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.

Damn real: chapter 16

“So she moved out?” Claire and Wei looked at Namie in shock. “Yup. She moved to Fremont, so basically Silicon Valley, and she’s an engineer right now.” Namie summarized. It had been two months since Emiri had left Kenta and Namie had rejected Layton. “But what about her kids?” “Apparently my parents are raising them. And they had to fight so hard with that fucking idiot’s parents just to keep custody of them. One of their neighbors, Ms. Keans kept on telling me on Facebook that they could not stop hearing all of the yelling and arguing from next door.” Namie laughed. “And speaking of the fucking idiot, how is he taking it all?” “Badly. But he did not even try to stop her, which is the funny thing. He chose to let her go, and now he’s all pissy because nobody there’s to financially support him?” “Wow, he’s… just a piece of shit.” Claire snorted. “Cheers to that.” They all raised their glasses in unison. The three were at Le Diplomat for brunch, while Namie was just telling them about her experiences with boys and the recent development in her younger sister’s life. “But get this. He told Emiri when she went to grab her things that she was going to fail, come back to him, and beg for his hand in marriage again.” She laughed. “And now she’s an electrical engineer, while he’s an unemployed bum. So I guess who’s probably begging for who now?” Wei giggled. “I… may have also told my parents somewhere in the confusion of everything that I left the church too, since Emiri upright told them that she denounced her ways first.” Namie smirked. “How did they take that?” Wei’s eyes widened in fear. “Eh, I hung up the phone and blocked their numbers. Last I checked, Ms. Keans told me that they apparently are going around claiming they have no daughters or children, just granD.C.hildren.” She rolled her eyes. “Whatever. You’re better off without them.” Claire assured her. “They were morons from the get go.” “Moronic Mormons. The alliteration in that saying speaks the truth.” Wei agreed.

“But speaking of better off without, how about your baes? How is that going?” “Well, I sort of just stopped doing dates entirely.” Namie shrugged. “Well, from what I’ve heard, maybe you should think about going out with Peter again? He seemed to the be the least offensive out of the four of them.” Claire did make a slight point there. Out of the four, Layton and Peter were the two Namie spent the most time with. “You could be dating somebody who is cute, capable, and smart. And in our industry, somebody who can pay the bills in the household is nice to have.” Claire pointed out. “Hey, not everyone can be famous Instagram beauty gurus like you, Claire.” Wei rolled her eyes. Despite her suggestion, Claire was actually more than capable of paying and supporting herself on her side career; she was only working in the front desk for fun, not because she has to. Granted, all three of them were in that similar situation. Wei’s two jobs put her well above upper middle class, while Namie can afford to live in one of the nicer buildings in the city on just her own stock money. “Well, I guess money aside, since that really doesn’t seem to matter to any of us, he did seem to make you the happiest out of the four? I remember how excited you were for each and every date with Peter.” “That was because he was the first boy I ever went out with. And there were other boys after him too, all of whom I rejected, so don’t forget that. Peter, he was such a prick.” Namie growled. There was a reason why she had no spoken to Peter in almost four months now. “He almost let me die during a date, and all he did was laugh at me. I’m sorry, but that screams ‘grade-A asshole’ to me. In bright, neon letters.” The accountant shook her head in frustration. That was the last time she was going to let her ex-father dictate her life. That man now meant nothing to her.

