A Ticking Heart

Ring!

The flashing, colorful lights distorted the message shown on the screen, but it wasn’t too hard to make out the words: Just picked up hot dude. Taking me home. Now it’s your turn… plenty of hotties out there, Don’t worry about me btw!

drinks

photo Yvonne Yiwen Lee 2011© (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Downing her tequila shot, Ashley straightened her outfit, the black dress pants having been slightly wrinkled. Alex had persuaded her to “let go” after winning a martial arts tournament against what was once an undefeated champion, the youngest to win a major league competition as well. Despite the dancing and laughing at first, she found herself sitting on a stool at the bar for the last half hour, and soon, each cocktail that passed by all started to taste the same. Even with Alex’s encouragement, she never found the guys presented before her interesting or worthwhile.

“Bartender! Another shot this way!”

The chilling breeze swept through the city as she staggered out of the bar. Her ability to withstand alcohol had been tested today, and it had obviously been pushed to the limits. The law should just lower the legal drinking age to 20. Glancing back, she had to admit, the bar was certainly attractive, having been placed behind an extravagant garden. As she approached the parking lot, a moan caught her attention, as well as a barrage of several female voices that followed after. While it certainly wasn’t her business to intervene in these types of situations, a pained grunt soon after, prompted her to investigate. The high-pitched whispers and giggles led her to a secluded area behind a few trees, and looking through, she saw an embarrassing sight. 5 teenage females were surrounding a male that looked like her age, struggling to stand up. He never fully made it beyond his knees, remaining in an almost pathetic-looking fetal position.

“Well well girls, who has the honor of starting?”

“I dropped the pill, so I’m going first,” a girl firmly said, her slinky green dress barely gracing the bottom of her backside. Straddling him, she began to peel off his shirt, where all he could do was groan. Sickening…

“Hey! You girls shouldn’t team up on such a defenseless guy. You ruin the meaning of ‘fair game.’”

“Why don’t you go back to where you came from leech? He’s ours. Mess with us, and we’ll hurt you to where you won’t be able to even crawl back for help.”

“P.S. we’re all black belts!”

Ashley didn’t pay much attention to the ones who spoke, keeping an eye on the male student instead. However hard he tried, he flopped back down, his glazed eyes meeting hers, begging for help. Was he worth it? Perhaps he was, perhaps he wasn’t.

She stepped forward, slipping her heels off, as the sounds of her cracking knuckles echoed through the clearing. “Bring it on.”

But she loved a fight.

The first who rushed forward most definitely wasn’t involved in any physical activities. Even if she was, she certainly didn’t show it, as she collapsed instantly. And that was one of my softest hits…

The others went down fairly quickly, except for the one still straddled atop of him. Her eyes were dark, yet fearful after realizing the rest of her sad companions had fell.

Shoving him into the ground, she stood up, now exuding confidence. “I’m warning you. I’m a black belt.”

“Try me then.”

She must admit, the girl had a nice form at first, where dodging her blows actually required effort. However, it was fun toying with her. The effort would be remarkable, were she a decent person. Now, only a weakened, pathetic being stood in front of her, makeup smudged from the sweat that dripped down from her brow.

“Now it’s my turn,” Ashley said, spinning around and delivering a flawless back-kick.

Still conscious enough to groan and attempt standing up, Ashley lifted her up by the collar of her dress. “If you tell anyone about this, I’ll be sure to make good of my wealth and destroy you.”

The girl slumped down exhaustedly after being let go, while Ashley made her way to the still groggy male. Hoisting him up, she led him across the clearing to where her car was parked. After leaning him against the passenger seat, she made her way behind the wheel, and sped back to her house at godspeed.

She laid him on the couch, a blanket now draped over him. She had also set a glass of water on the table nearby, in case he were to wake up after the effects of what she deduced as the date-rape drug. Tired herself, she didn’t bother to slip in the nightgown she regularly wore to bed, and slipped under the covers as soon as she reached her bed.

A loud thud woke Ashley up, and soon, her bedroom door burst open as well. She sprang up immediately, grabbing the nearest lamp and smashing it atop the nearest intruder’s head. Within the chaos and sounds of her own punches and groans, she could make out: “Get him to safety!” Suddenly, a strike on the small of her shoulder sent darkness overcoming her vision.

