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.

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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 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 13

Spring break was finally over, and tensions were still awkward between the three. “Hey, there’s this cool promo for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts game! Want to go?” Tarou looked at Timmy hopefully. “Sorry, I have an Asian Awareness Event for ACU.” Timmy shook his head. They were going to have an event with all of the Asian organizations, and the logistics behind it were incredibly difficult to manage. Timmy himself was in charge of coordinating with all of the freshmen and sophomore representatives from the other clubs on how to advertise to underclassmen. Even the Japanese Business Association was involved, but Tarou himself did not need to go, because he was the treasurer, not a representative; the club only required presidents, vice presidents, and representatives to be at their events. This was their club’s expectations when it came to event attendance. As for their norm as roommates, it was Tarou excitedly inviting Timmy to things, and Timmy rejecting him in favor of ACU. At least, that’s how Tarou felt. Timmy did feel bad that he could not make time for Tarou, but he also wanted a chance to grow as an individual himself. But how could he get that across to Tarou? Tarou only cared about spending time together.

“Hey, do you have time to talk?” Valerie texted Timmy. The pastry chef was in her room, sitting at her desk. No response. Again. She had been trying to reach out to him during the break, but the Taiwanese boy kept on ignoring her. She felt like he saw her as this freak for her previous attempt at killing herself. Feeling deflated and offended by his attitude towards her, she put down her phone and tossed it onto her bed. She tried to get him off of her mind. Grabbing out her sketchbook, she started doodling. Janice wanted her to create a new dessert menu for April to capture the spring, so she had to start sketching out what she wanted the plating for each dish to look like. With it being April, she definitely wanted something that was a nod to cherry blossoms, while another dish needed something Easter-themed. Blood oranges, meyer lemons, fresh fruits that represent that spring has finally arrived! Just thinking about it, Valerie could not suppress a grin of excitement. With the ideas rolling, she chuckled to herself. At that point, Nothing else beyond conceptualizing these different desserts was even on her mind. She was slowly easing back into her one true love: having the creative freedom of being a pastry chef.

Feeling rather lonely, Tarou decided to take a walk through the city. Misaki was out with Justin in Brooklyn on a date, so that left him with limited options. He would not even entertain the notion of spending time with Timmy, Enya, Sarah, or Melissa. The former was being the source of his frustration, while the latter three would probably try to date rape him. Passing by a restaurant, he noticed the familiar blue shooting star logo printed on the window. “Wish.” He read aloud. “Oh wait, Valerie!” Tarou was immediately reminded of his friend. The restaurant was closed since it was still early in the afternoon, but he figured why not try to meet up with the pastry chef before she had to go to work? He excitedly gave the girl a text. “Hey, are you down to hang sometime?” The model was starting to realize how much he missed her; the girl was usually so consumed with work that she had little to no time for things like a social life, but to Tarou, it was still worth a shot. Within minutes, he got a reply. “Hey, yeah! Want to grab dinner tonight?” She offered. “Sure thing! Where did you want to meet up?” “Come to the restaurant! I’ll prepare something for you! I’m looking to practice some of my new desserts.” Tarou chuckled to himself. This was going to be a great day ahead of him.

In her room, Valerie was excited to receive that text from Tarou. She was sitting alone, watching cat videos on YouTube when her phone buzzed. “Finally, something different than my normal, boring routine.” She sighed in relief, getting up and getting changed. It was almost 2, which meant that she had to get ready for work. “Hm, well Tarou can be my taste tester for the day.” She smiled. Janice wanted her to plan that new menu for the spring, and she figured, why not have Tarou try the dishes along with her normal staff, just so that she can have something to do with her friend. That, and having Tarou, such a positive influence, at the workplace, it would help get her mind off of whatever residual insecurities she had from being a runner-up. Racking through her brains, she recalled the different items she had in mind. “Alright, so I should probably get the ice cream done first, and then after that, the chiffon cake batter.” She listed off, walking out the door. She had a lot of things she needed to prepare, but she had a general idea of what she needed to do and in what order. Being a seasoned pastry chef has taught her how to multitask and delegate well. That was the exact reason why Janice had promoted Valerie to the executive pastry chef position in the first place.

