|Posted on August 6, 2016 at 9:00 AM|
Shelley Adams stared into the mirror and wondered at the woman who stared back. She was the mother of three and had at one time believed there would always be a loving husband standing beside her. There was not. He’d forced her hand, shown her just what kind of person he was and, remarkable as it seemed, she’d found the strength to remove him from her life. Her husband's nonchalant attitude toward her assault had been an eye opener and the final nail in the coffin for their marriage. Pregnant and married at sixteen, she'd never been without him and now that she'd gone through with the divorce, she admitted she wasn't quite used to the quiet house.
At times the loneliness threatened to engulf her. This was one of those times. The house was dark. The silence was deafening. The boys were with their father for the summer and Bree was in New York. Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself that she didn't need her ex-husband. She didn't need anyone, or so she liked to think. However, she hadn’t been prepared for the fears that had begun to take her over.
It surprised her because she’d been so fearless in divorcing her husband and reaching for her own independence. She never used to scare easily. Yet over the past few years she’d begun to jump at her own shadow. She was afraid of the dark. She never walked anywhere alone. She was over-protective of the kids. Allowing Bree to go to New York had meant a major fight between herself, her ex-husband, and her daughter.
Maybe the fear was because of what had happened to her, or maybe it was because she’d never really been alone until now. Over the past two years she’d learned to stand on her own and she was learning to be strong emotionally. Physically, though, the fear was always there, though she was working on that. That work would keep her occupied all day tomorrow.
In the morning she’d be participating in her very first martial arts tournament. The huge regional event included all styles from karate to taekwondo to jujitsu. It was very exciting, but she had to admit she was more nervous than excited.
Either spawned by that random act of violence that had taken place almost two years earlier on a bright, sunny afternoon, or by some new post traumatic fear, she'd set a goal to master one of the martial arts. Once she’d begun, that goal had grown into a burning desire. The police had never caught the man who'd assaulted her. Sometimes she wasn't sure they even believed he existed. The counselor at the rape crisis center had helped her with the frustration, but not with the self-disgust.
It sickened her that she hadn't fought. She'd let fear paralyze her. She’d sworn she’d never let that happen again, and yet it had begun to do just that. She’d also sworn she would stand up to her husband, a considerable feat considering her emotional dependency on him. At least she’d followed through on that. She’d stuck to her guns when she up and divorced him. The divorce had been a huge step, but she had to do more. She had to become strong. Her counselor had supported Shelley's conviction that taking action would help to alleviate the feelings of shame and frustration. “Do something positive. Something you've always wanted to do. Do something for you.”
That's what had led to a Tae Kwon Do class at the local “Y”. It had given her something to focus on and given her back some confidence. She worked hard, desperate to even the odds, to be on a more equal footing with the male species.
Shelley studied her reflection. Sometimes she felt so old, yet she was only thirty-four. “Thirty is the new twenty,” a co-worker had remarked. She admitted, she was flattered when people thought she and Bree, her seventeen-year-old daughter, were sisters. I have great eyes, Shelley thought. Even her ‘ex’ had told her that. They were large and brown, and were framed with unique lashes, that appeared to have been sprinkled with gold dust. Coming out of an emotionally abusive marriage, she was learning to be kind to herself and this was the first thing she'd allowed– pretty eyes.
Her hair was long and thick with large voluptuous natural curls. Bree let her know that her girlfriends would kill to have those curls and told her she’d personally kill her mom if she were to ever cut off her hair. That was no problem for Shelley since leaving it long made it easier to put back in the no fuss, long braid or ponytail she usually wore.
Making her way to the front door, she tested the lock, then headed into the kitchen to check the back door. She was a wimp, especially when the children were gone. Sometimes, in the dark, she could feel the panic take over. It was those times she questioned her decision to become single. It would be nice to have someone there to help her feel safe. She’d definitely had offers, but she’d turned them down. Mostly because she hadn’t ever met anyone who intrigued her enough to draw her interest, but also because she had to learn to stand on her own. For a long time she’d been both emotionally and physically crippled. She was getting stronger.
