Healing: dream

Being able to recover from something and move on, it’s a wonderful feeling. The healing process is a vital part in us maturing as human beings. A lot of it starts with forgetting about what it is that hurt us to begin with, specifically that pain. Yet, you still need to keep the lesson learned from whatever hurt you in mind. It could be that certain people are not good people, or be less naive, but whatever the lesson is, know what needs to be learned. Secondly, while keeping that newly learned moral in the back of your head, move on with your life. It might mean cutting off old parts of your life, but you need to do it, or else you could very easily revert to old, harmful habits that could cause you a lot of pain and possibly, cause you to revert to self-inflicting tendencies. That is the biggest emotional hurdle in the healing process is cutting off the past and forgetting about it.

The next part of the healing process is filling your life with new things to replace the old. They don’t have to be similar things. Preferably, they shouldn’t be similar things. Anything that reminds you of your past pain, that’s just asking to be triggered. Being able to do that, it also helps you forget the past a lot easier. You’re able to let go and not think about whatever horrible influences have hurt you. And while cutting off is the biggest challenge emotionally, this part is the most difficult part mentally is putting the past behind you. You are probably used to a certain routine, and you want to revert to it. You probably wouldn’t want to include new things into your life and you yearn for the past. Very few people are naturally good at adapting to and accepting change. And that’s to be expected. We can’t all just be okay to uprooting our daily routines. But being able to accept the change, even in small steps, it helps.

By allowing these new influences into your life, you can expel a lot of the negative emotions that have been burdening you earlier. You stop thinking about those dark thoughts, or about the causes of them. Instead, every day becomes a new opportunity for you to discovery something new about yourself or the world around you. You start to find yourself smiling a lot more, and while you know that this world is a little less wonderful than you remember it being, the parts that are genuinely wonderful that you discover makes that journey worthwhile. Being able to see the good in the world, it’s refreshing. Whether it’s new people, new hobbies, new places, you’ll surprise yourself with how much this world has to offer, despite whatever it was that hurt you in the first place. You stop thinking about the guilt, the pain, the trauma, and it helps you focus on future and what you can do as an individual to make the most of yours.

Being able to completely cast your past behind, it’s not easy. Those wounds from your trauma, they do become scars, but with time, you will forget what exactly gave you those scars exactly, but you will still vaguely remember how you got them, and what you can do to prevent yourself from falling into the same mistake again. The world will no longer feel like a cage or trap confining you, and it will open itself up to you. You are no longer being held down or back by those negative influences and burdens. Instead, you can focus on making the person you see in the mirror somebody you can love more and more. And once you reach that point of loving yourself, don’t stop there. Find new things about the world, and figure out what new things you love as well, and how you can work towards incorporating that newfound passion or interest into your life. With healing, you gain depth and character and that’s a life worth living in this featherlight world.

How it is: Chapter 19

“How was your day?” Tarou turned to see an exhausted Valerie re-enter their room. “I’m just shot. I’m going to bed.” She yawned, dropping face-first on the mattress. The Japanese boy, deciding it was best to continue doing his homework elsewhere, left the room, turning off the lights as he exited. “Goodnight, Val!” “Goodnight, Tarou.” She murmured before drifting off to sleep. The boy decided to finish his homework in the hallway, just so that he would not disturb her. He was grateful to Valerie for housing him and did not want to do anything to agitate her or potentially compromise his ability to live there. It’s been a couple weeks at this point, and Tarou was already adjusted to living with her. The two knew that being a romantic couple was out of the question at this point, given how both of them were emotionally, and how Timmy would be affected if something like this were to happen. Finally saving his paper, Tarou closed the window and looked at job openings for the summer. The summer was close, so he needed to start thinking about what he would be doing then. “Huh? A modeling gig in Tokyo?” Tarou noticed an email sent to him from the agency. “Summer job, will be modeling for the summer edition of Vogue’s Menswear Collection.” He read aloud, intrigued. “Will need basic Japanese speaking skills and prior modeling experience preferred.” The more he looked into it, the more Tarou wanted to apply for the job. At this point, he had nothing to lose. “Hell, let’s do it.” He submitted his resume onto the site and closed his laptop entirely. “It’s 2am already. I’ve got to go to bed.” He sighed, going back into their room.

It was the next morning, and Tarou and Valerie were eating together in the dining hall. “How was your paper? Are you done now?” The pastry chef looked at him. “Yeah, I’m done with it! I also applied for a modeling job in Tokyo for the summer!” “Oh my god! That’s amazing! If you get it, send me pics! I want to see and live that experience through you vicariously.” She giggled. “How about you? Any news?” Tarou smiled at her. “Well, I got this in the mail.” She pulled out an envelope. “Wait, what’s in it?” The Japanese model looked at her curiously. “You won’t believe it. I actually didn’t myself.” She opened the flap and pulled out the letter. Tarou quickly scanned through the contents. “Dear Valerie, we are going to be holding a special Warrior Chef: All Stars edition, where previous finalists and contestants from all seasons will have a chance to redeem themselves. Since you were the runner-up in our most recent season, we in the Warrior Chef team would like to cordially invite you to compete. Please contact us at wcascasting@gmail.com if you are interested in competing again and hope to hear from you soon! Victoria Clark, Executive Producer.” Stunned, he just looked at her, awestruck. “So are you going to take it?” Valerie just smiled in response to that question. “Well, what do you think? I’m a previous runner-up! I need to represent!” She beamed. “Thanks, Tarou. You helped me regain my confidence, and I will try my best to win this one for you.”