“Honestly, I don’t think that any of them are good for you.” Wei stated, much to Claire’s surprise. “I might be biased because we’re related, but you are too good for any of them. One is a jackass, one is an egomaniac, one is too horny for his own good, and one is a geezer. I’d say either keep looking, and this time, without your ex-father’s guidance, since he no longer has any pull or influence on your life anyways, or you could just focus on yourself. Forget about trying to win over these boys, and focus on winning over yourself.” Wei made a really good point there. In chasing after a boyfriend or a man, and seeking that validation from somebody who was both attractive and qualified, Namie had lost sight of who she was. She allowed herself to be defined by who she was dating and their accomplishments, and not her own. It echoed what she last told Layton, about trying to learn more about who she was and what she really wanted. She had not figured that out for herself, and it had been two months already. Granted, she could have been an accomplished individual, but she knows that with her potential, she can go on to achieve greater things. Perhaps, now is the time to focus on being better than a Harvard student or an accountant for Deloitte. If she could turn her back on those offers, as well as all four of those incredibly accomplished men, then she could become thing greater than the sum of them. Looking at Emiri, and seeing how far she can come in two months, turning her life around entirely, it was inspirational. But this was a message to her as well. She could do that, if she honed in on a single passion, and pursued it with all of her determination and focus. The big question that still needed to be answered was, what would that be?

“Here’s your check. And for you, here is something else.” Their waiter placed the receipt on the table before handing a piece of paper to Namie. “Huh?” She raised an eyebrow as he walked off. Unfolding it, she frowned. It was him name, ‘Niall’, written next to a phone number. “Oh my God, he gave you his phone number?” Wei gasped. “Girl, you need to lock that down. He is a cutie.” Claire giggled. “A cutie working as a waiter? Uh.. that sounds like a lack of life ambition.” The idol scoffed. “Oh, and I forgot. You’re Wei Ishigo, right?” Startled, Wei turned to see Niall standing besides her. Luckily, he had not heard what she said, judging from the large smile on his face, though it could just have been how good he was at putting on a friendly front. “Oh, yeah, I am.” She nodded, trying to shake off the fear. “Sorry about scaring you like that. I’m not a stalker or anything, I swear. But my little sister, Kimmy, she is a huge fan of you. Could I get your autograph for her?” He looked at her excitedly. “Oh, why of course.” She agreed as he handed her a pen and paper. “Thank you. It will mean the world for her.” “So her name is Kimmy with a ‘y’?” “Yes.” “Alright, here you go. Thanks for recognizing me. I’m honestly not used to having a huge fan base outside of Asia.” She smiled. “No, thank you. Your music is a huge inspiration to her. She’ll love this.” He beamed, walking off. “Oh, and before I forget. If you don’t want to call me or anything, that’s cool with me. Meeting Wei Ishigo, I think that makes up for getting a rejection, right?” He chuckled, turning away from Namie and embarrassingly walking away. “Okay, waiter or not, he is cute as hell. Four words for you, girl. Lock that shit down.” Wei laughed and she high-fived Claire in agreement.

Damn real: chapter 15

“Hi, are you Namie?” A tall, tanned Asian American male with gelled spiky hair approached her. It was Layton, otherwise known as the 35 year-old Namie was talking to on her dating app. “Yeah, that’s me.” Getting off from the stone bench she was sitting on, she stood up to get a better look at him. He was definitely handsome, but he also looked considerably older than her, which he obviously was, given the nine year age gap. “So, we’re just going on a casual stroll through the FDR Memorial?” He looked around, taking note of their location. “Yeah. Let’s just take it slow and get to know each other.” She smiled as they began walking and talking. There was something about Layton that was definitely attractive to her. While he was handsome, it was not necessarily his appearance. It was that sense of security, knowing that he was so much older than her, that made his appear like this grounded, mature, and almost charismatic person. It definitely helped that he was a senior financial analyst for one of the biggest banks in the country, making his work struggles identical to her own. “Yeah, every piece of back-up to our transactions, which were supporting my claims, just ruined because of the rain. And it was month-end, so you could just imagine-” “Oh, trust me, I know. With all of these cash policies in place, you need documents to support everything or else you’ll get written up or fired.” She added in, amused. “It’s like these companies just want us to hate working, I swear to god.” He sighed, as they made their way towards their fifth loop around the Tidal Basin. A couple hours had passed, but it felt like a manner of minutes to both of them. “Hey, I like where this is going, but I don’t want to rush into anything, is that okay with you?” She looked at him, hesitantly. Given his stature and age, Layton could very easily be the kind of guy who would try to coerce her into not entirely consensual acts. “Yeah, that’s fine.” “Thank god.” She sighed in relief, much to his amusement. “Can we maybe meet up again for another walk and talk?” “Sure. Same time, same day?” “Sounds like a plan.” She beamed, as they said their goodbyes.

