"Welp. This is me..."
At last. AJ had reached her door and this irrepressibly determined young man would leave her alone. She was going to let him down gently and get a good night's sleep. She'd never wanted to go out in the first place, but Kaitlyn was one hell of an arm-twister. Predictably, it had gone like every other night on the town with the girls, them drinking themselves into a stupor while she allowed herself no more than a single vodka and coke before doing away with the former and returning to soft drinks. Later, she was being excitedly pulled at by Kaitlyn and company to the dancefloor to reluctantly throw a few shapes to a song she barely recognised let alone liked.
It was nice to see them enjoying themselves so much, and she'd rather be in a club with them than most other places with most other people, but no matter how hard she tried to humour her friends, it had never been her thing. And this night had an added complication. An eager, wide-eyed 21-year-old laden with inebriated bravado had latched on to her, excitedly babbling away to her about anything and everything throughout the night. He'd lost his friends, so he said, and didn't have enough money for the ride home. He was rather sweet, and with her companions lost in revelry somewhere on the dancefloor it had actually been quite a relief to have some company while she performed her usual duty of standing guard over the handbags. They even had fairly similar interests, although the way he returned from each trip to the bar or the toilets with a new raft of information on any given topic led her to believe he was engaging in some feverish Googling to maintain her favour.
But nothing was going to happen, of that she was sure. It wouldn't with anyone on the first night of their meeting, a chaste kiss as a reward for misguided effort was the most she was going to concede. After all of the boorish Neanderthals she came across on her travels, this kind of adolescent lusting was a nice change. A girl younger and less experienced than herself could do worse than a guy like that and she wished him well. Being able to look upon a man with almost mothering pity felt good, it reminded her how she'd grown up in her four years with WWE, how sure of herself she had become. She was a woman at last.
"Goodnight, Jason, it was nice meeting you," she smiled warmly. It was an odd feeling to be simultaneously fond of the young man and glad she
wouldn't likely be seeing him ever again.
She balanced on her tiptoes to give him a light peck, then turned around on the balls of her feet and went to insert her keycard in the door. She felt him firmly clasp her right wrist. With her back to him, she rolled her eyes, seemed like he wasn't taking the hint after all. She didn't want to have to do it to him but she was prepared to be blunt.
"Goodnight? That's it? We've been talking all evening, weren't you having a good time?" he looked at her; offended, desperate and drunk. She'd forgotten that last part, of course he was going to be more impulsive, of course it was going to take more to discourage him. She tried to be understanding with him.
"I had a very nice time, but I'm not looking for anything more. That's not how I have fun. Don't be offended, you're a lovely guy, it's nothing to do with you. I'd say this to anyone I'd just met."
He frowned, rustled his messy blond hair and for a moment, it looked like he was turning to leave. Hurt and not really appreciating what she was saying, but to be frank that wasn't really her problem. But then he turned back on her, his nostrils flared and his eyes were doing their best job of glaring furiously at her, but he still looked more like a scorned child than a spurned man.
"So is this what you do, then? Is this how you get your kicks? Lead a guy to your door and then blow him off?"
"You offered to walk me back to my room, I thought it was sweet and I didn't want to offend you. At no point did I suggest anything else might be on offer."
"You might not have said it baby, but it's been in your eyes all night, the way you were looking at me, playing with your hair and licking your lips, walking in front of me wiggling your ass on the way up here,"
He'd crossed a line now, he wasn't being a sweet, naive kid anymore and it was AJ's turn to flare up.
"I did nothing of the sort! Jason, read my lips: I am not. Interested. In you. Now goodnight!" she went to put the card in the door again, her growing anger and frustration causing her to shake a little and struggle to guide it into the slot. She felt his hands again, firmer and grabbing both wrists this time. Professional athlete though she may have been, he was taller and heavier and she struggled to resist as he spun her around and pinned her back against the door.
"I know you want it. I've seen you on TV, there's no faking how you act. You're a horny little slut, aren't you? You don't care where you get it. It's nothing to be ashamed of, stop trying to deny it. Let me show you..."
"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?" a voice boomed from along the corridor, Jason instinctively dropped his arms to his sides and freed AJ from her predicament against the door. They both turned to look at the source of the intrusion, although AJ had recognised the voice from the first syllable. The unmistakeable dulcet tones of Wade Barrett.