“Tarou!” Misaki ran up to the model as he exited the changing rooms. He had finished another session and was getting ready to go home. “Misaki! What’s going on?” He looked at her. She was exhausted from running. “Hold on!” She put her hand up, panting. “Catching… my breath.” She sighed, getting up and looking at the slightly amused teen. “What’s going on?” “It’s Timmy. He wants to talk to you.” She lied between her teeth. “Wait, what?!” Tarou could not believe what he was hearing. “Yeah. Hold on, come with me.” She led him out of the building. Misaki was determined to make these two at least confront each other. Whether or not they remained friends was another subject entirely, but at the very least, she wanted Tarou to be able to put that frustration behind him, while on Timmy’s behalf, she just wanted him to live a life that did not involve hulling himself away in his room. Nobody deserved to be robbed of their youth like that, in her eyes.

“Here we are.” Justin looked at Timmy. The software engineer lied to Timmy as well, telling him to meet up with him in front of the Muji at Noho so that they can go get food together in the area. Misaki was going to be taking Tarou to this location as well, so that the two of them could leave the ex-friends and roommates confront each other. “Hey, Justin!” Timmy sighed, looked around fearfully before walking up to his friend. He was terrified that somebody was going to verbally assault him. “What’s with you? Don’t worry, okay? These kinds of issues and problems, they’re not going to be around for much longer, alright?” Justin assured him. “What makes you so certain about that?” Timmy frowned. He was scared at this point. What did Justin mean by that? How could he assure that nothing bad was going to happen. “I just have a gut feeling that no matter what happens, you’ll come out of this stronger. And that’s a big reason why I wanted to meet up with you.” He grinned, although Timmy was still visibly disturbed. And this uneasiness would only escalate within a mere few seconds of Justin’s last statement. “Timmy?!” The Taiwanese boy’s shoulders shot up at the beckon of his name. He was being called by a very familiar voice. Turning around slowly, he knew who this was. It was none other than a very dumbstruck Valerie Ang.

Deciding that it was something to celebrate over, Valerie decided to go to her favorite store, Muji in Noho, to buy some stationary. She was running low on sketchbooks and liked the simplistic design of the Japanese notebooks that Muji sold. She was excited. Even though just a few months ago, losing the competition had gotten her down, Valerie was determined to do this competition, and prove that, even if she were to lose, that she could be a gracious loser. Going to Muji, she was skittish. She needed to continue brushing up on different recipes, dishes, ingredients, and mentally prepare herself to be going head to head with some of the best chefs in the competition’s history. However, in that very moment, Valerie’s shopping spree was cut to an abrupt halt. Describing her feelings in that moment, it was difficult. Rage, frustration, irritation, complete anger, a linger bit of pity, and ultimately, disappointment. Timmy Li was standing in front of her favorite store, not only blocking the entrance, by ruining what could have been a wonderful day for her. Without thinking, the pastry chef found herself blurting out his name, in disbelief that she would bump into him. His very presence made her bury the urge of holding him underneath a tub of water, before dropping a toaster in said bathtub. Timmy, uneasy, turned to her, shaken by her unexpected appearance. “Uh….” He trailed off. Just knowing that he called her a slut made him feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. But the words “I’m sorry” could not come to him. He just found himself awkwardly standing there, staring at her, mouth agape. “Uh…” Justin did not anticipate Valerie’s appearance either. “Alright, so I said to meet up here!” Misaki ushered a still hesitant Tarou over to the front of Muji.

How it is: Chapter 12

Tarou and Misaki were walking around the Greenwich Village area after another day of shooting. It was finally spring break, and he was staying in Manhattan that week. “I might have taken some creeper pics of the whole shoot.” She admitted, shamelessly gesturing to her phone. Tarou had finally completed his photo shoot with Paulo, the Spanish male model he had to pose intimately with. Some of their poses included almost locking lips, holding each other in a tight embrace, gazing intensely into each others’ eyes. It was a sight to behold, and one that Misaki has stored permanently in her phone’s photo album. “I will cherish this forever.” She giggled. “You fucking perv. Delete those.” Tarou rolled his eyes, flustered. He managed to swallow and bury his attraction to Paulo during that shoot, but it did not change how the Japanese male had actually felt for the Spanish model. The entire time, he had to think of old people in revealing outfits to distract himself from interfering with the shoot, so to speak. “Not a chance in hell.” The wavy haired brunette cackled mischievously. “Well, since I can’t do anything about that, what are we even doing here?” Tarou sighed. “We’re here to celebrate your glorious photo shoot! I’m treating you to lunch!” She grinned victoriously. “Uh, well, if it’s free lunch, then I’ll take it.” Tarou laughed. “Great! Come with me! I’ll take you to this place with amazing cauliflower.” She squealed, grabbing him by the arm. “Okay, okay. And stop getting touchy like this with me. Your boyfriend will get jealous!” Tarou teased.

