Damn real: conclusion

I had no real idea where the story was going to go when I first started writing it, other than the fact that I wanted there to be a strong female protagonist to contrast the last main female protagonist, Dakota, who was a bit too much of a follower for her own good. Namie is very independent, and while she might be a little aimless, she is still capable of sticking up for herself.

I even titled it “Fashionably Late” to reference Namie being supposedly late in life with her relationship status, but decided that it was not only anti-progressive to the feminist beliefs I was raised on, but does not send a good message that I want my stories to convey to my readers by making the focus about fashion and dating

I decided to title it Damn Real after the Koda Kumi song, and I wanted to make the themes focus on being realistic or practical with your decisions in life

I wanted Namie to be a very practical and decisive person to better reflect the title

Before, I wanted her to be more of a wanderluster, although aspects of that character do reflect in when Namie is testing the waters with her suitors, as well as in the end, when she decides to forgo everything in her life up until that point

Originally, Namie was going to receive a huge amount of money from her mother, but I changed that to being just a plane ticket. To explain her wealth, I wanted Namie to come off as more self-made, hence why I opted for her to have a mini fortune in stocks and investments, just to showcase her intelligence that much more.

Emiri was not a main focus when I began writing this. I decided that she could be a very good gateway for the reader to better empathize with a Mormon character and understand what she was taught to believe versus how she actually is as a person.

It was not decided until I started writing Chapter 2 that Melissa Chen was going to be the dance instructor. She was previously in my other work, How it is, as a college student who comedically destroyed tables with her krav maga skills.

I knew I wanted there to be two strong female supporting characters who were both driving Namie forward. Neither of them were from terribly realistic backgrounds, with Wei being a famous idol, while Claire is a famous beauty guru. But putting them next to Namie made her seem plain at first, but much more relatable by default.

A lot of who Namie was, it was based directly on my own experiences working in hotel finance. I became friends with the people working in the Front Desk, so that’s a huge reason why I made Namie, a general cashier like myself, friends with Claire the Front Desk Supervisor. It was just a natural fit, given their roles.

I do envy Namie to a degree, because she is a lot smarter, more driven, and more capable than I am, but I wanted her to have those qualities so that she could be a unique and admirable character. The fact that she is so multitalented, you cannot help but root for her when she chose to make a life changing decision to become a dancer. You know that somebody that committed to being the best will always succeed, no matter what route she chooses to take.

Overall, I hope that the takeaway of this story is to do what is right for you. You can just throw away your life and dive into a career just to get ahead, or throw away your career and dive into your passion. Either way, there really is no wrong answer, and that is what makes the ending of this story hopefully hit a real place for all of you guys reading this. No matter what choices you make in life, you may feel second thoughts and even regrets, but so long as your work ethic shines through, you will be successful no matter what. That is an even bigger truth and takeaway that I hope you all come to understand from reading this story.

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Damn real: chapter 25

“Don’t do it, Namie.” Emiri’s voice could be heard from the other side of the phone call. She was talking to Namie about making this decision. “Well, you said that so quickly-” “Because it’s a dumb decision. You’ve been working your butt off just to get to this point, and to throw it all away? Both of us have made that mistake so many times already. Why bother repeating the same thing? You’re going to listen to whatever misguided instinct that nags at you, and that’s what will make taking that offer this much worse. You will know exactly what you have walked away from, and you won’t be able to ever feel like you made the 100% correct decision.” The engineer pointed out. She made a strong point there. Both of them had made countless sacrifices, in time, career opportunities, and educational opportunities, just because they thought that they were doing the right thing. Granted, this situation was slightly different. It was not another person who really was influencing Namie to make this decision. She could be happy being in finance, but she just felt that much happier when she was dancing. And to make that into a career and income, it would be a dream come true for her. It was not like her father or some sort of other figure was telling her to give up on finance to become a housewife. Even though Emiri saw taking the dancing job as a downgrade, for Namie, she saw this as a chance to make her occupation something she actually wanted to do and look forward to each and every day. It is a rare thing for people to be able to say that about their jobs. “Thanks, Emiri.” She hung up, still thinking about what Emiri had said. But at the same time, she was still thinking about whether or not the initial cut in pay would be worth it down the line.

“Can I get a glass of merlot?” Claire looked at their waiter. “I’d like the pinot griggio.” Namie answered, handing over her menu as well. “Very well. I will come back with your drink orders first.” The waiter bowed before leaving. “So you’re fine if I take the offer?” The two were undergoing their usual wine Wednesday routine after another mutually taxing day of work. “I mean, would I be sad that you’re all leaving me for Japan? Yeah. But at the end of the day, that’s how life is. People come and go.” Claire shrugged. She looked like she was trying her best not to cry. It was understandable too; Namie was one of her first close friends she made after breaking up with Frankie, and to see somebody she had relied on emotionally for so long leave, it was tough. But at the same time, the Director of Front Office wanted her best friend to follow her dreams. This time, they were at Blue Duck Tavern, which was actually a rather nice establishment given the not as elegant rituals they typically partook on these days. However, this day was different. It might be one of the last wine Wednesdays that the two could ever have together. “Look, it’s okay to cry, alright?” Namie sighed, as she felt tears welling around her eyes as well. She would be lying to herself if she said leaving Claire behind was hard. They were closer than family at this point. Every struggle, every moment Namie experienced since she started working at the Ritz Carlton, Claire had an impact. She was the overzealous front desk agent, while Namie was the withdrawn and untrusting general cashier, accusing people of stealing money. And now both of them have progressed so far in their respective paths. “Okay, I will then. I’m sorry.” Claire burst into tears as Namie joined her, hand in hand. “I just don’t want to say goodbye!” “Me neither, Claire!” They continued to cry as the waiter awkwardly placed their glasses on the table before nervously inching away. “Hey, where do you think you’re going?! We’re starving over here!” Claire barked at him while Namie started laughing. “Oh my god, I swear, we’re not lesbians.” The accountant began. “I mean, if you were, I wasn’t judging, but….” He started. “We’re not. This bitch is just leaving me for Japan is all.” Claire rolled her eyes, catching her breath. The two managed to quickly regain their composures. Hunger took precedence to them feeling sad.

“But yeah, no matter what happens, we’ll always be in touch, and we’ll always be friends. You better not forget that.” Claire smiled at Namie as they finished up their meal. “And I can’t wait to see you in Koda Kumi’s videos. I won’t necessarily understand what you guys are saying or doing, but I’ll still root for you.” “Thanks, Claire.” They hugged before going their separate ways for the night. It felt so final, even though Namie still had not fully committed to her decision yet. Nights like these, they were already sparse after Wei had left for her tour and both of them had been promoted. But even then, a part of her was not ready to let the happiness from being an accountant in D.C. go just quite yet. Shrugging to herself, Namie continued to wonder what exactly was the right choice for her in the Uber ride home. But she knew she needed to talk to a couple other people first. While she was leaning towards leaving for Japan, between Emiri’s doubts and not wanting to leave Claire behind, despite her insistence, it was hard to give that opportunity a resounding yes. And she wanted to make a resolute decision.

“Hey! Can you hear and see me okay?” Wei’s face appeared on Namie’s computer screen. “Yeah, I can see and hear you loud and clear.” She smiled in amusement as the idol continued to fumble around with her own monitor. “Wei, move back a little. You’re hogging up the camera.” Niall sighed, as he pulled her away just enough so that he could be seen as well. “Long time, no see.” He grinned at her. “Yeah, it’s a been a while. How was the tour been?” “Well, it’s been a lot of fun, but it turns out I won’t be going back to the states just quite yet.” Wei sighed. “Oh?” The accountant frowned in confusion. “What’s wrong? Did something happen with your visa?” “Oh, no. Not that. It turns out that this one… he got famous after just one follow-up performance to one of my shows.” She laughed, pointing to Niall. “Wait, what?!” “Yeah. I let him perform after one of my concerts, and the crowd went wild. And now he’s performing regularly on his own, and he’s just racking up a huge, huge, huge following.” She giggled. “Honestly, I think it was just because you used your fanbase to get me famous. I swear to god, my entire career is going to be based on gold-digging rumors now. People telling me that I was lucky to be dating a famous girlfriend, and how I used her fame to my advantage.” Niall sighed. “But at least you’re already a third as famous as I am on Instagram.” She nudged his shoulder playfully. “And so many girls like you. Aren’t I the lucky one here?” “Hey, shut up.” “Hey, can you guys just not do that right now? I mean, as much as I clearly love seeing this…” Namie frowned. “Okay, we’ll stop now. But anyways, what’s up?”

