How it is: Chapter 25

“It feels weird to be done already.” Tarou sighed, as he was putting away his things into boxes. Out of everyone, he finished his finals first, being done by the second day of finals. Valerie was finishing the day after tomorrow, and Timmy finished on the last day. Because he was spending the entire summer in Japan, he wanted to go back home to Queens to spend time with his family before heading out, so he was moving out earlier. “Wait, what’s this?” Tarou felt his phone vibrate. It was another email. “Wait, the program… oh shit.” He frowned. He misread the email. His offer was not just for the summer. It was from this summer until the following summer: he would be in Japan for an entire year. “Oh crap.” Hastily, he looked through the documents. He had already submitted his compliance for this. “Well, this is awkward.” He sighed. “Uh….” Thinking it over, the model decided he needed to commit to this. He could come back to school whenever, but working for Vogue, this could honestly propel his career to greater heights than he could have ever imagined. Tarou Shimizu, international supermodel, it was starting to sound increasingly like a possibility. Grabbing a pen and paper, he wrote a goodbye note to Timmy and Valerie. “Bye, guys.” He whispered, heading out.

“Ugh. He what now?” Valerie read Timmy’s text. She had finished her finals and finally turned back on her phone. Tarou was leaving for Japan for the next two years. That was the gist of what Timmy had said in his message to her. “Oh… well shit.” She whispered to herself. Unlike Tarou or Timmy, she was not going back to Queens at all after school. She was heading straight to compete on Warrior Chef: All Stars. Packing up her things, the Singaporean girl smiled to herself. It felt bittersweet to be leaving, but at the same time, this was her chance to do things right. “Redemption, here I come, hopefully.” She was ready to dive into the great unknown and finally be crowned Warrior Chef. “I’m ready to do right by everyone who has ever helped me get this far.” She smiled, putting her boxes into the moving van. Grabbing her suitcase and knife bag, she got into the taxi. “Where to” The driver looked over his chair at her. “JFK , please.” She smiled. “You got it, little lady.” And with that, Valerie left campus. Freshman year was on the lonelier side in terms of school friends, but the work friends she made were irreplaceable. Janice, I’m going to do my best to make you proud of me. Valerie smiled.

“It feels so empty.” Timmy yawned, finally returning to his room. He had finished his last final at this point. There was a sense of awkwardness, seeing Tarou’s emptied half of the room. It almost reminded him of their conflict. “No, it’s all in the past. We’re friends again.” The Taiwanese boy reassured himself, referring to the note the model had left for him. “Now, it’s time to get everything packed.” Timmy was going to be staying at an off-campus apartment during the summer, so he needed to first move all of his things into the apartment. Then he was going to spend some time at home before summer school begins. They were each going their own separate ways, yet Timmy did not feel sad. He felt excited about the opportunities still to come. Just because a couple doors closed does not mean that the entire world closed him off. ACU and TASA might have dropped him as an officer, but that does not mean it is the end of his college life. There were still many people yet to be met. To be befriended. Timmy, for the first time since he stepped foot into NYU, could not help but feel excited.

Arriving at the hotel where the All Stars contestants would be staying, Valerie got another text. It was a delayed message, an image of exactly what Tarou had written. Reading through it, the girl could not help but begin crying. “Oh, Tarou. Timmy. I’m going to win this for both of you. I swear on it.” She fought to not sob. “Oh, so this is our competition? Nice to meet you, newbie.” Valerie turned around, and saw the first of her competitors for the new season. “I’m sorry you have to see me this way. I swear, I’m not a big baby.” She insisted, wiping away the tears that had formed around her eyes. At the same time, Tarou was boarding his plane to Japan at the John F. Kennedy Airport. “Next stop, Narita Airport. Tokyo, here I come.” He whispered to himself, excitedly. Even though he was seated in the middle seat, the Japanese boy did not mind. He was too eager about what awaited him on the other side. He did not know what the future had in store for him. But the chance to become an internationally recognized model, that was incredible. Timmy was currently riding the bus on his way back to Queens. He was sitting alone, at the window seat, watching the city melt into the distance. In his hand, held tightly, was the paper Tarou had left for him. The Taiwanese boy was rereading it one last time before putting it away for good. The Taiwanese boy did not like to cry, but how could he not at what his best friend, the aspiring international model had written?
“Even when I was a fat, chubby little midget, I still had the two of you in my life. I am the person I am because of the friends I made, especially the two of you. Timmy, you’re going to be the best man at my wedding, whether you like it or not. We are more than just brothers, and nothing will ever change that. Valerie, your desserts always bring a smile to my face, but they also bring a smile to everyone around you. You will be successful in your future, because nobody can stop you at being yourself, and you are amazing. You guys mean the world to me, but I think we can all learn to be less sensitive about the little things. We don’t need to over think or overanalyze whenever somebody is acting weirdly or in an off-putting manner. If we have problems, we need to speak them and find ways to sort them out. And we shouldn’t worry about growing apart. Just because we are doing different things, and we do not know the next time we will see each other, we should not be sad or hung up about it. We can let things play out as they are, and roll with them. We’re simply living life. That’s how it is.”

-Tarou Shimizu

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How it is: Chapter 24

“Last push! We’re almost done! This is the final ticket, everyone!” Janice chanted. “Yes, chef!” Mako rushed the black cod to the pass. “Behind, behind!” “Chef, I’m following with the garnish!” Jackie shouted, holding a small pan with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. “Okay, service please!” Janice handed the completed dishes off to the services. “Yes! Last ticket! Can we start breaking down our station, chef?” Jackie looked at her, eagerly. “Yeah, go for it!” She smiled as the line cooks started cleaning up. What sucked about being on pastry was that Valerie had to wait for all of the savory dishes to be sent up before she could even start plating her own desserts. So she had to watch the other cooks clean up while her pastry team awaited the tickets. “Okay, so we have three panna cottas, one black forest, followed by two chiffon cakes and three rhubarb doughnuts.” She began listing off the dessert orders after what felt like an eternity to the pastry cooks. The wait was at first annoying for Valerie, but she eventually got used to it. “Alright, let’s go team!” It was her last service as executive pastry chef before she had to take her leave of absence for Warrior Chef: All Stars. She wanted this last service to end with a bang. “Yes, chef!” Megan and Daphne chanted.

“I like how your best service ever was also your last.” Janice laughed. She was proud of how far Valerie had come under her wing. “Thanks, chef.” Valerie beamed. It was bittersweet, leaving the restaurant. “We also have something for you!” Megan, Joseph, and Daphne walked into the walk-in pantry. “Close your eyes, okay?” Jackie laughed. “It’s going to be a surprise.” Mako teased. “Here it is!” The three chefs walked back out, carrying a large cake. “Holy crap!” Valerie was taken aback. She was expecting a good-bye gift of some kind, but she did not think it was going to be an entire multitiered layer cake. “When? How? What?” She never once saw that cake in the kitchen. When did anyone have time to make or even store it?” “We had it stored in Janice’s fridge in her office, originally. But then we moved it into the pantry when you weren’t looking.” Joseph laughed. “Congratulations, kiddo. You’re going to kick some major ass on Warrior Chef. Bring it home for us, okay?” “Will do!” She was almost crying at this point. “Come on, now is not a sad time! Let’s all eat some cake and celebrate!” Janice began pouring champagne into the wine flutes. “Wait, I’m underaged-” “It’s only to toast. Besides, you’re a college student. Live a little!” Jackie chuckled. “To Valerie! May your future in our industry be a bright one!” They all clinked glasses. The team at Wish has been like a family to her. Valerie, trying her best not to cry, drank the bubbly white wine, ignoring the slight burn of the alcohol.