Ashley awoke to a dim light, though harsh after her recent awakening. She tried to raise her hands up to rub her eyes, but a cold metal pressed against her skin, halting her action. Struggling, she attempted to get them off, but in the back of her mind, she knew it was a pathetic move.

“I know you can hear me you dogs! Let me out right now!” she shouted, staring at the one-way mirror. She kept her eyes on a specific spot, scowling where she could safely assume someone’s eyes were. I’ve been in these situations more than enough to know what’s going on.

Accepting her trapped condition, she put it to good use, laying her head down onto the cold, metal table. “I needed the rest anyway.”

She had just begun to drift off, when the door opened. In walked the once defenseless male she had saved just earlier. Now, he was surrounded by bodyguards in dark sunglasses, one with a nasty-looking cut right where she had struck with the lamp.

“I deeply apologize for the treatment Ms…”

“Vera.”

“Well Ms. Vera, I apologize for the actions of my bodyguards earlier. They were just trying to get me to safety, and they thought you were a kidnapper. My contractor father is quick to react.”

“How flattering.” She raised her cuffed hands as high as they could, raising an eyebrow. “Would you mind letting me go now?”

“Of course, I’m sorry. I hadn’t thought of my rudeness to explain in front of a cuffed person. Guard.”

Ashley rubbed her wrists after she was released, where she promptly made her way out of the door.

“Wait, would you like a ride home?”

She brushed off his hand from hers, continuing on. “I’ll manage.”

Beep beep beep!

“4 hours of sleep. Wonderful.”

She combed back the lion’s mane on her head, brushed her teeth, put on her uniform, and hopped in her car. The drive to the university was brief, where her apartment had served the purpose of doing saving her the trouble of a long drive. Came at a price though. $500,000 my ass. Lucky my charms kicked in when they did. 

Making her way towards her locker, she felt a few stares thrown in her direction. And my day was going so well already. Next time I see that bastard, I’m going to beat him up for the sake of my sleep schedule. She reached her locker, and promptly unlocked

Bouquet_of_pink_roses

photo Kain Kalju 2011© (CC BY 2.0)

it. What she saw after almost made her drop her books. On the door, stickers read: From Apollo Rin ♥.
Stacked inside for a dozen chocolate boxes and a bouquet
of roses delicately set against the side.

She grabbed her books and slammed the locker closed, shocking the gawking surrounding students, who immediately began to whisper. “If I see that bastard, I’m going to do more than beat him senseless. Creep.”

The bell hadn’t rung yet, but she would rather sit in a surely empty classroom than wander in the hallways filled with conspiracies. She buried her face into a book, not wanting to hear any of the claims the students were coming up at the moment. Word spread fast in this school… too fast. As soon as the thought ran through her mind, she had the glamorous run-in with another student.

“Sorry…” she started, glancing up. However, she was met with an all-too-familiar face.

“You!”

His face held surprise, but soon, he held a cocky smile. “Did you enjoy my gift Ashley? I didn’t thank you yesterday for saving my dignity.”

“Look, I’m fine with you looking through the bar’s security cameras to review your pathetic mistake, but I’ll be damned if you’re going to stalk me like this.”

“Hey, I’m the student council’s president. Of course I’m meant to have this type of information.”

He didn’t get another word out before his saliva ended up on the wall beside him. “And as a violated person, as well as the captain of the girls’ martial arts team, I’m allowed to do that. Need a bandaid? Go to the nurse’s office.”

The day continued on, and so did classes. Finally, her last period came, and thankfully, it was martial arts. The punching bag allowed her to blow off steam, her anger fueled by the rumors that drifted through each class she was in. “Slut, whore, leech, playgirl…” The list continues. Even a few slaps came her way, though none of them were close to making contact.

“Hey Ashley!”

She paused in delivering rage-fueled blows, a break in the leather indicating how mad she was. Otherwise, her expression had remained stoic throughout the day.

“You okay?” Her coach had approached her, along with other members of the team, Alex included.

