The bright rays of the Southern California sun felt warm as they shined down on Jill Sullivan’s skin. The sensation was a welcome one that lifted the redhead’s spirits as she took her morning run. It was around 6:30 at the moment, no more than an hour past sunrise, but the day was already shaping up to be just past pleasantly hot. The sights, smells, and sounds of the beach enveloped her as she jogged briskly along a paved oceanfront walkway that ran in parallel just a few dozen feet away from the water’s edge.
Two miles down, two miles back up.
Roadwork was woefully undervalued in the fighting business, at least as far as Jill was concerned. The attitude was prevalent, far too often amongst both spectators and competitors alike, that a pretty face and a charming personality were enough to carry a girl through a boxing or wrestling match. Such beliefs tended not to withstand the rigors of combat for very long. Jill had learned this very early in her career – whether it was having the stamina to go another round in the ring or rally from a debilitating hold, she was determined to ensure that she held the edge over any would-be opponents when the chips were down.
Human activity was sparse right now along this stretch of beach. That normally suited Jill just fine, as she enjoyed the brief opportunity to be alone with her thoughts. This morning, however, a small bit of interpersonal interaction was on the agenda. Her steps slowed down to a modest trot as she pulled her phone out of her pocket and scrolled through her contacts. Finding the one that she was looking for, she started to dial and stashed the phone away as she resumed her earlier pace. Several rings went by without an answer, but at last Jill’s earpiece came to life with the sound of the person on the other end picking up.
“Just checking in. Any news since we last talked?”
The line was quiet for a few moments, but at last a curt reply came: “Yes. Quite a bit.”
A devilish smirk crossed the redhead’s lips as she heard the annoyance in her manager Dana Andrews’ voice. The other woman did not share Jill’s devotion to her routine or appreciate it when she made early hours business calls, to put it mildly. To her credit though, Dana was at least a good sport about it.
“The boxing match we discussed last time is almost there,” the other woman continued, “She seems eager to take you on. Now that the matter’s been broached, she and her people seem to be courting us very seriously. I still have a fair number of finer details to work out, but her management seems amenable.”
“Elliot. Seems he made her acquaintance after her fight with Sara.”
Jill’s lips pursed and her heart turned bitter at the sound of Sara Hernandez’s name. Fate, it seemed, was determined to bind her inexorably to her hated arch-rival. It was much to her chagrin that Sara managed to loom over so many of her conversations, even when they did not involve the Mexican beauty directly. She had, however, at least learned to make the most of it. There was some profit to be made from fighting Sara, especially as many times as she had – likewise, this newest potential opponent seemed to be learning just how many doors that experience had opened up for her.
“What’s your take on her?” Jill asked in reference to these latest negotiations, “Does this look like a good match to you?”
“Absolutely,” Dana replied, “She’s quality comp and I think she’ll offer you a good fight. And she’s been getting a lot of heat lately. On the flipside, you’re an obvious choice for her after Sara. The question that everyone’s going to be asking is how you’ll handle her in comparison.”
Jill did not respond right away, as if she were mulling over her manager’s advice. But the answer that she ultimately gave was unambiguous in its intentions: “Stand firm on the purse. If they really want this fight, I’m sure they’ll be willing to pay well for it.”
The call ended, and Jill was once again on her own as she continued her run. In truth, the redhead’s mind had already been made up for quite some time. She certainly valued Dana’s opinion, but it was a businesswoman’s assessment that she sought; ultimately, it was her fighter’s heart that ruled her decision-making. The fight accounts that Jill had read painted a vivid picture of this girl’s talents – stepping into a boxing ring and going a few rounds against Sara Hernandez was no small feat; being able to take the fight to her for any period of time was an even more remarkable accomplishment. Jill was attracted by the formidable challenge that this prospective opponent could offer, and the more she thought about the possibilities, the faster her heart raced.
Jill’s feet picked up speed as she pushed herself to work just a bit harder. Yes, she and her tantalizing new foe would get their date in the ring soon enough. But until then, she still had many more miles left to go.
* * * *
Round 7. Lucky number seven for her; not so much for her opponent.
