Ouji Island Resort, Present
Bulma awoke with a smile on her face.
"Wow," she whispered to herself, staring up and watching the shifting patterns of light play upon the dark ceiling as the wind blew against the tree branches, making them rattle against her window as their shadows moved within. "I can’t believe I’m fifteen already." She grinned and hopped out of bed, running on bare feet to the window across the room. She threw it open and yelled loudly enough that the sparrows nested in the tree outside fluttered away. Bulma laughed and closed the window again, her sapphire eyes sparkling as she turned to face her room.
Should she shower, or just head downstairs to open the wealth of presents her parents had surely bought for her? Greed overcame cleanliness, and Bulma leaped down the stairs of her three-story home.
She ran into the family room only to stop suddenly in the entryway.
"Mama?" she called out. "Papa?"
No one answered.
Bulma frowned and fiddled nervously with the top button of her cotton pajama top. Where could her parents be? Every year on her birthday they woke an hour before dawn to set out all her presents and wait for her in the family room. They’d sing happy birthday to her, and her mother would be wearing that ratty old terrycloth bathrobe that Bulma so detested, and the blond woman would kiss her daughter senseless before oohing and aahing at the opening of the presents—as if she had no idea what were inside! Her father would just smile and watch as his daughter reaped the benefits of the wealth he had accumulated over his lifetime—the wealth that would be hers one day, when he died, he always remarked.
"But you’ll never die, Papa!" she’d respond, as though it were the silliest idea in the world.
But on this day, her fifteenth birthday, something was different. What should have been the happiest day of her life so far was somehow different from all the rest. Her parents weren’t waiting patiently for her in the family room. No presents adorned the antique coffee table or the hardwood floor or the expensive furniture. Everything was so quiet; all she could hear was the intense beating of her own heart.
"Mama?" she called out again. If this was supposed to be some sort of trick—well, if it were, it was a bad one. "This isn’t funny, Papa!" she called out.
Fuming, she marched through every single room on the first floor of the house, searching for her parents, to no avail.
"Where could they be?" she whispered to herself.
A moment later she heard a noise coming from the kitchen, as though someone were attempting to unlock the backdoor.
"That must be it," she said with a grin. "They were out getting me last minute presents and didn’t think that I’d be up this early today!" She laughed. "Well, they should know better than to underestimate Bulma Briefs!"
She ran into the kitchen and was about to yank open the door leading to the back porch when all of a sudden one of the door’s four square glass panes shattered.
Bulma shrieked and backed away as a masculine hand reached through and unlatched the door from the inside.
A bead of sweat raced down her forehead in synch with the frantic pounding of her heart. How could someone break into their house? An intruder on her birthday—this couldn’t be happening!
She looked around for a weapon to use and her eyes fell upon the carving knife that lay next to the sink. Her eyes darted back to the door, which was already half-way open, then back to the knife. Making a snap decision, she ran to the knife and whirled around, brandishing it in the air as she faced the unwelcome intruder.
He stared at her for a moment, and their eyes locked. Bulma forgot to breathe as his black onyx eyes burned into hers with such intensity that she nearly melted right then and there. He only seemed to be a few years older than her, perhaps 18; what was this stranger doing breaking into her home?
A moment later his eyes flew from hers to the knife she still held in her hands. His eyes narrowed and a scowl etched itself upon his forehead. He darted forward, reaching for the knife. Bulma panicked and swung it at him, but he caught it instead, and as they struggled the two strangers tumbled to the floor. Bulma pushed at him frantically, the pounding of her heart in her ears the only sound, the sight of this man hovering above her the only sight. A moment later a stinging pain caught her attention and brought her back to reality; the man had stabbed her with her own knife.
If she screamed with pain she never heard it; but an instant later the man was off her. "Shit," she thought she heard him say, and he leaned over, wrenched the knife from her limp hand, and flung it across the room. He knelt over her, his hand probing her wound almost tenderly. If he weren’t a complete stranger, she might have thought that he felt remorse over wounding her.
"It’s only a flesh wound," he said, reluctantly taking his hand from the small wound. "Just a nick. You’ll be alright" He shook his head. "I don’t remember you ever screaming that loudly. Where did your spine go, woman?"
