Jason was in rush to get out of the office. He shut down his computer, hastily and sloppily threw all of his papers into his bag, and was ready to run out of the door. He made it three feet away from his desk before he was held up. He groaned inwardly.
"Hey, Jason, I saw another episode of your sister-in-law's show. She is hot! Can she really do all of that kick ass karate?" his coworker asked.
"It's kung-fu and, yes, she can," Jason answered. Mentally, he added that she would end up doing that kung-fu on him if he did not move his ass. Why the hell had he told his coworkers that Kat was his sister-in-law anyway?! Now they always wanted to stop and talk to him about her show.
"Man, you lucked out. I mean, if your sister-in-law is that hot, I can only imagine what your wife looks like."
Jason rolled his eyes. Everyone knew what his wife looked like; he had shown pictures of her and the wedding for the whole summer. They had all ohh-ed and aw-ed as he expected. Of course, they were more impressed with his sister-in-law since they got to see her on television every Tuesday night. Sometimes, they ever got a glimpse of his little girl.
"Look, I need to get going. Talk to you later," Jason said and he did not give his coworker a chance to answer.
The large man hurried out of the building and to his car. He tossed his bag into the back and rushed off, making sure not to go too far over the speed limit. He hoped he was not late or she would never forgive him. He pulled up to a large, posh school and saw that kids were still pouring out, so he figured that he was not late.
"Hey, midget," Jason greeted Cassandra as the passenger side door opened.
Cassandra did not say anything or even glance at her father as she entered. She was looking more and more like her mother everyday. She was now nine years old and the tallest student in her third grade class. Her face was smoothing out, making it clear that she was going to be just as beautiful as her mother. She was mini-Isabel, a little Izzie as he heard Kat call the girl; he knew that Isabel hated to hear such things and Cassandra seemed to hate hearing it more and more each day. He made sure that he never used that nickname because of all of the hate around it.
Cassandra locked herself into the passenger seat after dumping her book-bag on the floor. She fumbled with the seatbelt a little, rumpling her uncomfortable uniform; she could not for the life of her figure out why she needed to wear a skirt to school. There was a thick blazer with it that often left her hot and she often got in trouble with her teacher from leaving it various places in the school. The only consolation was that the uniform was black.
"How was the last day?" Jason asked curiously, a small smile on his face. It was officially Spring Break for the child.
Cassandra shrugged and her father knew it was not a slight against him. Over the years, she had opened up to him a little more, but her mother was still her parent of choice when it came to almost everything. She would call Jason "Daddy" without prompting now and went to him for help with her homework or school projects. Sometimes, she went on her own and sometimes her mother had to send her to her father. He knew that it would take time, but they were inching their way toward a semi-comfortable relationship.
Jason was about to start the car, but Cassandra moving caught his eye. She opened her book-bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. She then handed it to him. He got to see that it was a math test. She had a perfect score of thirty out of thirty.
"Was this the one we studied for last week?" he asked, pride in his eyes and in his voice.
Cassandra nodded. Math and science were Jason's specialties and Cassandra did make it a point to go to him when she needed help or just to study. When it came to other subjects, Isabel tended to have to yell at one of them if she was not available to help. Jason tried to weasel out of other subjects because he did not want to be embarrassed by fourth grade work. Cassandra just knew that aside for math and science her father was out of his element and would rather avoid him trying to get out of helping. She did not want to waste her time, after all.
"All right, let's get out of here. Lord knows your mother will have my head if we're late today," he muttered. She nodded in agreement.
The drive to their home was almost a half-hour. They pulled up to a large house, mostly paid for by Isabel. Honestly, it bothered Jason's pride just a little that Isabel made more money than he did, but he was trying his best to work past it. They had had a few arguments about it, but nothing serious thankfully.
The small family lived in the suburbs with a huge lawn. There was a pool in the backyard. They had two dogs, one of which that belonged to Jason and the other belonged to Cassandra. Isabel could not stand the dogs, but found herself taking them for a walk every morning.
The first thing Jason and Cassandra did when they entered the house was whistle for their pups. Jason had taught Cassandra how to do the whistle. Two tiny canines charged over. The dogs were mutts, rescued from the pound; Cassandra insisted on going to the pound for pets. She never explained why and Isabel never pressed for an explanation. It took Jason a few months to realize that Cassandra would never bother to explain herself.
"Hey, are you two causing Iz any grief?" Jason asked while reaching down to rub the puppies' heads.