In the opposite corner, Aimee Holbrooke wasn’t doing so hot. The other girl was still sitting on her stool and surrounded closely by her cornermen, who were working down to the wire to tend for their fighter. Jill couldn’t see Aimee with them in the way, but she didn’t need her eyes to know what shape the 23 year-old blonde was in. The fortunes of tonight’s match had been clear for some time now – Aimee’s camp was trying its hardest not to give voice to what they knew was coming, but the pervasive dour mood that was building around her was becoming impossible to dispel.
Jill was aware of the excitement surrounding Aimee in the lead-up to this fight. It was the sort of reverential talk usually reserved for someone that people thought would become champion some day. The resume was solid: nearly two dozen wins under her belt in three years with only a small smattering of losses. Her last three matches had been against some of the toughest comp in the business, most recent and notable among them being Jill’s arch-nemesis Sara Hernandez – she had acquitted herself quite admirably against these top contenders and proven that she belonged amongst their ranks. It also helped that Aimee looked the part of a queen with a lithe 5’6, 112 lbs, 34C-23-34 frame – even a seasoned fighter like Jill had to admire the ring presence that the blonde carried about her. Facing off against the redhead in a very chic black trunks with white trim, black and white shoes, and red gloves, Aimee was graceful yet powerful, dominant yet congenial, and driven above all to win – Jill knew from the onset that she had stepped into the ring with an opponent that was destined for greatness.
Tonight, however, those blonde ambitions had run headlong into a redheaded brick wall. Aimee’s footwork was top-notch and frequently beguiled the opponents she faced, but those vaunted skills were failing her in this fight. Her height and reach advantages had likewise been ineffective at keeping Jill on the end of her punches. Round after round, Jill pressed the pace of battle and forced Aimee to engage her blow for blow. The steady work had whittled the blonde down. Hurt her. Most importantly, left her discouraged. Jill’s fists likewise hadn’t done any favors for her appearance, and the measure of the blonde’s battered visage against the redhead’s largely unblemished face told the tale of this bout in the starkest terms possible.
The loud and metallic clang of the bell beckoned the two boxers to come out and face each other for the seventh time. For a brief moment, Aimee stayed where she was, but it was a mistake to interpret this as a sign that she was quitting on her stool. Quite the opposite, actually – the blonde’s eyes might have been halfway closed with swelling, but the fiery look she cast in Jill’s direction was as clear a message as any. She was calling up every last ounce of willpower and all of the animus that she’d built up towards her redheaded tormentor, channeling it together into one last forlorn attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. As Aimee stood at last and came out of her corner, Jill repaid the glare with a wicked grin as she too marched forward to meet her adversary.
Aimee was resolved to play the role of the aggressor despite her condition, and she immediately went on the attack with her left jab. Because her legs were shot, she couldn’t work her angles or cut off the ring effectively; likewise, much of the sting had already been sapped from her punches. Jill held her arms in close and kept herself well protected as she waited fort he right hand – when it came, she ducked in beneath it and tagged the blonde’s right breast with a snapping left. Aimee groaned as the stiff punch to the tender target put her on her heels, but she did not shy away – instead, she seemed intent on standing her ground and paying the redhead back.
Jill slipped a left and again came in low, this time landing a right to Aimee’s waistline. Her next punch, a sidearm left, forcefully pounded the blonde’s flank. She took a blunt cross to the forehead in return, but with it came an opening for her to land a swift right uppercut to her opponent’s chin. Aimee instantly felt the magic of that blow in her legs – as they shimmied and threatened to buckle beneath her, she managed to stumble forward and get her arms around the redhead, tying up for a clinch. Jill pushed back fiercely against the other woman and batted at her sides with short punches, but it was not enough to break free from the encroaching embrace of the blonde’s arms.
The referee separated the two fighters and the action resumed. Jill’s left jab snapped out and landed twice to Aimee’s cheek – she was not probing with these punches, as evident from the way they knocked the blonde’s head back. Aimee instinctively replied with a right that was off-balance, but nonetheless managed to connect with Jill’s upper chest. She tried now for a left to the redhead’s jaw, but instead took one to her own as the smaller woman’s right cross landed first. Jill stayed on her and plugged away to the blonde’s midsection with both hands, forcing her to gradually cede more ground. She was undeterred by the punches that Aimee threw in receipt – both fighters wanted to trade, but only one could afford to do so.
