Regulus: Afterword

Regulus was a short story series that I wrote mostly because I was facing a very strained moment in my personal life with my family. A lot of the concept and aesthetic I was going for was actually inspired by the indie horror game, “Dreaming Mary”.

When it came to the main concept of the story, I knew that I wanted it to take place in a secluded, Switzerland-inspired land, so that’s where I drew a lot of the influences for the landscape and setting. For the characters, I had already decided that the main character was going to be a young man who lived a sheltered life and did not know the difference between love and abuse. For the men in the family, I wanted there to be a theme of strong, lion-inspired names, hence why I opted for Leon for the father and Lionel for our main character. For the girls in the family, I went with Abertha for the mother, mostly because Abertha means to sacrifice in Welsh, and Lacey, which generally holds the meaning of being powerful, intelligent, and wonderful, which the sister who bears that name in the story is depicted as.

Lionel was going to be on a small adventure throughout the large property he lived on, trying to uncover these clues that Lacey so thoughtfully scattered throughout the mansion. That much, I knew was going to be the driving force of the story, was to find out what happened to her. I meant originally for the story to have a much more open ending, with there being no direct implications on whether or not Lacey lives or not, but I wound up writing in the mentioning that she survives, just to give the ending a less morbid note, and to leave the potential for a continuation (granted, I’m probably not going to write one, because I’m happy ending the story where it is right now).

Anywhoo, I hope you enjoyed reading Regulus, because it was a fun story to write and it was a radical departure from some of the much longer stories that I have been writing. Thank you for reading it and I hope you look forward to more stories in the near future!


How it is: Chapter 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it is: Chapter 23

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

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

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

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

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

How it is: Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

How it is: Chapter 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 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 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it is: Chapter 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.

Warrior Chef 1: Preliminary Round 1

Preliminary 1

Cory Giardino: Small Italian-American brunette, living in San Diego, California. Loves to cook Italian food, but is open to using Mexican flavors, something else he’s been raised on. Wants to win the title so that he can gain more opportunities in the industry.
Karen Laverre: Small half French, half German girl from Salt Lake City, Utah. Loves to cook Italian and Asian food, fusing influences from all over the world. Is currently attending culinary school. Wants to open a line of bakeries and restaurants.

Jackson Perez: Tall blonde with brown eyes. Was a tennis player before he learned how to cook from his grandma. Cooks French-American cuisine. Wants to open a restaurant named after his grandma, Rachel.

Vanilla Cuylenberg: Slim girl with orange-auburn pigtails, born in Perth, West Australia, living in Florida. Originally a beauty guru, she learned how to cook from her chef friends. She loves all things fresh produce and and desserts and wants to open a bakery.

Duncan Fosters: Raven haired boy, originally from Toronto, Canada, but currently lives in Dallas, Texas. Loves to hunt for his own meats, and is skilled at cooking game meats and barbecue. Wants to open his own steakhouse, where all the meat is hunted daily.
Silvia-Olympia Judd: Tall girl with long silver hair with purple streaks from Portland, Oregon. Originally an aspiring artist, but found a love for food styling after she was introduced to fine-dining. Wants to open a culinary gallery.

Vanilla: @Haha! @I’m so happy and excited to be cooking in this competition! @I can’t wait to showcase my skills in the kitchen! @Being a former beauty guru, most people think I’m just a pretty face, caked in make-up. @But I’m so much more than that!

Duncan: @I walk into the kitchen, and we’ve got a really interesting bunch of people here. @Vanilla’s this ditzy Australian valley girl, Silvia looks like the quiet, artsy type, Jackson looks like the athlete in the bunch, and then we’ve got Karen and Cory, who both just look like little kids to me.

Carrie: Welcome to Warrior Chef, everybody!

Karen: @I’m the youngest here, being 13 years old. @I’ve got a lot to prove to everyone here, because they’re not going to take me seriously, being only a freshman.

Olympia: @I’m happy to be in the competition, and I’m ready to show off my artistry. @None of my plates will be ugly. @I’m going to clean out the competition.

Carrie: So for tonight’s challenge, it’s simple. Prepare your signature dish. The dish with the highest score wins immunity for that cook in the first round of the main competition. However, the person who makes the lowest scoring dish will be going home at the end of this round.

Cory: @I’m determined to make a good impression tonight, because I don’t want to go home first. @Hopefully, my signature dish will blow the judges away.

Jackson: @I’m confident in my dish tonight. @I’m not going to be the first person going home. @Bring it.

Carrie: You have an hour on the clock, your time starts now!