"You damn right they have! Jumping on me every fucking five minutes! I'm going to grill those damn beasts one day soon!" Isabel replied in her usual huff. From the sound of her hollering, Jason and Cassandra knew that she was in the living room.
Jason and Cassandra ignored the tirade; they had heard the threats on the daily basis. They could not figure out why Isabel hated the dogs when they loved her so much. Sometimes, the owners felt like their puppies loved Isabel most of all. Cassandra picked both pups up as she and her father marched into the living room. They found Isabel curled up on the sofa with a legal pad by her side and a script in her hand.
"Working on the next show?" Jason asked curiously as he leaned down to kiss Isabel.
The couple kissed each other on the mouth while Cassandra looked away and gagged a little. She could not figure out why her parents did such gross things like kiss. She could not figure out why they were together either. Yes, it was much better than she recalled, but sometimes, she still wanted it to just be her and her mother…not that she would ever admit that out loud.
"I was trying to get it done before you two got here, but now it'll have to wait until after the reunion. Everybody's ready to go?" Isabel inquired.
Cassandra nodded enthusiastically. "I've got everything packed. I called Auntie too and she said she's gonna ride with Aunt Ellie, so we can leave right now."
"You're on top of your game, firefly. I think you and your daddy need to throw on some comfortable clothes first," Isabel pointed out. "Unless you want all of your cousins to see your school uniform."
Cassandra was gone at the thought of such an embarrassing notion. Jason laughed a bit and then took a seat next to Isabel. She curled into his wide form and they were silent for a moment.
"Thank you for trying this again," Isabel said. She had a good feeling about things too, believing things would not blow up in her face this time around.
"Thank you for trying us again," he replied. "I know now how much this all means to you and Cassie. I might not agree with a lot of it, but this is your family. You put up with mine, so I should put up with yours."
She chuckled and shook her head. "What a way to look at things. Still, thank you."
He smiled. "No problem, babe. I'm just happy to be here, happy that you love me."
Isabel smiled a little and leaned over to kiss his cheek. He smiled too. He noticed that as Isabel got older and they both mellowed, she was much more affectionate…with him anyway. He was happy for that and it was incentive to keep him for reverting back to his old, uptight, standoffish self. The more understanding he was, the more kisses and caresses he received.
"Well, I should go get ready. I want to be comfortable when I see your big moment. Can I rub it in your mother's face?" he asked, half-joking.
"If she has broken legs and you can still out run her," Isabel answered.
Jason laughed, even though he knew that was the truth. Despite the fact that he had cooled down over the years, Isabella still held onto her initial hatred of him. It was hard to let it all go, to forgive a man for thinking he was better than her daughter, for leaving her granddaughter, and for all around pigheaded behavior. He knew that he had a ways to go in her eyes, but he could only do it little by little. He was trying very hard, but she did not even want to give him credit for that.
"She wouldn't kill your loving husband, right?" he inquired with a hopeful smile.
"I wouldn't bet on it. Mommy's full of surprises. Now, come on, go get ready. You know the bug will throw a fit if she's ready to go and you're not," she reminded him.
Jason nodded and went to go change his clothing. Isabel took the time to load her luggage, one duffle bag, into the trunk of the car. Cassandra came zooming out moments later with her own duffle bag, tossing it into the trunk without much care. She had a book-bag on her back, but she kept that with her. Jason was out a couple of minutes later, ignoring the glares from Cassandra.
"You act like they'll start without you," Jason teased the nine-year-old.
"He's right. They can't start without the champs," Isabel declared confidently, making a fist.
"That's right," Cassandra agreed.
Jason climbed into the driver's seat and they were off. Isabel reflected on how much they had changed in the five years since the last Han family reunion/tournament. Jason was not judgmental about it and actually requested if he would be able to attend the reunion. He promised to be on his best behavior and not embarrass her by talking without thinking. The vow had been made with such a deep look of sincerity that she almost did not believe he was speaking to her. He was certainly trying hard, Isabel noted; and she appreciated the trying.
Isabel had also changed in many ways since the last tournament. She was now gainfully and legally employed; she tried not to think about the fact that she was doing the same thing as her mother. She was more tolerant now, mostly from having to control her temper around actors that could not quite comprehend what she was asking them. Her being able to control her temper was one of the things that helped her get along with Jason much easier now than years ago. She did not fly off the handle all the time now and then they were able to talk through their differences, usually able to come up with a decent compromise.