“Well, the point of this call was because I just wanted to get your input on whether or not I should take the job for Koda Kumi-” “You should. You absolutely should. Follow your dreams, Nams. You are smart and capable, and yes, that makes you a good accountant, but I’ve seen your dancing. You have the potential to be an even greater performer. Why throw that away?” Wei pointed out. “I agree with her, and trust me, that’s really rare.” Niall chimed in. “I followed my dreams, and tried my best to make them happen, and while yes, Wei’s influence had something to do with it, but now I’m a renowned violoncellist in Japan. Follow your passion, Namie, not just what pays the bills. Make your passion the thing that does pay the bills. Live for your work, you know?” Hearing this from him, it struck a cord with the accountant. Niall had a point. She would much rather be doing a job where she could look forward to it, and not just tolerate it. Seeing how happy Wei and Niall were, with their careers specifically, that was something she wanted for herself. “Thanks, both of you. Hearing that, it gives me a lot to think about, but I feel like seeing the two of you so successful, it does give me a lot more hope that if I do choose to become a dancer for Koda Kumi, then it would be a not as dumb decision as Emiri and my own conscious make it out to be.” She smiled as they ended their chat. Putting away her laptop, the accountant really started to think long and hard about this. It felt like hours of just sitting there, deep in thought. But in reality, the choice took about five seconds to make. She had already decided for herself to what she wanted to do.

“Hi, David. I just submitted my two weeks notice.” She popped her head into her Director of Finance’s office. “Oh?” It was an awkward talk and while it did not end well, Namie had finally quitted her job. Even after explaining how she felt to David, she knew he would not be fully supportive of losing her. But she did not care at that point. She was following her heart. Those last two weeks working at the Ritz Carlton, it was an awkward feeling. Namie felt as though she was disconnected from her workplace. Even her day to day responsibilities, like handling the cash or invoices, it felt like menial tasks that she did without even any real thought. In her head, she was thinking about the logistics. Packing her things, needing to return her keys, when to book her flight, finding an apartment in Tokyo. It was a laundry list of things to do, on top of needing to buy a new cellphone when she lands. Luckily, she knew that once more, she could live with Wei for a little bit, so that did ease the stress of the actual coming-to-Japan portion of her transition. But stepping out of the Ritz Carlton that last time, she could not help but feel sad. Even though a lot of her friends no longer worked there, she had come to see this workplace as a home. Shaking off her feelings of sadness, the now-former accountant had to remind herself that this place will always have a special place in her heart, whether or not she worked there anymore. It was the embodiment of her entire professional experience in both the finance and hospitality industries, and she also made a ton of friends along the way by being a part of it. Calling her Uber to here one last time, Namie smiled to herself. There was really no point to feel sad. All of those good memories at this hotel, she can live with them forever.

“Alright, I think that’s the last box!” Claire shouted out from the window. “Okay. You guys can leave now!” Namie smiled at the moving men. “Awesome! These boxes will see you in Japan then!” They called back as the truck drove away from her complex. It was her last day in D.C. Claire had helped her pack up the last of her things before she needed to head out to the airport. “Are you ready to head out?” Claire asked, walking out from the entrance. “Yeah, I think I am.” Namie sighed to herself, grabbing her luggage. Waving goodbye to Sky House one last time, she headed into Claire’s car. “Well, at least I finally got to use this damn thing.” The Director laughed, referring to the fact that she would normally walk to and from work every day. “Next stop, the airport.” The engine revved and the two took off. They drove past the waterfront and all of the beautiful modern buildings overlooking the river, as they made their way to Dulles International Airport. Parking in the structure, the two got off and headed towards the departures. How fitting. Namie thought to herself with a bittersweet smile. She was leaving behind this entire life. It almost felt unreal. But at the same time, it was anything but. This was the reality she chose to accept and walk down. She was about to transition from being an accountant in Washington, D.C. to being a full time dancer for one of the biggest names in Japan. This was actually what her life was about to be. No more simple hangouts or complaining about her father or even just hanging out with Claire and Wei, just the three of them. Accepting that was definitely the hardest part. “Well, it looks like this is it.” She sighed as the two hugged. “I’ll miss you.” “I promise we’ll always keep in touch.” “If we don’t, I’m going to start visiting Japan every single year, just to hunt you and Wei down.” Claire laughed, tears streaming down both of their cheeks. Wiping away at their own faces, the two girls smiled. “This is what is great about life though. Sometimes, dreams come true. And when they do, we get to live the dream.” Those words that Claire said to her, Namie continued to remember, throughout her career as a dancer in Japan. She was living her dream, and doing her best to let it be damn real.

Damn real: chapter 24

“I can’t believe this is goodbye. Well, for now.” Wei shrugged. She was standing with Niall and Kimmy at Dulles Airport, the three were about the head off into security and then their gate. “You guys better rock it. Ft. Hana is such a huge group. I’m super excited for you.” Namie beamed at her cousin. “Ft. Hana and Wei Ishigo performing together! This is a dream come true!” Kimmy giggled eagerly as Niall shushed her, not wanting to ruin the moment for the two cousins. “Thanks for being so supportive of me and helping me move to D.C. You’re honestly more family to me than my immediate family, and I have only known you for four years of my life.” “You’re the sister I never had, Namie. Thank you.” The two hugged before they had to go their separate ways. “I’ll be sure to Facebook spam you like crazy! You better respond to my messages!” Wei screamed from the security line. “I will! We better at least talk once a week or I’m going to forget who you are!” Namie shouted back. And just like that, Wei, Niall, and Kimmy disappeared into the crowd of people. Feeling a little lonely, Namie began to leave the airport. It was a somber experience. Her cousin and one of her best friends, she was off to Japan to further her career as a singer and idol. It was a reminder to Namie that she could be doing the same with her life. What she had always admired about Wei was that she was persistent and followed her dreams, putting them first. Maybe it was time for her to do the same. Shaking off the thought, Namie reminded herself of her career. She was a Finance Generalist, on track to become an Assistant Director of Finance. Yes, she is a part of Yukickz, but realistically, she would not be a full-time dancer anytime soon.

It was the end of another performance, this time, for the Sakura Matsuri Street Festival. The crowd cheered loudly as Namie finished her act. “Thank you, everyone! Thank you for having us at the Festival!” Taiki bellowed. Getting off stage, Namie smiled to herself. It was unbelievable that Yukickz got to perform for them, but it was also a great feeling, being met with so much applause and praise. “You were so cool up there!” A bystander shouted to her. “Mom! I want to learn how to dance, just like her!” Another little girl pointed at Namie as she walked past her. “Hi. I would just like to say that I was really impressed by your dancing. What was the name of the last song you performed to?” A young woman wearing thick sunglasses approached her. “It was Koda Kumi’s Taboo. It’s one of my favorites, just because of the beat, and how it shares a message about embracing the unusual, unaccepted, and unorthodox.” Namie smiled. “I’m glad to hear that you like the song. And that you understand the message of it.” The young woman lowered her sunglasses, revealing her face to Namie. She was none other than Koda Kumi herself. “Holy shit!” She gasped, trying not to draw too much attention to them. “What is your name?” “I’m Namie Merrimen. You have no idea how big of a fan of your work I am. Your songs, they’re all super progressive and just have a catchy beat. For my showcase in my dance class, I even performed to Damn Real because of how much the strong inspired me.” She admitted. “I need somebody with your poise and agility. Namie, would you like to become one of my backup dancers?” The accountant could not believe her ears. In fact, she was convinced that she was hallucinating at that very point in time, and that she was actually talking to a random Japanese woman. However, a couple blinks later, she realized that it was not a lie. That really was Koda Kumi standing in front of her.