Cory: @I love cooking Latin food, because I’m from San Diego! @I’m going to use tomatoes in my dish tonight, because it’s a mixture of my Italian roots and my exposure to chilies and spices. @I’m making tomato crudo with tuna ceviche and homemade tortillas. @For my tortillas tonight, I’m preparing them using lard, water, and corn flour. @Hopefully, it comes together beautifully.

Karen: @I want to do something that shows my interest in Asian flavors, but I also want to showcase French and German upbringing that I hold so close to my heart. @I’m preparing a ginger dusted rock cod with confit morel mushrooms, spaetzle, and a lime-pepper butter sauce. @I’m using the rock cod because it’s got a delicate flavor, but a firm flesh, and that’ll pair beautifully with the butter sauce and tender morels.

Jackson: @I love cooking French food, because that’s what my grandma taught me. @I’m preparing grilled lamb lollipops with potato gratin and red wine jus. @I basically need to get the lamb and potatoes into the oven, and then get the jus going too. @It’s a lot of prep in the beginning, but after that, it’s easy sailing. @I’m thinking about how else I can jazz up the dish, but I think this is a passable dish.

Vanilla: @I’m so excited to be cooking, haha! @I learned how to cook and bake under a lot of celebrity chefs in Australia, so I want to prove that this girl from the WA can kick some butt. @I’m making apple-calvados sorbet with brown butter cake, fennel crumble, and salted caramel tuiles. @The biggest competitor, in my eyes, would have to be Jackson. @He looks really confident and he’s butchering that lamb really well.

Duncan: @I’m confident tonight that I can pull off a delicious dish. @I’m using venison, because that’s something I cook a lot of. @The best thing to pair with venison, in my eyes, is cauliflower. @I’m making a cauliflower puree and I’m grilling cauliflower, making a vinaigrette with the cauliflower leaves, and then roasting mushrooms and adding those in there. @This should be an exciting challenge. @Let’s do this.

Olympia: @I grab the lobster because it’s gorgeous and I know how to use it well. @I’m making poached lobster with kiwi-dragon fruit salad and lime butter sauce. @I see that Karen is making a lime butter sauce as well, but I know I can make mine a lot better than she makes hers. @I’m not afraid of the competition. @I’m the oldest person here, and my ability to make beautiful dishes will be my edge. @Nobody else can make dishes as gorgeous and aesthetically pleasing as mine.

Cory: @Shoot. @I try pressing my tortillas, and they crumble apart. @I see that I have only 10 minutes left. @I keep trying it, and I’m wasting time. @Eventually, I just decide to grab the premade tortillas. @I have no other option at this point. @The damn corn flour decided not to work at me tonight, and it’s a shame.

Karen: @Cory’s struggling with the tortillas, and I really feel bad for him. @I can’t really imagine him getting high scores or even decent scores with a raw dish and premade product. @I taste my spaetzle, and it’s tender and al dente, and I know that this is going to be good. @Olympia is also doing a butter sauce with lime in it, so I’m nervous that we’ll be judged head to head. @I just need to make sure mine tastes better. @I taste it, and it’s really fatty. @I add some pomelo juice in there, just to get the acidity levels up.

Jackson: @The lamb rack, I get it out of the oven, and slice into it. @It’s perfect medium rare. @The gratin, I push a fork into it, and it’s soft. @Perfect. @I taste my sauce, and it’s delicious. @I mount some butter in there, and I know that the texture is going to be where I want it to be. @Looking around the kitchen, I see some interesting things happening in Duncan and Karen’s stations.

Duncan: @I get the rack out of the oven, and I slice into it. @It’s medium. Sh*t! @I overcooked it. @There’s no salvaging this. @I taste my puree, and it’s good. @The salad, I taste the bits together, and it’s good as well. @I know my other components will be good, so maybe I’ll get another chance to prove myself.

Olympia: @Duncan overcooked his venison, and I’m just thinking he’s screwed. @I check the lobster, and it’s cooked through. @The salad looks gorgeous, with the colors of the green kiwi and the white dragon fruit. @I’m going to serve the entire dish in the dragon fruit shell, because I want that theatre to be there. @It’s going to be gorgeous.

Carrie: Time’s up!

Duncan: @I’m feeling decent about my dish. @The imperfect venison is going to cost me, but the rest of the dish is spot-on.

Cory: @Not getting the homemade tortillas plated, it sucks so much. @I could have made a perfect dish, and this just ruined it.

