "
Stephanie cut in. "True facts. Anna has issues with potential boyfriends. They fall under one of two categories-"
"Hey, I'm telling the story, don't ruin it!" Anna paused. "Lee goes to wait some other tables. I drank too much iced tea, and my bladder's full, so, I head to the restroom. I take care of business, wash my hands and pull out my makeup kit so I can touch up my lipstick and take the shine off my nose. Lo and behold, in walks Lee. I'm a little surprised, and so is Lee, and I blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, which is, 'Hi. Aren't you in the wrong bathroom?'"
The two other girls snickered. Anna sighed. "Lee says, 'Actually, I'm in the right bathroom.' I look at Lee kinda weird, and Lee says, 'I already have a girlfriend.' and then pauses and says, 'I'm a lesbian.'" Ryan and Stephanie laughed riotously.
"Well at that point, I knew the night was over. I got back to the table and said, 'Let's go.' My mom, if you can believe it, asks me, 'Gay or Taken?' I said, 'Both. She has a girlfriend.' And my grandma—my grandma!-says to me, 'Your grandpa and I thought the same thing.' My grandma is sixty years old, and you wouldn't think it by looking at her—she looks like a sweet, church-going, genteel lady-but she can spot a gay person from a mile away! And my grandpa was asking my mom if she thought Lee wore womens' panties or guys' tighty-whities!"
Ryan and Stephanie were laughing too hard to say anything, so Anna watched as they tried to pull themselves together.
Finally, Ryan spoke up. "How could you not have known?"
"She looked like a guy! Button down shirt, black pants, black shoes, well coiffed hair that didn't look like a girl's hairdo. Her features looked a little masculine. And she was about as tall as you, Ryan, and she had a husky voice that sounded kinda guylike."
"Anna has the worst luck when it comes to relationships," Stephanie remarked.
"Not necessarily," Anna replied with a wry smile. "I've got plenty of guy friends who love to go shopping with me."
Stephanie couldn't help giggling. Anna was just too funny.
It was almost ten o'clock, and Stephanie was surprised at how much she was enjoying herself. Anna was great company as always. Ryan had turned out to be quite entertaining and charming, and Stephanie decided that she was well on the way to becoming a new friend. The three of them had decided to go downstairs to play pool and talk.
Throughout the evening, Stephanie had learned a few things about Ryan Shamrock. She was from Atlanta, Georgia, and was the youngest in the family. She graduated last year from high school, and was still living with her mom. Their relationship was turbulent; she argued and talked back, dabbled with alcohol, drugs and boys, and came home late on several occasions.
Finally, Ryan's mom begged Ken to help reel his young sister in after Ryan had told her mom that she'd "sell her for a nickel if given a chance," during their last argument.
Ryan liked being on the road, even though Ken was, in her words, an "overprotective pain-in-the-ass."
And, she was surprised at how much she was enjoying herself, especially tonight.
Ryan glanced over at the ring on Stephanie's hand. "Love your ring! Is that blue topaz?"
"It is," Stephanie smiled.
"It matches your eyes perfect. Where'd you get it?"
"It's a gift from a very special someone."
"Hey Guys, let's go upstairs," Anna suggested, climbing off the couch. "Maybe we'll be lucky and find some cute guy to ring in '99 with."
Ryan followed. "I'm game. Steph, how about you?"
"I'll follow you guys in a minute." Stephanie sighed and felt a twinge of loneliness. It would have been nice to spend the last few minutes of the year with Mark, but she didn't see him and was getting more convinced that she wouldn't.
Well, no use moping, Stephanie told herself, as she climbed off the couch.
"You see the guy with the blonde ponytail and the purple poet shirt?" Anna pointed out from her vantage point near the guest room. "I have dibs on him."
"He's cute!" Ryan grinned.
"That's Christian," explained Stephanie. "He has a half-brother named Edge. My dad signed them both to contracts earlier this year. Anna's been crushing on him for months."
Anna scowled. "Is it that obvious?"
