Sitting on her attic floor, surrounded by boxes containing her mother’s most sacred secrets, Jia’s frozen as her mother stares down at her. She snuck into the attic looking for evidence of her family’s recently discovered history of martial arts. Her dad slipped and revealed her mother and grandfather were once great fighters but when he realized what he said, he immediately clammed up.
Attempts to get either parent to elaborate proved futile. Her curiosity eventually led to this attic and the boxes of evidence her parents hid away. Evidence of a history she never suspected until she started digging.
Now her mother’s standing there. Neither of them is sure what to say. Finally her mother breaks the silence. “So, you found my stuff. I guess now’s as good a time as any to have a little chat about it.”
Jia waits for her to continue but she’s seemingly waiting for a response. “Okay.”
Walking over to Jia, her mother looks into an open box containing two similar costumes. She has a strange look of sadness on her face. Crouching down, she runs her hand over the costume on top, the one that looks meant for a young woman. Turning again to face her daughter, she asks, “What would you like to know?”
Trying to pick one of the millions of questions rushing through her head seems impossible. It takes a few moments to narrow it down. “What is all of this?”
“As good a question as any I suppose. It’s a long story though. We might as well start at the beginning. At least the beginning for our purposes. This art has been passed down in our family for generations. Your grandfather was taught martial arts by his father at a young age. You never saw that side of him.” She moves the first costume aside and looks at the one underneath it.
“It’s hard for me to imagine him hurting anybody.”
“He was very dangerous at one time. You’ve probably seen some of the evidence of that in these boxes. He joined the army as a way out but he planned on keeping his head down and serving out his time. That didn’t really work. He fell backwards into fame and before long he was part of the most important mission of the war. When he got home, he found he enjoyed the fame, maybe too much. He tried to help people for a few years here but that was always difficult with the public mindset of the time and eventually he retired.”
This doesn’t seem real, but nothing in her mother’s demeanor suggests she’s lying. She seems more at peace than Jia’s ever seen her. “He kept living that life for a lot longer than he should have. It was a long time before he met your grandmother and settled down to have me. They wanted more children but then your grandmother died and I was all he had. He didn’t want to remarry and since he wasn’t going to have a son, I was his only choice to keep his legacy alive. He didn’t just pass down skills and training though. He gave me his whole identity. He wanted me to be Serenity.”
That’s the name she’s been waiting to hear escape her mother’s lips. The hair on her arms stand on end. “I trained until I was strong enough to take even him on. Eventually he wanted to go out, to return to his old life. He wanted me with him. By that time it was the 70s. There was so much more danger on the streets than he’d seen twenty years earlier. He didn’t care at all. He decided I was going to prove myself and there was no other way.”
Her mother seems to be struggling through this part. The lighting’s dim but she can hear the emotion in her mother’s voice. “We don’t have to keep going if you don’t want to mom.”
“I want to get through this so I don’t have to do it again. At first I was excited to learn from him. My whole life was about getting stronger; I was so proud of everything he taught me. I felt like the luckiest girl alive. When I got out on the streets though it was different. It was no longer about learning. I had to hurt real people, people doing bad things but that didn’t make it easier. I hated it.”
She pauses and takes a few deep breaths. “I couldn’t let my father down so I kept pushing, for far longer than I should have. Things got bad. I was afraid I was going to die almost every night, or that I’d have to kill someone which seemed just as bad. Then I met your father and I quit. I don’t think your grandfather ever really forgave me. He said he was okay but I knew that was a lie.”
“Mom, seriously, we can let this drop for tonight. Why don’t we talk about it later?”
He mom shakes her head. “No, I want to get through this now. After tonight I’d prefer to put this all back in the past where it belongs. I swore off martial arts and decided I’d never wear that costume again. I put it in a box and packed it away. I almost burned both of those costumes but I couldn’t quite bring myself to erase it, to act like it wasn’t a part of me. I swore you and your brother would never be pushed into that life, never learn to fight even.”
“Is that why you never told me you knew how to fight, even when I started competing?”