Carrie: Your judges are:
Aster Walker – renowned food critic in Los Angeles

Kierra Johnston – renowned food critic in Chicago/the Great Lakes area

Guy Flannigan – famous food television personality

Lotte Amazo – award-winning cookbook author from the UK

Frank Torres – award-winning pastry chef from New York

Chloe Lula – renowned vegan/vegetarian cooking expert

Carrie: So let’s start with the signature dish by Cory!

Cory – tomato crudo with ceviche and homemade tortillas

Kierra: The crudo and ceviche were both delicious. But the tortillas, they taste frozen and premade. He definitely didn’t make his own tortillas.

Lotte: I would want to give him a decent score for the crudo and ceviche, but what real technique has he shown? Two raw components and something out of a packet.

Frank: I have to agree. Had he made the tortillas like he promised, this dish would have been stellar. It’s a real shame.

Carrie: Next is Karen’s dish!

Karen – ginger dusted rock cod, confit morels, spaetzle, citrus-pepper butter sauce

Guy: The cod was cooked impeccably. The confit morels, it had a beautiful, crunchy exterior and a nice, silky interior. The sauce, it was a nice, acidic punch.

Aster: She made spaetzle, confit mushrooms, and prepared a butter sauce on top of cooking cod perfectly. If I had to criticize, the dish was on the fatty side.

Chloe: The ginger added a nice heat, and I enjoyed the flavors in her dish. My cod was cooked perfectly as well, and I’m impressed by that. I just wanted more of that sauce.

Carrie: Next up is Jackson’s signature dish!

Jackson – grilled lamb chops, potato gratin, red wine jus

Lotte: The lamb chops were beautifully cooked. The gratin was nice as well. The red wine jus, nice flavors in there. It was a solid dish.

Guy: For me, the thing I’m faulting is the concept. He basically chucks two components in the oven and reduces one over the stove. What else was he doing with his time?

Frank: Regardless of how he managed his time, the dish I received was delicious and I really enjoyed the flavors of it.

Carrie: And now we’ve got Vanilla’s dessert.

Vanilla – apple-calvados sorbet, brown butter cake, fennel crumble, salted caramel tuile

Frank: Wow. This was probably one of the prettiest desserts I’ve seen. I’m tired of eating cakes, but her cake, it’s moist, fluffy, and the brown butter really does come through. The salted caramel tuile, with that fresh sorbet, and the crumble, it was delicious.

Kierra: We’re hitting really close to perfection with this dessert. My cake was on the drier side, but the rest of the components were beautiful. The crumble, in particular, I could eat that by the fistful. It was spectacular.

Aster: The fennel crumble was the standout for me. My cake was moist, and I really enjoyed the presentation, being very whimsical and almost magical, with the caramel tuiles dancing off the quenelle of sorbet and the soil-like crumble. It was a gorgeous dessert and that’s what I loved about it.

Carrie: Next up is Duncan’s dish.

Duncan – venison loin, cauliflower puree, grilled cauliflower-mushroom salad

Chloe: My biggest complaint would be the venison loin. It’s overcooked. But the seasoning on the meat was beautiful. The cauliflower puree was silky and smooth.

Frank: The mushroom salad was probably one of the most complex components I’ve had so far. The earthiness of the mushrooms and the vibrant cauliflower flavor was nice.

Lotte: The venison loin just needed to be cooked less, and this would have been the standout dish tonight. It’s a hard protein to cook, so it’s just a shame he succumbed to it.

Carrie: And finally, Olympia’s dish!

Olympia – poached lobster, kiwi-dragon fruit salad, lime butter sauce

Aster: The lobster was cooked beautifully. The presentation, it was very provocative. The lime butter sauce was delicious as well. But the kiwi salad, it just got lost.

Kierra: I thought it was bizarre to plate the entire dish in the dragon fruit shell. But that being said, the lobster was cooked nicely. And I liked the lime butter sauce a lot.

Guy: It was two highs and two lows. The highs were obviously the lobster and the sauce. The salad, just why did she plate that directly in the sauce? It was lost in the butter flavor. And the choice to plate it all in the shell, it just pooled and got soggy.

Carrie: So can we finish scoring everyone’s dishes?

Chloe: Yeah, absolutely.

In walks the cooks.

Carrie: So only five of you will be continuing to the next stage of the competition. Let’s start with Karen’s score.

Aster: Karen, the cod was cooked beautifully. 9 stars.

Kierra: I wanted a little more acidity, but the rest was nice. 9 stars.

Guy: I gave you… 9 stars.

Lotte: I was really impressed. 9 stars.

Frank: You put up a strong dish overall. 9 stars.

Chloe: Just one tablespoon of sauce would have made it perfect. 9 stars.