"You get all starry-eyed when you see him on TV," Stephanie razzed. "And besides, that angsty, longing look on your face right now is a dead giveaway."
"Great! Blurt it out to everyone, why don't you?" grumbled Anna, as Stephanie and Ryan laughed.
"Hey, it's okay," Ryan reassured her. "There's nothing wrong with crushing on a guy. I've been crushing on Val Venis from the moment I saw him on TV."
"Val Venis?" Stephanie's jaw dropped, and Anna nearly spewed the sparkling water she'd been drinking onto the floor. "Holy crap, Ryan! The guy's a freakin' porno star! How old are you, seventeen?"
"Nineteen. I'm legal!"
Anna gathered her composure. "If what you said about you brother is true, he'll blow a blood vessel if he finds out you wanna hook up with a porn star."
Ryan snorted. "I don't give a flying crap what he blows! If Kenny thinks he can keep me on a short leash, well, he's deluding himself."
After a moment of comfortable silence, Anna said, "Okay. I'm gonna totally go for it. I'm gonna introduce myself to Christian and ask him to dance. He looks hot and totally available. If I blow this opportunity, I may never get another one, and I'll kick myself for the rest of my life. Wish me luck."
"Good luck," said Ryan and Stephanie at the same time, as Anna disappeared into the crowd, a tiny vision in purple and black.
When Anna was safely out of earshot, Stephanie leaned over and said, "Ryan, I'll bet you ten bucks that Christian's gay."
"Okay. I'll bet you ten bucks that he's unavailable."
"Either way, she's gonna strike out. You're on."
The two girls watched as Anna walked confidently up to the young blonde man and struck up a conversation. A few words were exchanged, and then, to Ryan and Stephanie's surprise, Anna and her crush began dancing.
"No way!" Stephanie gasped.
Ryan grinned and held out her hand. "Pay up."
"Later. In my room."
Ryan decided to change the subject. "So, you didn't answer my question. Where'd you get the ring?"
"I got it from the man who's gonna marry me."
"You're gonna get married? Congratulations!"
"Thanks. By the way, this is actually my engagement ring."
"Aren't you supposed to wear an engagement ring on your left hand?" Ryan wondered, as she watched Anna and Christian glide across the crowded dance floor to the beat of the big band music. Judging from the smiles on their faces, the two of them were enjoying each other's company.
"Yeah, but I can't wear it like that right now. My dad doesn't know I'm getting married."
"Why not? "
"He's on my dad's active roster."
Ryan's eyes widened. "You're serious?"
"As a heart attack."
"Okay. Let me guess who he is first." Ryan pointed towards the tall, ponytailed blonde with the prominent nose wearing a green silk shirt and black dress pants.
"Oh, god no!" Stephanie spat. "That's Hunter Hearst Helmsley! His family has old money, and Dad has been trying to play matchmaker with the two of us. He's so stuck on himself, it's ridiculous. Besides, he already has a girlfriend, although Dad wants to pretend he doesn't so that he can marry me off and get even wealthier. See the chick in the black sequin top and tight pants who looks kinda like Xena, Warrior Princess?"
"How can I not see her? She looks like a flaming bitch."
"She is. Her name's Chyna. She and Hunter have been going out for about three years and-oh, crap!"
"Oh crap, what?"
"I think Hunter saw me, and he's coming this way! Ryan, we have to lose him. We can go into the dining room and grab some snacks while we're at it."
Quickly, but not so quickly as to arouse curiosity, Stephanie and Ryan wove their way through the crowd into the dining room, where a spread of finger foods was laid out invitingly, buffet style. They each grabbed some snacks and found a place to sit near a window.
"I don't think Hunter saw us," Ryan assured her new friend.
Stephanie sighed in relief and picked up a little puff pastry shell filled with chocolate mousse. "Good. I can't stand the idea of ringing in the New Year with that guy. But I do know of a few who'd like to.
"Her name's Nicole. She's a really big tall girl, over six feet. She used to be a professional bodybuilder," Stephanie explained, nibbling on her pastry. "Dad signed her to a development deal last month."
"Is her last name Bass?"