Aimee was becoming increasingly desperate as Jill continued to harry her. The redhead could see it growing in the younger woman’s eyes every time she got hit. As another body blow forced another achy clinch, Jill could also feel the same dreadful sentiment in the blonde’s labored breaths and tired muscles. Aimee wouldn’t be able to hold out for much longer against the redhead’s more forceful and more numerous punches – too much more of it, and she’d be completely at Jill’s mercy. As they were separated, both fighters knew that it would take a dramatic gamble if the blonde were to have any hope of turning things around.
The moment finally came as Aimee squared up and went all in with a furious right and left cross, each one coming at remarkable speed and carrying enough force to take Jill’s head off. The redhead had been patiently waiting for just such a volley, but even then it was still only by a sliver of an inch that she managed to bob out of the punches’ trajectories. Aimee tried again with another right cross, but this time Jill lunged in with a right hook of her own. The redhead’s right beat the blonde’s to its target and landed with gobsmacking power behind it and pounded her out of her stance – not only was Aimee’s punch sent aimlessly off course, but she herself was visibly knocked for a loop by the blow. Even when disoriented and hurt, Aimee yearned to continue fighting as she loaded up with another Hail Mary right, but the punch was destined never to find its mark. Once again the redhead’s right hook struck with thunderous clout to the jaw, swiveling the blonde’s head violently and sending her crashing to the canvas at the ropes.
Jill’s ears were filled with the sound of enthusiastic cheers coming from the crowd, brought to its feet by the knockdown. She herself did not overtly gloat or showboat she stood over her fallen adversary, but she at least allowed herself a soft smile of satisfaction as she stared down at her opponent. Aimee was stretched out on her back with her arms on either side of her head, while her eyes were pinched shut and her expression was fixed in a groggy, bitter scowl – it was hard for the redhead to imagine the blonde in a more picturesque state than she was now lying helpless on the canvas. But was she truly done for? Jill felt her heart racing as the answer to that question hung in the balance. The blonde was already stirring by the time she reached the neutral corner, and like everyone else in attendance she watched with bated breath as the other woman made a valiant attempt to beat the count. Aimee crawled up and grasped at the ropes, giving it everything she had to try and get up in time – easier said than done, judging by the way her legs threatened to collapse beneath her at any moment. But at last, with one final heroic bid to get up, the blonde managed to pull herself off of the canvas at the count of 9.
Survival had come at a great cost. Though Aimee was on her feet, Jill knew that the effort it took to get there had completely and utterly used her up. The blonde was staring vacantly and swaying unsteadily where she stood – her groggy and uncomprehending state was all too clear as she barely kept her gloves up after the referee wiped them off. But despite this, the third woman in the ring stepped aside and signaled for the match to resume – a fight such as this demanded a dramatic conclusion, and no one would think to intervene prematurely and deny Jill a finishing run. Of course, nobody wanted this more than the redhead herself, who came out of the neutral corner intent on putting her opponent away for good.
Jill’s first punch as she moved in was a right hook. Aimee’s hands were still low and she was wide open as the violent blow rocked her head sideways and sent her reeling back into the ropes. Aimee’s eyes were glassy and her head lolled drowsily as she sagged into the strands – she was already out on her feet and ready to go. Jill threw a pair of lefts in succession, insurance shots to the beltline and breast, before turning on her hips and letting loose with another right hook. This last punch landed squarely on the blonde’s chin and again snapped her head to the side with brutal efficacy – she tilted forward and sank to the canvas once more, sprawling out face-down at Jill’s feet.
The loudest roar of the night went up through the crowd as the redhead knocked the blonde down for the final time. Jill savored the sound of their cheers and the sight of what her fists had wrought. The count was a formality at this point – Aimee hadn’t moved from where she’d fallen, and she clearly would not be making any effort to get up. Jill’s elation rose and her stoic demeanor receded, replaced by a delighted grin on her face and her arms lifted in triumph above her head. Jill could not have asked for better from victory and defeat. One fighter stood tall and proud, while the other lay ruined – picture perfect in every way.
It was a fateful moment that redhead and blonde would share together.
* * * *
The overhead lights were blinding.