Her mother nods. “When you started getting older, my father begged me to train the two of you or at least let him do it but I refused. The day you decided to get involved in martial arts was one of the worst of my life. I’d been so careful to keep you away from martial arts. I always talked badly about fighting, I wouldn’t let you watch the movies, none of it mattered. I was so sure my father got to you somehow that I drove to his house and screamed at him. He swore he didn’t do anything but it took hours before I believed him. Your dad convinced me I should let you learn even though I didn’t want you to. He said it wasn’t the same as what I’d trained in and it was good to know how to protect yourself.”
Jia sits there unsure how to react. “That’s a lot to take in.” Now it’s her mother’s turn to nod. “So to be clear, when you were younger, like my age, you dressed up in this costume and fought criminals in the streets.”
Her mother starts laughing, putting her hands behind her head. “Sounds crazy doesn’t it? I can barely believe it myself. I just couldn’t do it anymore after a while, and when I met your father I saw a different life. One I’d never even considered.”
Her mother pauses at this point, taking yet another deep breath before continuing. “Right at the end, there was a terrible murder I was looking into. The police were having no luck solving it. I’d heard awful things about the killer and how dangerous he was from a friend. I didn’t want anything to do with the case. I’d already started cutting back on the vigilante thing and I thought the police could handle it. Your grandfather wasn’t having it. He saw an article in the paper and he called me asking if I was looking into it. I told him to let the police handle this one, that was their job after all. He told me it was my duty to try and save anyone I could. He even threatened to suit back up himself and go out there.”
“How old was he at this point?”
“Well, this was the late 80s, so probably in his mid to late 60s. He was too old and I didn’t want him getting hurt so I agreed to at least poke around. Things went badly. That’s all you really need to know. I was so afraid, not of dying but of living after what I saw. Your father, well that’s a story for another night but he knew about me. He convinced me I deserved a life where I could have peace, where I wouldn’t be risking my life every day. That’s just how he put it too. Saying it that way, it sounded as ridiculous as it was. Why couldn’t I just be myself? My father talked about legacy but running around fighting crime wasn’t our family legacy. Martial arts maybe, but he was the first one to put on a funny costume and go fight crime. I learned the arts, I told him that would have to be enough.”
Jia doesn’t know what to say so she keeps her mouth shut. Instead of talking, she stands and walks to her mom, squeezing her in a hug. They stand like that for several minutes. “I know you didn’t want me to go into martial arts mom and I get why now. I did go into them though. I got really good. If this is our family’s legacy, why don’t you train me so I can pass them on?”
Her mom ends their embrace and practically shoves her daughter away. “Not a chance. That is only going to lead you down a bad road. I made that decision a long time ago.”
“Mom, I’ve been sitting around here doing nothing and going nowhere for six months now. I can’t figure out what to do with my life or even with my days. I need something to grab onto. This could be it. If grandpa trained you then you can train me. I don’t want to run around in a costume. That’s crazy. Richard Hughes is a maniac, talking about bringing back vigilantes. I just want to know our family heritage. Then I can pass it onto my kids someday. If the legacy is enough then we should keep it alive, right?”
“Martial arts can bring focus but you don’t need these. You can practice what you’ve spent ten years studying. A little family history isn’t going to give you a purpose in life. You don’t have some destiny. Your life is what you make of it. Your grandfather may have disagreed but it isn’t like it led him to a lifetime of happiness. Trust me honey, I know what I’m talking about here. You wanted to know our family history and after you found all of this, I figured I should tell you. That’s it though. This stuff’s going back in boxes and we’re going to keep living our lives like we always have. Besides, if I taught you any of this stuff I don’t know how your father would take it.”
Jia is caught off guard by this last part. “Dad doesn’t want me to learn? I thought he was the one who was okay with me learning martial arts. He’s always been so supportive.”
“Your dad was supportive of you learning to defend yourself. He did tell me I could teach you the arts if I wanted to years ago. That was before though. He knows I don’t really want to and with everything going on in the world right now, I think he’d get scared that you were going to follow in my footsteps. Maybe I’ll reconsider someday but not now.”
She walks to the box of costumes and puts it’s lid back on. Picking the box up, she sets it back in the stack where Jia found it. Once that’s done, she heads for the stairs, pausing only long enough to say, “Good night honey. I’ll see you in the morning. Make sure to close up the attic when you come down.” With that she’s gone.
The next morning Jia’s up early, getting cleaning done at the winery before they open. She stayed up late looking through her mom’s photo albums and she’s feeling it this morning. She almost forgot she had to open today. Luckily it’s a rainy weekday during their slow season. She’s unlikely to have more than a few customers.