Tomorrow’s tournament was a big deal because it was her first time competing. The goal to obtain black belt meant she must compete. There were several different areas for competition in a tournament. Forms, sparring and weapons. She must spar, and spar well in order to accomplish black belt, but that would be down the road. The further the better, she thought. For her very first competition she’d elected to compete in forms only. Taking a breath, she repeated her new mantra. “Strive for perfection. Strive for perfection. Strive for perfection.”
As the early morning sun made its way across the plush hotel room, Eric emerged from the bathroom to find Ricky sitting on a bed, peeling a banana plucked from a complimentary bowl of fruit.
“It's about time,” Ricky laughed. “Come on Dad. If you don't hurry, we won't have time for breakfast and I'm starved.”
“Where have you been then? I woke, you were gone, I assumed you were eating.”
Ricky gave a sheepish grin. “Naw, just checking out the scenery. Not much to check out though. I guess southern girls sleep late on Saturdays. However, I did accidentally manage to attract the attention of a couple of kids in the lobby, so I signed a few autographs, let them snap a few pics, you know, just enough to get the blood going.”
“I hadn't realized your star status ego had grown to such proportions that you now need a 'fix' in the mornings to get you started on your day. Looks like I'm going to have to bring you down a peg or two.”
“Can't even take a joke,” Ricky grumbled as they left the room.
The tournament was being held in a large high school super gym just south of Atlanta. The huge event included competitors from most of the southeast and there would be several thousand spectators in attendance.
The limo arrived and, as celebrities, Eric and Ricky were escorted to the judge's table where they were introduced to the local martial arts dignitaries and given a place of honor at the same table.
While Eric took a seat, a crowd quickly formed around Ricky. Eric watched as Ricky, ensconced in his element, signed autographs and chatted with youngsters, boosting their confidence with a well-placed word. Local press took pictures and tried for impromptu interviews. Thankfully there were no paparazzi. They tended to avoid the Kinos.
Watching Ricky now, Eric considered his son's bright, exuberant personality and compared it with his own more serious demeanor, marveling how they could be so close, yet so different.
Physically, they were similar. They both had straight black hair. Ricky's just skimmed his shoulders, Eric's was slightly longer. They had bronze skin from the Hawaiian part of their ancestry, and dark eyes. One film critic said it was remarkable how Ricky’s eyes could go from warm and compassionate to hard as steel. His eyes though, were only part of what made Ricky a star. He had a musculature that was rock hard, and a bright, alert mind. He was swift and agile and very good at what he did.
Ricky had achieved black belt at nine years of age. Two years later his mother had died of cancer. Ricky and Eric immersed themselves in their art as therapy for their loss. Losing his wife had nearly defeated Eric. It was caring for Ricky that brought the light back into his world.
Another glimpse in Ricky’s direction made Eric smile. His son now had his arms around two gorgeous, giggling blondes. They posed while a third girl took a picture, then demanded her turn. “Thank you sooo much,” the girls purred in their sweet southern accents.
“Ahhh, the pleasure is all mine I assure you,” Ricky crooned back, glancing over at his father with a grin.
Eric rolled his eyes and pointed to his wristwatch, letting Ricky know he should head to the locker room to change. Ricky bid the ladies farewell, grabbed his bag and headed to get into his uniform.
At eight on the dot, the nervous tournament director approached and bowed to Eric. “Uh, Master Kino sir, uh, do you happen to know where Ricky is? It's time to begin and we wanted to introduce everyone.”
Standing, Eric offered to go and locate his son himself. He passed up the locker rooms and headed toward the lobby where concessions were already being served. Ricky was an insatiable eating machine, and Eric had a feeling he’d find him there, stuffing his face with all manner of unhealthy delicacies.