Meanwhile, Tarou and Timmy were in the library, studying for their final exams. The school year was wrapping up and that meant that they had to sit down and begin memorizing every little detail from each lecture and powerpoint that the school provided them. Somehow, both of them were doing well in school, despite all of the external drama in their lives, but that did not mean that they could slack off now. “Finals, finals, fucking finals.” Tarou rolled his eyes. This was only the second “college finals” season he was experiencing, and like with his first time in the fall, it was just as unpleasant. Last semester, Tarou and Timmy had to pull all-nighters to land on the Dean’s List, and because of how little of a focus school had been for both of them this semester, it felt that much more daunting for them to study and perform consistently regardless. Realistically, it was the stress affect both boys. But they both knew once their finals were behind them, that was one less thing that either of them would have to worry about.

“It feels like it’s been forever that the three of us were studying together.” Nate sighed. He was with Timmy and Jeffrey, in a classroom that they rented out to continue studying. It was the next day, and finals were just two days away at this point. “But yeah, how have you been doing?” “I’ve been good.” Timmy smiled. “I heard about all of that Asian community drama from Gary.” Jeffrey frowned. The two of them were in the same fraternity. “Are you okay?” “Yeah, it’s all good now. It sucks that I’m no longer on e-board for any clubs, but at the same time, I have time to focus on my academics and myself.” He smiled. “That’s a great way to think. Also, Vincent was telling me the other day. You haven’t really been volunteering lately, have you?” Nate pointed out. Nate was double majoring in computer engineering and business, so he had classes with Timmy, Jeffrey, and Vincent. “Oh, shoot, you’re right.” Timmy gasped. He had completely forgotten about Y.E.S. Between all of his personal drama and ACU, he lost touch of the things he was genuinely passionate about: helping others. “Well, I’m here all summer, so I’m definitely going to volunteer there more often.” Timmy chuckled. “I’ll be sure to let Vincent know. I didn’t realize that he missed me.” The Taiwanese boy joked. “Yeah, say it exactly like that to him. I’m sure he’ll be real happy.” Nate rolled his eyes.

“Alexa, how do you feel about Lodging?” Valerie was referring to the course the two of them were currently enrolled in. “I’m thinking we’re fucked, but that’s just me.” A slim African American girl laughed. She was one of Valerie’s few friends at NYU. They were currently studying for Lodging, but had no idea how to study for it because the professor had been not teaching the correct material for the entire semester; rather than talking about hotels, he instead focused on architecture and hotel design, despite testing them on hotel terminology, making the class unusually difficult. “Well, I’m sure you’ve got this. Ms. Valedictorian.” The Singaporean girl poked fun at her. Alexa currently had the highest GPA out of anyone in the hospitality school, and one of the top five highest overall at NYU. “This is what I love about having smart friends. You make me want to get smarter so that I’m not the dead weight in this friendship.” Valerie laughed. “Oh, shut up. You’re great company.” Alexa insisted, beaming. “Everyone in Hospitality tends to be fake. You’re the most real person in this school.” “Aw, thanks, boo.” Valerie chuckled. Being around Alexa was fun, because despite her intellect, she was good company to have around between her great humor and love of baking.

“Tarou, can you read that book a little slower? I want to take pictures.” Sarah looked at the model, holding up her phone. “Uh… I’m trying to study.” The model pointed out. “Sh! You look so cute like that! Hold that face for me, please?” The Japanese male just rolled his eyes at the remark. Finals season was going to suck if it was going to be this unproductive. He was with Enya, Sarah, and Melissa at the performing arts library. And naturally, the three girls were busy fawning over the model and not taking their studies seriously. “How is it that the three of you made it on Dean’s List last semester like this?” He sighed. “It’s because we actually pay attention in class. Work hard, party harder.” Enya grinned cockily. “Yeah, you just need to spend more time with us, and understand our ways.” Melissa eyed Tarou, who rolled his eyes.

How it is: Chapter 23

“Hey, Val, do you have a moment?” Tarou noticed the Singaporean girl walking down the street and ran up to her. “Hi, Tarou. Actually, I needed to talk to you too.” She sighed. “Can we maybe go somewhere… more private?” The model suggested. “Yeah, that’s actually better for what I need to say too.” At that remark, Tarou could feel a creeping sense of discomfort boiling in his stomach. Was Valerie going to confess to him? Meanwhile, the pastry chef already could tell from the model’s facial expressions that Timmy did tell him; he most likely assumed that she was going to tell him about her feelings. But that could not be any further from what she was going to do in reality. After making their way into a nearby building, the two looked at each other. It was an intense silence. “So do you want to go first?” She gestured to him. “Nah, you look like you have something to say, and that you’ve thought about it for a while. Please tell me.” Tarou insisted. He wanted her to confess first so that he could at least hear her out. “So for a long time, I had a crush on you. Since high school, honestly. But after everything we have been through, I don’t have any romantic feelings for you anymore. So I just wanted to let you know that I still value you as a friend, but I feel like we are better off staying friends, and nothing more.” The model was dumbstruck. Save for the first sentence, that was not what he was expecting the pastry chef to say. “What did you have to say?” She looked at him expectantly. Truth be told, she was expecting him to reject her as well, so Valerie was relieved that they could meet a mutual agreement on this.

“Well, I was basically going to say that we should stay friends, and that Timmy told me about how you felt about me. But now I’m curious, what’s with the sudden change of heart?” “Well, I thought about it. A lot. And I even talked about it with chef, and she told me that I need to be blunt and think not about the emotional aspect of it, but rather, how this would affect us as friends. And the more I thought about it that way, the less I found myself attracted to you romantically.” She shrugged. “I see… well, I’m just glad we were able to sort out this awkwardness.” Tarou chuckled nervously. Despite everything, it still felt a little weird. “Look, Tarou, I think of you and Timmy as goofy brothers. You guys are two of my closest friends, and sometimes, that closeness can be a weakness for me. It makes the little things we do and say affect me on a much bigger scale.” She confessed. “But at the same time, it’s all in perspective. I feel like if you guys don’t see it that way, then I have no reason to either. We can be close without being so greatly affected by each other.” “Yeah, we can. And we will.” Tarou smiled in agreement. The two hugged it out and walked out. “So where were you heading?” “I was going to a study session.” Valerie sighed. Finals were coming up, and especially with all of the recent events, she needed to catch up on her studies. “Oh, don’t be late! Run! Run!” Tarou ushered her away. “Okay, I’m running!” She laughed, darting off.

“How did it go?” It was just a couple hours later, and Tarou was meeting up with Timmy for lunch. “It went well. We talked it out, and she was the one who told me that she was not interested in being in a relationship anymore.” He pointed out, much to the surprise of Timmy. “Wait, really?” He could not believe what he was hearing. “Yeah. She admitted she had feelings, but after thinking it over, she decided against acting on them because she did not want to affect our friendship.” Timmy had to give Valerie a lot of credit for that sort of maturity. Yeah, that was the reason why he fell for her to begin with, and hearing that made it harder for him to accept that they could not be together, but he had to respect their friendship before trying to compromise anything any further on his part. “You! You little motherfucker! How dare you bully our precious Tarou!” The two boys were startled to see an enraged Enya, Melissa, and Sarah storm up to their table. “You saw what I did to that table! And I can do much worse, you little bitch-”

“So it’s okay not to hate him anymore?” Melissa, frowning, sighed. She was hoping to snap somebody’s neck today. “Wait, I thought you said that you told all of your friends!” Timmy glared at Tarou. “Oh, I meant as in the people I was on board with.” He looked back at his friend before pulling him into a close huddle. “Plus, would you really consider those three my friends? They’re terrifying!” He noted in a hushed whisper before turning around to look at the disgruntled Melissa, who was being comforted by Enya and Sarah. “It’s okay, we can go to the gym and rent a punching bag.” Sarah suggested. Tarou smirked. “Yeah, so the two of us made up. The three of you are more than welcomed to sit and eat with us though.” The model offered. “Well, let me think about it…. fuck yeah, we’re sitting with you!” Enya laughed, as the three grabbed chairs and placed their bags down. It felt a bit weird for Timmy at first, being so close to people who previously wanted to slaughter him. “So, Tarou, what are your plans for the summer?” Enya looked at him, eagerly. “I’m going to be modeling in Japan.” He smiled. “OMG! I’m going back to Korea for the summer! You better visit me! I mean, either way, I’m definitely going to visit you!” She squealed excitedly. “Wait, no fair! We’re both going to visit you too, Tarou!” Sarah and Melissa chimed in. Timmy tried not to laugh as Tarou fought to hide his horrified expression. “Uh…. sure?” He shrugged. “Yay!” They all cheered.

