How it is: Chapter 9

In middle school, Timmy’s feeling for Valerie just continued to grow. Before, it was just because Valerie chose him and Tarou over their female classmates. But even during puberty, Valerie just blossomed. “Ugh, you two are so lucky you don’t have to wear a bra.” She groaned. “These things are like sandbags on my chest.” She was awkwardly referring to her bosoms. Both Tarou and Timmy were at a loss of what to say. Timmy was the youngest of three brothers and Tarou was an only child, so neither of them ever had to hear about bras, breasts, or periods before talking to Valerie. And since Valerie had very few female friends, she would just complain to them about her puberty-related predicaments, much to Tarou’s visible discomfort. Even then, Timmy was still intrigued by her. To him, she was always such an interesting person. At first, it was because she was the only girl who was not his mother who was close to him. But then those feelings, they expanded when he got to know her better. Hearing about her dreams and goals, and seeing the lengths she went to so that she could accomplish them, it was inspirational.

Valerie wanted to be a chef since she was really young. She used to travel with her grandparents throughout California, eating at fine dining restaurants, such as The French Laundry. By the time she turned 16, she was interning throughout her summers at a variety of restaurants. First, it was a local country club in Queens, where they all lived. But then, she started commuting to Manhattan to work for Mario Batali, and spent an entire summer in Chicago with her uncle, working under chef Stephanie Izard. Timmy still remembers that summer. It was before their senior year and Valerie was away the entire time. They would call every week, just to catch up. “So, how’s Chicago?” “It’s really cool! It reminds me of the city in a lot of ways, and I just love it.” She confessed. “I’m surprised by how not-homesick I am. That’s probably the biggest shock.” “Well, that’s great to hear!” Timmy was relieved, knowing that she was happy. “Hopefully, we’ll all be going to college together like we planned.” She laughed at them. “Definitely! Going to NYU with you and Tarou, it’ll be the best four years of my life.” He chuckled in agreement. Spending any time with Valerie was fun. She was a loyal and loving friend, and Timmy greatly appreciated that.

“So, I’m going to be competing on Warrior Chef, but that means that I’m switching to online courses to finish my education.” Valerie was sitting down with Timmy and Tarou. It was their senior year of high school, and she just heard back from the casting crew of the show. “Wait, really?!” They both looked shocked. While Tarou was excited, Timmy felt a little sad. He would not be spending their graduation together with her. But Valerie had already heard back from NYU, and got in with early decision. “I’ll see you guys on the other side of this experience, okay?” She smiled at them. “I can’t wait to hear about it!” Tarou grinned at her. “Unleash hell! Let them see what Stephanie Izard and Mario Batali taught you.” The Japanese boy chuckled. “Good luck, okay?” Timmy beamed at his crush. “Thanks, you two. I’m going to be sad that I won’t be graduating with you guys, but at the same time, this is really exciting and I can’t wait to compete! I want to make a strong impression in this competition from the get-go.” “Knowing what you can do, those other teenagers will not stand a chance. You’re going to be Warrior Chef. I know it.” Timmy assured her.

The concept of Warrior Chef was that high school students with an interest in the culinary field would compete in several challenges to determine a winner. In her season, Valerie was one of 16 high schoolers, and one of eight girls, to be competing. Much to her delight, she was able to start the competition on a strong foot, the entire first round and more importantly, the respect of everyone in that season. Everyone knew that Valerie was the strongest female cook. In the end, she wound up winning a total of eleven challenges. Valerie had the entire summer to work under Janice Arrington and slowly forget about losing the competition. While it was hard then, what helped her get over the pan was not thinking about it. She did not have the entire nation harping her on social media over her decisions at that point. Reliving the rounds going up to the finale, it actually bolstered her confidence. Valerie felt that no matter how she was portrayed in that final challenge, she would have enough fans and support to keep her going. But it was just comments of disappointment and judgement. Everyone thought she was an idiot. Nobody supported her decision to stick to dessert.

The one person Valerie would really want to speak to was Tarou. Since they were young, she always felt like she could relate to him. Then seeing him transform from what he was into an aspiring model, that was when her feelings turned romantic in nature. Tarou came off as confident and capable, but since they grew up together, Tarou was never nervous or afraid of her. He supported her as much as she supported him. Valerie knew that a relationship with Tarou, it would only help both of them grow as individuals and as a couple. But she did not want Timmy to feel uncomfortable, especially when the three of them were friends for such a long time. It was a major factor for why she always refused to confess her feelings to him. That, coupled with her fear of him rejecting her. Especially in the state she was right now, the last thing she needed was for yet another person she admired to tell her that she was not good enough.