"As a matter of fact, yeah. She's got blonde hair and a real booming laugh. She's really really funny. As in funny ha-ha."
Ryan smiled. "Kenny and I are traveling with her! She's like a big sister! I think she might be here, we took separate vehicles. She hasn't been introduced to everyone properly, but if you could introduce her to Hunter, it would make her night!"
"I'll see what I can do."
The two girls munched away on their goodies in companionable silence.
A little later, Ryan drew closer, grinning with excitement. "Now, speaking of guys, who's the lucky guy you're gonna marry? I have to know."
"I could get in serious trouble if word got out."
"I promise I won't say a word."
"If you do, I'll carve out your tongue."
"Okay." Stephanie leaned over and whispered in Ryan's ear, "Mark Calaway."
"Sshhh! He asked me to marry him day after Thanksgiving."
"Holy crap! And I thought I'd hit the big time with Val Venis. You just put me to shame, Stephanie."
"And that's why I can't tell anyone. If word gets out, Dad could cut me off and get Mark into serious trouble."
"Your secret's completely safe with me."
"Good to know," Stephanie sighed, watching as Christian wrote something on Anna's hand. "Ryan, maybe you did win this bet. Wonder if the two of them are gonna hook up. Speaking of hookup, how'd you get all crushy on Val?"
"One of my girlfriends in Atlanta had a few swigs of Boone's Farm and decided to watch the Playboy Channel. I was spending the night at her place and thought, 'What the hell, I'll watch it too.' We wound up watching a double feature. The Big Valbowski and Val Venis: Soldier of Love. God, he was hot as a firecracker. And when I found out he was going to the WWF, I was about to jump for joy. It was then that Ken suggested to Mom that I travel with him so that he could keep an eye on me, and when they both told me, I agreed."
"Is Val the reason why you decided to travel with your brother?"
"You're starting to catch on," Ryan laughed, just as Anna slunk into the dining room and loaded a plate up with goodies. To the girls' surprise, she looked dejected.
"How'd it go?" Stephanie ventured.
"Not as good as I hoped," huffed Anna, flopping down next to the others.
"But you two looked so cute out there," Ryan said.
Anna plucked a lemon petit four off her plate. "But he's off the list of possible boyfriends."
"Okay. Big question," Stephanie said. "Gay or taken?"
"Both. He has a boyfriend. So now I have a new shopping buddy if he's in town and wants to check out Hot Topic. 'Cause that's where he got that shirt."
"Ohh, double whammy." Ryan shrugged her shoulders. "Guess the bet just ended in a draw."
Anna glared at her companions. "You bet on my love life?" she exclaimed, as Stephanie and Ryan tried hard not to laugh. "You guys suck! I almost wanna take back what I did for you and Steph."
"You did something for me?" Ryan looked surprised. "What?"
"I'm not gonna say."
"Awww! Please tell me what you did?"
"Not until you apologize for making sport out of my non-existent love life. And that goes for you too, Steph."
"Okay. I'm sorry." Ryan sighed.
"Sorry Ryan and I placed a bet on you," added Stephanie.
"Apology accepted, both of you. Anyway, I borrowed Val Venis's cell phone to make a call."
Ryan tilted her head. "What does that have to do with me?"
"Earlier, I asked for your phone number. I called your cell number on his phone."
"You called me on his phone…No Way!"
"You've got his phone number now. You'll probably wanna save it under a different name, in case your brother gets a wild hare up his butt and decides to check your cell phone calls."
"Now I'm glad Kenny brought me over!"
Anna winked and flashed a grin. "Go get him, Tiger!"
"Stephanie, each time I see you, you look lovelier and lovelier," said Pat Patterson, as he and Stephanie and Linda stood together a few minutes later. Stephanie had wanted to find her dad and Shane, but she couldn't locate them in the sea of revelers.
"Thanks, Pat." Stephanie smiled in reply. Pat was her godfather, and the two of them had a close relationship.
"Isn't this a beautiful party?"