“Here, I’ll give you my number. Keep in mind this is my assistant’s cell, and that the number won’t work after a week or two, since that’s when I’ll be coming back to Japan.” “Thank you so much. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.” Namie smiled. “The cherry blossoms in D.C., I heard that they are the only ones to rival Japan’s. I wanted to see those flowers for myself. I am glad I was able to, and I was glad that they helped me meet you as well.” She waved as she disappeared back into the crowd discreetly. Namie was still stunned. She had just met her hero and had been given her number. She had a very hard decision to make now. Did she want to pursue her dreams of becoming a dancer, or continue down her path in accounting? In the past, Namie had always turned down a better opportunity to make somebody else happier. But in this case, she was given two equally valid choices, both just as good as the other. “Crap.” She muttered to herself as she continued to think it over on the walk back. “Well the plus side to taking this could be that I would be working for Koda Kumi and that could make my dance career. The downside, I am giving up my entire life here. But another plus is that this could be the first dancing related job I can put on my resume.” She began. “But it does not pay nearly as much as my current position. And it is not a stable career. I would only be needed whenever Koda is filming or choreographing for a music video or live performance.” She was starting to see some of the major flaws to taking this offer.

Pacing back and forth in her room, Namie continued to ponder what would happen should she take this offer. Her apartment, her family, her entire lifestyle, it would be different. But would that be a bad thing? Right now, her accounting job offers her stability, a decent income, a promise for a promotion, but she had little to any emotional investment in the work. To be a dancer, Namie would take a major pay cut, would have very little autonomy with her day to day lifestyle, having to drop whatever it is that she is doing if she is needed for recording, and while she would have a huge celebrity in Japan on her resume, she could be in the background, not the spotlight, and there was no promise that her dancing career would take off right away, or there would be no knowing when her career would even become a real thing. It was a tough call to make. She started to think about the aspect of needing to be in the spotlight. While she was really used to it between her performances in Yukickz and Melissa’s showcase, did she need to be in it to be happy? No. Dancing makes her smile. Being able to let loose and forget about the other horrible aspects of her daily life, that was what dancing did for her. To make that her life, it was beginning to sound more and more like what she wanted to do, despite the cons that would come with it. Suddenly, becoming a backup dancer was not sounding so bad. If anything, it was sounding better than having to deal with yet another arduous month end. Namie pulled out her cellphone, began to dial, her heart race, and her conscious begging her to reconsider what could be the biggest risk she could ever make. She might be throwing away her career in finance.

Damn real: chapter 23

The music started playing, and all Namie was focused on was the beat. The thing about waack dancing that she appreciated was that it was a controlled frenzy of movements. She knew how she wanted to move to the beat, and it was just a matter of conveying the energy of the music with every motion. Smiling to herself, she appreciated Melissa’s suggestion. This remix of Damn Real, it was faster paced, more energetic, and she was feeding off of the song more naturally. The original mix was very slow and intense compared to the song she wound up choosing. “Ah, Damn Real!” The song ended on that note, with Namie holding a final pose. The lights dimmed slightly as everyone in the crowd started applauding her performance. Taking a quick bow, she made her way off the stage. It was incredible. She was surprised by how un-nervous she was on-stage. The accountant was mostly expecting to panic, fumble, or possibly pass out, but nothing like that happened. She was so focused on the performance, specifically the music, that she did not even think about the audience until their applause at the end. “You did an incredible job, Namie.” Melissa clapped her hands as Namie sat down, relieved. “Thanks.” She beamed at her instructor. “Seriously, you did a really good job. Also, I have somebody I would love for you to meet. He’s a friend of mine.” She stepped aside as a young Asian man approached her. “Hey, my name’s Taiki Yukimori. I’m actually the lead dancer of a J POP Hip Hop crew in Baltimore called Yukickz. Melissa mentioned you to me, and after seeing your performance, I was wondering if you’d like to join us?” “Yes. 100% yes!” She smiled. Melissa was not lying. There were people in the audience, waiting to scout and recruit the showcase performers. “You better not forget about me when you become a star, okay?” The Chinese girl laughed.

“Well, I’d like to give a cheers to our performer of the year, Namie Merrimen!” Wei announced as they all raised their glasses. Namie, Wei, Claire, Emiri, Niall, and Kimmy were all sitting at a table in Claire’s apartment, celebrating Namie’s performance as well as budding career as a dancer. “You were incredible! Like totally amazing!” Kimmy beamed. It was amusing to Namie how after she stopped dating her brother, the teen started to warm up to her more. “Thanks!-” “But Wei is always going to be better.” “Hey, it’s not about me. And besides, I don’t dance. I just sing.” Wei shook her head in disagreement. “Whatever, I’ll take the compliment.” She shrugged as they all laughed. “But this is not about me. This is about friends and family too.” She pointed out. Both Niall and herself had their younger sisters here. “Emiri, I’m so happy that you flew all the way from Fremont just to see me dance.” “It was totally worth it.” Her own younger sister insisted, though the sight of her enthusiastically happy did surprise everyone else besides Namie. “At first, I was not sure what to expect. I never saw you dance, and you never really did it when we were kids, but you totally just blew me away, Namie. Now I get why you took that hobby so seriously. You’re actually really good at it.” “Aw, thanks!” She grinned. “Hey, I should be getting some credit here! I took her to dance classes back when we first were becoming friends! I demand credit for her success… even though I totally bailed on the lessons.” Claire laughed as everyone joined in. Tonight is a genuine night of celebration. Good company, great triumphs, and unforgettable memories, especially in the case of Namie. She could not be more excited about being recruited into Yukickz, and being told repeatedly how incredible of a dancer she really is. All of her hard work, and continuous hours of practice, it was finally paying off.

“So what have you been up to?” Namie and Emiri were finally back in Namie’s apartment, where the younger sister was going to stay for the night before flying back home. “Well, I’m living a pretty happy life in Fremont. I’m like one of two female engineers in the company, and I might be getting promoted soon, so there’s that.” She started. It was impressive to Namie how Emiri was able to say that almost so nonchalantly, as if it was not any huge accomplishment to the engineer. “Also, I won custody of Yuzu and Makoto from Kenta and my parents, and I’m really happy because I wanted to raise them with my boyfriend, and we plan to raise them without any Mormon influences. I don’t want them to be corrupted in the same way were almost were.” She smiled. It was great to hear that Emiri was doing well for herself, but at the same time, it was almost expected. Emiri was always the type of person who could make something out of nothing. She was resilient, hardworking, and goal-driven. It was just a sigh of relief to Namie, knowing that her little sister was living up to her potential, and also embracing her past; even though she had Yuzu and Makoto at such a young age, she was not shying away from being a responsible adult and raising them, all while still pursuing her own goals and dreams. It was a very admirable thing of her to do. “I’m really proud of you, Emiri. You’re honestly a role model to me, and I’m the older one!” Namie laughed. “Nah, you’re doing alright yourself. And I’m envious of you too. Trust me, not having kids, it’s better in that you have more time to focus on yourself. If I didn’t have Josh there to help raise them, I would be so stretched thin. And even then, he’s a doctor, so it gets complicated.” She sighed. “But you’ve accomplished a lot as a 23 year old.” Namie smiled at her. “It’s because you helped push me in the right direction.”

“So… I know it’s wine Wednesday and all, and we’re supposed to be complaining, but I actually have some really huge news!” Claire announced. “What’s up?” Wei looked at her. “So I just got an offer to be Director of Front Office.” She looked at the two. “Wait, what?!” Namie gasped. “On our property?” “No… It’s at The W.” She sighed. “I’m going to be leaving the Ritz Carlton soon for the new role.” “But you were just telling me the other day about how your blogging career was also getting a ton of endorsements!” Namie and Wei frowned. “Yeah, but I want to keep pushing myself. If I can have it all, then why not?” She shrugged. “Well, while we’re on that topic, I wanted to talk about my own career as well.” Wei looked at the two. “So I’m going to be on tour in Japan soon. I don’t know when I’m going to come back to D.C., but I’ll be heading out next week. And I’m going to be performing with a really popular Asian-American pop group, FT. Hana.” “Oh geez, those kids? I’ve heard about how they’re always traveling the world. Wasn’t there a Buzzfeed article on how they’ve been on tour for so long that they forgot what their parents looked like?” Namie laughed. FT. Hana was always touring, so hearing that Wei was performing with them, it sounded concerning to both of them. “I just wanted to do a tour in Asia, but my agency decided to pair me with them because we’re all Asian youth. Either way, it’ll be a huge career booster, so that’s why I signed on. I’m sure I’ll quit the tour in a year, but we’ll see how long it lasts.” She sighed, already feeling a tinge of regret with her decision. They were all going their separate ways at this point, and it was just settling in for Namie that this was the case. “Well, cheers to wine Wednesdays, and hopefully, this won’t be the last one we have as a trio.” Namie raised her glass as both girls joined, despite them all knowing very well that this might not be the case anymore.