Meanwhile, Tarou finally returned to the room from his event. “Hey, can we please talk?” He looked at Timmy, whose eyes were still red from crying earlier. “No. I don’t want to.” “What?” “I’m not ready yet.” He shook his head, before going back to ignoring the taller male. “What the hell do you mean you’re not ready yet?” Timmy did not respond. At this point, he felt like Tarou was being emotionally and verbally abusive to him. The constant yelling and screaming, it was beginning to take a toll on him emotionally. Just looking at Tarou, it made him uncomfortable. “Well, alright then, you fucking baby.” The model was already exhausted, and the last thing he needed right now was for Timmy to, per usual, treat him like shit or an obstacle. He did not need to be this protective of Timmy, and at that point, he decided it was for the best to keep his distance. “Hey, Alex. I just wanted to let you know that even if I do get the event coordinator position for ACU, I have to decline.” Tarou sent that message via Facebook to the president. “Oh, thank you for your honesty.” Alex sent back. The mode knew it was burning a bridge, but he did not care. The last thing he wanted was for Timmy to feel even more suffocated by him. Timmy was an immature brat who needed time to adjust to everything. Tarou was starting to realize just how inexperience the smaller male really was with life compared to him and Valerie. And a lot of that inexperience came from the Japanese boy smothering him with protection.

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Road Movie Chapter 4

I knew I wanted to date Dakota from the first time I had met her. She was so shy and quiet, but there was something about her that made me feel nervous. In life science, all of my friends were jerks and partnered up while I was dozing off. And then, lucky me, I get to be partnered with the prettiest girl in class. “Hi, Dakota, right?” I at her, trying to blanket my excitement with a smile. “Yeah. What’s your name?” She looked down at me as I took my seat next to me. “I’m Phillip. Phillip Hopkins. Nice to meet you! She nodded at me in acknowledgement before going back to looking at the front of the classroom. I never really understood why I was attracted to shy girls. There was something about them being so closed off that I guess I took as a challenge? I wanted to see if I could be that guy who could help them warm up to the world. My parents, they told me it was important to be outgoing, because people who are shy always fall behind. And I would rather not let that happen.

Crap. I looked down. The beaker slipped my hand and landed on the floor in pieces. I thought that being lab partners with Dakota would be easy, but being around her, it made me feel nervous. Being flustered, it sucks. It feels like everything is going in fast motion, like a blur. “Oh god, we’re going to get a zero on this.” Dakota shook her head worriedly. “I’m so sorry.” I looked at her. “We can talk to her about this. She can fail just me.” Dakota frowned at my proposal. I really felt bad. I did not want her to get an F because I was being an idiot. “No, we’re partners, so we both deserve the grade. I’m not going to bail on you just because you’re the one that messed up. If it was the other way around, it would be no different.” She reasoned. The brunette was clearly unhappy, but hearing what she said, I was touched. She stood by me, despite how clumsy I was being. Unfortunately, the rest of our partnership was spent with her getting snappy and passive aggressive at me. I tried to make small talk, but she would just scold me and tell me to focus on the lab. 7th grade ended on a very awkward note for us. I just lost interest in dating her, because she was too high strung. Girls can be weird sometimes.

8th grade. It was not fun for me. Well, it was at first. My friends and I hung out a lot, but then December 12th happened. I was in English and I was asked to come to the Principal’s office. I had no idea why, and I was scared. Was I framed for something? Am I going to be expelled? I have no idea. When I arrived in the dusty office, I got a phone call from my dad on the Principal’s line. “Phillip. Your uncle is going to come pick you up really soon.” “Pick me up? Wait, where’s uncle Rick taking me?” He could hear his dad holding back tears from the other side of the line. “To the hospital. Your mom, she got into a really bad accident.” I could feel my stomach sink. The entire world just went black and white to me. Everything slowed down. “Phillip? Phillip!” The principal shouted.

The car ride to the hospital felt like it took an eternity. I wanted to make sure that my mom was fine. Every red light and stop sign was just prolonging that wait. “What happened?” My voice, I could hear it cracking from not speaking for so long. I looked at Rick, treating his answer. “She was driving to pick you up from school, and the ice on the road, it was too slippery. Her car slid through a rail and into the river.” Rick began, finding it difficult to summarize what had just happened to his sister-in-law. “We don’t know what happened. The driver behind called 911, and they retrieved the car and her body from the DuPage. She’s in the hospital, but that river was freezing cold, and-” I could tell he was on the verge of tears. “Uncle Rick…” I did not know what to say. I was only 13 years old. How was I supposed to know what to do in this situation?