“I had fun today.” Layton smiled at Namie as they stopped in front of the Washington Monument. They had continued meeting up for strolls and conversations since their first encounter, taking things very casually. “I hope we can keep doing this, you know? I want to know as much about you as possible.” It was that sentence that made something click with Namie’s conscious. With each conversation, Namie was starting to realize that the age gap between the two of them, it made committing to Layton feel very final. He was approaching 40, and assuming that he does get into a relationship with her, she felt almost obligated to marry him. And she was nowhere near ready for that kind of commitment. “I mean, I think you’re a kind, genuine, and good-natured person, but can I be honest with you, Layton?” “Yeah, what’s up?” “I think that I am not the person for you. Well, romantically anyways. I think you will find that special somebody, but she is not me.” There was an awkward silence at that point. “Look, you’re a great guy, attractive, smart, and most importantly, nice. But I am not looking to settle down yet. I still have a few years left where I can be free, roam the world, and really understand myself before I settle down and get comfortable in my own skin. I’m sorry it took going on these dates to realize that, but I wanted to be upfront about it.” She paused, worried that she might have hurt him badly. “Look, it actually makes more sense, the way you are putting it. And honestly, the age gap, it bothered me too. I felt like I was looking for something more long-term, but you’re still in the youth of your life. It would not be fair of me to take that away. I still remember my 20’s fondly, and I would not want you to wound up having to settle when you’re not ready. I understand that, and I respect that.” He smiled, patting her head gently before walking away. And with that, the accountant decided it was time to close the book to her love life for now. Especially when the month was closing soon.

“Alright, and that’s the last bank audit. I finished counting off the house banks, the duebacks are all given out, and that leaves…. the report!” She gasped, in slight shock. Namie had to generate and send out a report to the executive committee, essentially a board of directors, in the hotel, detailing every time somebody in the hotel was either holding too much money or was short of money. “Alright, and printed, scanned, and sent.” She sighed to herself, finishing up the last of her month-end adjustments. “Well, now that that’s over, I should have maybe five hours to nap, and then it’s off to dance class.” She sighed to herself. She had worked until 12am on Saturday, finalizing her reports, since the month was over on Friday this year. And she was going to be meeting up with Emiri and Wei for drinks later that night. Although it was more likely going to be her and Wei getting hammered while Emiri watches and sips a small carton of orange juice. Bloody Mormon. But she was her sister, and on top of that, not a complete spoiled, self-entitled brat like how Namie initially thought Emiri was. “Well, at least I can sleep.” She yawned, stretching her arms out. Life was going to be the same, with or without a man in her life. Even if she was dating somebody, she would still have to close the month. She could still have dance classes every Saturday morning. None of that would change just because she was somebody else’s girlfriend. At the end of the day, she loved that she was a hardworking accountant, first and foremost. Being able to prove that she can work for her money, on top of the money she already made in stocks, it was a serious feeling of validation for the young woman. “Business as usual.” She smiled to herself, finally arriving at her apartment, and passing out in her bed.