Damn real: chapter 22

“Congratulations!” Wei smiled at Namie. The two were with Claire and Niall at a restaurant, Ripple, enjoying a late night dinner. A few months have passed since then, and it was now late January. “Well, she totally deserved it. First associate of the month, then she gets recognized for all of her hard work, and she’s now basically running the finance team.” Claire smirked. Namie had just been promoted to Finance Generalist, meaning that she was one step closer to becoming an Assistant Director of Finance. “Well, let’s not forget about you.” Namie pointed at Claire. She had also been promoted to Assistant Director of Front Office, to the surprise of everybody at work. The previous manager, Takeru, had left the company to pursue a career as Director of Reservations for the Intercontinental Waterfront, so the vacancy meant that Claire, being the next in line as the supervisor, was offered the chance to step into the new role before Human Resources would have to find a new person. She took the offer with next to no hesitation, as it meant that with more work, there would be more distractions from thinking about Frankie. More responsibilities to drown herself in. “Yeah, it was not really an expected turn of events. I genuinely was surprised that they’d want me to do it.” She shrugged. Looking back on how hasty her decision was, Claire was doubting whether or not taking a career advancement was what she really wanted. It meant that she would have more obligations and longer hours, something that could potentially interfere with her job as a beauty guru. However, time was never an issue for her. Claire was able to work overnight, and still have time to record, edit, and plan her own videos. So this was just going to be another hurdle for her that once she overcomes, will just add to her already incredible resume.

“Well, we are all doing well, and that’s what matters. The two of you are dating, we both get promoted, it’s a great life.” Claire smiled while Wei and Niall rolled their eyes at them. “Meh, this coming from the girls who are now anti-relationship? Whatever. At least you aren’t judging me for dating your ex, Nams.” Wei shrugged. Even though it was initially awkward, Wei and Niall started dating. It started a few weeks ago, when Niall and Wei started talking more, first over the phone, and then eventually in person. The person who really won Wei over was Kimmy; seeing how caring Niall was towards her, she could not help but feel like he would be the perfect kind of guy for her. Despite formerly harboring feelings towards him, Namie could not be happier for her cousin. It was about time that she found somebody that made her happy, besides herself of course. Surprisingly enough, Wei and Niall were very compatible; both of them were really into performing arts, and Niall’s constant praising of and fawning over Wei only complimented her self-loving nature. He was a nurturing personality, while she was more independent and strong. Since they have started dating, Wei has been trying to use her connections to help Niall build more career opportunities beyond the D.C. Concert Orchestra.  Because of that, they both really brought out great qualities in one another. Niall made Wei a more caring person, while Wei’s newfound caring nature helped bring Niall and therefore Kimmy, more chances at a better life. “Well, we keep pushing each other, and that’s what I appreciate about it.” Wei shrugged. “We’re just happy that you’re both happy.” Claire and Namie reassured their friends. It was just refreshing to see somebody as outlandish as Wei find somebody who was such a perfect fit for her.

“Well, don’t forget! The next showcase is coming up very soon now!” Melissa called as the class was dismissed. “Namie, how often have you been practicing?” “Well, I try to squeeze in at least one to two hours each day after work, on top of the weekend classes.” She admitted. “And you’re happy with the song you chose? It was a JPOP song, right?” “Yeah, it’s Koda Kumi’s song, Damn Real. It’s a bit intense, but I really wanted to try it.” “Oh, I think I heard about it from my bisexual Japanese friend. He’s really into that artist because she’s all about sex and self expression. I got your number.” The dance instructor laughed as Namie stood there, impressed that Melissa knew that much about one of the accountant’s favorite artists. “But yeah, Damn Real is a bit slow. I have a remix I’d like to suggest, just to jazz it up. It’s the NINESTATEFLEX remix, and it’s bomb as hell. The beat is a little more suitable to waacking, but it’s up to you.” She shrugged. “I’ll listen to it and adjust my movements. Thanks.” Namie smiled, as she wrote down the version she would be later downloading off of the internet. Luckily, it was the weekend and she still had about a good six days to make revisions. And since it was a remix, not an entirely new song, the accountant knew that she could handle making those changes to her choreography by today, and adapt to the new steps by the end of Tuesday. Smiling to herself, she felt pumped. This was an opportunity to get her name as a performer out there in the greater D.C. area. The thought of becoming a full time dancer or performer, it sounded incredible. She already enjoyed the pace of learning how to dance, as well as being able to express herself as an outlet, so to have more opportunities to do so, and to get other people inspired to join in with it, it sounded increasingly like something she could pursue an actual career in.

“I hope she’s not nervous.” Wei and Claire exchanged glances nervously. It was finally the day of the end-of-winter showcase. Namie’s performance was somewhere towards the end, so the wait and suspense were eating away at both girls. “Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Emiri rolled her eyes. She was also getting impatient, because she was only there to support her sister. None of these other performers even mattered to her. “Wow, how are you even related to Namie and Wei? You’re like heartless of something.” Niall raised as eyebrow at her. “First rule of newly dating somebody, don’t shit on their family.” Emiri glared at him. “And also, I hardly consider Wei my family. Yeah, we’re blood related and all, but I hardly know her.” “She’s got a point there.” Wei agreed, not entirely enthused by the thought of being closely associated with somebody so straightforward and ruthless. “Sh! I think Namie’s performance is up next!” Kimmy looked at them. Out of all of the five, she had been the only one closely paying attention to all of the performances and the program in general. As she was an avid fan of Wei, Kimmy just appreciated the performing arts as a whole. So each and every dancer to have gone up on stage thus far has been a great inspiration to her. “We need to be quiet, especially if there are scouts in the audience. We don’t want to distract her or detract from her performance.” Niall realized aloud. He was right. And with that point, everyone else’s bickering came to a halt as Namie made her way up towards the center of the stage. She was draped in black, with fishnet leggings and a face dowsed in a heavy amount of eyeshadow and mascara, just to give her overall appearance more intense features to match the song she was about to perform to.

Damn real: chapter 21

“And the associate of the month is… Namie Merrimen! Congratulations on clearing out all of your duebacks and handling the monthly audits in such an efficient matter! We have never seen anyone who finished all of the counts in just a week!” The general manager, a tall bald man named Ralph, clapped his hands as all of Namie’s coworkers joined in. “Well done, Namie.” David grinned at the accountant. “Thank you.” She had been the first member of the accounting department to receive this honor. It felt incredible, to say the least. “You earned it! See? Things are already turning around for you.” Claire told her as they started walking back to their offices. “I’m just so happy that we managed to finish everything so quickly.” Namie sighed in relief. Whenever she was having talks with Claire, they had been grabbing and counting the individual banks for each front desk agent, which was why she was able to get her monthly counts done so effectively. It had been a couple weeks since Namie had dumped Niall at this point, but she could not help but still feel bad for how she chose to break it off with him. Nonetheless, it felt wrong to apologize now. It seemed like he would have moved on since then. Saying anything at this moment could probably escalate the situation and cause tensions to rise. At least that was how the accountant saw things. Unbeknownst to her, the violoncellist was not ready to give her up from his life just quite yet. Shortly after he had been dumped, he reached out to the one person he was hoping to get answers from. And luckily for him, she told him all he needed to know.

