|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.