Cassandra had grown too, much in the same respects as her mother. She was able to tolerate and deal with her father, mostly due to the fact that she was a little more patient than she used to be. They were not sure what brought on the change, but Jason suspected it had to do with the girl trying to be like the woman that she so idolized—her mother. Cassandra ignored him whenever he even implied such a thing,
The changes were the things that allowed them to be a family. Jason was probably the only one of them to admit that they liked the little family unit that they had going, but it seemed to agree with them all. They were going to keep at it, even if they did not know it.
The Han family was gathered in the same area as they were five years ago for their family reunion. They were mingling as always, but mentally preparing for what was to come. They had the children's tournaments first. It was not a surprise that Cassandra dominated her matches and won, but it was a surprise that Alex lasted as long as she did.
"I did good, right, Mommy?" Alex asked Kat with a proud grin. She was missing her two front teeth; they had been gone before the tournament started.
"You know you did, kitten!" Kat grinned right back. One would think there was no prouder mother in the room, but they knew that was not the case.
Isabel was standing with her sister and her niece. Cassandra was standing next to her mother. From her demeanor, one would think that Cassandra was twenty feet tall. Isabel's hand was on Cassandra's shoulder. The child had to fight off a grin, but on the inside she was jumping up and down like a maniac.
"You sure are raising another Izzie, huh?" their cousin, Cleo, remarked as she came up behind Isabel.
"Damn it, don't call her that. My bug is just that good," Isabel declared with her chin tilted high with pride.
"If only you were the same," the hauntingly familiar voice of the matriarch of the Han family commented. Everyone gulped, except for Alex as she had not developed the sense of dread when it came to the senior Isabella…yet anyway.
"I am the same. I will win this thing and claim my destiny," Isabel vowed as she turned to face her grandmother. The determination on her face and hungry glint in her eyes was nothing new; those had been there too long to convince her grandmother that she was going to succeed.
The senior Isabella smirked. "I've heard that so many times. Your sister might be the one to do it."
"I might," Kat stated with a confident smile. Isabel and Cassandra glared at the blonde.
"Maybe Ellie will be the one. She has always been a nice wall for you two. I hear Ti has painted a target on your back, Izzie," the matriarch said.
Isabel frowned, but her grandmother strolled off before she could say anything. The group dispersed to go get ready for the main tournament right after that. Isabel silently promised herself that it was her time now and she was not going to let her grandmother mess with her mind. She was at her peak in regards to everything. She had to win.
Isabel breezed through her opponents like she had the last tournament. Kat was happy just to be fighting that year, but she was taken out by her cousin Ti before she was able to make it to semi-finals. Ellie was looking forward to fighting Isabel in the semis like before, but ran into one hell of a roadblock in the form of Isabel's aunt, Maria. Maria did not make it much further after she took care of Ellie because she ran into her big sister, Isabella. The final match was expected, but there was an excited fervor despite that.
"Mommy, you better win," Cassandra ordered in a low threatening voice. She was holding her mother down to her level with an intense grip on Isabel's sleeveless shirt. Young emerald eyes narrowed. "If you don't beat Grandma, I'll be ashamed of you," she promised in a dead serious tone.
Jason was about to admonish the girl for such words; he was standing behind Cassandra as the child pumped her mother up. The reason he stopped was because he recalled that this was Isabel and Cassandra's element. They understood everything much better than he did, so he needed to stand back and watch without saying anything that threw off their groove.
"If you don't beat Grandma, I won't even claim you," Cassandra vowed. It was clear that she was speaking the honest truth and no one doubted that, not even her mother.
In fact, the words impacted Isabel the most, as they were supposed. The pale woman did not respond to her daughter, but kept eye contact with her for a long time. Isabel was not permitted to rise until Cassandra let go of her shirt. Once that was done, Isabel turned to look into the ring where her mother was waiting for her.
"Come on, Izzie," Isabella said, motioning toward her with her right hand. Her stance was already one prepared for battle.
Isabel smirked as she climbed into the ring, eager to make her dreams a reality. The opponents approached each other and stood face to face for a moment. They then dropped into their battle stances. Isabel released a long breath through her nose as she crouched into her defensive posture. Isabella took a deep breath.
When the signal came, everyone expected Isabel to charge her mother; they were surprised. Isabel waited, circled her mother as Isabella studied her. The crowd was dead silent, sensing that this fight was not like the last time the mother and daughter faced off.