Meanwhile, Timmy was also in Manhattan: Alice forgot that she was going back home to Boston for the week, and the board for ACU agreed to cancel their upcoming event, so he was instead hanging out with Justin. The older male worked for a software company, Salesforce, and with special permission, Timmy was allowed to extern there for the week. He wanted to continue this habit of being productive with his time, and doing an externship with a software company would probably be for the best. Justin was in charge of managing different clouds, so he was showing Timmy how to create and organize the cloud storage units. Timmy spent his entire first semester unsure of what exactly he wanted to do for a major, but seeing this reminded him exactly of why he wanted to do computer engineering: being able to innovate, create, and facilitate were three things that greatly stood out to him. He liked being able to help others improve their own lives and experiences. Seeing how the technology at Salesforce did that for so many clients, it was an eye-opening experience for him. “So do you have any questions?” Justin looked at his friend turned extern. “Nope. Just keep going, man. I am loving this.” Timmy grinned goofily.

Valerie was spending her spring break staging at different restaurants throughout New York. She was currently at Scarpetta, a renowned Italian restaurant. At the restaurant, she insisted that she wanted experience outside of the pastry kitchen, so they put her in charge of seafood prep. “It’s just like a flick of the wrist, and then.” The oyster she was shucking popped open in a second. “There we go.” She sighed in relief to herself. “Nice job, newbie.” The sous-chef looked at her, impressed. “Hey, aren’t you the pastry chef over at Wish?” He looked at her, curiously. “Yeah, I am. But I’m also in college, and I’m on spring break, so I figured why not stage at other places, right?” She smiled. “Man, when I was in college, spring break, I was a wild child. I would go to Miami and get hammered.” He chuckled, walking away. “Keep it up, kiddo. You’re doing great!” Valerie was unsure of how to feel. On one hand, he sounded incredibly sarcastic. But on the other, she should just take it as a compliment and keep her head down. Whether or not the sous-chef liked her, that was not the problem at hand. The main issue was making sure that she shucked her 500 oysters perfectly, each time. “Alright, that’s 375 down, 125 more to go!”

“Wow, track was good to you!” A 9th grade Timmy looked in awe at Tarou. The slightly younger male had joined track with Timmy, quickly slimmed down, and grew an entire foot. It was almost like looking at a completely different person. “This… was not expected.” Tarou chuckled, looking at himself in the mirror. He only just noticed how much running had changed his physique. Before, he was overweight and short, but how he was lanky and tall. The two were walking back home from practice, when the taller male was approached by a middle aged woman. “Hi, I’m Vanessa, part of the modeling agency in Logan Photography. Have you ever considered modeling before?” She handed Tarou her business card, while Timmy stood there, dumbstruck. “Um, well, no? But this is… wow. Just wow.” He was stunned at the offer. “Just think about it and give me a call.” She smiled as she walked off. But the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to do it. Hopefully, he can be living proof that the story of the Ugly Duckling does happen. You might be an unattractive kid, but you can grow up to be somebody model-worthy. That was the message Tarou hoped to convey, later that night, when he called the agent. “Hi, you approached me earlier about being a model, and I just wanted to say that I am interested in being one part-time.”

It was back in winter break, right before second semester freshman year. Timmy was at home, pondering over the fact that Tarou had just been elected for so many positions, and how Valerie had been promoted to the executive pastry chef at Wish and was officially announced to be a competitor on Warrior Chef; it was around this time that Valerie’s season had started airing, and Timmy was just taken aback by just how incredible his friend was, just as a high schooler. Both Tarou and Valerie were doing such incredible things. But what was he doing? Compared to them, nothing. He would just sit around in bed, watching television all day. On top of that, he had just finally decided on his major of computer engineering. He felt so unaccomplished, almost undeserving of their friendship. “They have done so much with their time, and both of them are younger than me. I need to get my shit together.” It was at that moment that Timmy resolved to try his hardest and make a mark, just like how Tarou and Valerie have already done. “Next semester, let’s hit the ground running.” He promised himself. He had to try his best, just to show Valerie and Tarou how much they have inspired him.

