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The Day After


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#1 dbcWinter

dbcWinter

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Posted 08 August 2014 - 06:36 PM

So, we all know what Mia was thinking after Michael left for Japan. But what was Michael thinking? The flight to Japan is a long one, what was going through his mind? And what made him decide breaking up with Mia was the best thing for the time being?

Obviously, this can be taken as one-chapter fic, though it could easily turn into a multi-chapter story if it turns out people want to hear more of Michael's thoughts :P

Till next time, hope you enjoy and review, please!

xx, W.

***The Day After***

 

Michael's on the plane, leaving for Japan, but the mess of the previous night hasn't stayed in New York. What can he do to fix it? Is there anything he even can do?

.

I just don't understand. I just don't understand this, nothing of this. Everything is such a mess and I thought I had it all planned out so perfectly. I would go to Japan, finish the robotic arm, make some money out of it and gain recognition. And most importantly, I wouldn't be viewed as a big nobody anymore; I would be someone who deserves to be with a princess.

I did it for her, for us. I really thought she'd understand. I knew she didn't like it when Us Weekly or some other magazine featured us on the cover, going on and on about how inappropriate it was for a princess to go out with someone like me, a random college student and the fact it wasn't some random community college, but Columbia didn't help one bit. I know she resented her grandmother for not liking me and calling me 'That Boy'. It hurt her and it surely hurt me, a lot, even though I generally try not to think much about what others think since, let's face it, our society certainly isn't as smart as it could be. We never talked about it – honestly, we saw each other so rarely, we preferred to talk about other stuff, not these aspects of her royal status - , but it was there from the moment we started going out, we couldn't deny it.

Maybe our ignorance is what made everything fall apart so violently last night.

The thing is, I have to go. I might not exactly want to go, but I have to if I want to be with her, and being with her is all I want, she is what I want. If I didn't, I wouldn't have started the relationship in the first place. Back in my senior year, when she was a freshman and my little sister's best friend, the news of her being a princess broke out and honestly, it made me think long and hard about the feelings I had for her. I could back out if I wanted to, but she is worth all the trouble. I'd be her prince consort or whatever her husband is called, I'd put up with her grandmother and her eternal hatred for me, I'd learn French because it is the official language of her country, I'd move to Genovia, even if it meant giving up my American citizenship, I'd learn what a prince has to know, I'd do everything to be with her. Waking up next to her for the rest of my life has been worth all the trouble, but when has love ever been enough? All world sees when it looks at me is that I am not royal. I am just some random guy she went to high school with and no matter how much I love her, their opinion would never change. I could either ignore the tabloid bashing and finger pointing or do something about it.

When in Advanced Topics in Control Theory we were given a final task, I guess I could do what everyone else in my class did – make a robot-controlled device, maybe a device to help the blind or the elderly, and get a good grade for it. Technology is something I have been into pretty much my whole life and building a simple robot was something I could do over the weekend for fun. But I decided to do something more. Something way bigger than an A, something revolutionary, something that could potentially not only change people's opinion of me, but the world. If I said I did it for a challenge or for a grade, I would be lying. I did it for her. I needed to prove everyone's doubts – including mine, I guess, even though I like to believe I deserve her merely because I love her – wrong.

And so the idea of a surgical device allowing surgeons to operate on a beating heart was born. Everyone kept telling me it was a long shot, something even the best scientists struggled to build, so how could some random college student do it?

With the prototype I proved them wrong, it is working, it is working so well my professor contacted his colleague all the way in Japan and so I got an opportunity to go to Tsukuba, build the robotic arm and change my future.

And now I am on the plane, going to Tsukuba and I should be ecstatic, finally ensuring the future for Mia and I, but honestly, I have never been more upset, confused, angry and broken in my entire life.

Of course I knew she'd freak out when I'd tell her. Hell, when I got the news, it took me a few days to sink in. Surely it was an amazing opportunity, one I didn't dare to turn down, but it also meant spending at least a year away from my love. Sure I'd have the rest of my life to be with her once the robotic arm was finished, but words are easy and reality is something completely different. Throughout the relationships we have been spending more time apart than together, mainly on account of her having to spend the vacation in Genovia, but a year cannot compare to two months. A year is a long, long time and it definitely took me a few days to accept it. And I am the calm and the rational one. I didn't want to tell her over the phone or in our IM chats – this was something I had to tell her in person, completely aware it might end in her crying. It did, but I really thought that in three days she'd see what a great opportunity this was. Just as I started believing we'd survive it intact, the last night happened … and that's all I can say about it, because I still don't understand what happened. All I know is that the snowflake necklace, the one I had given her for her fifteenth birthday and the one she had never taken off, even if it meant arguing with her grandmother, was now in my pocket.

I guess I should have known something was up when she was so calm and collected on Wednesday night. No more tears, no more worried looks – she was acting completely normal and I probably should have realized it the moment we sneaked away from Lars. I should have known better and when it finally occurred to me while we were having dinner, alone, in a luxurious hotel suite I could never afford, I still believed I'd talk her out of it, as much as it would hurt given how badly I wanted to make love to her. She'd laugh and our last evening together would be completely pleasant.

And then the whole precious gift had to come out of nowhere.

And Judith Gershner came up.

And then everything just exploded and the more I think about it, the less I understand.

Not the Judith part. I'd known Judith since I was twelve and if we weren't competing with each other, we were always working on joined projects, in high school especially in Computer Club. We had been dating on and off during our last two years of high school and, yeah, after Mia started dating Kenny Showalter, our very occasional make out sessions turned into a bit more. Friends with benefits, getting over Mia, messing around or just hormones and sex, call it whatever you want, we were sleeping together for about a month until she met this guy from Trinity and started dating him. My feelings for Mia weren't fading, in fact it felt like they were getting stronger, and just as I was coming to terms that either I'd continue watching her with the Showalter kid or do something about it, I received the anonymous love poem. I didn't think much about it until Lilly told me who it was from the very same evening. Mia. To say I was happy would be understatement of the year, a century, even. The girl I had suddenly fallen in love with after years of knowing, one random day on a school corridor when she did such a random thing as say she liked the article I had posted in the latest issue of Crackhead, liked me back and it felt as if all the stars aligned. Surely I never thought sleeping with Judith Gershner, as meaningless as it was, would come back to haunt me.

I don't feel guilty or ashamed for sleeping with her. It was what felt best at the time and it was entertaining, despite not meaning anything. I guess I should have told Mia about it, though, the moment we first started discussing sex, but honestly, I thought she knew about Judith. I am sure Lilly did, though her glaring at me during that November could have just as easily come from my letting Kenny tell Mia about how he felt about her first.

As much as love her, the problem with our relationship isn't just her royal status – there's also this age difference, me being three years older than her. I've taken this into the consideration from day one and I understood her completely when she first mentioned she wasn't ready to have sex yet. Now, a year later, I know she still isn't ready and I accept it, though it can be frustrating from time to time, but the last thing I want is push her into something she isn't ready for. I will wait, though her idea of our having sex on her prom night annoys me. I know she is the one having to decide when she's ready, but sometimes I feel like she is completely firm on the prom night thing and doesn't even want to consider anything else. The thing is, her graduation is still two years away and, yeah, despite willing to wait I would much rather see her realising a stupid dance is just – a stupid dance and by no means an indicator whether she's ready for sex or not. Yes, she is sixteen and has always been kind of silly and I am absolutely crazy about it, just like about everything else when it comes to her, but I wouldn't mind her growing up a bit. I admit, I thought she'd freak up when I'd tell her about Judith and I guess this knowledge has also contributed to my not telling her – yet. I would, eventually, and her finding out less than a day before my leaving for Japan, on a night already so filled with everything from fear, anger and uncertainty, was certainly the worst time possible.

Her reaction was worse than I had ever dared to think it would be. Surely parts of her speech were fear of the upcoming year talking and understand that. But what I can't wrap my head around is … is that apparently she doesn't want to wait for me. Apparently she wants to date other people.

And that part is what I don't and can't understand.

Truthfully, I hadn't thought of our year apart as a year of our dating other people. I never thought she'd want that. I thought the year would be like those months when she was in Genovia. We'd talk over the phone, email each other, and everything would be alright.

But she is everything I want, so I guess if she wants to go out with other people while I am gone … I might have not expected this from her, but I guess it is not fair to hold it against her. She is, after all, so young and a year is a long, long time.

Though I surely didn't expect her to start making out with random guys the day after she broke it off … well, random guy … the guy is close to the two of the most important women in my life - JP is my little sister's boyfriend and a guy Mia had danced something she apparently called a 'sexy dance' a few months back … I am not saying that something is happening between them, but … how could she?

And, ok, the kiss was more of a peck, but it was still a kiss and it broke me. I guess that was a sign she truly meant the words she had said last night … that goodbye that has been echoing in my mind ever since. Up until that moment I had hoped she didn't truly mean it, but I guess this now is the final proof she did.

Or maybe she is still so upset she doesn't know what she's doing. Was it shock making her behave like that or was she genuinely trying to hurt me? Though judging by the way she looked at me when she finally noticed I was standing right there, she seemed surprised to see me. It can happen with her – she did after all run straight into the zoo to watch the polar bear when her father told her she was the princess.

I had it all planned out. And yet here I am now, with my life falling apart, on my way to build a future I now might never get after all.

What can I do? Is there anything I can do? I love her, I love her so much it hurts, but honestly, I don't think it really matters right now. The fact is that we broke it off in strange, weird, confusing circumstances. It is something we might be able to fix if we were in the same city – we needed to talk, really. All we need is just to talk about it, resolve some things, because the love is there and love is what should be a decisive factor.

But we are not in the same city.

We won't be in the same city for at least a year.

And honestly, I think our distance and time right now will be the decisive factor.

It is not the conversation to have over the phone and I can't fly back to see her and she surely won't be allowed to come to me. And even if we indeed talked it out over the phone – what then? We will still be living on different hemispheres for a long, long time. Will our relationship consist only of daily emails and occasional phone calls? I don't want her to wait around for my call and I don't want her to feel like she is missing out on life waiting for me. She is sixteen, she should be out in the world, having the time of her life! Maybe I should have thought of this before I assured her we would be fine despite different continents and time zones, I don't know. Everything is such a mess and the more I think about it, the more I realize there is only one way. And that one way is something I had never, ever thought I would ever do – or even have to do. Because I don't want to do it. Just thinking about it breaks my heart and I don't even want to think of how it'd affect her – if, of course, that kiss really was just a mistake.

But honestly … what else can I do? What else? There are so many things, insecurities we haven't resolved – we just ignored them since, like I said, we were alone on such rare occasions we just didn't bother talking about those things – and I don't want to base our relationship on them anymore. If we make up over the phone, all we'd do would be temporarily fixing it. If we keep it going, I am afraid it will all come crashing onto us, again, even more devastatingly and the last thing I want is us to start hating each other. I don't want her to feel like I am stopping her and I don't want to be the one holding her back. As much as it hurts me, it is the only thing I can do.

But I so desperately want her in my life. I guess I could suggest remaining friends. Being only a friend with her … that is something I had thought I was done back in my senior year, but for the time being, I'll take it.

I will be back in New York someday. If my robotic arm indeed succeeds things will be different, easier, even, and if I fail … well, then I guess I'll just have to start over again. The cardioarm is what I thought would permanently seal our future, but now it broke us up. Temporarily, I hope. I'll give her the freedom she deserves for the time being and after I return, if I still love her and if she still loves me, we'll give it another try.

Besides … Being friends with her I guess we'll chat online, so things won't be that much different than they would be if we were still together. We will still talk, just … differently.

It is definitely not the best thing for me, but it is the best one for her and that is all that matters.

And that is what I will hold on to, I guess. I will focus on the robotic arm, trying to finish as fast as possible, and then I will try to fix what got broken last night. If we will both still feel the same way. The way we feel … it can't just disappear, can it?

A year is a long, long time, many things can happen. I'd have never thought, one year ago, I'd be on a plane to Tsukuba, completely broken, on my way to potentially change the world.

So, I'll just wait till I get back, re-evaluate the situation then and see what can be done from then on.

Only, there was one thing I had to do first.

Call her and tell her.

Break up with the love of my life.

Just how much should I tell her? Should I tell her I see this as more of a break or would that just make her stay home, waiting on my call, like I fear? Or should I just …. Break it off? God knows how she'd take it. Would she even understand why I have to do this, even though this is the most difficult thing I have ever done?

But time heals. And I pray it will heal us as well.

Broughttoyouby:::winter.

 


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#2 dbcWinter

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 05:35 AM

This was previously called 'The Day After', fanfic dealing with Michael's perception of the break-up. Well, I left the door open for possible continuation, and I think I might just go ahead and write some more (clearly!).

I renamed it 'The Four Seasons of Michael' (hence connection with Mia's season fics). Basically, I decided to follow Michael's life over a period of several months - a few chapters depicting every month of Michael's life in Japan. Starting with September, clearly.

I hope you will like it! Feel free to follow, criticize, etc. If another two months pass without any sign of me being alive, feel free to nudge, it does help bringing me back into ficsville.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for my own novel being picked up!

Love Love Love, w.

 

SEPTEMBER

(1)

 

As optimistic as I have felt on the plane, that how pessimistic I feel now.

Looks like she meant her words and that kiss, despite my trying to convince myself otherwise. And I want to believe her, still. I want to believe this is just a chaos and she doesn't really know what she's doing, but the evidence is making me think she is completely aware of her actions.

There was an email waiting on me when I turned on the phone after passing customs, and when I saw her name, that torn feeling was back – the love I feel for her, the anger, the fear and the urge to turn around and fly back, sort this thing out.

Michael, I am sorry, the words she has written echo in my mind as I get a taxi and drive to my place here in Tsukuba. I hear her voice in my head saying those words as I watch the streets, the people, the city that will be my home for the next year.

I might just buy it, I might just forgive her everything in a blink of an eye, if there wasn't something else waiting on me in my inbox.

Lilly had emailed me a link to an article in New York Post.

'Heartbroken Princess Finds New Love'. Splitsville no longer. Michael Moscovitz, the commoner. John Paul Reynolds-Abernathy IV. Son of a wealthy producer. Seemed cosy.

Sorry, right.

I turned the phone off immediately. I had no idea what good did Lilly think would seeing the photographs do me. Truthfully, I was too enraged to think about Lilly clearly. The words were echoing in my mind, the photograph seemed to be everywhere I looked, newsstands, display windows. The music coming from cars around the taxi somehow translated into the newspaper headlines. I was getting insane. I knew it was happening, but I could do nothing about it. I was mad, angrier than ever in my life. I never thought it was even possible to be this angry and still live. But then again, I had thought of many things as impossible.

It feels like I am driving in circles. I should be looking through the window, getting the first impression of a place I would call my home for a year. I should be happy, ecstatic. Just being here, having the opportunity to do what I was doing was a major, major thing, an amazing accomplishment. I had worked hard, extremely hard for it, and now here I was.

And I could not feel any excitement whatsoever. Everything I had so carefully been crafting in recent year, ever since learning of her royal status, everything I had thought would make me someone better than a random commoner, everything was now working against me, falling to pieces, burying me in debris.

We stopped at the traffic light and I stared at some billboards by the road. A woman was smiling, but I had no idea what. I didn't understand a thing it said. I used to think of Japanese as a challenge, now I wanted to smash something, my fist, preferably, though the billboard. What the *#&$%% was I doing here? I didn't speak the language. I had no idea where I was. I had read books, cashed in some serious online hours, got maps, but as much as I had prepared, I knew nothing now. I wanted to get away.

But where? I couldn't go back to New York. What would I even do there? Track down the bastard, break every bone in his body? What for? It wasn't like it was solely his fault. Sure, like a vulture he had waited for me to leave, but she was the one giving him all-clear. As good as it would feel, flatten his face, it would do me no good. It wouldn't change the situation I was in, it would magically make everything better.

I could meet her. She would probably offer me a long, teary apology, another long speech in the line of many, many she had given me since we started dating. Every time I had forgiven her in a blink of an eye, but this time, this time I knew I wouldn't just swallow it down. I wouldn't trust myself not to scream at her, yell some terrible, hurtful things, some I didn't even truly mean, deep inside. As much as I wanted to yell at her, show her how much she had hurt me, I knew I couldn't.

I was stuck in Tsukuba for the time being. And a year now seemed longer than ever.

The taxi dropped me off in front of my apartment building. I recognized it from the pictures I had seen. At the time, it not having an elevator didn't seem like a big thing. Now, when I had to drag half a dozen bags up the stairs, it made me curse.

I unlocked my new apartment, went in, pulled all my baggage and, and let the door close behind me. I took a deep breath and looked around the place I would call home for a year – or more.

It was fully furnished. The walls were white. There was no personal touch anywhere. It was cold, dull, impersonal – it felt like prison. I looked at the clock – it was past ten, night time, but I knew I wouldn't sleep.

I turned to the boxes and bags around me. I should unpack. I should make my place my home. Maybe it would get my mind off her. It was worth the try.

I bent down to lift the first bag. I dropped it pretty much the same second. I was too upset to unpack. All I wanted was to kick something.

And I kicked it. I kicked in the bag. And I did it again and again and again till I was out of breath. I had to stop. Only then I realized my foot was aching. I didn't care. I kicked some more, this time screaming, cursing, cursing him, her, myself, the world. How could every decision I made, every decision I had so thoroughly thought through land me in this *#&$%%ing mess? How could I ever even try myself again, if the most delicate, the most crafted thing I had ever attempted kicked me in the teeth like this?

I *#&$%%ing hated her. But I loved her. I hated myself. I didn't know for what, but I was.

I collapsed between the bags. I buried my face in my hands, rubbing my head as if trying to erase her from my mind. It made me think of her even more.

I sat there for hours. I was repeating the same thoughts, images, in my mind, driving myself crazy. Around two, my mind suddenly became completely blank. There really was only one thing I could do.

Call her. Break up with her.

There was nothing else to do, really. She as in New York, I was in Japan. We'd stay apart for more than a year. It was clear what the right thing was, even before I read Lilly's email. Now the question was just whether I could contain myself, refrain myself from calling her everything I wished I could yell at her. There was no need to bring that into the picture. Not if I wanted to leave the door open for the future. And no matter how much it hurt, I wanted her, I still wanted her, so crazily, so impulsively, so dysfunctionally.

And I pick up my hone again, turning it on. There are no new messages waiting on me, I don't dare to check my inbox. I click on her name, calling her. And I wish she didn't pick up, I don't want to do this. Just thinking of the words I would say breaks me inside. But I want to hear her voice. For those moments, those seconds before I say what I need to say, I want to pretend like everything is alright. Like this is a phone call I had dreamt of making, right after landing on the path to our future, back when my life seemed to be looking up.

My heart breaks and sings at the same time when she answers. Knowing what I am calling for, I mean to hang up the same second, her voice sounds so fragile, so broken, yet hurtful at the same time. It is killing me, but I know she knows it's me. She'd call back if I hung up. There is no way out of this. I have to go through with it, and her voice echoing in my mind makes me want to forgive her for everything and tell her how much I love her, over and over, till dawn.

"Hey, it's me," I start and my voice is vibrating, as if on the edge of breaking. "I'm in Japan."

"I am glad you got there ok," she replies and her voice is a mixture of happiness to hear me and fear of what is about to follow. The elephant is in the room and we are tiptoeing around it. She must know I saw the pictures. I think she is only waiting on me to tell her of for that.

But I could never do this, not like this, over the phone. Imagining her sitting in her bad, holding back tears, wondering if this is the call, my heart continues to break. I just want to wrap my arms around her, tell her everything would be ok, somehow. I want to say it out loud, maybe I would then believe it. Maybe then I would believe it, for her.

"I saw the paper. The picture, I mean," I stumble.

"Oh," is all I hear, but it says it all, really. I know she is on the verge of tears. I wait for her to start explaining, begging to listen and believe her words. And I close my eyes in fear, knowing it would enrage me, and I don't want to do this angry. And what makes me angrier, s that it might just work. I might feel strong, decided, certain, but when I hear her voice, everything just breaks away. She is my everything, after all. All I am doing, I am doing for her. She is the control I wish I had over myself.

I swallow hard, regaining composure.

She would never say it, and it needs to be said. I need to do this for her, instead of her. I owe it to her, to both of us. In some way, I was the one starting it.

Why the *#&$%% didn't I tell her earlier? About Judith and about Japan? What the *#&$%% was I thinking?

"It doesn't make any difference, though," I go on and every word is an obstacle I wish I could push away. "I am sorry, really sorry we have to do this over the phone, but there really is no other way."

And as I am saying it, I realize why I was postponing this call as long as I could. Now I realize why it is so hard.

I am admitting it to myself. She is not the only one hearing, I am saying it out loud, listening, realizing it is over.

"What do you mean by this?" she asks, but I can hear it in her voice that she knows. She is in denial, just like I was. Just like I wish I still was.

"I have been thinking about this the way to Japan and I really feel that … it would be better, for both of us, if we just went back to being what we used to be, before we started going out."

And that word is on the tip of my tongue, but I can't make myself say it.

But I have to say it.

And so I force myself and it takes all the strength I have. Even the strength I didn't even now I possessed.

"Friends," I finish, swallowing the sigh, the realization we are through, ignoring the stabbing in my heart.

She doesn't respond. All I hear is silence, both on the phone and in the apartment. I must be cursed, there is no sound from outside either, no car driving so late at night. And my heart too is as if it has stopped beating. Which, I guess, in a way it did.

All there is, is silence. The song in my life has come to an end. And I don't know what to say, do, sing next. I am empty, so *#&$%%ing empty.

"I think we both probably have some growing up to do and maybe some time apart – and seeing other people – would do us good."

Growing up, yeah, right. Regrow the hole of my heart, sure.

See other people - just words make my stomach do a flip.

And I want her to oppose. I want her to say no, I want her to insist on fixing everything. I realize just how much more vulnerable her words would make me, but I still want to hear them.

"Okay," she mumbles. It is very silent, barely understandable, and as my heart sinks even longer, I am happy to hear it.

I wonder what to say next. Should I even say anything?

She rushes me to it.

"Goodbye," she quickly says, the voice is so clearly stuffed with tears, and I curse myself again as she hangs up.

And everything goes silent again. It is so silent I can hear my heart, my future shattering into smallest pieces. All I really have are boxes and bags around me.

They are patiently waiting to be unpacked.

But I can't myself do it.

It is the last piece of the rope I am hanging on. They lie scattered across the floor, as if ready to be taken back home, to New York.