“You all did a wonderful job! You’re all clearly going to be on Glee as back-up dancers… oh wait, Glee was cancelled! Nevermind, you’re all going to be waiters and waitresses for the rest of your lives, except the lucky few of you who actually hit it out big and open your own dance studios, because Broadway is full of a bunch of self-entitled cunts who will push you off a stage, and then get you blacklisted from every production when you angrily break their legs with your Krav Maga skills to stand up to those bitches and let them know that you ain’t no bitch!” Melissa growled angrily, reciting a very dark chapter of her failed Broadway dance career, coupled with a hint of her dashed adolescent dreams of appearing on a now-concluded television show. The entire class awkwardly clapped to her backhanded compliment of sorts, or at least, that was how the majority of them chose to interpret it, before filing out one by one. “Namie, I mean it. You have the potential to go on cancelled-Glee. Keep trying and you won’t continue to have a shitty job as a janitor-” “I’m an accountant.” “Accountant, janitor, the only difference is that you clean up shit with numbers rather than people’s actual shit. But is that really any different?” Melissa eyed her, much to the accountant’s confusion. “Are you…drunk?” “Bitch, I wish. I took seven shots of vodka, but I’m nowhere near that stage yet. I can still feel my face. And my other parts.” She laughed heartily, walking away. That… was certainly an unusual class, even given how strange Melissa normally was. Nonetheless, it kept Namie awake and alert for the rest of her day. She needed that weird outburst of energy, since she was going to drink later that night, since her little sister was finally in town, and for once, she was looking forward to it.

“I’ll have a vodka soda. Two shots.” Wei started. “I’ll just have a gin and tonic.” Namie added. “One Irish cream for me.” Emiri told the waiter as the other two girls’ eyes widened in disbelief. “Wait, that has coffee…and alcohol in it!” Wei frowned. “So?” Emiri raised an eyebrow at her. “We’re out for drinks. What are you expecting me to have? A fucking hot chocolate?” Immediately, Wei and Namie exchanged bewildered glances. Mormons do not drink coffee or alcohol, a fact that they thought about before the two girls slowly came to the same conclusion. “So, besides some more obvious changes in your lifestyle, what else has happened since the last time I saw you?” Namie looked at her little sister, feeling proud of her for cutting ties with the church. “Well, I am thinking about divorcing that jackass, Kenta. He won’t let me pursue a career in engineering, and he’s expecting me to make ends meet as a receptionist, because he thinks that ‘women can’t handle managerial or higher responsibilities.’” She rolled her eyes, as their waiter returned to their table with their drinks. “Thank god, I needed this.” Emiri downed the entire glass in a manner of seconds. “Holy shit, Emi, pace yourself.” Namie gasped. “Don’t worry, if I am related to you, I must be a tank. One more!” She shouted at the waiter. “You know, I have been giving it a lot of thought. I got dual degrees in Applied Mathematics and Engineering. What did my idiot husband do? He went to BYU for Philosophy. And he’s not an aspiring musician who has literally booked zero gigs since he started. And the only reason why I can’t pursue any bigger careers is because he won’t let me not take care of the fucking kids. Piece of fucking crap.” She growled angrily.

It was a while later, and Emiri had somehow made her way back into her hotel room; thanks to Claire and Wei, she was able to stay at the Ritz with a ridiculously cheap rate. “That’s it. The bastard needs to understand that if I’m going to be paying the bills, I need to pay them my own way.” She grumbled angrily, pulling out her phone. “Hello?” It was Kenta on the other side of the call. “Hey, we need to talk.” “Dear, what’s wrong? You sound…like you’re under the influence.” “I’m quitting my job. I am so sick and tired of dealing with all of this shit-” “Well, honey, there’s a nicer way to put that. Poop. And of course you would be. But as a mother, you have to put up with it, because it is your duty as a female to bear and raise children-” “Shut the fuck up, you idiot. I’m not referring to their crap, which thank you by the way, for helping me clean up. I’m talking about you being useless in the household. Who pays the bills? Me, and on minimum wage on top of that. Who is raising the kids? Me. Who handles all of the chores? I do. What do you do, other than waste my electricity on your band, waste my gas because you decided to give your car up, again for your band, and most importantly, drive me crazy and depriving me of any obligation or right to live as a human being, because of your fucking band. So either you need to do more work in the house, or you need to let me pursue my dream of being an engineer. Because right now, I want to live in much bigger house so that I can get away from all of the shit you bring into it.” “And if I say no to either?” “Then I’m fucking leaving you. So make up your decision right now. My patience has run thin, and honestly, I would have no regrets just taking off.”