“So you have had an entire summer to intern. Why didn’t you?” Valerie was sitting down with Janice, in the middle of an interview for the open pastry cook position. “I… was on a cooking competition.” She started, remembering how her finale went. “Oh, I’ve been there. And I’m assuming that you wanted to continue growing in this industry?” Janice smiled, noticing how Valerie was acting. “Yeah, I do.” “I like how brave you are, putting yourself out there. And I like the spirit you bring. Come into my kitchen tomorrow, and we’ll get you suited up and ready. Our executive pastry chef, Namie, she’ll look after you.” Janice reassured her. “Wow! So I get to work under THE Namie-Bethany Amai?!” Valerie gasped, starstruck. “Yup!” Janice smiled; Namie was also a winner of Warrior Chef, and Janice’s executive pastry chef at the time. “As for the whole experience of cooking in that competition, I know it might take the wind out of your sails. Trust me, even when Namie and I won our seasons, it was exhausting. That being said, we’re going to help whip all of that out of your system, okay?” “Deal!” Valerie grinned.

Valerie was already onto her next restaurant, Le Bernadin, by Eric Ripert. It was a 3-star Michelin establishment renowned for serving excellent seafood. She was able to stage at both the fish station as well as the vegetable station. However, she was not allowed to directly handle the seafood; only prep cooks who have been working there for at least 3 months can even begin to touch the first. So her main role was to grab equipment. Despite this, she paid a careful eye on everything, taking mental notes on how the kitchen operated, what the chefs were doing, and memorizing as many details as she possibly could. There was no way that she was going to let this sort of experience slide. It was a far from everyday opportunity that somebody can just step foot into one of the greatest restaurants in America and observe the going-ons of its kitchen. Even if she was not allowed to cook or actually prep anything, Valerie was fine with just watching in first-person. Seeing some of the cooks elegantly break apart an entire fish, or how effortlessly it took for them to saute a pan full of vegetables, or how much focus went into just making a sauce. That was mesmerizing and satisfying enough for her.

“Sweetie, I’m back! And I dragged Tarou in with me!” Misaki called as the two entered the older model’s apartment in Brooklyn. “Hey, honey!” Justin walked over and planted a kiss on his girlfriend’s lips. “How was your day?” She smiled at him. “It was good. Timmy was a surprisingly good intern! He listened a lot and managed to start doing a lot of the basics! He’s a great student.” The programmer chuckled. It was an odd feeling for Tarou to hear it. There was this sort of uneasiness boiling inside of him. Anger or jealousy, perhaps? He thought to himself. The fact that Timmy could learn so much and listen so intensively to Justin, it made the Japanese boy feel obsolete. Timmy would hardly ever listen to him, but with Justin, he did everything he could to appease him. Shaking off these irrational thoughts and unwarranted animosity towards Justin, he sighed to himself. “But yeah, Tarou, tell him about your shoot! Or do you want me to show him pics myself?” Misaki giggled. “Shut up!” Tarou rolled his eyes. “Here, that’s when they kissed!” She squealed, showing Justin the pictures. “Wow, that’s…. interesting.” He was not quite sure how to react to these photos. He was learning a new side to his own girlfriend, specifically some of her interests. That much was certain.

How it is: Chapter 11

Sundays were typically a day of relaxation for Timmy, Tarou, and Valerie. For the former two’s case, they get brunch together, mostly because brunch meant that Timmy did not have to eat breakfast. But today was different. Timmy could not be around Tarou because he had work for the Asian Cultural Union. So Tarou ate alone that morning. “Man, this blows.” He sat alone in a cafe, reading a book to pass the time. “If I knew he was going to do this to me, I would’ve invited somebody else.” Meanwhile, Timmy was with the other newly elected officers, in the basement of an apartment. “So here’s your lists. Be back by 2PM.” Gary was handing everyone the papers. Their initiation involved a city-wide scavenger hunt for supplies, which would then be used to create posters for upcoming fundraisers and events. “Poster boards and sharpies.” Timmy’s list read. From there, they would have dinner, and finally, drink the night away. Timmy was excited. He was never a part of a club board before, so this was a very new experience for him. Tarou, on the other hand, was very concerned. He did not want Timmy to get another hangover, like in high school.

Valerie was still in her room at this point, feeling rather alone. Her only two close friends were Tarou and Timmy, but she never bothered to make too many other ones, mostly because she was so focused on her work. Suddenly, her phone started ringing. It was Tarou. “Hey, long time, no talk.” “Are you alright?” Tarou sounded worried. “I’m okay, why are you asking?” “Misaki told me about what happened. We’re both really worried.” The Japanese boy started. “Hold up, which ‘we?’” Valerie raised an eyebrow at that comment. “Me and Timmy! He’s been crying all night and he feels like shit about what happened.” “Honestly, Tarou, let’s not talk about Timmy right now.” The pastry chef sighed. The last thing she wanted to talk about was that very straw that broke the camel’s back. “Well, why did you do it?” Tarou started. He wanted to help Valerie get to the bottom of this. “I… felt stressed and trapped. Seeing how I lost on Warrior Chef, on national television, it was mortifying. And the comments, Tarou. Everyone thinks I’m this huge idiot. I feel like a joke whenever I’m cooking on the line.” She could feel tears starting to roll down her face. “Val, you’re an amazing pastry chef. You have always been such a passionate person about this industry. Those people, ignore them. They are just assholes who aren’t worth your time. You’ll prove them all wrong in the end. Remember how I was that fat, unattractive blob? Well, now I’m a model, 6’2”, and everyone else can suck my dick.” That comment got a laugh out of Valerie. “There’s the Val I know. You are a very driven and ambitious person, and I love that about you. But don’t forget to smile and laugh from time to time. I like it when you laugh and smile. It reminds me that you’re happy.”