“You really need to tell them that you’re not into any of them, or else they’ll continue to pester you.” Timmy frowned. “Yeah, but Mel scares the shit out of me. She broke a table in half with her foot. That’s just one foot. Imagine what she can do with two and two hands. I doubt my spine would even be in two pieces after I reject her feelings.” He shuddered. Sadly, Tarou had a point. “Well, I’m sure it will work itself out. Maybe?” “Honestly, I’ve just come to live with it. It’s not the worst thing, having your own fan club. Honestly, it’s funny.” He chuckled, trying to ignore the awkward moments where the three girls would make him greatly uncomfortable with their remarks and advances. “Well, whatever floats your boat, I guess.” Timmy shrugged. The two laughed as they finally walked back to their dorm. Finals were coming up, and it felt like this semester went by too quickly. But at least they were able to finish the year with their friendship still intact. “It’s really been a crazy first year. Hopefully, it’ll get better next year, right?” Timmy chuckled. “Better as in easier, or less drama?” Tarou snorted. “Hopefully both.” The computer engineer groaned. “At least your major will get you a high-paying job.” The model pointed out. “Well, if you become a supermodel, then same applies for you too, you know?” The Taiwanese boy smirked. “Let’s see how this first international gig goes, okay? I’m not going to rush into any conclusions, especially when modeling is just a side hobby to make money.” The Japanese male laughed. Although truth be told, he was excited to be going to Japan for the summer. This was going to be a whole new adventure for him.

How it is: Chapter 22

“Chef, do you have a moment?” Service was just wrapping up as Valerie approached Janice on the line. “Yeah, what’s up?” The Singaporean girl wanted the executive chef’s advice on a couple things: should she compete in Warrior Chef: All Stars, as well as what to do about Tarou. Even though she’s only seven years older, Janice would still know more about what to do in these kinds of socially awkward situations than the young pastry chef would have. “So the first thing is that I got invited to compete in Warrior Chef: All Stars, and I was wondering if I should do it.” The executive chef smiled in response to that. “I think you need to do it, Valerie. You’re extremely talented, and honestly, you could easily win a Redemption competition if you put your mind to do it.” Janice assured her. “Wait, so you think I should? Because that would mean that I would have to take a leave of absence.” Valerie noted. “I’m sure it would be fine. Hey, Daphne!” Janice turned to the eldest pastry cook. “Yes, chef?” “Do you want to be promoted to executive pastry chef? Valerie’s going to be away, competing in Warrior Chef: All Stars, so we need somebody to fill in the position!” The mother was stunned by the offer. “Hey, it would be an honor. But I think Megan is more deserving.” She noted. “Alright, then I’ll ask Megan. Either way, somebody will just get promoted and we will hire a new pastry cook.” Janice decided. “So you don’t have to worry about leaving us behind. Valerie, you are talented and you will easily wipe the floor with everyone in that competition. By any chance, do you know who you’ll be up against?” Janice looked at her, curiously. “It just said that I will be going against former finalists, runner-ups, and memorable contestants from all of the past seasons.” She summarized. “Ah, I see. That’s going to be pretty intense, then. But you are a former runner-up yourself, and you made it that far for good reason. Go in there, and kick some major ass like I know you will.”

Janice’s words put a large grin on Valerie’s face. “Alright, is there anything else you wanted to talk about?” “Oh, right.” The Singaporean girl remembered the entire issue with Timmy. “Yeah, so I don’t know if you remember, but I have a friend, Timmy. And he has a huge crush on me, but I rejected him… because I have a crush on his best friend. And it’s just really awkward because we’re all childhood friends, and the more I think about it, the less I want to be in a relationship with either of them.” She frowned. “Ooh, so a love triangle? That’s…. very awkward.” Janice crossed her arms. “But you don’t want to be in a relationship with either of them, right?” “Yeah, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings either.” “Jesus, Christ, people are sensitive these days.” The executive chef rolled her eyes. “Valerie, don’t think about that right now. Do you feel comfortable being with either of them, in terms of a relationship?” “No.” She shook her head. It would be far too awkward. “Then there you go. That’s your answer.” Janice laughed. “I know I’m coming off as very black and white about this, but it’s because there’s no point in dwelling over things that you can solve easily, if you remove the emotional aspect. Sometimes, as human beings, we need to make the tough call.” Valerie nodded in agreement to that statement. “Thanks, chef.” “No problem. Hope it all works out for you.” And with that, the two executive chefs finished breaking down their stations and started heading out. “Now how do I do that?” The Singaporean girl sighed to herself. Just a day ago, she told Timmy she had feelings for Tarou. And disregarding the likely possibility that he told Tarou this already, Valerie felt uncomfortable going back on her emotions and relinquishing her feelings for him.

“Tarou, can I be honest with you?” Timmy looked over at his roommate. They were in their room, on their respective beds, getting ready to go to sleep. The other night was still bothering him greatly. “What’s up?” “So when I was with Valerie, talking it out, I confessed to her.” “Confessed to her? Wait, no, you didn’t-” “Yeah, I told her how I was feeling.” “And?” Tarou looked at his friend, expectantly. The Taiwanese boy paused awkwardly. “She rejected me.” “Hey, it’s okay. So she wasn’t the one. That’s not the end of the world, buddy.” The Japanese boy walked over to his friend, patting him on the back reassuringly. “It’s not just the rejection that hurt me, though.” Even though Timmy had harbored feelings for Valerie for the past 13 years of his young life, he could never bring himself to muster up the courage to say anything until that night. And for him to be outright rejected, that was tough. But to know that the person Valerie had her eyes set on was the very person comforting him, and after everything that just happened to the three of them, this was a lot for the 18 year-old freshman to handle. “Hey, what’s wrong?” Tarou looked at his friend, gravely concerned. Taking a deep breath, Timmy calmed himself down. “She…. she likes you, man.” He croaked. “Timmy, you don’t have to worry about a thing, okay?” Tarou looked at Timmy, reading the boy’s worried expression. “But what about when you guys lived together?” “Nothing happened. I swear.” “But what about her feelings for you?” “Are you kidding me? The last thing I want to do is jeopardize our friendship after the whole ordeal we went through just to repair it. Fuck that.” The model rolled his eyes. “If it makes you feel any better, the first thing I will do tomorrow is talk to Valerie about this, and reject her.” He offered. “Okay, you don’t have to go that far. But I feel awkward now because of this. I liked her, she likes you, and you don’t like her. It’s like a weird….love….line?” The computer engineer’s words were failing him at the moment. He was fatigued from all of the stress from this entire semester, and just wanted to relax and recover from it all.