One of their regulars did show up an hour before opening wanting a glass but that’s the only person to stop in so far. The lady insisted Jia share a drink with her and she’s certainly not one to turn down a regular. Nothing changes when they technically open. She keeps cleaning while sneaking a sip of wine every now and then. This continues until just before noon when her dad pokes his head in. Having spent the better part of the morning planning what to say, she’s ready to ambush him.
“Dad, did mom talk to you about what I found last night?”
He grins, glancing around to make sure they’re alone. “She did. I’m not surprised you figured it out but nice job. That’s your family’s history and you deserved to know. Wasn’t my place to tell though.”
“Did she tell you what I asked her?”
He nods, knowing where his daughter’s taking this. “That’s up to your mother. I’m not getting involved.”
“That’s fine dad, it can be up to her. She seems to think you’d have a problem with her training me though. If you don’t, can you just tell her so she’ll consider it?”
Her dad pours himself a glass of wine. Jia loves to drink with the customers but her dad never does unless a customer really insists. For a wine maker, he’s not a big drinker. He certainly never drinks at work when there aren’t any customers around. It’s before noon. Half his glass of pinot’s gone in one long swallow. “It’s not a problem with me. If she wants to train you, I’ll support you both. I don’t want you doing the rest of it though. The martial arts part is fine but don’t go putting on a costume and doing anything like that. I saw what that did to your mother and I don’t want that for you.”
It’s all Jia can do to keep a straight face. “Dad, I’m not deranged. I have no desire to go fighting crime or anything like that. I don’t have a death wish. I just want to know my family’s history. Plus, I love martial arts and a new style would be interesting to learn. Can you put in a good word with mom for me?”
“No need.” They both turn to find Jia’s mom walking in looking completely rested. You’d never know she was up half the night. She closes the umbrella that’s kept her mostly dry despite the pouring rain outside. “Jia, please don’t discuss this in public. I’d rather not discuss it at all but if you have to, do it at home. I don’t want someone overhearing you and looking into my past. Our family’s form isn’t practiced today but there are a lot of people who would be very interested in learning about it. If the wrong person overhears you, that could be dangerous for our family, maybe even for your grandfather. Do you understand?”
Jia nods and her mother moves on. “If your father is truly okay with it, I’ll consider training you. You’ll need to prove you’re serious though. It’s not something I’m going to teach you lightly. I have to warn you, the training will be very difficult. You’re not going to like me very much by the time we’re done. Is that okay?”
Jia practically jumps up and down she’s so excited. She can always make her dad do what she wants but her mom’s an unmovable force. Winning feels almost wrong. That doesn’t mean she isn’t grateful for a victory. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she tells her mom as she rushes to hug her. With a sly smile her mother says to her, “Your father and I will watch the winery. It’s time for your first task. I want you to run to the top of the nearest mountain and retrieve some of the purple flowers that grow there. I’ll give you an hour. That should be enough time if you push yourself. Make sure to bring back at least a few of them and make sure you keep them safe on the way down. I want a nice centerpiece for the table tonight.”
“It’s raining really hard mom,” Jia starts to say before realizing that’s probably the point. Starting off her training by arguing isn’t the way to prove she’s serious. Her mother’s eyebrow goes up but before she can respond Jia says, ”Can I at least have time to go put on a raincoat?”
Her mother’s smile gets a little more wicked. “You can use your hour however you want. But keep in mind that your hour starts,” she looks down at her watch, “now. Taking ten minutes to run to the house and change would probably make completing this task impossible but that’s up to you.”
Jia considers objecting before realizing there’s no point. Her glee has turned to anger but she immediately flies out the front door of the winery and starts heading for the nearest path up the mountain.
Back inside the winery, Jia’s dad gives his wife a disapproving look. “Do you have any intention of actually teaching her Lia? Running up mountains isn’t what she has in mind.”
The wicked grin is now in full force and she bursts out laughing. “I wouldn’t say no intention. You could have done a better job of backing me up on the ‘your dad would have a problem with this’ thing.”
He shrugs. “Sorry, you know I’ve never been good at lying to her. She figured things out so fast after I slipped up. She’s our daughter.”