A much younger Tarou was with Timmy, post prom their senior year. Timmy had taken too many shots on a dare, and was throwing up into a bag. “I swear, I will never drink again.” Timmy groaned as a gravely terrified Tarou helplessly held Timmy up. It was that very moment that made Tarou feel inclined to protect Timmy. He could not bear to see somebody he cared so much about in so much pain. He had to take care of the Taiwanese boy for the rest of the night, until his older brother, Henry, came to pick him up. Hearing that Timmy was going to be put through an initiation, Tarou already knew what to expect: drinking. And since Timmy was so young and impressionable, that was not going to end well. The Japanese boy could easily imagine his best friend, being peer pressured into drinking too much alcohol for his own good, and puking helplessly into somebody’s toilet yet again. It just started to stress him out as he waited anxiously in their room. As much as he tried to, Tarou knew that he could not fall asleep that night. Not until he knew that Timmy was safe. Luckily, Timmy did not drink much during his initiation, and returned having hardly consumed any alcohol.

“Hey, there’s going to be a video game convention coming up! Want to go together?” Tarou looked at Timmy excitedly. “Oh, sorry, I’m going with Gary and Alex from ACU.” Timmy frowned. “Well, there’s also an alternative spring break in Los Angeles! Want to do that?” “Sorry, I’m staying in New York to hang out with Alice and doing some event preparations for ACU.” As much as he tried to be a good sport about it, Tarou just felt hurt. Timmy was being insensitive about the fact that the Japanese model had been rejected by the very same club Timmy was prioritizing over him. In a lot of ways, it made Tarou feel replaced. It felt to Tarou as if ACU rejected him, so Timmy, being a part of the current board, also had to reject him. Tarou started to slowly doubt his own qualifications. “Um, well when will you be free then?” Tarou wondered, getting frustrated yet desperation stained his voice at this point. “I don’t know. Depends on when ACU needs me.” Timmy shrugged, completely indifferent to the Japanese boy’s feelings. The Taiwanese boy was not sure what else to really say in this situation. He just got into ACU, and he wanted to start off on a strong foot for the club that took a chance on him. But at the same time, his own best friend, they just salvaged their relationship, and it looks like it was being challenged yet again. But he felt like he made his bed, and it was high time to sleep in it.

Later that night, Valerie and Tarou were getting dinner together. “I haven’t had proper one on one time with you in so long!” Valerie smiled as the two hugged. “I know! It’s been forever.” He groaned. The two were at one of Valerie’s favorite restaurants, Prune. It was a small, intimate space, where the two sat cozily in the side of the entrance, tucked away from everyone else. “I’m glad that Misaki and Justin saved you though.” Tarou admitted. “But why didn’t you tell me earlier about this?” “I tried, but you were busy and never picked up my calls.” “Oh.” The model felt guilty. He had not been checking his phone recently, mostly because looking at it was stressing him out. The news of the elections, all of his events, and just seeing what felt like all of the Asian community quietly judging him, it was taking a toll on his emotional health. “At the end of the day, I’m just glad you’re here now, to talk to me. The one thing that really kept me from trying again was knowing that I had you as a friend.” Valerie admitted. “Oh.” Tarou did not know what to say to that. The model never had feelings for Valerie beyond platonic ones, and it sounded as if she was confessing to him. “I’m just glad you’re still alive. You’re an incredible person, Valerie, and I like spending time with you. It just reminds me how lucky I am to have such a talented and ambitious friend. Being around you, it makes me feel like I need to step up and do my best as well.” Valerie beamed at Tarou’s statement. Hearing that she had that kind of effect on him, that she essentially motivated him to try harder, it was refreshing to hear. “Anyways, what are your plans for spring break?” He looked at her. “Well, home is not that far away, but I’m planning to do some staging throughout the city.” She smiled.