"It certainly is," Linda chimed in, as she sipped at her cocktail. "This music and this atmosphere, it makes me feel like I'm a character in The Great Gatsby."
"So, have either of you made any New Year's resolutions yet?" Pat ventured.
"Well, I usually don't make New Year's resolutions, Pat. My resolution is to not make any resolutions. That way, I'll never have to worry about keeping them." All three of them laughed.
"So, Stephanie," Linda asked, turning her attention towards her daughter. "Have you made any resolutions for 1999?"
Stephanie sighed and gazed towards the front door. She thought she saw Ryan and Anna conversing with a tall Amazon-type woman with kinky blonde hair and a magenta tank dress that she could easily identify as Nicole. Apparently, they were sharing some sort of joke, because all three of them busted up laughing.
Stephanie turned around, startled. "Oh, sorry."
"I said, have you made any resolutions for 1999?"
A faint smile perked up Stephanie's lips. "Actually, I have. I resolve to fight hard and work hard for everything I want in my life. I'm a McMahon, and I think it's time for me to start acting like one."
Linda smiled and gave her daughter a hug. "I think that's a wonderful resolution."
"I think so too." Stephanie returned the hug and then hugged Pat for good measure. "I'm going to see what Anna and Ryan are up to. I'll talk to you later."
Stephanie strolled across the crowded room, smiling and greeting the guests. Judging by the looks on her friends' faces, they were up to something.
"Stephanie, good evening."
She turned around and flinched. Hunter was standing next to her, looking as handsome as he could, a boyish smile on his face.
Stephanie smiled politely back. "Hi, Hunter. Enjoying the party?"
"I am. I just came to see how you were."
"As well as can be expected," replied Stephanie, cordially. "I'm a little bit busy at the moment. Where's Chyna? I thought she'd be with you as your date. "
Hunter sighed. "She was. But we had an argument outside, and she broke up with me." he said, remorseful.
"I'm sorry to hear that. I hope you can find someone else. I didn't break you guys up, did I?"
"It's not your fault, even though your dad has been trying to play matchmaker with the two of us."
"Hunter, I honestly don't think it would work out with us. The last date we had was a bit of a disaster."
"I know." Hunter nodded in agreement. "I think I was trying too hard to impress you, and I came off looking like a total ass. I wanted to say…I'm sorry."
Stephanie nodded back. Hunter did sound sincere. He didn't deserve to be painted as a bad guy, even though they had gotten off on the wrong foot. Still, Stephanie's heart already belonged to Mark, and she couldn't afford to string along someone else. A smile creased her lips. "Apology accepted. Thanks. But Hunter, I honestly don't think it would work out between the two of us."
Hunter sighed. "Stephanie, I can understand why you don't want to go to date me. If I'd been in your place, I wouldn't want to." He paused, and a smile spread across his face. You know, maybe we can try again. Something a little less intimidating, perhaps. Like dinner and a movie?" He poured on the charm. "Just the two of us. Stephanie, I'd really appreciate another chance. Come on. What do you say?"
Stephanie shook her head. "Hunter, I—"
Suddenly, Ryan rushed over, frantic. "Steph, I have a major emergency. I've got a run in my panty hose, and I need some clear nail polish. Do you have any in your bedroom?"
"I do. Let's go upstairs." As Stephanie ushered Ryan up the stairs to her room, she said, "I have to go, Hunter. Sorry."
When they were safely out of sight and earshot, Stephanie sighed in relief. "Thanks, Ryan. I really appreciate you swooping in."
"You looked a little desperate. Anyway, Nicole just sent Hunter a text message."
"You remember us talking about Nicole wanting to meet Hunter?"
"Well, let's just say that you won't be ringing in the New Year with Hunter, and Nicole will finally get to meet the guy she's had her eyes on."
Stephanie busted up laughing as she and Ryan headed back to her room.
"And oh, while we're at it, Steph, Anna has got something special planned for you…"
Hunter, can you meet me upstairs in the guest bedroom. It's up and to your right. A certain lovely girl in a magenta halter dress wants to talk to you. XXXOOO.
