February 2, 2024
Rose laid in her bed, her thoughts drifting into the realm of dreams as her body wrestled with the pain and frustration from her match against Winters. As sleep overtook her, slowly but surely, she found herself transported to an ethereal world bathed in hues of stone and scarlet. The air, thick with a different energy, could only do so much to deafen the soft voice echoing in her ears, urging her to come. Intrigued in their own right, her feet carried her forward, guided by the mysterious voice.
An enveloping shimmering mist appeared as she walked, each step mimicking dancing on air. The surroundings transformed before her from lush gardens to vast oceans, each vista more breathtaking than the last. The voice soothed her but did not block out the other voices she heard as she walked, teasing her with the answers to questions she hadn’t even asked.
As she journeyed deeper into the dream, Rose caught glimpses of faces, familiar and yet distant. They appeared as apparitions, their eyes filled with longing, reaching out to her with outstretched hands. Their presence evoked a mix of emotions within her, a blend of sadness and nostalgia as if they were trying to convey a message from beyond the veil. She wanted to reach out and touch them, but her feet carried her past them.
The voice grew closer, speaking in a melodic tone that resonated deeply in her soul. It whispered secrets and truths, pulling on mystery threads that had long been dormant in her mind. Where there was a hint of newfound clarity and purpose, it also provided a helping of fresh questions. This dream teased her with stories and truths without the means to decipher between the two.
The dream became more vivid and tangible with each passing moment as if the boundaries between the waking world and this ethereal realm were merging. Rose felt the visage of soft grass beneath her bare feet and the gentle caress of the wind against her skin. The dream evoked words that made her feel like she was transcending time and space.
Rose stood at the edge of a precipice, overlooking a vast expanse of stars. Now clear and persistent, the voice whispered its final message, a plea that it could only hope she would hold onto. With a sense of both loss and purpose, Rose felt herself softly falling, her heart filled with the echoes of the dream’s enchanting melody.
As she opened her eyes, Rose laid in her bed, confused and lost. Her thoughts tried to retrace their steps but found the footprints vanishing like a cloud on the wind. Still, it was unlike any dream she’d ever experienced: a warning and a hug all in one. As she traced her fingertips across her skin, she felt the difference.
Slowly, she sat up and pulled her knees into her chest. She sat there, her mind trying to hold onto the melody’s words, willing herself while feverishly grabbing a black pen off her nightstand before turning over her left wrist.
Before it left her mind, she wrote the words.
February 9, 2024
San Diego, CA
A week later, Rose found herself in the Pacific Ocean as the sun broke across the vista, the perfect morning for surfing. As the sun peaked its bright face across the horizon, the waves crashed against the shore. Sitting on her surfboard in her wetsuit, she looked up at the sandy bar where Adeline and Lorelai sat. Lorelai ate some of the food Rose had prepared the night before while Adeline read a book.
Rose paddled further out into the water, anticipation building within her. The salty breeze kissed her cheeks, and the rhythmic sound of the waves filled her ears. She waited patiently for the perfect wave, her heart pounding with exhilaration.
Finally, the wave she’d been waiting for approached, rising behind her. Rose paddled furiously, feeling the surge of adrenaline as she caught its powerful energy. She rode the wave gracefully and skillfully, carving through the water like a dancer. Everything else faded away, and the pure joy of surfing consumed Rose.
As each wave presented itself, Rose indulged in each one, losing herself in the beauty and freedom of the ocean. Each ride filled her with a sense of liberation as if she could conquer anything that came her way. A loss against Don Winters and a looming match against Sage Pontiff made her acutely aware of the need for her mind and body to rest, to find different ways to rejuvenate herself. The waves were her playground this Friday morning, and she reveled in their embrace.
Hunger introduced itself to Rose, signaling the end of her surfing session. Reluctantly, she paddled back to the shore, feeling a sense of contentment wash over her. As she emerged from the water, Adeline threw down her book and rushed to her with open arms.
“Mommy!” Adeline exclaimed, her face beaming with excitement. “You were amazing out there!”
Rose smiled, her heart filled with love for her daughter. She embraced the little girl, feeling the warmth of their hug, which helped dispel the cold water clinging to her skin. “Thank you, love. How was your book?”
Adeline looked up at her mother, her eyes shining with curiosity. “It was good. Mommy, can I learn to surf, too?”
Rose chuckled softly, gently tucking a strand of wet hair behind Adeline’s ear. “Of course, my darling. There’s no reason why you can’t. We must build your confidence and make you feel comfortable when the ocean seems intimidating.” She lifted her daughter into her arms and headed towards Lorelai, who was engrossed in her own book. She chewed on the words she’d said to Adeline, aware she was struggling with confidence after losing to Winters. The pill had been more bitter than she expected.
The pinfall had rattled her more than she cared to admit. Her father could see it when she returned from Philadelphia, but he wisely let her be. Still, the frustration simmered inside her, and she could only release it in the gym. Unfortunately, the presence of an interloper tainted her sanctuary, and she desperately wanted someone to take care of it. She left that task to David to figure out.