Moving them would be a dose of reality I cannot handle yet.


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#3 dbcWinter

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 05:36 AM

(2)

 

I opened my eyes, waking up. I hadn't even realized when I fell asleep. I was sitting on the floor, leaning on one of the bags.

Darkness was still around me. I felt for my phone, finding it a few inches from me. I looked at the time – it was only a few minutes past four. I hadn't slept long, but I didn't feel tired.

I got up, turning on a light. The sudden light irritated my eyes; I shielded them with my hand while squatting and opening bags, one after another, searching for blankets.

I finally found one. I went to the bedroom, only to remember I hadn't made the bed yet.

I sighed and went to the living room, thinking I could sleep on the couch. I threw the blanket on it and went looking for pillows. I went through all the closets in the apartment, but couldn't find any.

I decided to take towels from bags. I rolled them and put them under my head, pulling up the blanket. I closed my eyes, hoping the sleep would suck me back in.

It didn't. It was an early morning hour, and I had slept for only few minutes. But I felt like I had slept for two days straight. I was turning around for the next two hours, getting more and more frustrated. At seven I finally kicked the blanket off me and got up. I took a shower, and despite feeling rested, I looked awful. My eyes were red, blood-shut, and my face was pale. There was nothing I could do about it, though.

I didn't need to be in the lab until ten, but I got dressed anyway. I glanced at the unpacked luggage, leaving them for later. I left the building and started wandering around Tsukuba. It was still early, but the city was waking up. I wished my enthusiasm too could come back, but it remained dearly departed. It was pathetic, really. I was on the verge of making something great, making history, even, and I had never felt gloomier.

I walked by countless diners. I remember wondering if people in Japan really ate noodles for breakfast. I wasn't in the mood to find out, I wasn't hungry. All I wanted was just to start working on the Cardioarm and get it over with. That prototype was the only thing I had left in life.

I arrived at the laboratory almost two hours early. To my surprise, I wasn't the first. Three people from my team were already there, drinking tea and looking over the plans. They offered me pastry and we finished breakfast, and by ten o'clock the work was already in the full swing.

I thought being in the laboratory, meeting my coworkers, working on my own invention would fill me with joy, make enthusiastic again. But I felt tired, still empty. It made me even angrier with myself.

I tried not to show it. I tried to shake it off, appear upbeat and excited. It seemed to be working.

It was only my first day, but I kept working, I would probably work late in the night, if it suddenly didn't struck me that as long as I was there, so were my coworkers. My conscious didn't allow me to stay in the lab any longer; I called it a day and wished everyone a pleasant evening.

On my way back to the apartment – whatever it was, it didn't feel like home – I stopped at McDonald's for a take out. I didn't bother looking for plates. I just plugged in the TV – I didn't dare use my laptop, I didn't want to see pictures I surely would bump into – and while watching a game show I didn't understand I ate my dinner. The silence was settling in, taking me in, making me feel like the biggest failure again.

The last thought before falling asleep was wishing to hear her voice.

The sound of my phone ringing woke me up. I flinched, for a moment not knowing where I was. I sighed with disappointment when I realized it was all true.

I frowned at Boris calling. I didn't know what reason he could possibly have for calling me. Furthermore, I was sure it couldn't mean anything good.

I still picked up.

"I hope I am not waking you," Boris said.

"Oh, no, I wasn't sleeping," I lied, pausing for a moment. "How are things at home?"

I used plural, but I meant only one thing, one person. The awkward silence coming from Boris confirmed he knew it too, making me hate myself even more.

"Everything is fine," Boris said, he too lying. "How are you settling in?"

Boris and I had been friends ever since being bandmates in Skinner Box. But I never figured we were such good friends he'd call me all the way to Japan to ask me how I was doing. While I was touched by her gesture, I sensed there was some hidden reason for his calling.

"Alright," was all I said, waiting for the necessary formalities to be over, so we could conquer the obvious elephant in the room. The urge to talk about Mia was proving to be stronger than the despite I was feeling for her actions.

"I am happy to hear that," Boris said with a voice that was clearly forcedly stripped of all emotions. "Well, I just wanted to say that … um … I am glad you are settling in alright. And … well, if you need someone to talk to, or if I can do something for you, I am here for you. I just want you to know that."

I frowned. If he could do something for me? What was he talking about?

In a way I felt relieved. If he was calling to lend me his support, then a burden fell off my shoulders. For a second I was afraid something might have happened to Mia. But if it did, I guess I would have heard it from Lilly by now.

"Thank you, Boris, I appreciate it," I said, feeling every word. He went on to tell me about the concert he was preparing for, and after he hang up, I thought of Lilly and the fact she was the one sending me the article in New York Post.

How could I not have thought of this earlier?

Something wasn't right.

And suddenly I got very, very afraid.

Without delaying it for a second, I called her.

I knew something was up after she let it ring five times before picking up. Her cold, restrained voice didn't help the matters.

"Hello, brother, I am glad you still remember me, how is Japan? As glamorous as you imagined it?"

"It's fine, Lilly. What is going on?"

It took her a while to respond.

"Any specific area of your interest?"

"You know what I mean," I was getting impatient.

"Do I?"

"What the *#&$%% did you do, Lil?!" I screamed.

"What I did?" she yelled right back. "You are picking on the wrong one, Michael. I didn't do anything. And why the *#&$%% would you even care if I did?"

"Why did you email me that article?"

"So that you would see it, obviously."

"What did you do to her?" I asked and the anger was on the verge of exploding in me.

"I didn't do anything. I haven't even seen her since Friday. She's at home with bronchitis or whatever. Why do you even care? She broke your heart."

A relief overwhelmed me. Mia being ill was definitely better than being in school, exposed to Lilly's lack of mercy.

But there was a point in her words. Why did I even care? She did break my heart. I never wanted to see her, think of her again, no matter my heart trying to convince me otherwise.

"Don't pick on her, Lilly. Whatever happened, happened between us. Don't give her hard time."

I refrained myself rom saying please. Lilly would never let me hear the end of it.

"See, brother dear, this is where you are wrong. Whatever happened between you two, also happened to me, because, a, you are my brother, and b, somehow in this mess I managed to lose my boyfriend who mysteriously is her new consort. So, yeah, it does concern me, a lot, and do not even try telling me to leave it alone!"

I grumbled something in response. I had always been a master of avoiding high school crap, and now I was the center of this mess. And so it was really true, not just press shooting their mouth of? Was she really with JP now? What a class act, both of them. Maybe they deserved each other, after all, I wondered with my lips pressed tightly, angrily together.

My mind was torn again. As much as I wanted to protect Mia from Lilly, I wanted to see her hurt at the same time. Why bother, if she just threw it all away, in a blink of an eye, running straight to the first consort-wannabe?

And what the *#&$%% was JP thinking, playing like this with my sister? I wanted to break his face again, all the way from Japan.

"Just leave it alone till you calm down," I somehow managed to say, lying to myself in the first place.

"I will never come down," Lilly exclaimed before hanging up on me. I cursed into the phone, despite knowing she couldn't hear me.

I sat there, with the screams of a Japanese game host being the only sound. I didn't understand the word he was saying, and it just increased the feeling of not belonging. I turned the television off, hoping the silence would help me think.

With every breath I took, Boris' words were echoing in my mind even louder. Was he psychic, calling me as if knowing there was something he could do for me?

And so I called him back. He picked up immediately, like he was sitting by the phone, waiting on my call.

"Boris, there might be something you can do for me," I said, scaring myself with how beaten my voice sounded. She was killing me, and she was in New York and I stuck in Japan.

"Of course, what is it?" Boris acted like it wasn't obvious from my voice.

"Look, I don't understand what is happening over there, but from what I gathered while talking to Lilly … could you watch over Mia for me, for a while, I mean? Until things calm down? I am afraid of what Lilly could do to her."

"Your sister can certainly do bad things when she outs her mind to it," he said. "Of course. I'll do what I can, Michael. Do you want me to tell you when things happen?"

I wanted to ask him what he meant by things, but caught myself soon enough. Just thinking of possible developments awaked the anger in me again. She wasn't seriously going out with him! She couldn't possibly!

"I would like that," I said and suddenly felt very, very tired. So tired, the feelings overwhelmed me, almost knocking me down. And it hurt, it hurt so much it brought the pressure into my eyes.

"No problem, Michael," Boris quickly said, as if knowing how I was feeling. "And don't worry, things will work out. They have to, it is the only right thing."

I didn't have the strength to tell him things more often than not go down the wrong way, ending in the worst possible outcome.


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#4 dbcWinter

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 05:36 AM

(3)

 

Things got easier in the upcoming days. Maybe I was so overwhelmed with anger than I suddenly couldn't feel it any longer. It didn't evaporate – but it became manageable, leaving me with time and space to let my life back on, though shaky, tracks.

I started exploring Tsukuba, and given it is a home of so many universities, it had a cosmopolitan feeling to it. Globalization, Americanization, whatever, I had no doubt the real Japan was much different. But I liked it, seeing McDonald's and Coca Cola made me feel more at home.

I tried to reach Lilly, but she wasn't returning my phone calls. Every time I talked to Mom or Dad, she was mysteriously in the bathroom or out.

Boris didn't have much to tell me, either. Mia wasn't in school. He said he and Tina went to visit her, and she had a bad case of bronchitis. I saw no reason why he would lie to me.

And as days were slowly passing, I found myself missing my New York life, and, especially, Mia. As much as I hated her for throwing everything away the way she did, I discovered I missed her much, much more than I could ever resent her.

On Wednesday I couldn't take it anymore. It was late at night, after midnight, but sleep was nowhere in sight. I poured myself a drink and sat down behind my laptop, opening my email account.

As much as I wanted to talk to her again, I had no idea what to write her.

I dismissed most of my thoughts. I couldn't demand an explanation. I couldn't tell her what I really thought of her actions. We were friends now. I had to move pass that, in my email.

After an hour and another drink I only had the first paragraph written.

Hey, Mia. It's me. Well, obviously. Just checking in to see how you're doing. Lilly tells me you haven't been in school all week … hope everything is alright.

Her immune system crashed because of me. Of course she was alright. Keeping a friendly tone without showing how desperate I was, well, making that damned prototype was easier.

I looked at the time. I had to be back in the lab in five hours.

I'm settling in here in Tsukuba. This place is a little nutty – they really do eat noodles for breakfast! But fortunately you can still find egg sandwich most places. Work is what I expected it to be – hard – but I really think I have a solid chance of actually getting this thing off the ground. Although who knows if I'll still feel that optimistic after a few more weeks of this.

I refrained myself from saying most mornings – or days – I didn't even bother looking for sandwiches. Whatever McDonalds had to offer was more than alright for me.

And while the work might be difficult, it felt like a remedy for me. Under artificial laboratory lights, with no windows in sight to tell me whether it was night or day, I managed to focus on the robotic arm solely. As hard as the work was, it got my mind off her.

I reread what I had had written. It was so cold, so impersonal, like an email I would send to, I don't know, Doo Pak or Felix. Yeah, we were friends – or at least attempting to be – but, come on, I couldn't treat her like some girl I went to high school with! She was so much more, as my heart kept reminding me. Even without the love aspect, we just matched.

And we needed to keep that, if one day, maybe, we would get a chance to rewrite our story.

I scorned myself for getting my hopes up. Nothing she had done since I left showed any indication that was what she wanted. Quite the opposite, really. And yet I was still pining for her, the random commoner I was.

I really knew how to make my life complicated.

Then I remembered something I had read just before I left for Japan. I never got a chance to mention it for her.

Did you see they're supposedly in talks for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel reunion movie? I thought you'd be excited about this.

It was just a rumor, an unconfirmed one, more like a wish than a genuine possibility, but it was a perfect personal touch.

And I remembered her collection of Buffy figures and how she sold one to buy me a Christmas present, the present I was actually selling to get money for her only missing figure.

It was a sweet memory, but it ached. Only a thought of maybe one day happening again made it bearable.

Well, I have to go … I really hope you're out of school because you've jetted off to somewhere great for princess duty, and not because you're come down with something.

Ii already knew she was sick, but I didn't want to reveal it to her. I was poking too much for someone who had just broken up with his girlfriend, anyway.

I signed it, and was just about to send it when I caught something I shouldn't have included.

I couldn't sign it love, Michael, like I used to. It might be true, but it was no more. We were just friends now.

And then I clicked send, before I could change my mind.

I didn't expect an immediate response, even though I kept refreshing my inbox.

But then a day passed.

And another.

And there was still no reply from her.

I tried not to think too much of it. So, she was busy, no big deal. She was sick, she probably had a lot of school work to catch up on. And we were just friends, there was no need to hurry.

But were we really? Friends, I mean? Or was it only an illusion I was living in, a comfort?

Maybe she hated me, still, for sleeping with Judith and not telling her about it. Maybe she was still too upset with me to reply.

Or maybe she just didn't care.

I had seen the photograph in the Post. Maybe that was the answer I needed. She was with JP now. She didn't need me. She didn't care about me.

And it filled me with anger again. Did the past two years really not mean anything to her?

Maybe she was even making fun of me for contacting her.

It took all the strength I had to remove that thought from my mind. It must have been something else. Of course she cared for me, in some way, still you can't just erase two years. She was just too busy to write back.

Despite that photograph with JP.

I managed to trick myself until Sunday. On Sunday, I didn't have to go to the lab and I had a day all too myself. Sadly, it meant I was once again a victim to my mind's most cruel ideas.

There was no other way but to write her again, hoping the first email somehow got caught in her spam filter.

The second time around writing wasn't any easier. I blocked the urge to beg her to write to me. I struggled not to show how desperate I was.

I realized I could sit there, in the kitchen, until hell froze over, without finishing the email. I went for a run, hoping chilly autumn air would clear my head. I've been in Tsukuba long enough to recognize some of the faces I bumped into, making me realize yet gain it was time to shake off the past and make the best out of the present.

I delayed my return to the apartment for as long as I could. The dropping temperatures finally forced me to return to the unfinished email.

When would it get easier? Will it ever feel even as remotely like it did before?

I should have known. You can't just erase two years, so much history, and go back to the shaky friendship we had had before getting together. And I wasn't like we had been best friends; I was first and foremost her best friend's older brother, and she was my baby sis' quirky best friend. I was horrified at the thought of being nothing more than the friend's older brother again. Now, when Lilly was clearly angry and, no doubt, very cold towards Mia, the role sucked even more. Why would she even want to be friends with me? I was only reminding her of my betrayal and Lilly's hateful treatment.

Was there even a point in my attempt to get in touch with her?

I had to try. I would never know if I didn't. I would forever wonder what could be if I got my act together and try to make the best out of the terrible situation we were in.

Dear Mia, I started.

Hey, I heard you had bronchitis. That sucks. Hope you're feeling better now.

Things here are still good. We're already working hard on the first stage of the robotic arm – or Charlie, as we're calling it. I'm even starting to get used to the food, though baby squid isn't really my idea of a snack.

I needed to be upbeat and optimistic, I guess. She didn't need to know how I was really feeling, angry at myself and the world. I needed to show her I wasn't upset with her. There was no point in carrying on resentment, all the way in Japan.

Not if I want to stay in touch with her.

I understand my sister's been giving you a hard time. You know how Lilly is, Mia. She'll get over it eventually. You just have to give her space.

Though I doubted the space would be enough in this case. I had never heard Lilly as upset with anyone, yet alone with Mia. I feared she might take it so far that when she'd cool off, Mia would be the one not wanting to move passed it.

I know you're feeling under the weather and probably swamped with homework and princess stuff, but if you get a chance, I'd love to hear from you.

And there it was, as desperate plea for her to write back as I would let myself write.

Michael

I reread the letter, sensing something was amiss. I could pinpoint it, but could do nothing about it.

Clicking send was so hard, I'd lift my hands up and surrender if it was for anyone other than her. As much as loving her was destroying me, it was keeping me going.

Days went by, with no response from her. Boris mentioned she was back in school, so her sickness was no longer a plausible excuse for the absence of her response.

It was getting more and more apparent that she simply didn't want to be in contact with me any longer. Maybe I was fighting with windmills, all the way in Japan.

I never thought it was noticeable, the effect the excruciating silence and past ten days had on me. It wasn't until lunch with colleagues that I realized I wasn't resenting myself very well. For someone who was in Japan thanks to his own invention, something that could potentially change the medicine as we know it – though given my current luck it would not surprise me if it ended up flunking – I was arrogantly gloomy.

Midori, a super smart girl with ever-present smile, was the one that brought it up. She was observant enough to whisper it, so that the words drowned in the throbbing diner.

"Why are you so sad?" she asked.

It caught me off guard.

"I am not sad," I quickly denied, but she saw through me.

"If you say so," she shrugged and paused before continuing. "It is alright to miss someone, you know."

"There's no one to miss," I said with a broken vice.

"Maybe that is why you're missing her so much," she suggested, as if knowing my life story.

I didn't respond.

Frankly, I was in Japan. There was no point in trying to keep up with happenings in New York, or so I tried to convince myself.

I didn't acknowledge Boris' mentions of Mia anymore. I wanted to tell him to just stop, to leave it alone, just like I want it. I hated myself for having something, something I didn't dare to name, preventing me from saying it to him. I was forcing myself not to think of her. Every time she crept into my mind, I either pulled the plans for robotic arm closer, drowning myself in inspecting them, or went for a run. I was spending more and more time running outside, and it turned out to be a good way of getting to know my new hometown better, not to mention meeting people. By the number of American I bumped into while jogging, one might figure we all had some demons to fight off.

And so days began passing by. I stopped counting how long I had been in Tsukuba, and though my own demons were still very much alive, I somehow learnt to manage them. I knew ignorance might easily come back to haunt me, but for the time being, it was the rope I was clinging on.


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#5 dbcWinter

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 05:37 AM

(4)

 

I first heard about her on Thursday evening, and it wasn't even her writing me back. It was my own fault, really. I should have known better than reading news about my birth place. What good did knowing what was happening in New York even do me? It made no difference for someone stuck in Japan.

She was the headline. Either it was a very slow news day, or I had underestimated New Yorkers' love for their own princess. I couldn't think of any other reason why school evacuation would be front news, even though it was princess' school.

Unless reporting about evacuation was only a cover for the true point of the news. It didn't escape me how JP, the (rumored) new boyfriend, was described as a hero who selflessly saved the princess. Though I was glad she was safe, it enraged me to no end. And where the hell was Lars? It ruined my otherwise completely plain, emotion-suppressed evening of dinner in front of television and shows I didn't understand. I didn't pick up when Boris called, which of course made me feel even more childish. I couldn't win, no matter what.

I was up all night again, changing channels, deciding whether to watch kpop music videos, TV commercials or the news channel. I didn't understand anything no matter the channel. Around two in the morning I was so fed up I finally ended up unpacking. I guess as long as my stuff was in bags and boxes, the apartment had an excuse for looking impersonal and cold. Now, when bags were in closets and the rooms still looked more like a random hotel room than a place to come to every night, I realized just how lonely I was. I had a few pictures on my nightstand, of my family, my extended family, Mia, but they only exaggerated my feeling of loneliness, so I stuffed them in a drawer, hoping my craving for something familiar would not make me put them back.

I was back in the lab hours before anyone else. On my way I bought some pastry, but I left it in my backpack, for later, but that later never arrived. I worked through lunch, I skipped the afternoon break, I just kept working and working. There was sweat on my forehead, my eyes began aching, my back was hurting, but I kept going, only drinking a few sips of water every couple of hours. It was as dysfunctional behavior as it gets, it was a perfect way to ruin yourself, but I didn't know any better. I was too angry, too upset to allow myself to stop.

"Michael, don't you think we've had enough for one day?" Midori carefully asked around eight in the evening.

"You can home, but I'll stay," I didn't move my eyes off the arm in the making.

"You look like you could use some rest," she insisted.

I glanced at her, for only a second.

"I am fine," I dismissed her. "See you tomorrow."

I stayed till midnight, though I realized quickly after my team left that building Charlie was by no means a one-man band.

As I was walking home, it occurred to me that maybe I could use the media reports in my own advantage.

If I responded, in a friendly manner, it might show her I wasn't angry or upset with her. I she is indeed scared of my anger, it might encourage her to write back. It would be something a friend would do, commenting on newspaper reports about the other, right?

I ran the rest of the way. I paid no attention to the hunger I felt, I went straight to my computer, looking up the article on Post. Looking at a photograph of Kenny I knew just what to write.

So I guess Kenny finally figured out how to get the attention he's always felt he deserved …

After clicking send, I ate the pastry from the morning and went to bed. It was the first time since arriving to Japan that I slept well, without turning around on the verge of wakefulness for most of the night.

Maybe things would get better now.

But her response, the email I was desperately waiting on, didn't come. I kept staring at the clock, trying to calculate what time it was in New York and when she was likely to check her inbox.

All I got was Mom's worried phone call. She wasn't worried about me, I never even gave her a reason – while talking to her, I always made sure to sound upbeat, enthusiastic, describing me trying out Japanese food, making friends, everything, basically, that I would do if that damned Thursday night hadn't happened. Mom might be a psychoanalyst, but once you knew her, it was easy to trick her.

Mom worried about Lilly. She didn't tell me specifics, she just wished to know if Lilly, by any chance, talked to me. As siblings we were close, always, so her inquiry made sense. I didn't have the heart to tell her about the nature of our only phone call since I went to Japan. Instead, I just reassured her Lilly was most likely simply adjusting to the recent changes in her life.

My words cheered her up, as much as they depressed me even further. Lilly was horrible at handling changes, and this time I had no doubt she would take it out on Mia.

And there was nothing I could do, at all.

She didn't want me to.

But I couldn't help but to still care.

On Saturday my team took me on a road trip around Tsukuba. I protested, but my arguments were weak. We needed time off, no matter the tight schedule. Going out with them was still better than what I would otherwise do, pottering around my empty apartment, waiting on the email that could easily never arrive.

Once I put my worries aside, the day was turning out to be fun, the best out of all I had sent in Japan. I finally caved in and tried baby squids - they were my idea of a neither snack nor food itself.

Midori, who I felt organized the whole thing – kept looking at me to see if I was having fun, and her boyfriend turned out to be a Star Wars fan. Together we tried to explain the basic concept to others, but everyone kept shaking their heads, convincing me to start watching anime.

I came home tired, but happy for a change. It felt so good, recapturing a bit of that optimism I felt before arriving here. I turned on the TV before taking a shower, to bring at least a bit of sound to the apartment. I selected the news channel, completely coincidently. I thought I understood a word the news anchor kept repeating, but I dismissed it.