Bulma looked up at him quizzically. Something about him seemed somehow familiar, even though she couldn’t clearly see his as her vision blurred behind tears of pain. "Who are you?" she asked.
He stared down at her for several minutes, ignoring her question. He bent over until their faces were nearly touching—and captured her lips with his own.
Bulma gasped against his mouth and wondered why this strange man would kiss her. He took this opportunity to have his tongue swoop inside and taste her. Bulma shuddered at the wonderful feeling that started blooming within her body, a sensation she’d never felt before; what was he doing to her body that made her feel so wonderful in spite of herself?
Before she could react any further, his lips retreated from hers. He sat on his knees, staring down at her with awe. Her sluggish mind, still caught up in the kiss, struggled to think of something to say, something to ask.
Who are you? Why are you here? Why did you kiss me?
Why do you seem so familiar, even though I’ve never seen you before?
But she never had the chance to say a word before he stood and darted out the door, slamming it behind him.
Bulma sat up and tenderly felt the wound at her side. He was right—it was only a flesh wound, and the bleeding had already stopped.
The doorbell rang a few minutes later, after she had finished bandaging her wounds. She was still clad in her comfortable cotton pajamas—although the top had been ripped slightly during her earlier struggle—but she flung open the front door with girlish exuberance anyway, hoping that her parents had finally come home.
Her parents, however, were no where in sight.
A young, red-haired police woman stepped forward into the doorway. "Bulma Briefs?"
Bulma nodded. "Yes, that’s me."
"I’m officer Dunleavy with the Satan City Police Department. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you." She sighed. "Your parents, Mr. and Mrs. Briefs, were found dead in their car early this morning."
Bulma stared at the police woman, disbelief written all over her face. "I’m afraid you must be wrong, Officer," she stated as calmly as possible, even though every nerve inside her body screamed with agony at the unexpected news. "It’s my birthday. My parents can’t be dead."
The police officer shook her head. "I’m sorry, Ms. Briefs. I’m terribly sorry, but there’s no mistake. Your parents are dead."
"Was it a … car accident?" They couldn’t have died while out shopping for presents for her birthday. They couldn’t have.
"No. … Bulma," the officer said as gently as possible, "Your parents were murdered."
"Murdered?" Bulma realized that her reaction was quite calm under the circumstances. At any other time she would have gone into hysterics upon hearing that her parents had been murdered. But after the events of this morning, nothing could shock her anymore. No emotion showed on her face, and she remained completely calm.
"Yes. And we believe that you are intended to be the next victim. So we’ll have to take you into temporary custody, for your own sake."
Bulma nodded. "I understand." She cleared her throat. "If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I should go upstairs and change into my clothes. Please feel free to wait in the family room."
Bulma led the officer to the family room and watched as she took a seat in her mother’s favorite chair.
She shouldn’t be sitting there, Bulma thought. That should be my mother.
But her mother would never sit there again—or anywhere else, for that matter.
Still maintaining her cool, calm façade, Bulma slowly trudged up the stairs. But instead of entering her room, she went into her parents’ bedroom and headed straight for the closet. She threw open the door and there it was; her mother’s tattered white bathrobe, sitting patiently on its hanger, waiting for Mrs. Briefs to wear it downstairs and await her daughter’s descent.
All the pain, all the tears that she’d been holding back came out now that she was alone. She grabbed hold of the bathrobe and pulled it from its hanger and collapsed onto the floor, hugging the fluffy white mass of terrycloth to her chest as she wept.
Bulma awoke with a start, gasping, her fists clutching the sheets beside her as sweat dripped down her chin.
Her breath came in rapid gulps and her heart beat against her ribs in staccato. She slowly loosened her death grip on the innocent hotel sheets and sat up in bed, planting her forehead in the palms of her hands.
"Not again," she moaned.
She’d thought that she had finally cured herself! The dreams that had long haunted her were over. But now she was dreaming of her own past, what had to be the worst day of her life. She remembered distinctly that it had been that very night when her dreams had started. And the man in the dreams had looked so much like the man who had attacked her that morning.
And yet, she’d never really gotten a good look at the man who had broken into her home, attacked her, and administered her first kiss. All she’d seen were his eyes. Those dark, mesmerizing eyes that could have stolen her soul right then and there.