Cursing herself as she drove, Shelley pushed her old faded red Ford to its limit. I know I turned the alarm on. I know I did, darn it. I checked it at least twice. Of all times for it not to go off. “Stay green, stay green,” she chanted as she approached the next intersection. Beads of perspiration trickled down her forehead as she streaked into the school parking lot at 8:03.
Grateful that at least, the tournament was being held at her daughter's alma mater, only a few minutes away, she hoped desperately they'd let her sign in late. Grabbing her bag, she sprinted to the gym, and jerked open the heavy door. Cool air rushed to greet her, calming her. Sucking in a deep breath, she looked around nervously, to find a young man in a white uniform gathering papers from a long table.
“Am I too late to sign in?” she asked in a panic.
“No ma'am. You lucked out. We're running a little behind,” he answered, thumbing through the papers in his arms. “Here you go,” he said pulling out a paper. “Find your events and sign in.”
Once she did, he looked over her entry form, checked off her registration number. “You're assigned to arena two.” He looked up. “Locker rooms are through those doors and to the right. You'd better hurry.”
Shelley shot toward the doors in a run, turning back to offer a belated thank you.
She swung back around, happy that– UUMPH. Her face smashed against something solid and she went down hard. The contents of the bag she'd never bothered to close tumbled across the floor.
Realizing she'd run into a person, even though she'd first thought she'd misjudged the distance to the door, she rubbed her nose and began apologizing profusely. “I'm so sorry. I was late and in a hurry. I should've been watching where I was going. I hope I didn’t hurt– ”
She'd been crawling around gathering her things but stopped when a bronzed hand held out her folded purple belt for her to place back in her bag. Her eyes followed the hand up to its source and she found herself looking into the most incredible face.
He smiled. “Please, let me help you.”
He lifted her to her feet as if she were nothing more than a rag doll, which both amazed and annoyed her. Amazed, at his strength. Annoyed, because it reminded her of her vulnerability as a woman. The latter thought stirred anger in her heart.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
His voice was calm, soft, and stole her anger immediately. She gazed at his face again. Dark eyes and long black hair tied back at the nape of his neck gave a certain nobleness to his appearance, like that of a Native American warrior. And that smile. He had the kindest smile she'd ever seen. It made her feel safe. It took her breath away. He raised his eyebrows at her and she realized he waited for an answer to his question. “Oh! Oh, yes! I'm fine. I'm sorry. I was late and– ”
For the second time she was unable to finish her sentence but this time it was because he raised his hand to quiet her.
“I'm the one at fault. I should've been looking where I was going and certainly should’ve been quick enough to get out of your way. Are you sure you're not hurt? You were moving pretty fast.”
She laughed, rubbed her forehead. “I'm fine, other than the fact that your chest is hard as a rock.”
She felt the blush creep up her neck. I did not just say that.
“Are you competing?” he asked, as he handed her the rest of her belongings.
“No– I mean, uh, yes. Well, I mean, only in forms.”
He smiled again. “Forms are important.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Are you competing?”
“No I’m not.” He seemed amused by the question. “I came to watch my son, however, now, I have two people to watch.”
“My son and you.”
He smiled again and she thought she’d rise off the floor. He quickly brought her back to earth. “Better hurry. I think they’re about to start.”
“Oh, goodness, I have to go.”
Eric turned and watched as she disappeared inside the women's locker room.
|Posted on August 2, 2016 at 8:00 AM|
South of Los Angeles
The moment she’d uttered the words, “Help me,” he’d come immediately awake. He'd been dreaming again. Same dream. Same feeling of urgency. He glanced at the clock. 3 a.m.. Rising, he made his way to the bathroom, flipped on the light and reveled in the sensation of cool water as he splashed it on his heated face. He glanced in the mirror and gasped. Staring back, floating before him for a brief instant, were “the eyes.” Raising a dark eyebrow, he shook his head and gave a soft chuckle. He could see the headlines now; Martial arts master, Eric Kino, dies of fright in his own bathroom.