“Fine, just preparing for next week’s tournament in Japan.”

“We heard the rumors. If it helps, we all don’t believe it,” Ainsley whispered, an often optimistic person on the team, though she now looked at Ashley with pity.

“I’m fine guys. No need to worry. Words don’t hurt me… Anyway, girls, get to practicing. The event’s not far from now.”

She sauntered towards the locker room after that, the only objective in mind was spending a night with her own booze. After changing, she rushed to her car, where it seemed as if the day couldn’t end fast enough. However, she halted at the sight of Apollo standing casually beside her car. “Hey.”

“What do you want?” She crossed her arms, bringing up what she hoped looked like a convincing glare.

“You’ve been crying haven’t you?” He had made his way to her, and this time, her glare had fallen to the ground.

“Words cut, you know? I taught myself to stand strong, but even I can’t get through accusations.”

She felt his forefinger lift her chin up, so that her eyes could reach his. From there, it was her first time meeting such blue eyes, filled with such protectiveness and kindness. “Let me treat you to dinner?” he asked, as if he was scared she’d punch him again.

“Why not?” She almost laughed when his eyes lit up, but part of her despised him for creating this mess.

“I have a request though. The dinner takes place at my flat.” She prompted him to challenge her, but like someone trying to make things up, he had no choice, but to agree.

“Deal.”

“Ashley Vera, did you seriously just have dinner with THE Apollo Rin? Girl, even with all this happening, that’s been my dream since forever.”

“Relax Alex, it was a friendly dinner.”

“But you cooked for him!”

“Because I didn’t want to go to a fancy restaurant and risk running into more who hate my guts.”

“Hey Ashley…”

“Yea?”

“Did you tell him?” Alex’s voice had lowered, now ladened with sadness.

“No.”


The trip to Japan came shortly after. To be honest, she was glad to be getting away from the school. Being in a new environment with her closest friends would surely offer relaxation, away from the verbal abuse. Besides, it’ll be a chance for her to kick some more ass. Also, it’d get the pursuing Alex off her tail. Every day, it was always something new, be it a new necklace or a serenade. That guy is out of his mind. But, he deserves to know the truth soon.

“The match is close ladies! Ashley Vera delivered flawless hits, but Ming West has also struck back with equal intensity!” The ringleader stood on the side, clutching the mic in excitement.

Ashley’s head spun, with bruises already appearing all over her body. Ming was certainly one of her toughest opponents, her lean, yet sturdy structure, providing an advantage in delivering both fast and powerful strikes. However, she was faster.

“And we have a winner! Ashley Vera has claimed the platinum rank medal!”

Ashley had changed into a white, flowing dress, though her bruises were on full display. Never said I was going out tonight anyway. Alex had almost persuaded her once again, but she had the strength to refuse her begging this time. Must have been her throbbing head and nausea talking though.

“Ashley, wait up!”

She turned around, her eyes unfocused, but the voice could only have belonged to one person. “Apollo, what in the world are you doing here?”

“Supporting you, of course. Hey, you alright?”

“No. But I’ll survive.”

“You’re not going home alone in this state. Luckily, I rented a car here.”

It was his turn to tuck her into bed this time, where he carefully laid her into his bed. His lips brushed her forehead, as he murmured, “Sleep well princess.”

“Wait.” She held his hand in a vice grip, her eyes still shut because if she opened them, it would only make her urge to vomit stronger.

“I can’t be with you.”

“And why not?” She could tell he was hurting, his fake confidence clear.

“Because my story isn’t all that great. My parents were infamous drug-dealers back in the day. Nathan Vera, jailed a grand total of 30 times. Despite their occupation, they were loyal and loving parents, never once abandoned me. If one was in jail, the other would resist doing anything noticeable that would land them in prison. However, when I was just 6, my parents were murdered, but luckily, I wasn’t present, or else, they would have gotten me too. I inherited their fortune, however illegal the actions were that got them. An elderly couple later took me in, and raised me up until they were murdered, on the day I turned 10. I was at school that day, and the police took care of the murderers and protected me. From then on, I just hopped around from foster family to foster family until I was 18. Nobody wanted to care for a girl who had caused the deaths of 2 people…”

Silence filled the room for what seemed like hours after that. Sleep invading her thoughts, all Ashley could say was, “Get away while you still can. Use my room tonight instead.”