“If she does everything I ask, then I’ll teach her. I’m going to make it as hard as possible though because I really don’t want to do this. If she pushes through everything I’m going to put in her way, I won’t have much choice. She’s tough, but I think she’ll break before I do.” Pouring herself a rare daytime glass of wine, she offers cheers to her husband before downing the entire glass in one long gulp.
Over the next month Jia’s mother keeps her busy day and night. Daily trips up the mountains for flowers become daily trips up the mountain for no reason at all. Some nights as she tries to sleep she’ll suddenly feel a shake. She opens her eyes to her mother standing over her. “One hour.”
It isn’t long before she learns the best paths up the mountain and that hour becomes easy. Once her mother realizes this, the time begins to shrink. One night she’s woken and told she has an hour. As she walks back into the house 48 minutes later, her mother tells her she needs to do it again and this time she only has 45 minutes. She makes it with under a minute to spare.
The mountains are only the start. Every day her mother keeps her up later into the evening than the day before and wakes her earlier in the morning. She cleans the house top to bottom. One day she’s given the challenge of cleaning their kitchen with a toothbrush.
Expecting the challenges to start focusing on martial arts she pushes forward but her mother continues to avoid teaching her a thing. Every day she gets closer to breaking. It didn’t take long to figure out her mother’s whole strategy is to break her. She doesn’t want to teach her but wants it to be Jia’s fault and not her own. The woman won’t even give her an idea how long is left in the training. It’s a lot easier to keep pushing when there’s an end in sight.
One day she’s sitting on the couch mid-morning, trying desperately to nap after her mother woke her only two hours after allowing her to go to sleep, when the phone rings. She practically jumps out of her skin.
It’s Carly, Jia’s college roommate. The investment firm who hired her after graduation is sending Carly and her boyfriend Hank to San Francisco to meet with a potential new client. It’s a business trip but she’ll have a free day and she’d love Jia to drive over and hang out. Jia’s first thought is excitement, they haven’t seen each other for over six months and after living together for four years, that feels wrong.
Her excitement doesn’t last long as she realizes her mom will probably have her climbing a tree with a piece of dental floss. There’s no way she can go. She wants to see Carly but not enough to make the last month be for nothing.
A whole day thinking about how to get the time off yields no better ideas than asking. After dinner she finds her mom drinking a glass of wine and reading a book in her room. Her dad went out for his weekly poker game so they have the house to themselves. “Mom?”
“Do you remember my roommate Carly from school? You and dad met her a few times when you came out to visit.”
“Of course I do. Nice girl. A bit obsessive but nice.”
“That’s Carly. She’s going to be in San Francisco in a few weeks for business and she wants me to drive over and spend a day with her. I’d like to see her, but I know I have training. I was wondering if there’s any way I can have the day off. I’ll do any training you want before I leave and you can make me work all night after I get home. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen her though and I’d feel terrible telling her no.”
“I’m not without a heart Jia. You’re giving me notice and it’s a rare thing for your friend to be in California. Doesn’t she live on the east coast somewhere?”
“She’s coming a long way then. Of course you can go. I’ll even let you sleep the night before so you’re rested. What day is it?”
Fighting back the urge to rush to her mother and wrap her in a bear hug, Jia says, “It’s in three weeks, on Wednesday.”
Her mom’s kind look turns to a frown when she hears this. “Wednesday isn’t good. I can’t lend you the car that day. I’m meeting a company about possibly selling their wine glasses in the winery. I spent six months trying to get this meeting, I can’t reschedule. You can still go of course, you’ll just need to take the train over and get a cab to wherever you’re meeting. I’ll give you a couple hundred dollars for the trip, you’ve been working hard for nothing but room and board for awhile now.”
Jia searches for her jaw which is now resting on the floor. With that settled she lays down next to her mom like they used to when she was younger. It’s time for the evening news so her mother sets her book down and flips the television on.
The lead story tonight is about the presidential election. It’s only a couple of days away. Richard Hughes is facing off against the heavily favored Senator Gilles. Jia isn’t sure she’s even going to vote. She doesn’t like either candidate, though Gilles is definitely the better of the two. He’s a long way from perfect but he isn’t a lunatic. The experts seem confident Gilles has the election won but that hasn’t stopped the Hughes campaign from rocketing around the country, promising to defend the borders and fight terror. A major plank of his campaign is a push to legalize vigilantism so citizens can police themselves.