Only after I came back from the bathroom and heard the word again, it caught my attention. I could swear I heard him say Genovia.

I neared the TV, trying to find a reason for my mind playing tricks with me.

And then I saw her. She was on a stage, talking into a microphone. At first, I had no idea what she as talking about – one of ancestors died of plague? How was that news? Breaking news, nevertheless?

She went on saying this Princess Amelie established democracy just before passing away. It took me a minute to understand.

Genovia – a democracy?

What?

It showed her grandmother, the dear Clarisse, the Dowager Princess, in tears. And she wasn't weeping of joy. It was horror, more likely.

I quickly grabbed my laptop, trying to find more information and clear my confusion. It couldn't be real, Genovia, a democracy. When Mia had been revealed to be a princess, I had read everything – and I mean everything, even tourist reports – I could find on Genovia. Nothing, nothing at all mentioned democracy.

Apparently nobody knew of it until Mia read it in a diary she was reading.

And she went on, telling it to the whole world.

Obviously it wasn't a diplomatic thing to do, at all, but right nevertheless.

I listened to her speech again, and I felt proud. She looked so confident, so sure of herself, nothing like she had used to be. It was a brave, brave speech. So totally Mia, the Mia I always knew she could be.

I had no doubt her family won't be as excited about it as I was. I shrieked at the thought of the possible consequences she could face, despite doing the right thing. I might not be there in person, but I could let her know I supported her.

This email was easy to write.

Dear Mia, did you just ditch your throne and bring democracy to a country that's never known it? Way to go, Thermopolis!

Whether she was writing me back or not, this was the Mia I knew.

And loved.

The next morning I slept in. Like always, she was my first thought after waking up. This item I smiled. First parking meters, then snails, now democracy.

And things got even better.

I checked my email, with still sleepy eyes. But the moment I realized there was her email, waiting on me, I was totally awake. It only took a second for the world to look brighter again.

I reached out; and now she took my hand, once again creating a bond between us.

Hi, how are you? Things are fine, it's snowing here, isn't that weird? Well, I have to go, bye.

It was only a few words, but it felt like the world to me.

It was rather impersonal, but it was the most personal, touching thing happening to me since arriving in Tsukuba.

It wasn't promising anything, but it was the brightest, the most hopeful light I had ever encountered.

There was a goofy smile on my face throughout morning. I made myself breakfast, then grabbed my wallet, and went to every major shop I could find. It took me three supermarkets to find what I was looking for.

I rushed back home, wanting to waste no time. By lunch time, I already knew how to greet and introduce myself in Japanese. I was studying, reading, writing, repeating, for the whole afternoon, and diner was an opportunity to use my newly learnt Japanese, ordering food to the apartment.

Yeah, we were broken up. Yeah, it ended in a horrible, horrible way.

But just because we were over, as a couple, it didn't mean our feelings had died as well. Two years is a long, long time, and you cannot just shake it off. She could deny it, but I refused to believe she didn't feel anything for me anymore. I knew the past two years had not been a lie, I was there, I didn't just witness it, I lived it. What we had was still somewhere, somewhere under the chaos we drowned in. But just like a body floats back to the surface, so would our feelings for each other.

I had to believe it. Otherwise, everything I thought I had known would turn out to be a lie. And that was something I could not deal with. Not right now, at least.

Feelings are alive, they thrive, they struggle. They might keep on going, or they might eventually fade away. It is all part of life. And I wasn't done living. I had so much to see, try, experience. I wasn't done loving her. I might be loving her from afar for the time being, but it didn't make my feelings nor the future possibilities any different, any less real.


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#6 dbcWinter

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 05:37 AM

OCTOBER

(1)

 

I had to wonder if, in some form, despite writing me back, she still wanted to get back at me.

I knew and dated her for long enough to know she didn't like the spotlight, and hated newspapers reporting on her personal life.

Lately it seemed she was turning into one of those TV starlets, desperate for attention to the extent of x-raying their bodies in front of cameras to gain more exposure and notoriety. I knew deep inside she couldn't have changed this much in a month, but to an untrained eye, it would certainly seem so.

Every other day the Internet was flooded with pictures of her and her now more than just rumored consort. They photographed coming out of the fanciest restaurants, Broadway, strolling around Central Park. At first I just frowned, thinking it was an unfortunate event of being recognized. Of course the media was ecstatic, a princess dating a son of the renowned producer was much bigger news than seeing someone like me, but when it kept happening, again and again, I knew it couldn't be only a coincidence. It was done on purpose, and despite the dismay on her face in most of the photographs, the anger was awakening in me again.

It was a low, cheap shot.

What did he have that I didn't? He couldn't possibly love her as much as I did. There simply wasn't a way to love someone more than I did. I was revolutionizing the *#&$%%ing cardio surgery for her, for crying out loud! How could she not realize it? Why was she so *#&$%%ing blind and ignorant?

Money didn't mean much to Mia, she couldn't like him for that, could she? Did she find a similar artistic soul in him? I knew he too was writing, poems, short stories, whatnot, but frankly, I never found them spectacular, at all. More like ramblings of someone who had been told he was special from day one. With a father like his, he could certainly come a long way in playwriting business. He was a joke, really.

Clarisse must love him, though. She had loved him ever since the musical they performed, and who's not to say she didn't give him the leading role on purpose? She never hid her opinion of me, I wasn't good enough for her granddaughter. It didn't matter who I was or what I felt for her granddaughter, not coming from a royal family was my only, but fatal sin – or, as she was showing in the case of the tall, blue-eyed JP, I didn't come from a family rich or renowned enough. She was a snob, a type of person I detested, but because of her granddaughter, I had and would put up with her.

If the point of the whole going-out-with-JP charade was to piss me off, it was working. I deserved something better than this public humiliation, and I wasn't going to suck it up.

It was ten in the evening, but I couldn't care less. I was fed up. I wasn't some toy they could kick around. They could be royal, rich, whatever. It didn't give them the right to treat me like crap.

I rented a car and started driving to the closest airport, planning on getting ion the first plane back to New York. I didn't know what I was going to do or say there, but I couldn't take it anymore. Screw robotic arm, screw the reason, all I wanted was Mia and she was slipping away. I wouldn't go down without a fight, no *#&$%%ing way. If she had something to say, at least she should tell it to my face. I did everything for her, *#&$%%ing everything, I deserved something better than staring into the photographs of her new beau. If this was the end, I wouldn't let her think she was the innocent victim in all this. I would give her a piece of my mind alright.

I was driving way over the limit and almost drove off the road in a turn. I stopped at the closest gas station, catching my breath. I had almost control of the car, almost killing myself by hitting a tree. For what, the hypocrisy of Genovian Royal Family and the blue-eyes poster boy JP? Surely they treated me like crap, but I wasn't giving them the satisfaction of becoming road kill.

I drove the rest of the way within allowed speed. It took me an hour to find a parking space close to the airport. It was the middle of the night, but the airport was crowded. I stood in line for half an hour to hear the lady behind the counter tell me the flights were already full.

I told her the airline or money didn't matter. I just needed to get to New York as soon as possible. I also didn't care if it took me travelling to Europe first, connecting flights there. Her constant shaking head made me want to scream again. When she suggested waiting around for a few hours, in case a seat opened up, I went to a bar and ordered a drink. And then another two, so eventually I didn't know what was causing my headache anymore - the lack of sleep, stress or the alcohol in my veins.

Even if I made it to New York, what the *#&$%% could I even do? She obviously made up her mind, she was going out with JP now. Was I expecting her to change her mind at the mere sight of her? Was I going to forget about the turmoil of the past month just by looking at her? Would it even be the right thing to do? I mean, so much had happened, so much had happened, there was so much pain, was there any point in stapling it together again? I didn't know about her, but I needed to heal up before I could deal with or failed relationship. I was ashamed to admit it to myself, but the main reason for me to be sitting at the airport wasn't a desire to fix our relationship. I was humiliated, I was ashamed, I was upset – I just needed to let it out. My mind was derailed – my going to see her could easily end up working against me. Maybe I would end up begging her to start over, despite the distance and pain. Maybe I would end up screaming at her, cursing her. I could even end up putting that prick in the hospital. I would humiliate myself, I would be an answer to every reporter's prayer. My unexpected appearance would be just another twist in the sensational cover love story of Princess of Genovia and Abernethy-Reynolds IV.

Whatever the outcome, it didn't look like the mess was clearing up any time soon. Most likely, my trip to New York would end up with making things worse, not to mention, with a question mark next to my sanity. That could seriously compromise my robotic arm, the only thing pulling me through right now.

I left the airport at five in the morning, everlastingly grateful to the lady behind the counter for not putting me on the first plane back home. As if she had known I was not thinking clearly.

I drove back slowly, way under the limit, hoping not to attract the attention of anyone. I knew I wasn't sober, but I couldn't stay at the airport, ashamed of what I had almost done. As soon as I was back in Tsukuba, I went back to the lab, once again planning on leaving it until night time.

When it came to emailing each other, we established a routine. Our emails were short, impersonal, usually describing the random daily events, sometimes the world happenings, especially new movie or music releases. They were strictly free of any genuine feelings or opinions. More so than not, they were simply the acknowledgements of each other's existence.

As much as I wanted to write back the moment her email popped up in my inbox, I usually waited for about two weeks. I usually wrote her late Friday night, my time, and she usually wrote back next Saturday late night, her time. It became part of the routine, something I looked forward to, glad to still have a place in her life, even though it was scheduled.

But JP kept popping up everywhere, holing her hand, walking very, very, too close to her. Every now and then I also saw Lars on the pictures. Usually he was just a figure in the background, barely recognizable. Every time I enlarged the photo, examining his face, trying to read the expression to see whether he liked JP or not. I knew what I was doing was an act of an obsessed, possessed, desperate man, but I could stop myself.

While I got used to seeing them together, holding hands, maybe with his arm around her shoulders, a picture of them kissing was too much for me to handle. Kissing in public? What the *#&$%%? When we had been going out, it was something we avoided, whether the paparazzi were in sight or not. Who the *#&$%% was this girl? Not the one I adored, for sure.

It felt like I was back at the beginning, exploding in feelings I had presumed to have faded. It was Friday, the Friday I was supposed to write her back. I stared at the email, waiting for any useable thought. There was none. My eyes became fixated on my user name.

SkinnerBx.

The name of my former band. He name that had been her suggestion. Coming from her, I of course took it.

And I was still using it, despite being broken up.

I was such a joke. Who was I kidding?

I couldn't make myself change my name. I didn't even know which one to take instead. Pavlov, something after my dog? Something to do with the robotic arm? My mind was blank.

That was the first I skipped the day reserved for her.

Instead, I went out, ending up in a bar, something that seemed to be more a tradition or not lately. I had never been a big drinker, but since arriving in Japan, I found myself testing my limits more and more often. I didn't see the harm, really. I knew I should be worried about myself, but my mind was already so overwhelmed, one additional worry could not make that big of difference.

I was lost in my thoughts, not paying much attention to my surroundings. I didn't even hear her coming until she sat on the chair next to mine.

I looked up to glance at her and she shot me a smile.

"I'll have whatever he's having," she said to the bartender. Her eyes then became focused on me, really focused. I felt chills going down my spine. I had been a while since a girl looked at me like that.

"I've seen you around here a couple of times," she said with a straight-forward voice, examining me with her dark eyes with an overtouch of mascara, not even trying to hide her intentions

I knew I shouldn't start a conversation with her. I knew it could not possibly mean anything good for me. My mind, my life was already a mess, I didn't need anything else to stain it.

But whether I was willing to admit it or not, I was lonely. People I was working with were an amazing, friendly bunch, but even they couldn't compensate for what I had lost. My complete devotion to Mia used to stop me from returning smiles to girls around me, but there was no Mia anymore. I was lonely and looking at the girl sitting next to me, there was no doubt she was very, very attractive. Not at all like Mia, there was nothing innocent, classy about her. She wore very tight jeans, a top that exposed more than hid and an African-looking necklace. She knew just how to dress and move to show her figure. As a man, I surely knew how to appreciate it.

"I'm Michael," I said.

"Renata," she said, not at all minding my drunken state struggling to stay focused on her eyes.

The music was loud, the lights were dim. Our eyes spoke more than our mouths. We were ordering one drink after another, eventually losing count. The longer I sat next to her, the more a feeling of lust was awakening in me. It was a feeling I felt it so many times when I had been Mia, but never could really act on it.

Besides, she moved on. Why couldn't I do so as well? *#&$%% morals. *#&$%% my principles. *#&$%% her stupid prom night.

I don't know how the night would end, where I would end up, if one of my coworkers didn't happen to walk in. I cursed, hoping he wouldn't notice me, but clearly my odds weren't in my favor these days. The moment he saw me, he came walking towards me.

Renata didn't bother waiting to be introduced. She winked at me, saying she hoped to see me around again soon, and disappeared in the crowd. Later I tried to catch a glimpse of her, but she remained elusive.

And I knew I would be back again, soon.


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#7 dbcWinter

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 05:38 AM

(2)

 

I went back the following night. Renata was there, waiting on me. As she smiled at me warmly, I once again felt that thrill in my stomach. I ignored it. The integrity I still had was telling me it was still too soon. I surprised myself by realizing Mia had nothing to do with it - I just wasn't the guy who'd be randomly picking up girls from local bars. Though I doubted Renata would resent it very much.

We kept ordering drinks till closing time, at about three in the morning. It took three coffees to get me going in the morning, but it was worth it. Going out every evening made me feel less lonely, even though in a way it was an act of a desperate man. My sanity knew getting wasted with a stranger, no matter how much I wanted to get familiar with her, night after night, could not cure my demons, but I didn't listen. I was done listening, being rational; if it was making me forget about the stabbing feeling in my heart, it was good enough for me.

I never asked her if she was with anyone and she never asked me. As nights went by, we became closer. We started sitting closer to each other. If at first we only chatted about Japanese culture – Renata was from Germany, studying Asian cultures -, we quickly transitioned to talking about everything – everything minus our personal lives. I liked this just fine.

It was just chatting in bar, over drinks, but it was serious. We never skipped a night, though it meant me skipping the time I had reserved for emailing Mia.

I could email her some other time, maybe in the afternoon or during lunch break. However, seeing Renata was an excuse I wasn't going to waste. She chased away the silence that was swallowing me every time I was alone. I knew that if I had to choose, I would pick Mia, hands down, always, but there was no more Mia. Renata might never take her place, but at least she was there. And right now, I needed someone, anyone.

About a week later it became more than just drinks at night. As sudden as it seemed, it was a logical step forward. We enjoyed each other's company, though we didn't necessarily said it out loud. But I found myself being more and more intrigued with her and eventually, I couldn't picture a day without her anymore. As my frustrations with the whole Mia situation began fading, I started seeing Renata in a different, less friendly, more physical way.

What started as a lunch, the first proper one for me since arriving in the city, quickly led to visiting the air show, prepared by international students of Tsukuba. The following weekend, we rented a car and drove to Tokyo. As we passed the turn where I had almost hit a tree that awful night, I realized I was at the crossroads, just like Britney was in that movie Mia was so obsessed with. The last time I was at that spot, I was desperate to make sense out of the fiasco the what I presumed was the love of my life had turned into. Now I was there, with a different girl that could easily be a new kind of future for me. This time the girl didn't have a drop of royalty in her blood. She was just a random, every day girl, something Mia could never, ever be. Life would be so much easier with her – no more pressure from the world to be more than just a loving, loyal boyfriend. No more evil grandmothers refusing to acknowledge me by my first name. No more front covers choosing James Franco over me. I could just be who I was and, without sounding too narcissistic, I knew I wasn't some hillbilly. If nothing else, the mere reason for being in Japan showed that I was somebody. I would be more than just good enough for anyone, minus the family I wanted to appreciate me.

It was crossroads, indeed. Either I would continue the self-pitying, or I would move onwards.

The first stop we made, I kissed her. Her kissing me back awoke an even greater need in me.

We spent the first half of Saturday strolling around Tokyo, trying out different sakes and I felt more confident, maybe in some braver, with every glass drunk. We took the rest of the day off from sightseeing and got a room in the closest hotel. The moment the door of the room closed behind us, I kissed her, hard, on the mouth.

She responded with the urge identical to mine. I pulled off her top and explored her neck, her cleavage with my lips. She moaned, digging her nails into my back, urging me with her leg for more. It was the response I was so desperate for for years, but it wasn't the right girl.

I lifted her up and walked to the bed. We fell on it, both losing more clothes in the process. The next hour felt surreal, as if it wasn't happening to me. Oh, I enjoyed it, a lot, as much as it felt right, though, it almost felt wrong. The entire time I was thinking about Mia, wishing she was the one wrapping her arms around me instead.

I thought it would chase away my loneliness, but in reality it only made me emptier. My body was satisfied, it got the intimacy it desired, but my heart felt disconnected and nothing could compensate for what I truly, crazily wanted.

And my heart prevailed.

I waited for Renata to fall asleep. Then I carefully got up, not wanting to wake her. I got dressed and went on the balcony. I sat facing the bed, so that I would know when she would wake up.

As I sat there, overlooking Tokyo, I suddenly felt the desire, the irresistible urge to call her. I wanted to hear her voice, and thee wish was more powerful than ever. Such a perfect time it was, really, with a different girl in my bed. Everything I had done recently backfired at me.

I stared down at my phone. Calling her was only one click away. It was so easy, too easy. Joys of technology made forgetting her that much more difficult.

Instead of calling her, I deleted her contact off her phone. I went on to delete all the saved messages for her and I cursed myself when I regretted it, just a moment later. I slowly watched her disappearing off my phone, wishing my heart too would be an electronic device I had total control over. I wished I could fling it over the balcony, watch it fall to pieces, without feeling any pain. I wished starting over was as easy as buying a new phone.

When I walked back inside, I realized how pointless he whole thing was. I had her number memorized. And I carried most of her texts, no matter how silly, in my heart.

There was no love between Renata and I, it was just sex, for the both of us. But we kept our physical bond going. We chased each other's cold nights away and I liked having someone to wake up next to. I liked talking about something other than robotic arm. We both knew it would most likely not last – Renata was returning back to Germany as soon as the term ended, but for the time being we enjoyed each other.

As November was nearing, the autumn too was fading. The dropping temperatures were announcing the arrival of winter and most days it was too cold to run outside.

After I complained about it to Renata, she suggested I joined the gym. I did so the following day. At first I only used the track mill, then I moved on to the room bike and the following week I started lifting weights. I found it to be a great way to challenge myself, trying to lift a bit more every day. I usually spent an hour in the gym after finishing the day in laboratory, and then I returned to the apartment where Renata was waiting on me, sometimes making dinner by herself or simply bringing take out with her if she had a busy day at university.

After she was starting to spend time over at my place, I began noticing how more home-like my apartment started to look like. All it took was a few cheap paintings she had bought and hanged on the walls. I swear, never until this October I realized the importance of curtains. As soon as she brought ones in shades of orange, the place seemed so much warmer, so much friendlier.

Coming home one day, I found her in the bedroom, looking at the photographs I had on my night stand.

She smiled me that marvelous smile that brightened up every room she was in.

"Hey, how was your day?" she asked when I leant closer to kiss her. I sat down next to her.

I think she noticed how tense I became, seeing the photographs, in many ways the most precious thing I brought to Tsukuba with me, in her hands.

"I hope you don't mind," she said. I shook my head and took my family photographs from her hands. I started telling her about my family. I told her about the quirkiness of my parents, their unusual raising methods and their temporary separation. I spent half an hour reminiscing my childhood with Lil, of course putting special emphasis on some of her most notorious and silly episodes of Lilly Tells It Likes It Is, not forgetting to mention her making Hank the Underwear Model Extraordinaire.

Then there was only one photograph left, the one of Mia and me.

I didn't reach over and took it in my hands. Just keeping a picture of her so close to my heart would hurt.

"Is this her?" she finally asked.

"Who?" I asked. I honestly didn't know what she was hinting at.

"The girl you are running away from," she said it point-blank and I wondered if I truly was so transparent.

"I am not running away from anyone," I lied once again with a cold voice.

She just shrugged and put the picture back on the night stand.

"You both look so young," she remarked.

"We were too young," I simply said and got up to walk back to the kitchen.

"Well, that is a good thing about life," she remarked, following me, "we all grow up one day."

We didn't talk about it anymore. We opened the take out and wet to the living room, turning on the television. I had continued studying Japanese, and when we put our knowledge together, we could actually understand surprisingly much of what people on TV were saying.

Later that night and I carried her back to the bedroom, and once she fell asleep in my arms, I finally thought back to her words.

We all grow up some day.

Mia was so young when we started going out and she still was. We found each other and fell in love very, very young, maybe too young to know how to handle the feelings for each other. As good as it was, finding her so early in my life, it might have also been a curse. But one day, she'd be all grown up. Maybe then she would realize why I hadn't told her about Judith. She'd know what it was necessary for me to leave. Heck, maybe shed even see that my breaking up with her over the phone that night was the best thing for both of us.

Maybe then she could forgive me. By that time, I too would probably let go of the angst and frustration I was still feeling now.

Maybe that would be a time when both of us would be mature enough to start over, to fall in love with the new – and hopefully improved – versions of each other.

If, of course, JP – or someone else – wouldn't take my place in the meantime.

Time gives.

Time heals.

But time also takes.

Time can be brutal.

All I could do was to hope it was done taking things from me.


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#8 dbcWinter

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 05:16 PM

NOVEMBER

(1)

 

I didn't skip sending Mia the email the third time around, though.

SkinnerBx: Hey, Mia, hope everything is well.

Things here are fine, thanks for asking, Charlie is coming along great – well, for this stage, anyway.

We are having great weather over here, so a few days ago I went sightseeing with some of my colleagues. They took me to this great statue of Buddha called 'Ushiku Daibutsu'. It's actually authorized by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest standing Buddha figure in the world. There is also a flower garden on the site and apparently the flowers change with seasons – I will have to go there in spring to see it by myself.

I had gone to Buddha with Renata, but despite my rationality dropping drastically since taking a job in Tsukuba, I was still sane enough not to mention it to Mia. It seemed like Renata could remain a hidden secret – for now. I was planning on telling Mia about Renata one day, though – if our relationship improved enough for the information to be valid. I wasn't going to repeat the mistake I had done with Judith.

And even though Renata would most likely be gone by the time seasons changed, I still promised myself to go check out the flowers, even if it meant going all by myself.