How it is: Chapter 10

Walking around the South Street Seaport at night, Valerie could just hear all of the comments and what Timmy said to her, it was just ringing through her head. Looking at the water, it was starting to look really welcoming to her. She thought about just jumping in, and letting herself sink into the abyss. “Nobody will even remember you at all.” She cried to herself as she crept up to the edge of the water. “Hey! That’s dangerous!” Misaki and Justin were on a date, and noticed the girl: the model ran after her. “No! Don’t try to stop me!” Valerie screamed at her. “No! Don’t try to jump!” Misaki screamed back. “You’re making a mistake!” “Just let me die already!” Valerie screamed. But before she could take her leap, Justin managed to grab and stop her in time. “Nope, you’re not doing this.” He slowly dragged her away from the water. “Babe, where should we take her to calm her down?” He looked over at her. “Wait a second, you’re Valerie, aren’t you?” She gasped. Misaki watched Warrior Chef religiously and recognized her from the show. “Great, another person who thinks that I’m an idiot for making four desserts in the finale. I get it. I’m over it.” Valerie frowned. “You’re not an idiot, okay? Here, come with us back to Brooklyn.” She linked arms with the younger girl as the three headed off towards the bridge. It was going to be a long walk, but the older model felt like the pastry chef needed a walk in the company of others to calm down.

After a long walk across the Hudson River, Valerie now sat with Misaki and Justin in their apartment. “So you’re now a freshman in NYU studying hospitality? That’s really cool!” Misaki smiled. She was trying to foster an encouraging and supportive environment for Valerie. “Yeah! It’s great to see that you kept your options open with college.” Justin agreed. He felt a little awkward in this case, but he knew what Misaki was trying to do, and was doing his best to help. “You’re a smart kid.” He smiled. “Yeah! I wish I went to college, and I kind of regret not going to an actual university. I dropped out of fashion school.” Misaki giggled. Being a model and formerly in the fashion industry, she was exposed to a lot of nasty and antagonistic behavior from her peers as well. There was a point when Misaki did try to commit suicide, but her classmates intervened and sent her to the hospital. She was treated like some kind of freak for months, having to go to a suicide prevention institution for therapy sessions and that was when she decided to leave college to focus on her rehabilitation completely. Misaki wanted to hear Valerie out before deciding if this girl needed to be put through that experience. For the model, it was traumatic. “So you’re still hung up on the comments?” “Yeah. It’s been tough. It’s affected me at work, and I tried to talk to my friend about it, and he just said something horrible.” She sighed. “What?” “That they’ll forget who I am anyways.” “Yikes, okay, that’s just rough. Trust me, even though people might not agree with your decision, at least the spotlight is still on you for now. Take advantage of that. Be a good sport, and people will continue to support you.” Misaki reassured her. “That’s what I tell one of my co-workers. He’s actually a freshman in NYU too!” She pointed out. “Really? What’s his name?” “Tarou. Tarou Shimizu.”

In their room, Timmy got a text from Justin. “Dude, Valerie just tried to kill herself.” The Taiwanese boy’s heart just sank when he heard that. Frantic, he tried to call the pastry chef, but she did not pick up. “Please don’t hurt yourself. I really do care about you.” He texted her in desperation. He started to sob quietly into his pillow, but this time, Tarou heard. “Hey, I know you’re supposed to be hating me and whatever, but what’s wrong?” He got out of his bed and started to approach the panicked male. “SHUT UP! JUST LEAVE ME ALONE! STOP COMING ONTO ME!” Timmy blew up, throwing his pillow at him. “What the fuck, man?!” Tarou groaned, throwing Timmy’s pillow to the ground and storming out of the room. “Fine, I’ll just sleep in the hallway. Enjoy a room to yourself, asshole.” He slammed the door shut. But everything Tarou said did not even register with Timmy. “Crap. What the fuck did I do to her?” He gasped to himself. Guilt was creeping over him, consuming his mind. All he could think about was how he disappointed Valerie and how he was not sure what happened to her: she refused to answer any calls or texts. “Am I really that awful of a person that I could drive somebody to that point?” He could just feel himself crying hysterically again. The last thing he wanted to do to Valerie was make herself feel worse about the entire situation.

“Are you feeling better now?” Misaki looked at Valerie. “I think so. It looks like Timmy sent me a text-” Before she could even read it, Misaki reached over and took the phone. “Okay, no more Timmy, alright. He’s clearly not good for you.” She shook her head, deleting his text and blocking his number. “What the fuck?!” Valerie growled angrily, grabbing back her phone. But it was too late. Timmy’s contact was gone. “Well, I guess I can always reach out to him on Facebook.” She logged into the app, and tried to search up Tommy’s name, but to no avail. She quickly checked her “blocked users” tab, curious if she blocked him, but he was not listed. Either he deleted his account, or he blocked her on Facebook. “What the actual fuck?” She growled, getting up. “Hey, hey, don’t think about him, alright? Boys are immature little shits.” Misaki tried to start. “Thanks.” Justin glared at her. “But yeah, Timmy isn’t really mature.” Justin admitted. “Asking him for that kind of advice, it’s almost like asking a virgin how the best way to fuck is.” “Justin! What the fuck?!” Misaki glared back at her boyfriend. “That’s the last analogy anyone needs to be hearing right now.” “I get the idea. Thanks, you two.” Valerie hugged both of them before heading back to her dorm room. In her eyes, Timmy just was not worth getting angry over. Yes, he was a longtime friend, but he does not understand what she was going through, and he only made the situation worse. “Hold on! I know you want us to believe you are better, but I think I need to walk you back to your dorm, okay?” Misaki got up and followed her. “Here, babe, I’ll come too.” Justin offered, much to Misaki’s delight.