Hunter chuckled and shoved his cell phone in his pocket. Politely, he excused himself and headed upstairs. He'd been here several times already, so he had no trouble navigating his way through the house. Guess Stephanie had a change of heart, he thought happily. I knew if I poured on the charm real thick, she'd cave. If it all goes well, then Vince and I can work together, pool our money, and make a huge empire with the WWF. I'll marry the boss's daughter, and I'll be set for life.
You are one slick sheet of ice, Hunter.
The guest bedroom door was closed, and the lights were on. Hunter gave his reflection a once-over in the hall mirror next to him. After straightening out his collar and smoothing his hair, he flashed his killer smile and opened the door.
"Stephanie?" he called out. The room was empty, but he could hear water running in the bathroom. Hunter sat down on the bed to wait. He didn't have to wait too long, because the bathroom door swung open and a woman stepped out.
Hey! This isn't Stephanie!
"Holy smoke! It's Triple H! I can't believe it's really you!"
Hunter fell off the bed in shock. Standing in front of him was a woman who was well over six feet tall. Her long, blonde hair framed her face in a frizzy corona. Her bright red lips were pricked up in a huge smile, and her blue eyes sparkled with joy.
"Uh…hi Miss Bass," Hunter managed.
"Honey, you can call me Nicole. This is like a late Christmas present for me! I have to thank the girls for this one!" Nicole shut the bedroom door. "I have to calm down a little bit. My heart is racing. You know, I've been following you for so long, and after Vince signed me, I knew it would be a matter of time before I got to meet you. We have a few minutes, so why don't we get to know each other."
Hunter groaned inwardly. He would never be able to live this one down if the boys in the locker room found out about this.
"…The Power of Darkness shall be offered only to a chosen few. And those that resist the temptations of my Ministry, pain becomes synonymous with punishment. Embrace the Darkness and relish in the unearthly delight that pain has to offer. Resist and there are no limits to the torment you subject yourself to. Don't fight it. It will tear your soul apart. So let my servants be few and secret. They shall rule the many and the known, for I am the Reaper of men, the Chaser of souls, the Weaver of nightmares.
"I am the Heart of Darkness. I am now and ever will be the Purity of Evil. The Hell you were threatened with as a child is no longer an option. It is a reality, a living, breathing reality and you are all right in the middle of it. Yes, Hell has relocated to Earth. Now you will know why you are afraid of the dark and you will learn why."
Mark set the script down and stared across at Vince. "I like it. This is really powerful stuff. I guess I'll have to pretend to live the gimmick now, huh?"
Vince nodded. "We're breaking the fourth wall down on this one. Basically, what this means is that you, Farooq, Bradshaw, Dennis and Mabel, and the Brood will be traveling together. We'll be adding everyone gradually, to make it look like you're inducting new members. We can't just drop you all in and say, 'Here's the Ministry.' It has to look like a slow hostile takeover."
Mark nodded. "Vince, let me ask you something."
"Why do you feel the need to destroy Steve Austin this way?"
"Mark, Steve Austin, if you remember, broke Shawn Michaels's back at Wrestlemania earlier this year." Vince laid his arms across his desk and leaned forward. "I put the future of the WWF into Shawn. He was going to be my new face of the company. And Steve had to take him out of commission, possibly permanently. So you can understand why I have such animosity towards him."
"He may have had his reasons Vince. If you remember correctly, he and Hart were pretty close—"
"Don't mention his name. I've had Montreal thrown in my face so many times, I'm sick of it. Bret is embarrassing himself in WCW, and as far as I'm concerned, it's well-deserved punishment."
Mark, Vince, and Shane were in Vince's private study, far from the revelers, discussing the plans for the Ministry of Darkness storyline. Even during a party, Vince just couldn't separate himself from his work for very long.
"Enough of that," Vince sighed. "I want to make sure that the details are all hammered out before we start. Stephanie will come into play in a couple months. I've already hired a photographer to take pictures of her. When it gets closer to when I want to put Stephanie into the story, then I'll go through her bedroom and take something of hers. I'll have someone ransack her room and write on her mirrors. It'll look like you're going through her things and stalking her."