Damn real: chapter 14

“You know, mom and dad, they forced me to get married. At first, I thought it was because of you, being older and not getting married, which spooked them, but it really is not your fault. You’re a human being and you’re allowed to get married or date or whatever at your own pace. But for me, I was so dumb. I believed that I needed to get a husband so that I have a gateway into heaven, so I just up and married Kenta!” Emiri was still ranting about her life regrets, although Namie was enjoying every second of it. “Namie, I am only 22 years old. But I have two kids. When I had Yuzu, I did not even know how to change a freaking diaper! And now I have a second child, and I don’t think that Makoto or Yuzu are going to be raised in a great environment if their main role models are a receptionist and a failing musician!” She growled. Despite studying in mathematics and engineering, Emiri had to take a receptionist job on top of taking care of the rest of her family, because Kenta felt threatened by Emiri’s male colleagues and peers in the engineering industry. He feared that one of them would snag her away from him, or so Namie heavily theorized when she first saw how he reacted whenever she spoke about her interests in pursuing an engineering career. “It is exhausting! Every single day. I bust my butt off, working 14 hour days, on top of dropping off the kids at school, and then having to pick them up from Kenta’s parents house, and then picking up Kenta from band practice, and from there, having to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for everyone. And I do the groceries, dishes, take out the trash, clean the house, and Kenta never even offers to help me. He’s always ‘too tired’ from practicing. I am only 22 years old, but I feel like I have the pressure of the world on my shoulders. It sucks so much!” “Look, Emiri, you are a tough person for even going through that. Honestly, there’s a reason why mom and dad love you so much. It’s because you roll with the punches. Even though we might not see eye to eye on a lot of things, I have to give you props for making anything work in such a bad environment. I’m proud to call somebody like you my sister, and knowing that you feel this way, I am even more proud. But you should focus on yourself first. You’re still young. It’s not too late to pursue your dreams.” She reassured the younger female. “Thanks, sis.” Emiri sounded a lot calmer at this point. “I’ll talk to you later.” “Alright, can’t wait.” Namie smiled as the sisters hung up their phones.

“Alright, suitor number three. Let’s go.” Namie groaned to herself as she stood over in front of the H&M in Georgetown, the meeting place with her third and penultimate suitor. So far, the first two dates have been major disappointments. They showed so much promise, only to destroy any hope of being in a relationship for one or two glaringly offensive reasons. Namie questioned if she was being too picky, but she shook off the thought. It was her love life. She has every right to want a specific type of personality. The next guy, unlike Peter and Steven, was actually younger than her. His name is Eddie, he is a 25 year programmer in a large IT firm, based in New York, although he worked in D.C., and he graduated from Georgetown University. Apparently Eddie is half Korean, half Cantonese. Namie was starting to notice a pattern with all of these young men. While they were smart, attractive, and accomplished, she also felt as if her father was trying to force her into a position where should she marry any of them and have children, due to her not being as far advanced in her career as any of them, she would be forced to take the back seat. “Hi, are you Namie?” She turned around to see an Asian male with a relatively youthful, but rectangular face, approach her. “I’m Eddie. Nice to meet you.” He smiled bashfully. Although she wore a smile while shaking his hand, Namie could not feel like this date was not going to go well already. There was something off, almost awkward about the way Eddie was presenting himself. She could already tell that this date, it could end very badly. Shaking off her initial feeling, the accountant decided to just approach this day with an open mind. Who knows? Maybe he might actually be the one for her?