Meanwhile, Tarou was sleeping in the hallway, causing several of his floor mates to question what exactly is going on. “Hey, are you two fighting?” His RA, a girl named Vanessa looked at him. “Timmy’s just really stressed right now. I’ll be fine.” Tarou reassured her, going back to sleeping on the floor. “Do you want me to talk to Timmy? This is as much your room as it is his.” She affirmed. “I don’t think that’s necessary.” Tarou was trying to usher Vanessa away. There was nothing that she could do to help him. This situation was just too complicated for anyone uninvolved with them. Tarou just needed to sleep this off. So did Timmy. It was a lot to take in, but they just had to try their best and relax. And then suddenly, Timmy opened the door. “Hey, I’m sorry about that. And I’m sorry about being afraid of you.” He kneeled down so that he was eye level with Tarou. “It’s just a lot to handle for me, and the last thing I wanted to do was cause Valerie to try killing herself.” He started sobbing. “Here, here.” Tarou pulled him in for a close embrace. “Look, Timmy, think what you want about my sexuality, but I do love you like a brother, okay? Nothing more. That’s the last time I’ll ever say anything about that. And for this situation, I’m sorry too. I just want my friend back. The person who I can go on goofy adventures with. Not some passive aggressive and socially awkward stress-head, okay?” “Thanks, Tarou.” He hiccuped, feeling slightly better.

Justin, Misaki, and Valerie finally arrived at NYU’s campus, and the couple dropped the pastry chef off at her room. “If you ever need anyone, I’m just a call away, okay?” Misaki hugged her before walking off. “Get a lot of rest. You’ll need it. It’s been a long day.” Justin agreed, following his girlfriend. “Come to think of it, Timmy and Tarou are nearby. Should we go bother them?” Misaki giggled. “Nah, I’m sure that they’ll be asleep by now. It’s pretty late.” Justin yawned. “Oh, yeah, it’s like 2am. Let’s call a Lyft.” She giggled, pulling out her phone. And they were right: Timmy and Tarou were already in bed at that point. The two roommates and friends finally made up, and were sleeping in the same room again. However, news later that morning would change their dynamic yet again. “I got into ACU!” Timmy smiled. “And I got rejected…” Tarou sighed. “But I’m proud of you, okay?” Tarou patted Timmy on the shoulder. “You really deserved it.” “Thanks, man.” Timmy was elated. He finally got his foot in the door. Tarou and Valerie were both so busy doing things with their lives, and now it was his chance to finally do the same! “So, are we going to do brunch today?” Tarou looked at Timmy expectantly. “Sorry, I have something for ACU. They want to initiate me.”

How it is: Chapter 8

Valerie was on break when she received a text from Timmy. “Hey, so what’s wrong? Why were you so angry on Friday? Do you need to talk?” She ignored the text. All she could think about right now was finally nailing a perfect service. Even when she was walking down the street, she would get people asking her how it felt to be the first runner up to ever mess up to the degree that she did. Everyone, even on the Warrior Chef sites, were commenting on how she made Warrior Chef history in one of the worst possible ways. All over the internet, she was being called an idiot for not following the challenge rules and that she just threw away the title. It was humiliating to hear that. “Argh!” Valerie fumbled with her Vitamix blender, causing the violet sorbet base to spill onto her station and floor. “Crap.” She groaned, cleaning it up. Everything she tried to do, it was not working. She could not cook or think in these conditions. But she just had to endure it for another night, and then relax tomorrow. It would be her day off, so she could just put all of her thoughts and worries behind her.

“Hey, why have you been sucking at service lately?” Jacky finally confronted Valerie on her recent performances in the kitchen. Valerie was usually a strong pastry chef, clean, efficient, and productive. She was a capable leader too, normally having a strong gasp over her staff and making sure that everyone was on track with their usual tasks. But as of the past week, she had been dropping things, over seasoning, spilling sauces, using the incorrect garnishes. To Jacky, he felt like the person standing in front of him was not the co-worker he knew. It was the right time to confront her about this. Dinner service was over, and Valerie was on her way out while Jacky was heading into the locker room to grab his things. “I take it you haven’t seen the finale yet?” Valerie huffed angrily. “Oh, well, no. I haven’t had much time to.” He shook his head. “Wait, you lost?” He raised an eyebrow. “Well, no duh. But it was not the losing part that’s getting me down. It’s how I lost.” She walked off, not wanting to talk about it. “Hey, wait! Val! Wait!” Jacky shouted. It was too late. Valerie was already gone from the restaurant and on her way home.