Karen – 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 = 54/60 stars

Karen: Wow! @I got a pretty solid score from the judges tonight. @I hope nobody can beat that score. @Immunity is really important.

Carrie: Next is Cory’s score!

Aster: The ceviche and crudo were good. But there wasn’t a lot of technique. 6 stars.

Kierra: The lack of a homemade tortilla made the difference. 6 stars.

Guy: I’m not going to be as forgiving. 5 stars.

Lotte: 5 stars for a half-completed dish.

Frank: I’m giving you… 5 stars.

Chloe: 6 stars.

Cory – 6 + 6 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 6 = 33/60 stars

Cory: @Oh shit @That’s 21 stars between me and Karen. @I’m going home tonight.

Carrie: Now we’ve got Jackson’s score!

Aster: It was a delicious dish. 9 stars.

Kierra: 9 stars.

Guy: I just felt like you could’ve pushed yourself more. 8 stars.

Lotte: 9 stars.

Frank: It was a nice-tasting dish. 9 stars.

Chloe: I wanted more technique, but your dish had good flavors. 9 stars.

Jackson – 9 + 9 + 8 + 9 + 9 + 9 = 53/60 stars

Jackson: @Damn. @I got beat by just one star. @I thought I did enough.

Carrie: And next up is Vanilla’s score!

Aster: It was a beautiful dish. 10 stars.

Kierra: My cake was dry, but I loved the rest of it. 8 stars.

Guy: 10 stars for a gorgeous dessert.

Lotte: 10 stars. That was easily the best dish tonight.

Frank: 10 stars.

Chloe: I gave your dish… a perfect 10 stars.

Vanilla – 10 + 8 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 = 58/60 stars

Vanilla: Wow! @I got a 58?! @It was so close to being a perfect score! @I really wished that I could have beaten the pre-existing record of 59, but this is pretty awesome.

Karen: @I wanted immunity, but at least I’m safe for this round.

Carrie: Now we’ve got Duncan’s score!

Aster: Venison was… overcooked. But the rest was delicious. 8 stars.

Kierra: 8 stars for a decent dish.

Guy: I think your dish showed a lot of promise. My venison was medium well. 7 stars.

Lotte: 8 stars.

Frank: I wanted to give you more, but the venison was dry. 8 stars.

Chloe: 8 stars.

Duncan – 8 + 8 + 7 + 8 + 8 + 8 = 47/60 stars

Duncan: @I mean, it’s more than 33, but if I got less than 33, I would probably quit the competition and go back home.

Carrie: Cory, you are still in last place. Olympia, you need at least 34 stars to stay in the competition, and 59 stars to beat Vanilla for first place. Judges?

Aster: The dish just had a weird composition to it. 6 stars.

Kierra: I liked your lobster and the sauce. But the rest wasn’t good. 6 stars.

Guy: I could appreciate the creativity, but it needed balance. 6 stars.

Lotte: I thought the presentation was unique and it expressed your personality. 7 stars.

Frank: 6 stars.

Carrie: Olympia, that currently gives you 31 stars. To beat Cory and remain in the competition, you need at least 3 more stars from Chloe. In the case of a tie, it will be put to a vote.

Olympia: @I only need 3 more stars. @The judges so far might not have loved the dish, but they still gave me between 6-7 stars. @I doubt Chloe is going to give me anything less than that range.

Cory: @I’m freaking out right now, because I know that I’m a goner tonight. @Damn those tortillas.

Chloe: It didn’t wow me, but it had memorable components. 6 stars.

Olympia: 6 + 6 + 6 + 7 + 6 + 6 = 37/60 stars

Carrie: So let’s look at the leaderboard!

Vanilla – 58

Karen – 54

Jackson – 53

Duncan – 47

Olympia – 37

Cory – 33

Carrie: Vanilla, you retained first place, and you’ll receive immunity! Congratulations!

Vanilla: Haha! @I’m so happy right now! @I just won immunity! @I can’t go home in the first round of the main competition, and that’s a huge relief.

Carrie: Cory, unfortunately, you’ll be going home tonight. Please return to the kitchen and leave.

Cory: Thank you for this opportunity, and judges, I’m sorry about the tortillas. If I ever get a chance to cook again, I’ll be sure not to let that happen. @Leaving so early sucks! @I wanted to prove that even though I’m 14, I can cook really delicious food. @It’s pretty embarrassing, and I just know I could have done better.

Karen: @Seeing Cory go home, it does suck a lot. @I wanted him to stay, and help me represent the freshmen. @Oh well, I just have to do my best on my own.