Jill‘s eyes opened and fluttered as she found herself staring upwards, adjusting to the intensely bright illumination that was shining back down at her. She must have gone out for just a moment – as the fog started to lift from her mind, she soon realized that she was now stretched out on her back with her arms on either side of her head. This point was reinforced by the silhouette of the referee, who was standing over her issuing a ten count. Jill gingerly rolled over and began a valiant attempt to get up, but in her present condition such things were easier said than done. Her body responded sluggishly to her commands, threatening to betray her as she desperately tried to rise. But at last, with one final heroic bid to get up, the redhead managed to pull herself off of the canvas at the count of 9.
A memory of another more glorious time had flashed across Jill’s groggy mind like a half-remembered dream, but it receded just as rapidly as her present circumstances came back into the fore. Thirtysomething and in the waning years of her career, she was a weary sight to behold as she stood bare-chested in her trademark solid black trunks, black shoes, and red gloves. Nineteen minutes of fighting tonight had not been kind to her appearance – her face was battered puffy, her nose and lip had been bloodied, and her torso ached with every breath that she took. While there were some who might think that her present state of punch- and sweat-induced dishevelment made her all the more alluring, such opinions offered little comfort for a used up fighter on her last legs.
Round 7. Jill would be lucky just to make it to the bell.
Jill was on her feet, but the effort it took to get there had almost completely used her up. She swayed unsteadily where she stood and could barely keep her gloves up after the referee wiped them off. But despite this, the third woman in the ring stepped aside and signaled for the match to resume – a fight such as this demanded a dramatic conclusion, and no one would think to intervene prematurely and deny her opponent a finishing run. Thus, Jill was left alone to contend with the blonde that was coming towards her. Through her haze, she could grasp at the younger woman’s outline in pink trunks with white trim, pink and white shoes, and red gloves – this figure was advancing on her rapidly, fully intent on delivering the outcome that was likely in store for her.
The blonde’s right was a blur as it moved with lightning speed and struck thunderously. Jill’s hands were still low and she was wide open as the violent blow rocked her head sideways and sent her reeling into the ropes. Jill’s eyes were glassy and her head lolled drowsily as she sagged into the strands – it was only by the narrowest of margins that she managed to bring her gloves up and block her opponent’s next blow from landing. The redhead cringed behind her guard as she covered up earmuff and tried her hardest to ride out the assault, while her opponent let loose with everything she had in return. Nothing was coming back from Jill, while each punch that bashed at her arms and snapped at her waist and flanks chipped away at her that much more.
One punch found its way through and buried itself into Jill’s beltline, eliciting an achy groan from the redhead. Her defenses collapsed rapidly as the blow’s crippling effects radiated from her midsection through the rest of her body, and the blonde had no difficulty splitting her gloves with a right uppercut that rocked her head backwards. Jill tottered forward on unsteady legs as she tried to wrap her arms around the blonde and stabilize, but she was brusquely shoved back into the ropes and stacked upright. The blonde was now prying at her arms, working to wrest them apart – Jill struggled briefly against the other woman as she fought to keep her gloves in close to her torso, but she was swiftly halted in her tracks by the blonde’s fist plowing spitefully into her left breast. The redhead wailed as the orb was crushed against her chest wall, and she sank back into the ropes as she struggled to cope with the intense pain.
Jill’s chest had already taken its fair share of punishment throughout the previous six rounds and she was in no shape now to endure another sustained jug mugging. However, that choice was not hers to make, and the point was driven home as the blonde laid into her rack with more punches. Fresh shouts of anguish were being torn from her lips as hooks clubbed at the outsides of her tits and straight crosses thrust into them head-on, each making contact with a weighty impact. Jill tried her best to repay the other woman in kind, but her disorganized punches were tepid in comparison to the hits that she was taking – it certainly was not enough to turn the tide against a stronger and more energetic opponent that was outworking her by an ever-increasing margin. The redhead’s resistance was finally ended by an uppercut that ripped into the underside of her left breast, simultaneously silencing her fists and yielding the loudest scream of the night. Jill’s eyes pinched shut as the agony inflicted upon her by this last blow overwhelmed all of her senses, a feeling that only intensified as another pair of uppercuts plowed into her rack. Jill’s legs shimmied as they began to buckle beneath her, and she threw herself forward once again – this time, she managed to get her arms around the blonde and tie up for a clinch.