Oh, and they promised to take me to Tsukuba Space Center some time! I heard there's the exhibit hall which features models of the H-II Transfer Vehicle and a full-sized mock-up of the KIBO module on the International Space Station. Can you believe how cool that must be?

Of course I am still waiting for them to take me to the Geological museum here!

Renata didn't think it was cool, neither of the suggestions, at all. It looked like I wouldn't get to go till her departure, but it was fine with me.

Anyway, I hope you are doing alright. How did the midterms go? You doing anything special for Thanksgiving? Are you once again going to visit Mr G's family in the morning and attend your grandmother's dinner in the evening? Or are even your relatives from Indiana showing up?

Michael

It was friendly enough, but still showed I cared about her. I knew the chances of her mentioning grades were slim, but I could still ask Boris later.

After clicking send I realized Renata was looking at me the entire time I type. The smile she wore hinted she had just discovered something of interest and joy. I didn't dwell on it. I tried to let go of Mia the moment I emailed her.

I am not a fan of social networks, yet alone an enthusiastic user, but with my ex being a royal, it was still impossible for me to lose track of her life completely.

On Saturday morning I had seen pictures of her and the Tennessee Williams wannabe out on a date again. They were coming out of Ray's, a place Mia and I used to frequent. Needless to say, the choice of restaurant hurt, but, looking over my shoulder and seeing Renata in my bed, I guess made it even.

But in the upcoming hours and days I kept bumping into her.

Over the years we had been dating, I was always on the lookout to learn more about Genovia. I borrowed every book from the library that had Genovia mentioned. I browsed the internet, reading even obscure articles about celebrities visiting Genovia. I watched every documentary I could find online, though most of them being in French presented a challenge, since I didn't speak a word of the language. By now, I probably knew more of Genovia's history, economy, government, legislation than Mia. I even took up learning French in that little free time I had in my first year in college, knowing the chances were I'd be on day living in Genovia.

I also signed up for the newsletter on the official webpage of Genovian Royal Family, making sure I was up to date with any happenings in the palace, though I usually heard about them from Mia.

Obviously I forgot to unsubscribed after we broke up. Now I found an email in my inbox, announcing the latest visit to the Genovian Palace. Apparently the queen of England was coming over to dine with Genovian Royal Family, in hopes to improve the transnational relations.

I wondered if that meant Mia too would be forced to attend. I knew she disliked flying to Genovia for the weekend, but a dinner with Kate might be just enough to change her mind. I smiled at the memory of Mia admiring Kate pretty much every time the latter appeared in newspapers, not realized she could easily be just as 'graceful' and 'elegant' as Kate, if she only had a bit of faith in herself.

For a moment I was tempted to ask Mia about it, send her another email, even though I wasn't due to write her for over week. Though it seemed a friendly thing to do, I felt it was still too friendly for the level of communication we were currently on. It pained me until I remembered that not too long ago we hadn't been talking at all. What we had wasn't much, but at least was something. And I would take anything over the screaming silence of my first weeks in Tsukuba.

In the following days, I made sure to know everything I possibly could about Genovia. Some reports indicated Mia too was coming. However, nobody seemed sure of this until she hit the front covers of every newspapers and breaking news of every news and celebrity channel.

When I first looked at the headline, it made me spill the morning coffee all over me. It was ruining my shirt and felt so hot against my skin, but I couldn't care less. My eyes were fixated on the headline as I tried to comprehend what it said. I knew English just fine, but the words were dancing in front of my eyes like ballerinas.

I hoped that pictures would make more sense, so I focused on them. My mind was a mess, but I couldn't help but to start laughing.

And so I went back to reading the article.

Last night two royal families attended a dinner organized to improve the relationship … however, the diplomacy was over-shone when the youngest members of the families sneaked out of the palace to play midnight badminton in the magnificent Genovian Royal Gardens … seen pictured is young Harry, crashing into one of the beautifully sculptured fountains and young princess Amelia, smiling as she sees her friend taking a bath. What could this getaway mean? Our experts on everything royalty related suggest that this could be a new royal romance springing! It certainly has a potential to become the most popular royal romance, even surpassing William and Kate's! Both young royals are reportedly single – Harry has broken up with his girlfriend of four months, German model Nastassja Böhler, while Amelia's love life has taken a wild turn this September after she split up with her longtime steady boyfriend of nearly two years, Michael Moscovitz, when he reportedly left for Japan to attend University in Tsukuba. The Princess was later seen numerous times in the company of her classmate, a son of respected Broadway producer, John Paul Abernethy-Reynolds IV. Though undisclosed sources said the two of them were indeed a couple, no official confirmation has ever been given. Last night's rendezvous with Harry, though, raises more questions than it gives answers. This is certainly unusual for a Princess who was, until this September, known for keeping a low profile, not sharing many details of her personal life with the media. Has this changed and is the world about to see a new all-royal romance? We shall see in the upcoming weeks …

I couldn't stop laughing. What was happening to Mia? This was nothing like her. Playing badminton? Hanging out with another royal? I had always thought she find the majority of them to be obnoxious and snobbish. Sneaking out while official royal business was happening? She was always taking it so seriously, freaking out about the possibility of messing something up, not to mention her reactions if something didn't go as planned. The Mia I knew would rather die than do something as careless as the girl on the photograph was doing.

But I couldn't deny I liked this new Mia. Maybe now she'd finally realize that, despite having many cons, being a princess could also bring her great things. What Mia wanted most of all was to do good. I could still recall her wild dreams of go saving whales and baby seals with Greenpeace – hell, she even wanted to drag me along. Yeah, I might not have told her directly that there was no way I would spend weeks on a ship to save whales, but I always thought she'd grow out of it. Besides, the exposure she has as a princess, could help her raise awareness of many, many good causes all over the world.

I had always been sure she would see things from this perspective, sooner or later. Maybe then she'd stop being so upset about the royal events she had to attend, the rules she had to follow, and the invasions of privacy she had to suffer.

I always thought I'd be there to witness this change in her, but according to the pictures I was looking it now, I would only get to observe it from afar.

Then another aspect of the photographs caught my eyes. She was smiling, widely, that smile I knew so well. Her smile was bigger than the world when she let the worries go. It didn't happen too often – that girl was always worried about something, no exception, no matter how small the problem was. Sometimes it felt like she was making big deals out of things just so that she could have something to worry about, Little Miss Worrier. But when she did smile, it felt like the smile brightened up the whole world. It enchanted me every time, making it impossible for me to move my eyes off her. I fell in love with her all over again every time she smiled like this.

It reminded me of something. I went to the archive of articles about her, opening a random report of her night out with JP. I looked at her in the picture and the glee overwhelmed me. How could I not have noticed it earlier?

She wasn't smiling as brightly. Her smile was faint, barely visible, the smile she usually put on when the situation was getting to her, but she didn't want to show it.

It was weird, not at all objective coming from me, but she never looked this miserable when we had gone out. She had always been smiling brightly, I somehow managed to make her laugh no matter the made up issues she was having. Obviously JP wasn't as skilled at making her happy as I was. I refused to believe the paparazzi had anything to do with it. It was a small win for me. Maybe everything wasn't as hopeless as I had thought after all.

I didn't even hear Renata entering the kitchen, sitting next to me.

"I thought I recognized her from somewhere," she said, smiling at me. There was no point in closing the article; I knew she had seen what I was reading, doing. "Princess of Genovia, huh? Well, that explains so much. And you are screwed, really screwed," she laughed.

I didn't respond. I couldn't even look at her. I felt like my deepest secret had been uncovered, that weak part of me. As powerful as loving he made me, it was my Achilles heel, somehow always getting to me in the end.

"Is that why you're here?" she then gently asked. "Are you inventing that surgical device to prove everyone you are not some random commoner?"

I again didn't respond. I didn't need to hear how impossible my plan was. Sometimes even I felt it was completely unrealistic. Royalty was a completely different kind of people. Why would they care about something like medical equipment?

She took my hand.

"You can invent a hundred different surgical arms, Michael, but none of them will not make you feel worthy of her, if you won't believe you deserve her. Success will not make you worthy of anything - only your love for her can do that."

"I wish it was enough, but it isn't."

"No matter what you do, there will always be people thinking she could do better," she nodded, "but you have to remember, in the end, the only person that matters is her. As long as she accepts you, you're out of the woods. So don't think too much about others. It will eat you alive."

"It has been killing me for a long time," I surprised myself by admitting.

"Well, what good will it do, inventing robotic arm, for you, if it will destroy you in the process? Stop driving yourself crazy with what the media thinks, what her family thinks, what you think about yourself, even. This is your shot, Michael. Trust me, if you finish what you are working on, the whole world will think of you as a hero. What's you're doing is amazing. She is bound to understand it one day. It wouldn't be very princessy of her to overlook it, don't you think so?"

I had to laugh at her words. She realized why.

"Yeah, those pictures are not exactly proving my words, but still," she winked at me.

"Thank you," I said with a voice that displayed my feelings.

She just shrugged.

"You're rewriting medical history, you deserve some assistance here and there."


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#9 dbcWinter

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 05:17 PM

DECEMBER

(1)

 

Something changed after Mia got photographed with Harry. I stopped seeing her in the news. At first I thought her grandmother and father simply didn't allow her to go out much, but knowing Helen, I quickly dismissed the thought. I knew Helen, she was not the biggest supporter of royalty and especially not of Dowager Princess Clarisse. She wouldn't allow Clarisse to set rules for her daughter, and I was convince that she was, like me, happy to see Mia loosen up a little.

Whatever was keeping Mia from landing in news, I liked it. It meant she was home more, emailing me.

About a week after the Genovian badminton match, she emailed me. It wasn't only couple of lines, like she usually had written; it was lengthy email, almost a whole page long. She didn't touch the events in Genovia with a single word; instead, she wrote about the movie she had gone see with Tina. I don't know why she thought a new Ryan Gosling movie would interest me, but it was so Mia, I couldn't stop laughing.

This time, I responded within three days. Two days seemed to be too quick, especially for our still somewhat stranded relationship, but on the third day, I simply couldn't wait any longer.

I wrote her about an anime parody of Star Wars I had watched with colleagues during lunch break. I added a few pictures I had found online, and tried to be as humorous as my poor writing skills allowed me. Mia was always the writer of the two of us.

Instead of writing every fortnight, I was emailing her – and receiving her reply – every week. If I could do it without looking too desperate, I would email her every night.

Besides being more frequent, our correspondence also became more personal. We included more of our feelings, opinions, more of what was going on in our lives. She was back to writing pages and pages about her obnoxious grandmother and in response I wrote everything I could think of pertaining to strange Japanese rituals I was witnessing. We were talking about everything – and I mean everything. About major music star quitting Spotify, about weather changes, reporter killings, new viral kitty video. Everything was worth writing about, as long as it didn't pertain to our relationship.

I loved reading her words. I loved writing to her. I loved being a part of her life again. I loved knowing I was in her thoughts even when she wasn't writing to me - the way she described things she witnessed every day made me think she was careful to notice and remember every single detail – as if knowing she was going to tell somebody about it.

Renata was the one pointing out the other possible reason why Mia seemed to be home more. One evening, she brought home more than just take out.

"If you're too proud to look it up, I guess I did it for you," she winked at me, handing me a piece of paper. I glanced at it, seeing it was printed off New York Post.

It had a big picture of JP in the center, holding hands with a girl I didn't know. The caption named her Stacey Cheeseman, and went on to explain she was his classmate.

I don't know why, but the first feel to fly over me was surprised.

Renata laughed at my puzzled face.

"You might as well just sign your email with love, you know," she said.

My heart started skipping at the thought of what JP going out with someone else might mean. Apparently Mia wasn't seeing him anymore – instead, she used more time to stay in touch with me, her ex-boyfriend. I witnessed many relationships around me falling apart – Felix, the guy from my band, was a dater as serial as they come. He never stayed in contact with a girl after breaking up with her,. But, on the other hand, he had never been friends with her before starting going out with her.

Maybe it meant what I wanted it to mean. Maybe it was just a confirmation of what I suggested the night I had broken up with her - we were friends. We knew each other for too long to just throw it away.

I didn't know.

And I knew it wasn't fair to ask her.

Just as it wouldn't be fair of me to ask her to wait for me before I headed to Japan.

I put the paper on the table, realizing that no matter what she may or may not feel for me, the distance between us was too much to overcome so soon after falling apart.

"I'm in Japan," I said. "And I will be here for quite some time."

"What are you saying?" she frowned, sitting on the counter.

"She's sixteen. And I am in Japan and I don't know when I might be coming home – it could easily be another year before the arm is finished. I can't get back with her and expect her to be happy with it. The only thing I can give her right now is the boyfriend that emails and calls maybe every other day. She deserves more than that. I want her to have more than just that. Long-distance relationships are hard for adults, yet alone for a sixteen-year-old. She has enough of other problems."

As I was saying it, I realized how overdue my finally coming to terms with the consequences of going to Japan. I should have thought of this before I had left, before the breakdown in that hotel room. Now I knew how presumptuous of me was to expect us to be ok, despite living in two different parts of the world. Maybe she had seen it right when I told her of going. Maybe that was why she freaked out so much. Maybe she wasn't as short-sighted as I had been.

I saw it clearly now – I could fight as much as I wanted for the present and the future of us, but there was no way we could have them both at the same time. Maybe letting go of the present was what was needed to ensure the future. It was a bitter realization, but it was a fact.

"That is very noble of you," Renata said, but looked skeptical. "But you should know that noble people don't always win in the end. World isn't noble, you know."

I knew it all too well. It was why I was there in the first place. If the world was a place where understanding, kindness, loyalty and love mattered more than anything, I would be its champion.

"I need to let her go for now," I admitted.

"But what if she meets someone else while you're here? You can't just expect her to drop everything and come back running to you once you return to New York."

"I can't expect, but I can hope," I responded. "If it is meant to be, she'll find her way back to me."

"And what if she doesn't?" she vocalized my greatest fear.

I shrugged.

"Then at least I'd know I did everything I could. Life was just stronger opponent."

Even if I returned to New York finding her with someone else, I knew I wouldn't give her up that easily. I would fight for her, I would fight for her till death. I might not have a renowned family name, but I had myself. Whomever I would face, I wouldn't surrender. I invented this potentially life-saving device, and I loved her, I loved her enough to voluntarily move to the other side of the world for her. How many men out there could say they did the same for their girl? I would only truly let her go if I realized there was no way for us to work out. Only if she loved the guy she'd be with and who loved her unconditionally in return. I could never step in the way of her happiness – making her happy was the only thing I ever wanted. I could not live with myself if I knew I was intentionally hurting her. If letting her go be with someone else meant happiness for her, I'd do it.

Otherwise, I would not go down without a fight.

I didn't say any of this out loud to Renata, but by the way she was grinning, I think she knew exactly how my mind was working.

"What?" I still said.

"Nothing," she shook her head. "I was just remembering how that night in the bar I thought you'd be an easy lay, that's all."

The next day, the first snowflakes of the winter touched the ground in Tsukuba. They reminded me that Christmas was only a couple of weeks away. I knew I wasn't going home for Christmas, but I still wanted to get something for my family.

I was never exceptionally good at buying gifts, but buying them in Japan proved to be worse than any Christmas shopping before. Knowing the costs of postage, I wanted to buy them all something small, something that could fit into an envelope, but Renata was repulsed at the idea.

"If you can't be with them for Christmas," she preached them, "at least buy them thoughtful gifts to show them you are with them in the spirit."

I spent a few afternoons in supermarkets all over Tsukuba, trying to find proper gifts, but always returned home empty handed. The irony was, everyplace I went to, I found something I knew Mia would love, but I knew this was not the Christmas I was supposed to give her anything.

When I thought back to our deal to only make each other gifts, I decided that instead of buying them something, I would make something for my family.

And I immediately knew just what.

So I bought a photo album and filled it with pictures I had taken during my stay in Tsukuba. I made sure to include a few pictures of myself, to calm down Nana's fears of me not eating enough due to living alone and working so much.

But there was somebody I ended up buying a present for. I went to a record store and bought a Japanese release of a Joshua Bell album for Boris. It had a few additional tracks on, and I knew Boris AKA JoshBell2, would love it. He deserved it, for keeping me update on what was happening in school. According to his reports, Mia and Lilly still weren't talking, but at least they avoided each other. I didn't know what he meant by that, but I didn't poke. He also confirmed JP started going out with Stacey Cheeseman, a girl starring in his play. That was something I wanted to know more about. What the *#&$%% could he write a play about? How privileged his childhood was, how great it was being loved by everyone? How great it felt breaking up with girls and going out with girls barely out of the previous relationship? Boris didn't know any details.

After mailing presents, I also realized another change Christmas time was bringing me.

Renata's stay in Japan was ending.

She returned home two days before Christmas.

For the first time I left the lab when there was still daylight. I offered to drive her to Tokyo, but she decided to take the train instead. She came to my apartment to say goodbye and, as it turned out, to give her something.

It was a framed photograph, taken the day we had gone to Tokyo. But it wasn't picturing us – it was showing a random street we stumbled upon, full of street performers and stands selling everything you could think of. Bright colors were everywhere and it almost looked like a bunch of colors were splashed on the canvas, mixing to create a picture. One had to wonder at the mere sight of it – remembering the atmosphere there filled me with joy.

"I don't want to remember what happened between us that day – just as I don't want you to remember me," she said. "But I want you to have this picture to look at when you're feeling down, and remember life is always out there, you just need to be willing to take it in. Life doesn't come to you; you have to want it and fight for it. You can't lose if you choose life."

She hugged me goodbye and left.

We didn't exchange phone numbers of emails addresses, making promises to stay in touch. I didn't look her up on Facebook, and she didn't add me as a friend. It was the last time I ever saw her or heard from her.

It started as only sex, but I grew to care for her, a lot. She was there to chase away the darkest nights, helped me through the worst time of my life. If I didn't love Mia as strongly and devastatingly as I did, I could grow to love Renata one day. I had no doubt that in another life we could have a solid future together.

As she left, I went to my bedroom and opened the closet, pulling out one of my bags. There was something in one of the pockets I hadn't dared to take out yet.

Now I felt strong and confident enough.

I sighed as I held the necklace in my hands again. I had given it to her as a sign of our love. When she threw it back at me, it became a symbol of what I had lost.

Now it was a symbol of hope. At first I had come to Japan to ensure a future for us; now my main reason for sticking with what I had begun was to get her back. My goal now was to somehow get to the point when I could give her the necklace back, this time not only as a sign of the deep love we shared, but as a reminder of the journey our love had taken us on, and the way we came out stronger in the end.

Of course nothing was for certain. Life is unpredictable and it rarely plays out the way you expect or want it to. Maybe we would never get a second chance.

But ether I would give up before the end, surrender myself to bitterness I had barely just climbed out of, or I could embrace hope and go down fighting for something better. Because Renata was right – the only ones who fail are the ones who never give life a chance and instead stagnate in misery.


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#10 dbcWinter

dbcWinter

    Meg Cabot Fan

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Posted 11 April 2015 - 07:49 AM

DECEMBER

(2)

I spent the Christmas evening alone, but I didn't feel lonely. Despite being the only one in the apartment, despite the sound of my steps echoing, despite cooking only for myself, I was happy. It was a nice surprise, feeling so joyous after the emotional devastation of first few weeks in Japan. I didn't even know what the reason was. My family, my love and I were on three different continents. The heating system was broken and I was wearing three sweaters and a coat on top, with a scarf wrapped round my neck. My laptop was acting up, and while fixing it I managed to forget about the pasta I was making, thus overcooking it. And yet I was happy.

My inbox was flooded with Christmas greetings from pretty much everyone I had ever been in some sort of a contact with. My extended family, my former band mates, people from high school, college, my college professors, Judith, Mia. Mia added a top 10 of her favorite Christmas songs, as if knowing I needed some music in my apartment, in my life again. Many of them were sung by Mia's beloved teenage pop starts, a type of music I was always avoiding at all costs, but this time I sang along anyway.

I didn't hesitate to answer her email this time around. I replied with a video of cats singing Merry Christmas. She might have seen it already, but I hoped it would still make her smile.

On Christmas day every website I clicked on notified me that the Princess of Genovia was suffering from an undisclosed medical issue and would be unable to attend the pre-announced Christmas events all over Genovia. The internet home of Genovian Royal Family quickly featured an app where people could wish the young princess speedy recovery from, as the royal press team for some unknown reason felt was necessary to reveal, appendicitis.

I sent her good wishes both using the app and her personal email. I figured she would respond promptly, since being bedridden doesn't offer you much alternatives as to how to spend your days – I had appendicitis in the eighth grade, I should know -, but to my surprise, I didn't hear from her for days. They dragged like eternity. Even more surprised I was when I saw 'thank you' was all that the email said. Every time she was ill, Mia had a habit of pertaining her symptoms to diseases she found in online medical dictionaries, no matter how impossible the diseases were. There was no description of what Grandmere was thinking of Mia missing days of royal duties – even if it was appendicitis, dear Clarisse probably found it to be a cheap excuse to avoid royal functions, I was sure. I mean, this was a woman that spent her wedding day dancing till early morning with fever that would put anyone else in a hospital bed. If, of course, that story wasn't made up as I suspected many she kept telling Mia were.

Instead of a typical 'Mia ill' rant, I got a long ode to Tuscany. I guessed she watched that movie - again, but something still didn't add up. I didn't ask her about it, though. I figured she would tell me when she was ready – if she even wanted me to know. I was lucky enough as it was for staying in touch with her after the breakdown in that hotel room.

A phone ringing woke me up in early morning hours of the last day of the year. I wasn't alarmed at someone calling at four in the morning – I figured it was Mom, as always miscalculating the time difference between New York and Japan. I tried to explain it to her every time, I even suggested I would be the calling from then on – it was impossible to reach me when I was not in the apartment, with working insane hours and returning to the apartment only for sleep -, but Mom didn't want to hear about it. She insisted she and Dad would be calling me. As a son of two psychiatrists I guessed it was a way to remain in some sort of control of my, their child's life. Or they might worry about my phone bill, I don't know. The scholarship I was receiving was more than enough to cover costs of international calls.

"Hello," I said, convinced I would be greeted by Mom's cheerful voice. Instead, all I got was silence. Well, silence. I thought I heard someone whispering something, but it might only been my tired ears.

"Hello?" I repeated again, this time slightly worried.

"Happy birthday to you, happy bir…" someone started singing with a thick French accent, but the song was interrupted by a rather feminine scream and a sound of something falling to the ground. By the ouch that followed one might even guess somebody fell off the chair, I don't know. All I knew was that it was a prank call, at four in the morning. As if I didn't need to be back in the lab by eight.

