Weariness surreptitiously slithers into my body, exploring my limbs and then my chest. Hope blocks a kick, followed by a punch, ducking my high kick and catches my right swinging arm a few inches before it lands. Instinctively, I turn around, and I elbow her from the front with my left arm.
The move caused her grip on my arm to loosen, and I roll out of the way. I catch my breath, now cautious since it was her time to attack. She raised her fist, smiling roguishly as I held my hand out to defend any punches thrown.
Instead, she raised her leg and aimed for my stomach. I rushed to dodge the unpredictable kick, a little too late. She then raised her fist, which I thankfully caught and tried one of the moves I learned previously.
It was only after a few seconds when I found myself having the difficulty to lock her arm behind her back. Hence, I ditched the move and stood behind her, still holding on to her fist. Before she could make a move and cause the clasp on her hand to loosen, I used the advantage of being behind her and put my hand around her throat. Of course, I don’t use force.
I could see Hope roll her eyes, condemning the movement before elbowing me from the front and pushing me backwards.
I groaned as my back hit the floor. I was returning onto my feet when Hope pushed me towards the ground again. She straddled me with her hands on my neck.
“You know,” she said, flashing me a sweet smile, “you should’ve just tried choking me.”
She raised her fist, delivering a punch. I inhaled sharply, grimacing in the pain that soars my body like electricity. She pushed herself to her feet, frowning for just a second before extending a hand which I readily took. I winced as I mirrored Hope and got into a fighting stance once again.
I thought about my steps cautiously then launched forwards to throw a few punches at once. They were all blocked in speedy motion. I wondered how Hope learned to fight extraordinarily well without a trainer. Was it possible to learn just with the help of the internet?
After throwing punches for quite a while, it was her time to strike again. Knowing her well, I ducked a kick and caught her lefts winging arm before it hits the side of my skull. Instinctively, I grabbed her other right arm with my free hand and realized that I’d gotten the upper hand.
I planned my next move thoroughly, keeping in mind that Hope is ingeniously guileful and her turn is in just a few steps.
I slide my foot, hitting the side of her feet. I felt triumphant like I have found and figured a paradoxical puzzle. I tripped her left leg, ready to pin her to the ground and brag the outcome when she did a roll on the ground and landed on her two feet.
I gawked at the anomalous action and was once again nonplussed by a sudden punch to the stomach. Grimacing, I clutched my abdomen and requested for a stop with a gesture.
“I picked that up from Ian,” she said, referring to the roll she did.
I bit back from asking about the guy. Hope looked legitimately frightened of him, making me realize her father’s gruesome death is not the only news she is dealing with, in the present. In the past, I used to think my family was screwed up. I resisted the urge to scoff when I compared it to Hope’s.
I suppose all families had experienced or will experience a rough patch. Like Grayson, who had gotten into several fights with his parents, and like Josh, whose story still sounds a little unbelievable.
“Your punches are getting stronger,” she stated, a proud glint sparkling in her eyes. “Your techniques are smart, but you’ll need to make them faster and less predictable.”
I replied with a sincere smile, then said, “I reached out to you because of that competition a few months ago. What exactly are we fighting for?”
“I fight because it makes me confident; to feel freedom. Like you can go against the world and win.” A sad smile formed on her lips. “I just assumed you do too.”
“Or, you can fight for me and help achieve my goal and tear every precious thing from my stepfather.” I could tell from her tone that she was wholly serious.
“Sure, I’ll fight for you,” I said in a playful tone. I moved to the side of the room to retrieve my water bottle. Hope followed close behind me, catching the bottle I threw in her direction.
“Do you want to come over to my place after this?” I asked, remembering the plan tonight with my friends. “The two guys will be there.”
As anticipated, she replied with a simple shrug, that I assume means ‘I guess so.’
I nod as we leave the gymnasium, where we spent most of our day in, disregarding the previous incident which happened back at Hope’s place. The expression in the man’s eye belonged to those who were willing to kill. I had never seen anything as ferocious. Not entirely sure about our next destination, I started driving to the stop Hope might have been longing to visit.
“Where are we going?” Hope asked the moment I turned away from the route to our homes.
“To retrieve the million dollars and the video your father left you,” I replied, speeding my way to the rental shop.
After a moment, the large shop parked with many different vehicles came into view. A few people who I believed were my uncle’s customers stood outside the entrance.
“Wait, Is that…?” I heard Hope mumble before leaning over my seat to unlock the door in a rapid motion.