Every time you turn the TV on you hear this loud mouth but tonight Jia’s seeing his policies in a new light. “What do you think about the vigilante thing? You used to basically do what he wants to legalize. He’s crazy but maybe it could work. You and grandpa helped people.”
Her mother takes a big sip of her wine. “As someone who has been a vigilante, I’m certain what this country needs isn’t more vigilantes. Your grandpa did good in the war but he was a soldier then, not a vigilante. I’m not sure how much we helped anyone after that.”
They watch the news for a few more minutes until a sudden yawn sneaks up on Jia. She suddenly realizes how tired she is. Stretching out she considers heading to bed. Just as she’s about to say good night her mother turns to her. “Jia, get some flowers from the mountain before you go to bed. You have forty five minutes, starting now.”
Infuriated that her mother used her yawn as an opportunity, Jia flings herself off the bed and runs for the door stopping only long enough to put her shoes on.
A few weeks later Jia steps off the train in San Francisco. Carly agreed to meet her at the station and then they’re going to cruise around town all day. This is Carly’s first time in the city so they’re hitting the tourist spots. She’s already meticulously researched everywhere she wants to go so Jia’s job is to recommend great places to eat and drink.
Carly isn’t hard to spot sitting out front in a bright pink convertible, practically beaming, while Hank sits in the passenger seat looking ill. Jia rushes to hug Carly before tossing her bag in the back seat and swinging her legs over the side of the car. “Not a fan of doors?” Carly asks.
“Nah, this way’s faster and makes me look cool.”
Cruising toward the waterfront they catch up on life. Jia thought this was going to be a fun day but before long she starts feeling inadequate. Carly works for a financial planning firm and a major company in San Francisco is considering hiring them. She won’t say who the company is but implies it’s a soda company who love holiday ad campaigns. If the car they’re cruising around in is any indication the job’s a good fit for her.
Carly keeps turning to look at Jia while Jia and Hank beg her to keep her eyes on the road. They almost hit multiple cars on the way and no less than three people flip them off. You’d think Hank would be used to Carly’s driving but he looks as green as the first time he rode in a car with her.
Suggesting brunch she asks Jia for somewhere fancy. Jia throws out a few cheaper options, afraid the money her mother gave her won’t cover things. After turning down a few options, Carly mentions she can write today off as a business expense so it’s all on her. Suddenly the options open up.
They decide on an upscale Mexican place Jia’s been to a few times. The food’s awesome and you get unlimited mimosas with brunch. Carly doesn’t need any more convincing.
As the drinks flow Carly dominates the conversation. She’s always been a talker and Jia doesn’t have anything going on she can talk about, at least not anything she can share. “Don’t get too excited, but me and Hank are thinking about moving in together.”
Jia practically snorts. “About time, you two started going out three years ago. What took so long?”
“Well I couldn’t abandon you to a new roommate our last couple years. They might have put you with a freshman. If all goes well and we get this client though, I actually might be moving out here to handle their account. I’d be on the west coast for good.”
Getting to see Carly more often would be awesome. They’ve tried to stay in touch since graduation but it’s hard when you’re living life on opposite sides of the country. It still stings. Carly’s thriving and moving forward with her life while Jia’s stuck. If they’re close they can actually see each other regularly and she can’t hide from that.
Jia turns to Hank. “How do you feel about that? Don’t you have a job where you are?”
“Nothing I can’t do wherever I am, I got hired programming for a big company but I work from home most days. I don’t think they’d have a problem with me working out here. I’d have to fly back and forth some but we can manage it.”
Time flies as they eat fajitas and drink mimosas. Once they have a half dozen drinks in them they decide it’s time to pay the check and move on. Carly has the whole day planned out in order. “We’re going to see the Golden Gate Bridge and then we’ll hang by the waterfront. Someone back home was telling me about the sea lions and I’m dying to see them.”
Thinking about how to tackle this, Jia says, “We can get to both of those without much trouble. Let’s start with the waterfront though. We can walk under the bridge and check out the vendors.” Jia’s favorite part of San Francisco has always been the sea lions. As nice as it is today, there should be plenty out. As they scarf the last of their food they decide it’s so nice they’ll walk. With how much they’ve been drinking, that seems like the safe way to go.