She died before we could even arrive at the hospital. I felt so helpless. We couldn’t do anything to save her. The doctors and my dad refused to let me even see the body. I still remember what my mom told me when I was little. How she hoped for me to grow up to take care of others. To love my own children as much as she could possibly love me. But she’s not here to love me anymore. She was gone. She was in heaven, loving and caring for the angels in the sky. That’s what my dad and uncle Rick assured me. It was hard getting over her death. I went to therapy for a couple months, and tried different hobbies. My dad insisted that I get out of the house more often, just so that I would not be reminded too much of her. And we moved into a smaller apartment, just so that it would not feel so empty. Uncle Rick would visit often.

One of the hobbies, or rather goals, I took upon myself was trying to get as many 5s on AP tests as physically possible. By freshman year, I had already attempted the Physics and Spanish AP tests and got 5s on both. Sophomore year, World History, Chemistry, and Economics. Junior year, Calculus AB, US History, Biology, and Language Composition. And Senior year, Literature, Calc BC, Physics C, and French. I wanted to get as many credits as possible going into college applications, just so that I can work and pay for less when it came to college tuition. I did not want my dad paying my tuition. School became a huge focus for me. Until I met Dakota again in Junior year. I was not expecting to see her, let alone get placed in the same group as her. It was awkward at first.

“Hey, I haven’t seen you since like 7th grade!” I laughed. “Fancy seeing you in Bio AP!” I tried my best to diffuse the awkwardness of the situation. She looked uncomfortable and like she was fighting the urge to roll her eyes at my remark. The first few weeks were bad. She was not happy that we were put in the same group. But I tried my best to contribute. This time was different. I was not flustered or embarrassed being around her. I knew what I needed to do. Back then in middle school, I did not need to try. High school, one bad misstep and I will have to go to community college. I refused to be a statistic. I did not want to be one of those kids from a single-parent home who could not afford to go to a good college. And I think somewhere down the line, Dakota started to recognize and respect that. She knew that I had changed.

The funniest thing was when we started dated. That kiss, I was so relieved that I did not get a concussion from falling over; my backpack broke my fall onto the concrete. I used to have a crush on her back in middle school, and now 7th grade Phillip gets his wish come true. I get to date one of the prettiest and hardest working girls in my school. The first thing I noticed when I got to know Dakota was how ambitious she was. She was taking AP and honors classes consistently, she knew that she wanted to go into marketing right away, and she was kind above all else. Whenever anyone was struggling, she offered to help them. She grew up, just like how I did. She went from being passive aggressive to nurturing and loving. And that’s why I was glad to have somebody like her in my life.

alter ego: dream 34

I’m sure we have all dreamt about having superpowers at one point in our childhood. If not superpowers, then being a superhero in general. Come on, I can’t be the only one, right? I still remember wanting to be like Sheik from The Legend of Zelda, mostly because she was super elegant, androgynous, and sleek. I got into long distance running because her build reminded me of a long distance runner – slender and slim. Granted, I probably should have done acrobatics and gymnastics if I really wanted to pursue that sort of flexibility that Sheik has, but that’s another story. Bottom line is, I wanted to be a ninja/assassin-eqsue superhero when I was a little kid. Ironically, I did NOT watch Naruto, even though you would think that somebody with some interest in that kind of character would be. Nope, never really got into that, unfortunately. But my lack of interest in mainstream ninja-themed anime aside, I always wanted to be superhuman, just because it would be so cool to have those powers or that sense of mystique in having an alter ego.

A lot of the reason why I thought having an alter ego would be cool is that I felt my every day life was just not interesting. At that time, I was like a middle schooler, so I had very little going for me. But imagining if I had another identity, fighting crime, being this stealthy vigilante who would would help others, it sounded so cool to me at the time. Granted, it was also very dangerous, because I would be limited in my equipment and actual capabilities. So naturally, that dream remained a dream and nothing else. I eventually stumbled upon cooking, and in a lot of ways, that became my alter-ego so to speak. On one hand, I would be a hard working student. On another, I would also be a very capable pastry cook. It was really cool to have those two sides to me, but upon enrolling in a hospitality college, those two identities became inseparable; I was a student and known for my knowledge in Food and Beverage. That was both good and bad. I gained recognition and people knew who I was before actually meeting them, but at the same time, I could not pull out my surprise cooking skills as often now, because people would know that I have them. The secret, the thrill of it being my double-life, it was gone.