“Hey, are you okay with doing this?” The two of them were going to watch a special screening of  The revenge of the centipede Woman, a vintage Korean horror film, at the IMAX theatre. “Hey, I am not afraid of a scary movie.” Namie reassured him. “I’m 26, I can handle it.” “Alright then…” Eddie trailed off meekly. “What’s wrong?” She felt as if she had offended him, but was not quite sure how to gauge his reaction. “I am just not used to talking to women, just being honest with you.” He sighed. “Oh?” “Yeah, I focused on my studies the whole time throughout college. I had no time to think about women or dating. Because of that, I just never thought about being in a relationship. Well, until now.” He admitted, his face furiously blushing. Taken slightly aback, Namie decided to just remain calm. “Look, just be yourself, okay? Be honest with who you are, and I’m sure that if this date brings out a relationship, it will. And if it does not, it does not.” She smiled, as they stepped into the movie theatre. This was a first in her dates. Typically, the guy would lead the date and take charge. But here, it was an opportunity for her to really lead the way. Maybe that was the sort of dynamic she was looking for? With Peter, he was a condescending jerk. With Steven, he was just completely uninvested in learning about her, and was more interested in spewing praises about his own accomplishments. With Eddie, he seemed quiet and meek. She could work with that. She could help meld their dynamic into a relationship more towards her liking. More with her input, unlike with the other two. “How did you like the movie?” He looked at her as they finally stepped out of the room. “It was fun. I hope you enjoyed it too.” She smiled at him. “It was terrifying, but I was impressed by how un-scared you were.” “Look, Eddie, I enjoyed myself, and I was wondering if you’d like to go on a second date with me?” She looked at him, expectantly. “Yeah, sure!” He gasped, surprisingly. “Perfect.”

It was a week later, and Namie was waiting just outside of the Fairmont Georgetown for Eddie. She was sporting a white sleeveless cardigan and light gray pumps, while wearing her hair down, which draped just above her shoulders. They were going to have brunch together at a nearby restaurant, the renowned Blue Duck Tavern, so she chose to dress up a little nicer than she normally would. “Hey.” She looked up and saw Eddie approaching her. “Hi.” She flashed a smile before turning around. The two of them started walking over to the restaurant, which was just across the street. “So, what did you want to do after brunch?” Eddie looked at her, eagerly. “Uh, after? I mean, we could go for a walk or something.” “I had some other things in mind.” His hand started to trail along her bare arm. “Uh…” She paused, as his fingers found their way inside of her elbow. “Okay, no. Fuck this. You’re a creep.” She stopped, before stepping away from him. “What?” “I’m not some cheap whore who’s looking to just have sex. If you think that you can just force me into having sex with you just because you made it past date number one, you’re dumb. Okay? Goodbye.” She turned and started walking away from him, furiously. “Hey, wait! I’m sorry!” He tried chasing after her. “I don’t want to hear it. You’ve made it clear what you want, and it’s disgusting. I have had hardly any real interactions with you, and you think that this is okay?” She glared at him. “I’ve never been in a relationship before! Plus, I’m still a virgin. You have to understand-” “Being a virgin does not excuse being a pig or being a creep. Check your fucking privilege, you perv.” She spat at him, before getting into a cab. “And I never want to see your perverted ass face again, sicko.” With that, the car took off. She was upset. How could he think it was okay to even suggest something like that? It showed her his true intentions behind interacting with her, and it made her extremely angry.

Unable to bring herself to leave her apartment, Namie sat on her couch, reflecting back on all three of these experiences. With Peter, he seemed charming at first, but he turned out to be a patronizing asshole. In Steven’s case, he was extremely good-looking, but only cared about himself. And then in Eddie’s case, he seemed meek and mild-mannered, but was really just awkward and thirsty. None of them turned out to be anything like how she perceived them to be. All young, ambitious, and accomplished, in every right, except on how to treat a girl properly. Why even try to go out with somebody, when you are either just trying to lose your virginity, or be in a relationship for the sake of being with somebody? She was starting to lose a lot of hope that she could be in a relationship. Hope? She thought to herself. Since when did she actually want to be with somebody? Was this entire experience just not to shut her dad up? Maybe somewhere down the line, she was feeling hopeful that she could check off that milestone from her life, and actually have somebody she could call her own. Shaking off all of these emotions, she reminded herself that she still had one last date. No matter how that date goes, be it in heartbreak or a relationship, Namie could not help but appreciate that this experience was still an eye-opening one, to say the least. “I guess I should give Layton a call.” She sighed to herself, pulling out her phone to contact her last suitor.