How it is: Chapter 2

“Where are we with the beignets?” A dark skinned young woman, sporting a blue-denim apron looked over towards the pastry section of her kitchen. “Chef, they’re on their way.” A slim Asian girl with pale skin and long dark hair, tied in a ponytail replied. The girl was Valerie Ang, a freshman in NYU studying hospitality and the executive pastry chef of the restaurant. At this moment, she was dusting some freshly prepared doughnuts with a black sesame infused sugar, and gently placing them in a bowl with a miso infused butterscotch and deep fried red beans. “Here, chef.” She walked down, past the mob of line cooks, and handed her three bowls of the beignets at once. “Thank you! Service please!” The chef called as servers took the bowls off of the smooth metal pass. Valerie worked under celebrity chef, Janice Arrington, at her restaurant, Wish. The concept of Wish takes from Janice’s African American as well as Korean heritages: the restaurant was wildly successful, earning a Michelin star within it’s second year of opening. Therefore, the pressure was on Valerie, as well as her pastry cooks, to deliver desserts that met the standard every single time. “Four panna cottas all day!” Janice read aloud. “Got it, chef! Daphne, can you grab those for me?” She looked over at one of her pastry cooks. “Four, chef? Understood!” The pastry cook ducked through the crowd of moving line cooks, and went into the walk-in refrigerator, where Valerie was storing these desserts on a speed rack. Placing them on a small sheet tray, Daphne made her way back to the pastry station, and handed them off to Valerie, who began garnishing them with freshly sliced mangos, compressed mandarin peel, some Thai basil blossoms, and finally, a rocher of honey-almond milk sorbet. “Behind, behind!” Valerie shouted, making her way back to the pass. “Alright, four panna cottas, chef.” She presented them to Janice, who nodded approvingly. “Good job! Keep it up!”

“Hey, Val! The finale is on tomorrow, right?” Dinner service was finally over, and Valerie was sitting with Janice, as well as some of her co-workers, Megan, one of the pastry cooks, Jacky, a line cook, Mako, the dinner service sous-chef, and Joseph, Janice’s chef de cuisine. In this group, Valerie was still the youngest person, having been recently promoted to executive pastry chef when the previous one, Namie, had left to open her own bakery. The finale Jacky was referring to was the finale of Warrior Chef, a televised cooking competition that Janice and Namie had both previously won, and Valerie had recently competed in, during her senior year of high school. While the episodes were being broadcasted now, Valerie herself already knew the outcome of the competition, but had to keep it a secret. As of the most recent broadcast, Valerie was competing with another two contestants for the title of Warrior Chef, and the grand prize of $100,000. “Hey, if you win, don’t you quit on me now.” Janice laughed, referring to her previous pastry chef. Despite being her boss, Janice was only 25 years old, so not that much older than the 18 year-old Valerie. “Well, that’s hypocritical! Didn’t you win when you competed?” Mako frowned at the executive chef. “Yeah, and you managed to open up Wish in a year after you won the title.” Joseph also pointed out. “Opening a restaurant at the age of 19 was stressful as hell.” Janice frowned at her staff. “And you wound up being one of the youngest chefs to ever earn a Michelin star at the age of 22.” Megan pointed out. More accurately, Janice tied with the record holder, Aiden Byrne, who had earned his first star at the same age. Needless to say, Janice was an incredibly ambitious and talented young woman, and Valerie greatly looked up to her for that.

Walking out of the restaurant and back to campus, Valerie sighed to herself. She was currently a hospitality student at NYU, focusing on the culinary arts. She always knew that she wanted to be a chef. There was something about crafting food, specifically pastry and baking, as an artistic form of expression that greatly satisfied her. Even though she was working for Janice at the moment, Valerie was no stranger to the kitchen. She had previously interned for Stephanie Izard at her restaurant, The Girl and the Goat in Chicago, as well as Mario Batali in his restaurants, ESCA and Del Posto in New York, during high school. The idea of doing sports or being a cheerleader or partying sounded idiotic to her. She would rather not waste her time doing that. It was being that focused on her career that helped her land a pastry cook, now chef position, and also get her into the finale of Warrior Chef. Looking back on her experience in the competition, she wondered how the friends she made on the show were doing. Esme, Austin, and Joey lived nearby, but her closest friends were Claire and Coco, both of whom lived in the West Coast. A quick look on social media showed that Austin was in the process of opening his first restaurant. Joey moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. Esme, she was at France, working part-time under a 2-star Michelin chef while also doing a career in fashion. They were all off doing interesting things.