“Hello?” Wei picked up her phone. The idol was doing her daily routine, which included walking around the city to stay thin, when her cell suddenly started ringing, the screen displaying a 617 area code. “Hi, is this Wei?” She recognized the voice right away. It was Niall’s. That’s right. 617 is a Boston area code. She reminded herself. “Uh, what do you want?” She paused, awkwardly. It felt really off-putting, talking to her cousin’s ex-love interest. “I just wondering if I could talk to you more about Namie. I wanted to talk to her, but I did not want to make things worse. And you’re her family, so you’d know what’s going on with her more than anyone else would.” “Why should you care?” “I just want closure. If she never wants to see me again, that’s one thing, but at the end of the day, I want to understand why she felt the need to dump me like that. Wei, I’m the one who got his heart broken here. I think it’s only fair I get some kind of explanation, right?” “Okay, fine.” She sighed, sitting down on a bench. “The thing about Namie is that she had always been the black sheep in her family.” “Well yeah. She’s not religious, and she was born into a Mormon family, right?” Niall pointed out. “Exactly. And her father was a sexist bastard who tried his best to weigh her down. She could have gone to Harvard, could have worked in Deloitte. But because of him, her chances at doing any of those were shot. To her, she views having a male figure in her life as a large burden. At least, that’s from what I’ve noticed. She’s afraid by committing to a guy, he might try to make her submissive, the same way her own father made her, her sister, and her mom.” After hearing that from Wei, it was all slowly started to make sense to the young man. He should not have taken Namie’s rejection so personally. It was not necessarily him, but just the idea of dating or being with a guy that was putting the accountant off. “I see.” He paused, still wrapping his head around this.

“Thank you, everyone. Great work!” Melissa clapped her hands as everyone got up and began filing out of the studio. “Namie, you keep dancing the way you are and you will crush it at the showcase.” She beamed at the cashier. “Thanks, Melissa.” She grinned back as she left the room. With the showcase still a while away, she had been practicing more and more throughout her week. She was thinking about using a song from her favorite Japanese artist, Koda Kumi, but she was still deciding on which one. Regardless, dancing continued to make her feel like a stronger person. As if nothing else really could distract her. Or so she thought. “Hey…” Much to her shock, just standing outside of the building was Niall. After their exchange, she was not entirely ecstatic to see him. In fact, she was terrified. What if he came here to attack her? Or berate her for breaking his heart? Granted, that would justified, given how suddenly she broke it off with him, and how little of an explanation she had actually given him. Bracing herself for the worst, she decided to dive into the belly of the beast, and be more upfront with him. Or at least she tried to, before he interrupted her train of thought. “I know you might not want to see me right now, but I need to talk to you.” He stood there nervously, awaiting her response. It took her by surprise. There were a lot of things Namie had expected him to say at that point. ‘You heart-breaking bitch!’ or ‘Teasing cunt-faced whorebag’ would be a couple of them, but his civil reaction was both nerve-wracking and slightly relaxing. She did not know if he was going to have a volcanic reaction down the line, unleashing his bottled up emotions, or if he was genuinely calm and making rational decisions at this time. “I think I owe you that much. Here, let’s go for a walk by the Jefferson Memorial.” She suggested, as they began walking alongside the Tidal Basin.

“So I spoke to Wei, mostly because I wanted to understand what you meant about your upbringing. I didn’t realize that you were basically imprisoned by your father for so much of your life. It must have been tough and degrading, throwing away everything to gain his approval.” Namie, albeit taken aback, tried not to get defensive or justify herself to that fact. “Yeah. But not anymore. Not for a while, actually.” “She told me that too. And that just made me admire you more.” He sighed, feeling defeated by his own emotions. “Look, I really do think you’re an amazing guy, Niall.” She began. “And I could see myself in a happy relationship with you. But at the same time, I don’t want to lose who I am to being with somebody else. If I do, then how was that any different than me trying my best to impress my dad? I’m just throwing away my identity for a man in my life. I don’t want that.” She sighed. “Honestly, relationships don’t have to be that way either. Now I’m not saying that you should be in a relationship with me because I am attracted to you, and you might be attracted to me. But I just want to broaden your perspective on that.” He reasoned. “There will be people who will like you, no matter who you are. Those are the people you want in your life. I’m not saying that I will be unconditionally attracted to you. I’m sure even I would have my limits. For example, if you decided to suddenly become a Neo-Nazi, we might have a problem there.” He pointed out. “But that being said, maybe we have been going about this all wrong. We don’t need to jump into anything. We could just start by being friends. I want to get to know you, simply because I think you’re an interesting person. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I want you to be my wife. Trust me, I’m in no rush to get married and have kids. Raising Kimmy, that’s already more than enough.” The artist finally concluded. “ I think that’s for the best, Niall.” She nodded in agreement as the two hugged. “I’m more than happy to call you my friend.”

Damn real: chapter 20

It was about 12 years ago when it happened. A younger Niall, around the age of 14, was in a car with an infant Kimmy. “Mom, are we there yet?” He groaned, annoyed that the only thing accompanying him in the back seats of the car was the living noise machine that was his literal baby sister. “Wah! Wah!” Kimmy shrieked, giving the teen goosebumps. It was shriller than nails on a chalkboard to say the least. However, that was the last time Niall ever saw either of his parents. Alive, anyways. In just a few moments, a large car swerved into their lane, and the car was sent flying through a railing, past a small park, and right into the Charles River. He just remembered feeling his stomach fly up into his throat, a large splash, and then everything went black. By the time Niall had woken up, he was told the bad news. His parents died from the impact, while he and his sister were fished out of the car, barely breathing. It was a miracle that either of them had survived. He sat there, in the hospital bed, unable to process what had just been told to him. He did not want to believe that his parents were dead. He could imagine how they could possibly have died. “Wait, where’s Kimmy?” “She’s in another room, but she’s still here.” “Kimmy!” He quickly jumped out of his bed, only to fall over. Even though he survived, the trauma from the impact still caused him to sustain minor injuries to his legs and arms. Unable to move, the nurse just propped the helpless Niall back into his bed. “I know you must be feeling distressed. But your sister is perfectly fine, I promise. It’ll be okay.” She gave him a pat on the shoulder before getting up. Niall just could not believe that this all happened in the span of a day. At 14 years of age, he was an orphan. The rest of his relatives were either back in Japan or Spain. But neither of them were citizens to either country. They were born on American soil.

“I had to work some really odd jobs to support my sister. We had to live in the South End, which was not really a good area at the time. I was a bookie, I sold candy and snacks, I had to steal toys and re-sell them. We lived in foster care for a little bit, and it did not really work out, so we were struggling on the streets. It was tough, because I tried my best to support the two of us.” He sighed. “Luckily, I had to work these weird jobs only for a little while. I managed to lie my way into a restaurant, and start working as a waiter part time, while I was still in high school. We lived in a very shitty apartment, but I was able to make just enough money to get by. The landlord, he was nice enough to let us stay at half rent, because we were minors, and because the building was going to be demolished soon anyways. I tried my best to make it so that Kimmy would not have to suffer. The majority of my money went to food, clothing, and just making sure that she did not realize that we were poor.” It almost sounded unrealistic to Namie, hearing how badly Niall struggled to make ends meet as a teenager. “But the good part was when I turned 18. My inheritance, I received it at long last. That money, it helped put me through college and grad school, well, partially. I only used a little bit of it, but paid for most of my tuition through scholarships. I did not want to dry out the bank before Kimmy needed to go to school and college too. But I had to waiter on the side and eventually, we moved to Virginia once I finished school, since it was a lot cheaper over here.” He revealed. “So I got a job in D.C. as a waiter while I was on the waitlist, continued to be a parent to Kimmy, and she really never realized just how poor or in trouble we were, because again, I tried my best to make sure we lived a good or decent life.” He smiled.