Well, technically, my working day didn't start until nine, but I liked getting there early.

"Well, hello," some other voice said, this time it had English accent. Apparently groups prank calling were nowadays international. "Is this dating agency Mandy? Have I reached Mrs. Böhler of Mandy Dating Agency? I would like to speak with Mrs. Böhler regarding registration. I mean representation. No – I mean, I want you to find me a date. Someone not very tall. Or blond. And she must like polo. And meat. And I don't want her to have a cat. Hello? Is someone there?"

Dating Agency Mandy? Seriously?

"Böhler? Are you ser?" the first, the French voice spoke again, but words didn't sound like French to me. I fact, I thought I had heard the voice and the name before. I just couldn't remember where.

"I told you he's still pining for her," a new, this time rather drunkenly sounding, voice said. Before I could ask what the *#&$%% he was talking about, the call ended.

I knew I shouldn't think much about it, it was just a prank call. I should just go back to that little precious sleep I was getting these days.

But something kept bugging me. I definitely recognized one of the voices, and I was certain I had heard that name Böhler before. Finally I got up and turned on my laptop. I couldn't do anything about the voice, but I could google the name.

It turned out it was a name of a German model. The same German model that was until very recently dating a certain Prince, the prince that was only weeks ago photographed crashing into the fountain while playing a late-night badminton with none other than Mia, my Mia.

What the *#&$%%?

Of course, they spoke French in Genovia. That explained the second accent. And the word I didn't understand, didn't Mia's cousin, the designer one, always forget to say words in full, butchering them in the process?

Why would anyone close to Mia call me, pretending to be calling a dating agency Mandy?

And what did that remark in the end mean?

Yeah, I 'was still pining for her', but why would anyone in Genovia care about it? All of them were happy to see me gone.

Then the possibly explanation struck me. *#&$%%! Was this a reporter calling, planning on reporting how I got royally flushed? Frankly, I was surprised nobody from Post or Us Weekly had called me yet, trying to get my perspective of the breakup, but I guess nobody cares about the commoner's words, even in breakup.

I hoped they still didn't. I kept checking news in the upcoming days, even googling myself, something I had never, ever done, praying not to see headlines pertaining to my broken heart or something equally cheesy. I didn't want my name to be in the tabloids, I tolerated it when I had been with Mia, but now I really didn't want to read about my naiveté, or how I got what had been heading to all along.

There were no news reports on me. Whoever was so desperate to reach Mandy the Dating Service, wasn't apparently a reporter.

The New Year's Eve, though, I did not spend all by myself. Midori and her boyfriend threw a big party in their apartment, inviting me and the rest of the team. Somehow somebody found out I played the guitar, so instead of listening to a Christmas soundtrack, I was taking care of the live music. I hadn't played for anyone in such a long time, it was a welcomed déjà vu. When I ran out of Christmas carols, I started over. By the time midnight arrived, I was our team's champion in both music and playing video games. Midori also taught me how to mix a couple of cocktails. I wasn't sure how I'd use the knowledge, since I stopped drinking – excessively, at least – after Renata left.

We counted down the last seconds of the year. I raised my glass, wishing only one thing – for the New Year to give me back what the old one had so abruptly and cruelly taken away. Everything else would come to me and some or other way.

And something inside me told me that somehow, somehow everything would be alright.

 

JANUARY

(1)

Something changed when the New Year began.

I couldn't pinpoint it, but I started perceiving the world in a new light. As gloomy as it had seemed when arriving to Tsukuba, it now appeared challenging - but in a good way. Now I understood my life, the situation I was in as an opportunity to push myself even harder, achieve even more, make that final leap to prove myself. It was now or never, I knew I could never have a shot like this. I had given it all I had when I invented the prototype – I doubted I had another similar achievement in me. Why would I, really, cardio device I was making was as groundbreaking as a single operating device could be. If this wouldn't make a somebody in world's eyes, nothing ever could. Of course, just coming to Tsukuba, getting my own lab and my own team was a huge, huge accomplishment, but it wasn't enough. The world doesn't care about those who almost make it. All it wants to know about are victories.

I had to finish the robotic arm to show the world it had been wrong about me all along. Succeeding would give me a chance to get Mia back like nothing ever could.

And I wanted it right there, right then. I wanted to lock myself into the laboratory, and work day and night until the moment I could lift my hands and say done. I wanted to get on the plane, fly back to New York, skip the ceremonies, skip the interviews, ignore the world's big eyes staring, admiring, accepting – I didn't want any recognition, I didn't want the money. All I wanted was Mia. The thought of having her back in my arms, locking her into my embrace and never, ever letting go, occupied my mind, it was all I could think about. I subjugated everything for this goal, this obsession of mine. If I could do something tomorrow, I tried to have it done by today's evening. I didn't want to waste a single hour, I didn't want to sacrifice a single minute I could otherwise spend with Mia.

But of course I couldn't work all day and night. Clearly I needed a break every once in a while. I couldn't simplify my life to only working, sleeping and eating.

The time I wasn't in the lab I refused to spend in the apartment, catching up on some sleep or watching movies. These were all things I could easily do in New York. If I was in Tsukuba, at least I could use the time to experience the city.

I went to every museum, every gallery I could find. When there was nothing else to see, I started attending lectures. I listened to everything – from astronomy to history, art, culture, social sciences. I always liked learning. I knew that if cardio arm indeed takes off, I wouldn't have time to go to school. I would have my own company to run, my own product to sell. And to use the little time I had left, I went to classes as diverse as I could find them. If I liked what I was hearing, I went back or read more on the internet or looked up books in the library.

I wasn't only looking at my time in Tsukuba as an opportunity to make my dream future a reality. Now it was also a time for me to grow as a person, to learn as much as I could. As a prince consort, who knew what obscure knowledge could come in handy one day. Surely one day there would be a guest interested in Greek mythology. Some other time, there might be an expert on Middle Ages. Someone might like Renaissance or chemistry. I wanted to talk to as many of them as I could.

Due to working as much as I could, attending classes and going to a gym as regularly as I could, I often returned to the apartment so tired I barely managed to take a shower before falling asleep. A few times I fell asleep in front of the laptop, one time I dozed off while making myself dinner. I couldn't write Mia as often as I would like, but those occasions when I poured myself an energy drink to stay up for another hour, I did make sure to write her a lot, about whatever subject we were discussing. If I didn't know much about it, I would google it, read about it until I felt like my knowledge was sufficient.

It was tiring, very tiring, but the thought of returning home unprepared for the future with her was worse. When I felt like I was burning out, I slept for one additional hour, or skip going to the gym. Every day was a race to do more, and I finally felt like I was winning.

"Have you made any New Year's resolutions?" Midori asked me one day.

"No, why?"

She shrugged.

"Nothing, it's just that you seem happier. And that's good."

I grew closer to my team. We started as coworkers, but now we were friends. We had lunch together, sometimes we met after work as well. I tried to go out with them as often as I could, given classes, gym and an occasional call home. In late January, we somehow started talking about birthdays, and my team was outraged at my having a birthday weeks prior without telling anyone. I argued that it wasn't a big thing, but they insisted we still celebrated, though with a delay. The next morning, they had a cake delivered in the lab. It was in a shape the robotic arm would hopefully one day take. We took an hour off, celebrating, before returning back to work. We knew how to have fun and relax, but we could also be immensely focused on work when it was necessary

I had tried not to make a big deal out of my birthday. For me, it was just one of the days, another opportunity to get the work done. Mom of course sent me a package full of 'New York' things she thought I needed. Dad just signed the card while Lilly only wrote the initials of her name. We still weren't on the speaking terms. I guess it meant she still resented Mia and thought I was wrong for forgiving Mia. As much as I missed my baby sis, I had too much to do to worry about her. I knew she was – in a big part – only being stubborn. Lilly never liked admitting she was wrong, about anything, ever, no matter how silly the whole situation was. I guess that is the characteristic of Moscovitz siblings, they never, ever give up.

At one of the classes I attended, the one about the history of rock music, I met Henry. He was half-American half-Japanese, born and bred in Oregon. As the only Americans in class, we started talking. Super Bowl was coming up, and finding someone excited about it brought the feeling of home back. I never was a fan of organized, team sports, but the Super Bowl fever, the whole atmosphere, always got to me. We cheered for the opposite teams, so we placed bets as to who was going to win.

Besides calling America our home, we also discovered we had something else in common. When I told him I had had a band in high school, his face lit up and he went on to say he was still setting up a band here in Tsukuba, and still needed someone on the leading guitar.

"It's not serious or anything," he said, "just something to do for fun in the afternoons. A few guys jamming out to some good old rock every now and then."

I said I'd think about it, trying not to get his hopes up too much. I already barely had time to breathe, with the hectic schedule I had set up for myself. In fact, not being able to go back to the lecture and see Henry I somewhat forgot about the plans. I didn't think of it until Midori gave me a few photographs taken at the New Year's Eve celebration. I remembered how good it felt, holding and playing the guitar again, even though it was just cheesy Christmas carols.

The very same evening I went to the bar when Henry had said he was working part time. He knew why I was there immediately.

"We'll be up there at eleven," he said, putting a beer in front of me. "On the house, mate."

"Up where?" I was puzzled.

He pointed to a change in the back of the bar.

"But," I protested, "I haven't played anything in years."

"Don't worry, we all suck," he waived with his hand.

"What are you playing?" I felt the shivers just thinking about performing on a stage again.

"Good old rock," he said and handed me a hand-written set list. Most of them I had been playing way back when I had taken up playing the guitar.

I think he read for my face that I was in. He grinned and pointed to a table, saying I should go meet my band members.

Johan was an exchange student from Sweden. He played drums and was his high school's marching band champion, whatever he meant by that. His English was bad and his Japanese was even poorer, but he had a charm that charmed every lady within a ten feet radius. Tim was from New Zealand and played keyboards. He seemed high to me, and the way he was slowly moving around made me doubt he could conquer fast rock music. Akira told me in very rapid Japanese that his father was a very wealthy banker and he demanded his so to follow family footsteps. Instead, Akira found his calling in music, and after his father kicked him out, he made his living as a street musician. Apparently Henry found him while he was playing Beethoven on a bunch of trash cans, and super impressed immediately offered his a spot in his band. Akira hoped performing live with a band would gain him more recognition and hopefully a record deal. This made me think of how rusty my guitar playing skills were, and I felt bad for the musical hopeful. With me in the band he surely wouldn't impress any talent seekers.

But then I remembered Skinner Box playing at our Senior Prom. We had sounded decent, very decent. I was no Kurt Cobain, but I didn't suck, either. And so what if I hadn't truly played the guitar for more than a year? I couldn't possibly have forgotten everything in the meantime.

I had always been confident – after all, I had been running a rather opinionated Crackhead in my high school. I always knew I could do a lot, I trusted in my abilities. But at the same time, I was also full of doubt, maybe especially after Mia and I had gotten together. Suddenly being a promising student at an Ivy League school suddenly wasn't good enough. My grades, my music, my ezine, nobody judged me by that. I was judged by my name. It often felt no one truly cared about who I truly was, when in fact, I was pretty amazing, if I say so myself. People wanted more, something I could not give at my age and the place I was in at the time.

And so I had pushed myself to invent robotic arm and now I was on the verge of acceptance. Being awesome in not enough to get you to the point where I was currently on. You need not only brains, you need determination, incredible drive to be where I was at only twenty. I challenged the future and now I was in the lead. Considering my age, I was spectacular. Renata had been right – first I needed to be proud of myself, cherish myself. I couldn't seek acclamation by others, if I wasn't who I wanted to be. Nobody can make me feel bad about myself, if I know I am good, good enough. Not Us Weekly reporters. And definitely not Dowager Princess of Genovia.

And, *#&$%%, I was good enough.

We rocked that night on the stage. Johan forgot about the ladies in the front row, and with sweat in his forehead he was playing drums with an infectious intensity. Tim seemed to be as alive as it gets, whipping his hair around. The way Akira played his guitar, it sounded like poetry and looked like magic. With a stoic expression on his face he seemed to be in his own universe, with his fingers running up and down the strings intensely, yet looking completely calm and peaceful. Henry might not have the best voice, but he sang with passion, conviction that made you believe he was the next Freddie. He didn't worry about missing any notes, he made each his own. And I, I put all my anger, all my insecurities on display, I poured them into melodies, and it felt right at home, as if I hadn't taken a break from music while at Columbia. It was raw, it was real, it was liberating, empowering.

We didn't sound completely in tune, but we didn't mind. We played the music because we loved it, and it seemed the good energy transmitted to the audience. We got the standing ovation, ladies wanted our autographs all over them and they competed which one would first get a photo taken with each of us. We were treated as rock stars and each could choose which girl to go home with.

I sneaked out the back door, alone. I felt so inspired, so alive, I didn't want to waste any time. It was three in the morning, but I didn't go home. I went straight to the lab and continued working. There was not much I could do by myself, but it was better than nothing.

By the time my coworkers arrived, I still wasn't tired. When the work day ended, I chose not to go home, either. At midnight I went to one of the break rooms and slept there until morning. I didn't leave the lab for the next week, except to run home to get some more clothes and grab a lunch every noon.

When after a week I felt my energy fading, I met up with my new band again. This time we didn't have the show at the bar; instead, we were at Tim's, jamming out while sipping beer and playing poker. I had never played it before, so I lost quite a bit of money. It didn't matter. Fun and the joy of playing music again outplayed it.

And so January went by without me even realizing it.

 

FEBRUARY

(1)

I don't know how we got to the topic, but Mia and I started discussing weather in Somalia. I didn't know anything about the climate there – minus what I remembered from school – and certainly didn't know what to think about it. I didn't feel like discussing it, either, but this was Mia. I would read a telephone book with that girl and still worship every second – or, better yet, every name.

And so I used google, looked up some information, and tried to sound knowledgeable while writing the email. I hoped the excessive use of long words and terms would hide my act.

First days of the months were warm, such a contrast to the chilly winter. One sunny afternoon I decided I would ditch gym for a quick jogging hour around Tsukuba. Which, as it turned out, was a huge mistake.

An icy patch on the sidewalk somehow managed to survive the warming temperatures. My head was in springing clouds, and I managed to miss it. The next thing I knew, I lost footing and ended face-first on the ground.

It took me a second or two to comprehend what had just happened. I touched my face to see if I was bleeding. I wasn't; only my hands were slightly scratched.

But when I tried to get up, I realized I didn't survive the fall completely unharmed. I couldn't put my weight on my right ankle.

I cursed and somehow managed to limp back to my apartment. The way I kept leaning on the walls as I was ascending the stairs made me feel like I was a drunk stumbling home.

I put a cold compress on my ankle, hoping it would numb my leg enough to stop hurting. It didn't. Half an hour later it still hurt as much as it did before. I called Henry and cancelled the session, instead heating myself a dinner in the microwave, spending the evening watching cheap reality shows.

The next morning my ankle wasn't mysteriously cured, but I refused to let it stop me from my daily routine. I arrived at the lab late, at least to my standards, but I might as well just stay home. I couldn't stand on my leg for long periods of time, I was taking a shameful amount of breaks. I was feeling useless for most of the time. I couldn't focus on the work because of the pain, and I hated myself for it. I tried to block everything out, but it caused the work to suffer. In the end I realized it was best for me to just sit and oversee my team. I was so frustrated I even annoyed myself.

On the third day I gave it to Midori's persuasion and went to see a doctor.

"It's not broken," he said, "it is just sprained. It should get better in a few days. Don't put too much weight on too soon. Come back if it doesn't get any better in about a week."

Playing the guitar was something I could do without standing up. Henry was ecstatic to have me over more often. With more regular and more intense practice, we started to sound better. We actually sounded great.

He was, though, less happy about my saying no to girls he often brought home from work.

"Oh, come on, we're rockstars!" he kept repeating, usually while making out with two of them simultaneously.

"Didn't you say we were just messing around a bit?" I reminded him, not really sure of where to look at. There was Tim smoking joints in the corner, Akira doing something that resembled meditation, while Johan was talking on his phone in what I presumed was loud Swedish. A bunch of girls was mixing cocktails in the kitchen and some of them were flipping through Tim's collection of records. I never felt more college-like, I swear. It was *#&$%%ing hilarious.

"Well, exactly," Tim grinned. "This place is sacred. No one outside of these walls will ever know about it, if there is someone you don't want to hear about it."

I had no one waiting on me. A few months back I wouldn't hold myself back. I would feel no reservations at the girls winking, flirting with me. It would be just another way for me to get away from issues I hadn't dared to deal with. Back then I wouldn't feel anything, it wouldn't matter anything.

Maybe the circumstances hadn't changed much for me. I still had no one waiting on me, neither in Tsukuba nor in New York. But now I had new hope – I had a hope of getting someone back. Sure, my sleeping with anyone here might not change the future for us, after all, we were broken up, but it simply wouldn't feel right, not with the hope I was carrying in my heart now. I was completely devoted to my future, I was totally loyal to someone I didn't technically had right now, but I loved her with all my heart, I was reinventing myself, making myself better for the future we would hopefully have after I would finish the damn arm and returned home. She might not know it yet, but I was doing everything I could do to make everything I had hoped and thought of before coming here a reality. Sleeping with someone was never part of the plan and now that I had myself again, despite knowing it would feel good, I knew it wouldn't feel right.

And so I just walked out of Tim's place. Honestly, I doubted he even noticed.

On my way home I stopped at the music store. I couldn't play forever on Tim's spare guitar, so I bought myself a new one. Till three in the morning I kept playing, songs I was hearing on the radio, classics, some of my own songs from the Skinner Box days. I played everything I could think of, trying to catch up on the lost time. Two songs kept invading my mind, but I resisted playing them. It wouldn't feel right without her near to hear it.

Towards the end of the month, my Japanese mentor came to see the progress. Until then I thought the work was progressing well, but his gloomy expression said it all.

"We thought we would have something solid by the summer," he explained. "With this tempo, I am not so certain anymore. Don't get me wrong, it is coming along nicely, but maybe I just expected it to be a bit faster."

For a second I actually thought he would cancel the whole project. I knew he was overseeing many other projects, many just as ambitious and risky ones as my surgical arm, and I had no doubt it cost him and his university a great deal. They couldn't afford paying for something that wasn't working out.

I knew it had nothing to do with this, but I still cursed myself for going running that day. If I could stand properly, maybe I could do a bit more work, get a bit ahead of schedule …

I couldn't return to New York without robotic arm. I simply couldn't, there was no way. It would make me look like a failure, like a royal failure. My lack of future would pretty much be cemented by this project blowing. That would be something I would never, ever forgive myself for.

I didn't even know what to say. He beat me to it, though.

"You know what I think you need?" he asked.

"No, sir."

"Have you even been home since coming here?" he asked. I didn't understand why he changed the subject. My family was the last thing on my mind now that my project might be circling the drain.

"No, and I am planning on going home till..."

"Well, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing," he shrugged.

"I can't go home, I have so much work to do here," I protested. "You just said, we are running behind…"

"I have been here since we started working," Midori for some reason jumped in. "I can lead the team."

"No offense, son, but you look like you could use a break."

I argued that we could use a pair of hands, especially with the deadline nearing. I knew I wasn't sounding believable, but I couldn't tell them the true reason why I feared going home. Sure, it would be nice to see my family, my friends, but it would also bring along so many questions. It was easy, ignoring question via email, but in person? You can only change a subject so many times before it gets obvious you re hiding something.

I didn't want to talk about Mia. I didn't want to tell anyone about our breakup – I kept the details of that night hidden, though I wasn't sure how many people found out from her. I certainly didn't want to hear how sorry everyone was feeling for me, or answer their questions about what I was about to do next.

And I definitely wasn't up to telling anyone I was getting her back, one way or another. People thought I was crazy for dating a princess, being a commoner and all, people thought I would never finish robotic arm, Japan or not. I didn't need any other reason to be declared insane. Without anyone telling me I knew how easily I could end up with nothing – with no robotic arm and no Mia.

But I refused to think that way.

"Well, if you insist so much on doing some work," mentor said, "why don't you start working on the paperwork for your company while in New York? I presume you want your company to be based there, right? You are not planning on staying in Japan after finishing the device?"

"My company?" I repeated. "Isn't still early for that?"

I was so sure it was early I hadn't even started thinking of a possible name.

"It is never too early, son. Trust me, once you get this thing finished, everything will be happening very, very fast for you. You might even have problems realizing what you have done."

And so plans were made for me to fly back to New York the following weekend. The closer we got to the date, the more skeptical I got. I didn't want to leave my team, despite knowing Midori would be as good of a leader as me. I knew I could start the paperwork for my company via email and internet without a problem. But I knew that despite New York being a big city, no matter how huge Manhattan actually was, I could easily bump into Mia there.

And as excited as I got just thinking about it, just imagining how good it would feel, seeing her, being so close to her, undoubtedly seeing her cheek get redder and redder, not for a good reason, though, I knew it was still too soon. We could hide our true feelings – whatever hers were – via email while writing about Somalia or whatever, but it wouldn't work as flawlessly in person. I might believe, now, that I wouldn't feel any resentment when seeing her. But in person, my emotions and my mind might do funny things – I knew I still didn't trust myself enough to face her, knowing for sure I wouldn't explode at the memory of the last time I had seen her – actually, make that last two moments. While I might be on my way to something great, to being something more than a commoner, the truth was, I still was one. I still had nothing to show.

And, of course, then there was fear she might not even want to see me.

And that fear was killing me more than anything.

It was almost as if Midori knew what I was thinking.

"You don't have to see her if you don't want to," she laughed at my insecure face. I felt so silly for being so *#&$%%ing transparent. I was in Japan, working on my own, potentially life-saving device while still being twenty. I was *#&$%%ing awesome and yet all it took to make me super insecure was one girl.

"And if you don't want to talk about her with anyone," she went on, "you don't have to."

"And what do I do if I happen to bump into her?"

She thought about it for a second.

"If I were you," she then said, "I would stay in most of the time."

I knew my Mom would be ecstatic to hear about my coming home, even if it was just for the weekend. I also knew that once I'd tell her, I would have no other choice but to truly go.

I delayed making the call until Thursday evening. As usual, Mom went on and on about her week, barely letting Dad say hi to me. I wasn't sure if Lilly was around. I had reassured Mom a while back we were back on speaking terms. It was a white lie; it made Mom feel better. Surely it wasn't easy for her, having a son in Japan and a rebellious daughter not talking to each other.