“I’m back.” Valerie stretched in relief. Luckily for her, she got a room to herself for her freshman year. Her room was tiny, as expected of a single room, but she did not mind that. It was not like she had a lot of friends over or anything. Her only real friends were her co-workers, as well as Timmy and Tarou. Nobody else really mattered to her at this point. Oh, Tarou. She felt herself blush even thinking about him. He was always so sweet and sensitive when he was that chubby little cherub. Then he slimmed down, and grew taller, and finally ditched the glasses and braces, basically, a complete overhaul on his appearance. He stayed the same on the inside for the most part, but he basically became Valerie’s dream man. He gained a lot more confidence and ambition, because a lot less sensitive, but still remained sweet, kind, and caring. Seeing him accomplish so much in just his first semester of college, it made her want to push herself that much more, which was how she got promoted to executive pastry chef in less than a year of working at Wish. She cringed to herself, remembering how she had to cook a dish inspired by love on the competition, and how it almost sent her home. She did not want to confess that she liked Tarou on national television, but she did attempt a Japanese dish of miso cod, despite having no experience with Japanese food, as a small nod to that. Luckily, she was able to cover up her story, saying that the shape of the cod, she was trying to make it resemble a heart, so nobody really questioned her reasoning beyond that.

“Hey, Val, do you need any help?” It was senior year of high school, right before Valerie had to leave for Warrior Chef. She was with Timmy and Tarou, cooking together. “What did you want to eat, Tarou?” “Hmm… I would love to cook miso cod, but that’s expensive and takes a lot of time to prepare. So how about croquettes?” “Croquettes sound good. Are you okay with those, Timmy?” She looked at him. “Yeah. Sounds good.” He quietly nodded in agreement. “Alright, so croquettes it is!” She smiled at them, grabbing potatoes, eggs, and panko bread crumbs. Ever since elementary school, Timmy and Tarou were the only two people she would ever talk to. The other girls thought she was weird for not being interested in anything other than cooking or baking, but Timmy and Tarou did not care. In Timmy’s case, very little would ever affect or bother him. In Tarou’s case, he enjoyed having a friend who could feed him, and Valerie enjoyed cooking for people. Either way, it worked out for Valerie, because she was a relatively shy and withdrawn person who loved to cook. It was not until competing on Warrior Chef that she started to make friends other than those two. She started to realize that even though cooking was her predominant interest, Valerie enjoyed a good laugh, she loved making others happy, and by continually working in the culinary industry, she was able to do that.

Being on the competition did open a lot of doors for her, but at the same time, she could not go one step in the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism without somebody quoting her or referencing the fact that she was a finalist. It got annoying quickly, because Valerie was not used to people applauding or praising her on a daily basis, nor did she like that. She wanted to earn compliments within the moment, not on things that she had done in the past. It made no sense. It was like being congratulated on completing middle school when she was in college. Holding onto past achievements like that was just counterproductive to growing up. Regardless, it was hard to ignore how others thought of her. In this industry, your reputation and how others perceive you was everything. And knowing how the finale played out from her perspective, Valerie was slightly nervous. She knew that she did something extremely controversial in that final challenge, and she did not know how others would react to it. She felt squeamish and uneasy, because her gut was telling her that she was an idiot for doing what she did, and to brace herself for months of ridicule and mockery.

“This is going to be a safe place for you to practice your skills. We know that you are skilled, based on your resume, but I want to see what you can do.” A beautiful young woman, Namie Bethany-Amai, then the executive pastry chef at Wish, was training Valerie. She had just been hired at Wish, and it was just weeks after she finished her experience in Warrior Chef. “Thank you, chef. I will try my best.” She nodded, excited. This sort of kitchen, she was in her element. She knew how to work on the line, and she just wanted to throw herself back into work. Even though she knew what happened in the competition, she was not going to let it affect her current state of mind. Nobody knew the results of the competition except for a select few, including her. “That’s the spirit. So for your first task, let’s get 500 eggs separated, and then we want to also make some macarons for the petit fours, so you’ll be using most of the egg whites for that. I’ll check up on your progress from time to time, and if you manage to finish that, then I’ll move you onto the next task.” She smiled, walking off to give Megan and Daphne further instruction.  Being able to work under two previous winners was incredible, but just doing this work on its own, it helped her get her mind back to reality. This is what it meant to be in the industry. You had to work long hours, doing a variety of taxing tasks, but the end result is seeing the customer excited and happy when you are crafting somebody’s vision. For her, even though she wanted to one day be her own boss, Valerie did not mind being a line level employee, therefore an extension of Namie. While she was Namie’s cook, she was able to learn as much as she possibly could from her. Valerie saw this as an opportunity to keep moving forward.