The two sized each other up, scanning for openings, taking in every movement. Everything looked tight and guarded between them. Isabel cursed in her mind, thinking that she might have peaked in life and still not be any match for her mother since she did not see any openings to attack. Her shoulders twitched and her legs itched to move forward, to get it over with, and to be disowned by her own daughter if she did so.
Just as she was about to move, Isabel held off. Her eyes picked up on something that she had never seen before with her mother. She could get around her mother's perfect defense, she thought. She would have to get around her mother's defense to make it out of this thing the winner and for the first time she knew how.
Isabella was expecting a feint of some sort, as that was usually how Isabel fought. Well, that was how she recalled Isabel fighting. She had not seen the younger woman fight in about a year and even what she saw the last time was not much. She noticed that Isabel fought with more intelligence, but she was not sure how much more.
Isabella banished those thoughts from her mind immediately as her daughter struck with the speed of a viper and she found her elbow stinging with the same intensity as if a snake bit her. Isabel was not looking to get around Isabella's defense. She was looking to crumble it bit by bit.
The fight was on with Isabel tagging her mother's arms whenever she could, hitting the same spot as best she could. Isabella tried to back off and gain some control over the fight, but Isabel continued on attacking. Isabella decided to counter, which made the crowd go wild as the fight went to the next level.
Cheers exploded through the place as mother and daughter attacked, countered, and retreated what seemed like an infinite amount of times. Eyes remained focused on the ring, watching an epic battle that looked as graceful as a ballet and as deadly a minefield. No one wanted to blink, knowing that would miss something outstanding. No one wanted to breathe, fearful that they might distract one of the fighters.
The first few minutes were the two fighters feeling each other out, reminding themselves of the others ability. More power started to creep into each hit as the time went by, though. The first major blow was landed by Isabella. She hit Isabel on the chin with her elbow.
Isabel's head snapped back and stumbled backwards. Isabella was like a shark that smelled blood in the water, trying to converge on her prey and land another deadly blow. She was stunned to be met by the next spectacular hit of the match, taking Isabel's heel right into her shoulder. The force was enough to back her up.
The crowd expected the pair to collide with the force of two comets, but they eyed each other like two stalking cats. The onlookers held their breath, waiting for the next explosive move. They did not have to wait long.
Isabel came in, lightning fast blows. Isabella weaved out of the way, dodging the attack, and trying to calculate her own counter. The two started going back and forth, trying not to give much ground and trying to conquer as much ground as possible. The moves were nearly faster than eyes could follow and the power behind each hit echoed with enough noise to cause the audience to flinch.
The tension mounded for the crowd as nothing seemed to be giving and then the next big play came. Isabel went into a kick combination that everyone had seen her do before, but they had never seen it so precise. Kicks landed against Isabella's torso and ended with Isabel's heel on her cheek.
Isabella fell back and put her arms up as she saw her daughter coming at her. Isabel pressed with more kicks; her powerful legs slamming into her mother's body. The younger woman thought that she had her mother on the retreat, but found out differently. Isabella countered with her own kicks.
Isabel was hit in the neck and that backed her off. Isabella marched in, fists flying. Everyone could hear the bones crunching as the punches impacted Isabel, but the younger woman did not seem as bothered by them as she would have been five years ago. In fact, she easily sidestepped the onslaught and went into her own counter.
Isabel punched her mother with enough force to push her back several inches. Isabella did not show her disbelief, but she really could not believe that she had just been pushed back by the sheer strength of her daughter's punch. The impact was more accurate than Isabel had been capable of before and that forced Isabella's body to absorb more than what she was used to when fighting Isabel.
The match continued and Isabella felt more of her daughter's focused wrath. Power that she knew was there, but Isabel had never been able to bring out properly was showing now. The usual taunts that got Isabel to lose her cool did not work, no matter how serious Isabella made them sound.
"You can't surpass me, Izzie," Isabella growled as she came in with a combination of her own. This was a combination that usually caught Isabel so off guard that she did not realize what was going on until the fifth hit, but by that time, Isabel had actually escaped it.
"It's my time," Isabel replied with her own growl as she came in with her own moves now.
The younger fighter crashed against her mother like a tsunami against a muddy cliff, thinking that she would be able to just overwhelm her mother. The crowd looked like their jaws were already to hit the floor. Was the monster of their family, Isabella, about to be dethroned by her heir-apparent? Was it possible?