It was at the end of her first semester, when Namie had already announced that she was leaving. It came as a huge shock to Valerie and Jacky, who were just line-level cooks at that point. After a very stressful dinner service, Janice pulled aside Valerie to speak in private. The girl had no idea what to expect. “You wanted to see me?” She was nervous. Being the youngest and most recent hire in the kitchen, Valerie was half-expecting to be fired for some reason. Just thinking about what Janice could possibly want from her, it made her incredibly uneasy throughout the entire night. “Yeah.” The executive chef wore a stoic expression when she looked at the 18 year-old. “How would you like to be promoted to executive pastry chef?” “Huh?” Valerie’s jaw almost dropped at the proposal. “I gave it a lot of thought, and it was not a decision I took lightly. But looking at how you performed on the line, every night, in every service, you have skills far beyond any of the other pastry cooks. On top of that, Namie herself, I asked her who she wanted to succeed her. She said that you could carry out the vision of Wish the best. I trust her judgement as much as I would my own in this regard.” Janice explained. “Oh wow. I’m still in awe right now. This… it’s definitely not what I expected.” Valerie stuttered. She thought she was going to lose her job, not get a promotion. “Will you take the promotion, Valerie?” “Yes!” The girl beamed. “I will be your next executive pastry chef!”

“Alright, so here’s my first new item. It’s a cherry sorbet with yogurt panna cotta, cherry kanten jelly, and yogurt crumble.” Valerie presented the white and red dessert to an impressed Tarou, Mako, and Joseph. “What do you think?” “Presentation-wise, it looks really modern. I like how you used the liquid nitrogen to crumble up the yogurt. It reminds me weirdly of Snow White. Here, I’ll go in for a taste.” He scooped some of the dessert into a spoon and into his mouth. “It’s a bit on the tart side, not going to lie. Maybe just do a vanilla panna cotta instead of the yogurt? I think that the yogurt and cherry, having so much of it across the board is a bit overkill.” He sighed. Tarou is a dessert lover, as evidenced by photos of his childhood, where he was not only overweight, but also pictured wit some sort of pastry or dessert in hand. “Alright, I’ll be sure to change that.” “I have to agree with Tarou there. I thought it was too sour.” Mako and Joseph chimed in. Valerie rolled her eyes.  “Uh, don’t go turning into Butch Valerie, okay? We don’t want to die tonight.” Mako whimpered, hiding behind Joseph comedically. “Or at least kill Joseph so I can take his job.” Valerie just ignored his joke. “Okay, well here’s my next dessert. It’s a blueberry chiffon cake with lemon curd-coconut oil gelato and coconut-blueberry-ginger mousse.” Each of them took a bite. “Okay, that was amazing. The cake was perfect, the gelato, I did not expect to love it, but I loved it. The mousse added moisture back to the cake.” Tarou grinned. “I think maybe more texture, so a coconut crumble, but aside from that, I agree. Everything you put up here, it does not need improvement.” Joseph nodded in agreement. “Thanks.” Valerie smiled. It was a high praise, coming from Janice’s own chef de cuisine.

“Thank you so much for coming over to work and helping me, Tarou. It was a lot of fun.” Valerie beamed. It was the first time in a while that being at work made her so happy. And she owed it all to Tarou. “No problem. I’m honored to be your guinea pig in this case.” The model chuckled graciously. The two were sitting with the rest of the restaurant’s staff, enjoying their family meal together before the dinner service began. Both of them felt like they had a friend in the first time in a while. But this feeling of camaraderie was cut short with time. “Dinner service is starting soon, and as much as I’d love for you to stick around, I’d rather you not see me as a complete bitch. I’ll talk to you later?” She looked at him. “Yeah, for sure! Thanks again for inviting me.” Tarou waved as he left the restaurant. “Well, you better snatch him up. He’s a major hottie.” Daphne giggled. “Yup!” Megan agreed. “I didn’t know you were friends with a model, Val!” Jacky teased. “Well, I never felt the need to mention him to you.” She fought off the urge to blush. “I’m glad that he came over though. I felt like I needed that.” She sighed. “I haven’t seen you smile in the workplace before today. since the whole Warrior Chef debacle. I think this was good for you.” Daphne agreed.

It was late at night, and Tarou had finally made his way back to the dorm. “Hey, is your event planning coming along?” Tarou yawned, stepping into his room. Timmy was in bed, almost ready to go to bed. “It went alright. What did you do today?” He looked over. The model tensed up nervously. “Valerie invited me over to Wish to taste her upcoming dessert menu.” He confessed. “What?” Timmy looked at him, bewildered at his statement. He had this murderous look in his eyes. “What?” Tarou returned, unable to say anything else at this point. He did not want to escalate the situation. “Why would you talk about her in front of me?” “I did not want to lie about what I did today.” Tarou frowned. “I’m sure you’d be more pissed thinking that I went behind your back to see her.” He shrugged. Timmy was not saying anything at that point. “Why are you even mad at me? You’re the one who refused to talk to her! So it’s only obvious that she’d come to me!” Tarou growled angrily. “You know I have a crush on her, and you still go behind my back? Why didn’t you just say no?” Timmy glared at his roommate. “Why do I have to sacrifice my social life to make you happy? That makes zero sense!” Tarou frowned. “It’s not like you were able to hang out with me either!” The Japanese boy had a point. Timmy had been pushing him away with his ACU duties. That retort left Timmy dumbstruck. “Good night. I guess I’ll sleep in the hallway.” Tarou rolled his eyes, grabbing his sheets and pillow.