“Hey, Timmy, are you alright?” A 13 year-old Valerie looked at the 8th grade Timmy, who had just fought off a bunch of bullies who were picking on Tarou. “Yeah, it’s no big deal.” Timmy laughed, hiding a large cut on his forearm. “No, you’re hurt!” She pulled his arm, revealing the gash. “Timmy?” The chubby Japanese boy whimpered, feeling horribly guilty. “I’m so sorry…” He was crestfallen at the sight of the wound. “You’re coming with me to the nurse’s office.” Valerie ordered. “Hey, I’m okay! Really!” Timmy tried to insist. “Nope, you’re not!” Despite his protests, Timmy appreciated how insistent and direct Valerie was. Unlike most girls at their school, who were passive aggressive, bitchy, and so keen on playing the damsel-in-distress roles in social situations, Valerie was open with how she felt and conveyed her intentions very clearly. She was brave, caring, and fearless. She was not afraid to stand up to anyone, much like how Timmy was against Tarou’s bullies. This girl, she was different in a way that Timmy really loved. He could be himself around her, and he thought that she was the one for him. “Here, let’s just wipe the wound with some of this first.” She reached for a dark brown bottle, containing rubbing alcohol. She dabbed the open tip of the overturned bottle with a cotton pad, before returning the bottle to where she found it, and gently brushed the dirt off of Timmy’s cut. The Taiwanese boy fought the urge to blush. He was so close to her. Against his better judgement, Timmy began memorizing her features. He could see the small freckles on her cheeks, the light pink shade of her lips, the way her hair parted to the right. He really was in love with her.

How it is: Chapter 21

“I’m back!” Valerie groaned, walking back into her room. It was a long, exhausting service, but the pastry chef felt like she worked off most of her aggression from that earlier encounter with Tarou. “Uh…” She paused, noticing that Tarou had company and that all of his stuff was packed up. “What the hell is he doing here?” She glared at Timmy, who started to scoot behind the model. “He’s here to apologize for being a little ass-nugget.” Tarou smirked, getting up. “I’ll leave you two to talk it out.” Tarou sighed, grabbing his things. “Timmy, I’ll see you in our room later tonight. And if either of you want to kill each other still after this, just let me know. I’ll try to stop you guys.” He chuckled, closing the door behind the two. “Well… this is not what I was expecting to do right after I finished a long service.” Valerie sighed, sitting on the edge of her bed stand. “Look, I’ll start.” Timmy stuttered. She looked at his expectantly. “ God, this is weird.” He frowned. “Uh, spit it out or else I’m kicking you out of my room.” She glared at him. “Well to start, I’m so sorry I called you a skank. I was hurt and confused, and I didn’t know what to do.” The Taiwanese boy could feel his heart pounding as it slowly began to sink to his stomach. “Confused? Last I checked, you knowingly drove your best friend away. I never did anything directly to you. I just housed Tarou because he felt unsafe around you. If you want my two cents on it, you were a shitty friend, and you’re lucky he even accepted your apology.” Timmy shrank a little at her remark. She was telling the truth. After subjecting Tarou to negligent behavior for being bisexual, Timmy was lucky that Tarou was still willing to be friends after that.

“A lot of the reason why I got mad at you, it stemmed from… my feelings for you.” Timmy finally admitted. “Uh, what?” Valerie fumed. She was bewildered with his response. That was not what she expected to hear. Maybe something along the lines of feeling unaccomplished in comparison, but she was not anticipating Timmy to harbor romantic feelings for her. “So you called me a skank… because you like me? How fucking romantic.” She crossed her arms and rolled her eyes at that. This made zero sense to her. You do not treat somebody you like that way. “I was jealous! Tarou ran away to you, and he knew I had feelings for you, and I panicked because I thought he was trying to steal you from me-” “Okay, there is a laundry list of things that are wrong with your entire thought process. Where do I begin? Oh wait, let’s start with the whole ‘stealing’ part. I was not yours to begin with. Am I your slave or servant? Hell no. I’m not your property, so Tarou could not have stolen me. Secondly, if you liked me, you would have respected my decision to house Tarou, rather than try to publicly shame me in front of me peers and friends. And you only have yourself to blame for driving Tarou into my arms, so to speak. He would not have come to me if it was not for the fact that you were treating him like the bottom of a shoe sole.” The girl could feel her blood boiling, but remembered that this cowardly boy before her was here to apologize to her. Taking deep breaths, she calmed down. “Look, I’m sorry I blew up at you. I know you mean well and you’re here to apologize and I need to hear out everything you have to say. I was getting frustrated, though, because you are somebody I thought of as family, and to hear how little you thought of me in return, it really hurt.”

“I’ve had a crush on you since we were little. You were always somebody I looked up to, because of how outgoing and capable you were. You did not act like the typical girly girl growing up, and I thought it was awesome.” Timmy started again. “Just seeing my best friends basically run away from me, it made me realize what an ass I was. I was so angry at myself for that, and I just blew up and lost it during that event. All of that stress and these mixed feelings, I did not know how to handle it.” He was trying his best to not burst into tears and lose his composure in front of Valerie. “Timmy, I’ve known you for a long time. Your biggest issue is that you hold in all of these emotions and you get really passive aggressive. I was hoping that it would all change for you when you got into ACU, but instead, what happened was you got worse. You could not be honest with Tarou, and it caused both of you to act the way you guys did. I will admit, I was not a good friend in this situation either. I should have confronted you, or at least, helped Tarou confront you when this became an issue, but instead, all I did was house Tarou and hide him away from you, escalating the problem.” Valerie sighed. “But want to know what I love about college?” She smiled at him. “What?” “It’s a chance for us to learn and grow as human beings, while still not having the stress or pressure of society looking down on us. We have that safety net of still being students, technically.” She shrugged. “And that’s why I want this to be a learning experience for all of us on how to be better people.” He nodded in agreement. “Now, as for your romantic feelings for me, thank you for confessing. But I’ll be honest. I did have feelings for Tarou, until we started living together and I realized that now is not the time for that.” She frowned. “Oh.” Timmy paused. He did not know what to say to that.

“How was it?” Tarou was unpacking his things back into their room when Timmy returned from his talk to Valerie. “Well, I see you’re not covered with blood, so that’s a good sign.” He chuckled. “We made up, and I think it’ll be fine.” Timmy nodded shyly. “That’s good to hear.” The model got up and pulled his best friend into a hug. “Oomph!” The Taiwanese boy groaned. As much as he missed his best friend, Timmy did not miss the constant hugs as much. Though he could make an exception in this case. “Also, I needed to tell you about something.” The model pulled out a letter. “So I applied to be a part of Vogue’s Summer Collection in Tokyo, and they accepted me! I’ll be going to Japan for the summer!” Tarou beamed. “That’s incredible! And you’re going to be awesome.” Timmy grinned back. “What were your plans for the summer?” Tarou looked at his friend curiously. “I’m probably going to be taking summer classes and getting ahead of the program.” He admitted. The Taiwanese boy was thinking about squeezing in a minor, so he wanted to get his requirements out of the way for his major first. “Oh, so you’ll be staying in New York. And Valerie, did she tell you?” “Tell me about what?” “She got invited to compete in Warrior Chef: All Stars. And she accepted! So she’s going to be away competing!” Tarou explained. Timmy shrugged. It was a bit sad to think that the three of them were parting ways after making up, but that was how life was sometimes. “I’m glad for both of you. You both deserve everything good that happens to you.” “Same goes for you, buddy. You’re a hard worker and you put your head down and just focus. Don’t let the haters get to you. Val and I, we got your back.” The model assured his friend.