Those questions were going through Isabella's mind and she believed that she held the answer. She sidestepped her daughter and as Isabel was in the middle of a punch, Isabella kicked her directly in the ribs with everything that she had. Isabel gasped as she fell back, wondering if she had really heard her rib cage shatter, and stumbled to stay on her feet. Isabella did not allow that and came in to finish her child, bashing Isabel with another kick to the same space.
"Come on, Izzie!" Kat screamed as loud as she could, making her face flush bright red. Damn it! She felt a need to see her sister embrace her destiny and it needed to be done now.
"Mommy, you better win," Cassandra said with grit in her tone, even though she knew her voice would not be heard above the crowd.
"Come on, Isabel. It's there for you. Take that shit!" Ellie hollered, hoping that she was heard over the din. She wanted the victory as badly for Isabel as she did for herself. Since Isabel was there now, she wanted Isabel to walk away with it all.
Isabel's head was swimming from the blows, but she could have sworn that she heard her sister, her daughter, and her best friend cheering for her. She tried to shake it all away and remain on her feet, even though her body was begging that she just drop. She needed all of her attention on her mother, she reminded herself. She needed everything to take on her mother and she refused to drop at the moment. She was going to fight her mother tooth and nail and claim what was hers.
Emerald eyes locked onto the approaching form of Isabella. Time slowed down, as far as Isabel was concerned. Her mother's next move was telegraphed in and she dipped out of the way to avoid losing her head. She quickly snapped into her counter. The sound of her open palm crashing into her mother's body seemed to echo through the whole hall.
Isabella gasped and each palm strike that rippled through her body felt worst than the last. A final blow, that she would later find out was the same kick that Isabel hit her with five years ago, caused her world to go black. Isabel was not sure what to do with herself when her mother hit the canvass. Was Isabella going to get back up? Was she going to be pissed off if she did?
The crowd was silent, shocked, awed. Eyes remained open, breathing halted, and everyone waited for Isabella to climb to her feet, to go after her daughter like a demon possessed. It never happened. Isabella remained on the floor as time was up. Isabel was announced as the winner, the champion, the new beast of the Han family.
"I won?" Isabel swayed, unable to believe it. She never won, not against her mother.
"Way to go, big sis!" Kat screamed as she charged into the ring and leaped into Isabel's arms. Isabel almost fell over when the weight hit her, but somehow she managed to stay on her feet.
Ellie came in right after Kat, proudly patting Isabel on the shoulder rather than making an ass out of herself like Kat. Cassandra and Alex were behind; Cassandra had to help her blonde cousin into the ring. They cheered until they were hoarse while Isabel looked between her mother's prone form and Jason's confused gaze; despite all of his trying, he would never understand why it was so important for her to defeat her mother.
The celebrating went on until the end of the day, even though it took a while for Isabel to truly understand that she had won. It was not until her mother regained consciousness that it really sunk in that she was the champion. Isabella awoke to find her daughter being toasted, sort of like being crowned. She smirked and quickly gathered herself a glass to join in, hailing her eldest and confirming for Isabel that she was the real champ. As night set in, mother and daughter found a place to be alone.
Isabel and Isabella walked into the park that Isabel had wandered with Cassandra when they had both lost five years ago. Now, Isabel was a winner and Cassandra had celebrated so hard that she was sleeping in her father's arms back at the hotel. The mother and daughter stopped at the pond where there were fireflies dancing over the water as there had been five years ago. This let Isabel know the world had not changed just because she seized her destiny, but her entire world felt brand new. Everything around her seemed fresh, full of life, promise, and hope.
"Congratulations, Izzie," Isabella said in her typical monotone voice. Despite her tone, a happy smile settled on her face and refused to leave.
"Congratulations to you too, Mommy," Isabel replied, smiling too.
"Don't hand out congrats yet. Your sister still has to defeat me before I'm done. You know, you're not off the hook either. You've only come halfway. Don't slack on Cassie's training," Isabella ordered, staring her daughter in the eye to let her know how important her job was.
Isabel nodded to show that she understood and maintained eye contact, so that her mother would see that she did get it. "I won't. One day, this will repeat itself. Cassandra will defeat me," the younger warrior vowed.
Isabella nodded and then said words that Isabel was almost certain that she heard wrong. "I'm proud of you. Not just for this, but everything. I'm proud of what you've done with your life."
Isabel did not say anything, just letting the greatest praise ever wash over her. Despite everything, her mother was proud of her for everything. Isabel felt like her life was complete. She was happily married, raising a good daughter, and her mother was proud of her. She was just going to keep it up, then.