I guess in a lot of ways, that is why I kept my identity for Featherlight a secret. Having this little secret, it makes me feel like I have an edge to me. Nobody knows that I am this anonymous blogger. They can know me all they want for being a pastry cook, a student, a runner, whatever, but they will almost never know how I am in here, or that the person here writing right now is me. As much as it would simplify the world to have no secrets, for me anyways, I think a couple harmless secrets, like writing an anonymous blog where everything is kept anonymous anyways, is fine. Privacy deserves to exist, for the sake of us not feeling entirely exposed. There is a such extreme as having too much privacy, where you close yourself off to the world. But having too little, you feel vulnerable and scared. I still remember when everyone in my college knew who I was. It was terrifying. I could not introduce myself without somebody knowing who I was already, and it made me paranoid, thinking that they were stalking me on social media. I actually had to delete my social media accounts for like a month because of this incident.

I think we all deserve to have an alter ego in our lives, so long as they are not committing anything illegal here. Having an alter ego means that we can appeal to the thoughts and concepts we normally do not get to explore in our everyday lives. That’s how I was able to learn so much about food at first, because I could escape to the world of cooking and ingredients when I hated dealing with history or science. That’s how I was able to start actively writing in this blog, because I love being able to change gears and do something else, just so that my mind can be challenged in new ways and my perspective and experience can continue to broaden. In a world of my feather-light dreams, we can all pursue and explore anything we want to and not worry about our privacy being violated.

Road Movie: Chapter 2

Dakota was rummaging through some boxes in her closet, and came across an old middle school yearbook. Oh, middle school. She chuckled to herself. She used to attend Jefferson Junior High School. The Patriots were their mascot, something that always confused her, since there was another much more famous team that used the Patriots as their mascot. She used to be so awkward back in middle school. But then again, who was not? It was like a chrysalis phase for everyone, where they look unattractive because of puberty. Back then, Dakota would wear her hair in two large braids, wore braces, and large glasses that covered the upper half of her face. Back then, she did not understand the importance of looking presentable. She just wore whatever she wanted. Back then, she definitely did not think that she was going to wound up dating Phillip. She laughed to herself. Their first encounter was far from the ideal “love at first sight” scenario. But how people can change in the most unexpected way.

“Dakota, you don’t have a partner?” It was 7th grade. Dakota was sitting alone in her life sciences class. “Well, there’s an even number of students, so you should have a partner. Who doesn’t have a partner?” Her teacher shouted into the crowd of middle schoolers. “Uh, I don’t.” A boy with black hair raised his hand. “Oh, there you go.” The teacher ushered the brunette away from her and towards the boy, as if she was a zoo animal being introduced to her new home. “Hi, Dakota, right?” The boy looked at her. “Yeah. What’s your name?” “I’m Phillip. Phillip Hopkins. Nice to meet you!” The two of them were partnered together for labs in this class. Things did not go well initially. Phillip was a very rambunctious 12 year-old, often breaking equipment or spilling chemicals. He was clumsy and unreliable in any aspect other than failing to properly perform their labs. Dakota would have to be the one cleaning up after him. After that first year of being acquainted with Phillip, she wanted to never see or work with him again. He stressed her out a lot with his reckless behavior, and she barely passed life science with a C.

Dakota’s first impression of Phillip was nothing short of a horrible nightmare. She had so little interest in talking to the boy after that class. The brunette laughed to herself as she closed the middle school yearbook and replaced it with the one from her junior year of high school. Opening the book, she found her own photo. The brunette still remembered ninth grade, where she was made fun of in Intro Dance when she came in to practice with her glasses and braids. It was after that first day in “girl world” as they would call it in Mean Girls, that she realized how much she needed to change her image. By the end of freshman year, she ditched the braids, got her braces removed, started wearing her hair just past shoulder length, and got contacts. All of those changes were noticeable in her junior year photo. But Dakota did not mind. Looking not-ugly was always good for her. She was unashamed of it. It was not being narcissistic, but rather honest. No girl wants to look ugly. But 11th year held a very specific memory for her. That was when she realized that people do change and that maturity was not some fictional concept. People can mature over time.