The tight embrace of the two fighters laid everything bare and left nothing unrevealed between them. Jill’s breaths were labored and her muscles felt tired as she held on to the blonde, whereas the blonde’s movements were filled with youthful exuberance and a capacity to fight that had not yet seen its limits. The vast gulf in their conditions had never been as starkly clear as it was in the close skin-to-skin confines of this clinch – desperation permeated Jill’s body like an aura that had become impossible to dispel, while the blonde’s touch conveyed dominance and authority that grew more oppressive and overwhelming with each passing moment. It didn’t matter how tightly Jill clung on with her arms – she would not be able to hold out against her foe for much longer. And when that moment came, there would be nothing she could do to stop the blonde from taking what she wanted. It was a dreadful sentiment, one that stung worse than any punch the blonde could ever dream of throwing.
The two fighters were finally separated by the referee. Jill again sagged back into the ropes as she and her opponent were pulled apart – her still wobbly legs were barely able to hold her up under their own power. As she opened her swollen eyes and blinked away her tears, she could make out the figure of the blonde as she closed in. Jill’s bleary vision regained its focus just in time to see Erica Ellis staring straight back at her. Erica’s eyes gleamed brightly and proudly as they drilled into the redhead; they blazed with an untamed ferocity and captivating intensity that was capable of sweeping away the last remains of Jill’s resistance all on their own.
They were the last thing that she would see. A punishing left hook shot out like a flash and swept across Jill’s jawline, producing a violently gorgeous head-swivel in its wake. The blow put her out on her feet and sent her stumbling on ramshackle legs in the direction of a corner. Erica stayed on top of her as the pair side-stepped along the ring’s perimeter, landing a pair of insurance rights in succession to her beltline and breast. The blonde then turned on her hips and let loose with another left hook that landed squarely on Jill’s chin – this last punch torqued the redhead’s entire body a quarter turn to her left and sent her crashing to the canvas face-down and stretched out parallel to the ropes.
* * * *
The bell was ringing in her ears as consciousness slowly returned to her.
Jill was still lying on the canvas where she’d fallen. In fact, it was likely that she hadn’t even made the slightest motion since going down. Every one of her muscles felt inert, bereft of any impetus to move under their own power – it had been as if someone had simply just flipped a switch and shut her entire body off. Her hazy thought processes were regaining their coherence as she roused from her slumber, and she could make out the sounds of exultation and revelry filling the air in all directions. The gravity of what had transpired quickly came crashing down – she was beaten. Defeat was an extremely bitter pill to swallow, even for someone like Jill, and she struggled considerably as she tried to contain her heartbreak.
Lifting her weary head off of the canvas, Jill looked out into the stands. All eyes in attendance were fixated on the same locus – that singular center of attention was, undoubtedly, the bout’s winner. Jill couldn’t see Erica, but she could feel the younger woman’s pride and exuberance as they spread out across the ring and effervesced throughout the rest of the venue. Victory was enchanting and intoxicating – with it, Erica had captivated the crowd with her every move and brought them entirely under her sway. It was against this backdrop that Jill found herself completely overshadowed by her opponent. She had ceased to be an object of interest the moment the referee’s count reached ten. Vanquished and reduced to an afterthought, there was now nary a glance being cast in her direction.
Except that this wasn’t entirely true. Jill was gradually beginning to realize that she’d gone down in her opponent’s corner. Her eyes were still wandering listlessly, but in the periphery of her vision she could make out a stare from nearby at ringside that had become intently fixated upon her. Shrugging off her somnolence as best she could, Jill looked down to meet the pair of eyes that had rise up to meet hers. These belonged to her opponent’s trainer: Aimee Holbrooke.
No words were said between the two former adversaries. None needed to be, as their exchanged looks spoke for them in an intense flurry of mixed emotions. There was no hint of any joy to be found in Aimee’s expression, no sign that she savored the redhead’s downfall in any way. And yet, she needed to see this for the sake of her own closure, and thus did not avert her eyes. Jill, for her part, was in a place of complete vulnerability – with nowhere else to turn, she found solace in the eyes of the only person who could offer it. Thus, the two continued to hold their gazes with each other, staring with eyes that bared anything and everything to one another.
It was a fateful moment that blonde and redhead would share together.