How it is: Chapter 17

That same day, Tarou was at work with Misaki, talking about the former’s current living situation after they finished another photo shoot. “So you two aren’t living together anymore?” The older model frowned. She was surprised to hear that Timmy had problems with Valerie and Tarou. “Yeah, and that’s why I’m living on Valerie’s floor at the moment.” The male model nodded. “I see, I see.” Had Timmy not been such a close friend of her boyfriend’s, Misaki would have most likely used her one favor from the yakuza to call a hit on the Taiwanese boy. Just the thought of somebody being that immature, inept, and cowardly, he was asking for at least, a slap to the face. Shaking off her dark, violent thoughts, the older girl looked at her friend. “I think Timmy is a complete and utter coward. Just the way he treated Valerie, it was sickening. Then to hear from you that he called her a skank or slut or whatever, that was uncalled for. And that’s just his beef with Valerie. The way he treated you was completely rude. It was homophobic of him to say that your sexuality made him uncomfortable. It’s not like you made advances on him, did you?” She looked at him, nervously. If Tarou had indeed acted with romantic intentions, then this situation could get very ugly. “I saw him more as a little brother or a son, but for him, he only saw my sexuality when that became a topic. He could not shake the thought or fear that I might be romantically interested in him. And his uneasiness towards it, it made me question my own feelings towards him as well. But seeing him act that way, it just reaffirms that this is why I saw him as a little brother or a son. It’s because he is less emotionally mature than I am.” Tarou summarized. “I see. And it makes sense. Him not knowing how to react to and live with somebody like you, it caused him to act really irrationally.” The reason why Misaki was able to make such detailed observations was because she was a psychology major in college, before deciding to become a model full time and abandon the psychology path entirely. There was something about being able to observe others and understanding their intentions and interpretations of life that piqued her interest.

After heading out of the agency, Misaki and Tarou were having dinner at Tarou’s favorite restaurant, Ngam; Tarou and Misaki both adored the chef, who was a model herself, and just enjoyed the elegant takes on Thai cuisine served at the establishment. Tarou sighed, feeling a little uneasy. Even though he was at one of his favorite restaurants, he was not feeling hungry. He was worried about what was happening to Timmy. “Hey, what’s wrong?” Misaki looked at him, visibly concerned. Tarou had been spacing out for a while. It was unlike Tarou, especially when he was a former fat kid, to leave a meal virtually untouched. “I’m just out of it. I’m still getting over what Timmy said about Valerie and how he outed me like that.” Tarou sighed. He did not think that anything could hurt him. But he wrong. Timmy’s words hurt. Seeing her friend this way, Misaki could not bring herself to feign smiling anymore. “Look, you two need to talk. Do you want me to tell Justin about the whole situation?” She offered. Tarou shook his head. “He’s not ready. I don’t think he’ll ever be ready to be confronted. He’s a fucking coward.” The model scowled. He was angry at this point. What did he ever do to deserve this treatment? It was not his fault he was born bisexual. Timmy’s immaturity, it was just ridiculous. Tarou was in disbelief that somebody he looked up to, somebody he grew up with, could have come along so little in life. Slowly, Tarou began to piece together the dots: his involvement with Timmy, or specifically, his smother of Timmy, had caused the Taiwanese boy to become so sheltered and immature. All of this time I tried to protect him, I only caused him harm. He started to realize. Yet, Tarou did not resent himself. How was he supposed to know that this sort of overbearing behavior was okay? He was still a student himself. He had a lot left to learn.

“Hey, what’s wrong,, babe?” Justin looked at a distraught Misaki. She was still shaken by Tarou’s recent behavior and attitude. It was later at night, and the couple were in their apartment. “It’s just frustrating. These guys, they’re legally adults. But they still act like such sulky teenagers.” She frowned. It was bothering her how badly affected both of these boys were acting. “I get how you feel. Timmy’s life has been going to shit because of this. Word got out about how he acted, and he got kicked out of ACU.” Justin explained. “Huh?” Misaki looked at him, perplexed. “Yeah, he just texted me. It did not sound pretty. Apparently, there were over two hundred protestors boycotting an eboard meeting because of him.” “Whoa.” The model was not sure how to feel about this. On one hand, it was amazing to see that this many people cared about Tarou, or at least, what Tarou stood for. On another hand, Timmy was only 18, and he is being punished for being inexperienced, rather than narrow-minded. Misaki knew that even though he was immature, Timmy was not a bad person. He just was sheltered, therefore naive. “How’s he taking the end-result?” She looked at Justin, greatly concerned. “Not well. He told me he needed time alone.” Justin sighed, crossing his arms. He wanted to help Timmy, but he did not know what to do either. Whenever he got like this, Timmy would be impossible to reach. The Taiwanese boy would shut himself off from society. It was unpleasant to say the least. “What should we do?” He looked at Misaki, who was equally at a loss. “I think we need to talk to Timmy. And let him know what Tarou is feeling. Even if he is not ready to talk to Tarou, he needs to understand what’s going on.”

A week had passed since Tarou had been kicked off ACU board. The boy had shut himself into his room, only leaving for class. He felt mortified. Being removed from the club was already humiliating. He felt as if all of his hard work was unraveled in just a manner of minutes. Looking at Tarou’s empty bed, the Taiwanese boy felt himself flush with anger. Unable to contain himself, he slammed his fist into the stripped mattress. It bounced slightly as he left a deep impress in the fabric. “Fucking shit.” He cursed underneath his breath, ignoring the stinging in the side of his palm. He just needed to get off some steam. The thought of Tarou, it was concerning, yet aggravating. Why did somebody feel the need to be so controlling over him? He felt like he could not even breathe. Tarou was suffocating him. Ignoring the smell of the rotting pizza boxes piling up on his floor, the boy tried to drift off to sleep, or at least humor the notion: how can anyone sleep when they feel so constantly scared? Suddenly, Timmy’s phone started buzzing, much to the boy’s shock. It was Justin. “Hello?” He answered hesitantly. “You. I need to talk to you.” It was a woman’s voice. Misaki’s to be exact. “Uh…” The boy debated hanging up his phone, but he could not bring himself to. He feared the exact repercussions of angering Justin’s girlfriend. “Tarou’s devastated. I know you don’t care because you’re a heartless son of a bitch, but you need to know that the way you treat people, it needs to change. The fact that his sexuality made you uncomfortable, and on top of that, you treated him like crap when he was one of your closest friends! You pushed him away for a group of next to complete strangers, when he would have done anything for you. Do you not feel any shame for that?”

Timmy was not quite sure how to feel. Misaki, unlike the majority of his friends in the Asian community, was extremely upfront and direct. She did not sugar coat her words or statements. The Taiwanese boy was just taken aback, because of how unused to this treatment he was. “Well?” Misaki pressed again. She was still on the phone with him. “I’m just… I just need time. He’s exhausting. Looking at him, it just brings up a lot of anxiety and stress for me. I can’t feel safe or comfortable. I-I-I-” Timmy felt himself starting to break down into tears. There were too many emotions for him to process. Being around Tarou just made him extremely uncomfortable, and trying to unravel and comprehend everything Timmy was feeling at the thought of him, it was exhausting. “Look, I’m sure you’re not a completely shitty person. But you are being really selfish by not considering how your actions affect those around you. That’s the bottom line for what I’m trying to convey here. I believe that you and Tarou, you guys can make up and work it out. It might take time, even therapy, but I know you guys can do it and salvage your friendship.” Misaki reassured him. Timmy could hear what Misaki was saying, but he was still trying to recompose himself. He’s had more emotional meltdowns in the past two weeks than he has ever had in his entire life. He did not want to make a habit out of this behavior.