“I had to be the responsible one and the father figure to her. I wanted to protect her from the dangers of the world. One of us was scarred that day our parents died. That did not mean that the other one had to be as well.” “Does she know that they died?” “I still have not told her that. I just said that they were on a business meeting.” “Niall… she’s going to find out the truth eventually.” Namie frowned. “I know she will. She’s the same age I was when they died. It gets harder and harder to answer her questions. But I want to keep her safe-” “This is exactly what my father did to me. Look, I think you’re a great guy, trying to keep your little sister in the dark about this, but learning the truth, that will help her more as a person than lying to her. If she does not know the truth, she might find out from somebody else, and it will hurt her more. It will damage her trust in you.” She frowned. Seeing what Niall was doing to Kimmy, it struck a cord with her.  This was the same exact thing her father did to her, and she was greatly aggravated by it. She was starting to see her father more and more in Niall, and while she was attracted to the musician, she could not help but start to realize a couple of things: by dating and presumably marrying Niall, she might just be losing herself to a relationship, yet again, something that she was trying to avoid back when she tried to quit dating entirely. She felt that the more attracted she was to him, the less of herself she was acting. Dancing, finance, she was having less and less time to focus on her hobbies and career because she was dating him to frequently. Those were aspects of her life that really defined her as a person too. It was an unsettling feeling. And then dating and marrying somebody like Niall, who thinks that being overtly protective is good parenting, or trying to justify wrong or bad actions. How was that any different from her father? When it comes down to it, he thought he was doing a good deed, brainwashing his daughters with those horrendously chauvinistic beliefs, but all he was really doing was feeding them lies based on other lies. Niall was doing that to Kimmy, and she is not even his actual daughter. Was this really somebody that she wanted to be in a relationship with?

“Hey, Niall, can we talk?” Namie was trying her best not to tremble as she approached him. “Hey, babe. What’s wrong?” The musician could immediately sense that there was something off with her. “Look, I really do like you, even love you.” “But?” He looked at her expectantly. Nobody would just make a statement like that for the sake of saying it. There had to be another reason. “But… I don’t like what being somebody else’s girlfriend is doing to me. It really isn’t you. You’re a kindhearted, wonderful, and genuinely great person. But when I am in a relationship, I feel like I’m not as strong or independent enough of a personality to really be myself. I feel like I am trying too hard to be perfect for you, because I like you so much, and it’s…. it’s making me lose my own identity.” She confessed, as the following silence confirmed that Namie had just shattered both of their hearts. “Nams…” He started, unable to form any words. “I’m so sorry, Niall. I really do like you. But I can’t even recognize myself in the mirror anymore. I keep trying to be this super bubbly and girly person, but that is not who I am at all.” She sighed. “But we can make this work. I promise you, you don’t have to be somebody you are not in front of me. I want to just be with the real you-” “I don’t even know who that is anymore, Niall! I’m sorry, but it’s seriously not you. Just being in a relationship, having these titles, these commitments and unspoken expectations, it’s just ingrained in my own personality. My own upbringing! I was raised to think that as somebody else’s girlfriend, you need to shed your own face, your own interests, and make yourself the perfect girl for them. I myself am just not ready to date yet. I have not developed or explored who I am enough to fully grasp my own identity, and because of that, I am losing myself to our relationship.” The accountant fought not to cry at this point. She did not want to lose Niall. But more importantly, she did not want to forget who she was in the process. “I need to learn to be myself first. And you, you deserve somebody who can grow together with you, okay?” She sighed, sitting down next to him. “Namie, I really do love you. And it hurts a lot to hear that, especially from somebody I care about. I think I might need some time away from you.” He groaned, getting up and leaving her apartment. Fighting every urge to do so, she did not beg him to come back.

“Hey, are you feeling better?” Claire approached Namie in the lunch room. “You haven’t been responding to any of our texts. Did something happen between you and Niall? Or was it a family thing?” “It was your first guess. Niall and I broke up.” The accountant sighed. “What happened?” The front desk supervisor was surprised to hear this, especially after how hard she was vying for the two to get together. “I just did not feel like myself when I was with him. It was like I was losing myself to a relationship, and I didn’t like that.” She sighed, placing her head back on the table in frustration. She felt like she had finally met somebody she really liked, but she ruined the opportunity to be in a relationship with him. “Hey, relationships aren’t all that, okay? And in a lot of ways, you’re right too. It’s not worthwhile if you feel like you’re losing your sense of self to it. No matter who you’re with, you still have to live with yourself first and foremost.” Claire sighed, admitting to the faults of her prior rationale and mentality towards finding a happy ending. Seeing her friend so upset about a guy, not only did it remind her of when Franky dumped her, but it made her realize that for a lot of people, they might not need somebody else to find their happily ever after. Some people might just be at their happiest when they are left to their own devices. “You’ll get through this, Nams. You’re smart and capable, and you’ve never let a man take you down.” “Thanks, Claire.” She grinned as they hugged.

Damn real: chapter 19

“So here we are! Kapnos Restaurant!” Niall beamed at her. The two were at a restaurant in U street, the site for their first date. “I love how we can’t get good Japanese food in D.C., so we settle on Greek out of the blue like this.” The accountant grinned. “Hey, it’s delicious Greek food, and that’s what matters most.” The violinist pointed out. “Touche.” She winked at him as the two walked into the dimly lit restaurant. “Hi, for how many?” The hostess, a young woman with auburn hair wearing a dark dress looked up at them. “I have a reservation for two under Niall?” “Oh, yes. Right this way.” The hostess pointed them to the direction of their table as she proceeded to lead them there. It was a small wooden table, candle lit, in the corner of the dining room. It was an intimate space, where they were secluded from the rest of the area. “Enjoy your dinner. Paige is your server. She will be right over to pour you guys some water and take your orders. Here are your menus. Have a wonderful night.” The hostess walked back to her stand in the front of the restaurant. “Have you ever been to any restaurants by Mike Isabella before?” Niall looked at her curiously. “I would honestly have no idea. I don’t really keep up with the culinary scene in D.C.” Namie sighed. “What?! But you’re in the hospitality industry! Tsk, tsk. You should know these things.” Niall shook his head jokingly. “Meh, I never handled food and beverage. That seems to be more of your department.” She pointed out, while Niall rolled his eyes at her. “Well, for your information, he owns like a ton of restaurants in the area and competed on some cooking shows. But he’s not the focus here tonight. We’re here to get to know more about each other.” He smirked, looking at her. “Well, what do you want to know? How my father is a white elitist Mormon asshat, or how he sort of extorted my Japanese mother into a green card marriage so that she could stay in America in exchange for her free will and choice of religion?” “Wow. Well, that’s a shitty childhood you’ve lived.” Niall frowned. “I’m sure you’ve lived a better one. Your parents, they’re probably not trainwrecks like mine, right?” “They’re dead.” That immediately shut Namie up.

“Alright, so I will be back with your orders.” Paige nodded, walking away. Niall and Namie had just received their drinks and placed in their orders. “So my father is Japanese and my mother is Spanish. They met in Japan while my mom was there for business. She was an artist opening a gallery in Tokyo, and he was a businessman attending the gala that was being held in her and several other artist’s honors. From there, they got married and decided to move to America to raise a family. I was born in Boston, Mass General Hospital, and so was my little sister, Kimmy.” He started. “Wait, enough of your backstory. Your parents are dead?! When did this happen?” Namie gasped, still in disbelief. That was a very awkward thing to say on a date, but at the same time, she could somewhat appreciate how upfront and truthful he was being with her. “Well, that happened over ten years ago. It was a car accident. But that’s been in the past for a while now. Don’t feel bad. I’ve been over it for a while now.” He assured her. “I’m so sorry. I must have sounded like a major bitch, complaining about my parents to you like that.” She shook her head, still feeling guilty about what she said. “It’s fine. It’s not like my parents being dead make your parents better by comparison. If they are awful people, then they’re awful people. You can’t just wave a magic wand and change that about them.” He reasoned. “And if your dad is this manipulative person from what I’m gathering, you have every right to dislike him, okay?” It was at that moment that Namie felt like it was the right choice, going on a date with Niall. He genuinely understood her. “Thank you for getting where I was coming from. And you’re right. But this date is not the place for me to complain about my asshole father, alright? We can talk more about that later. For now, I think it’s awesome that we’re both Hapa.” She giggled. “Yeah, Hapa power for the win!” He agreed as they toasted with their glasses.