Ashley woke up in a cold sweat, her nightmares of haunted funerals still vivid in her memory. Suddenly, she realized that something heavy was draped across her stomach, and looking down, she realized it was an arm. There he laid, his messy hair draped across his closed eyes.

“Fool, you were meant to run away.” She murmured, stroking back tufts of hair.

“Well, you’ll be glad to know that a guy will do crazy things for a girl he wants to be with.” To her surprise, he rose up alongside with her, his eyes meeting hers.

“Now, you’re in danger because I’m not willing to let you go either.”


Day after day, he showered her with love, where their week of Japan was spent in bliss. After that, it was back to classes. I wonder if everyone got tired of of coming up with insults yet. It was a wishful thinking on her end, but she knew by now that it was better to remain pessimistic. Thankfully, Apollo was quick to stop them, all while showing them the PDA they wished wasn’t true. He was officially off the market, and he was hers. Perhaps all my suffering has been leading me up to this happiness.

It wasn’t long before winter break came along, and mostly all the students had taken off to visit their families or to travel. Ashley had expected to spend the time binge-watching Netflix, but she was proved wrong when Apollo presented her with two tickets to Japan. The surprise was meant to be romantic, but it turned quite amusing when he almost spilled wine on them at the restaurant. Fortunately, he directed the wine glass back towards him with such force, it ended up on his suit instead.

“So, how’d you like it?” he asked, kissing her gently on the top of her head.

“You know I loved it. That was literally the first I said when we got there, and the last when I left.
It was their first night in the city of Tokyo, and they were now strolling through the streets amidst the colorful lights and people. It was a time for exploration, having both crossed the famous intersection twice already, the second time having been for the thrill of it. Hand in hand, they were making their way across a row

Japan_(16042925878)

photo The Photographer 2015© (CC BY 2.0)

of shops and restaurants, with hundreds of others that had decided to do the same thing as them.

 

“It’s beautiful isn’t it?”

About to reply, she suddenly saw a sight that had haunted her dreams for 14 years. His now gray hair was swept to the side, a cross tattoo etched on the side of his cheek, and his eyes… When they met hers, recognition hit both of them. Richard White, one of the world’s most notorious drug dealers. More importantly, he was surrounded with a group of bodyguards.

“Run.” She started to back up, her hand grip tightening on Apollo’s hand. In the corner of her eye, he saw her glance in the direction she was staring at, eyes widening after seeing the man she described with such hate in front of them.

“NOW!” Her shout broke their staring and now, they found themselves running towards the opposite direction, dodging people that continuously made their way forward. Behind her, she could make out the scream, “ Get them!”

Soon, the lights previously admired started to morph together as Ashley led Apollo down a number of streets, where they finally ended up at a closed off alleyway.

“Do you think we lost them?” she asked, breathing sporadically.

“Yea, no way they managed to single us out through all those people.” Apollo had slumped to his knees, sweat dripping off of his chin onto the cement.

“Oh little girl, that’s what you would like to think…”

Apollo shot up, instinctively wrapping his arm around Ashley. White emerged from the shadows, at least 10 guards behind him. It wasn’t fear that got to Ashley anymore, it was rage. Every inch of her wanted to pummel him into the ground, but with his minions behind him, it would be unlikely. Even with her skills, it would be hard to take them all at once.

“Ashley, you take five and I’ll take five.” She gazed up to see Apollo’s darkening eyes, his arm tightening around her waist another time, before letting go.

“Are you crazy? You can’t fight!”

“About that… father wanted me to be versed in self-defense… So I may or may not be a black-belt.”

“Gee, and you didn’t think of mentioning that before?”

“SHUT UP, both of you!” White’s voice rose above their conversation. “Now, I don’t know who the boy is, but I’m here for you little girl. Ashley Vera wasn’t it?”

Chills ran through her spine as he drawled her name, as if he was testing how the name of someone he had been hunting for years tasted on his tongue because now, he finally had her within his grasp.