How it is: Chapter 1

“Hey.” A small Taiwanese boy with short black hair and a square shaped jaw stepped back into his grimy, dimly-lit dorm room. Laying on the occupied bed was his roommate and childhood friend, Tarou. Tarou was a tall, decently build Japanese boy with clean features, round brown eyes, and dark hair that was often swept to the side. Many people could already guess that he was a model from one look. “Hi, Timmy.” He yawned, before going back to looking at his laptop. Timmy had just finished another week of his freshman year in college. Being a computer engineering major, he was always bombarded with homework and assignments. Coding, programming, algorithms, it was all just one big mess of numbers that he had to sort out. But that was what he enjoyed about it. Being able to create something digitally, organizing and structuring text into actual visuals, it was a lot of fun for him. And then there was Tarou, who was a drama student, and a part-time model. Tarou was always busy doing performances, ranging from singing to performing, and in his free time, the Japanese boy was at an agency downtown, the New York branch of Logan Photography, doing shoots in the trendiest outfits. The two lived together in this crammed NYU dorm room, and they were both constantly stressed out with different things. “Hey, so I’m going to be out studying with the guys tonight.” Timmy started. He had another assignment, which meant another all-nighter with his computer friends Jeff and Nate. “That’s fine. I’ll be hanging out with my fan club.” Tarou joked, referring to a trio of girls who would follow him around the moment he set foot in public. He actually would never approach any of those three harpies willingly. “You really should just settle for one of them, or be honest with them. Leading all three of them on like that, it’s not right.” Timmy frowned. “Eh, like I care or have time to sit down and talk to them about feelings.” Tarou shrugged. He was too immersed in watching a music video on Youtube that featured him as the male lead.

“Honestly, how do you do it? Your roommate sounds crazy.” A tall but lanky male, Jeff, looked at Timmy. The two were sitting with their friend, a tall but muscular youth, Nate, doing their computer science homework in the library. “I just don’t get it. How can anyone put up with somebody who’s basically a sociopath?” Nate frowned in agreement. “Sociopath is a harsh way of putting it.” Timmy shrugged. He was referring to how Tarou would lead on several girls, causing him to have quite the following amongst female students in the greater New York area. “He just doesn’t know how to handle so many girls liking him at once. Plus, when we were kids, he wasn’t terribly attractive, so he’s just not used to be seen that way.” Timmy explained, realizing his own bad habit of omitting certain information. “Wait, Tarou used to be ugly?!” Jeff and Nate looked at each other in disbelief. “Yeah! Haven’t I ever told you that before?” Timmy fished out his phone and started flipping through his photos. “Oh wait, here we go.” He stopped at a picture from middle school of a noticeably younger Timmy standing with a stout, overweight boy with an acne-riddled face and large glasses that obscured the upper half of his head. “THAT’S HIM?!” Both of them yelled, completely shocked. “What the hell happened to him? Did he get hit by a truck and then use plastic surgery to rebuild his entire body?” Nate pondered. “No, that’s obviously not Tarou, right?” Jeff theorized. “Nope, that’s him. This was back in 8th grade, when he was still a fat blob.” Timmy answered.

“Hey, Timmy!” A chubby 12 year-old boy ran up to him. They were both in middle school, specifically the black top, walking towards their next classroom. “Tarou! Calm down! You’re already out of breath!” Timmy was right. The Japanese boy was panting and sweating profusely as he finally caught up to his friend in the hallways. “Wait, why are you waiting? Keep moving! We’re going to be late for English!” Tarou huffed. “Alright, alright.” The two started to walk. “But what did you want to talk about?” Timmy eyed his sweaty friend. “I just wanted to say hi!” Tarou laughed, wiping off his forehead. “Hey, you two!” The boys noticed a slim Singaporean girl, Valerie. “Tarou and Timmy, T and T, you two are dynamite!” She laughed. “What the heck, Valerie?” Tarou rolled his eyes, unamused. “Actually, though.” Timmy laughed, appreciating the pun; Tarou would be the more serious of the two, while Timmy was much more easygoing, something that stands true even to this day. “And that was my attempt at being funny.” She shrugged before joining them in their walk to English class. It was funny to think about how they were friends from then even to now, at NYU. Timmy fondly chuckled at that memory. Even though living with Tarou now, it was stressful to him, he still knew that his friend meant well. He just did not understand why Tarou felt the need to hover over him all the time.  It made him feel like he was trapped and cornered. He had no freedom in his own home that was supposed to be their room together.