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.

How it is: Chapter 5

It was almost a nightmare, having to relive this moment on the other side, watching it happen again on national television. “Austin…. you are Warrior Chef! Congratulations! You won the title and the grand prize of $100,000!” Valerie’s heart sank. She was sitting alone, in her room, watching the finale of Warrior Chef. “Not winning the title, and knowing that you were so close, it hurts. I thought that I had it in the bag, but I guess not.” A slightly younger Valerie looked visibly upset as confetti rained down, and everyone in that season went up to congratulate her competitor, a tall young man named Austin. Looking back on her decisions, Valerie felt embarrassed. She knew that pastry was her strength, and in that finale, she wanted to showcase it by preparing four desserts instead of a progressive four course meal. In the first challenge, she won using a mix of sweet and savory, preparing a carrot macaron with goat cheese mousse and sorrel sorbet over dehydrated carrot and oat crumble. But then with her other three courses, she went full-on pastry, and the judges decided that because she refused to follow the challenge rules, she could not win the title. In short, she lost because of a technicality, not because she was actually a weaker cook. Regardless, Valerie felt regret and hindsight settling in.

A buzzing could be heard from her desk as the pastry chef picked up her phone and checked the notifications. “Hey, congratulations on making it to the final two! You did amazing! You were easily the best pastry cook in that competition.” Tarou had sent her a text. “You’re still my favorite pastry chef, even though I don’t like desserts that much.” Timmy messaged her as well. It felt nice to know that they still supported her, even though she lost. One part of her felt relieved, knowing that she can finally talk about this entire experience. But another part of her felt deflated that she lost the way she did. Had she prepared two savory courses and a dessert, she might have actually won. The judges outright said that in their deliberation, that if she decided to do a progressive menu, given the amount of technique and skill she had shown throughout the season and with the pastries she was presenting, she could have easily won the competition hands down. Before watching the finale, Valerie did not know why she lost the title. She did have a gut feeling it was because she chose to go with four desserts, but did not think that it would come back to cost her the title in the way that it did.

At work, Valerie was hoping that her emotions from losing would improve. She still remembered that working here with Namie, she focused on keeping her head down and completing the tasks at hand. It helped her calm down and move past the initial pain of losing. But being the executive pastry chef was just more stress on her. Firstly, it was a Friday, and dinner service was crazy. Secondly, every time she picked up a whisk or a piping bag, she just remembered her experiences in that finale. Preparing mousses, creams, baked components, frozen components, and seeing the judges say that preparing four desserts was her ultimate undoing. Those critiques, it hurt her pride. The last thing she wanted to do right now was prepare desserts, when they costed her the title and $100,000. And on top of that, she felt that losing affected her authority, where she felt like she lacked the confidence and validity to be leading her pastry cooks. Austin is opening his first restaurant with the money he won, while she was working for somebody else. Unfortunately, Valerie’s emotional strain towards making desserts only worsened as the service drew on. “Hey, Val! We just got a petit four sent back. Your macarons were filled with the wrong ganache!” Janice shouted. Oh crap. Her heart just sank. Once again, her desserts were inadequate. They failed her in the finale, and they were failing her here at work. Valerie could just feel her doubts getting louder and louder. And she found herself unable to sound them out. Trying to shake off the doubts, Valerie corrected her macarons and re-sent them out for the guests, much to Janice’s visible frustration.

