Chapter Four: Second Encounter

Melody woke up to the sound of her phone buzzing on her nightstand. She reached over and picked it up, hoping to see a message from Julian, but there was nothing. She sighed and got out of bed, feeling a sense of disappointment wash over her. She made her way to the kitchen where her dad, John, was already making breakfast.

"Good morning, sweetheart," John said with a smile as she walked in. Melody forced a smile back and took a seat at the table. John was her adoptive father, but he had been there for her since she was just a baby. She loved him dearly, but she didn't want to burden him with her own problems.

John noticed the sadness in her eyes and asked, "Are you okay?"

She hesitated for a moment before responding, "Yeah, I'm fine. Just tired." John didn't seem convinced but he didn't push the issue. They continued to have small talk as they ate their breakfast together.

As they finished eating, Melody caught a glimpse of the news on the TV in the living room. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the headline, "Local Martial Artist Attacked". She dropped her spoon and rushed to the living room, her dad following closely behind. A picture of Julian was displayed on the screen.

They watched the news report in silence, both of them stunned by what they were seeing. Melody's mind was racing with thoughts of Julian and what could have happened to him. Her father turned the volume up.

"The victim has been identified as Julian Rivers, a 23-year-old martial artist who was assaulted by another fighter, Raymond Gibbs, age 49. Rivers was taken to the Evergreen Medical Center, where he is currently being treated for his injuries. Police are investigating the incident and are asking anyone with information to come forward."

John shook his head and sighed, "It's sad when fighters are assaulted like this."

Without thinking, Melody got up from the couch and quickly made her way to her room. She got dressed, grabbed her coat, shoes, and headed for the door.

"Melody, where are you going?" John asked, confused.

"I have to go out, Dad. I'll be back soon," she replied, her voice quivering with emotion.

"Wait, what's going on? Is everything okay?" John asked, growing more concerned by the second.

Melody paused for a moment, wondering if she should tell him about Julian. But she didn't want to worry him any further.

"I just need to clear my head. I'll be back soon," she said before walking out the door. She took a deep breath of fresh air. She quickly ordered an Uber and anxiously waited for it to arrive. As she waited, she tried calling Sam, but she didn't answer. She then called her friend Nikki, who picked up on the second ring.

"Hey, Melody! What's up?" Nikki said cheerfully.

"Hey, Nikki. Listen, I need your help. Julian's in the hospital and I want you to come with me," Melody said quickly.

"Oh my gosh, what happened? Of course, I'll come with you! I'll be there in 10 minutes," Nikki replied, her tone serious.

Melody breathed a sigh of relief and thanked Nikki before hanging up. Just as she put her phone in her pocket, the Uber driver pulled up. Melody got into the backseat of the car and the driver turned around to greet her.

"Hi there, what's your name?" he asked with a friendly smile.

"Melody," she replied.

"Nice to meet you," he said.

As the car pulled away from the curb, Nikki called back.

"Melody, which hospital is he in? I want to make sure I'm headed to the right place," Nikki asked, concern evident in her voice.

"He's at Evergreen Medical Center," Melody replied, her voice shaking slightly. "Thank you so much for coming with me, Nikki. I'm really grateful for your help."

"Of course, Melody. You know I got your back," Nikki reassured her friend.

After she hung up, the driver started making small talk. Melody appreciated the distraction and they chatted about the weather, music, and their favorite restaurants. Eventually, the driver asked about the reason for her hospital visit.

"A friend of mine was assaulted and he's there now," she explained.

The driver nodded sympathetically. "I hope he's okay. Is he your boyfriend?" he asked, a teasing glint in his eye.

Melody blushed and shook her head. "No, we just met a couple of days ago. He saved me from a bad date and we sang karaoke together," she explained, feeling a little embarrassed.

The driver chuckled. "Well, it sounds like he made quite the impression on you," he said.

Melody smiled, feeling a warmth spread through her chest. "Yeah, he did."

They arrived at the hospital and Melody thanked the driver before getting out of the car. Nikki was waiting for her outside and they hugged each other tightly.

"Thanks for coming, Nikki," Melody said.

"Hey, no problem," Nikki said, flashing her a smile holding out a small bouquet of flowers.

Melody smiled gratefully and took the flowers. "Thank you, they're beautiful," she said, admiring the bright colors.

"I know," she said, handing them to her. "I know. That's why I bought them at the gift shop.

Melody smiled gratefully and took the bouquet.

Melody and Nikki walked up to the receptionist's desk in the hospital, Melody fidgeting with her hands and Nikki beaming with excitement.

"Hi there, we were hoping to see Julian," Nikki said with a friendly smile.

"Okay, could you kindly provide me with Julian's surname?" inquired the receptionist.

Nikki arched an eyebrow, unsure of how to respond.

"Rivers, I believe," Melody murmured hesitantly, recalling that she had heard it on the news. Julian had not disclosed his last name to her.

The receptionist looked up at them over her glasses, typing away on her computer. "And your names?"

"I'm Nikki and this is Melody," Nikki said, gesturing to her shy friend.

The receptionist nodded and picked up the phone. "I'll let his nurse know you're coming, she'll escort you up."

A few moments later, a kind nurse appeared and led them to Julian's room.

Melody and Nikki followed the nurse down the brightly lit hospital corridor. The fluorescent lights hummed above their heads, casting a sterile glow on everything around them. Melody walked with her head down, her long hair falling in front of her face, partially obscuring her features. Nikki, on the other hand, walked with a spring in her step, her shoulder-length hair swaying back and forth with every step she took.