Of all the people she'd want to come to her aid at a time like this, the towering Englishman was pretty low on the list. They'd barely spoke, even in their days back in developmental. AJ didn't like to base her opinions of a person on hearsay and observing from afar, but very little of what she'd seen and heard from Wade Barrett was good. The kind of bitter, cranky cynic that made CM Punk look like Barney the Dinosaur, a sense of humour that seemed to fixate almost exclusively on the misfortunes of others, and to top it all off, his recent, messy break-up with Alicia Fox that had made him Diva Enemy Number One. The womens' locker room was all but unanimous in their belief that this was one self-interested, black-hearted, thoroughly untrustworthy man. And here he was rescuing her.
"What did you just call her?" Wade was advancing on Jason who lay frozen to the spot, the proverbial deer in headlights. The slight slur in Wade's voice and stumble in his walk suggested he wasn't exactly sober himself, but he wasn't as far gone as Jason, and besides, he was 6 foot 7 and 250 pounds.
Even after what he'd just done, AJ hoped for Jason's sake he had the sense to turn tail. He'd learn in time that wasn't the way to treat a girl, maybe it would only take the sober light of day tomorrow for him to be appalled with himself and realise he'd way overstepped the mark. He didn't need a black eye on top of the guilt.
"I... we were just..." Jason's position was indefensible and he knew it, Wade was the headmaster and he was the schoolboy caught cigarette in hand in the toilets.
Wade grabbed him by the chin, causing Jason to emit an effeminate squeak that caused AJ to stifle a giggle. As long as it didn't get any worse than this for the boy, it was a pretty amusing and satisfying situation.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, sunshine, but I believe I just overheard you refer to my colleague here as a 'horny little slut'. Did I hear right?"
Wade's forefinger and thumb were pushing Jason's cheeks together and there was no way he could give an intelligible reply, just high-pitched whimpers of protestation.
"You know, son, when I was your age, I'd have kicked your fucking teeth in for dishonouring and disrespecting a good woman like that. But I'm mellowing in my advancing years, so I'll give you thirty seconds to climb in that lift, get out of this hotel and back to whatever wretched part of this godforsaken city you crawled out from or I'm going to stage a re-enactment of how this got broken" he threatened, releasing one hand from Jason's face to point to his busted nose.
"FYI, when he says 'lift', he means 'elevator'. And I'd do what he says, Jacey. When people talk about the famous British sense of humour, they're not thinking of him. This bloke doesn't bloody joke around, mate" AJ didn't know where it came from, but all of a sudden she found herself chiming in, putting on her best English accent for the final sentence. In the space of couple of minutes this had gone from an unpleasant and fairly frightening situation to something rather fun.
"OK... I... s-sorry, Mr Barrett," Jason was becoming more of a scolded schoolboy by the minute.
"I don't think I'm the one you need to apologise to, do you?" questioned Wade as Jason staggered towards the elevator.
"Sorry... AJ... ma'am... have a good night," the elevator arrived and the last she saw of Jason was him doubling over with relief as the doors began to close.
"Ma'am," she chuckled to herself under her breath.
"Ugh, the youth of America," Wade sighed, shaking his head with his hands on his hips, still looking at the spot where Jason had stood seconds ago. He turned around to look at AJ reclining on her door and gave her a wry smile.
"Not that British youths are any better, of course. Anyway, are you alright, love? He didn't hurt you, did he?"
AJ had to say, she was very impressed and put at ease by the way Wade had handled this. Light-hearted and casual without being dismissive or mocking, caring and concerned without being over-dramatic. She winced thinking of the state that the likes of John Cena, bless him, would have worked himself up into by now had he found her in that situation.
"I'm fine," she said, shifting her weight off the door and back to her feet.
"Not sure the same goes for Jason, though. I think he might need new pants after your little white knight act."
Wade smiled again. It was a good smile, AJ thought, just the right side of smug.
"Well, on the plus side, he's got a heck of a story to tell now, hasn't he? The night he nearly pulled AJ Lee and almost fell victim to the Barrett Barrage. That's sure to impress the 'bros' back at the 'frat house'."
He delivered the Americanisms complete with air quotes and a truly horrendous approximation of an American accent.
AJ burst into fits of giggles. Wade watched her, almost fascinated at how he could possibly have amused her so.
"I swear to God," she began, finally conquering he laughter to the point where she could squeak out words, "if you released a film of yourself reading out a list of Americanisms in that accent and that deadpan tone, you'd have the cult comedy hit of the year on your hands. Say 'dude' next!"
"Look, I'm happy to tell a lecherous arsehole to bugger off for you, but I will not be your performing monkey," he spat back playfully. She didn't know Wade Barrett could be playful.