Twenty minutes into the conversation I k new it was time to say it.

"Listen, Mom, this is all great. I have something to tell you."

"Oh, really?" she said with a hopeful voice. I had told her, before leaving, I most likely wouldn't becoming home before summer, but she still hoped I would take a weekend off or something. I knew how disappointed she was when she didn't see me over Christmas break.

Well, now she was having her wish come true.

"Well, I have some time off this weekend…"

"Oh, my god!" she screamed before I even finished. "Did you hear that, Monti? Our son is coming home!"

I tried to explain it to her it was just for the weekend and that I would be back on the plane on Sunday afternoon, but with her all her screaming I doubted she heard much.

Her enthusiasm was infectious, though. Maya yelled to promise to make my favorite food for lunch on Saturday. Even Pavlov must have sensed something good was in the air, I heard them in the background.

Their joy was echoing in my mind for the rest of the day. I even felt the urge to get on the earlier plane, it seemed pointless to wait till Friday noon. And as I was thinking about how good it would feel, going for a run with Pavlov to Central Park again, I suddenly got an idea for the name of my company.

I loved Pavlov more than anything – well, Mia excluded –, plus, in some way his name was connected to medicine.

Pavlov Surgical.

It even sounded good.

FEBRUARY

(2)

Home – Part I

It was the last day of February, early morning hours, when my feet once again touched the ground of my hometown, New York.

I breathed in the chilly air as I stepped out of the plane, descending the stairs. It was supposed to be the walk of pride; I should come back as a successful guy, the one who invented something that would go on saving many, many lives all over the world. The future I coveted was supposed to be in front of me, but now, as I was looking around, I knew how many uncertainties were still surrounding me. I was nowhere finished with what I had started. There was nothing I could do about it, though, I couldn't make time move faster. I just had to accept my somewhat of an in-between position, not letting it frustrate me too much. For someone as impatient as me, it surely was hard, but I couldn't let it get to me.

I had told Mom not to come pick me up, but of course her smiling face was the first thing I saw coming to the terminal. Dad was stranding right behind her, waving me.

"Welcome home, honey!" Mum cried. Honestly, I am not too into the whole expressing your emotions in the public thing, but it felt nice being hugged by my mother, even in such public place as airport. I don't think I had realized just how much I missed my family until I saw her.

New York might have many bad qualities, from being overcrowded to pollution, but it was still my city. McDonald's may be all over the world, but when we stopped in one on our way home, I realized the food in your hometown's tastes simply better – well, as good as fast food actually can taste.

Mom was going on and on about things she had mostly already told me over the phone. Dad was rolling her eyes at when she wasn't looking at him. Both being psychiatrists made them dysfunctional together, but somehow they couldn't function with anyone but each other. I was difficult for them to separate personal life from the work one, and it showed, not only in their marriage and break up a few years back, but also in their parental techniques. What kind of parents let their fifteen-year-old son have his own online magazine and even encourage him when he writes the anti-Gates articles? Furthermore, what kind of parents pay for their thirteen-year-old daughter's weekly TV Show where she tricks random people into having stickers on their foreheads voluntarily, not to mention the episode where she remade The Blair Witch Project New York style? I swear, when Lil and I were absent from school, it most often wasn't because we would be sick, but because they wanted to spend a day with us, analyzing the whatever made them concerned about us. As unusual and eccentric as our upbringing was, I was now realizing they had actually done me a favor. They had always let me do my own thing, supporting my ventures, never pointing out the possible bad outcomes or obvious mistakes, they let me see them by myself, decide how I'd fix them, thus shaping me into the person I was now, the analytical, determined, hard-working guy that never thought anything was too far out of reach or too difficult to achieve. Some might say I was too confided, too sure of myself, but really, I had the confidence to go after what I wanted and foolishly believe I had what it took to succeed. Everything I had in my life I got with my own hands, and there was no reason why I couldn't get even more. There was no reason why I couldn't be the one changing the cardio surgery for the better, and there was no certainly reason why I couldn't be the one dating the Princess of Genovia. With other any kind of upbringing, both would probably strike me as too much for me to handle.

"Well, anyway," she continued, "I hope you are not too upset with Lilly, Michael."

That brought me back from my thoughts.

"Upset? Why would I be upset with her?" I frowned.

"You know, about the website?" Dad said, but the expression on his face was an obvious clue he had thought I already knew about it.

And that stabbing feeling in my stomach was back. The fear of what Lilly could possibly do in some sort of retaliation to Mia overwhelmed me again. As much as I had thought she was over it in the past weeks and months, it was so much stronger now. I remembered how Lilly kept avoiding me, ever since I left for Japan. At first I thought it was because she was angry with me for still caring about Mia. Now I wondered if she wasn't afraid of my reaction to something she had apparently done to her own best friend.

The hurricane of thoughts was colliding in my mind and I struggled to keep my act together. What kind of a world savior was I planning on being, if I couldn't save the love of my life from my sister's violent fury?

"We talked to Lilly about it, of course, and your father and I both think she feels bad about it. In hindsight, I guess she knows it wasn't a proper, mature way to deal with the situation," Mom kept talking, apparently not picking up on me not knowing what she was talking about, unlike Dad. "We believe she was too overwhelmed with her own emotions after everything went down, and didn't know how to handle them all simultaneously, thus turning against Mia in such a cruel, hurtful way. I know that you know, Michael, how much your sister hates taking responsibility and facing the consequences of her own actions. She often takes it all out on people, but this time she went too far. It was a great lesson for her."

"That's great," I said, still not having any idea whatsoever what she was talking about. I refused to show it; I knew my parents wouldn't think twice before psychoanalyzing me for my still apparent feelings for Mia. It might even make them doubt whether I was in a state to continue my work in Japan, not to mention, if the confidence that had brought me this far wasn't getting into my head too much.

I tried to pretend I didn't care about the website or Lilly's redemption. I avoided looking at Dad, hoping he wouldn't think too much into everything, and made sure to divert conversation to recent holidays, making Mom forget all about her rebellious daughter in the spirit of reliving her baking the cinnamon cookies for Christmas adventure. After she remembered her and Dad were late for some sort of conference, I strongly encouraged them to go, citing my wish to spend the afternoon with Lilly as their excuse for leaving me so soon after seeing me for the first time in months.

Maya wasn't at home when I got there, but my dog was. At first, Pavlov couldn't believe I was actually walking in. he just sat for a minute, looking at me, as if trying to remember where he had seen me before. I knelt down, calling his name, and my voice seemed to be the final clue. He ran towards me, knocking me down. As I petted him, I remembered my idea to name my company after him. This warm welcome only made me surer of the idea.

I glanced at my wrist watch, remembering the papers I had printed off the government's website and filled in during the flight. I still had time to go and turn them in, the first step to founding my own company. I decided against it, though. I doubted Pavlov would let me out of his sight any time soon, and moreover, I had to find out what website Mom had been talking about.

I went to my room and turned on my laptop, letting Pavlov guard me by my legs. I thought of what to such for. Typing just Mia's name into Google would give me thousands, millions of hits. It would take me forever to find the website I was presumably looking for.

I closed my eyes, trying to get into my sister's head. We had always been quite close, so it shouldn't be too hard to figure out the way she had been thinking when she apparently created The Website. What kind of a website would she create? Surely she would know how, she had seen me do it many, many times. Besides, with the intelligence she surely possessed and proper guide book she could easily find, she could do it from scratch.

Website. Why would her revenge even revolve around a website? Lilly could do nasty things when she put her mind to it, but website? Website was so … public, even for Lil. Everyone, whether they're from Italy or Brazil, could read what she had written about Mia without a problem. I feared to think of the intimate things Lilly knew about Mia and could possibly share with the world. Mia didn't like attention as it was, even when reporters were writing false reports – how would she feel is some of her deepest secrets were to grace the world headlines?

But the thing was, I haven't heard anything about any website, and I followed news closely every day. So this website couldn't have been something that made newspaper covers. The realization didn't feel me with as much relief as I would wish, even though it probably meant any dirt Lilly possibly knew about Mia wasn't included – or, if it wasn't, nobody believed it. So it couldn't have been anything very-credible looking. Maybe Lilly's revenge wasn't as mean as she could it be. At least she had some decency left. My sister knew just the right way and the right people to make headlines. Just like she should know better than to publicly embarrass and hurt Mia by creating a hateful website about her. It had happened to her. That crazy stalker she had gotten herself, Norman, created a I Hate web about Lilly. Half of the people that had visited the site left evil comments about Lilly and her show, despite most of them never even saw an episode of Lilly Tells It Like It Is. My sister's skin is as thick as the elephant's, so surely she hadn't been nearly as hurt as I imagined Mia was with whatever Lilly had –

Wait.

What if Norman had been the source of inspiration for Lilly's revenge?

I suddenly felt very, very cold. I felt the anger rising in me as I focused on my fingers and slowly typed ihatemiathermopolis into the search bar, pressing search.

And there it was. The very first hit.

I clicked on it.

Surely Lilly could have done a better job, but she didn't even need to. Just the idea of the website was cruel enough.

The website wasn't extensive; it only featured a few pictures of Mia, surely embarrassing, but in a high-school way embarrassing. And there was a list, ten things the admin, my lovely sister, hated about Mia.

10) She's a princess.

9) The fact that she is constantly writing in that stupid journal.

8) She had the best boyfriend in the whole world, and she blew it.

7) Always whining about wanting to be self-actualized. Please. Self-actualization implies the attainment of the basic needs of physiological, safety/security, love/belongingness, and self-esteem. Who expects to have all that at sixteen?

6) She obsesses. About EVERYTHING.

5) What is up with the no-meat thing?

4) She can't do even the simplest math problems.

3) Did I mention she's a princess?

2) She's a boy-friend-stealing byotch.

1) Her hair looks stupid.

I only read it once, but I knew it wasn't something I could never forget. How could she be so cruel and do this to Mia? Yeah, Mia had done so many things wrong, hurting me in the process, but I hadn't been completely innocent in the mess either. And what was up with the boyfriend-stealing thing? My sister, the epitome of intelligence, didn't know it takes two people to form a relationship? You cannot steal one's boyfriend, if that boyfriend doesn't want to be stolen. And obviously there was something very, very shady about JP. My sister was better off without him.

I deleted the website. First I hacked it, then deleted it. There was no need for it to be in the online world any longer. It overstayed its stay anyway. But there was nothing I could do about the damage it had already caused. If only people's lives were as easy to fix as computers.

I just sat there, behind the computer, with Pavlov breathing loudly, trying to gather what had just happened. Yeah, sure, I understood that my sister had been upset over everything that happened in September, but this, this was way more than a frustration.

This was downright mean.

And the fact that the site hadn't been updated since September didn't make any difference.

You just don't do something like this and get away with it.

No *#&$%%ing way.

And then I heard the front door closing. And looking at the time, I just knew it was Lilly.


  • 0

#11 dbcWinter

dbcWinter

    Meg Cabot Fan

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Posted 11 April 2015 - 07:50 AM

FEBRUARY

(3)

Home – Part II

The moment I saw her, I knew she was all too aware of me knowing about the website. She knew I was standing there, watching her carefully, but she didn't even glance in my direction. She was unbuttoning her coat, slowly hanging it, trying to prolong what was inevitably happening for every second she possibly could.

I had been around when Lilly was at her worst. A revengeful fury she had been on those occasions, the true drama queen, brave – or careless - enough to face whoever was in her mind doing her wrong. Assertiveness was never a problem with her – she stood up for herself, defending herself even when it was obvious she was the one making mistakes.

Frankly, I had never seen her like this, afraid, beaten, almost ashamed of herself.

I crossed my arms. Whatever she was feeling about it now, it didn't make it okay. It didn't make me any less angry.

She was the first to speak up.

"So, you are home," she said, looking at her hands. "Mom's really psyched about it. Beware, though, I doubt she'll let you leave on Sunday."

"Yeah," I felt the impatience rising in me. "Lilly, we need to talk."

"Look, Michael, I am sorry, alright?" she exclaimed then, but there was a complete absence of any emotion in her voice. She didn't seem sorry – she didn't even sound angry about my bringing it up.

"What were you thinking?!" I heard myself screaming. I knew it was wrong, raising my voice like this, but emotions once again got the better of me. Suddenly the whole weight of my sister's action was upon me, a million little things it could result in. The carousal on uncertainty, run by my demons, was in full swing again, driving me insane.

"I was just really, really angry, alright?!" she yelled back me.

"And how do you think I was feeling? Don't you think the whole situation was slightly worse for me than it was for you? And yet I didn't go around creating hateful website about her! Do you have any *#&$%%ing idea what this could do to her, Lilly?"

"Wanna know what I think, Michael? I think nobody sees ME in this whole *#&$%%ing mess!" she yelled. "You all go around saying how difficult it was for you and her, but no one ever considers how everything affected me! You think you are the only one losing someone? You think you are this huge victim because you moved to Japan and will be away for so long from your family? Well, what about me, huh? Did you ever wonder about me? I had to witness my brother getting his heart broken, a day before leaving for Japan! My only brother moving to *#&$%%ing JAPAN for a YEAR! You think it was easy for me? You think it was easy for Mom and Dad? All they think about is how Michael is doing, you are what they talk about with their friends, not me. And I get good grades, my show is getting more recognized, and yet they don't even see me! All they see is you, and you are not even here! But, alright, sibling rivalry, that's not a big deal, huh? Well, what about my own BOYFRIEND breaking up with me practically the moment you left? Leaving me because … because he liked someone else? Someone, as in, my best friend, my brother's girlfriend, the girl responsible for my brother's leaving? You might have lost your girlfriend, Michael, but I lost my brother, my boyfriend and my *#&$%%ing best friend in a DAY! Do you know how it feels, losing everything all at once? Or are you too, like everyone else, too preoccupied by yourself to even think about me?"

I witnessed Lilly's outburst before, but never had they been this justified, this real, this honest. It stunned me, making feel guilty. She was right, of course. Never have I wondered how she was doing, how she was dealing with my leaving and everything it had brought along. Of course I could find comfort in knowing Lilly had never been good with showing her true emotions, preferring to hide them behind the opposite of what she was really feeling. She never liked to appear weak, and it was her way of protecting herself. But reality, it more often than not made the situation worse, distancing her from others, only exaggerating the problem. Over the years, she mastered the art of suppressing her true emotions to the extend nobody ever doubted in her performance. Clearly no one wondered how my leaving affected her – she didn't even give anyone a chance to consider it, seeing how angry she was at everyone.

I should have realized it, though. I was her brother, I was there when she developed into this cool, collected, assertive, sensitive girl she was now, much thanks to our parents. I should have seen through her act, but instead, I let her down, too focused on my own world crumbling.

"It still does not make it okay," I swallowed hard.

She shook her head.

"Did you even hear what I said, Michael, or are you still only seeing yourself, like you always have?"

"I heard you. But it was still…"

"Still wrong?" she cut me off. "Well, then tell me, what was I supposed to do? I couldn't just go away from it all, like you did. I had to be here, every day, looking at her, knowing how much she had hurt you, watching her with JP, not having any idea whatsoever."

"Any idea whatsoever about what?" I carefully asked, though somewhere in the back of my mind I already knew the answer.

I think she then realized that she had said a bit much. She avoided mz ezes again, trying to think of a way out.

"Lilly? Tell me," I demanded.

I swear I hadn't seen her bit her lower lip in years.

"Calm down," she mumbled.

"Calm down? I am perfectly calm," I dismissed her.

"No, you're not. And you can't do anything about this, understand? Besides, it doesn't matter anymore. She broke up with him months ago," she tried to make whatever she was taking about less important than it clearly was. But it only enraged me more.

"Lilly, just tell me, it is fine," I tried to laugh it off, but only listening to my affected laughter I realized how threatening I actually sounded. That explained why she looked so scared. But there was nothing I could I do about it – if she indeed was talking about what I thought she did, I was nowhere near calming down.

Not surprising, she didn't believe me one bit.

And so she did what she always had, once things got a bit too real for her liking. She changed the subject.

"You still love her, don't you?" she said, completely oblivious to my boiling anger.

It caught me completely off guard.

"What?"

"Don't bother denying it, really. You have that expression again."

There are only two people in the world that can completely confuse and disarm me at the same time. One of them is Mia. The other is my baby sister.

"What expression?"

"The expression you wore that December night when I confronted you with feelings you had for her. And told you she was the one sending you those dreadful poems."

I couldn't just let myself forget about whatever JP did.

"That is completely beside the point," I argued.

"No, it demonstrates my point completely. I don't dare to tell you when you clearly have unresolved feelings for Mia. Why else would you so freak out about that website?"

"Because…"

"Look, Michael, you don't have to tell me. I was way out of line. And … yeah, looking back I do realize everything was not Mia's fault. Though you can't deny she was completely psychotic about the whole Judith Gershner thing, but whatever. I thought that by creating that web I would hurt her at least a bit as much as she hurt me. Too late I realized a stupid website cannot make my pain go away. I can't undo it – though I wouldn't be surprised if you have already done something about it – but I promise you, I will make up for it. I swear. I am already working on it."

I usually could tell whether or not my sister was speaking the truth. This time she went the extra mile to keep me in the dark. Determination on her face overshadowed everything she might as well be feeling.

"What are you planning on doing?" I eyed her suspiciously

"Just trust me on this one, okay?"

"I don't want to sound mean or anything, Lilly, but today has kind of proved that it is rather difficult to trust your judgment sometimes."

She pinched me in the shoulder.

"I am glad you are home, Michael, by the way," she smiled, "I did kind of miss you."

"Yeah, I did kind of missed you too," I laughed. "Now, come on, tell me, what did JP do?"

Her grin became sourer as I mentioned his name. Dark clouds once again descended in front of my eyes and I felt my rationality being swept away by rainy floods.

"Can't you just let it go? I am with Kenny now, and she has broken up with him, it doesn't matter."

I decided to ignore her remark about Kenny. Now she was going out with him? Albert Einstein High School must be getting smaller by the year. Are there really not any boys left? How could possibly my sister and her best friend literary pass boyfriends to each other?

"So they truly were going out?" I tried to sound playful, but I failed miserably.

"Well, that was what she thought," Lilly spat.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Michael, come on, you invented revolutionary medical device or whatever. Figure it out, it was all over the papers. And I mean ALL OVER the papers. I know you have always been quite blind when it came to Mia, but come on, this is too obvious for even you not to notice."

I thought about her words. All over the papers? Why did she emphasize that so much? Yeah, sure, they made paper headlines, she the princess and he the son of a leading Broadway producer, it was pretty inevitable. It wasn't that surprising reporters going the extra mile to make sure to find out about their every date – unless it wasn't their hard work that got them the information leading to their date sites.

I should have known Mia wouldn't voluntarily put up with paparazzi ambushes.

"Are you saying he went out with Mia just to get publicity?" I said, but my calm was completely the opposite of what I was feeling inside.

"Well, clearly."

"And that was why she broke up with him? Because she found about it?"

I don't know why, but Lilly's eyes popped out. She was quickly back in control over her facial features, though.

"Actually, if you ask me, she still has no idea about this."

"Oh." It did sound a lot like Mia. Something a fact could be right in front of her, staring at her, and yet she wouldn't notice it. The same thing happened with my Algebra instructions in her Freshmen year. Not to mention, Tall Drink of Water song. "Why did they break up, then?"

She started clearing her throat, as if trying to hide her laughter, for whatever reason. Looking at my puzzled face, she turned around to collect herself.

"Well," I went on, unsure of what to make of it all, "this still doesn't explain why you were so upset with Mia."

"Really, Michael? You are getting more oblivious every year? Clearly JP had to break up with me first in order to start dating Mia, don't you think?"

"Are you telling me he broke up with you just so that he could get together with Mia?"

"No, actually I think he only started dating me in order to get close to Mia and her royal spotlight."

Once again she said too much. This time, way, way too much. Not only Mia and Lilly are the only two people in the world who always, no matter what, have a complete control over me, they are also the two people I love most, so much I would do anything, literally anything for them.

And there was no *#&$%%ing way I would let some sleazy prick like JP play with them like this, for whatever wicked pleasure he got out of it.

Without even realizing it, I walked to the closet and took my coat out of it, putting it on.

Lilly appeared in front of me, pushing me away from the door. I could see her mouth moving, but I didn't hear a word she was saying, too wrapped in my own thoughts of where to find JP on Friday afternoon.

"Move away from the door, Lilly," I heard myself mumble.

"No *#&$%%ing way am I letting you out!" she screamed, putting all her strength into pushing me away. But I was bigger, stronger than her, it didn't affect me at all.

"Lilly…"

"What are you even planning on doing, huh? Beating the crap out of him? He deserves it, sure, but he is such a jerk, Michael, he will probably end up calling the police, getting in trouble! Wanna bet he'd sell his story to some *#&$%%ing newspaper? Do you want the whole world reading about your inability to move on from your failed relationship with Mia? Do you want Mia hearing about it?"

Honestly, I wouldn't care about getting in newspapers. I wouldn't care about legal troubles beating up JP could cause me. That jerk needed to get what he deserved, and clearly I was the only one to do it. There was no *#&$%%ing way I would let him get away with.

But thinking of Mia stopped me. Even if she learnt about his calling the paparazzi, would she understand why I did it? Or would she see it just as another clear sign I was out of control, a danger to her? I still didn't know what she thought of my sleeping with Judith now. Putting JP in the hospital, justified or not, might be the last straw in our already uncertain bond.

Besides, Mia was never into physical retaliation. Actually, she wasn't revengeful at all.

"Are you gonna let it go now?" Lilly asked.

"That *^*&&," I mumbled.

"Yeah, well, we finally agree on something."

And so I took my coat off, pretending I let the whole JP thing slide. I spent the afternoon with Lilly, watching TV and ordering in lunch. Around seven, she went out to meet with Kenny. I waited half an hour, feeding Pavlov, and then I too headed into the night, with a specific goal in mind.

 

FEBRUARY

(4)

Home – Part III

My sister had been dating John Paul Reynolds-Abernathy IV long enough for me to know his schedule pretty well. When I set out to find him, I knew he was likely at the nearby theatre, a place he frequent in afternoons, I guess taking in the atmosphere or whatever.

With a father like his, he didn't need any experience. *#&$%%, he didn't even need talent.

But today wasn't about JP's incompetence to write anything meaningful.

When I reached the theatre, I walked to the back door, guessing he'd emerge from there. Lilly called, multiple times, but I didn't answer. She probably realized I had let JP off the hook too easily and guessed what I was up to. After about ten minutes, I wrote her a short text, telling her not to worry, and turned off my phone.