“Ugh, I just don’t want to do anything right now.” Tarou groaned to himself. He had the entire dorm room to himself while Timmy was off studying. Normally, Tarou would be swamped, being a secretary for student government in the Tisch School of Arts, the treasurer for the Japanese Business Association, and the vice president of the NYU Modeling Club, while modeling part time, all while being a second semester freshman in college. Looking back at his own journey getting to this point, he chuckled to himself. When he was younger, Tarou had little to no confidence: he was overweight, unattractive, and a lot of people ignored him because of that. Timmy was one of the few people who was there for him, since they were in kindergarten. Even during cross country and track, Timmy was the one who helped him through practice. If it was not for Timmy, he knew that he would still be that same overweight loser. He owed Timmy for his confidence. The two of them, in Tarou’s eyes, were inseparable for this reason. Whenever he was nervous, had to vent, had a problem, he would go to Timmy. But then when puberty hit, and Tarou wound up being the taller, better-looking, and outgoing of the two, things started getting weird. Everyone assumed that Tarou would be the older brother-figure to Timmy, and it got to the point where Tarou himself started to see that as well.

“Aw, is he your little brother?” A small Korean girl, Enya, smiled at the two. It was back in their first day of college. “Wait, little? I’m the older one! And we’re friends! We’re not related! We’re not even the same ethnicity!” Timmy frowned, half amused and half offended. “He’s Japanese, and I’m Taiwanese-Chinese!” He pointed out. “Oh. Well, you definitely look really mature and reliable.” Enya winked at Tarou, who was slightly confounded at her remark. It was really rare for anybody their age back in high school to say that to him, granted, everyone from high school had always known the two of them, and their general dynamic. Everyone knew that Tarou was this chubby little kid. Here in NYU, nobody knew that. “Trust me, a straight guy like you in the Tisch School of the Performing Arts, you’ll be really popular.” She giggled, running off. And everyone following Enya continued to assume that Tarou was this suave older brother to the smaller and seemingly timid Timmy. Even though Tarou was scouted to be a model back when he was in the 9th grade, he never really stopped to think about how he looked, and why it was so appealing to others.

“Hey, don’t do that.” Tarou looked at Timmy. It was the present again, so in this case, February. It was less than 30 degrees F outside. The smaller male was about to open the window to their dorm room, because it was getting stuffy and uncomfortably hot in their room. “Why?” The tired Taiwanese boy gazed over, only to be met with a worry-struck Japanese model. “You’re sick. I don’t want you to get a fever from being exposed to the cold.” Tarou frowned at his friend. The last thing he wanted to see was somebody he cared about making an easily avoidable mistake, and paying the price for it. “Oh.” Timmy quietly slumped his way back into his bed and went to sleep. This was just one of several instances of Tarou acting like a helicopter parent to Timmy. If it was not staying warm, it would be the way he dressed, making sure he ate three meals a day, that he would be on time to class, all things that a parent, not a student or peer, should ever have to concern themselves with. Making sure that Timmy was safe suddenly became the Japanese model’s priority. He never understood why at first, but he just had this urge to look after and protect the Taiwanese boy. It was stressful and exhausting to Tarou as much as it was aggravating and annoying to Timmy.

“Hi, I’m Timmy. Timmy Li!” A five year-old Timmy was smiling at a chubby Japanese boy who was in his kindergarten class, Tarou Shimizu. “H-hi.” Tarou nodded shyly in acknowledgement. The boy was not used to having friends, so seeing Timmy made him nervous. He did not know how to react to being in any kind of social setting. “I heard from Valerie, that really pretty girl in our class, that you were new to town, and I am too! I figured that us new kids got to stick together.” Timmy laughed, sitting down with Tarou in the sandbox. Timmy had recently moved to Queens from La Canada, California, just a week after Tarou had moved to Queens from Torrance, California. It was funny to Timmy that both of them were from Southern California, and that was what drew him to Tarou to begin with. “Yeah, I moved here a couple weeks ago.” Tarou shyly nodded. It was clear at that point, Timmy was the more outgoing of the two. “Hey, do you like Kingdom Hearts?” Timmy beamed at Tarou hopefully. “Yeah! I love it.” Tarou grinned sheepishly. “Want to come over and play it at my place sometimes?” Timmy offered eagerly. “Sure! I’d love to!” Tarou nodded, feeling at ease for the first time in a while: he was so used to being picked on that he was initially cautious of Timmy’s friendliness. But seeing that he was genuinely trying to be friends, it was touching. From that moment on, the two of them became and remained close friends. Almost to the point of being inseparable. That was, until college drama took its toll.