I had to slam my feet on the brakes, letting the car come to an abrupt stop for her to climb out. I scurried to park my car then sprinted towards her before greeting my uncle. Hope was already right in front of the man which she pointed out. I could not tell what about him charmed the most attention, but he gave an execrable vibe. The man looked in his mid-fifties, with a cropped hairstyle and daunting features. He was bony but looked robust despite the fact.
I approached them with a bemused expression etched on my face. It was unusual. Hope knew him since she had stated that she stopped talking six years ago.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” the man said while staring at Hope, shocked. “You’ve grown so much since the last time I’ve seen you.”
Despite Hope not speaking to anyone but me, my family and her stepfather that one time, she seemed to be able to communicate freely with the man. But it was quite apparent Hope despised him, with her lethal, penetrating glare.
“Yes. When was the last time you’ve seen me exactly?” Hope snarled.
“At your father’s funeral,” he responded calmly, a hint of guilt in his voice.
“You left town, Clyde. You knew about the murder, but you ignored it.” She gritted her teeth. For all I know, she might launch herself towards him and hurl a punch square on his face any second.
“I had no choice,” he responded after a while of hesitating. “I didn’t believe you when you told me at first, and I made a bad choice when going up to Calvin to ask.”
He brooded, looking as if he were about to cry. “The man threatened to kill me.”
That seemed to be new information for Hope. She looked baffled. I studied the way he spoke. Something was odd, but I was incapable of telling what it was. He was utterly still, and his eyes were not looking into Hope’s when they spoke. It looked as if he was improvising details.
“Calvin wanted to kill the workers who helped carry the body.” Clyde continued, “So, I’m sorry I left town to save my life.” His tone was now bitter.
“You? You carried my father’s deceased body?” A lump seemed to be in her throat. “So, you get away safely, but the others didn’t?”
“There was just two who assisted in the body. The other wasn’t supposed to live. I wanted to make sure of it, but he escaped safely.”
“Make sure of it?” Hope echoed, puzzled.
It was then my existence was acknowledged. Clyde eyed me bizarrely, scanning my features before casting his sight back at Hope.
“I know your father is big in trust, so I doubt you haven’t told this young man about your past,” he said, before dropping his cigarette, stomping on it and leaving.
I turned to Hope, watching her stare uncomprehendingly as Clyde disappeared out of sight. “Hey, are you okay?” I asked immediately, seizing her hand and clutching it to provide comfort.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she sounded vulnerable. It was as if she is plunging into a gaping hole but still trying to sound like nothing’s wrong. She turned her back and walked into the entrance of the rental shop. I couldn’t envision myself in her place.
My uncle stood in the shelter, shading him from the blazing sun. He waved at both Hope and me from a distance and deliberately approached us.
“Give me a second. I’ll dig up the things hidden in the untouched boxes I’ve left here for years. Your father’s items for you should around there.” He gestured towards the shelf with stacks of wooden crates.
Hope nodded as a response, letting out a shaky breath.
“I don’t think I’m ready for this,” she told me, looking down anxiously. “It feels unusual to retrieve something from my father, someone who died a decade ago.”
I shoot her a smile, unable to find words to reply. I have never been in any similar situation. My uncle came back a few minutes later with a dusty plastic box. In it was a metal disk with her father’s name signed on it in bold, permanent marker. On his other hand, was a dark suitcase of a size beyond expectation.
“Inside here is a million worth of cash,” he said, struggling to lift the massive suitcase.
He hands them over, and it took quite some time for us to bring the items to the car.
I was exceptionally inquisitive in finding out about the potential information in the compact disc. Still, I knew I should respect Hope’s privacy and give her the space to view it unaccompanied. We headed to my home after our short visit, bringing the disc inside.
“You can watch it in the living room when I’m in the shower,” I told her as I unlocked the door to my house. I was about to dismiss myself when Hope held onto my arm.
“I don’t want to watch it alone.” She sighed. With a smile, I accompanied her to the living room, where she inserted the disc and sat beside me on the couch to watch it silently.
It starts with a man who slightly resembles Hope. He turned on the camera then placed it down on a wooden table and sat in a seat that looks almost a meter away from the screen. Silence hangs in the air like a void that pleads to be filled.
The man who I supposed was Hope’s father clears his throat, breaking the ear-splitting hush.
Then, I listened to every slight detail stated as the video officially commenced.