I thought back to the talk we had had. Mia most likely really wouldn't be too happy about my being here, but someone had to do it. Somebody needed to put that prick into his place, and I couldn't think of anyone doing it instead of me.

The door opened. My body tensed up as I watched people exiting the theatre. But I didn't see him. He was probably still gaining experience.

It was already getting late, and the chilly winds started blowing up and down the street. The jacket I had on didn't provide much protection, and as the minutes were passing by, I found myself shivering from cold. Not to mention, the smell of the dumpsters wasn't one of the pleasant ones, but I had no intention of moving.

I turned on the phone again, hoping to distract myself from the clear message my body sensors were sending me. As expected, Lilly bombarded me with texts and calls. I didn't bother opening any of them, I just sent her another one, assuring her everything was alright.

Then one of the missed calls caught my attention. Firstly, because it wasn't from Lilly, and secondly, because it was from Philippe.

It took me a minute to connect the name with a face.

Mia's father? What was he calling me for? We hadn't talked in months, since Mia's birthday in May. Why would he, of all people, call me so out of the blue? Sure, I would understand Lars calling me, for we were friends.

Maybe I am prone to pessimism, I don't know, but the first notion that went through my mind was less than a pleasant one. Did something happen to Mia and Philippe thought I would like to know, preferably before the news hits the media?

The sole thought was unbearable, and I would call Philippe back right there, right then, if the door didn't fling open and JP walked out.

He didn't see me. He was talking on his cell, completely immersed in his bubble. He spoke in his usual high tone, full of presumptuousness. What my sister ever saw in him, I have no idea, yet alone what made Mia believe he was anything other than a pathetic prick. But I guess he knew his way with words, given he was an aspiring playwright.

"I know, Stacy, and I am telling you, it will be amazing! The underdog getting his big break, all thanks to his talent and perseverance, not to mention his kindness …"

I stepped closer to him. Maybe he noticed my shadow, maybe he sensed something behind him.

His eyes went big when he realized it was me looking back at him. There was fear in his eyes and I could see his composure fading away with a speed of sound.

He stuttered as he spoke up again.

"Stacy, I gotta call you back, alright?" he said.

It gave me so much pleasure, seeing the effect I had on him.

"Michael," he attempted a smile, but it was a sour one, "I didn't know you were already back from Korea!"

"It's Japan," I coolly corrected him, "and I am not back, I am just vising my family for the weekend."

"Well, that's nice," he nodded, oh so terrified. "May I ask what you are here for? At the theatre, I mean?"

"I thought it was obvious," I shrugged, and his affected smile was only making me angrier. Did he seriously think I had no idea what he did to my sister? To Mia? In which universe did he live?

"No, it isn't," he still pretended to be a goofy, cheerful kid.

I couldn't take it any longer.

"Cut the crap, JP," I raised my tone.

"What?" he looked like he had no idea what I was talking about.

"You know damn well what I am talking about, JP," I stepped closer. Immediately he stepped back, once again restoring the distance between us.

The prick was afraid of me.

Good.

"Michael …" his eyes were pleading, as if I actually had an intention to back down.

"Don't Michael me," I dismissed him, "what the *#&$%% did you do to my sister?"

"Lilly? What do you mean? We broke up, it happens!" he exclaimed.

"Happens?" I repeated. "Fine. Then what happened with Mia?!"

"Mia? Nothing! We never even went out!" he for some reason looked relieved. He raised his hands. "Don't believe everything you read in papers, Michael."

"You really think I would not find out?" I laughed.

"Find what out?"

That was when I lost control of myself. I stepped closer to him, and something in my eyes freaked him out enough that he started running, backwards, without turning. He crashed into a wall, and the impact paralyzed him. He stared at me with pure terror in his eyes. It was an opportunity I didn't dare to waste. Next he felt my forearm across his neck. I didn't press hard or anything, but his breathing was still shallow.

"Please, don't…" he begged.

I didn't care.

"Now listen to me, and listen to me well," I said, "because this is the only warning I am giving you. Next time, I am gonna out you in the hospital, and you better believe me, Abernethy. If you ever hurt my sister, in any way, or use Mia to get the attention for whatever pathetic play you are working on, I will beat the crap out of you. Do you understand?"

Something resembling words came out of his mouth. I didn't bother decoding.

"And if you open your mouth about our little encounter to anyone, I swear the press will learn what a prick you are, JP. I mean it. Think about the impact that will have on your upcoming playwright career."

I held my arm still for a few seconds, to get my message across even clearer, in case he thought I was just joking around. When I moved back to his relief, his hands reached for his neck, rubbing it as it he truly had been deprived of oxygen.

I thought he'd start defending himself yet again, playing the role of the victim instead of the predator he was, but he spared me. He just watched me, with a very satisfying amount of fear.

I left without saying another word. I didn't turn around, neither.

Two blocks away, I turned on my phone again, calling Philippe. My mouth went dry as I waited for him to pick up. I knew there were a billion explanations for his calling me. I just couldn't think of any.

Even though he answered practically immediately, it felt like hours dragging by.

"Michael, hello," he said.

His voice didn't sound anxious in any way. Nothing about it indicated he was about to tell me something bad.

It only confused me more.

"Hi, sir, I was…"

He interrupted me.

"Philippe, please. Listen, Michael, I recently learned you are back in New York. As it happens, so am I. I realize you want to spend as much time as you can with your family, but I was wondering if you could spare a bit of your time to meet me."

Mia's dad wanted to see me? What for?

Surprise made me silent for an embarrassing amount of second. I cleared my throat to get myself back together.

"I would love to meet with you, Philippe."

"Oh, I am happy to hear that, Michael. Please, tell me, when would it most suitable for you?"

I was taken aback yet again. I wasn't used to the members of Genovian Royal Family ever thinking of what was most suitable for me. Usually, they preferred not to think of me at all. It was a change I liked.

We agreed to meet in Plaza on Sunday afternoon, just before I'd head to the airport to return to Japan. I still couldn't think of a reason he'd want to see me, but I decided to be surprised.

As soon as my talk with Philippe ended, my phone rang again. It was Lilly, again. I couldn't help but to grin. Persistence is something the Moscovitz siblings have in common.

"Relax, Lilly, there was no blood," I laughed into the phone.

"You *^*&&," she spat. "What the *#&$%% are you up to?"

"I told you, Lil, you have nothing to worry about."

There were a few seconds of silence.

"Well, if there really was no blood, then … thanks for whatever you did, Michael."

"Anything for you, sis."

"Ha, very funny, Michael," I could see her goofily rolling her eyes before she hung up.

Somehow I just knew things were going to get much, much better from now on.

March

(1)

Home – Last Part

The news of my returning to New York for a few days had indeed spread around.

Judith called me the next morning, hoping to meet up with me. She invited me over to her place, saying she was home alone. I smirked at her choice of words. That had been our code back in high school when we were sleeping together. I didn't know if this time she intentionally used it or not, but I wasn't tempted to find out. I texted her back, saying I already had other plans. Which wasn't a lie, given I was meeting Phillipe.

Lars was waiting on me in front of Plaza. He even opened the door of the cab for me, just like when we were driving in the limo to school with Mia and Lilly. At the sight of his enormous, bulky figure, a very visible gun on the right hip and the overall black attire, the cab driver's eyebrows shot up, and from his eyes I could read he thought I was involved with mafia. I made sure to leave a big tip, but he surely was relieved when he could drive off.

"Michael, how are you?" Lars smiled at me, as always unaware of the impression he made on ill-informed people around him.

"Alright," I said. "You? How are you, Lars?"

Lars and I had gotten well on pretty much since the get-go. Truthfully, I don't know why. If anything, he should have been extra suspicious of me, as he instantaneously saw through me, knowing I had a thing for Mia. Instead of telling me off, citing both her age and her royal status as the absolute demolition of my feeling for her, he not only gave me a chance, but in a way even supported me. Once Mia and I got together, he was one of the few that never made me feel unworthy of me. His job as a bodyguard was to protect her, and he skillfully deduced that my feelings were of no threat to her. If anything, I loved her too much, and out of care sometimes somehow ended up hurting her.

"I am fine," he said, and then paused, as if knowing my question wasn't aimed only at him. "Things are very well, you should know that."

"Okay," I nodded. "Thank you. It's nice to know. You wouldn't have any idea why Phillipe asked to see me, would you?"

"To talk," he simply said as we walked to the elevator. "I wouldn't worry about it too much, if I were you."

He walked with me to the room of Mia's father. On the way he told me an amusing story of how he and Wahim decided to participate in the next Movember, and were currently contemplating getting a head start.

"I do worry about Clarisse's opinion, though," he sighed.

"Why? I know she's not a fan of facial hair, but I am sure she cannot tell you not to have mustache," I laughed.

"The guy who worked for Phillipe before me," Lars said, "had a punk band. He never mentioned it on the job or anything, but when Clarisse found out about it, she sacked him before the day ended. Because, you know, she only listens to cabaret music. Even though he never played or even talked about his music. Mustache, on the other hand, she would be staring at constantly."

"But I thought you worked for Phillipe?"

"Keep thinking that if it makes you feel better," he said just as we reached Phillipe's room. He knocked, and Phillipe's calm, assured voice invited me in.

He sat behind a long desk. I couldn't help but to notice how his personality was written all over the desk. Both were tidy, he in his expensive-looking suit that seemed to have just gotten back from the dry-cleaners, and the desk without a single pen lying around and with every paper in their respective folder.

When our eyes met, he got up to greet me.

"Michael, hello," he said, looking genuinely happy to see me. But when it came to Mia's family, it wasn't Phillipe who disliked me.

"Alright, thank you, you?"

"Same old same old," he laughed and invited me to sit down. As I did, he pulled a tray I hadn't seen earlier closer. It had a bottle and two glasses on. "It's cognac," he informed me. "I know you are not 21 yet, but I figured what the hell."

He poured us drinks, and I took a sip, just to be polite. Phillipe's eyes were fixated on me, not moving away even for a split second. I tried to maintain my composure, but years in politics left him with a piercing stare, even if completely unintentionally.

"So how's work?" he asked.

"It's coming along nicely."

"Japan, if I am not mistaken, right? Such a fascinating country. Culture, people. A great experience."

"To be honest, most of what I see is the insides of the lab," I laughed.

"Yes, well, before you left, Mia told me you were off to construct some sort of a surgical robot. But I have to admit, I didn't understand just how ambitious your project was until I read a little bit on the subject."

"Ambitious, maybe, but today's technology is more advanced than you might think. All the necessary components already exist, it is just a matter of putting them together."

"Still, given your age, I think it is a marvelous achievement, even if in the end it does not end up working as well as all hope."

"Thank you, Phillipe."

"It does, however, make me wonder what drives a twenty-year-old to try to achieve something the most renowned scientists if more than twice his age are still struggling with."

"I don't think your age should be, or maybe even is, a factor in making an idea into a reality. Vision and determination do not come with age; I'd say they come with personality," I argued.

"I agree, Michael, and having read your magazine back in the day, always thought you were definitely a character capable of great things, but potentially revolutionary medical equipment is a big leap forward from opposing Microsoft. Even in terms of gained respect and acceptance."

He poured some more drink in his glass before continuing.

"Look, Michael, like I said, I always thought highly of you. Not just as far as your academic achievements were concerned, I always admired your personality, from intelligence, demeanor, to the way you cared about my daughter."

"Thank you."

"No, don't thank me, it would be obvious to any hillbilly," he dismissed me. "A father can only dream about his daughter having luck of finding someone like you. That is all I ever wanted for Mia. I know there are people, my mother especially, that believe Mia should only be with someone of her social status, but frankly, I am not as rooted in 19th century beliefs like my mother. For me, the matter of you having a proper name was never important. I am sorry if I ever made you think otherwise."

"You didn't, Phillipe," I assured him.

"Yeah, well, I think my mother more than just compensated," he sighed. "Anyway, my point is, I wouldn't care if you were just a student, later on working for some computer company or something. I wouldn't think any less of you. But your determination to go as far as making a surgical robot, something that will change the history of medicine, well, I have to admit you left me speechless, Michael. I don't know how things are currently between my daughter and you, and I have no doubt she is the dark as far as your inner motives for going to Japan for so long are, but I want you to know that I appreciate what you are doing, a lot. You don't have to prove yourself to me. Maybe the world thinks otherwise, maybe even you think like you have to, but for me, just the respect you have shown for Mia is enough."

"It means a lot to me that you think this way," I said with a lump in my throat.

"I am sorry we haven't had a chance to talk earlier. But I believe you needed to cool off your head a bit."

"Yeah, things are much clearer now."

"Good. So I can expect you to see more of you at our dreadful family dinners in Genovia?" he smiled.

"I certainly hope this will be the case," I said.

"Well, I for one have no doubt."

But that wasn't the end of my encounters with Mia's family.

I was at the airport, waiting to board the plane back to Tokyo.

"Well, well, well," I heard someone say. The voice sounded rather familiar, so I turned around to see who it was.

I saw two guys coming closer to me. The first one was wearing gold pants, an Aloha shirt and a pink derby hat. He had a half-full cocktail glass in his hands, and truthfully, he didn't even look sober.

It was René, one of Mia's cousins.

The other wore leather pants in the color of lime, a slightly darker denim jacket and a yellow T-shirt. He kept pushing his sunglasses further up his nose, though to me it looked like they already reached the desired position. It was Sebastiano, Mia's other cousin.

"Isn't this Michael, Mia's Michael!" René said, actually embracing me. "You have no idea how happy we are to see you, aren't we, Seb?"

"Cert," Sebastiano nodded.

"Fancy a drink, Michael?" René said in a voice similar to the one Clarisse usually used when playing a role of the hostess.

"No, thanks, I am just about to board the plane."

"You going to Japan! How is that magnificent robot coming along?"

"Okay," I said, still baffled both by their outfits and the situation as a whole. I never really talked to either of them, with the exception of that time my beloved sister played strip blowing with some of the European royals. Mia always complained about them, but in their colorful attire and an obvious drunken state, I found them to be hilarious.

"You have no idea how happy that makes me feel, mate!" René sang, then clearing his throat as if trying to sound more serious. "You know, there's usually three of us, but one got stuck babysitting. With his girlfriend. Which he met via an online dating service. Dating Agency Mandy, maybe you heard."

"Shhh!" Sebastiano tried to shush him very indiscreetly.

"What?" René argued. "They are a completely respectable – or is it reputable? - agency. Not like one of those where they hook you up with the girl that claims to be pregnant with you the following week, even though you took extra precautions, as you have been falsely accused before, by a very persistent and creative lady that doesn't let anything go to waste, much like that guy in TV that drinks his own urine. I mean, Mandy has the best screening system, I tell you."

I admit, I had no idea what to say to all that. But I did look around, just to see if there were any TV crews nearby.

"Anyway," he went on, "I would just like to say in the name of all three of us, that we wish you good luck with your robot, though we don't really understand what it is, heck, I don't think even Mia does, but anyway, we are talking about a girl here that doesn't even know how to make a proper cosmo, but, where was I? Oh, right, yeah, we are totally cheering for you, mate! All the way! We are really on your side, you know, no matter what Clarisse says, but she also totally dislikes me wearing this shirt which is like totally awesome, as she hates pretty much everything without diamonds and purple. But I say life shines brighter than diamonds. And why choose only one color, when you can wear all of them at the same time! Are you sure you don't want a drink or two? Because it is totally on me. Well, on Harry, because I have his credit card, but he totally wouldn't mind. Because we are such big fans. Oh, and just so you know, we are totally watching over Mia for you. So, don't worry, we are taking real good care of her. So you can be at ease about that, and just focus on the robot. Which is like so the coolest thing ever."

I was quite sorry that my flight was called then. Of course it took me five minutes to actually get to the gate, as René and Sebastiano insisted on takin pictures with me, right there, in the middle of the terminal. It made some tourists from Germany even think I was some kind of a celebrity, as they approached us, asking if they too could take a picture with me. I hurried to explain that it was a, well, somewhat of a family thing, but René completely dismissed my words, chatting to them in German, making them think I was god knows what kind of a superstar.

Still, as I walked away, glancing over my shoulder to see the two goofballs one more time, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was now, in a way, part of Mia's, yes, completely crazy family. She seemed to be the only one not to be aware of it yet.

But I was sure that too was soon to change.

 

To Be Continued.

Broughttoyouby:::winter.


Edited by dbcWinter, 11 April 2015 - 07:54 AM.

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#12 dbcWinter

dbcWinter

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Posted 13 April 2015 - 12:52 PM

April

(1)

In early April, the spring arrived. It seemed to happen right over night; the grass got greener, the flowers began blooming, the air outside was fresh and the temperatures smoothing. A wild cherry growing in front of our lab was especially breath-taking, so my colleagues and I brought a table from the lab, placing it under the tree. From then on, we ate our lunches there.

With April, a promise I had to fulfill also reappeared.

In autumn, Renate and I had gone to the statue of Buddha, called 'Ushiku Daibutsu'. There was a garden that supposedly changed as seasons went by. I promised myself to check out whether or not it was true, and now, with spring surrounding me, it was time.

I left work early and drove down the familiar road. I couldn't help but to think of Renata, wonder about where she was and what she was up to. I had promised her not to dwell on her memory, so I didn't; I just hoped she knew what a positive impact she had had on my life, and that she was happy. As happy as I was when I walked into the gardens, and realized that their structure had completely changed since I was here. I found myself standing amidst colors, every color you could imagine. The blooms were thriving in bright daylight, and they reminded me of a rainbow. That kind of rainbow that is its own hidden treasure.

"I am not going deaf," I told Midori.

"Not yet," she argued. "If you really are to play this much with Henry and the guys, it will affect your hearing, unless you wear earplugs."

"You can't wear earplugs while plying rock," I rolled my eyes at her. "If you want to play good music, you have to feel it, and in order to feel it, you gotta hear it!"

I think your ears would really appreciate a break every once in a while," she insisted. "And I think a quiet atmosphere of the cooking class three times per week is a perfect solution."

"Why cooking class?" I laughed. "Why not painting or something?"

"You can paint in your spare time all you want," she said. "But I know you won't practice cooking, and cooking is something every man should be capable of, and I am telling you this a girl whose boyfriend doesn't even know how to make himself scrambled eggs for breakfast."

She wouldn't take no for an answer, and so I found myself attending a cooking class three times per week with her. I admit, it, at first I went just to make her happy.

I was off to a rough start. Even though my Japanese might be quite good in everyday life, it turned out I wasn't anywhere near to knowing how vegetables and spices were called. Midori was appalled by it, of course, and didn't even consider my explanation that while grocery shopping, I was buying goods based on their appearance, not what the package said. She blamed it on my love for fast food and heated dinners.

During our first class, the woman teaching class handed out printed recipe we were supposed to follow. I had to keep asking Midori what certain words meant and she patiently translated for me, but I still managed to make the dish uneatable. I knew I was basically the laughing stock of the class, and determined to never let it happen again, I spent that night learning vocabulary pertaining to food.

For two weeks I was bringing the dictionary with me, not caring how silly it made me look, and my food was getting better. Skepticism in teacher's eyes began changing into contentment. When we were making sushi, she named my plate as the best. It's funny how proud I felt.

When after four weeks the class ended, all everyone who stuck with it till the end got a special plaque. I think it goes without saying that I hung it in the kitchen, above the herbs in pots I had bought.

I continued playing with Henry and the guys. Now we had a proper name – Rock Wanders, and in fact, we all started to make some money with it. Owners of the local bars practically competed against each other as to at whom we would play most often. We gained reputation of attracting visitors of all sorts. We played old rock, music known all over the globe, which particularly resonated with male student population. Women on the other hands, flocked in to see us.

"Can you blame them?" Henry laughed. "We're nice looking fellas! Plus, you're an American, Akira is Japanese, Tim has a cool accent, Johan is from Europe, and I, well, I am just in my own league."

Whatever the reason, we were an attraction, and it always took us hours to leave the bar, as everyone wanted to take a picture with us.

One night, though, someone other than a fan approached us.

He was wearing an old AC/DC T-shirt and worn-out jeans. He introduced himself as Clive, and said he was working for a record label in Tokyo.

"Record label?" Henry repeated, spilling beer all over his lap.

"We heard some good things you guys," Clive went on, "so I came over to see it for myself. You're good."

"Thanks," Johan said, but most of his attention was aimed at the women around us.

"Are you doing your own material as well?" he inquired.

"Look, man, we just do it for fun," Tim explained.

"And ladies," Johan added.

"But we could," Henry said. "We just think people like covers better. Because they know them."

I glanced at Akira, our prodigy. He was quiet, slowly playing his guitar, but the sound got lost in the throb of the bar. I doubted he understood much of what we were talking about, and something told me that as long as he had his guitar in hands, he didn't really care.

"Anyway," Clive continued, "I am searching for some talent that would appeal to the student population. I would really like if you guys could make a demo of some kind and, you know, see what my bosses think."

Honestly, the offer came out of nowhere. We had started paying for fun, for our love of music, and here we were now, asked to record a demo for industry people. We of course agreed to it at once, not really thinking it through. We went back on stage to celebrate, and played rock version of the most popular songs of the moment. We decided to do so practically on spot, without rehearsing, and we were consequently terrible. But we loved every second of it, and that resonated with our audience.

We stayed until the bar closed, that was at five in the morning. All the beer I drank showed as I got to the lab in a worse state than probably ever before.

It wasn't until the following afternoon that we sat down to discuss the offer. Tim bought the telephone book (he said browsing Japanese pages often made his old phone freeze) so that we could find the recording studios nearby. The money wasn't the problem, we made enough of it playing in bars; we wondered if there even was any point to trying to get a hold of a record deal.

As many of us were exchange students, there wasn't any solid future in sight for our band. Soon we'd be scattered all over the world. Johan was finishing his studies here and was the band was only his way of going out with a bang. Tim met a girl during his stay in Tsukuba, and while he wasn't planning on going back to New Zealand any time soon, the girl lived on the other side of Japan. I too wasn't sure how long I'd be in Japan for, and with my robotic arm hopefully taking off soon, I wasn't sure if I could commit to the band, even if we landed a record deal.

"Well, I guess that only leaves you and me," Henry embraced Akira over the shoulder. "I can chase the rock dreams while staying at aunt's."

"Listen, guys," I spoke up, "let's just go and record the demo, to have fun. If something comes out of, we'll just cross that bridge when we get to it."

My bandmates thought about my words and nodded in agreement. Well, minus Johan, who kept asking why we would even get to any bridges.