The next time Dakota met Phillip was in Biology AP, their junior year in high school. The two of them both attended Neuqua Valley High School, in Naperville. Shit. She thought to herself, seeing him enter the room. She had been avoiding Phillip until now, mostly because she was traumatized by working with him. And much to her luck, she was stuck in a group with him, yet again. “Hey, I haven’t seen you since like 7th grade!” Phillip laughed. “Fancy seeing you in Bio AP!” Why me? She thought to herself, that first day of class. But that attitude quickly changed. Phillip was incredibly smart, reliable, he matured considerably since 7th grade. Dakota was not quite sure what sparked the change. She then was told it rather blatantlyå on December 12th, when they were studying for finals. “Oh, wait. I have to cut our study session short today. It’s the third anniversary of my mom’s death, and I need to see her grave.” Dakota went silent. “I’m so sorry.” She gave him a hug. “She’s watching over you, and she raised a really amazing son.”

“SATs are the worst!” Dakota threw her study book at a wall. It was the summer and she did not feel like studying for that dreaded four hour test. “Come on, it’s not that bad.” Phillip chuckled. “Shut up, you got a 2200 on your first try!” “See, it’s not that bad.” He insisted. Dakota hated math and for an entire third of the test to be devoted to that very subject was frustrating for her. “You have a calculator, so it should be easy.” He looked like he was trying to hold back laughter. “Says Mr. Took-Every-AP-Test.” She rolled her eyes. The biggest shock to her, working with Phillip in Bio AP in the past year, was that he managed to take every AP test that the school districts had to offer, and had the second highest weighted GPA in their class. She was in disbelief that the same boy who almost set fire to their classroom in the 7th grade could get his act together in just five years.

Their first kiss was a complete accident. Philip was walking Dakota back home from the library, one afternoon while they were studying for the SAT. The gravel on the sidewalk was uneven because it was going under construction. The tip of her foot hitting a concrete tile, Dakota felt herself losing balance, as her arm dragged Phillip down with her. She expected the landing to be hard. But it was soft. And warm. She had landed directly on Phillip, their lips locked. Flustered, she quickly got off of him, and offered to help him back up. “Well, that was weird.” He chuckled, brushing the dust off of his clothes. “Are you hurt?” She looked at him, worried and feeling guilty for pulling him down. “Nah, my backpack broke my fall!” He chuckled. Even though they had kissed, it did not feel awkward. It felt right. Neither of them were put off from doing it, even though it was not intentional on either side. They continued their walk back home, unashamed of what just happened.

The first time the two actually went on a date was a lot of fun. Phillip took Dakota to the Skydeck in Willis Tower first. It was equal parts exciting and terrifying for the brunette to step onto the glass, suspending almost 1,500 feet above the ground. “Come on! Trust me, the view is worth it!” He encouraged, hand outstretched. “Screw it, I’m going on!” Ignoring the voices in her head screaming at her to not be stupid, she climbed onto the glass and joined him. “See, that wasn’t so bad, wasn’t it?” He smiled at her, as she gasped in awe of the view. Seeing the entire city of Chicago unfold before her, it was inspirational. “Thanks for taking me. I had a lot of fun.” The two were walking back to the car, as the brunette planted a kiss on his cheek. “I’m glad I convinced you to just go for it. Life is only worth living when you take chances and risks.” Phillip gave her a hug.

“I got into UChicago!” Dakota beamed proudly. “How about you, Philly cheesesteak?” She looked to Phillip. It was their senior year, second semester. College acceptances were rolling out, and everyone was finding out where they were going. Nervously, Phillip clicked on the email. There was a pause and silence as the raven haired boy scanned through the contents of the message. “Ducky, I got in too!” He grinned back at her. The two had just started their relationship, and upon hearing that they were going to the same college, it was wonderful news for the young couple. They can continue dating without having to worry about dealing with long distance. They can go into graduation not feeling sad that their time together would be limited. The two kissed excitedly, as they readied themselves for the next chapter of their lives.

College was fun, but for Phillip, short-lived. He had so many AP credits that he was able to complete the pre-med and biomedical engineering programs in two and a half years. He took the MCATs, applied for medical schools in what would have been the spring semester of his junior year, and was quickly accepted into Northwestern University at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Dakota finished her four years in the University of Illinois, Chicago, with a BS in Marketing and two minors in Computational Neuroscience and Visual Arts. The two of them were still dating through the entire period. There were occasional fights, with Philip getting stressed about medical school applications, and then again with Dakota and job applications, but the two managed to stay together and be strong as a couple. They lived their lives, knowing that if it was either of their problems, it became both of their concerns.