“Well, that was a crap day.” Valerie sighed to herself as she began the walk back to campus. Normally, she would stick around after service and celebrate with Jacky, Megan, Mako, Joseph, and Janice, but today, she was exhausted and ashamed of her performance. That was nothing that she did that was worth celebrating. The worst thing about this was that she knew that she could do better too. She has had stronger services as an intern than she had today.And in Warrior Chef, she put up dishes that demonstrated her strengths in the savory kitchen. It was not that she was weak with savory, she just wanted to do the dishes that expressed her love and passion for food the best. Having to re-experience losing, it was not fun for her. And there were only a couple of people she felt comfortable talking about this to. “Hey, you made it this far. You have a lot to be proud of.” Austin, the cook who beat her in Warrior Chef, sent that message. Unlike Valerie, when Austin found out he had won, he enrolled in culinary school in the CIA using his winnings, and was already announcing the opening of his first restaurant, which was scheduled for the fall. Winning that title opened a world of possibilities and opportunities for him, just like how it did for Janice all those years ago. And for Valerie, she just felt that much more unaccomplished. Even though it had been an entire year since she competed, compared to Austin, what had she accomplished? Nothing.

A year ago, a slightly younger Valerie, then a senior in high school, walked nervously into the judge’s room, in Tokyo, where the finale was taking place. It felt surreal. Earlier that morning, her, Joey, and Austin were anxiously awaiting the final two challenges. After the first one, Valerie won an advantage of picking her sous-chefs for the final elimination challenge, and Joey was sent home for making a slightly weaker amuse bouche. Even though Valerie got first pick, selecting her close friends Claire and Coco, it was her decisions to stick with pastry that put her in a bad position. There was a part of her doubting that choice to do only dessert, but desserts were how she got on top of challenges, and it was going through the competition and hearing the praise of her pastries that made her realize that she wanted to one day open her own dessert bar.  So in spite of the doubts, she still pushed forward and put up three amazing desserts in just an hour. She was proud of what she was putting out: each dessert looked and tasted impeccable, and showed her true range as a pastry chef. But with each course she saw Austin preparing, there was just a tinge of doubt that she was making a mistake doing only desserts.

It was heartbreaking to hear the judges’ decision. “You did an amazing job. You have a lot to be proud of.” One of the judges in the finale reassured her. “Valerie, you did incredible.” Coco, a small brunette, and Claire, an athletic blonde, hugged her. They were her sous-chefs in that final challenge. “Thank you.” She hugged them back. Even then, she still felt horrible. If she did such a good job, why did she still lose? At that point, she had a gut feeling that her all-dessert menu cost her the challenge, but she did not hear what the judges said. She did not know why her desserts, which she prided herself on, could not trump the menu Austin put up. But then seeing the judges say on national television that regardless of how amazing her desserts were, she could not beat Austin without doing at least two savory courses, it was heartbreaking. She felt idiotic. She basically handed Austin the title by not following the rules of the challenge. She lost on a technicality, and not even one that was out of her own hands. It was her conscious decision to make four desserts. Why did she think it was okay to do that? The answer that Valerie found was not a pretty one. It was her pride. She wanted to stake her ego on that title, and she only has herself to blame for losing a season that she easily had the potential to dominate.

Finally back in her dorm room, Valerie curled up in a ball on her bed and let loose the tears. It was hard to keep them in at that point. She just wanted to get all of her emotions out of the way so that she could move forward with her life. She could not believe she did that. And she knew that everyone would think poorly of her choices too. She would get many people telling her that she was an idiot for trying to bend the rules, and that she was asking to lose that season. Just knowing that the very thing she is paid to do is what cost her the title, it was heartbreaking. It made her feel as if she was less qualified to fill Namie’s shoes as the executive pastry chef because she lost the way that she did. Namie was a Warrior Chef winner, and she was talented enough to move on and start her own business. But what about Valerie? She was stuck with Namie’s old job, and coming in second to yet another winner on the show. She honestly did not expect to take losing this badly. She never really saw herself as a sore loser, but knowing that she lost in a cooking competition when food was all she ever talked about, it was rough. A part of her own identity, she was beginning to question.

cracked heart

Our love did not exist. What we had was an illusion. A lie. We tried to be there for each other. Simply but, we were bad together. We hurt each other. We convinced ourselves that we needed each other. But you deceived me. Behind my bcd, you told others how you rely felt. My confidence, my self-esteem, I sacrificed those to be your friend, your confidant. I gave up my dignity. How foolish I was, to do that for anybody. I refused to think that I was in the wrong. I committed every thought and concern to your safety and happiness. Or so what I incorrectly perceived it to be. But you are not worth my love and trust. SOmeone who treated me like a monster in my moment of vulnerability. Somebody so insensitive, entitled, and immature. You do not deserve my attention. You do not deserve my focus. You are a waste of my time. Please do me a favor, and go away. Treat yourself like how you treated me. Maybe then you will understand how much of a brat and coward you were. Stop trying so hard to be the victim of this situation. You really are a disappointment of a human being. I am embarrassed to think that I let somebody like you hurt me. Somebody with such a cracked heart.