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Mark raised an eyebrow. "This is your little girl you're talking about."
Shane took a sip of his beer—he'd brought one into the study. "This is completely business related. We've gone through the details to make sure Stephanie is completely safe. She won't be in any kind of danger. Not from me, not from Dad, not from anyone. But we have to drive home the point that Austin can't get away with the crap he's pulled this year. He's made this company look bad. And Dad and I won't stand for it.
"Mark, Dad and I know you have some misgivings about this. But we came to you because we know you're a total professional. We trust you completely. We can't do this with anyone else on the roster. We know what we're doing. So you have to trust us."
After a tense silence, Mark nodded. "I trust you. And I'll do it."
The three men shook hands.
Vince got up from the desk. "It's about five minutes to midnight. Why don't we go out and ring in the new year?"
"I'm with you, Dad," Shane said, as he and Mark got up and followed Vince out of the office.
Mark was distracted by his cell phone vibrating in his pocket. "I'll meet you out there," he called out. "I have to answer a phone call. He pulled it out and turned it on to reveal a text message:
Meet me in the backyard. Poolhouse.
Why would Anna be sending me a text? Mark wondered, making his way out of the house quietly. It was odd that Anna would be texting Mark. He knew Anna for almost as long as Stephanie, and found her to be a very likeable girl who had her head screwed on fairly straight. He couldn't think of a reason for Stephanie's best friend to be sending a text to him on New Year's.
Since everyone else was so occupied with their revelry, the throngs of partiers didn't notice him slip outside. In spite of his massive size and height, he was quite agile and stealthy. The air was cool and crisp, surprisingly comfortable, given the time of year.
The poolhouse looked deserted. Puzzled, Mark approached the building and knocked on the door. "Anna?" he called out. No answer. He tried the doorknob and found the door unlocked. He turned the knob and opened the door. What he saw warmed his heart.
Stephanie stood by the window, wearing a magenta dress that glowed softly in the moonlight. Her hair was up and a smile graced her lips.
"Anna and Ryan set this up." she said gently. "They didn't want me to ring in New Years by myself."
"You're a sight for sore eyes," chuckled Mark, taking Stephanie into his arms.
"Who's Ryan, if you don't mind me asking?"
"A new friend. Ken Shamrock's sister."
"A girl named Ryan?"
"It fits her. So where've you been all night."
"Locked away with your dad and brother. He can't get away from work, even on New Year's Eve."
"That's my dad for you."
"They're gonna start the Ministry storyline in a couple of weeks. So be on your guard."
"I will. I took the CD to work and shredded it."
"That's good. We're not gonna be able to see each other much."
"I know. But I'm so glad you're here." Stephanie's voice wavered slightly. Anna and Ryan knew how important Mark was to her, and Stephanie appreciated them going out of their ways to make sure she got to see her fiancée.
"I am, too." Mark and Stephanie glanced towards the main house. They could hear the countdown to the new year begin.
"HAPPY NEW YEAR!"
The revelers screamed and shouted and rang in the new year. Confetti flew like colored snowflakes. The live band played "Auld Lang Syne." Noisemakers were being sounded off at full blast. It was a scene full of merriment and fun.
Mark and Stephanie didn't notice. They were both locked in a passionate embrace, their lips pressed together in a loving, long kiss. When they broke from the kiss, Mark lifted Stephanie's chin gently and gazed into her crystal blue eyes. "I love you, Stephanie. Happy New Year."
"I love you too, Mark. Happy New Year."
Meanwhile, in the main house, Anna and Ryan laughed and fist bumped as they celebrated more than just 1999.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Wow! This is the longest chapter so far. I just had so many details that I wanted to put down, that I couldn't help myself. Besides, I didn't want to divide New Year's Eve more than I already have.
BTW, Shawn Michaels actually broke his back during a casket match against the Undertaker at the 1998 Royal Rumble. I tweaked with the details so that Vince could have a more legitimate reason to screw with Steve Austin in this story.
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