How it is: Chapter 20

“Uh….” The models looked at the awkward sight before them. Valerie stood there, stunned speechless while Justin and Timmy stared at her, terrified. This was not what the couple had in mind. “Well….. I’m going to go now.” Valerie turned around, clearly shaken by her encounter. She took off without looking back to see that Misaki and Tarou were approaching the Muji storefront. Timmy just looked at Justin, expectantly. “Was that your plan? To get me to talk to her?” He glared at him. “No! I wanted you to talk to Tarou!” “Wait, Tarou’s here?!” Timmy looked around and immediately noticed the Japanese boy standing just a couple meters off. Timmy froze in horror. “Okay, well we are blocking the entrance to Muji, so let’s go somewhere else for right now.” Justin ushered the three of them off to a couple of benches a block down from the store. “Here, let’s just sit here and talk it out.” Misaki suggested, looking at the two college freshmen. “I’m not ready.” Timmy frowned, crossing his arms and looking away from Tarou’s direction. The younger model just scoffed in disgust. Was this really the same person he used to look up to as a kid? It was hard to believe that, given how immaturely the Taiwanese boy was acting right now. “Timmy! Stop being a little bitch! Suck it up, and confront the problem like an adult!” Justin growled.

“Oh my fucking god. What the actual fuck?!” Valerie mumbled to herself as she continued storming back to campus. The last thing she wanted to do was see Timmy and his scrawny, cowardly face. To say that he was a disappointment as a human being was an understatement. He failed at taking ownership of anything, he tried to spread rumors, and while they used to be friends, Valerie felt like the Taiwanese boy deserved every ounce of misery he was receiving at this moment. “People like him, they just exist to hold us back.” She assured herself, trying to remove every thought of that pathetic excuse for an adult. Finally arriving at her dorm, Valerie grabbed her knife bag. She was going straight to work. Maybe being on the line was what she needed to brush off her steam. At this very moment, she felt hurt. Somebody she trusted and loved like family completely stabbed her in the back, on top of pushing her to the point of trying to kill herself. She felt hurt, frustrated, angry, there were a long list of adjectives, all negative, that described how her mood was when Timmy became the topic of discussion or interest. “I wonder if they’ll let me practice butchery today. I think I really need to put a cleaver through a pig’s head right now.” She growled to herself, gritting her teeth. At Wish, everyone knew that when Valerie was pissed, they needed to hand her off all of the primal cuts on the butchery station, or else she would not be pleasant to be around during service.

“So what exactly do we say in these kinds of situations?” Tarou looked at Misaki, puzzled. The Japanese boy was blatantly ignoring Timmy and Justin at this point. “How about you talk to Timmy.” The older model stressed the Taiwanese boy’s name as she turned Tarou to face him. The two former friends looked at each other and flinched. And then a few seconds later, Timmy was stifling a chuckle. Soon after, both boys were laughing. Misaki and Justin exchanged looks of confusion before stepping away. It seemed like Tarou and Timmy would be okay on their own for this. “Your face!” Timmy bursted into tears of laughter. “Even after all these years, becoming a model, you still look like the same crybaby Tarou when you’re scared!” “Shut up, dude! You should’ve seen the look on your face! I’ve never seen you look that scared before!” Tarou tried to calm down and take a deep breath, but he could not. This was just too funny for him. “Oh, Tarou, I missed this!” Timmy was beginning to realize just how important the Japanese boy was to him. They had been through so much together, and even after everything that happened to them, this moment just resonated with that fact. No matter how much changed, they could still enjoy a good laugh together.

“Oh geez, Butch Valerie is back!” Mako warned the line cooks. That was the kitchen’s nickname for Valerie when she was angry and needed to blow steam on the butcher station. Nobody felt safe with Valerie holding the cleaver, especially with her proficiency at using it. “Ah, shit. Not today!” Joseph groaned. “Uh, can I take my day off today?” Jacky looked at the sous chef and chef de cuisine. “Hell no.” They both glared at him. “We have to suffer through this together.” “Fucking… piece… of…. SHIT!” The girl swung down the knife through the neck of the duck carcass. Seeing Timmy’s cowardly, scrawny self angered her greatly. She was focusing all of her aggression onto the mountain of ducks that need to be broken down at this moment. “Oh, geez. Butch Valerie?” Janice walked into the kitchen to the loud noise the executive pastry chef was causing with her cleaver. “Yeah.” “Well, that means today will be a fast prep day. She’s going to breeze through the ducks, and move straight into the chickens, pork, lamb, and even after that, she’s still got enough steam in her to bust out all of the pastry prep, so this is a good day.” Janice giggled. Unlike everyone else, the executive chef did not mind Valerie’s bizarre and terrifying attitude because from an owner’s perspective, Butch Valerie was the most productive prep cook in the restaurant industry. So long as she was allowed to use a knife, Valerie would be able to breeze through any and all of the prep in the kitchen in a manner of two hours.

“Yeah, so ACU kicked me off their board.” Timmy explained. Tarou frowned. “Are you okay?” “Yeah. Honestly, I’m sorry about being homophobic. This is all still coming back to me, and I’m just getting used to the fact that you could be into dudes as well. It’s a lot to take in.” The Taiwanese boy apologized. “Something I’m realizing is that coming out is a process for everyone. I’m sorry I did not come out to you earlier, when less was at stake.” Tarou returned the apology. “I do love you, man. You’re family to me.” Timmy hugged his friend. “Thanks, Timmy. You’re my brother. Not older or younger. Just my brother.” The model laughed. “But Valerie, she’s… pretty pissed at you.” “Yeah… I’m feeling a bit scared to confront her. What should I do about that?” Timmy looked at his friend, concerned. “I’ll help you.” Tarou offered. “She might try to kill me, but I’ll help you.” “Oh geez.” Timmy gulped nervously. “Also, can you do something about all of those clubs that are trying to passive aggressively assault me? It’s been making my life a living hell.” Timmy admitted, awkwardly. He did not want this apology to seem like it had an ulterior motive, but all of the people death-glaring him was incredibly uncomfortable. “What do you mean?” “All of the people in basically every club you’re a part of hates me.” Timmy frowned uncomfortable. “Oh… Because of the video.” Tarou grimaced. “Yeah, I’ll just tell my friends that we made up, and that you’re coming to terms with the whole situation at your own pace, and that at the time of the video, you were being recorded at the worst possible time.” “Thanks, bro.” Timmy sighed in relief. Apologizing felt good.

How it is: Chapter 19

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

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

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

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

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

How it is: Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it is: Chapter 16

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

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

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

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

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

How it is: Chapter 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 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.