He’d been having dreams and visions of “the eyes,” as his son called them, for some time now. He had no idea to whom the eyes belonged. They were definitely feminine. Beautiful, but always sad and sometimes filled with fear. He'd had precognitive dreams before, but they'd always involved someone he knew. These dreams were different and they were accompanied by an enormously intense feeling of desperation.
He’d struggled to interpret the meaning of the dreams. Who is this woman? Is she going to be appearing in his life? What does she have to do with him? Tonight, he'd heard her voice clear as a bell. “Help me,” she'd said, as if she'd been lying right next to him and whispered in his ear. He’d felt her breath against his cheek, felt the press of her body as she’d leaned close. He'd come immediately awake with the knowing that he had to find her. He had to actively search for her and not just hope that one day he’d run into her.
Decision made, he returned to his bed, stretched out, and visualized a white light moving throughout his body, commanding each muscle to relax. Taking long, slow breaths, he slowly sank into a deep sleep.
The next morning Eric tossed items into a suitcase as he packed for a regional martial arts tournament in Atlanta. He was glad to be on the move after the decision he’d made the night before. He intended to keep watch for “the eyes.”
When he and his son had first received the invitation to the Atlanta tournament they'd had to decline, but then Ricky's schedule opened up. Eric would be there only as observer and “honored dignitary.” He shuddered at the title. His son, movie icon Ricky Kino, was scheduled to perform one of his much demanded demonstrations. Eric wasn't immune to the pride a father feels when his son achieves success and he enjoyed seeing Ricky do his thing. After all, Eric was the one who’d schooled Ricky in the martial arts since he'd been old enough to walk.
Eric hadn't realized at the time that passing his knowledge on to his son would make Ricky a celebrity. Ricky had the “package” as the producers put it. The looks, the body, the talent, the personality. He'd begun as a child star and worked his way up to leading man. At only twenty-one years of age, Ricky was one of the hottest stars in Hollywood.
Even though thoughts of Ricky's success always lifted Eric's spirits, his mind was still heavy with images of the woman in his dream. It concerned him because other such dreams had turned out to be a prediction of unpleasant things. He'd dreamt of his wife in great peril and pain a year before she was diagnosed with cancer. He'd seen a branch of a great tree snap over and over the week before Ricky fell out of one and broke his arm. There had been numerous dreams touching numerous subjects.
Every once in a while he'd actually been in tune enough to be able to avoid disaster, like the speeding truck that ran the red light. He'd known not to go when the light turned green, avoiding his own death and the death of his son. And he'd known the time the punks waited in an alleyway with thoughts of murder and mayhem. He'd revised their actions if not their thinking. Those events, however, involved himself and people close to him. Now, for some reason, he felt he was supposed to help a woman he didn’t even know. Still, he trusted that nothing is random. Things happen for a reason, and so he was anxious to find her before it was too late.
The cloud hanging over Eric dissipated at the sound of his son’s voice. Eric glanced over. Ricky stood in the doorway with his usual wide smile. He was a breath of sunshine wherever he went, and Eric could think of no one in the world he loved and treasured more.
“What’s up, Dad? You look like you’re going to a funeral.”
“Yeah. And you’re not. You're coming to watch me and what could be more pleasant than that?”
Eric smiled. “Truly,” he said, not hiding the slight sarcasm.
Ricky grinned. “So really, why so down?”
“I’m not down.” Eric shrugged. “Guess I’m feeling a little– intense.”
Ricky circled around to massage his father's shoulders. “Whatever you want to call it, Dad, you gotta learn to lighten up. You know what they say– stress kills.”
“Really? What do 'they' say about the surviving children? Do they say anything about the guilt that must consume them?”
“Funny, Dad. So it seems you have a sense of humor after all, be it ever so small.”
Eric closed the suitcase. “Large enough to accommodate you every day.” He placed an arm around Ricky’s shoulder. “Let's go.”