Bulma shivered just thinking of it. Had it been that man who’d murdered her parents? She’d always wondered about that. Who was this man, and what did he have against her? Why had he acted as though he’d known her all his life? Why …
Bulma shook her head. She was in no mood to think right now. What she needed was a nice, stiff drink followed by a long bath. It was probably today’s stress that had reminded her of that day twenty years ago; after all, it had been incredibly stressful dealing with that insensitive jerk who’d accosted her on the beach today.
After she put her top back on, he put on a pair of mirrored sunglasses so that she couldn’t see his eyes. He’d taken every chance possible to grope her when he lathered her body with suntan lotion. And even after that, she was sure that he was secretly trying to peer down her top, in spite of those damn sunglasses of his.
She’d finally managed to excuse herself, saying that she needed a nap before dinner. Not for the first time, she cursed her own sense of honor; if she were anyone else, she’d simply skip out on the dinner and attempt to avoid that man for the rest of her stay. But no, Bulma was not a woman to go back on her word—even if that word had been coerced from her by the vilest of means.
Just as she was about to emerge from her bed, the door to her room flew open. Bulma dove back under the covers to hide her nakedness—she’d been sleeping in the nude ever since she arrived at the resort, having discovered that it was a much more comfortable way to sleep.
"Who is it?" she called from beneath the covers, wondering if it was mere coincidence that someone had barged into her room so soon after her recent dream about an intruder breaking into her house.
"It’s me!" came a beautiful sing-song voice. Thankfully, the voice was distinctly feminine.
Bulma peeked over her covers and spotted a plain woman with dark hair pulled back into a matronly bun. She hummed as she wheeled a covered cart into the room and kicked the door shut behind her.
"Who’s ‘me’?" Bulma asked, sitting up and holding the covers to her chest for the sake of modesty.
"Why, Chi Chi of course!" the woman said as though it were obvious. "I’m the hostess of the Ouji Island Resort."
Bulma blinked. "You mean … you’re Mrs. Ouji?"
Chi Chi laughed. She had a beautiful laugh, Bulma noted, like the soft tinkling of wind chimes in a mellow summer breeze.
"No, of course not! I’m Mrs. Son—my husband, Goku, is Mr. Ouji’s right hand man. And besides, everyone knows that there is no Mrs. Ouji." Chi Chi winked at the naked blue-haired woman. "Which is why you’re such a lucky girl!"
Bulma blinked. "What do you mean—lucky?"
"It’s not every day that Mr. Ouji makes special dinner plans with a woman! And I’ve never seen him so eager before! Mr. Ouji is a very reserved man, but I swear I could see the air around him crackling with energy tonight!" Chi Chi shook her head. "I don’t know what you’ve done to captivate him like that, but whatever it is, it’s working!"
Bulma frowned. "Mr. Ouji? You mean …" Her eyes widened. "My dinner date tonight is with Mr. Ouji?"
"Well, of course it is!" Chi Chi exclaimed. "Why else would he have sent me up here himself to make sure you were ready?" Chi Chi yanked the covers off the other woman, revealing Bulma’s naked form. "Oh, don’t be shy—we don’t have a minute to lose! It’s almost 7:30, and we wouldn’t want to keep Mr. Ouji waiting, now, would we?" The dark haired woman winked again.
Almost half an hour later, at exactly seven thirty, Bulma entered the Ouji Resort’s five-star restaurant, barely able to hide her nervousness beneath an outwardly calm, collected demeanor.
She had been stunned, to say the least, upon learning the identity of the mysterious man from the beach. Who hadn’t heard of the mysterious Mr. Ouji? Not only did he own the private island upon which this resort resided, but his father had been an incredibly wealthy man before his mysterious death twenty years ago, and had left everything he owned to his only son. He was, by all accounts, one of the wealthiest men and the world—and, naturally, one of the most eligible bachelors. In addition, Mr. Ouji originated from Satan City, where Bulma had lived all her life.
Upon learning the identity of her mysterious suitor, Bulma had cautiously gleaned a large amount of information about him from Chi Chi. She had attempted to be circumspect, but the younger woman had quickly caught on to her game.