“Do you think I was being too harsh on him?” Misaki looked at Justin as she hung up the phone. “Well, you were definitely blunt. And honest.” Justin smirked. “But don’t worry about it too much. Somebody needed to tell him to be more considerate.” He sighed. As much as he cared about Timmy, Justin knew that the Taiwanese boy was old enough to be responsible for his own actions and decisions. He needed to take responsibility for the way he was treating others, or at least the way he was communicating with them. “Well, at least you agree that Timmy’s being a little pussy ass bitch.” Misaki sighed. As a model, she is used to dealing with passive aggressive, fake, and two-faced behavior all the time. Timmy’s attitude reminded her of that, and if she could stop another young adult from becoming like one of those monsters she works with, then the model would do whatever she can to end the vicious cycle. “Well, it looks like it’s getting really late. Let’s go to bed, babe.” Justin yawned, stretching his arms. “Yeah, let’s do it.” She sighed, getting up from their couch, and heading off to their bedroom.

How it is: Chapter 16

“So to begin today’s board meeting, let’s go over the money from our last event.” Alex started. ACU was meeting that same night Valerie and Janice spoke, in a classroom in the College of Arts and Sciences. He turned to Gary, who was ACU’s current treasurer. “Well, looking into our ticket prices, we charged $7 per person. Our attendance was good. We got 300 people, so that’s $2,100. And we promised each club that attended $100. We had 15, so they get $1,500 from us, and that means our club got a profit of $600!” He smiled. Despite Gary’s expression, everyone knew he was trying to avoid the major elephant in the room regarding the event. “But then there’s the additional costs. Facilities requires us to pay for the damages. And with the broken lamps and tables, that means we owe $750.” “Wait, so we lost $150 by doing this event?!” Alice looked shocked. “That’s… not good.” Timmy blurted, before everyone turned to look at him. He could tell that there was an awkward tension between him and his fellow officers at this point. “Well, at least the event was successful in terms of attendance. We can hold this again next year, and it’ll be just as successful, I’m sure.” Alex started. “Except almost every club refuses to re-collaborate with us for this…” Alice pointed out, referring to the feedback responses. The mood felt somber. And then it got worse. “No more ACU! No more ACU!” The officers turned to see a group of students, marching outside of their meeting classroom, holding signs with anti-homophobic messages on them, such as “Born this way” or “It’s the 21st Century, get with the times.” Timmy could feel his stomach sink with guilt at this point. “What the fuck?!” Alex and Holly peered through the classroom door window. They were being boycotted.

“Who the hell are you?!” Alex stormed outside and approached the students. “We are a part of the Gay-Straight Alliance.” A girl stated. “We don’t believe in what your officers stand for. The purpose of your club is to be all inclusive of Asians, yet you guys still think being bisexual is something to be afraid of. It’s disgusting!” She frowned as the other students continued marching in the hallway, holding up their signs and chanting. Alex was stunned speechless. Timmy looked in horror as a lot of the students in the hallway were glaring at him. “Get the fuck out of the hallway! You’re disturbing our meeting! I’m going to call campus security on you!” Alice threatened, grabbing her phone. She started dialing the number, only to be interrupted by one of the protestors. “Oh, they know. And it’s not disrupting your meeting if you’re not intruding on your classroom or physically harming you.” The male student pointed out. “We can get verbally disruptive, but so long as we do nothing to physically harm us, you can’t sue. Trust me, I’m a law student. I know this crap like the back of my hand!” “Shit.” The vice president cursed under her breath, out of options. “What should we do?” Gary looked at Holly and Timmy. He was normally the optimistic one, but in this case, even he was unsure of how to approach this situation. Unfortunately, the protests only got worse. This was only the beginning of a long, horrendous night for ACU’s executive board.

Suddenly, even more students started flooding into the hallway, many of which Timmy recognized. Amongst the crowd included Enya, Sara, and Melissa, as well as Akinori and Mari as well as the rest of the members of JBA, Vicky and her officers from the Modeling Club, the members of SSA, and the students from Tisch. At this point, they were surrounded, trapped, basically none of the ACU members could leave the room or go into the hallway with the sheer amount of protestors in that hall. And they all began to join in the protest. Had they not been there because of him, Timmy would have been amazed to see so many students rally around one cause. But in this case, he was horrified beyond belief. They were here to target him through his club. “Okay, what the fuck do you want from us? An apology?!” Alex roared. He was at his wit’s end. He was expecting today to be a simple meeting with a motivational speech at the end so that his club does not lose morale. Instead, it became his officers fearing for their lives, and the possibility of ACU being dissolved. As ACU’s president, this was a nightmare scenario.

“Alright, what are we going to do?” Holly whimpered, trembling. The girl was scared, exhausted, and starving at this point, having planned to get dinner after the meeting that they were still forced to be in due to the protestors outside. It had been three hours at this point, and everyone in ACU board was hulled up in their room, terrified. “Down with ACU! Down with ACU!” They continued chanting. Timmy was only half-listening to what everyone else was saying at this point. The Taiwanese boy was preoccupied with his own thoughts. He only wanted to be a part of ACU so that he could finally grow up. But in the process of becoming an officer, he managed to not only push away his closest friends, but caused harm to everyone he cared about. Valerie must hate him, especially if she heard that he called her a slut. Tarou must already hate him, because he refused to go to the Asian Cultural Awareness event, and he was okay with allowing so many of his friends from other clubs partake in this protest. And then his friends on ACU. None of them deserved to be put through this torment, especially because of his own dumb, impulsive mistake. “I’m not even sure at this point.” Alex groaned. He was getting fatigued too, from stress and anxiety. He did not want to be known at the president of ACU when it went under. That would be a hard thing to have to live with.

The board members sat in a circle, trying to figure out a proper solution. At this point, it was already midnight. “So we can go out there an apologize as a board?” The event coordinator, a sophomore named Sharon, suggested. “I think that might be the best course of action.” Alex sighed, resigning to any option at this point. The officers got up and quietly walked into the hallway. The protestors all went silent as they saw the entirety of ACU board standing before them. “Hi, everyone. So we all want to apologize for our officer, Timmy’s actions. He was being rash and did not mean what he said. We’re sorry.” Alex took a slight bow. Everyone else on board quickly followed. As he was in mid-bow, Timmy could feel that all of the protestors were glaring at him. “That’s not enough!” Somebody shouted in the crowd. “We don’t care if you apologize as a board. He’s the one who needs to learn a lesson for what he said!” Another protestor agreed. At this point, Alice and Alex looked at one another and exchanged nods, before turning to Timmy. “Timmy, I’m sorry. We’re going to have to ask you to resign from ACU.” Alex sighed, looking genuinely sorry to let go of such a devoted member. Timmy could feel his throat dry up as he tried to speak. The words just came out in croaks. “I understand. And I really am sorry for all of the pain and fear I caused everyone here.” He could feel the tears rolling down his eyes. “The person who made the comment, he’s no longer an officer. We just removed him from our roster, and we again deeply apologize to everyone who was offended by what he said.” Alice declared. All of the protestors, satisfied with the announcement, slowly filed out of the hallway. Following them, ACU’s officers. Timmy stood there, alone in the empty hall, devastated.

How it is: Chapter 15

It was Thursday, early in the afternoon. “Hey, how are you?” Janice and Mako looked at Valerie as she stepped into the kitchen. They could both tell that she looked exhausted and bothered. “I did not get a lot of sleep last night. One of my best friends who had a crush on me, he basically bullied me into trying to kill myself, and then he called me a skank in front of everyone I knew.” Valerie clammed up at that point. She felt like she spoke an uncharacteristically large amount, given how quiet and reserved she normally was at work. She felt her entire right arm convulsing with rage. It was one of the few times she wished she was a butcher at the restaurant. She could really use a cleaver on something at the moment, just to blow off some steam. Imagining that the pig or chicken carcass was Timmy, since both of those descriptions suited him at this very moment. “Here, come with me.” Janice pulled her aside. The executive chef looked greatly concerned at what she was hearing. “Wait, but I have prep to do-” Valerie tried to interject. “Mako, you’re in charge! Keep making sure that prep is going on schedule! It’s a Thursday, so we aren’t going to be as busy, so you guys should be fine without us for a little bit.” She shouted. “Alright, chef!” Mako called back as the two girls walked into the restaurant’s seating area. “We can’t have you going into service like this. We are going to talk a little bit.” Janice explained.