Knowing she wouldn’t compete at War Games, she couldn’t help but wonder what Lindsay Troy was truly up to. How long would it be before she had to stand up and clarify that Troy couldn’t just control her life however she pleased? Her father wanted her to suppress those thoughts, and she was trying her best, but it was challenging.
Rose sat on the towel, grabbing an egg sandwich from the plastic container they had brought. She took a bite and glanced at the book Adeline had been reading, picking it up with her free hand.
“Is it ‘The Book Thief?'” she asked, looking at Adeline and Lorelai. “Seems a bit advanced for an eight-year-old, don’t you think?”
Lorelai set her book aside and sat up, pushing back the strands of her brown hair sticking to her forehead. “I tried telling her that, but she’s read everything else and doesn’t seem interested in anything within her age range.”
Rose glanced at her daughter. “Are you enjoying it, pumpkin?”
Adeline snatched the book from her mother’s hand. “Yes, thank you very much. Is it my fault that they expect me to read books for babies in second grade?”
Rose nearly choked on her next bite as she observed her daughter’s sassy response.
“Well, ma’am,” Rose began after clearing her mouth. “Is class boring you?”
“It’s just,” Adeline started, trying to find the right words to express her feelings. “The teacher gives us boring assignments. She gives me strange looks when I can solve problems like 27 times 14 equals 378 without writing it down on paper.”
Rose placed the remains of her sandwich on top of the plastic container and scooped Adeline into her lap. “Well, aren’t you smart?”
Adeline shrugged. “I just know what I know, mama.”
“Fair enough,” Rose grinned. “We’ll have to challenge you a bit more, I think.”
Adeline liked that and nuzzled into her mother’s chest. The sun bore down on them, providing comforting warmth. Rose glanced at Lorelai, who had returned to her book.
There was something about the family she had built around her that helped keep her head above water, even when it threatened to consume her without a thought.
Journal Journal on the Wall…
Sorry, Journal, I’m just in a mood today. The days are leading up to my next match in PRIME, and I’ve already packed my bag for Brooklyn. It will be my first time back in New York since my father’s retirement match against Lindsay Troy.
Sleep has been elusive over the past week and a half since my loss to Winters. A strange dream followed by a series of unsettling dreams has made it challenging to consider lying down.
My anxieties have grown. Is it because of my defeat against Winters? Or is it because of my upcoming match against Pontiff? I can’t separate the two in my mind. Winters is methodical and calculated, while Pontiff is unpredictable and free-flowing. Sage will aim to land as many punches on my jaw as possible. I can’t afford to stay in the path of those fists; I’ll have to keep moving.
But even when I used momentum to my advantage against Winters, I still fell short.
What do I need to do differently against Pontiff? The question keeps racing through my mind without a clear answer. Losing to Winters has shaken my confidence, and the thought of Pontiff hitting me in the jaw multiple times isn’t entirely appealing.
My only other idea is to use his momentum against him, letting him tire himself out. I have to do something differently, to break his Namaste ways.
Hoyt knows, I could use some of those ways.
I can hear my father in the back of my mind, telling me to control my temper. Easier said than done, and I know I won’t have it figured out in time for Brooklyn, but I can feel myself taking minuscule steps toward it. The therapist is helping, I think. Maybe after our match, I can hit up Sage for some tips. Though, the odds of him just giving me peyote is greater than none as well.
That might help as well.
After we got home from ReVival 42, the rest of KING went their separate ways. Despite the smiles and pats on the back, I still felt their disappointment in me. How did I lead them to this point? KING has suffered four resounding losses since joining PRIME.
None of this was part of the plan…
However, my father found me on the balcony and hugged me tighter than I can remember for a long time. It was reassuring to know he wasn’t disappointed in me; that feeling didn’t exist in his bones. His health has improved, and seeing him move around so effortlessly is the only thing preventing me from spiraling into despair from these losses.
Still, I won’t be able to keep those feelings at bay for long. I need to take action.
I need to change the game.
February 14, 2024
San Diego, California
Rose took a long swig from her water bottle, her chest heaving after finishing a heavy workout. She looked down at her wrist, noticed the heart rate monitor on her Apple Watch, and shook her head.
Need to push myself harder next time.
Is this how a woman should spend the lead-up to Valentine’s Day? Exerting herself in a rigorous workout to prepare for a match, followed by a late-night flight to New York City for press obligations, instead of having a romantic date with the man of her dreams?
However, as a widow, the idea of a romantic date felt as repulsive as a creepy stranger staring at her from across the bar for an hour and then approaching her. It didn’t make things any easier when she woke up this morning and longed for her husband to be in bed next to her, missing his touch.
She glanced at her watch again, remembering that her father was supposed to meet her in fifteen minutes. But when she heard the door closing at the KING gym, it wasn’t her father arriving early. Instead, it was the person she considered her closest friend.