“Oh my god! This place has a piano!” Walking around the city, the two stumbled upon the W D.C., which was a sister property in Namie’s company. Going inside, they noticed the large piano sitting in the almost gaudily decorated lobby. “Hmmm… well when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Niall smirked, going up to the piano. “Wait, you’re going to play it in the middle of the lobby on a Saturday night?” She raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Yeah, of course.” He chuckled, pulling up the fallboard and sitting on the bench. “Hold up, I thought you were a violoncellist. How do you know how to play the piano?” She frowned. “Because I’m just a man full of hidden talents.” He chuckled, cracking his knuckles before he started playing. It took a second for her to realize, but Niall was playing Treasure by Bruno Mars. “Treasure! That is what you are!~” He hummed while winking at her. Sitting down next to him, she was mesmerized. She had yet to actually see Niall perform, so this was just enchanting. The way he was able to effortless create such a harmonious beat, and how this music was just gliding off of the keys as he played them, she was impressed. “How did you think?” He smiled at her as he stopped playing. “Encore, encore!” Several of the guests in the lobby started cheering for him. “You’re something else, Niall.” She laughed. “Oh?” “It was incredible. Normally, I’d think that a guy serenading me publicly like that would require seven shots of vodka and an entire keg of beer, but you managed to pull it off perfectly. Consider me charmed.” She grinned at him.

“I can’t believe we’re actually able to see his first ever concert! I wonder if your man is as good as you say he is.” Claire laughed. “I’m sure if he is as good a musician as he is good-looking, you’ll be in good hands.” Wei smirked. “Sh! There is a child present!” Namie frowned, referring to Kimmy sitting next to the three. “I’m not a child! I’m 13 years old, motherfuckers!” “Kimmy! Saying curse words doesn’t make you more of an adult. If anything, it shows how immature you actually are.” Wei frowned at her, as the teen held her head in shame. “Now behave yourself or else I’m going to tell your brother everything that happens tonight.” “Okay….” Due to the level of intense respect and admiration she held for Wei, Kimmy would do anything to impress her or stay on her good side. “Good. Now let’s focus on the main reason why we’re here.” Claire smiled. They were attending Niall’s first concert as a official member of the D.C. Concert Orchestra. It was exciting to say that they actually knew one of the musicians who were playing. “Can we even see which one he is?” Claire whispered to Namie as they started playing. “Honestly… no idea. But we’re here to support him, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.” She shrugged. Despite not being able to tell where Niall was on the stage from how far back in the concert hall they were sitting, she was still enjoying the music. While she wished that she could hear just Niall playing, she knew that this was his dream, and she wanted to be supportive of him. Especially after hearing about the very incident that caused him to be left taking care of Kimmy from the young age of 14.

Damn real: chapter 18

“So I never really told you about Franky, did I?” “Wait, your ex?” Namie looked at Claire. They were still in the cashier office, chatting. “Yeah, my ex. He was a giant catalyst to my beauty vlogging career.” “Wait, what?” Namie frowned in disbelief. “You’re telling me that one guy just completely sparked your like what, almost million dollar empire?” “Yup. Just one guy. Heartbreak, it’s an interesting thing, isn’t it?” Claire laughed coldly. She was clearly still upset at the topic of him, despite being the person who brought him up in the first place. “But yeah, Franky and I, we were together for eight years. We started dating right before high school, went to college together at Penn State. I studied Hospitality, he studied Kinesiology. I honestly did not know life without him, Nams.” Hearing that saddened the accountant. The fact that Claire devoted almost a decade of her life to a single person, and even to the point where she just relied on his existence to provide her with a constant, it was definitely making her question whether or not being in a committed relationship was a good idea. “But yeah, we broke up, because of that same reason. He told me that he did not feel like he changed or grew in college, because we stayed in the same city, same school, same relationship, and he blamed his lack of maturing on being with me. He said that I was shallow, narrow-minded, and immature. That I was a bad influence on him.” “But you’re kind of a badass. And you’re not shallow or immature at all. I’ve seen the way you handle people at the Front Desk.” Namie interjected, unable to hear her being being called such horrible things. “But I was not always like that. He was not wrong. I felt like I did not really grow up either. We were together for so long that old habits from middle school continued to surface and persist after all of those years. Honestly, that was probably was the main reason why I did not even get accepted into the manager in training program for Starwood or the Voyager program for Marriott.” She shook her head.

“But yeah, it really screwed with me emotionally, So I became a front desk agent and on the side, I became a beauty guru on YouTube. I started vlogging make-up tutorials and DIY make-up kits, and somehow, I went viral. One of the things I loved about doing make-up was that it made me feel beautiful and it hid away all of my sadness. Nobody could see how hollow or depressed I was in my videos, because they would only see my face being covered and hidden away with layers and layers of foundation and other shit.” She laughed. “I found validation with the Internet, but I could never really find love again after that. The concept of dating, being in a relationship, having a boyfriend, it just causes me to become the same immature 13 year old that dated Franky. It took about seven or eight times of being dumped for me to really start questioning if I should even be in a relationship anymore.” She sighed. “Claire, you will find somebody eventually, if that is the lifestyle you want.” “I do want it, Nams, I really do. But I don’t think it’s practical for me at the moment. I’ms still in the process of really finding myself. The make-up and beauty guru thing, it’s all really just a front. Even if I have millions of followers and subscribers, nobody really gets that I, as a person, I really don’t have that much substance or that many interests. That’s why I keep getting rejected by guys. They think I’m shallow, dumb, or just an easy hook-up. And it’s because I keep giving off that vibe. So before I toss myself into another date, I just wanted to really grow as a person, you know? I need to understand myself, and how I can make me a better me before I try to test the waters and get rejected again.” “That’s true. But don’t let a rejection stop you from being yourself, you know?” “At this point, it’s not going to. I am personally not happy with who I am, and that’s why I want to make the change myself. And if or when I decide to put myself back out there, it won’t matter if I get dumped or whatever, because I would know, without a doubt, that whoever it was that dumped me, it’s their loss, not mine.”

“But yeah, the main reason why I’m telling you all of this is that I think you are in a better place than I am to be in a relationship. If you think Niall is a good fit for you, I’d say for go it. Find a happy ending to your relationship.” She ushered the accountant as the two walked out of the cashier’s office. They were both heading out for the day as well; their conversation was running for quite a while, but neither of them were complaining about that. The two girls were so immersed in their chat that time did not really seem to matter. “Namie, you’re already in a place in your life where you can find a happy ending. You’re a lot more self-assured than I am, and you know who you are, where your lines are drawn, and you know what you want for the most part.” Claire did make somewhat valid points. The brunette did question her statement about knowing what she wanted. The accountant was still teetering between her career in finance or her dream as a dancer. The two were such polar opposites that she felt as if the commitment to either decision had an entire lifetime’s worth of weight behind them. The fact that she could not even make that choice, she questioned if she could be happy making a choice about whether or not to date Niall at the very least. What if they were happy because she was an accountant, but would he still be okay with her being a dancer? While he said he was supportive of her choice to do so, who knows how changing careers would change her as a person? She might let go of herself and become an entirely different person just because of the change in her environment, schedule, and obligations. That sort of change, would he be able to adapt to or handle it? Just thinking about that stressed her out.

At the same time, Namie wanted to finally find a happily ever after so that she could break the vicious cycle of meeting men on these dating apps and then not seeing any futures with them. Niall was different from them. He was not arrogant, haughty, or condescending. He was down to earth, caring, practical, and just a genuine person who was not trying to put on a facade to impress her. His humility and willingness to admit that he was being a waiter, it showed her that he does not feel ashamed. And unlike Kenta, he actually has the aspirations to become something more. His time on the wait list was almost over, which means that he would be an actual musician living out his dream sometime soon. And maybe she just needed to be around somebody like that. Or even just have somebody who is living their dreams actively in her life. Granted, Wei already fit that bill, but with Niall, she had the opportunity to see somebody make their life into a dream come true. He was about to find his good ending, and being able to witness or have a hand in that, it could give the accountant a lot more insight into what she wanted in her own life. It was definitely a gamble. But what was stopping her from pursuing this relationship? Her own expectations? Her fears? The prospect of wasting time and emotions on somebody who might not mean anything to her? At this point, she had done that too many times for it to matter anymore. “To hell with it, I’ll give him a chance.” She turned to an excited Claire. “I hope it works out for you two. I really do.”