The walk back, all of those comments she read on the internet were still ringing through her head. It made losing that much more difficult of a pill to swallow. “Come on, think about the positives. Think about the things that make you happy.” She told herself. She needed a distraction. “Timmy and Tarou, I need to talk with them right now.” She got out her phone, and tried to give Tarou a call. No answer. “Oh, right! He’s got that Modeling Club event tonight.” She frowned. “Alright, let’s try Timmy.” She dialed his number. “Hey, what’s up?” Timmy picked up the phone. That should have been expected. Timmy was never as busy as Tarou anyways. “Sorry about being so moody all the time. I was just going through a lot of shit. You know, losing the finale, and being projected on national television as an idiot or somebody trying to rely on copouts, it is a really hard pill to swallow.” She started.

Timmy was alone in his room while Valerie was making the call. Tarou was doing his Modeling event, which meant that he was having a really quiet Saturday to himself. He was excited to be talking to Valerie. He really enjoyed having time alone with her. But at the same time, he was a little nervous. She must be in a really vulnerable emotional state at that moment. The last thing he wanted to do was make it worse. “Well, you lost. But what can you do? Yeah, everyone is going to call you an idiot or a dumb ass, but you know that you are not that person anymore, right?” He asked her. “Well, duh, I know, but how do I get that across to everyone else?! I can’t even go down the street or show my face in school without somebody making a comment about how dumb I am! And all I can do is laugh it off!” She screamed. “Then keep doing that! Eventually, it’ll die down, and nobody will even remember you at all.” “Yay, that’s what I want.” Valerie hung up the phone, as Timmy’s heart sank. “Crap, I just pissed her off even more.”

“Useless. Fucking idiot.” She slammed her hand into the wall. “The only person who would get me is Tarou, not Timmy. Timmy’s still a child. Tarou, he actually gets what it means to be stressed and fail.” She was still alone in her room, mumbling to herself at this point. The one thing she regrets now, more than ever, about putting work first was how few friends she has from it. In Warrior Chef, all of the girls looked to her as the strong, dependable type. She was used to having that sort of dynamic with them, so calling Claire or Coco was out of the question. They would not know how to react if somebody that they looked up to was in this sort of emotional and mental state. Work, she did not want her personal issues to leech into the restaurant. She did not want her coworkers thinking of her as some overtly emotional girl who needed consoling. In the kitchen, nobody has time for feelings or egos. You just had to keep going and put your emotions on hold. Even though Janice might understand what she’s going through, why would somebody as important as Janice Arrington, who is her boss on top of it all, want to talk to her about the aftermath of being on a reality show? That made no sense to Valerie.

Meanwhile, Timmy was alone in his room, sobbing into a pillow. He felt horrible about what had just happened. Both of his best friends, he could feel rifts forming between the three of them. Valerie in particular, Timmy always had a crush on her. She was one of the first and few girls he had ever spoken to, and as much as he tried to keep their relationship platonic, there was always a voice in the back of his mind, telling him to just try dating her. She was hardworking, confident, independent, driven, and these were all qualities that made her so attractive to Timmy in the first place. Watching her compete on Warrior Chef just reminded Timmy of why Valerie was such an incredible person. She was a proven leader, taking charge in a lot of the team challenges, winning quite a few of the challenges with her impeccable pastry and savory skills, and while many people were calling her an idiot for sticking to her guns and making only pastries in the finale, Timmy felt like that was just Valerie representing herself. She was always the type who did things her own way, and this was just another shining example of that.

“Ew, why are you hanging out with them? They’re boys!” A 5 year-old Valerie was being confronted by her female classmates, who were not terribly happy to see her hanging out with Tarou and Timmy. “You’ll catch their grossness!” Another one whined. “Shut up. Girls, boys, it doesn’t matter. Hanging out with them is fun, and they’re not annoying like you girls are.” She spat, walking too to Tarou and Timmy. “Sorry about that, they were telling me to not be friends because you’re boys, but I told them that they suck.” She giggled. Hearing her say that was touching for Timmy. He was nervous that Valerie was going to ditch the two of them to spend more time with the girls in their class. But instead, she chose to be with them, because she liked spending time with them more. It was at that moment that Timmy started having feelings for her.

innocence

A little gir, resting underneath a sky littered with cherry blossoms. She had nearly no recollection of her life before sleeping here. There was only one memory: an elderly man, whispering to her. “I’m so sorry.” He apologies in a hushed, croaked tone. He cut her loose of his tight embrace, as she fell. Walking through the pink hills, the girl felt awestruck. The pristine trees, pure ivory park and light, heart-shaped flowers that fluttered through the wind, it was a sight to marvel at. The girl felt like these flowers, they resonated with her. Looking at them, she felt hope, joy, and for some reason, guilt. Seeing these flowers gently glide past her. She could sympathize with their descent from the heavens. But unlike these fallen petals, the girl knew she could continue moving. She felt almost ashamed, as if she was leaving these delicate flowers behind. Being able to move forward, it seemed like something she was not supposed to be doing. Like her, small and untainted in the beginning, before being released, displaced, dirties, and discarded. She knew, deep down, that her innocence was sullied on her way here. Despite not knowing why, she knew that her past was a fall, but her future was a rise.