“Alright, so I just need a second here to unravel what’s going on. So you’re saying that you wanted to kill yourself?” Janice looked at her. “Yeah.” Valerie sighed. “Why?” “It happened around the time the finale aired. All of the comments, saying how I was an idiot, it was just coming back to haunt me. And it was because I made desserts only on that finale, and I make desserts here, so work was a constant trigger.” She started. “Okay, well that was you over a year ago, alright? You were a dumb 17 year-old. You’re going to make mistakes when you’re that young. Hell, I make mistakes now, and I’m 26!” Janice confessed. “What?” Valerie looked at her in surprise. “Yeah! A couple services ago, I accidentally look a ramekin full of sugar to the pass, and sprinkled sugar on the venison loin. I tasted it, because it did not feel like the malden salt, but at that point, I had already put it on the meat, and we had to re-fire it.” Janice rolled her eyes. “But in your situation, trust me, I know what it’s like. Yeah, I won my season, but the way I won it was too controversial. People kept on telling me that I did not deserve to win, and that I was a gimmick. I got eliminated fourth, and only got back in because of the Redemption Creativity Challenge in the last round. It sucked. But I just started to ignore that, worked my ass off, and that’s why I got a Michelin star.” Valerie nodded. It was surprising for her to actually have this time to speak with Janice on a one on one basis.

“So what exactly did your friend say that made you try to act on these thoughts?” “He said that I would go from being a joke to a has-been.” Valerie frowned. “Look, you will only be a joke if you let others get to you like that. You are a hardworking and determined young woman, and that’s exactly why I promoted you to executive pastry chef. And I know you probably think this, but I did not promote you so that you can copy and replace Namie. I wanted you to lead the pastry department with your own techniques and vision.” Hearing that was a huge relief. “Thank you, Janice.” Valerie smiled. “Stop thinking about what others say about you. I don’t know about your personal life or decisions, nor I should ask, since it’s not workplace appropriate, but if they want to call you a skank or whore, don’t listen to that. Even if you are promiscuous or whatever, your work ethic and passion for your industry, that’s what they should be focusing on. People who spread rumors, they have too much time and insecurities on their hands. Don’t stoop to their level. Don’t let what they say get to you. Confidence comes from working hard and gaining experience. Doubt comes from sitting around, being too sensitive and unproductive. You have so much experience already, I just want you to take that and own it.” What Janice said, it was eye-opening to Valerie. “You’re right. I need to. Thanks, Janice” Valerie nodded. The two got up and returned to the kitchen. “And that friend of yours, cut him off. He’s not worth your time or attention. He owes you an apology. Until he gives you that, just forget about him. Focus on other things, and honestly, don’t wait around, expecting an apology either. Do things with your time.”

“Hey, feeling better?” Jacky looked at Valerie as she walked up to the pass with her cherry dessert. Like they suggested, Valerie opted for a honey-goat milk-vanilla panna cotta instead of the yogurt, and it tasted phenomenal. “I’m feeling good. How about you? How have you been?” She smiled. “I’ve been alright. You know, living the chef life.” They chuckled together, as the two walked back to their respective stations. “Alright, so next order. Three ube doughnuts, followed by that, two olive oil cakes.” Valerie read off the checks. “Heard!” Daphne and Megan chimed in. For the first time in a while, Valerie felt in control. Orders were coming in, and being sent out with no issues. Megan, Daphne, and her, they were working together seamlessly. I got the doughnuts out of the frier, and I’m tossing them in the cinnamon-sesame sugar right now, chef! Give me 30 more seconds!” Daphne cried. “30 seconds, heard!” “Here, chef!” Daphne handed Valerie three bowls and the components to go into it, which the chef quickly plated up. “Daphne, bring these two the pass.” “Got it!” The cook walked down with the three bowls on a sheet tray. “Here’s the olive oil cake, chef.” Megan presented Valerie the two plates. The chef quickly finished the plating on those as well. “Alright, Megan, bring those up to the pass.” “Thanks, chef!” Megan smiled as she walked up with the two desserts.

“Man, that was probably one of the best services we had in a while!” Megan smiled. “Tell me about it.” Daphne grinned. The three were cleaning down their station, and celebrating a very successful dinner service. “It’s good to have the Valerie we know and love back.” They looked at her. “Thanks, you two. I wouldn’t be the chef I am without such amazing pastry cooks. Literally everything you two brought up for me was perfection.” She beamed at the two older women. It was remarkable to think about how Megan was 27 and Daphne was 43 with a son, that the two would give her, a 18 year-old, so much respect. When Valerie was first promoted to chef, she was nervous. Even though she worked there longer than Megan had, she felt that Daphne was deserving of the promotion. “Say, Daphne. How come you did not take the promotion to executive pastry chef?” She looked over the mother. “Well, Janice and Namie did ask me, but I rejected the offer. Yeah, the pay is nice and all, but I have a family to raise too. If I was the executive, then I would have to be too preoccupied with menu planning and coordinating with Janice. And then don’t get me started on those events in the summer. You’ll have to travel a lot and it’s going to be a major pain. I’d prefer to just stay in New York with my family.” She sighed. “Besides, Ben’s getting to a difficult age. He’s 12 and thinks that he’s the boss of everyone now. I’d rather be here, keeping him in his place.” Keeping him in his place, huh? Valerie thought to herself. We all have a place where we fit in and thrive…

How it is: Chapter 14

“Wait, so you slept in the hallway?” Valerie looked dumbstruck and horrified. She was eating breakfast with Tarou in the dining hall when the model told her what happened the night before, sans Timmy’s feelings. “Well, you don’t need him. Here, grab some of your stuff. You can sleep on my floor.” The pastry chef offered. “Thanks, Val.” Tarou smiled. It felt good to know that he had somebody to rely on when things got tough. That person used to be Timmy, but now Valerie was starting to be more like his rock. And she felt the same way with Tarou. “No problem. Hanging out with you is a lot of fun.” She admitted. “I missed being able to just goof off with you.” The girl giggled before stopping herself. She was not one to giggle. It felt really unusual to her. And then it started to settle in: she just asked the boy she had a crush on since freshman year of high school to live with her. Were there not steps that preceded this? Valerie felt like she skipped ahead of a lot of cornerstones in a friendship or relationship and just plunged into the deep end. The girl started to feel awkward at her own proposal, but she knew that, her feelings for him aside, the model needed a place to stay, and she could offer him one. Tarou, on the other hand, was oblivious to Valerie’s feelings for him. He just felt vulnerable and helpless, and needed somewhere safe to shelter himself from Timmy.

Valerie’s single room was not terribly big. Granted, it was designed for one person, and in Manhattan, where rooms were small to begin with, it would be about the size of a walk in closet. It was later in the afternoon, after class. Tarou settled in a mattress pad on the floor. He did not care about the space. The room was only going to be where he slept. “Are you all-good?” Valerie looked at him. “Yeah.” He nodded, as the two walked out of their now-shared room. They both had work and needed to head out. Unbeknownst to both of them, they were seen by one of Valerie’s floor mates and an ACU officer, Holly. The girl looked intrigued, seeing Timmy’s really attractive roommate walk out of Valerie’s room with her. At first, she did not pay much attention to it. She assumed that he was just going over to hang out. Until later that night, when she saw both of them walk back into Valerie’s room as well. “Oh my god, they’re fucking.” She gasped in horror. Grabbing her phone, she texted Timmy. “I just saw your roommate. He’s hooking up with my floor mate, Valerie.” In his room, Timmy picked up his phone, and read the text. “WHAT?!” He screamed, slamming his fist into his wall. It left a fairly deep dent, chipping away the paint and revealing the brick beneath it. Timmy did not care though. As much as his hand hurt, his heart hurt more. He felt genuinely betrayed.