“You know, you don't have to come if you’re not up to it.”
“Are you kidding me? I'm looking forward to it. Besides, I'll be able to keep an eye out for my MART student.”
Ricky smiled. “I have no doubt you'll find the right one.” He thought about his father's legendary status as MART instructor. The MART, an acronym for Martial Arts Recruiting Tournament, had become a huge event. An instructor takes a rookie student and turns them into a black belt champion in one year's time. The MART, the Olympics of the martial arts world, had become big business, thanks in part to his dad. What Bela Karolyi is to the world of gymnastics and Vince Lombardi is to football, Eric Kino is to the world of martial arts.
“I will find the right one,” Eric agreed. “And after last night’s dream, I’ve decided that I also need to find the owner of ‘the eyes.’”
Ricky nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe they are one and the same.”
Eric shrugged. “Maybe.”
Throughout the long and tedious flight to Atlanta, Ricky kept up a steady stream of chatter. Hours later in the elevator of the Atlanta Hilton, Ricky eyed his father. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”
Eric touched his son on the shoulder and sighed. “I guess I haven't been very good company. I'm okay, just a little preoccupied.”
“As long as you’re okay.”
“You're starting to sound like your grandmother,” Eric teased, trying to lighten the mood.
Ricky's smile flashed. “Well, Grandma did tell me to take good care of you.”
“That’s funny. She told me to take care of you.”
“Well, I was about to go straight in and order up some room service for the both of us. Would you consider that trying to take care of you or just being polite?”
“I’d never think you were just being polite,” Eric quipped, knocking Ricky in the back of the head as he swiped the key card.
Ricky headed straight to lower the thermostat and next, to the phone to order food. Atlanta in June was unbelievably hot and humid. Having been raised in Los Angeles, Ricky was accustomed to the heat but not the humidity. He placed his order quickly then plopped across the bed, bemoaning the heat.
Eric smiled at his son’s discomfort and decided he would make up for being a lousy traveling companion by resorting to some of their old antics. “Heavy air, lots of oxygen, this would be a great alternative to your training– give some diversity to your workout.”
“Yeah, until I have to fight on a mountain top.” Ricky rolled over, grabbed a pillow. “Work out if you want, I'm already in great shape and even if I wasn't, I'm not leaving the air conditioning.” He grabbed the remote. “Let’s see what the Braves are doing.”
Nonchalantly, Eric made his way to the bathroom, ice bucket beneath his arm. “I don't know Rick,” Eric called from the bathroom. “You're looking a little soft to me.”
“No way Dad, you're just jealous.”
“Of your youth maybe,” Eric said quietly, having crept up beside Ricky. “Or, maybe because I'm standing here all hot and sweaty and you're nice and cool.”
“What are you talking ab– ”
The bucket of water hit him square in the face. Eric's laughter almost botched his quick retreat to the bathroom. He locked the door, but could hear Ricky sputter and threaten to do all kinds of ill will to his own father. Ricky's tirade soon ceased and the room became eerily quiet. Smiling, Eric folded his arms and waited.
It took Ricky only a few seconds to pick the lock. Slowly, the door eased open. Ricky stood calmly in the entry, grinning wickedly, dangling his nail clippers before his father's eyes. “I'm gonna kick your butt, honorable father.”
Eric sprang forward with blinding speed, disarming his son and tossing him handily and unceremoniously into the shower. Before Ricky could get his footing Eric flipped on the cold water. Ricky gasped for breath, reached out and grabbed at his dad, but Eric easily deflected his son's arm, leaving Ricky to clutch nothing but air and cold water.
“Honorable father kicks honorable son's butt, amazingly effortlessly.” He bowed to his worthy opponent. “Like I said son, you're getting soft.”
Ricky returned the bow. “Well, you ARE 'the Master'.”
“And don't you forget it” Eric called back as he left the bathroom to wait for room service.