As they approached Julian's room, Melody's heart began to race. She had never been good at dealing with difficult situations, and seeing Julian in a hospital bed was almost too much for her to handle. Nikki, however, seemed unfazed. She flashed a bright smile at the nurse as she opened the door to Julian's room, and walked in as if she owned the place.

Julian was sitting up in bed, his eyes trained on the TV mounted on the wall in front of him. He looked up as the door opened, and his eyes widened as he saw Nikki walk in. Melody noticed the look on Julian's face, and her heart sank.

"Hi there," Nikki greeted Julian as she took his hand while standing beside his bed. "My name is Nikki. You must be Julian."

Julian responded weakly with a smile, his eyes alternating between Nikki and Melody. "Yes, that's me. Thank you for visiting."

Nikki expressed her concern by mentioning Julian's recent fight. "I heard about your fight. You must be strong to have taken on whoever caused this to you."

Julian responded with a chuckle, "Something like that."

Meanwhile, Melody stood at the door with the bouquet of flowers, feeling uneasy as she watched Nikki's behavior.

"I'm gonna go take a smoke break," Nikki said suddenly, standing up from Julian's bedside. "Anyone wanna come with? No? Okay." She walked out of the room, leaving Julian and Melody alone.

Melody walked slowly over to Julian's bed, her eyes fixed on the ground. "We got you these," she said, holding out the bouquet.

Julian took them, a soft smile spreading across his face. "Thanks, Melody. That's really sweet of you guys."

Melody nodded, her eyes still fixed on the ground. "How are you feeling?" she asked softly.

Julian winced slightly as he shifted in his bed. "I'm still pretty sore," he admitted. "That guy was tougher than when I fought him in the tournament a couple of days ago. He was like a different guy."

Melody nodded sympathetically. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Julian smiled at her. "Just being here is enough," he said. "You're really sweet, Melody."

Melody felt her cheeks flush with color at his words. She had only met Julian once before, but she had been drawn to him immediately. He was serious and whimsical at the same time, and she found herself wanting to get to know him better. But she also felt insecure around him, worried that she would come off as plain. So, she blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

"I also do martial arts!" she exclaimed.

Julian looked surprised. "Really?'

"Karate and Jujutsu," Melody replied. "My dad taught me."

Julian raised an eyebrow. "Your dad sounds pretty cool. What about Nikki? Does she know martial arts too?"

Melody nodded. "She knows boxing, kickboxing, and vale tudo. And our friend Sam knows Piguaquan."

Julian looked impressed. "You guys sound like a pretty tough crew. Have you ever had to use your skills in a real fight?"

Melody shook her head. "No, thankfully. But I've been in a few sparring matches with my dad, Nikki, and Sam. It's a great way to stay in shape and build confidence."

Julian grinned. "I bet. Maybe you can teach me a few moves sometime."

Melody felt her heart skip a beat at the thought of spending more time with Julian. "I'd like that," she said, trying to keep her voice steady.

Just then, Nikki walked back into the room, her eyes sparkling with mischief. "Sorry I took so long," she said, sitting down on the edge of Julian's bed. "I ran into a cute doctor in the hallway and got a little distracted."

Julian laughed at that.

Melody felt a twinge of exclusion as she observed Nikki's interaction with Julian. Although she understood that Nikki was simply being friendly, Melody couldn't help but feel left out.

As the clock struck noon, Nikki and Melody suddenly realized that a couple of hours had flown by. They had been keeping Julian company at the hospital, but now it was time to bid him farewell.

"We're going to take off now, Julian," Nikki said. "But it was really nice seeing you today."

Julian smiled weakly. "Thanks for visiting, guys. It really means a lot."

Melody stepped forward, giving Julian a gentle hug. "Take care of yourself, okay? Let me know if you need anything."

"Will do," Julian replied, returning the hug.

Nikki noticed the smile on Julian's face as he hugged her and the way his eyes lingered on her as they left the room. She knew that he was into Melody, even if he didn't fully realize it yet. As they left the hospital, Nikki pulled Melody aside.

"Hey," she said, putting a hand on Melody's shoulder. "I know you're feeling a little insecure right now, but I just want to reassure you that Julian is definitely into you. I could tell by his body language."

Melody looked at Nikki, surprised by her friend's perceptiveness. "Really?" she asked.

Nikki nodded. "Trust me," she said. "I've been around enough guys to know when they're interested. And Julian is definitely interested."

Melody felt a wave of relief wash over her. She had been so worried that she was coming off as boring or uninteresting, but Nikki's reassurance made her feel better.

"Thanks, Nikki," she said, smiling gratefully at her friend. "And thanks again for coming with me. I don't think I could've done it by myself."

Nikki grinned and draped an arm around her shoulder. "Hey, that's what friends are for. Plus, I got to meet your cute hospital boyfriend."

Melody rolled her eyes and shrugged off Nikki's arm. "He's not my boyfriend," she said firmly.

Nikki laughed. "Not yet."

Melody felt shy and embarrassed as her heart raced when Nikki playfully nudged her.

"Please, Nikki," she said.

Nikki's eyebrow raised. "Oh, I see. You two are just friends," she teased with a playful grin, obviously enjoying the reaction she was getting from Melody.

Despite rolling her eyes, Melody couldn't resist smiling at Nikki's playful teasing. Walking away with her friend, she couldn't help but hope that Nikki was right about Julian having feelings for her. Melody felt grateful for both Nikki's support and the connection she had built with Julian, especially during his recovery.