Hank’s quiet as they walk along. Once in awhile he’ll inject himself into a conversation but mostly he lets the girls talk. They’ve never been that close, but Jia knows him well enough to know something isn’t right. She thinks about asking, but doesn’t want to ruin what has otherwise been an awesome day. She figures Carly has to see it but she doesn’t say anything either.
As they get closer to the sea lions, Jia starts talking them up. With how close her family is to San Francisco she’s spent a lot of time here. She’s never really liked it though. Too many people. If they ever had to come into the city though all her parents had to do was tell her they’d see the sea lions and she was on board.
Nearing the water, they pass an abandoned building with the windows broken out and the door hanging open. Jia happens to look inside where she sees two men being held at gunpoint by another. None of them are moving, though the man with the gun seems focused. The men being held at gunpoint are wearing matching jean jackets. One’s Hispanic while the other’s a bigger black guy. The man with the gun’s wearing a mask that covers his face but is otherwise dressed like a businessman. His lips move like he’s saying something but between the sound of the water and how far they are away, Jia can’t make out what. Jia immediately jumps out of view, pulling Carly and Hank with her.
Afraid one of them is going to yell and blow their cover, Jia shoves a hand over each of their mouths. She gives them each a look that she hopes says, “Trust me,” before slowly removing her hands. Peeking around the corner, she can see the man with the gun shoving it in one of the other guys’ face.
She grabs Hank by the wrist and pulls him close enough that he can get a look. She decides not to show Carly. She isn’t good with stress. Jia still remembers a few years ago a frog got into their apartment. She walked in to find Carly literally sitting on top of her desk. She refused to get down until Jia caught the frog and removed it from the apartment.
Dialing 911 on her cell phone Jia’s relieved when she gets a quick answer. She whispers into her phone that there’s a man with a gun holding up two other men. She tries to describe their location but she only has a vague idea where they are. It’s hard to give the lady on the phone a great idea. She gives the okay to ping their GPS so hopefully the cops can figure it out.
Suddenly a gunshot rings out. Hank moves to get a hand over Carly’s mouth before she can give them away. Jia doesn’t want to look through the window and see what happened but the 911 operator heard the shot as well and she needs to know. A quick glance allows for a sigh of relief. One of the men’s now on the ground crying while the other leans over him. Neither seems to have been shot, at least not yet.
Jia looks around her environment, considering options. The next gunshot might be more serious. She doesn’t have a weapon and even if she did, she doesn’t know how to use one. She does notice the man with the gun’s facing away from her.
Looking to Hank and Carly, she says, “Stay here,” before handing her phone to Hank. “If this goes bad, run and don’t look back.” Carly’s eyes go wide. She’s always been pale but now she’s whiter than snow. Hank manages a nod. He seems to be holding himself together. Jia’s happy to see someone is.
A few feet into the building there’s a box of crates that could make good cover. Going out so much at night, she’s gotten used to operating quietly in recent weeks and she’s confident she can get there without issue. The other half of the way to the group’s going to be the tricky part. Even if she gets to the crates that leaves at least ten feet to cover without being seen or heard before she’ll reach the man with the gun.
Even if she’s quiet there’s no guarantee one of the men being held up won’t see her and give her away. She could wait; she probably should wait. There’s still no sound of sirens though which means help isn’t close. Things seem to be escalating inside. The man with the gun’s getting more and more agitated. Jia thinks she hears something about just giving it up.
Reaching the crates ends up being as easy as she thought it’d be. Hugging the shadows she sneaks along the wall until she’s in their shadow. She’s slightly taller than the stack so she ducks down to stay hidden. So far so good on the quiet front.
Brushing against the crates, she feels something poke hard into her side and break the skin. It takes everything she has to stifle a yelp. Pulling back and looking down, she sees a rusty nail sticking out of a crate, now covered in her blood. She prays she wasn’t heard. Glancing around the side of the crates, none of the men seem to have taken notice.
The man with the gun jams his pistol into the other men’s faces. He seems distracted and Jia figures this is as good an opportunity as she’s going to get. Taking one last deep breath for courage she moves from behind the crates and starts tip toeing closer. She’s ten feet away and no reaction. Then nine feet and nothing. Eight feet and still nothing. Seven feet and no reaction.