"Well, now aren’t you quite the interested woman?" Chi Chi purred slyly as she whipped the cover off the cart, revealing mounds of hideously expensive dresses and jewelry draped over the top, glittering with unmatched brilliance.
Bulma stared at the lush assortment of clothing as she answered, "Well, if I’m going to be having dinner with him, aren’t I entitled to know a little bit about him? I mean, I don’t want awkward silences littering our conversation."
Chi Chi held up a glittering, sequined dress against Bulma’s form, which was now clad in matching lacy black bra and panties. She examined the dress for a moment before shaking her head and tossing it heedlessly on the bed. Even Bulma, who had always lived very comfortably on her father’s large inheritance—which had allowed her to select a job based on her passions, and not based on money—was appalled at how this woman treated these precious garments with such little care.
"You don’t need to hide it, dear," the woman said in a tone much too familiar for Bulma’s taste as she ruffled through the pile of evening gowns, "It’s obvious that you’re just dying to ask about his personal finances. There’s no need to be ashamed about being a gold digger—most of the women who come here have high hopes about becoming the future Mrs. Ouji. Heck, I’d probably try for that myself, if I weren’t happily married with a young son." She smirked as she picked out a long, thin scarlet dress. "But don’t you worry, he always sees through their games." She gave Bulma a telling look as she handed the older woman the dress. "Which means you shouldn’t get your hopes up, because although you’ve caught his eye more than any of the others, you’ll end up just the same—on a plane out of here!" She turned back to the cart and began looking through the jewelry.
Bulma stared at the back of the other woman, speechless. Not only was she offended, she was mortified. How dare this woman accuse her of coming here in an attempt to seduce Mr. Ouji! Bulma still had the bulk of her inheritance left and a steady job, as well as the results of a very lucrative divorce settlement. She could afford to live in comfort for the rest of her life—why on earth would she want to trick this man out of his money? She hadn’t even known who he was when she first met him! And she still knew hardly anything about him.
Bulma threw the dress onto the bed. "Listen here," she placed a hand on Chi Chi’s shoulder and whirled the surprised woman around. "I don’t know why you have to act so nasty to me," she said, venom in her voice and fire in her eyes, "but this has to stop! I came here for some rest and relaxation, because I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. I had no idea that Mr. Ouji actually lived here, and even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered. I didn’t even have any idea who he was when I met him! I didn’t know that the man who’d asked me to dinner was Mr. Ouji until you came through that door just a few minutes ago and told me. I am not after his money—I have plenty of my own. And furthermore, I am not a gold digger! If anything happens between myself and Mr. Ouji, rest assured, it will be because I like him as a person, not because he has deep pockets. Capice?"
Chi Chi stared at her for a moment before smirking, a new light of respect in her eyes. "Well," she said humorously, "It looks like you’ve put me in my place!"
Bulma blushed. "I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to blow up at you like that. It’s just—" She sat down on the bed, resting her head in her hands. "I’ve been under a lot of stress lately … and the reason I came here was to get away from all that." She cracked a crooked smile and looked up at the other woman. "I guess this shows that I still have a ways to go before my recovery!"
Chi Chi laughed. "Oh, it’s alright. I always talk down to those little tramps who come here after Mr. Ouji’s money—and they either get all nasty about it or else slink away in shame! At least you’ve got a spine, and can give as good as you get." Chi Chi nodded. "You’ll make a fine wife for Mr. Ouji!"
Bulma paled. "Wife? Oh, no. No, no, no. I’ve been married once—and those were the worst years of my life!" Bulma shuddered. "I’m not about to get married again—ever!"
Chi Chi frowned. "Well … don’t be so quick to cut off that possibility. You never know when you might fall in love. And Mr. Ouji, well, if he asks you to marry him—well, let’s just say that Mr. Ouji is not the kind of man who will readily take ‘no’ for an answer!"
Bulma just laughed and shook her head. "He won’t ask me to marry him, trust me. He doesn’t even know me! And besides," she said playfully with a twinkle in her eye, "I don’t even know his first name!"
Chi Chi handed Bulma a square, thin jeweler’s box.
"His name is Vegeta."
* * * * *