"Alright, alright," she said, her laughter now fully subsiding and a ponderous look spreading across he face as she curled a strand of her wavy dark brown hair around her right index finger.
"You know, before I was on TV, most guys either treated me with respect or indifference. Usually the latter, I must admit. It seems I can't go anywhere now where someone doesn't do or say something inappropriate to me."
"Oh, the pains of being beautiful and successful," Wade said in a mock-hysterical tone, even theatrically bringing the back of his right hand to his brow.
"You know what I mean," AJ groaned, poking him sharply in the ribs, then instantly worrying she was being a little over-familiar. This was probably already the longest conversation they'd ever had.
"I do, and that is why I would like to restore your faith in the hairier sex by joining me for a wholesome, friendly... something, tomorrow morning," Wade didn't know where that had come from, he wasn't aware of wanting to spend any more time with this girl. Maybe it was just relief that unlike the rest of his female co-workers these days, she wasn't merely fixing him with a scowl and trotting away with her nose pointed upwards.
"What's the something?" AJ asked, surprised and intrigued.
"Well, surely that's up to the lady to decide," What? She could suggest anything, he probably hated 90% of the things she'd want to do anyway, why had he given her that power? But he'd totally invalidate the gesture if he said no to anything.
"Hmm, wholesome, you say?" AJ began, looking upwards and tapping a finger on her chin. Then the light bulb went off, a memory of surveying the grounds of the hotel with Kaitlyn when they arrived earlier that day.
"There's an awesome miniature golf course at the back of the hotel. Me and Kaitlyn were gonna play a round tomorrow in fact, but the last I saw of her, I don't think sunlight and remaining vertical for an hour will be all that appealing to her."
"Miniature golf it is, then," Wade smiled. Then had a moment where he stepped outside himself and realised he was a former bare-knuckle fighting champion genuinely excited about the prospect of waking up to hit a plastic ball into a fibreglass castle.
"You know what we call that in England? You wouldn't like me to say it," he covered this 'what is my life?' moment up with yet another wisecrack.
"Huh?" she tilted her head to the side as she was wont to do.
"Umm... 'earmuffs, babe'" he said, in a Dolph Ziggler impression none too bad considering he'd missed 'generic American' by a country mile a few minutes earlier.
"Oh!" AJ giggled and pushed her hair behind her ear.
"A little melodramatic, isn't it, though? I can think of much crazier things,"
"Yeah, but we Brits are very reserved. Humorously-shaped golfing obstacles are all the insanity we can handle."
"Shame. Anyway, it opens at ten I think. We could get on there before it becomes strewn with ice cream cones and seagull droppings," she said brightly.
"Ten it is, I'm afraid I didn't pack my visor or my tartan trousers. An on that hilarious mental image I bid you goodnight,"
AJ barely had time to process that picture (although enough time to agree that it was indeed hilarious), before he lightly raised her right hand and kissed it. She knew it was laced with irony, but she still found it a very touching gesture. He was a good hand-kisser too, if there was such a thing.
As Wade walked away, the part of his head he liked to refer to by his birth name, the cynical, take-no-crap street fighter that saw any emotion that wasn't rage or self-satisfaction as a sign of weakness, was screaming at him. Fair enough, help her out, at the very least it was always fun to see some poor sap turn to jelly with a mere glare in his direction, but this? Golf? In the morning which he should have left free to sleep off any potential hangover? He didn't do female friendships, and if the last outing was anything to go by, he didn't do romantic relationships either. Why was he distracting himself with those things?
Then 'Wade' put 'Stuart' in his place. AJ seemed like a sweet girl, she certainly didn't deserve the treatment he saw her getting at the hands of that jumped-up kid. It was perfectly natural to want to see more of someone, male or female, you felt a connection with. Yes, it might be an awkward disaster he'd come to regret, but if he never tried he'd never know.
AJ sat on the hotel bed and removed her shoes. The whole, surreal corridor exchange was replaying in her head, but the abiding feeling she got from it was one of changed perceptions. The kind, funny, if somewhat grouchy man who had given her a reason to get up tomorrow morning was the same man who could do no right by any woman on the roster and many of the men as well. That was the evil beast that had shattered poor Alicia's heart. Him. How? Was she just blind? By her own admission she had a terrible habit of trying to see the good in even the worst people. But in the end she was able to tell herself not to come to any drastic conclusions from this one chat. She'd find out more tomorrow morning. Miniature golf with the most hated man in WWE.