At the six foot mark, where she’s almost close enough to make a move, the man on the ground notices her and they lock eyes. He doesn’t say anything, he’s not trying to give her up. It’s enough though. The man with the gun turns and sees her out of the corner of his eye. He spins, trying to center his gun on Jia. Her life flashes before her eyes and all she can think about is why didn’t she wait for the police?
A woman screams behind her. That would be Carly. She hopes Hank kept his word and they’re running. Jia reaches toward the gun, trying to get her hand on his arm before it can fully be trained on her.
Out of nowhere the second man being held up jumps forward and rushes the gunman. He’s a large, thick guy and he hits his assailant like a ton of bricks. They go skidding across the ground and the gun flies out of the shooter’s hand. Jia makes a move for the weapon and kicks it into a corner. The two men roll back and forth, evenly matched. Jia decides to change the odds.
She waits until the shooter’s on top, circling behind him while he’s too occupied to do anything. She aims a hard kick right at the back of his left knee, driving all of her weight forward. The man screams and falls away. He grabs at his leg, rolling back and forth.
The man who did the tackling fights his way to his feet. He gets in a kick of his own, causing another scream from the now injured attacker. The attacker lays there and stops moving around. He’s not going anywhere. The large man turns to Jia. “Damn girl, that was one hell of a kick. Thanks for your help. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise. Name’s DeMarcus.”
He reaches out, offering a handshake which Jia gladly accepts. DeMarcus asks her to wait for the cops to help explain what happened and she obliges. So much for her and Carly’s fun day.
Carly rushes into the alley and practically tackles her. Introductions are made and within a couple of minutes the police arrive. The man with the gun’s taken away in an ambulance but doesn’t seem willing to give up any information. He’s clearly in a lot of pain though.
The cops take all their information as well as that of DeMarcus and his friend. It doesn’t take long to get their statements. Seems like a pretty straight forward mugging, though Jia notices DeMarcus is a bit vague about what the man wanted. She doesn’t have a clue what he was after, she couldn’t hear enough of what the man was saying. The police inform them they’ll be in touch if they need anything else before departing.
Jia looks over her small puncture wound and swears. Rusty nail equals tetanus shot and that’s going to hurt more than the nail did. She tries not to be too upset. Compared to what could have happened, they got lucky. There’s still time for a bit of sightseeing if they can get back in the mood. She figures the tetanus shot can wait until the next morning. No need to further ruin their trip.
The rest of the day’s a blur. At least watching the sea lions cheers them up. Getting drunk helps even more. By the end of the day they’re actually able to laugh about it, at least a little. Arriving back at the train station that evening Carly gives Jia one last hug. “I’ll let you know how the interview goes. Not a great first impression of San Francisco, but I think I might still be willing to give it a shot. After all, my best friend’s here.”
Jia tries to get some rest on the train. This was supposed to be a day of rest but she may be more exhausted than she was when she left. First thing in the morning she needs to hit up a local clinic and get that tetanus shot. She’s not sure when her last vaccine was so better safe than sorry. She texts her parents what time she’ll be arriving in Napa so she can get a ride home. No need to walk five miles if she can avoid it.
She thought about calling them earlier in the day to tell them what happened but she was afraid they’d want her to come home right away. She wasn’t going to miss the rest of her day with Carly.
Exiting the train, she’s surprised to see her mom waiting. Her dad has always been more the pick your kid up from the train station late at night parent. She’s relieved to see her mom and squeezes her tight before they head to the car. On the drive home she considers keeping this story to herself but finally decides to open up.
She tells her mom everything. She talks about how scared she was, about how she thought she could handle the situation. She even admits that if it weren’t for Demarcus intervening she’d probably have ended up dead. She’s admitting it to herself as much as to her mom. This is the first moment she really thinks about how dangerous things got.
After a long silence her mother asks, “So just to be clear, you found yourself in an incredibly dangerous situation where a man was pointing a gun at several other people. Instead of waiting for help you decided to get involved and try to help them yourself. Is that about right?”
The only thing Jia can think to say is, “Yes,” which results in a loud a sigh from her mother.
“You really are my daughter, aren’t you? Alright, we’ll start your real training tomorrow. If you’re going to put yourself in dangerous situations, you’re at least going to know how to handle yourself when you do.”
Serenity #1 Available Now
Serenity #3 Coming July 27th
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