The next morning, a lonely Timmy got out of bed. He had very little sleep that night. He was too angry. Eyes red from crying, he quickly got changed. Looking at Tarou’s empty side of the room, he frowned. “Fucking bastard.” He growled, cracking his knuckles. A part of him wanted to throw the empty bed out the window. It would have made him feel a lot better. But he had to get that out of his system. Today was the day for the Asian Cultural Awareness Event for ACU. As sophomore rep, he was in charge of representing the club during this event, and had to be composed. If he let himself slip and lose composure here, then that would make a horrible first impression for his first ever event as an officer. He worked this hard to get on board, attending every event and getting to know every officer. It had finally paid off, and now he just wanted to continue working hard to make ACU the best club he can. At this point, aside from his computer friends, ACU was all the boy had left. He was not going to lose this on top of Valerie and Tarou. He could feel himself shaking from anger again at the mention of their names. Logging onto FaceBook, he pulled up Tarou’s account. “Block user?” A small window popped up. Hesitant at first, the boy clicked the “Yes” button to confirm.

For the Asian Cultural Awareness Event, it took place in the Rosenthal Pavilion, a large room normally equipped with several round tables and windows that overlooked the city. In this case, the round tables were removed and replaced with rectangular booths, each representing a different country. “Wow, we really got every club. Even JBA! And they never want to do things with us!” Alice giggled. “Yeah…” Timmy sighed. If it was not for Tarou, the Japanese Business Association would not have agreed to coming. “Hi.” A tall, tanned junior, Akinori approached Alice and Timmy. He was Tarou’s president. “Thank you for having us.” He bowed politely. Even though he was being amicable towards Timmy and Alice, the presence of the Japanese Business Association just made the Taiwanese boy uncomfortable. He felt uneasy because of how close the club was with Tarou; there was a part of him that was worried that Tarou had already told his fellow officers in the club about his current situation with Timmy. “Well, if you need any other help, feel free to ask Timmy or any of our other reps!” Alice smiled. “Alright, I’ll be sure to!” Aki grinned, walking off. “Hey, what’s wrong? You looked kind of… out of it.” She looked over at him. “It’s nothing. I’m just a little tired is all.” Timmy lied through his teeth. Timmy normally hated lying, mostly because he was not very good at it; keeping a straight face was a constant challenge for him, and it felt morally wrong. But in this situation, what else was there to do, other than lie?

The event started to drag on forever, or so it felt for Timmy. No matter where he was, he constantly bumped into JBA officers, who would constantly mention Tarou to him. “Hi, I’m Mari. Nice to meet you. I’m the freshman representative.” A small girl smiled at him. “Hi. I’m Timmy.” He grumbled. “Oh! I think Tarou mentioned me to you.” She giggled. “How is he?” “I don’t know.” Timmy froze. He was not sure what else to say, so he accidentally said the truth. “What do you mean?” She raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you like his roommate?” She pressed. Timmy started to feel a lump form in this throat. “He’s not living with me right now. I did not want to live with somebody who’s bisexual. And he’s sleeping with that skank baker, Valerie!” He burst, unable to hold the truth back anymore. Unfortunately for him, the officers of ACU, JBA, and the Singapore Student Association overheard him. “Valerie? Like Valerie Ang? And with Tarou, JBA’s hot treasurer? No way.” One of the girls in SSA whispered to her friend. “Wait, so they’re dating? And I didn’t know he was bi. That’s actually pretty interesting.” Akinori looked at his sophomore rep, Taichi. Unfortunately, the rumor spread through the entire hall, with everyone thinking that Tarou and Valerie were having sex. “What?!” Melissa, Enya, and Sarah screamed. “NO! TAROU!!!!” Melissa flipped over a table as Enya put her leg through a nearby cutout. Sarah just began sobbing hysterically. “YOU LIED! YOU TOLD US YOU’D SAVE YOURSELF FOR MARRIAGE!” Despite escalating the situation, nobody stopped Melissa and Enya’s rampage. Everyone in the room was too preoccupied, being repulsed at Timmy’s statements. “I think we should leave.” Somebody suggested. And then surely enough, all of the other organization’s officers and event-goers left the venue in a rush.

“Well, that was shit.” Alex growled. The ACU officers had to stay after the event to clean up the mess Enya, Melissa, and Sarah caused. The entire room was a mess. The floor was covered in torn up posters and broken glass. Two wooden tables were smashed into pieces because of Melissa, who was a black belt in krav maga, decided to unleash hell upon them in a fit of rage. In terms of the event, it was a complete failure: all of the other clubs were unwilling to collaborate with ACU again because of the incident. Not only for the commotion that Tarou’s fan club caused, but also because of Timmy’s comment on Tarou and Valerie. “We do not condone homophobia. We will never work with ACU again. Have him issue an apology to his roommate.” Read one of the feedback responses, from the Taiwanese American Student Association. All of the clubs were sent a survey to fill out once the event was over, and these were filling in quickly. “He was born bisexual, he did not choose to be that way, nor should he be treated like the plague because of it. For a club that promotion inclusion, you guys should know better.” This was what the Chinese Student and Scholars Association stated. “How dare one of your officers call somebody a skank. We know Valerie personally, and she is nothing close to promiscuous.” That was another comment, this time by the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality. “This is a nightmare.” Alice sighed, pinching her temple. This event was the definition of a PR nightmare. “Hey, Timmy, how are you feeling? You know you can talk to us about these kinds of things too.” Gary looked at the shaken freshman. “Yeah, we elected you because we wanted you in our club. If other clubs don’t want to work with us or whatever, then it’s their loss.” Holly reassured him as well. But Timmy was still mortified. No matter what Gary and Holly said to comfort him, he felt entirely responsible for the chaos that ensued. If only he had kept his mouth shut. “It’ll be okay.” Holly and Gary hugged him.

“Wait, he called me a skank?” Valerie received a FaceBook message from one of her friends, Alexa, in the NYU Hospitality Facebook page. The two were still in her room together, later that night, getting ready to sleep. “He outed me?!” Tarou could feel himself feeling nervous. Apparently all of the Asian community’s officers knew that he was bisexual now. “Wait, look at this.” Somebody had uploaded a video of Timmy and Mari at the event. “Aren’t you like his roommate?” She asked him. “He’s not living with me right now. I did not want to live with somebody who’s bisexual. And he’s sleeping with that skank baker, Valerie!” He shouted back. The video cut off at there. The model turned to his friend. He was not sure what exactly to say. “Well, he’s dead to me.” She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. Tarou was still speechless. Not knowing what to say, he decided to scroll through the comments. “This homophobic little shit needs to be expelled.” “Where does he get off, calling somebody a skank?” “Well, peace, ACU. I’m not going to attend your events anymore.” Suddenly, Tarou’s phone stared going off. He was receiving a ton of messages. “Are you okay?” “The Gay-Straight Alliance wanted to interview you.” “I just saw what happened on FaceBook. He’s the worst.” There were at least 50 messages that read along those lines. It was overwhelming. And then the model noticed he received an invitation. “You are invited to join the group, Boycott: ACU and its derogatory ways.” Looking at the page, it already had 200 members, including all of the officers from JBA, SSA, TASA, KSA, NSMH, CSSA, the Gay-Straight Alliance, the Modeling Club, and a lot of students from both the Hospitality and Performing Arts schools.

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.