“Davey,” she began, her tone colder than usual. Their conversations had become strained in recent weeks.
“Hey,” he replied, dressed as if ready to work out with Rose. “Do you want to spar a bit before heading to the airport? I thought it would be good since Sage and I have similar styles.”
Rose shook her head. “Nah, I’m good.” She turned away from him, took another sip of water, and placed her hands on her thighs as her heart rate began to decrease. “When are you going to handle our problem?”
David sighed. “Arthur—”
She swiftly turned around. “If I hear another fucking excuse…,” she started before he interrupted her.
“What do you want me to do?”
Rose closed the gap between them, unaware that her feet were moving. “I want you to beat his fucking brains in, don’t you understand? This man violated our gym, my home. I thought you would’ve taken care of it in Philadelphia, but clearly not.”
“He wasn’t there.” Rose slammed her fist into the ring apron.
“Then find him! Go to Alaska. Find his lawyer. Drag that vampire cosplayer out of his fucking hidey hole where he tries to be the most emo-version of himself, smack him around, and make it clear to him that if he even thinks about any of us for a single second, you will drag him into the ocean, hold his head underwater, and stab him with a stake through his heart if necessary.”
She turned away from him, her chest heaving with rage, searing not only her words but also her fingers. She grabbed her steel water bottle and took a long drink from it. David stood behind her, his hands on her hips.
“Rose,” he started again but ducked as she spun around and threw her steel bottle at his head.
The bottle collided with the ring post, causing a noise that made David turn and lock eyes with Rose.
“Are you out of your mind?”
A small smile appeared on Rose’s face. “Oh, now you want to get angry? Good, now you know how I feel. That subhuman was in my house, David. He rummaged through my drawers and was only a few feet away from my daughter. Get angry. Get pissed. Just realize that you should direct your anger towards him, not me. Take care of it, or I will. Do you understand?”
David’s jaw tightened as he glared at Rose and shook his head. “Fine, I will.” He turned and paused at the ring. Sensing no movement from Rose, he decided to leave her alone. He reached the exit, opened the door, and looked back at Rose, who had her back turned towards him. He sighed before stepping outside, the door slamming shut behind him.
A moment passed, her eyes closed, feeling anxiety creeping across the back of her skull. She took deep breaths and eventually looked up, feeling a slight catch in her lungs. Brian knew how to calm her down and how to help these moments pass. Thankfully, she hadn’t experienced one in the past year, but at this moment, she realized how much she needed him.
“You’re tense,” her father’s voice interrupted her thoughts. The sound helped her relax slightly. “Yelling at David isn’t the root of your problem.”
“He is, and he isn’t. I need him to take care of Pleasant.”
She felt her father’s hand on her right shoulder and didn’t flinch. “He will. You have to trust him. Yelling at him won’t help.”
Rose nodded slightly. “I think I’m on edge because of tomorrow…,” her voice faded, embarrassed for even bringing it up.
Rose turned around and saw her father with slight stubble on his face. “How did you manage after Mom passed?”
Craig took a deep breath and sighed. He inched towards the ring and sat on the ring apron. “The first year was hard. Not that we were the over-romantic kind of people who needed a day to celebrate, but you feel it more when the person you would celebrate with isn’t there. Each year, it gets better, but it still sits there.”
“You never really fell for anyone after Mom died,” Rose continued.
“I did not. Just… I had a woman in my life.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Dad…”
“What? I’m not being corny. You occupied my time if I wasn’t busy in the ring. Do you remember how I would take you to restaurants instead for Valentine’s? That’s how I let that day turn into something special.”
She hadn’t thought about it in a while, but it was true. Until she was seventeen, her father would buy her roses each Valentine’s Day and take her out to a nice dinner. She’d never felt so grown up before. When she went to college, the tradition died as she met Brian, and she never realized how much she missed them.
“Those were special,” she started. “I haven’t thought about them in a while.”
Craig shrugged. “It was just something I wanted to do: spend time with you and honor your mother in our special way.”
Rose peeled the tape from her fingers as she sat next to him.
“Do you mind if I cancel our workout session tonight and tomorrow? I need some time to just… process everything.”
Craig nodded, wrapping his arms around Rose as she leaned into him and planted a kiss on the top of her head.
“Thanks,” she whispered before she bounced to her feet. “Sorry to waste your time.
“It’s never a waste of time,” he offered. “You might want to give David a pass; let him know you’re not that angry at him.”
She paused to think about it before shaking her head. “No, I need the fire under him. I need him to know what it feels like.”
Rose didn’t wait for a response. She walked towards the door to the gym and stepped out into the refreshing San Diego air.
Rose leaned into the nearby wall, pulled her phone out, opened an app, and began searching for dinner reservations for tomorrow night. At first, she searched for a party of two but paused.
She then changed it to a party of three.