Damn real: chapter 17

He’s a waiter. How much of a positive influence could he actually be? Namie thought to herself, staring at his number. She was debating heavily on whether or not she should call Niall. After four straight instances of being heartbroken or disappointed, as well as that entire revelation about finding herself, the accountant was not sure if she could handle a fifth bout of rejection. But Niall was different from the other four. He was not some Ivy League young gun, big shot. He was a waiter. Maybe that sort of humility from being in the service industry, it could make him a much more down-to-earth person? Somebody who is less about being some highly accomplished Millennial, but rather, just an actual human being with a real personality. It might just be her urge to just dip her toes into the dating pool speaking, but she did not know that for certain. She was itching to take a chance. “I guess life is too short to wonder about the hypotheticals.” She said to herself, putting down his number. “Because the hypotheticals could be the doors you wound up opening instead.” She grabbed her phone, and without any further hesitation, typed in his number. And with that, she sent him her first text. “Hey, it’s Namie. The girl who you gave your number to at Le Diplomat?” Nervously awaiting a reply, she put down her phone. He’s not going to answer. She told herself. And you know you don’t want him to. At this point, she was trying her best to convince herself that trying to pursue another relationship, it was a mistake. She did not want to be awarded with romance after all of the nonsense she had to put up with in the past year alone. And just when she came to that resolution, her rang buzzed. “Yeah, want to do dinner sometime? Or maybe just get a drink first.”

“Crap, I’m here way too early.” Namie sighed to herself. She didn’t think that she was going to arrive at minibar as early as she did. Traffic just did not exist, and her Uber wound up at the restaurant almost an entire hour before she was supposed to meet Niall for drinks. “Well, I guess I can go for a walk around the area.” She sighed, deciding that it was better to explore the area and take in the sights rather than stand and wait idly for time to pass by. Being between 9th and E St., she was surrounded by a lot of nice restaurants, granted the majority of them, including minibar, were all owned by the renowned chef, Jose Andres. Looking around for something that was not a restaurant, Namie stumbled upon the National Portrait Gallery. “Hmm it closes at the same time I need to meet Niall. Let’s do it.” She smirked to herself. Art was definitely not her forte, but it beat just strolling around the area, trying to waste time while being watched by nearby diners. Sitting inside of the silent museum, the accountant just tried to admire the portraits. “Ugh, this is boring.” She groaned to herself, unable to immerse herself in the pictures. Even as a kid, she was never good at art. When she was asked to paint an apple, she would try to paint an apple. For the most part, she was a very literal person, when it came to the visual arts, anyways. So the only benefits she really had from visiting an art-related establishment was the free air conditioning, and having a place to sit without warranting as much judgement. Deciding that the portraits were creepy, she decided to wait in the atrium of the building, free of all photos. There was one in particular of an old Caucasian woman and her husband that just irked the young accountant. The last thing she needed was the judgement from a possibly fictional, Conservative married couple. When 5:50pm finally rolled around, and the museum started to come to a close, Namie got up and left in a hurry. She neither wanted to be late, nor did she really want to stay in there for even another second.

“Oh, so you just hung out there for an hour?” Niall chuckled. “Yeah.” She confessed, embarrassed. The waiter was somehow able to pry out the going-ons of Namie’s earlier trip to the National Portrait Gallery. They were seated in minibar, each with a drink in hand and just trying to get to know one another better. “Well, note to self, don’t take you to anything with interpretive art.” He smiled goofily. “Unless you want me to look like a complete dumbass.” Namie laughed. “Nah, you’re good. I’m the art school graduate, and I can’t say I’m much better. Hand painting? Tried to do that as an elective and totally just failed.” He laughed. “Oh nice! What art school did you go to?” “I went to Berklee College of Music. I graduated from the Master of Music program, focusing on the violoncello.” “Wow! That’s incredible.” She smiled at him. “So, how about you?” He looked back at her. “Well, I studied accounting at Birmingham Young University.” “Oh. Wait, are you Mormon?” He paused hesitantly. “Oh, hell no! I refused to be brainwashed. I used to be, but I gave up on it because I was not looking to just be some guy’s housewife.” She sighed. “Well, I’m glad you’re not a Mormon anymore. They’re…really weird.” He sniggered. “Really weird is putting it lightly. Have you SEEN the sacred Mormon underwear? Now that crap is embarrassing.” She laughed. “Oh my god, I have seen them in a post on Buzzfeed. Yeah, not the most flattering outfit, especially for somebody like you.” He smiled. “Somebody like me?” Namie snorted, downing the rest of her drink. “Coming on a little strong there.” “Me or your drink?” The young man joked. “Well, both. But you’re not that bad-looking yourself.” “Anyways, before this date devolves into us just fucking and not really doing anything else…” He was trying to segway into a different topic. “What do you do then? Accounting?” “Yeah. I work at the Ritz Carlton as an accountant. And you’re a waiter at Le Diplomat?” “Yup. Well, I’m doing that while I’m waiting to be accepted into the D.C. Concert Orchestra. I take care of my little sister, because she’s only in middle school, so I needed to make some income while I was waiting.” He explained, clearly trying to not come off as an unambitious bum. “Oh, wow. Is it just the two of you?” “Yeah. But it’s been that way for a while now, so it’s fine.” He smiled.

“But an accountant at a hotel, huh? So we both work in Hospitality.” He pointed out. “That is surprisingly true.” Namie nodded in amusement. “But I’m not sure I want to do that for long. I really love to dance, but accounting pays the bills.” “I feel you on that. Trust me, I don’t want to be a waiter, but I have to.” “Yeah, you have a little sister to take care of. It’s understandable.” She nodded in agreement. “But once I get into the Orchestra, then I will be able to quit my job as a waiter and make my job my passion.” He grinned. Seeing his hopeful expression, it was almost invigorating for her. He was a young man who was actively pursuing his passion. Yes, he had to make sacrifices for his family, but that did not completely stop him from doing what he wants to actually do. “I think if dancing is your passion, pursue it. Find a way to make it into a job where you can make an actual income.” Niall suggested. “Wait, but don’t be a stripper. Like don’t get me wrong, you’re gorgeous, and you’d definitely be the most sought-after dancer at the strip club, but you’re too smart and capable for that.” He quickly added, realizing how badly his own statement could be misconstrued. “Ha!” Namie laughed, as the thought of becoming a stripper had not even occurred to her until he said that. “Don’t worry. I don’t be a stripper. Matcha Latte won’t be my stripper name or anything.” She teased him. “Matcha Latte? Wait, you’re half Japanese?!” “Yeah. Half Japanese, half White. I’m a hapa!” “Same! I’m half Japanese, half Spanish!” “Oh, dang! We’re both half Japanese.” She laughed. Namie could tell that Niall was mixed, but she could not figure out which ethnicities he was a mix of beyond Caucasian and Asian. “Ole.” He smirked, raising his eyebrow at her as Namie burst into a fit of laughter. She was actually enjoying the time she was spending with him. Niall was funny, sweet, and easygoing. And he was smart. All qualities that really appealed to her.

“So, how was talking to him?” Claire and Namie were in Namie’s office, counting Claire’s house vault while also discussing the details of the accountant’s encounter with their waiter. “He’s honestly the sweetest. And you were right to tell me not to judge a book by its cover. He might be a waiter, but it’s just to make more money on the side. He was a graduate of the Berklee College of Music’s Master of Music program! And he’s on the wait-list to be a part of the D.C. Concert Orchestra!” “Wow, so he’s not a complete loser like your little sister’s ex-husband.” Claire joked. One of Namie’s initial reservations about dating Niall was seeing how similar he was to Kenta in terms of careers. However, Niall was actually proving to be a more ambitious and successful musician. “You honestly should think about going for it, though. Goals or whatever aside, or being married or whatever aside, think about this as a chance to better learn about yourself. Dating somebody like him, who is following his dreams and pursuing his passion, you might learn a thing or two about what you want out of your own life, just by spending time with him.” The front office worker pointed out. She had a good argument there too. Namie was not sure what she wanted to do with her future, mostly because she was not passionate about just one thing. Maybe interacting with somebody who is passionate about something, in this case, music, and picking apart his brains and better understanding his process of thought, it could help her gain more insight on what she actually is and is not passionate about. And with that passion, she could finally decide what she wants to do with her life. Currently, she is working to live. But she wants to one day live for her work.