Not wanting to risk anything over his victory, he snapped his fingers and announced to his men, “Get them.”

They sprang into action, with Ashley and Apollo mimicking them. The fight was intense, the guards proving to be more difficult to take down than Ashley thought. Though she got a few down, more charged after her, already giving her a bloody lip and a cut just above her eye. The blood was distracting, but it only drove her to finally get back at the man that had caused her only misery. Just as soon as she took down the third one, a kick toward her ribs sent her flying back. The ground in front of her either had spots of blood or ketchup then, but Ashley couldn’t be sure herself. Her ribs ached from the blow, and she was sure some of them must have been cracked by now. Noticing a blurred shadow approaching her, she immediately slid forward and swept the 4th off his feet, rendering him unconscious with another kick. She heard a scream behind her, looking back to see the three guards remaining surrounding Apollo. With her best battle cry, she leapt forward and immediately took another down with a series of roundhouse kicks.

“Ashley watch out!”

She felt a hard shove, only to land next to the other alley wall and witness Apollo being rammed into the wall opposite of her.

“Apollo!”

She rushed towards him, giving the guard a taste of his own medicine as she pounded his head into the wall multiple times, until he crumpled like a wet paper towel. She approached Apollo, a dark purple bruise indicating where he struck the wall. She cradled him for a brief moment, before laying him down, where he deserved the rest he surely needed. Redirecting her focus, she caught White looking almost cowardly without his bodyguards.

“Not so tough without your toys are you?” She steadily approached him, caution still in mind, though it was the last thing she was considering at this point.

“I still have one last trick.”

Pulling out a knife, he lunged forward, aiming for her heart. However, while dodging towards the left, the blade buried into her right shoulder instead, though the pain was instantly agonizing. White spots dotted her darkening vision. In the distance, she heard a scream, but she didn’t know if it was hers, or from another person who had walked in on the scene.

“Now, my dear, how about we make your pain go away? Permanently.”

He started to extract the knife, but Ashley kicked up, striking the spot she needed to, as the old man groaned and fell off her. Clutching that area, he couldn’t defend himself quick enough, before her foot landed on his face. Ashley stumbled, her head pounding, blood coating her hand, as she let the blade stay embedded deep beneath her skin. Pulling it out would only do more damage. However, the sound of sirens intruded her ears, faint at first, but grew louder as the seconds ticked by. Soon, she could make out a group of people approaching her.

“Police! Freeze!”

A series of grunts followed. Perhaps they’re from the guards. Ashley wasn’t all too sure until a rough pair of hands grabbed her.

“Miss, are you okay? Can you please tell me what happened?”

The rest of his words were jumbled from there, and Ashley could see a bright white light enveloping the starry night sky above her.


“Ugh, my head.” Ashley opened her eyes, and almost instantly regretted it. For once, I just want to open my damn eyes without feeling like I’m going to go blind. Another try ensued, her vision adjusting to reveal a vast meadow stretching out from all directions. Slowly, she rose up, the grass soft beneath her feet.

“Where am I?”

“Honestly, I’m as confused as you are.” She turned around to face Apollo, dressed in all white. His face looked strangely healed, and he was grinning from ear to ear. “But I’m glad it’s with you,” he continued.

dawn-nature-sunset-trees

photo Unsplash (unknown date)© (CC0)

Smiling herself, Ashley walked up to him, receiving and giving loving kisses. Questions were still to be asked, but all she really wanted at that time, was to walk across this field, hand in hand with the person she loved.


“This is Lilia Grant, reporting for the Bourdain Times. I’m here with Doctor Walker who operated on the couple who single-handedly took down drug king Richard White and 10 of his bodyguards at Kyoto, Tokyo. Tell me doctor, how are the conditions of these two heroes of the streets?”

“Well, they are both still in critical condition, both having a multitude of internal injuries. For now, we’ve identified them as Ashley Vera and Apollo Pin, both exceptional university students. We have also discovered Apollo to have been carrying a diamond ring, but other than that, there was nothing else. We just have to hope that they wake up soon, their survival chances… uncertain.”


Featured Image – image geralt/ 14415 images 2014© (CC0 1.0) 

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