**break**

I booked us the recording studio for the following Saturday.

It was a new experience for all of us, and we wanted to try out as many things as we could. Of course, we also made sure to take the similar amount of photos.

I had met up with Henry the day before, and we discussed the list of sings we would record. We agreed it would be a good idea to include at least one song of our own, so I decided to play him a ballad I had wrote back in the Skinner Box days. Besides that one, we chose five covers we were most sure of.

We agreed that our chances of securing a deal were slim. None of us really dreamed of being a professional musicians – well, minus Akira, that was. He had left him home in an attempt to make music for living. Henry and I decided to use or demo as a way of helping him get noticed. We picked the covers we thought he most excelled at.

"Alright, everyone, let's go rock this thing," Henry said after everything was photographed. "And remember, we're here to have fun, whether or not this leads anywhere."

We recorded the demo in a same fashion we played – enthusiastically, with our hearts poured into every melody. We didn't worry about a few little slips, we wanted an authentic sound. We wanted to play rock the way it deserved, if you want.

And we had a hell a good time.

Toward the end of the month Clive called and told us the label decided to pursue another band. Even if any of us was disappointed, it only lasted for a split second. Then we just shook it off and went to play another show.

To Be Continued.

Broughttoyouby:::winter.


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#13 dbcWinter

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Posted 14 April 2015 - 05:29 PM

May

(1)

What to get Mia for her birthday was not at all a no-brainer this year. I usually knew right away what a perfect gift for her would be, and I surely could come up with something equally spectacular as in the past. However, I didn't think giving – or, rather, mailing – her a very thoughtful, attentive gift would be a good move this year, given we were broken up.

Honestly, I still wasn't completely sure how things stood between us. On one hand, we were writing long emails to each other, carefully constructed and detailed. However, we weren't writing about each other – excluding a line or two, such as responding to questions about our families or work – but strictly about a topic that was pretty much as impersonal as it could get. First we talked about how climate changes affected weather in Somalia. Now we were writing about bamboo. Honestly, I don't know how we even got to that.

I always made sure my choice of words didn't resonate with the feelings I had for her, and I chose to believe she was similarly careful. If anyone happened to read our correspondence, they would never guess Mia and I used to be together. That's how emotionless our emails were, just long talks between two environmentally-conscious friends.

Still, they were my favorite emails to write. I wouldn't go through all that trouble to find information for anyone but her.

Finally I decided against buying her anything. I also didn't make an animated birthday greeting, like a few times before. All I did this year was writing a paragraph of humorous wishes – at least I hoped they were humorous – and emailed it to her.

She responded with a very eloquent 'thank you', and then went straight back to writing about pandas.

After my short stint in New York, Lilly and I grew closer. I don't think we had been this close ever before and I'd lie if I said I didn't like it.

I called her every evening and we talked about my work, about her show, everything but – what a surprise - never about Mia. I wondered if she knew Boris was the one emailing me occasionally, telling me how Mia was doing.

"Well, I am glad you have fun living out your rocker dreams," Lilly sneered. Then she paused for a moment, as if carefully choosing the proceeding words. "I am sure the girl likes it."

The choice of singular didn't escape me.

"What girl?" I repeated.

"Girl? I said girls, the fans," she corrected herself, but something about it didn't feel right. As if she made a mistake on purpose. We grew up in the same family environment, so if she thought she took after our parents, I lived with them even longer.

"Why don't you just ask me what you want to hear?" I said to her.

"Why do think I want to hear anything specific?" she replied.

"Nothing, just the feeling I got," I swallowed the chuckles. "So you still going out with Kenny?"

"Don't be offended, Michael, but I don't feel like talking about my love life with my brother."

"Even with a brother on the other side of the world?"

"Why would that make any difference?" she sneered.

"Well, for one, I am too far away to embarrass you or anything," I laughed.

I expected her to laugh, but she remained serious.

"You really think I don't remember how there were a couple of months when all you wanted – and all you could think about – was how badly you wanted to cause a lot of pain either to Kenny or to his computer?" she said.

He would have deserved it, though. I had spent so much time bonding with Mia, hinting her how I felt – not that she got the message -, and then he just appeared out of nowhere, snatching her right in front of me.

"Actually, to correct you, dear sis, there was something I wanted more than that."

"Yeah, the thing Kenny beat you to it," Lilly snorted. "Which, I still say, was your own fault, so I resent you if you happen to dislike my boyfriend solely on that principle."

"Well, I never thought you'd end up with him, that's all," I said. A tall, scrawny, easy to boss around Kenny really didn't seem like an ideal boyfriend for my ferocious, opinionated little sister. But then again, which of her boyfriends did? Boris, the delicate musician, the wanna poet, or perhaps a busboy that spoke barely any English? I keep fearing what's next on the list. Under right circumstances, I don't think you could rule any potential boyfriend out when it came to Lilly,

"Life has its own mysterious ways. Just like film industry. By the way, how come you are not excited for my pilot being picked up in Korea?"

Mainly because it's on the third channel in Korea, I wanted to say, but refrained myself just in time.

"I'm sorry if I don't sound excited, as I am. It's just that I'm tired. Working late, you know."

"You do know that that statement needs clarifying before it awakes compassion in me, right?"

"What do you mean?"

"Long hours in the lab are not the same as long hours in the bar, Michael."

"I work enough long hours in the lab that I'll get to have ten days off in July," I told her.

"Ten days? That means you'll actually spend a day at home this time, without running off to whomever you wanted to see more badly than your own family?"

"Is mom still upset about that?"

"Yeah. And did you say July? Please don't tell me that will overlap with her yearly golf tournament in Albany?"

My silence was the answer I chose.

"Well, anyway," she sighed, "you are planning on coming alone, right?"

"Alone? Why wouldn't I come alone?"

"No reason. It's just that … You know. You have been in Japan for a while now."

"Lilly, I am here to work in the robotic arm, not go out on dates," I said. Of course, it wasn't work stopping me from going out with women, but I didn't think it was the right time yet to mention it to anyone.

"Yeah, but I don't think having a rock band or attending cooking class has much to do with the cardio device either," she pointed out.

"Lilly, that's for clearing my head. To have some fun besides work," I said.

"People watch bad TV to relax, not jam out on stage till three in the morning," she argued. "And you and Judith did have fun together, so I'm sorry because I would like to double-check."

"What does Judith have to do with anything?"

I swear, sometimes I don't know in which universe Lilly's head is in.

"Nothing. I am just saying there are plenty of ways to have fun."

"I'm not sleeping with anyone here, if that's what you want to know." This time words escaped me before I could think them over. I thought back to the start of our conversation, and I remembered her use of a 'girl'. I swore under my breath. She was good, I had to give her that.

I could hear satisfaction in her voice.

"I am not at all interested in that, and I feel that your need to say that out loud says a lot about the current state of your libido," she said.

Obviously there was no proper response to that.

"But I do feel obligated to remind you, Michael, that in the event you do let your inner wild mustang roam around free like it should at your age, you better use protection. I remember people in your dorm at Columbia being quite carefree, and I fear to think about how things get when people from all over the world gather under the pretense of gaining cultural experiences."

"Is there any further point to this conversation or can I be relieved and hang up?"

"Don't get all snappy at me, Michael, because I want to give you good advice. Maybe if you listened to me more often, we wouldn't even be in this mess."

"What mess?"

Now she was the one swearing under breath.

"I meant Kenny," she hurried, clearly lying. "Now can you please give me your address?"

"What would you need my address for? Are you planning on stopping by?"

"No. I am going on a little road trip with Kenny over the weekend, and I figured I'd send you a postcard."

"Road trip? Where are you two lovebirds going?"

"Rehoboth Beach. Kenny won coupons for this grill bar, and we figured we go to clear out heads a bit before the finals. Of course in Kenny's world, that means bringing the books with us and studying while on the beach, but whatever. So, the address?"

"You don't have to send me a postcard, Lil."

"I do a lot of things I don't have to on daily bases, Michael. Such as fighting with Gretchen Weinberger about her over-use of a word actually in her newspaper reports. I should have her butt fired a long time ago, but I don't because I am kind. Besides, picking out postcards will be an effective way of stopping me from breaking Kenny's nose when he'll be more interested in chemical substances than my new bikini."

"Alright, have you got a pen?"

"Puh-lease, Michael, I am a professional. "

I spelled her the address, and like a true professional, she double checked that she got it right.

"Say hi to mom and dad," I told her as we were saying our goodbyes.

"Sure. And remember – keep the groupies close, but the protection closer."

Ten days passed, and the promised postcard didn't show up in my mailbox. I wasn't surprised, nor disappointed. My sister never was an epitome of care anyway.

Then a few days later, I got her text, explaining Kenny had gotten stomach flu, thus they were forced to stay home. The number of exclamation marks made me frown, but I still didn't suspect anything.

Honestly, I didn't suspect a thing until the early days of June.

To Be Continued.

Broughttoyouby:::winter.


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#14 dbcWinter

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Posted 10 September 2016 - 07:51 AM

June

(1)

The start of June the fifth was completely normal.

I woke up to my alarm clock screaming, once again promising to myself to start working on getting more sleep. Something had to change, I couldn't go on having only four, five hours of sleep per night with my schedule.

Of course I knew it was yet another promise I would not keep.

I dragged myself to the bathroom, and let the shower wake me up.

While making a cup of coffee in the kitchen, I turned on the radio and listened to the morning news. The more news they read, the more depressing the tone got, so I gave up. I opened the window and listened to the birds tweeting in the morning sun.

I ate a toast and answered the emails and texts that came during the night.

When I had decided to take a cooking class, Henry laughingly told me that cooking was for chicks. But after he tasted my sushi, he silently changed his opinion, never missing a dinner I was preparing for the band. Tomorrow night seemed to be no exception; his confirmation of coming reminded me to check if I even had the ingredients, and looking into the fridge was a reminder that I would need to stop at the store on my way from work.

Then it was time to go. I picked up my keys and headed to the lab, listening to our demo on the way. Once there, I left my phone in the locker, like every day, not wanting it to distract me from my work.

When I checked the missed calls during the break, I saw Lilly's was among them.

I called her back, and she answered immediately.

"Are you home already?" she screamed into my ear.

"No, I'm in the lab," I said. "Is there something wrong?"

Lilly didn't exactly have a habit of keeping her phone close by at all times. Not when she wasn't expecting a call she could potentially benefit from.

"Why would there be anything wrong?" she swiftly asked.

"Hmm, I don't know. Maybe it's because it's, what, eleven at night in New York, and you keep your phone this close by?" I said, suddenly feeling worried.

"I'm waiting on a very important email from my producers and I'm bored," she said. "That's why I answered immediately. Besides, I have no idea why you would think there's something wrong. Everything's fine. But anyway, there is something more urgent to discuss. Is this really the first break you have had since I called you?"

That girl knew how to change the subject.

"Yes."

"Oh. Well, let me just tell you, as someone who has experience fighting for workers' rights, you are entitled to have a break more frequently. When do you get off work?"

"Well, if you're so interested, Lil, I usually go home at about eight. Today, though, it will probably be around five. I have to stop at the store. I am cooking dinner for the guys."

"Dinner? For the guys?" she screamed. "I thought you had that tomorrow."

"Yes, I do," I frowned. "Why? What's going on?"

"Nothing, I told you." Then she paused. And if that silence wasn't an eloquent sign that something was up, then I didn't know what it was. "I just … miscalculated the time difference, that's all. I thought by now you'd be home already."

"Why would you need me to be home now?" I asked carefully.

"I just figured we could chat while …. Oh. Oh, my god, it's here, the email I was waiting on! I have to go, Michael, thank you for keeping me company. You are the best brother ever. Bye!"

And just like that, she hung up. Of course, I should be alarmed by the call. But this is Lilly, and I am the first to admit that my little sister is weird most of the time.

So I just returned to the lab.

The next call, though, I couldn't just ignore.

Midori cut herself on her finger. She left the lab to go get herself some plasters, and when she returned, she gestured me to speak with her in private. I was in the middle of the work, so I just said we'd talk later. But she insisted.

"Fine, what is it?" I finally gave in, annoyed.

"I'm not really sure," she carefully asked. "But I think something is wrong."

"Wrong with what?" I frowned.

"Well, as I went to get something for my hand, I walked past the admission counter. And the lady there said that a woman had been calling for hours, trying to get to you, but you said you weren't taking any calls."

"That's right," I impatiently nodded. "If she left a message, I'll call her back after work."

"Yeah, well, she was told that, but she keeps insisting that it is an emergency and that she needs to talk to you now. She's quite persistent, they say."

I sighed, glancing back to the work I was missing out on.

"And are you sure it's not my mother?"

"No, they say they know her by now."

Which other woman could be so desperate to reach me? My mind was blank.

"Did she say who she was?" I asked, not expecting an answer.

But I got one. And I didn't like it one bit.

"Yes, Helen something," Midori shrugged.

I felt my heart stop. All the air got knocked out of my lungs. My legs suddenly felt weak, and I was sure I was about to collapse. I grabbed the nearby table to prevent myself from falling.

"He-Helen?" I repeated, with my voice barely present.

"Yes," Midori said, confused my reaction. "Do you know her?"

"That's Mia's mom," I said, and hurried to my locker. My fingers were trembling, and I barely managed to get a hold of my phone. How I managed not to drop it, I don't know. All I knew was that I suddenly felt chills over my entire body, similar to the ones I felt when Phillipe called me when I was in New York.

Maybe panic paralyzed my mind, I couldn't think of any reason why Helen would call me all the way to Japan. Helen, of all people. I knew her long enough to know that cellphones were not her strongest point, yet alone figuring out how to call a number in Japan. The woman even failed to pay the bills on one than just one occasion simply because she forgot she had stuffed them into a salad bowl. Something told me she must have a damn good reason to be calling. And somehow I found it hard to believe that the reason was a good one.

I sat down on the bench, dialing her number. Midori stared at me, with her arms crossed and eyebrows raised.

"Michael, finally," Helen said after picking up.

"Helen," I said. I wanted to ask her how she was, or maybe even ask right away what was wrong, but I couldn't get the words out. She didn't seem to notice my hesitance.

"Michael, is she there?" Helen asked.

"Excuse me?"

"Mia. Is she there, with you? She was supposed to call me hours ago, but I haven't heard from her."

Her words didn't make any sense, at all.

And yet my heart must have caught the underlying meaning, as my heartbeat increased again. In a good way, this time.

"Mia? Here, in Tsukuba?" I gasped.

"Yes."

"Why would she be here?" I tried to make some sense of it, trying to remember if I read anything, anywhere, about Genovian Royal Family visiting Japan. I knew this was news I wouldn't have missed, but what else could it be, really?

"To see you, what else," Helen sighed. "She was supposed to call me when her plane landed, but I still haven't heard from her. She's not picking up. I figured I'd call you, just to see if, you know, she just forgot to turn on her phone or something. She is my daughter, after all."

Mia? In Tsukuba, to see me? Feelings overwhelmed me, and I collapsed onto the bench again. Why would she come here to see me? I knew what I wished the reason to be.

I almost forgot that Helen was waiting on my response.

"I'm not home, actually. I am in the lab. She's probably waiting at my place, for me," I couldn't help but to grin at the last words. Mia. Mia, here. "I'll… I'll go home to check. I will call you back, alright, Helen?"

"Please, do. I would like to tell her a word or two about motherly worries," Helen groaned.

After hanging up, I needed a few deep breaths to calm myself down, so that I could stop thinking about anything other than what I had just been told.

"I have to go," I told Midori.

"You know, I sort of noticed that," she beamed. "Oh, my god. Mia, THE Mia, is here?"

"My Mia," I laughed.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Midori exclaimed, grabbed my arm and started dragging me out of the room, to the door. "Go get her! And don't you dare come to work later!"

And so I left the lab and ran home, so excited I was practically tripping over my own feet the entire way.

I remembered Lilly's call. In hindsight, many things made sense.

I called her again.

"What the *#&$%% is going on?" I grinned after she picked up, this time too practically immediately.

"So she made it to your place?" Lilly exclaimed, sounding more excited than I'd heard her in a long time.

"I'm on my way home to check if she's there."

"Oh. Then how do you…"

"Helen called me. Just to, you know, check if she got here alright."

"Helen wasn't sup…" Lilly started.

"So you two are on this together?"

"No. Well, yes. At first it was just Lars and me, then we figured we'd need Helen's help. And she was glad to join in on the plan."

"Now will you tell me what the plan is?"

"Aren't you supposed to be this super genius inventor of revolutionary medical equipment?" she sneered. "We sent Mia to you. You want me to spell it out what you are supposed to do from now on?"

"Why did you even…"

"Because Lars is tired of her longing gaze, and I am sick and tired of listening to your demo which just screams out her name, not to mention listen about your culinary escapades and overall lack of life. So after you came to New York and I got to see that you are still as much in love with Mia as always, I paid attention to her in school, and came to a realization she too doesn't look like the happiest kid in the world, so I met up with Lars, and he confirmed my suspicions. And since it was then obvious both of you were miserable and yet unwilling to make the first move, we figured that move would need to be done for you again. We went to talk to Helen to see if she agreed that something had to be done, and she said she had enough of watching her daughter write three-page long essays about BAMBOO which is, interestingly, not even part of the school curriculum. Bamboo, Michael, really?"

I didn't think it was smart to tell her that our discussion about bamboo had now changed into tribal languages.

"If you look at this from an environmental angle, you see why it is important for people to discuss it," I said instead.

"Bullshit. How neither of you has managed to see through this pathetic façade of meaningless rambling is beyond me. I thought both of you were supposed to be at least moderately intelligent individuals. But then again, if it wasn't for me or Tina, you probably wouldn't even figure out yet that you like each other. Which, actually, might not be such a bad idea, given you most likely wouldn't have set out on this revolutionary mission of yours, thus I wouldn't need to take of your dog, Michael. Which, by the way in case you haven't noticed yet, drools a lot."

"I'm paying you, Lil," I reminded her, while crossing the road despite the red light. I couldn't wait. Any second I wasted now could be a second I spent with Mia.

"Yeah, forty bucks per week," my sister snorted.

"That's twenty more than last year."

"And I deserve every penny of it. Not to mention, a Christmas bonus for fixing your mistake. I have to say, though, that I am appalled by you not seeing through the whole address ting. Did you really think Kenny would suggest we go to Delaware on a road trip? Road trip to him equals anime marathon, Michael. I thought you'd know his girlfriend skills better than this, as you were paying a lot of attention to them a few years ago."

"My love for you is distracting me from remembering how manipulative you are at times, Lil," I laughed.

"Manipulative? Me? Are you sure you are not talking about Clarisse?"

"Gotta go, Lil, I'm here," I said, seeing my apartment building.

"Alright. CALL ME."

I ran up the three set of stairs, with my heart wildly pondering in excitement.

For nothing, as it turned out. Mia wasn't waiting in front of my door.

It was only then that I remembered she didn't have the keys to enter the building.

So I ran down again and looked around. She wasn't sitting on any of the benches.

Maybe she went to eat while waiting, I thought. I checked every bar, every restaurant, the cafes and the McDonald's around, but I couldn't find her.

Lilly texted me the flight she took to get to Tsukuba, and I checked its status. It was delayed, so I got into the car and drove myself to the airport. I reached the gate just after the plane landed, so none of the passengers escaped me.

She wasn't there.

She didn't come with the plane she had a ticket for.

That was when I tried calling her, but my call went straight to voicemail.

I decided not to call Helen yet. I tried to convince myself that there wasn't a reason to panic. She could have just missed her flight and would come with the next one. So I hung around the airport until the next plane from Tokyo landed.

She wasn't on this one ether.

So as far as I knew, she had landed in Tokyo, but never made it onto the plane bound to Tsukuba, though it took off from the very same airport. She couldn't possibly get lost in the airport, could she?

Did something happen to her there?

I checked the news, but no one reported about any incident at Tokyo International Airport.

I don't even want to think of how that would make me look, Mia getting hurt or attacked while in Japan to see me. I doubted her father, and especially her grandmother, knew what Helen dared to do. Cardio device or not, I would never be forgiven.

I would never forgive myself either, even though it wasn't really my fault.

Why didn't Helen call me before Mia took off? I would go to Tokyo to wait for her there, that would have been the safest.

But I knew better than dwell on the past I couldn't change. Something was still keeping Mia in Tokyo.

Maybe she changed her mind about you, a little voice in my head said. Maybe she realized she didn't want to see me anyway.

As much as the thought hurt, it was still better than the alternatives rambling around my mind. I pictured her cooped up in the ladies' room, hyperventilating and writing in her diary. If she still kept one, that was.

I decided to go back to my flat and wait for her here, in case she still planned on showing up. If she wouldn't within a few hours, then I might drive myself to Tokyo and try to find her at the airport, while telling Helen her daughter might have flown back to New York instead of connecting to Tsukuba.

But I had no idea how many hours I should wait.

I sat down in front of the television, but nothing grabbed my attention. I kept glancing at my wrist watch, getting up and walking to the window, hoping to see her with a suitcase, looking for my building.

Two hours passed without any sign of her and I got really close to calling the hospitals in Tokyo to see if she was admitted. I took a quick shower to calm myself down.

Looking through the window, I could see the sky changing from its normal blue into ominous darkness. A storm seemed to be nearing. According to Helen, Mia should be here eight hours ago, but there was still no sign of her.

I couldn't just wait around any longer. I had to do something.

I decided to call Midori and ask her to come over. She'd stay here, just in case Mia showed up, and I'd drive to Tokyo to try to find her. If she was still there, of course.

And so I phone Helen again to tell her of my plan. She considers my words.

I pray that she doesn't regret her decision to send Mia to me.

"Okay," she says. "I think your theory about her being in the bathroom is more than plausible, Michael."

"Yeah, let's hope so," I sigh, grabbing the car keys again.

"It's not about you, Michael," she goes on. "I tell you, she still cares, a lot, about you. If doubts are what's keeping her there, they are not pertaining to her feelings for you. She just … she just has trouble vocalizing what she feels, and, um … yeah."

"Yeah, she has…" I start, but the sound of knocking stops me in my tracks. At first I am not sure whether I heard right, or my head is playing tricks with me, making me hear what I desire most right now. A few seconds later, I hear it again, and this time there is no doubt.

I feel my heart flutter, as if it knows who it is.

"Just a second, Helen," I say and run to the door.

I take a deep breath, then I grab the door knob.

I open the door.

And there she is.

Mia.

My Mia.

The End.

Broughttoyouby:::winter.


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